Invader Xan has created a really cool little infographic showing notable active, retired, and in-development spacecraft depicted to scale.
And though I'm not a big Star Trek person, another for you Trekkers after the jump.
Invader Xan has created a really cool little infographic showing notable active, retired, and in-development spacecraft depicted to scale.
And though I'm not a big Star Trek person, another for you Trekkers after the jump.
The original DARPA-funded 100YSS project has been spun-off as a non-profit organization led by former Shuttle astronaut Mae Jemison.
Well-grounded speculative science is important - even if practical applications in the short-term aren't likely. Plus, it's fun and cool in the nerdiest sort of way, and who can argue with that?
The Call for Papers is re-published below after the jump.
The launch of Shenzhou-9 (神舟九号) expected this Saturday 16 June will mark China's first human mission in nearly four years.
So what's new this time around?
Much has been written about this flight carrying China's first female taikonaut, but aside from proving that certain select women have nice teeth, no body odor, or scars that don't bleed, what are the goals of the Shenzhou-9 mission?
In short: experience with rendezvous/docking and longer duration missions, bringing them closer to the capability of other spacefaring nations.
Mission Goals & Operations
Shenzhou-9 is China's fourth manned flight, and will use a Long March 2F rocket to launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in central China. It's scheduled to be a two-week mission that will rendezvous and dock with the Tiangong-1 space module. While docked, the crew will test the Tiangong's life support system, perform science experiments and demonstrate technologies needed for the next stage of China's program - a Mir-class space station planned for deployment around 2020. There have been some suggestions that Shenzhou 9 might include an "undocking - re-docking" sequence during the mission in order to further demonstrate docking maneuvers.
Contrary to some articles, the Tiangong-1 module is not best described as a "space station", since that term implies sufficient size and life support capacity to enable long-duration habitation. Tiangong-1 does not possess that capacity. A more accurate description of the vehicle is a "space lab" or habitation module - this is the term that the China space program itself uses. Tiangong-1 is significantly smaller than 1970s Soviet-era Salyut space stations or the American Skylab space station in the same decade. The pressurized volume of Tiangong-1 is about 15 m3, while the Salyut modules were around 99 m3 and Skylab about 320 m3. The Tiangong program, on the other hand, is aimed at the deployment of a proper Mir-sized (c. 350 m3) space station by the end of this decade. For reference, the 2011 configuration of the International Space Station is about 837 m3 of pressurized volume.
Significance for China's Space Program
While China's first piloted docking is a significant milestone, many have noted that this is a roughly equivalent technological level as America's Gemini program in the mid-1960s. This is rather misleading, however. As leading China space policy analyst and professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College Dr. Joan Johnson-Friese points out, Shenzhou-9 "signifies [the] Chinese commitment to incrementally achieving the three-step program they laid out in the 1990s — a patience that will serve them well in the long run."
The three steps Johnson-Freese refers to are those officially announced in the early 1990s:
If Shenzhou-9 is successful, it will therefore mark China's accomplishment of its second goal. Moreover, these goals have been carried out cautiously but in steady progression and more-or-less on schedule. Note that while there are also indications that China seeks a manned lunar landing sometime in the mid to late 2020s, this has not been officially announced - although current press reports are still suggest it may be China's ultimate goal.
For more on the strategies driving China's space program, see my popular post from April.
Following some uncertainty over which of the two announced crews would fly, recent reports suggest that it will consist of Jing Haipeng (commander), Liu Wang (male pilot), and Liu Yang (female pilot).
Johnson-Freese notes that the female taikonaut is important both in garnering greater international attention (and thus bolstering China's national prestige) as well as building more robust popular support for China's program. A female taikonaut will "domestically pleas[e] half the population of a country of 1.3 billion where Mao said women 'hold up half of heaven.'"
This would perhaps reflect a lesson learned from the American program. Space historian Howard McCurdy noted in his book "Space and the American Imagination" that NASA blundered by not sending a female astronaut on a mission until on the seventh Space Shuttle mission in 1983 when Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Had NASA included women on earlier missions, McCurdy suggests that public support for the U.S. space program may well have been stronger and might have mitigated the strong gender gap in enthusiasm for space that has been observed since the 1980s.
Among the milestones, Shenzhou-9 will be:
The summer launch at Jiuquan may be notable, since temperatures there this week were over 36°C. This may pose difficulties for propellant fueling on the Long March 2F.
