Tag Archives: spaceflight

Wernher von Braun material up for auction

Original material by Wernher von Braun that formed the basis for three classic 1950s coffee table books about the future of space is up for auction.

A collection of some of the most important seminal documents of the Space Age are open for bids as rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun’s “Man Will Conquer Space Soon” archive goes on the block. A collection of signed technical drawings, schematics, memos, orbital diagrams, and mathematical calculations related to von Braun’s efforts to sell an ambitious space program to both the American public and the US government, it’s the centerpiece of the Space and Aviation Auction at Boston-based RR Auction through April 19.

On March 22, 1952, the American weekly feature magazine Collier’s hit the newsstands. Among its usual mixture of advertisements and articles was the first of a series of features that would run for the next two years. These seemed like the wildest science fiction at the time, but would become established fact within a surprisingly few years. The series was called “Man Will Conquer Space Soon” and included painstakingly detailed color illustrations by magazine artists Chesley Bonestell, Fred Freeman, and Rolf Klep. It outlined a complete program for building an unmanned satellite, a manned space shuttle, a space station, an expedition to set up an outpost on the Moon, and topped it off with the conquest of Mars.

Later compiled into and expanded by three coffee table books – Across the Space Frontier (1952), Conquest of the Moon (1953), and The Exploration of Mars (1956) – the series was the brainchild of Wernher von Braun, one of the great rocket pioneers of the 20th century. He was the man behind Germany’s V2 rocket, and architect of the Saturn V booster that would send the first men to the Moon on the Apollo missions.

Those coffee table books are three of my most prized books in my somewhat large library. Anyone who was involved in the 1960s space race read them. When I was old enough to read I found them in my local library. They formed the basis of Disney movies, television shows, and rides at Disneyland. Other Hollywood productions were influenced by them. And most important of all, young men like Jim Lovell were influenced by them, making them want to be astronauts.

Share

Russia’s Proton successfully launches military satellite

Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched the military satellite, Blagovest 12L.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union the Proton had been Russia’s commercial mainstay rocket. This paragraph from the story reveals how much that business has shrunk:

The first Proton launch since last September, Thursday’s launch was the first of only three or four expected to take place in 2018. The only other Proton launches confirmed to be on schedule for 2018 are a commercial mission with Eutelsat 5 West B and Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) – which is slated for no earlier than the third quarter of the year – and the deployment of an Elektro-L weather satellite for Roskosmos in October. An additional military launch could occur later in the year. Planned launches of the Yamal 601 communications satellite and the Nauka module of the International Space Station were recently delayed until 2019.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

11 China
8 SpaceX
4 ULA
4 Russia
3 Japan
3 Europe
3 India

Share

SpaceX successfully launches NASA new exoplanet telescope

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully placed NASA’s new explanet space telescope, TESS, into orbit.

The first stage, which was making its first flight, successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic. They hope to reuse this booster on a future Dragon launch.

Update: TESS’s solar arrays have successfully deployed.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

11 China
8 SpaceX
4 ULA
3 Japan
3 Russia
3 Europe
3 India

The U.S. is now ahead of China, 12 to 11, in the national list.

Share

Russia throws in the towel

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who Putin had placed in charge of Russia’s space effort, today said in a television interview that it makes no sense for them to try to compete with SpaceX in the launch market.

“The share of launch vehicles is as small as 4% percent of the overall market of space services. The 4% stake isn’t worth the effort to try to elbow Musk and China aside,” Rogozin said in an interview on the RBC-TV channel on Tuesday.

He estimates the real market of space services at approximately $350 billion, with the creation of payloads, and not the launch of these payloads in space, accounting for the bulk of the sum. “Payloads manufacturing is where good money can be made,” he said.

Translation: We can’t figure out how to cut our costs and build better and cheaper rockets without eliminating many government jobs, so we have decided not to try. And we are going to make believe this failure is a good decision.

