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Monthly archive July, 2010

Expedition Patches for Meco

Space Tweep Society PatchI have some exciting news! The Space Tweep Society’s birdonaut mascot, Meco, is scheduled to travel to the International Space Station this coming March- courtesy of @Astro_Ron! Meco (in the form of one of our Space Tweep Society patches) will be launching on Soyuz and will be on a very long duration expedition. Thanks, @Astro_Ron for taking him along! Thanks, @CAtkeison for arranging the trip!

Now Meco needs a patch design for his very long duration expedition. In fact, since he is so special, he needs a whole collection of different designs and it is up to you to make them. This isn’t a contest; it is just a fun activity for members who want to participate. Patch designs should be your original artwork, ideally produced in a digital format. A drawing that is scanned or photographed is acceptable as well. The designs submitted* will be posted on our website for everyone to enjoy. Kids are also encouraged to participate.

Submissions for this activity will be accepted from now until the end of August; simply email them to spacetweepsociety at gmail dot com. Format is not important, as long as I can open and view the file- .jpg, .pdf, .bmp, .png, .psd, etc. Make sure to include your Twitter name, so I know who it came from. (For children or other non-tweeps, you can just give their first name and relationship to you, like: “Sarah, student of @janellewilson”)

As an added incentive to join in the fun, if you include your mailing address when you email your design, I’ll send you something cool, no matter where in the world you live. You can submit multiple designs, but you still only get one cool thing in the mail per participant.

Have fun; Meco is counting on you!


*Fine print- Designs containing copyrighted images belonging to others, objectionable language or message, political statements, advertising, offensive imagery or that are off topic (i.e. not designed to be an expedition patch for Meco) will not be displayed on the site, nor receive a gift in the mail. This is at the discretion of the site’s administrators. Remember, this is supposed to be a positive thing!

Ultralight Spaceflight: The open shop principle

This week @ULSF we’ll have a look into open engineering since 1962.  That was the year in which Richard Hamming published his book, “Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers” complete with the most interesting appendix, “N+1: The Art of Computing for Scientists and Engineers”.  Hamming’s premise for “Numerical Methods” is “the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers”, following the standard “garbage in, garbage out” caveat for data processing.  In “N+1” Hamming develops the principle into “The open shop philosophy” via an epistemological “What do we know?”.  As in “What is the input?” and therefore what is the computation that describes the output.  Hamming wrote, “If we believe that the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers, then it follows that the [person] who is to get the insight must understand the computing”. “If he does not understand what is being done, he is very unlikely to derive much value from the computation”.

These principles extend into the more practical applications of computing that are common and familiar today.  What are the choices necessarily made by the programmer, and how were those choices implemented?  The open source software movement responds with, here is the code reflecting the choices made and available to inspection as well as alternative design and implementation.  For example in the realm of computer operating systems, is this code making the user vulnerable to resource or even identity theft.

Of course NASA has long been a leading member of the openness that has differentiated the US from most of the world throughout our brief history.  For example, the NASA Technical Reports Server contains millions of person-years of scientific and engineering knowledge and information (that statistic is simply my own guess at a conservative minimum bound).

NASA Nebula Montage

This week NASA Nebula pushed forward in the exemplary OpenStack initiative for cloud computing, an application computing infrastructure for NASA on par with that of Google or Amazon.

This week Alex @Csete has taken more steps forward into opening up Gnu Radio, detailing the decoding of the RS0ISS message board.

ISS Packet Downlink Decoding

The wide strong peek at 145.82 MHz is the ISS FM packet radio downlink in AX.25, shown in the neighborhood of VO-52.

I’d like to take this opportunity to admit that not since childhood have I been so close to reaching for an amateur radio operator’s license.  Apparently it’s pretty easy.  Alex is saturating my head enough that I’m starting to get some framework in mind to comprehend radio waves and their creation and propagation.  For me, RF is the weirdest area of Physics that I’m aware of.

Plus, the software defined radio is an FPGA application, like JOP that I’m also interested in for ULSF JFlight.  Although electrical engineers should feel free to jump in to help with Sagittarius.

Ultralight Spaceflight: Space Up DC?

This week @ULSF Alex @Csete submitted a fix to the Gnu Radio user interface, Gnu Radio Companion.  Digging into GRC and Gnu Radio will help us to establish a way for anyone to build a ground station and download the RF configuration for anyone’s mission tracking and communications.

I discovered another interesting part of the world in Modelica, an open source electro-mechanical dynamics modeling and simulation tool based on the Modelica Language and intended for graphical user interfaces.  It’s quite mature, with a substantial commercial following in Europe including Dassault Systèmes.  A model is defined and compiled into a simulation from the graphical user interface.

