Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

Satellites Do not Exist – Literally the Dumbest Video I Have Ever Seen

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

This video is breathtaking….


Yeah.  Really.  People believe that.  It takes the whole moon landing hoax to the next level.
Okay, I want to restrain myself,  because I could go off on this all night and I think most readers will understand these things anyway….

Not only can you detect the radio waves from satellites, but you can actually see them.  You can see them with the naked eye and you can make out details of large ones with a telescope.

In space there is almost no atmosphere, so the temperature of the few molecules bouncing around does not matter.  Space has no ambient temperature.  The temperature of an object depends on the rate it radiates heat, whether it is absorbing heat from the sun and whether it produces its own heat.  Indeed, a thermometer, with no internal heating, placed in space, will get very cold because it radiates heat faster than it is absorbed. However, equipment that generates heat can get very hot because there is no convection cooling.  In fact, thermal management of spacecraft is a very complex engineering challenge.

A rocket engine does not need air to push against. It does not need anything to push against. Its own exhaust is what it is pushing against. Really, you could set off a rocket in a vacuum chamber if you do not believe me. Air is not needed for thrust or control.

Solar cells are not used on spacecraft because of environmental concerns. The sun is very intense in space and provides a lot of power. Solar cells last much longer than fuel cells or batteries and you can’t use a combustion motor in space without bringing along oxygen. Although nuclear power sources have also been used, for most applications in the vicinity of earth, solar cells are the most economical and easiest way to provide necessary power to a spacecraft.

We have tons of photographs of earth from satellites. How many do you want? Most are from low earth orbit and therefore, only a portion of the earth is seen. You need to go much further away to see the whole thing, but there are plenty of those too, taken from deeper space missions. The “Blue Marble” taken during Apollo 17 is iconic as it was one of the earliest full disk pictures of the earth (though not actually the first) and got a lot of attention. There are many others, but it is one of the best know.

The guy talking about radio propagation has it all wrong.  Sky wave propagation only applies to HF signals, and even then it’s fickle and depends on the ionospheric conditions. These signals lack the high bandwidth needed for things like television.  Satellites use microwave frequencies, which are also very directional and usually require a high gain antenna, like a dish.  This is why you get different signals when pointed at different satellites and none when pointed at empty parts of the sky.
Also, satellites really haven’t gotten “larger” or “smaller.” The sizes are highly varied.  Indeed, the first satellites were small, because of limited rocket technology.  By the late 1960′s, satellites the size of a bus could be launched and were used for things like surveillance.  Some payloads, like Skylab, were enormous.  Today some satellites are very big, but the miniaturization of electronics has also allowed some very small satellites to be useful.

Finally, it is possible to find pictures of satellites that are real photographs. However, the issue is that in order to photograph a satellite in detail, you need another satellite flying near it with a camera, and we don’t usually have that. Illustrations are thus easier to make. Also, if you want to show several satellites in relation to the earth, you have to use an illustration, because it’s obviously not going to be to scale. You want a photograph of the entire GPS constellation flying around earth? Not possible. The satellites are too small in relation to the earth.

It’s amazing how little these people understand of basic concepts and how poor they are at researching and educating themselves.  Yet they will declare with authority that everyone else is one of the “Sheeple.”

Yeah.  I have a basic understanding of physics and radio communications.  I must be bought and paid for by the government

EM Drive Tested By NASA: Lets Not Get Too Excited Just Yet

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

A big news story has been making the rounds about a new and potentially game changing space propulsion technology, which was recently tested by NASA scientists in a vacuum chamber at the Manned Space Flight Center in Houston Texas.  The system, called the EM Drive, is based on microwaves bouncing around a specially shaped cavity.  These aledgedly create thrust, thus making it possible for the EM drive to be used as a propulsion system, if attached to a spacecraft.

