Archive for October, 2006

Now What?

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

The latest on Wildblue’s upgrade from 10/24/06 Skyreport:  

The date to which WildBlue Communications planned on reopening its currently-inoperable spot beams – shut down for system upgrades – has been pushed back another month to ensure the software has been thoroughly tested. To avoid potential network disruptions for the company’s subscribers, WildBlue has extended its network upgrade schedule from Nov. 1 to Dec. 1 of this year.

In a letter written to its dealer base obtained by SkyREPORT, WildBlue said it expects "many or all of the beams that reopen will have to be suspended again before our second satellite is operational. How long they stay open for new orders is dependent on how much additional capacity was added by the upgrade and at the rate at which new orders are being entered."

The date extension comes on the heels of WildBlue’s announcement with satellite TV provider EchoStar and its DISH Network to provide customers with a high-speed internet solution. The push back has affected DISH dealers as well forcing the company to issue a statement of its own.

In a letter posted on its dealer website, DISH said it will be suspending new customer orders in certain regions affected by the extension and have taken the measures to "ensure quality service levels for current WildBlue customers in the affected beams."

DISH said it was encouraging its dealers to enter "as many orders as possible prior to the suspensions" because those "will be able to be installed after the suspensions take place." Both companies urged their dealers to create a waiting list for the customers who placed their orders after the suspensions because the stoppage will be "relatively short."

WildBlue said its new satellite is slated for launch before the end of this year and will become operational sometime during the first quarter of 2007.

Cargo for ISS

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006


An unmanned Russian cargo ship carrying 2.76 U.S. tons of supplies, equipment and gifts blasted off Monday en route to the international space station, a space official quoted by AP said.

The Progress M-58 mounted atop a Soyuz-U booster rocket lifted off at 5:41 p.m. from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and entered orbit about 10 minutes later, Federal Space Agency spokesman Valery Lyndin said.

The ship was scheduled to reach the orbiting station Thursday evening, delivering fresh fruit and vegetables, compact discs and DVDs and other gifts to the station’s current crew — cosmonaut
Mikhail Tyurin, U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and German astronaut Thomas Reiter.

Also included in the shipment, according to Itar-Tass, will be equipment for repairing a Russian-built Elektron oxygen generator, which overheated last month, spreading burnt-rubber smell and leaking potassium hydroxide.

While the incident forced the crew to don masks and gloves in the first emergency ever declared aboard the 8-year-old orbiting outpost, Russian and U.S. space officials downplayed it, saying crew members’ lives were never in any danger.

“The Perfect Thing” Turns 5

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Longtime Really Rocket Science readers will recall our intrepid reporting on the "Ipod From Space" rumor that went around the Internets back in March.

As it turned out, there was no grand marketing plan to unveil an Ipod that was viewable from space. But since then, at least one Ipod has gone into space: Anousheh Ansari brought her Ipod with her when she became the first female space tourist (and first female Muslimin in space) when she travelled to the International Space Station last month. (Ansari blogged about her cosmic music selection here.)

Hey, who doesn’t like a little electronic diversion on a long commercial flight? 

All of this is to say that sometimes a technological and design break through isn’t really rocket science — but it can change the world nonetheless. 

And today, on the Ipod’s fifth birthday, we doff our hats to the beautiful design and transformative power of what is — let’s face it — not much more than a portable hard drive with an occassionally buggy OS.

But our Ipods are something we just can’t imagine living without. And that, ultimately, is the most meaningful testament  to any technology.

But we’re not alone in singing the Ipod’s praises today: it’s been hailed as "The Perfect Thing" and "The Poster Child for the 21st Century."

Everyone from Queen Elizabeth to the janitor in our building has one. It’s been to space. Thousands of them have entertained our troops abroad. And they’ve changed the way we purchase and listen to music — transforming the entire music industry in the process.

Not bad for a cute little piece of plastic.

Lunar Lander XPrize

Monday, October 23rd, 2006


Armadillo Aerospace’s  lunar lander impressed quite a few people at the XPrize Cup in Las Cruces this weekend. Aero-News Net gives this account:

 …the final flight on Saturday, the one that would have earned Armadillo the first tier prize, was frustrated when minor damage done in the previous landing caused a series of events that initiated an inflight abort when the vehicle banked too aggressively shortly after liftoff, and the vehicle went down, damaging itself beyond the ability to fly again.


RRL Announces Winner of Naming Contest; First X-Racer Unveiled

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Following up on Spektor’s post on Wednesday about the Wirefly X-Prize Cup (which begins today in Las Cruces, New Mexico), reports that the first first Mark-1 X-Racer will be known as the Thunderhawk:


 Unveiling the Thunderhawk [image] today at the Wirefly X Prize Cup, RRL officials said that the moniker beat out names like Banshee and Sky Warrior in an online contest that generated more than 2,000 submissions from fans around the planet.

The world headquarters of the Rocket Racing League is based here. The RRL aims to debut its first NASCAR-style races in late Fall 2007 – a first-of-its-kind aerospace sports and entertainment league formed by X Prize founder Peter Diamandis and Granger Whitelaw, a two-time Indy 500 champion team partner….

The fan submitting the winning name is Michael Higgins of New Market, Maryland. He’s an engineer and manager working in the composite pressure vessel industry serving life-support and aerospace/defense applications.

Higgins outlined today how he came up with the Thunderhawk moniker.

“The aircraft, with its rocket propulsion, combines thunderous sound with brilliant flame and light. So I worked up several names focused on thunder and light, and tried to connect those with a bird of prey,” he explained. 

Higgins said he expected the RRL races will put rocket propulsion technology in front of thousands of people through thrilling events. 

