We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming. — Wernher von Braun
SpaceX is in the process of developing a completely reusable two-stage super-heavy class orbital launch vehicle called Super Heavy / Starship. This is the latest iteration in an evolving design which has previously been called the Mars Colonial Transporter, Interplanetary Transport System, and Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). The present design (which continues to evolve) specifies a payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) between 100 and 150 tonnes. This compares to the 140 tonnes to LEO of the Saturn V which was, of course, completely expendable. The Super Heavy/Starship will be, if built to the current design, the largest and most powerful rocket ever, with a lift-off thrust of 62 meganewtons (MN), compared to 35.1 MN for the Saturn V.... [Read More]
I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.
‘Destination Moon’ a fresh take on telling the story
This is the third book, and the first full-length novel, in the author’s “Altered Space” series of alternative histories of the cold war space race. Each stand-alone story explores a space mission which did not take place, but could have, given the technology and political circumstances at the time. The first, Zero Phase, asks what might have happened had Apollo 13’s service module oxygen tank waited to explode until after the lunar module had landed on the Moon. The present book describes a manned Venus fly-by mission performed in 1972 using modified Apollo hardware launched by a single Saturn V.
“But, wait…”, you exclaim, ”that’s crazy!” Why would you put a crew of three at risk for a mission lasting a full year for just a few minutes of close-range fly-by of a planet whose surface is completely obscured by thick clouds? Far from Earth, any failure of their life support systems, spacecraft systems, a medical emergency, or any number of other mishaps could kill them; they’d be racking up a radiation dose from cosmic rays and solar particle emissions every day in the mission; and the inexorable laws of orbital mechanics would provide them no option to come home early if something went wrong.... [Read More]
At 01:53 UTC today (2019-07-11) a European Space Agency (ESA) Vega rocket was launched from Arainespace’s site at Kourou, French Guiana, on the east coast of South America. Its payload was the Falcon Eye 1 reconnaissance satellite built by Airbus Defense and Space for the United Arab Emirates. The Italian-built Vega is the smallest launcher operated by ESA, and was to place Falcon Eye 1, with a mass of 1197 kg, in a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 611 km.
The Vega is a four stage rocket, with the first three stages solid fuelled and the fourth stage using a hypergolic liquid fuelled engine manufactured in the Ukraine. This was the fifteenth flight of Vega since its introduction in 2012; all of the first fourteen flights were successful. Here’s what happened this time.... [Read More]
In March, 1763, King Louis XV of France made a land grant of 140 square kilometres to Gilbert Antoine St Maxent, the richest man in Louisiana Territory and commander of the militia. The grant required St Maxent to build a road across the swampy property, develop a plantation, and reserve all the trees in forested areas for the use of the French navy. When the Spanish took over the territory five years later, St Maxent changed his first names to “Gilberto Antonio” and retained title to the sprawling estate. In the decades that followed, the property changed hands and nations several times, eventually, now part of the United States, being purchased by another French immigrant, Antoine Michoud, who had left France after the fall of Napoleon, who his father had served as an official.
Michoud rapidly established himself as a prosperous businessman in bustling New Orleans, and after purchasing the large tract of land set about buying pieces which had been sold off by previous owners, re-assembling most of the original French land grant into one of the largest private land holdings in the United States. The property was mostly used as a sugar plantation, although territory and rights were ceded over the years for construction of a lighthouse, railroads, and telegraph and telephone lines. Much of the land remained undeveloped, and like other parts of southern Louisiana was a swamp or, as they now say, “wetlands”.... [Read More]
I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.... [Read More]
Fifty years ago, with the successful landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon, it appeared that the road to the expansion of human activity from its cradle on Earth into the immensely larger arena of the solar system was open. The infrastructure built for Project Apollo, including that in the original 1963 development plan for the Merritt Island area could support Saturn V launches every two weeks. Equipped with nuclear-powered upper stages (under active development by Project NERVA, and accommodated in plans for a Nuclear Assembly Building near the Vehicle Assembly Building), the launchers and support facilities were more than adequate to support construction of a large space station in Earth orbit, a permanently-occupied base on the Moon, exploration of near-Earth asteroids, and manned landings on Mars in the 1980s.
