Category Archives: space

Kennedy Space Center and Atlantis

I promise to write more about this trip later, but the dearth of posts this weekend cries out for something, anything right now.

I took my family to the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center. Something of a busman’s holiday, but that was okay. I’ll admit that it was not cheap (what in Florida is?) but it was a full day of exhibits and tours, plus the fun of a collegiate robotic challenge.

What I came to see was this:
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I’ll admit, I cried when I first saw her, pinned like a butterfly on display when she should be soaring through space. But the exhibit for Atlantis is a good one, lots about the history of the Space Shuttle program, the accomplishments in telescopes, satellites, and assembly of ISS, remembrances of the crews we’ve lost, and spinoffs from space. And as a friend reminded me, better on display like this than a jumble of broken pieces hidden in a warehouse. She accomplished her mission, though I still think she was retired too soon.

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X-37B Launch Video, and A Co-author quoted in the New York Times

Yesterday the Air Force hush-hush X-37B space plane successfully launched from Cape Canaveral.

In addition to whatever the Air Force has the X-37B doing, they allowed NASA to piggy-back an experiment aboard.

NASA is also taking advantage of this X-37B flight to test how almost 100 materials react to the harsh conditions of space, like the barrage of radiation and swings of temperature the craft will experience while passing between the day and night sides of the Earth for at least 200 days.

“It’s just sitting there and letting the environment hit it,” said Miria Finckenor, a materials engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. She is the principal investigator for the experiment, which is housed in the space plane’s cargo bay.

The materials to be tested include thermal coatings to keep spacecraft components within a certain range of temperatures, clear materials under consideration for lighter windows on NASA’s Orion crew capsule and ink to make sure that markings on parts do not fade away.

NASA previously tested more than 4,000 samples outside the International Space Station, but it is difficult to carve out time during spacewalks to set up and retrieve the experiments. “This opportunity presented itself, and we just needed to take advantage of it,” Ms. Finckenor said.

I’m just a simple grunt. Would you believe that I actually know three, count ‘em, three honest to goodness rocket scientists?

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SpaceBlogging

Sounds like my in-house Rocket Scientist/Super Model is busy this afternoon, so I’ll put up the space updates.

First, the mysterious X-37B is also taking along a not so hush-hush experiment. The METIS is similar to other tests such as LDF and MISSE on the reaction of various materials exposed to space for varying durations.

Building on more than a decade of data from International Space Station (ISS) research, NASA is expanding its materials science research by flying an experiment on the U.S. Air Force X-37B space plane.

By flying the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS) investigation on the X-37B, materials scientists have the opportunity to expose almost 100 different materials samples to the space environment for more than 200 days. METIS is building on data acquired during the Materials on International Space Station Experiment (MISSE), which flew more than 4,000 samples in space from 2001 to 2013.

“By exposing materials to space and returning the samples to Earth, we gain valuable data about how the materials hold up in the environment in which they will have to operate,” said Miria Finckenor, the co-investigator on the MISSE experiment and principal investigator for METIS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Spacecraft designers can use this information to choose the best material for specific applications, such as thermal protection or antennas or any other space hardware.”

We’re curious about something not mentioned in the release. How different is the orbit of the X-37B from the ISS, in terms of both altitude and inclination, and what effects might that have on the exposed materials?

Next up, Space-X. We’ve all enjoyed watching Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 attempt to safely land after orbital launch missions. Looks like they’ll try again in June. But the other major endeavor underway at Space-X is to crew certify a manned spacecraft. And one of the key tests for that is the pad abort. We’ve all seen the escape tower atop Mercury and Apollo capsules. Space-X uses a rather different approach with their manned variant of the Dragon spacecraft.

That’s an unmanned test, but I’m thinking Space-X could make some money selling that as a carnival ride.

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Roamy roundup

NASA is using its Earth-observing satellites to help Nepal recover from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit April 25.

The satellite data will be used to compile maps of ground surface deformation and to create risk models. NASA and its partners are also contributing to assessments of damage to infrastructure. They are tracking remote areas that may be a challenge for relief workers to reach, as well as areas that could be at risk for landslides, river damming, floods and avalanches…
NASA technology that can locate people trapped beneath collapsed buildings is being deployed to Nepal. A remote-sensing radar technology called FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response), developed by JPL in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, can locate individuals buried as deep as 30 feet (9.1 meters) in crushed materials, hidden behind 20 feet (6 meters) of solid concrete, and from a distance of 100 feet (30.5 meters) in open spaces. This technology, licensed by the private entity R4 Incorporated of Edgewood, Maryland, has been taken to Nepal to assist with recovery efforts.

