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Monthly archive May, 2010

Ultralight Spaceflight: working details

This past week @ULSF we’ve been quietly working.  Josh (@PicoRover) has been working on N and X Prize propulsion questions, and I’ve been working mostly on 3D graphics, learning OpenGL, for the development of a shape in computational mesh format for aerodynamic analysis.

You may recall that my current course of study is in a space plane concept for conventional take off and landing.  The shapes I’m looking into are in the flying wing neighborhood.

I was very happy a couple weeks ago to learn about the Sears-Haack body, Whitcomb’s Area Rule, a mathematical model for minimizing aerodynamic wave drag.  Flight through the atmosphere encounters the medium in a wave phenomenon, not unlike a boat producing a wave from its bow.  Traveling at less than the speed of sound, wave drag is not very significant.  However at the speed of sound — which decreases with altitude — the barrier is the onset of critical wave drag.

Swept wings are an alternative approach to minimizing wave drag, through the oblique redistribution of pressure across the airfoil.  As far as I understand it, sweeping the wing is reducing its efficiency in order to reduce its drag.  From this perspective, I think Burt Rutan’s later designs take the approach of not sweeping in favor of a Sears-Haack-Whitcomb approach.

My STS-132 JSC NASA Tweetup Movie

 The NASA Tweetup at the Johnson Space Center on May 19, 2010. Video recorded by and produced by Charles Atkeison: @CAtkeison

Goodbye, Atlantis!

Cross-Posted to My Tumblr Blog “I = MD^2”:


This is it.


It is all over.


Space Shuttle Atlantis has made its last landing today. And while the orbiter (aka OV-104) will soon go to a museum (where exactly, we don’t know), it will forever live in our memories. In my case, I have two special memories of Space Shuttle Atlantis. The first is (honestly, I am not making up this memory) its first docking with Mir, which I remember real well (I know it is that becasue I remember had remembered the name of an astronaut named Robert “Hoot” Gibson, who, of course, commanded the flight). But what I especially remember is that that was the first news flash that I saw that did not have either OJ or the fat judge (what I called Lance Ito at that time)


My other big memory about Atlantis is the Hubble Mission. I still remember following the mission like none other I have before or after. I still remember listening to spacewalks while exercising! It was a pleasure to follow STS-125, and it was a pleasure to see it again on IMAX in Chattanooga. Memories worth saving.


And even though I missed the STS-129 launch (and, due to my decision to remain anonymous, the Tweetup, of course), due to a Computer class quiz I had that same time, I could not be here w/o the launch. Well, after some time following only Astros and official NASA twitter feeds on Twitter, I decided to make a brave venture and decide to follow a Space Tweep whom I have seen conversing with some of the astros, @Space_Pete, then one spacetweep led to another, and another, and another, until now, I am a full-fledged member of the Space Tweep Society. I am truly enjoying the conversations with you guys and I hope to see you all in person, if not sooner, later.


And thanks for the memories, Atlantis.

Virgin Galactic Dirty Little Secret

By Amnon Govrin

Virgin Galactic is arguably the leading private space tourism company, having actually built their suborbital craft and carrier and having flown them both. Their web site and publications all look taken from a sci-fi movie, with weightlessness touted as a wonder worth $200,000. One of the slogans Virgin Galactic uses (in the training page) is “Feel the Freedom of Zero G.”

However, there’s a dirty little secret that no one over at Virgin Galactic is talking about…

Read all about it on http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/05/virgin-galactic-dirty-little-secret.html

Ultralight Spaceflight: Ping Pong Budget

This week @ULSF we’re working on the more conventional end of our problem set, spacecraft budgets.  Having taken a look into the fundamental elements, materials and propulsion, we’re cycling back to sizing issues to have a framework for strength of materials and efficiencies of propulsion.

To do this we need an objective mission and flight design. 

The proposed flight profile is a space plane for a conventional take off and landing and flight to and from FL600 (60,000′ / 18.3 km).  We need a return capability in order to test systems and materials. 

For the moment we’re proceeding under the expectation that (1)
conventional flight will be feasible, and (2) that this will give us a
path of least resistancefor space access.  Both are open questions, but that’s the bet for the design iteration.

The mission scenario is for releasing and retrieving a ping pong ball on orbit.  To fly up one day at sunrise, release the ball, and return — landing in daylight.  And then to fly up again the next day to capture the ball on orbit, and return. 

