Archive for category Space
How the Fermi Spacecraft Almost Got Taken Out by a Relic of the Cold War
by NANCY ATKINSON on MAY 1, 2013
Artist concept of the Fermi Space Telescope. Credit: NASA.
As a space telescope scientist or satellite operator, the last thing you want to hear is that your expensive and possibly one-of-a kind — maybe irreplaceable — spacecraft is in danger of colliding with a piece of space junk. On March 29, 2012, scientists from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope were notified that their spacecraft was at risk from a collision. And the object heading towards the Fermi spacecraft at a relative speed of 44,000 km/h (27,000 mph) wasn’t just a fleck of paint or tiny bolt.
Fermi was facing a possible direct hit by a 1,400 kg (3,100-pound) defunct Russian spy satellite dating back to the Cold War, named Cosmos 1805. If the two satellites met in orbit, the collision would release as much energy as two and a half tons of high explosives, destroying both spacecraft and creating more pieces of space junk in the process.
But this story has a happy ending, with the Fermi telescope still operating and continuing its mission to map the highest-energy light in the universe, all thanks to a little orbital traffic control.
You can watch the video here for the complete story, or read more at the Fermi website about how the Fermi Space Telescope dodged a speeding bullet.
Russian Meteor Likely An Apollo Asteroid Chunk
FEB 26, 2013 12:25 PM ET // BY IAN O’NEILL
On Feb. 15, the Urals region of Russia played host to a noisy cosmic visitor. A meteor entered the atmosphere and broke up over the city of Chelyabinsk, generating powerful shockwaves that slammed into the city, blowing out windows, causing 1,500 injuries and millions of dollars-worth of damage. Before it collided with Earth, however, the Chelyabinsk space rock was a 10,000 ton meteoroid and astronomers now think they know where it came from.
Helped by the extensive coverage of eyewitness cameras, CCTV footage and a fortuitous observation made by the Meteosat-9 weather satellite, Jorge Zuluaga and Ignacio Ferrin of the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, have been able to reconstruct the most likely orbit of the space rock around the sun before the Earth got in its way. What’s more, they know what typeof space rock it was.
Using video evidence (most of which had precise timestamps), the location, speed and altitude of the fireball could be estimated. Add to that the location where a suspected meteorite fragment punched a hole into the ice of Lake Cherbakul and it’s a case of using some simple math to learn the characteristics of the object. But to trace the meteoroid’s path back out into space and assemble its orbital trajectory around the sun wasn’t so straight forward, according to the arXiv blog.
However, this analysis hinges on one important factor: “Assuming that the hole in the ice sheet of Lake Cherbakul was produced by a fragment of the meteoroid is also a very important hypothesis of this work. More importantly, our conclusions relies strongly onto assume that the direction of the trajectory of the fragment responsible for the breaking of the ice sheet in the Lake, is essentially the same as the direction of the parent body. It could be not the case. After the explosion and fragmentation of the meteoroid fragments could acquire different velocities and fall affecting areas far from the region where we expect to find,” the researchers write in their paper submitted to the arXiv pre-print service. So far, no meteorite has been recovered from Lake Cherbakul.
“According to our estimations, the Chelyabinski meteor started to brighten up when it was between 32 and 47 km up in the atmosphere … The velocity of the body predicted by our analysis was between 13 and 19 km/s (relative to the Earth) which encloses the preferred figure of 18 km/s assumed by other researchers,” they add.
Armed with this wealth of data farmed from various eyewitness sources, they used a piece of software called NOVAS (an acronym for “Naval Observatory Vector Astrometry Software”) developed by the U.S. Navy Observatory (USNO). This sophisticated program was able to consider the gravitational influence of the moon, plus eight other bodies in the solar system, ultimately helping Zuluaga and Ferrin track where the object was before impact.
Taking its orbit into account, the researchers were able to conclude that the Chelyabinsk-bound meteoroid originated from an Apollo-class asteroid. Apollo asteroids are well-known near-Earth asteroids that cross the orbit of Earth. Around 5,200 Apollo asteroids are currently known, the largest being 1866 Sisyphus — a 10 kilometer-wide monster that was discovered in 1972.
