Almost Done!

Almost Done!

Hey all! I have more in the way of novel-writing news. For starters, The Cronian Incident is now just a few chapters short of completion. After over a year of writing, editing, and back and forth with my prospective-publisher, the novel is just about finished. All told, it is now 31 chapters long and just over 85,000 words in length. I anticipate it will be about 100,000 by the time its finished, though I have been known to exceed estimates in the past!

And as per my agreement with my publisher, I have begun working on its sequel. Apparently, publishers like to know the people they sign have more books in them. And they prefer to release sequels within a few months of the first book, to ensure that any buzz they generate with the first release can be capitalized on. Lucky for me I had plans for a second and third novel before my publisher and I started talking, not to mention some spin offs.

So here’s the commercial description for the proposed sequel (i.e. what you’d read on the back of the dust jacket), as well as a rundown on some other ideas I’m working on:

The Jovian Manifesto:

The Solar System is in the midst of a crisis. In the Jovian and Cronian systems, the populations are up in arms, thanks to an inflammatory document that has appeared on the local nets. Known as “The Jovian Manifesto”, this document details how a powerful faction in the Inner Solar System conspired to seize control over the moons of Callisto and Titan and forcibly alter them. Behind the leak is a mysterious personality known only as Clio, who is threatening to release all the details unless the guilty parties come forward.

Back on Venus, a former analyst named Valéria Gallego is called before the Solar Assembly to investigate the Manifesto and its author. In this, she is assisted by Kadera, an infiltration specialist who can get in and out of any location in the Solar System. If they can determine its authenticity, perhaps they can prevent open conflict. But if not, the Inner Worlds may have no choice but to send armed forces to the Outer Worlds to ensure peace and stability.

Meanwhile, a string of violent acts has threatened to bring things ever closer to the brink. For Gallego and all those who are seeking the truth, time is running out…

Luna Invictus:

Now this is a book that doesn’t come with a commercial description, just a general one. But it is set in the same universe as The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto. Here’s what I am thinking. Basically, I wanted to do a story set on the Moon, ca. the 22nd century, when the Moon is now effectively colonized,,,

Between the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, the Russians (Roscosmos), India (the ISRO), and China (CNSA), the lunar surface now has multiple permanent settlements. Whereas the ESA and NASA have established themselves at the southern polar region – in a domed settlement in the Shackleton Crater – and the Chinese have established a colony in the northern polar region, the Russians and Indians have claimed the mid-latitudes, where stable lava tubes have allowed for the creation of underground cities.

And on the “Dark Side” of the Moon – that is to say, the side looking away from Earth – are a series of installations known as the Unrestricted Zones. It is here that all kinds of weird research, development and experiments take place. Nanotechnology, biotechnology, quantum computing, and man-machine interface – anything goes in these places! Ever since the explosion in learning that took place during the previous century, places all over Earth and the Moon have become dedicated to pursuing technological progress and integration without restriction.

And it is here that a young man named Frankling Houte is seeking to go. Years ago, his sister – named Constant Houte – chose to undergo a procedure where her organic brain would be augmented by merging it with quantum components. But after all contact ceased, he is determined to find her and return her home. But whereas Franklin fancies himself a brave rescuer, it is his sister who will come to save him.


This story will take place entirely in a generation ship that is making its way towards the nearby star system. Within the confines of this self-contained world, thousands of humans have committed to waiting and working for generations as their massive ship – the Traverse Velocity, which in astronomical terms refers to the speed at which a star moves perpendicular to our line of sight – transports them to an Earth-like world outside of our Solar System.

The location of that world is up for grabs at the moment, mainly because new discoveries are being made all the time. Did you hear about the latest exoplanet discovery, located about 39 light years away and already said to be the “best place to look for signs of life beyond the Solar System”? Between that and new findings that claims how previous discoveries are not likely to be habitable after all, I’ve decided to leave the destination blank until I actually start writing it!

But of course, no story would be complete without some intrigue and big ol’ inciting event! And the way I see it, things begin to go awry when the Captain and crew get notification that one of the passengers has awakened from cryosleep prematurely and disappeared into the ship. Shortly thereafter, one of the crew is found dead in what appears to be a sabotage attempt gone wrong. A ship-wide search begins to find the culprit while the atmosphere quickly devolves into one of paranoia and suspicion.

