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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

For you space maniacs

In today's edition

  1. Robot Ship Cleared to Dock With Space Station
  2. NASA Shifts Deadline for New Space Program
  3. For Sale: Moon and Mars
  4. New Sphere in Exploring the Abyss
I can only hope you'll read those really interesting articles, because I do find them quite important. For example-someone is considering selling land on Mars. The funny question is who is going to sell that to you and what gives "him" the credentials to do so. Well, anyway, read for yourselves.

Robot Ship Cleared to Dock With Space Station


Published: April 2, 2008

Managers of the International Space Station on Wednesday cleared Europe’s new Jules Verne cargo ship for its first docking with the orbiting research outpost.

After assessing results of two days of trial maneuvers around the station, including having the two craft close to within 36 feet of one another, the Mission Management Team of international partners in the project gave approval for an attempt on Thursday to link the ships.

The Jules Verne, named for the visionary French author, is the first of a new class of robot station supply ships called Automatic Transfer Vehicles or A.T.V.’s. The robot ship was built by the member nations of the European Space Agency as one of Europe’s major contributions to the international station.

“We have proven that Jules Verne’s systems are safe, reliable and ready to dock to the station,” John Ellwood, the A.T.V. Project Manager for Europe said after getting approval to proceed. “Everyone has worked very hard to get to this point.”

The Jules Verne is scheduled to dock with the station’s Russian-built Zvezda service module on Thursday at 10:41 a.m. Eastern time, and then firmly lock in place about a half-hour later. If for some reason the linkup does not occur as planned, the next attempt will be made on Saturday, Mr. Ellwood said.

The ship is to maneuver and dock itself automatically using Global Positioning System satellite navigation, as well as a new optical guidance system for close approach to the station. A twin laser system is to fire pulses of light at reflectors positioned on the end of Zvezda to determine the craft’s orientation, distance and closing rate to the space station.

While the autonomous operation should be controlled by the spacecraft’s sensors and computers, the rendezvous and docking will be monitored from a control center in Toulouse, France, in cooperation with the Russian space station control center near Moscow and the NASA center in Houston.

Aboard the station, astronautswill be at a control panel where he can send commands to the Jules Verne to make an emergency retreat in case something goes wrong.

Extra precautions are necessary because the robot ship, which weighs 21 tons on Earth, could do substantial damage to the station in a collision or other mishap. Space station managers are mindful of a June 1997 incident when a Progress cargo craft, much smaller than the Jules Verne, slammed into the Russian Mir space station during a docking test, causing serious damage that almost led to abandoning the station.

The Jules Verne, launched on March 9, has been orbiting near the space station, checking out its systems and awaiting last week’s departure of the Space Shuttle Endeavour before conducting a series of approach and avoidance tests with the station last Saturday and Monday.

The cargo craft, which is 32 feet long and 14.6 feet wide at its largest diameter, is equipped with four solar arrays arranged in an X shape spanning 73 feet. It has four large aft engines and a series of smaller thrusters for maneuvering and fine control.

The Jules Verne is the first of at least five robot cargo craft that the Europeans will dispatch to the station. It is carrying 7.5 tons of fuel, oxygen, food, clothing, equipment and other essentials. Because the mission is considered a test flight, station controllers did not include any irreplaceable or one-of-a-kind cargo on this mission, said Michael Suffredini, NASA’s station program manager.

The European vessels can each carry up to 10 tons of cargo, three times the capacity of a Progress, so it will be able to play an increasingly significant role in resupplying the station, particularly after American space shuttles retire at the end of 2010, Mr. Suffredini he said.

The Jules Verne is scheduled to remain docked with the station for at least six months, with astronauts gradually removing its cargo as it is needed, and depositing tons of waste material in the ship that will burn up in the atmosphere with the spacecraft when it departs.

While at the station, Jules Verne will use its engines to raise the station to a higher orbit and maneuver the complex, if needed, to avoid space debris. source

My comment: A very interesting article even if somewhat technical. My interest is understandable, first Progress is hardly the coolest piece of technology, but however, it's the best working for the moment. But every trying to replace it, with something new and reliable is good. Beside the obvious usefulness, we get a good publicity for the International Space Station which seems to have lost public interest for a while.

NASA Shifts Deadline for New Space Program

Published: August 11, 2008

Hopes have faded that NASA can greatly narrow a five-year gap between the last space shuttle flight in 2010 and the debut of the next generation of spacecraft, with an agency official saying Monday that budget realities make the most ambitious date unrealistic.

The first phase of the new program, known as Constellation, includes the Ares I launch vehicle and a capsule, Orion. Although planners have said that the first human flights will take place five years after the shuttle program is shut down, agency officials have said that with more money and some luck, the launching could begin as early as 2013.

