September 2009

Source: Hindustan Times

Sep 26, 2009

This week saw yet another successful multiple satellite launch, via the trusty Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). The payloads included India’s Oceansat-2 remote sensing satellite and six nano satellites from Germany, Turkey and Switzerland — at a modest price tag of Rs 235 crore. This launch signals another notch in the belt for Isro, whose efforts at indigenisation have succeeded despite budget constraints and international technology denial regimes. It also shows the way forward into India’s trajectory of welding science and technology to a competitive business. Add to this the joint discovery with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the ‘presence of water on the moon’, and Indian space science can be seen in a new, mature orbit.

Over the last few years Isro has helped India become self-reliant in building launch vehicles for both polar and geostationary orbits and spacecraft. By successfully injecting multiple satellites in a single launch, it has managed to create a niche for itself in the global space market, offering cost-effective satellite lift-offs for overseas customers. From pollution monitoring to remote sensing and ocean studies to space physics and more, small research satellites are where it’s at — they are easier to launch, less time-consuming and cost-effective, given that many can be launched simultaneously. The fact that other major players like the US and France have now little interest in the rent-a-rocket business has made Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and Israel turn to India for sending their satellites up in space.

It’s time now for us to cash in on the space rush. Besides providing a thrifty launch pad, Isro needs to target the market for big communication satellites. It has the requisite expertise after having put a dozen national communications satellites in orbit. Given its future ambitions that include a robotic landing on the moon and a mission to Mars — and with the lifting of curbs on the launch of non-commercial US satellites and satellites with US components on Indian launch vehicles — one of India’s more successful research behemoths should push for a full-blown lift-off.

New Ideas pass through 3 stages  (Arthur C. Clarke:  Clarke’s Law)

Stage 1:  It can’t be done.

Stage 2:  It probably can be done but it’s not worth doing.

Stage 3:  I knew it was a good idea all along.


Recent updates from Armadillo Aerospace who is participating in 2009 Lunar Lander Challenge Level 2.

2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge

2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge

By Madhu Thangavelu

Operations aboard the international space station (ISS), with full crew complement of six astronauts, have just begun in earnest, and the facility’s retirement should be extended beyond the old, tentative and now meaningless decommission period.

This problem of racing against obsolescence has dogged the development and servicing of advanced complex systems throughout history.

Compounded by policy reiterations of international partners, and hampered by servicing and technology limitations, schedules have slipped, time and again. Perhaps this is one of the penalties of trailblazing in uncharted international territory. Indeed, in the time ISS was designed, built and put into orbit, some of the core technologies and hardware have been superceded — some even finding their way into common consumer products. I agree with Sally Ride, the former astronaut and member of the Augustine Committee, that the shuttle is a versatile vehicle and that similar capability in both cargo volume and crew ferry are needed to service ISS optimally.

What stood out most in Ride’s NASA budget charts Aug. 13 is the “giant blue slug,” as fellow Augustine Committee member Edward Crawley aptly referred to it, that is ISS. In every alternate scenario the committee presented, the ISS consumes enough to prevent NASA from being able to initiate any other project.

Though much more complex, and perhaps more quirky to operate than the standard expendable launchers of today, the ability to haul both large number of crew and oversized cargo simultaneously makes the shuttle a Rolls Royce of Earth-to-orbit access vehicles. As Rand Simberg points out in his July 17 article in the New Atlantis, the shuttle has never failed her crew. However, we cannot say that about the other major components that make up the STS launch stack.

The orbiter airframe has much life left in it, and as long as we can safely manage and evolve the solid-rocket boosters — which we have since the Challenger accident — and fix the external tank foam spalling problem — which seems to be evading us even after the loss of Columbia — the shuttle system, with proper maintenance, retrofits and evolutionary upgrades, might service ISS for several more years.

For those who think that new, economically feasible, reusable, trans-atmospheric vehicles may be built from the ground up, starting from a clean slate, the system architecture heuristic to recall is that “in the case of complex systems, evolution, much less revolution.”