What  makes the EM drive so much different than any previous propulsion technology is that it does so without expelling any propellant.  All existing rocket engines use some kind of material, known as reaction mass, in order to produce thrust.  Even highly efficient ion engines require a gas of some sort to be used as the reactionary mass.  The need for propellant is a major limiting factor in spaceflight.  It means that propellant must be launched with the spacecraft, often constituting a large percentage of the spacecraft’s mass.  It also limits the duration of the spaceflight.  Eventually the propellant runs out.  However, the EM drive uses only energy, which can be provided almost without limits by solar panels or a nuclear power source, which could provide energy for decades.emdrive

The only problem with this is that the whole concept seems to violate the law of conservation of momentum.  Our current understanding of physics would seem to indicate that this is impossible.  You can’t add momentum to something without pushing off of something else.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and that’s why rockets need to shoot propellant in one direction to go in the other.

Via IO9:

New Test Suggests NASA’s “Impossible” EM Drive Will Work In Space
[T]he EM Drive’s thrust was due to the Quantum Vacuum (the quantum state with the lowest possible energy) behaving like propellant ions behave in a MagnetoHydroDynamics drive (a method electrifying propellant and then directing it with magnetic fields to push a spacecraft in the opposite direction) for spacecraft propulsion.
Last year, NASA’s advanced propulsion research wing made headlines by announcing the successful test of a physics-defying electromagnetic drive, or EM drive. Now, this futuristic engine, which could in theory propel objects to near-relativistic speeds, has been shown to work inside a space-like vacuum.

NASA Eagleworks made the announcement quite unassumingly via There’s also a major discussion going on about the engine and the physics that drives it at the site’s forum.

The EM drive is controversial in that it appears to violate conventional physics and the law of conservation of momentum; the engine, invented by British scientist Roger Sawyer, converts electric power to thrust without the need for any propellant by bouncing microwaves within a closed container. So, with no expulsion of propellant, there’s nothing to balance the change in the spacecraft’s momentum during acceleration. Hence the skepticism. But as stated by NASA Eagleworks scientist Harold White:

The trouble with this theory, however, is that it might not work in a closed vacuum. After last year’s tests of the engine, which weren’t performed in a vacuum, skeptics argued that the measured thrust was attributable to environmental conditions external to the drive, such as natural thermal convection currents arising from microwave heating.

The recent experiment, however, addressed this concern head-on, while also demonstrating the engine’s potential to work in space. (Image: NASA Eagleworks.)


29 Years Since The Challenger Exploded, One of My Earliest Memories

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Space flight is dangerous.  Taking a rocket into orbit means sitting on a controlled explosion happening under an enormous tank of fuel and oxidizer.  Rocket engines are under such tremendous forces, they push engineering to its limits.  Once one arrives in space, the spacecraft must protect occupants from one of the harshest environments imaginable.  Then, upon return, the rapid reentry to the atmosphere subjects the craft to enormous heat and pressure.  Every part of a space mission is dangerous.

It is more dangerous when politics and a desire for good publicity and scheduling gets in the way of more important concerns over safety and engineering.   This is what happened to the Challenger.  It was the first American space mission to result in causalities (although astronauts had died before in practice sessions and dry runs, such as Apollo 1).  It was the worst loss of life in a single space mission up to that time.  It would be tied by the 2003 breakup of the shuttle Columbia.

The accident put a temporary halt to the US space program and resulted in numerous safety improvements.  Unfortunately, these improvements were not enough to stop another tragedy from happening with the Space Shuttle.  While the Shuttle proved to be one of he most capable craft for low earth orbit, with unique capabilities, like the capacity to retrieve satellites from orbit, it also has some other, more dubious, distinctions.  More lives have been lost in the Space Shuttle than any other spacecraft.  It has a LOVC (loss of vehicle and crew) rate of greater than one percent, for all launches.

For me, the Challenger incident has other significance.  I was three years old at the time if happened.  It is one of my earliest distinct memories and the earliest memory I can pin directly to an event.

My memories are vague, but I do remember a few things.  My mother worked with a man whose television was not working on that day.  He came over to my home to watch the TV coverage.  He and my father were glued to the set all afternoon and evening.  I was upset because I wanted to watch Mister Roger’s neighborhood and we only had the one television.

