National Space Society Announces the Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative

The National Space Society will hold a press conference Thursday, November 4 at the National Press Club to reveal one of the first initiatives ever undertaken by a non-profit American organization and a former head of state.  That initiative pairs India’s eleventh President, Dr. A.P.J. Kalam with America’s National Space Society.  Its name? The Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative.

The Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative’s goals? To solve the global energy crisis.  To solve the global carbon crisis. And to solve America’s next generation jobs crisis.  How?  By harvesting solar power in space.

World electricity demand by the year 2035 is projected to increase by 87%.  Renewable power generation systems (water, wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) will only meet 23% of that demand. According to Dr. A.P.J. Kalam, “By 2050, even if we use every available energy resource we have: clean and dirty, conventional and alternative, solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, coal, oil, and gas, the world will fall short of the energy we need.”  He adds that, “There is an answer… an energy source that produces no carbon emissions, an energy source that can reach to most distant villages of the world, and an energy source that can turn both countries into net energy and technology exporters.”

It’s space solar power.

Dr. T.K. Alex, Director of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Satellite Centre, Bangalore, and leader of the Chandrayan-1 project that discovered water on the moon, and John Mankins, a 25-year NASA veteran considered the world’s leading authority on space solar power, will give the details via electronic feed, and National Space Society CEO Mark Hopkins will explain in person at the November 4th press conference.

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Energy and India are hot topics.  President Barack Obama is meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh November 7th and 8th.  The two are committed to joint research and development on energy issues.  The National Space Society and former Indian President Dr. Kalam believe that Obama and Prime Minister Singh should adopt space solar power as one long-term answer to their nations’ needs.  To that end, the next step in the Kalam-NSS Energy Initiative will be a National Space Society joint Indian-American conference on space solar power at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, May 18-22.

Space solar power has the potential to reverse America’s half a trillion dollar a year balance of payments deficit and to generate a new generation of American jobs.  Why?  Space solar power is a source whose basic technology is already here.  The United States has been harvesting solar power in space and transmitting it to Earth since 1962, when Telstar, the first commercial satellite, went up.  That satellite, Telstar, looked like a beach ball encrusted with square medallions.  The medallions were photovoltaic panels.  And India has been harvesting solar energy in space since 1975, when its first satellite, Aryabhata A, went into orbit. Every square centimeter of Aryabhata’s exterior was tiled with solar panels.  Today harvesting energy in space and transmitting it to Earth is a quarter of a trillion dollar industry…the commercial satellite business.  You use solar energy harvested in space when you watch soccer games from other continents, when you tune into satellite TV or satellite radio, when you use the Global Positioning System (GPS), when you consult the pictures in Google Earth, and when you use your cell phone.

Mark Hopkins, the CEO of the National Space Society, says, “The Kalam-NSS initiative is a transformative idea that can upshift the US and Indian economies by meeting the urgent global need for a scalable, carbon-neutral, green, 24-hr renewable power source.  It is a game-changing technology that addresses energy security, sustainable development, climate change, and multinational cooperation.”  Concludes Dr. A.P.J. Kalam, “I am convinced that harvesting solar power in space can bring India and United States of America together in whole new ways.  And I am certain that harvesting solar power in space can upgrade the living standard of the human race.”

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Dr. T. K. Alex, who will be available to answer questions at this press conference, is the Director of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Satellite Centre, Bangalore.  He led the Chandrayaan-1 project, the first Indian mission to the Moon, which resulted in the discovery of water on the Moon’s surface.  Now he is guiding and directing the development of Chandrayaan-2 and sixteen new Indian satellites.  John Mankins, who will also be available, is a 25-year NASA veteran who ran NASA’s most recent multi-million dollar study of space solar power.

Spaceport America Runway Dedication

White Knight Two flyover of Spaceport America Terminal carrying SpaceShipTwo
Image Credit: Barbara David

The two mile runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico was dedicated Friday, 22 October 2010. One of the highlights of the celebration was the flyover and landing of Virgin Galactic‘s White Knight Two carrying the rocket plane Space Ship Two, named Enterprise by Virgin Galactic.

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, for whom the runway (spaceway) was officially named during the ceremony, commented that:

“We are celebrating the world’s first spaceway at the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport. New Mexico is not only helping to launch the commercial spaceflight industry, but we are launching new jobs and opportunities for the people of southern New Mexico. Today marks a significant milestone on our historic and exciting journey.”

Sir Richard Branson and approximately 30 of more than 380 Virgin Galactic future astronauts attended the event. Two of the future passengers in attendance were Sonja Rohde from Germany and Perveen Crawford of Hong Kong. Both have already paid the full $200,000 price for their flight into space. “It’s like Christmas, you want to go, you can’t wait. It was always a childhood dream to go to space,” Rohde said. Crawford noted that “It’s a bargain compared to the Russians,” referring to the roughly $35 million past space tourists have paid to ride aboard the Soyuz to the International Space Station.

