Posts Tagged‘Space’

Damnit, Who Is Cutting Onions In Here?

Things like this never fail to bring me to tears:

It’s not the most original video on the planet (or off, as the case might be) but it’s probably one of the most memorable ones of these edge of space type deals. The train’s face is CGI but the rest of it is completely real, done in a process that can be replicated on the cheap if you know what you’re doing. There are however a couple nits that I like to pick about videos like these mostly around what people tend to classify as “space”.

The international defined standard for being in space and not in Earth’s atmosphere is defined as 100KM above sea level, referred to as the Kármán line. The most exotic of helium ballons will only manage to make it about halfway to that point before bursting and falling back down to earth. Whilst the atmosphere at those heights wouldn’t support life for any length of time and you can clearly see the curvature of the Earth it’s not in space unless you’re past that point. Even saying you’re at the edge of the space is a little on the nose, but I’ll usually let that slide.

Despite all that I still love videos like this as they really put the whole world in perspective. That feeling has a name too, the overview effect, which many astronauts have reported feeling upon seeing the Earth from space or on the lunar surface. It’s my hope (and running bet with a friend) that I’ll one day see the earth from that perspective too.

Space, No Longer the Government’s Frontier.

With the cost of space travel so high and the benefits lacking real monetization strategies few private companies have made a lot of progress in this realm without the backing of government agencies. Whilst there is a considerable amount of activity in the low earth orbit realm for telecommunications, geo-spatial and meteoric industries these are all concerned with doing things once they’re up there. There are only a few companies who dare recreate the infrastructure that the governments have invested so heavily in.

One company I’m constantly impressed with is SpaceX, founded by the the co-founder of Paypal Elon Musk. He took a very coroprate look at the space industry and came to the conclusion that the majority of the costs incurred were bureaucratic, and sought to solve that problem. Incidentally he’s right on the money, since the Shuttle has about 13,500 staff required to keep the shuttle operational. SpaceX on the other hand operates with about 600 currently, with only about 25 dedicated to launch and 6 forming mission control. That in itself is an achievement especially considering that after 3 failed launches they managed to get their fouth rocket into orbit. Here’s a pretty awe inspiring video taken from one of the on board cameras.

They must be doing quite a few things right since NASA has selected them to take on the resupply missions once the the shuttle goes into retirement. I must say it couldn’t go to a better company as these guys are really on the cutting edge when it comes to rocket technology.

Another company I’m impressed with is Bigelow Aerospace. Founded by chain hotel giant Robert Bigelow they took an interesting step in purchasing the rights and patents to the Transhab design created by NASA. It was a disappointment that NASA never got to build one of these modules (as they would’ve proven an invaluable way of increasing our space living volumes) however it was a big win for the private industry. They haven’t been sitting on their hands with these plans either as they already have two habitats in orbit right now. They’ve even contracted SpaceX to make a Falcon 9 for their third launch, which is match made in heaven if you ask me.

It’s an interesting time for the space industry. We’re seeing the transition from what used to be a government only endeavour to a flourishing industry filled with pioneers who are building on the success of the people before them. With the help of other companies like Virgin Galactic who are popularizing space for the masses the market can only get larger for companies like this which will hopefully bring the cost of space travel down to the everyman in the near future.

I know I’ll be waiting with bated breath.

Becoming an Astronaut.

For a good part of my adult life I always thought my future would lie in the realms of IT and computer hardware. I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember and a hardware enthusiast ever since I was able to earn enough money to buy my own computer. About 2 years ago though I discovered my passion for aeronautics, which after a very short time led me to find my love for space and all things aeronautical. At first I was surprised by this path that I followed, until I delved into the realms of space further.

Back in the hay days of space everything was uncharted territory. The first artificial satellite of earth, Sputnik 1, was launched upon what basically amounted to a retrofitted ICBM and most of the early days hardware for NASA’s missions were also re-purposed military hardware. It was only during the Apollo era that NASA started developing rockets purely for space, although they did continue to source other things directly from the military.

