Hot Air Balloons and Hot Air Hosts

Episode 198
Hosts: Pat, Julie & Hugh
Title:  Hot Air Balloons and Hot Air Hosts

This week in space/astronomy history:
1. June 2, 2003 – ESA launches Mars Express.  It reached Mars that December; Beagle 2 was carried along and released at Mars, but contact was lost.  M.E. is still going strong, and has produced a nearly complete topographical map of Mars.
2. June 5, 1989 – Voyager 2 starts regular observations of Neptune. Its last encounter with a planet brought Voyager 2 close enough to Neptune to make observations of activity in the atmosphere.
3. June 5, 1783 – Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier gave the first successful balloon flight demonstration.




Crowd-funded citizen science project succeeds in re-establishing communications with long-inactive satellite


The ISEE-3 (International Sun-Earth Explorer-3) satellite was launched in 1978 to investigate the interactions between Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind. It was renamed ICE (International Comet Explorer) and it’s orbit was altered from a halo orbit to a heliocentric orbit in 1983 when it was repurposed to make observations of Comet Giacobini-Zinner and Comet Halley in 1985 and 1986.


ISEE-3/ICE is travelling slightly faster than Earth and is now about to catch up to us. It is still broadcasting a carrier signal and, when NASA last checking in 1999, 12 of its 13 instruments were still working. Sadly, the transmitters used to communicate with the spacecraft were removed that same year. Enter a group of citizen-scientists with a crowdfunding project and a dream. The goal was to re-establish contact with ISEE-3, send commands to fire its engines so that it enters an orbit near Earth and continue the original mission.


On May 29, the team was successful in establishing two-way communication with the spacecraft.


Suggested reading:

io9 article, NASA statement, Planetary Society blog post

CSA’s report on plans and priorities released (and I’m the only person in Canada who read it):

This are expenditure plans for individual governmental departments and agencies (which the CSA is). It basically lays out what the priorities are for the CSA over the next few years and how they are going to be allocating their funds in order to pursue those priorities.
Space Data, Information and Services: This is basically supporting existing missions in Earth Observation, Communications and to a lesser extent blue sky science through data mobilization and infrastructure such as ground stations.
Space Exploration: This program reaffirms Canadian commitment to the ISS, as well as building advanced robotics such as the Canadarm, Canadarm2 and DEXTRE systems, as well as the FGS for JWST. No strong commitment to Planetary science, the target is wholly unambitious: “Number of technological and scientific solutions being developed by the CSA in the context of planetary missions. Target = 1“

[Pat: CSA is involved with the Japanese X-ray satellite Astro-H]

Future Canadian Space Capacity: This is the one that speaks directly to my own research, it basically affirms CSA commitment to the suborbital platform such as balloons, sounding rockets and nanosatellites in order to train HQP for the Canadian Space industry. There are lots of grants to be won and contracts to be assigned, so this is a very exciting time to be developing technology for small satellites. (Full disclosure, I’m pretty sure that part of my funding comes through this). Again the goals are somewhat lacking in ambition. One of their goals is to have 3500 FTE personnel working in the Canadian Space Industry, I’m pretty sure that that number was around 8000 in 2012, the benchmark for monetary investment in R&D is $60M, but in 2012 we were spending $152M all the rest are based on benchmarks that haven’t been established.

Internal Services: This is just bureaucracy


Suggested reading:


The American Astronomical Society is having its semi-annual meeting in Boston

this week (so expect more astro news than average).  Already, on the 1st day, there are some interesting exoplanet findings:


* Kepler 10-c has been found to be not a mini-Neptune, but a mega-Earth: a rocky planet 2.3 times Earth’s diameter but 17 times more massive.  That means the surface gravity is 3.2 Earth gravities!  With a year that’s only 45 days long, K10c is very close to its host star and is thus too hot for life, but it’s interesting to speculate that such high-gravity planets might be common.


Plus, its host star is about 11 billion years old.  (Remember that the Sun is only 4.6 billion years old.)  That means that rocky planets could form when our Galaxy was very young.  Of course, it’s an open question how common rocky planets were back then.


* Kepler 56b and 56c are a pair of planets due to be swallowed up by their host star… in a mere 130 and 155 million years, respectively.

Both planets orbit their host star closer than Mercury does to the Sun.

The star is expanding as it ages (which stars do).

Plus, the tidal forces between the planets and their star are slowing the stars down in their orbits, causing them to spiral inwards towards the star.

A similar thing will happen to Mercury and Venus in our solar system … in about 5 or 6 billion years or so.


M31 gamma-ray burst a bust


On May 27, a chain of events lead to a storm of tweets under the hashtag #GRBM31. Preliminary data from the Swift mission suggested that something in the Andromeda Galaxy was in outburst. It turns out the suspected gamma-ray burst was a known x-ray source whose intensity was overestimated because of an error in measurement. Swift is designed to beam down early data for quick analysis since GRBs are short-lived occurrences and astronomers need to make quick decisions about telescope time before the events end. The full data sets take some time to download so there is a gap between when the initial data are looked at and possible interesting results announced and when the full analysis can take place. In this case there was a delay in sending out the full data set, possibly because of a power outage at the Goddard Space Flight Centre and Swift Data Centre.


Suggested reading:

Universe Today article, Blog post from one of the scientists


Dragon V II unveiled:


Space X has unveiled a capsule capable of ferrying seven astronauts to the ISS safely and back, the next step on Space X’s ambitious road map that we’re all hoping will end with putting a man on Mars. The Dragon V2 will land directly on the ground using retrorockets and landing legs to touch down exactly in the manner that you would expect a flying saucer to do. The Capsule is equipped with two of SpaceX’s SuperDraco engines (which attentive readers may recognize as the first ever rocket engines to be 3-D printed), the engines provide a combined thrust of 3200 pounds [wikipedia is unclear by about a factor of 2] (That’s about 3x the amount of the lunar lander). The capsule can operate on a single engine in the case of failure, and has a reserve parachute for complete engine failure. The deal with Russia to use the Soyuz craft for rides to the space station expires in 2018, SpaceX is one of a few companies including Orbital Sciences Corp, Sierra Nevada Corp and Boeing in competition for the new contract to ferry personnel to the ISS. The best part about this craft in my opinion is that reusability is the major design objective (aside from safety of course!) since this will greatly cut down on the overall program cost.

Suggested reading: Forbes,CNN


Thanks for listening!

-YorkUniverse Team


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