Keep an eye out for a new page of my weekend fairy tale comic, "The Princess and the Giant," this coming Sunday; here's a preview of / link to last week's page:
With all the talk I've been doing of solar activity and flares and so forth in recent weeks, wouldn't you know it that the effects of some strong recent flares are arriving on Earth starting today, where they "could affect some communications for a day or so." So watch out! But these aren't particularly powerful ones; the article quotes the director of the NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado as saying that the current solar storm "on a scale of 1 to 5 ... is probably a 2 or 3." For comparison, the article mentions--though not by name--the "Solar Superstorm" of 1859, the strongest solar storm on record, which even managed to burn down a telegraph office or two; I talked a bit about that 1859 event recently, right here.
I mentioned earlier in the week that NASA's Juno spacecraft would be launching for Jupiter today (Friday the 5th), and indeed it went up right on cue on its wasp-waisted Atlas V rocket:
image by NASA/Bill Ingalls (source--#5 in that gallery, since I can't link to it directly)
With advances in solar panel technology, they were able to make Juno solar powered, even for operation around Jupiter, which at about 800 million kilometers out is five times as far from the Sun as Earth is, and the sunlight reaching it--or the solar panels of a spacecraft orbiting it--proportionately weaker. All the previous spacecraft to visit Jupiter--"Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, the Voyager program, Cassini–Huygens, and the Galileo orbiter"--obtained their power from the decay of radioactive elements, in what is called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. But scientific progress has allowed Juno to "go green," so it will be all solar rather than nuclear.
That AFP article I linked about the launch mentioned a few interesting details that I thought I'd highlight. It points out that Jupiter "has more than twice the mass of all planets in the solar system combined and is believed to be the first planet that took shape around the Sun." Also, Juno is due to reach Jupiter in 2016, and it was launched at a pretty high speed, but some creative maneuvering will help get it up to a higher speed for catching Jupiter; due--I guess?--to how the orbits of the planets work out, it will first go to the Sun, then will come *back to Earth* in a couple years before heading out toward Jupiter: "Juno will spend the first two years of its mission going around the Sun, then will return for a flyby of Earth which will give a gravitational boost to accelerate Juno on a three-year path toward Jupiter."
So see you in a couple years, Juno!
And rather amusingly--and commercially, I suppose, although the reason given is "to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics" (if they gave these out for free at schools that might work better!)--Juno has three tiny passengers on-board: custom LEGO-like figures sculpted in the forms of Galileo (discoverer of four of the planet's moons), the Roman god Jupiter, and Jupiter's wife, Juno; I'll let you sort out which is which in this photo, or you could cheat by reading NASA's article about them:
I also noticed a new AP article about the Mars Opportunity rover nearing the large crater Endeavour (hey there's another Space Shuttle connection, at least in name); Endeavour is "a 14-mile-wide depression near the Martian equator," and should hold older layers of Martian soil and rock than Opportunity has found in the three previous craters it has explored, which were much smaller. Opportunity should reach the edge of the crater tomorrow; that will be the end of a seven-mile drive that has taken the rover two years! Now that's dedication; and keep in mind that Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit--which got stuck in soft soil two years ago, but continued to transmit until last year when contact was lost--were originally planned to be just a three-month mission. And although Opportunity is expected to make the Endeavour crater its final stop, mission team members are optimistic that the rover will be able to conduct several years of exploration within its vast confines.
Here's a nifty photo Opportunity took recently--I like the look of this vast expanse of rippled Martian sand:
And as if that wasn't enough to absorb in one day, a NASA-funded study just concluded that meteorites likely carried some of the building blocks needed for DNA to the Earth: after looking at meteorite and soil and ice samples from Australia and Antarctica, the study found that three nucleobases--which are building blocks of DNA and RNA, and thus all life as we know it--were present in the meteorites, but not in the terrestrial material around them; indeed, these particular nucleobases "are rare or absent in terrestrial biology." So the theory is that if *those* nucleobases could come here in meteorites, the ones inside plants and dogs and cats and humans and so forth could have come from space as well.
This NASA article has more about it; for instance: "The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that the chemistry inside asteroids and comets is capable of making building blocks of essential biological molecules. For example, previously, these scientists at the Goddard Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory have found amino acids in samples of comet Wild 2 from NASA’s Stardust mission, and in various carbon-rich meteorites."
I talked a week or so ago about Skylab, the space station of the 70's. Skylab, which got its name in a NASA contest, is not to be confused with Spacelab, the laboratory module, or rather series of modules, that Space Shuttles carried into orbit in their cargo bay on 22 missions between 1981 and 2000.
Many of the those trips just had "pallet" modules--platforms carrying instruments for experimentation, exposed to vacuum--but in 16 of them, the Shuttle bay played host to one of two European-built* pressurized "LM" (which I think stands for "Long Module"?) components, in which astronauts could conduct experiments without having to wear bulky space suits. This January 1, 1981 NASA concept drawing shows a Spacelab configuration with a habitable Long Module in the middle of the cargo bay, connected to the Shuttle's cockpit by a pressurized tunnel, with a pallet of equipment on its far side (five pallets could fit on a single flight, if no room was needed for a Long Module and tunnel):
I noticed an article today saying that the US military organization DARPA ("Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency"--not exactly the best title or acronym this nation has devised :p), after scrubbing a flight Wednesday due to bad weather, will be trying again on Thursday to launch the second test flight of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, or "HTV-2" for short. "Hypersonic" tends to mean faster than Mach 5 (Mach 1 being the speed of sound, 768 mph (1,236 kph)), and the HTV-2 is actually supposed to reach the rather ridiculous speed of "Mach 20 (approximately 13,000 miles per hour)" (which at normal temperature and pressure would be Mach 17, actually, so I wonder if they're taking a higher altitude into consideration, where the speed of sound would be less due to lower temperature, etc...or if they just like round numbers :p); the reason given for having a vehicle capable of that speed is to be able to get anywhere on Earth in under an hour--pretty mind-boggling to think about.