Additional money has not appeared, said Jeff Hanley, the program manager for Constellation at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a teleconference with reporters on Monday, and the “unknown unknowns” that crop up in any development effort have made the early date unrealistic. So the agency is pushing back its earliest possible human flights by a year, from 2013 to 2014, but the commitment of 2015 for human flight in Orion has not changed.

The briefing occurred the same day that a NASA advisory panel released an annual report that sharply questioned the Constellation effort.

Echoing the findings of others who have looked at the program, the report suggested that “the rationale for the program may not be sufficiently understood or accepted within the organization.” The report also questioned NASA’s approach to safety with the new Orion vehicle.

Historically, the panel said, safety systems are included in the designs from the start. But weight problems in the early development of the Orion capsule led program managers to start with a clean slate approach in which a safety system had to “earn its way” into the design. source

My comment: As you very well know, I do think USA is starting to fail as a technology leader. Thus that article doesn't surprise me. It would be nice to have an alternative to shuttles, and even more, a SAFE alternative, since space will get more and more important to out world. However, NASA obviously cannot do it. Which is in interesting contrast with the first article. Whether EU is better in space than USA? I doubt. But we're seriously working on the issue.

For Sale: Moon and Mars

Would you like to buy some real estate on Mars or the Moon?

No, this would not be the equivalent of buying the Brooklyn Bridge, at least according to a review of legal precedents and treaties published in the Journal of Air Law and Commerce (.pdf). The authors, Alan Wasser and Douglas Jobe of the Space Settlement Institute, conclude that the international Outer Space Treaty prohibits nations from claiming sovereignty over the Moon or Mars, it does not preclude private land claims, and they point to legal precedents establishing the necessary condition for anyone making a land claim: living there.

Now, this might seem like a mere academic exercise for lawyers, given the current shortage of people ready to settle down on the Moon or Mars. But Mr. Wasser and Mr. Jobes argue that a formal recognition of the right to claim Alaska-sized chunks of land is the fastest and most practical way to promote extraterrestrial colonies.

For now, they say, real-estate sales are about the only potentially profitable economic activity on the Moon — certainly more practical than trying to make money by mining its minerals. They note that many have already paid $19.95 per acre for “deeds” to lunar land even those these are novelty items that have no binding legal authority.

Presumably, Mr. Wasser and Mr. Jobes write, people would be willing to pay more to speculate in land legally owned by a company established by a small group of settlers who had staked a claim to 384 million acrees — an area the size of Alaska. If the land went for $100 per acre, that would amount to nearly $40 billion.

“Those billions of dollars of potential profits could be a powerful incentive to develop space settlements,” the authors conclude. To reassure investors in those settlements, the authors write, the United States should pass a law recognizing the property rights of future settlers.

Such a law would not violate the Outer Space Treaty, they say, because the United States would not be claiming sovereignty over the land nor the right to confer title, but instead merely recognizing the validity of private land claims (in the same that the way the U.S. recognizes the validity of land claims in foreign countries). Moreover, they argue, this law would not violate the Outer Space Treaty’s requirement that extraterrestrial bodies be settled for “the benefit of all,” because citizens of all countries would be able to stake these claims. source

My comment: I don't quite understand who will get that money. I mean if I want a piece of Mars, to whom should I pay? Because I don't see a reason why I should pay for this to USA or even to my own country since they don't really own it! I think for a start, every settler should have a certain amount of land and should pay ONLY for transport and other services (that would be a lot anyway, since you don't just go and live on another planet, you need SO many supplies). And maybe even when the planet gets popular, it should be free for every settler family, one piece for everyone. When the whole thing gets bought off, then settlers should sell for whatever price they see appropriate-a money that they deserve since they made the land habitable and created its economy. What do you think?

New Sphere in Exploring the Abyss

Published: August 25, 2008

CUDAHY, Wis. — The deep is legendary for inky darkness. William Beebe, the first person to eye the abyss, called it perpetual night.

The darkness is matched by the intense pressure. Four miles down, it amounts to nearly five tons per square inch. That is too much even for Alvin, the most famous of the world’s tiny submersibles, which can take a pilot and two scientists down to a maximum depth of 2.8 miles.

But a new submersible is being built here, and even the process of construction seems a rebuke to the darkness. The work lighted up a cavernous factory with fireworks on a recent visit. Hot reds and oranges burst into showers of spark and flame as blistering metal began to yield to the demands of the submersible’s design.

The new vehicle is to replace Alvin, which was the first submersible to illuminate the rusting hulk of the Titanic and the first to carry scientists down to discover the bizarre ecosystems of tube worms and other strange creatures that thrive in icy darkness.

