14 Mar 2012

It can be quite difficult to get into space and low Earth orbit (LEO) for us humans.  As of 2012, the cost of a kilogram or 2.2 lb cargo with the aid of a rocket is about USD $10,000.  For humans, manned missions are around $100,000 per kg of person.  So we continue to look for alternative means of reaching Earth orbit, such as the space elevator, which is still off into the future, but what about a magnetic levitation (maglev) train?

Dr. George Maise has invented something called the Startram orbital launch system, in conjunction with Dr. James Powell, one of the inventors of the maglev.  Dr. Powell won the 2002 Franklin Medal in engineering.  The Startram would magnetically levitate the train to prevent friction while at the same time accelerating the train to orbital velocities at around 9 km/sec (5.6 mph).  Regular maglev passenger trains have hit 600 kilometers per hour (373 mph), so this would need to be around 50 times faster.  

12 Mar 2012


  • Jupiter and Venus are lining up for the closest point in Earth's sky during their conjunction
  • Conjunctions happen frequently between these two

Our two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter are drawing closer and closer together in the night sky this week.  This will undoubtedly result in many UFO sighting reports and other questions due to their low proximity to the horizon and appearance there for around two hours.

Monday evening, March 12, they will line up side-by-side in the west, then Tuesday evening, March 13, they will be only 3 degrees apart with Venus just above and to the right of Jupiter.  3 degrees is about the width of two fingers held out at arms length, while the "apparent" width of a full moon is around a half of a degree.  The conjunction will last until around 10:30 p.m. local daylight time.

Venus will be at magnitude -4.3, while Jupiter -2.1.  Lower numbers mean brighter objects with this magnitude scale, which originated in the second century B.C by Greek astronomer Hipparchus.  However, Venus is not 2.2 times brighter than Jupiter in reality.  In 1856, a British astronomer Norman Pogson defined Hipparchus's scale using mathematics in a logarithmic relationship.  Two objects differing by five magnitudes differ in brightness by 100.  So an increase in one magnitude is a brightness scale increase of 2.512.  Hence, for Venus and Jupiter, the 2.2 magnitude difference is a ratio difference of 7.59.  Venus will be nearly eight times brighter than Jupiter.

Many think that such conjunctions between Venus and Jupiter are rare.  They actually occur every 13 months.

Source:  Earthsky.org (image)

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05 Mar 2012

NASA's data shows a 60-meter asteroid, spotted by a few Spanish stargazers in February, will pass earth at a distance under 27,000 km (16,700 miles), closer than the distance of many geosynchronous satellites. 

There is a small chance it may actually collide with Earth, but more calculations are needed to determine this, as well as calculate ways to avert the disaster.

NASA expert Dr. David Dunham told students at Moscow's University of Electronics and Mathematics (MIEM), stated:

"The Earth’s gravitational field will alter the asteroid’s path significantly. Further scrupulous calculation is required to estimate the threat of collision, The asteroid may break into dozens of small pieces, or several large lumps may split from it and burn up in the atmosphere.  The type of the asteroid and its mineral structure can be determined by spectral analysis. This will help predict its behavior in the atmosphere and what should be done to prevent the potential threat."

If the asteroid were to collide with the Earth, it would unleash energy that is equivalent to that of a thermo-nuclear bomb.

The odds of impact are extremely low according to one astronomer, however.  U.S. astronomer Phil Plait, says:

"The odds of an impact are so low they are essentially zero. This does not rule out an impact at some future date, but for now we’re safe."

So, if the rock would threaten Earth, what methods could be used to avoid impact?

Blast it

One method is that of blasting it.

A spaceship could be used to shoot it down or crash into, breaking it up or changing its trajectory.

This may work in this case, because the rock is small enough, but under most circumstances, this could create a bigger problem as more fragments rain down on Earth causing widespread destruction.

Paint it

Another is that of paint.  Paint would affect the rocks ability to absorb sunlight and change its temperature, thus altering its spin.  The asteroid would then change course, or make it more dangerous on a return pass in 2056, according to Aleksandr Devaytkin, the head of an observatory in Russia's Pulkovo.

In either case, building a spaceship to divert 2012 DA14 will take two years, minimally.

There is hope that if it enters the atmosphere it may split into smaller parts, never reaching the surface, though if it does reach the surface it will be as big as the impact at Tunguska in 1908, which leveled about 830 square miles in Siberia.

Sources:  spyghana.com, discovermagazine.com, rt.com, Alamy(image)

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16 Feb 2012

While not remotely powered by the new and improved Robonaut 2, this rocket called Xombie is certainly cool.  Watch the video clip below as it "leap frogs" from one landing pad to another, vertically.  Masten Space Systems and Draper Laboratory are part of a program with NASA intended to develop an inexpensive and reusable vehicle that can carry research equipment on suborbital flights.  This program will also be used as testing for technology for landers going to the moon, Mars, and other solar system targets.