To make matter worse, the crew becomes aware of another ship that is threatening to catch up and overtake them. It seems that another faction from the Solar System, which was also intent on settling (insert exoplanet here) is now trying to get their ahead of them. What began as a journey to a new world, characterized by hopes and dreams, has become a race to lay claim to a planet. And it appears that the planet may have inhabitants of its own, ones which are not interested in welcoming the intruders.

Cronian Incident – Part III Complete!

Cronian Incident – Part III Complete!

Hello, everyone. As usual, I feel obliged to share some good news of the milestone-hitting variety. As the title makes abundantly clear, I’ve completed the third part in my upcoming novel, The Cronian Incident. Yes, thanks to my somewhat less than tireless efforts over the course of the past few months, this story is now three-fourths complete, and officially stands at thirty chapters and 60,000 words in length. And it’s been quite the ride so far.

Since I stopped daydreaming about (and bothering people with) this idea and began putting words to paper, I have managed to bang out the better part of a story that involves our Solar System in the late 23rd century, colonization, terraforming, and the future of humanity. And in the course of this, I’ve had to create and detail settings for Mercury, Mars, and the Jovian moon Callisto, and fill in bits of pieces on culture, history and other assorted aspects of background to boot.

Much of this has to do with setting the tone of the late 23rd century. The way I see it, humanity has passed through two major cataclysms at this point, both of which took place in the 21st century. The first was the Climate Crisis, where all over the world, economies began to collapse as drought, crop failure, and warfare led to the displacement of millions of people.

Color-enhanced map of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL
Color-enhanced map of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL

The second occurred shortly thereafter, when all around the world, the technological progress that has been building up since the Paleolithic exploded in a quantum leap of learning and accelerated change. Within decades, the Climate Crises began to abate, and a new world characterized by runaway change began to take over. And at about the same time, a renewed Space Age set in as humans began to migrate to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond.

And after about a century and a half of all that, the human race has now colonized the majority of the Solar System. Between Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, Jupiter’s moons, Saturn’s moons, and of course, Earth and its millions of orbital habitats, the human race now stands at a hefty 15 billion. And across this vast interplanetary dominion, a massive economy has taken root that is beyond scarcity and want.

But there are no shortages of intrigue thanks to the forces that have shaped this new age. While the inner Solar System is populated by people who have embraced the Singularity, transhumanism, posthumanism, and runaway progress, the outer Solar System has become a new home for people looking to escape this pace of life and maintain a simpler existence. And in time, the disappearance of one person will force everyone – be they in the inner or outer worlds – to sit up and take notice.

Jupiter’s larger (Galilean) moons, Callisot, Europa, Io and Ganymede. Credit: NASA

I tell you, it’s been tiring process, getting this far. And at one point, I did declare that I had OD’d on writing about setting and world building. I mean, how can you dedicate 20,000 words to detailing a place, making it as vivid as possible for the reader, and then just switch to another? Screw plot necessity, it’s like abandoning an idea half-way! And I still have the all important one – the Cronian moon Titan – to cover.

But I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t also been fun and that it wouldn’t be so tiring if I weren’t’ completely emotionally invested in it. And (spoiler alert!) that is where things should be the most interesting. As is usually the case, Part I through III of this four-part story have been all about establishing character, background, a sense of space and place, and introducing the various elements that drive the plot.

But in Part IV, I will not only get to write about a particularly intriguing place – Titan; capital city Huygens; dense nitrogen-methane atmosphere; principle industries, methane and ammonia harvesting; principle activities, sailing on methane lakes and gliding in low-g, cruising for action in its Yellow Light District and political dissent – but I’ll also be getting into the real heart of the plot, the mystery of the disappearing Dr. Lee!

A possible base on the surface of Callisto. Credit: NASA

In the coming months, I hope to have part IV, fully edited, and in a position to be published. While it remains unclear just what form that will take – the old submission to a publishing house route, or via an independent publisher – I know that some really amazing friends and colleagues will be there to cheer it on. Hell, some of them actually read this blog, for some reason. So if you’re reading this now, then I thank you for sticking with me thus far! 🙂

News from Space: Orion Spacecraft Completed

orion_arrays1NASA’s return to manned spaceflight took a few steps forward this month with the completion of the Orion crew capsule. As the module that will hopefully bring astronauts back to the Moon and to Mars, the capsule rolled out of its assembly facility at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Thursday, Sept. 11. This was the first step on its nearly two month journey to the launch pad and planned blastoff this coming December.

