Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lunar Eclipses and CIGS are for Everyone




The lunar eclipse last night was not disappointing. We went to bed early, then woke up at 1:50 AM last night to view the eclipse, which had just started with just a small corner of the moon knawed away into shadow. Then we went back to bed and checked progress again at 2:50 AM when the eclipse was in totality. Very pretty indeed. My cool observation of the night was comparing the amount of moonlight pouring into our bedroom at 1:50 vs the almost complete lack of light at 2:50.

CIGS, in this case, refers to Copper Indium Gallium di-Selenide solar cells. An article here discusses them in some depth, even if the article is a bit "old". A few new articles in the news talks about how various universities and researchers are getting on the CIGS or thin film solar bandwagon. Typical silicon solar panels run around $4US a watt, while the new CIGS cells may see prices from $2US to $1US a watt. Potentially, the cost of the roof mount box holding the solar cells will cost more than the solar cells within.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Total Eclipse of the Moon -- August 28th



For any interested souls, it's time to set your alarm clocks very early tonight and see a total eclipse of the moon! The big event starts at about 1:50AM PDT, is in the deepest part of the eclipse at 3:37AM PDT, and ends at around 5:24AM PDT. The moon will be in the deepest part of the earth's shadow from 2:52 to 4:22AM PDT. This is the most dramatic part of the eclipse to witness (when the moon is likely to be an interesting shade of deep orange, blood red, or brown), so if you want to limit your night owl hours, go for this time period.

Follow this link to get more information, such as eclipse times for time zones other than Pacific Daylight Time. Unlike a solar eclipse, lunar eclipses are more frequent and visible over a much larger area. They are still a wonder to witness.

For what it's worth, the reason the moon changes color so dramatically is because it's witness to all of the earth's sunrises and sunsets that are occuring at that time. Quite a lovely site for any future lunar explorers or settlers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

End of an Era




The Spacenews section of Space.com had a story today about NASA's phasing out of Delta II launch vehicle. The Delta II has a long and illustrious career launching many of NASA's robotic spacecraft program. It seems that within the last 10 years, almost every NASA unmanned launch video featured a Delta II of one configuration or another lofting a spacecraft towards Mars or an asteroid. Now, according to the article, the Delta II is just getting to be too darn expensive. When Mars Pathfinder was launched, it's Delta II cost something around $50 million. New Delta II launches are slated to cost $65+ million. Apparently this is just too much, so NASA has decided to switch to the Air Force approved Delta IV and Atlas V EELVs.


Strangely enough, the new launch vehicles offer nothing as far as cost savings are concerned. Instead, the minimum vehicle cost for either family ends up costing about $138 million, around twice as much as the old Delta IIs. Meanwhile, SpaceX continues their efforts to produce the Falcon 9(~$25 million) and Falcon 9 Heavy(~$55 million) vehicles, which would seem to be a far more cost effective solution.


The other possibility is to avoid change entirely and keep buying Delta IIs. The Russians seem quite satisfied to keep recycling 1960s vintage Soyuz and Proton launch vehicles. Vehicles who's development costs have been recouped a hundred times over. Maybe we could learn something from their example.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

STS-118 Liftoff: Flashes in the Plume




We watched the video of Endeavour/STS-118 launch last night, and everything generally looked good. One thing I saw shortly after liftoff made me wonder if I was seeing things. What I saw were brief yellow flashes in the normally clear SSME exhaust plume which got me to wondering if they'ld blown out some engine tubing like what happened with Columbia on STS-93.


Right before tank separation there were also flames from close to Endeavour's nose, just at the top of the tank's onboard camera. I assumed that these were caused by the RCS engines re-orienting the stack prior to tank jettison. Any comments on these observations would be appreciated.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

For Want of Duct Tape




The latest Progress cargo carrier was ejected from the International Space Station today, for later deorbit and disposal in the coming days. This comes on the heels of last week's disposal of the EAS ammonia tank and camera mount via hand toss. The news of that week was that the ammonia tank and camera mount are going to stay in orbit for something like five to seven years prior to their uncontrolled re-entry. This is a problem in that some of the parts of the tank are expected to make it down to the surface of the earth and as such constitute a bit of a hazard. The juxtaposition of that story and todays news of the Progress ejection got me to thinking -- if only the guys up there had duct-taped the tank and camera mount to the Progress rocket and de-orbitted the Progress and extra bits together, they would've been able to kill two birds with one stone. At the very least, having a few rolls of space-rated duct tape around the ISS seems like a good idea in general.

Arms for Peace




An article posted on SpaceDaily.com's 'Space War' Section is dubiously titled "Washington Seeking to Calm Mideast with Arms Sales". The article claims that the Bush Administration wishes to pump billions of dollars in arms into Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other gulf states in order to counter the influence of Iran and Syria. At least that's the theory. Still, the title of the article alone reminds me of one of the party slogans from Orwell's 1984, "War is Peace." Is it any wonder I feel manipulated?