Monthly Archives: October 2014

UP Finished Four Tests in One Flight

Image hosted on, but credited to Todd Dickson of Las Cruces Bulletin.

UP Aerospace launched one of its rockets last week (23 Oct) giving four experiments four minutes of microgravity and space time during the rocket’s suborbital flight.  The rocket, an UP SL-9, was launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico.  No lizards lounging in the desert were apparently injured during the test.

UP’s rocket flight was tested under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program.  The program is designed to encourage a growing of the commercial space market.  Three of the payloads on the rocket were tested under NASA’s Game Changing Development (GCD) Program.  The GCD program is intended to mine technologies and capabilities brought by enterprising participants into the program.  Those same technologies and capabilities might be used in future NASA missions, especially if they have a significant positive impact on a particular mission or two.

The payloads on board the rocket tested under the GCD program were an advanced kind of sun sensor, a vibration isolation platform, and a computer that tolerates radiation.  The fourth test payload was a Spanish one, designed to help investigate the impact that vibrations have on “environment systems and fuel tanks.”  There’s more about the payloads on NASA’s GCD project site, right here.

If you are interested in NASA;s Flight Opportunities Program, you can read more about the program, a microgravity experiment, and a Xombie rocket power demonstration on their page right here.  In the meantime, it looks like UP has another feather for their rocket test cap, and NASA has another successful Flight Opportunities story to tell (with some nice experiments on the side).

DIY Space: Space Travel Grants are Go!

Image from

Citizens of Earth:  for as little as $15 you can apply to fly in a rocket ship of your choice.  How?  It’s all thanks to your money, and an inspired program from the people you are giving the money to–Spaceship Earth Grants (SEG).  From the middle of last September, until the end of this year (Dec 31, 2014), you can fill out a form and pay for the chance to ride into space.  The payment price goes as high as $90, but when you consider the lowest ticket to ride, offered by XCOR Aerospace, will eventually be $95,000, you might consider that a bargain.  But XCOR might not be the company you choose for your rocket flight.  Remember, you get to choose which rocket company’s rocket you wish to fly out into space.

There are other, more expensive options than XCOR.  Virgin Galactic comes immediately to mind.  But the thing to remember is that none of the passenger rocket companies are operating commercially yet, and only Virgin Galactic seems to be testing an actual piloted commercial space vehicle right now.  That will change next year, hopefully.  Perhaps the companies will have fielded their rockets just in time for the final phase of the award.

The rules for applying are fairly straightforward and not too onerous.  You do have to be 18 years or older to apply.  But the opportunity to apply seems quite open–they’ll even let you fill out your application in six languages other than English.  Just go here, to see some of the rules, and then click on the link on the page for more rule detail.  One thing to keep in mind is that even though you might win the ticket to ride, American rocket companies have to comply with very tough government rules regarding the intermingling of foreigners and space technology.  The rules are so strict that American companies for this contest might not have or make rockets available to foreigners for a ride.

The application process is basically the first of a four phase process.  By the fourth phase, which starts and ends on April 15, 2015, SEG will announce the lucky soon-to-be astronaut (or spaceship passenger for those picky readers).  Even if you don’t win, if you’re one of the first 5,000 applicants, you’ll have a 1 in 100 chance to get a free ride on a “vomit comet”–an airplane that flies a particular flight profile to help simulate free-fall.

There are a few other application perks, and you can read about them all, here.  As to how reliable the SEG is, they are backed by the Buckminster Fuller Institute.  Will you pay money for the chance to ride to space?


New Space Satellites and Data

Another of my posts.  This time it’s a bit about the opportunity for “New Space” companies to not only produce data, but also build up a robust infrastructure to shunt it around.  It might be an opportunity that will grow.  Read it here:  The New Space Data Challenge–An Opportunity for Growth?

So Where Were the Spiders? NASA Might Be Using A Few

The SpiderFab. But it’s not from Mars. Image from TUI website.

This post has some interesting information about NASA’s $500,000 award to Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) and their ideas about how to construct objects in space using a robotic technology they’re calling “SpiderFab.”  Specifically, NASA is expecting TUI to build a large multi-armed robot that looks a lot like a big white spider to extrude building materials (basically 3D print them), and then use them to build huge objects in space.  And by huge, we’ll be using Gearburn’s own information which says the object might be as long as a 1/2 mile.

