Archive for the ‘Asteroids’ Category

“This Week In Space” – September 5, 2010

September 5, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is out!

Hello and Welcome.  This week we have everything from NASA creating vomit in a lab to fire and smoke, and let’s cut right to those flames you want to see…

ATK DM-2 Motor Test. Source: NASAFIRE and smoke blasted out of the  most powerful solid rocket motor designed for flight – a 5 segment solid rocket booster.  This was a NASA and ATK test in Promontory Utah.  It was a 75 million dollar test of a rocket that President Obama wants cancelled.  This five segment motor was built to power the Ares I rocket meant to fly crews to space.   This one blasted out a 600 foot long flame that was 5600 degrees and can generate up to 3.6 million pounds of thrust.

We LOVE an excuse to show catchy video anytime here at TWIS – and NASA just gave us two good reasons.  The agency selected two companies for experimental space vehicle test flights…Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems and awarded them a total of about half a million dollars.  The awards will be used by the two companies to test their systems near the edge of space.  That’s considered to be the area between 65 thousand and 350 thousand feet.  The CRuSR awards will fund two flights this fall and one this winter of Armadillo’s Super-Mod vehicle from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The first two flights will be to an altitude of approximately nine miles and the third to approximately 25 miles.  A Masten Space Systems’ vehicle will make four flights this  winter from the Mojave Spaceport in California. Two flights will reach an altitude of approximately three miles and two others will be to approximately 18 miles.

All good things must come to an end – and that was the case Monday for NASA’s ICESat spacecraft, which fell to Earth in a controlled re-entry over the Barents Sea.  The spacecraft weighed about a ton, and NASA expected about 200 pounds of debris to survive the fiery plunge to the surface.  Launched back in 2003, ICESat was an Earth Observing satellite designed to measure the thickness of both land and sea ice – as well as vegetation, clouds and atmospheric aerosols.  Its laser instrument stopped working last year, and controllers fired on-board thrusters over the summer to adjust its orbit and bring it down in a safe and controlled fashion.  And here’s a cool twist – NASA farmed out the planning work on the final maneuvers to students at the University of Colorado Boulder.  It was a great project for them, and it saved some tax dollars too.   ICESat 2 is on the books to launch in 2015.

International Space Station. Source: NASA

As long as we are de-orbiting things…Tuesday was trash day up on the International Space Station.  In space it is a little more complicated than pushing the big green bin out to the curb.  As you know, the station gets regular shipment of supplies via unmanned Russian Progress vehicles.  Once the station crew members unpack all the cargo, they start packing trash back in.  When it is full, the Progress undocks and Russian ground controllers eventually deorbit it and it burns up over the Pacific Ocean.  The station crew waved bye-bye to Progress 38 in time to start preps for the arrival of Progress 39, set to launch from Kazakstan on September 8 and dock at the station two days later.  Also on the ISS, astronauts were keeping an eye on hurricane Earl from 218 miles up…talk about a birds-eye view.  And one more piece of station news before we move on.  NASA crew assignments for Expedition 34 and 35.  The headline:  in March 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will assume command of the ISS – making him the first Canadian commander.  Way to go, Chris, ‘eh?

The NASA family bid farewell this week to astronaut Bill Lenoir, who died at age 71 of head injuries sustained in bicycle accident.  Lenoir was a “scientist-astronaut” selected in 1967, and he waited a full 15 years to make his one and only flight.  In the shuttle program, he is a man of many firsts.  He flew on the first “operational” shuttle mission, STS-5.  The previous four were considered test flights.  He and Joseph Allen were the first mission specialists to fly on the shuttle.  He was the first flight engineer to assist the Commander and pilot during a launch on the flight deck.  He switched seats with Allen for the return home, and so he was the first astronaut to ride back to earth on the middeck.  He and his crewmates deployed the first commercial shuttle payloads into orbit – two communications satellites.  And he and Allen were supposed to conduct the first spacewalks from the shuttle – but space sickness and suit malfunctions scuttled that plan.  Lenoir went on serve three years as Associate Administrator for Space Flight.