Orion’s assembly was just completed this past weekend by technicians and engineers from prime contractor Lockheed Martin inside the agency’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O & C) Facility. And with the installation of the world’s largest heat shield and the inert service module, all that remains is fueling and the attachment of its launch abort system before it will installed atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Orion-at-KSC_Ken-KremerThe unmanned test flight – Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) – is slated to blast off on December 2014, and will send the capsule into space for the first time. This will be NASA’s first chance to observe how well the Orion capsule works in space before it’s sent on its first mission on the Space Launch System (SLS), which is currently under development by NASA and is scheduled to fly no later than 2018.

The Orion is NASA’s first manned spacecraft project to reach test-flight status since the Space Shuttle first flew in the 1980s. It is designed to carry up to six astronauts on deep space missions to Mars and asteroids, either on its own or using a habitat module for missions longer than 21 days. The development process has been a long time in the making, and had more than its share of bumps along the way.

Orion-at-KSC_Ken-Kremer1As Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager, explained:

Nothing about building the first of a brand new space transportation system is easy. But the crew module is undoubtedly the most complex component that will fly in December. The pressure vessel, the heat shield, parachute system, avionics — piecing all of that together into a working spacecraft is an accomplishment. Seeing it fly in three months is going to be amazing.

In addition to going to the Moon and Mars, the Orion spacecraft will carry astronauts on voyages venturing father into deep space than ever before. This will include going to the Asteroid Belt, to Europa (to see if there’s any signs of life there), and even beyond – most likely to Enceladus, Titan, the larger moons of Uranus, and all the other wondrous places in the Solar System.

oriontestflightThe two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 5,800 km (3,600 miles), about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years. It will be an historic occasion, and constitute an important step in what is sure to be known as the Second Space Age.

And be sure to watch this time-lapse video of the Orion Capsule as it is released from the Kennedy Space Center to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility in preparation for its first flight:


Mission to Europa: NASA now Taking Suggestions

europa_moon_IoJupiter’s moon of Europa has been the subject of much speculation and intrigue ever since it was first discovered by Galileo in 1610. In addition to having visible sources of (frozen) surface water and a tenuous oxygen atmosphere, it is also believed to boast interior oceans that could very well support life. As evidence for this mounts, plans to explore Europa using robot landers, miners, submersibles, or even manned missions have been floated by various sources.

However, it was this past December when astronomers announced that water plumes erupting 161 kilometers (100 miles) high from the moon’s icy south pole that things really took a turn. It was the best evidence to date that Europa, heated internally by the powerful tidal forces generated by Jupiter’s gravity, has a deep subsurface ocean. In part because of this, NASA recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) to science and engineering communities for ideas for a mission to the enigmatic moon. Any ideas need to address fundamental questions about the subsurface ocean and the search for life beyond Earth.

europa-lander-2This is not the first time that NASA has toyed with the idea of investigating the Jovian moon for signs of life. Last summer, an article by NASA scientists was published in the peer-reviewed journal Astrobiology, which was entitled “Science Potential from a Europa Lander“. This article set out their research goals in more detail, and speculated how they might be practically achieved. At the time, the article indicated NASA’s ongoing interest, but this latest call for public participation shows that the idea is being taken more seriously.

This is positive news considering that NASA’s planned JIMO mission – Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter, which was cancelled in 2005 – would be taking place by this time next year. Originally slated for launch between May and January of 2015/16, the mission involved sending a probe to Jupiter by 2021, which would then deploy landers to Callisto, Ganymede, Io and Europa for a series of 30 day studies. At the end of the mission in 2025, the vehicle would be parked in a stable orbit around Europa.

JIMO_Europa_Lander_MissionJohn Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, had the following to say in a recent press release:

This is an opportunity to hear from those creative teams that have ideas on how we can achieve the most science at minimum cost… Europa is one of the most interesting sites in our solar system in the search for life beyond Earth. The drive to explore Europa has stimulated not only scientific interest but also the ingenuity of engineers and scientists with innovative concepts.

