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The Real Purpose of DRM

iamlucky13 Re:What about "unauthorized producers"? (213 comments)

This is an under-appreciated point, especially with regards to HDCP, where the HD alliance is run by a group of content producers who have collaborated to effectively force all content producers to use their system. Consumers won't buy hardware unless it plays existing content, and manufacturers can't make hardware that plays HDCP-protected content unless they meet all of the HDCP requirements, which means no one can't effectively support non-HDCP HD content, which means other HD content producers have to work within that license-encumbered system. It's not a total lock-in, but there are unreasonable negative effects on the consumer in addition to producers, such as the analog sunset, that has made it contractually impossible to fully support some common older formats like component video.

about a year and a half ago

Romanian Accused of Breaking Into NASA

iamlucky13 Re:No education or occupation (169 comments)

He possess hacking programs, that means he is a terrorist. What kind of 'severe disruptions' did he cause that cost 500,000 USD?

If he disrupted servers used by NASA to provide data to their employees, it could easily reach that. For example, the Planetary Data System servers are the normal point of access for thousands of researchers around the country working with raw data from NASA space probes. Take that off line for a day and you've disrupted quite a lot of work. Similar if you take down a technical data server that suppliers need to access detailed requirements or coordinated design data like CAD models of a system a supplier needs to make a subsystem interface with.

more than 2 years ago

Libya Elects Engineer To Acting Prime Minister Post

iamlucky13 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is too (188 comments)

He actually has a PhD in civil engineering (transportation emphasis) from the Iran University of Science and Technology. I'm not sure if he ever actually worked in the field. His biography lists some administrative positions, then he taught for a while, was appointed a provincial governor, and eventually mayor of Tehran. I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was when I first learned Ahmadinejad was a civil engineer. After all, I know quite a few uncivil civil engineers.

more than 2 years ago

HDR Video a Reality

iamlucky13 Re:HDR? (287 comments)

You're probably the first person I've run into who can describe what's going on in such images well enough to convince me that you understand it. I was going to try to explain it myself until I saw your post. The comparison of local contrast to proper brightness mapping is much more concise than anything I would have come up with.

about 4 years ago

Kepler Investigator Says 'Galaxy Is Rich In Earth-Like Planets'

iamlucky13 Presentation versus Research Paper (206 comments)

I see nothing dysfunctional about this.

They don't want to release the data they spent the last several years developing a system to collect until they have a chance to study it and write the first papers from it. In the meantime, there's nothing preventing them from talking in general terms about the sorts of things they're finding. Saying there appears to be 400 earth-sized candidates isn't going to allow anyone to beat them to getting credit for analyzing the data.

more than 4 years ago

In Oregon, Wind Power Surges Disrupting Grid

iamlucky13 Spain doesn't get 41% from wind (506 comments)

According to the CIA World Factbook, Spain uses about 276 billion kW-hr per year. According to Wikipedia, wind in Spain generated 36 billion kW-hr in 2009, which is growing at around 10% per year.

That's 13%, which although I don't read Spanish competently, I think is what your link says. It's still one of the highest shares of any nation, but definitely not 41%.

I'm sure you got that 41% number from a recent story about during a time of unusually strong winds and the low demand period at night, wind made up 41% of the generation for a couple hours.

Spain can handle this because huge regional overcapacity like the Pacific NW does, they don't have a large fraction generated by dams that are required by the EPA to keep flow rate through the turbines at minimum levels for salmon protection, and around half of their generating capacity is from natural gas, which can quickly adjust output to meet changes in supply or demand.

At the same time, they pay on average about twice what we do in the US, partially because wind and gas are expensive.

more than 4 years ago

Discovery Launch a No-Go, Again

iamlucky13 Re:"again"? (98 comments)

Ahh...good thought, but not the case here.

This area isn't chilled down until fuel loading begins, and I believe that is just done by sending LH2, or possibly a brief helium purge, through at low volumes for a while...I think only 30 minutes. Then they just pumping it in at full volume until its full. I guess that's slow enough that thermal stresses aren't an issue, and contraction is dealt with in the design. The main concern is boiloff, but the thermal mass of the fuel is far greater than that of the tank, and the fuel is kept topped off until just a few seconds before launch. At the time when fueling begins, there's no access to the external tank, so I know for certain that no retorquing is done then.

more than 5 years ago

Discovery Launch a No-Go, Again

iamlucky13 Re:"again"? (98 comments)

Maybe it has something to do with cooldown times for components exposed to liquid hydrogen at -423 F.

