Tag Archives: engineering

Why SpaceX is winning the race

An unidentified administrator of the University of Michigan space engineering program has some interesting thoughts on why SpaceX has been so successful. Key quote:

I recently performed an analysis of the very best students in my space engineering programs over the past decade, based on their scholarly, leadership and entrepreneurial performance at Michigan. To my amazement, I found that of my top 10 students, five work at SpaceX. No other company or lab has attracted more than two of these top students.

I also noticed that SpaceX recruited only two of them directly from the university. The others were drawn to the company after some years of experience elsewhere—joining SpaceX despite lower salaries and longer work hours. Why do they leave successful jobs in big companies to join a risky space startup? A former student told me, “This is a place where I am the limiting factor, not my work environment.” At SpaceX, he considers himself to be in an entrepreneurial environment in which great young people collaborate to do amazing things. He never felt like this in his previous job with an aerospace company.

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NASA narrows asteroids to visit to three

NASA officials have reviewed the list of Near Earth Objects and found only three that meet all the constraints for a manned mission. Key quote:

Out of the 44 reachable asteroids, 27 were too small, and only 15 have orbits that allow for exploration between 2020 and 2050 — the timeframe NASA wants to pursue for NEO missions. The 180-day mission constraint further cuts the list to three.

It must also be noted that none of these asteroids are reachable without a heavy-lift rocket like the Ares V.

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Repair strategy for Wednesday spacewalk

NASA engineers are working out a strategy for the next spacewalk, now tentatively scheduled of Wednesday, to continue repair efforts on the International Space Station. The new plans call for the astronauts to close several valves on the leaking coolant line while ground controllers lower pressure on the line, then drain the excess ammonia from it. This will hopefully allow the astronauts to disconnect the line from the pump without spewing ammonia all over the place, and then proceed with the removal of the failed pump.

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ISS tour, part 1

An evening pause: We talk a lot about the International Space Station. Why not take a tour? In this January 2009 video, part 1 of 4, astronaut Mike Finke starts us out at the docking port used by the shuttle and takes us through the Harmony and Kibo modules. Along the way he gives a great view out the port side of the station.

You can see the remaining parts of Mike’s tour by clicking through, or you can wait until I post them over the next week.

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Mapping daylight at the Moon’s South Pole

Using data from the Japanese lunar orbiter Kaguya, scientists have identified several locations near the Moon’s south pole that are in daylight from 86 to 94 percent of the time. Key quote from abstract:

The place receiving the most illumination (86% of the year) is located close to the rim of Shackleton crater at 88.74°S 124.5°E. However two other areas, less than 10 km apart from each other, are collectively lit for 94% of the year. We found that sites exist near the south pole that are continuously lit for several months during summer. We were also able to map the locations and durations of eclipse periods for these areas. Finally we analyzed the seasonal variations in lighting conditions, from summer to winter, for key areas near the south pole. We conclude that areas exist near the south pole that have illumination conditions that make them ideal candidates as future outpost sites. [emphasis mine]

Below is a composite close-up image of the rim of Shackleten crator that I assembled using this Lunar Reconnaissance image. The key quote from the full caption :

The full [Narrow Angle Camera] mosaic reveals a shelf on the southeast flank of the crater that is more than two kilometers across and perfectly suitable for a future landing. The extreme Sun angle gives the surface an exaggerated rough appearance, but if you look closely at this scale any area that is between the small craters might make a good landing site.

Rim of Shackleton Crater

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First spacewalk to replace pump module

The first spacewalk to replace the failed pump module on ISS is finished, and it did not go as well as hoped. The astronauts had problems removing one of four cooling system ammonia lines to the old pump. They eventually succeeded, actually using a hammer to lightly tap the quick-disconnect latch free. They then had to seal an ammonia leak coming from the problematic line. These issues caused them to run out of time, preventing them from removing the old pump and installing the new one. It is expected they will pick up where they left off on the next spacewalk, presently scheduled for Wednesday.

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