My parents watched ABC news.  It’s amazing but these videos actually jar distinct memories for me.

SpaceX Will Attempt First Stage Recovery Launch – UPDATE

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

A brief post but something that really excites me.

SpaceX was planning on launching a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Staton today.   This launch is not the first time the rocket has been launched nor the first mission to the ISS.  What makes it exciting (in addition to the fact that all rocket launches are exciting) is that it would be their first attempt to recover the first stage in a near-perfect reusable condition.  Aside from the SRB’s on the Space Shuttle, which splashed down in sea water, there has not been any launch system which allowed a major stage component to be reused.

Since this is the first attempt, there’s a good chance it won’t work, but if it does, it will be a huge step toward lower cost space flight.  Of course, it’s only one stage of the rocket, but it’s still a big achievement.  The rocket itself costs tens of millions of dollars, while the fuel is only hundreds of thousands, so reusing a major portion of the rocket can save enormous costs.

The unique method of recovery is to have the rocket use remaining fuel and its own engine to decelerate and make a soft landing.  Landing legs will deploy and the touchdown will be attempted on a floating barge, which is unmanned and some distance offshore, thus reducing any risks should the landing not be successful.

NOTE:  The launch has been aborted.  Apparently there were some readings with the thrust vector control system which indicated a problem.  It’s not entirely unusual for launches to be aborted at the last minute, as a result of such technical data.  In a high risk activity like launching rockets, it is not worth attempting a launch if there appear to be any potential problems.

The systems will be checked and diagnosed and the launch will likely proceed shortly, but probably not today.   It may require a couple of days before the proper launch window opens up again.  It may also take a number of days for the problem to be solved with the thrust vector control.  In all likelihood, the launch will still happen in the next few days.



Where Humans Can go in the Solar System

Monday, September 29th, 2014

In recent years there has been much discussion about human space exploration venturing beyond the earth-moon system to take on Mars and possibly other planets.  In light of this, I decided to do a little research to determine exactly what celestial bodies are suitable for human exploration.  Certainly, humans can fly by most any part of the solar system, should they have an advanced enough spacecraft.  But there are a limited number of places where surface exploration is possible.  What qualifies these places is the ability to survive in any current or foreseeable space suite or any kind of reasonable habitation module.

Since we are far from having any kind of faster than light travel (which, if possible at all, requires warping space or using some kind of artificial wormhole) and we are not ready for multi-generational spacecraft, the solar system is pretty much what we are stuck with.

It seems the places we can actually send humans are pretty limited.  There is definitely Mars, but after that, what comes next?   Possibly some of the moons of Jupiter, assuming its worth our while to send humans there in the future.   Mars appears to be the best candidate for any kind of permanent or semi-permanent colonization or station.

Places humans could visit with reasonable habitat modules and/or spacesuits:

Mercury – Possibly on the side that faces away from the sun, but it’s questionable whether it would be worth visiting.

Venus – The temperature and pressure on the surface are far too high for a spacesuit.  Manned flybys, however, have been considered in the past.

Earth’s Moon – Yes, obviously, since it has been done.  The environment is certainly harsh, but well within the capabilities of a spacesuit.

Ceres – A dwarf planet that is the largest member of the asteroid belt.  It could be visited by humans in spacesuits for surface study, but it is so small that it would be possible to jump off it into space.  The gravity is not sufficient to allow walking around on it.  Therefore, it would be more like clinging to the surface and floating around it than it would be “landing” on it in the normal sense.

Other asteroids – Again, lack of gravity makes surface exploration in the sense of walking impossible.  It’s possible human exploration of an asteroid would be worthwhile.  Some asteroids may have orbits that make them easier to get to than mars or other planets.  The scientific value of this may be questionable.  An asteroid does not seem like a good place to position any kind of manned outpost or colony.

