Category Archives: Space

Sailing in Space on Light

(See my other Space and Propulsion related posts) – The idea of a ‘sailing on light’ with a Solar Sail has been around for a while. A test flight of LightSail 1 (formerly LightSail-A) was launched on May 20, 2015. While the mission had problems, the LightSail 1 flight was considered a success.

The larger LinghtSail 2 is scheduled to launch June 24, 2019, aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

macOS New App Release – EarthDesk 7

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Product Announcements Xeric Design of Incline Village, Nevada has launched a beautiful new cloud image service for EarthDesk Data subscribers. The cloud image is now precisely geo-located and parallax-corrected, contains data from up to 23 satellites, and includes polar coverage. We have worked with the Space Science and Engineering Center’s RealEarth project at the University of Wisconsin, Madison to bring this high-quality data feed to EarthDesk. Previously, only six satellites were used and the data did not extend to the poles.

EarthDesk replaces your static desktop with an image of the Earth showing current sun, moon and city illumination, as well as near real-time cloud coverage. The software allows users to purchase an optional data subscription that offers the new precision clouds with 16 times more detail than the standard cloud layer. In addition, this service displays real-time data including worldwide earthquakes, named storms (typhoons, hurricanes, etc.) and the position of the International Space Station.

The software operates silently in the background, keeping your desktop updated while you work. Unlike a screen saver, which only appears when your system is idle, EarthDesk’s dynamic desktop is continuously displayed as your desktop background (and optionally as a screen saver on the Mac version).

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.10 or later.

Pricing and Availability:
Single user copies may be purchased for $24.99 (USD). Upgrades are available for $12.99 for licensed users of versions 5 and 6. A data subscription adds precision clouds, earthquakes, named storms and tracking of the International Space Station starting at $11.99 per year. Bundles that include EarthDesk and a discounted data subscription are available. For more details, please refer to our website.

New Robots on Way to the ISS

(See my other posts on Robots) – Today’s Cygnus cargo flight with 7,600 pounds of science, supplies & cargo for the ISS includes a pair of new robots. These will replace the current SPHERES robots on the International Space Station (ISS). The Astrobee robots have been developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center.

The new Astrobee robots are autonomous cubes designed to be flown around the ISS. The first pair of Astrobee robots are named Honey and Bumble. A third named Queen is scheduled to fly to the ISS later this year. These are very modular robots with hardware and software designed for a wide range of tasks and experiments. 

The robots are intended to fly around the ISS autonomously, perform experiments, and take video. While they will generally be operated by humans from the ground, they will occasionally operate without any supervision.

Each Astrobee robot is about 12 inches (30 cm) square.  They will use pressurized air from 12 different nozzles to propel themselves around the ISS. They can rotate in any direction and have no need to refuel as air is compressed and used from the ISS atmosphere.

The Astrobees are based on ROS and are equipped with six cameras, sensors, and enough computing power to allow them to operate autonomously. They can be fitted with modular payloads in their three different payload bays for a variety of experiments. Later this year a small arm will become available for manipulating objects and grabbing hold for maintaining their position. The robots will be able to undock, redock and perch within the ISS independently of the crew.

The robots should complete their checkout before the end of April. After that, they will map and be calibrated for the ISS modules. Final commissioning of the entire Astrobee system should be complete before the end of the year.

Paper Space Models

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(See my other Space relate articles) – I came across the site “DESELLEMODELS” today and wanted to share it. Arco Hollestelle and Parthenis Deslis have created the site with paper models they have created of spacecraft. At present, they only have five, but it is a “work in progress” site. If you are interested in space and have some free time and a steady hand, you might want to check this website out.

DARPA to Investigate EM Drive

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While the preliminary tests in Germany seem to indicate that the EM Drive is impossible, DARPA, the Defense Department agency that funds technological research, has signed a $1.3 million contract for further research. This research will be part of the Nascent Light-Matter Interactions (NLM) program.

Why is DARPA investing in a propulsion technology that is generally considered impossible? In part because the test results have not yet been definitive that the EM Drive is impossible. There is also concern that a technology that the Chinese claim to have made progress with cannot be ignored.

It will be interesting to see what new announcements will appear regarding the EM Drive.

EM Drive Does Not Perform well in Tests

Propulsion – I have been watching the stories in the media on the EM Drive for a while now. If you are new to this, the EM Drive is a resonant cavity thruster. In simple terms, it is an electrically powered thruster that requires no fuel. It was proposed by Roger Shawyer in 2001. Most consider the EM Drive to be impossible as it defies currently known physics.

Previous tests of an EM Drive prototype by NASA showed some success. The EM Drive was subjected to more strict testing by a team at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany led by Martin Tajmar. They presented their results at the Aeronautics and Astronautics Association of France’s Space Propulsion conference on May 16, 2018. Their tests are not supportive of the claims made for the EM Drive.

The results presented by Tajmar is reviewed in the video above by Scott Manley. Tajmar and his team had not totally given up on the EM Drive at the time of their report. They plan further testing, but the prospect of this being the solution to propulsion hoped for is dim.

References:

  1. ‘Impossible’ EM drive doesn’t seem to work after all
  2. EmDrive: Not Quite (Yet?) the Answer to Space Travel

A Space elevator is Being Launched in Orbit Today​?

Space – Yes, a space elevator is being launched into orbit today, but don’t get your hopes up for a ride to space.

This is only a scale model for testing purposes. The model will consist of two cube sats (roughly 4″ on a side) connected together by a 10-meter steel cable. A container with an internal motor will move along the cable between the satellites. This experiment is being conducted by Shizuoka University in Japan.

