Space Sunday: Juno, Orion and getting to Mars

An artist's impression of Juno orbiting Jupiter (Nasa JPL)

An artist’s impression of Juno orbiting Jupiter (Nasa JPL)

Juno is the name of the NASA deep space vehicle due to rendezvous with Jupiter in July 2016. Launched August 5th, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the mission is designed to study Jupiter’s composition, gravity field, magnetic field, and polar magnetosphere, as well as seeking evidence and clues on how the planet formed, including whether it has a solid core, the amount of water present within the deep atmosphere, how its mass is distributed, and its deep winds, which can reach speeds of 618 kilometres per hour (384 mph).

Unlike most vehicles designed to operate beyond the orbit of Mars, which tend to utilise radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) to produce their electrical power, Juno uses three massive solar arrays, the largest ever deployed on a planetary probe, which play an integral role in stabilising the spacecraft.

On arrival at Jupiter on July 4th, 2016, Juno will enter a 14-day polar orbit around the planet, where it will remain through the duration of the mission, which should last until February 2018, when the vehicle, fuel for its manoeuvring systems almost depleted, will be commanded to perform a de-orbit manoeuvre and burn-up in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere.

Juno's journey

Juno’s journey (image: NASA)

Currently travelling at some 25 kilometres per second relative to the Earth and 7.6 kilometres per second relative to the Sun, Juno has used a 5-year gravity assist mission to reach its destination.

The first part of this saw the craft launched into an extended orbit about Earth which carried it beyond the orbit of Mars (2012), before swinging back to make a close flyby of Earth in 2013 which both used Earth’s gravity well to accelerate the craft and as a “slingshot” to curve it onto a trajectory that would carry it to Jupiter.

By the time Juno enters orbit around Jupiter, it will have travelled some 2.8 billion kilometres (1.74 billion miles, or 18.7 AU).

Juno’s planned polar orbit is highly elliptical and takes it to within 4,300 kilometres (2,672 mi) of either pole at its closest approach to the planet, while at its furthest point from Jupiter, it will be beyond the orbit of Callisto, hence the 14–day orbital period. This extreme orbit allows Juno to avoid any long-term contact with Jupiter’s powerful radiation belts, which might otherwise cause significant damage to the vehicle’s solar power arrays and electronics. Overall, Juno will receive much lower levels of radiation exposure than the Galileo mission. But even allowing for this, there is no guarantee the exposed science instruments on the vehicle will last the full duration of the mission. Scientists and engineers are hoping the JunoCam and Jovian Infra-red Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), will last at least eight of the mission’s 37 orbits of Juptier, and that the microwave radiometer will survive for at least eleven orbits.On Wednesday February 3rd, 2016, the vehicle completed the first of two final manoeuvres designed to correctly align it with its intended point of orbital insertion around Jupiter. The second such manoeuvre will take just before Juno is due to arrive at Jupiter.   The spacecraft’s name comes from Greco-Roman mythology. The god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, but his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and see Jupiter’s true nature – just as it is hoped the mission will probe deep into the planet’s atmosphere and reveal its true nature and origins.

Orion at Kennedy Space Centre

Now set for launch in September 2018 on a circumlunar mission lasting 20 days, the second Orion space vehicle arrived at Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016. The vehicle, sans its outer skin and massing 1.22 tonnes, arrived from NASA’s assembly facility iin Louisiana by air aboard the agency’s “Super Guppy” transporter, which has been transporting space vehicle components since the Apollo era.

Further construction activities and a variety of tests will be performed at KSC and NASA’s Glenn Research Centre in Ohio to prepare the craft for its mission, officially titled Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1). This will see the uncrewed Orion launched for the first time with and operational, European-built Service Module atop its dedicated Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

A European Orion Service Module having the launch payload fairings attached to it. The Orion vehicle is attached to the circular part of the Service module visible at the top. This was a structure flight test article used in Orion's first test flight in December 2014 (image: Airbus / ESA)

A European Orion Service Module having the launch payload fairings attached to it. The Orion vehicle is attached to the circular part of the Service module visible at the top. This was a structure flight test article used in Orion’s first test flight in December 2014 (image: ESA / NASA)

“This mission is pretty exciting to us,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion production manager, said as the capsule arrived at KSC. “It is the first time we will have the operational human-rated version of Orion on top of the SLS rocket. It’s a lot of work, but a very exciting time for us.”

The flight will see the Orion system launched into Earth orbit, where a purpose-built upper stage propulsion unit will power the craft onto a flight towards the Moon.

Orion will use the relatively low lunar gravity to both accelerate it and throw it into an elliptical orbit, carrying it a further 70,000 kilometres beyond the Moon – almost half a million kilometres (312,500 miles) from Earth – further than any space vehicle designed to carry humans has yet flown.