According to a Mission Management Team memo (not officially published, but there happen to be a couple outlets good at getting details), it's torquing issue. Here's the specific quote I was referencing:

In the reinstallation of the flight seal, there is a 30 hour retorque requirement, that pushes us to a Monday launch. The team is looking to examine if there is some wiggle room in the 30 hr torque requirement, then we could potentially get a Sunday launch attempt.

Cooldown is part of the overall filling process and done during the countdown at T-6 hours. It lasts about two hours.

more than 5 years ago

Discovery Launch a No-Go, Again

iamlucky13 Re:"again"? (98 comments)

This mission was originally supposed to launch February 12. I know, because I bought tickets to go see it, and I ended up missing (KSC still makes for a great vacation though).

They got within a week or two of launch, and decided they still weren't happy with the analysis that had been conducted for troubleshooting an issue with the propellant lines that cropped up during Endeavor's STS-126 launch. A valve on a secondary fuel handling line had failed, and while it didn't appear to affect that flight there was concern that it would either result in metal particles from the valve causing issues downstream, or lead to excess hydrogen venting that could cause a fire. They spent the last month testing and quantifying the probability of these concerns, and figuring out additional safeguards to implement for this flight, since making new valves would be an additional two months.

The next possible launch window is about 23:30 after this one, but apparently the expected resolution for the leak is a multi-day process. The launch is now scheduled for no-earlier-than Mar 15 (19:43 EDT), but Mar 16 (19:21 EDT) sounds likely. As I understand it, re-installing the ground support hydrogen line on external tank requires a 30 hour waiting period before applying the final torque to allow the seals to compress...a typical factor when working with torque specs on plastic components. That 30 hours is on top of the time to demate and remate the hydrogen line, do leak checks, and reset to the proper point in the countdown.

Anyway, because they're working against a launch window before the next Soyuz launches to the station, they're losing at least one mission day, and if it slips to the 16th, they'll be losing another day, plus one EVA. That will mean they can get the last solar array installed, but not fully hooked up. I'm not sure if that EVA would be handed off to a future shuttle mission, or if it could be fit into the station crew's schedule. If the launch happens after Mar. 16, they'll have to wait until after the Soyuz mission.

There's a briefing going on regarding all this right now on NASA TV.

more than 5 years ago

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory Mission Fails

iamlucky13 More a matter of Orbit vs. Ground (325 comments)

In a polar orbit like OCO would have been in, the satellite would regularly cover the entire earth's surface. The rovers had an expected range of a few hundred meters. Even the amazing dozen kilometers they've covered over their extended missions leaves each still within the major geological features they landed in.

The insurance policy of having a second rover for moderate (not minimal) cost was one factor. I think it increased the costs by about 25%, and put considerable extra strain on the team to get the second unit built in time for the launch window. Launch cost alone was an extra 10% or so.

The other factor was that a second rover allowed them to conduct similar studies of a much different location on Mars, giving the scientists good comparisons of very different geographies. It turned out to be a good thing, too. Opportunity, which landed second, has arguably accomplished much more than Spirit, in large part due to its location. That's not to say that Spirit hasn't also been extremely successful, but Opportunity has tended to steal the spotlight since day 1.

A second copy of OCO would have been producing nearly identical data as the first. Given that this mission was already under pressure just from politics, spending extra money to build a complete spare was unlikely.

However, NASA still has the design work done. We'll have to see if they decide to build a replacement, or simply settle for data from the related Japanese Greenhouse Gasses Observing Satellite launched last month.

more than 5 years ago

Europa Selected As Target of Next Flagship Mission

iamlucky13 Re:Eleven Years? (168 comments)

The missions back in those "good old days" of space travel were much simpler both in scope, technical complexity, and duration. The longest of the Mariner missions, for example, was about 8 months, and it was only collecting data for a small fraction of that. We've already learned most of what we can (or at least what we can justify the cost of a launch for) with those simpler missions. This new Europa mission is going to be big. Even in physical size it will dwarf those old transistorized tin pots. NASA calls missions like this "Flagship" class. They are few, far between, and generally bring in floods of new information. This mission is on the scale of Voyager and Cassini.

Even back in the Voyager days, when the rocketry and resources (developed in the lull between Apollo and Shuttle) to launch such a mission were newly available, close visits to any of the planets beyond Mars were completely unprecedented, and NASA was anxious get underway it took five years. Cassini was first proposed 15 years and approved I think 10 years before it launched. Now that there's minimal hurry and a lot of other things to share the annual budget with, so the timeline is more like that for Cassini. The taxpayers don't want to pay out more per year, and besides, Europa isn't expected to go anywhere in the meantime.

