SpaceJibe

December 8, 2014

America, Welcome Back to the Space Race

Filed under: Cool, Earth, Government Policies, Space Ships — bferrari @ 1:11 pm

On December 5th, NASA’s Orion capsule successfully lifted off from its platform at Cape Canaveral in Florida, reaching a max altitude of 3,600 miles in outer space. During the four-and-a-half hour test flight, it entered the Van Allen radiation belt, orbited the planet, survived its fiery re-entry into our atmosphere and dove into the Pacific Ocean to be retrieved by the Navy. Below, you can see images that represent each stage of the spacecraft’s flight, from launch to splashdown.

November 16, 2014

First comet drilling ever confirmed: 100% successful mission, says ESA

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 8:24 pm

Against all odds, Philae has confirmed that the first ever drilling of a comet has happened! ESA has received telemetry data indicating that the drill worked. They also managed to send ALL data before going into sleep mode. What is Philae going to find? Perhaps the building blocks of life?

November 12, 2014

TOUCHDOWN ! Rosetta’s Philae Probe Touches Down on a Comet !

Filed under: Comets, Gadgets, Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud — bferrari @ 2:25 pm
Farewell Philae - narrow-angle view

Farewell Philae – narrow-angle view

ESA’s Rosetta mission has soft-landed its Philae probe on a comet, the first time in history that such an extraordinary feat has been achieved.

After a tense wait during the seven-hour descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the signal confirming the successful touchdown arrived on Earth at 16:03 GMT (17:03 CET).

The confirmation was relayed via the Rosetta orbiter to Earth and picked up simultaneously by ESA’s ground station in Malargüe, Argentina and NASA’s station in Madrid, Spain. The signal was immediately confirmed at ESA’s Space Operations Centre, ESOC, in Darmstadt, and DLR’s Lander Control Centre in Cologne, both in Germany.

The first data from the lander’s instruments were transmitted to the Philae Science, Operations and Navigation Centre at France’s CNES space agency in Toulouse.

“Our ambitious Rosetta mission has secured a place in the history books: not only is it the first to rendezvous with and orbit a comet, but it is now also the first to deliver a lander to a comet’s surface,” noted Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.

“With Rosetta we are opening a door to the origin of planet Earth and fostering a better understanding of our future. ESA and its Rosetta mission partners have achieved something extraordinary today.”

“After more than 10 years travelling through space, we’re now making the best ever scientific analysis of one of the oldest remnants of our Solar System,” said Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

“Decades of preparation have paved the way for today’s success, ensuring that Rosetta continues to be a game-changer in cometary science and space exploration.”

“We are extremely relieved to be safely on the surface of the comet, especially given the extra challenges that we faced with the health of the lander,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center.

“In the next hours we’ll learn exactly where and how we’ve landed, and we’ll start getting as much science as we can from the surface of this fascinating world.”

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 and travelled 6.4 billion kilometres through the Solar System before arriving at the comet on 6 August 2014.

Philae touchdown

Philae touchdown

“Rosetta’s journey has been a continuous operational challenge, requiring an innovative approach, precision and long experience,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.

“This success is testimony to the outstanding teamwork and the unique know how in operating spacecraft acquired at the European Space Agency over the decades.”

The landing site, named Agilkia and located on the head of the bizarre double-lobed object, was chosen just six weeks after arrival based on images and data collected at distances of 30–100 km from the comet. Those first images soon revealed the comet as a world littered with boulders, towering cliffs and daunting precipices and pits, with jets of gas and dust streaming from the surface.

Following a period spent at 10 km to allow further close-up study of the chosen landing site, Rosetta moved onto a more distant trajectory to prepare for Philae’s deployment.

Five critical go/no-go decisions were made last night and early this morning, confirming different stages of readiness ahead of separation, along with a final preseparation manoeuvre by the orbiter.

Deployment was confirmed at 09:03 GMT (10:03 CET) at a distance of 22.5km from the centre of the comet. During the seven-hour descent, which was made without propulsion or guidance, Philae took images and recorded information about the comet’s environment.

“One of the greatest uncertainties associated with the delivery of the lander was the position of Rosetta at the time of deployment, which was influenced by the activity of the comet at that specific moment, and which in turn could also have affected the lander’s descent trajectory,” said Sylvain Lodiot, ESA Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager.