Pilots and mission specialists alike have been chosen mostly from the Air Forces. Initially this was due to the pilots’ skill with experimental craft, which is what all of the space craft were classified as at the time (with good reason!). More recently however we’ve seen more and more crew of current space missions being picked from the ranks of civilian staff, such as the crew of the last space shuttle mission which included only 3 military/ex-military personnel with the rest being picked from either the Educator in Space program or from NASA’s direct recruiting schemes.

Unfortunately for someone like me the ranks of NASA are probably a little far off. My technical expertise doesn’t really lend itself to the skill set required  to make it as a mission specialist (unless they start hosting Windows servers up there!), although if they ever want to get an Australian into the educator program I’d definitely be the first in line. There are other opportunities for me to become an astronaut however.

Private space flight companies are begining to pop up all over the place with the most advanced out of the lot being Virgin Galactic. The pilots of the first craft, SpaceShipOne, are primarily from civilian ranks with one exception, Brian Binnie who happens to share a similar heritage to that of the first astronauts in military test piloting. It is within these ranks that I intend to find my way into space. Whilst the market only barely exists at this point in time for people who wish to fly others into space I believe that by the time I’m ready to undergo training in piloting such an aircraft there will be a healthy niche market established, allowing me to fulfill my dreams of flying myself and others into space.

But what will I do with myself until then? Of course there is only one answer, follow in the footsteps of those who came before me. Over the next couple years I will be undergoing certification for my Commercial Pilot’s License, which in turn will lead me to piloting all sorts of aircraft. By the time I’m done with this I’m hoping Virgin Galactic will be looking to be recruiting, and there I’ll be.

It is that thought alone that will keep me going through any challenge that I may face.

Could Australia pioneer new space technologies?

If there’s one thing about Australia that would appeal to a Space program it would be the large amount of unused space, partially due to its inhability. However, dry conditions with a distinct lack of variable weather do make for great launch sites and technology test beds (See the success of Mojave Air and Space Port). So the question remains, why don’t we see more aeronautical innovation coming out of Australia? Well the answer is two fold but I still believe that there is an untapped opportunity for a certain technology to make its name in Australia.

Although Australia is a resource rich country we lack the capital needed to get a space program off the ground. There’s no discounting the fact that space travel is damned expensive and holding onto the talented people required is difficult even for Australia’s current industries. This means that even though we may have the resources and the talent to do it, Australia just can’t really pony up the few billion a year to support what amounts to a glorified science mission. If Australia’s GDP does get up past a certain level, one where the space program was 1% of GDP or so, we might start to see the government looking seriously at such an initiative, but for now it’s too expensive.

Additionally there’s not enough base infrastructure in place for investors and innovators to take the risk of establishing a aeronautical research company anywhere on Australian shores. Typically, whilst Australian airlines are big purchasers of new technology we aren’t active in research and development. Again I’d put this down to our size since we really don’t have enough people to make development of such technology viable.

However, we do have a massive amount of unused and uninhabitable land right at our doorsteps. Now you may be wondering why this would be useful for testing space technology. Well there’s one kind of tech that requires this much space to be tested safely, the Project Orion. Here’s a video of the idea in action (using normal explosives):

The basic idea behind this kind of rocket is to use nuclear warheads to propel the space craft forward. We all know the devastating power that such devices hold and utilizing them as propulsion is not without its risks. However, even the smallest projected rocket from this technology already passes NASA’s Ares V rocket, and the largest is enough to transport an entire, pre-built city into orbit. Whilst I’m cautious about quoting figures like that it is hard to ignore the lower end of the scale, which would increase our space capability dramatically.

Since we have so much unusable space in the middle of Australia I believe that setting up a base to test this technology on the small scale could be of huge benefit. The risks to people are extremely low, and if we pick the right site the risks to the local flora and fauna could be greatly reduced. It is also a great way to rid ourselves of the nuclear arsenel that has been accumulated over the years.