As mission complexity and cost grows, getting the most out of it becomes increasingly important. You can't achieve that with a generic bus because it limits the instrumentation you can hang on it. Instead you tailor the bus to the power, thermal, geometric, stabilization, and other needs of all this really expensive and fancy instrumentation. If you need a 3-axis stabilized, nuclear-powered spacecraft with a large contiguous cavity for a big telescope like Cassini, you can't make effective use of a solar-powered spacecraft bus designed to be spin stabilized and provide a mount for a radar and a long magnetometer boom like Juno.

Instrumentation is another thing. Back in the Mariner days, they were generally taking the best instruments currently coming out of the labs and figuring out how best to use them for the mission. Lately, it's been more typical to examine what you want to know, what technically should be possible, and do the research, development, design and testing of an instrument optimized for its mission. As a result, science package development is often a primary pacing and budgeting concern for exploration missions these days.

Lastly, those ten Mariner probes in ten years were being concurrently developed, not one after the other. I'm not sure how many missions NASA had active or in development at any given time back in the 60's and 70's, or how much money was devoted to them. Right now, however, I'm aware of 13 solar system exploration missions currently operating, and five or six more in development. I'm really not sure how many earth and deep space observing missions there are (Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, GALEX, WMAP, OCO, JWST, etc). All of these consume (I count 60+ total on NASA's website) consume less than a quarter of NASA's budget. It's rather impressive in the grand scheme of things.

more than 5 years ago

Start Saving To Buy Your Space Shuttle Now

iamlucky13 Re:Unlikely that Evergreen will get one (197 comments)

Absolutely...I don't think it's at all far-fetched. They genuinely have a great museum, and I'm sure with the addition of the space exhibit hall (new since I've last been there) it's even better. Between that and their active leadership they'll likely end up on the short list of candidates. But my personal opinion is that NASA will ultimately choose museuems with a more direct tie-in to space exploration (Evergreen Aviation itself is just a small air freight company) and more conveniently located for a larger number of people.

Of course, since I live in Portland, I would be ecstatic if Evergreen were granted even Enterprise, much more so for one of the operational orbiters.

more than 5 years ago

Start Saving To Buy Your Space Shuttle Now

iamlucky13 Unlikely that Evergreen will get one (197 comments)

I can't find the original information, but I'm pretty sure the allocation of the shuttles won't be soley based on cash, but also on perceived value to the public for receiving one and consistency with the general mission of the museum. Keep in mind, the $42 million is supposedly for refurbishment for display, not to raise additional money. This first of all will mean cleaning up any potential hazards, like residues of hydrazine manuevering fuel. Of course, they get fairly weathered by each launch and re-entry, so there'll be some polishing to be done, and undoubtably ITAR-sensitive or high value equipment like the main engines will be removed and replaced with detailed replicas where applicable.

There's three orbiters surviving (Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor). I suspect Kennedy Space Center will keep one and house it near their Saturn V that's on display. This is consistent with another article that says two orbiters and six engine display kits will be made available according to the RFI. With public accessibility being a likely major consideration, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is almost guaranteed one of the actual orbiters, to replace the Enterprise aerodynamic test vehicle which is currently housed there.

That's going to make it a tough grab for the remaining orbiter. Because McMinneville is roughly an hour-long drive from the relatively small and aerospace-vacant city of Portland, I think their chances of getting an orbiter are relatively slim, even though they have a great facility and can probably afford it.

The Intrepid Museum in New York Harbor is certainly prominent enough, but they would need to make a rather substantial addition to protect the shuttle from the elements. It probably wouldn't be possible to deliver it to the waterfront an SCA flight to New York, but if they wanted to put it on a barge like the Concorde they have on site, they may be able to float it straight up from Florida that way. I think they're also at a disadvantage because there will already probably be two shuttles on the East Coast (Florida and DC).

I think Johnson Space Center in Houstan and Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville are the two most likely locations not on one of the major coasts. Both of them already host two of the three remaining Saturn V's (the third is at Kennedy). On the west coast, I think the lead option is Boeing's museum of flight, partially because of their accessibility and ability to host a space shuttle, but also because of their involvement with the shuttle program (although that is due to their acquisition of Rockwell).

