Rock-It Sigh-Ants

Yet another late blog post. I know; I know.

As promised last week, here is my report on the LibertyCon 29 Space Update panel.


Les Johnson once again hosted the Space Update (formerly the NASA Update) and covered quite a lot of material in 50 minutes, despite a couple of videos failing to play during the presentation.

I took notes. Any misinformation or errors in this post are purely my own.

DAWN: This probe on a mission to the asteroids Vesta and Ceres has provided a wealth of information. The probe uses a solar-electric propulsion system and is only the second deep space probe to use this system. the propulsion system works by using an electromagnetic field to project charged particles. This allows it to go much further than a chemical propulsion system can on the same amount of fuel. Of course, this system is not practical for use in the outer solar system (beyond the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter), since it relies on solar energy for its power source. The further from the sun, the less efficient solar energy is.

One of the discoveries which caused some excitement laid to rest the notion that several bright spots photographed on Ceres might be crashed alien crafts. Instead, the spots are highly reflective magnesium salt deposits. Of course, researchers have yet to determine how they came to be where they are.

NEW HORIZONS: This mission to the dwarf planet Pluto launched in January 2006 but almost did not happen at all. The craft, which uses plutonium pellets for fuel, had a very narrow launch window in order to make its rendezvous with Jupiter for a gravity assist to reach its destination. Plutonium is highly controlled and was not in production at the time, production having ceased after the end of the Cold War. The White House almost didn’t give the approval in time to make the window. I thought it humorous that they had to use plutonium to reach Pluto.

For those who wish Pluto would be returned to full planet status, it’s probably not going to happen. For now, Pluto will remain classified as a dwarf planet; especially since several new objects in this category have been discovered in the outer solar system, and many more are being extrapolated even now.

New Horizons discovered that Pluto is not the frozen rock it was once believed to be. Rather it has proven to be volcanic and geologically (or Plutologically) active with multiple types of ice besides water ice.

Les also informed us that the most accepted pronunciation of Charon is “share-on,” but since it is a name from ancient Greek mythology, and no one alive knows exactly how ancient Greek was pronounced, “chair-on” and “care-on” are also acceptable.

JUNO: This probe was actually the first to use solar power in deep space exploration. Jupiter, it’s target, gets only one sixteenth of the light Earth gets. This meant much more efficient solar cells were required, and all of the probe’s systems had to be designed for low power.

JUNO and CASSINI, the current Saturn probe are expected to complete their missions and go dark around the same time. When this occurs there will be NO orbiters active in the outer solar system. This is due to the plutonium shortage and current NASA budget sequester.

Mars  exploration is alive and well, however. Spirit is still taking readings and functional; it’s just stuck/immobile. Opportunity and Curiosity are emulating the Energizer Bunny. They keep going and going. The drawback to the Mars rovers is lack of communication when Mars’ orbit takes it opposite of Earth with the sun between them. Currently it is impractical to build a relay system to keep communications open. The designs for such a system will be revisited as communications tech becomes smaller and cheaper to build, however.

ISS (International space station): Currently there is a one year mission underway to study the effects on the human body of extended time in space. This is vital to future plans for manned exploration beyond the Earth and Moon. This is a controlled experiment using identical twins: one on the ISS and one planetside. This is NOT the first time someone has spent a year or more in space, however. An unfortunate cosmonaut spent more than a year on MIR because the USSR fell shortly after he reached the station. It took that long to get things politically organized and settled down enough to send a rescue mission up.

BIGELOW EXPANDABLE ACTIVITY MODULE (BEAM): This inflatable compartment is currently being tested on the ISS. Instruments will monitor changes within the compartment. It will not be used by live crew until the testing and vetting are completed, and it is deemed safe.

HUBBLE  is still going strong… for now. It is finally nearing the end of its mission. It has undergone many repairs, but it was declared Hubble would not be repaired again the next time it malfunctions. The CHANDRA X-RAY OBSERVATORY is still going strong and delivers more data than Hubble.

My notes mention the SPACE X FALCON 9‘s launch and first stage recovery, the SPACE X DRAGON capsule recovery, and BLUE ORIGIN. However, I didn’t take notes which give me context for these; sorry.

Gravity Wave Astronomy has been born with the detection of gravity waves and the collision of black holes. I suspect there may be more news on this new field of astronomy in the coming years.

KEPLER is another mission which keeps on going. 1284 new exo-planets (planets orbiting other stars) were discovered in just the last few months. Nine of them might even be capable of supporting life. The Kepler Orrery III was mentioned during this segment.

The NASA SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM (SLS) will be used early 2020 to launch a mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s larger moons. While smaller rockets could perform the same task, they would take around 7 years to get the probe to its destination. The SLS can get it there in 2 1/2 years.

NEAR EARTH ASTEROID SCOUT will be a secondary payload on a future SLS launch. The scout will be comprised of a 6-unit cube satellite and will deploy 4 21ft booms to spread its solar sail. It is designed to keep going until it breaks after its primary target is reached.

Well kiddies, that pretty much covers the Space Report for this year. I hope you found it informative.



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