December 2012 Archives
The end of the Mayan "Long Calendar" caused some to predict that the end of the world would happen on 21 December 2012. Such was the panic, that NASA even had to set up a web page to decry claims of imminent asteroid strikes etc. Well, of course, if you are reading this after this date (and God-willing you are) then you can safely assume that those doomsday prophets were wrong and that the Planet Earth and its Earthling civilisation survived.
Some of past proven-to-be-incorrect end-of-world predictors are, of course, now honoured prize winners. They won the jestful Ig Nobel prize for Mathematics in 2011 for "teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculatons."
The winners included Dorothy Martin of USA who predicted the end of the world in 1982, Clare Prophet of USA, Lee Jang Rim of South Korea, and Credonia Mwrinde of Uganda who predicted a similar finality in 1990, 1992 and 1999 rspectively, and Harold Camping had two attempts as he plumped for 21 October 2011 and before that 6 September 1994.
Of course, it could be tempting fate to make fun of these doomladen forecasters. For like hypochondriacs, sooner or later one of these "prophets of doom" will inevitably be right. But the date, which is hopefully long into the future, will be for Almighty God and/or the Universe (depending on your point of view) to decide.
Now if these forecasters could only (accurately) predict something a little more profitable, like which horse is going to win the 1pm race at Lingfield this afternoon, your space correspondent would be most grateful. He needs the winnings to pay off at least part of the debt on his Christmas-present-laden credit card (your correspondent was not prepared to chance it that Christmas would be called off due to a lack of planet).
A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year to all our readers from the Flightglobal Space Team: David, Phil, Dan, Zach and Andrew.
Several space notable personalities passed away during 2012. Probably the most famous was former NASA Apollo 11 astronaut and space great, Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon. This graceous, skilled, brave and fortuitous man passed away in August at the age of 82. The month before, it was reported that the well respected scientist and astronaut, Dr Sally Ride, 61, the first US woman in space had also passed away.
The field of astronomy said goodbye to two greats Sir Bernard Lovell, who did so much for radioastronomy and was the prime mover behind the construction of the giant radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, died in August at the ripe old age of 98. For more populist astronomy, no man could have done more that Sir Patrick Moore, 89, who presented the BBC monthy television show for more than 55 years.
The field of aerospace mourned the loss of Admiral Sir Raymond Lygo, 87, who headed up British Aerospace in its glory days. Roger Boisjoly, 73, the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster engineer who whose warnings of disaster were ignored before the Space Shuttle Challenger failure in 1986, died this year.
As we noted the passing of the funny but not-very-politically-correct Northern Irish comedian Frank Carson, 85, the Hyperbola blog also mourned the passing at the age of 92 of actor Clive Dunn, whose sage advice in his old-duffer Lance Corporal Jones role in the BBC wartime comedy Dad's Army was always: Don't Panic! Don't Panic!..while actually panicking himself. Not something that the cool-under-fire Neil Armstrong ever suffered from himself. .
Late in the year, it was announced that Gerry Anderson, maker of several puppet and live action television series (Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, UFO, Space 1999) which inspired as children, many of the rocket and aircraft designers of today, had passed away at the age of 83. His Thunderbirds-show's main puppet characters were even named after NASA's Mercury astronauts.
An Independent Oversight Board (IOB) formed to investigate the solar array deployment anomaly on fhs Intelsat 19 satellite launched on 1 June 2012 has found that while the damage to one of the satelite's solar arrays did occur during its Zenit 3-SL (Sea Launch) launch, it was not the rocket's fault. Rather, it was an unusual manufacturing/design defect that caused the failure.
The IOB, which was comprised of three highly regarded industry experts, worked with a comprehensive team of engineers from both the satellite's manufacturer Space Systems/Loral SSL and from the launch provider, Sea Launch, to conduct an exhaustive investigation of data from the launch vehicle, the spacecraft, and interactions between the two. The IOB concluded that the anomaly occurred before the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle, during the ascent phase of the launch, and originated in one of the satellite's two solar array wings due to a rare combination of factors in the panel fabrication. While the satellite is performing on orbit, the anomaly resulted in structural and electrical damage to one solar array wing, which reduced the amount of power available for payload operation and resulted in an insurance claim for $84 million.
During the investigation, the launch vehicle was exonerated from causing or contributing to the anomaly and there were no unexpected interactions between the spacecraft and the launch vehicle. Both SSL and Energia Logistics Ltd. (ELUS), on behalf of Sea Launch, concurred with the IOB findings.
