Archive for January, 2015

In-orbit explosions can be related to the mixing of residual fuel that remain in tanks or fuel lines once a rocket stage or satellite is discarded in Earth orbit. The resulting explosion can destroy the object and spread its mass across numerous fragments with a wide spectrum of masses and imparted speeds.  Credit: ESA

In-orbit explosions can be related to the mixing of residual fuel that remain in tanks or fuel lines once a rocket stage or satellite is discarded in Earth orbit. The resulting explosion can destroy the object and spread its mass across numerous fragments with a wide spectrum of masses and imparted speeds.
Credit: ESA

It’s a heavenly mess and needs tending!

Here’s a new story from me posted on Space.com:

Dealing with Space Junk: The Rocky Road Ahead
by Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
January 16, 2015 07:00am ET

http://www.space.com/28288-space-junk-problem-conference.html

Orbital debris experts gathered in November to take part in the University of Maryland Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) meeting. Credit: Leonard David

Orbital debris experts gathered in November to take part in the University of Maryland Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) meeting.
Credit: Leonard David

 

Sitting duck! The huge International Space Station has already had a number of close-encounters of the debris kind. Credit: NASA

Sitting duck! The huge International Space Station has already had a number of close-encounters of the debris kind.
Credit: NASA

The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which hitched a ride on ESA’s Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, has been found in images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This color image has been sharpened to show possible details of the Beagle-2 lander on the surface of Mars. Credit: Univ. of Arizona HIRISE/NASA/Leicester

The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which hitched a ride on ESA’s Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, has been found in images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This color image has been sharpened to show possible details of the Beagle-2 lander on the surface of Mars.
Credit: Univ. of Arizona HIRISE/NASA/Leicester

Talk about close…but no cigar!

Lost on Mars since 2003, scientists from the United Kingdom and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced today that images taken by the super-powerful HiRISE camera system onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show the ill-fated Beagle-2.

Beagle-2 was the UK’s first mission to another planet.

The missing-in-action Beagle-2 lander was deployed by ESA’s Mars Express orbiter back in December 2003. But nothing was heard from the lander after its scheduled touchdown.

But the new images show the lander partially deployed on the surface. That means that the entry, descent and landing sequence worked and it did successfully land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.

The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander was lost on Mars since 2003. It reportedly has been found in images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This close-up image has been sharpened to show possible details of the Beagle-2 lander on the surface of Mars. Credit: HiRISE/NASA/JPL/Parker/Leicester

The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander was lost on Mars since 2003. It reportedly has been found in images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This close-up image has been sharpened to show possible details of the Beagle-2 lander on the surface of Mars.
Credit: HiRISE/NASA/JPL/Parker/Leicester

Partially deployed

Beagle-2 has been spotted in what appears to be a “partially deployed configuration,” according to a ESA press statement.

The find and seek team involved Beagle-2 team members, as well as ESA and U.S. researchers.

Only one, two or at most three of the four spacecraft solar panels are open. The main parachute can be seen, along with what is thought to be the rear cover with its pilot/drogue parachute still attached close by.

“The size, shape, color and separation of the features are consistent with Beagle-2 and its landing components, and lie within the expected landing area at a distance of about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from its center,” according to the press statement.

Furthermore, other possible features that can be culled from the imagery: the Beagle-2 landing airbags and possibly mission’s front heatshield.

Artist's impression of Beagle-2. The first radio contact with the lander was expected shortly after the scheduled landing time...but no signal was received. Credit: ESA/Denman productions

Artist’s impression of Beagle-2. The first radio contact with the lander was expected shortly after the scheduled landing time…but no signal was received.
Credit: ESA/Denman productions

Beagle-2 bottom line

The bottom line for Beagle-2: “The partial deployment explains why no signals were ever received from the lander,” an ESA press statement explains.

“Full deployment of all solar panels was needed to expose the radio antenna to transmit data and receive commands from Earth.”

That being the case, without releasing all its solar panels that would have exposed the antenna, “there is no possibility of reviving Beagle-2 and recover data from it,” ESA stated.

Scenario speculation

In a University of Arizona statement, operators of the HiRISE camera gear, the images reveal only two or three of the motorized solar panels, but that may be due to their favorable tilts for sun glints.

