Wednesday, April 30, 2008

EDEM to Model Lunar Dust and Regolith

Lebanon, NH – DEM Solutions, a world leader in discrete element modeling software, has been awarded a significant new contract in support of NASA’s exploration technology programs. DEM Solutions will collaborate with scientists and engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to add new modeling capabilities to DEM Solutions’ EDEM™ software, enabling NASA’s Dust Mitigation and In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) programs to model the unique physical and electrostatic characteristics of lunar and martian dust and rock (regolith) in the design of new technologies for dust mitigation, and excavation, handling and processing of granular material under low gravity conditions.

Dr. Rebecca Ghent of the "LRO 24" presents "a Striking History"

On March 11, Dr. Rebbecca Ghent of the University of Toronto was chosen by NASA as one of the "LRO 24," a group picked by NASA to help decide how best the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will collect science on its mission later this year. The LRO-LCROSS mission is nearly assembled and was reportedly scheduled for vacuum chamber stress testing under supervision by the Goddard Spaceflight Center.

Among the stated goals of LRO are testing new technologies, identifying potential landing sites, sampling the back-scatter from Cosmic Rays and solar particles from the lunar surface and the moon's "striking" geological history, which is believed to be a literal recording of the same history of the Solar System since the Moon formed 4.725 billion years ago.

Overnight Chuck Wood of the Lunar Photograph of the Day (LPOD) wiki has opened a discussion of an "important article" in the May issue of Geology showing an incredible mosaic of lunar radar data.

The image put together by Dr. Ghent and colleagues has resulted in an wrap-around image of lunar morphology adding to debate over the long-theorized relationship between the Mare Orientale impact basin, the "eastern sea" marking the eastern limb of near side with it's familiar bull's eye, and lava-filled floors of older impact craters in the southern highlands and as far away as Shackleton nestled adjacent to the lunar south pole and within the ancient Aiken Basin, eighty percent of which is on the far side and invisible to Earth-bound observations.

Aside from helping establish the relationship between older craters and the freshness of their basalt-filled apparently newer floors, Ghent and her colleague's work will greatly serve the LRO's mission of discovering in situ resources.

Like all but a few of the large basalt-filled lunar "seas" of Earth's moon, which make up such a predominant feature characterizing the familiar near side, tidally locked into ever facing Earth, Mare Orientale is a "mascon," a localized concentration of mass perturbing the orbits of satellites in both equatorial and polar low lunar orbit and demonstrating the still mysterious anisotropy of the moon itself. The center of the large prominent basin is lower, dipping down below the mean levels of the surrounding surface. Two concentric rings encircling the inner basin are also basalt-filled, dipping lower than the mean surface's distance from the unresolved lunar "center."

As with all other mascons, gravity increases in effect on the space surrounding them in inverse proportion to their seeming size. Gravimetric maps of the lunar "seas" show what appears to be a mountainous mass peaked at Mare Orientale's basin with surrounding ridges rather than the circular valleys mapped by radar and Kaguya's laser altimeter.

Now among the "LRO 24," Dr. Ghent teaches geology at the University of Toronto.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics in 1993 from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. She earned her masters degree a year later at Georgia Tech and taught Physics at Georgia's Gordon College before returning to graduate school to study geology. In 2002, Ghent earned a Ph.D. in geology from Southern Methodist University and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution in DC in 2006, before becoming part of the faculty at Toronto.

Yi hosptialized with back pain, Soyuz re-entry effects still liner

As reported yesterday, ahead of meetings in Seoul with government officials and with United Nations Secretary General Moon, South Korea's first astronaut, biochemist Yi So-Yeon complained to reporters of lingering effects and pain from her return to Earth, April 19, on Russia's Soyuz, together with ISS Expedition 16 veterans American commander Dr. Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko.

Now AFP has reports Yi has been hospitalized because of her pain and will undergo MRI testing and a diagnosis followed by recommended treatments.

The Soyuz had been docked on the International Space Station for six months, and Roscosmos has disclosed, after a preliminary investigation, the Soyuz TMA's habitation module may have failed to completely separate from the re-entry section and may have accompanied the flight crew through a steeper, slower and violent re-entry "without benefit of a heat shield."

More likely the Soyuz was required to re-enter later and on a path ultimately steeper, slower and hotter.

A re-entry without some heat shield protection is unlikely though the main hatch was nearly burned through, and the failure of the habitation and forward section of the Soyuz system to perform properly has been traced as the problem causing similar "ballistic" re-entry in two other Soyuz returns to Earth after extended power-downs in orbit.

NASA continues to express confidence Roscosmos will ultimately trace and solve the problem.

Dr. Peggy Whitson ended her second record-breaking flight, serving as commander of the ISS, watching a metered 8.2 gees during the "emergency" re-entry. A nominal Soyuz re-entry peaks only far more briefly and with the crew experiencing slightly under 4 gees, and for a shorter period.

The rapid slowdown and whatever other unusual conditions experienced by Yi, who was ending a nine day stay on the ISS, caused a landing 295 miles from target and nearly fifteen minutes late.

AFP reports, South Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon has been admitted to hospital with severe back pains caused by her rough return voyage to Earth, officials said Tuesday. The state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute said Yi is undergoing MRI and other scans at an air force hospital to determine the exact cause of her discomfort.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chandrayaan 1 "works starts tomorrow"

To hear ISRO trumpet, you might think the road to Low Lunar Orbit was but a hop, skip and a jump away from a multiple satellite launch. The history of first time lunar navigation, makes the following sound too much like 'famous last words.' As much as Humans of Good Will Everywhere wish ISRO the best, let's hope they didn't actually wait until "tomorrow" to begin their "3rd Quarter" planned lunar orbiter launch.

"Jubilant ISRO chief says work on moon mission (begins) tomorrow"

ChennaiOnline "Life made easy"

Sriharikota: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chief G Madhavan Nair today said the work on "Chandrayan," India's first moon mission, would start tomorrow.

"After the much better than text-book precision launch of PSLV-C9, which has injected into orbit as many as ten satellites, scientists are thrilled and geared up to launch the work on Chandrayan tomorrow itself," he said, addressing a post launch press conferernce.

Describing today's successful mission as a remarkable moment for ISRO and India, Mr Nair said for the first time, ISRO had launched ten satellites simultaneously.

"We have shown to the world, India is cabable of launching multiple satellites in single mission", he said adding Russia had launched 13 satellites using single rocket, "but we do not know the results." Scientists were thrilled by today's success and they would be starting the work on Chandrayan tomorrow itself. "We have targeted to achieve the moon mission in the third quarter of this year and are confident of achieving the target," he said.

Chardrayan is the first Indian Mission to the Moon devoted to high-resolution remote sensing of the lunar surface features in visible, near infrared, X-ray and low energy gamma ray regions. This will be accomplished using several payloads already selected for the mission. In addition, a total of about ten kg payload weight and 10 W power are earmarked for proposals which are now solicited.

The mission is proposed to be a lunar polar orbiter at an altitude of about 100 km.

