Archive for August, 2012

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“Curiosity” on Mars!

August 6, 2012

The Mars rover Curiosity dropped onto the Martian surface just after 1:30 AM EDT today. It is the biggest rover yet to successfully land on Mars, at about 2000 pounds, about the same weight as a small car, according to NASA. (A Mini Cooper weighs just a bout 2500 pounds.) It weighs over four times that of the Opportunity and Spirit rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. Opportunity is still running around Mars, far beyond its design life, having traveled over 20 kilometers – and was designed to travel 600 meters!

Unlike the previous rovers, Curiosity has a small nuclear power plant. The others were limited by the amount of power that could be created by their solar panels. The extreme low temperatures of the Martian winter and the lack of sunlight caused those rovers to be movable only a few months of the year. The Curiosity’s power plant should provide about four times the power and has a design life of 14 years. One of the planned tasks is to drive over to the mountain in the crater where the rover landed, and climb it!

The most amazing thing about the landing is that the JPL folks developed a unique way to softly land the rover on the surface. A rocket powered frame was released a few kilometers off the surface, and the rover was lowered on cables while the frame hovered. And this was all done with no assistance from Earth!

I’m looking forward to the discoveries this rover will bring. It’s an astounding piece of technology!

 

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More Princess Cecile work

August 5, 2012

I’ve cast and assembled a whole bunch of thruster quads for the Princess Cecile build:

I really only need six, tops, but I don’t know which ones will look best painted. Since they were resin cast by me, they are “somewhat inconsistent.” Here’s a closeup of a couple of them – they are about 3/4″ across:

And here’s the next idea for the High Drive motor:

It’s a little over an inch long. I need a bunch of them, also. About half the resin I mix is wasted because I’ve been casting such small parts and I need to mix at least a half-ounce so I can get the amounts equal using my little plastic mixing cups. I figure once it’s ready, I’ll make one mold, then cast one, then make another mold. At least that way I can get two out of one pour. I don’t know what else I will need multiple copies of. It would make more sense to make more stuff at once, but I also hate to burn too much rubber making more molds. I have to think about that a bit.

I’ve been too busy to do much on the build. I have to tackle the masts next. I can’t figure out something that looks cool for the struts for the outriggers yet. Hmm.

 

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NASA doles out the dough…

August 3, 2012

NASA announced today the amounts handed out to commercial space contractors through the CCiCap program (Commercial Cerw Integrated Capability):

Sierra Nevada, $ 212.5 million

SpaceX, $ 440 million

Boeing, $ 460 million

That’s pretty much what I guessed, back in June. Those are the most serious contenders. It means that Blue Origin is left out, and the ATK/Astrium/Lockheed Liberty isn’t mentioned anywhere. Except for renting out some space to them, NASA has pretty much ignored Liberty.

Blue Origin is a weird duck. It’s been very secretive, and apparently working the suborbital market more than the orbital commercial one. They are even building two different vehicles. Maybe they are ok with the funding from Jeff Bezos.

I wouldn’t put ATK and their European partners out of the space business yet. While ATK will maybe get to build the strapon boosters for the SLS heavy lifter – assuming it ever makes it off the drawing board – NASA has left the possibility of using liquid-fueled strapons open.

It helps SpaceX, of course. Even with a current backlog of Falcon 9 launchers building up, having almost a half-billion dollars from NASA almost makes up for the interference that will certainly come from government bureaucrats.

If there is anything more to be gained from this announcement, it’s that SpaceX gets almost as much as Boeing. Considering Boeing’s track record with NASA in particular and the government in general, I think that speaks well for SpaceX.

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Eat Mor Chikn

August 2, 2012

On my other blog I did a piece today on why people flocked to Chick-Fil-A yesterday, and how Americans don’t like being told what to do. I invite you to read it.