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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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Friday, February 29, 2008

New (though unnecessary) Planetary Mnemonic
During the "is Pluto a planet?" discussion a couple years ago, for a moment it looked like there were going to be 11 planets. Ceres, the largest asteroid and Eris, a spherical Kuiper Belt object were going to be added to the mix. The problem is, it's likely that there are many other objects out there which would fit the criteria of 'planet' by those standards. We'd eventually have something like 500 planets to remember. In my opinion, saner heads prevailed and the new category 'dwarf planet' was created. So now we know of 8 planets and a few dwarves, with more to come. Oh, and in the vein of 'a protest for every cause', if you have strong feelings about Pluto's 'demotion', you can always go here.

Apparently, during the short time where there were to be 11 planets, National Geographic put out a call for a new memory-jogger for kids to remember their planets by. A girl from Montana won with this entry:
My Very Exciting Magic Carpet Just Sailed Under Nine Palace Elephants
Cute, but overcome by events. Looks like it's all part of a publicity campaign for a new book. Too bad it's spreading confusion about our solar system in the meantime. Note: When I posted on this a few years ago, Eris hadn't been named.
5:01 am est

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Joy in Mudville
The Planetary Society announced results of the Apophis Design Competition. My team is conspicuously absent from the awardees. Congrats to the winners, and the important thing is that we get more involved in this effort.

I'll be posting details on our submitted design soon.
6:02 pm est

Friday, February 22, 2008

Update on MSL and MSR
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and Mars Sample Return (MSR) are discussed in this article in Av. Week. MSL looks like the budget will top $2B, and they'll know in the next 100 days whether a launch in 2009 is possible. MSR has $68M earmakred for it so far, though the expected cost of the US portion is $3.3B.

I wish this were cheaper and easier. I believe it can become both.
9:19 pm est

Another old Warhorse, Nearing End-of-life...(?)
Apparently, the Ulysses spacecraft is experiencing some difficulties related to a decrease in power production. JPL put out a press release about it. The question mark in the title relates to the fact that they're having trouble with their X-band transmitter, one that gives us some problems on Landsat 5. Maybe some crosstalk will help...
4:07 pm est

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Moon Turned to Blood...
Almost missed the eclipse last night. I was working late, and the sky was cloudy at ~8pm, so I thought we were toast. My mom called at 9:20, saying she was looking at the moon. I went outside and the skies were crystal clear. 'Ol Luna put on quite a show.

I thought all the talk of 'no more total lunar eclipses until 2010' referred to viewers in the Continental United States, but according to Mr. Eclipse, it's for the whole world.

Be sure to mark your calendar for the 2017 eclipse in the heartland of the US.
5:11 am est

Looks like the DoD is claiming success in the impact of USA 193. Details will come over time. One quibble with the article: it looks like the meme of when the US did this before has morphed to the year 1989. A friend of mine confirmed that the satellite he was working on ( SolWind ) was hit in 1985. Wikipedia concurs.
5:00 am est

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Problem Solved?
Went out again tonight to see USA 193, and it didn't show while I was looking. That means either bad position data (ephemeris) at Heavens-above (a first that I've seen, though I haven't used them for much other than spotting the ISS), or the satellite entered the atmosphere and ended all debate. I'm leaning towards bad ephemeris because it gets a lot harder to predict as there's more atmospheric drag. I would have stayed out longer, except that a decaying satellite moves faster (long story on that one), so I would have been too late to start.
9:19 pm est

It's a bird, it's a Plane,
It's USA 193! I took the kids out last night to see the wayward satellite. It was obviously moving faster than a 'normal' orbiting object such as the ISS, which makes sense since USA 193 is in a much lower orbit. If you want to see it in your neck of the woods, find your location at Heavens Above, and look for the brightest objects to pass by that night. You may have to hurry, though. According to CNN, they're gonna try to "shoot it down" on Thursday. Discussion on why shoot it down is in quotes can be found here.
6:37 am est

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Dead Sea, Dead Mars?
A new press release from JPL says the Mars rovers findings indicate that the ancient water on Mars (that they've discovered) was very salty. This "sharpens" the question about whether or not life could have existed there, since the Dead Sea has very limited life within it. Of course, the fact that two rovers landed in places where very salty water existed doesn't mean that the water was very salty everywhere on the planet, but it does increase the odds that all the water was salty.
7:01 am est

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Flying Again
Atlantis got back into space on Thursday. Looks like all went well except for the mandatory minor glitch for the news to obsess over throughout the mission. Internet restrictions in my workplace that day limited my following the event to web-posted updates and NASA-updated stills. The sick spacewalker story is also drawing some attention ("What? We're not entitled to the specifics of a crewmember's illness?").
10:45 am est

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

DSS and ITV Analysis
The aside in the previously-mentioned Av Week article talks about two spacecraft necessary for near-Earth and interplanetary missions proposed by Robert Farquhar. They are:

The Deep Space Shuttle (DSS), with:
  • A service module with chemical propulsion. Four people could live in it for 50 days.
  • Detachable return capsule
  • Methane/LOX propulsion system (365 sec Isp)
  • Drop tanks
  • Delta-V capacity of 5-6 km/sec
The Interplanetary Transfer Vehicle (ITV), boasts:
  • Crew module aple to support 5-6 people for up to three years
  • Propulsion module - no dV mentioned, though the potential for nuclear propulsion is mentioned
  • Detachable capsule like the DSS
Hope no one is really worked up for the analysis on this, 'cause I gotta get to bed.
9:33 pm est

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Reason to Read the Hardcopy
Earlier, I commented on an Aviation Week article talking about the people meeting soon to discuss alternatives to the current implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration (I know, according to the memo, I'm supposed to call it something else...). Today, I found the actual magazine around the office, and discovered a text cutout describing a mission to asteroid 1999 AO10 using a space unit called a Deep Space Shuttle, in acronym speak, that's the DSS. The writeup is kind of interesting, and I'll write a bit about it soon.
9:35 pm est

Monday, February 4, 2008

More Bigelow Numbers
Here's a article about upcoming Bigelow Aerospace plans. The launch rates they're talking about are a lot higher than the Atlas V would have otherwise. They say the method of carrying people has yet to be decided. I suppose that's for another press release.
6:38 pm est

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Slow News Day
A sure sign of a slow news day is a front page article on space in the Washington Post. Of course, Saturday starts out slow.

The article gives a pretty good summary of the current state of affairs, and mentions the upcoming conference about alternatives to the Vision for Space Exploration, which apparently is being renamed as the United States Space Exploration Policy (page down to the Feb 1 1:11pm entry). I guess policy sound more official than vision.
6:42 am est

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