Large Apollos are identified as being a significant risk to our planet, so the Chelyabinsk meteoroid acted like an Apollo warning shot.
- Russian Meteor Likely An Apollo Asteroid Chunk (news.discovery.com)
- Russian Meteor Likely an Apollo Asteroid Chunk (science.slashdot.org)
- Astronomers work out the final orbit of the Russian meteor (independent.co.uk)
- Astronomers Calculate Orbit and Origins of Russian Fireball (universetoday.com)
- Russian Meteorite Reconstructed, Source Discovered [VIDEO] (counselheal.com)
- Russia’s meteor came from asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, researchers claim (dailymail.co.uk)
- Amateur sleuth, scientists team up to reconstruct path of Russian meteor (ctvnews.ca)
- Was that Fireball a Meteor or a Meteorite? (thelede.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Russia meteor’s origin tracked down (bbc.co.uk)
- NASA: What exploded over Russia? (wtvr.com)
Communications Satellites Made Legal for Export
Published: January 3, 2013
To the delight of American satellite makers, communications satellites — which orbit Earth to relay phone calls, link ships to shore and broadcast television programs — will become legal for civilian export under legislation that President Obama signed into law on Thursday.
Although the United States founded the industry, manufacturers were forced to pull back from international markets after a 1999 law categorized the satellites as weapons and restricted their export. At the time, Congress was fearful that selling satellites abroad could allow technology secrets to fall into the wrong hands.
The defense bill that President Obama signed will undo that step and let American companies sell communications satellites as civilian technology rather than as deadly arms. Among the beneficiaries will be companies like Boeing, Hughes and Space Systems/Loral.
“This is a tremendous assist for an industry that is inherently international,” said Patricia A. Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association, a business group in Washington. “It will ensure our place at the forefront of space.”
As a practical matter, communications satellites made their debut in 1964 and quickly became stars of the space age. The first craft, orbiting at 22,300 miles, relayed signals to the United States from Japan that let American television viewers watch live coverage of the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
But the industry stumbled 13 years ago after Republicans in Congress pressed for a law that restricted communications satellite exports. The lawmakers praised it as a security precaution that would prevent China and other perceived foes from stealing technology secrets. Detractors saw it as a cynical ploy meant to discredit the Clinton administration and its policy of Chinese engagement.
That law put communications satellites on Washington’s list of export-controlled munitions: tools of war like tanks, bombs, missiles and equipment for making nuclear arms. Foreign companies took the opportunity to increase their satellite sales.
The new law gives Mr. Obama the authority to return communications satellites to their previous status as civilian technology. It retains provisions that restrict the export of satellites to nations like China and North Korea, and to sponsors of state terrorism like Iran.
Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, who introduced a bill to change the policy on satellite exports and whose state is a space industry hub, said the measure offered satellite manufacturers a crucial lift.
“Companies across the country have been operating at a disadvantage due to these policies,” he said in a statement. “These reforms will give our businesses a chance to compete globally while still protecting our national security interests.”
The strict export controls arose from a political fight over satellite launchings by China, which in the 1980s began offering cheap rides into orbit on low-cost rockets. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, both Republicans, approved transfers of American spacecraft to Chinese rockets, as did President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Starting in early 1998, a series of upsets brought the expanding trade to a halt. Two American satellite makers involved in the Chinese launchings, Hughes and Loral, were accused of giving China advice about making not only commercial rockets, but also military missiles.
Republicans, who controlled Congress at the time, argued that satellite exports could lead to a hemorrhage of secret materials and information, and said that China might already have stolen encryption secrets.
After the strict export rules took effect in 1999, the legal complications involved in selling communications satellites and components abroad contributed to a sharp decline in the American share of the market, from a dominating position to about 50 percent today.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama said the rules had “unduly hampered the competitiveness of the domestic aerospace industry” and vowed to push for change.
Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, who for a decade helped lead the movement for change, said its culmination as law would help restore the nation’s competitiveness in the global satellite market.
“Treating commercial satellites and components as if they were lethal weapons, regardless of whether they’re going to friend or foe, has gravely harmed U.S. space manufacturers,” he said.