“They should generate public interest in rockets and space, much like the famous air races of the 1920s and 1930s did during the golden era of aviation,” Higgins said.

The contest began January 30 and attracted over 2,000 submissions. The top 1,000 names were whittled down to ten semi-finalists by a panel of RRL judges. Fans then were able to vote for their favorite name from the top ten on AOL. 

Nearly 20,000 votes were cast via AOL, selecting Thunderhawk the most popular name.

The live webcast from events at the Wirefly X-Prize Cup is now up; Really Rocket Scientists like us (who couldn’t attend in person) will be glued to the webcast and news coming out of Las Cruces today and tomorrow. (On-demand video from the event can be found here.)

Soyuz Launches MetOp

Friday, October 20th, 2006

The MetOp satellite was finally launched into polar orbit on 19 October 2006 on a Soyuz rocket:

The Soyuz 2-1a, an enhanced version of the Soyuz launcher, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan right on schedule at 10:28 p.m. local time (04:28 p.m. UTC, 06:28 p.m. in Paris). It is the 1,714th launch of a rocket from the Soyuz family.

Starsem and its Russian partners confirmed that the Fregat orbital stage accurately injected Eumetsat’s MetOp-A satellite into its Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO). The Fregat upper stage was ignited twice to place MetOp-A into orbit 1 hour, 8 minutes after lift-off.

The MetOp-A satellite will provide more precise details about atmospheric temperature and moisture profiles, invaluable for weather forecasting and climate monitoring. The MetOp program was jointly established by the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the European Space Agency (ESA). Their main partners in this co-operative venture are the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in France and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

For this flight, Starsem used the upgraded Soyuz 2-1a, flown with the new ST fairing. The 2-1a configuration features improved navigation accuracy and control capability provided by a digital control system. The 2-1a configuration also enables Starsem to introduce the ST payload fairing with an external diameter of 4.1 meters and a length of 11.4 meters.

This latest successful launch by Soyuz reflects the industrial capabilities of the Samara Space Center (TsSKB-Progress) and the skills of all the operating teams, working under the authority of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

Starsem is responsible for the international marketing and operation of Soyuz launchers. Its shareholders are Arianespace, EADS, Roscosmos and the Samara Space Center.

Check out the launch highlights.


A Violent Collision of Stars, or a Marriage?

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

That’s the question many are asking when they see this stunning new image of the merging Antennae galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope:


Reuters explains: 

A seemingly violent collision of two galaxies is in fact a fertile marriage that has birthed billions of new stars, and an image released on Tuesday gives astronomers their best view yet.

The new image of the Antennae galaxies allows astronomers working with the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope to distinguish between new stars and the star clusters that form them.

Most of these clusters, created in the collision of the two galaxies, will disperse within 10 million years but about 100 of the largest will grow into "globular clusters" — large groups of stars found in many galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

The Antennae galaxies, 68 million light years from Earth, began to fuse 500 million years ago.

The image serves as a preview for the Milky Way’s likely collision with the nearby Andromeda Galaxy, about 6 billion years from now.

So if you’ve ever gotten the feeling that everything was heading towards a tremendous smash-up — well, you’re right.

You can zoom in on the above image at the HubbleSite


U.S. National Space Policy

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

"Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests."

Click here to read the unclassified version.

Interesting: a comparison to Clinton’s policy of 1996.

X-Prize Cup Tournament This Friday & Saturday in New Mexico

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

For readers that haven’t established weekend plans just yet, you might want to consider a quick jaunt out to La Cruces, NM where the Wirefly X-Prize Cup will be taking place this coming Friday and Saturday (Oct. 20 & 21).

The main event of the weekend will, of course, be the $2.5 million in Prize competitions that will being going on throughout the exposition.

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander and Vertical Lander Challenge will probably be on of the most watched events, but the Spaceward Foundation‘s Space Elevator Challenge may be among its most technically interesting. In the Space Elevator Games, teams will be competing for two, separate $200,000 prizes, one for who builds the best climber (a machine capable of traveling up and down a tether ribbon, with powering being beamed to a transmitter on the device) and the team that builds the strongest tether (first competing against other teams and then by proving that its tether is 50% stronger than the off-the-shelf variety.

While we’ve written about the space elevator competition in the past, Really Rocket Science readers will also have a leg-up on other attendees in terms of other events going on at the space exposition. Also taking place during the fair will be the unveiling of the Rocket Racing League’s X-Racer (written about at RRS here) and meet and greet with the world’s first space tourist, Anousheh Ansari (written about on RRS just a few weeks ago).

Stay tuned to Really Rocket Science for all the information coming out of New Mexico in the next few days. While we won’t be there, we’re going to stick to this story in the days ahead.

MetOp Launches Today at 2:28 pm EDT

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006


The BBC reports on Europe’s first polar-orbit satellite:

Europe is set to launch its most sophisticated weather and climate satellite to date.

The MetOp spacecraft will be lofted into its 850km-high polar orbit by a Soyuz-Fregat vehicle from Kazakhstan.

The platform should improve forecasting globally, and give scientists detailed data they can use to refine models describing how Earth’s systems work.

Metop has eight instruments to gather a range of data about the planet’s atmospheric and surface conditions….

Metop is a joint project of the European Space Agency (Esa) and Eumetsat, the intergovernmental organisation charged by European member states with operating a series of orbiting weather observatories….

The new platform weighs more than four tonnes and measures almost 18m (60ft) with its solar wing unfurled.

The Eumetsat website will feature a stream broadcasting the launch live. For more information on the satellite, visit the ESA Portal, or click here for a cool animated video explaining the satellite and its mission.