In response to the competitive threat from SpaceX, Putin’s government decided to consolidate their entire space industry into a single government corporation, run by their space agency Roscosmos. This reorganization however has failed entirely. Rather than encourage innovation and a lowering of costs, it served to make Russia’s entire aerospace industry a servant of politicians, who are more interested in distributing pork than building an efficient and competitive business.

Rogozin is thus essentially admitting here that Russia has lost its international commercial space business, and is therefore rationalizing that loss by claiming they never really wanted it in the first place.

This story confirms that Russia will be launching far fewer rockets in the coming years. Their dominance as one of the world’s launch leaders is now fading.

Share

Air Force moves to reorganize its space operations

Turf war! Claiming it is working to speed up acquisitions and the design-to-launch timeframe of future space missions, the Air Force today announced that it is reorganizing its space operations.

After a four-month review, SMC Commander Lt. Gen. J.T. Thompson will begin the restructuring of the massive organization that oversees a $6 billion space portfolio.

In a keynote speech Tuesday at the 34th Space Symposium, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson offered a preview of the upcoming reorganization. The central goal, she said, is to take down the walls that keep programs in stovepipes and create a more unified enterprise that looks at systems horizontally from design to production.

SMC will have a “chief architect” to guide and look across the entire space enterprise, Wilson said. Two new offices will be created. One will focus on innovation. The other will work to increase partnerships with foreign allies and commercial space companies. [emphasis mine]

This is rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. In fact, it is worse: It is buying more deck chairs for a sinking ship. Rather than cut the bureaucracy to simplify operations, they are creating more layers of bureaucracy on top of the old ones. The Air Force might be speeding up the design-to-launch of its satellites by switching to commercial products, but it appears that they aren’t saving the taxpayer any money as they do so.

Share

Rocket Lab delays launch

Rocket Lab has decided to delay its April 20th launch Electron launch to its next launch window to give it time to review a technical issue uncovered during a dress rehearsal countdown last week.

In an interview during the 34th Space Symposium here, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said that engineers detected “unusual behavior” in a motor controller for one of the nine engines in its first stage. “We want to take some time to review that data,” he said on the decision to delay the launch.

The next launch window for the mission is in about three weeks, he said. While Rocket Lab owns its own launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, he said the company has to work with third parties that provide range safety services when scheduling launches. That should also be enough time, he added to assess the problem and make any hardware changes to the vehicle.

The second paragraph explains why they announce their launch dates as windows. They must give the local communities surrounding their launchpad sufficient notice of when a launch is planned. Interestingly, this system will become irrelevant when they start launching every two weeks, as planned by the next year. When that happens, there will always be a launch window open.

Share

Trump administration to begin shift of space bureaucracy to Commerce

In an announcement yesterday at a space conference, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration will give the Commerce Department the task of creating a new system for monitoring and managing satellites and space junk in order to avoid traffic conflicts.

The policy calls on the Commerce Department to provide “a basic level of space situational awareness for public and private use,” based on tracking data compiled by the Defense Department. Commercial space ventures would also be encouraged to partner with the government on the development of data-sharing systems and guidelines for minimizing orbital debris and avoiding satellite collisions, Pence said.

In truth, I suspect that this is the first political maneuver in a long term plan to shift the entire space regulatory bureaucracy to the Commerce Department. Right now it is split between agencies in a number of different agencies, including State, NOAA, the FAA, the FCC, and even NASA. It is this complex and Byzantine arrangement the private sector most complains about. I am not sure why Commerce is getting favored, but it has appeared that many powerful members in Congress have wanted things shifted to Commerce for awhile, and so the Trump administration appears willing to go along in order to get the system streamlined.

We shall see if this streamlining really takes place. Often in government the creation of a new single agency to handle everything merely adds an additional layer of bureaucracy, because no one wants to cut the older layers.