Mr. Berman added that the benefits extended beyond the manufacturers. The national security establishment relies on the companies and their technological skills to fulfill the government’s satellite needs and to develop spacecraft involved in a wide range of military missions.
“If they can’t compete in the international marketplace,” he said of the companies, “they can’t innovate and cannot survive.”
- Obama Drops Satellite Ban, Gives Aerospace Industry A Lift (forbes.com)
- Communications satellites no longer classed as weapons, US export ban lifted (theverge.com)
- Boeing Ships 3rd Intelsat 702MP Satellite for Launch (spacemart.com)
- ISRO planning to acquire Ka-Band Communication satellites for India [Space] (aame.in)
- Space Systems Loral Selected by USAF to Develop Next Gen Protected Military Satellite Communications (spacewar.com)
- Obama signs legislation relaxing satellite export rules (bizjournals.com)
- Turkish engineers will lead production of domestic satellite (worldbulletin.net)
- Russia works to fix satellite’s off-target orbit (space-travel.com)
- Sri Lanka partners Chinese communication satellite (spacemart.com)
- Tenders called for military satellite (stuff.co.nz)
Radiation Belt Mission Renamed to Honor James Van Allen
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The recently launched Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission, which is studying the Van Allen radiation belts, has now been renamed in honor of the late James Van Allen, who discovered the radiation belts encircling Earth in 1958.
“James Van Allen was a true pioneer in astrophysics,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “His ground breaking research paved the way for current and future space exploration. These spacecraft now not only honor his iconic name but his mark on science.”
During his career, Van Allen was the principal investigator for scientific investigations on 24 Earth satellites and planetary missions, beginning with the first successful American satellite, Explorer I, and continuing with Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11. He also helped develop the first plans for an International Geophysical Year was held in 1957. Van Allen, who worked at APL during and after World War II, also is credited with discovery of a new moon of Saturn in 1979, as well as radiation belts around that planet.
Artist concept of the Van Allen Probes. Credit: NASA
Launched Aug. 30, 2012 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the Van Allen Probes comprise the first dual-spacecraft mission specifically created to investigate the radiation belts that surround Earth. These two belts encircle the planet and are filled with highly charged particles.
The belts are affected by solar storms and coronal mass ejections and sometimes swell dramatically. When this occurs, they can pose dangers to communications, GPS satellites and human spaceflight activities.
“After only two months in orbit, the Van Allen Probes have made significant contributions to our understanding of the radiation belts,” says APL Director Ralph Semmel. “The science and data from these amazing twin spacecraft will allow for more effective and safe space technologies in the decades to come. APL is proud to have built and to operate this new resource for NASA and our nation, and we are proud to have the mission named for one of APL’s original staff.”
- Radiation Belt Mission Renamed to Honor James Van Allen (universetoday.com)
- NASA Renames Radiation Belt Mission to Honor Pioneering Scientist (spacefellowship.com)
- NASA Probes Exploring Earth’s Radiation Belts Get New Name (space.com)
- NASA Probes Exploring Earth’s Radiation Belts Get New Name (livescience.com)
- NASA Renames Radiation Belt Mission To Honor Pioneering Scientist (sys-con.com)
- NASA names mission after Van Allen (upi.com)
- NASA’a Radiation Belt Storm Probes record electromagnetic “Earthsong” (gizmag.com)
- NASA’s SAMPEX Mission: A Space Weather Warrior (spacefellowship.com)
- NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes record electromagnetic “Earthsong” (genesisnanotech.wordpress.com)
- Photographer Captures Rocket Launch as Amazing Arc of Light (space.com)
SpaceX Test Fires Advanced New Engine
By Marc Boucher
Posted February 1, 2012 11:59 AM
SpaceX has successfully test fired SuperDraco
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has successfully test fired SuperDraco, a powerful new engine that will play a critical role in the company’s efforts to change the future of human spaceflight.
“SuperDraco engines represent the best of cutting edge technology,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Technology Officer. “These engines will power a revolutionary launch escape system that will make Dragon the safest spacecraft in history and enable it to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy.”
The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines currently used by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to maneuver on orbit and during reentry. As part of SpaceX’s state-of-the-art launch escape system, eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program awarded SpaceX $75 million in April of last year to begin work developing the escape system in order to prepare the Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts. Less than nine months later, SpaceX engineers have designed, built and tested the engine.