That code base has already given me some good pointers for my own work on Sagittarius.  A post entitled “Atoms and Molecules” describes the work in progress.

Mike @mrdoornbos and friends including Tiffany @astrogerly are working on Space Up DC this August 27th and 28th at the Space Policy Institute.  Follow @spaceupdc for more to come including registration this Tuesday.

Space is up, i.e., ad astra.


That’s right, there is no word, “conflictions!”  I have hatched it from the root word conflict to apply to my own deep and troubling reactions to what is happening to our space programs.They are lumped into three broad areas. Space exploration, private sector development, and international cooperation.  In my mind, and heart, things are quite jumbled and intense. They are jumbled because of the lack of clear national objectives, they are intense because of the strong feelings of the exploration advocates and the private sector advocates. Additionally these two conditions are further aggravated by calls for international cooperation that appear more as lip service than serious action. Let’s look at all three individually.

Space Exploration: In my humble opinion space exploration is a government investment on behalf of the advancement of all civilization. Making it inclusive of all civilization mandates that these exploration efforts should be internationally conceived and supported. These are the efforts that layout pathways to both our ongoing scientific knowledge of our solar system and beyond, and the identification of eventual areas of opportunity for private sector programs.

These exploratory activities are financially unprofitable, but highly profitable scientifically as we learn more about all that surrounds us. They are high risk, they require careful design and development of methods of transport, and they are intended to open our eyes wider about the universe.  In the process, space exploration may uncover many opportunities for private sector development, and this should be encouraged, but with careful monitoring and regulation.

Private Sector Space Operations: First of all, I am for it 100%.  I envision the development and utilization of space elevators, orbiting resorts, asteroid mining, space tourism, and even possible settlements on the Moon or other planets.  I see all of this, including the forthcoming private sector LEO support of the ISS, as having strong potential profit realizations. This is good, this is an economy engine that can raise the standards of living for many. It is also good, because it brings forth new innovations, new industries and new opportunities for each citizen. Most importantly, the successful growth of private sector space programs is directly affected and enhanced by successful space exploration.

International Cooperation/Consortium. As mentioned above, space exploration is viewed as a government funded and sponsored program. The bottom line here is that we are finding out that no one country is going to be able to fully afford the level of development and mission activities needed for an aggressive exploration program of our solar system and eventually beyond.  Shared technology, shared costs, shared staffing are mandatory. Additionally shared or mutual goal setting is also a requirement.Well, we are not there yet.  We have a good start with the ISS, but that concept needs to be expanded into a full-fledged international space exploration program with well defined goals. One of the key impediments to this, is national ego, including our own. Right now, each of us wants to be the lead space science nation. This is a definite barrier to a fully cooperative international program.

Well what about UNOOSA? This is the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. It is a great idea with grand objectives and motives, but suffers, as does most of the UN, from fickle and seriously unsteadfast international support. We must internationally decide to support UNOOSA and make it work as an International Space Consortium, or abandon it all together and start something different.  I vote for supporting UNOOSA!

The Conflictions: Okay, okay so where are these conflictions? Well, first the private sector like all of our business communities reacts to oversights and controls. The “get out of my way, I am free enterprise” is both an invective and a solid philosophy.  This must be assuaged both internally and by the oversight and control organizations.

Secondly, as we have learned over the past couple of years as well as from our histories, governments are prone to look the other way, under certain $$$ influences or are quick to say,”let’s make a deal.”  The success of a truly well defined and joint (government, private sector, and international) space program just cannot exist when there are individuals or organizations who seek to undermine the requirements of the overall program.

Lastly, the international organization that essentially masterminds the entire global space exploration and development program must be wide awake! It must be strong, active and fully capable of taking direct global action to keep the program in line and weed out those groups that seek to break away from or break down the international program.  I see UNOOSA as being the root source for this, but in a vastly improved and very active configuration backed by ALL member nations.  The absence of this latter requirement is one of the most crippling factors that weakens the current United Nations.  That must change.

So, here we are, tons of exciting and challenging opportunities for the sciences, for private industry, and for the citizens of planet Earth.  As I have said before, this is an evolutionary threshold.  We must cross it or dwindle away into yet another lost civilization of the universe. If we cross it, my conflictions, and possibly yours will fade from both mind and heart.  Come on, lets get started.