Share

Imaging restrictions on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Young lava flows on Mars

In releasing a new set of four captioned images today from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the captions from each also included this paragraph:

Note: HiRISE has not been allowed to acquire off-nadir targeted observations for a couple of months due to MRO spacecraft issues, so many high-priority science objectives are on hold. What can be usefully accomplished in nadir mode is sampling of various terrains. Especially interesting in this observation are bedrock exposures, which provide information about the geologic history of Mars. “Nadir” refers to pointing straight down.

The image restrictions are probably related to either or both the battery and and reaction wheel issues noted in recent status report. What it means is that though they can still take good and revealing images, like the one to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, showing very young lava flows only a few million years old, scientists have less flexibility in what they can photograph.

If you click on the image you can see the full resolution version. The reason scientists think these are young flows is that they are so few craters here. The lava flows are located in the southern lava flows coming off the large volcano Elysium Mons, which sits due west of Mars’ largest volcano, Olympus Mons. These flows are also in the transition zone between Mars’ low flat northern plains and its high rough southern terrain.

When and if the spacecraft can resume full imaging operations is unknown. Based on the status report, it might never do so.

Share

SpaceX announces it will build its Big Falcon Rocket in Los Angeles

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has confirmed that it will build its Big Falcon Rocket in the facility it has leased in the port of Los Angeles.

Looking at the string of stories I have just posted on Behind the Black, all describing the space plans of Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch, Orbital ATK, SpaceX, China, and the UAE, all aimed at taking off in the early 2020s, it seems the next decade will be a wild ride for space geeks.

Share

Stratolaunch to make first flight later this year

Capitalism in space: Paul Allen said at a space conference today that Stratolaunch will likely make its maiden flight later this year.

Actual satellite launches will have to wait until around 2020, however, as the giant plane will first have to be certified by the FAA, a process expected to take one and a half to two years.

The profitability of this launch system at the moment remains an unknown. The only rocket presently set to launch on Stratolaunch is Orbital ATK’s Pegasus, which is designed to launch small to mid-size satellites. Stratolaunch will therefore have to compete with the slew of new smallsat rocket companies that should be becoming operational in the next two years. It will be interesting to see if this air-launched system will be able to compete with them.

Share

Rocket Lab’s future plans

Capitalism in space: This New Zealand news article provides a good look at Rocket Lab’s future launch plans.

Essentially, they hope to do one launch a month later this year, two launches a month in 2019, and then one launch per week in 2020. The article also states that their Electron rocket could have launched two thirds of all satellites placed in space in 2015.

Share

The UAE receives more than 4000 astronaut applications

The new colonial movement: More that four thousand citizens of the United Arab Emirates have applied to become one of that nation’s first four astronauts.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has received over 4,000 applications (aged between 17 and 67) from Emiratis aspiring to join the UAE Astronaut Programme, which was launched in December 2017 and was open for registrations for three months until March 2018. Funded by ICT Fund of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), the programme saw females constitute 34% of applicants.

Qualified candidates will be chosen by a selection committee, following which they will need to pass a basic medical and psychometric test, an initial interview, an advanced medical and psychometric test and a panel interview. The top four candidates who will form the UAE Astronauts Team by the end of 2018 will then undergo a series of training programmes divided into year-long basic training modules and advanced training modules, which will be conducted over three years.

Three years from now the UAE should have have several different manned spaceship options to fly these astronauts on, from government manned capsules from Russia or China or private capsules like SpaceX’s Dragon or Boeing’s Starliner.

Share

China finally reveals design issue that caused July’s Long March 5 failure

In a report released yesterday China finally revealed that a turbo pump design issue in one of Long March 5’s two first stage engines caused that rocket’s launch failure in July.

The State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), which oversees China’s space activities, released a report April 16 attributing the failure to a turbopump on one of two liquid-oxygen and hydrogen YF-77 engines powering the rocket’s first stage. The turbopump’s exhaust structure, according to SASTIND, failed while under “complex thermal conditions.”