Check out this super-cool visualization of the solar system that shows the location of asteroids over time as we earthlings discovered them.  Here’s what our situational awareness was in the year 1980.  But let’s skip ahead a bit.  Discoveries really took off  around the year 2000 or so.  The ones in red are so-called Earth crossing asteroids – need to keep a particularly close eye on those.  It’s like Yogi Berra said – you can see a lot by just observing.  Another interesting asteroid tidbit this week.  There’s been a lot of buzz in recent months about a possible manned mission to an asteroid, perhaps sometime in the 2020’s.  Well, opportunities to do that may not be as plentiful as you might think.  We can’t  go to any just any old asteroid – we would need to choose one that’s got to be zipping through space at the right speed, its got to be spinning just right, viewable by ground-based telescopes, and reachable using a heavy-lift rocket that will presumably be developed between now and then.  When you put all that up on the scale, you know how many suitable asteroid candidates there are for a manned mission in the 2020’s? According to the NASA Near Earth Object Office:  Two.  Of course, we may discover others.  Which would be great.  It’s always nice to have options.

Here’s a new view of a mysterious Martian crater, compliments of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft.  It’s called “Orcus Patera,” and scientists are not sure how it formed.  A leading theory:  it’s an impact crater from a small object that hit at a shallow angle.

Artist's rendering of MESSENGER at Mercury. Source: NASA

From Mars to Mercury.  NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft  has been executing flybys of our solar system’s inner-most planet for the past couple of years, and is preparing to pull into orbit around Mercury next March for a year-long science mission.  Here’s a MESSENGER image looking back at Earth snapped about 3 months ago, during its closest approach to the Sun.  Check out the moon.  Is that cool or what?

If you want to keep on top of missions like MESSENGER, NASA has a new iPad out called NASA App HD, free at the App Store.  Among other new features, you can stream NASA TV live…and view images like that one we just showed you from MESSENGER in high resolution. Also, NASA has started putting more of its image archives up on Flickr.   You’ll find a lot of new imagery up there, but also a fair amount of historical material too.  Point your browser to our web site for a link.  That’s spaceflightnow.com/twis

Here’s a story that really stinks.  NASA is creating vomit in a lab.  Really.  So why does the space program need vomit?  Here’s what researcher Nikki Williams at the Johnson Space Center  told roving reporter and astronaut Mike Massimino.

We need to put all the trash you’d have on a space mission on that trash bag.  That includes potentially vomit, diapers.  It sounds like a baby place.

So it’s for a new trash bag test. There is a vomit recipe from medical research that NASA based their formula on.  Fake vomit …eg…kinda makes me want to …(gags) nevermind…I’ll be ok.  If you want to see more of NASA’s vomit research – come on you know you want to, head to our page spaceflightnow.com/twis.
Time for us wrap this up…I’m feeling a little sick.  Don’t need any Odorama “scratch and sniffs” to go along with that story.   Thanks for watching.  If you like us, please consider tossing us a few bucks via Paypal at spaceflightnow.com/twis.  Send us an email twis@spacelfightnow.com,  tweet us @thisweekinspace. Check out the blog here.

Thanks so much to our sponsor, Binary Space.  We really appreciate your ongoing support.

Join us again next time for all the news off the planet.   We’ll see you then.

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'This Week In Space' – July 20, 2010

July 20, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is available for your viewing pleasure.  Please take a look!