We like this objective for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly because its achievement will prove an initial capability for space navigation with respect to the terrestrial surface.  A good starting point for more advanced missions including the Moon.

Given these objectives we can get into modeling for feasibility and requirements.  And as well, we get into the motivating subjects like what does it all look like and what will it cost.

The Ping Pong Budget is as follows.

  • Sphere, 44mm diameter (OD)
  • Volume 33.5cc
  • Mass 33.5 grams

It’s fun to imagine sending a satellite by postal mail for launch processing.  A vibration test.  The satellite has to work when it gets here.

Sleeping Beauty and The Lorelei: Epic Challenges

In short, Sleeping Beauty is our Moon, and The Lorelei is Mars. Both are charmers and invitingly pull us toward them. No wonder there are such heated discussions over their relative charms and promise.

Well Sleeping Beauty is asleep and needs to be reawakened for us to fully realize her value and magic. The Lorelei, well they are the ladies of the rocks, and as alluring and beguiling as they are; for the incautious they can spell catastrophe. If you are unfamiliar with the Lorelei, follow this link for delightful edification.

Me, I am a Sleeping Beauty man and strongly believe that by re-awakening her we will open a golden gateway to a magnificent route for the exploration of our entire solar system. Yes, I hear the soft croons of the Lorelei maidens and admit they are almost irresistible, but I have, in my sailing days, run close to rocky doom and so I am very careful while still enjoying their charms.

Yes, in time we will visit the Lorelei and fully enjoy all they promise, but we come to them filled with experience and caution that our times with Sleeping Beauty has given us. Not an unpleasant experience under any circumstance and a maturing one too.  We launch from Beauty’s homeland for the land of the Lorelei with great wisdom and fully equipped with sharper skills that allow us to skirt the Lorelei rocks while enjoying the allure and promise of Mars.

How can not, the expected visitations with all these lovelies not be at the forefront of our minds? I am sure they are. All we have to do is to not turn our back on Sleeping Beauty who longingly awaits our return. On the next Full Moon, look up, and tell yourself you cannot resist reaching out to re-awaken such a lovely, lovely lady. Shhhh, while you look, listen too to those soothing voices of the waiting Lorelei. Be brave enjoy but resist for now.

An Apollo 11 Personal Story – Buzz and Me

Photo
caption: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. Photo by Neil Armstrong.

This was originally posted at Blog on the Universe on July 16, 2009, 4 days in advance of the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing. I wanted to share it with the Space Tweeps in honor of their recent party at the Cape.


I think it
was
August 1998. I got a
call from Gina Ross, the principal of Buzz Aldrin Elementary School in
Reston, VA. Her teachers were about to return to school for the new
academic year, and before the kids returned she wanted me to come and
visit. My mission? To inspire her teaching staff with an
inter-disciplinary talk on the nature of human exploration, what we as a
species of explorers are capable of achieving when we put our minds to
it, and that teachers and parents are the link that binds each
generation to the next, allowing us personally and collectively to
aspire to new heights.

The presentation was going well. They were
with me, and I could see them getting energized for the new year. Midway
through, I was telling them about how I was inspired to be a space
explorer when I was just 11. It was one of those singular moments that
changes us forever. I was watching a black and white television and on
the screen were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking around … on the
Moon! You just have to step back from that sentence and let it soak in.

I showed them that incredible photograph (I used it on a recent post) taken by
Michael Collins through Columbia’s window as Armstrong and
Aldrin were returning from the surface in the lunar module Eagle.
With my voice cracking a bit, I said this was an emotionally powerful
image for me because—I was in it. There, above the lunar horizon, was a
tiny blue Earth, hanging motionless against the black void of space. On
that world was me looking
back at the astronauts a quarter of a million miles away. It was
actually a pretty emotional moment for everyone in the room. Many of us
had lived through that shared experience back in 1969.

Then something happened as if on cue. I
heard the door open ever so gently so as not to disturb, and …
Buzz Aldrin walked in. Gina Ross had invited him to his namesake school,
but apparently forgot to tell anyone. We were all stunned. That
powerful photo was still on the screen, and I was having a bit of
trouble getting back into the story. So someone in the audience broke
the silence and said “hey, that’s me and Neil coming back to Mike!” It
was just … surreal. Here is this incredibly historic photo capturing the
most monumental achievement in human history, and to someone in the
room it was personal to the point of it being the subject of a casual,
even ordinary comment. It was like leafing through your family
photoalbum and stopping to tell the cute story behind a particular
photo. I guess the lesson is that these moments that change us all are
accomplished by ordinary people like you and me. But he was my hero. He was once 240,000
miles away from me.