Yi still suffering from Soyuz re-entry

Interfax news agency had said the landing capsule was facing the wrong direction when it entered the atmosphere, depriving it of the protection of its heat-resistant shield.

The hairy re-entry of Soyuz, April 19, returning Expedition 16 to Earth is having a lasting effect on South Korea's Yi So-Yeon, after Dr. Peggy Whitson clocked 8.2 gees during the emergency "ballistic" procedure.

Roscosmos is still investigating the Subnominal return. Yi is preparing to meet Secretary General of the United Nations Moon, believe it or not. AFP Reports:

SEOULSouth Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon returned home Monday, saying she still feels some pain following her unorthodox re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.

Yi and two colleagues returned to Earth in what some Russian media called a dangerous re-entry on April 19, when her Russian-designed Soyuz capsule landed hundreds of kilometres off target.

She told an airport press conference she has some lingering pain but doctors assured her it would get better, according to Yonhap news agency.
The landing subjected the crew to huge gravitational forces. Yi said she had been prepared to deal with it because such a contingency was fully explained during her year-long training in Russia.

"I received prior training on it and was further assured by the two astronauts who returned with me," she said, expressing thanks for the public's support.
Yi will report her mission to science and technology minister Kim Do-Yeon Tuesday and will also meet President Lee Myung-Bak later.

The 29-year-old biosystems engineer carried out 18 experiments, including biological, geophysical and medical tests, during her nine-day mission at the International Space Station orbiting the Earth.

Interfax news agency had said the landing capsule was facing the wrong direction when it entered the atmosphere, depriving it of the protection of its heat-resistant shield.

Yi is scheduled to visit the United Nations to meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who is South Korean, later in the year. South Korea paid some 20 million dollars for her mission, becoming the 36th country to send a astronaut into space.

Seoul is due to launch a satellite from its own space center, under construction at the country's southern tip, later this year. It plans to launch a lunar orbiter by 2020 and send a probe to the moon five years after that.

UA Researchers Create Self-Healing Computer Systems for Spacecraft

University Communications

We’ve all heard about the space missions that are DOA when NASA engineers lose touch with the spacecraft or lander. In other cases, some critical system fails and the mission is compromised.

Both are maddening scenarios because the spacecraft probably could be easily fixed if engineers could just get their hands on the hardware for a few minutes.

Ali Akoglu and his students at The University of Arizona are working on hybrid hardware/software systems that one day might use machine intelligence to allow the spacecraft to heal themselves.

Akoglu, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, is using Field Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGA, to build these self-healing systems. FPGAs combine software and hardware to produce flexible systems that can be reconfigured at the chip level.

Because some of the hardware functions are carried out at the chip level, the software can be set up to mimic hardware. In this way, the FPGA “firmware” can be reconfigured to emulate different kinds of hardware.

Speed vs. Flexibility

Akoglu explains it this way: There are general-purpose systems, like your desktop computer, which can run a variety of applications. Unfortunately, even with 3 GHz, dual-core processors, they’re extremely slow compared with hardwired systems.

With hardwired systems, the hardware is specific to the purpose. As an example, engineers could build a very fast system that would run Microsoft Word but nothing else. It couldn’t run Excel or any other application. But it would be super fast at what it’s designed for.

“In that case, you have an extremely fast system, but it’s not adaptable,” Akoglu explained. “When new, and better software comes along, you have to go back into the design cycle and start building hardware from scratch.”

“What we need is something in the middle that is the best of both worlds, and that’s what I’m trying to come up with using Field Programmable Arrays,” he said.

Work on the self-healing systems began in 2006 as a project in Akoglu’s graduate-level class. His students presented a paper on the system and sparked interest from NASA, which eventually provided an $85,000 grant to pursue the work.

Akoglu and his students now are in the second phase of the project, which is called SCARS (Scalable Self-Configurable Architecture for Reusable Space Systems). The project is being carried out in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Currently, they are testing five hardware units that are linked together wirelessly. The units could represent a combination of five landers and rovers on Mars, for instance.

“When we create a test malfunction, we try to recover in two ways,” he explained. “First, the unit tries to heal itself at the node level by reprogramming the problem circuits.”

If that fails, the second step is for the unit to try to recover by employing redundant circuitry. But if the unit’s onboard resources can’t fix the problem, the network-level intelligence is alerted. In this case, another unit takes over the functions that were carried out by the broken unit.

“The second unit reconfigures itself so it can carry out both its own tasks and the critical tasks from the broken unit,” Akoglu explained.

If two units go down and can’t fix themselves, the three remaining units split up the tasks. All of this is done autonomously without human aid.

Lightning-Fast Processing

Because FPGAs can be programmed to carry on tasks simultaneously, they also can be configured to do lightning-fast processing.

“So if you’re running a loop, and it is running 10,000 times, you can replicate the loop as a processing element in the FPGA ‘n’ number of times,” Akoglu explained. “That means you have an ‘n’ times speed-up.” It’s like creating a huge multicore processor configured for a specific task.

FPGAs traditionally have been used for prototyping circuits because their firmware can be reprogrammed. Rather than creating costly circuits in hardware, engineers can test their ideas quickly and inexpensively in FPGA firmware.

In the past five years, the amount of circuitry that can be crammed into FPGAs has increased dramatically, promoting them from simple test-beds to end products in themselves, Akoglu explained.

The Ridgetop Group, a Tucson company that specializes in diagnosing circuit faults using statistical methods, now is working with Akoglu on the self-healing systems.

“This is the next phase of our project,” Akoglu said. “Our objective is to go beyond predicting a fault to using a self-healing system to fix the predicted fault before it occurs.” This could lead to extremely stable computer systems that could operate for long periods without failure.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Quantum3 News: Deale's man in the moon

Leading private team in race back to the moon
By E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer

South County - HometownAnnapolis -- If it all works out, some new-age spaceflights might just be controlled from the Deale Space Flight Center.

He's half-joking, of course, but Liam Sarsfield, a former NASA engineer and a pioneer of small-scale space exploration, could tweak his team's Google Lunar X PRIZE team's moon shot and other flights from his home office along Parker Creek.

"Why not?" he said with a sly grin.

He and his colleagues at Quantum 3 Ventures, headquartered in Vienna, Va., comprise one of 10 teams working to win the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE competition.

The challenge? Be the first private enterprise to land a craft on the moon and transmit video and data back to earth to prove it.
Read more HERE.

PSLV-C9 blasts off from Sriharikota

Indian Booster lofts 10 satellites into polar orbit
Times of India

SRIHARIKOTA: India's PSLV-C9 blasted off into space, carrying ten satellites including the country's latest remote sensing satellite CARTOSAT-2A, from ISRO's Satish Dhawan Space Centre here on Monday.

Scientists cheered as the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in its thirteenth flight, soared into the clear sky in a perfect lift off at 9.23 am from the second launch pad. Besides the 690 kg CARTOSAT-2A, the PSLV is also carrying ISRO's Indian Mini Satellite-1 (IMS-1), weighing 83kg, and eight nanosatellites built by universities and research institutes in Canada and Germany.

