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The Aerospace Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about aeronautics, astronautics, fixed-wing aircraft, future space travel, satellites, NASA, and much more.

Europe Moves to a Modern Air Traffic System

Posted July 29, 2015 11:49 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

Deployment of the program known as "Single European Sky" has begun. Avionics Today reviews recent progress regarding operational improvements and technical enablers. The program's short term goals include traffic synchronization, airport integration and throughput, as well as 4D trajectory management. Implementation of System Wide Information Management (SWIM) - a set of IT principles to provide users with relevant and commonly understandable information - will also be critical. The report describes new mandates as well as R&D contributions from the commercial sector.

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Growing Mass of Junk Imperils Astronauts and Satellites in Earth Orbit

Posted July 23, 2015 4:22 PM by Quasar
Pathfinder Tags: space debris

The three astronauts living at the International Space Station were forced to take shelter on July 16 as a piece of space debris threatened to collide with the station. The crew moved into the Soyuz capsule attached to the station to prepare for a quick escape should the collision have occurred. The debris was part of an old Russian weather satellite 'Meteor-2' launched in 1979. Luckily, an impact did not occur, and the debris passed by a mile and a half away from the station. This is only the fourth time in the station's 16 year history that ISS crew have had to take emergency shelter from debris. Ground control typically plans a station maneuver to avoid debris, but the warning this time came only 1½ hours ahead of the potential collision event.

The incident highlights the problem of space debris accumulating in Earth orbit, about which I recently wrote an article for Engineering360. Here's a preview:


In more than 50 years of space activity, more than 4,900 launches have carried around 6,600 satellites into space. About 3,600 of those satellites remain in space and around 1,000 remain operational today.

The result of all of this activity is an increasing mass of space debris orbiting Earth. These objects pose a growing threat to infrastructure like the International Space Station (ISS) as well as communication and defense satellites. Scientific models estimate that there are about 29,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 cm, 670,000 fragments larger than 1 cm, and of more than 170 million bits larger than 1 mm. Travelling at speeds up to 17,500 mph, even small pieces have the potential energy to damage satellites or spacecraft.

While debris shields can be effective against impacts with particles smaller than 1 centimeter, objects between 1 and 10 centimeters are usually too small to be tracked and too large to shield against. Even tiny specks of paint present a threat. Space shuttle windows on occasion were damaged by impacts with material that proved to be paint flecks.


For more details about the issue and how to confront it, check out the full article here.

8 comments; last comment on 07/27/2015
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Truth and Lies in SETI

Posted July 23, 2015 1:05 PM by HUSH

Let's get one thing straight, despite several well-publicized reports that the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, currently home to the European Space Agency's Philae lander, is home to an "abundance of alien microbial life:" humanity is not any closer to finding alien life. In fact, to say those claims are sensationalistic is an understatement.

The idea that 67P is home to alien life comes from astronomers Chandra Wickramasinghe, University of Buckingham, and Max Wallis, University of Cardiff. Wickramasinghe has been in the news before; he's most famous for the concept that the building blocks for life were deposited on Earth by comets with biological specimens.

He's used the notoriety to springboard other, less accepted ideas, such as the idea that the SARS virus and the airborne spores that caused rainfall in Kerala to turn a reddish hue both had extraterrestrial origins. He cites a layer of black organic crust found by Philae as evidence that life teems under the comet's icy surface. Such microbial organisms could have salts that prevent them from freezing even at temperatures of -40° C, and are responsible for the regeneration of the hydrocarbon crust, which is depleted as it speeds through space.

This created a flurry of interest in the comet and the Rosetta mission, but it was ultimately misleading. The presence of black hydrocarbons was an expected feature, predicted in 1986, naturally created by organic molecules exposed to cosmic rays and light. Wickramasinghe also said that Philae is unable to detect life, which is also not true. Philae would be able to measure quantities of organic chemicals that might indicate active biology-there are currently no measurements to support claims of life. Try as Wickramasinghe might, finding life on a comet is going to be a needle in a haystack.

Finding two needles in a haystack is twice as likely, but seemingly as improbable: that about explains the odds of the new $100 million Breakthrough Listen radio telescope campaign of finding alien life. The venture is funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who feels the time is right to launch a massive renewed search for extraterrestrial radio signals in the "quiet zone," a spectrum between 1 and 10 gHz that is unaffected by cosmic sources or Earth's atmosphere.

The search will cover ten times more listening area than any search before. The $100 million will pay for thousands of hours of radio telescope time at the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in Australia, as well as office and workshop space at the University of California. This immense project has attracted the likes of famous astronomers Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy and Stephen Hawking. Breakthrough Listen will also implement SETI@home, which allows amateurs to use their personal computers in the search.

Milner has accepted that Breakthrough Listen likely won't find anything interesting, as has said that he'd consider funding it for more than the current cycle. Marcy himself said it's possible that they're not even looking for the right evidence. However SETI funding has been in such a steep decline, that sometimes things like exaggerating what's been found on a comet might be necessary to pique interest. It does more harm than good to the cause in the end, but some publicity is better than no publicity.

5 comments; last comment on 07/24/2015
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If You Missed This Year's Paris Air Show…

Posted July 15, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

The 2015 International Paris Air Show, June 15-21, hosted more than 2,300 exhibitors from 48 countries. Almost 150,000 aerospace professionals made the journey to le Bourget, where they could see 130 aircraft on display. Approximately $130 billion worth of orders were announced. If you missed the action, the show's Web site let's you catch up with all the excitement. Key figures, a photo library, an interactive map of the show, and official videos will make you mark the next event - scheduled June 19-25, 2017 - on your calendar.

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2 comments; last comment on 07/15/2015
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Testing for the Next Generation of People in Space

Posted June 23, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

If the U.S. plans to send any humans into space in the foreseeable future, it will have to rely on private companies like SpaceX. That eventuality took another step forward recently. As part of the NASA certification requirement, the company tested the fail-safe mechanism that will allow astronauts to abort their mission and descend safely to earth if a malfunction occurs on the launch pad or anywhere else before the ship reaches orbit. The abort engines, embedded into the sides of the vehicle, will also provide propulsion for an on-land landing. The company plans to launch its first astronauts into space in 2017.

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Lasers Lock on to Cosmic Debris

Posted June 18, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS Engineering360 eNewsletter

In the grand scheme of things, 3,000 tons of solid waste isn't a big deal - until you consider that's the amount of junk in orbit, posing problems and hazards for satellites and other space development activities. Cleanup proposals have mostly focused on debris retrieval, but international researchers led by the University of Riken, Japan, are advancing another option to test on the International Space Station. A powerful telescope with wide field-of-view will detect 1 cm-diameter fragments, deemed the most dangerous. A highly-efficient fiber optic-based laser then activates, vaporizing debris and causing orbital decay, followed by burnup in Earth's atmosphere.

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2 comments; last comment on 06/27/2015
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