Thursday, October 31, 2013

ESA's ATV-4 Departs ISS and other Cargo Delivery News

The European Space Agency's Fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4) departed from ISS on October 28th, 2013. The plan is to deorbit the ATV on Saturday, November 2nd, into the Pacific's spacecraft cemetery, which is a patch of unoccupied ocean about 3900 km southeast of New Zealand. The deorbit is being done in such a way that the crew of the ISS will be able to witness, take measurements, and record video the re-entry of the spacecraft. The re-entry data is being collected to better understand the characteristics of "targeted re-entry", the data will be used to improve re-entry predictions for other craft, such as the GOCE satellite, which is re-entering in a few days.

The undocking of ATV-4 from the ISS marks the end of a fairly busy period of deliveries and departures at the station. In the previous week, the Cygnus cargo delivery spacecraft undocked and made it's way to the spacecraft cemetery, at the beginning of the month (Actually at the hairy end of September) the Cygnus arrived. And in the beginning of September, JAXA's HTV-4 departed the station. That makes a total of three different cargo carriers arriving at or departing from the space station in 2 months. Cargo delivery is becoming a thriving business up there.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Swan Sizzles Seaward

Orbital Sciences Corporation has confirmed that the Cygnus spacecraft has de-orbitted over the Pacific Ocean at about 2:15 EDT on October 23rd and thus has brought Orbital's first ISS resupply mission to a close.

Coming up with titles for these blog entries is half the battle.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cygnus Has Left the Station in Preparation for Fiery Plunge of Doom

As of 7:31AM (EDT), the Cygnus Cargo Carrier was released from the International Space Station, completing the almost all aspects of its mission. Tomorrow at about 2PM (EDT) it will perform a de-orbit burn and crash into the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the eastern coast of New Zealand, do doubt far, far away from any inhabited islands. Thus will end it's five week mission. Prior to leaving the station, the Cygnus was stuffed with trash for atmospheric/oceanic disposal. Assuming any parts of Cygnus survive re-entry, they will join the countless bits of Russian Progress, Japanese H2A, ESA ATV, Shuttle fuel tanks, and Mir Space Station scattered across the bottom of the Southern Pacific Ocean floor.

Now for something completely different. Orbital could safely improve their website quite a bit. They have created it in such a way that the right mouse click button is disabled on their page. Also their updates are brief and a bit uninspired. They have failed to understand that space enthusiasts and bloggers might be interested in referencing their material. I don't know what lawyers convinced them to "secure" their web-site content, so as not to allow viewers to save images directly off their page. Terribly annoying and almost no-one else does this. Of course, with a little work, such annoyances can be circumvented ( ex1, ex2, ex3 & ex4 ) but WHY must it be necessary??

Seriously Orbital, you have an audience. Some of them even vote. Don't be so insensitive. Oh and by the way. All Orbital Images are Courtesy of Orbital Sciences Corporation.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Video of SpaceX Falcon 9 Re-Ignite

I saw a link on for the Falcon 9 re-ignite and tried to follow the video, but it was very slow. Then I found the re-ignite video on the spacexchannel on Youtube. The re-ignite starts at the 2:40 mark in the video. The downward facing camera gets obscured pretty quickly, but the first stage motors does re-ignite.

Monday, October 14, 2013

2K Grasshopper Test Flight is Cool, but the Drone is Equally So.

So I'll keep this brief. On October 7th, SpaceX's Grasshopper took a 744 meter (2441 foot) leap into the air, followed by a safe landing. The video of the test flight is pretty insane. What blew me away is that the test flight was filmed by a camera mounted to a hexacopter, which is an electric 6 motor helicopter, if you will. BTW, I think that last link was from a previous launch filmed using a hexacopter as well. The cool part to me is the copter's ability to stably hover at around 1500 foot altitude. There's no noticeable vibration in the camera image. The camera is incredibly steady. Also, what kind of batteries is that thing running on? I can't imagine the task of launching the hexacopter, zooming it up to 1500 feet, hovering it there until the rocket is ready for the test, filming the test, and then landing the copter afterwards. I'm not sure I should be congratulating SpaceX for another successful Grasshopper test or an amazing bit of test footage.