The seventh and last Ariane 5 ECA launch of this year occured at 2149 GMT on 19 December from Kourou in French Guiana. The flight was also the 10th Arianespace-operated flight from the Guiana Space Centre this year with two Soyuz launches and a single Vega launch being the others. Aboard the rocket were two communications satellites heading for Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) via a transfer orbit: the 4,800kg Skynet 5D communications satelllite wasbeing launched for Astrium who act as the operator for the UK Ministry of Defence; and the 2,935kg communications Mexsat 3 (Mexsat Bicentario) which being launched for the government of Mexico.
Ariane 5 ECA launches Skynet 5D and Mexsat 3. Courtesy: Arianespace
Comment by David Todd: While its launch provider competitors are able to undercut its prices, when it comes to ensuring satellites actually get into the correct orbit, Arianespace's Ariane 5 remains well ahead of the rest. While its Ariane 5 rocket family registered its 53rd launch success in a row, both Proton and the Falcon 9 had launch failures or partial launch failures this year. More importantly for Arianespace, with seven Ariane 5 launches flown, its increased flight rate is likely to allow Arianespace to actually make a significant "profit" this year. For several years, the Ariane 5's low flight rate has meant that Arianespace has required cash bailouts from the European Space Agency.
A Soyuz FG rocket carried the Soyuz TMA-07M/ISS-33S spacecraft into orbit from the Baikonour space port near Tyuratam, Kazakhstan at 1212GMT on 19 December 2012. Aboard the craft were, the Russian Cosmonaut, Roman Romanenko, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and US astronaut Tom Marshburn who were being ferried to the International Space Station (ISS).
While unmanned Progress craft have successfully managed fast approaches for rendezvous and dockings with the ISS, this flight is to use the old style two-day approach method until the fast version is fully approved for manned spaceflight. The Soyuz TMA-07M/ISS-33S spacecraft will dock at the nadir port of the Rassvet mini-Research module on 21 December at circa 1410 GMT.
Under current plans, the next manned Soyuz flight, Soyuz TMA-08M, in late March will use the new shorter method while allows a rendezvous to be made within six hours of launch.
Politics was not dominated by space during 2012, but they were a factor. The elephant in the room was, of course, November's US Presidential Election. Given that the swing state of Florida had a key interest, space policy was s discussion point. However, Democrat President Obama won again more because he managed to court the Hispanic community's vote across all states rather than due to any criticism of his space (or economic) policy by his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. As it was, even Obama could not claim full credit for his space policy mainly because it had been either derived from Republican party thinking, or had apparently been imposed on him by the US Senate.
While space may have been an also-ran this year, next year space could feature in major political headlines, that is, if the "Fiscal Cliff' tax rises and spending cuts occur which will threaten the US Space Programme. These "sequestration" cuts automatically come into law in January if a budget deal on lesser cuts is not hammered out in the US Congress by the end of December. As it was, NASA had to fight off attempts to limit funding commercial crew transport development. In the end it plumped for two and a half teams to fund including SpaceX, Boeing and with Sierra Nevada getting the half ticket.
Of the smaller space political stories, there was the heart warming decision by the US Government to pass a law to let former NASA employees and Apollo astronauts hold title on their mission momentos after NASA had previously overzealoulsly pursued thes former NASA heroes, some of which were trying sell these items to cover family medical costs.
Growing public anger in the United Kingdom over India's growing space programme including planned probes to Mars, and plans to launch its own astronauts, led to the UK government signalling that it would be soon ending its financial aid to the nation. The UK itself saw its own future in space as it increased its space spending and elected to take part in manned spaceflight via its contribution to an ESA service module design for NASA's Orion space capsule.
In Russia,Putin retained power, though there were major protests over the suspect nature of the election. Meanwhile, internal political machinations continue inside the Russian space industry with some of the enemies of General Vladimir Popovkin, head of Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, gleefully taking advantage of an incident in which he was injured at a party, alleging that it was either while he was fighting over a woman or that he had drunkenly fallen on the stairs.
Wars and the threat of war were ever present. To international protest, North Korea managed to put its first spacecraft into orbit on its Taepodong 3 (Uhna-3) launch vehicle in December, which proved that the nation could probably put a sizeable nuclear warhead on Tokyo if it so wished.
Meantime, as Syria's civil war broke the nation apart its government was detected by satellite as firing on its own citizens, at first with artillery pieces, and latterly with Scud-class ballistic missiles. In Israel, the David's Sling anti-missile system proved its worth against inbound short range rockets fired from their Hamas opponents in Gaza.
Even more seriously, the potential for war between Israel (and its allies) with Iran remains as the latter apparently continues with its alleged nuclear weapons programme. Iran will, however, not be powerless, as it works on ballistic missiles deliberately designed to take out naval and merchant ships in the Persian Gulf - which in turn threatens to turn off a major portion of the World's oil supply.
