Astronotes: January 9 to January 22, 2005

January 21

Robotic LunarObservatory Studied

A private commercial spacemission has been blueprinted in the form of a robotic observatory to conductastronomy and astrophysics from the Moon.

The International LunarObservatory (ILO) initiative envisions a multi-wavelength observatory thatwould stand about 10-feet (three-meters) in height, with communications andsolar power gathering capabilities.

Engineering studies of theidea point to a modest $35 million to $50 million needed to plant ILO on theMoon. If those funds were soon available, the observatory could be parked onthe Moon in the mid-2007 time frame. SpaceDev, Inc. of Poway, Californiahas worked out the logistics of the mission, finding it realistic with a worthygoal in an achievable timeframe.

The ILO'sfeasibility was detailed by a SpaceDev study team under contract with the Lunar EnterpriseCorporation, an arm of Space Age Publishing Company (SPC) with offices in Kamuela, Hawaii and Palo Alto, California.

A pre-deployed lunar-basednavigation beacon system would enable the ILO to fly to and softly set down ata specific lunar site with the accuracy of about 330 feet (100 meters) - madepossible by using currently available commercial Global Positioning System(GPS) technology.

AnILO Advisory Committee has been formed, with members hailing from Canada, Japan,India, Russia, Europe, and across the United States.Additional members are currently being identified in China as well as other key globalspace and astrophysics centers.

This year, the ILO groupwill scope out the most meaningful scientific return possible from placement ofa small robotic telescope at the lunar South Pole. The newly-formed ILOAdvisory Committee "is challenged to establish a toe-hold for lunar basebuild-out," says SPC founder Steve Durst.

-- Leonard David

January 20

China Plans Next Manned Space Shot

BEIJING (AP) -- China said Thursday its secondmanned space mission will take place in September or October 2005, and willinvolve two astronauts orbiting for up to five days.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Shenzhou6 will have a four- or five-day flight with two astronauts aboard, citing Sun Laiyan, director of China National Space Administration.The astronauts will carry out unspecified scientific tests while in orbit, Xinhua said. The government said earlier it hoped to carryout the flight before the end of 2005.

If it occurs, it will come two yearsafter Chinabecame the third nation to launch a human into space on its own, firing Yang Liweiinto orbit. In October 2003, Yang circled the Earth 14 times and landed byparachute in China'snorthern grasslands after a 21 1/2-hour flight.

Chinaattaches enormous national pride to its space program, and Yang has become acelebrity. In addition to China,only Russia and the United Stateshave sent humans into space on their own.

State media has said 14astronauts - all military pilots - were in training for the flight.

-- Associated Press

January 18

IGNITE Auctioning NASATour for Hospitalized Children

Your bid on a tour-for-two of Kennedy SpaceCenter could lead to bringing anastronaut to Bostonto visit seriously ill children.

The Ignite Foundation, a Massachusetts-based non-profit (501c3)organization that develops and supports education enrichment programs, workingwith the Starlight/ Starbright Foundation of NewEngland, is auctioning a KSC travel package to fund an astronaut's visit to aBoston-area children's ward, as part of Starlight's Hospital HappeningsPrograms.  

Theauction, which opened Saturday for 10 days of bidding on,includes two round-trip AirTran Airways tickets, 3nights at the DoubleTree Hotel Cocoa BeachOceanfront, a car rental voucher, tickets to the KSC Visitor Complex and aprivate, astronaut-led tour of the NASA center.  

Asof Monday morning, the high bid was $300. To place your bid now, visit:

January 14

Blue Origin Rocketeers Establish Texas Test Site

Texas could play a role in shapingsuborbital space tourism.

The Seattle-based BlueOrigin group, led by billionaire Jeff Bezos of fame, haspicked a site near Van Horn, Texas to construct, test, and flya privately-built passenger-carrying suborbital vehicle.

According to Thursday'sInternet Edition of The Van Horn Advocate, Blue Origin has confirmed plans toestablish a testing and operations center on the Corn Ranch, north of Van Horn.

The Advocate was briefed byBezos and other team members in the newspaper'soffices regarding details of the rocket program. Bezossaid that some of his younger days were spent on his grandfather's ranch inSouth Texas, and looked forward to future family experiences at the newlyacquired West Texas ranch.

While details of BlueOrigin's rocket remain secretive, it is widely believed that Bezos and his colleagues are blueprinting a suborbitalpassenger vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and landing. The approach issimilar to that taken by the Delta Clipper program sponsored by NASA and thePentagon in the 1993 to 1996 time period.