The process is an attempt to build big structures, like antenna booms or solar panel supports almost from scratch.  According to TUI, the SpiderFab not only can build new structures that are quite intricate, it can also attach new construction to existing satellite structures.  The SpiderFab basically can use an on-board “spinneret” to extrude a carbon fiber or fancy polymer to a specified length.  The robot spider then would move the newly created rod into place and then use a kind of 3D printer to build a joint to connect it with another rod.  Which sounds very complicated, so why do it?

It has to do with, at least according to TUI, getting more with less money.  They suggest, in their NAIC 2013 Spring Meeting presentation, that using SpiderFab to build a big 100 meter antenna would cost less than half about what it current costs to send an Earth-built antenna into space.  The cost of the SpiderFab’s work?  Around $200 million.

Something like SpiderFab also could build bigger structures than those that currently can be sent up into space on a rocket.  Their 100 meter in diameter antenna seems to be more than twice as big as the current antennas that can be loaded onto a satellite.

This seems like a very neat and useful technology–except it almost seems like someone else has hopped on the 3D printer bandwagon.  I have nothing against 3D printers.  I am very hopeful they will develop into more than niche and expensive machines.  I think they will, and the current “boom” is fun to watch.  But this technology is still evolving and that may be a real issue TUI has to contend with:  the technology might not be ready for this sort of thing just yet.  At least not a unit that is ready to work in a reliable and consistent manner, which is what NASA and other space-focused agencies would want.

It doesn’t mean they won’t succeed, though.  In the meantime, maybe one of TUI’s employees plays guitar?

DIY Space: Operate a Very Expensive Backhoe


Not quite like this–but it would be cool if it were…

I worked with some plumbing fellows this last year to remove some huge amounts of dirt to get at our very clogged up house waste line.  One of the pieces of equipment we used to remove the dirt was a very small, but effective, backhoe.  They let me help them with the backhoe occasionally (when I wasn’t just shoveling).  I actually enjoyed operating the backhoe.  So when I first played this Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Canadarm2 simulator, I actually felt a little bit at home with it, once I settled in.

Now I know the simulator is not intended to train future backhoe operators, but it actually works a lot, at least in the simulator, like a backhoe.  The controls for moving the arms around the axes, even though they are on the keyboard, remind me of the different controls for axes on a backhoe.  And just like when using a backhoe, there is a very big safety factor that needs to be considered when operating a huge mechanical arm around people and equipment.  Although admittedly, the equipment being moved around the International Space Station (ISS), where the Canadarm2 is mounted, is probably more expensive than the plumber’s truck.

The simulator is somewhat fascinating, especially if an operator treats it like the real deal.  There’s a very annoying music soundtrack, which can thankfully be turned off.  If this is evidence of current Canadian musical tastes, then maybe it’s a good thing they aren’t storming the entertainment world right now?  Give me Bryan Adams or Alanis any day instead of that (good lord, did I just say that?).  But that said, the simulator will start you off with a few practice runs on general movement.  It does help in this case to read the directions instead of jumping in, because the controls, at least as they’re being taught, aren’t intuitive.

After practice, you’re off and running.  There’re three different camera views to allow you to see just how you’re moving the arm.  I’m assuming that’s similar to the set up in real life on the ISS.  There are only two tasks you need to do.  If you’re a superstar pro at this stuff and you successfully complete both tasks, then you can just enable “smug mode” for the rest of the day.  Or just understand there are backhoe operators around the world who will probably do this so quickly that your “smug mode” gets disabled.

As for the plumbing problem at my house:  we had to dig 14 feet down, making a hole about 15 feet in diameter.  The problem was an eight inch clay pipe that had cracked and was filled with roots.  Digging and refilling the hole probably took about eight hours with people like me not familiar with the backhoe.  But it certainly made things easier and quicker.  I can’t imagine that making such a big hole with shovels only would’ve taken the same amount of time.  Technology is our friend.

By the way, if you don’t have it installed, you do need to install Unity on your browser to play the game.