Archive for the ‘Space Exploration’ Category

Fishing For Space Junk

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Nitto Seimo Co.’s Koji Ozaki holds wire woven with a converted fish-net weaver in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

Great experiment the have been working for 10 years: using a big net to capture space debris and then bundling it to plunge it into the atmosphere to get rid of it.

Japanese researchers will make the world’s first attempt to remove space debris with aluminum netting thanks to a small company here that produces fishing nets.

Nitto Seimo Co. was contacted by JAXA researcher Satomi Kawamoto in April 2004, asking if it could make a net using metallic string.

“I’d sought cooperation from various manufacturers but they’d turned me down one after another,” she recalled. “I was desperate.”

The engineers at Nitto Seimo, whose main products are fishing nets, were unsure why such a net was necessary but decided to accept the request anyway.

Most space waste, found in high concentrations at altitudes of 700 to 1,000 kilometers, comprise parts of manmade satellites and rockets that were launched into space in the past. About 100 million pieces in total are said to exist, and because they travel at extremely high speeds, a collision with a space aircraft could cause a major disaster.

There are about 22,000 pieces of space debris at sizes 10 centimeters or larger — considered dangerous — and researchers have a grasp on trends in their movement. As for smaller waste, however, there are too many of them now to take any measures. Since a 2009 collision between an American artificial satellite and a Russian satellite, the pace at which the volume of space junk is increasing has accelerated. However, only a few pieces of waste have been thus far successfully retrieved with the use of satellites.

The method proposed by JAXA entails attaching wire netting to large debris to generate a magnetic field, reducing its speed over a span of about a year and thereby dropping it toward Earth. Because most of the debris is expected to burn up from frictional heat when it enters the atmosphere, it is believed to be the least costly method.

To ensure the wire’s strength, Kawamoto asked that the wire be made into nets about 10 centimeters wide.

“For 10 years after we accepted the job, we continued working on it out of pride for our work even though it didn’t lead to sales,” said Koji Ozaki, a technical expert at Nitto Seimo. The 0.1 millimeter aluminum wire that was supplied to Nitto easily broke and was hard to weave, and at times the company could only produce 1 meter of netting when the order was for 100.

Nitto workers applied their know-how of fish netting to repeatedly convert machines used to weave fishing nets, and in 2007, was jointly granted a patent with JAXA. In 2009, the company completed the conversion of a fish-net machine into one used specifically for manufacturing wire netting for the removal of space debris.

Pretty awesome idea. Let’s see if it works. Remember: it’s called “space” for a reason — there’s a lot of it out there.

Might be a good idea for a reality TV show. Fishing. Space. Junk. It’s got all the right stuff.

Big Bang Monday: Hot Jupiters

Monday, November 11th, 2013


Fascinating, via NASA Visualization Explorer

In the search for Earth-like planets, astronomers uncover a strange blue world.

Scientists estimate more than 100 billion planets exist beyond our solar system. These alien worlds, known as exoplanets, orbit distant stars located light-years from Earth. One such planet is called HD 189733b. A gas giant slightly larger than Jupiter, HD 189733b circles its star from a distance of only 3 million miles. That’s 13 times closer than Mercury is to our sun. As a result, temperatures in its atmosphere approach 2,000°F. Astronomers discovered HD 189733b in 2005 after observing its parent star dimming with every pass, or transit, of the planet. We now know from follow-up observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope that HD 189733b is blue in color.

If only the original Star Trek was still around — they’d come up with a good episode around these “Hot Jupiters.” This one’s only 63 light years away.

We’re hoping our friends at come out with an exoplanet gallery soon. For now, we’ll settle for regular Jupiter.

Big Bang Monday: The Shrinking Moon

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Smithsonian scientist Tom Watters thinks the moon is shrinking

By looking at images and data taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a team of scientists, including Watters, a planetary scientist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum, were able to examine geological features on the moon called lobate scarps—thrust faults that occur primarily in the lunar highlands. These scarps are the result of the interior of the moon slowly cooling, and as it does so, it shrinks causing its surface area to crack and buckle.

“One of the remarkable aspects of the lunar scarps is their apparent young age,” said Watters. “Relatively young, globally distributed thrust faults show recent contraction of the whole moon, likely due to cooling of the lunar interior. The amount of contraction is estimated to be about 100 meters in the recent past.

The moon’s lobate scarps were first recognized in photographs taken near the moon’s equator by the panoramic cameras flown on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. Fourteen previously unknown lobate scarps have now been revealed in very high resolution images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. The newly detected scarps indicate that the thrust faults are globally distributed and not clustered near the moon’s equator.

“The ultrahigh resolution images from the Narrow Angle Cameras are changing our view of the moon,” said Mark Robinson of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, coauthor and principal investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. “We’ve not only detected many previously unknown lunar scarps, we’re seeing much greater detail on the scarps identified in the Apollo photographs.”

Because the size change is relatively small, however, Watters said that there would be no effect on lunar cycles, tides, etc. It would take millions of years for there to be a perceivable difference in the size of the moon to the naked eye. But this discovery does help change the commonly held belief that the moon is just a dead rock, showing that it is still active and dynamic.