I got back into my talk, managing to build
to an emotional conclusion—that continuing the legacy of human
exploration rested squarely in the hands of teachers and parents. I took
some questions and collected my things. I walked out into the hall and
there, making a quick beeline right for me, was Buzz Aldrin. He smiled
broadly and gave me one of those two-handed handshakes. The he said
“Jeff!” (HE CALLED ME JEFF!) “That was really inspiring, where
did it come from?”

I … just couldn’t think. I didn’t know what
to say. I remember swallowing against a lump in my throat, and I heard
myself saying “it came from you.”

To this day, I think back on what I said
and know with every fiber of my being that it was the perfect answer. It
came from my heart. It gave perfect voice to what I felt, for isn’t
that what it’s all about? Every generation inspiring the next so our
children can take us where none have gone before?

I’ll never forget that moment for the rest
of my life. It was my ‘Kodak moment’. Thanks Gina.

Jeff

If you’d like to continue this journey with
me, here are some other things you might want to read at Blog on the Universe:

More on My Memories of Apollo 11

On The Nature of Our Existence

On Teaching

On Heroes

On my sense of Exploration, Science, and Education

Photo Credit: Neil Armstrong and NASA

NASA Torch Bearer Ceremony Proposal

Feel free to be highly critical, if we want to get this idea off the ground, this idea needs to be highly polished.

NASA Torch Bearer Ceremony – A
celebration of the final launch of the Space Shuttle

Need:

After 134 fights of the Space Shuttle,
the shuttle program is coming to an end. While every program must
end, there is a general consensus in the space community that the
general public does not understand the vast and international impact
of the Space Transportation System. This ceremony is designed to show
the public the reach of NASA, in terms of economic impact and the
number of people driven to reach higher after they were inspired by
a shuttle mission.

General opinion of the space program
is very low. In the HarrisInteractive Poll
Closing the Budget Deficit: U.S. Adults Strongly Resist Raising Any
Taxes
Except “Sin Taxes” Or Cutting Major Programs
this
opinion is highlighted. The poll found that it’s sample of 2,223
adults, when “[g]iven a list of twelve federal government programs
and asked to pick two which should be
cut… space programs top[ped] the list by a wide margin (51%)
”. It is
strange that the public would want to cut a program that has such a
vast impact. Assuming that the problem behind this lack of support is
lack of insight into the impact of the space program, this ceremony
will increase public opinion of the space program by increasing
awareness of the impact. The University of Chicago’s News Office
article
Americans Want to Spend More on Education, Health
further confirms this lack of support by placing the space program
21
st
on a list of 22 federal program that people want to cut.

This
last shuttle launch is the perfect time to demonstrate the impact of
space activity since the nation is deciding whether or not space is
worth pursuing at this moment. If the full impact of space is brought
to light, then space will remain a national priority in one form or
another.

Objectives:

  1. To have at least 25% of the people
    who has been employed by or inspired by the space program
    participate in running the torch or organizing this event. In
    addition, we will also have space fans speculating/cheering
    at this event so that news cameras will see the huge numbers
    of people who have been effected by the space program

  2. To double viewership of a shuttle
    launch (including TV and Internet)

  3. To reach 500,000 Americans with a
    pro-space message

  4. To raise $1,000,000 for STEM
    education

  5. To increase discussion of the
    space program in local media (at least 50% of towns we run in are expected to talk about this)

Methods:

In general, the event will be managed
by national organizers to deal with the political and legal issues
with moving across boarders. Then, regional managers will handle
every 1,000 miles and 10 sub-managers to manage the runners in their
100 mile sections.

To complete object one, people who
have been effect by the space program will register on the event’s
website. When they register, people will receive a t-shirt to wear
when the torch travels through their town and a pin to wear as long
as the torch is burning. The costs will be handled by sponsors.
Through the size of this event, we hope objective 2,3 and 5 will be
accomplished. Objective 4 will be completed by consistently
encouraging people to donate to STEM education organisations through
the event.

Overview of ceremony:

At exactly
06:07 UTC on
July 20th, a
stream of RP-1 will be ignited at the same place where Yuri Gagarin
took off. This first flame will represent all human spaceflight. The fire will burn
until 20:17 UTC when a laser, aimed at the retroreflectors on the
moon, reaches Earth. This will allow a fuse to drop into the RP-1
fire, which will ignite the torch.

