Category Archives: Space

NASA Commits to ISS Extension to 2030

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft heads to ISS as crewed version preps for debut
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(See my other Space related Blog posts) – A couple of days ago I came across the article, NASA has Purchased 5 More Crew Dragon Missions, Keeping the ISS Going Until 2030. I was very happy to see that the ISS will be with us for a few more years.

A few days prior to seeing this article I had expressed my concern in the post SECOND CREW REACH TIANGONG-3 that the Chinese Space Station, Tiangong-3, would outlive the ISS by several years.

Fortunately, NASA has committed to extending the life of the ISS until at least 2030. This will maintain the West’s ongoing presence in space for several years. The rational for the extension is stated clearly in this quote from the NASA Authorization Act of 2015.

It is the policy of the United States to maintain an uninterrupted capability for human space flight and operations in low-Earth orbit, and beyond, as an essential instrument of national security and the capability to ensure continued United States participation and leadership in the exploration and utilization of space

Second Crew Reach Tiangong-3

Tiangong-3
Tiangong-3

(See my other Space related Blog posts) – I came across the article Three Chinese astronauts arrive at space station yesterday. The three, the second crew for the Tiangong-3 Space Station, are expected to remain aboard for six months. Their mission will be to complete the assembly and construction of the station. I am of two minds on this achievement.

On the one hand, establishing a second space station beyond the ISS is a step forward. Space is becoming the next frontier for humans to conquer. The zero gravity manufacturing techniques and abundant raw materials found in space offer substantial commercial opportunities. The use of space for terrestrial communications is already being harnessed. As is the use of space based platforms to provide rich data on the Earth’s ecosystem and geography. Likewise, it is the perfect place to observe distant star systems.

The Chinese have longer term plans to send manned missions to the Moon and to eventually establish a base there. These are steps towards spreading humanity out over more than a single vulnerable location.

On the other hand, I think too few realize that China has begun to catch up and could soon challenge the US. I suspect that if you polled average people on the street about Tiangong-3 few would have heard of it. The ISS is scheduled for retirement in 2024. There is currently no replacement. Tiangong-3 is expected to have at least a decade of life ahead. Given the political challenges that China has made, the US must at least maintain equivalence in space.

Heard of Tiangong or Tianhe?

(See my other Space related posts) – Have you heard of the Tiangong space station? It is China’s space station, and it received its first crew of three astronauts on June 17, 2021. They will spend three months aboard the low Earth orbit station. The station’s Tianhe core module was launched only two months ago. 

The module provides propulsion and navigation to the station. It also contains the power supply and life support systems. There is a 50 cubic meter quarters accommodation for the three astronauts. The Tianhe module includes several docking ports. The ports will allow the addition of planned expansion modules. Visiting Shenzhou spacecraft will also use them. The schedule calls for the launch of the first two expansion modules for the station in 2022. 

Watching the video the station has a very new and modern look. The Chinese build the station as a rival to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS mission is currently set to expire in 2024, though there could be a 4-year extension.. 

Further Reading:

You can Get FREE SpaceX Wallpapers for your iPhone

(See my other Space and iOS related posts) – If you are interested in space, particularly SpaceX, you might like the new iPhone wallpapers. The available wallpapers are:

I think my favorite is “SpaceX SAOCOM-1B launch with moon on a dark blue sky”. That is the one that I have set as my wallpaper. The two I included at the top of this post are close runners up. Visit the links above to see the full size wallpapers.

You might also want to visit the SpaceX Flickr site. There are larger format photos there. I really like the one shown above. I think it will become one of the wallpapers on my Mac.

I discovered these cool wallpapers on the iDownload Blog. If you visit their site they offer many different iPhone wallpapers.

Are there at least 36 Intelligent Alien Civilizations in Our Galaxy?

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(See my other Space  related posts) – Most people have heard of the Drake Equation. This was the equation developed by Frank Drake in 1951 to predict the number of alien civilizations.

The article “There Are At Least 36 Intelligent Alien Civilizations In Our Galaxy, Say Scientists” talks a little about a new equation, the “Astrobiological Copernican Limit”.  The new equation is the development of a group of scientists at the University of Nottingham.

Based on their new equation, they estimate that there are at least 36 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. Their study entitled “The Astrobiological Copernican Weak and Strong Limits for Intelligent Life” was appears in the June 2020 edition of The Astrophysical Journal, a publication of The American Astronomical Society.

The average distance to these proposed civilizations is 17,000 light-years. This means that communication with them or even detecting electromagnetic signals from them is impossible.

What do you think? Are we alone?

Nuclear Rockets, ​the Future of Space Propulsion?

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(See my other Space and Propulsion related posts) – I came across the article “Earth To Mars In 100 Days? The Power Of Nuclear Rockets” today and wanted to share it.

 

 

The idea of a nuclear rocket engine was developed in the 1960s for NASA. The research was led by Werner von Braun and successfully tested in Nevada.

What is a nuclear thermal rocket?

A conventional chemical rocket carries combustible chemicals which are ignited, then the resulting gases flow out of a nozzle propelling the vehicle. In a nuclear rocket, a small marble size chunk of Uranium fuel undergoes fission. This energy released heats hydrogen to very high temperatures (nearly 2500 C). The hydrogen is then expelled from the vehicle in a nozzle like on chemical rockets. The difference is that nuclear propulsion is two to three times as efficient.  Tests were carried out starting in 1955 that have proven that this technique will work. Testing was discontinued in 1973.

Where are we Now? 

The original design required highly-enriched uranium. Current designs will most likely rely on low-enriched uranium.  This would make nuclear propulsion systems safer to work with. On May 22, 2019, the US Congress approved $125 million to fund new nuclear thermal propulsion development.

Another alternative being researched is using fusion instead of fission for propulsion. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is working on what they call the Direct Fusion Drive. Applied Fusion Systems is also at work on a fusion alternative.

Whether it is fission in the short term or fusion in the long term, the prospects for nuclear-powered rockets looks very positive. Read the full article for more details.

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.