Archive for January, 2007

Bicycling in Low Gravity

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Here’s an interesting concept:

What is it, you ask? It’s a hyperbike — and NASA has put up a little cash to see where it goes (pun intended): 

The Hyperbike is a working prototype created by inventor Curtis DeForest for a human-powered vehicle that will be faster than a traditional bicycle and much safer…

In creating the HyperBike, DeForest tried to remedy the flaws of the standard bicycle. For one thing, it has no seat; the rider stands upright. Also, the arms are used for additional power. DeForest describes pedaling the HyperBike as "swimming on dry land." Motor vehicle speeds of at least fifty miles per hour are easily attained….

One of the most interesting differences lies in the greater stability of the HyperBike. A conventional bicycle has the center of gravity higher than the spinning axis of the wheels. The HyperBike positions the rider in such a way as to put the center of gravity below the wheel axis.

Apparently, it is the stability and balance of weight relative to spinning forces that has NASA interested. These factors would make the Hyperbike a good choice for low gravity environments. The NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program has invested some capital in the development of the next model.

Now, I’ll admit to a tendency to get overly excited about these things — don’t even ask me about the Segway — but don’t you think this is pretty cool?

The Scramjet Future?

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Every been curious about what comes after rockets? While the explosive lift-offs are awesome and have been helping NASA (and pretty much everyone else) do heavy lifting at incredible speeds throughout all of the space race, rockets require a great deal of hevy fuel (and Oxygen) to get up into space and don’t allow the manuverability we expect in a next generation space craft. For these reasons (and a bunch of others typically tied to safety), NASA has tied its plans for future superfast, ultrasonic transportation Scramjet (Super Combustion Ramjet) technology.

Current scramjet test vehicals reach over 7,000 mph (10x the speed of sound), going from 0 to 165 mph in .75 seconds. Check out the following video for even more information (note the selection of background music here):

The problem? While Scramjets may be able to overcome manuverability obstacles, it doesn’t seem likely that they’re going to be able to do it without rockets. In order to reach their ultrasonic speeds, most scramjets that have been tested, plagued with supersonic minimum speeds, need to be rocketed to 2.5-5 times the speed of sound by rockets in order to start their engines and reach their top speeds. Unless, of course, those electromagnetic catapults can start getting scramjets to their required speeds.

DIY Friday: Play-doh FM Radio

Friday, January 19th, 2007

So maybe you got a little Play-doh® in your stocking during the holiday season and now, with winter finally upon us, you’re looking for something to do with it in the great indoors. Well, when I get out my playdough one potential use quickly leaps to mind… turning it into a Play-doh-based FM radio.

This a relatively easy project that only really requires a mini-radio, some playdough, a bottlecap, and some manual dexterity, but it’s sure to be a real conversation starter at the Gym.

"Oh, what’s this?" you reply stepping on to the treadmill. "This old thing? It’s just my playdough radio." Take that, Mr. Grunts-alot.

In all seriousness, you also might want to take some time checking out the Instructables site this weekend as well. It’s a really neat site that lets users easily create their own step-by-step instructions (with photos) of almost any project or activity.

Beware the Chinese Satellite Killer

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Read the Reuters report via the Irish Examiner earlier today and was relieved to see the target satellite they smacked into was only 500 miles away, prompting the U.S. to object:

"The U.S. believes China’s development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "We and other countries have expressed our concern regarding this action to the Chinese."

Using a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile, the test knocked out an aging Chinese weather satellite about 537 miles above the earth on January 11 through "kinetic impact," or by slamming into it, Johndroe said.

For those of us who watch TV, we need not be alarmed. Communications satellites that provide video services, either direct-to-home or to cable systems, operate in the geosynchronous or Clarke orbit. That’s 22,236 miles up. Can’t smack that down.

Northrup Grumman Opens High-Energy Laser Facility

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Via Air Force Online comes the news that Northrup Grumman has opened the "first of its kind by private industry in the US” high-energy laser facility dedicated solely to military systems at Redondo Beach.

The Daily Breeze has the details:

The Directed Energy Production Facility, part of Northrop’s Redondo Beach-based Space Technology sector, represents the first of its kind by private industry in the United States and probably the world, company officials said.
Sword Medical

The new facility has three large laser laboratories to produce solid-state lasers, which use electric power to create an intense beam of light. The site also will be used to integrate lasers into larger defense systems….

Northrop is building on the laser technology it inherited from TRW Inc. when it bought the company in 2002….

The Joint High-Power Solid State Laser program will be the first work conducted in the new facility, Northrop said. In its third phase, this Department of Defense program will build and demonstrate the first 100-kilowatt solid-state laser.

The Northrop Grumman press release can be found here; far more interesting, however, is this animated and live video from Northrop Grumman of the defensive and tactical applications of laser technology on land, sea and air.

While you’re watching video and thinking about lasers and unexploded ordinance, be sure to check out this video from the White Sands Missle Range in southern New Mexico. The High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility  is located at White Sands.

Chores on the Space Station

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

That snowy rocket you see is a Russian Soyuz rocket at Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is set to launch tonight at 9:12 p.m. EST (0212 Jan. 18 GMT) and which sheds a light on the chores that go into keeping the International Space Station running. explains what goes into a space station shopping list:

Riding aboard the Progress 24 space freighter will be more than 1,720 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen and about 3,285 pounds of dry cargo – which includes new equipment, experiments and spare parts. The fresh supplies are expected to arrive at the space station’s Russian-built Pirs docking compartment Friday at 10:03 p.m. EST (0303 Jan. 20 GMT) .

