June 4, 2012
Making it easier, cheaper, and quicker to get things into orbit is the hot ticket right now. In our latest issue we cover the ongoing efforts by the Operationally Responsive Space office, working out of Kirtland Air Base in New Mexico, to make quick-launch spacecraft. DARPA’s also in that game: last week they awarded Boeing a $4.5 million contract to study airborne satellite launch systems. DARPA’s website explains:
The goal of [the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access] ALASA is to develop a significantly less expensive approach for routinely launching small satellites, with a goal of at least threefold reduction in costs compared to current military and US commercial launch costs. Currently, small satellite payloads cost more than $30,000 per pound to launch, and must share a launcher with other satellites. ALASA seeks to launch satellites on the order of 100 pounds for less than $1M total, including range support costs, to orbits that are selected specifically for each 100 pound payload.
They also note other disadvantages of fixed launch sites, like weather delays and limitations on the types of orbits available. Of course, the idea for aircraft-based launches goes back to NASA’s X-planes in the 1950s. Today, Orbital Sciences Corp. sends satellites into space with its Pegasus rocket that launches from a Lockheed-1101 Tri-Star (NASA’s NuSTAR spacecraft is scheduled for a June 13 airborne launch). And Stratolaunch Systems, the collaboration of Scaled Composites, SpaceX, and Dynetics, is in the works to take payloads up “affordably and responsibly” (and if successful, “mark the dawn of a new era of space transportation,” if they do say so themselves).
With ALASA, which has been in the works since November 2011, DARPA is looking for something a bit lighter-duty for smaller satellites — the Pegasus/Tri-Star can carry up to 1,000 pounds, while the Stratolaunch will likely be rated for payloads upwards of 100,000 pounds. And somehow, they want this launch system designed so that it requires “no recurring maintenance or support, and no specific integration to prepare for launch.” A pick-it-up-and-go system, indeed. We’ll be interested to see what Boeing comes up with by the end of their 18-month contract.
November 22, 2011
Where were you on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon? What were you doing on October 4, 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik? Do you remember April 12, 1981, when the space shuttle Columbia made its first flight?
In 2008, the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival included the program “NASA: Fifty Years and Beyond,” and as part of that program, visitors were encouraged to document (written on note cards and recorded on tape) their memories of America’s space program. A few of the festival-goer’s memories appear below.
As the 50th anniversary year of human spaceflight draws to a close, we ask you to remember your own space milestones. After you read the remembrances here, leave a comment to tell us where you were, what you saw, and how you felt.
I had just learned to drive my husband’s stick shift car. He worked in the simulation lab with astronauts. I was stopped in front of their building to pick up my husband. As he got into the car, he said, “There’s Neil.” I said, “Neil who?” He said, “Armstrong! Who else?” At that point I went limp, the clutch jumped, the car lurched forward, and Neil just missed being hit.
I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. I remember Werner von Braun was our most famous citizen. Huntsville was very sleepy until Sputnik was launched. All of a sudden, Huntsville became a hotbed of activity, all centered on the space program. Within three years, the U.S. had an active space program. Many of the engines for spacecraft were built in Huntsville. Huntsville calls itself “The Space Capital of the Universe” now. In 1950, it was known as “the Watercress Capital of the U.S.” Things change!
In 1957 Sputnik went up and the talk was that U.S. students had to catch up academically. I was 10 years old—the next day was the first time we ever had homework in school.
I was in second grade when the entire student body of Norfeld Elementary reported to the auditorium to watch a not-very-big portable black-and-white TV for a Mercury capsule splashdown in the Atlantic. We were all worried that it could miss and veer back into space forever. (It went OK.)
When I was in elementary school, a man came to the school and sang songs about Black Holes. Needless to say, I was terrified.
I’ve been fascinated by space exploration for my entire life. My family tells me that my first word was “moon.” Now I work as a NASA contractor, on a mission to the Moon (LRO). I’m grateful to be standing on the shoulders of giants, the men and women before and beside me that helped NASA and all space agencies achieve what they have. And we’re only at the beginning of the adventure.
October 19, 2011
This Thursday morning (Update: Launch was postponed to Friday due to a fueling problem) when a Soyuz rocket lifts off from French Guiana, it will mark a couple of important milestones: the first Soyuz to launch outside of Russia or Kazakhstan in the rocket’s 44-year history, and the first step in assembling Europe’s new Galileo satellite navigation system.
The French first built this launch facility near Kourou in 1964. The European Space Agency started funding the spaceport when the agency was created in 1974, and now uses the prime location — just five degrees north of the equator — for launching geostationary satellites. In 2003, the spaceport began construction of a launch site for the newest model of the Russian vehicle, a version of the Soyuz-2 called the Soyuz ST. Construction was completed in 2008 and, though not planned at this time, the pad can be adapted for human-rated Soyuz launchers, of the kind used to send cosmonauts and astronauts to the space station.
The three-stage Soyuz ST-B was lifted into vertical position on the launchpad last Friday, while the Arianespace team — which runs launch operations in French Guiana — went through full dress rehearsals to prepare for the launch tomorrow. You can see a slideshow of the launch preparations here.
The vehicle carries two Galileo In-Orbit Validation satellites, the first in Europe’s planned navigation system. These two testbed satellites will eventually be joined by about 30 fully operational spacecraft; the ESA and the European Union hope the system will be fully functional by 2014. Galileo is built to be even more accurate than the U.S. GPS (Global Positioning System), and will be freely available to civilians, giving European nations their own independent system.
You can watch the launch online at Arianespace’s good-looking new website that went live earlier this week.
August 23, 2011
These days, with so many satellite sensors looking down constantly from orbit, and so many ways to slice their data, it’s hard to remember that hurricanes used to arrive without much warning.
Hurricane Irene is currently bearing down on the Turks and Caicos Islands, and may hit the east coast of the United States by week’s end. Here’s a gallery of different views. I love the names of the different types of color enhancement, like “Rainbow” and “Funktop” (developed by a meteorologist named Ted Funk, it shows areas of intense rainfall).
Below is another enhanced infrared GOES-East image. You can see an animated version here. Blue is warmer, red is colder, white coldest. This type of coloring, by the National Hurricane Center, is done, basically, because TV viewers like pretty pictures. Really, no kidding. From the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s product description:
This enhancement is mainly utilized by the National Hurricane Center/ Tropical Prediction Center in Miami, Florida for enhancement of infrared (11µm) imagery for television, newspaper, and internet displays. This enhancement is typically provided for/by the media since they prefer to work with color imagery rather than simple black & white enhanced imagery.
And even though it’s not as colorful, here’s an impressive photo taken yesterday by Ron Garan on the International Space Station:
June 17, 2010
In other happenings:
- The Hayabusa asteroid sample return capsule came home in spectacular style last week. Video here.
- Scientists on NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting mission have released a new batch of data, and now have 400 “objects of interest” that could turn out to be new planets. There’s some disagreement over whether the team should be able to hold on to the data until they’re sure, though.
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