I would bet one of these three locations will get the third orbiter. That still leaves Enterprise after it leaves the Smithsonian, which only did glider and procedural tests, but would still be a major attraction. Maybe Evergreen has a chance at getting Enterprise, but I think more likely a second of the above three will get her. There is also a ground-test mockup called Pathfinder currently at MSFC in Huntsville that would likely get a new home if one of the orbiters went there, but it's only externally representative of the flight vehicles.

A commenter on another site had a fantastic idea, in my opinion: before sending the last of the orbiters to a musuem, use the SCA to take it on a tour of the US. This would be a great opportunity for millions to see it and the modified 747 together.

more than 5 years ago

Does Obama Have a Problem At NASA?

iamlucky13 "Alleged" is the key word (479 comments)

This whole fuss has grown out of a single post on the Orlando Sentinel blog. Granted it's a professionally written blog, but the post was based on third party reports about a conversation that those passing the rumors on about weren't involved in.

Griffin steadfastly denies obstructing anything, and has pointed out that every requested document has been provided on time. Garver refuses to comment on it.

I'd be willing to bet she went in with an attitude that Griffin was going to feed her everything that was wrong with Constellation, and she was going to take that back to Obama and get the program cancelled. Then we can return to using the shuttle and the Obama administration doesn't have to face the risk of overseeing a new and ambitious venture. Save the shuttle jobs (Florida voters), save a little bit of prestige of spaceflight, be the lady who stopped a broken program (Constellation is not broken, BTW. It can be fairly argued that it's not the best option, but it's well on its way to succcess), and as a result the US throws away 5 years of development work and sits on its butt for the next 4-8 years making freight runs to the ISS.

When a political science appointee jumps on a rocket scientist on the topic of rocket science, what do you expect to happen? The rocket scientist is going to get pissed. Griffin probably isn't the easiest guy for a politician to work with. There's been a lot of criticism directed his way, especially from armchair engineers not on the program who think they know something he doesn't. If a politician came his way and spouted the same things, I could definitely see him getting riled up.

This is a mess, based on hearsay and little more. Unfortunately, the Sentinel has blown it into a national story without documented sources. I'm not even worried about Griffin. He's a skilled engineer, but a mediocre administrator. NASA will easily survive if Obama gets rid of him. But if he sinks Constellation, mark my words, you won't see NASA accomplish anything front page news worthy until at least 2030, unless there is another accident.

more than 5 years ago

Next-Gen Mars Rover Mission Delayed 2 Years, To 2011

iamlucky13 Clarification on the problem (29 comments)

I was a little worried when I noted in the article that the author was a disguntled ex-NASA employee. Then I realized who the author was: former Science Mission Director administrator Alan Stern. He's the guy who earlier this year was lambasted by NASA higher-ups and Slashdotter's alike for pulling the plug on the ailing Spirit Mars Exploration Rover to save a few million dollars. His decision was forcibly reversed, and being out of favor he resigned. Given my enthusiasm for the rover program, I find my mildly surprised to be sympathetic to his bitterness. He had a limited budget that was too small to support his growing assignments. In a way his decision about Spirit might have been a good thing, because it drew a lot of fast attention to the issue...but he got torpedoed for it and then the attention died away again.

The problem of delays and ballooning expenses is not an easy one. The mission teams aren't spending their days seeing how far fire extinguishers can propel them down a hallway on an office chair and doing a little bit of development work when it suits them. They're very frequently working their tails off and on overtime, and Homer Simpson walking by wearing Tom Landry's hat isn't going to magically inspire them to greater efficiency.

The main problem as I see it is that engineers and scientists generally suck at estimating work, and accountants and managers generally suck at understanding technology development to do much better. Add in the fact that cost presented is a big factor in which missions get chosen over all the other candidates, and you've got recipe for severely lowballed estimates.

Stern is suggesting a really painful fix, and I'm not sure I like it. Cancelling missions that are overbudget or schedule is a hard thing to do. He's right that the "we've spent too much to stop" argument is incomplete, and he's right that supporting wayward projects further encourages poor management, but that's only part of the picture. MSL was originally considered to be worth the $1.4 billion it was approved for. The true sunk-cost argument isn't that we've spent too much to stop now, it's that a mission that was worth $1.4 billion is definitely worth $700 million. We've spent the $1.4 billion, and we can't get it back either way. However, looking at the issue anew, for $700 million we can get a $1.4 billion probe.

But that's only one mission, it still allows the problem to recur, and it stealthily and unequally replaces the question, "Is this mission worth $2.1 billion?" with two questions, "Is this mission worth $1.4 billion?" and, "Is this mission worth $700 million?"