In a series of recent tests conducted at the company’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, the SuperDraco sustained full duration, full thrust firing as well as a series of deep throttling demonstrations.
SpaceX’s launch escape system has many advantages over past systems. It is inherently safer because it is not jettisoned like all other escape systems. This distinction provides astronauts with the unprecedented ability to escape from danger at any point during the launch, not just in the first few minutes. The eight SuperDracos provide redundancy, so that even if one engine fails an escape can still be carried out successfully.
SuperDracos can also be restarted multiple times if necessary and the engines will have the ability to deep throttle, providing astronauts with precise control and enormous power. In addition, as a part of a recoverable Dragon spacecraft, the engines can be used repeatedly, helping to advance SpaceX’s long-term goal of making spacecraft more like airplanes, which can be flown again and again with minimal maintenance between flights.
CAPTION: SuperDraco engines will provide the Dragon spacecraft with the capability to perform on target propulsive landings anywhere in the solar system. Credit: SpaceX
CAPTION: SuperDraco engines will power a revolutionary launch escape system that will make SpaceX’s Dragon the safest spacecraft in the world. Eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch. Credit: SpaceX
- SpaceX moves toward manned flight (gizmag.com)
- AFP: Space capsule heads home from ISS (mbcalyn.com)
- SpaceX Transitions to Third Commercial Crew Phase (spacefellowship.com)
- SpaceX’s Manned Dragon Space Capsule Explained (physicsforme.wordpress.com)
- SpaceX’s Dragon Completes First Official Cargo Run to the ISS (dailytech.com)
- SpaceX Conducts Successful Static Fire (spacefellowship.com)
- Private SpaceX Capsule Leaves Space Station for Earth Return (space.com)
- SpaceX Dragon completes first commercial cargo flight (fox6now.com)
- You: SpaceX capsule, packed with supplies, set to return from station (latimes.com)
- SpaceX Dragon Splashes Down With Cargo, Including … Frozen Blood? (wired.com)
Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere
Lifting SAM Instrument for Installation into Mars Rover
NASA’s car-sized rover, Curiosity, has taken significant steps toward understanding how Mars may have lost much of its original atmosphere.
Learning what happened to the Martian atmosphere will help scientists assess whether the planet ever was habitable. The present atmosphere of Mars is 100 times thinner than Earth’s.
A set of instruments aboard the rover has ingested and analyzed samples of the atmosphere collected near the “Rocknest” site in Gale Crater where the rover is stopped for research. Findings from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments suggest that loss of a fraction of the atmosphere, resulting from a physical process favoring retention of heavier isotopes of certain elements, has been a significant factor in the evolution of the planet. Isotopes are variants of the same element with different atomic weights.
Initial SAM results show an increase of 5 percent in heavier isotopes of carbon in the atmospheric carbon dioxide compared to estimates of the isotopic ratios present when Mars formed. These enriched ratios of heavier isotopes to lighter ones suggest the top of the atmosphere may have been lost to interplanetary space. Losses at the top of the atmosphere would deplete lighter isotopes. Isotopes of argon also show enrichment of the heavy isotope, matching previous estimates of atmosphere composition derived from studies of Martian meteorites on Earth.
The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, largest of the 10 science instruments for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, examines samples of Martian rocks, soil and atmosphere for information about chemicals that are important to life and other chemical indicators about past and present environments.
Scientists theorize that in Mars’ distant past its environment may have been quite different, with persistent water and a thicker atmosphere. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission will investigate possible losses from the upper atmosphere when it arrives at Mars in 2014.
With these initial sniffs of Martian atmosphere, SAM also made the most sensitive measurements ever to search for methane gas on Mars. Preliminary results reveal little to no methane. Methane is of interest as a simple precursor chemical for life. On Earth, it can be produced by either biological or non-biological processes.
Methane has been difficult to detect from Earth or the current generation of Mars orbiters because the gas exists on Mars only in traces, if at all. The Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) in SAM provides the first search conducted within the Martian atmosphere for this molecule. The initial SAM measurements place an upper limit of just a few parts methane per billion parts of Martian atmosphere, by volume, with enough uncertainty that the amount could be zero.
