January 10, 2008

Secret Clues to Classified Space Missions

Zoe Brain points out this interesting article about mission patches for rockets carrying classified payloads, and what can be deduced from them.

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November 03, 2007

Now A Commonplace Event, Barely Mentioned in the News

The astronauts have fixed the solar wing on the space station, and that's big news. What is only mentioned in passing is that both the space station commander and the shuttle commander are women.

I think it's wonderful, getting past this "he vs. she" crap and letting qualified *people* get the job done.

Posted by Ted at 11:44 AM | Comments (318) | TrackBack

September 13, 2007


On Mars, the rovers Spirit and Opportunity were in danger of failing because of a massive months-long dust storm that engulfed them both. The amount of dust in the air severely restricted their ability to generate electricity from their solar panels, so NASA controllers put both into hibernation mode. Even so, there was a real danger of one or both of the rovers shutting down for good.

But these little guys are tough!

NASA's Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit have resumed their three-year-old mission after surviving giant dust storms that nearly destroyed the twin robots, the US space agency said.

The rovers, which arrived on the Red Planet in January 2004 on a mission that was originally supposed to last three months, had been placed in hibernation mode in July to protect them from the Martian dust storms.

Three plus years into a scheduled three month mission. Amazing.

Posted by Ted at 11:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 22, 2007

De-Romanticizing Moonlight

When the first rock and dust samples from the moon were returned, many folks were surprised because they were dark gray, almost black. We think of the moon as light colored because it's the brightest thing we see in a dark sky, but in actuality it's not very reflective. In fact, on average, the surface of the moon only bounces about 7% of the sunlight back. That's about as reflective as asphalt.

Posted by Ted at 07:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 19, 2007

Apollo 8

I'm re-reading A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts*, and thought I'd pass along a few things that fired my imagination as I read.

Nothing like a little history to refresh your memories, or to educate you youngsters who don't remember back that far.**

Apollo 8 was crewed by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. They were the first men to fly to the moon and go into orbit there. It was quite a jump for the day because the farthest away man had been from the Earth before them was 850 miles. Their destination was 240,000 miles away.

If the Saturn V (pronounced "saturn five") was standing next to the Statue of Liberty, the crew could look down and see the top of the torch about six stories below them.

The crew had lunch with Charles Lindberg the day before liftoff. During the conversation, they figured out that in the first second of their flight they would burn twenty times as much fuel as Lindberg used on his trans-Atlantic trip.

Forty seconds after liftoff, they went supersonic.

As the crew was preparing for liftoff, Bill Anders noticed a hornet building a nest on the outside of the window of the Command Capsule.

I'm sure there will be more of this trivia as I continue the books. Wonderful stuff.

* The Amazon link is to a paperback version released with a Foreward by Tom Hanks. I have the original 3-volume hardcover set.

** I'm one of those youngsters. I was too young to pay attention to Mercury and Gemini, and barely recall the later flights of Apollo and the moon landings.

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June 29, 2007

Inflatables in Space

Sounds dirty, eh?

Bigelow Aerospace has launched it's second test module into orbit atop a Russian Dnper rocket. Once in orbit, the module deployed and all indications are that it inflated normally. That makes Bigelow two for two.

Their plan is to have a commercial space station functioning in orbit by 2015, made from inflatable modules. If you click that link, you'll find all kinds of information on their prototypes and future plans, including a "fly your stuff" program where you can send stuff into orbit and see it float around on camera.

Posted by Ted at 06:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2007

First Trip, Return Trip

Today, from Spaceport America in New Mexico, a commercial rocket blasted into space carrying the remains of two people who are forever linked to mankind's reach for the stars. James Doohan, beloved as Star Trek's Scotty, made the trip for real that most people from his generation only dreamed of. Also aboard was Gordon Cooper, one of the original seven US astronauts, making his third and final flight.

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March 09, 2007

Treading Water

An interesting look at rocket programs and the economies of scale, titled A Rocket a Day Keeps the High Costs Away. Originally written in 1993, it's sad to see how little we've progressed since then.

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February 01, 2007

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

That's true of rockets too. Of course, the trick is to control exactly where it comes down.

Dick Stafford links to some wicked cool video of a Delta 2 rocket that suffered an... uh, anamoly (their word) just seconds after liftoff. I'd seen the second of the three clips that he links to, and wondered what kind of damage was done to the facilities. Now I know. A chunk of burning debris landed in the parking lot where the folks in the blockhouse were working, incinerating a couple dozen cars and leaving a big crater in the asphalt where it hit. By incinerate, I mean windshields and tire rims were *melted*.

Dick also covers this more recent oopsie (unofficial term) that happened a couple of days ago on the SeaLaunch platform (including more video).

In both of these accidents, nobody was injured. It ain't called "rocket science" for nothing, people!

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I've Been Looking For This

I even mentioned it last May.

Must see is this nifty CG video of one of NASA's Mars missions, with the opening soundtrack supplied by Lenny Kravitz. Kick ass.

Posted by Ted at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2006

In Case You Were Wondering

Everything you need to know about being a customer of NASA's Sounding Rocket Program out at Wallops Island in Virginia (pdf file).

Posted by Ted at 04:48 AM | Comments (1)

December 05, 2006

I've Been Waiting For This For Decades


NASA announced plans on Monday for a permanent base on the Moon, to be started soon after astronauts return there around 2020.

The agency's deputy administrator, Shana Dale, said the United States would develop rockets and spacecraft to get people to the Moon and establish a rudimentary base. There, other countries and commercial enterprises could expand the outpost to develop scientific and other interests, Dale said.

I like the mention of "commercial enterprises". Now lets see how committed they are to this over the long term.

Posted by Ted at 11:17 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 24, 2006

Shattered Delusions

You've all seen the "face" on Mars. You may have heard about the recent debunking, where higher resolution photographs showed that it was, indeed, a natural physical feature. You probably didn't hear about the barking mad conspiracy theorists who're convinced that NASA is satan and they want to hide the evidence of extraterrestrial life (ignoring the fact that finding ET would mean a huge expansion of space exploration funding).

So, here's a nifty 3D animation from ESA (European Space Agency) showing the "face" and what it really looks like from various angles.

Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 05:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 25, 2006

Low Key, but High Hopes

I haven't seen much buzz about this, but did you realize that Bigelow Aerospace is on the way to establishing a privately funded manned space station by 2010?

Two years after that, expansion will allow for nine space tourists at a time.

The idea is to create a destination, and then let the transportation sort itself out once they have some place to go.

So who are these guys with the big plans? I've talked about them before here and linked to another RocketForge story here. Bigelow Aerospace put up the entire $50,000,000 prize for the next commercial space contest, and one of the requirements is to win by January, 2010. A little added incentive (if you can call fifty million dollars little) to spur those private space companies along.

Again, it's not commonly known, but in July Bigelow launched Genesis I aboard a Russian rocket. Genesis I went into orbit, successfully inflated (remember, balloons in space), and is busy relaying data back to earth. These guys don't just talk the talk, they walk the walk.

Commercial space. It's coming. Soon.

Posted by Ted at 04:44 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 13, 2006

Danged Colonialist Expansion

Did you realize that there are now four satellites orbiting Mars, in addition to the two rovers that are still chugging along on the surface?

The most powerful spacecraft ever sent to Mars has settled into a nearly circular orbit, a move that allows scientists to begin studying the planet in unprecedented detail, NASA said Tuesday.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its thrusters for 12 minutes Monday to adjust to its final position six months after it arrived at the planet. Its altitude ranges between 155 to 196 miles above the surface.

Kick. Ass.

Posted by Ted at 11:49 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Ansari Blog

Anousheh Ansari is the first woman to purchase a commercial ticket to space with the Russians. If the name sounds familiar, it's because her family sponsored the Ansari X-Prize for commercial access to space which was won by Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne.

She's blogging her trip into space.

Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 05:53 AM | Comments (2)

August 14, 2006

I wanna go to Space Camp!

Space Camp isn't just for kids, you know.

Phil Reeder flew all the way across the pond to attend the Advanced Adult Space Academy Programme (heh, he spells funny).

His articles for the first six days are posted at Sven Knudsen's amazing website.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

Phil apologizes for not having nearly enough pictures to cover the massive number of activities and events that are scheduled for the week.

Posted by Ted at 05:20 PM | Comments (1216) | TrackBack

July 23, 2006

Shuttle Video

This is a chance to see a space shuttle launch up close and from a perspective few get to experience. From the last shuttle mission, here's a video taken from one of the external cameras mounted on the shuttle SRBs. Continuous from launch to splashdown, the whole thing is about twelve minutes long, although after about the eight minute mark you just see parachute shroud lines floating on the water.

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July 07, 2006

Where the heck did I leave that thing?

Real-time tracking of the Space Shuttle and the ISS.

Posted by Ted at 04:47 PM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2006

Commercial Space Goes Small-Time!

And that's a very good thing.

Over at RocketForge, we see:

Masten Space Systems started taking payload orders today! $199 CanSats at an introductory price of $99! Full 1kilogram custom payloads for $250! Sign up now!

I've briefly mentioned CanSat before here and here. There are a couple of good follow-on links there, and I really recommend visiting Pratt Hobbies, where you can find plenty of useful kits to get your inner-rocket scientist jump started.

On a related note, this weekend I'll be supervising several teams of students as they assemble high power rockets to loft CanSat payloads. Altitudes will be less than 4,500 feet vs. the several tens of thousands of feet that Mastens is working towards, but the concepts are the same. Rocket science is rocket science.

Posted by Ted at 08:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 27, 2006

Since I'm in some sort of weird "posting content" mood

Over at Pratt Hobbies blog, Doug has put up a picture of himself and his son Brian. Brian was my co-timer during the Team America finals.

Meanwhile, for the true tech-geek out there, check out this mashup of Google Maps that lets you track the orbital positions of satellites as well as letting you know when and where they'll appear in your sky over the next 48 hours. Tres cool! Kudos to Dick's Rocket Dungeon for the info and pointer.

Posted by Ted at 09:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 07, 2006

Not Quite What I Remember

NASA creates some wicked cool animated mission videos, and the best I've seen was a version where someone added a background soundtrack of Lenny Kravitz' Fly Away.

This version is pretty good though, set to Nine Inch Nails Sunspots. Check out NIN to Mars.

Here's another, which leaves the original NASA audio intact. It's longer too, not edited down to fit a particular song.

Posted by Ted at 07:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 15, 2006

Job Openings in Exciting Times

Mark Oakley hadn't posted anything for quite a long time, which is understandable since he's busy working for one of the original X-Prize challengers. They're still in business, because being the first to do it (Rutan) doesn't necessarily count for anything more than historical recognition (is the Wright Aircraft Corporation still around?).

Anyway. TGV Rockets is hiring.

Related to that, check this out from RocketForge:

You don't steer the elephant, you just drive around him in your new car.

Go here to read the rest (it's short and to the point). Were I an engineer, I'd be begging these people to hire me.

Posted by Ted at 11:57 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 27, 2005

Apparently the Big Guy is a little... organizationally challenged, shall we say

When I was growing up, I had this cool poster on my bedroom wall that showed the Sun and nine planets in their orbits around her, along with the mysterious asteroid belt. All neat and orderly.

Too bad it's not quite that simple any more:

Scientists no longer are sure what a planet is and how many reside in our system.

The International Astronomical Union, a worldwide alliance of astronomers, has been struggling for about two years to agree on a definition for planets. Three proposed definitions are being studied, but a decision isn't likely until spring, according to Robert Williams, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

So Pluto, which most of us were taught as the ninth planet, may lose that status. Then again, maybe not.

"The discovery of the Kuiper Belt in the 1990s has given Pluto a place to call home, with icy brethren to call its own," said Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in an e-mail.

"The Kuiper Belt is the largest structure in the solar system," Stern said recently. "We used to think Pluto was a misfit," he added. Now Earth and the other inner planets are the oddballs.

Depending on what definition of "planet" is chosen, our solar system may have as few as eight (demoting Pluto) or as many as seventeen (!!!) planets. Astronomers have already discovered a body larger than Pluto in the Kupier Belt.

The largest and most distant of the ice dwarfs is nicknamed Xena after the television warrior princess. Discovered in 2003, it's 1,600 miles across and 20 percent bigger than Pluto is. Xena has a moon of its own, named Gabrielle after the TV Xena's sidekick.

These bodies haven't been assigned official names yet, which is why you see whimsical designations like Santa (which has a moonlet named Rudolph), Easter Bunny, Orcus, Quaoar, Ixion, Buffy and Sedna.

Even asteroids have been discovered with their own moonlets, and at least four moons in our system are geologically active.

What a wonderfully messy and chaotic neighborhood we live in.

Thanks to Chris Hall for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 12:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 27, 2005

Earth to orbit is 90% of the effort

A successful test of space elevator hardware.

“We’re not a PowerPoint company anymore … we’re a hardware company.” -- Michael Laine, president of the LiftPort Group

In less than a month, NASA's Ames Research Center in California will host the First Annual Space Elevator Competition. Every day, the future gets closer to reality.

Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 12:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 13, 2005

Catch a Falling Star and Put It In Your Pocket

Courtesy of Professor Chris Hall, we learn that the Japanese probe Hayabusa is about 12 miles from it's targeted asteroid. The plan is to land on it, collect samples, and bring 'em back to Earth.

Follow that link for details and related links.

Posted by Ted at 04:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005


This is the revised version:

"Someone once said that there was no doubt that we would colonize the Moon and Mars. The only question was what language would be spoken: the language of science or the language of business. My money is on business. The language of business is universal, ignores national borders, and is capable of speaking all human languages."

You can go to RocketForge to see the original quote, and his reasoning behind thinking that the original is not necessarily true.

Posted by Ted at 07:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 09, 2005

Podcasting is really taking off

My apologies for the title, I couldn't resist.

I saw this over at Wizbang:

STS-114 Mission Specialist Steve Robinson transmitted the first podcast from space.

They're safely back on the ground now (in case you hadn't heard), but follow that link to get to the audio feed and/or NASA transcript.

Now, how can I get a shoutout from orbit?

Posted by Ted at 11:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 01, 2005

Probably still a few years yet until there are members in the "50 Mile High Club"

According to Rocket Forge, Virgin Galactic has booked it's first Honeymoon couple.

George Whitesides (NSS Executive Director) and Loretta Hidalgo (past President of the Space Generation Foundation and currently at NASA HQ) are the first honeymoon couple to fly on Virgin Galactic.

Congrats you crazy kids!!!

Posted by Ted at 04:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 26, 2005

July 14, 2005

Space Shuttle

I haven't had time to keep up with the drama surrounding the latest Shuttle mission. All I can say for certain is that the astronauts recognize the risks in what they've chosen to do for a living, and that they willingly accept them. Now it's up to NASA to live up to their ideal.

The California Yankee has an interesting post up titled: Discovery Launch Scrubbed - Should It Have Been Scrubbed Earlier? There's an interesting discussion happening in the comments too.

Posted by Ted at 08:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

I wonder what their real-time failure rate was during the cold war?

The converted Soviet ballistic missile that was to carry the solar sail spacecraft into orbit failed 83 seconds after launch.

Why the submarine launch? What was the advantage or benefit?

Posted by Ted at 06:09 AM | Comments (3)

June 21, 2005

Real star power

Launch set for solar sail spacecraft. Solar sails catch the stellar 'wind' coming from our sun for propulsion, much like a sail works on watercraft. Because the solar wind is so much less dense than wind, the corresponding sail area must be much greater. Fortunately, the microgravity present in space means that the sail can be much thinner as well.

So the spacecraft will use a naturally occurring, non-consumable resource to move. Whatever will the environmentalists have to complain about?

If all goes as planned, Cosmos 1 was to be launched early Tuesday afternoon, California time, and carried into Earth's orbit by a converted intercontinental ballistic missile...

Oh. Ok.

Posted by Ted at 12:10 PM | Comments (3)

June 14, 2005


NASA style:

''I have to do that to get the door of my pickup truck open sometimes.'' - Rookie astronaut Donald Pettit after he used his ''Fonzie touch'' to open a hatch on the International Space Station

Cheaper than $400 hammers. Cooler too.

Posted by Ted at 05:02 AM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2005

Sounding Rockets

You've heard me use the term "sounding rocket" before, but you might not know what it means.