Mars – The environment on mars is certainly within the capabilities of a spacesuit.  The gravity is more than sufficient for relatively normal movement.  Mars is also close enough to earth to make a trip to and from Mars practical for a crew.  This is probably the best place for exploration beyond the earth-moon system, although asteroids have been suggested as well.

Phobos – The largest moon of mars, but still much smaller than our own moon and more similar to Ceres in size.  There is no atmosphere and it should be within the capabilities of spacesuits, but again, hard to really walk around on because of the small size and lack of strong gravity.  It has the advantage of being easier to take off from than the surface of mars, due to such little gravity.

Jupiter – No.  The gas giants are out of the question.  Not only is it a massive ball of gas, with nothing to stand on, but the pressure is far too high for survival, not to mention the crushing gravity.  Probes that visited the area around Jupiter discovered that it has powerful radiation belts, which could be a problem for even a manned flyby.

 Io (Moon of Jupiter) – Quite possible.  It is only slightly larger than our own moon, so it has a fair amount of gravity.  Radiation might or might not be an issue.  The distance from the sun would make it very cold, necessitating heated space suits.

Europe (Moon of Jupiter) – Also possible.  Good size, but the surface characteristics are less well known.  It is believed to be covered with either ice or a cold brittle rock.  The surface therefore may or may not be suitable for exploration.  Again, radiation and cold are issues.

Ganymede (Moon of Jupiter) Similar to Io, but larger and thus more gravity on the surface, but still much smaller than earth.  Possible, but cold and radiation are concerns.

Callisto – Possible, rocky moon similar to Io and Ganymede

Saturn – No.  Again, as with Jupiter, the gas giant has massive gravity and no place to stand.

Titan (moon of Saturn) – It’s hard to say but it might be possible.  It’s larger than our own moon.  It has its own dense atmosphere, which is unusual for a moon.  It would be very cold and harsh, but maybe within the capabilities of future space suits and habitats.   With Saturn and its moons, the distance of the travel and thus the time exposed to cosmic radiation and weightlessness become an issue, although this could be overcome with a powerful enough rocket, such as a nuclear pulsed propulsion system.

Other moons of Saturn – Saturn has dozens of moons, with Titan being the largest.  Most of the moons are small and unappealing for manned exploration.

Uranus – No. It is a gas giant, though smaller than Jupiter and Saturn.

Moons of Uranus – Some might be possible, but the extreme distance becomes a concern.  None appear especially appealing.

Neptune – As with the others, no landing on this gas giant.

Moons of Neptune – Only one moon is of substantial size, Triton.  It might be possible, but cold, distance and radiation are issues.

Pluto and Satellites – Though no longer considered a planet, it could be a target worth investigating.  Probably not worth human exploration.  Not only is it far enough from the sun to be super cold, but the distance would necessitate many years in transit to and from it.   The same is true with other Kuiper belt objects.

The Mars Rover That Keeps Going Breaks Distance Record

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

As you probably know, there is now a nuclear-powered rover on the surface of mars that is equipped with more scientific instruments and data gathering systems than anything before.  It is highly capable and has already made some important discoveries.

But many have forgotten that there is another Mars rover that is still operating.   Right now, the US actually has two independent rovers that are functioning and making observations on the surface of Mars.  The two original exploration rovers have shown a capability to work far beyond their design lives.  The rover Opportunity continuing to operate to this day.  Spirit, a nearly identical rover, functioned until 2010 but lost power after it became stuck in place.

It is really amazing because Opportunity landed on mars in early 2004, with the hopes that it would function for a few months.   Today, it is still going, albeit with some diminished capabilities.  Solar panels have degraded, the drill bit used to sample rocks is far too dull to function.  Problems have arisen with the robotic arm of opertunity.   Still, for its age, now over ten years, it’s amazing that it is still going.

Despite its slow speed and the fact that it needs to stop frequently to charge batteries in the dim sunlight of mars, it has now broken a long standing record for rovers traversing extraterrestrial terrain.
Via Astronomy Magazine:

Long-lived Mars Opportunity rover passes 25 miles of driving

Opportunity was intended to drive about 0.6 mile and was never designed for distance.
NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover that landed on the Red Planet in 2004 now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving. The Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover held the previous record.