“Furthermore, we’re performing these operations in an environment that we’ve only just started learning about, 510 million kilometres from Earth.”

Touchdown was planned to take place at a speed of around 1 m/s, with the three-legged landing gear absorbing the impact to prevent rebound, and an ice screw in each foot driving into the surface.

But during the final health checks of the lander before separation, a problem was detected with the small thruster on top that was designed to counteract the recoil of the harpoons to push the lander down onto the surface. The conditions of landing – including whether or not the thruster performed – along with the exact location of Philae on the comet are being analysed.

The first images from the surface are being downlinked to Earth and should be available within a few hours of touchdown.

Over the next 2.5 days, the lander will conduct its primary science mission, assuming that its main battery remains in good health. An extended science phase using the rechargeable secondary battery may be possible, assuming Sun illumination conditions allow and dust settling on the solar panels does not prevent it. This extended phase could last until March 2015, after which conditions inside the lander are expected to be too hot for it to continue operating.

Science highlights from the primary phase will include a full panoramic view of the landing site, including a section in 3D, high-resolution images of the surface immediately underneath the lander, on-the-spot analysis of the composition of the comet’s surface materials, and a drill that will take samples from a depth of 23 cm and feed them to an onboard laboratory for analysis.

The lander will also measure the electrical and mechanical characteristics of the surface. In addition, low-frequency radio signals will be beamed between Philae and the orbiter through the nucleus to probe the internal structure.

The detailed surface measurements that Philae makes at its landing site will complement and calibrate the extensive remote observations made by the orbiter covering the whole comet.

“Rosetta is trying to answer the very big questions about the history of our Solar System. What were the conditions like at its infancy and how did it evolve? What role did comets play in this evolution? How do comets work?” said Matt Taylor, ESA Rosetta project scientist.

“Today’s successful landing is undoubtedly the cherry on the icing of a 4 km-wide cake, but we’re also looking further ahead and onto the next stage of this ground-breaking mission, as we continue to follow the comet around the Sun for 13 months, watching as its activity changes and its surface evolves.”

While Philae begins its close-up study of the comet, Rosetta must manoeuvre from its post-separation path back into an orbit around the comet, eventually returning to a 20 km orbit on 6 December.

Next year, as the comet grows more active, Rosetta will need to step further back and fly unbound ‘orbits’, but dipping in briefly with daring flybys, some of which will bring it within just 8 km of the comet centre.

The comet will reach its closest distance to the Sun on 13 August 2015 at about 185 million km, roughly between the orbits of Earth and Mars. Rosetta will follow it throughout the remainder of 2015, as they head away from the Sun and activity begins to subside.

“It’s been an extremely long and hard journey to reach today’s once-in-a-lifetime event, but it was absolutely worthwhile. We look forward to the continued success of the great scientific endeavour that is the Rosetta mission as it promises to revolutionise our understanding of comets,” said Fred Jansen, ESA Rosetta mission manager.

November 11, 2014

Risky comet landing by European probe will be ‘7 hours of terror’

Filed under: Comets, Cool, Gadgets — bferrari @ 1:28 pm
The Rosetta mission's view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Nov. 6, 2014. Rosetta's Philae lander will attempt to land on the comet on Nov. 12, 2014. (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

The Rosetta mission’s view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Nov. 6, 2014. Rosetta’s Philae lander will attempt to land on the comet on Nov. 12, 2014. (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Landing a probe on a comet whizzing through deep space isn’t easy, but this week, the European Space Agency (ESA) will attempt to do just that. If successful, it will be the first time a probe has landed on the surface of a comet.

The comet, which is about 2.5 miles wide, travels at speeds up to 84,000 miles per hour.

Officials working with ESA’s Rosetta mission are planning to land the robotic Philae probe on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s surface Nov. 12. You can track Philae’s historic progress in live webcasts from ESA and NASA starting Nov. 11 and throughout the day Wednesday. Officials on Earth should know if the landing went well by 11:02 a.m. EST on Nov. 12.

The landing is a risky operation.