Sounding rockets take their name from the nautical term "to sound" which means to take measurements.

This NASA site explains what sounding rockets are, and why they're an important tool for science.

Posted by Ted at 04:49 AM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2005

More Real Rocket Science

I humbly admit to a small role in getting young people involved in aerospace engineering by acting as a mentor during the Team America Rocket Challenges (TARC) of the last three years.

I've also spent time talking to students who're building and launching CanSat payloads (real electronic payloads fit into a space the size of a coke can). Almost every month at our scheduled club rocket launches, we get several teams testing new designs for both TARC and CanSats.

Some of those kids have gone on to participate in NASA's Student Launch Initiative (SLI) program.

Some of the kids involved have gone on to college and are now working towards a career in aerospace. When they do, they get to do things like the Virginia Tech Sounding Rocket Project.

The mission is being sponsored by NASA's Sounding Rocket Operations Contract (NSROC) in Wallops Island, Virginia. NSROC has provided Virginia Tech with manufacturing of most payload components, a rocket motor, as well as official engineering analysis of the design. As part of the process, the students have attended 4 professional meetings at the NASA Wallops facility and have gotten the opportunity to collaborate with NSROC engineers on how to improve the design of the payload. The launch will take place on Wallops Island in mid-May of 2005.

Jealous? You bet I am.

The payload weighs approximately 190 pounds and is about 10.3 feet in length. The Orion motor will carry this payload to an altitude of nearly 60 miles above the surface of the Earth in approximately 150 seconds. After apogee, the payload will reenter, a parachute will deploy, and the payload will splash down in the ocean. A recovery team will then retrieve the payload from the water, and then will be brought back to NSROC's facility where it will be taken apart. The MAGIC instrument will be returned to NRL for analysis and the students will analyze the rocket flight data obtained through telemetry transmissions.

They recently made their successful launch. Check out preflight coolness, and then some launch and recovery pictures. Thanks to Professor Chris Hall for sharing this. Now, how can I get one of those decals for my rocket?

Posted by Ted at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

May 29, 2005

It didn't end with Burt

SpaceShipOne may have been first and the winner of the prize money, but the main goal of the X-Prize competition was to develop commercially viable vehicles for the business of space.

SpaceX has just completed a successful test firing of their main rocket motor (with picture!). A more detailed update is promised after the weekend.

Posted by Ted at 12:53 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2005

Best Hubble Space Telescope Images

Space.com is asking you to vote on the best Hubble images. From this page, click on any image to go to a slideshow that allows you to rate each image on a 1-5 scale. There are some amazing and beautiful choices.

Posted by Ted at 11:38 AM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2005

Alien Worlds through Artists' Eyes

A wickedcool look at other planets, courtesy of Space.com.

Posted by Ted at 11:51 AM | Comments (1)

May 08, 2005

We came this close

Alan E. Brain plays synergist to show that a derelict early version of the Star Wars Death Star might be orbiting Saturn.

Seriously! Well, kinda. Go check it out.

Posted by Ted at 02:51 PM | Comments (1)

May 02, 2005

It hasn't stopped with Rutan

Over at Transterrestrial Musings, Rand Simberg has been giving updates on the Space Access Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

Teasers and snippets:

Three kinds of space people:

Saganites: "Space is big, billions of stars, isn't God's creation incredible...DON'T TOUCH IT."

Von Braunians: "We vill go boldly into space, and you vill watch on television, and you vill enjoy it." That's the current space program.

O'Neillians: "We will build the tools, go into space, and use its resources to expand humanity and freedom into the cosmos."

About Chuck Lauer of Rocketplane, Limited's talk:

Chuck actually gets quite emotional when describing the feeling of going into the hangar and seeing all the people working, earning a living, finally living the dream that he and Mitchell started working on a decade ago.

There's so much more. As they say, go read the whole thing. Scroll on down through the articles (or start at the bottom and read up) as it covers multiple posts.

Posted by Ted at 11:52 AM | Comments (1)

April 05, 2005

Geek wear for the aware geek

Courtesy of RocketForge, T-shirts showing the correct proposed plan for America's return to space.

I especially like this one. Now I need a RocketBabe to model it.

Posted by Ted at 12:27 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2005


Cassini has discovered another of Saturn's moons with an atmosphere.

An intriguing theory about this moon being the source of one of Saturns rings is put forth.

What was that quote? "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine."

Thanks to Fred at the Eternal Golden Braid for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 08:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2005

Another legend joins the web

Wally Schirra, one of the original seven American astronauts, now has a web site detailing his career from military test pilot to astronaut and since. Schirra is a dedicated practical joker, and the site includes a link to his most famous "gotchas" that he pulled on his fellow astronauts. Pictures, video, lots of information. Nifty.

Posted by Ted at 06:09 AM | Comments (4)

February 04, 2005

Going to Mars on one gallon

One gallon of paint, that is. For an intriguing new take on an old idea, check this out.

Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

January 29, 2005

"It is getting to be a bit like Apollo all over again"

Space.com has another one of those articles that seems obvious - once you think about it. This time, it's the need for simulated moon dirt.

This time, when we go back to the moon, it'll be to stay. It's good practice for Mars and beyond, not to mention how much easier it'll be to mount further exploration missions from there compared to the deep gravity well on Earth. Obviously, we're going to need ways to produce what we need from the materials available on the lunar surface. Also obviously, that means devising nifty machines to do all that scientifical magic that creates those things we'll need. You gotta test those machines and methods beforehand, hence the not-so-obvious need for fake moon regolith (dirt).

Tons of lunar simulant, called JSC-1, were produced years ago under the auspices of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, hence the name. Made from volcanic ash of basaltic composition, JSC-1’s composition mimicked many of the attributes of lunar mare soil samples.

But now supplies are largely gone, with some of the material even hoarded by some researchers due to its scarceness.

We never had all that much genuine lunar soil, and there are also some limitations besides the amount available. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt walked on the moon with Apollo 17, and was the only actual geologist to go.

“The main problem with this Apollo material is that it no longer is in extremely hard vacuum and has not been for thirty-three-plus years. Also, the samples and fractions taken from it for analysis have been agitated by handling and splitting and have lost significant amounts of solar wind volatiles,” Schmitt explained.

In other words, even our original moon samples aren't precisely what was collected more than three decades ago. Like most things, regolith is changed by the environment it exists in and by the handling it sustains.

The first lunar simulant 'MLS-1' was made because it had an approximate chemistry to Apollo 11 soil 10084, but its mineralogy and engineering properties were all off. Subsequent attempts to duplicate grain-size distribution and glass content were not adequate. But, this was used by many investigators, most of whom unknowingly were not using a good simulant.

Later simulants were much better, but there is still room for, and a need for improvement. They're not exactly sure how much they'll need, but it will be measured in tons. There's money to be made in fake moon dirt.

Posted by Ted at 09:14 AM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2005

Wallops Island

Wallops Island is Virginia's designated Spaceport. It was named for John Wallop, a 17th-century surveyor who began patenting land on Virginia's eastern shore in the 1660's. In 1672 he received a Crown Patent of the 13-square-kilometer island from King Charles II, and in his will John Wallop referred to "my island formerly called Keeckotank." It was also known as Accocomoson or Occocomoson Island, but has borne the name "Wallops Island" for more than 260 years.

Source: "Origins of NASA Names" by Wells, Whiteley, and Karegeannes, NASA SP-4402, 1976

Posted by Ted at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2005

Things often work better when you turn them on

First seen at Naked Villany, and I googled up a link to the story here.

On Thursday, Idaho scientist David Atkinson said that someone failed to turn on a radio receiver for the instrument he needed to measure the winds on Saturn's largest moon. Because of that error, data transmitted by the gear on the Huygens lander was not received by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft for relay to Earth.

Oops. It doesn't specifically say, but since the Huygens probe was ESA's baby, I don't think this was a NASA goof. In fact, this sort of thing is exactly why NASA goes overboard with the checklists. Except that it's not going overboard if you prevent things like this from happening.

Atkinson spent 18 years designing the experiment for the unmanned space mission to Saturn. He did say Thursday there was a chance that some of the data that was beamed toward Cassini could be picked up on Earth.

Ouch. Fortunately, according to the story most of the data was recovered.

Getting back to the checklist thingy. I imagine that the ESA (and every other space program) goes to the same lengths as NASA regarding checklists and procedure manuals. I'd bet that the checklist item to send that command was forgotten or lost somewhere along the line and so wasn't present to be performed during the execution of that particular series of commands. Trust me, nobody *forgets* something like that.

Posted by Ted at 07:09 PM | Comments (2)

January 20, 2005

Little Joe II

The Little Joe II series of rockets did for Apollo what the Little Joe I did for Mercury*.

From Rockets of the World:

In order to make the flight to the moon, the Apollo spacecraft was launched atop a six million pound tank of explosive liquids called the Saturn V.

Little Joe 2 liftoff

Once again, a Launch Escape System (LES) was fitted to the nose of the capsule to move the astronauts out of harms way during the boost phase, and the Little Joe II program was designed to test the LES.

At it's most basic level, the Little Joe II consisted of a series of structural rings covered by commercially available sheets of corrugated aluminum. Four fixed fins provided guidance, with additional control surfaces added on later flights.

The first Little Joe II flight took place in August, 1963 at White Sands missile range in New Mexico.

On the final test flight, as the rocket ascended it was intentionally sent into a wicked tumble before the LES was activated. It performed flawlessly, proving the system would work under worst-case conditions.

In all, just five Little Joe II flights were made. Studies were made to extend the program to test the Apollo Lunar Module, but the idea never went beyond wind-tunnel testing (the Little Joe II/LM stack proved dynamically unstable). There was even a proposal for an orbital version.

There are some really nice photos here at the Field Guide to American Spacecraft.

If you'd like to build a flyable model rocket version of the Little Joe II, JimZ has the original Estes plans available for free online.

*I've discovered some errors in the original post. Corrections have been made and noted.

Posted by Ted at 11:40 AM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2005

It's really been a year already?

Rand Simberg, over at Transterrestrial Musings, reminds us that one year ago President Bush announced his vision for the American efforts in space. Follow the link and read the impressions and insights from someone actively involved in the process. Here's a teaser:

NASA has moved forward in implementing it, with a new Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, with a new and apparently able man in charge (Admiral Steidle, of Joint-Strike Fighter fame). After the recent election, he (along with Tom Delay) ensured that it received full funding for the current fiscal year (in the face of budget cuts for almost all other domestic programs). Exploration architecture studies were let, technology studies have been selected, and an RFP is about to be released for the first phase of development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Quietly, they've been making the vision a reality.

Posted by Ted at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2005


They did it!!!! On the surface and good data being transmitted.

Posted by Ted at 12:28 PM | Comments (1)

Real-Time Huyjens Blogging

Over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable, DarkSyd is keeping us space geeks up to date on the descent to Titan's surface.

Posted by Ted at 06:12 AM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2005

Cassini and Huyjens

Ignore the stupid "suicide" headline, that's just some idiot editor trying to punch up a story that doesn't need it.

Launched in 1997, the joint NASA/ESA probes have finally arrived at Saturn after taking the roundabout route.

On a 2.1-billion-kilometer (1.3-billion-mile) trek, it looped twice around the Sun, twice around Venus, once around Earth and once round Jupiter, picking up gravity "assists" that, like a slingshot, helped it build up enough speed to reach the outer Solar System.

It's been sailing away for seven plus years, usefully whipping around all sorts of system objects, and now it's going to be right where we want it. Precision enough to take your breath away.

On Christmas day, the Huyjens probe separated from Cassini and began it's solo journey to Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. Titan is interesting because it's got an atmosphere. A thick atmosphere and real clouds.

"Titan has a very thick nitrogen atmosphere which also contains lots of methane, and where you see methane you have complex organic (carbon) chemistry," Huygens project manager Jean-Pierre Lebreton told AFP from mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

"We suspect that Titan's atmosphere is undergoing the same type of chemical reactions that took place on Earth way before life appeared. These precursors are called prebiotic chemistry, in other words, the chemistry which took place on Earth before the emergence of life."

The Huygens probe will begin its descent into the Titan atmosphere around 9am EST tomorrow. It'll spend over four hours under parachute, transmitting pictures and all the measurements it can gather to the Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn. The scientists are hoping that the probe will continue to transmit even after landing on the surface of Titan.

Once Huyjens goes quiet sometime tomorrow afternooon, Cassini will transmit all of the collected scientific goodness back to Earth and then continue it's own mapping of the Saturn system for at least another three years.

Huygens is named after the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan in 1655. Cassini's name comes from the Italian Jean-Dominique Cassini (1625-1712), who discovered the Saturnian satellites Iapetus, Rhea, Tethys and Dione. In 1675, he discovered what is called the "Cassini Division," the gap between Saturn's rings.
Posted by Ted at 04:03 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2005

Space flight is a dangerous profession

Riding a rocket has been described as "sitting on top of a fuel tank that's exploding in a carefully controlled manner". That's not precisely accurate, but it's not far off either. It should be no surprise that astronauts have dealt with the pressures using humor.

Before the flight of Apollo 17, Gene Cernan asked the wife of Don Evans for advice on how to wake the deep sleeper. "All I do is give him a kiss", she replied. Always ready with a joke, Cernan reported that after eight days of flight "he did start to get pretty good-looking".

The last words spoken from the moon also came from Cernan: "OK, let's get this mother out of here".

The crew of Apollo 8 read from Genesis while in lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, and when a Japanese correspondent found a Gideon Bible in his hotel room he reported that "NASA Public Affairs is very efficient - they had a mission transcript waiting in my hotel room."

Apollo 9. After jettisoning the lunar module, one of the astronauts mentioned to ground control that they hoped they hadn't left anything aboard it. Ground control asked if that meant they hoped they hadn't left the LM pilot aboard. Astronaut James McDivitt replied "I didn't forget him -- I left him there on purpose..."

Shuttle mission STS41-C - The mission was originally numbered STS-13. The crew's alternate patch flaunted the 'Apollo 13 curse' by showing a black cat, the number 13 and a Shuttle flying from underneath the cat.

Mercury mission MA-8. Deke Slayton tried to trip Wally Schirra up with "Are you a turtle today?" on open comm (the reply must be 'you bet your sweet ass I am'). Later, in orbit over Ecuador, the ground controller insisted that Schirra say "Buenos dias", and Schirra replied with an exagerated "Buenos dias, y'all".

Mercury MA-3 (first US manned flight). During the press conference after the flight, John Glenn noted that Alan Shepard, who's suborbital lob came between the flight of the chimpanzee Enos and Glenn's pending orbital flight, represented the "missing link between ape and man". Shepard received $14.38 in Navy flight pay for his fifteen minutes aloft.

Apollo 16. Astronaut Charlie Duke had been hypnotized to keep him from using his customary cuss words while being broadcast live from the moon, which led to his constant singing to compensate.

I don't know if this is supposed to be funny or not, but it's so typically Russian:

Khrushchev was removed from power while the crew of Voskhod1 was in orbit, and the crew was cryptically informed that "there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy."

Thanks to Encyclopedia Astronautica for most of these.

Posted by Ted at 05:25 AM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2005

Didja know?

America's initial manned program was project Mercury, where each flight carried a single astronaut. Early on, after the decision to go to the moon had been made, work was begun on the Apollo spacecraft, which were designed for three astronauts. Along the way it was decided that an intermediate program was needed, hence the Gemini program was born. As indicated by the program name, Gemini carried two astronauts. Since it began after the other programs, the Gemini spacecraft were actually more technologically advanced than the following Apollo capsules which went to the moon.

Posted by Ted at 10:12 AM | Comments (1)

January 07, 2005

Little Joe I

All images courtesy of NASA and are clickable for larger versions.

The Little Joe rockets were essential to the success of the US space programs, yet very few people know about them.

There were two basic models, known appropriately enough as Little Joe I and Little Joe II. Little Joe I was designed to test the emergency escape system of the Mercury capsules that would ride atop Atlas and later Redstone rockets. Little Joe II performed the same missions for the Apollo program.