“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about 1 kilometer [0.6 mile] and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”

A drive of 157 feet (48 meters) on July 27 put Opportunity’s total odometry at 25.01 miles (40.25km). This month’s driving brought the rover southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover had driven more than 20 miles (32km) before arriving at Endeavour Crater in 2011, where it has examined outcrops on the crater’s rim containing clay and sulfate-bearing minerals. The sites are yielding evidence of ancient environments with less acidic water than those examined at Opportunity’s landing site.

If the rover can continue to operate the distance of a marathon — 26.2 miles (about 42.2 kilometers) — it will approach the next major investigation site mission scientists have dubbed “Marathon Valley.” Observations from spacecraft orbiting Mars suggest that several clay minerals are exposed close together at this valley site, surrounded by steep slopes where the relationships among different layers may be evident.

The Russian Lunokhod 2 rover, a successor to the first Lunokhod mission in 1970, landed on Earth’s Moon on January 15, 1973, where it drove about 24.2 miles (39 kilometers) in less than five months, according to calculations recently made using images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) cameras that reveal Lunokhod 2’s tracks.

For comparison, the distance record by a crewed surface vehicle is 35.75 km (about 22 miles) set in 1972 by Apollo-17. That rover, of course, covered such a distance in a much shorter period of time than it has taken the Mars rovers, lending to its power coming from powerful silver-zinc potassium hydroxide batteries on the vehicle and not from solar panels. The Lunakhod rovers covered long distances in a matter of months, also far quicker than the Mars rover Opportunity. While they used solar power, the moon offers far brighter sun than the surface of Mars and thus more power.

Hopefully the new rover, Curiosity will break the record. It can travel faster than Spirit and uses a nuclear power source that does not require recharging in the sun. It has already traveled 4.6 kilometers. It could have traveled further, but NASA has been conservative with the valuable rover and it has spent much time stationary making scientific observations

The Problem With Not Having a Manned Space Program

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

The United States has the worlds most accomplished manned space program.  Not only has the US sent men to the moon, but for decades the United States was the most capable space-faring nation, launching several missions per year and leading the world in manned space capabilities.  Even the Space Shuttle, for all its expense and flaws, was a highly capable spacecraft.

Today, however, the US has no ability to send humans into space.   China has a limited manned spaceflight program and Russia is now the primary space program for crewed spacecraft.  The US, however, does own a large portion of the International Space Station and is under treaty obligation to provide crew and support to the space station.  To fulfill its need to send crew members to the Space Station, the US must pay the Russian government tens of millions of dollars for a seat in a Soyuz space capsule.

Obviously, this is a pretty embarrassing place to be.  Just 20 years ago, it was NASA coming to the rescue of a floundering Russian space program, when, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia found itself unable to support a full roster of missions to its own space station.  Now the tables are turned, and the US is starting to look more like a fallen superpower.

But there is a more practical and problematic issue that arises with the dependence on Russia for space transportation.  When international tensions flare, as they now are, things become highly uncertain for space access.

Via NBC News:

Russia Crisis Raises Space Station Questions, But NASA Has Options

OUSTON — Thanks to its reliance on Russia, NASA is once again confronted with the nightmare of a diplomatic roadblock in a project originally made possible by diplomacy: the U.S.-Russian partnership in space exploration.

And if Russia’s confrontation with Ukraine and the West turns into the worst diplomatic crisis of our generation, as feared, it could have equally profound and disturbing consequences for space exploration.

This month’s comings and goings at the International Space Station highlight the interdependence of the U.S. and Russian space efforts: Next week, NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins is due to return from the space station aboard a Russian capsule, alongside two Russian cosmonauts. A couple of weeks after that, NASA’s Steven Swanson is to ride another Russian Soyuz craft up to the station, again in the company of two Russians.