By opening the mission up to public input, it also appears that NASA is acknowledging the nature of space travel in the modern age. As has demonstrated with Chris Hadfield’s mission aboard the ISS, the Curiosity rover, as well as private ventures such as Mars One, Inspiration Mars, and Objective Europa  – the future of space exploration and scientific study will involve a degree of social media and public participation never before seen.

europa_reportThe RFI’s focus is for concepts for a mission that costs less than $1 billion, but will cover five key scientific objectives that are necessary to improve our understanding of this potentially habitable moon. Primarily, the mission will need to:

  1. Characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper interior
  2. Characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange
  3. Determine global surface, compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability
  4. Understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity, identify and characterize candidate sites for future detailed exploration
  5. Understand Europa’s space environment and interaction with the magnetosphere.

Although Europa has been visited by spacecraft and imaged distantly by Hubble, more detailed research is necessary to understand the complexities of this moon and its potential for life. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, launched in 1989 was the only mission to visit Europa, passing close by the moon fewer than a dozen times. Ergo, if we’re ever to determine conclusively whether or not life exists there, we’re going to have to put boots (robotic or human) onto the surface and start digging!

To read the full Decadal Survey report on NASA’s website, click here.


News from Space: First Detailed Map of Ganymede

ganymedeLast week, researchers released the first-ever geological map of Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon and the largest planetary satellite in the Solar System. Led by Geoffrey Collins of Wheaton College, these scientists produced the first global geologic map that combines the best images obtained by NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft (1979) and the Galileo orbiter (1995 to 2003).

The information of these probes was pieced together as a mosaic image of the planet, giving us our first complete image of the geological features of the world. This image has now been published by the U. S. Geological Survey as a global planar map. The 2D version of the planet surface illustrates the varied geologic character of Ganymede and is the first global, geologic map of the icy, outer-planet moon.

ganymede_mapAnd its about time too! As Robert Pappalardo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California put it:

This map illustrates the incredible variety of geological features on Ganymede and helps to make order from the apparent chaos of its complex surface. This map is helping planetary scientists to decipher the evolution of this icy world and will aid in upcoming spacecraft observations.

Since its discovery in January 1610 by Galileo Galilee, Ganymede has been the focus of repeated observation; first by Earth-based telescopes, and later by the flybys and orbiting spacecraft. These studies depict a complex, icy world whose surface is characterized by the striking contrast between the dark, very old, highly cratered regions, and the lighter, somewhat younger regions marked with an extensive array of grooves and ridges.

Ganymede-JupiterMoon-GeologicMap-SIM3237-20140211The map isn’t just aesthetically pleasing; it also informs our understanding of Ganymede’s geological history. Researchers have identified three geological periods – one involving heavy impact cratering, followed by tectonic upheaval, and then a decline in geological activity. The more detailed images let them study the ridges and groves, and have revealed that the formation of cryovolcanos is rare on Ganymede.

Baerbel Lucchitta, scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz., who has been involved with geologic mapping of Ganymede since 1980, had this to say:

The highly detailed, colorful map confirmed a number of outstanding scientific hypotheses regarding Ganymede’s geologic history, and also disproved others. For example, the more detailed Galileo images showed that cryovolcanism, or the creation of volcanoes that erupt water and ice, is very rare on Ganymede.

ganymede_ridges_craters_600According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ganymede is an especially valuable body to study because it is an ice moon with a richly varied geology and a surface area that is more than half as large as all the land area on Earth. The Ganymede map will also enable researchers to compare the geologic characters of other icy satellite moons, since most features found on other icy satellites have a similar feature somewhere on Ganymede.

Laszlo Kestay, the director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Astrogeology Science Center, explained the implications of this in a statement:

After Mars, the interiors of icy satellites of Jupiter are considered the best candidates for habitable environments for life in our solar system. This geologic map will be the basis for many decisions by NASA and partners regarding future U.S. missions under consideration to explore these worlds.

The project was funded by NASA through its Outer Planets Research and Planetary Geology and Geophysics Programs, and the images can all be downloaded by going to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s website at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). And be sure to check out the animated version of the Ganymede planetary map below:

Sources:, (2),,

News From Space: Volcanic Eruption on Io!