The escape system itself was simple in concept, but depended on a complex sequence of events, so inflight testing was deemed necessary. Attached to the nose of the capsule was a framework with the escape rocket mounted at the very top. The escape rocket was a small but powerful solid fuel rocket with three exhaust bells canted out at an angle so that the flames didn't hit the capsule. The rocket burned for one second. On later Apollo's, a fifth rocket was added to the escape tower that fired directly sideways to push the capsule out of the way of the rocket it had been riding. The towers also carried a jettison rocket that ejected the tower away from the capsule once the boost phase of the flight was completed and the escape system was no longer needed.

Little Joe at Wallops Island.

Because each flight tested different aspects of the escape system, there was no standard configuration of the Little Joe rockets beyond the basic model. Various combinations of Pollux, Castor and small Recruit solid fuel motors were clustered together to craft a specific desired flight profile, and control ranged from simple fins to movable rudder surfaces or additional helper rockets designed to impart spin or other dynamic forces during flight. Each flight of a Little Joe I rocket could be accomplished for about 1/5 the cost of an Atlas flight.

The first Little Joe I launch was to take place from Wallops Island, Virginia in August, 1959. About a half hour before the scheduled takeoff, the escape rocket unexpectedly fired and carried the capsule to an altitude of about 2000 feet. The problem was traced to an electrical transient in the system that caused a premature abort signal. Even so, the escape sequence worked almost perfectly.

In October, 1959 the first Little Joe I flight took place from Wallops. Because the Little Joe flights were numbered according to mission goals and not chronologically, the first mission was LJ-6. This flight lifted a boilerplate Mercury capsule to an altitude of 40 miles and proved that the Little Joe rockets were suitable for the test series.

Sam after flight aboard Little Joe

The fourth Little Joe I launch tested the system at max-Q (maximum dynamic pressue) while carrying Miss Sam, a rhesus monkey*. At 9 miles altitude, the escape rocket fired and carried the capsule safely away from the rocket. Both Miss Sam and the capsule were recovered in perfect condition. In fact, at the later beach party it was agreed that the flight didn't affect the taste of the monkey meat at all (just kidding, checking to see who's paying attention).

The last of eight flights involved an actual malfunction of the Little Joe I rocket, yet the capsule was recovered in good shape. The series proved that the Mercury escape system would be effective in saving the astronaut's lives if called upon.

As for the how the rockets got their name, the original plans for the design showed four holes in a square pattern on the bottom where the booster motors would be attached. This pattern reminded the designers of the game of craps, where rolling the dice and getting a pair of dueces was called "little joe". The name stuck.

Part 2 covering the Little Joe II will be posted shortly.

Much of this material comes from Peter Alway's invaluable Rockets of the World, 3rd edition. Highly recommended.

See also Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Astronautica for more information about the Little Joe and Mercury programs.

*Corrections: Miss Sam was the monkey who flew on the fourth Little Joe I flight. Sam, her male counterpart, made the flight on the 3rd launch of the Little Joe I. Both emerged from their test flights in fine shape, and Sam experienced 3 minutes of weightlessness at his apogee of 53 miles.

Posted by Ted at 05:19 AM | Comments (2)

January 06, 2005

About the background picture (crossposted from the Skunkworks)

That's Dr. Robert Goddard, and the image came from NASA's GRIN (Great Images In Nasa) site, an amazing resource for historical photos about aerospace and space.

Each image is available for downloading in several sizes and resolutions, and also have additional information about the photos.

From the site description of this photo:

Dr. Robert H. Goddard at a blackboard at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1924. Goddard began teaching physics in 1914 at Clark and in 1923 was named the Director of the Physical Laboratory. In 1920 the Smithsonian Institution published his seminal paper A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitudes where he asserted that rockets could be used to send payloads to the Moon. Declaring the absurdity of rockets ever reaching the Moon, the press mocked Goddard and his paper, calling him "Moon Man." To avoid further scrutiny Goddard eventually moved to New Mexico where he could conduct his research in private. Dr. Goddard, died in 1945, but was probably as responsible for the dawning of the Space Age as the Wrights were for the beginning of the Air Age. Yet his work attracted little serious attention during his lifetime. However, when the United States began to prepare for the conquest of space in the 1950's, American rocket scientists began to recognize the debt owed to the New England professor. They discovered that it was virtually impossible to construct a rocket or launch a satellite without acknowledging the work of Dr. Goddard.

Check it out, tons of history and pictures.

Posted by Ted at 09:24 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2005

Happy Anniversary!

The Mars rover Spirit landed on the red planet one year ago today, and is still going strong.


Posted by Ted at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2004

It's Christmas all over

Even up!

A Russian cargo vessel bearing Christmas gifts and vital supplies of food and fuel has docked with the International Space Station (ISS), Interfax quoted the Mission Control Centre near Moscow as saying.

The ISS is depending on these robot supply ships from the Russians since the Space Shuttle has been grounded. Problem is, their cargo capacity is very small compared to what the Shuttle used to deliver.

The vessel was delivering more than two tonnes of water, oxygen, food, fuel and scientific materials -- as well as unspecified Christmas presents -- to Russian Salizhan Sharipov and American Leroy Chiao.

Supplies levels were critical. The astronauts were rationing food and would have had to abandon the ISS and return to Earth without this delivery.

This next part will probably scare hell out of Buckethead over at the Ministry.

A German-made Rockviss robot, designed to complete repairs on the outer surface of the station, was also in the emergency supply package.

Scientists will be eager to deploy the robot, which can be controlled from earth and is seen as opening new possibilities for space exploration.

So the ISS lives. Unlike a lot of people, I think that's a good thing. Having this 'permanent' presence in space is important, and it's worth can't be measured just in dollars.

Posted by Ted at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2004

Yay ESA!

The first European spacecraft sent to the moon has entered lunar orbit, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Tuesday.

It has scientific experiments that it will conduct, but possibly the most important part is this:

SMART-1 has also been the test flight for a new solar-electric propulsion technology, a kind of solar-powered thruster that is ten times more efficient than the usual chemical systems employed when traveling in space.

The so-called "ion" engine was tested over a long spiraling trip to the moon of more than 84 million km, a distance comparable to an interplanetary cruise, ESA said.

It does not burn fuel like chemical rockets do but instead converts sunlight into electricity via solar panels and uses it to electrically charge heavy gas atoms, which speed away from the spacecraft and thereby drive it forward.

Bravo, ESA!

Posted by Ted at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

China space plans include hundreds of spy satellites

Wheeeeeee! I'm having fun with more scary headlines.

China plans to launch more than 100 satellites before 2020 to watch every corner of the country, state-run China Central Television quoted a government official as saying Tuesday.

They're gonna watch over their own country. Which is pretty much what we do too. Check it out:

A "large surveying network" would be set up to monitor water reserves, forests, farmland, city construction and "various activities of society," a government official said without elaborating.

It's that "various activities of society" that makes one wonder though. Like Rocket Jones, the Chinese seem to have better success with the 'up' part of rocket launches than the 'down' part.

Last month, the retrievable chamber of China's 20th recoverable satellite returned to Earth with a bang, crashing through the roof of a house.

Posted by Ted at 04:56 AM | Comments (1)

November 10, 2004

We're just getting started

The newest challenge for commercial space is the fifty million dollar America's Space Prize. Here's what it's going to take:

  • Carry a crew of no fewer than five people

  • Achieve an altitude of 400 kilometers

  • Complete two orbits of the Earth at that altitude

  • Do it again within 60 days
  • There's more:

  • No more than twenty percent of the spacecraft hardware can be expendable

  • Must have the ability to dock with Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable space habitat

  • Be able to remain docked in orbit for six months
  • And one last thing:

  • Must be done by January 10th, 2010
  • That sounds like a pretty ambitious set of requirements, and they're specifically crafted to encourage a private-sector replacement for Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. At this time, the US is dependent on Soyuz for transport to and from the International Space Station.

    Bigelow Aerospace is putting up the entire amount of the prize after NASA was unable (for various reasons) to pony up half. I originally talked about inflatables in space here first, then here. Follow those links for even more links and information.

    Posted by Ted at 06:07 AM | Comments (6)

    November 05, 2004

    Obviously not Yugo's

    Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity continue to function and are sending back intriguing data from the surface of the red planet.

    Spirit, having trekked nearly two miles across the flat terrain of the vast Gusev Crater region where it set down, is zigzagging up the rugged Columbia Hills and is now nearly 200 feet above the surrounding plain.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, er, on the other side of the planet:
    Opportunity is nearing the end of its exploration of stadium-size Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region and may claw its way over the rim.

    These guys have solar arrays used to generate electricity and have been working on reduced power during the Martian winter. As time goes by, the arrays have been covered by a light coating of dust, which has reduced their efficiency. But Opportunity recently received an unexpected power boost.
    "One favorite [theory] is that a dust devil happened to pick the vehicle to go through and go over the surface of it and clean it off a little bit," Erickson said.

    I'd rather imagine that the Martian equivalent of Gomer Pyle wandered by and did the windows. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise!

    Posted by Ted at 05:27 AM | Comments (1)

    October 25, 2004

    Brazil successfully launches rocket

    Last year they had a horrible accident on the pad that killed 21 scientists and technicians. This year, they made it. Congrats, mi Amigos!*

    Thanks to both A.E. Brain and Interested Participant for pointing this out.

    *Yes, I know Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Work with me here.

    Posted by Ted at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

    October 15, 2004


    Oh man, say it isn't so!!!

    The NASA spacecraft that smashed into the Utah desert last month while bringing home fragile samples of the sun may have been doomed by engineering drawings that had been done backwards, an investigating board said Friday.

    Because of the backward drawings, the switches that were supposed to detect Genesis' re-entry into Earth's atmosphere and trigger its parachutes were placed incorrectly, said Michael G. Ryschkewitsch, chairman of the board.

    They're still investigating so it's not for certain, but this would be a really stupid way to end it. At least enough of the payload was salvaged to allow much of the originally planned research to happen.

    Posted by Ted at 08:08 PM | Comments (1)

    October 13, 2004

    Practice makes perfect, even on Mars

    Russia is planning a simulated mission to Mars to study the effects of such a voyage on the crew.

    The 500 Days experiment, under development by the Russian Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, will isolate human volunteers in a mock space station module for -- as its namesake suggests -- a complete 500 days to study how a long mission to Mars might affect its human crew.

    "Obviously, we're very interested in the results," NASA spokeswoman Dolores Beasley said of the long-duration study during a telephone interview. "It is a high priority for us."

    During the 500 Days study, six volunteers will depend on a preset limit of supplies, including about 5 tons of food and oxygen and 3 tons of water. A doctor will accompany volunteers inside the module to treat illnesses and injuries. Volunteers will only be allowed to quit the experiment if the develop a severe ailment or psychological stress.

    Make sure you check out some of the related stories there too, the Russians are doing some interesting things regarding a future Mars mission.

    Posted by Ted at 04:46 AM | Comments (0)

    October 05, 2004

    How did I miss this?

    Jennifer (who is on a roll) mentioned it yesterday, but I completely misunderstood what she meant. When she posted "Who's the greatest pilot you ever saw?", and then wrote "Goodbye Gordon Cooper", I thought she was referring to the new SpaceShipOne astronauts.

    What she was referring to was that Gordon Cooper, one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, passed away yesterday. He was a flake, but he was also a great pilot.

    Posted by Ted at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

    October 04, 2004

    Home safe, with a little jingle in their pocket

    Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites has just won the XPrize!!!

    Thanks to Pixy for the heads up, and Transterrestrial Musings for the live coverage.

    Posted by Ted at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

    September 22, 2004

    India launches satellite dedicated to education

    India has placed EDUSAT into orbit. The satellite has twelve transponders dedicated to educational programming, and will provide coverage to India's vast rural areas.

    Using their Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F01 - they need serious help naming their rockets), they sucessfully boosted the satellite into orbit on Monday.

    From a statement released by the Minister for Human Resource Development:

    ''The very fact that a dedicated satellite has been put in space for educational purposes symbolises a national resolve to spread learning across the length and breadth of this country."

    Congrats India!

    Posted by Ted at 12:20 PM | Comments (1)

    September 13, 2004

    Another Space News Resource

    The Spacearium isn't updated as often as Space.com, but it's still a pretty cool place to find information about all things space.

    And since I'm recylcling links today, here's a massive link collection about life, the universe, and everything.

    Posted by Ted at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

    September 10, 2004

    Happy Ending

    They're beginning to think they can salvage most of the Genesis mission.

    Posted by Ted at 04:18 PM | Comments (0)

    September 08, 2004

    Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket

    Genesis comes home today.

    The returning craft will be snagged out of mid-air by one of two helicopters flown by stunt pilot crews. Why not military? Well, this recovery required a six-year commitment to training, so they went civilian.

    America's first 'spy' satellites used the same method of data transfer. They would take pictures over the interesting parts of the world from orbit, then as they passed over the US a small capsule containing the film would be ejected. Military aircrews would snag the capsules in mid-air and then the film would be developed. This was, of course, Top Secret stuff.

    When new Air Force generals joined the program, they would be given a briefing of the flight profile of the intelligence missions. Every time, they would object that the recovery plan was nonsense and impossible. It amused the intelligence director to inform the aviation 'experts' that not only was it possible, but that it had already been done on a regular basis. The exact number of successes and failures is still classified, but best guess estimates say they got it right hundreds of times.

    Good luck today, guys. Bring home a piece of the sun to have for our very own.

    Posted by Ted at 06:51 AM | Comments (0)

    August 31, 2004

    If you shake a dead body, it looks like it's dancing

    (Sorry, that title has nothing to do with the rest of this post. It's just something I noticed on TV).

    A new entrant in the rapidly expanding space industry emerged today as Masten Space Systems broke its silence by unveiling its new website, and vehicle development plans. The site contains details on the XA-1 suborbital launch vehicle the company will be developing over the next few years.

    "This is the beginning of a lot of fun, but hard work. Work anyone can follow along with by visiting our blog where we will be posting regular updates of our progress," declared Dave Masten, CEO of Masten Space Systems.

    I saw this over at RocketForge, where they have a vested interest in the success of this venture.

    Posted by Ted at 04:54 PM | Comments (0)

    August 23, 2004

    What might have been

    Many people don't know that at one time Great Britain had a space program that was advanced enough to have placed a satellite into earth orbit. This site talks about the Black Arrow and other advanced British aerospace programs.

    Posted by Ted at 04:56 AM | Comments (0)

    August 20, 2004

    How not to launch a rocket

    X-prize attempt goes kablooie.

    These guys are trying to do this on the cheap, and it shows. Then again, there's no reason why their methods won't work. If it was easy, it'd been done long ago. Good luck and keep trying!

    Posted by Ted at 04:48 AM | Comments (1)

    July 29, 2004

    This guy couldn't be more wrong

    James van Allen, Regent Distinguished Professor at the University of Iowa, is the noted discoverer of radiation belts encircling Earth. His seminal finding -- labeled the Van Allen radiation belts -- stemmed from the scientist's experiment that flew on Explorer 1, Americas first satellite to successfully orbit the Earth back on January 31, 1958.
    He's written an article questioning manned space flight and I'm a little ticked off about it, so I'll be petty and ask him, "what have you done lately?"
    "Almost all of the space programs important advances in scientific knowledge have been accomplished by hundreds of robotic spacecraft in orbit about Earth and on missions to the distant planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune," van Allen writes. Similarly, robotic exploration of comets and asteroids "has truly revolutionized our knowledge of the solar system," he adds.
    Overstating the case I'd say, but there is some truth in that.
    "Let us not obfuscate the issue with false analogies to Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and Lewis and Clark, or with visions of establishing a pleasant tourist resort on the planet Mars," van Allen suggests.
    Why not? Columbus and the rest didn't explore for the sake of science. I have a lot of respect for this man, but he's got his blinders on about the benefits of exploring space. Life is more than scientific fact-finding.

    He writes from the viewpoint of someone who doesn't see the point of leaving the planet. Has the scientific viewpoint dulled his imagination and spirit?

    Posted by Ted at 04:34 AM | Comments (0)

    July 18, 2004

    Astronaut Training

    Ten days on the ocean floor is about as isolated as you can get on ol' Mother Earth. This sounds like an excellent way to prepare for long-term space missions.

    Posted by Ted at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

    Can you hear me now, eh?