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Atlantis lands. Source: NASA

Hello, and welcome.  Our theme this week is detente – as in the easing of hostilities between rivals. It is what we saw in space 35 years ago this week when Apollo and Soyuz joined together in low earth orbit – and it is what we are seeing unfold over the past few days in Washington – as Congress and the White House try to compromise on what is next for NASA after the shuttles are retired.  The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously  approved an authorization bill that embraces much of the white house space vision – with some key differences:   Under the Senate plan, NASA will launch Atlantis one more time next year…meaning there are three shuttle missions remaining.  NASA will begin work on a heavy lift rocket immediately – not in 2015 as Obama had promised.  As for the similarities: Ferrying cargo and astronauts to low Earth orbit will still fall to commercial companies, the ISS gets a lease extension to 2020, and there is more money earmarked for space and earth science and aeronautics.  The man leading the charge on this  Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He bristled when reporters suggested the new plan mandates NASA do exactly what the Augustine Commission warned against: throwing out Constellation to start work on an underfunded new rocket.

What this does is set up a new heavy lift vehicle, on a deadline of December 31, 2016, and this is achievable because of the policy that has been set by the committee.  The committee cannot tell NASA how to design a rocket, but we can give policy direction to the executive branch of government, and we’ve done that in the bill.  Using shuttle derived technology, building on that, making it evolvable, not building the largest rocket around but starting in the range of 75 to 100 metric tons, that is evolvable, and that would be built over the course of those six years within a budget of 11 and a half billion dollars.  Now that is doable.  And if anybody tells you that it is not, then if I were you I’d question their particular agenda.

In the interest of detente – the White House released a statement – saying in part – the Senate bill  “represents an important first step towards helping us achieve the key goals the President has laid out…“We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to help advance an ambitious and achievable space program, one that helps us blaze a new trail of innovation and discovery.”

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Source: NASA

Thirty five years ago this week, they were blazing a whole new trail in space – when two space capsules – a Soviet Soyuz and an American Apollo rendezvoused and docked in low earth orbit. The Apollo Soyuz Test Project captured the attention of the world – as the two nuclear superpowers put their differences aside – and found they had much in common. This past week the surviving crew members came to New York City – to the OMEGA Watch Boutique on Fifth Avenue to celebrate the anniversary – hey what better place to mark a moment in time??
What they accomplished on their mission planted the seed for the international space station. U.S. Commander Tom Stafford flew with two rookies – one of whom was his boss – the late Deke Slayton – one of the original Mercury Seven – was grounded for years because of a heart murmur – but finally got a clean bill of health. Also on board Apollo:  Vance Brand – who later commanded three shuttle missions.  The Soviets were led by Alexey Leonov – the first person to walk in space. He flew with Valery Kubasov.  The three of them gathered for a panel talk in the OMEGA Boutique – yours truly served as moderator. Unfortunately Alexey Leonov was not feeling well – and could not join us.

Thanks to OMEGA for hosting that great event – as you probably know, the company has a long, rich history with human spaceflight.

In fact, there would not be an international space station without Apollo Soyuz – and while the Senate bill we told you about envisions another mission for Atlantis – until that happens the Endeavour sts-134 mission is still the last in line – and the external fuel tank that will power that shuttle to orbit arrived at the Kennedy Space Center a few days ago – after a safe voyage across the BP tainted gulf. The mission is set to fly at the end of February.

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'This Week In Space' – July 11, 2010

July 11, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available for your viewing pleasure.  Please give us a look…

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ET-138 rolls out at the Michoud Assemby Facility. Source: NASA

Hello and Welcome. We begin with a big orange caboose – if you will. The last space shuttle external fuel tank on the manifest made its way out of the barn at  Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tank  is known affectionately as ET-138…but you can can call her “E” if you like. Tank builder Lockheed Martin pulled out all the stops for this one – hundreds of workers were on hand while a brass band played. The tank will ride on its custom barge to the Kennedy Space Center where it will be mated with Endeavour, now slated to fly the final shuttle mission N-E-T – or no earlier than – February 26th, 2011. Now there is one more tank that will be shipped from Michoud – it will be used by Atlantis should the Endeavour crew get in a jam – and need a lift home. And this is where I get to put in my plug for flying that tank – with Atlantis – one more time. Why not? And this is also where I get to nag you: if you have not seen a shuttle ride the fire to orbit – you are assigned to be at one of the last launches. No excuses. There will be a test later.