But this was not to be. Those envisioning this optimistic future fundamentally misunderstood the motivation for Project Apollo. It was not about, and never was about, opening the space frontier. Instead, it was a battle for prestige in the Cold War and, once won (indeed, well before the Moon landing), the budget necessary to support such an extravagant program (which threw away skyscraper-sized rockets with every launch), began to evaporate. NASA was ready to do the Buck Rogers stuff, but Washington wasn’t about to come up with the bucks to pay for it. In 1965 and 1966, the NASA budget peaked at over 4% of all federal government spending. By calendar year 1969, when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, it had already fallen to 2.31% of the federal budget, and with relatively small year to year variations, has settled at around one half of one percent of the federal budget in recent years. Apart from a small band of space enthusiasts, there is no public clamour for increasing NASA’s budget (which is consistently over-estimated by the public as a much larger fraction of federal spending than it actually receives), and there is no prospect for a political consensus emerging to fund an increase.... [Read More]
Ahhh…, those anomalies—those pesky anomalies. The worst kind of anomaly is when your spacecraft, in the process of being qualified for human spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS), goes kaboom on the ground while preparing for a static firing of its launch escape system rocket motors. You know, kaboom, like this (sorry for the poor quality video—it’s all that’s presently available; there are some nasty words on the audio track.)
The Beresheet spacecraft, built by Israeli non-profit company SpaceIL, is scheduled to land on the Moon today. Landing operations are expected to begin around 19:00 UTC (you can see a UTC clock in the right side of the title bar of this site). Landing is planned for a site in the north of Mare Serenetatis, on the north-east part of the near side of the Moon, within a 15 km area known to have little rubble or rugged terrain. Here is a preview of the landing process from SpaceIL.
I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.... [Read More]
On February 22, 2019, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) space probe Hayabusa2 (はやぶさ2) which has been exploring the small near-Earth asteroid 162173 Ryugu since its arrival on June 27, 2018, descended to the surface and collected a sample of the surface, which will be stored for eventual return to Earth. Here is a video of the descent, with material thrown up by the thrusters for collection. The video is sped up by a factor of five. Note the shadow of the spacecraft on the asteroid’s surface.
Crew Dragon is off and running. (This is far more important than any of the political crap occurring now.) This is our current generation’s Apollo 11 moment, but it is more of a serial drama instead of a gigantic moment in time. We are about to keep our brave space-faring citizens out of the Soyuz. MAGA in the technical universe.
At 02:26 UTC on 2019-01-03, the Chinese Chang’e 4 (嫦娥四号) soft lander and rover touched down in the Von Kármán crater on the far side of the Moon. This is the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon, which is never visible from the Earth. Here is a video including animation of the landing and actual images captured during the descent and of the surface after landing.
(Saturday Night Science usually appears on the first Saturday of the month. I have moved up the January 2019 edition one week to discuss the New Horizons spacecraft fly-by of Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69, “Ultima Thule”, on New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2019.)
In January 2006 the New Horizons spacecraft was launched to explore Pluto and its moons and, if all went well, proceed onward to another object in the Kuiper Belt of the outer solar system, Pluto being one of the largest, closest, and best known members. New Horizons was the first spacecraft launched from Earth directly on a solar system escape (interstellar) trajectory (the Pioneer and Voyager probes had earlier escaped the solar system, but only with the help of gravity assists from Jupiter and Saturn). It was launched from Earth with such velocity (16.26 km/sec) that it passed the Moon’s orbit in just nine hours, a distance that took the Apollo missions three days to traverse.
In February 2007, New Horizons flew by Jupiter at a distance of 2.3 million km, using the planet’s gravity to increase its speed to 23 km/sec, thereby knocking three years off its transit time to Pluto. While passing through the Jupiter system, it used its instruments to photograph the planet and its moons. There were no further encounters with solar system objects until arrival at Pluto in 2015, and the spacecraft spent most of its time in hibernation, with most systems powered down to extend their lives, reduce staffing requirements for the support team on Earth, and free up the NASA Deep Space Network to support other missions.... [Read More]
Yesterday, 2018-12-05, SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral to deliver more than 2500 kg of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon spacecraft (apart from its disposable “trunk” section) was previously flown on the CRS-10 mission to the ISS in February 2017. The Falcon 9 booster was new, on its first flight. Here is a video of the launch, starting at 15 seconds before liftoff through deployment of the Dragon’s solar panels.