Redesigned YF-77 engines have already been through hot fire testing at a site in a ravine near Xi’an in north China. The tests have verified the effectiveness of the measures taken, according to the report.

Unfortunately, the report is in Chinese, so I can’t read it. It does appear that the problem was a difficult one that required an engine redesign. That they have solved it is demonstrated by the release of this report. China’s space program functions like the old Soviet Union’s. Details about serious problems were only released, if at all, once the program had successfully overcome them

Share

Elon Musk hints at using a “giant party balloon” to recover Falcon 9 upper stages

In several tweets yesterday, Elon Musk said that SpaceX is considering using “a giant party balloon” to recover Falcon 9 upper stages.

No timetable was mentioned. It seems that Musk and SpaceX is still looking at ways to reuse the Falcon 9 upper stage. Whether this proposal ever makes it to hardware however is a different question. Musk and his engineers have floated many concepts over the years, not all of which have flown.

The balloon idea has some merit, as it has been successfully used to land landers and rovers on the Moon and Mars.

Share

Orbital ATK renames its Next Generation Launcher OmegA

At a space conference yesterday Orbital ATK announced that OmegA is the new name for its proposed Next Generation Launcher, based on solid fuel technology and set for launch in 2021.

They also outlined the rocket’s proposed capabilities.

In its intermediate three-stage configuration, OmegA will be powerful: About 2 million pounds of thrust at liftoff with no side-strapped solid rocket boosters. But with the added flexibility of sporting up to six SRBs [solid rocket boosters], that number could more than double and enter heavy-lift territory with around five million pounds of thrust. To provide perspective, SpaceX’s much-vaunted Falcon Heavy rocket launched in February with slightly more than 5 million pounds of thrust.

They are initially focused on winning military contracts.

Share

Delays in New Shepard program?

In an interview for a Seattle news outlet, a Blue Origin official inadvertently hinted that the program was experiencing delays. Her words:

New Shepard will be flying Blue Origin employees by the end of this year, assuming our test program continues to go well. Within the next year or two, we’ll have paying customers, which is really exciting.

This vague statement confirms an earlier statement by another Blue Origin official, that the first manned test flights will not occur until the very end of this year, and that paying customers might not fly until 2020. It appears that there might be issues that are causing the New Shepard project to slow down. It could be the hardware, or maybe the company is reconsidering the profitability of suborbital tourism. By 2020 both SpaceX and Boeing will have the capability of putting tourists into orbit. The price might be much higher, but a large percentage of the customers who could afford the suborbital flight could also afford the orbital flight, and if they need to pick many are going to go orbital, reducing the customer base for the suborbital business.

Share

Fueling issue during Electron countdown dress rehearsal

Rocket Lab today experienced a fueling issue during a countdown dress rehearsal in preparation for a April 20th launch.

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said the company “experienced a minor fuelling issue on the pad today during a wet dress rehearsal” on Sunday. “Our team is working through the data to ascertain the root cause. As per standard procedure, Fire and Emergency New Zealand is on site as a precautionary measure while the team closes out pad activities for the day.”

It is unclear if this unknown issue will effect their launch window, which begins on April 20 and lasts for two weeks.

Share

NASA might scale down the first manned SLS flight

In order to meet its present schedule and budget, NASA is considering scaling down its first manned SLS flight in 2023 by using the same smaller version of SLS that will fly the first unmanned test flight in 2020.

The SLS has been in development for the last decade, and when complete, it will be NASA’s main rocket for taking astronauts to the Moon and Mars. NASA has long planned to debut the SLS with two crucial test missions. The first flight, called EM-1, will be uncrewed, and it will send the smallest planned version of the rocket on a three-week long trip around the Moon. Three years later, NASA plans to launch a bigger, more powerful version of the rocket around the Moon with a two-person crew — a mission called EM-2.