Following this, the vehicle will swing back towards Earth, passing the Moon once more before the Command Module separates from the Service Module to make a controlled entry into Earth’s atmosphere and a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The flight will be a comprehensive test of the European-built Service Module, which is vital for providing power and propulsion to the Orion capsule, and which is being built using  the expertise Europe gained in building and operating the Automated Transfer Vehicle, which remains the largest ISS resupply vehicle so far used in space.  The Service Module includes four post-launch deployable solar panels for electrical power, and provides power, heat rejection, the in-space propulsion capability for orbital transfer, attitude control and high-altitude ascent aborts. It also houses water, oxygen and nitrogen for deep space missions.

Like the Apollo Command and Service modules vehicles, the Orion capsule sits on top of the Service Module at launch, covered by the launch abort system shroud, the service Module protected by special payload fairings and mated to the SLS upper stage propulsion unit. The launch abort system and the fairings are jettisoned once the Orion has reached low Earth obit and has separated from the rest of the SLS booster. The Service Module solar panels are then deployed, and the upper stage of the booster re-fires, sending Orion on its way.

The 2018 mission will be followed in 2023 by a similar flight, this time carrying a crew of four further into space than any humans have ever previously been. Together, Orion and the SLS are intended to be the backbone of America’s return to the moon and for human missions to Mars.

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Project Bento User Group update 4 with audio

Project Bento extends the avatar skeleton, adding a significant set of bones (e.g. 30 for the face, 30 for the hands Project Bento - extending the SL avatar skeleton

Project Bento extends the avatar skeleton, adding a significant set of bones to the existing skeleton (avatar by Matrice Laville)

The following notes and audio were taken from the weekly Bento User Group meeting, held on Thursday, February 4th at 13:00 SLT on Aditi.  For details on each meeting and the location, please refer to the Bento User Group wiki page.

Bent Bones Survey

The Bento bones survey is now closed. Vir presented an overview of the results during the meeting and subsequently published the results on the Bento forum thread. Some 54 responses were received, which he has been analysing.

Additional Bone Groups

In terms of the questions on the 7 proposed joints or sets of joints, no clear winner emerged, with the average ranking for the seven coming between 3.18 and 4.32 (lower being better). Additional wing bones fairing the poorest of all, with additional facial bones and / or additional ear bones fairing the best.

Since the survey results were published, Gaia Clary has pointed out that it did not include the proposal for a group of three additional bones for the centre lip and forehead, which have been viewed as being important for natural facial expressions such as decent smiles. The exclusion might explain why one of the proposals was effectively listed twice in the survey (options 1 and 3). There’s currently no indication as to how group indicated by Gaia might now be considered.

Gaia Clary indicated the bone survey missed a proposal for 3 additional forehead / lip bones to allow more natural expressions, the inclusion of which would also allow for better automatic weighting of the lips (the pictures above, as Gaia notes, use the default avatar head)

Gaia Clary indicated the bone survey missed a proposal for 3 additional forehead / lip bones to allow more natural expressions, the inclusion of which would also allow for better automatic weighting of the lips (the pictures above, as Gaia notes, use the default avatar head)

Written Feedback

The open questions asking for written feedback did produce a clear winner: more tails / limbs or more tail joints, with most of the respondents to the questions (18 and 14 respectively) citing a desire to support hexapods, centaurs, or other multi-limbed creatures.

The requests for additional tail  / limb bones saw Vir ask for further feedback on matters to make sure he was grasping the reasons for the requests correctly – notably that people would be using bone translations for the additional limbs, allowing the spine to act as an initial anchor point for the bones, which then could be translated into their preferred positions.

Wing Roots, Pelvis Bones and Options

A contributing factor for wing root bones not proving popular is because they were originally included to compensate for the fact that Bento initially didn’t support bone translation, only rotation; thus additional bones were required to assist with achieve more natural wing, etc., movement. Now that bone translation is considered part of Bento, the need for multiple extra wing root bones is removed, with the result that some could be replaced by more meaningful bones used elsewhere.

A set of bones which came in for particular discussion were extra pelvic bones, with Vir asking for clarification on the benefits would be in having them. My apologies for the extract from this part of the meeting, a mis-click on my part meant that part of the conversation in which Teager explained how it would allow for easier compatibility with existing animations so that, for example a centaur might be able to make use of existing upper body animations for arm / head movements wasn’t cleanly recorded and so is not a part of the extract.

Bone Constraints

When  discussing working with initial versions of the Bento skeleton and developing the Avastar face rig to help in producing facial animations in early January, Gaia Clary raised the subject of utilising bone constraints as a means of adding a further level of control for bone movement within the avatar.