 To prepare for Progress 24’s ISS arrival, the station’s Expedition 14 crew and their flight controllers on Earth will cast off an older cargo ship – Progress 22 – from its berth at the Pirs compartment at about 6:29 p.m. EST today (2329 GMT).

As for the trash — well, it looks like someone took it out a bit early:

Fragments of a Russian cargo ship carrying garbage and used equipment from the international space station (ISS) have crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean ahead of the arrival of a new cargo ship, a Russian official said.

Engineers undocked the Progress M-57 at around 2.29am (1029 AEDT) and sent it hurtling toward Earth, said Vera Medvedkova, a spokesman for the Federal Space Agency.

Much of the ship burnt up as it re-entered the atmosphere, and fragments crashed in a vast area of the Pacific, some 4,200 kilometres east of New Zealand, just under four hours later, she said.

Funny. It seems like it takes more than four hours just to get my trash out to the curb.

Talk about a Payload…

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

The Stanford Daily last week reported on a joint venture between NASA and Stanford University that would putting E. coli into space.

The project, which has been dubbed GeneSat-1, has involved the launching of a new non-harmful strain of E. coli bacteria into orbit in an attempt to observe the impact that zero gravity and space radiation have on the DNA of living organisms. By studying the data that is being transmitted to Earth from the shoebox-sized project satellite, the GeneSat-1 team believes that the mission could offer insight into the health risks of prolonged manned space missions. Spearheading the GeneSat-1 mission is a host of Stanford-affiliated technologists and NASA researchers.

I wonder if this is the first time blasting the bacteria commonly found in excrement into space might actually help humanity? I don’t know, but the mission appears to have been a part of the payload in the first launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Talking about some history making bacteria … hey, at least its not in my Spinach. 🙂


DIY Friday: Paint That Satellite Dish

Friday, January 12th, 2007

We’ve blogged about unobtrusively installing your own dish — but most satellite TV customers rarely decorate their antennas by painting them.

After coming across this site, showing beautifully painted and decorated satellite antennas in North Africa, we may want to reconsider.

Before we run out and start painting, we need to keep in mind the reflector serves a purpose, and never paint the LNB. Check for details.

DISA Issues RFI for TCA to Industry, With Help from the Comms FIO and NSSO

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency) is turning to the commercial satcom community for what appears to be a huge undertaking: the TCA (Transformational Communications Architecture). It includes satcom systems serving NASA, DoD and the Intelligence Community. Like I said: HUGE.

Federal Computer Week has the story:

Transformational Communications Architecture will address the potential for an expanded role for commercial satellite communications to meet the requirements of DOD, NASA and the intelligence community through the year 2020, according to the request for information released Jan. 9.

The Communications Functional Integration Office (FIO) of the National Security Space Office (NSSO) is overseeing the project.

According to the RFI, the agency wants to assess the ability of the commercial satellite industry to meet a wide range of requirements, including wideband and narrowband communications provided by satellite systems operating in L, S, C, X, Ku, and Ka bands.

DISA also needs to know how well commercial services can support various communication platforms, such as handheld, airborne (including unmanned aerial vehicles) and shipboard communications. Replies to the RFI are due Jan. 26.

Bernie Skoch, a consultant with Suss Consulting who worked for DISA as director of customer advocacy, said it makes sense to bundle future NASA requirements with DOD because NASA has a lot of satellite assets that lie fallow between space missions.

Skoch said that the RFI indicated that DOD does not have enough in-house expertise to develop its own architecture and needs to reach across the table for help from industry.

In a briefing delivered to a Satellite Industry Association conference late last year, Cmdr. Allan Assel of the FIO said DOD needs a new architecture to address potential shortfalls in the coming years as the demand for satellite communications exceeds capacity.

Assel said next-generation communications architecture should also leverage IP-based communications, which can support interoperable voice, video and data streams, memory in space, and information assurance. The new TCA should also work in concert with DISA’s Global Information Grid to help synchronize multiple acquisitions.

NSSO, in cooperation with the Transportation Department, is also developing an architecture for satellite-based positioning, navigation and timing services.

I didn’t write this! Sounds more like Dickens

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

While some might say it reminds them of a game of "Spot the Looney," there seems to be some confusion across the pond about whether or not the U.K. is going to venture to the moon or not.

According to the BBC, the UK’s astronomy funding agency, the PParc, is planning on taking the country’s first mission to the moon by 2010. The proposed craft, named Moonlight, would be designed to orbit the satellite and shoot four "suitcase-sized darts containing various instrumentation into the lunar surface.

"The darts could carry a small suite of instruments, such as seismometers to listen for ‘Moonquakes’. Analysing these tremors would give scientists new insight into the make-up of the lunar interior.

According to Dr Andrew Coates, of the Mullard Space Science Lab and who has contributed to the concept study, the impactors would represent the first time there had been a detailed study of the Moon’s sub-surface."

Another proposed designed, code-named Moonraker, would be designed to land on the surface of the moon.

"Its scientific goal would be to study the lunar surface, perhaps at the poles or in the giant impact crater that resides on the far side of the Moon. It might also provide useful information for space agencies searching for suitable sites for eventual human habitation."

Cool ideas, so what’s the problem? Well, it turns out key British Science officials are saying that its pretty unlikely that the UK is going to go it alone on a project of this magnitude.

According to science blog, David Parker, director of space science at the British National Space Centre (BNSC), the plans the BBC reported on are the "’most unlikely outcome’ of Britain’s space plans."