Tag Archives: Satellite

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.


Another Apollo-related post

If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, then you know that about once a month I write a little history article for the Space Foundation’s “Space Watch” e-mail newsletter. Now’s the time to lead you to my most recent article for them: From Underneath Apollo’s Boilerplate, a Pegasus Emerges

Even Working In Space, We’re Human

Where’s the Kaboom? There’s supposed to be a…oh, there it is. What an exploded Titan looks like. Image hosted on List25.com

Just a few tidbits today, more to laugh about and maybe learn in the process. Yup, a person can still have fun while learning. These next few articles are good reminders that the human element is ever-present with space operations, and even if that isn’t, then Murphy just decides to take the helm.

Over the weekend, Gizmodo published a post showing some of the few self-inflicted problems that the space industry has faced. And these are the ones that we know about. Just imagine the many, many reviews that went into making sure what happened with the NOAA-19 satellite would never happen again. Imagine just working in that environment, with the extra few “Are you sure’s??” or “How do I know that…?” Uh-huh, great stuff.

As if some of these aren’t already on the lighter side of space (unless you were one of the poor saps involved–still funny though:-)), here’s a Twitter feed you may wish to look at. Called #WhyIGotFiredFromNASA, it’s a fun and light read about theoretical and playful scenarios that would’ve gotten a particular person fired from NASA. There may actually be some true situations in there, but the overall tone is one of fun and the occasional one-upping of each other.

And the last thing, in case you missed it. Quirky stick-figure cartoon XKCD was frantically posting updates to the site during Rosetta’s Philae foray. Thankfully, instead of having to page through the postings page-flip by page-flip, someone put it all together in a nice animated GIF. You can see it all right here on ExplainXKCD. It’s very obvious the artist loved the idea of Philae landing on the comet, and hopefully it catches on a bit more.

China Sends Up Another ‘Practice’ Satellite

Image hosted on Astrowatch. A Long March (Changzheng) rocket launches with the newest Shijian-11 satellite aboard.

On Sept 28, China, unsurprisingly, launched another satellite in their weird passive/aggressive way.  At least it seems passive/aggressive with China advertising it’s a practice satellite but then keeps its mission secret.  On the other hand, the US does the same thing with its military and intelligence satellites as well.

The newest Chinese satellite is called the Shijian-11.  According to Astrowatch, the Chinese word “Shijian” means practice.  The satellite was launched into an orbit that matches the typical orbit of imagery satellites.  Zarya. info, a website that monitors the activities of certain satellites closely, lists the Shijian-11’s orbit as having an inclination (the angle of the satellite’s orbital path relative to the Earth’s equator) of slightly over 98 degrees.  It also lists the time it takes the Shijian-11 to orbit the Earth as about 98 minutes.  The satellite’s altitude isn’t very high, 687 x 705 km (425 x 438 mi), so it’s definitely a low earth orbit satellite.

It seems to be too soon to tell exactly what the satellite is doing, but it may be to help China’s space corps practice more with taking pictures of places on the Earth.  China does have other practice satellites in orbit, so a new one shouldn’t be too shocking.  But older Shijian satellites have done some interesting things, especially in 2013, when Zarya  was observing the maneuvering capability of particular Shijian satellites and a possible robotic arm on one of them to grab other satellites.

This is just another in a series of steps in which China seems to be moving quickly forward in learning more about space operations.   This post from The Diplomat even somewhat hesitatingly states that China’s government is ordering the People’s Liberation Army to establish an actual space force.  Between the practice satellites and their establishment of a space force, China seems to seriously be working on their space operations skills.  Shijian makes perfect, I suppose.

Deadly Bubbles of Plasma

Image on Business Insider’s website

Business Insider posted an interesting article last Friday about plasma bubbles and how they affect communications between satellites and devices on Earth.  The post suggests that ionospheric plasma bubbles seem to occur primarily around the Earth’s equator.  The article also gives a short description of what a plasma bubble is–the rising of a low-density plasma through the Earth’s upper atmosphere into the higher-density plasma residing there.

The bubble created impacts radio signals coming from and going to satellites if the signals and satellite are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This means GPS signals are affected, as are general communications, which is a problem if you’re a military person whose life might be impacted by a critical communications update.  The impact of a plasma bubble could be as extreme as people just not able to receive or send any satellite communication.  Such a problem is exactly the scenario painted by Business Insider about a team of US troops sent into battle in Afghanistan.

Back in 2002, a Quick Reaction Force (QRF–a small group of military troops created to be deployed quickly) didn’t receive communications, possibly because of an ionospheric plasma bubble, relayed through satellite, about just how bad a particular landing zone they were flying to was.  Because they didn’t get that communication while flying in the helicopter, the helicopter crashed while trying to land as it took on a lot of enemy fire.  That crash landing resulted in three deaths of folks on-board the helicopter.

Could that crash landing have been avoided?  Perhaps.  It depends on what kind of information the QRF received, and how much about plasma bubbles a briefing officer knows.  But this kind of guesswork does get into Monday morning quarterbacking a bit, and I am trying avoid that.  However, I will go into what I know I haven’t seen in some Air Force space weather briefings, which is anything about ionospheric plasma bubbles.  This is the first time I’ve really heard about them–which may or may not be a good data point for you.  It could be because plasma bubbles aren’t considered “true” space weather and so are never mentioned.  Or maybe some folks in the USAF don’t know or understand the impact of these plasma bubbles on their equipment, or even worse, their people.

It’s odd, though, because in the Business Insider article, it seems that scientists know that plasma bubbles form EVERY NIGHT from Fall until the beginning of Spring.  The doomed 2002 Afghanistan mission occurred right towards the end of the annual plasma bubble formations, but those ionospheric plasma bubbles were still forming during that time.  If the QRF had known, they would have probably figured out a different way to communicate, or just beefed up communications somehow.