Saturday, September 21, 2013

Amazing Videos ~ Grasshopper, Cows, Rocket Frog and Space Bat

I have previously written about SpaceX's Grasshopper Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing Vehicle. The most recent test takeoff / landing has left us with some truly jaw-dropping footage. In August of this year, Grasshopper reached an altitude of 820 ft (250 m) with a 328 ft (100 m) lateral divert maneuver, and then returns to the center of the launch pad. 

This technology is instrumental for the development of reusable rockets, both manned and unmanned, for landings and takeoffs on Earth and on off-planet destinations in our solar system. 

Video credit: SpaceX
Grasshopper test launch and landing with 100-meter lateral divert maneuver

Video credit: SpaceX

A different camera angle shows that we've also got cows! Launches and landings are rough on the wildlife and farm animals.   

Let's have a moment of silence for Rocket Frog:  
  Image credit: NASA Wallops

This unlucky frog became a viral video sensation after NASA's recent LADEE launch to lunar orbit.

 Let's not forget Space Bat: 

On March 15, 2009, Space Bat launched to instant fame on STS-119 Discovery from Kennedy Space Center.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Welcome Home, Soyuz Expedition 36!

Three humans returned safely from the International Space Station after a well practiced, yet fiery plunge through Earth's atmosphere, landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 (the evening of Tuesday, September 10 in the US).

 Photo credit: NASA

Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy (NASA), left, Commander Pavel Vinogradov (Roscosmos), center, and, Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin (Roscosmos) just minutes after being helped out of the Soyuz TMA-08M capsule. The trio launched to the ISS on March 29 and spent five and a half months in space.

Photo credit: NASA

Fiery landing: Soyuz TMA-08M with its human passengers under the main parachute just as the soft landing engines fire to soften the capsule's impact. 

More images from a rare Soyuz night landing last November:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Virgin Galactic & Germany's First Woman In Space

Early this morning, at California's Mojave Air and Space Port, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo "Enterprise" completed its second rocket-powered test flight, achieving its fastest hypersonic speed, a record altitude and fully flexing its unique feathering re-entry design.

During the 90-minute flight and landing maneuver, the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane lifted SS2 to an altitude of 46,000 feet (14,000 m). Upon release, the two pilots on board SS2 rode a 20-second fiery burn as SS2 ascended to 69,000 feet (21,000 m), reaching a maximum speed of Mach 1.4. 

Congratulations to Richard Branson and the Virgin Galactic Team on a successful test flight!

Video credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic aims to start taking passengers to the edge of space in 2014. The company has sold tickets for these space tourist flights for years. Many of the ticket holders are celebrities who made national and international news for buying tickets that cost $200,000. But not all ticket holders are celebrities. Some just want to go to space. One of them is Sonja Rohde, who aims to become the first German woman in space. She is from Hagen / Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Photo credit: Sonja Rohde

Find out more about Sonja Rohde (English / German)

For my German-speaking readers, you can also read about Sonja Rohde as part of my interview with a German newspaper in 2011. Scroll down to the first newspaper page, middle column, lower half.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Io: Volcanoes, Sulfur, Flux Tubes

I came across a news item about Io today that I must have missed over the last couple of weeks, possibly because images have not yet been published. On August 15, using the Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea, astronomer and planetary scientist Dr. Imke de Pater of UC Berkeley spotted a massive volcanic eruption on Io, with a magnitude 100-500 times bigger than any eruptions on Earth in recent decades. According to de Pater, the eruption was “way bigger than anything in recorded history on Earth."

Eruptions of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (yes, I'm a linguist and even I gave up on pronouncing it) in April 2010 deposited enough ash and micro particles in the atmosphere to wreak havoc with European air travel for weeks. At the same time, Io is only slightly larger than our own moon, yet it appears to produce volcanic eruptions that dwarf the ones on our planet. Amazingly, those eruptions on Io are happening right now. With over 400 active volcanoes, Io has long been known as "the most volcanically active body in our solar system". We will soon know more about what that actually means.

The most active volcano on Earth is Hawaii’s Kilauea. The recently observed eruption on Io released 17,000 times more energy than Kilauea typically produces. Data and imagery of the eruption on Io will be published in an upcoming paper. 

Image credit: NASA / JPL

While Io is one of the Galilean moons discovered in 1610, little was known about its features and characteristics until quite recently. In the 1970's, the Pioneer and Voyager probes sent back data during flybys that established Io's active volcanic nature and sulfurous atmosphere.

The image above is based on data collected by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in July 1999 and is NASA's highest resolution look at Io's surface. Unlike many of the bodies in our solar system, Io is free of impact craters, with a young, changing surface. The black pockmarks in the image indicate active volcanoes; darker areas indicate the presence of silicates. The whiter, reflective areas consist of sulfur dioxide ice or frost. 

Io is also a kind of giant space battery - generating electric current called the Io flux tube - as the moon's elliptical orbit crosses and interacts with Jupiter's magnetic field lines, in an eternal, delicate yet dramatic dance choreographed around the interplay of tidal forces and magnetic fields. Tidal forces acting on Io are so strong that crust displacements of 330 ft (100 m) have been observed.

Io is excessively hostile to Earthly life forms: Ionizing radiation levels on the surface average about 1 Sv/hr - a dose fatal to humans in a matter of hours. Still, Io is an undeniably beautiful moon:

Image credit: NASA / JPL

The above photo was taken by NASA's New Horizon probe in 2007. Europa is in the foreground, with Io in the background. Both moons' night sides are facing New Horizon. Io's surface is illuminated by Jupitershine. Europa is closer to New Horizon and not illuminated by the nearby gas giant. The blue plume visible near Io's north pole shows an eruption of the Tvashtar volcanic region. The filaments discernible within the plume have not yet been explained.