Io.1Io, the innermost of Jupiter’s four largest moons, has always been a source of wonder for astronomers and scientists. In addition to its pockmarked and ashen surface, it is the most volcanically active object in the Solar System, with about 240 active regions. This is due to the immense tidal forces that Jupiter provides, which create oceans of lava beneath the surface and huge volcanoes blasting it hundreds of kilometers into space.

Naturally, these eruptions are not visible directly from Earth unless one is using infrared cameras. But recently, a new series of eruptions were observed by Dr. Imke de Pater, Professor of Astronomy and of Earth and Planetary Science at the University of California in Berkeley. She was using the Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii on August 15, 2013 when it immediately became apparent something big was happening at Io.

Io_eruptionIn a telephone interview with Universe Today, de Pater claims this eruption is one of the top 10 most powerful eruptions that have been seen on Io, and she just happened to have the best seat in the house to observe it.

When you are right at the telescope and see the data, this is something you can see immediately, especially with a big eruption like that. It is a very energetic eruption that covers over a 30 square kilometer area. For Earth, that is big, and for Io it is very big too. It really is one of the biggest eruptions we have seen.

However, the fact that it occurred in the Rarog Patera region of Io, aptly named for a Czech fire deity, is somewhat unusual. While many regions of Io are volcanically active, de Pater said she’s not been able to find any other previous activity that has been reported in the Rarog Patera area, which the team finds very interesting.

Galileo_IoAccording to Ashley Davies of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasedena, California, Rarog Patera was identified as a small, relatively innocuous hot spot by the Galileo spacecraft during its encounter with the Jovian moon during the late 90’s. However, the observations made indicated that the volcanic activity was at a level way, way below what was seen on Aug 15.

Though we cannot see the eruptions directly, observation using the Keck telescope in the past have ascertained there are likely fountains of lava gushing from volcanically active fissures. But unlike volcanic eruptions here on Earth, which are already awesome and frightening to behold, eruptions on Io would be roughly 1000 times as powerful.

And since Io has no atmosphere to speak of, and the planet’s mass is significantly less than that of Earth’s (0.015 that of Earth’s to exact), the lava shoots off into space. Thus, for anyone standing on the moon’s surface, the result would look very much like a space launch at night, with plumes of flames reaching from the ground and extending indefinitely into the sky.

Io_Earth_Moon_ComparisonAs de Pater further indicated in the course of her interview, volcanic activity remains quite unpredictable on the Jovian moon:

We never know about eruptions – they can last hours, days months or years, so we have no idea how long it will stay active. but we are very excited about it.

No data or imagery has been released on the new eruption yet since the team is still making their observations and will be writing a paper on this topic. One thing is clear at this point, though. Despite its mysterious nature, Io still has a few surprises left for Earth scientists.

And for more information on the mysterious planet of Io, check out this Astronomycast podcast, featuring an interview with Dr. Pamela Gay of Southern Illinois University:


News From Space: Eyes on Europa

europa-landerIt’s one of Jupiter’s four largest moons, named the Jovians by the famed astronomer – Galileo Galilee – who first discovered them. And from all outward appearances, the moon is an icy, inhospitable place, with surface temperatures never reaching above -160º C (-256º F). Yet, beneath that frozen outer shell is believed to be a liquid, saltwater ocean, one that draws warmth from its orbit around Jupiter.

If this should indeed be the case, then Europa would be about the best candidate for extraterrestrial life in the Solar System, albeit in microbial form. For decades now, NASA has been working under that assumption and preparing for the day that it might be able to send an expedition or probe to confirm it. And it now seems that that day may be on the horizon.

europa-lander-2According to NASA, this would likely take the form of a robot lander. Much like Curiosity, Opportunity, and other robotic research vehicles, it would packed with a variety of sensors and analytical equipment. But of course, the nature of that equipment would be specifically tailored to answer a series of unknowns pertaining to Europa itself.

Overall, the lander would have three priorities: discover the makeup of minerals and organic matter present on the moon; examine the geophysics of the ice and the ocean underneath; and determine how the geology looks (and therefore how it might have evolved) at a human scale on the surface. Basically, it would all boil down to looking at chemistry, water and energy – in other words, the conditions necessary for life.