I really wish I had a good counterplan to Stern's argument that we should cancel missions that go overbudget and schedule, but I don't. I like to think that an independent NASA auditing group of experienced engineers and bean counters who don't have direct stake in mission selection would result in better initial cost estimates, but I'm not confident of it. Figuring out how much work inventing something new will take is a lot harder than figuring out how much work making something that's been made before like a car will take, and NASA already attempts this to a degree.

By the same token, I'm not sure Stern's plan will work. It might fail to spur better estimations of scope. Its only accomplishment in that case would be the cancellation of a lot of good projects after a lot of investment with nothing to show for it. The two missions he calls out most deliberately, MSL and the James Webb Space Telescope, are two of the most anticipated, by scientists and civillians alike, science missions on the board for the next 10 years. It would be a shame to kill them and not only fail to get any science return, but fail to fix the problem.

more than 5 years ago

SpaceX Successfully Tests Nine-Engine Cluster

iamlucky13 Re:FP (182 comments)

I work for the TX facility.

If I may ask a tangential question, how do you like working for SpaceX out at the test facility? I've been considering applying for one of the test engineer positions out there. Really, the main thing keeping me from doing so is the fact that it's way out in Texas (not because of the usual Texas cliches, but just because I like the Pacific NW too much). Anyway, how are the hours? Any major gripes? What sort of work do you do and what kind of background did you come from?

Thanks and good luck with the testing!

more than 5 years ago

SpaceX Successfully Tests Nine-Engine Cluster

iamlucky13 Picking on Texans? (182 comments)

It's fun to pick on Texans for things like cowboy hats, unnecessarily large barbeque pits, and their slow drawl, and it's easy to pick on people who didn't know what was going on when you're reading a news article after the fact that starts out by telling you exactly what went on, but "fearful idiots" is a remarkably stupid generalization.

How do you think residents would respond in your area? "The house is rattling, there's a tremendous roaring sound, I can feel reverberations through my body, and there's a bright glow on the horizon...meh, my WoW character is about to level up. I'll worry about it later." Somehow I'm guessing not.

Supposing they tested this near New York, or better yet Boston (The Mooninites are coming! The Mooninites are coming!)? There'd be hysteria in the streets. Heck, in some places you'd probably even get looting and throngs fleeing the city. The same goes for pretty much any place in the entire US, with the likely exception of Cape Canaveral, where rocket launches happen relatively frequently.

Things like this are genuinely bewildering when you don't know what's going on. About 10 years ago I saw a natural gas pipeline fire...from 50 miles away. The whole family was out on the back porch staring at the eerily pulsating glow of the reflection off the clouds trying to figure out what was going on. Until the local news reported on what was actually happening, our best guess was a forest fire, but a nuclear bombing of Portland was another speculation (we figured it unlikely, however, partially because there was no similar glow to the north, in the direction of Seattle). Coincidentally, they said the flames from that fire were as much as 200 feet high, so it was probably similar in brightness to the SpaceX test, but not nearly as loud.

A final more general comment: SpaceX has been conducting engine tests out there for several years now. In fact, their first Falcon 9 firing (1 engine at that time) on that test stand was almost a year ago, and their first nine-engine, short duration fire was three months ago. In view of this, SpaceX's statement that the sound carried much further than in the past due to the weather is probably quite accurate. It also probably didn't help that they did the test at 10:30 PM. Perhaps in the future they'll work safe stopping points into their procedure so they can delay to the next day if the test preparations take too long.

They probably also should consider putting up simple walls to reflect some of the sound upward and reduce the complaints long term. At the very least, have a facility-wide arbor day celebration and go plant lines of trees along the edge of the test site. I know our local racetrack was able to reduce neighborhood complaints (and make the treehuggers a little happier) by doing this.

more than 5 years ago

Mars Rover "Spirit" In Danger

iamlucky13 Different Hemispheres (222 comments)

It's fall in the northern hemisphere of Mars where Phoenix is located, so it dying was entirely expected, and although it lasted longer than its mission, they were hoping to get a few more weeks out of it. Landing was just a month before the summer solstice, so it had 30 days of conditions that started good and improved, then 130 days of declining conditions. Since it's in the arctic circle, it had complete daylight until a month or two ago, when the sun started setting again.

Spirit and Opportunity, however, are in the southern hemisphere, and it's early spring. Between the dust on Spirit's solar panels and being about 12 degrees further from the equator than Opportunity, things got a little worrisome for Spirit over the winter, but her minimum power levels at that time were over twice the 89 Watt-hours quoted in the article.