After its lunar mission, NASA's twin Grail (Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory) spacecraft, dubbed Ebb and Flow, were deliberately flown into a mountainside in the Northern region of the Moon at 2228-2230 GMT on 17 December The impact area is to be named after the late US astronaut and first US woman in space, Dr Sally Ride. No imaging of the impact took place. The Grail mission was launched in September 2011 to map the lunar gravitational field using changes in the spacecraft separation to do this. The spacecraft also imaged the surface of the Moon.
The Chinese Chang'e 2 spacecraft has been used in a follow-up mission to take close up images of the near Earth object asteroid, Toutalis (4179) at an altitude of only 3.2km. The flyby took place at 0830 GMT on 13 December 2012.
Asteroid Toutatis as taken by Chang'e 2. Courtesy: CNSA
Chang'e 2 was originally launched on 1 October 2010 and was used to make close up images of the lunar surface, have entered lunar orbit five days later. Having completed its main mission six months later, and with plenty of fuel left, Chinese scientists decided to extend the Chang'e 2 mission, initially by flying it to the Lagrangian L2 position. The spacecraft entered into a halo orbit around this Earth-Sun gravitational balance point in August 2011. Having achieved this, it was decided to move the spacecraft out of orbit around L2 in April and use it to try to image the passing asteroid Toutalis which it achieved on 13 December. This has now been successfully done.
Comment by David Todd: Congratulations to the Chinese space programme. Using the same Chang'e 2 spacecraft for all these missions is a fine achievement and has shown China's technical prowess as well as its opportunistic adaptability and economic wisdom. It is a lesson that some Western space programmes should learn.
Following the successful launch of North Korea's Taipodong-3 (Uhna-3) three-stage rocket which successfully orbited North Korea's first confirmed satellite into a near polar, Sun-synchronous orbit on 12 December, experts now believe that the payload, the Kwangmyongsong 3-2 spacecraft, may not be operating. No spacecraft transmissions have been received to date by independent monitors, while the satellite has been imaged visually and via tracking radars as "tumbling" in orbit. At circa 100kg, the Kwangmyonsong 3-2 was notionally to have been used for Earth observation.
While experienced pilots and even astronauts have been found to be susceptible to altitude sickness and low blood pressure, there could be a cure via an unusual use of the drug Viagra. Or so the UK Ministry of Defence apparently claims as a riposte to a press story.
In the original press story in the Daily Mail, it was reported that circa £6,000 of items including the anti-impotance drug Viagra was stolen from RAF base at Marham, Norfolk. On its official news blog the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has rebutted some of the report's claims and hinted innuendo (no pun intended).
The official statement, which noted that the Viagra in question was much less than portrayed, also indicated that the drug had a much more important aerospace function in addition to its commonly accepted use: "The story claims that £5,885 worth of Viagra has been stolen. This is inaccurate as the medical supplies stolen included an amount of Viagra, but were not limited solely to Viagra. The article also does not reflect that Viagra has other medical uses; for example it is also often used to treat low blood pressure and altitude sickness."
Well maybe so, just so long as the drug does not induce a sudden rush of blood from the head that is.
Elon Musk, the billionaire Internet, clean energy and rocket entrepreneur who made his initial fortunes in the internet business, most noticeably via his interest in the sale of the Paypal business, has just added to his wealth via the public sale of the solar generation leasing firm, SolarCity, in which he had a shareholding.
After the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of stock the price of the shares on the first day closed at $11.79, up 47 per cent from the initial share sale price of $8. As a result, the value of Musk's shares in the SolarCity firm where he also is Chairman, went up by $70 million from $150.8 million to circa $220 million. Musk also used the sale to slightly increase his total shareholding in the firm.
Musk previously reached "billionaire" status as the result of his financial interest in the Tesla Motors electric car firm (where he is CEO) whose IPO in 2010 caused the valuation of Musk's own shares in Tesla to be counted as being in excess of $1 billion.
Elon Musk has now declared that he is planning an IPO for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) which could occur as early as the latter half of 2013.
"SpaceX will go public at some point, as I think it should ultimately be owned primarily by the public." he reportedly said in a tweet to his fans. Musk however remains fearful of going fully public with SpaceX stock as he noted that publically owned firms do not always survive well in the longer term.
After the successful flights of an Atlas V 501 carrying the US Air Force X-37B/OTV 1 (FLIGHT 2) minispaceplane and of the Taepodong-3 (Uhna-3) carrying the North Korea's Kwangmyongsong 3-2 spacecraft there are just three launches left.
