Archive for October, 2008

The Far Side of the Moon

Monday, October 13th, 2008

The Japanese Lunar Explorer, KAGUYA, has found a clear difference between the gravity on the far side of the moon and the near side. The discovery is significant because it is evidence of the different interior and thermal history of the two sides.

The lunar gravity field is estimated from radiowave tracking of spacecraft orbiting over the lunar surface. Since the far side of the Moon cannot be observed from the Earth, spacecraft over the far side of the Moon cannot be tracked directly.

Previously the far side gravity of the Moon was obtained basically from the extrapolation of the spacecraft orbit over the near side. KAGUYA has two subsatellites (the relay subsatellite OKINA and VLBI subsatellite OUNA) for the far side gravity measurement.

Since OKINA relays and transmits Doppler tracking signals of radiowave between the main satellite over the far side and the ground radio antenna, the orbits of the main satellite can be determined precisely. Thus we can obtain the accurate far side gravity field of the Moon.

So, what exactly is the “far side of the moon” anyway?

The far side of the Moon is the lunar hemisphere that is permanently turned away from the Earth. The far hemisphere was first photographed by the Soviet Luna 3 probe in 1959, and was first directly observed by human eyes when the Apollo 8 mission orbited the Moon in 1968. The rugged terrain is distinguished by a multitude of crater impacts, as well as relatively few lunar maria. It includes the largest known impact feature in the Solar System: the South Pole-Aitken basin.

The findings from the KAGUYA explorer were presented by Dr. Sho Sasaki of National Astronomical Observatory of Japan at the 40th annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.

KAGUYA was the same explorer that brought us the first High-Def images of Earth last year.

DIY Friday: Get a Space Prize

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Taking a break from the usual how-to entries, today will be an inspirational DIY-Friday. If high-schooler can create devices launched into space, you can do anything, right?

A team of students from UK’s Shrewsbury school won a contest to design a device that will be launched on a British-built satellite in 2010:

The competition, launched earlier this year, challenged teams of 14-19-year-olds to design and build a small, compact satellite instrument.

The experiment will be flown as an additional payload on a low-Earth orbiting satellite being built by SSTL.

Conceived by Dr Stuart Eves, from the satellite company, it was set up as an initiative to boost interest in space science among young people.

The winning entry will be given a developmental budget of up to £100,000.

The winning decice is called POISE, “which will measure variations in the ionosphere – the outermost layer of the atmosphere.” It could have a pretty big impact (especially for a few teenagers):

Dr Eves praised all the finalists. He said of the winning entry: “We’re very excited about the potential for the experiment, since, in addition to supporting navigation safety, some scientists in the US and Taiwan think variations in the ionosphere might also help provide indications of impending earthquakes”.

The prize was announced by Soyeon Yi, the Korean astronaut, who you may remember from this post.

Inspired? If so, get to work. There are lots of other space prizes out there – for both high schoolers and adults. This site puts together the list, or follow a blog dedicated to these micro-space-races here. The Moonbuggy race may be the coolest. Yes, even cooler than an ionosphere variation measurer.

Looks Like Kutztown

Friday, October 10th, 2008


Copyright © 2008 GeoEye
Copyright © 2008 GeoEye


GeoEye-1’s first image released of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania:

GeoEye, Inc. (NASDAQ: GEOY), a premier provider of satellite, aerial and geospatial information, released today the first, color half-meter ground resolution image taken from its GeoEye-1 satellite. The satellite has been undergoing calibration and check-out since it was launched on Sept. 6 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Calif. The Company will begin selling GeoEye-1 imagery products later this fall.

The Kutztown University image shows the campus, which includes academic buildings, parking lots, roads, athletic fields and the track-and-field facility. The image was collected at 12:00 p.m. EDT on Oct. 7, 2008 while GeoEye-1 was moving north to south in a 423-mile-high (681 km) orbit over the eastern seaboard of the U.S. at a speed of four-and-one-half miles per second. GeoEye-1 was built by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems in Gilbert, Ariz. The imaging system was built by ITT in Rochester, NY.


I Want My MobileTV

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Let’s talk about Solaris.

No, we don’t mean the Sun Microsystems operating system for Web servers (for which there is now OpenSolaris anyhow), nor the solar-powered roadway studs that go by the same name.

We’re talking about Solaris Mobile, the joint venture between ASTRA and Eutelsat — competitors in providing satellite TV in Europe who are now partners in launching an S-band based service.


TerreStar, it turns out, is after the same spectrum:

Following the Oct 6 announcement that the Solaris Mobile SES Astra/Eutelsat joint-venture is seeking to win access to the 2GHz S-Band for DVB-H transmission over Europe comes news that TerreStar Europe is also bidding for the same capacity.