Finally, Dean Cheng, a China analyst at the Heritage Foundation notes that "This [mission] is occurring in the context of a troubled Chinese leadership transition. Therefore, any trouble with the mission is likely to have bad consequences for the Chinese leadership, as it might be seen as emblematic of poor leadership, poor stewardship of the nation's vital resources, and raise questions about the legitimacy of the incoming leaders."
Image courtesy BBC
The Voyager 1 spacecraft is about to leave our solar system, and we have no idea what to expect. We knew Voyager was getting close to the edge of the heliophere - the region beyond which the solar winds cease to "push back" against the interstellar headwind - but only in the last month has it become apparent that we are really, really close to that boundary.
There's a great piece over at The Atlantic by Rebecca Rosen that's essential reading. Some excerpts:
We're on the cusp of one of the greatest scientific accomplishments of all time, but we may not know when the moment strikes. Or, rather, there may be no moment.
Last week, in the corners of the Internet devoted to outer space, things started to get a little, well, hot. Voyager 1, the man-made object farthest away from Earth, was encountering a sharp uptick in the number of a certain kind of energetic particles around it. Had the spacecraft become the first human creation to "officially" leave the solar system?
We're not quite there yet, Voyager's project scientist and former head of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, Edward Stone, told me. The spacecraft is on its way out -- "it's leaving the solar system" -- but we don't know how far it has to go or what that transition to interstellar space will look like.
Now the data coming back aren't photographs but levels of different kinds of particles in the outer edge of the sun's bubble (the heliosphere), known as the heliosheath, the farthest the solar winds reach, which Voyager I entered in December 2004. And it was some of those data -- the levels of a certain cosmic-ray particle -- that provoked the recent speculation that Voyager I had finally flown the coop.
Some cosmic ray particles enter the heliosphere and we can see them here from Earth. But a slower type has a hard time entering the heliosphere. Last month, the sum of those slower particles, suddenly ticked up about 10 percent, "the fastest increase we've seen," Stone says. But an uptick does not mean Voyager has crossed over, though it does mean we're getting close. When Voyager does finally leave and enter the space "out there where all the particles are," the level will stop rising. The rising itself means that Voyager is not out there, yet. "But," cautions Stone, "we don't know. I mean this is the first time any spacecraft has been there." Since nothing's ever been there before, we don't know what it will look like, which makes it a little hard to recognize "it" at all. "That's the exciting thing," he continues.
A new NASA prototype lunar prospector is set to begin testing in Hawaii next month.
Hawaii's unique volcanic terrains are some of the closest terrestrial analogues to the moon and Mars, a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by NASA and other international teams, including those from the Google Lunar X PRIZE.
NASA has developed a prototype rover named Artemis Jr. for NASA’s Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction, or RESOLVE, project. The rover is designed to prospect for water, ice and other lunar resources, and will also demonstrate how future explorers can take advantage of resources at potential landing sites by manufacturing oxygen, water, and hydrogen from soil.
NASA will conduct equpiment and concept vehicle field tests in July outside of Hilo, Hawaii, in order to demonstrate how explorers might prospect for resources and make their own oxygen for survival while on other planetary bodies.
The State of Hawaii recently passed legislation to provide initial funding for the International Lunar Research Park (ILRP), which will set up an multinational program to facilitate robotic and other space-related research at several lunar analogue sites near Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. This is underpinned by a cooperative Space Act Agreement between NASA and Hawaii signed in 2010.
For more information on RESOLVE, visit this NASA site.
Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston
We now have 50-50 certainty about the crew for the upcoming Shenzhou 9 mission. The vehicle will launch on a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center this Saturday 16 June, and is expected to rendezvous and dock with the Tiangong-1 habitat module for a 10 day mission.
The main and backup crews were announced by China's media today, but which is which was not specified. Perhaps this has yet to be determined by a game of rock-paper-scissors. Either crew configuration will result in two "firsts" for China's space program: it will mark the first "second mission" by a taikonaut, as well as the first female taikonaut.
The two crews are:
Nie Haisheng (Commander), Zhang Xiaoguang, Wang Yaping
Jing Haipeng (Commander), Liu Wang, Liu Yang
Nie Haisheng flew on Shenzhou 6, and Jing Haipeng flew on Shenzhou 7. Wang Yaping and Liu Yang are the two female crew designates. Recent months have seen much speculation in Chinese media about which woman would be selected as the first woman taikonaut. Indeed, the same media have repeated rumors about possible drama or "competition" between Wang and Liu to be the first woman. I have serious doubts that this is true - such things simply are not done in China, which would be seen as brazen and un-Chinese. This is even more unlikely given that both women are members of the PLA Air Force where such overt self-promotion is even more frowned upon. Seems like hype to me.