    An Ariane-5 rocket has placed the world's largest telecommunications satellite into orbit Saturday evening after blasting off from the Kourou site in French Guiana.
    Details here.
    Built by Boeing Satellite Systems (BSS) in El Segundo, California, Anik-2F is to provide telecommunications services across North America for 15 years for the Canadian operator Telesat.
    Posted by Ted at 01:31 AM | Comments (0)

    July 17, 2004

    There's an idea, just throw rocks at it until it goes away

    Spain is proposing an interesting concept that could possibly provide Earth with some protection from those 'killer' rocks that's floating around up there (Bruce Willis ain't gonna live forever, ya know).

    According to their plan, a pair of spacecraft will be launched together to intercept a selected asteroid. One will orbit the rock and take measurements and pictures, while the other slams into the asteroid in an attempt to alter its trajectory. The idea being if you do it far enough away, a smaller nudge is needed to make it miss Mother Earth.

    Posted by Ted at 06:42 AM | Comments (0)

    July 12, 2004

    Burial in Space

    Space Services Inc. is poised to resume service in September launching containers full of people's ashes into space, where they will circle the Earth for years to come.
    $1,000 for a gram's worth of you, or you can super-size it to seven grams for $5,300.
    The company also offers a video of the launch and provides software that allows families to track the orbital location of their loved ones' remains in real time.

    The last funeral flight, in September 2001, failed to reach orbit, but three prior launches did.

    The company pledges a free relaunch if the first attempt fails. Chafer said the families of 48 of the 50 people whose remains were on the last flight had opted for another attempt.

    "The key to the business is the routine access to space," Chafer said, adding the company planned to make three to four launches a year if the Falcon program proves successful.

    As much as this appeals to me, I have a couple of problems with the concept. Right up front, let me state that I have no knowledge of exactly what kind of containers they're using, how they're being orbited, nor what kind of orbit they're using. If they're keeping everything together in one larger piece holding all the smaller containers, then that's good. If they're in an orbit that's not useful for any other purpose, then that's good. But this is basically littering in orbit, and someone is making money to do it. It sounds like the orbit will decay in a few years, so the problem takes care of itself eventually. But I don't want to fall into the trap of "there's plenty of room up there" because that kind of thinking led to problems with Earth's oceans. "Plenty of room" implies big, not infinite, and you'd be amazed at how much crap humanity has already left floating around over our heads.

    Posted by Ted at 09:44 AM | Comments (3)

    July 08, 2004

    Houston, we had a hiccup

    Scaled Composites has released the telemetry data from the historic first flight into space by SpaceShipOne, and despite the success of the flight, it wasn’t flawless. At one point near the end of the 76 second burn of the composite rocket motor, the automated pitch control quit functioning, forcing the pilot to switch over to the backup system. The slight loss of control cost SpaceShipOne some 6 miles from the expected altitude and caused the craft to reenter the atmosphere farther south than anticipated.

    The data also shows that pilot Mike Melvill experienced weightlessness for over three minutes, and experienced 5g’s during portions of the reentry.

    This flight alone was not enough to win the X-Prize. The goal is to make two flights into space with the same manned craft (capable of carrying three people) within a two-week period. At a recent press conference, Burt Rutan would not rule out additional test flights before going for the prize.

    Posted by Ted at 09:42 AM | Comments (0)

    July 01, 2004

    "America doing it right"

    That's a quote from the director of Space Science for the European Space Agency, regarding the successful arrival of the Cassini mission to Saturn.

    Cassini is a group effort of 17 nations, funded by the Italian Space Agency, the ESA and NASA, and continues the string of successes NASA has enjoyed this year - two Mars rovers, the "comet catcher" that's returning to Earth, and now Cassini.

    The pictures are already spectacular. More please.

    Posted by Ted at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

    June 14, 2004

    Perspective (updated)

    Our relative insignificance commonly escapes us. If we reduce the universe to a scale on which we can conceive it, that on which the Earth should be represented by a good-sized pea, with a grain of mustard seed, the Moon, circling about it at a distance of seven inches, the Sun would be a globe two feet in diameter, two hundred and fifteen feet away. Mars, a much smaller pea, would circle around the two-foot globe three hundred and fifty feet from its surface; Jupiter, an orange, at a distance of a quarter of a mile; Saturn, a small orange, at two fifths of a mile; and Uranus and Neptune, good-sized plums, three quarters of a mile and a mile and a quarter away, respectively. The nearest star would lie two hundred and thirty thousand miles off, or at about the actual distance of our own Moon, and the other stars at corresponding distances beyond that; that is, on a scale upon which the Moon should be but seven inches off, the nearest star would still be as far from us as the Moon is now.

    Percival Lowell - Mars (1895)

    Update: I'd forgotten that that on the mall in Washington DC, the Smithsonian has a physical display of this very thing. The scale is smaller:

    Picture the sun as the size of a grapefruit. That would make tiny Pluto smaller than a poppy seed in the Smithsonian Institution's new scale model of the solar system.

    By the same scale, the nearest star would be the size of a cherry - located across the country in California.

    Stretching more than six football fields across, the Smithsonian's new model doesn't fit in any museum. So, "Voyage: A Journey Through the Solar System," will be displayed outdoors, stretching 650 yards along the museums lining the National Mall.

    The exhibit - built at one ten-billionth of the solar system's full size - takes the learning experience beyond the walls of the museum, said Carolynne Harris Knox, the Smithsonian's coordinator for the project.

    The sun is located beyond the east end of the National Air and Space Museum. Earth will be affixed nearby, just off the building's east corner, but starting from the castle and walking down the mall towards the Air & Space Museum, you can get a physical idea of the incredible distances involved.

    Past the full length of that massive museum, past the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, past the Arts and Industries building, near the corner of the Smithsonian Castle, is Pluto.

    Posted by Ted at 02:07 PM | Comments (2)

    June 11, 2004

    President Reagan's Speech at the Challenger Memorial Service

    We come together today to mourn the loss of seven brave Americans, to share the grief we all feel and, perhaps in that sharing, to find the strength to bear our sorrow and the courage to look for the seeds of hope.

    Our nation's loss is first a profound personal loss to the family and the friends and loved ones of our shuttle astronauts. To those they have left behind - the mothers, the fathers, the husbands and wives, brothers, sisters, and yes, especially the children - all of America stands beside you in your time of sorrow.

    What we say today is only an inadequate expression of what we carry in our hearts. Words pale in the shadow of grief; they seem insufficient even to measure the brave sacrifice of those you loved and we so admired. Their truest testimony will not be in the words we speak, but in the way they led their lives and in the way they lost those lives - with dedication, honor and an unquenchable desire to explore this mysterious and beautiful universe.

    The best we can do is remember our seven astronauts - our Challenger Seven - remember them as they lived, bringing life and love and joy to those who knew them and pride to a nation.

    They came from all parts of this great country - from South Carolina to Washington State; Ohio to Mohawk, New York; Hawaii to North Carolina to Concord, New Hampshire. They were so different, yet in their mission, their quest, they held so much in common.

    We remember Dick Scobee, the commander who spoke the last words we heard from the space shuttle Challenger. He served as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, earning many medals for bravery, and later as a test pilot of advanced aircraft before joining the space program. Danger was a familiar companion to Commander Scobee.

    We remember Michael Smith, who earned enough medals as a combat pilot to cover his chest, including the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals - and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, in gratitude from a nation that he fought to keep free.

    We remember Judith Resnik, known as J.R. to her friends, always smiling, always eager to make a contribution, finding beauty in the music she played on her piano in her off-hours.

    We remember Ellison Onizuka, who, as a child running barefoot through the coffee fields and macadamia groves of Hawaii, dreamed of someday traveling to the Moon. Being an Eagle Scout, he said, had helped him soar to the impressive achievement of his career.

    We remember Ronald McNair, who said that he learned perseverance in the cotton fields of South Carolina. His dream was to live aboard the space station, performing experiments and playing his saxophone in the weightlessness of space; Ron, we will miss your saxophone and we will build your space station.

    We remember Gregory Jarvis. On that ill-fated flight he was carrying with him a flag of his university in Buffalo, New York - a small token he said, to the people who unlocked his future.

    We remember Christa McAuliffe, who captured the imagination of the entire nation, inspiring us with her pluck, her restless spirit of discovery; a teacher, not just to her students, but to an entire people, instilling us all with the excitement of this journey we ride into the future.

    We will always remember them, these skilled professionals, scientists and adventurers, these artists and teachers and family men and women, and we will cherish each of their stories - stories of triumph and bravery, stories of true American heroes.

    On the day of the disaster, our nation held a vigil by our television sets. In one cruel moment, our exhilaration turned to horror; we waited and watched and tried to make sense of what we had seen. That night, I listened to a call-in program on the radio: people of every age spoke of their sadness and the pride they felt in `our astronauts.' Across America, we are reaching out, holding hands, finding comfort in one another.

    The sacrifice of your loved ones has stirred the soul of our nation and, through the pain, our hearts have been opened to a profound truth - the future is not free, the story of all human progress is one of a struggle against all odds. We learned again that this America, which Abraham Lincoln called the last best hope of man on Earth, was built on heroism and noble sacrifice. It was built by men and women like our seven star voyagers, who answered a call beyond duty, who gave more than was expected or required, and who gave it with little thought to worldly reward.

    We think back to the pioneers of an earlier century, and the sturdy souls who took their families and the belongings and set out into the frontier of the American West. Often, they met with terrible hardship. Along the Oregon Trail you can still see the grave markers of those who fell on the way. But grief only steeled them to the journey ahead.

    Today, the frontier is space and the boundaries of human knowledge. Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain. Our nation is indeed fortunate that we can still draw on immense reservoirs of courage, character and fortitude - that we are still blessed with heroes like those of the space shuttle Challenger.

    Dick Scobee knew that every launching of a space shuttle is a technological miracle. And he said, if something ever does go wrong, I hope that doesn't mean the end to the space shuttle program. Every family member I talked to asked specifically that we continue the program, that that is what their departed loved one would want above all else. We will not disappoint them.

    Today, we promise Dick Scobee and his crew that their dream lives on; that the future they worked so hard to build will become reality. The dedicated men and women of NASA have lost seven members of their family. Still, they too, must forge ahead, with a space program that is effective, safe and efficient, but bold and committed.

    Man will continue his conquest of space. To reach out for new goals and ever greater achievements - that is the way we shall commemorate our seven Challenger heroes.

    Dick, Mike, Judy, El, Ron, Greg and Christa - your families and your country mourn your passing. We bid you goodbye. We will never forget you. For those who knew you well and loved you, the pain will be deep and enduring. A nation, too, will long feel the loss of her seven sons and daughters, her seven good friends. We can find consolation only in faith, for we know in our hearts that you who flew so high and so proud now make your home beyond the stars, safe in God's promise of eternal life.

    May God bless you all and give you comfort in this difficult time.

    Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas -- January 31, 1986

    Further links and information can be found here.

    Posted by Ted at 06:57 AM | Comments (0)

    President Reagan at NASA's Houston Mission Control

    Because this is Rocket Jones after all (in the extended entry).

    President Ronald Reagan gets a laugh from NASA officials in Mission Control when he jokingly asks crew members, astronauts Joe Engle and Richard Truly if they could stop by Washington en route to their California landing site in order that he might come along. The STS-2 crew was in their next to last day on orbit when the conversation took place. From left to right standing: Terry J. Hart, NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Hans Mark, NASA Administrator James M. Beggs, JSC Director Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr. From left to right seated: CAPCOM, Astronaut Daniel C. Brandenstein President, Ronald Reagan Directly above the President in the background: JSC Flight Operations Director, Eugene F. Kranz [the guy with the vest in the movie Apollo 13 - ed.]

    Posted by Ted at 05:44 AM | Comments (0)

    June 09, 2004

    Earth remains the most intensely studied planet in the Solar System

    Sometime between now and July 3rd, NASA's newest Earth Orbiting Satellite (EOS), AURA, will be placed into orbit.

    The Aura spacecraft won't be alone in space during its planned six-year mission.

    Once aloft, Aura will trail the Aqua spacecraft in a formation flight pattern to make comprehensive climate observations of the Earth. In 2005, the cloud-watching satellites - CloudSat and the CALYSPO - are expected to fill in the gap between the two EOS spacecraft, with the French-developed PARASOL satellite to join them in 2006.

    Mission scientists have dubbed the five-spacecraft formation the "A-train," in which each spacecraft passes over a region 15 minutes after its predecessor and takes data that can ultimately be combined into a complete climate picture.

    Some EOS satellites have continued to function for more than 12 years longer than their designed lifetime. That's a pretty good return on the investment, I'd say.

    Posted by Ted at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

    June 03, 2004

    Why go to space?

    Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on: Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe and Lao-Tzu and Einstein and Morobuto and Buddy Holly and Aristophenes...and all of this...all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars. -- Commander Sinclair, Babylon 5
    Posted by Ted at 08:21 AM | Comments (1)

    June 02, 2004

    I love the logo!

    Because even though it's the science that ultimately matters, you still have to sell the dream. Check out NASA's new Office of Exploration Systems.

    Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer.

    Posted by Ted at 11:55 AM | Comments (3)

    May 27, 2004

    Fashion Lizard


    This is the logo for the President's Commision on Moon, Mars and Beyond. I scored a pin at last weekend's rocket launch and will probably use it as a tie tack.

    Posted by Ted at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

    May 22, 2004

    China changes space program focus

    Moon, no. Space station, yes.

    Thanks to Buckethead over at the Ministry of Minor Perfidy for the pointer.

    Posted by Ted at 04:44 AM | Comments (0)

    May 19, 2004

    Tang? He's my brother

    On Wednesday, Col. Yang Liwei, China's first astronaut is expected to arrive in New York to begin a multi-day tour of the United States that will bring him to the United Nations and to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, among other locations.

    Posted by Ted at 06:24 AM | Comments (0)

    I didn't know this

    In 1997, NASA was sued by three Yemeni men who claimed that they owned the planet Mars, and had the documents to prove it.

    "We inherited the planet from our ancestors 3,000 years ago," they told the weekly Arabic-language newspaper Al-Thawri, which published the report Thursday.

    Thanks to Jeopardy for the pointer.

    Posted by Ted at 05:35 AM | Comments (0)

    May 16, 2004

    Online Space Related Resources

    NASA History Series Publications On-Line. A whole heap o' historical documents available, including some very interesting online books about various NASA facilities (Ames, Marshall and Johnson research centers), projects (Skylab, Mariner, etc) and other aspects such as space medicine and planetary research. This is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in space and the space program.

    Be sure to check out A Meeting With The Universe: Science Discoveries from the Space Program. This book has beautiful illustrations and photographs and is designed for the non-technical reader.

    Also, there's an amazing history of America's "moon" rocket - the Saturn booster, which includes not just what actually came to be, but also the earliest concepts and plans as well as what might have been had we continued development of that family of rockets.

    Of course there are little gems for rocket nuts like yours truly too, like this publication entitled: NASA SOUNDING ROCKETS, 1958-1968 - A Historical Summary. Bliss!

    Posted by Ted at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

    May 14, 2004

    Edge of space

    Burt Rutan and his team are right on the edge of claiming the X-Prize. Read about their latest successful test flight.

    Posted by Ted at 02:04 PM | Comments (0)

    April 30, 2004

    Armadillo's in Space

    Not quite yet it seems.

    Posted by Ted at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

    April 26, 2004

    An inflatable toy that I can get excited about!

    Michael Mealing of RocketForge blogged from the Space Access '04 conference, held in Phoenix, Arizona (Helen, tell 'em I said to remove their head comma ass). Among the many interesting things announced - like a second commercial launch license granted to a private company - was this little bit that really caught my imagination.

    John Powell of JP Aerospace is giving an update on what JP Aerospace has been up to and is finally talking about their total vision for balloon based aerospace. It's basically three 'vehicles'. A 'launcher' that gets you to 100K feet, a 'station' that is huge that permanently sits at 100K feet, and an orbital (yes, orbital!) balloon that is almost 6000 feet long and can attain orbit using lift from the upper atmosphere. Its an amazing amount of work that is generating short term ROI now.

    He's also got pictures from the JP Aerospace handout to see just what these guys are doing. The link leads to a page of photos from the conference, scroll down about halfway to see them (look for the blue book with "ATO - Airship to Orbit" on the cover).

    I assume the return on investment (ROI) is the licensing fees for some cutting-edge balloon technology they've developed. This is so cool! Balloons to orbit!!!

    Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites aren't the only ones getting close to making space a commercially viable business, they're just the best known to the average person.

