Introducing the Multiple Kill Vehicle (a.k.a. The Scariest Thing I’ve Seen All Day)

The MKV in an unnervingly steady hover (MDA)

The MKV in an unnervingly steady hover (MDA)

The ominously named Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) is the next advanced robotic weapon that could be deployed in space to defend against multiple incoming missiles. Designed and built by the US Missile Defence Agency, this little hovering craft will carry multiple anti-missile warheads to see off several threats.

To be honest, I didn’t write this post for the sake of showing off this robotic military tool, I actually think this is an interesting development for small, autonomous spacecraft. Also, when I watched the video of the test flight of the MKV, I had a wave of fear come over me. It may be small, but I sure wouldn’t like to bump into it during a dark orbit
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A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse of the XCOR Press Conference

The faces of the New Space Game: XCOR press conference, Dec. 2nd (© Space Lifestyle Magazine/Angela Kyle/Ian O'Neill)

The faces of the New Space Game: XCOR press conference, Dec. 2nd (© Space Lifestyle Magazine/Angela Kyle/Ian O'Neill)

In my second assignment for Space Lifestyle Magazine, I was sent to the plush Beverly Hilton (in Beverly Hills, CA) to sit in on a grand announcement by XCOR Aerospace. Having seen the operations behind another space commercialization company (SpaceX) I was keen to see how the two companies differed. Firstly, comparing XCOR with SpaceX would be like comparing apples with pears; they belong to the same family (i.e. fruit), but they taste entirely different.

For starters, SpaceX is focused on launching payloads into orbit. XCOR is a space tourism venture (with it’s closest competitor being Virgin Galactic). They do however, have some common ground: both build their own rockets and both have a very enthusiastic outlook for this emerging industry.

Tuesday was XCOR’s day, so my wife Debra, colleague Angela Kyle and myself were all treated to a great meeting in the Beverly Hilton (a location more commonly associated with Hollywood stars than spaceships) where XCOR communicated their vision to the world…
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The Cancer Spreads: Mars Science Laboratory Delayed Until 2011

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) project is failing. But it is not suffering from technical failure en-route to the Red Planet, it hasn’t gotten itself stuck in a Martian sand-trap, it hasn’t even fallen foul of the “Galactic Ghoul”; the MSL is suffering from an overlooked space exploration hazard: bad management. According to today’s (not unexpected) NASA announcement, the MSL will not be launched until 2011.

I had a very bad feeling about today’s press conference, and it looks like my fears were justified. Due to technical difficulties, the launch of the MSL is being delayed by two years, as the overrun will ensure the mission misses the next Mars launch window. So I have to ask: why is an over-budget, behind schedule, poorly managed mission being allowed to sap the budgets of other NASA programs when the solution is so obvious?
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Interview with World of Weird Things: Colonizing Space, at a Profit

A manned outpost, could be a reality if the business opportunities are there.

A manned outpost, could be a reality if the business opportunities are there.

This morning I had a thought-provoking interview with Greg Fish, owner and writer for the superb website World of Weird Things. Greg wanted to get my insight to the world of commercial spaceflight and future colonization of other worlds, writing up a brilliant article called Colonizing Space, At A Profit based on my interview.

We examined the benefits mankind can reap from the exploration of space, but the responsibility of doing so is not exclusive to NASA or any other government-funded agency. The future of spaceflight rests in the hands of entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and primarily, businessmen. Manned exploration of the Moon, Mars and the asteroid belt could open a new frontier of mineral exploitation, in turn opening a new era for mankind. It may be our best hope in the long-run to survive as a race.

We could be on the verge of a Solar System-wide “gold rush”, it just depends who will be the first to have the vision for such an endeavour.

If you were the company to build the first colony on Mars, the planet is all yours for the taking,” – quote from Colonizing Space, At A Profit, on World of Weird Things

Thank you Greg for wanting to speak with me, and for preparing a very inspiring interview! Be sure to check out World of Weird Things, there are some very interesting articles and essays, delving into a huge array of topics, each written with a high degree of thought and intellect. A firm favourite on my reading list.

Sci-Fi Space Robots: Top Five

Update (Nov 18th): OK, it looks like this article just hit the front page of Digg. Whilst cool, I’ve made a very quick deduction that people from Digg must not read the text of an article before commenting. Please read the opening paragraph before shouting “OMFG! This guy should really understand what sci-fi means!.” Perhaps the title could be improved (read: “Top 5 Space Robots that Look Like Science Fiction“), but I think all this can be remedied by simply reading the text and not just looking at the pictures. Thanks!

I love science fiction, I always have. In fact, it was the main motivational factor for me to begin to study science in the early 90′s. Although sci-fi is outlandish, futuristic and seemingly impossible, there is actually a high degree of science fact behind the TV shows, movies and video games. So when I was young, sci-fi fuelled my enthusiasm for physics; more specifically, astrophysics.

Many years after these first forays into trying to understand how the Universe really worked, I now find myself drawn to real space missions doing real science only to find the divide between sci-fi and sci-fact is getting smaller and smaller. However, to ignite the imagination and build an enthusiasm for the “futuristic” science being carried out right now, it helps if the robotic embodiment of the satellite, rover, probe or lander looks futuristic itself (possibly even a bit “sci-fi”). This way we not only do great science, but we ignite the imaginations of men, women and children who would have otherwise ignored the science behind space exploration.

