Sunday, November 23, 2008

Orion (Ares) LES rocket test

These are some recently uploaded videos of the LES (emergency escape rocket) designed to pull the manned Orion capsule (with 4 men) off of the Areas I rocket in the event of an abort. I think this will be used from the pad, or low speed flight (maybe to 100 KM or so). This is very high thrust for a short period of time, it has to pull a large object clear. The lower bound of the impulse is set by the need to carry the men high enough to give the recovery system time to act all the same. I expect several thousand feet is the target. G forced experienced on ejection could hit or pass 10 Gs. This is within limits, but probably pretty painful and dangerous all the same. As pilots know, ejection is a last resort. This will probably still be far safer and more gentle than a jet ejection. There is a Praxis (large line of great space books) book coming out on emergency and abort systems for space flight. But not yet, some day it will be out. If anyone wants to buy it and donate to me, leave a comment.

This is how it is expected to work. Please comment if youtube videos are not working for you. From time to time, I seem to have problems with them on my own pages. Is that the page? Or the video? Or my computer? Hard to figure out.

Here are some specs on the system:

"On ignition, the abort motor fired for 5.5 seconds. The high impulse motor was developed to expend the majority of its propellant in the first three seconds, delivering the half million pounds of thrust needed to pull the capsule away from its launch vehicle in an emergency abort.

While similar to the Apollo Program's launch abort motor, Orion's abort motor incorporates today's technology into a more robust design. The launch abort motor uses a composite case and an exhaust turn-flow technology instead of a tower, which results in weight savings, improved performance and improved success in crew survival during an abort. Instead of the rocket plume exiting a rear nozzle, the manifold is placed at the forward end of the motor. The rocket thrust enters the manifold and is turned 155 degrees and forced out the four nozzles, creating a forward-pulling force."


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Extra-solar planets!

I cant wait for NGST to be turned on these things. And Kepler! And now we might be getting a dark energy - dark matter mission around 2015 also. Unmanned exploration has been a huge success, for centuries to come we will be remembered probably for many bad things, but also for a few great things.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Phobos Grunt

I wanted to post about this, my new favorite space project. But at the same time, I have a short angry rant.

The Russians (!) are planning to launch a very impressive, very daring and risky space project to land a craft on the larger (but still very small) moon of Mars; Phobos. Phobos is about 20 km on a side (but hardly regular in shape) and orbits Mars at around 10,000 km.

From the wiki page:

"Immediately after the touchdown, the lander will load a soil sample into a return rocket. In case of a breakdown of communications with mission control, it can enter an emergency mode to collect samples and still send them home in the return rocket. Normal collection could last from two days to a week. The robotic arm can collect rocks up to about half an inch in diameter. It ends in a pipe-shaped tool that splits to form a claw. This encloses a piston that will push the soil sample into an artillery-shell-shaped container. A light-sensitive photo-diode in the claw will help scientists confirm that the device did scoop material. They hope also to see images of trenches the claw leaves on the surface. The manipulator should perform 15 to 20 scoops yielding a total of three to five and a half ounces of soil.[3][4]

The return rocket will sit atop the spacecraft, and will need to rise at 22 mph to escape Phobos' gravity. To protect experiments remaining on the lander, springs will vault the rocket to a safe height, at which its engines will fire and begin maneuvers for the eventual trip to Earth.[3]

The lander's experiments will continue in-situ on Phobos' surface for a year. To conserve power, mission control will turn these on and off in a precise sequence. The robotic arm will place more samples in a chamber that will heat it and analyze its spectrum. This analysis might determine the presence of easily vaporized substances, such as water.[3]

The landing site that has been chosen is a region from 5°S to 5°N, 230° to 235°W."

This is a very risky project, and a historical first. The odds of success are, and I will be depressing, quite low. 50/50 would not be out of the question. But consider the cost - only $65 million! I am saddened that nasa spent about $500 million (including launch and operation mind you) on the Phoenix, and it just lasted one season. In a perfect world all projects would get funded, but I would hate to push back our Europa explorer even one year to pay for Phoenix. I am very proud of the Russians, the Chinese, the ESA, and India as they take a larger part in space exploration. As the government consistently under-funds NASA, we need to diversify and rely on others who continue to dream about space exploration, even if they live in other countries.