    Posted by Ted at 06:35 AM | Comments (2)

    April 22, 2004

    Not everyone is focused on the X-Prize

    Geekdom lately has been filled with news of Burt Rutan and others chasing the X-Prize. Sending people into space is well and good, but in the same way that like U-Haul rents big trucks and little trucks, access to space will require various payload capabilities, many of them unmanned.

    The Middlesex Advanced Rocketry Society has been working for over five years to create a commercially viable rocket that can lift smaller payloads into orbit. I've followed their progress for much of that time and their work continues to impress.

    Regarding their most recent successful test flight:

    It is believed that the 25,400ft altitude achieved by Deimos Odyssey now stands as the highest altitude achieved by any rocket powered by a British developed amateur rocket motor and may be the highest altitude ever achieved by any European built hybrid rocket.

    Posted by Ted at 05:47 AM | Comments (0)

    April 16, 2004


    It's been rather eventful lately if you've an eye towards the heavens.

    Using a technique predicted by Albert Einstein, astronomers have detected a planet orbiting a star 17,000 light years away. Think about that for a moment. Now I'm sure some Trekkie will stomp me like a Tribble onstage at Riverdance correct me if I'm wrong, but if I remember rightly, in the Star Trek universe Warp 1 was the speed of light, Warp 2 was twice that, Warp 3 four times light speed and Warp 4 was eight times faster than light.

    I also recall that early Federation starships were pretty much maxed out at Warp 4, and I think the Enterprise cruised right around Warp 4 too. Which means that I should never ever be allowed to do math in public when the Enterprise was brand spanking new, it's contemporaries would need 2,125 years to reach that planet at max speed.

    Talk about perspective, eh?

    Back to the real science:

    The discovery marks the first time that the technique, known as gravitational microlensing, has been used to identify a planet moving around a star beyond Earth's solar system.

    The technique takes advantage of a phenomenon that Albert Einstein predicted in his theory of relativity and confirmed using the Sun. The gravity of stars or planets can focus light, brightening stars or planets that lie farther away.

    Einstein has been front page lately, at least in the Science & Technology section of the paper. Professor Hall presents a nice set of links to information about the Gravity Probe B. This project has been in the works since the 60's, and you'd think that after all that time, someone would've come up with a catchy name. Nothing boring about the mission though, this is cutting-edge cool science.

    Gravity Probe B is the relativity gyroscope experiment being developed by NASA and Stanford University to test two extraordinary, unverified predictions of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

    The experiment will check, very precisely, tiny changes in the direction of spin of four gyroscopes contained in an Earth satellite orbiting at 400-mile altitude directly over the poles. So free are the gyroscopes from disturbance that they will provide an almost perfect space-time reference system. They will measure how space and time are warped by the presence of the Earth, and, more profoundly, how the Earth's rotation drags space-time around with it. These effects, though small for the Earth, have far-reaching implications for the nature of matter and the structure of the Universe.

    Meanwhile, closer to home:

    An Atlas 2 rocket carrying a Japanese communications satellite made a picture-perfect nighttime launch from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, lighting the Atlantic seaboard in central Florida like a shimmering torch.

    Pure poetry.

    The 8:45 p.m. EDT liftoff followed a perfect countdown and extended the string of successful launches by Lockheed Martin's Atlas to 71, dating back to 1993.

    Which is all the more impressive when you recall the rocket accidents and failures suffered in the last few years by China, Japan, Russia, Brazil and the US.

    And just 'cause 'tis the season, over at Rocketforge they report on the latest Aldridge Commision Meeting. Here's an interesting little snippet:

    The highlight of today's meeting was one of the UAW guys saying that one of the requirements is that sustainability needs bi-partisan support. In the Q&A Bob Walker turns that around and asks the UAW guy if that means that since the UAW has endorsed Kerry, that the UAW will use that clout to get Kerry to stop dissing Bush's space plan? His answer: if he wants our votes he will.

    I had a whole lot to say about this, but it's friday, it's beautiful outside and I'm stuck here at work, so the heck with it. Summed up: I don't buy it. Space is just another political chip to both candidates and the players on either side. For the forseeable future, progress in space will be made in spite of, not because of an American President.

    There's a nifty new quote over on the right column too. Look for the Tagline label.

    Update: Changed the original tribble joke to something I think is funnier.

    Posted by Ted at 06:29 AM | Comments (2)

    April 13, 2004

    The sky is falling. Eventually. Count on it.

    At some point in time Earth will get smacked again by a chunk of rock wandering through the solar system. That's a given, and it actually happens several times a year. But probability says with near-certainty that a big'un will intersect with Mother Earth. There are some projects gearing up to look out there, but as early warning systems they are far from comprehensive.

    And what if we actually do see something ahead of time? Just what would we do? Face it, Bruce Willis isn't getting any younger.

    Fortunately, we've got some very intelligent people thinking ahead and more importantly, doing something about it.

    Posted by Ted at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

    April 09, 2004


    Beautiful pictures of yesterday's test of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne. Thanks to RocketForge for the pointer.

    Update: Transterrestrial Musings has more on the story too, with links.

    Posted by Ted at 11:55 AM | Comments (2)

    April 07, 2004

    Government Licenses First Private Rocket

    It's about time.

    Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites make the big step first. I've talked about them before (search on "x-prize" - on the right), because their Space Ship One is typical Rutan: innovative, original and functional.

    I expect there will be several more companies hitting this milestone this year.

    Posted by Ted at 10:16 PM | Comments (2)

    I missed it because American Idol was on

    Entire article and pretty pictures here.

    On January 5, 2003, Titan - Saturn's largest moon and the only moon in the solar system with a thick atmosphere - crossed in front of the Crab Nebula, a bright, extended X-ray source. Titan's transit enabled Chandra to image the one-arcsecond-diameter X-ray shadow cast by the moon (inset). This tiny shadow corresponds to the size of a dime as viewed from about two and a half miles.

    This may have been the first transit of the Crab Nebula by Titan since the nebula was formed by a supernova that was observed to occur in the year 1054. The next similar conjunction will take place in the year 2267, so this was truly a once in a millennium event.
    Posted by Ted at 07:13 AM | Comments (3)

    April 03, 2004

    The only thing wrong with space flight is there's not enough of it

    CNN has this nice article on the X-Prize.

    When the competition was announced just eight years ago, many were skeptical that any privately financed team could meet the requirements to collect the prize: Build a spacecraft capable of taking three passengers 62.5 miles (101 kilometers) above the planet, then make a second successful suborbital trip within two weeks.

    "It's going to happen in 2004. Someone will win it," said Gregg Maryniak, director of the St. Louis-based X Prize Foundation, a group created to spark development of reusable spacecraft that can take average citizens into space.

    Rocketman Blog has followed progress closely, and has conducted a series of fascinating interviews with X-prize candidates. In fact, he's gotten a job with one of the companies as a result of his blog!

    So if you're interested in the commercialization of space (and you should be, it's the next boom to happen), then head on over to RocketmanBlog and read up on some of the pioneers taking those first baby-steps.

    Posted by Ted at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

    April 02, 2004

    I never suspected, but it makes sense

    When NASA's Spirit rover was crippled computer-wise in January, there were a lot of potential reasons for the problem. NASA has finally figured it out, and think they may have also discovered what befell the Beagle 2 probe too.

    Posted by Ted at 04:35 PM | Comments (2)

    April 01, 2004

    Even more spacey techie exploratory coolness

    Scientists have issued a weather forecast for the oily oceans of Titan, Saturn's major moon and a target for a space probe landing next year.

    Read all about it here.

    Here's a link for more on the Cassini mission and the Huygens probe.

    Thanks to Across the Atlantic for the pointer.

    Posted by Ted at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

    March 31, 2004

    A good overview of rocket history

    Not just good, it's excellent. Over at the Ministry of Minor Perfidy. Blast off and go read.

    Posted by Ted at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

    March 22, 2004

    Drivers Wanted

    Once again, NASA presents a sweet way to teach a little science.

    Drive one of the Mars Rovers.

    Note that this isn't the same link I posted before (Maestro), this is all new coolness.

    Posted by Ted at 08:05 PM | Comments (1)

    March 17, 2004

    Sir William Pickering 1910 - 2004

    Dr Pickering was a Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and an early pioneer with the US Space Program. He became known as "Mr JPL".

    Silent Running has an excellent post about him, well worth the read.

    Posted by Ted at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

    February 25, 2004

    Indian Space Program accident update

    (press release - link no longer works)

    Indian Space Research Organisation
    Bangalore, India

    February 23, 2004

    Accident at Sriharikota

    An accident occurred at the Solid Propellant Rocket Booster (SPROB) Plant in Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC-SHAR), Sriharikota, at about 1600 hours[1030 UTC] today. This happened while a test propellant segment was being prepared for transportation after curing. The propellant in the segment caught fire and caused severe damage to the building, in which the operations were going on.

    Three persons have escaped from the building with burns and they have been admitted to the hospital in Chennai. Operations are on to rescue the others.

    Emergency action have been put on to approach the building and clear the debris and reach the people inside. A high-level Committee has been constituted to look into the matter. Chairman, ISRO, Shri G. Madhavan Nair, has rushed to Sriharikota to personally supervise the operations.

    The current spirit in India concerning their space program is reminiscent of the US in the 60's. Tragedies must be avoided, but risks will be taken and despite setbacks the program will move forward.

    Infrastructure can be rebuilt. Let's hope that they've learned some lessons in safety from this, so that those lives lost aren't just wasted.

    Personal note: Hey BATFE, notice that this rocket propellant caught fire and burned? According to you, there should have been a massive ka-boom. Don't you hate it when real-life physics doesn't conform to your fantasy universe? Idiots.

    Posted by Ted at 06:01 AM | Comments (1)

    February 23, 2004

    Accident at the Indian Space Agency

    An explosion and fire at the Solid Propellant Fuel Plant. Undetermined numbers of fatalities and injuries reported.

    Posted by Ted at 10:14 AM | Comments (1)

    What Earth is obstructing the view of

    Everyone is focused on Mars right now, but Fred at The Eternal Golden Braid points up some links about our other planetary neighbor - Venus. I highly recommend this interesting collection of images, exploration history and timelines.

    Posted by Ted at 08:51 AM | Comments (0)

    February 18, 2004

    Images from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory

    Nifty pictures, and not one joke about "Black Hole Rips Unlucky Star Apart". Too easy.

    Posted by Ted at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

    February 17, 2004

    A Day in the Life of a Martian Scientist

    This link thanks to Doug Pratt of Pratt Hobbies. If you scroll down to the bottom, you'll see a picture of a young Dr. Rice, preparing to launch a model rocket. The photo caption reads:

    Jim Rice at age nine, launching his lifelong dream of a career in rocket science.

    And that's why I help introduce kids to the hobby.

    Posted by Ted at 07:47 PM | Comments (0)

    February 06, 2004

    Spending less on getting to space doesn't have to be a newfangled idea

    Check out this article over at Rocket Man's blog. The guest poster, Kelly Starks, worked on several NASA projects and puts together a virtual orbital system that's inexpensive and uses off-the-shelf parts.

    Posted by Ted at 09:48 AM | Comments (2)

    January 29, 2004

    More range than a rover

    Spirit and Opportunity are on the surface and doing their thing. Despite some problems, the fact that we can successfully land and communicate with two robot vehicles on another planet over 40,000,000 miles away says a lot.

    Knowing that more that a couple of rovers are in the works, I went digging over at Rocket Man's blog, looking for a certain something we'd talked about...

    A couple of weeks ago, Ted from Rocket Jones also sent me an email about a Mars Airplane currently being developed under the Mars Scout Mission program –

    Manassas, VA. Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. announced today an order from the NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., for a full-scale prototype of a proposed Mars airplane. The aircraft is being built as part of the Mars Scout Aerial Regional-Scale Environmental Survey (ARES) project of which Dr. Joel S. Levine is the Principal Investigator.

    In 2002 Aurora and NASA Langley successfully demonstrated a half-scale version of the airplane in a series of low altitude and high altitude drop tests. The new airplane is to be a full-scale version, designed to demonstrate flight-weight components and actual aerodynamics. The prototype plane is scheduled to make its first flight later this year with a deployment test in the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere.

    Ted was lucky enough to actually see some of the projects Aurora Flight Sciences Corp is working on as he told me in the email -

    The reason I know about these people is that the owner of the company and his kids are in our rocket club. Good people, as they say. I've been in Aurora's building and all of the hardware and projects are probably like Disneyland to an engineer. To me, it was just cool.

    That's right, they're well into developement of a semi-remote controlled robotic glider aircraft that will soar the skies of Mars, mapping and using radar to gather yet more data about the red planet.

    There are some intriguing video clips of the testing at the Aurora site. One in particular clearly showed the tail surfaces unfolding after being released from the high altitude balloon which carried it aloft.

    The reason for the extreme altitude testing is because the atmosphere of Mars is very thin compared to earth. The ARES glider will actually fly much closer to the surface once it deploys on Mars.

    Posted by Ted at 06:45 AM | Comments (2)

    January 27, 2004

    Going to Mars, on someone else's ruble

    Over at Jen's History and Stuff, Pete posted a nice review of US Mars exploration missions to date (he also included the UK's Beagle2).

    As an addendum, here's a quick list of Soviet Mars missions.

    October 1960: Two unnamed Soviet spacecraft achieve Earth orbit only, fail to fly past Mars.

    October 1962: An unnamed Soviet spacecraft achieves Earth orbit only, fails to fly past Mars.

    November 1962: Soviet Mars 1 spacecraft radio fails en route to flyby of Mars. A second, unnamed Soviet spacecraft achieves Earth orbit only, fails to fly past Mars.

    November 1964: Soviet Zond 2 spacecraft flies past Mars, but radio fails and no data are returned.

    May 1971: Soviet Kosmos 419 lander achieves Earth orbit only. The Soviet Mars 2 orbiter-lander arrive at Mars in November 1971; no useful data received after lander burns up. Soviet Mars 3 orbiter-lander arrives December 1971; lander operates on surface for 20 seconds before failing.

    July 1973: Soviet Mars 4 spacecraft flies past Mars in February 1974, but fails to enter orbit. That same month, the Soviet Mars 5 spacecraft arrives in orbit, but operates for only a few days.

    August 1973: Soviet Mars 6 and 7 combination flyby module-lander spacecraft arrive at Mars in March 1974. Mars 6 lander smashes into Mars; Mars 7 lander misses planet.

    July 1988: Soviet Phobos 1 orbiter and lander fail one month after launch. Phobos 2, launched five days after Phobos 1, is lost March 1989 near the Mars moon for which it was named.

    November 1996: Russian Mars 96 orbiter and landers fail on launch.

    And in July, 1998, the Japanese took a shot at Mars with their Nozomi spacecraft. It failed to enter Mars orbit in December 2003.

    Posted by Ted at 06:17 AM | Comments (3)

    January 25, 2004


    Opportunity has landed successfully and is sending back astounding pictures. That makes five scientific probes examining Mars right now. Spirit and Opportunity rovers on the surface, two more US satellites in orbit, and the European satellite.

    In related news, the BBC has admitted that it was only joking when it claimed that evidence of an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator had been detected.

    Oh drat.

    Posted by Ted at 09:13 AM | Comments (2)

    January 23, 2004

    Mars series complete

    Buckethead has finished his five part series on going to space over at the Ministry of Minor Perfidy. Great stuff. Bravo!!!

    Posted by Ted at 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

    January 20, 2004

    Who calls shotgun?

    Maestro Headquarters - where you can download the public version of the software that they're using to control the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on the Martian surface. Right now, the software contains the data used when scientists tested the rovers, but soon they'll be uploading the actual terrain data from Mars!

    The site also has an online users manual, discussion forums, and online help.

    Posted by Ted at 07:14 AM | Comments (0)

    January 18, 2004

    More thoughts on space

    According to media sources, President Bush's vision for space hasn't fired the imagination of the people. I'm not so sure about that. Look around the blogosphere and you'll see plenty of mention about it, and everywhere you look in mainstream media there's a related story. I think for now it's a quiet buzz, as if people are toying with the idea in their mind, and discussing it around the water cooler.