But now, NASA may delay that rocket upgrade and fly the same small version of the SLS for the crewed flight instead. If that happens, NASA would need to come up with a different type of mission for the crew to do since they won’t be riding on the more powerful version of the vehicle. “If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can’t do what we could do if we had the [larger SLS],” Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, said during a Congressional hearing yesterday.

NASA clarified that astronauts would still fly around the Moon on the second flight. However, the rocket would not be able to carry extra science payloads as NASA had originally planned. “The primary objective for EM-2 is to demonstrate critical functions with crew aboard, including mission planning, system performance, crew interfaces, and navigation and guidance in deep space, which can be accomplished on a Block 1 SLS,” a NASA spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge.

The problem here really is that Congress keeps throwing money at this boondoggle. It will fly, but it will never be able to make the exploration and colonization of the solar system possible. It is simply too expensive and has a far too slow launch rate. Instead, it will allow for NASA to do stunts in space, while elected officials can preen and prance about, bragging about the jobs they brought to their districts.

And the nation’s debt will grow, and grow, and grow.

I hold to my prediction that private companies will bypass SLS in the 2020s, doing far more for far less. The differences between them will become downright embarrassing to SLS and Congress.

Share

ULA’s Atlas 5 today successfully launched three U.S. military satellites

Three U.S. military satellites, one to provide communications and the other two testing experimental engineering, were successfully launched today by ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

11 China
7 SpaceX
4 ULA
3 Japan
3 Russia
3 Europe
3 India

The U.S. is once again tied with China for the most launches this year.

Share

SpaceX in the news!

Rather than have two more consecutive posts about SpaceX, I’ve decided to post these two together in an effort to avoid making this website look like a site totally devoted only to this one company.

The first story makes it clear that SpaceX will almost certainly fly the first unmanned demo missions of its manned capsule later this year. We should also get an idea whether the first manned flight will occur before the end of the year, or slip into 2019, in May.

The second story reveals once again the robust and growing financial value of SpaceX.

Elon Musk-led SpaceX Corp is raising $507 million in a new round of funding, valuing the company at around $26 billion, according to a filing seen by Reuters. New articles of incorporation filed by the company last week and sent to Reuters by private analytics firm Lagniappe Labs showed the addition of 3 million ‘Series I’ shares from a previous version filed in November.

The filing also gave the initial value of the Series I shares as $169, 25 percent higher than a value given in its previous fundraising round late last year.

As Al Jolson once said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” I expect that SpaceX’s value will only go up in the coming years.

Share

New information on SpaceX’s rocket fairing recovery effort

Link here. In requesting permission to recover Dragon capsules in the Gulf of Mexico, SpaceX submitted a great deal of information to the FAA about its effort to recover and reuse the fairings of its Falcon 9 rocket. Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc has done a nice job of excerpting that information at the link.

For example, SpaceX is not only trying to recover the fairings, it is trying to recover the new fairing drogue chutes that it uses to slow the fairings down and then ejects before splashdown.

To me, however, one tidbit that stood out like a beacon and actually tells us more about SpaceX’s future anticipated launch rate was this quote:

From 2019-2024, SpaceX anticipates the frequency of launches involving fairing recovery to increase. In 2018, SpaceX anticipates approximately two recovery attempts, and from 2019-2024, SpaceX anticipates approximately three recovery attempts per month. Thus, for all seven years, SpaceX anticipates up to 480 drogue parachutes and 480 parafoils would land in the ocean.

This is further confirmation of SpaceX’s public prediction that it will soon be launching about 30 to 40 times per year. These numbers also equal the best yearly rates the entire United States launch industry ever achieved, and suggest that the entire launch industry in the next decade will be experiencing a significant boom, since aggressive competition usually causes an increase in business for all competitors.

Share

New method for scrubbing CO2 out of the air

Researchers have devised a new much more efficient technique for removing carbon dioxide from the smoke of power plants.