Detailed mapping of Comet 67P/C-G only began in August, when Rosetta arrived carrying Philae. The comet’s surface is strewn with boulders and cracks, and Philae’s landing system has no way to maneuver at the last minute. [See amazing images from the Rosetta mission]

It will take about 7 hours for scientists on Earth to find out if Philae’s trip to the surface was successful. A NASA video has even dubbed that block of time “7 hours of terror,” an homage to the NASA Curiosity rover’s “7 minutes of terror” video that described the Mars rover’s landing sequence.

“This comet is very, very rough,” Andreas Accomazzo, Rosetta operations manager at the European Space Agency, said in a Google+ Hangout Friday (Nov. 7). “But this is what we have, and this is what we are trying to do. We have to be a bit lucky as well.”

First Comet Landing

If Philae’s landing is successful, it will crown Rosetta’s decade-long journey in space. The mission is doing the first orbit of a comet right now. Rosetta has already become the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, and if Philae safely touches down on Comet 67P/C-G, the lander will be the first to make a soft landing on a comet.

A comet is a tough environment. The gravity is so low that Philae will need to deploy a harpoon into the surface in order to stay put on Comet 67P/C-G. During landing, the spacecraft will face a dusty environment — not to mention, rocks on the surface. Success will also largely depend on how well the probe’s hardware and software perform during those final few hours on the way down.

Rosetta planners will spend Nov. 10 and Tuesday looking at the landing orbit and preparing the parent spacecraft to release Philae. One of the busiest times will be late Tuesday night, when controllers have only 4 hours to send commands to Philae and make sure it’s ready to go. [See more news about the Rosetta mission]

“We have 4 hours to put them together, check to verify they are consistent, uplink to the spacecraft … and double-check they are OK to the spacecraft,” Accomazzo said. “It’s a pretty dense set of activities we have to do.”

The plan then calls for Rosetta to release Philae Wednesday at 3:35 a.m. EST. (ESA officials on the ground will find out if the release was successful 28 minutes and 20 seconds later, once the signal reaches Earth.)

The spacecraft is too far away for controllers to do anything but hold their collective breath as the probe makes its descent. ESA mission controllers should acquire a signal from Philae during its descent at about 5:53 a.m. EST. Once that signal is established, Rosetta can start beaming back science information gathered by Philae on its way down to the comet’s surface.

And by about 11 a.m. EST, scientists should know if Philae reached the surface.

Rosetta will also need to make several maneuvers to stay in touch with Philae during its descent, landing and post-landing activities. ESA added that both Rosetta and Philae appear to be in good shape to date, so they are planning for the best.

Not all science would die with Philae

Even if Philae doesn’t successfully land, ESA anticipates that only 20 percent of the scientific findings expected to be gathered from the Rosetta mission would be lost. The remaining science would come from the orbital mission, which is projected to remain active until at least December 2015 — five months past Comet 67P/C-G’s closest approach to the sun.

Philae’s potential landing would make it the seventh location in which spacecraft have touched down outside Earth. The other bodies visited include Venus, the moon, Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan, and asteroids 433 Eros and Itokawa.

“It’s a very, very risky business, but it’s a business in which we have invested a lot of know-how — a lot of technical know-how, a lot of scientific know-how and a lot of cooperation,” Jocelyne Landeau-Constantin, head of European Space Operations Centre communications, said in the same webcast.

“Sometimes, we wake up and wonder if this dream is going to be true,” she added. “Sometimes, we know it can go wrong. But we are ready for every option, and are still very confident we can make it.”

Source

November 7, 2014

Scientists discover 64P comet stinks and has dunes just like Earth

Filed under: Comets, Gadgets — bferrari @ 12:41 pm

The spacecraft Rosetta keeps surprising everyone with amazing new photos taken in pursuit of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken just 7.4 kilometers from its surface. These images reveal dunes just like those you can find on Earth. Scientists have also found that it really stinks.

According to principal investigator for ROSINA, the instrument that is analyzing its composition, it really stinks:

The perfume of 67P/C-G is quite strong, with the odour of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulphide), horse stable (ammonia), and the pungent, suffocating odour of formaldehyde. This is mixed with the faint, bitter, almond-like aroma of hydrogen cyanide. Add some whiff of alcohol (methanol) to this mixture, paired with the vinegar-like aroma of sulphur dioxide and a hint of the sweet aromatic scent of carbon disulphide, and you arrive at the ‘perfume’ of our comet.

Really disgusting odor.

Sand Dunes on a Comet !