According to the Flightglobal/Ascend SpaceTrak database, the Chinese Long March 2D rocket launch carrying the Gokturk 2 reconnaissance spacecraft for Turkey will take place on 19 December. On the same day, an Ariane 5 ECA launch carrying the Mexsat 3 and Skynet 5D communication satellites is due to launch from its Kourou launch site. Also on 19 December, a Russian manned Soyuz FG launch vehicle carrying the manned Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft to the International Space Station |(ISS), will lift off from the Baikonur Spaceport located near Tyuratam, Kazakhstan.
While the GPS IIIF-3 satellite was launched successfully on 4 October, later analysis showed that the upper stage engine had a reduced thrust level on the RL10 engine. The onboard flight control systems compensated for the lower thrust levels allowing the satellite to achieve the correct orbit. An investigation into the anomaly has found that the fuel leak was within the RL10 thrust chamber. The leak apparently began during the first engine start sequence of the launch.
Future launches using RL10 engines on their upper stages including the Atlas V501 launch of the X-37B/OTV 1 (FLIGHT 2) mini-space plane for the US Air Force are having special boroscope inspections of engine compartments.
After what appeared to be a nominal launch at 1314 GMT on 8 December from its Baikonur launch site near Tyuratam in Kazakhstan, the latest Proton rocket launch has ended in partial failure after its Breeze M (Briz M) upper stage.stranded its Yamal 402 communications satellite payload in an incorrect transfer orbit.
Preliminary data showed that the 4th and final burn of the Breeze M engine ended about four minutes early though it did successfully separate the spacecraft. The 5240kg satellite had been built by Thales Alenia Space using its Spacebus 4000 C3 design for the Russian satellite operator, Gazprom Space Systems. The satellite which was insured up to a value of €310 million ,did carry fuel margin beyond what was expected to be used for its 15 year design life. As such the spacecraft is now using its own fuel to perform a two-burn recovery procedure using its own engine, albeit with some life lost, and with a likely insurance claim for this partial loss.
A Russian State Commission has been set up to determine the reasons for the anomaly. The commercial launch marketing arm of Khrunichev, International Launch Services (ILS) will form its own Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB). The FROB will review the commission's final report and corrective action plan, in accord with U.S. and Russian government export control regulations.
The Proton launch vehicle, or more specifically its Breeze M (Briz M) upper stage, has had a number of failures in recent years. In August 2012, two communications spacecraft, Telkom 3 and Express MD-2 were left standed in a useless orbit after an engine failure on the (Breeze M) Briz M upper stage. The Russian investigating commission found that the failure was caused by a component production fault.
In an earlier incident, in August 2011, a Proton M Breeze M upper stage fired its Express AM-4 satellite payload into a useless orbit after an orientation programming fault.
Noted astronomer and The Sky at Night television presenter Sir Patrick Moore, has passed away at the age of 89. Born in 1923, Moore suffered a childhood of ill-health. Nevertheless, during this period Moore gained his interest in astronomy and was accepted into the British Astronomical Association at the age of 11 - the youngest member to have been accepted. Moore was planning to go to Cambridge University when World War II intervened and Moore became an RAF navigator whose role was sometimes to navigate by the stars. However, before he could use this skill he was declared unfit for flying and returned to a training role. There is evidence that Sir Patrick also served in British Intelligence on active duty during the war, although this has never been officially confirmed. He remained in the RAF until 1952.
It was during World War II, that Moore became engaged to a nurse called Lorna but she was killed in a German Luftwaffe bombing raid. Moore never married and always held an undisguised hatred of Germans ever since his beloved fiance's death. Moore's Europhobic nature led him to join the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Despite never having studied astronomy to degree level, as an autodidact-space expert Moore devoted his time to stellar and lunar astronomy and wrote hundreds of books on the subject for his living. His lunar maps were even used by NASA's space programme for Apollo landing plans.
After briefly appearing on a programme as a space expert, Moore was asked to present the BBC's The Sky at Night programme in April 1957 - at time before the orbital space age had even begun. This monthly show has been running for 55 years - making it the longest running television programme ever. Moore also covered other space events for the BBC including the Apollo 11 moonlanding as a studio presenter.
Moore has continued to present The Sky at Night - missing the show only once due to food poisoning. In his declining years, and as he became increasingly wheelchair and house-bound the show was shot in his home in Selsey, West Sussex, and later relied on other presenters to do most of the talking as his speech became increasingly impaired. Moore shared his idyllic home with his carers and two cats.