“Methane is clearly not an abundant gas at the Gale Crater site, if it is there at all. At this point in the mission we’re just excited to be searching for it,” said SAM TLS lead Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “While we determine upper limits on low values, atmospheric variability in the Martian atmosphere could yet hold surprises for us.”
In Curiosity’s first three months on Mars, SAM has analyzed atmosphere samples with two laboratory methods. One is a mass spectrometer investigating the full range of atmospheric gases. The other, TLS, has focused on carbon dioxide and methane. During its two-year prime mission, the rover also will use an instrument called a gas chromatograph that separates and identifies gases. The instrument also will analyze samples of soil and rock, as well as more atmosphere samples.
“With these first atmospheric measurements we already can see the power of having a complex chemical laboratory like SAM on the surface of Mars,” said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Both atmospheric and solid sample analyses are crucial for understanding Mars’ habitability.”
SAM is set to analyze its first solid sample in the coming weeks, beginning the search for organic compounds in the rocks and soils of Gale Crater. Analyzing water-bearing minerals and searching for and analyzing carbonates are high priorities for upcoming SAM solid sample analyses.
Researchers are using Curiosity’s 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. JPL manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The SAM Instrument was developed at Goddard with instrument contributions from Goddard, JPL and the University of Paris in France.
- NASA’S Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere (voanews.com)
- Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere (spaceref.com)
- Curiosity ingests Mars air and finds clues of lost atmosphere – Indian Express (indianexpress.com)
- Curiosity Sniffs The Martian Atmosphere But Finds No Sign Of Life (forbes.com)
- Curiosity ingests Mars air and finds clues of lost atmosphere – Zee News (zeenews.india.com)
- Mars rover still sniffing for elusive methane (todayonline.com)
- “Curiosity” Reveals Changes in Mar’s Atmosphere (usdailyreview.com)
- NASA’S Curiosity Rover Provides Clues To Changes In Martian Atmosphere (eurasiareview.com)
- NASA’S Curiosity Rover Provides Clues to Changes in Martian Atmosphere (oddonion.com)
- High-Res Curiosity Rover Self Portrait Is Mind-Blowing (wired.com)
Could Plasma Jet Thrusters Kickstart Interplanetary Travel?
by NANCY ATKINSON on NOVEMBER 1, 2012
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A great offshoot from commercial space companies getting a foothold in real missions to orbit is that the old entrepreneurial space spirit seems to have been revived. People are attempting to develop and build what could be breakout space technologies, sometimes in their garages or basements. A new Kickstarter project is especially exciting, as it is looking to build a prototype electric pulsed plasma jet thruster, and the engineers behind the project say this could be used for reliable, high performance, low cost interplanetary space transportation.
UPDATE: HyperV has reached its Kickstarter goal and will be funded.
A group plasma physics researchers started a company about 8 years ago called HyperV, and they have come up with a new design for basic pulsed plasma jet technology. It runs on superheated ionized particles, and the engineers envision it could be used for orbital maneuvering, asteroid/comet rendezvous, orbital debris cleanup and interplanetary transportation.
They say that using this kind of electric propulsion would significantly reduce the mass and weight of spacecraft, resulting in more affordable missions. Although there are other types of electric propulsion systems that have been used for space travel – with mixed results — the HyperV team believes their new design offers solutions to problems in previous designs, and will ultimately provide cheaper and more robust space travel.
The team describes their project:
We believe our thruster technology has the potential to be just as efficient as existing electric thrusters (such as ion and Hall effect thrusters) and with similar specific impulse. But our advantages will be derived from a thruster that is less complex (and much more robust), which can use a variety of propellants including gases, inert plastics, and propellants derived from asteroids, Mars, the Moon, etc., It will also be far cheaper to build, and can be more readily scaled to larger sizes and very high power levels than current electric propulsion systems. Our plasma thruster technology should be scalable from a few kilowatts all the way up to megawatts of average power. The electricity which is needed to power electric thrusters would most likely come from new high performance solar panels, but could also utilize other compact energy sources. From a practical viewpoint for satellite design, our thruster will have much higher thrust per unit area than ion or Hall thrusters, thus taking up less room on the rear of the spacecraft.