Sand Dunes on a Comet !

As for the dunes, one of the commenters at the ESA site has a good analysis:

I think I’ve decided they are deposited by the gas plumes from the surrounding cliffs firing across the already Laktritz covered floor of the “crater” Logan. Just as the mounds and dunes near cliff edges are created. No need to find a different “agent”. The gas plumes don’t have to go straight up do they.

I spotted this some time ago at the base of a cliff in the neck area. The demarcation between exposed subsurface and dust blanket, is really sharp. Now we can see why and how. The rubble strewn area to the right of image 4, the surface blanket looks like snow melting, all patchy, where thicker drifts and mounds take longer to melt. These dust mounds must be where all the dust has been “blown” and collected into quiet zones, so these little pockets take longer to be dispersed.

The chimneys I think are the “smoking guns” for the body penetrating impacts we discussed. The molten ice stuff coming out would build a wall as it immediately freezes on reaching the surface. Frozen and semi frozen ice would slowly fall back down. By the time it reaches the surface the comet has rotated so one side of the caldera has a lot more ice deposited on it. The liquid in the caldera will soon level and freeze once the gas pressure is released and the “ice lava” tube becomes blocked. This core and crater floor will have far fewer volatile ices and gases in it making it a lot less active than the surrounding surface, hence the build up of Laktritz. As the higher side of the icy crater rim takes longer to erode we are left with lots of semicircular cliffs beside flat areas.

The overturned cups are more recent eruptions where less of the crater rim has eroded. The huge flat Star Wars Landing Zone near site C. Is perched on top of huge steep cliffs, the wall of frozen ices that built up as the cryovolcano was erupting. Then we see the partially eroded rim as the cliffs round the flat area. The little cup volcanos show that an overhang actually builds up on the taller side of the rim, so this overhang eventually collapses into the crater, hence the pile of rubble only on one side of the crater. Something that is seen in nearly all the craters.

If the refrozen ices form an amorphous solid like glass, as lava does to make basalt on Earth, we get the smooth solid material full of cracks and fissures we s most commonly on the tops of the lobes. A different composition and slower flow rate would give lumpy, rubble “ice lava, (top left Image 2).. Ices with more gases in them would give a more pumice type material when it freezes, full of holes and tunnels, (Philae landing site image). A different composite of more dense volatile ices give a material like “pillow lava”, which can also be seen in image 2 as the flat topped bulges top middle.

How far this analogy can be used in actuality, I have no idea. No one else does either, since no one has seen cryovolcanism up close before, only on flyby pictures from thousands of Kilometres away. The laws of physics don’t change and the behaviour of molten fluids on freezing is a pretty well understood phenomenon. The low gravity is the big difference, though it seems to make little difference on the Moon and Mars.

Of course, that’s just speculation at this point, but it’s a fascinating idea.

Source

October 31, 2014

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashes, at least one pilot killed

Filed under: Gadgets, Government Policies — bferrari @ 5:01 pm

Space Ship 2

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket crashed during a test flight over the Mojave Desert Friday, killing at least one of the two pilots aboard and seriously injuring the other.

The company tweeted  that SpaceShipTwo was flying under rocket power and then tweeted that it had “experienced an in-flight anomaly.”

“During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo,” Virgin Galactic tweeted, adding the mothership landed safely.

The California Highway Patrol reported one fatality and one major injury.  SpaceShipTwo is typically flown by two pilots.

Authorities said that the aircraft’s co-pilot was killed in the crash, while the pilot, who ejected, was injured, according to Reuters. Citing Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt, Reuters reported that the pilot was found at the scene and taken to a local hospital.

Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the crash, said the space tourism craft exploded after it was released from WhiteKnightTwo, the ‘mothership’ plane that carries it to a high altitude.

“I could see that it was tumbling, and it wasn’t one piece,” Brown told Fox News’s Shepard Smith.

Parachutes were reportedly seen in the air, according to SpaceFlightNow.com, which said that the “anomaly” apparently occurred after the plane fired its rocket motor following a high-altitude drop from WhiteKnightTwo.

Virgin Galactic tweeted that its partner Scaled Composites conducted the powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo.

“We will work closely with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates ASAP,” the company also tweeted. Virgin Galactic will hold a press conference at 5 p.m. ET.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson is on his way to the test site. “Thoughts with all @virgingalactic & Scaled, thanks for all your messages of support. I’m flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team,” he tweeted.