A believer in extra-terrestrial life and in the afterlife, Moore neverthless derided believers of astrology noting that there was no scientific basis in it. Moore had a strong interest in music and was an accomplished player of the piano and xylophone. Moore also played cricket in his youth and loved chess. His eccentrically intelligent manner, his monocle wearing, and quick-fire speech made him a source of fun for impressionists, a role he used to play up to as he appeared in various other television programmes.
Moore received his OBE in 1968, his CBE in 1988, before finally receiving a knighthood in 2001. Moore was an early member of the British Interplanetary Society and was its first editor of the society's Spaceflight magazine. In recent years, Moore held a summer picnic in the grounds of his home for the society's members.
Moore remained the definitive "enthusiast" and instilled this enthusiasm for astronomy and spaceflight in his viewers and readers - young and old. Flightlobal's Hyperbola blog salutes him and we give our condolences to his family and friends.
There were yet more launch contract "wins" for SpaceX as it secured two launch orders for the US Air Force, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) in 2014 and the Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) in 2015, under a US Air Force Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3) contract. The contracts are the first steps in breaking the ULA (United Launch Alliance) strangle hold on US government launch contracts.
However, such is the congestion in SpaceX's launch schedule that while the low prices of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy makes it first choice for many satellite operators, including the US Air Force, some signed clients are already noting that their booked SpaceX launches may not actually get a slot - especially if there are any surprise delays. They will be noting the recent anomalous launch of the Falcon 9 and its subsequent investigation is already having a knock-on effect on next year's Falcon launch schedule.
As such, most recently, Asiasat took out a "back up" booking with Sea Launch as it noted that its payloads on Falcon rockets might not make it in time. Of course, before SpaceX finds itself in the unfortunate position of actually turning business away, all this assumes that SpaceX cannot ramp up its productivity and launch rate. That said, it will have to if it is to succeed in the long run.
NASA/NOAA as been showing off just what can be achieved with their Suomi/NPP spacecraft and its VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) which can take very low light images. In this case this was used to take the Earth from the darkside. The image easily displays the illumated towns in populated areas. The image below is courtesy NASA/NOAA. A movie of the rotating Earth which looks like a "black marble" with small lights, is available here.
While the planet Mercury is the Solar System's closest planet to the Sun, nevertheless despite the planet's concomitant high surface temperatures, observations made from NASA's Messenger spacecraft appear to indicate that the planet does have water ice present.
While its surface temperatures are high, Mercury, which only has a very slight tilt relative to the Sun, was suspected of having ice in the shadows of craters located at the poles much like the Moon was found to have. But while radar returns from the planet received by the Arecebo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in the 1990s seemed to indicate flat areas of ice at the poles, it was not until the arrival of NASA's Messenger spacecraft last year that further evidence could be found.
This evidence included measurement of excess hydrogen at Mercury's north pole with Messenger's Neutron Spectrometer. Meanwhile, near infra-red imagery and topography measurements from Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) indicated high reflectance areas in the north polar region. The MLA also recorded dark patches with diminished reflectance, consistent with the theory that the ice in those areas is covered by a thermally insulating layer. Papers describing the research are in Science Express.
Mosaic image of Mercury north pole taken from Messenger imagery. Red areas show shadowed regions with yellow regions showing suspected water ice deposits taken from Earth based radar returns. Courtesy: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Arecibo Observatory
While the joint NASA/DLR mission, GRACE (Gravity-Recovery And Climate Experiment) has been a resounding success since its 2002 launch, a follow on mission called, rather unimaginatively, GRACE Follow-On, is now being planned. To that end Astrium of Germany (part of EADS) has now been awarded the construction contract in November by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - the centre managing the mission. The launch of the spacecraft is to take place in August 2017. The spacecraft, weighing in at 590kg each at launch, willl be equipped with a laser ranging system and will have a minimum design life of five years,
Having already had a suspected failure earlier in the year, there is increasing evidence that Iran had a second launch failure of one of its Safir launch vehicles during an orbital attempt on or shortly after 22 September. The initial evidence was disclosed by Jane's Defence Weekly as it cited various satellite imagery and intelligence data that Safir launch had blown up soon after lift-off. Since then other intelligence sources have confirmed the launch failure though Iran has not, as yet, admitted to the failure, nor has it admitted to the previous one in May. A discussion of the various pieces evidence is available on the nasaspaceflight forum here.
North Korea has announced that it intends to launch the second Kwangmyonsong 3 satellite on a Unha launch vehicle from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Choslan County on the West coast of the country. Daily launch windows of 2200 to 0300 GMT from 9 December until 22 December have been announced. North Korea's previous launch of a Unha rocket on 12 April this year carrying the first Kwangmyonsong 3 satellite ended in failure 60 seconds after launch.