    Have you noticed how little we're hearing about how there are no real benefits to going? If NASA has done one thing right, it's been getting the word out (again, quietly but pervasively) that we've gotten a lot of everyday technology back from our space program. People today do realize that there is a return to the money spent on space, and I'm not talking just about Space Food Sticks.

    Mala of Wrong Side of Happiness has an impressive list of them, plus this link to even more (.pdf document). A good point is made in her comments that being associated with the space program doesn't neccessarily mean that it was directly invented by or for. A lot of basic technology is discovered but has no immediate practical application, and the space program has excelled in taking these little bits of existing science and finding real-life uses for them, which then make their way into everyday life.

    Major thanks to fellow Munuvian Victor for passing along the link to Mala's blog.

    Over at The Ministry of Minor Perfidy, the inaptly named Buckethead is doing a great series of posts on space exploration. I particularly like this idea:

    To prepare for the Mars mission, we should have some experience with long duration flights. We can do a dress rehearsal of the Mars mission by mounting an expedition to one of the Near Earth Asteroids. These asteroids are small bodies of rock or metal that have orbits that cross Earth’s. Some of these asteroids are very close to Earth, at least in terms of how much fuel we need to burn to get to them. Rather than a three-year mission to Mars, we can plan a one-year mission to an asteroid.

    And you can bet that someone will figure out a way to make a buck with said asteroid, which means someone with vision in private industry will want to go back. And that's how the process gets kick-started again, this time with less government.

    Finally, Chirs Hall pointed out these two fine space related sites:

    A space blog, The Eternal Golden Braid.

    Also, Sylvia Engdahl's Space Subsite.

    Many thanks Amigo!

    Posted by Ted at 09:19 AM | Comments (2)

    January 16, 2004

    Words is words

    President Bush made a pretty speech the other day, long on rhetoric and short on details. For those disappointed - and I was one at first - remember that one constant throughout our national relationship with GW Bush is that people tend to badly underestimate him.

    RocketForge has an interesting post with some budget projections that don't seem at all unreasonable. This, of course, assumes that you're already somewhat pro-space.

    Rand Simberg of Transterrestrial Musings posts some amusing email from a rabid anti-space citizen. The main thing I got out of the exchange (and comments) is that whatever side of the debate you're on, if your mind isn't open then you're an idiot and just wasting everybody's time. The link is to his main blog page, there's much worth looking at, so scroll down and enjoy.

    Rocketman has a nice roundup of opinions and articles about the speech, and Laughing Wolf has an interesting take on what it says and what it doesn't say.

    My attitude about space exploration is unchanged since before the speech. Like a little kid, "Aren't we there yet?"

    Posted by Ted at 09:32 AM | Comments (3)

    Speaking of Mars

    Robert Zubrin wrote an interesting book called The Case for Mars that talks about what it would take to get there and back. The Mars Direct Manned Mission Homepage has autographed copies available, plus lots of other information including downloadable versions of several papers written by Robert Zubrin.

    Posted by Ted at 06:57 AM | Comments (0)

    Paying for space

    On the newsgroup Rec.Models.Rockets, A. Mericas said:

    I think the space program should go the way of College Bowl games: corporate sponsorship. I can see it now: "The Nike Command Module has just separated from the Pepsi Lunar Module. In the next 15 minutes they will enter the Dodge Powered Decent phase. If all goes as planned, the OfficeMax landing will occur at 15:00 Hours, Miller Time, near the Sea of Tranquility, Ford Country."

    Houston, we have a Microsoft Moment.

    Posted by Ted at 06:43 AM | Comments (0)

    January 13, 2004

    Mars Fullscreen Panorama

    Too cool.

    Posted by Ted at 08:08 PM | Comments (0)

    Night Launch

    In December an Altas rocket was launched from the west coast (Vandenburg?) at 2am. This series of pictures were taken by D. Bishop from his home 100 miles away in the high California desert. He was kind enough to post them on the Rec.Models.Rockets binaries newsgroup.

    The fuzzy sky that the rocket trail eventually disappears into is the light pollution of the Los Angeles light dome.

    Details, in his words:

    I was using my Topcon Super D 35mm SLR film camera on a tripod holding the shutter button down with it set on "B", I was only using asa 100 film, and that would not have captured enough to realy show. The whole flight, from first liftoff light to where it was getting lost in the L.A. light dome (I hate that) took up the first 8 mins (about) as it was heading southwest away from me towards orbit. By the time I got inside my trailer out of the cold, it was already over India.

    For each shot I was doing a mental count releasing the button at or about the count of 20.

    As usual, the pictures are in the extended entry. There are seven photos, but each is rather small, so this isn't a huge bandwidth killer.








    Posted by Ted at 05:20 AM | Comments (0)

    January 12, 2004

    Mars - Well, that didn't take long

    In the extended entry.

    Uncle Sams on Mars.jpg

    Photo by D. Bishop and posted to the Rec.Models.Rockets binaries newsgroup.

    Posted by Ted at 06:25 AM | Comments (3)

    January 11, 2004

    Benefits of the Space Program

    (besides shooting morons into the sun)

    Everybody's talking about the Moon and Mars and going there and what we should do there and why we should go and on and on and on and on.

    I used to have a great link to a site that clearly set out what kind of benefits mankind has gained from the monies spent on space programs. Not just the intangibles ("we learned things"), but the solid using-it-now-on-Earth technologies as well. I lost that link somewhere along the line, and I want to point some friends to it. I've done some Googling, but the list is long and so far not what I'm looking for.

    So I'm asking for help here. Do you know of a site that has that kind of information? A place where Joe Taxpayer can go and read and say "Gee, I didn't realize...".

    Posted by Ted at 10:02 AM | Comments (7)

    January 07, 2004

    This Rocks! (no pun intended)

    NASA's Stardust spacecraft is headed home after it's flyby mission to collect samples from a comet.

    An estimated 10 million particles of dust traveling at six times the speed of a rifle bullet blasted the spacecraft as it flew past the comet Wild 2, members of the mission said. Stardust shot 72 black-and-white pictures of the dark nucleus of Wild 2 during Friday's swoop past the frozen ball of ice and rock.
    To get its unprecedented close-ups, Stardust flew through the comet's coma, the fuzzy shroud of gas and dust that envelops it. The images show features on the comet's pocked surface as small as 66 feet across, seen from about 150 miles away, said Ray Newburn, a member of the Stardust imaging team.

    The largest of the particles to strike Stardust's twin bulletproof bumpers was probably the size of a .22-caliber round, scientists said. The spacecraft fired its thrusters about 1,200 times to compensate for the battering it received during the flyby, said Benton Clark, of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the probe's builder.

    Stardust is expected back in 2006. There's lots of good information and more links about the mission and spacecraft at Chris Hall's blog.

    Posted by Ted at 01:20 PM | Comments (1)

    January 06, 2004

    The Countdown

    Everyone recognizes the countdown. Even if you don't speak the language being used, you know from the deliberate and measured cadence that something important is going to happen shortly. But did you know that the countdown wasn't invented by a rocketeer?

    In the 1929 German movie Die Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon), film director Fritz Lang* needed a way to increase the drama of a scene leading up to the takeoff of the rocket ship. He came up with the idea of having one of the main characters counting down the last minute before the launch as the tension built.

    It was prescient, as the countdown became a valuable tool when real rocketry became a complex and precisely timed exercise.

    When asked in an interview if he got the idea from the rocket club VfR**, Lang answered that the they did nothing special when launching a rocket; someone walked up, lit the fuse and then ran like hell.

    *Lang also directed the silent classic Metropolis in 1926.

    ** The VfR - Verein fur Raumschiffarhrt (Society for Space Travel) was a popular German rocketry club whose members included a young Wernher Von Braun, physicist Hermann Oberth, and science author Willy Ley. The group attracted the interest of the German military and with their support and encouragement developed much of the basic technology that eventually culminated in the V2.

    Source: Spaceship Handbook, by Jack Hagerty.

    Posted by Ted at 06:57 AM | Comments (4)

    January 04, 2004


    Mark Oakley, who writes the excellent Rocket Man blog, has updates on the so-far successful Spirit rover, which landed on Mars yesterday and is already sending back pictures. If you get the NASA channel on your TV (213 on the Dish satellite network), you can see them live. Too cool.

    It's not all techno-speak at his place either, as he uses a little Heinlein to make fun of a few moonbats.

    Posted by Ted at 08:17 AM | Comments (2)

    January 02, 2004

    Top Space Stories of 2003

    (Source: Universe Today, 12/31/03)

    Columbia Disaster
    Space exploration is an extremely dangerous business. This lesson was hammered home in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia broke up above Texas as it was on approach to land in Florida. The lives of seven astronauts were lost in a few firey moments on February 1, 2003. Months of investigation revealed that a chunk of foam fell off the external fuel tank and smashed a hole in the shuttle's carbon-fibre wing panels. When Columbia was returning to Earth at the end of its mission, the open hole in the wing allowed hot gasses to penetrate the shuttle's heat protection. The Columbia Accident Investigation board placed the blame on the foam, but said that NASA's lack of safety allowed the accident to happen in the first place. While NASA is implementing the safety recommendations to get the shuttles flying again, the US administration is said to be planning a bold new program in space.

    Chinese Space Launch
    Previously unknown, astronaut Yang Liwei became an instant celebrity on October 15, when he became the first human the Chinese space program sent into space. Liwei was launched from the Jiuquan desert launch site and orbited the Earth only 14 times in 21 hours. Only the United States and Russia have ever been capable of sending humans into space before this year. Riding high on their accomplishments, the normally tight-lipped Chinese revealed more details of their space program this year: additional human launches, a space station, probes to the Moon, and eventually humans on the Moon. NASA was one of the first to congratulate the Chinese on their accomplishment, but some space industry experts believe that this will spur the agency on to a new spirit of competition.

    SpaceShipOne Goes Supersonic
    The space community was expecting US President George Bush to make some announcement about the future of US space exploration on December 17, the 100th anniversary of the first Wright Brothers flight. He didn't, but on that day Scaled Composites - an aircraft manufacturer in California - made news with the first rocket test flight of SpaceShipOne; their suborbital rocket plane. The unique-looking aircraft was carried to an altitude of 14,600 metres by the White Knight carrier plane and then released. It fired its hybrid rocket engine and blasted up to an altitude of 20,700 metres; breaking the sound barrier as it went. SpaceShipOne is considered the top contender to win the $10 million X-Prize which will be awarded to the first privately-built suborbital spacecraft which can fly to 100 km.

    Disappearance of Beagle 2
    In a perfect world, this would be a tribute to the successful landing of Beagle 2; Britain's $50 million, 70-kg Mars lander which traveled to the Red Planet on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft. Unfortunately, it looks like Mars has swallowed yet another spacecraft, and at the time of this writing the lander has failed to communicate home; either through Mars Odyssey orbiting above, or Earth-based radio observatories.
    Beagle 2 was supposed to land in the relatively safe Isidis Planitia region of Mars and then search for evidence of microbial life for 180-days with a suite of sensitive instruments. The best opportunity to communicate with Beagle 2 comes in 2004, though, when Mars Express reaches its final orbit and will attempt to make contact. Maybe the recovery of Beagle 2 will make one of the top stories in 2004.

    Mars' Closest Approach to the Earth
    Mars took centre stage this summer when it made its closest approach to the Earth in over 60,000 years. Because of their orbits, the Earth and Mars get close every two years, but on August 27 they were only 55,758,000 kilometres apart. The mainstream media picked up the story, and for a while it was Mars mania. Astronomy clubs and planetariums that held special Mars observing nights for the public were totally overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up to have a peek through a telescope. And they weren't disappointed. Even with a relatively small 6" telescope and good observing conditions, it was possible to see details on Mars like its polar caps, dust storms, and darker patches. If you missed it this year, don't worry, Mars will be even closer in 2287.

    Biggest Solar Flare Ever Observed
    Our Sun showed a nasty side this year, with a series of powerful flares and coronal mass ejections. On November 4, 2003, the Sun surprised even the most experienced solar astronomers with the most powerful flare anyone had ever seen. It was so powerful that it momentarily blinded cameras designed to measure flares, so it actually took a few days for astronomers to calculate just how bright it was. In the end, it was categorized as an X28 flare. But this was just one of a series of powerful flares, many of which were aimed directly at our Earth, sending wave after wave of material our direction.
    Incredibly, there were very few problems on the Earth - contact was lost with a Japanese satellite, and some communications were disrupted - but we got through it largely unharmed. The auroras, however, were awesome.
    SOHO website

    Farewell Galileo
    On September 20, 2003, NASA's Galileo spacecraft finally ended its 14-year journey to the Jovian system with its triumphant crash into the giant gas planet. Galileo was plagued with problems right from the start, including a series of launch delays, and a failure of its main antenna. But NASA engineers were able to overcome these obstacles, and use the spacecraft to make some incredible discoveries about the Jupiter and its moons. Photos taken by the Galileo gave scientists proof that three of the moons might have liquid water under their icy surfaces. Passing through Jupiter's massive radiation took its toll on the spacecraft, and various instruments started to fail, including its main camera, which went offline in 2002. With the spacecraft failing, controllers decided it would be best to crash Galileo into Jupiter, to protect potential life on the Jovian moons from contamination.

    Age of the Universe
    This is the year we learned how old we are - well... how old the Universe is. Thanks to a comprehensive survey of the sky performed by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), astronomers were able to calculate that the Universe is 13.7 billion
    years old, give or take 200 million years. WMAP, launched in June 2001, measured the sky's cosmic background radiation, which was unleashed 380,000 years after the Big Bang - when the expanding Universe had cooled down enough for the first atoms to form. This wasn't the first survey of the cosmic background radiation, but the WMAP is so sensitive, it was able to detect extremely slight temperature changes in the radiation.

    Spitzer Space Telescope
    The last of great observatories, the Spitzer Space Telescope (previously named SIRTF) was finally launched into space on August 25, 2003. Almost every object in the Universe radiates heat in the infrared spectrum, which Spitzer is designed to detect. So objects which might be hidden to visible light telescopes, like Hubble, can be seen in tremendous detail with Spitzer. The observatory completed its 60-day on-orbit checkout period and calibration, and just before the end of the year the operators released four incredible photographs that demonstrated the potential of this instrument. Spitzer will help astronomers look at the dusty hearts of galaxies, young planetary discs, and cool objects like comets, and brown dwarfs. Spitzer may even help astronomers understand the nature of dark matter.

    Mars Express Arrives
    The search for the missing Beagle 2 lander overshadowed the success of the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, which went into a perfect orbit on December 25, and then performed additional maneuvers flawlessly. This is the Europe's first mission to the Red Planet, and it's got an important job to do. In addition to helping out the search for Beagle 2, Mars Express will begin mapping the surface of Mars with a powerful radar system which should reveal underground deposits of water and ice.

    (end Universe Today article)

    I would also add the tragic accident that cost the lives of many Brazilian technicians and scientists when their rocket blew up on the pad in August. I wrote about it here and here.

    Posted by Ted at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)

    December 31, 2003

    Funniest thing I've heard all year

    It's only a rumor that the Beagle 2 has failed because the electronics were done by Lucas.

    If you don't understand why that is falling-down funny, you can do one of three things.

    1. Ask a Brit.
    2. Ask someone who owns a British car.
    3. Ponder this joke:

    Q: Why do the British enjoy warm beer?
    A: Lucas makes refrigerators.

    Posted by Ted at 07:04 AM | Comments (0)

    December 26, 2003

    The Beagle has landed

    Early Christmas morning, the Beagle 2 spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars at the end of a 250 million mile (400 million km), six-month trek to the Red Planet. Launched with the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter on 2 June 2003, the Beagle 2 was named to commemorate Charles Darwin's five-year voyage around the world in HMS Beagle (1831-36). Its main objective is to search for signs of life -- past or present -- on the Red Planet.

    Although the first attempt to use NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter to communicate with the lander three hours after touchdown was unsuccessful, scientists and engineers are still awaiting the best Christmas present possible -- the first faint signal to tell them that Beagle 2 has become only the fourth spacecraft to make a successful landing on Mars.

    And what exactly was the signal they were waiting for? Well, believe it or not, it was a cell phone ring tone.

    The lack of immediate communication wasn’t totally unexpected, but the continued failure to make contact is starting to become worrisome.

    "This is a bit disappointing, but it's not the end of the world," said Professor Colin Pillinger, lead scientist for the Beagle 2 project.

