Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Rosetta Probe: The Little Spacecraft That Could?

Launched from earth over a decade ago to rendezvous with a comet more than half a billion miles away from earth, is the Rosetta Probe the little robotic spacecraft that could? 

By: Ringo Bones 

When it was launched off the Arianne spaceport in French Guiana back in March 2, 2004, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Probe with a mission to rendezvous with a comet more 10 years later could for all intents and purposes pass muster as a mission to the unknown. The craft was placed in a decade long hibernation once it escaped the bonds of earth’s gravity and was reactivated earlier this year. It gained headline news status and attention of the major news networks when it successfully caught up to and orbited around Comet 67P during the middle of November 2014. Although once it – more or less – successfully landed the Philae Lander on the surface of Comet 67P -  also known as Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko - back in November 15, 2014 did the Rosetta Space Probe became the little spacecraft that could?

The major unavoidable hazard of launching space-probes on long-duration space missions is that when they arrive at their destinations, they will inevitably be using what was the state-of-the-art technology at the time of their launch date. The Rosetta Probe’s 4-megapixel Osiris camera – although very state-of-the-art back when it was designed and built back in 2003 – is somewhat quaint by comparison to the built in cameras used on entry level mobile smart-phone cameras circa 2014, except the Rosetta Probe’s mere 4-megapixel camera – though lacking in resolution in comparison to contemporary consumer counterparts – can see portions of the electromagnetic spectrum that the latest i-Phone can’t with quantum efficiencies better than Ronald Reagan era Keyhole reconnaissance satellites. 

Although it was the Philae Lander that eventually became the star of the show when it successfully landed on the surface of Comet 67P despite a “shaky” bouncy landing due to the failure of deployment of the beryllium-copper harpoons supposedly used to anchor the Lander on the surface of the comet because the gravitational pull on the surface of Comet 67P is 100,000 times less than that on the earth’s surface. The washing machine sized Philae Lander – which weighs 100-kilograms on the earth’s surface – only weighs 1 gram on the surface of Comet 67P thus the necessity of the beryllium-copper harpoons needed to anchor the Lander firmly on the comet’s surface. 

Even though Professor Derrick Pitts – chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute – was concerned when the Philae Lander bounced off into a dark part / shadowy cliff of the surface of the Comet 67P which it can’t use its solar photovoltaic panels to power its instruments in analyzing the composition of the comet, the Lander had enough juice in its on-board reserve batteries to do a series of scientific analysis of the comet and sent the valuable data back to earth before losing power and reverting to sleep mode. Preliminary analysis of the data sent by the Philae Lander has shown that it has detected a wealth of organic compounds on the comet’s surface near the landing zone. It is also worth noting that the distance between Comet67P / Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the radio signals from the Philae Lander - even when moving at 186,000 miles per second or 300,000 kilometers per second - takes almost an hour to arrive to satellite telemetry sites tuned in to the Philae Lander here on earth.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two Crash: A Blow To Space Tourism?

Even though it is still beyond the reach of the average working class consumers, does the recent crash of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two represent a blow to “affordable” space tourism?

By: Ringo Bones 

It was supposedly a routine test flight aimed to make space tourism closer to the masses but in ended in tragedy when in October 31, 2014 a Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two space tourism craft suffered a catastrophic failure after it separated from its mother ship White Knight Two and crashed moments later into the Mojave Desert below. Even though the crash is under further investigation to determine the cause of the tragedy according to Stuart Witt CEO of Mojave Spaceport, witnesses on the ground says that the craft appeared to be in pieces before it crashed to the floor of the Mojave Desert. One pilot was killed while the co-pilot is seriously injured. Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson flew immediately to the crash site as soon as he heard the tragic news. Will the recent disaster represent a giant step back to “affordable” space tourism? 

Compared to the US government run NASA, private space travel and space tourism companies like Virgin with its Virgin Galactic space tourism program seems to be able to make viable space travel programs at a far lesser cost than government run counterparts. SpaceShip Two costs “only” 500 million US dollars to develop – a bargain compared to comparable spending made by similar NASA projects. While the Spaceship Two is slated to bring the first batch of space tourist to their “suborbital” destinations by 2015, there are 700 customers who already paid the ticket price of 250,000 US dollars already lining up for the experience including celebrities like Hollywood actor Tom Hanks and song-and-dance man Justin Beiber and also Lady Gaga and Katy Perry . 