Friday’s flight marked the 55th for the spaceship, which was intended to be the first of a line of craft that would open space to paying civilians. At 60 feet long, SpaceShipTwo features two large windows for each of up to six passengers, one on the side and one overhead.

Virgin Galactic – owned by Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS of Abu Dhabi – sells seats on each prospective journey for $250,000, with full payment due at the time of booking. The company says that “future astronauts,” as it calls customers, have visited Branson’s Caribbean home, Necker Island, and gone through G-force training.

Stephen Hawking, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand are among the celebrities to sign up for flights. Virgin Galactic reports taking deposits totaling more than $80 million from about 700 people.

A related venture, The Spaceship Co., is responsible for building Virgin Galactic’s space vehicles.

During testing for the development of a rocket motor for SpaceShipTwo in July 2007, an explosion at the Mojave spaceport killed three workers and critically injured three others. A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health report said the blast occurred three seconds after the start of a cold-flow test of nitrous oxide – commonly known as laughing gas – which is used in the propulsion system of SpaceShipTwo. The engine was not firing during that test.

Virgin Galactic did not immediately respond to a request for comment from FoxNews.com.

Source

October 29, 2014

Religion vs Science.. but does it have to be that way ?

Filed under: Big Bang, Cool, Cosmology, Life — bferrari @ 8:57 am

Think of this comparison when you read the following article.

Dark Energy:
A mysterious quantity that makes up nearly three-fourths of the universe, yet scientists are unsure not only what it is but how it operates. How, then, can they know this strange source exists?

GOD:
A mysterious quantity that makes up nearly three-fourths of the universe, yet scientists are unsure not only what it is but how it operates. How, then, can they know this strange source exists?

I don’t know … could go either way…. just sayin.

Francis believes evolution and the Big Bang are compatible with religion, saying God doesn’t have a ‘magic wand.’
On Monday, when Pope Francis addressed prelates and scientists attending a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he yet again challenged all we’ve come to expect a pope to say.

Instead of asking those at the meeting to consider God as the supreme creator, he asked them to consider God as a sort of supreme helper.  While he stopped short of endorsing the Big Bang theory as the definitive origin of the universe, he did say that science and scripture have a lot in common and believing one does not mean forsaking the other.

“When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining God as a magician, with a magic wand able to make everything,” Francis said.  “But it is not so.”

How’s that again? “The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it,” Francis said. “The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of Creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is holding a three-day workshop in Rome with Nobel Prize-winning scholars and high ranking bishops to discussEvolving Concepts of Nature in order to produce a document to better guide Catholic scientists and teachers as they reconcile science and scripture.

The notion that God is responsible for creating the humans who developed the science behind evolution is a small step into a brave new world for Catholics, who excommunicated Galileo in the 17th century for anti-Church teaching, including his notion that the earth revolves around the sun.  Galileo eventually was forgiven, some 400 years later, and given a post-mortem pardon in 2008, but the Church has always remained staunch in its belief that God ultimately is responsible for the world we know today.

Traditionally the scientific theory of how the world began is an either/or concept that tends to pit religious believers against atheists with little middle ground to agree on.   Francis instead encouraged scientists at the session to continue their work with the goal not to make science fit into the Church teaching, but to help humankind.  “Science is able to build a world suited to His dual corporal and spiritual life,” Francis said, referring to what he called “the participation of God’s power.”

“The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it.”

Both Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II had softened the Church’s stance on science during their pontificates.  In 1996, John Paul II called the Big Bang theory “more than a hypothesis.”  But in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI seemed to dial back on the acceptance of science in the creation of the universe, when he touched on the issue of evolution at a mass celebrating the Epiphany, the day the Three Wise Men are believed to have followed the Star of Bethlehem to bring gifts to the newborn baby Jesus.

Benedict stuck with the long-standing theory that only God was responsible for a grand design, with little wiggle room for interpretation.  “The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe,” Benedict said.  “Contemplating it, we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God.”

At the Pontifical Academy of Sciences seminar, during which Pope Francis inaugurated a bronze bust of his predecessor Benedict XVI, he instead opened the door to a slightly more intuitive interpretation.