The memzyme meets the Department of Energy’s standards by capturing 90 percent of power plant carbon dioxide production at a relatively low cost of $40 per ton. Researchers term the membrane a “memzyme” because it acts like a filter but is near-saturated with an enzyme, carbonic anhydrase, developed by living cells over millions of years to help rid themselves of carbon dioxide efficiently and rapidly.

“To date, stripping carbon dioxide from smoke has been prohibitively expensive using the thick, solid, polymer membranes currently available,” says Jeff Brinker, a Sandia fellow, University of New Mexico regents’ professor and the paper’s lead author. “Our inexpensive method follows nature’s lead in our use of a water-based membrane only 18 nanometers thick that incorporates natural enzymes to capture 90 percent of carbon dioxide released. (A nanometer is about 1/700 of the diameter of a human hair.) This is almost 70 percent better than current commercial methods, and it’s done at a fraction of the cost.”

The article also notes at the end that this technology could also be adapted to scrubbing CO2 from spacecraft atmospheres.

Hat tip to reader MarcusZ1967.

Share

Environmental activists to build methane-detecting satellite

What could possibly go wrong? The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), historically one of the U.S.’s most partisan and aggressive environmental activist groups, has announced that it has raised millions to build a satellite to measure atmospheric methane, with a launch aimed for 2020.

The EDF, which is based in New York City, aims to launch the satellite as early as 2020. The environmental group and its scientific partners at Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, say that their planned ‘MethaneSAT’ will make the most precise measurements of methane yet from space. Their goal is to monitor emissions from roughly 50 major oil and gas fields that account for around 80% of the world’s oil and gas production. But the satellite could also be used to estimate emissions from landfills and agriculture.

“We need good solid data so that we really can support global action on climate change, and we’ve got to do it fast,” says Steven Hamburg, the EDF’s chief scientist.

MethaneSAT is an offshoot of the EDF’s research on greenhouse-gas emissions from US oil and gas facilities. In 2012, the group spearheaded a collaboration with industry and academic scientists to better quantify methane emissions and identify leaky infrastructure, from the wellhead all the way to the urban distribution system. That work is ongoing, but suggests that methane emissions from oil and gas facilities exceed US government estimates. Last year, the EDF helped to launch another collaboration with industry partners, governments and academics to carry that research forward internationally. [emphasis mine]

While I applaud their effort to do real research, I have serious concerns about the objectivity of their work. It appears they are aiming this satellite to look specifically at oil and gas facilities, the big enemies of the global-warming community, and clearly wish to document evidence for human-caused global warming. Thus, it will not be surprising if their research results end up biased in these directions.

Nonetheless, this project’s funding, much of it from private sources, highlights the on-going shift away from government money for the funding of space missions, as did my previous post As noted at the link above,

The EDF declined to provide a precise cost estimate for its satellite because the design remains in flux, but said that it is likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars. The group is seeking extra support from philanthropists to operate the satellite once it’s in orbit. All the data will be freely available. Hamburg says that the project provides a new model for funding targeted space missions. “We’re going to be the first, but I think we’re going to see this approach be used by others as well,” he says.

Share

Private space raised nearly $1 billion the first quarter of 2018

Capitalism in space: A survey of the money raised in the first quarter of 2018 has found that commercial space has raised nearly $1 billion, all from non-government sources.

The April 10 report by Space Angels, a fund that invests in early-stage space companies, concluded that there was $975.8 million in non-government equity investment in space companies in the first quarter of 2018. That would put the industry on a pace for nearly $4 billion for the year, a figure similar to the estimate made by Space Angels for investment in the industry in 2017.

Just over half of that total for the first quarter, though, came from a single investment identified by Space Angels: a $500 million investment in SpaceX led by Fidelity Investments. That investment is intended “to drive development of their satellite communications network, Starlink,” the report stated.

It appears from the article that the bulk of the investment capital went, not to launch rocket projects, but to satellite proposals. Even so, those satellites will have to get launched, so investment in private rockets is sure to go up in the coming years.