BEAGLE 2 PARACHUTE

According to the UK Space Agency, if some panels failed to deploy, reasons could include obstruction from an airbag remaining in the proximity of the lander due to gas leakage, or a damaged mechanism or structure or broken electrical connection, perhaps due to unexpected shock loads during landing. The scenario of local terrain topology, including rocks blocking the deployment, is considered unlikely given images of the landing area, which show few rocks, but this cannot be ruled out, noted the Univ. of Arizona press release.

Further imaging and analysis is planned to narrow the options for what happened. Slope and height derived from the HiRISE images show that Beagle 2 landed on comparable flat terrain with no major hazards.

NOTE: Watch Beagle-2 leader, professor Mark Sims, discuss the mission and what this new discovery means. Video was issued by University of Leicester Press Office and can be viewed at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAKAJR4N6zQ

 

 

Carolyn Parcheta, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, plans to take this robot, VolcanoBot 2, to explore Hawaii's Kilauea volcano in March 2015.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Carolyn Parcheta, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, plans to take this robot, VolcanoBot 2, to explore Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in March 2015.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Volcano-exploring robots are being developed and tested, machinery that might be used for studying long-gone or still active extraterrestrial volcanoes.

For example, on both Earth and Mars, fissures are the most common physical features from which magma erupts. This is probably also true for the previously active volcanoes on the Moon, Mercury, Enceladus and Europa, although the mechanism of volcanic eruption — whether past or present — on these other planetary bodies is unknown.

That’s the word from Carolyn Parcheta, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

VolcanoBot 1, shown here in a lava tube -- a structure formed by lava -- explored the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii in May 2014. The robot is enabling researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to put together a 3-D map of the fissure. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

VolcanoBot 1, shown here in a lava tube — a structure formed by lava — explored the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii in May 2014. The robot is enabling researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to put together a 3-D map of the fissure.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

VolcanoBot 1

Parcheta and her co-advisor, JPL robotics researcher Aaron Parness, are developing robots that can get into crevices where humans wouldn’t be able to go, gaining new insights about these geological features.

Their experiments in May 2014 show that exploring volcanoes with robots is “on a roll.”

They had VolcanoBot 1 roll down a fissure — a crack that erupts magma — that is now inactive on the active Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

Mapping magma pathways

VolcanoBot 1 is a two-wheeled robot with a length of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and 6.7-inch (17-centimeter) wheels.

VolcanoBot 1 was tasked with mapping the pathways of magma from May 5 to 9, 2014. It was able to descend to depths of 82 feet (25 meters) in two locations on the fissure, although it could have gone deeper with a longer tether, as the bottom was not reached on either descent, according to a press statement from JPL’s Elizabeth Landau.

Two robots designed to explore volcanoes are pictured here. VolcanoBot 1 (right) has a length of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and 6.7-inch (17-centimeter) wheels. VolcanoBot 2 (left) is smaller, as it is 10 inches (25 centimeters) long and has 5 inch (12 centimeter) wheels.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Two robots designed to explore volcanoes are pictured here. VolcanoBot 1 (right) has a length of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and 6.7-inch (17-centimeter) wheels. VolcanoBot 2 (left) is smaller, as it is 10 inches (25 centimeters) long and has 5 inch (12 centimeter) wheels.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Plans are now being shaped to take VolcanoBot 2 and explore Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano in March 2015.

As deep space exploration plans jell – particularly at Mars — robotic and human capabilities are both key elements in safely opening up and accessing a range of sites on the Red Planet. Gaining entry into the Mars underground via human-controlled robots may well yield a bonanza of surprises.

Humans and robots on Mars are likely to team up to augment the types of exploration avenues that can be done on the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/Ames Research Center

Humans and robots on Mars are likely to team up to augment the types of exploration avenues that can be done on the Red Planet.
Credit: NASA/Ames Research Center

 

 Ted Cruz, Republican senator from Texas, poked his head into NASA’s Orion last year at the Johnson Space Center. Orion program manager Mark Geyer (left) discusses the workings of the spacecraft with the lawmaker. Credit: Lockheed Martin


Ted Cruz, Republican senator from Texas, poked his head into NASA’s Orion last year at the Johnson Space Center. Orion program manager Mark Geyer (left) discusses the workings of the spacecraft with the lawmaker.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Earlier today, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spoke with Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger in anticipation of becoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness.