Torchbearers
will carry the torch for a mile each. After carrying the
torch through the countries below, the torch will arrive at Kennedy
Space Center at the time of the launch.

Countries Visited:

The tour will visit the follow
countries, in this order: (This is every country with a space program)

  1. Russia

  2. Japan

  3. South Korea

  4. North Korea

  5. China

  6. Thailand

  7. Vietnam

  8. Malaysia

  9. Singapore

  10. Indonesia

  11. Australia

  12. Sri Lanka

  13. Bangladesh

  14. India

  15. Pakistan

  16. Iran

  17. Kazakhstan

  18. Saudi Arabia

  19. Israel

  20. Egypt

  21. Turkey

  22. Azerbaijan

  23. Bulgaria

  24. Greece

  25. Romania

  26. Ukraine

  27. Hungary

  28. Sweden

  29. Norway

  30. Denmark

  31. Poland

  32. Czech Republic

  33. Netherlands

  34. Germany

  35. Austria

  36. Italy

  37. Switzerland

  38. France

  39. Belgium

  40. UK

  41. Spain

  42. Portugal

  43. Morocco

  44. Algeria

  45. Nigeria

  46. Uruguay

  47. Argentina

  48. Peru

  49. Ecuador

  50. Brazil

  51. Venezuela

  52. Columbia

  53. Mexico

  54. United States (Continental)

  55. Canada

  56. United States (Alaska)

  57. Canada

  58. Unites States (Continental)

Evaluation:

Funding
agencies will know this event is successful if:

  1. This
    event is covered by the media

  2. $1,000,000 dollars is raised for STEM education

  3. A
    statistically significant increase in public opinion of space
    activity

Costs:

Costs
are yet to be determined, but each town require a motorcade or parade permit.
These permits tend to be under $200 each. There is also a chance that
security will be required, in which case, towns will expect
compensation for the costs of a police presence. Costs are expected
to rival those of the Olympic torch relay.

Obstacles:

  1. We
    may have trouble having an international event since we will have to
    convince other nations that this celebration is about more then the
    US space program.

  2. Timing
    – Having the torch delivered to the launch pad at the time of the
    final shuttle launch will be a challenge, we would only have a small
    margin of error.

  3. Since
    all members of this event will be volunteers, we will need a large number of people working on this project.

My Crazy Idea for the Last Shuttle Launch

    The shuttle is a igniter. Every member
of the Space Tweep Society knows that personally, I see your
excitement and passion dripping the the brilliant content produced by
this community. Stunning photographs, amazing songs and heart filled
essays all stand as proof of our passion. I can see yet more people,
outside our community, filled with the same spirit. I was amazed to
see the number of views on SpaceVidCast hours before the launch of
STS-132, I was encouraged by the conversations I had at the AIAA’s
DBF contest, students who all seemed to be answering the same call
broadcasted by the shuttle. The shuttle is simply a match that
lights up the passions of people everywhere.

    Let us return the favor.

    Let us give the shuttle a proper
goodbye by igniting it. Let us carry a torch through every site and
every town that produced, designed, tested, maintained or cheered for
the shuttle. Let this torch be carried by every person who the
shuttle has ignited. This torch should be the firing switch for the
last STS mission, we should light a fuse with it that sends our hopes,
dreams and wishes for the space program into the future. With this
last shuttle let every person see what the shuttle has done for us.
Let us ignite whoever the shuttle hasn’t reached with this torch.
Yes, this idea is copied from the Olympics, but the message is
important enough that it must be seen.

    So, that’s my crazy idea. Are you in?

Ultralight Spaceflight: materials and thermochem

This week in @ULSF space we did some work on materials development, and I learned a bit more thermodynamics.

We’re looking for a material compatible with rapid prototyping techniques (exemplified by the reprap machine) as well as a singular, integrated application to cryogenics, propulsion and structures.  One big “plastic” spacecraft — but “integrated structure” probably sounds much better.  We’ve looked into carbon- phenolics, and are moving into pyrolytic carbons like carbon-carbon, graphite and vitreous carbon.

My personal exploration of thermodynamics is more fun when I’m working from objective through field literature and into wikipedia- like- component articles than it is when I read a lecture text from top to bottom.  Taking a step back, I guess I’m cycling between all of these. 

Touching on related topics like statistical mechanics helps it all make sense, somehow.  I mean, what is enthalpy if not a statistical mechanical kind of concept (that cool but crazy state space stuff that makes my greedy head explode).  At least today I understand it better as a mathematical tool of convenience than something really physical. 