And though NASA has not announced any official dates, it has begun to speak of the idea an indication of intent. A new article by NASA scientists published in the peer-reviewed journal Astrobiology entitled Science Potential from a Europa Lander set out their research goals in more detail, and speculated how they might be practically achieved.

europa-lander-4One area of focus would be Europa’s distinctive linear surface cracks which are believed to be the result of tidal forces. Europa’s eccentric orbit about Jupiter causes very high tides when the moon passes closest to the gas giant, so it is thought that this process would generate the heat necessary for simple life to survive. NASA thinks the cracks could contain biological makers, molecules indicating the presence of organic life, which have come from the ocean.

But of course, plotting a mission is not as simple as simply launching a robot into space. To ensure that such a mission would maximize returns requires that a “scientifically optimized” landing site be identified, and to do that, Europa’s surface must be thoroughly surveilled. Thus far, the little we know and think about Europa is based on a handful of flybys by Voyager 2 in the 70s and the Galileo probe in the 90s.

europa-lander-3Lead author Robert Pappalardo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory summed up the situation as follows:

There is still a lot of preparation that is needed before we could land on Europa, but studies like these will help us focus on the technologies required to get us there, and on the data needed to help us scout out possible landing locations. Europa is the most likely place in our solar system beyond Earth to have life today, and a landed mission would be the best way to search for signs of life.

At the present time, NASA’s exploratory itinerary is quite packed. In addition to wanting to tow an asteroid closer to Earth to study it, launching two more rovers to Mars, constructing a settlement on the far side of the Moon, and conducting a manned mission to Mars, it’s safe to say that a robot lander on Europa won’t be happening for some time.

converted PNM fileBut of course, the plans are in place and moving forward with every passing year. NASA is certainly not going to pass up a chance to examine one of the Solar Systems best candidates for extra-terrestrial life, and we can certainly expect more deep-space probes to be launched once Cassini is finished shooting pictures of Saturn.

I am willing to bet good money that any future probe sent into the outer reaches of the Solar System will be tasked with taking high-resolution photos of Europa as part of its mission. And from that, we can certainly expect NASA, the ESA, and even the Chinese, Russians and Indians to start talking turkey within our lifetimes.

What do you think? 2035 seem like a safe bet for a Europa lander mission?


News from SpaceX: More Tests and the Coming Launch

spaceX_elonmuskElon Musk just can’t get enough of the spotlight lately! But that’s the price you pay for being a billionaire, innovator, genius-type person! And barely a week after announcing his idea for the Hyperloop high-speed train, it now seems that SpaceX is once again making the news, thanks to its latest test of the Grasshopper reusable rocket system as well as their planned launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket.

For those unfamiliar with the Grasshopper, this is a proposed reusable rocket system that Musk and SpaceX created with the hopes of bringing the costs associated with space launches down considerably. Since September 2012, the rocket has been put through successive tests, reaching higher and higher altitudes and safely making it back to the ground.

grasshopper_lateraldivertIn this latest test, the rocket successfully performed a “lateral divert test”. In all previous tests, the rocket lifted off vertically from a launch pad and then used its Merlin-1D engine to ease itself back down to the pad. However, in actual launch situations, the rocket wont simply be traveling up and down. When it comes time to land, a considerable amount of lateral steering will be necessary to line it back up with the launch site.

This is what the test, which took place on Tuesday, August 13th, amounted to. It began with the Grasshopper reaching its previously-achieved altitude of 250 meters, but then continued with the rocket moving an additional 100 m (328 ft) to one side. It was subsequently still able to land safely back at the center of the launch pad, compensating for its lateral diversion.

According to SpaceX: “The test demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.” What’s more, it places the company that much closer to the realization of a truly reusable rocket system, something which will drastically cut costs for future space missions.

And of course, they were sure to catch the entire test on video:

But equally important for this rising company that seeks to privatize space travel was the announcement that they have are moving ahead with plans to launch their Falcon Heavy rocket system by late 2013 or early 2014. At present, the Falcon is the most power rocket system in the world, overshadowed only by the now retired – but soon to be reserviced – Saturn V booster that put the Apollo astronauts into space and on the Moon.

spaceX-falcon9As Musk himself said of the rocket:

Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions.