Tanks for the memories – I guess – prime shuttle contractor United Space Alliance announced its largest layoff to date –  15 percent of its workforce.  Most of those employees are in Florida – since that is where most of their employees live.  Somewhere between 800 to a thousand wrench turners and pad rats will be getting pink slips.   Another 400 or so will be sacked from other USA operations. More cuts, are expected of course as the program winds down.

And that would explain the turnout at recent job fairs at KSC – somewhere between 2 and three thousand shuttlers showed up to press the flesh and hand deliver some resumes. About 60 public and private sector employers showed up. Can you guess which company had the most popular booth? Why that would be a certain California based launch company called SpaceX.  Better SpaceX than ex-space I suppose.

If any of those jobless USAers are space history buffs – and I know there are more than a few you – you may want to consider this job: official NASA historian. apply at USAjobs.gov by the 13th. Also in the comings and goings department – NASA’s Wayne Hale is hanging up his headset but we hope not his keyboard – the veteran flight director, shuttle program manager – and eloquent blogger says its a personal decision. I sure hope he keeps sharing his pearls of wisdom with us. And the Hubble repairman just added another line to his long resume – John Grunsfeld is now a research professor at Johns Hopkins. he will keep his gig down the road as the number two man at the space telescope science institute – which is Hubble Science Central. Hey if he can’t multi task – who can?

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'This Week In Space' – June 27, 2010

June 27, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available – give us a watch.

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Discovery launch. Source: NASA

Hello and Welcome. we begin this week with shuttle manifest destiny…and the movable feast that the last days of STS launching has become.   It now appears the next shuttle flight – Discovery flying the STS-133 mission –  will launch on October 29, and the STS-134 flight of Endeavour moves to February 28 of next year.   An official announcement is expected on July 1st.  The reason for the delay: scientists need some time to put the finishing touches on the final shuttle payload to the station – the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer,  a particle physics experiment. But we use the word final with some caution – as NASA has not ruled out an encore mission for Atlantis.  Look for a decision on that in August.

Of course there are a lot of people out there who would like to see the shuttles fly on…a new and familiar name is now on the list – Senator John Glenn – the first American to orbit the earth, a bonafide hero and a shuttle veteran as well – released a statement on Obama’s plans for NASA this week. He repeated what he has often said – that the shuttle should stay just a little bit longer…he does support keeping the station going past 2015 – and he agrees a moon base is not  in the cards now – as for the “smaller, less experienced companies” vying to fly cargo – and eventually people – to the space station should be said they should only be phased in only “after they demonstrate a high degree of competency and reliability, particularly with regard to safety concerns.”

In Hawthorne California – at SpaceX headquarters they would beg to differ – with all due respect to the Senator. It’s been a few weeks now since their successful first launch of their Falcon 9 rocket – and they are poring through the data – trying to better understand why they had a late in the count scrub before the launch, why the second stage rolled in orbit – and why they were unable to recover the first stage. Details on all of that and much more are in the full interview I had via Skype with SpaceX’s Ken Bowersox the other day.

Some fire and smoke from an Ariane 5 rocket. It blasted off from Guyana on Saturday. The payload – two satellites.  Arabsat-5A will provide telecom and broadband services to Africa and the Middle East.  The South Korean COMS satellite includes weather observation, ocean surveillance, and telecom payloads.  All eyes will be on Arianespace later this year as they begin launch operations using the Soyuz and new Vega rockets.

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'This Week in Space' – June 13, 2010

June 14, 2010

David Waters is your host for the latest edition of “This Week In Space.”  Check us out!

