Monday, July 21, 2014

Happy 45th Anniversary Apollo 11! (a day late)

Yeah, I know this is coming a day late, but here it is anyway. Forty-Five years ago yesterday, Neil Armstrong became the first earthling to step down upon the surface of another heavenly body other than the Earth. It was that famous, "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" moment most people now remember from their classes in school. For many of us who were alive and old enough to remember back then, it was one of those extremely rare, shared moments in our lives when one's sense of self and sense of humanity radically changes. After the moon landing, traveling out into space was no longer confined to the world of science fiction and fantasy. We could, if we were so inclined, settle space. And suddenly the idea that we could become a multi-planetary species wasn't so far-fetched. For me, the next similar sized impact we might experience would be a human landing on Mars, or more so for me at least, the establishment of a permanent human habitation off-planet. I think the first baby born off-planet will clinch our status as a space traveling species. For me that will be the next big earth-shattering human accomplishment. Neil and Buzz Aldrin only spent a few hours on the lunar surface, then headed back into orbit to meet up with Michael Collins in the command module and then returned to Earth. The other Apollo moon landings would stay longer, would include golf and driving on the lunar surface, and discovery of many mineral specimens that would fundamentally alter our view of the Earth and Moon's place in the solar system. Strangely, for all of the radical thought-shifting the moon landing accomplished, something odd happened afterwards. Almost the day after Apollo 11's return, space travel became "old hat". Interest in the moon landings slacked off pretty quickly. By the time Apollo 17 was leaving the moon, the TV stations had moved on to other programming. What many thought of as the greatest accomplishment of mankind became eclipsed by the War in Vietnam, the equal rights movement, and other Earth-based concerns (All worthy concerns, mind you). The space program, without the clear goal of beating the Russians to the moon, became unfocused and altered into a huge ungainly bureaucracy. I suppose it has something to do with human nature or the American culture, that we lose interest in great moments once they have passed, but I hope that someday we will again find our adventurous spirit and head back out into space in earnest. Until that time, I will write posts on the anniversary of events like this to remind readers (and myself) of our potential for greatness.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Yet Another Post of Various Notes

First off, Space-X concluded it's successful third Cargo Resupply Mission (CRS-3) on May 20th. The mission went without a hitch, although there was some strange water accumulation detected in the capsule during it's recovery. No news yet on what was the source of the water. Details to follow in some later post.

Shortly after the completion of CRS-3, Space-X unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft. You can watch the unveiling video here. The Dragon 2 is designed for rocket assisted landing on hard surfaces (land) rather than splashing down in the ocean (sea). The capsule has updated thrusters to accomplish this and small landing legs which pop out of the heat shield. The reasoning for this was to facility rapid turn-around and re-flight of the Dragon spacecraft after a mission.

According to a paper published in Science Magazine, researchers have found remanents of the planet Theia, a former planet believed responsible for the formation of the moon when it slammed into Earth some 4.5 billion years ago. If true, this new evidence lends credence to the Giant Impact Hypothesis of lunar formation. One thing that bugs me though is why is the Earth's orbit almost perfectly circular? One would think the chances that the planetary impact that formed the moon would result in a circular orbit would be slim to none. Of course, it's also hard to imagine that the moon just came along on its own and somehow dropped into Earth orbit.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

ISS Gets a Web-cam! ...and other news

There has been quite a lot going on in the Space News these days. SpaceX's Third ISS Resupply Mission (CRS-3) is well underway. SpaceX has tested their first stage landing capability, both during the CRS-3 Launch and again at their McGregor, TX test facility (See: 1000m test flight) (In case you're wondering, Grasshopper was a mocked-up Falcon-9 first stage, while the new test is being done with an actual Falcon-9 first stage. If you look closely, you can see that the landing legs are different, otherwise you might not notice). The tensions in Ukraine and Crimea are bleeding over into the space exploration realm as the US and others discover what happens when one of your international partners does something "naughty". I'm not sure I agree with Elon Musk's ploy to get the Air Force to open up their contract bidding process, but I do agree that such contracts need to be open. All these stories are very interesting, impressive, important, and big, but to me there's a still bigger story to discuss.

ISS has got a webcam! A little over 4 years ago I wrote a blog entry titled "Is a Webcam Really Too Much to Ask??". I have had this notion since the days of Dan Goldin that a web-cam on the side of the ISS would give earthlings the chance to experience the joy of spaceflight without the added expense of flying up to the ISS. It would be inspirational! Students would be transfixed! Poets would dream! World leaders would sue for peace! Congressmen would fund NASA! Great stuff! I assailed Mr. Goldin with emails, but to no avail (Although I may have earned myself a reputation as a stalker there). I could just imagine what the Earth would look like from space from the comfort of my own PC. Earth from a live video feed. I imagined it would be amazing! I could feel the awe and serenity I would experience viewing such a web-cam. I almost feel goosebumps writing about it. But why imagine when you can see the real thing right now!

Go there (or here) and check it out. You can read more about it here. Fantastic, I tell you. All the things (almost) I could've wanted (I had a notion of five cameras being integrated into a spherical view to allow the viewers to virtually "move the camera around" rather than have set directional views, but at this point I'll take what I can get).

The view at the head of this article was from what I'm calling the ISS front porch (leading edge). This next image is from the ISS back porch (trailing edge). There is also a straight-down shot. Enjoy the site while it's up and running.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Agglomeration of More Astro-based Announcements

The first official Cygnus delivery to the International Space Station launched on January 9, 2014. This follows on the heals of Space-X's successful Thaicom 6 launch on January 6th -- an auspicious beginning to 2014 for the Commercial Space industry.