While we are many years away from a true space elevator, once in place they will bring significantly lower costs to putting materials into orbit. While they were thought to be impossible when first proposed, today’s modern materials, such as carbon nanotubes, may make them a reality one of these days. If you are interested, read the article “A Japanese Company is About to Test a Tiny Space Elevator… in Space“.

macOS New App Release – International Space Station 2

Product Announcements – Tension Software of Milano, Italy has released International Space Station 2 for macOS, which allows users to see the position of the the International Space Station over an interactive map of the world or an interactive tridimensional representation of the globe.

With a simple view users will be able to see if the International Space station will be visible (naked eye) from their local position in the next hours. Using the application (release 1) I did it many time and success is granted and also the ‘Wow effect’ from the one you show it in the sky. Many people has no idea the space station can be seen naked eye (if you know when to look and where)

With a simple click anyone can also see the live webcam stream coming from the International Space Station. Users will watch the astronauts activities with video and audio, all live.

Calculation of the position of the station is very accurate, the app uses the latest NASA code optimized for Mac to calculate it. Users don’t get an approximated position, they get the exact position, speed and altitude of the Station updated every second.

The route path is visualized over the map to evaluate if the station is coming near your position in the next hours (when meteorological and light condition are adequate you can see it without any instruments, just observing the sky naked-eye).

Time of day matters, you can’t see it during the day but only when you have dark sky and the station still get the sun light, so usually after sunset for around 3 hours and before dawn (for a period of 3 hours).

Every year during the summer I had the possibility to see it many times in a month and many nights you have 2 valid passages (distanced by the time it spend for a world circle with is around 90 minutes at 27 000 Km/h – 17 000 MPH)

You can zoom, move and resize the map as you like at any time and on the map you see exactly from where it’s coming and where to look to catch it After some time you will become expert to spot it in the sky as soon as it is on the horizon.

The application downloads at regular time, once per day when you startup it, from our server, the latest orbital parameters to calculate the orbit, so the calculation obtained for the position is always accurate and perfect because the app uses the most updated orbital parameters.

No user action required, the app does it all alone. Our own server provides always updated NASA data to your app when it requires it.

International Space Station is easy and fun to use, anyone can use it even if it uses sophisticated satellite orbit calculation with the same alghoritm used by pro orbital calculation software.

  • Perfect results as using pro orbital software but in an easy to use app
  • Offers 6 different types of map/3D globe on macOS 10.13 (5 on previous release, plain map not available till 10.12, and only 3 types on macOS 10.10)
  • Customizable latitude/longitude format
  • Measure units in Km and Km/h or NM and MPH
  • Zoomable interactive Map and 3DGlobe showing also night/day areas
  • ‘Keep Centered’ function
  • Circle area of visibility moving with the station* Autodetect of your position and circle area of visibility around your position
  • Includes a PDF User Guide

Plus it offers fast access via your web browser to various dedicated area:

  • Page Station at NASA
  • Nasa station blog
  • Web Cam stream on board of the station
  • Audio stream from the station
  • Facebook page of the station
  • Twitter NASA astronauts
  • Twitter ESA astronauts
  • YouTube presence
  • Flickr presence

Requires an internet connection for Apple Map visualization, data update once a day, web cam stream and web pages access. Position is calculated locally using the latest algorithm for orbit computation coded for macOS. We have also a version for the iPhone and the iPad with similar features. Search on the iOS App Store for ‘ISS Track 2’

What’s new in release 2.0:

  • Now uses native Apple MapKit
  • 6 different type of maps
  • Till 12 hours of station trajectory
  • User position visualization
  • Visibility circle also around the user
  • Improved algorithm
  • Various optimizations
  • Various Bug fixes

Device Requirements:

  • macOS
  • 13.4 MB

Pricing and Availability:
International Space Station 2 is just $6.99 USD (or an equivalent amount in other currencies) and is available worldwide through the Mac App Store in the Education category.

You Have $80,000? Reserve Your Spot for Aurora Station

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Space – Are you interested in space and have a little extra cash? If you have $80,000, you can reserve your spot. Then you only need an additional $9.5 million for your full trip. Where are you going? To Aurora Station.

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Aurora Station is a space station planned by Orion Span. Unlike the other current space stations Aurora Station is planned as a luxurious space hotel. The hotel will initially be able to accomodate four guests and two staff in the 43 foot long by 14 foot diameter module.

While it is certainly not open for business yet, the plan is to have it open by 2022. You will get on-line training, followed by three months of training at the Orion Span facility in Houston, Texas, then a 12-day excursion to Aurora Station. Once on Aurora Station guests will experience zero-g and help with research. The company eventually plans to expand the station and add possibly offer ‘space condos’ in the future.

Orion Span announced this venture back in 2007. They report that they have had nearly 40 people lay down the money to reserve a spot. If you are of a mind, you can reserve your spot now.

Whether or not this commercial venture actually opens their space hotel, I think that someone will in the near future. The price tag is hefty, but as commercial launch services  mature, the costs will drop.

SpaceX Successfully Tests the Falcon Heavy

SpaceSpaceX tested its new, heavy launch vehicle the Falcon Heavy today. Not only was the launch successful placing a test payload into orbit, but it was able to successfully recover both of the flanking boosters at the Florida facility. At the time I publish this there is no word yet as to whether the main stage recovery on a barge in the Pacific was successful.

This will give the US a heavy lift capacity that it has not had in some time. With the ability to lift over 140,000 lbs, this rocket will be able to lift nearly three times the Delta IV-Heavy, TitanIV-B or Atlas V. This may be a significant step forward for missions to the Moon or more importantly to Mars.