This 67-second test flight was made on February 2nd, 2012 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.  It climbed 50 meters (164 feet) before flying laterally 50 meters and landing safely on the other landing pad.  They previously did a successful test flight in 2010.  It is controlled by a guidance system developed by Draper.  They use the Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment (GENIE) to control its systems.  That was one (more) small lateral flight for NASA, one giant leap for Xombie.

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15 Feb 2012

Yesterday, the crew of ISS officially activated the 300lb Robonaut 2 (R2) on the International Space Station (ISS) for day to day use.   Robonaut 2 is a machine designed to help humans work and explorer in space.  It is designed to go where it is too dangerous for humans.  It can handle a variety of EVA assignments and has speeds more than four times faster than the first R1 version.  Its been in the works for over 11 years by NASA and General Motors.

Here is a video explaining Robonaut 2:

Robonaut 2's first motions on ISS Feburary 2012

Source:  NASA

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03 Feb 2012

A team working with data from the European Southern Observatory have determined (Gliese) GJ 667Cc is a rocky planet, potentially habitable.  This planet orbits a star (in the constellation Scorpius) known as GC 667C, an M-class red dwarf star that puts out much less heat than our own Sun.  There are actually at least three planets orbiting close to the star, with GJ 667Cc just close enough to absorb a similar amount of light and energy as Earth.  It orbits the star once every 28.15 days and has a mass 4.5 times that of Earth, classifying at a super-Earth.  Astronomers can't confirm the possibility of water until they learn more about the planet's atmosphere.  

This discovery opens up other planet forming possibilities.  The other planets that orbit this same star, which is part of a three-star system (two of the stars orbit much farther away), include a possible gas-giant and another super-Earth with orbits of 75 days.  Experts have been skeptical of the possibility that M-class dwarf stars have planets with life due to potentially lethal doses of radiation that could be ejected from the host star.  This star contains a lower amount of heavy elements such as iron, carbon and silicon (the building blocks of terrestrial planets) than our Sun, but the possibilities of life still exist and show that there is the potential for such habitable worlds to exist in such a configuration not thought possible before.  It may also be close enough, that if the orbit were circular, the planet's rotation would slow until it matches the time it takes to orbit the star (tidally locked rotation).  This would mean the same side would always face the star, one side warm, the other icy.  So don't sign up for the generational star ship just yet.

A bit of trivia for comparison, our own Sun has a 10-billion year life span.  A red dwarf such as GJ 667C actually has a span that is in the realm of trillions of years.  The team estimates that GJ 667C is about 5 billion years old.  This discovery brings the total amount of Exoplanets discovered to around 755.  **Update, 3 more Jovian style planets were reported discovered as of February 4th, bringing this total to 758.

Source/Image Source: CBS News/Carnegie Institution for Science  

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02 Feb 2012

NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar spacecraft used a camera aboard one of these spacecraft, called Ebb on January 19th to film the "Far Side" of the moon.  The Transformer Sentinel or the secret Alien Moon base could not be seen however at the altitude the video was taken.  Each spacecraft is identical, the other called Flow.  They are equipped with MoonKam (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students).  They will be used by students nationwide to select lunar imagery to study. 

In the video clip we see the north pole of the moon as the craft flies towards the south pole.  The spacecraft were launched in September 2011 and fly at an altitude of around 34 miles (55 kilometers).

Far Side vs Dark Side Explained

The terms far side and dark side of the moon are often misunderstood or incorrectly used.  Originally during the Apollo Missions, the term Dark Side was actually used to define the area of the moon on the far side, where NASA would lose contact with the astronauts as their spacecraft circled the moon.  This area of zero radio signals was deemed "the dark side".  The term far side refers to the side that is always facing away from the Earth, due to the fact that the moon is tidally locked with the Earth's rotation.  This means that the Earth and moon both rotate in such a way, that one side always faces the Earth.  A tidally locked astronomical object takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its companion.

Another area of confusion is sunlight on the moon.  The moon is already a dark place to begin with, due to the fact sunlight is not reflected very well on the surface, but it is possible to have light on the back side of the moon or on the near side at various times.  For instance, when the Earth has a "New Moon", the moon appears dark and black.  If you were on the surface in that area on the moon, it would not be lit by sunlight.  Likewise the same cycles occur on the far side as well.

Source:  NASA

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27 Jan 2012

Last night on the CNN Florida debate, Newt Gingrich stated: "We want Americans to think boldly about the future," he also outlined a space policy initiative that would cut Nasa's bureaucracy and expand on private space programs.  "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon," Gingrich also stated.  He mentioned the idea of there being 10,000 colonists and a granting of the 51st state to the colony.  We should note that this statement could conflict with Extraterrestrial real estate agreements that are in the works or that have been established at least military wise.  He goes on to state "We will have commercial near-Earth activities that include science, tourism and manufacturing, because it is in our interest to acquire so much experience in space that we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to matching."

Newt's suggestion is not really that shocking considering he has had many other ideas in the past such as a plan to build a space mirror system that would provide light of many moons to illuminate highways on Earth.  This is definitely thinking outside the box, something which seems to be rare these days in America.

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