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Here's the latest on space, and my opinions on it...
This is the legacy site, with blog entries from November, 2004 through June, 2011.
Updates after June 9, 2011 can be found at

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Good Graphics, does it have the Chops? has an article covering some graphics of an Orion mission to a near Earth asteroid. The basis graphics and press release can be found here. The article covers things like the Orion needing more propulsive capability to make the mission, which I didn't see on the graphics page. The graphics look awesome, and include some disclaimers along the line of 'this is just our thoughts about how it could work', but more work is necessary. Some of the astrodynamics are discussed here. I look forward to reading the paper mentioned here, and here is a cool poster talking about the mission. The last two links require Acrobat.
8:09 pm est

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Back...What'd I Miss?
Just got the family back from vacation, and missed a quadrella (I've never heard of the word, but since there were four stories, I thought it fit) of bad space news:
  • Explosion at Scaled Composites, killing 3 and critically injuring 3 others - I saw Burt Rutan speak where he refered to how safe nitrous oxide was to use. While I take no joy in seeing him proven wrong, I hope that the team didn't ignore industrial warnings or act wrecklessly because they didn't have the proper information. No matter what the cause, any bubble surrounding the idea that corporate interests can do things faster, better, cheaper, and safer is now burst.
  • Embezzling $150K - While a lot of shock is expressed over this, I mantain that, for many people, NASA is just a job. "Higher calling" aside, there is a lot of money moving around in contracts, and the number of bad apples in the NASA basket is going to be about the same as the population as a whole.
  • Drunk astronauts Again, sad, but having been in the presence of military pilots who party hard up to the last minute (their rule was 8 hours 'bottle to throttle'), it doesn't take a lot of imagination to picture someone crossing the line. The results of the investigation will be interesting. I think it unlikely (though possible, the allegations do mention it) that the results will involve spaceflight, since more flying is done in the ol' atmosphere.
  • ISS Equipment Sabotage - Of all of these stories, this is the one that makes the least sense to me. My first thought is some sort of labor-dispute retailiation, but let's wait for the report.
5:47 am est

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Gone to the Dark Side?
I've never been big on the black and white view that upstart aerospace companies are good while the established, large government contractors are bad.  Every company organizes to meet its needs, whether that means having a huge overhead in order to meet government regulation or selling participatory space travel kits to raise money to build a spacecraft.  (The second example was to include a link to Team Encounter, a group that was building a solar-sail spacecraft and selling the ability to include DNA or messages on board.  Unfortunately, my web search to find a link showed that the company shut its doors in 2004.  More details here)
That all said, recent news that Scaled Composites has been bought out by Northrop Grumman makes me feel weird.  It's possible that the big company sees a way to get in on the ground floor of a potentially huge business.  It's possible that the small company is looking for more expertise in handling some tough problems.  Whatever the reasons, it will impact both companies in ways I doubt they can expect, and therefore affect the future of activities in space.
I wish the merger well.
Update:  Apparently, I just missed a posting on this from Transterrestrial Musings.  More commentary (I haven't read it all) here.
11:03 am est

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Partisan, but Probably Right Either way
Flightglobal may have a headline problem. First, I clicked there to see this article, with the headline "NASA lunar lander design plans revealed", planning to see an image of the current form for the new lunar lander. No picture. Then this article caught my eye, discussing "Do Democrats hate the Moon?"

The article writer seems to think that a Democratic candidate is a foregone conclusion for the 2008 Presidential Election. Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to be a favorite of the author. I posit that the issues brought up in the article (Orion utility, ability to press on to the Moon, possible shift to commercial suppliers for launch services) will be valid no matter who gets in the White House.
4:02 am est

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Worthy Targets
Apparently, there's an upcoming conference (no dates given) about exploring Phobos and Diemos, Mars' moons.

Missions to the moons have the advantage of requiring less propellant than a mission to the surface (mainly due to the big climb back out of the gravity well required for surface missions), but the Mars moon missions lack the easily-accessable carbon dioxide for generating return propellants. Lots of arguing points for mission planners and politicians alike!
6:24 am est

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More Participative Science
If staring at fuzzy blobs to identify what kind of galaxy they are is your definition of a good time, then Galaxy Zoo is for you. The cool part is that you're looking at areas of the sky that few have seen before, and astronomers need help combing through all the data they pull in. I took and passed the tutorial, then you start analyzing data. I can stop any time I want...
4:07 am est

Saturday, July 7, 2007

It's Getting Crowded in my sky has an article about the Terra spacecraft having to maneuver to avoid a piece of debris left over from the Chinese ASAT test. This practice is relatively new, and the 'trip point' as to when you should maneuver your spacecraft is not solidly fixed. The article says that the chance of collision was around 7%, which was probably a valid concern. The article is interesting to me because it's based on a web-posted status report. Unfortunately, this type of maneuver is only going to become more likely in the near future.
4:29 am est

Thursday, July 5, 2007

LEGO Landsats now Available
Well, after a lot of head scratching about what I consider to be an odd search system (if you looked for the word 'landsat' the models wouldn't be found), I figured out how everyone can access the LEGO models of Landsat 5 and Landsat 7. The project did an article about them (and me) in their Did You Know? section, and I'm aware of at least one person in line for a set as a retirement gift. Directions on how to order the models (and the fact that I have no financial links to LEGO) are reported in the article. I'm not happy with the internet-based directions that the software generates, so my recommendation is that anyone interested download the Lego Digital Designer software, which allows you to see the models being built. If a piece goes into a place you cannot see, you can rotate the virtual model for a better view. Plus, by starting to work with the Digital Designer, you may start down the path to true LEGO geekiness. I'd set this as a benchmark to know whether or not you have a problem.

In case you don't want to read the articles and just want to get the LEGO Landsats(L5 runs about $20 and L7 runs about $30), click on the link at the end of this paragraph, enter "hillkid42" into the "Username" box, then click the yellow arrow to the right of the box and the models will appear. Here is the link.
8:10 pm est

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Multiple Targets for Dawn?
This article, along with a discussion of Ceres as a possible place for life, notes that Dawn will likely be able to visit multiple asteroids on its way to its prime targets, Ceres and Vesta. They've been keeping kind of quiet about the possibility because the opportunities depend on the exact launch date and the actual performance of the spacecraft. This would be exciting, though:
[Dr. Russell] had previously said that they would like, if possible, to arrange for Dawn to fly by "an example of each principal asteroid [compositional] type"
7:42 am est

Recycle Your Spacecraft
NASA put out a press release yesterday describing three new missions assigned to two spacecraft, Deep Impact and Stardust. Stardust will be flying by comet Tempel 1 (Wikipedia has some interesting details on the discovery, loss, and recovery of the comet), which was originally visited (and impacted by a portion of) the Deep Impact spacecraft. Viewing the comet again after a little more than one revolution of the sun will allow us to see how comets change over time.

Deep Impact will actually have two missions: flying by Comet Boethin as a new target, and observing known extrasolar planets' stars while en route. The goal is to look for moons and rings around those planets. The release doesn't go into too much detail on the second mission and what made Deep Impact a good fit for that role, but it must have something to do with the quality of its imager.
4:57 am est

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