This would allow root bones to effectively be paired such that the movement of one is controlled / constrained by the movement of another (see this comment from Television as well).  This is a common approach to animation, and greatly eases the animation process, and if completely followed through, could add enormous flexibility in what could be done with the avatar skeleton, as Gaia notes:

If constraints can be implemented in general, then this concept could be generalized to work for all limbs, then users can for example constrain the root bones of the legs, arms, wings and tail to mSpine and create a 7 legged creature that can be animated without adding odd rules to the animation.

Thinking even further, if location constraints were allowed, then this idea allows to constrain any limb to any bone. Wings could then be constrained to eye brows for antennas, tail(s) could be constrained to chest for 4 winged creatures, etc.

The problem here is how to implement such a system of constraints within Second Life. While there are animation programmes and system which do allow for constraining bone movement, it’s not clear if they all utilised a standardise approach, or whether then could be easily replicated within Second Life, or what the overhead involved would be in trying to develop the means for the platform to support bone constraints.

Given this, and while the ideally has not been ruled out for future evaluation, adding such a capability at this put in time for Bento has been seen as being out-of-scope for this phase of the project.

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Tea Time murders, divine hags, mermaids and castaways

It’s time to kick-off a week of story-telling in voice, brought to our virtual lives by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, February 7th: Crazy Eights Tea Time at Baker Street

Crazy Eights: the lounge at 221B Baker Street stands ready to receive guests

Crazy Eights: the lounge at 221B Baker Street stands ready to receive guests for readings of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, every Sunday commencing on February 7th

Sherlock Holmes is dead, killed when he plunged from a ledge atop the Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, whilst locked in physical combat with his arch nemesis, James Moriarty. There is simply no way either man could have survived the drop, and so Sherlock Holmes is dead.

Or is he?

Holmes-returnThree years after this fateful event, long-time friend of Holmes, Doctor John Watson, now returned to practising medicine, attends the murder of a young gambler, the Honourable Ronald Adair. Apparently shot at close range with a revolver, Adair’s room was locked from the inside with the only other exit being a 20-foot drop out of an open window to the street below; not an easy escape route for a murderer.

While visiting the crime scene, Watson encounters an old book collector, and is perplexed when the book collector follows him back to his Kensington Practice – until the old man removes his disguise and proves himself to be Sherlock Holmes!

Thus, Watson is reunited with Holmes and learns some of what has transpired in the three years since the events in Switzerland. He also learns that Holmes is still in danger and has baited a trap in which  he hopes to catch one of Moriarty’s henchmen, who, as it transpires, is also responsible for the murder of Ronald Adair.

Join Caledonia Skytower, Corwyn Allen, Kayden OConnell ain the living room of 221B Baker Street on Seanchai’s Crazy Eights installation, as the commence reading the collected adventures of Holmes and Watson, first published in the Stand Magazine in 1903-04, and gathered into the single volume, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1905.

Monday February 8th 19:00: Peter Robinson

Gyro Muggins continues with a tale from the universe of Larry Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars.

Man Kzin XThe Kzinti, are a warlike race Niven first introduced to the world in his 1966 story The Warriors. They permeated many of his stories set in the Known Space series, and well as appearing in his Nebula and Hugo award-winning Ringworld. In his stories, Niven references a series of conflicts between Kzinti and humans, but did not write about the wars himself. Such was the demand for more information on the wars, however, he allowed the Man-Kzin wars to become a shared universe series, with the majority of the stories written by other science-fiction authors such as Hal Codebatch, Poul Anderson, Dean Ing, Jerry Pournelle, S.M. Stirling, Greg Bear and others.

Peter Robinson is a short story written by Australian author Hal Colebatch, and forms one of 18 stories he has written for the series. It first appears in Man Kzin X: The Wunder War, and is one of four stories, all by Codebatch, which make up the volume.

In it, an expedition by the Institute of Knowledge on Jinx, funded by the Puppeteers sets of to explore a recently detected slaver stasis box, an artefact of the ancient Thrintun (Slaver) Empire. Arriving at their target, the team of mixed races, including human and Kzinti, discover that it is nine miles in diameter, the largest box ever discovered.

Tuesday February 9th: The Cailleach Returns

In Irish and Scottish mythology, the Cailleach is a divine hag, and regarded as a creatrix. In Scotland, for example, she is credited with making many mountains and high hills, and is also regarded as the mother of all the gods and goddesses. She’s also said to be the personification of winter.

Find out more by joining Aoife Lorefield at Seanchai Library.

Wednesday February 10th 19:00: Pearl

PearlFaerie Maven-Pralou continue her reading of the first book in Lisa Pinkham’s the Doll Collection series.

Everything changes for Addy on her 12th birthday, when she receives a mysterious gift of a collection of dolls and an opal necklace imbued with magical powers.

