SpaceX's Falcon 1 makes orbit after four attempts

It's been a long road plagued with disappointments and major mishaps, but SpaceX (and founder Elon Musk) has finally made history -- on Sunday the company's Falcon 1 rocket reached orbit. After three attempts to bring the dream to life, the space exploration company succeeded in putting the first privately-developed rocket into space. The liftoff was seen live during a webcast, and the company's site was continuously updated with news, including a message written at 16:26PDT reading:

T+0:08:21 Falcon 1 reached orbital velocity, 5200 m/s
Nominal Second stage cut off (SECO) - Falcon 1 has made history as the first privately developed liquid fueled launch vehicle to achieve earth orbit!!!!!!

Needless to say, after the trials and tribulations SpaceX has gone through (including the loss of Star Trek star James Doohan's ashes), this must be welcome relief... as well as the birth of a potentially lucrative new enterprise. Er, no pun intended.

[ Via: Slashdot ]
[ Tag: elon musk, ElonMusk, falcon 1, Falcon1, launch, orbit, spacex, success ]

First Picture of Jules Verne Spacecraft Re-Entry Destruction [Space]

This is the first picture of the spectacular re-entry of Jules Verne, the Automated Transport Vehicle that fell from orbit today at 9:31AM Eastern time. Taken from a DC-8, it shows the moment in which it starts to break at 9:43AM, just before falling into the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, the show was amazing because this thing was gigantic. Check its scale compared to the Apollo and a Progress capsule. Update: More pictures coming in now.

Let's hope there are better ones coming.

Jules Verne "carried almost five tonnes of food, breathing air, drinking water and fuel on board." There are two more ATVs in construction right now, and one of them may be in charge of bringing down the International Space Station when it reaches its end of life at the end of the next decade. Watch this space for more pictures and videos coming soon. [ESA and DLR]

[ Via: Gizmodo, The Gadget Blog ]
[ Tag: ]

Japan planning its own damn space ladder

Japan making plans to build its own damn space ladder

If the third time is the charm, yet you botch that attempt just like the earlier two, then what? That's the problem facing NASA and its Space Elevator Challenge, which has for three successive years failed to live up to the vision of Arthur C. Clarke. Japan isn't waiting for a fourth, announcing plans to spend $7.3 billion on its own lift to whisk passengers (and cargo) 22,000 miles aloft on composite cables. It's the cables that are the problem, as they need to be 180 times stronger than steel and obviously much, much lighter. The Japanese are focusing on carbon nanotubes, and while they will need to be engineered four times stronger than current stock before they're up to the task, their highly conductive nature means they can not only support the lift vehicle but also power it. Useful, that, because the ride up could take a couple of days or even weeks, and astronauts will need some way to recharge their PMPs.

[ Via: Engadget ]
[ Tag: japan, nanotube, space elevator, space tether, SpaceElevator, SpaceTether ]

Japanese Scientists Plan to Build Space Elevator [Space Elevators]

Japanese scientists are so hyped up on the possibilities of building a real life space elevator that in just two months' time the country is playing host to a conference designed to set a production timetable. Carbon nanotube technology has advanced so rapidly that a material capable of withstanding the amazing forces in the space elevator cable is almost within reach: according to the chairman of the Japan Space Elevator Association it'd only need to be four times stronger than the current strongest nanotube rope. The potential benefits of accessing space by crawling up a cable versus launching rockets are mind boggling...especially when you realize it could be 100 times cheaper to get there than using a Space Shuttle. But building a more than 36,000km-long carbon rope (or more likely a series of parallel ropes) to connect an Earth-based "launch pad" with a geostationary-orbiting elevator hub still seems a lot like science fiction. Yet it turns out that development of carbon nanotube technology has seen a more than 100 times increase in the fiber strength in the last five years: four times more strength certainly seems possible. The Space Elevator Association's director also thinks technology similar to the Bullet train's could be used to build the elevator cars, since nanotubes can be used as electrical conductors. Lets hope his vision that "just like travelling abroad, anyone will be able to ride the elevator into space" comes true: my savings fund for going aloft in Virgin Galactic is going to take waaaay to long to fill up. [Timesonline]
Picture: HighLift Systems.