While the CARTOSAT-2A, carrying state-of-the-art panchromatic camera (PAN), will be used for mapping purposes and management of natural resources, the IMS-1 will be used as a platform for trying out advanced technology in the future.

Cape makes way for commercial space

A Titan-era gantry, where Cassini began it's was blasted to the ground to clear away a historic Air Force launch pad for new commercial rockets, Sunday. SpaceFlightNow has a video up-loaded, if you want to see how much easier it is to clear away than it is to stack the cards.
Read More HERE.

More on a Flare of a Spotless Sun

Solar Flare, CME and Tsunami Generated by a “Blank Sun”

Posted: 27 Apr 2008 10:20 PM CDT
Even during solar minimum, the Sun can be surprisingly dynamic. We are currently observing a sunspot-less solar disk, but on Saturday the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) observed a noteworthy X-ray flare. It was a B3.8 flare, producing a coronal mass ejection (CME), sending vast quantities of hot plasma into interplanetary space. Admittedly, it is [...] Astroengine

Cat shoots for the moon

Company teams with NASA to build habitats, roads on lunar surface

By PAUL GORDON of the Peoria Journal Star

PEORIA - Caterpillar Inc. doesn't plan to stop at being the No. 1 construction equipment maker in the world. It's aiming for the universe, with NASA as its partner.

Caterpillar and NASA - the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - are getting closer to having the right earthmoving - er, moonmoving - equipment available to put on the moon in less than a decade to build habitats, roads and other infrastructure that could sustain life on the lunar surface.

"We're pretty far along. I would say our partnership with Caterpillar is right on schedule," said Lucien Junkin, NASA's chief engineer of the Chariot project the two have been working on since 2006.

Chariot is the name given to the vehicle, which NASA calls
a "lunar truck" that is being co-developed using Caterpillar's robotics technology and NASA's knowledge of the surface, which Junkin describes as rocky and sandy, devoid of any moisture. "The moon 'dust' is more like crushed gravel, with fine, sharp edges," he said.

The technology is being developed in a Caterpillar skid steer loader and later will be transferred to the Chariot, which would be able to be operated through remote control or automation, said Eric Reiners, engineering manager of electronics and controls in Caterpillar's Technical Solutions Division.

The Chariot and the work Caterpillar and NASA are doing on the project is detailed - to date, anyway - in a pair of brief videos that can be viewed on Caterpillar's Web site,

In the video, Junkin said NASA began renewing its interest in moon exploration when President Bush, in early 2004, called on the space agency to find a way for man to live on the moon.

Junkin said NASA, knowing that meant infrastructure would be needed where there is nothing but moon dust now, "turned to the people we believe are the best at doing things like building roads, berms, landing strips or digging and trenching, and that's Caterpillar."

Junkin, himself a nationally known expert in robotics, said NASA will tap Caterpillar's expertise not only in machine technology, but also the best way to make the machine do the tasks at hand.

"Mankind has never done construction or moved dirt on another celestial body. That's why we wanted Caterpillar's expertise," Junkin said.

Caterpillar, said Reiners, knew of NASA's interest in sustaining life on the moon from an earlier project. "So we got together and agreed to start working together again, exchanging intellectual property," he said.

NASA wanted help to find a way to make the machines work without a human operator, something Caterpillar has experience with, Reiner said. "Robotics and automation takes the human operator out of dangerous situations," he said.

Even if there are humans on the moon when work occurs, much of the moon dust moving will be done by remote control from the lunar habitat or from Earth, or through programmed automation.

That's because humans can be out in the elements of the moon only a short period at a time. Part of that is because of the extremes in a lunar day, which is the equivalent of 28 earth days: It can go from 270 degrees during the day to 250 degrees below zero at night.

"I would say we are at various stages in the technology development," Reiners said. One problem with trying to operate the lunar truck by remote control from Earth is the distance creates a time lag of several seconds between the time the command is given and executed and acknowledged. That's why work is being done so the machine can be programmed to execute certain functions on its own.

Junkin and Reiners said the Chariot project, part of NASA's Constellation Program, is on schedule to send equipment and begin doing infrastructure in 2016 or 2017, with humans returning to the moon by 2020 or 2021.

"It's very exciting," said Reiners, who has been with Caterpillar 21 years. "The people who are doing the day-to-day development work here at Mossville are very excited about what we're doing.

"It fits very well with what Cat has been doing around the world, and now we are looking at humanity expanding its presence to other places outside Earth. Some are calling the moon our eighth continent. It only makes sense Cat would be on hand to help make it happen," he said.

Paul Gordon can be reached at 686-3288 or

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Quiet Sun, Flares

With the Sun continuing a its unusually prolonged Minimum, solar physicists continue to await the advent of Solar Cycle 24, which seemed to sputter briefly with the properly polarized sun spots in February, then quieted down again, only to see a small parade of Cycle 23 spots traverse the Sun's disk in recent weeks.

A "small" solar flare was reported by today, with an attendant Coronal Mass Ejection, qualifying for a genuine SPE, or Solar Partical Event that may effect the geomagnetic field and offer a display of aurora phenomena over the next 24 to 72 hours.

STRANGE SOLAR FLARE: No sunspots? No problem. Yesterday the blank sun unleashed a solar flare without the usual aid of a sunspot. At 1408 UT on April 26th, Earth-orbiting satellites detected a surge of X-rays registering B3.8 on the "Richter scale" of solar flares. That's a relatively minor flare; nevertheless, the blast sent a "solar tsunami" shock wave rippling through the sun's atmosphere and also launched a coronal mass ejection. The CME is expected to reach Earth late on April 28th or April 29th, possibly sparking high latitude auroras when it arrives. Visit to view images, movies and updates.

Is there really any need for "The Gap?"

Forgotten in the dread of what's been referred to as The Gap, the downtime at Kennedy Space Center between the 2010 retirement of the thirty year old Space Shuttle and orbital testing of Block One of the Orion CEV in 2015, may be Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, recently awarded a solid launch services contract for its Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 boosters.

It was yet another sign of NASA's faith in the Hawthorne, California-based company, with its test facilities in Texas and an equatorial launch site in the Marshall Islands, on Kawajalein. SpaceX may not be the only commercial space company in the U.S. or the world, but its serious, steady progress has clearly taken them past the point of being a "start-up."

On tap soon from the methodical SpaceX are the Falcon 9 Heavy and the Dragon ATV, which like the ESA's Jule Verne, mights be adapted to carry seven passengers or a pressurized cargo, docking with the International Space Station. If NASA is allowed to further fund the Commercial Orbital Transportation System, or COTS, there may be no need for any Gap at all.

Last week, NASA awarded SpaceX a NASA Launch Services contract for the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9. The NASA Launch Services contracts are multiple awards to multiple launch service providers. Twice per year, there is an opportunity for existing and emerging domestic launch service providers to submit proposals if their vehicles meet the minimum contract requirements.

The contract is an "Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity" (IDIQ) contract where NASA may order launch services through June 30, 2010, for launches to occur through December 2012. Under the NASA Launch Services IDIQ contracts the potential total might be anywhere between $20,000 and $1 billion,, depending on the number of missions awarded.