Low power is slightly less of a concern now than it was then, because the surface temperature should be higher and so electronics should need less heating, but that huge drop in power is probably more than enough to make up the difference. The other potential positive factor is Spirit's batteries had a decent level of charge when the storm started, so if the storm dissipates quickly they'll probably be in the clear. Trying to maintain 89 W-hr for several months, however, could very easily be fatal, so they're trying to use an absolute minimum of power to keep her out of fault mode.

Spirit actually hadn't moved an inch for several months to save power until a week or two ago. Her team had parked her on a sloped rock face at about a 30 degree angle to square her solar panels to the noon sun over the winter, and because of relatively clear skies, she was even able to take a high resolution panorama (link is to an index, not directly to the giant 42 MB image) and do some stationary science. As the sun angle increased, they had just started inching back towards a 20 degree tilt to follow it when the dust storm hit. There's a rather dramatic picture of what that 30 degree tilt looks like on the program site.

As of the last report I've seen, the atmosphere is 69% opaque due to suspended dust (although I believe more than 31% of the sunlight diffuses through indirectly), and the dust coating on Spirit's solar panels is only letting through 32% of of the sunlight that actually reaches them. In the past they'd had good luck with winds cleaning the panels off, but that hasn't happened in a while. The team is hoping that the same seasonal weather that brings on these dust storms will generate a few lucky dust devils.

Opportunity, on the other side of the planet meanwhile, has been getting 500-600 Watt-hours and averaging about 50 meters per day of progress towards the huge crater Endeavor, which is 12 km away.

And what nutjob modded the parent as a troll? Sheesh! And to think we probably let that person vote, too.

more than 5 years ago

Mars Rover "Spirit" In Danger

iamlucky13 Re:Not to be pedantic but... (222 comments)

They were indeed designed to work for almost the worst conditions expected for 90 days, based on what prior landers saw. If you read Dr. Steven Squyre's book Roving Mars (which I highly recommend for any space nerd, even though he wrote it several years too early), he describes at several points how worried they were that dust accumulation was going to kill these things before 90 days were up.

After talking about wipers, blowers, vibrators, etc. they concluded the best course of action was to just size the panels to produce the minimum required amount of electricity for operations after 90 days of worst-case dust accumulation. An added bonus of this approach was plenty of power to play around with early in the mission (and part of why they've done so well now). Accomplishing this ended up being a huge problem, however, and I think the power team spent weeks trying to figure out a geometery that would provide the needed amount of surface area, but not get in the way of all the other parts while folding down small enough to fit inside the tetrahedral lander platform. They finally got a break when they figured out a set of winglet-like tabs that unfolded from the back of an already folded section of panel.

The result didn't just solve the problem, it looked freaking awesome. Earlier renders of the rovers had them being nearly square or hexagon shaped, as opposed to the swept-back fighter wing look they have as built. Heck, Steve Jobs is probably even jealous of how sexy the MER's look, and they aren't even trying.

more than 5 years ago

Phoenix Mars Lander Declared Dead

iamlucky13 More info (154 comments)

As the NASA article mentions, you can find more info from the Phoenix team's official website:

Also, the Planetary Society has done a great job following the mission, and there's an extremely detailed update one of their members wrote based on a phone interview with the Phoenix project manager shortly after the last contact with Phoenix was made last week.

Here's a quick summary: Phoenix has been reducing operational tempo for several weeks. In anticipation of having too little power to run the robotic arm and inability to communicate in late November for a few weeks as Mars passes behind the sun, they hurried sample delivery to a few more TEGA ovens for analysis, but they still had one oven-load left to analyze when the dust storm hit that dropped power levels below a sustainable point. However, despite that, they had already met all of their operational objectives. The extra data would have been a bonus.

When they saw the dust storm coming, they tried to power down almost all non-essential systems, but weren't quite in time. As a result, the batteries drained completely and it "browned out." The next day, the batteries charged enough to wake up in what they call "Lazarus mode" and try communicating, but it likely missed the relay window with the orbiters. Over a couple days, they got some intermittent communications, and were hoping to be able to send instructions to properly time the wake-up for best chance at communications and best utilization of what little solar power its getting each day, but apparently that hasn't yet succeeded. They were hoping to get temperature and soil conductivity measurements periodically, and maybe even a few pictures of CO2 ice starting to cake up in the area.

