Skip to content

Blog

Follow us: facebook twitter youtube  

A Cleaner Satellite

From the Economist

ARISTOTLE believed that the heavens were perfect. If they ever were, they are no longer. The skies above Earth are now littered with the debris of dead satellites, bits of old rockets and the odd tool dropped by a spacewalking astronaut. Such is the extent of the detritus that the first accidental collision between two satellites has already taken place. It happened in February 2009, when a defunct Russian Cosmos smashed into a functioning American Iridium, destroying both and creating even more space junk. To stop this sort of thing happening again Vaios Lappas of the University of Surrey, in England, has designed a system that will remove satellites from orbit at the end of their useful lives-and as a bonus will scour part of the sky clean as it does so.

Dr Lappas’s satellite-removal system employs a solar sail. As light from the sun hits the sail, it imparts a minuscule but continuous acceleration. When a satellite is first launched, the sail is angled in a way that causes this acceleration to keep the satellite in orbit. (Orbits gradually decay as a result of collisions with the small number of air molecules found even at altitudes normally classified as “outer space”.)

Solar sails have yet to be used widely to propel spacecraft in this way-several earlier versions came unstuck when the sails failed to unfurl properly-but doing so is not a novel idea in principle. The novelty Dr Lappas envisages is to change the angle of the sail when the satellite has become defunct. Instead of keeping the derelict craft in orbit, it will, over the course of a couple of years, drag it into the atmosphere and thus to a fiery end. Not only that, but the sail will also act like a handkerchief, mopping up microscopic orbital detritus such as flecks of paint from previous launches. A fleck of paint may not sound dangerous, but if travelling at 27,000kph (17,000mph), as it would be in orbit, it could easily penetrate an astronaut’s spacesuit.

Click here for more

Continue reading...

Eight Wonders of the Solar System, Made Interactive

From Scientific American: What might future explorers of the solar system see?

Artist Ron Miller takes the viewer on a journey to eight of the most breathtaking views that await explorers of our solar system.

The scale of these natural wonders dwarfs anything Earth has to offer. What might we see and feel if we could travel to these distant domains?

By interpreting data from probes such as NASA’s Cassini, which is now exploring the Saturnian system, and Messenger, which goes into orbit around Mercury in March 2011, the artist’s eye allows us an early visit to these unforgettable locales.

Check out this impressive interactive from Scientific American by going to:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=8-wonders&sc=DD_20100331

By LD/CSE

Continue reading...

Shuttle Experiment Probes Infectious Disease Process in Humans

In a first-of-its-kind experiment, the unique conditions of space flight will be used to examine how cells remain healthy or succumb to disease, particularly in the face of stress or damage.

At Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, Biodesign Institute researchers Cheryl Nickerson and her team, including Jennifer Barrila and Shameema Sarker, will see their latest experiment launched into low Earth orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery on its upcoming STS-131 mission.

The goals of the team’s research are to provide fundamental new insight into the infectious disease process, and further understanding of other progressive diseases, including immune disorders and cancer.
Nickerson notes that the key to this research is the novel way that cells adapt and respond to the unique microgravity environment of spaceflight.

This is the third time that Nickerson and her ASU team have flown their NASA-funded experiments aboard a space shuttle.

Experiment goals

The current mission will be the first time that human cells will undergo infection by a pathogen in spaceflight. Specifically, this 13-day experiment, called STL-Immune, will characterize the effect of microgravity on intestinal cellular responses before and after infection with the food-borne pathogen, Salmonella typhimurium.

The goals of these experiments are twofold: to better understand the effect of spaceflight on human cells before and after infection with an invasive bacterial pathogen -information of vital importance for ensuring the safety of astronauts – and to gain insight into responses of human and pathogenic cells in their customary environment within the human body on Earth.

These conditions, Nickerson explains in an ASU press statement, can sometimes bear intriguing similarities to those observed during spaceflight, though this effect is often masked by gravity in conventional, Earth-based experiments.

Using space as a research platform, Nickerson adds, for such studies “has and will continue to advance our fundamental understanding of the disease process in cells and could lead to major advancements in human health.”

LD/CSE

Continue reading...

Astronaut Explains Importance of Moon Mission

From Universe Today

The debate on why humans should or should not return to the Moon has been ongoing for years. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear astronaut Ron Garan speak eloquently on a subject he is passionate about, water sustainability on planet Earth. Subsequently, I read an essay Garan wrote about the importance of returning to the Moon. Although Garan originally wrote this essay before the cancellation of the Constellation program was announced, he has amended his thoughts to reflect the likelihood that the US won’t be returning to the Moon anytime soon. With Garan’s permission, we are re-publishing his essay in its entirety.

The Importance of Returning to the Moon
(The 8th Continent)
By Ron Garan
NASA Astronaut

On May 10th, 1869, a golden spike joined two railways at Promontory Point, Utah, and the first transcontinental railroad was completed. On January 14th, 2004, a new vision for our Nation’s space exploration program was announced that committed the United States to a long-term human program to explore the solar system starting with a return to the moon. On February 1st 2010, those plans to return to the moon were put on hold. Although our Nation has decided to postpone a return to the moon it is still important to acknowledge the moon’s relevance to life on Earth.

There is no doubt that the railroad changed the world. It opened up frontiers to discovery, settlement, and commerce. The railroad was the backbone for the industrial revolution that provided the largest increase in life expectancy and improvement in quality of life in history. Just as the industrial revolution brought about unprecedented improvements in quality of life so can a new age of space exploration and development, but this time with a positive impact on the environment. To begin a period of sustainable space exploration, both the public and private sectors of our Nation must seize the opportunity and continue on a path to the moon.

Click here for more

Continue reading...

Prognosis Good for Monday Launch

From Florida Today

Five days before Discovery’s pre-dawn Monday liftoff to the International Space Station, launch pad 39A is clear of non-essential personnel as the orbiter’s main propulsion system and orbital engines and jets are pressurized for flight.

The hazardous operation was delayed about 12 hours Tuesday to adjust oxidizer temperatures that had dipped too low, but Kennedy Space Center officials say it had no impact on Discovery’s planned 6:21 a.m. launch — possibly the last nighttime shuttle launch.

The shuttle’s seven-person crew, led by commander Alan Poindexter, is shifting its sleep schedules to adjust to the 13-day mission’s overnight work hours. The crew will wake up around 6 p.m. today, do some launch simulations and then fly from Houston into KSC around 7 a.m. Thursday.

Also Thursday, Discovery’s payload bay doors will be closed for flight around the Italian-built cargo carrier Leonardo, which holds roughly 17,000 pounds of science experiments, equipment and supplies.

In front of it in the payload bay is another carrier holding a coolant tank that spacewalkers will install on the station’s structural backbone, replacing another that will be brought home.

Launch managers plan to hold the first countdown status briefing Thursday at 10 a.m., which will provide the first official weather forecasts for Sunday evening fueling operations and Monday’s 10-minute launch window. You can watch the briefing live here by clicking on the NASA TV box at right to launch a video player.

KSC countdown clocks should begin ticking at 3 a.m. Friday.

Click here for more

Continue reading...