Soon, Addy finds herself transported to a beach where she meets a mermaid, Pearl, and where she can swim with and talk to underwater fairies and enjoy the company of min-reading dolphins.

But all is not as safe as it seems; when Pearl vanishes and Addy’s magic necklace is stolen, Addy is left with no way home and without a friend – and she must confront the thief on her own, trusting that the magic which resides in her is enough to put things to rights.

Thursday, February 11th 19:00 On the Island

Shandon Loring and Caledonia Skytower, continue reading the February choice for Seanchai Library’s Crazy Eight’s Featured books reading, On The Island by Tracey Garvis Graves.

Anna Emerson, a 30-year-old English teacher accepts s position as private tutor to 17-year-old T.J. Callahan, a young man who has been undergoing treatment for cancer. For Anna, it is a plum assignment, requiring as it does travelling to the Callahan Family’s summer rental in the Maldives with the teenager. T.J., however, is less than happy; with his cancer in remission, he’d rather stay at home with friends, and not carted off half-way around the world with the dead weight of lessons to catch-up on.

The island area

Crazy Eights Featured Book area: join Shandon and Caledonia in tropical surroundings  as they continue reading On the Island

Before they can reach their destination however, the pilot of the charter plane taking them to the Maldives suffers a heart attack, the ‘plane ditching in the Indian Ocean. Making it to a deserted island well off the beaten track, Anna and T.J. must work together to survive as days turn to weeks, and weeks to months without sign of rescue. As the time passes, Anna realises that her biggest challenge may not be caring for T.J. should his cancer return – but the fact he is growing into a young man.

Note: On the Island is also to be presented at Seanchai InWorldz. Check Seanchai session posts during the week for specific grid locations).

Saturday, February 13th 13:00: Seanchai 101 Workshop at the Crazy Eights

So, you think you want to be a storyteller or story reader?  It’s as simple as picking up a book and opening it, isn’t it?  Maybe, and maybe not.  Join Caledonia Skytower  at the Storyteller’s Workshop, part of Seanchai Library’s Crazy Eights installation, for an hour of tips and tricks from her seven plus years as a virtual storyteller on how to bring words to life using only your voice and your love of the text.

Note that his workshop will require the use of SL voice by active participants. If you have not used voice before or in a while, you can check your microphone settings within the viewer at Voice Echo Canyon. Further information on the workshop can be found on Seanchai’s Crazy Eights web page.


Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The featured charity for January / February is Heifer International, working with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.

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Experience the Adirondacks in Second Life

Experience the Adirondacks; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Experience the Adirondacks (click any image for full size)

The new year has brought with it a new region design for Sera Bellic’s demonstration region for her Lick Sim Designs. The rural fields and rolling hills of Belleck House, redolent as they were of the Scottish lowlands or the countryside of Ireland, have now passed, and their place taken by another outdoor scene; one this time inspired by the North American continent.

Experience the Adirondacks offers visitors a taste of the Adirondack massif in the north-east of upstate New York in North America. This is a roughly circular dome of mountains whose formation owes much to ancient glaciation, and which shelters a range of wetlands as well as being home to the Adirondack Park.

Experience the Adirondacks; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Experience the Adirondacks

In Second Life, Sera offers a similar environment to  visitors: the region is surrounded by high mountains, some of them showing rounded tops and deep v-shaped flanks, suggestive of glaciers having helped carve them into being. Within their shelter, the region offers a gently sloping landscape with rocky outcrops to one end and wooded slopes leading down to a curving bay to the east. This, in turn, is protected north and south by long fingers of wooded headlands, the northern one providing access to the region’s single cabin, built out over the water.

This is a scene from the great outdoors, where physical activity can be the order of the day, and this latter point is immediately evidenced to visitors upon their arrival. The landing point sits on a large wooden platform sitting over the flooded floor of a sheer shaded crater-like hole, a waterfall plunging into it over the precipice to one side. Unless one resorts to cheating and the use of flight, the only way off the platform is by either a walk under the water or a swim across it with the aid of a “floatie”, rezzed by touching the blue sphere floating over the water.

Experience the Adirondacks; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Experience the Adirondacks

There are further watery activities to be found as you explore: swimming is available in the curving bay to the east, canoes can be obtained from various points and used to paddle around the region’s shoreline, while for the adventurous, a climb up to the plateau at the southern end of the region will reveal an opportunity for cliff diving – just be warned the water at the foot of the cliffs is a little shallow!

For those seeking something quieter, there are a number of seating and cuddle spots scattered about the region, including a very well-appointed tent for those who take their glamping comforts seriously :) .

Experience the Adirondacks; Inara Pey, February 2016, on Flickr Experience the Adirondacks

So if you’re looking for a brief break from the normal grind and fancy a little fresh, mountain air mixed with a little swimming or canoeing, why not Experience the Adirondacks for a while?

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