It may still be in Lazarus mode, or something may have failed due to the thermal contraction of the electronics (ex: solder and circuit board material expand at different rates...too extreme of a temperature shift and things start popping apart) ending it for good. There is still some hope that Phoenix will survive the frigid temperatures and even the weight of a meter-thick layer of CO2 ice to awaken in the spring. That's what Lazarus mode was created for, but the hope of that has always been very small.

There's a really interesting tidbit about a microphone that's part of the descent camera. On a whim they tried to use it a couple weeks ago to record wind sounds, but it didn't start up. Then one of the team members had a conversation with blind man who pointed out that he'll never see a picture of Mars, so he had really been hoping the microphone would work so he could experience it through sound. That really motivated the team to try the microphone again, but unfortunately, it sounds like they didn't have a chance with that either.

I've been following this mission on a nearly daily basis since landing. It's been neat to see Phoenix in action, and no doubt a busy few months for the team. I'm sure they'll feel somewhat relieved to return to living by a 24 hour clock and have the leisure to analyze all the data and the 25,000+ pictures it returned. I'll never forget the shot Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter got of it drifting down to the surface with Heimdall Crater in the background. In my opinion, it's one of the top 10 space images ever. The MRO team even claims that if you look really close at the full size version, you can see a black-spec a few hundred pixels beneath the lander that is the just-released heat shield falling away.

Well done Phoenix.

more than 5 years ago



NASA Invites Students to Name the Next Rover

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 5 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "Following in the footsteps of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which were named Spirit and Opportunity based on a short essay by nine-year-old Sofi Collis, NASA has announced a new competition for US students ages 5 to 18 to choose a name for the Mars Science Laboratory. The contest is co-sponsored by Disney, with their WALL-E character serving as a "spokes-robot" for the program. The winning student will enjoy a trip to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab to see the rover under construction and have an opportunity to mark their signature on it. A website has been set up for prospective entrants, and more information about NASA's giant new rover, scheduled for launch in the fall of 2009 is available on the program website."

Small Asteroid Expected Over Africa Tuesday

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 5 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "A very small asteroid a few meters across is expected to enter the earth's atmosphere over northern Sudan at approximately 2:46 UT Tuesday. It will enter at 12.8 km/s, at a low angle of 19 degrees, and is expected to burn up harmlessly. Objects of this size would be expected to enter the Earth's atmosphere every few months on average but this is the first time such an event has been predicted ahead of time. Most of us won't get to see it, but you can always take the opportunity to try out this meteor in the University of Arizona's impact effects calculator."

Groundbreaking Solar Mission Faces Chilly Death

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "Over 17 years ago, the Ulysses spacecraft was launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery for a unique NASA/ESA mission. While nearly all other probes travel along our solar system's ecliptic plane, Ulysses used a Jupiter gravity assist to swing 80 degrees out of plane, carrying it over the sun's poles for an unprecedented view. During a mission that lasted four times longer than planned, it has flown through the tails of several comets, helped pinpoint distant gamma-ray bursts, and provided data on the sun and its heliosphere from the better part of two solar cycles. Unfortunately, the natural reduction of power from its radioisotope thermal generator means it is now unable to even keep its attitude control fuel from freezing, and NASA has decided to formally conclude the mission on July 1."

Speeding Black Hole Spotted Fleeing Galaxy

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics believe they have found a supermassive black hole 10 billion light years away escaping its parent galaxy at an estimated 2650 km/s. Theoretical models of black hole mergers have suggested that the gravitational waves produced by such events are emitted mainly in one direction, giving the product of the merger a kick in the opposite direction. They clocked the black hole by measuring spectral lines from its accretion disc. The astronomers say this lends indirect support to the existence of gravity waves, which are predicted by general relativity. As usual in science, however, there is some uncertainty. Another article covering the story suggests that their measurements may have been spoofed by the chance alignment of two quasars. Observations by the Hubble may lend credence to either theory."

Astronomers Say Dying Sun Will Engulf Earth

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "A minor academic debate among astronomers is the final fate of the earth. As the sun ages and enters the red giant stage of its life, it will heat up, making the earth inhospitable. It will also expand, driven by helium fusion so that its outer layers reach past the earth's current orbit. Previously it had been believed that the sun would lose enough mass to allow earth to escape to a more distant orbit, lifeless but intact. However, new calculations, which take into account tidal forces and drag from mass shed by the sun, suggest that the earth will have sufficiently slowed in that time to be dragged down to its utter destruction in 7.6 billion years. It looks like the earth destruction manual can update Fallback Method 3 with the good news."