The contract seeks a launch capability for payloads weighing 551 pounds or heavier into a circular orbit of 124 miles at an orbital inclination of 28.5 degrees. Payloads would be launched to support three NASA mission directorates: Science, Space Operations and Exploration Systems.

Because an IDIQ contract has been awarded to SpaceX, it can compete for NASA missions using the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles as specified by the NASA Launch Services contract process.

NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center is responsible for program management. This award to SpaceX adds to the stable of launch vehicles available to NASA under previously awarded contracts. The original request for proposal was issued in 1999.

Herschel Space Telescope Assembled

The mirror of the Herschel telescope has now been assembled with the payload and service module, completing the spacecraft structure - an important milestone in the days following through to launch. The sunshield and solar arrays were assembled with the cryostat and service module on 11 April. The telescope was assembled on 16 April. The spacecraft will be subjected to several mechanical tests over the next few weeks.

The telescope mirror of the Herschel infrared observatory is a 3.5-m diameter technological marvel. It is made from 12 silicon-carbide petals brazed together to form a single structure and coated with a layer of reflective aluminium, forming a remarkably lightweight mirror.

The fully-assembled telescope, which includes the primary mirror, the secondary mirror and its support structure, is a feathery 320 kg; remarkably low for such a sturdy structure capable of withstanding high launch loads and functioning precisely in the harsh environment of space.

This powerful telescope will allow scientists to look deep into space, at long infrared wavelengths. Herschel's spectral coverage, which ranges from far-infrared to sub-millimetre wavelengths, will be made available for space-based observations for the first time.

ESA information HERE.

ESA's most advanced navigation satellite launched tonight

ESA A further step towards the deployment of Europe's Galileo global navigation satellite system was taken tonight, with the successful launch of ESA's second Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element (GIOVE-B) satellite, carrying the most accurate atomic clock ever flown into space.

The GIOVE-B satellite was lofted into a medium altitude orbit around the earth by a Soyuz/Fregat rocket departing from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by launch operator Starsem. Lift-off occurred at 02:16 UT April 27. The Fregat upper stage performed a series of manoeuvres to reach a circular orbit at an altitude of about 23,200 km, inclined at 56 degrees to the Equator, before safely delivering the satellite into orbit some 3 hours and 45 minutes later. The two solar panels that generate electricity to power the spacecraft deployed correctly and were fully operational by 03:28 CEST.

This 500 kg satellite was built by a European industrial team led by Astrium GmbH, with Thales Alenia Space performing integration and testing in Rome. Two years after the highly successful GIOVE-A mission, this latest satellite will continue the demonstration of critical technologies for the navigation payload of future operational Galileo satellites.

Three high-accuracy space clocks aboard

Like its predecessor, GIOVE-B carries two redundant small-size rubidium atomic clocks, each with a stability of 10 nanoseconds per day. But it also features an even more accurate payload: the Passive Hydrogen Maser (PHM), with stability better than 1 nanosecond per day. The first of its kind ever to be launched into space, this is now the most stable clock operating in earth orbit. Two PHMs will be used as primary clocks onboard operational Galileo satellites, with two rubidium clocks serving as back-up.

GIOVE-B also incorporates a radiation-monitoring payload to characterise the space environment at the altitude of the Galileo constellation, as well as a laser retroreflector for high-accuracy laser ranging.

Signal generation units will provide representative Galileo signals on three separate frequencies broadcast via an L-band phase array antenna designed to entirely cover the visible earth below the satellite.

The satellite is now under the control of Telespazio's spacecraft operations centre in Fucino, Italy, and in-orbit checking-out of the satellite has begun.

Final demonstration before Galileo

In addition to its technology-demonstration mission, GIOVE-B will also take over GIOVE-A's mission to secure the Galileo frequencies, as that first Galileo demonstration satellite launched in December 2005 is now approaching the end of its operational life.

Beyond GIOVE-B, the next step in the Galileo programme will be the launch of four operational satellites, to validate the basic Galileo space and related ground segment, by 2010. Once that In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase is completed, the remaining satellites will be launched and deployed to reach the Full Operational Capability (FOC), a constellation of 30 identical satellites.

“With the successful launch of GIOVE-B, we are about to complete the demonstration phase for Galileo”, said ESA Director General Jean Jacques Dordain in Fucino while congratulating the ESA and industrial teams. “The strong cooperation between ESA and the European Commission has been instrumental in making progress in a difficult environment over the past few years; and, even with that being so, Galileo has already materialised, with two satellites now in orbit, significant headway made on the next four (already in the construction phase) and a fully qualified EGNOS service (*) - all this designed to serve citizens in Europe and all around the globe. ESA will begin shortly the procurement process for the overall constellation beyond IOV under EC responsibility.”

Galileo will be Europe's very own global navigation satellite system, providing a highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning service under civil control. It will be interoperable with the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia's GLONASS, the two other global satellite navigation systems. Galileo will deliver real-time positioning accuracy down to the metre range with unrivalled integrity.

Numerous applications are planned for Galileo, including positioning and derived value-added services for transport by road, rail, air and sea, fisheries and agriculture, oil-prospecting, civil protection, building, public works and telecommunications.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Moon at 300 mm

Arun posts the above "Moon at 300 mm (Cropped), which I now share with you, having already said too much. (Hey, Crises really does point west all night long!)

Jules Verne boosts ISS orbit

ESA's Jules Verne ATV was used for the first time early this morning to raise the orbit of the International Space Station. A 740-second burn of the Automated Transfer Vehicle's main engines successfully lifted the altitude of the 280-tonne Station by around 4.5 km to a height of 342 km above the Earth's surface.

After the ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) in Toulouse, France, had 'woken up' Jules Verne ATV, the manoeuvre started at 04:22 UT this morning and provided a 2.65 meter per second thrust using two of the ATV's four main engines. Controllers at ATV-CC closely monitored ATV's subsystems throughout the long manoeuvre.

"The Station's altitude naturally decreases with atmospheric drag. Until now this has been compensated for by performing a re-boost using the Russian Progress, the Space Shuttle or by the ISS itself," explains Alberto Novelli, ESA’s Mission Director at ATV-CC. "Today, ATV has successfully demonstrated that it too is able to perform this vital function. Only Progress and ATV can provide this high level of re-boost. ATV is unique due to the quantity of fuel available for such manoeuvres."

The re-boost manoeuvre comes just three weeks after Jules Verne ATV successfully docked with ISS on 3 April 2008 delivering 1150 kg of dry cargo, including food, clothes and equipment, as well as additional supplies of water, oxygen and fuel. Since then, the European ISS resupply spacecraft has been in dormant mode attached to the docking port on the Russian Zvezda module.

Today's re-boost sets up the International Space Station for the arrival of Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-124 mission to deliver the Japanese Kibo laboratory. STS-124 is currently targeted for launch on 31 May 2008. Further re-boost manoeuvres using ATV are scheduled for 12 June, 8 July and 6 August.