Take the case of personal computers. Some argue that the pocket PCs of today are so cheap and super efficient compared to their warehouse-sized predecessors. But looks can be deceiving, because when you take a peek under the hood, you see that the codes running on today’s PCs have much in common with those older generation systems.

So, until we have evolved such a system, or systems are fully commissioned internationally or commercially, to replace the versatile shuttle, it is prudent to operate it along with the Russian Soyuz and Progress crew and cargo delivery vehicles.

In this way, if the shuttle incurs delays or another stand-down for unseen reasons, ISS will still have the needed access, though limited, to fall back on. However, it may be prudent to have a domestic secondary option, rather than depend on international partners.

The so-called gap between proposed shuttle retirement and commission of a replacement is not viable because without reliable primary and secondary transport and logistic support vehicles, ISS operations will have to be severely curtailed, perhaps even mothballed.

So, the idea that we can somehow terminate shuttle operations before a comparable system comes on line is flawed from the start. The proper way to phase out STS operations is to slowly ramp down service while the next generation of vehicles take up the slack and eventually enter full commission.

Now, a most poignant exchange between Augustine Committee members and NASA’s ISS manager reveals that NASA’s current budget, including stimulus funds, will still not allow us to keep the shuttle flying, the ISS operations rolling, and simultaneously provide enough resources for building the systems in the Constellation program for returning people to the Moon.

Crawley points to the direct impact of this zero sum situation by suggesting that the Constellation program will have to be delayed until the ISS is decommissioned.

Absent a large spike in NASA’s budget, which is unlikely in the current economic climate, are there other options to explore? In a recent speech, NASA’s new administrator, Charles Bolden, told agency employees that NASA must get back into basic and applied research.

The Augustine Committee should ponder ways to transition authority and budgets for all operational systems away from NASA. Once the assembly is complete, hopefully by Christmas of 2010, could the ISS be handed over to be managed and maintained by a consortium made of ISS partners, independent of NASA?

Can existing intergovernmental agreements and memoranda of understanding among partners be modified to this end? Is it possible to imagine a smooth transition of ISS operations assets and personnel from NASA to this new entity? Such an entity’s structure and management, modeled along existing international organiz tions, might also make it easier to extend ISS collaboration to more international partners, especially China and India, with their vigorous economies and emerging manned spaceflight capability. Brazil and Mexico, the Middle Eastern Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and others would follow suit.

If such a shift is possible, then the consortium could support ISS operations on an entirely separate budget, cobbled together by their respective governments, along the lines of a National Laboratory —which it is — with an innovative international component to it, while NASA focuses on executing the Constellation program for a quick return to the Moon.

The Augustine Committee clearly drove home the philosophy that the ultimate, overarching goal of human spaceflight is not just about national security, international leadership, prestige or economic benefits, but the ever-slow but steady buildup of projects and infrastructure, aimed toward the settlement of humanity among the stars. The ISS is a critical element in this logical, progressive evolution of architectures needed to attain that goal. Human spaceflight is the raison d’etre and the core competency of NASA, and appropriately, more than half of NASA’s annual budget is allocated for it.

Exploring the unknown is an innate human imperative. It should not be construed an economic endeavor. Equating manned spaceflight to the robotic exploration of space is a flawed economic argument. The price and reward of human space activity are both high, though not all the benefits are immediately apparent or tangible.

There are critical, base funding levels in all programs, below which they cannot function. If inadequate funding hampers the progress of human spaceflight projects at NASA, faced with a stagnant, fixed or declining budget, the agency will have no other choice but to abandon it or put all other programs on the back burner, delay their schedules or find other homes for them.

The ISS truly represents the culmination of perhaps the most complex building project ever undertaken by humanity, opening new doors not only in human space activity and peaceful uses of outer space, but also extending new opportunities in diverse arenas of international cooperation and collaboration.

As the facility orbits planet Earth every 90 minutes, sleekly gliding over countries without check points and visas, carrying a multinational crew, it reminds us of the unity of our fragile planet and peoples. It offers hope for a richer, freer and ever more vibrant world of nations, working together, aspiring ever higher.