TerreStar Europe is a subsidiary of TerreStar Networks, a Virginia-based business (and NASDAQ registered) that is seeking to operate integrated satellite and terrestrial telecoms systems. The business was originally called Motient, and it is a direct successor to American Mobile Satellite Ventures. A couple of weeks ago TerreStar sold off its stake in rival SkyTerra for $123m. TerreStar already has a nationwide roaming agreement with AT&T throughout the USA, for example.

Here’s the pitch for Solaris (opens in PDF). It’s similar to satellite radio in the U.S., such as the now- combined Sirius XM, which offers Backseat TV — one of a half-dozen ways of getting mobile TV in the U.S.

Solaris Mobile will use Eutelsat’s W2A satellite, scheduled for early 2009, and a very large spacecraft:

Based on the Alcatel Alenia Space Spacebus 4000C4 platform, W2A’s missions also comprise up to 46 transponders in Ku-band and a C-band payload of 10 transponders. Designed with a lifetime of more than 15 years, W2A has a maximum launch mass of 5.7 tonnes and will deliver 11 kW of payload power. 

Eutelsat has also just announced they will have two spacecraft as Arianespace’s payload at the end of November — one of many launches over the next three months worldwide.

(Check out our previous posts on Mobile TV here, here and here.)

Sirius Radio on an iPhone

Thursday, October 9th, 2008



Sirius Satellite Radio subscribers have the priviledge to listen via Internet audio streams. It was only a matter of time before an iPhone app was created: uSirius.

Follow the discussion on Sirius Backstage.

Send In The Rocket Scientist

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008


Watched the U.S. presidential debate last night and neither could explain their position on this $700 billion bailout/rescue. Seems their economic talking points haven’t changed much in six months (Main Street, middle class, tax the rich). We need Madison Avenue to start selling these leading candidates.

Now we’ve got an interesting angle, as far as we’re concerned and way to go, NPR! They called it before we did in today’s Morning Edition piece on Neel Kashkari, the new Interim Assistant-secretary for Financial Stability: "Ex-Rocket Scientist To Oversee Financial Bailout." He worked on NASA’s Jame Webb Space Telescope at TRW. Click here to listen:

Back in the 1990s, Tom Dautel worked on a team led by Kashkari to design a solar car called the Photon Torpedo at the University of Illinois. He says Kashkari worked like a slave, often even on projects he wasn’t directly overseeing.

"He meant business. He wanted to get the job done. He was very focused, and it doesn’t surprise me he ended up where he is," Dautel says.

Poorni Bid says Kashkari’s intensity made the man she and other classmates called Rocket Scientist seem wise and competent beyond his years.

"He stood out in just his focus and just his intensity," she says. "And you’d think everyone in MBA school would be like that, but there was a different quality about him."




The Independent (U.K.) gives us some background:

Before he became one of the "masters of the universe", as the ambitious bankers of Wall Street are known, Mr Kashkari was headed towards becoming a master of the cosmos, doing important work for Nasa’s space program. Banking is not in his blood. Science is. His father, Chapman, is a retired professor of engineering, and his mother Sheila is a pathologist. It was to science that the young Neel Kashkari originally hewed, taking a bachelor’s and a master’s in engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, his home state’s flagship public university. His first major career was as a research and development investigator at a company called TRW in Redondo Beach, California, which had an illustrious history as a contractor to Nasa, creating several of its deep space satellites. At TRW, Mr Kashkari helped develop technology for new space science missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which is due for launch in 2013 as a successor to the ageing Hubble telescope and which will go searching for light from the first stars formed after the Big Bang.

The sheer complexity of this situation will take a rocket scientist to fix, but it’s already affecting the presidential race:

Within the poll numbers, Obama appears to have been helped by a number of factors. For one, voters generally tend to say they believe Democrats are better at handling the economy than Republicans, and that appears to have happened here. A new Hotline poll shows that over the last week the percentage of respondents who feel McCain is better prepared than Obama to handle the economy fell five percentage points, from 43 to 38 percent.

McCain’s personal performance, from his attempt to cancel the initial presidential debate to his silence in presidential meetings on the bailout, did not gain him new votes, at least in the short term. A USA Today/Gallup poll taken before the bailout failed to pass the House on Monday showed that 53 percent of respondents judged his actions unfavorably.



India, to the Moon!

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Who is this man?


He’s the man who’ll give India the moon, otherwise known as Mylswamy Annadurai, the recipient of the Hariom Ashram pretit Vikram Sarabhai Research Award for his outstanding Contributions to Systems Analysis and Space systems management(2004), and the recipient of a citation from ISRO for his contribution to the INSAT systems Mission management(2003) and Team Excellence award for his contribution to Indian Space Program (2007):

On the shoulders of the soft-spoken M Annadurai rests a mission that will make history for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and for India. The man, who has worked on a dozen ISRO missions, is now the project director of the most ambitious of missions of ISRO till date. Annadurai… is now preparing to send India’s first mission to the moon, Chandrayaan I.