The United States used to have several submersibles — tiny submarines that dive extraordinarily deep. Alvin is the only one left, and after more than four decades of probing the sea’s depths it is to be retired. Its replacement, costing some $50 million, is to go deeper, move faster, stay down longer, cut the dark better, carry more scientific gear and maybe — just maybe — open a new era of exploration.

Its architects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod describe it as “the most capable deep-sea research vehicle in the world.”

Alvin can transport a pilot and two scientists down 2.8 miles, providing access to 62 percent of the dark seabed. The new vehicle is expected to descend more than four miles, opening 99 percent of the ocean floor to inquiry. But the greater depth means that the vehicle’s personnel sphere and its many other systems will face added tons of crushing pressure.

“Technologically, it’s quite challenging,” Robert S. Detrick Jr., a senior scientist and vice president for marine facilities and operations at Woods Hole, said of forging the new personnel sphere.

To better resist the sea’s pressure, the wall of the new personnel sphere is to be nearly three inches thick, up from Alvin’s two inches. Deep explorers always use spheres to make crew compartments because that geometry best resists the crushing force.

“We have confidence it can be done,” Dr. Detrick said in January of the sphere’s forging. “But we don’t have a lot of margin for error. If the first forging is bad, it would be quite expensive to redo it.”

The objective of the metalworking company was to transform two giant disks of titanium — stronger and lighter than steel, and perfect for withstanding the vast pressures of the deep — into twin hemispheres. If forged successfully, the cuplike hemispheres would be welded together to form the beginnings of the personnel sphere, initiating the vehicle’s birth.

The overall process of forging, welding, machining, heat treating, cutting view ports, annealing, finishing and testing the new personnel sphere is to be done at several companies around the country and is expected to take about two years. The completed crew cabin, seven feet across, will be a foot wider than Alvin’s.

Oceanographers say the new sphere will help open the sea’s depths. Its volume is 18 percent larger than Alvin’s, allowing twice as much room inside for racks of scientific equipment and a bit more space for passengers.

Alvin has three thick windows through which the pilot and scientists can peer out at the undersea world. The new vehicle will have five, increasing the field of view and the chance for discovery and careful observation.

Scientists would have two windows that look forward. By contrast, Alvin’s scientific viewports look off to the side, with only the pilot getting the central view.

“Forward is cool,” she said, calling it rich in drama, lights and action.

For instance, Dr. Van Dover said the forward view could best reveal a towering hot spring surrounded by exotic forms of life.

“In Alvin, a scientist can’t see that,” she said. “Also, you want to see where your samples are being taken and how they’re being taken. You want to be able to direct the pilot.”

Dr. Detrick of Woods Hole called forging the new personnel sphere one of three big technical hurdles. The others, he said, are making the vehicle’s foam and its banks of batteries. The foam must be hard enough to resist crushing pressure yet buoyant enough to counteract the vehicle’s great weight. And the batteries must be unusually sturdy and powerful.

If successful, the new batteries will allow the vehicle to stay on the bottom for up to eight hours, compared with six for Alvin. Improvements in the vehicle’s propulsion system, including more powerful thrusters, will let it move faster. And the vehicle’s new lights and cameras will better pierce the darkness.

Still, like its predecessor, the new vehicle, over all, is to be no larger than a small truck.

Dr. Van Dover said one of the big payoffs would be the submersible’s ability to dive deep.

The new vehicle is also seen as building national pride and international goodwill, because foreign scientists at times join the dives.

Just when the replacement Alvin will join the world’s small fleet of submersibles has become uncertain.

Like many federal projects, it faces cost overruns and financing troubles. When first proposed in 2004, the anticipated bill ran to $21.6 million. But delays set in and the price of materials, planning and contracting ran higher than expected. Officials say titanium alone has seen a fivefold price increase.

The National Science Foundation, the federal agency that sponsors the project, has too many competing needs to meet the new estimated cost of about $50 million. So officials at Woods Hole came up with a phased approach that promises to lower the immediate expense.

How soon? The original schedule of 2004 foresaw the replacement vehicle as ready in 2008. Early this year, amid growing uncertainty, the keepers of the schedule put the date at 2010. Now, the soonest the upgraded Alvin might hit the water is estimated to be 2011. And the full replacement, according to Woods Hole officials, might not materialize until 2015. source

My comment: Ok, appart from the nationalism that is being spreading from the article (especially in its original form) I can't but admire the magnitude of the project. Just imagine what the little guy can do for deep sea archeology and our over all knowledge of the abyss. It's so COOL! Maybe we can finally find Atlantis. Not that this discovery could pass trough the religious fanatics in USA, but maybe it will find its way to us. However, you can very well see that the lack of funding is a major problem. I hope someone give them the money, because this is a good project. Even if I don't quite appreciate the populist way the article is been written.

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