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..

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Reassessment of Air Burst Damage after Chelyabinsk Meteor Indicates Much Higher Risk

A new paper published in the November 6th electronic edition of Nature indicates that we are in greater danger of injury from asteroid "impact" than we have realized. The primary increased risk is due to the understanding that smaller objects can cause far more damage than we realized. The Chelyabinsk Meteor airburst caused an explosion that was equivalent to 500kt of TNT, it was a relatively small sized rock of 20 meters, and the primary explosion occurred about 30 km above the surface of the Earth, but the damage to the city of Chelyabinsk and its surrounds was extensive. Damage occured in an area 90 km to either side of the path of the meteor and more than 1,600 people were injured (mostly from flying glass).

Up until now, scientists at NASA have assumed that a rock less than 30 meters in diameter would harmlessly break up in the atmosphere, and while this may be true, it's now quite clear that an airburst actually can cause a fair amount of damage. There is somewhat of an inverse exponential relationship between the diameter of a space rock and the number of space rocks that fit that diameter in space. Tiny dust grains in space are innumerable, dwarf planets like Ceres are rare, but not as rare as planets. 30m diameter objects are much less prevalent than 20m objects. To make matters worse, it's much harder to find the smaller asteroids before they have a chance to cause us harm. The studies indicate that the increased risk of asteroid damage is now on the order of 10 times worse than expected. While this sounds shocking, please keep in mind that the overall risk of personal asteroid damage was quite small to begin with (almost trivial). Now we know the risk is not so trivial after all.

Links for this story:
Science Story
Univ of Western Ontario CPSX Chelyabinsk Story
Older Paper on Chelyabinsk Meteor
In case you'd like to read the Nature paper at a cheaper price.
Video illustrating the delay between meteor and shockwave
Compilation of Russian Videos of the Airburst

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

New Study Shows Increased Presence of Goldilocks-Approved Earthlike Planets

A new study presented recently at the Kepler Science Conference contends that 1 out of every 5 sun-like stars in our galaxy are orbitted by an earth-like planet in the Goldilocks zone, an orbital distance from the parent star that allows liquid water to exist and thus is accomodating to life as we know it. The study was written by fourth year Berkeley graduate student, Erik Petigura.

India Launches Their First Mars Mission

On November 5, 2013 at 2:38PM IST (Indian Standard Time) the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched the first Indian mission to the red planet. The spacecraft, named "Mangalyaan", successfully made it into orbit. From there, the spacecraft will go through a series of burns which will increase the eccentricity of its orbits around Earth until the final burn will send the craft into a hyperbolic trajectory away from Earth and towards Mars. The spacecraft should arrive at Mars on September 24, 2014. The objectives of the mission are fairly straightforward: (1) Provide a technology demonstration that highlights ISRO's ability to send craft to Mars. (2) Explore Martian land features and atmosphere from orbit. You can follow the mission on its web-page here.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

ATV-4 Spectacular Re-Entry Coverage

This is just a short entry. The ESA's ATV-4 "Einstein" spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere on November 2nd and left behind an amazing series of photographs. did a good job of showing the pictures that were taken from the ISS as the ATV-4 re-entered, below it. Pictures were also posted by the folks at ESA on their Flickr Account, which is where I acquired the picture at the top of this blog entry. Pretty impressive fireworks!