Tag Archives: engineering

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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Boeing cutting metal on its new capsule

Boeing is cutting metal on own privately funded new space capsule, planned for completion in 2015. Key quote:

“We’re at a point in the development of human spaceflight where there’s a market emerging beyond the ISS, beyond NASA,” John Elbon, Boeing’s vice president for commercial space programs, said in a briefing Thursday. “And that piece of this is really exciting as well.”

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Second test of Ares solid rocket scheduled

Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has scheduled the second test of the five segment solid rocket motor, planned for use on the Ares I rocket, for August 31. Fun quote:

When fired, the motor will produce a maximum thrust 3.6 million pounds, or 22 million horsepower [half the power of the first stage of the Saturn V rocket]. The cases [segments] have all previously flown on the space shuttle, collectively launching on 57 missions.

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A ground-based telescope matches the Hubble Space Telescope-NOT

Correction.Regular reader James Fincannon emailed me to say that he thinks the image below is an artist’s impression. He is correct. I should have looked more closely at the press release. In reading the actual research paper [pdf] on the results it seems that the VLT did some very sophisticated spectroscopy, thereby measuring the uneven distribution of the velocity and density of the gas around the star. The image below was then created, based largely on Hubble images combined with the new data. In other words, this ground-based telescope did not match the abilities of a space-based telescope in any way. Had the Hubble images not existed the astronomers would have struggled to interpret their spectroscopic data.

Some important astronomy news: The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has released this spectacular image of supernova 1987a, the first and so far only supernova visible to the naked eye since the invention of the telescope.

SN1987a

This image is important for two reasons. First, The data shows that the supernova explosion was not symmetrical, with more material being thrown outward in some directions than in others. This fact confirms what astronomers in recent years have increasingly come to believe: Supernovae explosions are not simple spherical bursts, but chaotic events ripping stars apart in a lopsided manner.

Second, this image demonstrates that ground-based telescopes are becoming amazingly good at doing what the Hubble Space Telescope has done routinely for the past two decades. Five years ago, no telescope on the ground could have resolved the inner ring of supernova 1987a. Only Hubble in space had that capability. Now, VLT can do it, almost as well as Hubble. Though a space-based telescope can still beat any ground-based telescope, it is great news that the technology for ground-based telescopes has improved so much, especially since there presently are no plans to replace Hubble.

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Burt Rutan on future of space

At an airshow on Thursday, July 29, in Oskosh, Wisconsin, Burt Rutan, designer of SpaceShipOne, made some interesting remarks about the past and future of private space flight. Key quote:

Rutan said NASA should give 10 to 15 percent of its budget to new space companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX without regulating how to spend the money. “That would allow them to not (have to) beg for commercial investment, while still working in an entrepreneurial mode.”

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Solar sail conference

Solar sail engineers from around the world gathered in Brooklyn last week for the Second International Symposium on Solar Sailing. Ben Diedrich, fellow caver, solar sail expert, and the man behind wiki.solarsails.info, gave two papers. He also emailed me to say that “Japan’s contingent gave several talks – many of which compared analysis of deployment, flight, or steering with actual flight data” of Ikaros. A review of the program [pdf] revealed some fascinating uses for solar sails. I like this paper title the best: “Deflecting Apophis with a flotilla of solar sails.” [ed. Apophis is an asteroid with the potential of hitting the Earth.]

Update: Japanese scientists have now announced that they have been able to adjust Ikaros’s attitude using sunlight.

Another update: Ben Diedrich emailed me the link to read the actual proceedings from the conference. See pg 103 to read the paper on using solar sails to deflect Apophis.

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Single Rope Techinque — on the Moon

James Fincannon of NASA took the two images of the Marius Hills lunar pit taken at different times by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (which I posted here) and did an overlay so that the shadow produced by pit’s rim could be easily compared with the rim itself (see below). He then did some calculations based on the sun’s angle of light shining into the cave and came up with the following calculations:

I estimate it is 60 meters from rim to bottom. The floor is flat below the surface. The rocks on the flat surface below ground are in stark relief (hard shadows) compared to above ground due to the sun coming only at one angle while above ground the albedo/reflections makes for soft shadows at this high sun angle (65 deg elevation). I cannot tell if the black portion of the combo image is a slope or more flat floor. Need a different high sun angle or azimuth to fill that in. Still I like the general pattern of the rim matching the shadow on the floor, although the image I found originally has that edge of the cave rim in shadow for a large extent.

overlay of Marius Hill cave

A 60 meter drop is about 200 feet deep. This result is reasonably close to the depth estimated by Japanese scientists, 88 meters or 288 feet, based on images of the same lunar pit taken by their Kaguya probe.

Knowing the approximate depth of the entrance pit raises the much more important question: How will future lunar explorers to get to the bottom of this pit? It is ironic » Read more

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Solar powered plane flies for two weeks

Zephr, a British-built solar-powered unmanned plane was ordered to return to Earth after flying continuously for two weeks without refueling. Key quote:

Zephyr is set to be credited with a new world endurance record (336 hours, 24 minutes) for an unmanned, un-refuelled aircraft – provided a representative of the world air sports federation, who was present at Yuma, is satisfied its rules have been followed properly.

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