The time has come…

You may have seen my tweets about it: this week I volunteered for the upcoming layoff from my job as a space shuttle technician. I will be leaving after 8.5 years of service on October 1st. Since many of you would give your right arm to work on the shuttle program, you probably think I’m crazy to volunteer for this. Leaving the shuttle program is a tough decision for sure, but it really isn’t a matter of if, only when. I am not choosing to leave, I am just choosing the time it will happen. Ultimately, the vast majority of shuttle workers will be let go. So why go before I am forced? Here’s an explanation so you can see it from my perspective. 

One of the biggest reasons I am taking this layoff is that it will allow me to plan for my future. It is nearly impossible to make plans or look for a new job when you have no idea when your end date at work will be or what the future holds. We hear a different story every week about what is happening with the program, or with our benefits/severance. The uncertainty is exhausting. I’m not blaming my management for this- I think they are in the same boat. By volunteering for this layoff, I now know what is going to happen to me and when. Crazy as it seems, that feels good. Now I can start figuring out a good strategy to move forward. 

Along the same lines, morale was a big push for me to self-nominate for this layoff. You can’t imagine what it is like to be at work surrounded by constant doom and gloom, now with a dash of panic. It is not pretty. Once the people who are to be laid off involuntarily are notified- which will be at the end of July- I expect that it will be even worse. As far as the work goes, we are finishing up with Discovery’s right OMS Pod now, and will deliver it for reinstallation this week. After that I have a few thrusters to bench test for Atlantis, which is being processed for launch on need (in case of emergency). Once that is complete, the bulk of the work we will have left in my area is decontamination of our facility for shutdown, or Transition & Retirement as NASA likes to call it. I started working on the shuttle program because I wanted to contribute to something incredible, human space exploration. I don’t find decontamination and shutdown very inspirational. In fact, it is downright depressing. For many workers, it is just a job and they don’t care what goal they’re working towards as long as they are paid. To me, it makes a difference, and I would much rather try to find work I can feel good about again. 

Other reasons for taking this layoff are more practical than emotional. Leaving early gives me a better chance of finding a new job or pursuing other options because the market won’t be flooded with thousands of others doing the same. Also, it makes sense for my particular situation, because my husband Andy (@apacheman) works on the shuttle program as well. He will have work to do up until the last launch because he works at the launch pad. We figure that it will be best for us to take a phased approach rather than both being laid off at the same time. This way, hopefully I can get something figured out and can carry him once his job is complete, sometime next year. 

So, that’s basically it. I hope this helps you understand why I am volunteering for this layoff, and I hope you can be supportive of my choice. I don’t want sympathy; I’m not feeling sorry for myself and you shouldn’t either! I am looking for my next great adventure, whatever it may be. I’m working on some things, and really hope to bring one of my ideas to life. If you haven’t seen my tweets about it already, Project Mercury Rising is something that I feel could be an amazing way to inspire and educate youth about space exploration. I’d really love to see it happen and I’m working on it. Also, I have created a personal website/portfolio to promote myself to anyone who may be looking for someone with my skills/talents. It can’t hurt, right?

Ultralight Spaceflight: NOAA APT

This week @ULSF we have a cool NOAA APT catch by Alex @Csete.

North Pole from NOAA-18

This image from the North Pole was captured from Denmark.

NOAA-18 tracking over the North Pole via GPredict

This video shows the tracking sequence as illustrated by Alex’s GPredict software.

 “I used GNU Radio and the USRP to receive and Gpredict … to predict the AOS/LOS times and to know where to point the [hand held] antenna during the pass.  What I did was to record the received spectrum (250kHz as seen on the video from last week) in raw format. This data is pretty much a digital representation of what was on the air at that time at 137.x MHz +/- 125 kHz (At 137 MHz the Doppler shift will be less than +/- 5 kHz). The recorded data is about 1.7 GBytes for a 15 minute pass.

“After the pass, I replayed the recorded spectrum and ran it through the channel filter, FM demodulator, audio recorder and image decoder.   It still feels like listening live the only difference being the signals don’t come from the antenna but from a recorded file. It has the advantage that I can always restart if I make a mistake during decoding and it is also very useful for experimenting with the receiver chain.

“The idea with the DX was to try to receive signals when the sat is still far away (low  elevation). Due to the FAX-like transmission, the image is transmitted line by line and the  satellite always transmits what is right below it (sub satellite point/line). It’s like a camera always pointing down to Earth and only capturing one line at a time.   So, the lower the elevation angle, the farther away will the transmitted image come from. Obviously, there is a limit to how far away this can be because the satellites are in a low Earth orbit (between 800-900 km).

“Receiving while the satellite is still at low elevations can be very easy if there is clear line of sight or very difficult if there are trees in the way. I got mixed results this weekend:
The best accomplishment is probably the one from the North pole, though it’s rather noisy and difficult to recognize.”

