A balloon into space

The suited figure stood on the ledge of his capsule, surveying the gentle arc of the horizon.  The planet below was a patchwork of clouds, land and sea.  It was engulfed by the black void looming above.  He checked his tracking device and saw that the drop-tether was within a few hundred metres.  He saw the weighted end just above him and reached out with an extended grapple to draw it to him.  This was the most dangerous phase, if the line rippled above then it could whip out of his grasp and throw him out of the capsule.

Reaching with a free arm he pulled a rocked propelled line-runner from his capsule and attached it just above the weighted end.  He looked up and saw a ripple moving rapidly down the line towards him.  With haste he stepped on to the footplate at the base of the line-runner and pushed away from the capsule.  He hung for a few seconds, suspended between the planet and space.  He clipped himself securely on to the line-runner and flicked the switch to light the rocket.  The drop-line would take him all the way to the station in orbit above.

Felix Baumgartner has made an astonishing free-fall from the edge of space back to the surface of Earth.  He rode a Helium balloon 39km into the upper atmosphere and then fell to within a few kilometres of the surface before deploying his parachute.  Find out more at his webiste here: http://www2.felixbaumgartner.com/ and see the clips online at the Red Bull YouTube site here: http://www.youtube.com/user/redbull

James.

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Burning metal

The astronaut tugged at the lever but she couldn’t move it.  The servos that were built into the fabric of her space suit to help with heavy lifting had failed over ten minutes ago.  Rather than return to safety inside the craft she had chosen to stay outside and try to fix the parasol.  She knew that without the parasol she would only be safe inside the craft for an hour before the heat started to breach its integrity.  The blisters on the outside surfaces were already creeping towards her.  She looked up.  Her polarising visor was not enough to turn her attention away from the boiling surface of the Sun.  The slow moving eruptions played a mesmerising dance across her field of vision.  Each cell of heat and light growing before folding into its neighbouring cells.  An alarm sounded inside her helmet and she turned her attention back to the broken parasol deployment mechanism.

EAS, the European Space Agency, has selected Astrium to lead the build of a new Solar Orbiter.  It will pass closer to the Sun than Mercury and will contain a range of scientific equipment.  Its 3-year orbital insertion trip will see it use the gravitational wells of both the Earth and Mercury to adjust its trajectory.  It is scheduled to spend 7 years orbiting the Sun and will be launched in 2017.  See a press release here: http://www.astrium.eads.net/node.php?articleid=8611 See a video here: http://videos-en.astrium.eads.net/#/video/36f387af2e2s  Visit the mission page here: http://sci.esa.int/solarorbiter

James.

Riding the fury of Dione

He flicked closed the filter on his helmet, unbound the tether that was holding him to the spacecraft and pushed off.  It took several hours before the moon below started to grow in size.  He spent the time checking his equipment, listening to an eclectic mix of music on his helmet media system.  As the surface of the moon rushed towards him he started to feel the thrill – maybe he had miscalculated – he no longer had enough fuel left to halt his drop to the surface. Then he felt the turbulance and looked down.  He saw a white-out.  The ice volcano below had started to erupt.  With a whoop he unclipped the board on his back, attached it securely to his boots and prepared to ride the Dione eruption back into orbit.

Dr Bonnie Buratti, of NASA JPL, has announced that the surface of Dione, an ice moon of Saturn, has features that suggest it is still undergoing geological activity.  Banding and areas with a low level of impact crater disturbance point towards geological activity similar to sister moon Enceladus.  See a news article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17440136  Visit the NASA Cassini mission here: www.nasa.gov/cassini

James.

The dance of the satellites

The surveillance craft turned as it continued its silent orbit of the Moon.  Its sensors focussed on the surface, ready to track any movement below.  Following in its orbit, invisible to the sensors of the first spacecraft, a second angular shape slowly gained ground.  As it approached it readied a concentrated burst of electromagnetic energy.

NASA has announced that the twin GRAIL Moon satellites have started their science mission.  They will track the distance between the two craft as they pass over sections of the Moon that may be more or less dense.  This will give scientists data to model the internal structure of the Moon, and hence refine theories as to its origin and evolution.  Read the press release here:  http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/mar/HQ_12-070_GRAIL_Science_Begins.html

James.

Robots capture space station, eye the Moon

Robonaut 2 has come alive on the international space station.  Persuing its goal of claiming the moon for robot-kind it has made its first move.

Arriving on the space station in February, it initially kept a low profile, by remaining powered off.  But recently has been activated.  The other occupants of the space station seem unconcerned by its activation, and have engaged it in what the robot must consider to be play and games.

Robonaut 2 will demonstrate its prowess in space over the coming months and has already started to expand in to the sphere of social networking with a twitter account @AstroRobonaut and a Facebook account at http://www.facebook.com/NASArobonaut

Find out more about Robonaut 2 at Robonaut @ NASA

James.

Cleaning up space junk in Earth orbit

Every year Earth-orbit gets filled with more and more junk – obsolete and defunct satellites and rocket pods, and debris caused by collisions of exiting junk.  Hopefullly this latest attempt to start the clean up process will gain some traction.  Providing the funding for private enterprise to do the clean-up will also help to nurture space technology skills within the private sector.

Article here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14405118

James.

Private Space Race Heats up as Boeing Selects Atlas V Engine

I’m excited to see competition heating up in the provision of private orbital capabilities.  A healthy commercial market should open up new ways to exploit the technology and opportunity, such as tourism.  It will also allow national and international space agencies to start building the knowledge to tackle the bigger challenges of getting people back to the Moon and then out to the planets and beyond.

Details of Boeings latest move here: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/193171/20110805/spacex-boeing-private-space-race-nasa-atlas-v-rocket.htm

James