They predict their prototype could produce a specific impulse (Isp) of 2000 sec, which is an equivalent to an exhaust velocity of 20,000 m/s.
They are looking to raise $69,000 by November 3, 2012 to get their project started. At the time of this writing, the team has just over $54,000.
Here’s a video from HyperV:
“We invite you, the citizens of Earth, to join with us as we design, construct, test, and execute this demonstration,” the team wrote on their Kickstarter page. “The culmination of this project will be an all-up, laboratory demonstration of our prototype thruster.”
- Will Plasma Jet Thrusters “Kickstart” Interplanetary Travel? (vr-zone.com)
- Could plasma jet thrusters ‘kickstart’ interplanetary travel? (phys.org)
- Could Plasma Jet Thrusters Kickstart Interplanetary Travel? (universetoday.com)
- Crowdfunded Plasma Jet Thruster for Spacecraft? (news.discovery.com)
- Company crowd-funds interplanetary travel with plasma jet project (deathandtaxesmag.com)
- Plasma Jet Electric Thrusters for Spacecraft Kickstarter (nextbigfuture.com)
- Cheap ‘Plasma Jet’ for Space Propulsion Aim of Kickstarter Campaign (livescience.com)
- Plasma Jet Electric Thrusters on Kickstarter (buildtheenterprise.org)
- Plasma Jet Electric Thrusters for Spacecraft by Chris Faranetta (kickstarter.com)
- Cheap ‘Plasma Jet’ for Space Propulsion Aim of Kickstarter Campaign (space.com)
The Curiosity Rover’s Ultimate Self-Portrait
by NANCY ATKINSON on NOVEMBER 2, 2012
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The Curiosity rover self portrait. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems
OK, we thought the low-resolution self-portrait from yesterday was great… but here’s the real goods: a monster, high-resolution awesome mosaic of 55 images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), showing the rover at its spot in Gale Crater — called Rocknest — with the base of Gale Crater’s 5-kilometer- (3-mile-) high mountain, Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp, rising in the background. The images were taken on Sol 84 (Oct. 31, 2012), and sent to Earth today. In the foreground, four scoop scars can be seen in the regolith in front of the rover. As we mentioned about the previous MAHLI mosaic, the arm was moved for each of the 55 images, so the arm and the camera doesn’t show up, just like any photographer behind the camera (or their arms) isn’t visible in a photograph.
You can get access to the full resolution version at this link. It’s amazing.
But that’s not all…
NASA says that self-portraits like this one document the state of the rover and allow mission engineers to track changes over time, such as dust accumulation and wheel wear. Due to its location on the end of the robotic arm, only MAHLI (among the rover’s 17 cameras) is able to image some parts of the craft, including the port-side wheels.
Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Blog talks about the projection issue, where the wheel closest to the front looks big and distorted. That’s a factor of the camera angle and Emily mentions a discussion of this is taking place by the image wizards over atUnmanned Spaceflight , if you want to see the various ways to deal with this issue.
Emily also points out how the rover photographed itself photographing itself — due to the reflective surfaces on the turret, so check out her analysis.
You can always see the raw images coming in from Curiosity at this NASA website.
But the other cool thing is that another whole set of images was taken from a slightly different angle, which means only one thing: 3-D! Here’s Stu Atkinson’s first quick attempt:
There will surely be some refinements of the 3-D version, but enjoy this one for now!