Share

Another smallsat rocket company enters the fray

Capitalism in space: A new smallsat rocket company, EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, has announced that it will do a test launch out of Spaceport America on May 5, the anniversary of Alan Shepard’s first suborbital flight, of a rocket it dubs SARGE.

The press release did not specifically say whether the test launch would be suborbital or not, though I strongly suspect so. Nor can I find any details about this rocket or the launch at the company’s website. The company sells itself as building reusable rockets, and the press release includes a video of a hover static fire test of one rocket. Other videos at the company’s website show short clips of other flights were an earlier rocket returned to Earth by parachute. They state that SARGE is an upgrade, so maybe they are going to use its engines to slow the landing.

Either way, the smallsat launch industry is getting very crowded. This company seems right now aimed at capturing the suborbital science and school portion of the market that is looking for cheap quick ways to get payloads up into space for very short periods at very low cost.

Share

India’s PSLV successfully launches GPS satellite

India’s PSLV rocket tonight successfully launched a replacement GPS satellite for its navigational system, replacing the satellite lost on a PSLV launch last year.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

11 China
7 SpaceX
3 Japan
3 Russia
3 ULA
3 Europe
3 India

It surely is getting crowded near the bottom. It is also interesting that nations like India and Japan are still running neck and neck with Russia and Europe. Just last year their total launches didn’t match Europe’s, and was just a touch over half of Russia’s.

Update: News articles today say that, according to the head of ISRO, India is aiming for another 9 launches in 2018, for a total of 12, a new record for that country, while Russia’s space chief says they will complete 30 launches before the end of the year. I think India’s prediction is accurate, while Russia’s is hogwash.

Share

Jupiter’s North Pole, as seen in infrared by Juno

The Juno science team has released an animation that shows, in infrared and in three dimensions, the storms of Jupiter’s north pole.

The link has three videos. One shows the gas giant’s surprisingly irregular magnetic field, as found by Juno. The first and third show a low and a high fly-over of the north pole, in infrared. I have embedded both fly-overs below the fold. First watch the high fly-over, which is the first video. This will make the low fly-over more understandable as it flies over the eight smaller storms that encircle the pole’s central vortex.
» Read more

Share

NanoRacks outlines its private space station plans

Capitalism in space: NanoRacks, which already makes money launching private payloads to ISS, has revealed its plans for building its own private space station using converted Atlas 5 upper stages.

This project was previously called Ixion, but they have dropped that name, and will now call the first station Independence-1.

They have a contract with NASA for the initial development, and hope to convince the agency to pay them to next build a full-size test prototype. The video at the link to me was exceedingly unconvincing however. It shows a robot beginning the process of refurbishing a used upper stage while in orbit, and simplifies the process to an almost ludicrous degree. While I surely believe it can be done, it will not be simple. The difficulties should not be dismissed.

Share

A Martian snake of collapsed hills

A Martian snake of collapsed hills

Close-up of collapsed hills

Time to once again delve into this month’s release of high resolution images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The image above, cropped, rotated, and reduced in resolution to post here, shows a string of strange mounds or hills, each with similar collapse features on their tops. If you click on the picture, you can see the full resolution image, rotated properly with north up. You can also go to the MRO post, which provides some additional information.

The white box indicates the location of the cropped close-up, at full resolution, to the right. This area is typical across the entire snake-like ridge. You have these mounds or hills, each with chaotic depressions at their tops. The depressions suggest that this ridge follows an underground void, like a lava tube. The ridge-like nature of the line of hills also suggest that this tube has been exposed by erosion over time, with the surrounding terrain more easily blown or washed away while the more resistant ridge remains.

At the same time, the line of hills is baffling. Why would a lava tube expand periodically to form something that looks like a string of pearls?

The location of this snaking ridge provides some additional context.
» Read more

Share
1 2 3 4 5 191