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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘space travel

[LINK] “Massive Ariane 5 To Launch Giant NextGen Telescope In Dynamic Deployment To L2”

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Universe Today’s Evan Gough describes how the Ariane 5, the European Space Agency’s workhorse, will be tested in launching the James Webb Space Telescope to the L2 point.

The Ariane 5 rocket is a workhorse for delivering satellites and other payloads into orbit, but fitting the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) inside one is pushing the boundaries of the Ariane 5’s capabilities, and advancing our design of space observatories at the same time.

The Ariane 5 is the most modern design in the ESA’s Ariane rocket series. It’s responsible for delivering things like Rosetta, the Herschel Space Observatory, and the Planck Observatory into space. The ESA is supplying an Ariane 5 to the JWST mission, and with the planned launch date for that mission less than three years away, it’s a good time to check in with the Ariane 5 and the JWST.

The Ariane 5 has a long track record of success, often carrying multiple satellites into orbit in a single launch.

[. . .]

But launching satellites into orbit, though still an amazing achievement, is becoming old hat for rockets. 70 successful launches in a row tells us that. The Ariane 5 can even launch multiple satellites in one mission. But launching the James Webb will be Ariane’s biggest challenge.

The thing about satellites is, they’re actually getting smaller, in many cases. But the JWST is huge, at least in terms of dimensions. The mass of the JWST—6,500 kg (14,300 lb)—is just within the limits of the Ariane 5. The real trick was designing and building the JWST so that it could fit into the cylindrical space atop an Ariane 5, and then “unfold” into its final shape after separation from the rocket.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 3, 2016 at 5:09 pm

[LINK] On the late Soviet project to use mirrors to transform night into day

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Brian Merchant’s “The Man Who Turned Night Into Day”, published at Vice’s Motherboard, examines the nearly successful Soviet project to launch mirrors into Earth orbit to reflect light to nighttime locations.

Employers have always aimed to maximize worker productivity. Today they might exploit the connectivity of email, smartphones, and Slack to extend the reach of the modern workday, big reasons we’re working more and sleeping less. In the 1990s, though, Russian scientists tried it the other way around. They took a different, more dramatic approach to lengthening the day—they launched massive machines into orbit to reflect sunlight down onto the dark side of the Earth.

It’s true: Throughout the early 90s, a team of Russian astronomers and engineers were hellbent on literally turning night into day. By shining a giant mirror onto the earth from space, they figured they could bring sunlight to the depths of night, extending the workday, cutting back on lighting costs and allowing laborers to toil longer. If this sounds a bit like the plot of a Bond film, well, it’s that too.

The difference is that for a second there, the scientists, led by Vladimir Sergeevich Syromyatnikov, one of the most important astronautical engineers in history, actually pulled it off.

A bright young engineer in the USSR, Vladimir Syromyatnikov graduated from a technical university in Moscow in the 1956. At the age of 23, he earned a position in Russia’s elite space and rocket design program, then called the Special Design Bureau Number 1 of Research and Development Institute Number 88 (this was Soviet Russia, recall), and later known as Energia.

[. . . B]y the late 1980s, what Syromyatnikov really wanted to do was to design a solar sail that could harness the power of the sun to propel a spacecraft through the galaxy—one that could also, say, reflect sunlight back to Earth during the dead of night.

His statesmen, however, saw a unique way to maximize labor efficiency. Throughout the Soviet era, Russian scientists were obsessed with finding ways to increase the productivity of farmlands and workers in Russia’s northern regions, where days would grow very long in the summer and extremely short in the winter. In 1988, Syromyatnikov seized on the idea of daylight extension, apparently as a pitch to get backers to support his solar sails. He retooled the focus of his design to function as a space mirror, and founded the Space Regatta Consortium.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 30, 2016 at 7:18 pm

[LINK] On the meaning of the Challenger disaster for manned spaceflight

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One theme I’ve seen in the blogosphere reacting to the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster is speculation that this event, by being so public, diminish faith in human spaceflight. This was discussed briefly at Lawyers, Guns and Money, and at greater length in Ryan Faith’s Vice article “How the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Changed America’s Romance With Space”.