[ Via: Gizmodo, The Gadget Blog ]
[ Tag: ]

Italian Scientists Claim New World Record for Fastest Wireless Transmission [Wireless]

Fiber optics have a new competitor, if a group of Italian scientists can get their claim of a new world record for wireless data transmission confirmed by the people who confirm such things. The scientists, based in Pisa, claim that during an uninterrupted 12-hour experiment, they achieved throughput speeds above 1.2 Terabits per second. They say the speeds beat the previous wireless data transmission speed record of 160 Gigabits per second, set by some speedy Koreans. The Italians also claimed these speeds were previously attainable only with fiber optics. That's fitting considering both methods involve communicating with light. Don't get too excited though, as there are major issues keeping this experiment from becoming widespread. At least, on earth. Via the original article, the Harvard Broadband Communication Laboratory provides this explanation of Free-Space Optical Communications and gives some insight as to why this method doesn't work very well unless used under optimal conditions:
"Free space optical communications is a line-of-sight (LOS) technology that transmits a modulated beam of visible or infrared light through the atmosphere for broadband communications. In a manner similar to fiber optical communications, free space optics uses a light emitting diode (LED) or laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) point source for data transmission. However, in free space optics, an energy beam is collimated and transmitted through space rather than being guided through an optical cable. These beams of light, operating in the TeraHertz portion of the spectrum, are focused on a receiving lens connected to a high sensitivity receiver through an optical fiber."
The hurdles with this form of "wireless" are many, and it really only gets optimal speeds in places like space. Rain, fog and snow can all affect the transmission here on earth. Even wind has a tendency to make the beam "wander" off course.

[ Via: Gizmodo, The Gadget Blog ]
[ Tag: ]

Hubble Repair Mission More Risky than You Would Ever Imagine [Space]

If you think that the final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope is going to be boring, you haven't seen this video yet. Not only the astronauts will be risking their lives as usual at 366 miles above the Earth, but the sheer amount and the difficulty of the tasks—from repairing components to replacing them to installing new gadgets—makes the mission an almost-impossible one, with soundtrack to match. I never imagined this was going to be such an ambitious and daunting work. First, there's the pressure the astronauts are going to be facing. In addition to the stress of the spacewalks and the manual work in a weightless environment, they know this is not only the final mission, but also a single shot to service the mighty telescope. If some of the tasks are not completed, there's no way to return back another time and fix whatever is broken. The mission crew knows that Hubble is a vital instrument to science—one that keeps expanding our knowledge of the Universe, helping to answer the most crucial question Humanity has ever faced: where the hell do we come from?—and that the astronauts are men and women of science. And they are going to be the ones responsible for giving science this amazing tool for ten more years. Then there's the time constrain: just eleven days. As John Grunsfeld—one of the mission astronauts with Andrew Feustel, Gregory Johnson, Megan McCarthur, Michael Good, Scott Altman, and Michael Massimino—puts it: "We got a lot of things we want to repair in Hubble and upgrade in Hubble, and not a lot of time to do it." During that short time, this is all the things they have to do:

Repairs • Repair two failed instruments in space, which is the first time such a task is going to be attempted. This will be a test to see if Nasa can do this kind of tasks in future missions to the Moon and Mars. The repairs will require removing 110 (yes, a hundred and ten) little screws. While this seems easy, not only it will take a lot of time in zero gravity, but the screws, like any other floating debris, may become a big problem for the security of the astronauts up there. • The first instrument to be repaired is the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). It was installed in 2002, and then died after being the most used instrument in Hubble for years. • Then they have to fix the Space Telescope Imagine Spectrograph (STIS). This is a black hole hunter which also did the first detection and chemical analysis of a planet orbiting another star.

New instruments • They will install the fanciest, most advanced spectrograph in space: the Cosmic Origin Spectrograph. • In addition to the COS, they are also going to install the Wield Field Camera 3. This new camera is ten times better than the current instrument, and will let us see into the past of the Universe deeper and farther than ever before.

Spacecraft service • In addition to the pure science aspect of the mission, Nasa also wants to upgrade and fix the spacecraft itself, starting with the gyroscopes, which will be upgraded. • They also are going to install a refurbished fine guidance sensor. • The batteries are going to be replaced for the first time since Hubble went into space. • A new outer blanket layer, this time a solid shield, will be put on top of the current blanket. • Thermal insulation will be replaced on several bays of the telescope. • A new capture instrument will be installed to recover the Hubble at the end of its life. Seems like a lot to me, but maybe is the Jerry Bruckheimerish soundtrack that makes it all more exciting. The really exciting part however, if the mission is completely successful, is that Hubble will be better than ever, ready for action for the next ten years. What does this really mean? Awesome eye candy for the next decade. And maybe showing to us that the origin of the Big Bang is really a huge bowl full of Froot Loops that went horribly wrong during one of God's breakfast.

[ Via: Gizmodo, The Gadget Blog ]
[ Tag: ]