Which is not right, and maybe not even sensible.  Except to say
that sometimes the math for the sake of tooling is far easier to
comprehend than what we’re counting with it. 

Suppose that would be how the bottom- up objective, literature, encyclopedia approach complements and motivates the top- down lecture world preview and review approach — at least in my process.

A National VR Planetarium

Jim Cameron, producer/director of “Avatar” has kicked open the door. By this I mean the incredible advances his film made in both 3D and virtual reality viewing makes it clear that we could add to the great Smithsonian panorama of history and science, a virtual reality planetarium.  Why?

The main reason why, is that over the next several centuries most residents of planet Earth will never experience close encounters with our solar system.  We will be left to depend, as we do now, on wonderful telescopic presentations that are stunning, but short on personal involvement.  A virtual reality planetarium would offer a step up in getting us up close and personal with our home solar system.

Here is how:

(1) Using 3D imaging as well as holographic presentations, visitors would tour our solar system virtually, but without all the limitations that even our boldest spacefarers must face.  In this setting we are in a total computer animated environment that imparts the sensation of being on a space ship making a grand tour of the solar system. It is a breathtaking, emotionally inspiring and educational experience.  Most importantly it is close up, and three dimensional, even four dimensional if you include the sound effects.

(2) As we gain in-depth knowledge of each of our solar systems entities (planets, minor planets, moons, comets and asteroids) we will enable small groups of visitors, at a time, to done the VR goggles and step out onto the surface of these planetary spacecapes and take an exploratory hike.  Our Moon would be the first candidate, then probably Mars, and then perhaps Venus. In full VR they will experience just about everything except maybe gravitational levels and atmosphere (will not be surprised if even this gets developed).This special center within the larger VR planetarium would rotate the candidate sites so that as new knowledge is gained it is “premiered” at the VR planetarium.

I get so excited thinking about this, I already imagine being a visitor to the center. Why should any of this matter?  Humankind must move toward acknowledging that we must become a fully space-faring global society.  The VR planetarium will directly aid this transition/realization. Additionally, because it can be manipulated, it also will serve as a vital research center for experiments in solar system dynamics. For example, we could probably evaluate the efficacy of the gravity tractor as asteroid behavior modification at far less the cost than an actual on site test.

Yes, I know I have now inspired all kinds of arguments. Good. Please, express you ideas, suggestions, arguments, and hopefully support in the comments section.  In all cases, always ask yourself how long you would be willing to stand in line for your VR exploration of Pluto, or Mars, or…?

I am already in line, and it is not even built yet.

Hero Engineers and Scientists Preparing for MESSENGER Spacecraft Orbit of Mercury

Photo Caption: Stop what you are doing for a moment, and just imagine the stark contrast between the surface of this world and the vacuum of space. Be thankful for the veil of atmosphere above you, slender as it may be.

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft took this image of Mercury’s northern horizon on September 29, 2009, during its third and final flyby of Mercury, as we were covering the event live via Twitter from Mission Control in Columbia, Maryland. This image captures portions of Mercury we had never before seen—it represents history in the making.

I invite you to read more about this image at the MESSENGER mission gallery. This is cross-posted at Blog on the Universe.

FLASH: We interrupt the rhythm of your daily lives to bring you news from beyond Earth, from a tiny robot determined to take the human race to an alien world. Some of you may have tuned in September 2009 when Blog on the Universe provided live coverage of the MESSENGER spacecraft’s flyby of Mercury, the last gravity assist needed to get the spacecraft on course for Mercury orbital insertion in March 2011. We are now less than 11 months from that historic first—a spacecraft in orbit around the mysterious inner-most planet of our Solar System. You might want to bookmark the countdown clock.

Since last September 29, 7 months of our lives have been filled with a new school year, passage of seasons, and the ebb and flow of over 200 days. Meanwhile, dutifully navigating through the harsh environment of space, our little spacecraft has been steadily gaining on its rendezvous with destiny on March 18, 2011, under the watchful eyes of its extended family back on Earth—the MESSENGER Team. For this team, those 200+ days were filled with assessing data already broadcast to Earth from MESSENGER’s 3 prior flybys of the planet, and preparing for orbital insertion and on-orbit operations.