By their very nature, our current spacecraft technology is inherently dangerous in their operation because they operate under the extremes of temperature and pressure. Like cryogenic fuels and oxidizers only tens of degrees above absolute zero fueling a rocket engine that runs at a temperature hot enough to vaporize steel. Not to mention reentry temperatures comparable to that of free-flowing magma. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Paper Made Space Vehicles: The Future of Space Exploration?

It might sound like an over-wrought April Fool’s Joke but aerospace engineers in Japan has already considering for a few years now the viability of paper made space vehicles – will it be the future of space exploration? 

By: Ringo Bones 

University of Tokyo aerospace engineer Shinji Suzuki has been “toying” with the idea of an origami paper airplane as a reentry vehicle for a number of years already. The concept was originally envisioned by Takuo Toda, president of the Origami Paper Airplane Association of Japan who asked Suzuki a few years ago to study the possibility of a paper airplane reentering the Earth’s atmosphere from orbital space. 

At first many aerospace engineers thought that a paper airplane would certainly burn up as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere from Earth’s orbit says Suzuki. Objects returning from space begin their atmospheric reentry at speeds of Mach 20. By the time a typical space vehicle – like NASA’s Space Shuttle or the Russian Soyuz Reentry Vehicle – drops to an altitude of 37 miles, temperatures of the crafts’ leading edges can reach as high as 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit. But a much lighter paper-made aerodynamically shaped reentry vehicle can be made to slow down to Mach 6 earlier in its descent maneuver at altitudes of 62 miles up or so where the air is much thinner. As a result, aerodynamic heating would be much reduced to a degree much cooler than that experienced by the NASA’s Space Shuttle. 

Suzuki knew a method / technique developed by a small Japanese company to coat paper with a kind of glass that would increase its heat resistance while still allowing it to be folded easily. Nature is also providing clues that paper-made reentry vehicles might be a viable concept. Some number of meteorites rich in organic compounds – like the Ivuna and Orgveil Meteorites - managed to land on the Earth’s surface with their “delicate cargo” intact given that some of these amino-acid compounds can be destroyed above the boiling point of water – i.e. 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

The US Republican Party: Bad Luck For America's Manned Space Exploration?

Even though it may be just an “unfortunate coincidence”, but have you notice that most American manned space exploration accidents happen during a US Republican Party administration? 

By: Ringo Bones 

It may be just an “unfortunate coincidence” from the perspective of any rational observers but have you noticed that an overwhelming number of misfortunes and tragedies of NASA’s major manned space exploration missions – and even their big-buck billion dollar unmanned space missions – tend to occur during a US Republican Party administration at the White House? Any conspiracy theorist with a “liberal streak” may think it is something else entirely, but ever since the “Space Race” began, it seems that the GOP seems to serve as a bad omen of America’s manned space exploration program. 

NASA’s first major space exploration tragedy – the Apollo 1, also known as Apollo Saturn-204 or “AS-204” fire that happened back in January 27, 1967 is probably the only manned space exploration tragedy that happened while a Democrat was in the White House – i.e. then US President Lyndon B. Johnson. And it seems that after the tragic incident, America’s manned space exploration program had been “good to go” until they became first to send a man to the Moon. 

The “(in)famous” Apollo 13 oxygen tank explosion disaster that happened back in April 13, 1970 that nearly ended in tragedy if not for astronaut Jim Lovell and his fellow astronaut’s heroism happened during a Republican’s watch under then US President Richard M. Nixon. Though it resulted in no loss of life as all astronauts returned safely back to Earth in April 17, 1970 - this incident seems to reinforce the notion that lends some credence that the GOP is a jinx on America’s manned space exploration. And let’s not forget that the “Apollo Moon Landing Conspiracy” that states that the Apollo 11 Moon landing was staged in a movie studio soundstage in Burbank, California was probably the result of a tit-for-tat political battle between America’s liberal and conservative population after the then US President Richard M. Nixon – who belonged to the “conservative” US Republican Party – earned the ire of American liberals of the time after he called the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning “Napalm Girl” photograph as “staged liberal propaganda”. 

