On Tuesday a satellite owned by the US company Iridium collided with an inoperative Russian satellite nearly 780 km above the Earth:
The risk to the International Space Station and a shuttle launch planned for later this month is said to be low.
The impact produced massive clouds of debris, and the magnitude of the crash is not expected to be clear for weeks.
There are thousands of man-made objects orbiting the earth, but this is thought to be the first time two intact spacecraft have hit each other, the BBC’s Andy Gallacher in Miami says.
Unfortunately as Earth orbit becomes more and more crowded (the number of orbiting objects larger than 10 cm reached 10, 000 in 2007 and is still increasing) it increases the risk of a cascade effect, where one collision results in a cloud of debris that go on to cause more collisions resulting in millions of tiny fragments resulting in a major and ongoing hazard to space exploration.
Given the risk of hindering future space exploration – is it worth pushing for an Earth orbit cleanup (and is such an idea even feasible)?
[from the BBC][image from Joe Hastings on flickr]
Physicist Friedwardt Winterberg has a new paper here on a possible fusion-powered spacecraft, with shades of Project Orion and Project Daedalus:
Large scale manned space flight within the solar system is still confronted with the solution of two problems: 1. A propulsion system to transport large payloads with short transit times between different planetary orbits. 2. A cost effective lifting of large payloads into earth orbit.
For the solution of the first problem a deuterium fusion bomb propulsion system is proposed where a thermonuclear detonation wave is ignited in a small cylindrical assembly of deuterium with a gigavolt-multimegampere proton beam, drawn from the magnetically insulated spacecraft acting in the ultrahigh vacuum of space as a gigavolt capacitor.
For the solution of the second problem, the ignition is done by argon ion lasers driven by high explosives, with the lasers destroyed in the fusion explosion and becoming part of the exhaust.
The key point is that it’s designed without $MAGIC_FAIRY_DUST technology and is intended to be feasible from a purely engineering standpoint.
[via Slashdot][image from SantaRosa OLD SKOOL on flickr]
Eric Drexler writes about the beautiful Gravity and Steady State Ocean Explorer on his blog:
I’m glad to see that someone finally found an excuse to launch a streamlined spacecraft that will cruise above Earth, steadily firing its engines to keep it moving. (Aristotelian physicists take note.) The European Space Agency will soon launch this sleek piece of hardware on a mission of gravity measurement with unprecedented accuracy: The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) will carry accelerometers able to sense accelerations as little as 10–13 of what we tolerate on Earth.
Apparently because GOCE will orbit much lower than usual it needs to be streamlined to cope with the thin upper atmosphere and generate thrust to keep itself aloft.
Anyway it’s a very pretty piece of kit: surely the MacBook Air of spacecraft1.
[via Eric Drexler][image from ESA]
1: In that it’s solid-state and sleek.
Chalk one up for us Brits in the space tech column; boffins at the Rutherford Appleton Labs have developed a ‘mini-magnetosphere’ that could well protect astronauts in spacecraft from harmful solar radiation:
… their prototype offers almost total protection against high energy solar particles. By mimicking the natural protective environment of the Earth, the researchers have scaled the protective magnetic bubble down into an energy efficient, yet powerful deflector shield. This astounding achievement is a big step toward protecting sensitive electronics and the delicate human body against the radioactive effects of manned missions between the planets.
The best bit?
… they have devised a system no bigger than a large desk that uses the same energy as an electric kettle.
All of a sudden, space seems a lot more open to colonisation, and a pulp sf trope edges close to being a mundane sf reality. w00t! [via Paul McAuley]
Danish researchers at the Copenhagen Suborbitals project seek to launch a one-man rocket projectile into space, from their mission statement:
This is a privately funded suborbital space endeavor.
Our mission is to launch a human being into space.
We are currently developing a series of suborbital space vehicles – designed to pave the way for manned space flight on a micro size spacecraft.
Two rocket vehicles are under development. A small unmanned sounding rocket, named Hybrid Atmospheric Test Vehicle or HATV and a larger booster rocket named Hybrid Exo Atmospheric Transporter or HEAT, designed to carry a micro spacecraft into a suborbital trajectory in space.
What fun! The thought of riding into the sky inside a rocket!
Apparently the idea is for the astronaut to be situated in a standing position beneath the transparent, polymer-plexiglass nose-cap!
Their candour is to be saluted, as is the bravery of the prospective astronaut. I wonder if the project will ever come to fruition?
[via Boing Boing][image from the Copenhagen Suborbital website]