Under the current arrangement, NASA astronauts cannot get to and from the station without Russian help, due to the retirement of the space shuttle fleet. The ticket price for each astronaut is $70 million, payable to the Russians.

The United States and Russia are not just “joined at the hip” on the space station. Numerous other rocket projects rely on either Russian or Ukrainian space hardware and services. Even U.S. national security satellites are powered into orbit on an American rocket with a Russian-built rocket engine.

What if the Soyuz spacecraft suddenly became unavailable for use by American astronauts, contract or no contract? Would it be the end of U.S. human spaceflight? Would it kick off a new round of extortionary price-gouging, both fiscal and diplomatic?

Well, maybe not.

Moving away from co-dependence

It’s cold comfort that the Russians rely on NASA almost as much as NASA relies on the Russians. If Russia monopolizes up-down transport, the United States essentially controls the only space destination: Russia’s orbital hardware couldn’t function without U.S. electrical power and communications services.

However reluctant the partners may be in such an awkward “space marriage,” it has until now provided an astonishing degree of robustness and flexibility.

Recent developments have brought the space station closer to the point where it could be operated without Russian involvement if necessary. The current crisis provides good reasons to accelerate that shift and even to push for one crucial near-term capability: crew rescue.

Already, two U.S. commercial cargo delivery projects — SpaceX’s Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule, as well as Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule — have replaced the justifiably retired space shuttle. European and Japanese robot freighters can also resupply the space station. Even though some parts of the Antares come from Ukraine and Russia, and even though the European cargo freighter must dock at the Russian end of the station, Russia’s cargo monopoly has been broken.




First New Pictures From the Lunar Surface

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Before today, there were two nations that had managed to land a craft on the surface of the moon and beam back data and pictures.  The United States and the Soviet Union.  Both landed a number of unmanned probes.   The US also sent twelve manned missions to the lunar surface.  The Soviet Union didn’t send any humans but did send some sophisticated unmanned missions including two remote controlled rovers.

The last transmission from the moons surface was made by a Soviet probe in 1976.  While there have been other craft to orbit the moon or crash into it, this was the last surface probe.

Now a third nation has landed a probe on the moon and for the first time in thirty years the surface of the moon is being beamed back.


China’s first moon rover lands — and rolls onto lunar surface

BEIJING — China on Saturday successfully carried out the world’s first soft landing of a space probe on the moon in nearly four decades, state media said. Hours later, video footage showed the probe’s rover rolling onto the lunar surface.

The achievement marked the next stage in an ambitious space program that aims to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon.

The unmanned Chang’e 3 lander, named after a mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, touched down on Earth’s nearest neighbor following a 12-minute landing process.

The probe carried a six-wheeled moon rover called Yutu, or “Jade Rabbit,” the goddess’ pet in the myth. Within hours of its landing on a fairly flat, Earth-facing part of the moon, the rover separated from the Chang’e lander to embark on a three-month scientific exploration.

As an American, I’m a bit saddened to see someone else sending payloads to the moon while our own once-great space program seems to be getting nowhere fast. Still, it’s good to see the the moon is once again being visited by humankind. Though it might not be the most difficult planetary body to get to nor the one with the greatest scientific discoveries waiting, there is something about the familiarity and closeness of the moon that seems to beacon.

I hope this will be the start of a new era of lunar exploration missions by numerous countries.

And here’s the first picture…

Dramatic Crash of Russian Proton-M Rocket

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Launching objects (or people) on top of huge rockets is dangerous business.  It always was, and while systems and safety records have improved, there is still significant risk.  Rockets are built to be light weight, contain huge amounts of volatile fuel and engines that produce enormous energy, while requiring that brute force to be directed and controlled with precision.   Being launched on a rocket has been described as riding a contained explosion, and that’s not too far off the mark.

