Space Sunday: of rockets, moons, carbon and telescopes

Moments before touchdown: the Blue Origin propulsion module, having lobbed a New Shephard capsule on a sub-orbital flight, powers its way to a historic landing so it can be refurbished and re-used
November 23rd, 2015: moments before touchdown: the Blue Origin propulsion module, having lobbed a New Shephard capsule on a sub-orbital flight, powers its way to a historic landing so it can be refurbished and re-used (image: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin, the private space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has become the first company to successfully launch a rocket into space – and return all elements of the vehicle to Earth for re-use.

The flight, carried out in West Texas, took place on Monday, November 23rd. It comprised the company’s New Shephard capsule, being flown in an uncrewed mode, and a single stage, recoverable booster is powered by an engine also developed by the company.

Unlike SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Space corporation, all of whom are directly pursuing rocket and space vehicle designs capable of orbital flight, Blue Origin is taking a more incremental approach, with efforts focused on the sub-orbital market “space tourism” market. The company is looking to build a cost-effective launch system capable of lifting small groups of paying passengers into space on ballistic “hops” which allow them to experience around 4-5 minutes of zero gravity before returning them to Earth.

The November 23rd flight saw the uncrewed New Shephard vehicle hoisted aloft by the booster system which reached a speed of Mach 3.72, sufficient for it to impart enough velocity to the capsule so that it could, following separation, continue upwards to an altitude of 100.5 kilometres (329,839 feet), before starting its descent back to the ground and parachuting to a safe landing.

April 25th: A camera aboard the propulsion module captures the rear of the New Shephard capsule moments after separation in the first test flight intended to recover both capsule and launcher - although the latter was in fact lost on that flight
April 25th: A camera aboard the propulsion module captures the rear of the New Shephard capsule moments after separation in the first test flight intended to recover both capsule and launcher – although the latter was in fact lost on that flight (image: Blue Origin)

Following capsule separation, however, the booster rocket Also made a control descent back to Earth, rather than being discarded and lost. The design of the booster – which Blue Origin call the “propulsion module” to differentiate to from a “simple” rocket – means it is semi-capable of aerodynamic free-fall, and won’t simply topple over and start tumbling back to Earth. At 6.5 kilometres (4 miles) above the ground, a set of eight drag brakes are deployed to slow the vehicle, with fins along the outside of the module allowing it to be steered. At 1.5 kilometres (just under 1 mile) above the landing pad, the unit’s motor reignites, further slowing it to a safe landing speed and allowing it to precisely manoeuvre itself onto the landing pad.

Highlights of the actual test flight, mixed with computer-generated scenes of the New Shephard capsule carrying a group of tourists on their sub-orbital hop was released by Blue Origin on November 25th.

One of the first to congratulate Blue Origin on their flight was Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX, which is also pursuing the goal of building a reusable rocket system, but had yet to achieve a successful recovery of the first stage of their Falcon 9 booster. However, as Musk pointed out, there are significant differences and challenges involved in bringing a sub-orbital launch back to Earth and a booster  which has to reach far higher velocities in order to lob a payload into orbit, as SpaceX is already doing.

Not that Blue Origin doesn’t have orbital aspirations; both the “propulsion module” and New Shephard are designed to be integrated into a larger launch vehicle capable of placing the capsule into orbit.  The November 23rd flight itself marks the second attempt to launch and recover both New Shepard and the propulsion module; in April 2015, the first attempt succeeded in recovering the capsule, but a failure in the drag brake hydraulic system on the propulsion module resulted in its loss.

Martian Moon Starting Slow Breakup?

A Mercator map of Phobos showing the compex system of groves and potential lines of fracture across the little moon. Some of these, notably those located close to it, are thought to be the result of the impact which created Stickney crater (left of centre in the map); however most of them seem to be the first indications that Phobos is starting to slowly break-up
A Mercator map of Phobos showing the complex system of groves and potential lines of fracture across the little moon. Some of these, notably those located close to it, are thought to be the result of the impact which created Stickney crater (left of centre in the map); however most of them seem to be the first indications that Phobos is starting to slowly break-up (image: US Geological Survey)

Mars has two natural moons, Deimos and Phobos. Neither are particularly large; Deimos is only 15 × 12.2 × 11 km in size, and orbits Mars once every 30 hours;  Phobos measures just 27 × 22 × 18 km, and orbits the planet once every 7 hours and 39 minutes. Both exhibit interesting properties, in that Deimos is slowly moving away from Mars, and may even break from Mars’ influence in a few hundred million years.

Phobos, however is doing the reverse; it is gradually closing in on Mars at a rate of about 2 metres (6.6 ft) every 100 years. This means that over time, it is being exposed to greater and greater gravitational forces as it approaches its Roche limit.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: of rockets, moons, carbon and telescopes”

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Stories long and short to entertain and delight

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous 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, November 29th, 14:00: Tea Time with Caledonia and Kayden

Caledonia Skytower and Kayden Oconnell share fun short stories and scenes to ease people over the holiday hump between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Monday November 30th, 19:00: Murder Will In / Mr. Dingle the Strong

Rod SterlingGyro Muggins concludes his reading of Frank Herbert’s Murder Will In, which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1970, and most recently formed one of the stories in the collection Eye, published in 2014. Afterwards he commences Rod Sterling’s 1961 story for The Twilight Zone, Mr. Dingle The Strong.

Luther Dingle,  vacuum-cleaner salesman and perennial loser, finds himself given the gift of super-strength by a curious Martian scientist. Returning to Earth to see how his subject is using his gift, the Martian finds Mr. Dingle is doing little more than gaining celebrity status through feats of super-human strength. Taking back the gift, the Martian encounters a passing Venusian science team looking for a human test subject. He points them towards Luther Dingle…

Tuesday December 1st 19:00: Mama Makes Up Her Mind

Mama makes up her mindWelcome to the unique world of Bailey White. Her aunt Belle may take you to see her bellowing pet alligator. Her uncle Jimbuddy may appal you with his knack for losing pieces of himself. Most of all, you may succumb utterly to the charms of Baileys mama, who will take you to a joint so raunchy it scared Ernest Hemingway or tuck you into her antique guest bed that has the disconcerting habit of folding up on people while they sleep.

White’s indelible vignettes of Southern eccentricity have entranced millions who have heard her read them on NPR. Mama Makes Up Her Mind is as sweetly intoxicating as a mint julep and as invigorating as a walk in Whites own overgrown garden.

Join Trolley Trollop, Kayden Oconnell, and Caledonia Skytower as they commence a romp through this wonderful series of vignettes

Wednesday, December 2nd 19:00 The Oxford Book of Christmas Stories

Faerie Maven-Pralou officially starts-up Seanchai’s Christmas season by opening the covers of this treasury of 30 seasonal tales which brings together stories from writers of many eras and styles, including Charles Dickens, Shirley Jackson, and Sue Townsend and Robert Swindells and Philippa Pearche.

Featuring a host of characters and stories covering every Christmas theme, including 10 specifically commissioned for this anthology, The Oxford Book of Christmas Stories is the ideal way to slip into the festive spirit, whatever your age!

Thursday, December 3rd 19:00: Christmas Stories

Shandon Loring shares James Allen’s The Realm of Midnight and other Christmas stories.

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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 October – December is Reach Out and Read, one of the most highly rated literacy charities in the USA which reaches 4.4 million children annually and distributes 1.6 million books.

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