September 2004

The Day of Toutatis

September 30, 2004

The European Southern Observatory labeled yesterday the ‘Day of Toutatis,’ when the 4.6 kilometer-long asteroid passed Earth at no more than four times the Earth-Moon distance. Discovered in 1989, Toutatis swings close to Earth every four years, but not since 1353 has it come as close as yesterday. Closest approach occurred at roughly 1340 hours […]

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The Three Romantic Ages of Spaceflight

September 29, 2004

The continuing success of SpaceShipOne — and other ventures suggestive of future commercial space activities like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Robert Bigelow’s Bigelow Aerospace — bring me back to Freeman Dyson. It was in 1979, in his book Disturbing the Universe, that Dyson wrote about what he called the three ‘romantic ages’ of spaceflight. […]

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Solar Sail Conference Begins

September 28, 2004

The Solar Sail Technology and Applications Conference, organized by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, has begun in Greenbelt MD and will run through tomorrow. Complete agenda here. Colin McInnes gave the keynote this morning. His book Solar Sailing: Technology, Dynamics and Mission Applications is as indispensable as it is hard to find, though Amazon now […]

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X Prize Attempt Live from the Cockpit

September 28, 2004

The X Prize Foundation says it will provide live streaming video from the cockpit of SpaceShipOne tomorrow morning as Scaled Composites makes its first bid for the X Prize. The second, and potentially winning attempt, is scheduled for October 4. Coverage begins here at 9 am ET.

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Exercises in Life Detection

September 28, 2004

The science of life detection may get a boost from ongoing work in Chile’s remote Atacama Desert. Said to be one of the most arid regions on Earth, the Atacama is a prime testing ground for an automated, solar-powered rover named Zoe, which was developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center. The […]

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Tuning Up the Hunt for Extrasolar Planets

September 27, 2004

The Hubble Space Telescope cost far more to build and launch than the twin telescopes of Hawaii’s W.M. Keck Observatory, but Keck gathers twenty times the light and offers four to five times better resolution. Assuming, of course, that we can find a way to cancel out the effects of atmospheric blurring on its images. […]

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The Comets of Tau Ceti

September 24, 2004

At 12 light years away, Tau Ceti is the nearest Sun-like star, and has long been of high biological interest among possible interstellar probe targets. But a British team using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii (and aided by the world’s most sensitive sub-millimeter camera, called SCUBA) has found a disk of cold dust […]

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Remembering Tau Zero

September 23, 2004

On the left is the cover of the first paperback edition of Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, published in 1970 (a shorter version called “To Outlive Eternity” appeared in 1967 in Galaxy Science Fiction, though unseen by me, as I was getting ready to leave for college). The first hardcover edition is below. Many of the […]

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Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter

September 22, 2004

NASA has just announced that it has selected Northrop Grumman Space Technology as the contractor for co-designing its proposed Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter. JIMO will be designed to orbit and explore three of the most interesting Jovian moons: Callisto, Ganymede and Europa. All three may possess water, organic material and a source of energy, leading […]

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Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter: Reactor Options

September 22, 2004

Worth noting in relation to the JIMO story above (and for the broader issue of generating power for deep space probes): “A Power Conversion Concept for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter,” by Lee S. Mason (Journal of Propulsion and Power Vol. 20 No. 5, 1 September 2004, pp. 902-910). From the abstract: “An analytical study […]

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