Jules Verne ATV is scheduled to remain docked to the International Space Station until early August. At the end of its mission, Jules Verne, loaded with up to 6.5 tonnes of material no longer required by the ISS, will undock and then burn up completely during a guided and controlled re-entry high over the Pacific Ocean.

Georgia Tech Partnering to Create National Robotics Strategy

Academic Leaders in Robotics Research Announce Effort To Create National Strategy for Robotics Growth

Citing the critical importance of the continued growth of robotics to U.S. competitiveness, 11 universities are taking the lead in developing an integrated national strategy for robotics research. The United States is the only nation engaged in advanced robotics research that does not have such a research roadmap.

The Computing Community Consortium (CCC), a program of the National Science Foundation, is providing support for developing the roadmap, which will be a unified research agenda for robotics across federal agencies, industry and the universities.

The effort began last year and includes representatives from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and the universities of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California- Berkeley, Southern California, Utah and Illinois, as well as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Henrik I. Christensen, the KUKA Chair of Robotics at Georgia Tech and a principal investigator for the CCC, is leading the group effort to develop the roadmap with the involvement of industry.

This spring, a series of workshops are being organized and this fall a National Robotics Senior Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., will take place. The conference will review the preliminary results from the workshops and take steps toward an integrated national research agenda. The roadmap will then be reported to the year-old Congressional Robotics Caucus, headed by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.).

“It is essential that the United States begins to solidly outline a leadership position in robotics,” said Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon. “Robotics already is having a transformative impact on the workplace, from the factory floor to hospital operating rooms. In the decades ahead, this impact can be extended to our homes and our highways to increase our ability to live independently and to save lives.”

“The planning process now getting under way is a historic opportunity to build upon broad-based collaboration among industry and academic leaders in the field of robotics,” said Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough. “We want to create a plan that will keep this nation competitive in a technology that is rapidly advancing.”

The failure of the robotics community to previously speak with one voice has resulted in inconsistent funding and missed opportunities, said Matthew T. Mason, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. “The technology is finding wider application, but its full potential is not fully appreciated by policy makers,” he explained. “We need to develop a common vision so that we can work effectively with the Congressional Robotics Caucus and with funding agencies.”

Christensen noted that all of the planning events are designed to focus on the research needs that are vital to the development of a growing robotics industry.

“Several key competencies are not available today,” Christensen said. “Through a community effort that includes end-users, industry and academia, the key challenges and opportunities will be identified. The workshops and conferences will allow us to develop a mature plan.”

“The key to the workshops will be the collaborative discussions between representatives from both academia and industry,” stated John Reid, Director, Product Technology and Innovation at John Deere’s Moline Technology Innovation Center. “We need to proceed in a market-driven fashion to envision key future robotics-enabled capabilities and then map these capabilities to the required robotics technologies that we need to be researching and developing today.”

Doyle and Wamp of the Congressional Robotics Caucus expressed enthusiasm for the effort.

“We applaud the researchers at some of our nation’s top universities for this effort to craft a national agenda for robotics research,” they said in a statement released by the caucus. “We especially want to commend the presidents of Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech for their initiative in organizing this conference. The Congressional Robotics Caucus looks forward to reviewing the results of this important work so that we can more fully understand the impact that robotics is likely to have on the future security and prosperity of our nation.”

Why our time dimension is about to become space-like

"Good Morning.
While you were sleeping,
the world as you knew it ceased to exist."

Sitting on the fringe of the quantum foam,
listening to the 11 dimensional humm...

(Is so much easier than doing the math.)

It don’t get much weirder than this. The universe is about to lose its dimension of time says a group of theoretical astrobods at the University of Salamanca in Spain. And they got the evidence to prove it.

The idea comes from the study of braneworlds: the thinking that the universe we see around us is a 4-dimensional cosmos called a braneworld embedded in a multidimensional universe. The “signature” of our universe is the number of space and time-like dimensions it has: in our case we got 3 space-like dimensions and one time-like dimension. It’s what astrobods call a Lorentzian universe. So far so good: lots of astronutters think the same thing.

But our universe may not always have been like this. Some theorists think it may once have had a Euclidean signature meaning that all the dimensions were space-like. Now Marc “Bars” Mars and a few pals in Spain say that the Universe’s signature might be about to flip from Lorentzian to Euclidean. In other words, our dimension of time is about turn space-like. Gulp!

This ain’t entirely bonkers and here’s why. Bars Mars has calculated what it’s like to be an observer in a universe that is about to flip and get this: it would look as if it were expanding and accelerating away from us. Sound familiar?

Yep, it’s exactly what astrobods have been observin over the last few years, a phenomenon they attribute to dark energy. If Bars Mars is right, dark energy ain’t got nothing to do with it and we’re all starin’ down the barrel of a cosmic catastrophe.

Still, maybe four space-like dimensions will be better than three. Who needs time anyway?

Ref: Is the Accelerated Expansion Evidence of a Forthcoming change of Signature?

Cernan tells of Apollo 17 during Earth Day

Irene Liguori, Buffalo News: Not everyone gets to meet the man in the moon. But a group of kindergartners and older pupils did Tuesday, when the man who most recently had set foot on the moon landed in Buffalo aboard a hybrid, chauffeured vehicle to take part in Earth Day festivities.

Now 74, Capt. Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, looked fit, handsome and vigorous as he faced his young inquisitors from the controls of a rocking chair in their classroom in Orchard Park’s South Davis Elementary School.

“Who wants to go to the moon?” Cernan asked the 6-year-olds seated on the floor before him. All hands shot into the air. “Great,” Cernan beamed. “I’ve got a crew.”

Cernan — who paused and knelt on the moon’s surface in 1972 to trace his daughter Tracy’s initials in the lunar dust with his spacesuit’s glove just before leaving for home — clearly loves children.
Read more HERE.

Friday, April 25, 2008

ESA to undertake lunar rover study

By Rob Coppinger
The European Space Agency is offering €500,000 ($786,500) for a pressurised lunar rover (PLR) phase 0/A study to produce a conceptual design, to evaluate its functional, technical and operational requirements and determine its likely cost and development schedule. The closing date for proposals is 14 May.

ESA envisages a rover with a mass from 5,000kg (11,000lb) to 14,000kg that would only be delivered by NASA's Altair lunar lander.

China unveils lunar rover prototype


Xinhua - Chinese scientists and engineers have built prototypes of the country's planned lunar rover module, the science and technology commission of Shanghai said Wednesday.

The city's lunar rover research team has made models of different types and conducted feasibility and technological trials.

The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology has made significant progress in key technologies for the locomotion system, it said.

China launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e I, in October last year. The country plans to land its first lunar rover on the moon by 2013.

Engineers unveil China moon rover -

The 1.5m (5ft) high, 200kg (440lbs) rover should transmit video in real time, dig into and analyse soil, and produce 3D images of the lunar surface.

China is working on a three-stage plan for exploration of the Earth’s Moon, which includes sending a lunar orbiter called Chang’e-1 some time this year.

This will be followed by a soft landing in 2012 and the return of lunar samples in another five years.The US has outlined its vision for the exploration of the Moon, which will involve returning humans to the lunar surface by 2020.