UK Discusses Building Space Station Modules

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "British scientists and engineers have devised a proposal for the United Kingdom to build a pair of previously unplanned modules for the International Space Station at a cost of $1 billion. The two Habitat Extension Modules would provide enhanced living space for the eventual six-person crew, including a communal area, small personal rooms, and extra radiation protection. A US habitat module was previously cancelled due to budget constraints. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010, the modules would likely be launched by a Russian Fregat rocket. If the government decides to act on the proposal, this would be the first British material contribution to the ISS. Other components have been provided by the US, Russia, Canada, European Space Agency, and Japan."

SpaceX Provides Major Progress Update

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "In an online posting Monday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk gave a detailed update on the status of their ongoing projects. The many details covered include extensive testing of the new, higher-performance Merlin 1C engine, test firing of a Falcon 9 first stage, groundbreaking on a new launch facility at Cape Canaveral, results from the NASA COTS critical design review, updates on the Dragon capsule including splash-down testing and work on the heat shield, a new hypergolic OMS engine called "Draco," and plans to launch the third Falcon 1 in spring of 2008. Whew! Also included are some great pictures and videos of the Falcon 9 test firing, its 17 foot diameter payload fairing, Dragon test articles, the new manufacturing facility, and plenty of other fascinating evidence of the work going on at SpaceX."

Near Earth "Asteroid" Turns Out to be Spac

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "Last week, the IAU's Minor Planet Center asked professional astronomers around the world to help track a previously unknown asteroid, labeled 2007 VN84, that will pass the earth at the alarmingly close distance of 5600 km on November 13. However, Denis Denisenko of the Moscow Space Research Institute then noticed something peculiar: the object's trajectory exactly matched that of the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe, which will perform a gravitational slingshot around the earth on that date on its way to study and land on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The MPC's editorial notice on the error also comments critically on the current means available to identifying distant spacecraft such as Rosetta."

Space Shuttle Discovery Launches Toward ISS

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 6 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "The Space Shuttle Discovery successfully lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 11:38 EDT this morning for the 14 day STS-120 mission to the International Space Station. In a carefully orchestrated series of moves, the busy mission will install the Harmony module currently in Discovery's payload bay, relocate a docking adapter, and move the first US-launched solar panel from it's temporary position on the top of the station to the end of the recently completed truss structure. The addition of Harmony provides more space for astronauts and equipment and a node for the future attachment of the European-made Columbus and Japanese-built Kibo laboratory modules. In addition, Luke Skywalker's original prop lightsaber from Star Wars is onboard to commemorate 30 years since the premiere of the classic space epic."

Comet Probes Given New Duties

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 7 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "In January of 2004, the NASA's Stardust mission made a flyby of comet Wild-2, taking images and collecting samples from its tail that have since been returned to earth in a detachable capsule. On July 4, 2005, Deep Impact smashed a 350 kg projectile traveling 37,000 km/h into comet Tempel 1 as part of its studies of that object. With both craft in good shape at the end of their missions, NASA has been considering additional tasks for the probes. These plans have now been confirmed with a variety of tasks costing an estimated 15% what a new mission would. Among the new duties will be a revisit of Tempel 1, a flyby of comet Boethin, and transit studies of known extra-solar planets."

iamlucky13 iamlucky13 writes  |  more than 7 years ago

iamlucky13 (795185) writes "Barely under a year since a fuel leak doomed their first launch, upstart aerospace company SpaceX has cleared the ground a second time with their Falcon 1 rocket. The flight proceeded smoothly until a roll control issue caused premature engine shutdown and loss of telemetry at T plus 5:05. News is currently limited to brief mission status reports. Although the ultimate fate of the rocket and payload are unknown, the company appears pleased with preliminary performance indications. "We in the Washington, D.C. office are celebrating with champagne," said company VP Gwynne Shotwell. "We don't have any information yet from the launch control center, but the Falcon clearly got to space with a successful liftoff, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation."

The flight of the $7 million rocket was to demonstrate its capabilities for DARPA and included two NASA experiments. CEO Elon Musk noted many improvements had been made since the first launch attempt, and has cited similar challenges in the development of other rocket systems. A launch attempt yesterday was scrubbed to resolve telemetry issues with just 62 seconds left. Today's countdown was kept exciting by an automated abort after engine ignition due to marginal chamber pressure. The countdown was restarted after refueling the rocket, with launch at 01:10 GMT from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific."


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