Tag Archives: Russia

Your Comrade Through Space History


Take a walk through history. Image from Roscosmos.

A friend of mine passed along this link today: http://inspacewetrust.org/en/. Before you click on it, you should have some time on your hands. This is an animated walk through history, thanks to Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. It’s a very dynamic and cool way to present some of the more important historic bits in space history.

Initially, there’s a Russian space history focus. But as the little space traveller goes along, more international missions get discovered. Really, that site is all this short blurb of a post is about, but maybe it will help make the mid-week bearable for some of you.

If you are Russian, learning Russian, or have Russian friends, you can go directly to: http://inspacewetrust.org/. Either site is pretty nifty, maybe proving that it doesn’t matter the language–space is just fun.

P.S.: Don’t forget to move the mouse around on the initial load screen. The spacewalking cosmonaut is more than a pretty picture.

Search The Skies for Objects Out to get You

This is how science helps find asteroids, frame by frame. Now you can help them, too. Image from the European Space Agency.

One of my favorite sites, TheVerge.com, covered this year’s SXSW (South By SouthWest) activities. They posted this article about an application NASA and Planetary Resources released during SXSW for public downloading. The application, called Asteroid Data Hunter (ADH-not the greatest name), will allow people to upload images of the stars. Then the application will sift through the images to see if there’s a possible asteroid within them.

That capability, the automated comparison of differences in each picture, seems to be the story about ADH. NASA says the program can identify more asteroids because of a new algorithm developed as part of a related competition.

Why use this application? It’s sort of like a celestial “Neighborhood Watch” program. Knowing what’s normally in your neighborhood allows you to recognize when something different and possibly bad is occurring. ADH will help NASA determine which asteroids might be on a trajectory that intersects with Earth one day. Those asteroids, called Near Earth Objects (NEOs), have gained some notoriety lately, thanks to events such as the asteroid impact near Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. It might be good to be able to identify NEOs, and maybe do something about it.

For Planetary Resources, a participant’s efforts might help them identify asteroids that could one day be mined. Yes, that’s “mined,” as in prospectors looking for and digging up gold, silver, and anything else useful and desirable to humans. No word on whether Planetary Resources would give a percentage of profit to any ADH participants who gave the company a profitable tip. That might actually encourage more participation, by the way.

While the application is free, the intended participants may be more narrow than either NASA or Planetary Resources anticipated. First, if you want to participate, it’s probably helpful if you have a telescope…probably one with a camera mounted to it. You might need special software to help make sure you’re aiming at the right part of the sky, consistently.

But, if you have all of that, then all you need to do is download the application (available right here), search the skies with your telescope, and help save the world AND get someone else rich. Aren’t you the generous hero?

In the meantime, if you don’t have all that equipment, but are interesting in NEOs and what people are doing to possibly keep them from hitting the Earth, then I recommend heading over to the Earth Shield Program website. It’s very interesting.

Satellite Imagery Provides No Real Help for MH17 (because of Photoshopping?)

Wait, this image is probably not what it looks like. Image is hosted on DailyMail.com.

I happened on this news story last Friday as I was in research mode at work: MH17 update. It looked interesting, but was also suspicious when I considered the timing of the image’s release corresponding to Putin getting a finger in the chest from the Australian Prime Minister. However, me being at work meant I really couldn’t look into it a bit more to figure out what exactly was going on.

As a reminder, earlier this year Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. Passengers and crew on board all died. Some sources were pointing to a surface to air missile shot from a BUK (a vehicle dedicated to carrying and launching rockets), but there hasn’t been any authoritative evidence really set forth for any kind of criminal investigation to contemplate. The image in the Daily Mail’s story shows that a fighter jet of some kind fired off a missile (the line in front of the fighter’s nose is the missile’s contrail) toward some kind of passenger jet. Except maybe that’s not the truth either.

So now I have had time do some searching about this story online, and can’t say I’m too surprised with the stories coming out regarding the image above. Many people with much better eyes and backgrounds in imagery have come out to say the picture’s been cobbled together. This site, Belling¿cat, seems to be a pretty good overall place to go and read about how people have figured out the satellite images are fakes. There are the side-by-side comparisons, plus the obvious grabs for images off the internet by whoever made it. Keep in mind that I’m not very familiar with Belling¿cat, so they may have an agenda for spinning stories a certain way. It seems legit, though.

I’m not saying it’s impossible for the kind of thing that’s pictured in that imagery to have happened, but it seems unlikely–maybe as unlikely as a BUK launching a surface to air missile at an airliner. This story is so convoluted, so tinged by political agendas, I am unsure there will be any kind of truth coming out of this soon, if ever.

But here’s the reality–those people on that Malaysian Airlines MH17 airplane were murdered. Whether it was politics, a guerilla war, one side or the other–someone took a shot at a passenger plane, downed it, then stayed quiet about it. Is this the first time something like this has happened? No, and this Wikipedia list (which I wouldn’t consider a first-hand source), has a list of the unfortunates shot down since passengers have been flying in aircraft.