Read more HERE.

Subcommittee members urge 'adequate' funding for science programs

(Washington, DC) - Today, House Science and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held an oversight hearing to examine the status of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) International Space Station (ISS) program. Committee Members discussed the challenges facing the program and questioned witnesses regarding how it should be operated, managed, and utilized.

"While ISS has had a long, and at times controversial and frustrating development path, I am impressed with the progress that has been made in assembling and operating this incredibly complex international space-based science and technology facility," said Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO). As the most complex international scientific and technological endeavor ever undertaken, ISS incorporates innovative ideas and technologies from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 10 member states of the European Space Agency. ISS has been continuously crewed for over six years. Once its assembly is completed it will have a pressurized volume of more than 33,000 cubic feet and a mass of more than 925,000 pounds.

The ISS is intended to support NASA's exploration initiative and to serve as a National Laboratory for space-based research. Currently, the Space Shuttle is scheduled for retirement in 2010, which will cause the U.S. to rely on partners such as Russia to provide routine transportation and emergency crew return from the ISS and to seek commercial resupply services.

"Although NASA talks about providing research opportunities on the ISS, we cannot forget that the funding cuts NASA has made to its microgravity research programs in recent years--whether willingly or not--have largely decimated that research community," stated Udall. "I think the onus has to be on NASA to prove that it means what it says by taking meaningful steps both to make the ISS a productive venue for research and to start to rebuild that research community. Yet, it won't be possible to have a productive ISS unless the facility can be sustained after the Shuttle is retired."

Read Press Release HERE.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Mee Three" (LPOD April 24)

Earth's Moon is "the ultimate LDEF (Long Duration Exposure Facility), containing an unspoiled record of the history of this star system from the time it gathered itself, most likely from the debris field remnant left over from a glancing blow from "a mars-sized object" with a once-larger proto-Earth 4,527 million years ago.

From less than a half-ton of samples from the most minimal of initial visits scientists have discovered clear indications of material from outside this star system, as well, and the moon continues to raise as many questions as it has answered.

Ever-patiently, it waits, now within our grasp, it waits for us to turn over it clues to tell us its story, and ours.

Design start on twin Van Allen probes

In 2011, NASA will launch two spacecraft that will orbit the Earth and sample the harsh radiation belt environment. The Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission will provide scientists with the information they need to make predications about changes in this critical region of space. Credit: NASA

Dennis Wingo and a Missive Manifesto

Because it is a genuine plea from the heart, clearly written in a rhetorical and personal style, I won’t fault Dennis Wingo for mistaking the notorious Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) for a U.S. Senator.

Congressman Frank makes that mistake often enough himself.

He can also be forgiven for a certain non-linearity in his passing mention of this nation’s important debate over “Internal Improvements” and the context of that debate. I commend it to you because we definitely agree more than we disagree over NASA’s disconnect with the American People. We apparently share the same ambivalence and reluctance to allow Political Will to break our hearts a second time.

If anything, I am perhaps more radical in refusing to be anything other than leery of Team NASA, a creature of Congress after all, but I don't wear this on my sleeve. As a facility of pure genius, I am awestruck by the individuals that this Sea of Relationships continually tosses up, and sometimes even for the bureaucracy itself and its taxonomies. It is alone among government agencies I admire, and is more effective and cost-efficient, and spends far less than newer agencies with ten times its budget that accomplish no lasting legacy.

As joyful as I was at the President’s Vision four years ago, my hope has been and continues to be invested in a long held contingency plan should NASA be made to fail, in much the same way Wingo warns.

Wingo is right in much that he sets before us in this "missive." Holding together a "movement" is self-contradictory, the timescale is too long, and the returns are poorly spelled out. Like Wingo, I could spell them out on a legal pad. Unlike Wingo, I've not been content to wait on NASA since 1977.

But enough commentary, because I've posted this so you might stumble upon this mostly well-written, mostly rational and cogent "missive" by Dennis Wingo. I recommend it as well worth your valuable time.

Mr. Wingo, represented elsewhere as "Space entrepreneur" and "founder of SkyCorp and co-founder of Orbital Recovery," has in this article written something heartfelt which is being picked up all over the Internet and circuitously self-referenced back to SpaceRef where it apparently originated the day before yesterday.

Establishing the Vision for Space Exploration
by Dennis Wingo

(Those who do not learn from history are doomed)

To those of us who have committed our lives to the proposition that the exploration and development of space as the means by which we can build a prosperous global civilization that will last far beyond our current limits to growth, recent events have a familiar and depressing feel. There is a principle in the entrepreneurial world that if you present a business plan to an investor that does not meet their criterion for funding, you dont get funded. The same principle applies to government spending with the congress, executive branch and the people fulfilling the role of the investor. Our national space agency has been trying to sell a business plan to the American people for almost forty years that they have continually decided not to fund. The investor has continually given feedback to the NASA entrepreneur with little or no indication that NASA has listened. This missive will provide examples of this forty year phenomenon and hopefully provide insight to NASAs leadership on what can be done within the context of the Vision for Space Exploration to establish a lasting effort to achieve national goals.

This is not a criticism about a rocket development effort, it is about the goal, the vision, and the return on investment for the American people. The investor does not care exactly how a company carries out its business plan, they just care about results and the exit plan. Successful great and noble efforts by nations follow this same path. The canals of the early American frontier opened up the Midwest to settlement and commerce. The national railroad of the 1860s was built in a time of desperate civil war but was funded because our leaders understood that the result would bind together and unify the nation for communications, settlement, and commerce. The Panama canal, the interstate system, the seaports, the airports, all of these government funded or supported efforts had a simple goal, increase our national wealth through the creation of an infrastructure unparalleled in world history in support of commerce and freedom of movement for our people. These are things that people readily understand and that congress willingly funds. These are templates and lessons that NASA must incorporate into its plans or the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) will join the other acronyms of space plan failure in the dustbin of history.
Read more HERE.

Big problems with Soyuz "handled" - NASA

Depending on who you listen to, the malfunction that nearly burned through the Soyuz hatch bringing American space endurance record-holder and ISS Expedition XVI commander Dr. Peggy Whitson down to Earth in the steppes of Kazakhstan, April 19, was either a near disaster or not much of a problem.

From Spaceflight NOW, April 23:

"The Russian Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft that carried two space station crew members and a South Korean guest cosmonaut back to Earth Saturday may have started its fiery re-entry with a normally discarded propulsion module still attached officials said today, putting the craft in an unusual orientation and subjecting the returning space fliers to higher than normal stresses and buffeting.

"I saw 8.2 Gs on the meter and it was ... pretty dramatic," outgoing space station commander Peggy Whitson, flying as the left-seat Soyuz engineer, told a NASA interviewer shortly after landing. "Gravity's not really my friend right now and 8 Gs was especially not my friend. But it didn't last too long. Chute deploy was nominal and impact ... wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting."

But the separation of the Soyuz modules "was a little more dramatic than I was expecting."