Approach to Spaceport America
White Knight Two carrying Space Ship Two on Approach to Spaceport America
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic – First Free Flight

VSS Free Flight
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during its first free flight
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Commercial spaceflight took another step forward this past Sunday, 10 October 2010.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, named Enterprise, was dropped from its mother ship at 45,000 feet and successfully completed maneuvers and landing at the test facilities in the Mojave Desert. Enterprise is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers to an altitude of over 100 kilometers.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, who was present during the first successful flight, commented that “This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin.

The flight was designed to test the release mechanics from the mother ship and then verify the handling and stall characteristics as well as the lift to drag ratio. A complete set of landing maneuvers were executed at a high altitude, and the ship then made its final descent and landing.

Scaled Composites pilot, Pete Siebold, said “The VSS Enterprise was a real joy to fly, especially when one considers the fact that the vehicle has been designed not only to be a Mach 3.5 spaceship capable of going into space but also one of the worlds highest altitude gliders.”

Virgin Galactic will continue testing the new rocket ship during the coming year, and expects to fly its first commercial passengers within 18 months.

George Whitesides, former Executive Director of the National Space Society and current CEO of Virgin Galactic, was also present at the historic flight. Whitesides said, “To see the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on a runway is a sight I always dreamed I would behold. Now, our challenge going forward will be to complete our experimental program, obtain our FAA license and safely bring the system into service at Spaceport America, New Mexico.”

First Crewed Flight

First Crewed Flight of VSS Enterprise on 15 July 2010
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe

Completed Microwave Map of the Universe
Image Credit: NASA

Scientists announced this week that the mission of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has been completed. The last set of observations were downloaded on 20 August 2010, and researchers are compiling the final results. The satellite was placed in a permanent parking orbit around the sun on 8 September 2010.

WMAP was launched on 30 June 2001 and placed into an orbit around SEL-2, the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point. SEL-2 lies 1,500,000 kilometers beyond the Earth on a line from the Sun to the Earth. WMAP was the first spacecraft to occupy this location. SEL-2 is extremely cold, shaded from the Sun’s activity by the Earth’s shadow and ideal as an astronomical location in space. In 2009, the Herschel Space Observatory and Planck space observatory took up residence at SEL-2. They will be joined in 2014 or 2015 by the James Webb Space Telescope.

First detected in 1964, the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation (television “snow” – before cable), is the remnants of the extremely hot radiation from the big-bang, now cooled to almost absolute zero after 13.73 billions years of the expansion of the universe. It is a pattern frozen in place when the cosmos was only 380,000 years old.

WMAP COBE was the successor to NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), which was launched on 18 November 1989 and produced the first map of the microwave radiation. Note the great increase in resolution between the COBE map at the right, and the WMAP result above.

The Planck observatory is currently making high resolution measurements of both the total intensity and polarization of the primordial CMB anisotropies that were first observed by COBE and WMAP.

The observations made by WMAP are the most accurate to date and have allowed scientists to rule out several “inflation” models about what happened in the first trillionths of a second during the birth of the cosmos, while supplying support for several other models:

  • The age of the universe is 13.73 billion years old to within 1% (0.12 billion years)
  • Ordinary matter (atoms) makes up only 4.6% of the universe (to within 0.1%)
  • Dark matter (not made up of atoms) makes up 23.3% (to within 1.3%)
  • Dark energy makes up 72.1% of the universe (to within 1.5%)

Dark energy is the force driving the galaxies in the universe apart at an ever increasing rate. At some point in the future, inhabitants of the Milky Way will not be able to see any other objects in the sky. These entities will conclude that they are at the center of the universe, and will have no information about the big bang and the creation of the cosmos as we know it today.

Space Experience Curacao and XCOR Aerospace plan space tourist flights from the Caribbean

Space Experience Curacao has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with XCOR Aerospace to begin passenger flights of the Lynx suborbital spacecraft from this Caribbean island in 2014. This announcement follows a similar arrangement with Yecheon Astro Space Center in South Korea announced last December.

XCOR Aerospace is one of two companies currently offering reservations for suborbital spaceflights, the other being Virgin Galactic.

A copy of XCOR’s press release follows:

October 5th, 2010, Mojave, CA and Curaçao: Space Experience Curaçao (SXC) and XCOR Aerospace, Inc. jointly announced today the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the wet lease of a production version of the Lynx suborbital spacecraft, pending United States government approvals to station the vehicle on the island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles. With a planned start date in January 2014, SXC will market, and XCOR will operate, suborbital space tourism flights and scientific research missions out of Space Port Curaçao.