The Falcon definitely isn't a normal-looking craft, and it doesn't fly in any sort of ordinary way. First, it's launched in the nose of a rocket, which takes it to just below Earth orbit altitude before releasing it, as depicted in this simulated rendering from DARPA:
Its first test flight, in April of last year, did not go well: contact with the craft was lost after nine minutes, and it ditched into the ocean. These flights are supposed to go along a route something like this, I think (this chart is from last year):
This second test flight, for instance, is supposed to last for about half an hour, ending with the Falcon splashing down in the Pacific, 6,400 km away from its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. You can check out an updated overview, complete with rather high-resolution computer generated videos of each stage of the flight (in non-streaming wmv format), here on DARPA's site. One thing I found interesting about the videos was that they show how the Falcon's maneuvering jets are configured: they fire sort of crosswise across the back of the craft.
Thu Aug 11, 2011 6:19 am
Joined: Tue Aug 03, 2010 11:12 pm Posts: 3
There's only one possible thing to say to this news:
Thanks to a couple A* readers of yesterday's article for tipping me off on Facebook to the results of the second test flight of DARPA's Falcon HTV-2, their hypersonic suborbital aircraft that tried to hit Mach 20 in a test over the Pacific yesterday. Apparently the launch of the HTV-2 aboard a rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California went okay, and probably looked a good deal like last year's, which this YouTube video--not uploaded there by DARPA, mind you--purports to show:
And I found the DARPA test flight profile footage I linked to in high-res form on their web site yesterday, in a nice streaming YouTube video on their official channel:
That was how it was *supposed* to go, and they confirmed by camera mounted on the rocket, apparently, that separation of the craft took place, and their data says it shifted into its Mach 20 configuration, but then...they lost it, and it probably plunged into the ocean. This was after nine minutes of data recording, which probably not coincidentally is how long last year's test flight lasted before ending prematurely, too. Says Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz of the test: "We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight."
But DARPA Director Regina Dugan says "We’ll try again." So, assuming their budget doesn't get cut or something, maybe we'll get these little Internet peeks at another Mach 20 test flight next year.
I'm not quite done with DARPA or their Falcon Project just yet! Up until its cancellation in 2009 due to budget cuts, the Blackswift HTV-3X was going to be another hypersonic vehicle in the stable, with a two-in-one turbine/ramjet engine; the turbine would power it from takeoff up to about Mach 3, at which point the air speed would be fast enough to be pumping and compressing sufficient air into the ramjet for it to fire, pushing the craft to about Mach 6. Well, the Blackswift didn't end up getting off the ground, but you can see a simulated version of what it might have looked like, thanks to the magic of YouTube:
Speaking of YouTube, DARPA has its own YouTube channel, in which they've showcased some pretty funky projects. For instance, there's the somewhat misleadingly titled "Nano Air Vehicle"--or "NAV"--project that set out to develop a remote-controlled craft capable of being launched from the hand and hovering; they eventually ended up with a pretty successful prototype that was basically a robotic hummingbird which, with its embedded camera, was capable of flying right into remote buildings and looking around inside:
Not too far away from the espionage man's dream of the ol' "fly on the wall," is it?
Oh yeah, and there's the rather famous and creepy robotic pack dog they're funding:
I found some more interesting walking robot projects by Boston Dynamics, the company developing the four-legged BigDog robot for DARPA that I talked about last time. First, there's the tiny version, LittleDog, also for DARPA, and used apparently for educational purposes at universities:
Still creepy, but now kind of cute-sized. And then there's the bipedal PETMAN--not being made for DARPA this time, but due to be delivered to the US Army's Product Director for Test Equipment, Strategy and Support ("PD-TESS") this year:
Pff big deal, I can run faster than that. >_>
Hm come to that when they do get one that runs faster than humans, that's when I'll really be worried (and that probably isn't too far off now, I suppose).
Over the weekend I drew a drawing not related to my comics, which you can check out on my deviantART.
But also over the weekend I did a drawing that *was* related to my comics, in fact it was my Sunday fairy tale comic, "The Princess and the Giant." And because I neglected to try to get you to go look at that series last week, I'm going to pester you twice about it this week (the next time on Friday, if I manage to stay awake this time...). So here's a teaser/link banner to the Princess page from two Sundays ago:
And if you're wondering why that looks so weird (aside from my drawing style I mean), well, you'll just have to click on it and read the comic! Muwahahahaaa!
Tue Aug 16, 2011 2:35 am
Joined: Thu Nov 18, 2010 11:51 am Posts: 81
Ulp! Selenis has run across another man of morals and integrity... time to kill him too! Just like Vero! :)