In the Book of Genesis, God gives human beings “freedom,” said Pope Francis, “and he tells man to name everything and to go ahead through history. This makes him responsible for creation, so that he might dominate it in order to develop it until the end of time. Therefore the scientist, and above all the Christian scientist, must adopt the approach of posing questions regarding the future of humanity and of the earth, and, of being free and responsible, helping to prepare it and preserve it, to eliminate risks to the environment of both a natural and human nature.”

In 2013, Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, may have put the basic principle of this approach to religion and learning even more simply. He told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview that there was plenty of middle ground for Catholics and scientists. “If we don’t accept science, we don’t accept reason,” Sánchez said. “And reason was created by God.”

Source

September 22, 2014

NASA confirms ‘impossible’ thruster actually works, could revolutionize space travel

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 11:56 am

“Impossible” microwave engine !

When Roger Shawyer first unveiled his EmDrive thruster back around 2003, the scientific community laughed at him. They said it was impossible, that it was based on a flawed concept, and couldn’t work because it goes against the laws of conservation of momentum. But somehow, despite all of the reasons it shouldn’t work, it does.

Scientists at NASA just confirmed it.

Shawyer’s engine provides thrust by “bouncing microwaves around in a closed chamber.” That’s it. There’s no need for a propellant of any kind like rocket fuel. When filled with resonating microwaves, the conical chamber of the thruster experiences a net thrust toward the wide end. These microwaves can be  generated using electricity, which can be provided by solar energy. In theory, this means that the thruster can work forever, or at least until its hardware fails.

Initially, the idea was met with criticism because it flies in the face of Newtonian physics, which dictate that no closed system can have this kind of net thrust. Shawyer, however, says that net thrust occurs because the microwaves have a group velocity that’s greater in one direction when Einstein’s relativity comes into play. But can it really?

Apparently, yes. The idea was first confirmed by a group of Chinese scientists back in 2009. They built their own version of Shawyer’s thruster and were able to produce 720 milinewtons of force — but even then, nobody really believed it.

Related: NASA offering $35,000 to ‘”citizen scientist” asteroid hunters

Now, American scientists at NASA have given the EmDrive a go, and once again confirmed that it actually works. The test results were presented on July 30 at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, and astonishingly enough, they are positive. The team behind the drive still doesn’t know why it works, just that it does.

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma,” the report reads.

Therefore, we’ve still got a long road ahead of us before we’ve got energy-harvesting, self-propelled intergalactic spacecraft, but these studies (assuming they’re not flawed) suggest we’ve made a major breakthrough in space propulsion systems. With further refinement, microwave thrusters could drastically cut the cost of satellites and space stations, and potentially even make it possible to travel to distant planets, like Mars, in weeks rather than months or years.

Source

September 19, 2014

One Giant Screwup for Mankind

Filed under: Cool, Gadgets, Inner Solar System, Moon — bferrari @ 3:02 pm
Stan Lebar

Stan Lebar

WHEN THE EAGLE LUNAR MODULE TOUCHED DOWN ON JULY 20, 1969, all eyes were on astronaut Neil Armstrong. But Stan Lebar’s ass was on the line.

A young electrical engineer at Westinghouse, Lebar had been tasked with developing a camera that could capture the most memorable moment of the 20th century – the Apollo 11 moon landing. The goal of the mission wasn’t merely to get a man on the moon. It was to send back a live television feed so that everyone could see it – particularly the Soviets, who had initiated the space race in 1957 by launching Sputnik. If the feed failed, Lebar, the designated spokesperson for the video setup, would turn the camera on himself at Mission Control in Houston and apologize to more than half a billion TV viewers. “It was my responsibility,” he says. “I’d have to stand up and take the hit.”

Building a camera that could survive the crushing g forces of liftoff and then function in near-weightlessness on the moon was only part of the challenge for Lebar. The portion of the broadcast spectrum traditionally used for video was sending vital ship data to Earth, and there was no room left for the standard black-and-white video format of the era: 525 scan lines of data at 30 frames per second, transmitted at 4.5 MHz. So Lebar helped devise a smaller “oddball format” – 320 scan lines at 10 fps, transmitted at a meager 500 kHz. Tracking stations back on Earth would take this so-called slow-scan footage, convert it for TV broadcast, and beam it to Mission Control, which would send it out for the world to see.