The spacecraft, which will carry 11 payloads, of which five are from India and six from the US, Europe and Bulgaria, will be launched onboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C11 (PSLV), with improved strap-on motors. On D-day (as of now, October 22), the PSLV’s lift-off will take India into the league of nations that have had a date with the moon, remotely. This could be just the warming up before an Indian lands on the moon.

Here’s a good illustration of the Chandrayaan I mission. Integration with the launch rocket has begun at Sriharikota Range (SHAR), and the launch is scheduled for the 22nd of this month:


At SHAR, the lunar probe will undergo a further series of electrical and mechanical checks, including those of its solar panels. It has already undergone preliminary thermal and vibration tests at the ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) in Bangalore.

The upgraded version of the launch rocket PSLV-C11 will have a lift-off weight of 316 tonnes, and will be used to inject the 1,304-kg mass Chandrayaan-I into a 240 x 24,000 km orbit. Subsequently, the spacecraft’s own propulsion system will be used to position it in a 100-km polar orbit around the moon.

We’ll have more about the liftoff as the 22nd approaches.

Space Tug

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Currently, when satellites malfunction, they become (very expensive) space junk. A geosynchronous satellite orbits at 36,000 km (22,300 miles), which puts it outside the range for any type of service or repair. But researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario are hoping to change that.

“These are mechanical systems, which means that eventually they will fail,” notes Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Michael Greenspan, who leads the Queen’s project. But because they are many thousands of kilometres away, the satellites are beyond the reach of an expensive, manned spaced flight, while Earth-based telerobotic repair isn’t possible in real time."

Dr. Greenspan’s solution to this problem is the development of tracking software that will enable an Autonomous Space Servicing Vehicle (ASSV) to grasp the ailing satellite from its orbit and draw it into the repair vehicle’s bay. Once there, remote control from the ground station can be used for the repair, he explains. “The repair itself doesn’t have to be done in real time, since everything is in a fixed position and a human can interact with it telerobotically to do whatever is required.”

The main challenge in this process is computer vision. The robotic system must be able to recognize and track the satellite, even in the harsh illumination conditions of space. Here’s a video demonstration of the technology that helps accurately measure the surface geometry of the satellite. It’s a light-based radar called LIDAR:


Funding for the Queen’s University research is provided by NSERC. NSERC is a federal agency whose vision is to help make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for the benefit of all Canadians. The agency supports some 25,000 university students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies and promotes discovery by funding more than 11,000 university professors every year.


Loral tried to sell NASA on a space tug last December:

Instead of using a Russian Progress supply spacecraft to retrieve a separately launched pressurized cargo vehicle and guide it back to the space station for unloading, the Space System/Loral-team would use the company’s proven 1300-series satellite bus as a refuelable space tug that would remain in orbit for as long as 10 years.

And then, of course, there’s the Jules Verne cargo ship, which we’ve blogged about before.

Virgin Says “No”

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

A "no" from Virgin means "NO," dutifully reported by Peter de Selding:

Virgin Galactic Rejects Million-Dollar Offer to Film Sex Video

By Peter B. de Selding
Space News Staff Writer

GLASGOW, Scotland — The private company planning to take wealthy tourists to the edge of the atmosphere starting in late 2009 or early 2010 has refused a million-dollar proposal to film a sex video while the participants are floating gravity free, the company’s president said.

Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, said the offer, from an unidentified party, "was $1 million, up front, for a sex-in-space movie. That was money we had to refuse, I’m afraid."

Whitehorn disclosed the rejected transaction here Sept. 30 during the International Astronautical Congress. He said Virgin Galactic, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is planning to begin flights of the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft in late 2009 or early 2010 from Sierra County, N.M.

Remember, selling begins with the word "no." Let’s see what other offers pop up.

Commute got you down? Introducing the DIY Segway

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Boring commute and a weekend to spend in the shop? Try your hand at building your own self-balancing Segway.

Or, if you aren’t exactly Dean Kamen, try this slightly scaled down version built, along with a couple LEGO motors, on the open-source Arduino platform. Using relatively simple programming techniques, a huge community of enthusiasts, and a generous selection of tutorials and info, this little guy—dubbed “Arduway”—is one of the community’s newest creations.

Feeling ambitious? Check out these projects from the guys at MIT and the University of Minnesota.

MIT set out to build their Segway clone for less than $1,000 and to weigh around 50 lbs. They ended up with a finished product that is functionally identical to a genuine Segway and even includes cupholders!

The Segway folks are even billing the real thing, which comes in around $5,000, as the green alternative to fuel-powered automobiles (, citing the fractional cost of ownership and maintenance compared to cars.

Finally, if your DIY juices are really flowing, channel visions of Marty McFly as you take a look at Minnesota’s Segskate project—described simply as, “like Segway but it is a skateboard.” The video speaks for itself.