Wang Yaping on left, Liu Yang on right.
Tony Quine at SpaceDaily has a good summary on what we know and don't know about the crews - after the jump.
I was at the NSS conference when SpaceX made its historic achievement, so was un-blogging that week. But it would be remiss not to mark that milestone in some way. So herewith, a worthy op-ed from Bloomberg remarking on SpaceX and the future of NASA.
And, belatedly, congrats and a shout out to SpaceX, who captured the public imagination about space in a way not seen in years. Go Elon.
The photo is my own. Not as good as Jeff Foust's, but I already re-posted that one.
SpaceX’s Achievement Should Prod NASA to Think Big
BloombergBy the Editors May 31, 2012 1:00 PM GMT-1000
On Thursday, a space capsule known as the Dragon touched down in the Pacific Ocean.
After launching into orbit May 22, the capsule had performed a series of complicated maneuvers, docked with the International Space Station, dropped off more than 1,000 pounds of supplies and returned home bearing a load of science experiments.
It was the first commercial spacecraft to complete such a feat. And the company that developed it, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, was rewarded with a U.S. government contract of $1.6 billion to fly 12 more supply missions.
Optimists saw a nimble private company leveraging public investment, reducing future taxpayer burdens and heralding a new age of commercial space flight.
Skeptics saw a heavily subsidized contractor delivering expensive equipment to an aging government-run colossus, spinning endlessly in unproductive orbit.
Both have a point. SpaceX’s achievement is impressive, and private enterprise seems likely to bring much-needed efficiency to the government’s space program. The problem is that, even if this new partnership delivers all its promised benefits, U.S. space policy will still have no clear objective.
Despite numerous setbacks, SpaceX looks like a relatively good deal for taxpayers. Elon Musk, the company’s billionaire founder, says its missions will cost one-eighth what space shuttle flights did, and a study last year by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration found that SpaceX spent far less than what NASA would have to develop the rocket that launched the Dragon capsule. Ambitiously, the company aims to carry humans into space by 2015.
All of which sounds great. Except that SpaceX’s contract is simply to continue supplying the space station -- a delightful symbol of international collaboration that has so far cost $100 billion and produced almost nothing of scientific value. Until a national consensus emerges about what we want to accomplish in space, this expensive cycle looks likely to continue.
In other words, we’ll be spinning our wheels, albeit with Musk-like efficiency, unless NASA asserts sharper objectives for the post-shuttle world and makes clear how it will encourage -- and make use of -- its growing symbiosis with the private-sector space industry.
It begins with imagination.
We're a big world with big challenges. If our future world is going to be anything much worth looking forward to, we need confidence to be bold enough to do big things and solve big problems. That effort requires inspiration to believe that the future can be better than today.
And all that is even before the budget cycle.
In his excellent book, "Space and the American Imagination", Howard McCurdy points out that any sort of project that's never been done before first requires a leap of imagination that the goal itself is possible. That's especially true for great challenges — solving our energy/climate conundrum, sending a man to the moon before 1970, instantaneous global communication, the Trans-Continental Railroad, feeding 10 billion people...pick your example. Doing things that have never been done before takes resources. Getting resources requires political support, and if people don't believe in the possibility of success, they won't support it or provide those resources no matter how desirable it might be in principle.
I was surfing around Kickstarter and ran across a 1950s sci-fi inspired film project called "Space Command". It's described as being "a series of new and original feature films written, produced, directed by and starring some of the top science-fiction visionaries working today." Usually this sort of thing doesn't impress me so much, but the endorsements from Neil Gaiman, Damon Lindelof, Guillermo del Toro, and others piqued my interest. The filmmakers have resumes with street cred: they've worked as writers/directors/production for Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek–TNG, Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5 and Sliders.
So I watched their promo video:
Despite the 50s Chesley Bonestell-inspired, Buck Rogers sort of whiz-bang approach, the filmmakers say they are keen to NOT approach the project as ironic or cynical, but rather to try to entertain, genuinely inspire peoples' imaginations and depict "humanity at its best". How refreshing. It immediately reminded me of Neal Stephenson's Hieroglyph Project, which is aimed at
rally[ing] writers to infuse science fiction with the kind of optimism that could inspire a new generation to, as he puts it, “get big stuff done.”