- The Curiosity Rover’s Ultimate Self-Portrait (universetoday.com)
- Curiosity Rover Takes A “Self Portrait” (browardnetonline.com)
- High-Res Curiosity Rover Self Portrait Is Mind-Blowing (wired.com)
- Who snapped Mars rover portraits? (cosmiclog.nbcnews.com)
- Curiosity Rover takes high-resolution self-portrait on Mars (dpreview.com)
- Curiosity Rover Snaps Stunning Self-Portrait on Mars (mashable.com)
- Mars Curiosity Rover takes a high-res self-portrait (slashgear.com)
- An Arm’s-Length Self-Portrait Captured Millions of Miles Away (petapixel.com)
- Curiosity Rover Snaps Stunning Self-Portrait on Red Planet (space.com)
- Visualized: Curiosity rover’s self-portrait (engadget.com)
Huge New ESA Tracking Station is Ready for Duty
by JENNY WINDER on NOVEMBER 2, 2012
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Caption: ESA’s giant Malargüe tracking station Credits: ESA/S. Marti
To keep in contact with an ever growing armada of spacecraft ESA has developed a tracking station network called ESTRACK. This is a worldwide system of ground stations providing links between satellites in orbit and ESA’s Operations Control Centre (ESOC) located in Darmstadt, Germany. The core ESTRACK network comprises 10 stations in seven countries. Major construction has now been completed on the final piece of this cosmic jigsaw, one of the world’s most sophisticated satellite tracking stations at Malargüe, Argentina, 1000 km west of Buenos Aires.
ESA’s Core Network comprises 10 ESTRACK stations: Kourou (French Guiana), Maspalomas, Villafranca (Spain), Redu (Belgium), Santa Maria (Portugal), Kiruna (Sweden), Perth (Australia) which host 5.5-, 13-, 13.5- or 15-metre antennas. The new tracking station (DSA3) at Malargüe in Argentina, joins two other 35-metre deep-space antennas at New Norcia (DSA1) in Australia (completed in 2002) and Cebreros (DSA2) in Spain, (completed in 2005) to form the European Deep Space Network.
The essential task of ESTRACK stations is to communicate with missions, up-linking commands and down-linking scientific data and spacecraft status information. The tracking stations also gather radiometric data to tell mission controllers the location, trajectory and velocity of their spacecraft, to search for and acquire newly launched spacecraft, in addition to auto-tracking, frequency and timing control using atomic clocks and gathering atmospheric and weather data.
Deep-space missions can be over 2 million kilometres away from the Earth. Communicating at such distances requires highly accurate mechanical pointing and calibration systems. The 35m stations provide the improved range, radio technology and data rates required to send commands, receive data and perform radiometric measurements for current and next-generation exploratory missions such as Mars Express, Venus Express, Rosetta, Herschel, Planck, Gaia, BepiColombo, ExoMars, Solar Orbiter and Juice.
DSA3 is located at 1500m altitude in the clear Argentinian desert air, this and ultra-low-temperature amplifiers installed at the station, have meant that performance has exceeded expectations. The first test signals were received in June 2012 from Mars Express, over a distance of about 193 million km, proving that the station’s technology is ready for duty.
“Initial in-service testing with the Malargüe station shows excellent results.” “Our initial in-service testing with the Malargüe station shows excellent results,” says Roberto Maddè, ESA’s project manager for DSA 3 construction. “We have been able to quickly and accurately acquire signals from ESA and NASA spacecraft, and our station is performing better than specified.”
All three tracking stations are also equipped for radio science, which studies how matter, such as planetary atmospheres, affects the radio waves as they pass through. This can provide important information on the atmospheric composition of Mars, Venus or the Sun.
The tracking capability of all three ESA deep space stations also work in cooperation with partner agencies such as NASA and Japan’s JAXA, helping to boost science data return for all. The three Deep Space Antenna can be linked to the 7 stations comprising the Core Network as well as five other stations making up the larger Augmented Network and eleven additional stations that make up a global Cooperative Network with other space agencies from around the world.
Now that major construction is complete, teams are preparing DSA 3 for hand-over to operations, formal inauguration late this year and entry in routine service early in 2013.
- Huge New ESA Tracking Station is Ready for Duty (universetoday.com)
- Giant tracking station readies for operation (spacemart.com)
- BepiColombo – Mission to Mercury (universetoday.com)
- New small satellite will study super-Earths for ESA (spacedaily.com)
- Lost asteroid rediscovered with a little help from ESA (spacedaily.com)
- Malargüe to Chos Malal – Chos Malal, Argentina (travelpod.com)
- ESA deploys first orbital debris test radar in Spain (spacemart.com)
- Esa boss confident of Orion bid (bbc.co.uk)
- Dead stars could be the future of spacecraft navigation (eurekalert.org)
- ESA observatory breaks world quantum teleportation record (spacedaily.com)