The ISS could still be that unique symbol, a magical gift to the whole world in this new century, and does not have to end up an albatross around NASA’s neck.

Madhu Thangavelu conducts the Graduate Space Concepts Studio at the University of Southern California. He is co-author of “The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Settlement, second edition,” published by Springer/Praxis in 2008

Professor Madhu Thangavelu at the University of Southern California asked the following question to students in his class Space Exploration Architectures Concept Synthesis Studio.

Exploring the Moon on a moon buggy

Exploring the Moon on a moon buggy

What precisely can we do on the Moon, with crew and robots, that can immediately (very short timeframe-2020-2040) benefit not only the science and engineering community, but also inspire humanity as a whole, on a permanent basis?

The presentations  can be dowloaded as powerpoint files.
Cis-Lunar Ambulance (Nicole Jordan)
Lunar Communications (Amit Patel)
Lunar Geology (Kimberly Albarico)
Lunar Power Peaks (Rajeev Shrestha)
Lunar Rock Transportation & Processing (Corey Harmon)
Lunar RTT (Jeff Moring)
Lunar SS (Dana Pugh)
Magic Envelope (Brandon Hsu)
Primary Infrastructure (Eshete Mekonnen)
SPIDAR (Jodi Enomoto)
Surface Transportation (Melissa Doyle)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Join Space Angels Network for a unique half-day event designed to bring together selected emerging aerospace ventures with an exclusive group of early-stage investors interested in aerospace opportunities.  In this unique Forum, you will find pre-screened investment opportunities, hear presentations from the entrepreneurs, and then meet with them at their exhibit tables. We will end the morning with an “investors only” closed-door review of the presenting ventures followed by lunch with the entrepreneurs.

7:30am-8:00am            Registration, Continental Breakfast & Networking
8:00am-8:15am             Welcoming Remarks
8:15am-11:15am           Company Presentations
11:15pm-12:00pm         Deal Roundtable (investors only)
12:00pm-1:00pm           Lunch with Entrepreneurs

The Proud Bird
11022 Aviation Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045-6187


Space Angels Network is a professionally managed member-led national network of accredited investors focused on aerospace-related opportunities.  For information about becoming a Member of Space Angels Network, please visit our Web site,, or contact us directly at members At spaceangelsnetwork DOT com

WSJ Blogs

An Invasion Of Start-Ups From Outer Space  by Ty McMahan

We often cover investments in start-ups operating in cyberspace, but outer-space deals are nearly non-existent.

©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

Imagine a potential investor trying to keep a straight face when an entrepreneur says the market reach of their business spans…galaxies.

Well, that could very well happen at the Space Investment Summit on Sept. 30 in Boston. In its seventh year, the conference aims to match investors with entrepreneurs developing technologies and services for the space industry.

“We’re excited to bring two groups together – entrepreneurs in the space sector and seed and early-stage investors, angels, small venture capital firms, individuals and institutional investors,” said Paul Eckert, the summit’s executive coordinator and an international and commercial strategist for The Boeing Company. Full article.

From Alan Boyle of MSNBC: Killer app for private spaceflight

The killer app for private spaceflight, at least once the millionaires and celebrities have had their turn, may well be scientific research.

“You spark this industry with tourists, but I predict in the next decade the research market is going to be bigger than the tourist market,” says Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Colorado-based Southwest Research Institute who is heading up a committee to link up researchers with future suborbital spaceflights.

Full article

Icarus Project

Icarus Project

MIT students launch balloon to edge of space for close to $150.This group calls themselves 1337 Arts and is “dedicated to celebrating the marriage of art and science and promoting the beauty of scientific art. Our artwork blends state-of-the-art science and technology with traditional mediums and methods of art. Combined, they mark a unique form of elite art. “

Time lapsed video of flight

Time lapsed video of flight

Free Program in Denver on September 30th for entrepreneurs

If you are in the Denver area, there’s an free program where entrepreneurs can ask a real venture capitalist anything. The program is part of a series being presented by The 8th Continent Project.