[I]n the early years of the Shuttle, a lot of folks really wanted to believe that NASA would solve the problems and make the spacecraft perform as promised if it were just given enough time and resources to do so.

NASA tried so very, very hard to live up to those hopes and aspirations, launching Shuttles as fast as it could manage — nine Shuttle missions in the year before the Challenger disaster, in fact. At the time, all kinds of civilians had blasted off: payload specialists (industrial astronauts!), military payload specialists, and congressmen. A second shuttle launch site was under construction in California to allow the shuttle to orbit the planet from pole to pole, rather than around the equator. Interplanetary robotic missions launched from the Shuttle’s cargo bay were in the offing, and NASA was developing a potentially booming satellite repair business.

The Teacher in Space program, announced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, was another major step. The idea was for a teacher to be selected from among thousands of applicants to fly on the Challenger and deliver two 15-minute teaching lessons from space. Kids across the US spent weeks prepping for this big national moment in science education. Christa McAuliffe, who taught social studies at a high school in New Hampshire, could have been anyone’s teacher.

Meanwhile, the public was left to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the average person might be able to get themselves to space within a couple decades.

The morning of the launch, some 17 percent of the US viewing audience watched the launch live as all those idle notions and distant fantasies about an optimistic future in space were blown across the Florida sky and killed just as surely as Christa McAuliffe, the five NASA astronauts, and two payload specialists had been. Here was an individual who had been celebrated and touted as a normal, everyday kind of person, and she’d died a tragic death on national TV for audaciously embodying the idea that anyone could go to space.

Subsequent polling and opinion surveys showed that the percentage of the US public that followed the Challenger disaster “very closely” or “closely” was pretty much on par with the public reaction to 9/11.

This is a provocative speculation, but I’m not altogether sure if this is correct. Thoughts?

Written by Randy McDonald

January 29, 2016 at 3:13 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster

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Today, as I’ve been reminded for this week, marks the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster in 1986.

I do not remember where I was when the explosion occurred. I was only six, at at school in a country uninvolved in the launch of the Challenger. I learned of the disaster and its causes at a somewhat more mature age, perhaps in the context of the scandal erupting when it turned out the space shuttle was launched prematurely in very adverse weather conditions for no good reasons.

Is it because of Challenger that my generation learned not to indulge in the dreams of regular and inexpensive space travel, in the Challenger as a functioning space bus? Did Challenger underline the extent to which bureaucracies invested in the public’s trust are willing to compromise basic elements of safety in order to look good? Maybe. Richard Feynman’s famous O-Ring demonstration remains as damning of the actions of everyone involved as ever.

I would have to say that, when I think of the Challenger disaster now, I think of it less as a specific proof or disproof of anything, and more as a background element of disaster. Reading Carole Maso‘s The Art Lover, where the protagonist sees the explosion live on television even as she learns that her best friend is hospitalized with AIDS, that televised scene of disaster was an effective punctum. Much more recently, as I noted in January 2014, the use of a vocal sample from that broadcast in Beyonce’s “XO” was effective in underlining the potential for catastrophe that can lie underneath everything, ready to bring us to ruin if we do not take care.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • blogTO lists ten signs someone grew up in pre-amalgamation Toronto.
  • Centauri Dreams and D-Brief both react to Planet Nine.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes the new Russian manned capsule will be called Federation.
  • Joe. My. God. notes an Italian parliamentarian hijacked a civil union bill by adding a new bill that would imprison gay couples who used surrogate mothers.
  • Language Log suggests again that the complexity of the Chinese writing system hinders the acceptance of Chinese as a global language.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes precedents suggesting black Americans could not get away with the Malheur occupation.
  • The Map Room Blog shares an evocative map of Boston as a collection of insular–literally insular–neighbourhoods.
  • Towleroad notes gay porn star Colby Kelly is now a Vivienne Westwood model.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Chechnya’s Kadyrov is sounding increasingly unhinged and warns Belarus is now coming under attack in Russia.
  • The Financial Times‘s The World notes the implications of Moldovan instability for the European Union.