It’s Gonna Be A MISS!

Don’t worry this is not a birth announcement. Well, actually it could be! MISS in this presentation stands for Mars International Space Station. That’s right a good focus point for our future exploration of our solar system is the creation of orbiting space stations that provide both observation and launch points for the study of our planetary neighbors.

MISS would be constructed in the same manner as the present ISS orbiting Earth. Like the ISS, MISS would be built in a LEO environment with the needed propulsion units to eventually move it on its way to Mars. Right, it would not be a high speed rocket trip to Mars, but as a moving space laboratory it would be gathering a host of new data enroute.

Well, forget it right? We just shelved the shuttle  So we take that glorious design and expand upon it and create a super shuttle that gives us the load capacity to carry the required components for MISS. We are planning on building a new HLV  anyway, so lets make it an HLV that will put a super shuttle in LEO.  

MISS will be bigger and provide for eventual lander missions to Mars, and because of the extreme distances the duty time of its international team will be longer. This is a challenge and the data we have from the ISS will help, but because of increased solar radiation hazards MISS will be of a heftier design. MISS, however, is expected to still chug along at a speed that will put her in orbit around Mars in just under 5 months or less.

What about crew exchange and emergency relief? Well we have several designs already on the books, we just need to update and develop propulsion systems that will move the crew modules at top speed back and forth to the MISS.  The same HLV that puts up the super shuttle will move the “Orion” style crew vehicle in LEO where its own VASIMR type propulsion system take over. I use VASIMR as an example, it could be any other variation of these new innovative propulsion systems. Fusion engines would be ideal, but we should not delay MISS while waiting for that eventuality. 

By the way, the crew modules remain in space. When they return to LEO they are met by the super shuttle. The returning crew transfers to the shuttle for the trip down to Earth. Repairs or upgrades to the crew modules are done in orbit.

Hopefully, you have noted that the real innovation with MISS is really already proven and that is “in-orbit” construction.  We need to expand on this and MISS is the ideal opportunity.  MISS construction will underscore the ISS success and lay the groundwork for the future construction of all DSV’s (Deep Space Vehicles). Additionally, it takes the incredible performance history and functionality of the shuttle and puts it back in its rightful place as a major and critical factor in all future space exploration efforts. We should remember that aerodynamic sleekness is needed only when we need to enter, re-enter or exit planetary environments. DSV’s and MISS type spacecraft do not need this. Only modules that will be deployed as landers may need these design qualities.

One major mission in all of this is the clearing away of space junk. If we are going to do in orbit construction we need to sharply reduce the mass of orbiting debris in order to keep the area impact safe. Not to degrade the super shuttle, but it could easily become the space junk interceptor.  A fairly undramatic task and critically dangerous, but we already know how dedicated and courageous our astronauts are. So we get on with it.

Politics can’t be shoved aside so we must advocate for this program. Up to now, we have been somewhat slack in this regard. Well lets not miss out on MISS.  It will truly “be a giant leap for all humankind”

Ultralight Spaceflight: Happy Fourth of July USA!

This week @ULSF we’ll meet the original, broad definition of “ULSF” as looking out at the world more than looking into our own group.  Following from @ULSF we see @Odyssey_Moon wishing everyone in the US a Happy Fourth.  @ClydeSpace sees young James Tiberius coming up through the classic apprenticeship.  And @AstroTek shares @MilesOBrien always loves a good lander flight test.  @NASA_Wallops wishes us a safe Independence Day with a historical note that on this day in 1945 they launched the first Tiamat research rocket.  As always, @AronSora is tweeting a universe of space ideas.

NOAA 18 northbound 59W at 04 Jul 2010 12:38:15 GMT on 137.10MHz, MCIR enhancement, Normal projection, Channel A: 1 (visible), Channel B: 4 (thermal infrared)

Alex @Csete has been pointing Gnu Radio + the USRP at NOAA satellites this week, great articles at OZ9AEC.

Lockheed XFV-1

For my own part, I’m still working on this
and learning OpenGL — instruments of study and work.  I’m happy to be gaining traction with OpenGL and making some (albeit minor) progress on the space
plane design study project
that all of this effort is primarily
pointed at.  This week I opened “elme”, electro-mechanical simulation
software project with “Prop”.  This is (the beginning of)
a variable pitch propeller using a helicopter style control plane for
vectored thrust.  A pair of these counter rotating will be used for atmospheric flight control, but reminds me of a very similar configuration used for thrust in the
Lockheed XFV-1 project.  My grandfather worked on the propeller pitch control gear set for this project.  Makes me  warm and fuzzy to find a variable pitch propeller in the position of a favored solution.