Blue Origin is opening itsdoors to students that are focused on careers in science and technology. A10-week summer internship in space program is to start in early June and end inAugust of this year.

"You must be enrolled in an undergraduate orgraduate degree program in science or engineering and must currently haveJunior or higher standing. Students must be United States citizens, permanentresidents, refugees, or asylees," the firm's website declares.

Blue Origin is on thelookout for like-minded rocketeers. "We arebuilding real hardware - not PowerPoint presentations," the company's website at

-- Leonard David

January 13

Huygens Probe: Snapshotsfrom Titan

Following a seven year sojourn to Saturn, Europe'sHuygens probe is nearing its final destination. It will plunge into theatmosphere of Titan, a moon of Saturn, on January 14.

Fireballing and then parachuting its way towardTitan's mysterious surface, the two-hour dive will yield science data and asuite of panoramic images.

Huygens is outfitted withthe Descent Imager- Spectral Radiometer (DISR). The DISR is the mostsophisticated instrument aboard Huygens. It will take pictures of the surfaceas the probe descends on parachute. DISR will collect approximately 1,100images as the probe spirals toward Titan's surface, producing mosaics of theground and horizon in various resolutions.

Each of the cameras in theimaging system takes a picture of Titan's surface in a different direction andat a different resolution to produce a "triplet" collection of threeimages which may be combined with other triplets to create a mosaic of thesurface.

What will the view from Huygens looklike? DISR team members conducted field tests over Red Rock Arizona, just northof Tucson, tocreate a simulated descent mosaic.

Even though linear fieldarrangements in the test mosaic won't be seen, the quality of the image will besimilar, said Katie Holso,a spokesperson for the DISR at the Universityof Arizona's Lunar and PlanetaryLaboratory in Tucson, Arizona.

The mosaic is made up ofroughly 20 postage stamp-sized individual pictures taken from the three DISRcameras. These images are then combined and processed to create the mosaic, Holso told

-- Leonard David

January 11

UFO Big Top

Something quite odd ismaking multiple appearances under European skies, taking on the looks of ahovering Unidentified Flying Object, or UFO.

But this UFO is identified,and comes courtesy of NoFitState Circus Company, based in the United Kingdom.

This specially-fabricatedUFO tent measures some 125 feet (38 meters) in diameter, creating a 12,217square feet (1,135 square meters) footprint.

By converting outer space toinner space means the huge tent can handle various venues, from productlaunches to hospitality events and all-star performances. Not onlystate-of-the-art in its structure, accompanying lighting, sound and digitalvideo technology provides the very latest in special effects and dramaticstaging.

"It is ideal forbig-scale, need-to-be-noticed events," explains Rob O'Dowd, ManagingDirector of Euro Events, an Irish-based event production company who recentlyused the tent-for-hire to support BMW's 1-Series automobile launch.

While this UFO isn't quiteup to speed in the sense of interstellar travel, it does give new meaning topulling up stakes, folding up your tent and moving on!

-- Leonard David

January 10

Feel the Force:Ultra-tiny Magnetic Sensor

Engineers are attracted tothe idea of building ever-smaller sensors. Now they've come up with a device todetect minuscule fluctuations in the pull of magnetic fields.

Researchers at the U.S.National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated alow-power, magnetic sensor. About the size of a grain of rice, the device candetect magnetic field changes as small as 50 picoteslas- that's a million times weaker than the Earth's magnetic field.

Applications for acommercialized version of the new sensor could include hand-held devices forprecision navigation, geophysical mapping to locate minerals or oil, use inmedical instruments, and for sensing unexploded ordnance.

The sensor works bydetecting minute changes in the energy levels of electrons in the presence of amagnetic field. A tiny sample of the element rubidium is heated within asealed, transparent cell to form a rubidium vapor. Light from a semiconductorlaser is transmitted through the atomic vapor. In the presence of a magneticfield, the amount of laser light that is absorbed by the atoms changes and thisis detected by a photocell. Larger magnetic fields produce proportionallybigger changes in the atomic energy levels and change the absorption by theatom.

Described in the December27 issue of Applied Physics Letters, the device can be powered with batteriesand is about 100 times smaller than current atom-based sensors with similarsensitivities, which typically weigh roughly 6 pounds (about 3 kilograms).

The research was funded bythe U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA-MTO).

-- Leonard David

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