"It was the second Soyuz entry in a row to experience apparent module separation problems, raising questions about quality control and the spacecraft's overall reliability. But Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's director of space operations, said the Russians were treating the issue with the thoroughness it deserved and he expressed confidence in their ability to resolve the matter before the next Soyuz launch Oct. 12.

"We don't see this as a major problem, but it's clearly something that should not have occurred, we don't like to see things repeat on two flights," he told reporters in an afternoon teleconference. Warning against speculation, he said "it appears, based on what we hear, we may have missed the most probable cause (of the earlier problem). We may have something else going on. ... The important thing is the Russians are taking this extremely serious, they've got the commission started, they're bringing in some independent folks on their side to take a look at this and they'll understand what the problem is."

LCROSS Summary from Spaceflight NOW

Crashing into the moon in search of frozen water
Posted: April 23, 2008

Relying on heritage technology derived from parts on previous space missions, a spacecraft on a budget will guide a spent rocket stage on a collision course with the moon early next year to search for signs of permanently frozen water hidden inside craters near the lunar poles.

The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, largely built from flight-proven components used on a variety of earlier missions, is currently undergoing testing at a California factory.

LCROSS was unveiled to the public in April 2006 as a bonus mission to take advantage of the Atlas 5 rocket's extra lift capacity on its flight to send the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to the moon. The project received its first influx of funding about two months later.

"That means that from point of authority to proceed, meaning cash-in-hand, to launch, meaning the October launch date, we're looking at something like 29 months, which is incredibly fast," said Dan Andrews, LCROSS project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center.

"Then you further aggravate that speed by saying that you have absolutely no more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of up-mass, and that's a hard number because you're going to be topping what the Atlas 5 can lift given LRO's allocation," Andrews said. "Then you aggravate it further and say that you are a cost-capped mission."

The mission's total cost must not exceed $79 million due to funding constraints in NASA's robotic lunar exploration program.

"It's a well-constrained box for trying to pull off something fast," Andrews said.

Recommended: Read more HERE.

LRO Summary from Spaceflight NOW


Posted: April 23, 2008

A robotic precursor of resuming human expeditions to the moon will likely be postponed by at least a few weeks from its October launch target, but NASA does not foresee any problems launching the lunar orbiter and high-speed impactor before the end of this year. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, an observatory to map the lunar surface in search of potential landing sites for future human missions, is about two weeks behind schedule in meeting the craft's appointed launch date, said Craig Tooley, LRO project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

"We know that there are things that await us as we pass through (testing) that will certainly take some unplanned time," Tooley said. "That's what experience has taught us on spacecraft here at Goddard."

Officials with the piggyback Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, a secondary payload designed to take a suicidal plunge into one of the moon's impact crater, said their mission is about a month ahead of schedule.

Both missions are currently on the books for liftoff aboard an Atlas 5 rocket at about 1055 GMT (6:55 a.m. EDT) Oct. 28, the first day of a series of launch opportunities stretching through the end of 2008. But LRO's ambitious schedule of integration and testing will likely push launch into at least the middle of November, according to Tooley.

Tooley said project officials accepted a requirement to launch LRO before the end of this year, and the mission's ground processing plan leaves plenty of schedule margins to meet that time constraint.

"We have a whole series of launch opportunities that stretch from Oct. 28 through the end of the calendar year that we work with the Atlas launch vehicle. In all likelihood, as we get a little closer we'll probably pick one of those launch opportunities there in November or somewhere and say 'that's the one we're going to hit,'" Tooley said.

Five launch periods are available for LRO this year, beginning Oct. 28, Nov. 11, Nov. 24, Dec. 8 and Dec. 22. Each of the opportunities spans four days.

See our chart showing launch dates and times here.

"We are much more unconstrained than a planetary mission," Tooley said. "The moon is always there, and to establish the kind of orbit we're headed for and do a trajectory to the moon we can go almost every day."

Recommended: Read more HERE.

NASA begins work to solve boil-off problem

By Rob Coppinger - FLIGHT

NASA has started the contractor selection process for its lunar surface thermal control system study that could find a solution to the biggest hurdle in its plans to return to the Moon: stopping propellant loss.

For rocket engine efficiency and mass savings NASA would prefer to use cryogenic propellants for its Constellation programme's lunar vehicles, instead of the heavier storable fuels and oxidisers.

Keeping hydrogen or methane and oxygen in their liquid states requires a very low constant temperature.

But in space the Sun's radiation and heat transmitted through the spacecraft's own structure can raise temperatures causing propellants to vaporise. This increases propellant tank pressure, which is reduced by vapour release.

The study will focus on a conceptual lunar lander ascent module that uses liquid oxygen and methane with gaseous helium, stored at the liquid methane's temperature, for tank pressurisation.

NASA says: "A lunar lander may be required to operate for as long as 219 days with a surface stay of 210 days." Three thermal control systems will be compared.

The agency will award contracts on 3 June this year and all of the study's results will have been presented by early June 2010. The study has two phases and the second phase has two options to be exercised.

Phase one is to evaluate and compare the three systems for a polar mission of 210 days.

Phase two's options are to analyse the systems from low Earth orbit (LEO) to lunar landing, and then analyse it from LEO to a short surface stay of days or weeks up to and including the lunar ascent burn.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hatch Burn-Through danger on Soyuz re-entry revealed, 'crew's lives on razor's edge'

Again, we're indebted to Ian O'Neill and UNIVERSE TODAY for continuing investigation into what UT has called the "emergency landing" of Expedition XVI, returning to Earth by way of a Soyuz TMA previously docked and powered-down on ISS for six months.

It appears the Russian Federal Space Agency is becoming gradually more forth-coming about how close a call the re-entry came to claiming the lives of American commander Dr. Peggy Whitson, Flight engineer and Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko and So-yeon Yi of South Korea, who returned home 295 kilometers off target, April 19 in central Kazakhstan after a "ballistic" re-entry.

"Considering that this situation has repeated itself, it is obvious that the technological discipline in preparing space equipment for a flight is declining. There is no guarantee that the crew of a Soyuz spacecraft landing a half a year from now would not face the same difficulties." - Anonymous Russian space official

"First, Russian space officials tried to cover up the emergency landing of the Soyuz descent capsule on Saturday. Then they blamed the crew for changing their flight plan without communicating with mission control. Compounding the problem, an official cited a bad omen as a contributing factor to the hard landing. Within a couple of days, the truth behind the Soyuz "ballistic re-entry" began to come to light. Today, even more shocking revelations are being reported, including how the escape hatch nearly failed during the uncontrolled, fiery re-entry..."
Read more HERE.

Popular Science: More on Athlete

The Lunar Habitat Hauler

Popular Science Online has posted perhaps the best, well, "popular" close up look yet at Athlete, under going testing at JPL. A featured video shows off more nifty detail of what is certain to become an iconic and integral part of NASA's nomadic lunar exploration paradigm, now being shown-off to the general public.

Annemarie Conte posted the close-up video presentation at PopSci Tuesday afternoon, April 22.