So, here are my top five missions to ignite the imagination, past and future…
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Alien Worlds: Extrasolar Planets Imaged for First Time

The day has finally come. We now have direct, infrared and optical observations of planets orbiting other stars. Yesterday, reports from two independent sources surfaced, one from the Gemini and Keck II observatories and the second from the Hubble Space Telescope. Brace yourself for an awe-inspiring display of planets orbiting two stars…
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Space Lifestyle Magazine #5, Fall Edition: SpaceX Article

The Fall Edition of Space Lifestyle Magazine has just been issued. For my first article in the electronic magazine, I took a trip to the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) headquarters in Hawthorn, near LA to have a tour around the site. With a special thanks to Diane Murphy, SpaceX Vice-President of Marketing and Communications, I fulfilled every space geek’s dream to see Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets being built, plus being within touching distance of the Dragon module (to undergo space tests in 2009). For me, the most significant moment was to see one of SpaceX’s complete Merlin-1C engines sitting on the rocket workshop floor, an amazing piece of engineering.

In this quarter’s edition of SLM, my Universe Today colleague Nancy Atkinson (Editor-in-Chief of the magazine), takes an in-depth look into the space policies of both Presidential Candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain (although we now know how that turned out!), and my SLM co-writer Katie Kline gives a rundown of what’s new and exciting in the world of space travel. It is an inspiring magazine with lots more articles and columns throughout its 70 pages…

Space Lifestyle Magazine is a free publication by New Forks Media, headed by Publisher David Bullock.

Target Australia: The EAS Re-Entry Location

The Early Ammonia Servicer re-entered 550 km south of Australia (Google Earth)

The Early Ammonia Servicer re-entered 550 km south of Australia (Google Earth)

It looks like the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) re-entered pretty close to Australia in the end. The US Space Command released the co-ordinates of 48° S 151° E as the most likely EAS re-entry fireball. This is only 550 km south of the southern-most region of Australia, Tasmania. An eagle-eyed reader of the Universe Today also noted that the original location of re-entry being in the Indian Ocean was incorrect. As the Indian Ocean is separated from the Pacific Ocean at the 147° meridian, the 151° longitude is obviously well within the South Pacific.

All articles now corrected. At least the EAS didn’t drop into Sydney harbour… now that might have caused a “diplomatic incident”.

EAS Space Junk is Toast, Re-Entry Over Pacific Ocean Likely

The EAS burning up during re-entry as I'd imagine it. Credit: NASA (Earth cloud backdrop). Rendering of EAS re-entry: Ian O'Neill

It looks like the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) that has been orbiting Earth for the past 15 months had a fight with the Earth’s atmosphere… and lost. Due to re-enter at some time today (Sunday), an eagle-eyed amateur astronomer noted when the EAS was due to make an orbital pass… but the ammonia-filled space station cast-off missed its November 2nd appointment.

Thomas Dorman of Horizon City, Texas, observed the object fly overhead on November 1st. Dorman was using a low-light camera to attempt to spot the speeding debris earlier today, “but the EAS did not appear,” he said. “I think it is safe to assume EAS has reentered.”

It is most likely that the EAS disintegrated and any surviving bits either fell into an ocean (somewhere) or dropped harmlessly in a sparsely populated region. No reports of a fireball or half a refrigerator randomly dropping into someone’s back yard have surfaced, so my money is on NASA’s reckoning that the EAS would fall harmlessly into water.

Update (Nov. 3rd):
News from SpaceWeather.com as to the location of re-entry:

US Space Command reports that the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) probably reentered Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 3rd at 04:51:00 GMT +/- 1 minute over the following coordinates: 48° S, 151° E. That would place the fireball over the Indian Ocean [Pacific Ocean] south of Tasmania where sightings are unlikely.

Update (Nov. 4th):
Refer to Target Australia: The EAS Splashdown Location

Aside: As it’s Sunday and I’ve not been writing much, I decided to have a dabble with Photoshop and create a quick visualization of what the EAS may look like as it’s falling through the atmosphere (above). I used NASA images for the Earth atmosphere backdrop and the original 2007 space station image of the EAS tumbling in space

Source: SpaceWeather.com

Watch Your Heads! Space Station Junk to Hit Earth Today

Somewhere, sometime today, the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) will drop to Earth at 100 mph.

The EAS as photographed by the ISS crew in 2007 (NASA)

The EAS as photographed by the ISS crew in 2007 (NASA)

A huge piece of space junk discarded from the space station in 2007 will drop through the atmosphere some time today (Sunday). The Early Ammonia Servicer, otherwise known as the EAS, was detached from the orbiting outpost as its services were no longer required. The double-refrigerator-sized piece of equipment weighs 635 kg (1400 lb) and is filled with toxic ammonia. Although NASA believes most of its mass will disintegrate during re-entry, there’s a real chance of up to 15 pieces of the EAS reaching the ground, the largest piece could weigh up to 17.5 kg (40 lb).

But here’s the funny thing, as the EAS is currently skirting along the outermost reaches of the atmosphere, we are uncertain as to when, or where, the re-entry will take place. NASA and U.S. Space Surveillance Network scientists have done well to narrow the re-entry window down to one day. Fortunately, 70% of the planet is covered in water, so we should be fine. But should any parts of the EAS find solid ground, NASA has warned that we shouldn’t approach any suspicious-looking (and probably steaming) bits of meteorite in case the EAS still has some ammonia on board…
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