There's a reason that 1950s science fiction was important beyond its simple escapism (and regardless how unrealistic from a physics or economics point of view). The sci-fi genre films, books, and TV shows of that era — Space Patrol, Star Trek, Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke/Bradbury et al. — inspired a generation to enter science and engineering, and thus underpinned American technological competence, innovation, and economic growth for the next couple of decades. We're currently so cynical and dystopia-minded that we're at serious risk of losing that dynamism and sense of efficacy — and with it, a future worth living in.
I can ironize, cynicize, and pessimize with the best of them: my professional work is focused on climate change and biodiversity, so I'm well aware of how scary the future often looks. But — and I'm pretty sure I'm not merely projecting — too much realism and cynicism would spell our doom. The inspiration provided by art (which nowadays is transmitted mostly through TV and movies) is critical if we're to be bold enough to do big things and solve big problems. If we don't believe we can shape our future in positive ways... We. Are. Screwed.
It's not that I think we're going to colonize space next week or twenty years from now. (It depends on what you mean by "colonization"!) But we need optimistic visions that inspire people to become better versions of themselves, solve daunting problems, and create a future that's better than today.
Space Command and projects like it are important. Grand civilizational challenges are not merely technical. Or political, or economic. They're also cultural. People have to be inspired to believe they can do them.
But hey, no pressure or anything. I don't know if these films will be great, good, or barely above sucking, but I kicked in some bucks just because this seems like a healthy step in the right direction. They won't save the world. But I imagine they might be good.
So I encourage readers to support it too. They filmmakers have already raised far more than their original goal but are still taking support until July 14.
P.S. A note to the filmmakers. It's not about the hardware. It's about the humans, who despite their flaws strive for excellence and pull together to do something good. Not sure who your Klingons will be but I'm sure you'll find a suitable dramatic device. I'm sure you already get all this but... jus' sayin'.
The Defense Department’s annual report to Congress, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2012,” includes an interesting section on that nation’s rapidly growing space program. The report finds progress across a broad range of areas from human spaceflight to global positioning systems and capabilities for disable foreign military satellites. It also cautions that the Chinese are facing issues with reliability due to a surging launch rate.
The relevant section is reproduced below.
Space and Counterspace Capabilities. In the space domain, China is expanding its space-based surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, meteorological, and communications satellite constellations.
China continues to build the Bei-Dou (Compass) navigation satellite constellation with the goal of establishing a regional network by the end of 2012 and a global network by 2020.
China launched the Tiangong space station module in September 2011 and a second communications relay satellite (the Tianlian 1B), which will enable near real-time transfer of data to ground stations from manned space capsules or orbiting satellites.
China continues to develop the Long March V rocket, which will more than double the size of the low Earth and geosynchronous orbit payloads that China will be capable of placing into orbit.
In parallel, the PRC is developing a multidimensional program to limit or deny the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict. In addition to the direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon tested in 2007, these counterspace capabilities also include jamming, laser, microwave, and cyber weapons. Over the past two years, China has also conducted increasingly complex close proximity operations between satellites while offering little in the way of transparency or explanation.
China’s space and counterspace programs are facing some challenges in systems reliability. Communications satellites using China’s standard satellite launch platform, the DFH-4, have experienced failures leading to reduced lifespan or loss of the satellite. The recent surge in the number of China’s space launches also may be taking its toll. In August 2011, in the third satellite launch in seven days for China, a Long March 2C rocket (carrying an experimental Shijian 11 satellite), malfunctioned after liftoff.
Interesting read from Astrobiology Magazine on a new hypothesis of how Mars may have once had water then lost it, through a runaway greenhouse process similar to Venus but with a different thermal outcome. Excerpts below.
Cosmic impacts that once bombed Mars might have sent temperatures skyrocketing upward on the Red Planet in ancient times, enough to set warming of the surface on a runaway course, researchers say.
The idea of runaway warming is most commonly associated with Venus. Scientists think that planet's close proximity to the Sun heated its water, causing it to build up in its atmosphere as steam. Water is a greenhouse gas, trapping heat from the Sun that would have vaporized still more water,leading to a runaway greenhouse effect that apparently boiled all the oceans off Venus. Ultraviolet light would have then eventually split this atmospheric water into hydrogen and oxygen — the hydrogen escaped into space, the oxygen became trapped in the rocks of the planet, and the end-result was a bone-dry Venus.
The researchers note the many giant impacts Mars experienced might have heated the planet enough to send vast amounts of the the greenhouse gases water and carbon dioxide into the air. Their computer models suggest that there might have been enough of these gas in the Martian atmosphere to trigger a long-lasting runaway greenhouse effect.