    "We still have 14 contacts with Odyssey programmed into our computer and we also have the opportunity to communicate through Mars Express after 4 January."

    There are several possible explanations for the failure of Odyssey to pick up Beagle 2's signal. Perhaps the most likely is that Beagle 2 landed off course, in an area where communication with Mars Odyssey was difficult, if not impossible. Another possibility is that the lander's antenna was not pointing in the direction of the orbiter during its brief passage over the landing site. If the onboard computer had suffered a glitch and reset Beagle 2's clock, the two spacecraft could be hailing each other at the wrong times.

    The Beagle 2 lander entered the thin Martian atmosphere at 2:47 GMT Christmas day. Travelling at a speed of more than 12,500 mph (20,000 km per hour), the probe was protected from external temperatures that soared to 1,700 C by a heat shield made of cork-like material.

    As friction with the thin upper atmosphere slowed its descent, onboard accelerometers were used to monitor the spacecraft's progress. At an altitude of about 4.5 miles (7.1 km), Beagle's software was to order the firing of a mortar to deploy a pilot parachute, followed one minute later by deployment of the 33 ft (10 m) diameter main parachute and separation of the heat shield.

    At a few hundred metres above the surface, a radar altimeter was to trigger the inflation of three gas-filled bags. Cocooned inside this protective cushion, Beagle 2 was expected to hit the rust-red surface at a speed of about 38 mph (60 km/h). As soon as the bags made contact with the surface, the main parachute was to be released so that the lander could bounce away unhindered. Like a giant beach ball, the gas bag assembly was expected to bounce along the surface for several minutes before coming to rest at 2:54 GMT.

    Finally, a system of laces holding the three gas-bags onto the lander was to be cut, allowing them to roll away and drop Beagle 2 about 3 ft (1 m) onto the surface. The whole descent sequence from the top of the atmosphere to impact was to take less than seven minutes.

    Beagle 2 was targeted to land within an ellipse, 30 km long and 5 km wide, on Isidis Planitia, a large lowland basin near the Martian equator. However, the exact location of the landing site depended on factors such as the angle of descent and wind speed.

    The landing site was chosen for its low elevation, since a greater depth of atmosphere would assist the parachute in braking the lander's descent. Its equatorial location also means that temperatures are warmer, minimising the amount of insulation (and hence mass) needed to protect the lander from the cold Martian night. The relatively flat site was also thought to be neither too dusty nor too rocky to threaten a safe landing (but rocky enough to be interesting for the experiments).

    For further details on Mars Express and Beagle 2 see the following websites, check out these websites:

    Beagle 2 lander homepage
    Mars Express overview
    Christmas on Mars: be there with ESA
    PPARC News Updates
    ESA's Mars page
    Europe goes to Mars

    Posted by Ted at 01:08 AM | Comments (1)

    December 19, 2003

    More pretty pictures

    NASA unveiled the first views from its space infrared telescope, a super-cooled orbiting observatory that can look through obscuring dust to capture images never before seen.

    The newest member of NASA's family of orbiting telescopes, this telescope is named in honor of the famed astronomer Lyman Spitzer Jr. Spitzer, a Princeton University astronomer, proposed in 1946, long before the first orbital rocket, that the nation put telescopes into space, above the obscuring effects of the atmosphere.

    Spitzer was a leader in efforts to persuade Congress to pay for a fleet of orbiting telescopes. He also played a major role in the 1990 launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. He died in 1997.

    Spitzer is considered one of the most significant astronomers of the 20th century.

    The telescope completes NASA's original plan to orbit telescopes to study segments of the electromagnetic spectrum, the visible and invisible radiation that fills the universe, which is partially or completely blocked by the Earth's atmosphere.

    The Hubble, launched in 1990, gathers images in visible, ultraviolet and near-infrared waves. The Compton, launched in 1991, studied gamma rays, a high energy form of radiation. Its mission ended in 1999. The Chandra Observatory, launched in 1999, studies X-ray radiation from supernovas and black holes.

    Posted by Ted at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

    December 17, 2003

    X-Prize Team Updates

    Major thanks to Mark Oakley, who pointed out this link to new summaries of the X-Prize contenders, their 2003 accomplishments and their future plans (.pdf file).

    You really should read about what happens when the civilian world decides to reach for the stars without government help. Over twenty teams from Canada, the UK, Argentina, Israel, Romania, Russia and the US are vying for top honors.

    I've written a little bit about the X-Prize before, but you can find better information about it over at Rocket Man, including interviews with some of the teams.

    Posted by Ted at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

    December 16, 2003

    This might be the only reason I'd buy a lottery ticket

    Two Americans have ponied up $20 million each to become the latest space tourists, and will ride a Russian rocket into orbit.

    Posted by Ted at 09:34 PM | Comments (0)

    December 07, 2003

    Privatizing Space

    Yet another company making the move into space without help from NASA. I guess a good way to get noticed is to tow your rocket booster through downtown Washington DC and park it near the National Air & Space Museum. You can find more info about SpaceX Corporation at their official web site.

    Posted by Ted at 07:14 AM | Comments (0)

    December 06, 2003

    Chinese Space Program site

    Pure propaganda, but interesting.

    Posted by Ted at 09:44 PM | Comments (1)

    November 06, 2003

    Trolling for Borg

    Voyager, leaving our solar system.

    Posted by Ted at 02:28 PM | Comments (1)

    November 03, 2003

    Passing the torch

    As I mentioned here, on October 21st the last Titan II rocket launched and succesfully deployed a satellite into orbit. A nice picture of the liftoff is here, along with some background information about the rocket and it's history.

    More amazing photos here and here.

    According to online sources, "there are probably 30 more Titans at Davis-Monthan AFB, but maybe only one fully reconditioned and ready for flight. At the time of the Titan II deactivation, there were 52 missiles + spares in serviceable condition - I think something less than 15 were selected for use as satellite boosters - they got guidance upgrades, safety upgrades, and assorted what-not."

    The current undisputed workhorse of the US lifter fleet are the Boeing Deltas. Some beautiful pictures of the Delta II, Delta III, and Delta IV can be found at the Boeing Gallery website. Be sure to look around a bit, because there are multiple pages of photos.

    Posted by Ted at 09:56 PM | Comments (3)

    November 02, 2003

    Spacecraft computers

    Someone on the Rec.Models.Rockets newsgroup asked what kind of computers were run on board 'capsules'. The best answer posted was from Mike Gerszewski, a Graduate Assistant at the University of North Dakota Space Studies department. He concentrated on US programs, and his excellent reply follows:

    Mercury: No computers on board, ground systems used IBM 709 & 7090 computers developed for the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. An additional system was added to solve communication problems with geographically distant ground stations, a 7281 I Data Communications Channel.

    Ranger, Surveyor and Early Mariner Unmanned Probes used sequencers.

    Apollo Age
    The Gemini Digital Computer. IBM received the contract for the GDC on April 19, 1962. It weighed approximately 59 pounds, performed more than 7,000 calculations per second, and required 1.35 cubic feet of space. It used a magnetic core memory, which was originally deisgned for the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE). The GDC failed at re-entry during the flight of James McDivitt and Ed White. They had to manually de-orbit and landed 80 miles off course.

    Apollo: The Apollo guidance and navigation computer was designed by MIT.

    Skylab: NASA went with IBM again and the system was designed around an off-the-shelf version of the IBM 4Pi processor, a direct predecessor to the System /360. This is the first time I saw when a system that implemented microcode was flown in space.

    Voyager, Galileo: Used a distributed computing system designed by JPL.

    Space Transportation System (Shuttle):
    Initial design for the main computer was a repackaged version of the F-15 fighter jet's IBM's AP-1, called the IBM AP-101, based on the IBM 4Pi processor. The IBM AP-101 was a collective effort between IBM and Rockwell International. The size of the AP-101's memory was settled on as 32K, but later in the software engineering process the memory requirements grew to over 700K.

    The first use of Open Source in space was when Debian GNU/Linux flew on the shuttle in 1997 controlling a hydroponics experiment. This was most likely on an IBM laptop, but I didn't find any concrete references to this.

    I don't know who the contractor was for the main computer aboard the ISS, but the individual astronauts use IBM laptops, running MS software, for everyday ops.

    So just as home computers can be traced back to military computers, so can spacecraft computers, perhaps more directly.

    Posted by Ted at 07:58 PM | Comments (5)

    October 23, 2003

    More NASA controversy

    (excerpted from this article)

    NASA's decision to launch a fresh two-man crew to the International Space Station last weekend came over the strenuous objections of mid-level scientists and physicians who warned that deteriorating medical equipment and air and water monitoring devices aboard the orbiting laboratory posed increasing safety risks for the crew, according to space agency documents and interviews.

    There is a history of tension over health issues between conservative medical personnel, on one side, and engineers and astronauts eager to fly, on the other, NASA insiders say. However, in what some medical personnel described this week as a chilling echo of the decision-making leading up to the Columbia space shuttle disaster, arguments in favor of scrubbing the latest crew replacement mission and temporarily shuttering the space station were overruled by managers concerned with keeping the facility occupied.

    When the shuttles were grounded after the Columbia accident, the facility lost its major supply line and left NASA heavily dependent on the Russians and other partners to keep the space station operating. The Russian spacecraft, however, can transport only a small fraction of the cargo and equipment that the shuttles can. As a result, construction of the incomplete space station is at a standstill, and the customary three-person crews have been replaced with caretaker crews of two, who now spend much of their time doing maintenance and a minimal amount doing scientific research.

    Posted by Ted at 07:21 AM | Comments (2)

    October 15, 2003

    What goes up... (updated)

    Successful manned launch for China. Now the next step is getting Taikonaut Lt. Col. Yang Liwei home safely.

    "I will not disappoint the motherland," Sina.com, the country's leading Web site, quoted him as saying. "I will complete each movement with total concentration. And I will gain honor for the People's Liberation Army and for the Chinese nation."

    Why is it that these Communists always have to sound like freakin' robots? How about a little emotion? Ya did good, go ahead and show it.

    Nice photo of the launch here.

    Update: More cool photos here, including shots of the Chinese version of 'Cape Canaveral' and a nice profile drawing of the rocket itself.

    And from the Encyclopedia Aeronautica, a page chock full o' information and links about the Shenzhou-5.

    Final Update: He landed safe and sound, 3 miles from the targeted point (according to Chinese officials). China, like Russia, returns it's capsules to land instead of at sea like the US.

    Posted by Ted at 10:54 AM | Comments (1)

    October 13, 2003

    Last of the Titan II's


    Vandenberg AFB News Release

    (Vandenberg AFB, OCT 10) The era of Titan II space boosters comes to a close Wednesday as the last Titan II blasts off of Space Launch Complex-4 West here. The launch window is from 9:17 to 9:28* a.m. The rocket will carry a 4,200-pound Defense Meteorological Satellite Program payload into low Earth orbit approximately 458 nautical miles above the Earth. This is the first DMSP launch in four years. The DMSP satellite constellation monitors the Earth's atmosphere and oceans providing nearly complete coverage of global cloud distribution every six hours.

    This final launch is a joint effort between the men and women of the 30th Space Wing, Space and Missile Systems Center, Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet. The Titan program is being phased out as the Air Force moves toward the more cost-effective, efficient Evolved Expendable launch vehicle program.

    The first Titan II rocket took off from Vandenberg AFB Sept. 5, 1988. There have been 70 Titan II missile and rocket launches from Vandenberg AFB, according to the 30th Space Wing historian.

    Posted by Ted at 04:05 PM | Comments (0)

    October 08, 2003

    What is a polaroid?

    Jeopardy answer: what penguins get from sitting on the ice.

    Using satellites in orbit, scientists are studying ice-locked oases called polynyas and their thriving populations of penguins.

    The researchers used data from two satellites: NASA's Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer. See images here.

    It's enough to make a tree-hugger cry. Imagine using evil technology to non-invasively study some of God's happy creatures.

    Posted by Ted at 05:37 PM | Comments (0)

    Light Sails - followup

    Victor left the following comment on my post about spacecraft propulsion concepts.

    Ted, pick up a copy of the Nov 2003 issue of Discover magazine (cover story: "How Long Can The Human Body Last?"). It has an inteview with Dr. Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, which discusses the Cosmos 1 solar sail spacecraft. BTW, at the end of the interview, it says an extended version of the interview is on discover.com but I can't find it to save my life.

    Discover certainly doesn't make it easy to find, that's for sure. Then I realized that they don't have the November issue online yet. But I did find a related article from August 2003. They don't allow direct links, but here's how you can get to it. From Discover's main page, click the Recent Issues button on the left. Scroll down to the August 2003 issue and click the very first article, titled Star Trek.

    Why bother? Because reading the article, you'll find passages like these:

    About 10 years from now, NASA plans to launch a mission called Terrestrial Planet Finder, a space telescope specifically designed to detect another Earth. The odds are good that a survey of 150 or so nearby stars will reveal at least one small, Earth-like planet.

    You know we're already working towards getting there once we find it. It's early in the development process, but we are working on it.

    The physics is not out of reach," says Robert Frisbee, an engineer who directs advanced propulsion concepts studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. His job, and his lifelong dream, is to find a way to master interstellar travel. He is studying five distinct propulsion technologies that could get an astronaut from here to Alpha Centauri in less than 50 years.

    The article goes on to talk about the five technologies, which include the aforementioned light sail, referred to as a laser sail. This is a comprehensive overview of the challenges involved in going to another solar system. Food, water, air, gravity, psychology, and more. There are a number of good links at the end of the article too.

    "What we're talking about here is not fantasy," Frisbee says. "It's only science fiction until someone does it"."

    The meek may inherit the earth, my great-grandkids are going to the stars.

    Posted by Ted at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)

    October 07, 2003

    Aerospike test

    In June of this year, a team consisting of professionals and students from California State University, Long Beach successfully conducted a static test firing of their aerospike rocket engine design.

    This was followed up last month by an in-flight test.

    "Several seconds later [after liftoff] it abruptly pitched ninety degrees and demonstrated unstable operation until finally transitioning into a ballistic terminal descent."

    That's geek-speak for "Lawn-dart."

    "The subsequent impact with the desert floor destroyed student payloads provided by a USC/JPL team and another from Cerritos High School, but the aft section with the aerospike survived relatively intact. Preliminary analysis indicates that the most probable cause for the observed flight behavior is that part of the engine's graphite exit outer ring experienced excessive and asymmetric erosion, which in turn created a side thrust component."

    There are a couple of key points here. First, notice that one of the payloads riding this rocket was designed and developed by a high school. I'll do a post in the near future on the CanSat program, it's pretty cool. Second, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of failure because that's how you learn. They'll analyze the remains (the important bits survived relatively intact) and figure out what improvements need to be made. Then they'll try again. And again, as often as needed. This is solid scientific method in action, with a viable application waiting at the end of the development cycle.

    Follow this link for more information about the concept behind aerospike engines and how they differ from standard rocket engines.

    Posted by Ted at 08:05 PM | Comments (2)

    October 06, 2003

    China's Space Shot

    They're keeping it quiet to minimize embarrassment in case of problems, but it looks like sometime next week is the likely launch date.

    Posted by Ted at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

    October 05, 2003

    Spaceflight Propulsion

    Current rockets use solid or liquid chemical propulsion, some of our current space probes use Ion engines - so did Darth Vader. Star Trek has Impulse and Warp drive, and the first Motie contacted used light sails.

    You can find an interesting overview of spaceflight proplusion concepts here.

    Posted by Ted at 08:52 PM | Comments (1)

    September 28, 2003

    Biography - Robert Goddard

    I've been collecting links and making notes for an upcoming biography of Robert Goddard, the Father of American Rocketry.

    Instead, you should read this, because Chris Winter has already done a magnificent job telling the story of this fascinating man and his accomplishments.

    Thanks to Spacecraft for the pointer.

    Posted by Ted at 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

    September 27, 2003

    Nigeria orbits first satellite

    Nigeria, Great Britain, Turkey, and South Korea all shared a ride with two Russian military satellites. Photo here.

    Posted by Ted at 07:54 PM | Comments (1)

    Space Technology blogs

    Besides my little niche fanatasism about space, there are some fine people out there writing about space, science, and the technology thereof. They're also all smarter than me, which is why I try to compensate by using words like 'thereof' (twice now). They write about a variety of other topics too, so check them out and tell them Ted says hey.