[LINK] “The Pioneer Plaque: Science as a Universal Language”

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At the Planetary Society Blog, Jake Rosenthal writes about the importance of the Pioneer Plaque, as the first intentional message of humanity to extraterrestrial intelligences.

The Pioneer Plaque is a physical, symbolic message affixed to the exterior of the Pioneer 10 spacecraft. At the core of this message is a fundamental concept that establishes a standard of distance and time, which, thereafter, is employed by the other components of the plaque. The design team postulated that hydrogen, being the most abundant element in the cosmos, would be one of the first elements to be studied by a civilization. With this in mind, they inscribed two hydrogen atoms at the top left of the plaque, each in a different energy state. When atoms of hydrogen change from one energy state to another—a process called the hyperfine transition—electromagnetic radiation is released. It is this wave that harbors the standard of measure used throughout the illustrations on the plaque. The wavelength (approximately 21 centimeters) serves as a spatial measurement, and the period (approximately .7 nanoseconds) serves as a measurement of time. The final detail of this schematic is a small tick between the atoms of hydrogen, assigning these values of distance and time to the binary number 1.

The most prominent figures on the plaque are those of two adult humans: a man and woman. The man bends his arm and displays an open palm—an international greeting, but one that, admittedly, may be meaningless to an extraterrestrial civilization. The woman hangs her arms by her sides and stands with her weight shifted rearward as to dispel any misunderstandings regarding a fixed body and limb position; we are mobile and flexible. Beside the illustrations of the humans is the binary number 8, inscribed between two ticks, indicating the height the woman. The civilization could then conclude that the woman is 8 units tall, the unit being the wavelength (21 centimeters) described by the hyperfine transition key; thus, the woman is 8 times 21 centimeters, or about 5.5 feet tall.

At the heart of the plaque is an array of lines and dashes—a cosmic address on the interstellar letter. In the center is our home star; the radial spokes signify the relative distances and directions to pulsars—rapidly rotating neutron stars that emit electromagnetic radiation at regular intervals. Accompanying each line is the period of the respective pulsar—once again, in binary. Not only does this map communicate position, but time as well—an epoch in the lifetime of the universe during which the message was sent. The rate of electromagnetic bursts from pulsars changes over time; thus, the period of the pulsars denoted on the plaque serves as a timestamp. It is presumed that a civilization that has developed radio astronomy will have the capability to comprehend the nature of pulsars. Given the information presented in the pulsar map, it is feasible that such a civilization could date back the message and triangulate our position. As further confirmation of our locale, our solar system’s planets (nine at the time) are depicted in the bottom margin of the plaque with their respective distances to the sun in binary. Supposedly, in the history of the Milky Way, only one star has ever fit the characteristics displayed on the plaque.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 21, 2016 at 3:19 pm

[OBSCURA] “Behold! The First Zinnia to Bloom in Space”

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D-Brief’s Carl Engelking shared this beautiful image, originating from the Twitter account of astronaut Scott Kelly.

For people on solid ground back in the United States, spring is nothing more than pinprick of light at the end of a long, cold tunnel we call winter. But aboard the International Space Station, by all appearances, spring has sprung.

Marathon U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly over the weekend tweeted images of the first flower to grow from a seed and subsequently bloom in space. The 13-petaled orange zinnia brought a little color to the otherwise aesthetically sterile surroundings on the ISS, and it was the first flower to show its glory in zero gravity.

That’s one small step for Heliantheae, one giant leap for Plantae.

The path to orange splendor on the ISS wasn’t easy, and that’s what NASA scientists wanted. In May 2014, the Veggie plant growth facility was installed on the ISS, and crew members planted red romaine lettuce as the initial crop. The first crop wasn’t very successful, due to drought and stress. But the second crop — benefiting from insights gleaned from the first — yielded an edible harvest that crew members dined on.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 20, 2016 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Photo, Toronto

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