Earlier today, a Proton-M rocket, the newest member of the Russian Proton rocket family experienced a dramatic catastrophic failure just after launch.  The Proton rocket is the workhorse of Russian heavy lift rockets.  It has been used to launch portions of the International Space Station as well as other heavy and large payloads.   It is also available for commercial payload launches.   It is one of the largest rockets currently available, though it has recently been challenged by the SpaceX Falcon 9.

The Proton rocket has been in use for more than 40 years.  There were a number of failures early on, but after redesigns and additional testing, the Proton went on to achieve a very high success rate and become one of the most reliable rocket families in the world.

There had been three failures of the Proton-M since 2007, although it’s not clear if all of them were caused by the rocket itself and not the failure of the payload. Given that it is a proven design, it begs the question whether they could be quality control issues in the assembly and launching of the rockets.   This issue has plagued the Russian space program in recent years.

Now this dramatic crash has occurred.  The rocket was carrying a number of satellites for the Russian GLONASS system, a satellite navigation system similar to GPS.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, the GLONASS system rapidly fell behind GPS in both availability and accuracy.  In recent years, Russia has been working to improve the system by launching next generation GLONASS satellites.   This crash will surely be a major setback to that effort.

An amateur video from nearby shows a wider shot of the events:

Click here to see see video at higher quality on YouTube

It’s not entirely clear what happened here. The rocket can be seen to wobble and begin to go off course shortly after launch. It’s possible that either one of the thrust vector controls malfunctioned or that the guidance system failed to operate correctly. Shortly after launch, a dark plume can be seen coming from the rocket. It’s hard to tell if this is a sign of an engine malfunction or leak or if it might be caused by the rapid throttling of one or more engines, in an attempt to compensate for the rockets pitch. A few seconds more discharge can be seen. Again, it’s hard to tell what this is. It could be that the engines are malfunctioning due to the stress caused by the rocket flying outside its design envelope.

The rocket begins to explode as it tumbles, likely as a result of structural failure, but it strikes the ground more or less in one piece. This is an extremely dangerous event and thankfully nobody was killed. In addition to the explosion, the Proton rocket carries hundreds of tons of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine. This hypergolic fuel is extremely toxic, and even those outside the blast area could be in signifficant danger from residual UDMH released.

In an article from a couple of years ago, it was noted that the Russian space program seems to allow spectators much closer to rocket launches than its US or European counterparts allow. While there were launch personnel close to the launch pad, they were in armored control houses and no injuries were reported.

In 1960, a prototype Soviet ICBM was being test launched when a premature ignition of the second stage engine caused the rocket to explode, spewing huge amounts of hypergolic fuel and oxidizer. A large number of officials were in attendance to watch the launch and were out in the open near the launch site when the explosion occurred. Over one hundred spectators died, some killed by the explosion and others by the highly reactive and toxic fuel released. It became known as the Nedelin catastrophe.

Part of Apollo-11 First Stage Recovered

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

As far as scientific achievements go, this really does not mean much, but it falls under the catagory of “really cool,” especially if, like me, you are an Apollo program buff.

Apollo-11, like all the manned lunar missions was carried aloft on a Saturn-V rocket.   The first stage of the rocket, the S-IC was designed to be disposable.  After burning out, it was jettisoned and the next stage, the S-II took over.  By the time it cut off, the rocket was at an altitude of 67,000 meters and more than 90 kilometers down range, out to sea.   Since the stage was intended to only be used once, there was no parachute.  It simply fell from that altitude and smashed into the ocean.  Presumably, never to be seen again.

Well, that was not to be for the stage that carried Apollo-11 to the moon.   Because of the historical interest, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took it upon himself to start a project to locate and recover the remains of that rocket stage.

Needless to say, it’s not in pristine condition.   The impact shattered the thin, lightweight structure of the stage and 40+ years under salt water did not do the remains any favors either.   Still, the thrust chambers of the rocket engines were solid enough to survive in remarkably good shape.   Although the engine bells seem to have been torn off, parts of the engines are still very recognizable, including the main turbopumps.

The mighty F-1 engine is definitely an impressive site, even broken apart!

Check out this link for a gallery of images of the recovered engines.