These engineers and scientists are the current generation of explorers on the frontiers of human exploration, and ought to be held up to our children as heroes and role models in the age of high technology—and at a time when America needs to step to the plate in science and technology education if we are to compete in the 21st century (you might read a related essay at Huffington Post.) So meet these heroes and role models—the Core Team, the Science Team, the Instrument Team, the Engineering Team, and the Mission Operations Team. And to really get up close and personal, read how cool operations engineer Ray Espiritu got from his dream in middle school to being part of the MESSENGER mission. Read highlights on the lives of other MESSENGER Team members using the button at the bottom of the Highlights Page.

So now for some really exciting news sent to the entire MESSENGER Team via email mid-April 2010, by Eric J. Finnegan, MESSENGER Mission Systems Engineer. I have provided the text of Eric’s email without modification to give you a sense of the behind-the-scenes communication and spirit of teamwork that this group of folks is undertaking on behalf of humanity. We are now fully engaged in preparations for an encounter with another world—

 

Public Relations

This month, preparations for orbital operations came front and center, with a press release describing the extent of preparations the team is conducting, tactfully described by our Payload Operations Manager, Alice Berman.

Navigation 

It hasn’t taken long—the navigation and guidance and control teams have almost closed the gap on Mercury. Over the last month, the predicted trajectory of the satellite has been narrowed to within 1-sigma of the target. Through careful management of the solar array positions and body orientations, the predicted trajectory of the spacecraft is now less than 10 km off the b-plane aim point and less than one minute from the target arrival time needed for Mercury Orbit Insertion. The likelihood of future trajectory correction maneuvers is rapidly diminishing!

MOI Readiness

The operations and engineering teams continue to prepare for events before, during and after the Mercury Orbit Insertion maneuver. The team is considering all possible nominal and anomalous conditions to ensure a robust execution plan, thereby ensuring a successful Mercury insertion. The next milestone for the team will be a Fault Management Review, occurring on June 2. An independent team of reviewers will look over the teams preparation plans and provide any necessary recommendations to ensure successful execution of this mission critical event.

Orbital Operations Readiness

The engineering and operations teams have completed all of the detailed table top reviews covering the necessary flight operations for each of the spacecraft subsystems. Furthermore, all of the detailed discussion meetings between the mission operations team and the instrument engineers, to review the on-board and ground command procedures for orbital operations have been conducted. These series of meeting and reviews have resulted in a number of items that will need to be worked off over the next several months as the teams work towards the fall Orbital Readiness Review.

The science planning and mission operations teams completed the most recent week-in-the-life (WITL) test activity on 24 March. A team debriefing meeting was conducted to cover the activities and lessons learned from the five week exercise. This activity required the MESSENGER team to process two consecutive weeks of orbital operations in a real-time test-as-you-fly environment. The next WITL test activity will exercise four consecutive weeks of orbital operations. The kickoff meeting for this multi-week activity is scheduled for 21 April.

This month, the instrument scientists started the final verification activities for the planning functions of the MESSENGER Scibox software. on April 5, the latest configured version of the SciBox software was released allowing instrument scientists to start evaluation of the software-generated observation plan. Presentations of these observing plans by the instrument scientists to the cognizant Science Discipline Groups will commence at the end of April. In parallel with this activity, the operations and guidance and control teams are working their way through verification of the commanding functions of the Scibox software. Over 10 weeks of the 52 week orbital schedule have been processed by the G&C team using high fidelity dynamics simulations to ensure safe execution of the auto generated command sequences. The operations team has processed 5 weeks of orbital schedules though their command verification tools and vehicle state simulations, ensuring valid execution as well as identifying a few command efficiencies. Processing of the Scibox software generated command sequences will continue until all 52 weeks of scheduled science activities have been processed through the verification tools from both teams.

As a cumulative test of orbital readiness, the operations team kicked off planning activities for a full flight execution of orbital operations, to occur this summer. Current plans are to execute 1-2 weeks of orbital operations, in a cadence and manner that will be utilized during orbit. This activity will flight verify the end-to-end operations of the MESSENGER system.

There are many activities to complete before March 18, 2011, however all members of the MESSENGER team are now engaged and are working toward successful execution of orbital operations.

Eric J. Finnegan MESSENGER Mission Systems Engineer

I wish the best to this remarkable group of folks for the continued success of MESSENGER, and stay tuned for mission updates, and extensive live coverage of MESSENGER orbital insertion. 

The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education oversees the MESSENGER Educator Fellowship Program and other MESSENGER education and public outreach activities, including the development of compendia of lessons on Solar System exploration and science, and programming for families at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.  

Photocredti: NASA