It's somewhat interesting to note that the Thaicom 6 satellite was made by Orbital Sciences, the company responsible for the Cygnus spacecraft. The aerospace industry is interesting that way. Rivals are often as not collaborators in one way or another. The Cygnus spacecraft was docked with the International Space Station on January 12th. So far so good.

Lastly, in another bit of encouraging news, the Obama Administration has extended funding for the International Space Station until at least 2024. This means that commercial space carriers will have at least one destination to which to travel for the next decade or so. This was announced in conjunction with a series of summits put on by the International Academy of Astronautics on January 9th and 10th of this year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Today I received a notice (actually 4) on Facebook from Robert Zubrin indicating that his book "Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism" has come out in paperback. Every time Mr. Zubrin posts on Facebook, he posts his stuff in at least four groups that I am also a part of, consequently I have no choice but to read at least one of the multitude of his posts. Sadly, I read the blurb that was attached and became incensed for the morning.

After spending an inordinate amount of time doing research, I concluded that his book is terribly flawed and full of flights of fancy. Basically Mr Zubrin attempts to go on an everything you know is wrong tirade about Malthus, other population growth scientists, Al Gore, and others, claiming that they are all "antihumanist" and clearly evil and clearly unqualified "pseudoscientists". He assumes that population growth isn't really a problem and that the technology will develop to allow us to grow our population up to 1000 times larger than our current 6 billion level.

Maybe I'm just one of those "weak minds" Einstein was referring to in the quote "Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds," but it seems to me that Mr Zubrin is an idiot, or perhaps a madman. And while it might be said that history often proves idiots and madmen right in the end, it must be remembered that history doesn't even bother recording the ravings of the much larger numbers of madmen who were completely wrong. The picture at the head of the entry provides an example of one of these unsung madmen. A full review of Zubrin's book can be found here.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Space News Agglomeration: SES-8 success, J-SSOD cannon, new Swan arrival

An impressive accomplishment occured for Space-X on Tuesday, December 3rd, when Space-X was at last able to launch the SES-8: Space's first geosynchronous orbit delivery attempt. The launch occurred at 5:41 PM EST and the Falcon 9's second stage and payload achieved orbit (LEO parking orbit) a little less than 9 minutes later. Eighteen minutes after that, the second stage commenced a short 1 minute burn which placed the payload into it's geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). The GTO is a highly eccentric elliptical orbit with a perigee at LEO altitude and an apogee that is at the geosynchronous orbit altitude. FWIW, this type of orbital change maneuver is called a Hohmann transfer.

Meanwhile, several days earlier, the Japan Space Agency's (JAXA) JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (a.k.a. J-SSOD a.a.k.a. "Awesome Cubesat Cannon") launched four cubesats from the ISS. One satellite was the PicoDragon: an earth imaging satellite created as a joint project between the University of Tokyo, the Vietnam National Satellite Center, and IHI Aerospace. Two other satellites were Ardusat-1 and Ardusat-X: Arduino-based cubesats developed for cheap access to space for students and such, and finally the TechEdSat-3: an aerobraking technology demonstrator submitted by NASA Ames Research Center, San Jose State University and the University of Idaho. Cubesats are small satellites generally fitting into a 10cm on a side cube format (hence the name), but also come in additional rectangular formats for larger loads. The simple cube is considered the 1U format, a 20cm x 10cm x 10cm rectangle is considered a 2U format, and a 10x10x30 rectangle is the 3U format. The TechEdSat-3 is of this last 3U format. The J-SSOD "cannon" is a spring loaded mechanism which ejects cubesats away from the ISS at between 1 and 1.7 meters per second (or 3.6 to 6.2 kph), about the speed of a fast walk to a slow jog. Thus the phrase "awesome cubesat cannon" might be a bit of an overstatement. The cool thing about this delivery method (cool to me at least) was that the crew of the ISS was able to checkout the satellites inside of the ISS before deploying them outside of the ISS (An airlock and the Canada arm were involved).

Lastly, December 17th marks the next Orbital Sciences Cygnus launch and Cargo Resupply Mission to the ISS. One might expect this page to have up to date information on the launch in the upcoming days.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Oh Poop: Falcon 9 Launch Delayed due to First Stage Anomaly

Not much to say here. Once this and additional clouds of what appears to be LOX emptied from the Falcon 9, the launch was over for the day. The good news is that the incident was caught and the launch will try again at the soonest opportunity. Yeah, it's a bit of a bummer, but it's no catastrophe.

What Remained to be Seen: NASA TV coverage less than stellar

Damit! Damit! Damit! What were they thinking? Just at the moment of launch, the NASA tv signal was stuck on the inside of the russian space agency control room and a very distant image of the russian control room's main screen. Are you serious folks? I sure hope the Space-X launch is more exciting.

Monday: A day of back to back launches

This Monday offers up two broadcasts of space launches for your viewing pleasure. A Soyuz ISS cargo resupply mission (Progress 53-P) launch will occur at about 3:53PM Eastern Standard Time. The launch will be broadcast live on nasa TV and on the Roscosmos video website here. That launch will be followed by a Space-X Falcon 9 (v1.1) launch at about 5PM Eastern Standard Time. It can be seen via the Space-X webcast here. The Falcon mission is Space-x's first geosynchronous orbit mission. In a strange twist, the Soyuz/Progress launch will occur at 53 minutes past midnight local time, while the Falcon will launch at around sunset time in Florida, thus the picture of the rockets at the head of this article have their day/night aspects completely reversed.

I would like to mention that much of the information I have posted here came from and from the Danspace77 blog. Please check out AstroDan's blog entries at your leisure. Also, the russian space agency, Roscosmos, has their own facebook page (in English) and their own website (in Russian). Their launch videos are all courtesy of this website..