The mare basalts that fill the Taurus-Littrow valley were thrust up by contractional forces to form the Lee-Lincoln fault scarp, just west of the Apollo 17 landing site (arrow). It is the only extraterrestrial fault scarp to be explored by humans (astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt). The digital terrain model derived from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) stereo images shows the fault extending upslope into North Massif were highlands material are also thrust up. The fault cuts upslope and abruptly changes orientation and cuts along slope, forming a narrow bench. LROC images show boulders shed from North Massif that have rolled downhill and collected on the bench. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Apollo 17 images are some of those Moon prints featured by, and you can get some LROC love here.

Gravity: Drama

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

The above review piece on the movie “Gravity” agrees with Leroy Chiao’s OpEd on CNN. Love the bit about orbital mechanics…

The physics of reality spaceflight are also boring. Orbital mechanics can be quite complex. Maneuvers and orbit changes are performed precisely and deliberately, and take some time. Much more exciting to have spacecraft “fly” like winged jet fighters in space, like in “Star Wars.” How boring would those battle scenes have been had their maneuvers been technically accurate?

Why is CNN doing so much around this film? It’s a Warner Bros. film! Regardless, I’d go see it. Here’s the official trailer…

Big Bang Monday: Comet ISON

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

CBS Baltimore reports on the Comet ISON, which could prove to be quite a spectacle. The northern hemisphere, for example, will get to see the comet around 11 December 2013

The comet was discovered by ISON (Пулковская кооперация оптических наблюдателей), hence the naming. NASA Science put together this story, explaining it comprehensively…

So it all depends on whether the Sun obliterates it on the go-around.

Remember to check the Hubble ISONblog for updates.

Dark Side of the Moon

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Pink Floyd has sold more than 40 million copies of the album “Dark Side of the Moon” — the title refers to lunacy, not the actual Moon.

Today’s APOD features something we’ve never seen before: the rotating moon…

No one, presently, sees the Moon rotate like this. That’s because the Earth’s moon is tidally locked to the Earth, showing us only one side. Given modern digital technology, however, combined with many detailed images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a high resolution virtual Moon rotation movie has now been composed. The above time-lapse video starts with the standard Earth view of the Moon. Quickly, though, Mare Orientale, a large crater with a dark center that is difficult to see from the Earth, rotates into view just below the equator. From an entire lunar month condensed into 24 seconds, the video clearly shows that the Earth side of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar maria, while the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar highlands. Two new missions are scheduled to begin exploring the Moon within the year, the first of which is NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). LADEE, which launched just over a week ago, is scheduled to begin orbiting the Moon in October and will explore the thin and unusual atmosphere of the Moon. In a few months, the Chinese Chang’e 3 is scheduled to launch, a mission that includes a soft lander that will dispatch a robotic rover.

Maybe Syd Barrett can see it.

Big Bang Monday: Perseid Meteor Explosion

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Pretty amazing indeed: capturing a Perseid meteor exploding. It’s legit, too. Via Universe Today

Personally, I’ve never seen anything like this, and photographer and digital artist Michael K. Chung said he couldn’t believe what he saw when he was processing images he took for a timelapse of the Perseid meteor shower. It appears he captured a meteor explosion and the resulting expansion of a shock wave or debris ring.

“It was taken early in the morning on August 12, 2013 from my backyard in Victorville, CA,” Michael told Universe Today via email. “The fade to white is NOT an edit- it is overexposure due to the sun coming up. From what I can tell, the timelapse sequence of the explosion and expanding debris span an actual time of approximately 20 minutes.”

Michael said because he shoots at much higher resolution than 720p, he’s able to provide two different sequences in this video: one is with the full frame of each capture scaled/reduced and then cropped down to 1280×720, and the other is with the full frame kept at resolution with just the region around the explosion cropped to 1280×720. “I included each sequence twice – once at 24 frames per second and the other at around 12 fps.”

Not nearly as dramatic as a seemingly-exploding Large Megellanic Cloud Galaxy, but it’ll do.

Mars Mission: Bring Nutella

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

The HI-SEAS experiment is an interesting proposition. Lock six people into a dome for four months and have them work with non-perishable food. On the north slope of Mauna Loa.

Hawaii? Why not the South Pole? Well, that has its cohabitation challenges. It only looks like Mars — without the minus-60-degree Celsius temps.

They had interesting things to do, for example. With power and Internet, why not tune in and munch out?

I could probably survive with these ingredients, which include Spam. The most important one was actually a treat: Nutella. Which, by the way, is looking into different colors. They should sell a limited edition “Mars Red Nutella” for the geek market.

Curiosity on Mars: One Year in Two Minutes

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Ain’t nobody got time for watching Mars Curiosity rover videos!

Here’s the first year, in two minutes.

Kirobo In Space

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Japan will be first with sending talking robot into space, named Kirobo.

Check out the promo video, in Japanese, which is very well done. Probably because Dentsu is in on it. Nice site, too.