"The mission-ready robot," she writes, "which will be about twice the size of the prototype pictured here and made of steel, should be able to haul a load of up to 15 tons pretty much anywhere it wants to—as long as it obeys a 3mph speed limit. “That’s about as fast as you can go without risking flipping over because of the low gravity,” explains Brian Wilcox, the primary investigator on the Athlete project...."

"Scientists at JPL hope to rocket Athlete to the moon for unmanned testing as early as 2012. What would come next depends on the success of NASA’s plans for manned space exploration"

Read more HERE.

Betting on EADS Spaceplane

Prices are steady, with buyers hedging their bets on whether EADS Astrium will finally begin testing their long-promised space plane. On the PPX (Popular Science "PopSci Predictions Exchange") will pay off $100 at an unchanged price of $37.50 for those willing to take the risk.

The initial push for tourist rockets may have come from scrappy startups, but major aerospace players are beginning to take note. In June, after Boeing released its design for a small tourist spaceship, Europe's aerospace leader, EADS (the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company), threw its hat into the ring.

The concept spacecraft, a modified business jet, borrows heavily from players like Rocketplane Kistler. But while the diminutive Rocketplane is courting bankruptcy, EADS has some $54 billion in revenue at its disposal along with a workforce more than 100,000 strong.

EADS is already in talks with owner-operators about preordering the spacecraft. If that financing comes through, EADS says it could launch flights as early as 2012. With consumer interest steadily growing, and billions in backing, can the massive European company succeed where others are failing?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Japan HDTV Full Earth "Rise" from Lunar Orbit

By Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides
The Japanese lunar orbiter "Kaguya" saw earth, moon and sun line up on April 6, 2008 and captured another "Earth-rise" and "Earth-set" HDTV video- this time when the Earth was full. (The original November videos were taken when the Earth was wanning (not quite full).

According to JAXA the line up occurs only twice a year and allows the orbiter to take these movies as it comes from around the back side of the moon and into view of the Earth. If you haven't worked out how that happens (I haven't either), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has kindly provided a diagram.

For the Earth to look "full" the moon has to be between the earth and the sun and looking at the fully illuminated Earth. When the moon is between the Earth and the sun it would be a New Moon (since we on Earth are looking at its unilluminated side). The moon doesn't block the sunlight from falling on Earth since it's small and orbiting at a 5 degree tilt to the plane of Earth's orbit, so it is usually above or below the line of sight of the sun - see animation link below.) If you look at a lunar calendar April 6th was New Moon and the day these videos were taken.

Now, there is a New Moon every month, so why can it only capture the "Full Earth" twice a year? Check out this link for a cool animation of the moon orbiting the Earth from the perspective of the sun to help visualize why the moon only lines up directly with the earth and the sun twice a year. The animation gives a good sense of why lunar eclipses only happen twice (or four times) a year, but I am not clear about how that relates to Earth's fullness. I welcome comments from people who really know.

Note that the Apollo missions picture of "Earth-rise" did not happen to fall during "full-Earth" and had an Earth that was about 3/4's full. JAXA thinks this is the first full Earth picture to be captured, if not, it certainly is the first full Earth captured in HDTV...

JAXA has a beautiful flash site of the images it has taken with Kaguya. They also have a gallery of HDTV videos from Kaguya that are easier to navigate if you can read Japanese. The HDTV videos are not full resolution. JAXA has not released those versions yet. It is believed that their partner, the Japanese Public Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) are reserving them for future commercial and educational purposes.

More disturbing "spin" and harsh realities of the Soyuz re-entry

A Crew's "decision" and why, Parachutes on fire, superstitions about women in space -- some call third Soyuz "Hot" re-entry and missed target reason to examine long-docked manned re-entry vehicles, will push for Block One of Orion CEV, ASAP

As discussed earlier in what as hoped might be a wrap-up and some guesses as to the answers to some lingering questions about what went wrong - once again - with the Soyuz TMA re-entry two days ago, starting with an obviously a late and possibly manual re-entry burn, is casting unwelcome shadows over a week when Russian space planners had been announcing plans to facilitate an expanded manned program.

Anatoly Perminov, Director of the Russian Federal Space Agency, has been among those emerging from planning sessions in Moscow floating ideas for an orbiting construction platform for interplanetary travel, announcements for a new launch base in the Russian Far East, plans to send monkeys to Mars and for continuing advances in a long-proven leadership as a dependable launch partner.

Last months failure to place a twin payload of communications satellites in geocentric orbit begun to fade, but the United States is depending on Star City to provide them access to the International Space Station for at least five years after Shuttles retirement in 2010.

This third, and second in a row, disturbing failure of the minimalist but rugged Soyuz re-entry system - and a comical attempt to cover-up or downplay facts in this latest landing, are disturbing NASA, and at budget time on Capitol Hill, where some Congressmen will undoubtedly use the incident as a way to ridicule Roscosmos, Michael Griffin, President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) and manned space flight in general.

The cooperation NASA has shown to Russian efforts to downplay the situation - by simply not reporting on it, long after the Russians had resumed offering at least some information - has some in the astronaut corp remembering MIR in 1997, and the fire that nearly killed the crew and Michael Foale, whose endurance record in space, ironically, was bested by a week by Dr. Peggy Whitson. Some of the astronauts, most of whom still do not anymore relish a long trip to ISS any more than they did to Mir twelve years ago, are already urging a "surge," a more rapid roll-out at least of the Block One model of Orion and Ares I booster of the Constellation program.

Expedition XVI crew members Dr. Peggy Whitson, Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko and So-yeon Yi of South Korea returned home 295 kilometers off target, April 19 in central Kazakhstan after a "ballistic" re-entry, resulting from the use of a "back-up re-entry system" engaged perhaps only moments after the auto-sequence failed to change the spacecraft's trajectory to properly encounter the atmosphere and reach the intended target area.

Still unanswered are simple questions concerning what was said to have been, now, a good "decision" made by "the crew." Those words were used over and over, as they had in the immediate aftermath of the off-target landing. "The crew" making such a decision immediately questions the secondary re-entry procedure being "automatic," as was reported elsewhere.

As Soyuz commander, Malenchenko would have have made such a "decision." To have arrived anywhere near target, that decision would have to have been made within a very few seconds.

Ian O'Neill of UNIVERSE TODAY is reporting on more pieces of the puzzle in "New Facts Emerging from Soyuz Emergency Landing and some very disturbing information.

Much of what may be intrinsically flawed in the Russian manned space space program is definitely bringing to mind questions not just about the logistic difficulty and crew hardship in depending on the Russian Soyuz, but that ship's safety, though for the first time in a while.

Though some are simply wondering if the long-docking of any manned vehicle, built for human re-entry, produces unintended consequences. And others have the creeping feeling the Russians are suffering under what was thought to be a uniquely American, "creeping delusion of this kind of travel becoming routine."

What started out as disturbing is beginning to sound much like the aftermath of the original, near disasterous fire on board the Space Station Mir in 1997, and not the least part an American Cone of Silence descending down on elements of the story, to help Roscosmos save face, or NASA's in the middle of a congressional budget battle that is, in itself, in the middle of a heated national presidential Election Year.