And this brings me to the rant: on the Phobos Grunt spacecraft there is a small capsule containing living organisms to test how they last in space: they will be returned with the Phobos sample capsule. This project is from the Planetary Society, a great private organization that helps further the cause of space exploration. You may remember that they recently launched a solar sail into space aboard an old ICBM. This was a very nice project. But here we have a very stupid, irresponsible, unnecessary, and scientifically pointless project. First of all the dangers: we are sending spores and other living samples on a course that could cause them to crash on mars, Phobos, or earth contaminating the Phobos samples (bad) or Mars (worse). Risking contamination at a time when the search for life on other planets or moons is the biggest problem. But also, this is a stupid project because the capsule hardly tests panspermia in a scientific way. The organisms will only space soak for a few years at most. That is not the thousands or millions of years likely in a panspermia mechanism. Also, they are protected and sealed in a metal case! Not embedded in a porous rock material. Anyway, the worst part is that sending the sample to Phobos is a waste of energy: every condition and form of adversity that is found at Mars orbit can be recreated here in Earth orbit or ON EARTH IN A LAB for less money and no risk. The radiation, the vacuum, the cold... we can make them all.

But dont let my anger about this distraction of an experiment ruin Phobos-Grunt for you, it wont for me. The Russians are taking a big bite here, and I hope they can get the project done and working on time. I cant stress how much the Russians have done for planetary exploration on a very limited budged in the past 50 years. Here are some links for more information:

Air+Space Article
PDF on the project
Russian Planetary Exploration

Friday, November 7, 2008

NY Rocketry Field

This is the field that I attend when flying in New York. This is located about 90 minutes north west of the city, in the Hudson valley west of Bear Mt. Note that these images just show 1/4th of the farm. A perfect place for rocketry. Probably on the order of 1000+ Acres.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Last launch for the year

This was a great launch today: conditions were good, wind was acceptable, and most flights were successful. There were a few K flights, and one skidmark. One large rocket was reported to have gone past 10,000 feet. I flew a 24mm hourglass rocket on a D15T-4, the Graduator on an E16W-4 (great low slow flight) and a G64W-7, and finally the SNP on the requisite F12J-3. All four rockets flew fine, and I was able to recover them all. Why only 4 flights? Well the pictures below tell the story of what I did with my last hour at the field:

The SNP had a great flight as usual on the F12, it just doesnt get better than this rocket and this motor for a mid power flight. Recovery was going very well, close to the pad. Sadly, it fell directly into the center of the large stream that divides the field. This is a small target and a minor risk, but I was unlucky and hit it dead on. Because this rocket has a large plastic payload tube, it will float indefinitely. There is only one problem: I was unable to reach the rocket. This stream is the size of a small river, and the rocket just would not move from the dead center. At this point, keep in mind that while the rocket was already soaked and probably no good, it contained a 24/40 motor case that costs twice as much as the rocket. I needed to get this case back.
The rocket slowly drifted downstream for about a mile. At this point, I gave up trying and went back to the launch line to pack up. I then drove down the farm parallel to the stream for about a mile or so. I found the rocket floating again. On a whim, I continued to drive to see if there ever would be a snag or eddy or any hope. About 1000 feet up, I found a huge dam made from a fallen tree and much flotsam. A metal drum, a very old rocket, lots of bottles, and a pallet were some of the items I found there:I carefully walked out on this mat of flotsam and waited for the rocket. I should also share that this was hardly a stable platform: it was mostly floating in the water that was 5 or more feet deep and moving rapidly. Further, this water was not a clean stream but farm runoff containing all kinds of fertilizer and pesticides. This was a dangerous situation because falling off would at least mean a very nasty dunking in cold water. But it could have been worse, falling into the center of the dam potentially could kill a person if they could not get back up or out.

Anyway the rocket came and was within reach. I grabbed a long stick and was able to pull it out of the water before it was sucked under the dam (and possibly lost forever). The rocket was waterlogged to say the least, and I threw it out (not wanting to reuse it or deal with cleaning it). The motor case, at $45, is back with me safe and sound. Obviously this was more of an adventure than expected. For the next post I prepared some images of the farm so you can get an idea of what a nice field this is for flying. I am looking forward to next year, and am glad I found this club near me. Let me leave you with a very crappy video of the rocket floating in the stream: