Tag Archives: NASA

NASA’s Falling Satellite Crashes: Did You Use Android’s Tracking App and Insurance To Protect Yourself? [UPDATED]

If you’re dead scared of the falling NASA satellite, you can now use your Android phone to keep track of the rogue beast. A free Android app lets you track the falling UARS satellite.

We’ve already told you about the defunct satellite crashing to the Earth (here). We’ve assured you that it won’t hit you (here)! You can safely go about your routine job without worrying about anything. Still Android provides further assurance.

UPDATE: UARS Satellite is DOWN! The Debris Fell Between 2323 EST on 23rd September to 0109 EST on 24th September. This is official from NASA. Location is not yet known

The Falling Satellite

It’s Coming Crashing Down! Tonight!

NASA’s defunct UARS satellite is crashing tonight, 23rd of September. The location and exact time are not yet known. It will definitely miss North America and Europe and will, thus, plunge into the sea. The debris will be spread over a large range of latitude and longitude, so some may yet fall on land. However, we’ve already assured you, relying on NASA, that you’re safe.

NASA App (And Insurance!!)

Android App

You probably know of the Android app Satellite AR. They have added a temporary button allowing you to track the UARS spacecraft as it makes its fiery descent towards Earth.

You can read more about it and download it here.

The app allows you to track all satellites directly above you. For today, it allows you to track the falling satellite in its final moments.

Insurance

There’s more! There’s insurance against being hit by falling satellite debris. The insurance companies must be smiling ear to ear as they dole out one-time pay insurances for many people insuring their and their family’s lives as well as their cars or houses. Health insurance will cover injuries and life insurance will cover… well, you need not bother thinking about that.

There has been only one incident of someone being hit by falling space junk! And she never got hurt. But that doesn’t mean that you should drop your guard in front of a falling bus-sized satellite, right?

NASA’s Falling Satellite To Hit Earth Tomorrow: Don’t Panic, You Won’t Be Hit; Enjoy The Light Show Instead [UPDATED]

If you believe in the old superstition and see the bus-sized NASA satellite falling in a day or two, do remember to make a wish. The UARS falling through the atmosphere will look like a nice shooting star. And as for being hit by falling debris, let me say what Douglas Adams had said so very successfully Don’t Panic. NASA assures that your chances of being hit by a piece of debris from the falling space-craft are extremely small.

The satellite may enter the Earth’s atmosphere at any time between Sept 23 at 1023 EST (1432 GMT) and Sept 24 at 0248 EST (0648 GMT). This 19-hour window is NASA’s best bet. The point of re-entry, as predicted by Harro Zimmer in Berlin, will be over the West Pacific near Northwest Japan. The range of co-ordinates is about 19.10N and 128.50E.

The satellite may be seen over South Florida after sunset.

Satellite was falling faster than earlier thought:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/nasa-dead-satellite-crash.html
The UARS satellite (Courtesy: NASA)

How Unlucky Do You Need To Be?

We intend to do a small qualitative comparative study to quell any fears that you might be having. NASA has come up with a figure of the possibility that anyone any one single person will be hit by a piece of debris from the satellite. The chances are less than 1-in-3200.   The chance of you being hit (the more specific case) is 1-in-hundred-trillion. You’ve got to be REALLY unlucky to get hit.

Let’s compare some numbers. One-in-hundred-trillion is really the same chance you have of dying while shaving with your electric razor. The chance of you being struck by lightning is 1-in-60,000. The chance of you meeting a car accident is much higher. If you can live with these possibilities, you shouldn’t be worried about falling space debris. As I said before, you’ve got to be REALLY unlucky.

Still Worried? Enjoy the Light Show

NASA admits that they don’t know the location of the spacecraft and they’ll only know that once the UARS spacecraft re-enters the ionosphere of the atmosphere. They predict that the latitude will be something between 600N and 600S (roughly), but that of no use. It is quite obvious that the satellite will not plunge into the Polar Regions. This leaves a large swath of ocean free for the satellite to plunge into.

If you’re still worried, maybe you can at least get lucky enough to see the satellite re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, breaking up and then burning up. This will create a nice light show mimicking a meteor shower. However, unlike a meteor shower, this will last for a very short time.

If you’re still paranoid, we advise you some bed rest. At least, that way you’ll be indoors.

NASA’s Giant Dead Satellite Falling Towards Earth Faster Than Earlier Thought; To Crash on 24th September

A huge defunct satellite is soon to come crashing down to the Earth in a few days time, but NASA assures everyone that no one will get hurt! The satellite in question is the Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS). The date for the crash is 24th September. The crash window, earlier announced to be between late September and early October, has now been curtailed to just three days.

What Are Your Odds Of Being Hit? And Something About a Light Show!  http://techie-buzz.com/science/nasa-falling-satellite-chances.html

UPDATE: Yeah, we were exactly right. Crash happened at midnight of 23rd September. Check it out:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/android-app-falling-satellite.html  (Updated Article)

 

The Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Any Danger? Nope, says NASA

Space junk experts ruled that the chance of a piece of debris from the giant satellite hitting someone on the ground is extremely remote – about 1 in 3200. The logic is simple 75% of the Earth is covered by oceans and, thus, a drop into the ocean is the most likely scenario.

NASA expects the 5-ton UARS to break up into at least 26 fragments that will be big enough to survive the re-entry and reach the surface of the Earth. These fragments are mainly scrap metal and there is no need to worry about toxic materials. The fuel was used up in 2005, when the UARS completed its mission.

UARS was launched in 1991 to measure ozone content in the atmosphere along with other gases. It also measured wind speeds and studied how radiation and charged particles from the sun affect the upper part of the atmosphere. This mission was completed in 2005. Since then, it has been orbiting Earth, being nothing more than just a big piece of space junk.

NASA’s official UARS Page:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/uars/index.html

The Crash

The satellite is losing altitude, even as you read this. Currently it is at about 140 miles above the Earth’s surface. It is in fact falling faster than expected owing to the increased solar activity, which tends to lower the density of the atmosphere by heating it up.

According to NASA,

Re-entry is expected Sept. 23, plus or minus a day. The re-entry of UARS is advancing because of a sharp increase in solar activity since the beginning of this week.

No one knows where the satellite will fall. That will be known only two hours before the re-entry.

The crash is expected to occur between the latitudes of Northern Canada (about 62 degrees North) and south of South America (about 60 degrees South). This leaves a large region of ocean for the spacecraft to splash into. NASA is monitoring the satellite’s every move.

NASA has warned the public not to touch any debris that they might chance across, either on land or in the water. Anyone chancing upon such a piece should contact their local law enforcement agency.

Hubble Successor: U.S. Senate Decision Pulls The James Webb Telescope Out of Deep Trouble

Some great news is coming in from Washington! The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) may just have got a new lease of life.

The mirror of the James Webb Telescope

Money and relief

We reported that the JWST was cancelled (here) due to fund cuts by the US Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee. Yesterday (14th September), the US Senate Appropriations Committee met to discuss the details of the FY2012 (Financial Year 2012) bill and, surprise and glee, the JWST was sanctioned $530 million in 2012. This is a big improvement over the $374 million it was sanctioned in the last year.

This will be music to many ears, both intimately associated with the JWST project and other space enthusiasts. Hubble has been as much a darling for the public as for professional astronomers, and it would just be a shame if it had no successor. Losing the joy of watching deep space in high resolution, never knowing what one will find is a joy unparalleled! No one wants that to end.

Save JWST Page:  http://savethistelescope.blogspot.com/2011/09/jwst-news-update-senate-appropriations.html
The US Cuts Science Funds Due to War Cost: JWST suffers –  http://techie-buzz.com/science/science-fund-cuts-editorial.html

The continuing construction of a wonder

Recently the James Webb Space Telescope completed a crucial phase in the construction of its mirrors. It has 21 mirrors, made up of 18 segments, forming one giant 21 foot mirror. The mirrors are the best in the world. They are made up of beryllium, so that they can withstand the near absolute zero temperature of space. They are also coated with a thin film of gold so that they are good reflectors of infra-red radiation. All of this goes into making JWST at least a 100x better than Hubble ever was.

The 21 foot mirror!

Please note that JWST is not out of the woods yet! This is merely the money granted for 2012. The project will last till 2018 and there are still many hurdles ahead, especially for a project of this magnitude where the costs tend to swell up abruptly.

Apart from this grant to the JWST, NASA got a grant of $17.9 billion for the coming year. Although this is a $500 million reduction from the promised grant, it is still a hefty amount.

The champagnes must be flowing in the JWST camps.

NASA’s Leap Into Deep Space: Newly Announced Rocket Really Packs A Punch!

NASA’s new generation rocket will be the biggest and baddest rocket ever built. It is the next generation rocket meant for carrying very heavy loads of cargo into space, thanks to a giant booster. It will eventually carry astronauts into space, but that is still a long way away. It is a first step towards NASA’s endeavor for Deep Space Missions.

This announcement by NASA was made yesterday (14th September, 2011).

The Space Launch System, as conceived of by an artist (Courtesy: NASA)

The Space Launch System

The new rocket is called the Space Launch System (SLS) and it will use liquid hydrogen in liquid oxygen as fuel to get the thrust that it intends to achieve.

The entire SLS program is worth at $18 billion, with the rocket alone costing $10 billion. This works out to $3 billion per year for NASA. The rocket will take some time coming, though. The first test flights are expected in faraway 2017.

SLS will use the still use the solid rocket boosters on either side of the SLS core main rocket. The carrying capacity is slated to be 70 metric tons initially, which will eventually touch 130 metric tons with upgrades. As for the amount of thrust, the SLS will deliver about 20 percent more thrust than the Saturn V rockets, which powered the Apollo missions. It will also be taller, at 403 feet, a clear 40 feet taller than the Saturn rockets.

Future bright, present controversial

This is the first concrete announcement of the future plan of progress for NASA after its 30 year Space Shuttle Program ended a couple of months back. In this time, NASA will be using private built rockets to journey to and from the International Space Station and, maybe, even have manned flights.

As with any big project, the SLS was recently embroiled in controversy after the Wall Street Journal published the news that NASA’s estimates for the SLS was nearly $63 billion! The source of this news was found to be a leaked memo and based on hypotheses, rather than facts. The actual costs are of the tune of $20 billion.

The rockets get bigger and bigger, trying to keep up with human ambitions in space.

Cosmic Spectacle: Stunning Pic of Earth Eclipsing the Sun, As Seen By NASA Satellite from Outer Space

For the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a Solar Eclipse is no big deal it sees two each year. Now it returns a photo of what it sees and it is stunning. But don’t trust us, take a look at it yourself! Here it is!

The Solar Eclipse as taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Courtesy: SDO/NASA)

The Solar Dynamics Observatory

The SDO is a satellite, which observes the Sun and monitors its activities. It is on a five-year mission. Part of the Living with a Star (LWS) Program, the goal of SDO is to study how the Sun influences the Earth. Of primary importance is the study of how the magnetic storms from the Sun influences the Earth’s atmosphere and the various communication devices that depend crucially on the ionosphere layer of the atmosphere. It also measures the seismic activity of the Sun (i.e. Sun quakes). This is a very rich field of study as the Sun, being a ball of plasma, experiences violent quakes quite frequently. The absence of solid rock on the Sun prevents attenuation of the seismic waves and the whole Sun thus moves with basically one frequency and higher harmonics during a violent Solar Quake. This can be roughly understood by the model of a balloon completely filled with water. Whole of the bulbous balloon can be set into vibration of one frequency. These form of vibrations involving just one frequency and higher harmonics are called normal modes. Monitoring these normal modes for the Sun, the SDO can give vital details about the solar density.

Eclipse Season and another photo

The present eclipse will last till 4th October, having commenced on the 11th of September. The Sun is already showing signs of violence as it builds up to the predicted peak in its activity in 2013. The last few months have seen violent solar storms, which have even knocked out communication. These will only increase and SDO’s job of monitoring these is crucial.

Just before ending, we wish to share another photo with you, taken from the Space Station. This one shows the bright Sun, blue Earth and black space. Enjoy.

The bright Sun and the blue Earth (Courtesy: NASA/ISS)

The Sun is a thing of immense beauty and fearful fury. We perceive it as an object which has given us life, but it’s really indifferent. We shall forever be in its awe.

Enjoy the Latest NASA’s GRAIL Twin Spacecrafts Launch Pics

After numerous attempts, the GRAIL spacecrafts are finally on their way to the moon aboard the Delta-II rockets. Here we bring you the freshest photos from the launch.

The Delta II rockets were finally launched during the second window on 10th September at 09:08:52 AM EST. The first window opportunity was not availed because of upper atmospheric conditions. The launch was absolutely successful!  

Our GRAIL coverage:

The GRAIL launch buildup:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/nasa-new-moon-mission-grail.html

The GRAIL NASA Tweetup:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/nasa-moon-grail-tweetup.html

NASA’s Awesome Moon Pics Two Days Before GRAIL Launch:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/lro-nasa-moon-photos.html

GRAIL Scrubbed and Moon’s North Pole Pic:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/grail-launch-scrub-moon-photo.html

 

Both the First and Second Stage Delta II rockets were ignited perfectly. GRAIL-A, one of the twin spacecrafts, separated from the module at 10:29 AM EST. GRAIL-B separated out at 10:39 AM EST.

Enjoy the GRAIL launch photos below!

Delta II rockets on the launch pad
Still on the pad. T-30 second till launch
Launch!! GRAIL is on its way to the moon

 

T-10 seconds into flight
launch
The first stage rocket separation.
The Second Stage of the Delta-II Rocket Separation. Showing GRAIL-A breaking off from the Delta Module. It is now flying solo. Taken by the Separation Cam on the Delta rocket nose. The rectangular falling payload is the GRAIL-A spacecraft.
Earth as seen by the Delta rocket after the GRAIL-A separation (Courtesy: NASA TV)

We wish GRAIL the very best for the mission. The Moon’s secrets shall be known!

Courtesy: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ NASA-TV

Our GRAIL coverage:

The GRAIL launch buildup:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/nasa-new-moon-mission-grail.html

The GRAIL NASA Tweetup:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/nasa-moon-grail-tweetup.html

NASA’s Awesome Moon Pics Two Days Before GRAIL Launch:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/lro-nasa-moon-photos.html

GRAIL Scrubbed and Moon’s North Pole Pic:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/grail-launch-scrub-moon-photo.html

 

NASA Scrubs GRAIL Launch For A Day: Discover An Awesome Moon Pic While You Wait! [UPDATED]

NASA’s new Moon Mission GRAIL has been scrubbed for another day. The launch is now scheduled for 10th September, weather conditions permitting. While you wait for the launch to happen, you might as well drool over the following photo taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The photo has never been seen before and is unique amongst the plethora of moon photos taken over the decades. Here it is!

UPDATE: The Launch was scheduled for the first window. Due to upper atmospheric wind conditions, it has been shifted to the second launch window at 9:08 AM EST (1838 IST and 1408 GMT).  

Launch Webcast Link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVZrSNjPbzM

North Pole of the Moon (Courtesy: NASA/ Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter)

The photo shows Moon’s North Pole. You’ve all heard about the moon’s dark side the side which is permanently hidden from us but this is different. The photo is not actually one photo, but 983 different ones stitched together. The 983 photos were taken over the period of one month! The magical thing about this photo is that the dark regions seen are regions that NEVER receive any sunlight. Remember that the photo was taken over the course of one month, thus the moon was illuminated in every way possible by the Sun. Thus, the dark regions, near the center of the photo really do not receive any sunlight ever!

About the GRAIL launch

Returning to news about the GRAIL launch, the latest from NASA is that the weather on 10th September (i.e. tomorrow) is likely to be 60% co-operative’, which is good enough for a launch. The launch windows remain roughly the same as it was yesterday one at 8:37 AM EST and the next one at 9:12 AM EST. Yesterday’s launch was scrubbed due to high turbulence in the upper atmosphere. While the Delta II rockets would presumably have flown through, NASA did not want to take any chances. It also gives NASA another day to complete another round of checks.

Since, we don’t have launch pictures, we might just as well share a picture of the scrub. The GRAIL spacecrafts, housed safely inside Delta II rockets, sits patiently on the Cape Canaveral Launch Pad.

GRAIL sits silently aboard the Delta II rockets (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cape Canaveral Air Force Base)

We can afford to take some time it’s not as if someone’s expecting us on the moon.

Resources regarding the launch:  

1. Our Post Giving You all Updated Details:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/nasa-new-moon-mission-grail.html

2. Our Post About the NASA Tweetup Event:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/nasa-moon-grail-tweetup.html

3. NASA’s Webcast Link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVZrSNjPbzM

4. NASA’s official GRAIL page:  http://grail.nasa.gov/

NASA Releases Never Before Seen Photos Of The Moon Showing The Legacy Of The Previous Moon Missions

With no winds or water to wash it off, the Moon has not forgotten its past. Today, September 6th, NASA  released several images of the landing sites of the previous moon missions taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). These photos are the sharpest ever photos of the lunar surface and the indelible marks left by humans on it.

Image 1: Photo of the Apollo 17 mission landing site. Note the American Flag, hoisted there since the first moon mission. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Among the most notable features of the photo are the American flag planted during the historic first moon mission, craters left behind by rockets during launch and footprints of astronauts.

Image 2: Note the ALSEP equipment dump and the Surveyor Crater (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The LRO also captured the equipment from the ALSEP project, the present location of the Lunar Rover and the Surveyor spacecraft. The ALSEP acronym for Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package project comprised of measuring seismological activity on the moon, determining the lunar atmospheric pressure, installing a laser reflector on the surface to return a laser beam so that the earth-moon distance can be accurately measured and gauging the history and effect of meteorite impacts on the lunar surface. ALSEP was a vital ingredient of all the Apollo missions, including Apollo 17.

Image 3: The trail marks were left by astronaut Alan Shepherd. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Footprints of the legendary Alan Shepherd, who was the first American to walk in space, can also be found in the photos. He was the fifth man on the moon. He is also known for being the only person to play golf on the moon. The LRO is in its extended mission period and will operate till 2012. Many may view this photo release as a nice PR move just two days before the big GRAIL launch, which will study the gravitational field of the moon in more detail than ever before.

Image and Label Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA Selects Lucky Few For Tweetup Event For GRAIL’s Thursday Launch

Twitter’s little birdie just got a lift on a NASA rocket bound for the moon. NASA has invited 150 of its Twitter followers to a two-day Tweetup program on the day of the launch and the day before that.

We had told you about the launch here.

The Program

The program will give NASA’s Twitter followers a chance to be the part of the historic launch of the GRAIL spacecrafts on the 8th of September, i.e. upcoming Thursday. The lucky selected few will be expected to do the thing that got them selected in the first place tweet about the program on Twitter.

The Twitter Logo on the Moon. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The participants will be meeting important members of the GRAIL mission like NASA administrator Charles Bolden, Maria Zuber, the principal investigator at MIT, Cambridge and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. A part of the Tweetup program will be broadcast. The group will also be given a tour of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, which are near the launch site. This part of the Tweetup will begin on Wednesday, 7th September, at 3 PM.

You can watch the broadcast of the tweetup here:    http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-tweetup

There will also be a mouth-watering visit of the launch-pad from up close.

The 150 participants have been chosen from among 800 participants who registered for the program online. Apart from the U.S., participants hail from India, Brazil, Spain, United Kingdom, Canada, Indonesia and Australia.

For those who were unfortunate enough to miss out, you can still watch the liftoff at NASA’s HDTV initiative program website. For tweets from the Tweetup participants about the program and launch, watch out for the #NASATweetup hashtag on Twitter.

The official site for the GRAIL launch is here:    http://www.nasa.gov/grail  and    http://grail.nasa.gov

We promise to track any major development and report it here.

Discovered: Two Nearby Supermassive Black Holes Gobbling Up Each Other

This is cannibalism on the cosmic scale. Two black holes have been found by the Chandra X-Ray Telescope gobbling matter from one another. The black holes are in the process of merging with one another. The real excitement is that this is close to home on the scale of the cosmos about 160 million light years away.

The Giants!

The galaxy in the limelight is NGC3393. The two black holes are separated by only 490 light years. One of them has a mass of 30 million suns and other is much smaller at one million solar mass. The bigger one is gobbling up matter surrounding the smaller one.

Chandra's Picture of the twin black holes. (Photo Courtesy: NASA/CXC/SAO/G.Fabbiano et al; Optical: NASA/STScI)

The close proximity of the black holes has also got scientists excited. It is because these supermassive black holes are so close that Chandra could resolve them into two distinct objects. When a black hole accretes matter, i.e. just gathers by sucking the matter around it, the matter gets hot enough to radiate profusely in the X-Ray region. These radiations occur close to the event horizon and this is where Chandra X-Ray Telescope can work its magic. But even Chandra couldn’t have spotted such a double black hole system if it were farther away.

Many that got away?

What we are seeing is really a merger. Black holes merge to become even bigger black holes. It is surprising that NGC3393 still retains the elliptic shape that it originally had. The perturbations occur near the central part and do not propagate throughout the galaxy. NASA scientists think that this is one reason why black hole mergers or double black hole systems have rarely been observed till date. The expected tell-tale signs like galactic perturbations are not really there. Astronomers now want to train Chandra’s eagle-eye on more boring candidates.

The findings were published yesterday in the science journal Nature.

The Universe is not only queerer than we imagine. It is, by all means, queerer than we can possibly imagine!

Juno, the Jupiter Satellite, Looks Back And Snaps A Photo Of The Earth-Moon System

It is the Pale Blue Dot redux. Juno, the Jupiter satellite, looked back at the Earth Moon system and snapped a photo! Here it is!

The photo Juno snapped of the Earth-Moon system. The larger dot is the Earth. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Juno was sent to Jupiter to probe the composition of Jupiter’s atmosphere, which is still a big mystery. It’s been a month into its journey, which is supposed to last for five long years.

NASA has pinned a lot of hopes on this satellite probe. Jupiter is still largely unknown. We covered the Juno story here.

The Pale Blue Dot

The lyrical prose by the late Carl Sagan rushes back to haunt us! In 1991, at Sagan’s request, Voyager turned its camera back to photograph the inner planets. It was beyond Neptune’s orbit and was about to leave the Solar System. It captured one blue pixel, which was the earth. The picture was immortalised as the Pale Blue Dot’. The following paragraph by Carl Sagan is as close prose can come to poetry.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there   on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Sagan taught us how to look at these photos. It’s an exercise in humility!

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

International Space Station May Need To Go Unmanned For First Time In A Decade

The International Space Station (ISS) may go unmanned in the coming months for the first time in a decade. This is because of the crash of the Russian space vehicle last week. The vehicle was supposed to carry essential supplies to the International Space Station and the astronauts on it.

While there is no dearth of supplies presently, the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, has decided to delay the launch of the next rocket to the ISS. This does put a constraint on the supplies and the astronauts may be asked to descend to earth in November, deserting the ISS. The ISS will then be controlled from the ground via remote control.

Anybody Home? (The ISS)

Of Delays and Remote Controls

Though this is not new, it is a drastic measure. The last time the ISS was unmanned was in 2001. The procedure is present in NASA’s books, but it is a difficult procedure nonetheless. The ISS can be far effectively monitored on-board than from the ground.

Roskosmos gave a sound reason for their decision to delay this present launch, however. They want to check everything thoroughly, so as to prevent a rerun of last week’s embarrassing disaster. Many have started saying that, if the Space Shuttle were in operation, this kind of crisis would never have arisen. Right now, Russian rockets are the only way to get in or out of the Space Station and they are showing glitches. The Soyuz is, however, on standby at the ISS should an emergency arise.

The present crew of three astronauts was supposed to head back to earth on the 8th of September, but even that has been pushed back to 16th. A fresh batch was set to replace them on the 22nd of September, but this launch has been pushed back to early October. Roskosmos and NASA are now thinking whether this launch will be scheduled at all or not.

Meanwhile, the $100 billion floating behemoth silently endures.

International Space Station to be Plunged Into Ocean by 2020; What After That?

It seems a golden era in space is coming to an end. First, it was the space shuttle program which expired, and now, there is news that the International Space Station will also be pulled down and plunged into the ocean by 2020.

Farewell

Into a watery grave

Vitaly Davydov, the deputy head of Roskosmos, the Russian Space Agency, said so in no unclear terms and explained the logic behind such a drastic move:

 After it completes its existence, we will be forced to sink the ISS. It cannot be left in orbit, it’s too complex, too heavy an object, it can leave behind lots of rubbish.

The ISS will follow the Mir Space Station into the depths of the Pacific Ocean after its tenure. Mir was sunk in 2001. The ISS will have to be plunged into the ocean, since it loses orbit if left unmanned. It could become a big risk and, thus, needs to be “deorbited”.

The Mir space station, with Atlantis docked against it. (Photo courtesy: NASA)

The ISS, which was launched in 1998, was initially built for 15 years. However, scientists see that it can go on till 2020 and further. It orbits the Earth at an average altitude of 350 kilometers and is a product of collaboration between the US, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada. There are smaller contributions from about hundred or so countries. The International Space Station is the most expensive machine ever designed, with the US alone spending $65 billion on it. The estimated worth is more than $100 billion.

The end of the space shuttle program has left the Russian space vehicle, Soyuz, as the only vehicle to transport man and machine onto the ISS. Russia is intending to replace the Soyuz in the near future with a spacecraft dedicated to ferrying men to and from the space station. Till 2020…

What after the ISS?

The natural question is what after the ISS? Will there be a replacement? By all means, the ISS was a success, but also a pioneering step. Man is now sure of the conditions in space. He is also more aware of the scientific potential of low gravity experiments. However, there might not be political will and money power to finance a replacement.

The ISS was widely seen as a launch pad for manned space flight into deeper space, especially to Mars. That hasn’t happened. However, the ISS has given new avenues in research for medicine, by allowing a unique environment for research – the microgravity environment.

Private Player, SpaceX, Plans To Dock With The International Space Station Later This Year

The future of American contribution in space seems to lie in the hands of private space companies. A private aerospace company, focusing on space flight, Space Exploration (or SpaceX) has been approved by NASA to send its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on an unmanned flight, scheduled sometime in late November and attempt a docking with the ISS in early December this year.

NASA has been relying heavily on private space vehicles to take up the mantle of ferrying hardware reliably to the International Space Station from its own space shuttle program. So much so that NASA has even been bottle-feeding them with cash  in order to help them grow. Even manned flight is now in the cards, but not in the near future.

Plans

SpaceX will attempt to fly its Dragon Space Capsule past the ISS as its first mission target on November 30th and then attempt a docking with the ISS on the 9th of December this year. SpaceX and NASA are both contemplating a combination of the two missions into one, which will involve a brief fly-by before a docking attempt.

The Dragon Cargo Ship made by SpaceX (Photo: SpaceX)

The four decade old Space Shuttle Program came to an end on the 21st of July this year after Atlantis landed and, since then, NASA has been looking at private players. SpaceX is a leader in this against three more players. As per revealed details of its contract with NASA, SpaceX will charge $1.6 billion for 12 cargo deliveries, making it $133 million per flight. This is tiny compared to the expenditure of more than $1 billion per flight of the space shuttle.

The Bigger Question(s)

If the Dragon cargo ship is delivered properly, using the Falcon rockets (made by SpaceX itself), it will be a dramatic vindication of NASA’s faith in private players in the wake of the end of the space shuttle program. The Falcon rocket parts are already assembled at the Cape Canaveral launch site. The Dragon spacecraft is yet to arrive and is expected in August or September.

The Falcon rocket

The wide space left behind by the end of the space shuttle program leaves room for the super-reliable Soyuz to become the primary player in the space game. Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, realizes as much:

From today, the era of the Soyuz has started in manned space flight, the era of reliability

SpaceX is the not the only player in the game. Following it, but not very close behind, is Orbital Sciences Corp., which also has landed a NASA contract. It is planning its Cygnus’ ship for a February 2012 launch.

Reliability is a key question on everyone’s mind. If that is answered in the positive, there will be inevitable questions on the ethical decision to let private players enter into virgin territory, especially when manned space flight will be involved.