    Rocket Man writes from an insiders point of view, because he works for the aerospace industry. Geez, that sounds dull. He's not, I just need writing help.

    Spacecraft is a new one to me. He sent a nice email of introduction and put a mention of Rocket Jones on his blog, which sent a nice bit of traffic my way. For everyone who followed the link from his site, you should come back here each and every day, because I'm going to talk him into having a test at the end of the semester, just about me. Thereof.

    Rocket Forge. Good stuff.

    Samizdata. I just found out about these guys. So far, so very good.

    Terrestrial Musings has been on my links roster for awhile now. If you haven't already, you should.

    Winds of Change posts some excellent stuff about the space program on occasion. Same deal people. The link has been there, take advantage!

    Laughing Wolf. NASA. Cooking. A man after my own heart. Wait, that just sounds paranoid, doesn't it?

    USS Clueless. Stephen Den Beste gets into a good meaty science post once in a while. Fun to read. I probably misspelled his name, which is why I'm not prominently displayed on his blogroll. That and his damnably ethical behavior, which gets in the way of a good blackmail scheme.

    Now Jeff at doesn't write about space, but his blog name Alphecca is named after a star he found on the star chart hanging next to his desk. Good enough for me.

    Everyone needs a little down time when you can relax and play and get silly. But you also need to exercise the mind on occasion, to work that brain and the thought processes by chewing through something not thoroughly familiar. Collectively, these guys are 'brain taffy'. Yes, that was another blatant attempt at Google hits.

    Brain Taffy.

    Posted by Ted at 10:20 AM | Comments (3)

    September 26, 2003

    New Lunar Mission

    The European Space Agency is ready to launch it's first ever lunar mission this weekend. Carried aloft by an Ariane 5 rocket, the payload will be put into orbit around the moon, where it will map the surface.

    The interesting thing about this probe is the use of a low-thrust ion engine. NASA's Deep Space 1 probe was the first to use ion propulsion.

    Posted by Ted at 10:51 PM | Comments (3)

    September 25, 2003

    Galileo redux

    Visit the USS Clueless (which is anything but), and find a wonderful explanation about why it was decided to crash the Galileo probe into Jupiter. Plenty of good links too. If you like science, space, physics, or mathematics, you'll enjoy the read.

    Posted by Ted at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

    September 21, 2003

    Chinese Space Shot

    I mentioned in passing that the Chinese would be making their first attempt at manned space flight, probably around the first of October. As the Brazilians learned earlier this year, accidents can happen at any time and quickly turn triumph into tragedy. The Chinese have learned this lesson as well. Then again, like any totalitarian society, what's a few peons killed when you have an opportunity to steal technology?

    Posted by Ted at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

    September 18, 2003

    A couple of quickies

    For the science inclined among us:

    After eight years orbiting Jupiter, NASA's Galileo space probe will end its long mission on Sunday by plunging through the Jovian cloud tops and smashing into the giant planet -- collecting data as it goes.

    I don't think our successes get nearly enough press. Pioneer, Galileo, Voyager, Hubble, and many more. Great programs all, but people don't remember them. This satellite lasted 6 years longer than expected. More from the article:

    The end doesn't sound pretty.

    "The spacecraft will reach the outermost layers of Jupiter's atmosphere, which is very dense," Lopes said. "There will be a lot of friction. (Galileo) will begin to burn and crush and disintegrate and then it will just vaporize and become part of Jupiter."

    Unless of course, it hits something living in that thick soup of an atmosphere. Yeah, I read too much science fiction. However it happens, my thanks to the team of engineers and scientists who concieved, designed, managed and controlled this spectacular endevour.

    It just struck me... nah, I need to think this one out a little (making a note)... this might become a separate post later.

    Also on the home front:

    New Apollo-Style Capsules Could Replace Shuttles

    Some of the preliminary designs I've seen (artist renditions) make it look kinda like the old Soviet Soyuz craft, with pieces strung together like beads. Except whereas Soyuz was circular, Apollo is wedge shaped. Interesting ideas, there'll be more about this coming out, no doubt.

    Betcha we hear something interesting come October 1st. The Chinese space program is modeled on the Soviet, so announcing a flight prior to it's actual success is somewhat rare. It's easier to deny a failure if nobody knows ahead of time that you're trying. Of course, they still hedge a little bit:

    "As far as I know, all the preparatory work for the launching of Shenzhou V is going very smoothly," Science and Technology Minister Xu Guanhua told a news conference.

    The Chinese have had four consecutive successful test flights with their booster and Shenzhou spacecraft, so this should be same-same, except that this time they'll have taikonauts aboard. The Shenzhou craft is an updated and improved version of the Soviet Soyuz.

    Hey, I think we could use a little Space Race to spur things. Let's see (talking off the top of my head here), Russia couldn't afford to go it alone, but I'm not sure they would want to partner up with Uncle Sam. They might feel it less humiliating for them to team with China. In the other corner would be the U.S., Japan, Canada, Great Britain... Would Brazil join? Maybe. France? I'd expect them to say no, just to be French, and continue to concentrate on their little niche.

    Update: Over at Scientific American Online (my favorite print magazine), they have a nice article about China's space program.

    Posted by Ted at 10:46 AM | Comments (1)

    September 11, 2003

    Rising to the challenge

    America has been challenged once again, this time by terrorism. Our response this time, like every time before, is to rise up and meet the challenge. Like Japan after Pearl Harbor and the Soviet Union during the Space Race, the terrorists are being met with a national determination not expected when they threw down the gauntlet.

    Since rockets are what gets me going, I’m going to describe in some detail what we as a nation accomplished when we went to the moon. This is going to concentrate on the actual hardware, to give you an idea of the complexity and ingenuity involved. Links to reference sources are located at the end.

    The American culmination of the race to the moon was the Saturn V rocket (pronounced ‘Saturn Five’). Standing over 363 feet tall with its Apollo payload, fully loaded she weighed 6.1 million pounds.

    The first stage of this rocket was 33 feet in diameter, and powered by five F-1 engines, which were the largest liquid-fueled rocket engine ever designed.

    Excerpted from the Saturn V News Reference:

    At the end of countdown, the five F-1 engines in the first stage ignite, producing 7.5 million pounds of thrust. The holddown arms release the vehicle, and three astronauts begin their ride to the moon. Turbopumps, working together with the strength of 30 diesel locomotives, force 15 tons of fuel per second into the engines.

    Ok, now we’ve got ‘liftoff’. The roar is deafening, and spectators six miles away feel the rumble of the earth beneath their feet.

    The first start separates from the second stage at an altitude of about 205,000 feet (38 miles in 2½ minutes). It then ascends to a peak altitude near 366,000 feet before beginning its descent. While falling the stage assumes a semistable engines down position and impacts into the Atlantic Ocean at approximately 350 miles down range of Cape Kennedy.

    Think about that last part for a second. The first stage separates from the rest of the rocket, and coasts upwards another 150,000 feet before it slows down enough to start falling. The U.S. Navy ensured that there was no shipping in the ‘impact’ areas.

    The F-1 engine was the key. None have come close to the F-1 for its sheer size and volume of thrust. The design originated in the 1950's, with an Air Force study. When NASA was formed, it brought along the design program and the Saturn rocket family was destined to use it. The F-1 burned refined kerosene mixed with liquid oxygen. By contrast, the equivalent Soviet ‘moonshot’ rocket design – the N1 – had a first stage that used 30 separate engines. Balancing the thrust of this many engines proved impossible, and the N1 was launched just four times; each one was a disaster ending in abrupt and catastrophic failure.

    On to the second stage, again excerpted from the Saturn V News Reference:

    For the lunar mission, the second stage takes over from the Saturn V's first stage at an altitude of approximately 200,000 feet (38 miles) and boosts its payload of the third stage and Apollo spacecraft to approximately 606,000 feet (114.5 miles in 8½ minutes). Speed of the stage increases from 6,000 miles per hour to 15,300 miles per hour. Propulsion is provided by five J-2 engines.

    The beginning of second stage boost is a two-step process. When all the F-1 engines of the first stage have cut off, the first stage separates. Eight ullage rocket motors located around the bottom of the second stage then fire for approximately 4 seconds to give positive acceleration to the stage prior to ignition of the five J-2 engines. About 30 seconds after the first stage separation, the part of the second stage structure on which the ullage rockets are located (the aft interstage) is separated by firing explosive charges. This second separation is a precise maneuver: the 18-foot-high interstage must slip past the engines without touching them. With the stage traveling at great speed, the interstage must clear the engines by only a little more than 3 feet.

    A precise maneuver performed at more than 6,000 miles per hour. "Ullage" is an old brewers term meaning the air space above beer in a vat. To restart the J-2 engine, the propellants must be at the "bottom" of the tanks, with the gas above them. If they aren't in this position, the fuel pumps would "cavitate" or suck up gas and the start would fail. ‘Gas’ in this case is meant literally, because the J-2 used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel.

    The 81-foot 7-inch second stage is basically a container for its 942,000 pounds of propellant with engines attached at the bottom. Special lightweight insulation had to be developed to keep its cryogenic propellants from warming and thus turning to gas and becoming totally useless as propellant. The insulation that helps maintain a difference of about 500 degrees between outside (70 to 80-degree normal Florida temperature) and inside (-423-degree F of liquid hydrogen) is only about 1-1/2 inches thick around the hydrogen tank.

    The second stage burns for about 6 minutes, generating 1 million pounds of thrust and pushing its payload into space. At the end of boost, all J-2 engines cut off at once, the stages separate, and the single J-2 engine on the third stage begins firing to take it and the Apollo spacecraft into a parking earth orbit.

    The third stage of the Saturn V was the first stage ready for flight testing because it evolved from the second stage of the Saturn Ib. It was enlarged, lengthened, and equipped with the J-2 engine for use on the Saturn V. This single J-2 developed 225,000 pounds of thrust.

    The third stage fired for not quite 3 minutes to reach orbit before shutting down. At this point, the spacecraft is going 17,500 miles per hour. The astronauts orbited earth up to three times while checking all systems for the upcoming trip to the moon. When ready, the J-2 was restarted for another 5.2 minutes to send Apollo on its way, reaching a speed of 24,500 miles per hour. The trajectory was one which would carry the astronauts around the moon without further thrust and then return to earth for re-entry.

    Once underway, the astronauts turned their spacecraft around and docked with the lunar landing module enclosed within the third stage. After extracting the lunar module the third stage was abandoned, which completed the work of the Saturn V.

    There were a total of 13 Saturn V’s launched in various configurations. Three examples still exist and are on display at the Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center and the Alabama Space and Rocket Center. Of these three, only the JSC vehicle is made up entirely of former flight-ready (although mismatched) components.

    When President Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon, we did it in less than eight years. We didn’t start from scratch, but the engineering obstacles we overcame were immense, and the achievement magnificent.

    The Apollo Saturn Reference Page
    Information about the Soviet N1
    Apollo Saturn News Reference

    Posted by Ted at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

    September 08, 2003

    Collectable History

    Over on eBay, a nice assortment of aerospace related Zippo lighters.

    Posted by Ted at 04:21 PM | Comments (0)

    Do you like crosswords?

    I like rockets. What a coincidence! Have fun.

    Posted by Ted at 04:08 PM | Comments (0)

    September 07, 2003

    Liberty Bell 7

    Gus Grissom was the astronaut for the second manned suborbital flight in the Mercury series, and his capsule was named the Liberty Bell 7.

    The flight was fully successful, but upon splashdown the capsule hatch prematurely opened and the capsule sank into the sea.*

    The Liberty Bell 7 was finally found and recovered in 1999. The Discovery Channel did several shows on it, and it has been touring the country. It is scheduled to be reutrned 'home' and back on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere before the end of the year.

    * Forget that crap from The Right Stuff, Gus Grissom was fully exonerated later by NASA after tests proved his claim that the hatch could indeed 'just blew'. (yeah, I know the quote doesn't quite fit right... deal)

    Posted by Ted at 10:59 AM | Comments (3)

    August 27, 2003

    Columbia Accident Investigation Board - Final report

    Available here, downloadable in whole or by chapters.

    Posted by Ted at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

    August 26, 2003

    It's called 'Go Fever'

    The report outlining circumstances that led to the loss of the shuttle Columbia is to be released today.

    Early word is that this report is going to be very critical of NASA management and engineering practices, so much so that Sean O'Keefe, who heads NASA, has told employees that:

    "we need to not be defensive about that and try to not take it as a personal affront."

    Like any organization, especially government entities, NASA tends to bloat with bureaucracy and inane rules for rules sake when left unchecked. Unfortunately they have a mission that is simultaneously one of the most difficult to accomplish and one of the most misunderstood by the general public.

    As an example, I've had conversations with people who don't believe that the shuttle is real. Their reasoning is that the shuttle couldn't possibly carry enough fuel to keep its engines burning for an entire 10 day flight. And everyone knows that if the engine isn't running, then you stop, and if you stop flying then you crash.

    These aren't stupid people, they just lack the most basic understanding of physics. These are taxpayers and constituants of ambitious politicians who are willing to sacrifice the long-term for political gain today. It makes perfect sense to say we are wasting millions to send a few people into space for no reason, as long as your audience has no real idea about the science being done and the benefits thereof.

    Years ago, a paper was done that reached the conclusion that the way to cut costs in the space program was to launch more missions. The counter-intuitive reasoning was based partially on analysis of the German V2 program in WWII and economies of scale, it also assumes that demand for commercial access to space will be there if costs come down.

    NASA needs this reality slap upside the head, I'm just sorry that it took the deaths of the Columbia crew to spur this review. NASA needs to do a much better job of public education, because this country has forgotten the fact that America is the world leader in space flight and related technology. Yes, we've got partners from around the globe, but not one of them could do it without us leading the way. That includes China and their fledgling space program, which is based on old Soviet technology and methodology. The shuttle has become ho-hum, and there's no reason that should be so.

    Don't believe me? Go see a shuttle launch in real life. Feel the earth shake under your feet, and hear the roar drown out the voices around you, see the flame - too bright to look at directly - accelerating the shuttle skyward with pure brute strength. Trust me, there is nothing ho-hum about it.

    Posted by Ted at 04:20 PM | Comments (1)

    August 24, 2003

    More information about the Brazilian rocket tragedy

    After two successful test flights there was a long delay in further flights (reason unknown, I'm still looking into it), and since resuming their VLS program there have been two failures in flight requiring destruction of the rocket, and now this accident on the launch pad.

    From MASA Planet, a rocketry newsletter:
    "...The rocket consists of seven solid propellant stages—three in the core vehicle and four strap-ons—with additional solid motors used for roll control. The first launch attempt was at Brazil's Alcantara site on 2 November 1997, but one of the SRBs failed to ignite.... Although the rocket maintained attitude and an upright trajectory, it eventually deviated from its planned course and the rocket and its SCD satellite payload had to be destroyed. The second launch, on 11 December 1999, was more successful, but the second stage failed to ignite and the rocket and payload, a Brazilian SACI satellite, again had to be destroyed. A third launch attempt may occur in 2003. "

    No official word yet on what the cause of the explosion could have been, although speculation is suggesting that the previous ignition problems may have provoked a more rigorous pre-flight test of the igniters. Perhaps too rigorous.

    Posted by Ted at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

    August 22, 2003

    That's why it's called rocket science

    A Brazilian rocket being prepared for launch exploded on the pad, killing twenty technicians.

    Major-Brigadier Tiago da Silva Ribeiro, general coordinator of the project said, "We have had no glitches of any kind so far."

    Well, make that one. Keep trying compadres, you can do it!

    Posted by Ted at 04:35 PM | Comments (0)

    August 21, 2003

    Happy Anniversary!

    On August 20, 1953, The Army Redstone Arsenal team at Cape Canaveral, Fla., launched the first Redstone rocket. The Redstone was powered by a rocket engine developed by North American Aviation's Rocketdyne unit, which was later used to launch America's first satellite and make Alan Shepard the first American in space.

    Posted by Ted at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

    August 16, 2003

    Didja know?

    The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, flew in 1961. In 1969, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

    NASA defines space as beginning at an altitude of 50 miles. If you could steer your car straight up, you could drive to space in less than an hour.

    Posted by Ted at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)
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