Fully loaded, the Falcon Heavy will be able to carry payloads of 53 metric tons (117,000 pounds or 53,070 kg) into orbit, and is made up of two engine stages. The first stage consists of a Falcon 9 rocket, with a nine-engine cores, followed by two additional nine-engine cores attached to either side. In addition, the Merlin engines have been upgraded to handle the additional weight, and are being tested at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas.

flacon-heavy-3At liftoff the 69.2m (227 ft) long Falcon Heavy will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust, which is equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747’s taking off at the same time. SpaceX claims that this gives the Falcon Heavy more than twice the performance of the next most powerful vehicle – the Delta IV Heavy operated by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance.

SpaceX also says that with more than twice the payload of the Delta IV but at one third the cost, the Falcon Heavy sets a new world record in terms of economy at approximately US$1,000 per pound to orbit. This is in keeping with Musk’s promise to bring the associated costs of space travel and exploration down, hopefully one day to his goal of $500 per pound.


spaceX_solararrayWith the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft to orbit, SpaceX is offering the Falcon Heavy on the commercial market for US$80–$125 million, which compares to the $435 million per launch the U.S. Air Force has budgeted for four launches in 2012. So in effect, Musk’s company is offering a money-saving alternative to both the public and private sector.

For those fascinated by the long-term potential of space travel, this is certainly exciting news. By cutting the costs of placing satellites, supplies and people in orbit, many things are being made feasible that were previously impossible. This includes conducting more research in orbit, the ability to create space-based solar arrays (a very cool solution to our current power problems and the limitations of Earth-based solar power) and perhaps even begin work on a Moon settlement.

solar_system1Beyond that, there are the growing possibilities of commercial space travel, space tourism, and even setting our sights father afield with manned missions to the Moon, prospecting missions to the asteroid belt, and surveying probes to Jupiter’s Moons and to the very edge of the Solar System. Possibly even beyond…

Exciting times we live in, when the impossible is slowly becoming possible!

Sources:, (2),


NASA’s Next Mission to the Moon

moonThe buzz about NASA is that the human race is once again going to the moon, and planning to stay there! According to space policy expert John Logsdon, there are plans to establish a manned base on the dark side of the moon under the Obama administration. He further indicated that with the election pending, this news has been kept under wraps. But with Obama now secure in a second term, it is expected that there will be an announcement soon.

“NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan,” said Logsdon in a recent interview with “They’ve been holding off announcing that until after the election, noting that NASA’s mission, direction, and budget could have been revised under a Romney administration.”

For those who have been following the Obama administration’s plans for space, this should not come as a surprise. In 2010, the president signed the NASA 2010 Authorization Act into law, a bill which freed up $60 billion for NASA through 2013. This move was intended to reignite space exploration at a time when the US found itself lagging behind Russia, China, the European Union and India in terms of bold new space projects.

These project include a planned asteroid visit by 2025 and a manned mission to Mars in 2030. A manned outpost at the Earth-moon L2 “gateway” (shown in the diagram below) could serve as an important stepping stone to the outer solar system. But right now, NASA’s eyes are firmly fixed on Mars itself, since a manned mission is the next logical step in their research of the Red Planet.

NASA_moon“There are many options – and many routes – being discussed on our way to the Red Planet. In addition to the moon and an asteroid, other options may be considered as we look for ways to buy down risk – and make it easier – to get to Mars.” At a conference held this past September, NASA deputy chief Lori Garver went even further to outline NASA’s goals for the coming years:

“We just recently delivered a comprehensive report to Congress outlining our destinations which makes clear that SLS  – NASA’s new heavy-lift “Space Launch System” – will go way beyond low-Earth orbit to explore the expansive space around the Earth-moon system, near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and ultimately, Mars. Let me say that again, we’re going back to the moon, attempting a first-ever mission to send humans to an asteroid and actively developing a plan to take Americans to Mars.”

Suffice it to say, NASA is happy the election turned out the way it did. With their budget secure, the course of future space exploration has been set and remains in effect. Who’s to say where it will take us beyond Mars? To the Jovian satellites of Europa, Ganymede and Io? The Saturnalian moons of Titan, Rhea, Dione and Enceladus? I call Gliese 581 after that. I want to know for sure if the fourth planet (the setting of our story Yuva) is inhabitable or not already!

These are exciting times we live in, aren’t they?

Source: IO9,