So, with the resources at hand and a large space to test in, why shouldn’t we give this idea a go?

The Universe, Yours to Discover.

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This year is the Internation Year of Astronomy to celebrate 400 years of astromincal observation and study. This is a great oppotunity for anyone who has even a mild interest in the stars and our place in the universe to get involved in some astronomy. I know that I will be spending the better part of this year staring up at the sky and hopefully, sharing it with everyone who is willing 🙂

I think what puts most people off astronomy is the idea that you have to get up at 1am and drive out to remote locations to get a good view of the stars. Whilst that’s true if you want the best view it doesn’t mean you can’t do some pretty good observing from the comfort of your backyard. In fact there are some great things to see and you don’t even need a telescope, although I’d reccomend picking up a pair of binoculars if you’d like to get a better look at some things.

So, what are some interesting sights to see? Personally I’d reccomend starting off with the Moon, since it’s big, bright and with a pair of binoculars you can seem some incredible detail. The other favourites are Mars, Jupiter and Venus, since they’re all fairly bright and can be seen with the naked eye.

One of my all time favourites will be the International Space Station, which you can plot sighting times using NASA’s Skywatch program. Just select your city and it will give you times that you can view the station.

If you’re hungry for more, the best website I’ve found for sightings of many different astronomical objects is Heaven’s Above. They’ve even got a great guide for deciphering all the terms that use so even if you’ve never done this kind of thing before, you’ll be able to find what you want in the sky.

I spent a weekend down at the coast when the moon was full just a couple weeks ago. I got some fantastic pictures whilst I was lazing on the beach long into the night. I’ll be sure to share them all with you here.

Space, my dream.

I’d love to say that ever since I was a little boy I would lie awake at night staring at the stars and wanting to go up there, but I would be wrong. As a kid I barely knew about the wonders of space and the kinds of technology that have taken us up there. It was only after I turned 21 did I start getting interested in space, only just on a year ago that I decided I would be visiting outer space in my lifetime, by any means possible.

Anyone who knows me will tell you how passionate I am about space and how humanity must become a spacefaring civilisation. As a child born many years after our glory days of landing on the moon I’ve only been able to witness humanities various robotic accomplishments (which are great and many) and the wonder that is the International Space Station. For the next 10 years though I will be on tenterhooks as we, hopefully, plan to make our glorious return to the moon and beyond. That gives me something to look forward to, no matter what else happens along the way.

The reason I’m so passionate about space is that whenever I start talking about it most people will only know about the Apollo missions, the Shuttle and possibly the Mars rovers. Few know about the bravery of the Mercury and Gemini Astronauts, or the amazing inginuity of the Mir space station. It seems that ever since the end of the Apollo missions, humanity has found space to be boring and kids don’t grow up wanting to be Astronauts anymore.

I’ve come into the world of Aeronautics late in life, and I sometimes lie awake at night wondering what kind of life I would be leading now if I realised that my passion lied in outer space. Who knows, I might be living in the United States right now eagerly awaiting my first shuttle flight (although, history has shown youngsters like myself aren’t usually considered for another few years). What I do appreciate though is that the world in its current state is on the verge of a critical mass in terms of space for the masses. Soon we will have sub-orbital flights (a la the Mercury Program) and when that all goes well, we’ll be seeing orbital flights not too long afterwards.

I guess I just long for the days when you asked kids what they wanted to be when they grow up many of them would say Astronaut. The reason I miss those days so much is because it meant that Space exploration was so mainstream that even the children knew about it and were excited to participate in it. We’re really still in the infancy of Space flight (regular flight has really only become mainstream in the past decade) so it is with our children that the future of humanity in Space will lie.

To get you a little inspired, here are some pictures from the recent shuttle mission STS-126, which upgraded the International Space Station in order for it to handle double the crew starting next year.