April 29, 2011

Carnival of Space 195

Earth if it was made of water and gravity was only thing shaping it

1. Universe Today - GOCE Data Close Up: Around the World in Lumpy, Geoidy 3-D New looks at the latest info from GOCE showing Earth's geoid, which is essentially a map of the shape our world would be if its surface were covered by water and if gravity were the only thing shaping this global ocean’s surface. These great 3-D images were created by Nathanial Burton-Bradford.

Vega00 also covered the GOCE data.

2. Centauri Dreams - Spacecraft no more than an inch square will fly aboard the next (and last) Shuttle flight to the International Space Station. The work of Mason Peck (Cornell University), the micro-satellites weigh in at less than one ten-millionth of the mass of the original Sputnik, yet can accommodate all the systems we associate with a spacecraft — power, propulsion, communications — on a single microchip.

The three Sprite chips scheduled for launch today (April 29) are going to be making any such journeys. They will be mounted on the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-8) pallet, which will in turn be attached to the ISS. The idea is to expose the chips to space conditions to see how their systems hold up.

Mason Peck, a mechanical engineer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and his colleague Justin Atchison have designed a 1-centimetre-square spacecraft that is 25 micrometres thick and weighs under 7.5 milligrams. Originally it was thought that they would go into space last year but were delayed.

The MISSE-8 panel will be returned to Earth after a few years, but while they are in space, the three prototypes, built by Cornell students under Peck’s direction, can be tracked individually from their transmissions.

3. Centauri Dreams and Ian O'Neill at are reviewing the work of Project Icarus, which is a 5 year project to create the detailed design of an interstellar space ship

It’s no surprise that the biggest issue surrounding an interstellar probe is the propulsion system, which for Icarus means fusion, a method offering as much as a million times better performance than our current chemical rocket technologies, if we can ever figure out just how to harness it. The Icarus team chose fusion deliberately and with full knowledge that alternatives were out there. Fusion, after all, was the propulsion method of choice for the Daedalus designers, and a major part of the Icarus effort has been to take an existing design and look at it in today’s terms

It is quite remarkable how secondary propulsion options for interstellar missions, are in fact primary propulsion systems for all contemporary space missions. There is still a significant gap in current propulsion technology and what may be needed for an interstellar mission.

The successful deployment and operation of the Japanese IKAROS and NASA's NanoSail-D solar sails have demonstrated a key method for getting around in space, without having to use any propellant. These advances are of particular interest to Icarus, which would otherwise have to carry the fuel for its many probes all the way to the target system.

In general, solar sails may not be a good option for accelerating, what would be, a very massive Icarus to another star, but offers unique advantages for exploring the target solar system with probes.

The advances in ion (NASA's NEXT and NSTAR) and electromagnetic thrusters (VASIMR) in recent years seem to indicate a path towards some new and exciting propulsion technologies being developed. Some of these systems might be used on the Icarus interstellar spacecraft itself, and others may play supporting roles. For example, the technologies necessary for the spacecraft construction and fuel gathering stages of the mission.

Exciting proposals for advanced systems using magnetic sails is one example. The idea is similar to that of solar sails, only instead of solar radiation one uses the magnetic particles found in the solar wind. A large metallic mesh acts as a net to catch these particles and have them push a spacecraft along.

Beamed propulsion is yet another interesting concept. In this scheme, a large orbiting solar collector or nuclear reactor generates the power needed to produce a beam of concentrated light or charged particles, which is then directed towards the spacecraft you want to push.

Combining these two ideas may lead to an advanced space tug, responsible for pushing spacecraft equipped with magsails into their orbits. Perhaps the Icarus could serve as the beam generator which pushes its planetary explorer probes into place. Alternatively Icarus could use an extremely large magnetic sail to help decelerate, once within reach of the target star's solar wind or magnetosphere.

The Icarus team is on the hunt for the right combination of systems and ideas that will make a plausible case for interstellar flight using current and near future technologies.

4. Starry critters - Explore the col­or­ful regions of gas and dark dust clouds of the Carina Neb­ula around the blaz­ingly bril­liant star called WR 22 in this image from the European Southern Observatory

5. Weird Warp - China’s New Space Station Plans Released

The China manned space engineering office has released plans for a 60 ton space station made up of three capsules and a cargo transport for supplies.

The Chinese space station announcement was also covered by Nextbigfuture.

6. Chandra blog - An arc of emission just found in the Tycho supernova remnant provides evidence for what triggered the original explosion.

7. Nextbigfuture - One of the two $150 million tickets on Space Adventures's 2015 lunar flyby have been sold One of the two available tickets on Space Adventures' planned 2015 flyby of the moon has been sold, astronaut Byron Lichtenberg confirmed at an MIT conference today. If you're sitting on a small fortune and want to see the far side of the moon, act fast before the last seat on the Soyuz spacecraft is gone.

8. Astroblogger - When foot path astronomy and public outreach goes wrong.

A public information panel shows an apparent polar region of the sky with completely imaginary stars. How hard would it have been to use real star positions?

9. Urban Astronomer - Astronauts waiting for the next shuttle launch (which was postponed yesterday) have challenged the citizens of Earth to a chess match

10. Pan-STARRS PS1 blog - Mapping our cosmic backyard with PS1
The sensitive, large-scale survey produced by the Pan-STARRS1 telescope provides an ever-expanding level of information from our surroundings. It leads to an exciting time where the exquisite detail that is obtained on the Local Group of galaxies can be used as a probe to constrain the cosmology. This is the basis of one of the 12 science Key Projects identified by the Pan-STARRS 1 Science Consortium.
Its systematic mapping of the structure of the Milky Way, and in particular of its disk, an area usually avoided by astronomers given the complexity of mapping these dense and dusty regions. With the observations of hundreds of millions of Milky Way stars, we will be able to provide a good description of the shape of the disk of our Galaxy. Is a smooth model even warranted, or is the disk distorted and clumpy?

PS1′s depth will allow us to map the faint and elusive stellar halo of the Milky Way, these regions that extend over tens of thousands of lightyears, sparsely populated in stars, but that keep the imprint of the cannibalistic behavior of our Galaxy. This is where we can find coherent streams of stars, remnants of dwarf galaxies that came too close to the Milky Way and got shredded apart by its tidal forces. These are the signposts of the “hierarchical” assembly predicted by the theory

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