The folks here at Marshall are also compressing needed data to make up for the limited bandwidth available in Nepal.

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The MESSENGER spacecraft lithobraked into Mercury sometime yesterday. The primary mission was to orbit Mercury for a year and send back data. It lasted just over 4 years in an intense thermal and radiation environment and only took the dive when it ran out of fuel. NASA Science News covered some of MESSENGER’s discoveries, such as ice at the poles, tectonic landforms, an active magnetic field, and an exosphere.
PIA16853mercury_900
Photo from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Mariner 10 is the only other spacecraft to visit Mercury, and that was a flyby mission. That spacecraft also ran out of nitrogen for maneuvering and went quiet in 1975.

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A Russian Progress resupply ship launched on April 28 failed to reach the International Space Station and is expected to burn up during reentry. The current rumor is that the third stage engine failed to shut down and bumped the spacecraft into a spin.

So no one here is complaining that SpaceX didn’t get the first stage landing like they wanted. The Dragon successfully docked with ISS on April 17, delivering food, water, and experiments.

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Speaking of experiments, the X-37B mini-shuttle will be launching soon. One experiment that they mentioned is a Hall thruster propulsion experiment. I helped with some ground testing of Hall thrusters a decade or so ago, so it’s nice to see it actually fly. There’s another experiment, but the press release isn’t out yet, so that will have to wait for the next Roamy roundup. :)

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Tulsa Air and Space Museum

The Tulsa Air and Space Museum was a nice find.  A retired American Airlines MD-80 is parked outside, and an F-14 Tomcat is among the aircraft inside.

tulsa1

The museum pays homage to Oklahoma aviators and astronauts, including a large display about Wiley Post, Will Rogers, and their ill-fated flight in Alaska.  Another display described the last B-24 built at the Douglas plant in Tulsa, the “Tulsamerican”, which later went down in the Adriatic. Art deco pieces of the old airport building are preserved, as well as a couple of old Spartan airplanes. Oklahoma astronauts include Apollo 10 and Apollo-Soyuz commander Thomas Stafford, Skylab astronauts Owen Garriott and William Pogue, and Shuttle astronauts Shannon Lucid and John Herrington.

Mr. RFH liked this, the Jumo 004 turbojet engine for the Me-262.
Jumo

The kids liked the interactive displays and the knowledgeable docent.
mini me
back

Last but not least was the planetarium, which had a number of shows. I liked this display, an Eagle project made of a couple of thousand Rubik’s Cubes.
2000 rubiks

They also had up-to-date stargazer news, including the rendezvous with the Dawn mission to Ceres, the solar eclipse earlier in March, and updates on the James Webb Space Telescope.

On the same road, not far from the museum is Evelyn’s Soul Food Restaurant. This was a nice place to have lunch then return to the museum.

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Roamy roundup

Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of the first spacewalk. Alexei Leonov shares his thoughts.

Ed White would make the first American spacewalk on June 3, 1965 during the Gemini 4 mission. Both men had trouble with their helmets fogging up, which led to better cooling systems in future spacesuits.

Speaking of anniversaries, the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope is next month. There is the NASA version of March Mania where you can vote for your favorite Hubble image. This telescope was designed to be serviced by astronauts, and still they had to repair items not meant to be monkeyed with in microgravity. One example is the imaging spectrograph, repaired during the last servicing mission. Goddard designed this fastener capture plate to hold the 111 fasteners (#4 and #8 size).
capture plate
Between Hubble and ISS, it is amazing what we can do with spacewalks.

If you ever want to fly an experiment on the International Space Station, NASA is creating researcher’s guides for each discipline.

I had posted the 5-segment booster test and thankfully didn’t repeat the public relations error about it being the most powerful booster test ever. NASAWatch sets the record straight with the Wikipedia entry for Aerojet’s motor firing of 5.88 million pounds thrust.

Between Sept. 25, 1965 and June 17, 1967, three static test firings were done. SL-1 was fired at night, and the flame was clearly visible from Miami 50 km away, producing over 3 million pounds of thrust. SL-2 was fired with similar success and relatively uneventful. SL-3, the third and what would be the final test rocket, used a partially submerged nozzle and produced 2,670,000 kgf thrust, making it the largest solid-fuel rocket ever.

And that is the Roamy roundup for today.

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Booster test today

Successful 5-segment booster firing in Utah earlier today.

**Tim Allen grunts “More Power!**

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