Friday, October 11, 2013

RIP Scott Carpenter

I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. When I was a kid, we could go over to the Scott Carpenter Park Pool and go swimming with our friends. I was never much of a swimmer, but I went to the pool there a few times anyway. The pool was named for an astronaut from Boulder, we were told, and I suppose it was a point of pride and wonder for many of us. This happened back when NASA astronauts were incredibly rare and quite famous. Remember, there was a time when there were just seven US astronauts, and they were the very first Americans to travel in space. It was at a time when scientists didn't know if humans could even survive in zero-g.

These seven men were true heroes - strapped into tiny, barely tested, titanium tin cans balanced atop re-purposed vengeance weapons or re-purposed ICBMs, and with the glaring specter of death a real and ever-present possibility, they flew into the great unknown, both of the scientific and engineering variety. And there in Boulder, the namesake of our pool was one of those guys.

He was our hometown boy. Born in Boulder on May 1, 1925. He went to school there, and went to college there in 1945. He would eventually earn his aeronautical engineering degree in 1962. The Korean war interrupted college, he joined the Navy and end up flying during the Korean War, became a test pilot, studied Naval Intelligence in Monterrey, CA. In 1958, he was given secret order to report to Washington DC for a special project. The project turned out to be the Mercury project. On May 24, 1962, he road the Mercury Aurora 7 into space for a three orbit trip. And though he landed a bit off his mark, he did make it back and had performed valuable science while in space.

Scott Carpenter carpenter would never fly in space again, but instead began a NASA career centered around the SEALAB program. He would also work at NASA with the underwater neutral buoyancy training tank, and would begin a venture capital company called Sea Sciences Inc. centered around utilizing sea-based resources and planetary stewardship. His life continued on and he kept busy. He wrote books, both about space and about undersea life.

But on October 10, 2013 at the age of 88 he died due to complications relating to a stroke he had suffered. He has since moved on to the next great adventure we must all take. Good luck, Mr. Carpenter, and thank you for sharing your life with us.

Please Note: I would be remiss if I didn't include a link to a wonderful site about Scott Carpenter. It was also the site which provided much of the information in this post. Please check it out.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Islands in the Sky

After following a few discussions in the Mars One-Aspiring Martians Group on Facebook, I began thinking about the minimum human requirements for starting a viable independent colony on another planet (or in space for that matter). Any colony that is incapable of being independent of the Earthbound civilization (or even organization) that spawned it is (under the best of circumstances) doomed to share it's progenitor's fate. In that event, any colonists who have no transportation back to Earth will certainly die.

Anthropologist John Moore speculates that a number around 160 people will be necessary to have a biologically viable space colony. It isn't clear to me that such a number will be able to maintain the life-sustaining technologies necessary to keep the space colony going. If we create a colony that is dependent on computer technology to maintain it, how will the colonists be able to engineer computer replacement parts after they fail? Also, how will the colonists be able to advance their technology base over time? How will they teach their progeny to replace the preceding generation of technologists? You might need between two and five thousand people (a small town's population) or perhaps more to maintain an independently viable technological civilization in a colony.

The picture at the head of this article is a starry background sprinkled with images of some of the world's smallest inhabited islands: The Pitcairn's Islands have a population of just 50 people. Foula, an isolated British Shetland Island, has a population of just 38. Nauru has a population of 9,300. Rapa Nui (Easter Island) has a population of 5,700. Anuta has a population of 300. These tiny islands are much like space colonies, but at least they have the distinct advantage that they exist in relatively benign environments and in relatively close proximity to outside supplies. This will most certainly not be the case for distant space colonies.

SpaceX's Mostly Successful First Falcon 9 v.1.1 Mission

SpaceX launched their first upgraded (version 1.1) Falcon 9 on September 29th, 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mission was largely successful, placing a number of satellites into orbit. A video of the launch can be seen below:

Two things so far are a bit of a mystery: (1) This new and improved Falcon 9 has a first stage capable of being recovered for re-use. Although this was only a demonstration flight of this capability (and not a full re-use scenario), there is no information out of SpaceX so far as to the success or failure of the first stage recovery; and (2) A second stage re-light and maneuvering burn was cancelled due to some problem detected in the second stage. It is not clear yet what that problem was. This presents a potential problem for SpaceX's plans to place satellites into Geo-Synchronous Orbit. SpaceX is still investigating.