It’s easy to get cynical about it, saying the thugs in the region have too much control for any truth to get out. I’ve seen some of those comments, and must note that if people go in with that kind of perspective, then such a perspective might perhaps inform the outcome of this tragedy’s investigation, no matter how grounded in history and reality the perspective might be.

Not helping in any of this is the US government. People within the US government made allegations that sounded like they could be substantiated. I wrote a bit about those allegations in this post: Can Top Secret Satellites Aid in International Justice? Overhead military assets like the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) were mentioned, as well as mentions by none other than John Kerry of possible Signals/Communications Intelligence (SIGINT/COMINT) interceptions. But then things seemed to just get quiet. I really haven’t found any reasons why there hasn’t been any other information. But it could be the US is unwilling to divulge any more information that may reveal technical data about the US intelligence collection assets. Even if a judge were given jurisdiction of this case, and subpoenaed the information, I am not sure the US government would divulge the details.

The upshot of this whole thing, though, is nobody seems to believe the image wasn’t doctored, except where it counts: in Russia. This Austin 360 post reiterates this sentiment fairly well at the end of its own story about this image kerfuffle. Sigh!

The Soft Landing?!

Soyuz TMA. Image from RSC Energia.

Below is just a fun little clip one of the people I work with shared. As much fun as the gentleman narrating the clip is having at the expense of Soyuz (it’s all tongue in cheek), we really need to remember one thing: it’s the only way we can get people up to the ISS and back safely right now. An artifact with direct ancestry from the Space Race and Cold War is now helping ferry US astronauts to and from the ISS…

Everything else, the Dragon, the CST-100, is pretty much fiction–until they aren’t any longer. That’s not a knock on SpaceX or Boeing–it’s just the priority the United States government put on a way to transport astronauts to and from the ISS with a US-based system–which is to say none. I am a bit thankful that NASA is trying to get things moving on the commercial side, though.

How long have we known that particular problem would happen, by the way? For me, at least as early as 2004, when instructors noted during one of my classes the retirement of the shuttle with no replacement in sight. Which might have been plenty of time to have done something, but of course history shows just how well the US used that time.

At least there’s always humor to fall back on–enjoy the clip!

Russia’s Fregat: What Mission Assurance?

“Quit fiddling with it. The helium line is fine where it is.” Fregat image from the ESA image library.

Placing a satellite in the wrong orbit.  It’s what the delightful world of mission assurance is supposed to prevent.  If you talk to any space operator, mission assurance is the sexiest profession in the space realm…JK–not really!  If anything, the typical space operator falls asleep at the first fishbone chart presented in the omnipresent and snore-inducing PowerPoint presentation tool. And heaven help the poor fool who got caught in the hallway to be brought in to listen to some enthusiastic engineer wax poetic about particular thermal characteristics of a passive radiator in a scatter chart.  The victim might suffer from whiplash at the sudden onset of near universal narcolepsy brought on by such deadly characterization tools…and boom goes the satellite.

So maybe that’s what happened when NPO Lavochkin presented their processes and plans to the Galileo satellite team for the Fregat upper stage.  How else could something like locating a freezing cold helium line next to the fuel line have not been noticed?  At least that’s what an independent review panel figured out AFTER the orbital disaster and concluded in a report on 8 October, 2014.

Although, typically such technical information, as what Lavochkin may have briefed the Galileo team, tends to be given by a particular personality to the same kind of particular personality.  And the receiving personality tends to give the data a very critical eye before nodding the go ahead to the next slide.  But this IEEE Spectrum post indicates that the plans for the Fregat upper stage that ultimately placed the Galileo satellite in the wrong orbit had “ambiguities.”  This means the “blueprints” of the Fregat might have not presented the whole picture highlighting the potential problem of the Fregat to the Galileo team.  If there was any following up of the ambiguities, it apparently wasn’t forceful enough to get the Russian company to double-check the design.

For those who don’t know, mission assurance is the process that usually watches and sometimes informs other space project processes.  Usually it’s associated with managing risks (some try to associate it with zero risk) to a project.  But it’s really a bit more complicated than that, since engineers obviously designed it.  It’s how companies like the Aerospace Corporation make their bread and butter.  They usually provide independent reviews and assessments of the engineering, building and operating processes other contractors use for space component production.  It’s a cumbersome and burdensome process.

But the US government and a few others believe mission assurance to be a valuable service, and therefore use it.  Does it work?  Does it keep the elephants away?*  If you look at the record of the United Launch Alliance in the last few years, which hasn’t lost a launch for a while, the answer could be a “yes.”  But maybe they’re lucky.

Which brings us back to the Russians.  Maybe they’ve been lucky all this time with Fregat.  Unfortunately for the Galileo’s mission assurance team (they do have one, right?), that luck ran out on 22 August 2014.  Anyone out there up for a European tour?

*This is a joke based on a humorous Sufi Nasrudin teaching story.  It goes like this:  A man who worked in an office suddenly started to slam his desk drawers and yell at the top of his lungs in the morning.  He did this for a few days before a friend approached him and asked, “Why are you making all this noise every morning?”  The man replied,”It’s to keep the elephants away.”  To which his friend then stated, “But there are no elephants here.”  The noisemaker nodded with satisfaction and said, “You see!! It works!”