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Hayabusa. Source: JAXA

It was a nail biter – sample return missions always are – but in the end JAXA pulled it out and the troubled Japanese “Hayabusa” mission to land on an asteroid and collect a sample ended on a high note.  A small capsule containing dust from the asteroid Itokawa touched down Sunday under parachute at the Woomera test range in the Australian Outback.  Launched in May 2003, Hayabusa suffered a host of technical problems and malfunctions, but in the end came home.  For those of you keeping score, NASA is 1 for 1 on sample return missions in recent years.  The Genesis spacecraft, which returned a sample of the solar wind to Earth for analysis, cratered in the desert of Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground back in 2004 when its drogue parachute failed to deploy.  Some of the sample return payload survived the crash, though.  On a happier note, the Stardust spacecraft successfully returned a dust sample from the tail of the comet Wild 2 in 2006…also to the Dugway Proving Ground.   And to answer your final question – yes, I know what it is –  “Hayabusa” means “Peregrin Falcon.”

While the Japanese were celebrating, the South Koreans – well, no so much. They “had a bad day” on Thursday as they say in the rocket business.  A Russian-built Naro-1 rocket launched from the Naro Space Center and all appeared fine at first, but mission controllers lost contact with it 137 seconds into flight.  Korean news reports indicated it exploded and crashed.  This is the second failure in two tries for the Koreans, who are attempting to establish a toehold in the satellite launch club.  Currently, eight countries and Europe have established launch capability.

And, before we leave the Pacific Rim…What was that glowing spiral in the sky over Australia last Saturday morning?  Could it be ALIENS?  Well, as it turns out, no.  It was actually Falcon 9.  Despite the spate of UFO reports that were phoned in to TV stations around Australia, SpaceX founder Elon Musk told our friends at Space.com that folks were actually seeing Falcon 9 venting propellants after it rocketed to orbit.  The sun caught the event at just the right angle to put on a show for the Aussies.

Thousands of contractor employees who work on the Constellation program have known the pink slips were coming ever since the Obama Administration announced plans to cancel the moon-shot project in February –  but now it looks like they may be hitting the unemployment line earlier than they thought.  NASA has told big contractors Lockheed Martin and ATK to come up with the money  to cover the costs of bringing Constellation to an end, even though Congress has not signed off of the cancellation yet.  It seems Lockmart and ATK are contractually required to pay those termination costs…which will total about a billion dollars.  Now those companies will likely have to lay off workers to pull that money together.  Expect this latest development to further poison the already nasty debate going on between the Administration, NASA and Congress over the future of the manned spaceflight program.  We’ll have more on this for you in next week’s show.

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This Week in Space – May 8, 2010

May 9, 2010

Atlantis at the launchpad. Source: NASA

Hello and Welcome from the Kennedy Space Center. The Space Shuttle Atlantis is on the pad – pointed in the right direction – marching toward what will likely be her last mission. The crew of 6 – led by commander Ken Ham is headed to the international space station to deliver some supplies, replace some solar array batteries and install a new satellite dish. The shuttle was cleared to fly after a smooth flight readiness review – the team focused a fair amount of time on some ceramic inserts that hold window frames – one of them fell off during the last descent – of Discovery in April. The fix: a thicker braided chord designed to keep the insert from unscrewing. Interestingly, Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon said there was no talk about it being the last flight for Atlantis:

The tone of the meeting was extremely positive.  Nobody mentioned, we weren’t purposely avoiding it, but nobody mentioned this was Atlantis’ last planned flight.  It’s just folks are so focused on doing thier jobs, and they are performing with such pride all the way to the end, that it’s just normal business.  The team is very mature, looking a the data, looking and things they can do, you know might ask did you really have to go and replace all of the braided cord on all of these plugs which have performed pretty well in the past, and the answer is we thing we can make it better, and because we can make it better we’re going to go do it.  That’s the kind of attitude this team has.  They are such an asset to human spaceflight, and I just couldn’t be more proud of them.

