Nov 27, 2008

NASA Surveyor and Pathfinder in 3D

White Label Space recently took a field trip to the USA in order to initiate and pursue discussions with potential partners and sponsors. While in the DC area, the team found some time to visit one of the most famous aerospace museums in the world, the National Air & Space, and learn about previous lunar missions such as Clementine or Surveyor as well as Mars missions such as Pathfinder and Viking.

This proved a great opportunity to see the hardware first hard, which was far more informative than the analysis of pictures and text descriptions. A great deal of knowledge was captured by such previous missions, and even mission studies. By studying this space heritage we can avoid past design mistakes, reducing the cost and risk.
The National Air and Space Museum is without doubt a mine of information, and is a must-see if you happen to be in the DC area, especially for Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) competitors, but also for the general public.
We took the chance to use some modern technology for capturing this space heritage. This new technology developed by Microsoft's Live Labs named PhotoSynth allows recreation of a hybrid 3D model that anyone can view and explore over the internet. We preferred using our cameras to build the 3D models we didn't think the security guards and curators would appreciate us crawling over the hardware with a 3D scanner!

Below are two great examples of what can be achieved. The mouse controls are similar to Google Maps, but PhotoSynth also includes a funky damped motion feature.

Nov 23, 2008

ESA Shows Its Worth to the Ministerial Council

With timing designed to coincide with this coming week's Ministerial Council Meeting, the European Space Agency (ESA) has released this promotional video showing some footage from its recent projects, and some nice computer graphics of the projects for which it will request budget lines.

Of course, this video is far more exciting and adventurous that the very dry and business-like "programmatic priorities" to be presented to the Ministerial Council, which are to:

  • further develop the benefits of space to society and the knowledge economy, stimulating innovation, creativity and growth;
  • promote the development of new products and services benefiting daily life;
  • be increasingly successful on the global market in space systems, services and applications;
  • meet its defence and security needs for space; and
  • provide continued access to space.

Space exploration itself fits only as sub-categories in the programmatic priorities of contributing to the knowledge-based society and providing access to space.

ESA's exploration objectives are to make full use of the International Space Station (ISS) to prepare for future exploration activities and to start the definition of a new cargo return transportation system derived from the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) that will be able to survive re-entry and land intact with payloads brought back from the ISS.

ESA also proposes to study technologies for the exploration of the Moon and to promote lunar exploration in tandem with the recruitment of new astronauts. To this end, ESA wants to study a Moon lander and to develop capabilities enabling human exploration including Moon-landing technologies, habitation and life support systems and demonstrators.

Scenario and architecture studies are also proposed to prepare future activities. ESA wants to become a leading participant in the robotic exploration of planet Mars (currently a field almost totally dominated by NASA), with the Enhanced ExoMars mission and eventually leading to significant European role in a Mars Sample Return mission.

Nov 22, 2008

Greatest Space Ads Part IX - SONY and Space Tourism

In this space-linked advertisement SONY uses the concept of space tourism to appeal to people who want to make the purchase of a lifetime but are afraid of the question:

"When your kids ask where the money went"

Could you go into space with any other brand of video camera after watching this ad?

Previously in our Greatest Space Ads series:

Nov 19, 2008

Converting a "Moon-Impactor" to a "Moon-Lander"

As India's Chandryaan-1 mission showed this week, it's possible to use existing launch vehicles and conventional satellite design solutions to reach lunar orbit, and even to send a probe to the impact surface. The only remaining step in order to have a complete lunar surface transportation service is to master the technology of slowing down your lander to have a soft-landing, rather than the hard-landing (aka "impact") of the Indian probe.

In the 1960's, with its Surveyor program, NASA mastered the technology of using a solid rocket motor to decelarate a lander, removing over 90% of its speed to allow a relatively small liquid-fuel propulsion system to make the final descent and landing.

To help with the design of your solid rocket motor breaking stage, you might like to check out Rogers Aeroscience who has recently published some useful reference materials. The following articles are available from their website;
  • Performance Analysis of the Ideal Rocket Motor.
  • Departures from Ideal Performance for Conical Nozzles and Bell Nozzles, Straight-Cut Throats and Rounded Throats.
  • Erosive Burning Design Criteria for High Power and Experimental/Amateur Solid Rocket Motors.

Nov 14, 2008

India Next to Land on Moon?

According to MoonDaily's AFP report India has announced that it will send a spacecraft to soft land on the Moon's surface by 2012.

India's Chandrayaan-1 mission currently orbiting the Moon is clearly providing them with some confidence that they can now proceed to the next level, a robotic lunar soft-landing. The proposed lander mission, Chandrayaan-2, would include a robotic probe able to "pick samples" for scientific study and transmit the science data back to Earth.
This announcement with a timeline compatible with the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) certainly lays down the gauntlet for the other major space agencies in the world that have not yet landed anything on the Moon but who claim to be preparing such missions, namely ESA, JAXA and CNSA. How will they respond?

Nov 11, 2008

Using an iPhone to Control a Spacecraft or Lunar Lander?

Can you use an iPhone to soft land a spacecraft of the Moon?

Taking a look at this experiment by Michael Koppelman, it may not be as far fetched as it seems.

Perhaps soon we will see Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) teams adopting this type of ultra low cost approach for their Moon missions..

iPhone Rocket Launch and Interview (from from Mobile Orchard on Vimeo.

See also our previous post: Can This SONY Camera Work on the Moon?

Nov 9, 2008

How far away is the Moon?

The average distance from the center of the Earth to the center of the Moon is 384,403 km.

To put things in perspective, this great animation from the wikipedia Moon article shows a true scale diagram representing the relative sizes of the two bodies and the time it would take for a beam of light to pass between them - 1.255 seconds.

.. and you thought that Skype was frustrating when there is a communications delay.. imagine talking to a friend on the Moon where the minimum round trip for the information is about 2.5 seconds!

Nov 8, 2008

Moon 2.0 en Español

To all those Spanish speakers out there, we have now embedded Spanish subtitles (translated by a native speaker, not a computer!) in our video International Version of Moon 2.0 - Join the Revolution.

To display subtitles, click on the small arrow at the bottom right of the YouTube screen (see How to Show YouTube Subtitles).

Let's hope to see some Spanish-speaking teams soon in the Google Lunar X PRIZE!

Nov 5, 2008

ESA Moon Rover Competition won by University of Bremen Team

A rover designed and built by a team from the University of Bremen has been announced as the winner of the ESA's Robotics Challenge, held last October in Tenerife.

The competition highlighted a specially large variety of rover concepts and designs (not all of which were successful) and the ability of the young student teams to conceive and assemble innovative rovers in a small amount of time.
This competition shows the benefits of exchanges between space agencies, small universities and research centres, people who are just waiting for a chance like the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) to finally get a large acknowledgement for their efforts!

Nov 1, 2008

Testimonial to the Mars Exploration Rovers

These National Geographic Channel pieces are testimonials to the upcoming 5 year anniversary of the landing of NASA's twoMars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

Congratulations to the NASA team responsible for delivering humanity such a fantastic and successful mission, which is still ongoing!