Monday, July 20, 2015

Happy Moon Landing Day! (Apollo 11 lunar landing: July 20, 1969)

It was 46 years ago today that the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module touched down onto the lunar surface in the Sea of Tranquility. A few hours afterwards, Neil Armstrong became the first human ever to step down onto the surface of another world. Buzz Aldrin followed a few minutes later. In the history of the Earth, only 10 other people have ever had the chance to accomplish that feat. Wouldn't it be something to see humans accomplish great things once again?

If you are interested in the history of the Apollo moon landings and are particularly interested in the nitty gritty details of how the landings played out, be sure to check out the Apollo Lunar Surface Journals, a website that contains pictures, videos, audio recordings, logs, debriefings, and more. It provides a wealth of raw information, and well worth a few dozen hours of perusal.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pluto Painstakingly Probed Perfectly!

First images sent back from the New Horizons spacecraft have given planetary scientists much to think about. Images were first shown during a NASA news conference that was held on July 15th at 3PM EDT. Alan Stern was happy to report that photos of the surface of Pluto seem to match up nicely with the teams predicted models. Vertical cliffs are an indicator that much of the surface of Pluto is comprised of water ice. A thin veneer of Nitrogen indicates that Pluto may possess active cryo-volcanoes or geysers emitting Nitrogen into the local space. These first images are tantalizing, but the real bulk of the images won't be sent back in their entirety for about another year and a half.

The New Horizons spacecraft will now continue on out further into the far reaches of outer space. The team has three Kuiper Belt Objects (essentially small objects about 1 to 2% of the size of Pluto) that are being evaluated as potential targets for a follow-on New Horizons fly-by. Meanwhile, Pluto will never be seen the same after New Horizons' brief but thorough visit.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

..and now we wait.

So the New Horizons spacecraft passed Pluto and now has begun to send back pictures to the ground team. The transmitter data rate is down to 2000 bits per second, and they can only achieve that by using the spacecrafts two transmitters. The amount of data being sent back is pretty huge, and will take upwards of a year to get all of the data from the fly-by sent down from the spacecraft, although early this evening a few tantalizing images should be available. At this range (approximately 7.5 billion kilometers), it takes a radio signal about 7 hours to get from the Earth to the spacecraft, or about 14 hours for one command to be sent and a response to be returned. (Yikes!)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fly-By of Pluto Mere Hours Away

The New Horizons Spacecraft is expected to make it's closest approach to Pluto in less than 14 hours from now. Thus the craft's nearly 9 and a half year journey to Pluto will be complete (although the mission itself will continue on past Pluto for some time). A sample of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of the (dwarf) planet Pluto, are on board the New Horizons spacecraft, so after 85 years, Clyde and his planet will finally get the chance to meet!

The nearest approach to Pluto will occur at 11:49 UTC on July 14th (7:49 AM Eastern/4:49 AM Pacific Daylight Time). You can follow the progress of the spacecraft at the primary Johns Hopkins mission site or the NASA Pluto site.

Monday, June 29, 2015

CRS-7 News so Far

NASA held a morning news conference to discuss the SpaceX CRS-7 "Anomoly" or "RUD" or explosion, depending on how you want to spin the issue. So far there seems to have been an overpressure event in the second stage's LOX tank -- the exact cause isn't know -- but that seems to be where SpaceX is focusing their attention. The FAA is overseeing the investigation that SpaceX is performing, with NASA assistance as needed. The FAA considers this an "incident" rather than a full up "accident". These are terms that are probably more significant if you speak government-ese.

The other concern was whether or not the ISS was going to be in trouble with the lack of supplies. There may be a bit of a problem with water filters for the water recycler (the filters aren't worn out, but they are getting rather full of stuff), but other than that, there is enough food and supplies until the Japanese, Russian, or Cygnus supply spacecrafts can get there.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ouch Ouch

Looks like today's Dragon launch resulted in a "rapid unscheduled disassembly". It's possible it had gone off course, but there was a fair amount of out-gassing prior to break-up. Damn it!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

News for the Month: CRS-6 LEO, Turkmenistan/Thales GEO, Blue Origin Sub-Orbital, and a Lack of Progress

A lot has happened in the last month. The month started up with SpaceX's CRS-6 launch and attempted booster recovery. The good news is that launch and ISS station arrival were flawless, the not so good news is that the booster recovery didn't work out quite as well. Great video of the attempt, though. Elon said he was going to get himself an volcanic lair should the booster landing succeed. While he can't start on his lair just yet, I am sure SpaceX will succeed eventually. You have to admire his attitude about the whole venture. It seems he sees every flight is a chance to learn something new, and he isn't terribly attached to the success or failure of the booster landing, just as long as that effort is leading to eventual success. To booster landing, after all, is just icing on the Falcon 9 launch effort. The important measure of success is delivering product to orbit for the time being.

Meanwhile, on April 28th, Russia launched the cargo mission Progress 59 towards the International Space Station, but the ship lost attitude control soon after reaching orbit. One could hazard a guess as to what happened (a stuck attitude control jet?), but the end result is the Progress and all of it's cargo are a complete loss.

The day prior to the Progress launch, SpaceX launched another Falcon 9, this time carrying Turkmenistan's first communications satellite, TurkmenAlem52E/MonacoSAT to a geosynchronous transfer orbit. No attempt was made to land the booster on this flight. I think this was decided because the geo transfer orbit uses more fuel than the LEO orbit insertions, so the booster comes down faster and emptier than with LEO attempts. The next booster landing attempt will come up this June with the next resupply mission to the ISS.

Lastly, big news arrived this morning that Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin, has begun their sub-orbital spacecraft testing phase with the launch and successful capsule recovery of their "New Shepard" spacecraft. The rocket, shown in the image at the top of this post, launched on April 29th, and reached an altitude of 307,000 feet. The booster of the spacecraft, called the "propulsion module" by Blue Origin, was unable to land softly as intended (it crashed) due to a hydraulic system mishap. Overall, a very successful test flight. But I have to say "New Shepard" isn't the most attractive rocket I've ever seen. The rocket's shape is more than a tad suggestive. After some research, I learned that the shape is part of the booster recovery system. That's great, but perhaps Jeff could've passed the design by marketing prior to finalizing everything.