And that was the easy part. To ensure a direct transmission signal from the moon, NASA had to maintain stations in three continents – two in Australia (the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station near Canberra and the Parkes Radio Observatory surrounded by sheep paddocks west of Sydney); one at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in the Mojave Desert of California; and one at the Madrid Manned Flight Tracking Site in Spain. As Armstrong suited up for his first moonwalk, Dick Nafzger, the 28-year-old coordinator of the tracking stations’ TV operations, was as nervous as Lebar. Nafzger was the guy at Mission Control charged with monitoring ground equipment and the conversion of the slow-scan footage to US broadcast standards. “We were all going to be involved in something of monumental historic importance,” he says.

When Armstrong opened the hatch on the lunar module, stepped out onto the moon, and uttered his famous words about mankind’s giant leap, the tracking stations with a direct line on the Apollo‘s signal were the ones in Australia. The 200-foot-diameter radio dish at the Parkes facility managed to withstand freak 70 mph gusts of wind and successfully captured the footage, which was converted and relayed to Houston. “When the door opened, I knew the camera was working,” Lebar says, “It was pure elation.”

The world watched in awe as Armstrong took his first steps, and the camera engineers at Mission Control started popping the champagne corks. Amid the celebration, though, Lebar scrutinized the video, and his joy vanished. He had known the converted footage wouldn’t be as good as a standard TV signal. But as Armstrong bounded through the Sea of Tranquility, the astronaut looked like a fuzzy gray blob wading through an inkwell. “We knew what that image should look like,” Lebar says, “and what I saw was nothing like what I’d simulated. We looked at each other and said, ‘What happened?'”

With the rush of history upon him, Lebar let the concern pass. “As much as we may have found it disturbing,” he says, “the public didn’t seem to mind. Everyone seemed happy to see the guy on the moon.” Lebar never even saw the raw transmission; only the few tracking-station engineers did. But as they converted the feed for Mission Control and the worldwide audience, they also recorded it onto huge reels of magnetic tape that were promptly sent to NASA to be filed for safekeeping.

Not long ago, Lebar learned why the footage had looked like mush: The transfer and broadcast had degraded the image badly, like a third-generation photocopy. “What the world saw was some bastardized thing,” says Lebar, now 81. “Posterity deserves more than that.” Good thing the engineers in Australia recorded the raw feed. Now Lebar and a crew of seasoned space cowboys are trying to get that original footage and show it to the world.

There is just one problem: NASA has lost the tapes.

EVERY YEAR, NASA buffs and vets of the Apollo 11 mission reunite for a picnic near Canberra at the site of the Honeysuckle Creek station, which was shuttered in 1981. Seventy-year-old Bill Wood, an engineer at Goldstone during the moonwalk, describes the event as “a bunch of old guys in hard hats looking at an antenna while local TV follows us around.” Sometimes, talk turns to the effort to persuade the Australian government to erect a fitting commemorative on the site. But mostly, they just chat and show off old pictures and memorabilia.

During the 2002 reunion, one of the retirees produced a souvenir he had rediscovered in his garage: a 14-inch reel of magnetic tape from the Apollo era. They passed it around, marveling at how big and clunky it was, and then went back to their barbecue. The next year, a couple of Honeysuckle Creek vets showed up with keepsakes even more impressive: still photos they had snapped of the monitors in the station showing the moonwalk. The images displayed the original slow-scan footage, not the version converted for television.

“When we saw them, we realized they were significantly better than what had been seen in Houston,” says Colin Mackellar, a local minister and self-described space nut. He was only 12 during the Apollo 11 mission, but watching it on TV shaped his life. When he’s not tending his flock at Greystanes Anglican Church, he’s updating his Web site, honeysucklecreek.net, a tribute to the tracking station and the radio wonks he idolized.

Wood dug through his files and found an old Polaroid that showed the slow-scan footage as it appeared on a monitor at Goldstone. Like the Honeysuckle Creek photos, it was of a much higher quality than anyone had imagined. Curious and perplexed, he was determined to figure out whether the raw images of the moonwalk really were more crisp than what the world had seen in 1969.

More info on Stan Lebar

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September 15, 2014

Space Shuttle at the International Space Station. Cool Photo !

Filed under: Uncategorized — bferrari @ 8:56 am

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