Boulder VC invites 8th Continent Speaker Series Attendees to ‘Ask Him Anything’

No topic is off limits, promises Jason Mendelson, managing director at Boulder-based Foundry Group, who will talk about navigating the venture capital landscape. Got a burning question for a long-time tech investor? Come to this FREE talk, presented by the 8th Continent Project, a space technology entrepreneurship initiative of the Colorado School of Mines.

When: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 5-7 p.m. MDT

Where: Gordon Biersch Brewpub, 1 West Flatiron Circle, Broomfield, CO (on the west side of FlatIron Crossing shopping center, near the movie theaters)

Cost: FREE. Food and drink will be available to purchase.

Weblink: A simultaneous webcast will allow participants outside Colorado to hear Jason talk, ask questions and interact with other audience members. It will also be available for download and later viewing. Check for details.

RSVP: Call 720-833-5915 by Friday, Sept. 25, or email

Speaker Bio: Jason Mendelson has more than a decade of experience in venture capital and technology. He co-founded and serves as managing director at Foundry Group, a Boulder venture capital firm focused on information technology, Internet and software startups. At Mobius Venture Capital, he was managing director, general counsel and chief administrative partner, negotiating and structuring financings, mergers and exits during the challenging “Internet bubble.”

Earlier, Jason practiced law at Cooley Godward Kronish LLP, and was a senior consultant and software engineer at Accenture, where he supervised programming teams in multi-billion dollar engagements. He holds a B.A. in economics and J.D. cum laude from the University of Michigan. Named one of the Denver Business Journal’s “40 under 40” in 2009, Jason blogs at Mendelson’s Musings and; and he plays drums and bass in several bands.

About The 8th Continent Project: Based at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, the 8th Continent Project is an entrepreneurship initiative for early-stage companies “bringing space down to Earth” by adapting space technology for terrestrial applications. The 8th Continent Project’s programs include a Chamber of Commerce, business incubator and funding network, working together to develop the next generation of space business ventures. Information:

About the 8th Continent Speaker Series: The 2009-2010 8th Continent Speaker Series is part of the 8th Continent Project’s outreach to early-stage businesses and prospective entrepreneurs. Monthly short seminars on topics of interest to technology entrepreneurs will take place at locations up and down the Front Range, Colorado’s technology corridor. Each will be webcast for 8th Continent Chamber members around the world.

Next in the series: Patent attorney Gene Branch of Townsend and Townsend and Crew will speak on “Patent Reform: And What It Means for You” Wednesday., Oct. 28, from 7-9 a.m. at Townsend’s Denver office, 1400 Wewatta St., Suite 600, Denver.

Press Release  from Space Frontier Foundation

Nyack, NY – September 9, 2009

The Space Frontier Foundation and the Heinlein Prize Trust are pleased to announce the winners of the 2009 NewSpace Business Plan Competition

After a weekend of presentations by several new companies in the NewSpace field, the judges of the 2009 NewSpace Business Plan Competition award the following:

1st Place – Flagsuit, LLC
2nd Place – Syntiant
Honorable Mention – Santa Clara Satellite Solutions
The first place winner, Flagsuit LLC, received a $5,000 cash prize courtesy of the Heinlein Prize Trust and will have the opportunity to present their vision to entrepreneurs and investors alike at Space Investment Summit 7 on September 30th in Boston and the opportunity to attend an upcoming Space Angels Network event. Flagsuit will also receive a three month membership to , 2 tickets to any one of their 15 VC conferences and the FundingPost publication, How to Raise Your First Million Dollars.

The Space Frontier Foundation extends a sincere “Thank You” to all of this year’s finalists!

Aeronautic Enterprises
Aerospace Technologies
Flagsuit, LLC
Next Giant Leap
PD Aerospace
Santa Clara Satellite
Thunderbird Communications
If you have a business plan that you would like considered for the NewSpace 2010 Business Plan competition, please watch for updates on next year’s schedule and submission deadlines at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace Business Plan Competition website.