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that happened back in January 28, 1986 happened under the watch of the most famous US Republican Party stalwart in recent history in the name of then US President Ronald Reagan. Though it is probably the most expensive single unmanned space program NASA undertook so far, the Hubble Space Telescope misshapen mirror debacle happened under Reagan’s watch when the aerospace / defense contractor who built the Hubble Space Telescope’s main mirror, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, was refused access to the mirror testing rig used to test the main mirrors of the Keyhole reconnaissance satellites and could have saved millions of dollars in American taxpayers’ money if the optical defects of the Hubble’s main mirror was fixed down here on Earth in Lockheed’s clean room – as opposed to those risky EVA missions by astronauts to fix the Hubble Space Telescope that was later done in 1993. 

And let’s not forget the relatively recent Space Shuttle Columbia disaster back in February 1, 2003 where the venerable but aging workhorse of NASA’s manned space exploration program tragically burned up during the reentry as it returned back to Earth. Though US President Barack Obama – a Democrat – has been the current “piƱata” of the US Republican Party due to his decision to retire the aging, expensive to run and now largely unsafe Space Shuttle fleet of NASA, only time will tell if another Republican administration will “jinx” America’s manned space exploration program into a yet dramatic tragedy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Should Astronauts And Cosmonauts Carry Firearms To Space With Them?

Though no space exploration agency officially admits that this is part and parcel of their operational policy but are there “incidental precedents” that necessitating astronauts and cosmonauts to carry firearms with them to space? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Just imagine the Soyuz capsule or any other human astronaut ferrying space exploration vehicle while returning to Earth from the International Space Station suddenly develop problems from their ballistic computer that inadvertently resulted in landing off-course hundreds of miles from their intended landing site and what if said astronauts suddenly find themselves in the middle of a conflict zone or remote wilderness area? Would one ask if they have the appropriate guns with them to defend themselves? Though I’ve been wishing since as far back as 1992 after seeing a somewhat similar scenario on the TV series Seaquest DSV and during 2005 after not seeing such scenarios featured in various “War on Terror” era action TV series such as The Unit, 24 or The E-Ring to pitch such a military operation scenario to rescue stranded astronauts held hostage on the Taliban controlled parts of Helmand Province in Afghanistan or North Korea. Even though not a single NASA director or the top brass at the current Russian Space Program both officially and openly discuss on allowing astronauts and cosmonauts the requisite firearms with them to space but should astronauts and cosmonauts carry appropriate firearms and other weapons systems in order to defend themselves whenever they got “stranded” in a hostile environment here on Earth and not just in case they meet hostile green or gray-skinned extra-terrestrial biological beings? 

The April 2008 Soyuz Space Capsule landing hundreds of miles off-course incident, though fortunately not in a hostile warzone or into a very remote Siberian wilderness may have saved mission commander PeggyWhitson and team from contemplating such a somewhat “unthinkable” scenario but back in 2010, someone managed to leak on the internet that carrying firearms with them to space has been part and parcel with Soviet-era cosmonauts since the early years of the “Space Race”. Since 1965, Soviet era Russian cosmonauts began carrying compact version shotguns with them on their space missions after a few months before a Soyuz capsule returning from Earth orbit landed hundreds of miles off-course from its intended landing spot in Kazakhstan and instead landed in a very remote spot in Northern Siberia. It took the then Soviet Air Force 3 days to reach the stranded cosmonauts and for a few nights only used the onboard flare guns to defend them from an incident involving being attacked by wolves. 

Some of today’s kids often quip the most often quoted answer that these astronauts are “non-combatants” and “are protected under international law” unbeknown to these kids who probably never been in a camping trip never mind part of their local Boy Scouts that “existing international laws and treaties” can never prevent astronauts, offshore oil rig workers, freight ship crew, etc. from having their heads cleanly blown off from a 666-Grain .50 caliber bullet travelling at 3,000-feet-per-second or being killed by wild animals like bears and wolves – never mind held for ransom for millions of dollars. With existing precedents and events, don’t be alarmed if NASA astronauts began to be seen with the same firearms being carried by NASA security personnel – like the Knights Armament Company’s Personal Defense Weapon / PDW with them whenever they go to and return from the International Space Station.