 

To check out the full transcript of the interview, go to:

http://www.cruz.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=2079

Artist's impression of the Huygens probe on Titan, based on transmitted images. In the foreground sits the car-sized lander that sent back images for more than 90 minutes before running out of battery power. The parachute that slowed Huygen's re-entry is seen in the background, still attached to the lander. Smooth stones, possibly containing water-ice, are strewn about the landscape.  Credit: ESA

Artist’s impression of the Huygens probe on Titan, based on transmitted images. In the foreground sits the car-sized lander that sent back images for more than 90 minutes before running out of battery power. The parachute that slowed Huygen’s re-entry is seen in the background, still attached to the lander. Smooth stones, possibly containing water-ice, are strewn about the landscape.
Credit: ESA

Ten years ago, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Huygens probe parachuted into the history books by descending to the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Humanity’s first successful attempt to land a probe on another world in the outer Solar System took place on January 14, 2005.

Huygens hitched a ride to the Saturn system attached to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft – still exploring the Saturnian system today.

The lander plunged into Titan’s atmosphere and survived a 2 hour 27 minute descent, then touched down safely on Titan’s frozen surface. The probe sent back the first ever images from beneath Titan’s thick cloud layers.

Aerial views of Titan around ESA's Huygens landing site Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Aerial views of Titan around ESA’s Huygens landing site
Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Huygens continued to transmit back to Earth, mainly via Cassini, for another 72 minutes before its batteries died.

The stream of data provided a unique treasure trove of in situ (on-the-spot) measurements from the planet-sized satellite which scientists are still mining today.

Cold and misty wilderness

“The anticipation of the arrival of Huygens at Titan was tremendous. Even six months after insertion into Saturn orbit, we still had only vague impressions of what the surface might be like, and the liquid hydrocarbons we were confident had to be there were not evident,” recalls Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and Director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) in Boulder, Colorado.

In her own words, recorded in a Captain’s Log on January 11, 2005, she noted the suspense:

“We are about to enter a cold and misty wilderness, never before touched by anything human. This will be a tale to tell, of exploration, discovery and intrigue, not unlike those told by Jules Verne a century and a half ago. Only this time, it will be real.

We are capable of extraordinary achievements, and this will surely be one of them.

Ladies and gentlemen … prepare to make contact.”

To access Carolyn Porco’s informative website and more Huygens 10 year anniversary information, go to:

http://www.ciclops.org/view/7988/Huygenss-Descent-to-Titans-Surface

A-12 aircraft, one of several types of vehicles developed under the OXCART program. Credit: CIA

A-12 aircraft, one of several types of vehicles developed under the OXCART program.
Credit: CIA

My new updated story on a controversial claim by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency:

CIA About UFOs of the 1950s and ’60s: ‘It Was Us’
by Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
January 14, 2015 07:00am ET

http://www.space.com/28256-ufo-sightings-cia-u2-aircraft.html

After releasing a test return capsule to Earth, the solar-powered service module first loitered at Earth-Moon L2 and then moved into orbit around the Moon. Credit: China Space Website

After releasing a test return capsule to Earth, the solar-powered service module first loitered at Earth-Moon L2 and then moved into orbit around the Moon.
Credit: China Space Website

Ground controllers have successfully braked the service module of China’s test lunar spacecraft into Moon orbit.

According to the State-run Xinhua news agency, the module has entered an 8-hour elliptical orbit that reaches about 125 miles (200 kilometers) from the Moon’s surface and swings outward from the Moon to about 3,293 miles (5,300 kilometers).

According to chief engineer Zhou Jianlian of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center the module will make its second and third braking in the early hours of January 12 and January 13, Beijing time. Doing so will enable the module to enter a 127-minute orbit around the Moon, Zhou said.

China mooncraft jumps from Earth-Moon L2 position into Moon orbit. Credit: CMSE

China mooncraft jumps from Earth-Moon L2 position into Moon orbit.
Credit: CMSE

China’s test lunar orbiter was launched on Oct. 24, circling the Moon during its eight-day mission. The service module ejected a return capsule on Nov. 1, with the capsule parachuting to Earth that same day.

After release of the capsule, the service module made its way to the Earth-Moon Lagrangian (L2) position, completing three circles around that point prior to heading for lunar orbit.

China's Chang'e 5 mission is slated for 2017 and will land, collect, and return to Earth lunar samples. Credit: China Space Website

China’s Chang’e 5 mission is slated for 2017 and will land, collect, and return to Earth lunar samples.
Credit: China Space Website

According to ground controllers, the service module contains support systems that reportedly are all operating smoothly.The module now orbiting the Moon is loaded with gear to collect further data useful in planning China’s Chang’e 5 mission slated for 2017, said state broadcaster, China Central Television.

Chang’e 5 would be a robotic sample return mission, soft landing on the Moon, then scoop up several pounds of rock and soil for transport back to Earth.

Also, go to the Space.com version of this story at:

http://www.space.com/28208-chinese-spacecraft-orbiting-moon.html

 

Credit: Zigmund Kermish, Department of Physics, Princeton University

Credit: Zigmund Kermish, Department of Physics, Princeton University

A balloon-borne telescope was launched to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere on January 1, traveling on a 20-day mission from Antarctica.

The onboard payload was SPIDER, a telescope designed to investigate the origin of the universe.

Nudged along by circumpolar winds, the balloon will carry SPIDER at an altitude of roughly 120,000 feet while the instrument’s six cameras search for faint remnants of gravitational waves left over from the Big Bang during a rapid-expansion process known as inflation.

Once SPIDER floats back to Earth in early January, the researchers have about a week to locate it and retrieve the recorded data.

Preparing for liftoff. Credit: Zigmund Kermish, Department of Physics, Princeton University

Preparing for liftoff.
Credit: Zigmund Kermish, Department of Physics, Princeton University

Recovering SPIDER depends on where it lands, which could be near the launch site, or somewhere on the ice shelf that requires a trek on skis or by tractor to haul the instrument back. The researchers must be gone by mid-February before the onset of the severe Antarctic winter in March.

SPIDER, a stratospheric spacecraft, was constructed primarily in Princeton’s Jadwin Hall.

Tracking of SPIDER is underway. Credit: Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility

Tracking of SPIDER is underway.
Credit: Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility

SPIDER is funded largely by a grant from NASA, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, as well as the National Science Foundation, the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE:

Watch the launch here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaYqKqeBuHo

Updates from the SPIDER team are posted to Princeton’s SPIDER blog at:

http://spider.princeton.edu/

The instrument can be tracked on the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility’s website at:

http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/map/balloon6/flight660n.htm

Earth's Moon seen from the International Space Station - ready for mining or not? Credit: NASA

Earth’s Moon seen from the International Space Station – ready for mining or not?
Credit: NASA

My new look at what’s profitable by going off-planet to the Moon:
Is Moon Mining Economically Feasible?
by Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
January 07, 2015 07:11am ET
Up close contact! Scene from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers circa 1956.  Credit: Columbia Pictures

Up close contact! Scene from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers circa 1956.
Credit: Columbia Pictures

 

In a December 29 tweet from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), word is that their #1 most read on their #Bestof2014 list: “Reports of unusual activity in the skies in the ‘50s? It was us.”

An attached document from 1998 is titled The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974, a document prepared by the CIA’s history staff within the Center for the Study of Intelligence (see below for link).

High-flying U-2 spy plane stirred up UFO reports. Courtesy: National Security Archive

High-flying U-2 spy plane stirred up UFO reports.
Courtesy: National Security Archive

That paper notes that “high altitude testing of the U-2 soon led to an unexpected side effect – a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs).”

Specifically, in the mid-1950’s, most commercial airliners flew at altitudes between 10,000 and 20,000 feet. But once U-2s started flying at much higher altitudes – above 60,000 feet—“air traffic controllers began receiving increasing numbers of UFO reports,” the report explains.

Airline pilots also wrote letters to the Air Force Unit at Wright Air Development Command in Dayton, a group charged with investigating the UFO phenomena.

“This, in turn, led to the Air Force’s Operation BLUE BOOK. Based at Wright-Patterson, the operation collected all reports of UFO sightings.”

BLUE BOOK officials regularly called on the CIA to help investigators eliminate the majority of the UFO reports, “although they could not reveal to the letter writers the true cause of the UFO sightings.”

A-12 aircraft, one of several types of vehicles developed under the OXCART program. Credit: CIA

A-12 aircraft, one of several types of vehicles developed under the OXCART program.
Credit: CIA

To read the full CIA document, go to:

http://t.co/BKr81M5OUN

BTW: There’s a fascinating account of the use of Area 51  by the CIA, the U.S. Air Force and others, using that infamous area to test super-secret aircraft.

9780760346648

 

 

Dwight Jon Zimmerman is the author of Area 51: The Graphic History of America’s Most Secret Military Installation, published by Zenith Press. Zimmerman and artist Greg Scott have put together an informative account, available at:

http://www.qbookshop.com/products/210843/9780760346648/Area-51.html

 

 

Griffith Observatory Event