Space Experience Curacao Architectural Concept
Space Experience Curacao Architectural Concept

Recently, the Curaçao government and airport authority announced their intentions of investigating and creating the conditions suitable for the formation of a vibrant and active commercial space flight services industry. An investigation of the legal and regulatory framework necessary to enable a robust flight services industry in Curaçao has commenced. investment in the spaceport infrastructure and operator has been committed and made by Curaçao Airport Holding, N.V., the company responsible for overseeing Curaçao airport operator. SXC is the entity chosen by the Curaçao government and airport holding company to create a robust suborbital space flight business focused on research missions, space tourism, and science & technology education. SXC has in turn selected the XCOR Lynx as its vehicle of choice for Curaçao operations.

“SXC has chosen the Lynx due to its innovative but straightforward and robust design, as well as its enormous commercial potential and competitive viability” said Ben Droste, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of SXC. “The combination of the Lynx experience with the beautiful and highly suitable location of the Caribbean Island of Curaçao is a winning experience in our book. Spaceflight participants will not only have the incredible experience of flying in XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft beyond Earth’s atmosphere, they will have the added benefit of taking off from and returning to one of the world’s best vacation destinations.”

“Space Experience Curaçao, with the strong support of Curaçao Airport Holding, has worked diligently to secure this MOU with XCOR” remarked SXC Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Harry Van Hulten, “with the full support of the government of Curaçao, the Netherlands and thanks to the vision and entrepreneurial spirit of Curaçao Airport Holding, SXC is in the position of making this first concrete step in procuring a Lynx Mark II wet lease contract.”

“Building on our international wet-lease agreements model, XCOR is committed to continuing coordination efforts with the US Departments of State, Defense and Commerce and other relevant US agencies regarding export control and operation of suborbital vehicles at non-US locations,” said XCOR COO, Andrew Nelson. “We think the wet lease model enables us to address these issues, while allowing us to continue to create new high technology jobs, compete effectively in international markets, and provide our clients like SXC, and their clients, an incredible experience and valuable service – we can’t wait to fly from Curaçao!”

National Space Society Commends the House of Representatives for Passing the NASA Authorization Act of 2010

NSS emphatically requested that the House of Representatives adopt the Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and commends the House of Representatives for having done so.

The three-year authorization demonstrates a bipartisan cooperative effort on the part of both the House and the Senate to provide a framework for engaging the Executive Branch in a comprehensive dialog on the future of NASA.

NSS Executive Director, Gary Barnhard, offered this statement, “Another piece of history was written on the night of September 29, 2010. Thanks in no small measure to the efforts of citizens from all walks of life who called their representatives to have their voices heard, the House passed the Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. This effort does not by any means guarantee the future that we wish to see come to pass, but it does light the way forward along a path that is not the politics of the usual. Even the most ardent critics rose to speak of their vision of a dynamic, engaging, and sustainable space program. Accordingly, we all won this fight. The ideas are on the table. We are earnestly engaged as a nation in the debate on how to secure the future we wish to see come to pass.”

Greg Allison, NSS Executive Vice President and Chair of the Policy Committee elaborated, “Given the deep divisions expressed by the Legislative Branch and the Administration when the President’s plan was first announced, NSS could see that compromise would be needed in order to get a constructive plan for NASA’s future enacted that could both pass through Congress and be accepted by the Administration. The risk of an impasse had to be averted so that true space exploration and development could proceed. We convinced the Space Exploration Alliance to adopt our message of compromise during our February Legislative Blitz in which we echoed this throughout the halls of the Congress. We called for destinations and milestones, for an increase in space commercialization, and for the immediate development of a Heavy-Lift-Launch-Vehicle, rather than an endless study program. We won on all of our major points in the Senate, with the Administration, and ultimately in the House. This proves the effectiveness of our Political Action Network.”

Rick Zucker, Vice President for Public Affairs for the NSS, added, “The NSS has reaffirmed its longstanding and unwavering commitment to further space exploration and development, by calling on the Executive and Legislative branches to incorporate their various proposals into a Unified Space Policy so that the United States can once again begin to move beyond low Earth orbit. This is a major victory for the space advocacy community, our space program, and our nation. However, there is still much work to be done, not the least of which is the passage of an Appropriations Bill that is in accordance with the Authorization.”

Congress has spoken, and the bill now awaits the President’s signature. Going forward, it is incumbent upon Congress, the Administration, NASA, commercial concerns, and non-governmental organizations to all work together to determine how best to leverage the necessary partnerships between the public and private sectors so as to implement both the spirit and the letter of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.