In fact here in Florida – Launch Director Mike Leinbach says the shuttle team is moving through the stages of grief:

Let’s take ourselves back in time, maybe a year or 18 months or so, when we were talking about the end of the program, and a lot of people didn’t believe it, and were in denial.  Thought, heck, the program can’t end, we are going to fly forever.  Well now we know that’s not the case.  The program will end.  People have absolutely come to grips with that, when I talk to folks on the floor of the processing facilities, and I’m sure it was the same in Utah, they know the end is coming and they are making their plans.  And so we’ve gotten past the denial stage of change, and we are into the exploration and acceptance of change.  And that’s good…that’s very healthy for people to go through that process.  And we are there.  Again, it does not change the way they work on the vehicle, it’s just their mental capacity have accepted the fact that the program is going to end, and they need to make plans for the future.

Atlantis is slated to launch Friday at at 2:20pm here – 1620 GMT. Our live webcast on Spaceflight Now begins at 9:30- 1330 GMT.

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This Week in Space – March 19, 2010

March 21, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week in Space” is now available!  Check us out!!  And many thanks to our sponsors, Binary Space and Space Careers!

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Discovery at launchpad 39A. Source: NASA

Two million parts – all of them form the low bidder – as Wally Schirra  once famously quipped – if you put those parts together just right – you’ve got yourself a space shuttle – the problem is – just about every single one of them has to be working perfectly before a shuttle ever clears the tower.  But exceptions can be made….and that is what the shuttle launch team is doing for this next launch. With Discovery sitting on the launch pad for its penultimate flight – a helium valve  failed. The helium is used to make sure there is pressure in the fuel lines that feed the Orbital Maneuvering System engines – which handle the big course changes in orbit. Fixing the valve means a roll back to the the hangar – and a big delay. So the shuttle team will try to verify that some regulators downstream of the valve are working just fine. If so, it means they will have confidence they have only lost one layer of redundancy – and thus give Discovery its launching papers.

Source:  WISENASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer – or WISE has captured an image – Charles Foster Kane would have liked to see – rosebud….
this one is no sled though – it is a cosmic blossom in a cluster of stars in the Berkeley 59 – which sounds a little like a group of sixties anti war radicals…anyway…the blue dots are the stars…and they are formed by the orange dust cloud in the middle – and the green – those are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – of course…you can find those on earth in barbecue pits…for some reason I am hungry…WISE is also hunting for asteroids – and it has found more than a dozen that are near to earth – and we didn’t even know we were there. You’d be WISE to listen to this story – Chicken Littles.

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Where's the Kaboom?

February 13, 2010
Source:  Hubble Space Telescope

Source: Hubble Space Telescope

And from our “What Are the Odds” desk – check out this Hubble image.   Astronomers first thought it was a comet – but now believe it shows the immediate aftermath of a head on collision of two asteroids traveling five times faster than a rifle bullet. Astronomers believe collision like this are relatively common in the asteroid belt – but they have never gotten to see one before.

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The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

January 30, 2010
WISE Spacecraft.  Source:  NASA/JPL

WISE Spacecraft. Source: NASA/JPL

The WISE guy has hit some pay celestial pay dirt.

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, launched in December – took this shot of a near earth asteroid on January 12th. Designated 2010 AB78 – (comets have much more fun names…) this asteroid is 158 million kilometers (98 million miles) from Earth. Diameter is one kilometer or 6 tenths of a mile. Scientists say this space rock is not on a path to collide with earth in the foreseeable future.

But an expert panel has just concluded we are not being so wise about conducting a survey of big near earth asteroids that could clonk us and wreak havoc. The National Research Council says the goal to find 90% of the earth threatening asteroids 460 feet/ 140 meters or larger 2020 will not be met – for lack of funding. Scientists say an asteroid as small as a hundred feet – or 30 meters across – could take out a city. If you don’t think this is money well spent – go ask a dinosaur what he or she thinks.

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