Disclosure: Robert Jacobson of Desert Sky Holdings and 62MileClub served as one of the judges for the competition.

Space Frontier Foundation
William J. Watson
Executive Director
william.watson AT spacefrontier DOT org

Source: Mass High Tech
In 2007, Peter Homer developed a pair of gloves for a NASA contest — and won $200,000 for his effort. He has since launched Flagsuit LLC, a Maine-based startup developing pressure suits for astronauts that also has application as a medical device. “I started with the hands, and now I’m working on the whole thing,” Homer said. Homer designed the gloves with soft joints, rather than metal fixtures — making them more flexible, so the wearer could move with less effort. The technique also made the gloves more comfortable and cheaper to make, Homer said.

As a one-man startup Flagsuit has its eyes on making pressure suits, worn under spacesuits, for the space tourism industry, which Homer sees growing in the next two years. In the meantime, the startup plans to make money selling the suit as a medical device taking the place of a hyperbaric chamber. In addition to the $200,000 from NASA, Flagsuit has received $24,000 in three seed grants from the Maine Technology Institute. Homer is now looking for $1.2 million in angel funding in two rounds. Homer plans to use the first $600,000 to build a prototype of the hyperbaric suit and bring it to market. The remaining $600,000 would be used to ramp up manufacturing and marketing.
Flagsuit won the 2009 Space Frontier Foundation Business Plan competition which was sposnored by the Robert Heinlein trust. 62MileClub’s Robert Jacobson served as a judge for the competition.


Armadillo Aerospace Qualifies for Lunar Lander Prize with Texas Flights
Armadillo Aerospace successfully flew a Level 2 flight profile for the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Armadillo flew its “Super Mod” vehicle, named Scorpius, on two three-minute flights between pads 60 meters apart, one of which made into a mock lunar landscape of rocks and craters. Armadillo will have to wait until the end of the competition season at the end of next month to know if they won the prize; they will win the $1 million if no other team makes a Level 2 flight, or if Armadillo’s landing accuracy is better than another team that does. Two other teams, Masten Space Systems and Unreasonable Rocket, have announced plans to make Level 1 and Level 2 flights this year. The competition is run by the X PRIZE Foundation with prize money provided by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program.

Source : Flight Global

$35 Million for Excalibur Almaz Week in Orbit
Armed with a 2007 market study that indicates annual revenues of $1 billion, space tourism company Excalibur Almaz is offering a week in orbit for $35 million from 2013. The company expects to have a test flight in 2013 and then slowly build the frequency of service of its Almaz spacecraft. Two passengers will fly with a pilot-cosmonaut in its reusable capsule and expendable habitable service module. Eventually Excalibur hopes to earn $1 billion a year by launching up to 30 people into orbit at $35 million each. The company is named after the 1970s Soviet Almaz military program that flight-tested the capsule with a reusable hull and heat shield.

EADS Astrium is working on habitable service module concepts for Excalibur, which is also looking for new avionics and a life support system for the capsule. The updated Almaz spacecraft would launch from Russia’s Baikonur spaceport using either a Khrunichev Space Center Proton or Samara Space Center Soyuz FG, which is used for the Energia Soyuz spacecraft. For a 2013 test flight Excalibur will have to select either rocket by late 2010. (9/10)

Excalibur Almaz Releases More Details on Space Tourism Plans
Excalibur Almaz (EA) Vice President Leroy Chiao revealed some interestind details to Flight Global on the company’s plans to use Russian spaceflight hardware and launch services to support commercial human spaceflight. Historically the Almaz spacecraft were launched by Proton and EA is looking at whether to launch its updated Almaz on Proton or Soyuz FG. Either way the launches would be from Baikonur. The mass of the service module required to provide a week long mission would probably determine whether Proton or Soyuz vehicles are used. SpaceX Falcon-9 rockets are also being considered.

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