29 June 2015

SpaceX Falcon/Dragon launch explodes right before Stage 2 ignition

It seemed like another perfect launch for SpaceX.

They had not had any launch failures since their development stage. 18 successful commercial launches.

(Failures to land the Falcon first stage back on their remotely-controlled landing barge of course don't count, as they are highly experimental phases, and the primary roles of the launches did not depend on them.)

But just moments before MECO—Main Engine Cut-Off—and firing of the second stage, the craft exploded. Exploded so comprehensively that there seemed virtually nothing left to fall into the Atlantic Ocean.

Watch the launch, and at 3:15 the failure:



Another angle, with the "anomaly" occurring at 2:45:


28 June 2015

SpaceX to have another go at landing Falcon rocket today

SpaceX is launching another Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station later today.

And they will be having another go at landing the first stage Falcon rocket booster on their remotely-controlled floating platform barge. (Check SpaceX owner Elon Musk's little 'in joke' written under the platform target.)

Launch times:

My time, AEST
12:21AM 12, May Tue 2015

24 June 2015

Must read: the truth on Zaky Mallah


Even if you wouldn't dare send one cent in Rupert Murdoch's direction for the tripe that his company calls news, you'd be hard pressed to have missed these obscene covers from his stable of tabloid second-hand toilet papers.

And the behaviour of numerous Australian Government Members and Ministers, led by Tony Abbott himself, has been nothing short of the old Aussie schoolboy tradition of 'stacks on'.

You could be excusing for thinking perhaps there is something to their concerns, and that the speed with which ABC's Managing Director Mark Scott went into damage control was warranted.

If so, then you need to read this analysis by Jonathan Holmes, in the Fairfax press.

22 June 2015

Significant chance of auroras tonight through mid-latitudes

Spaceweather.tv aurora projection

The wonderful Dr Tamitha Skov of Spaceweather.tv is reporting that we have good chances of visible auroras in the mid latitudes from tonight and through the next couple of nights.

For Australia, this means as far north as Sydney.

Click on this picture to click through to Dr Skow's full video report:


Of course you will want to try to capture such a rare event on camera. You'll need to get away from city light pollution, somewhere high with an unobstructed view to the south.

Set your camera on a fixed tripod. Put the camera in Live View mode and zoom right in on a bright object. At the moment, Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon are all very bright in the early evening to the north-west. Set your camera focus to manual and get these targets as sharp as you possibly can. Then zoom right back out, being very careful not to touch the camera focus ring.

18 June 2015

New Star Wars game looks like Battlefield 4 goes to space. Can't wait!

A scene from Star Wars Battlefront amid the battle for Hoth
Years ago (like back in 1994), I used to be pretty good at a PC game called X-Wing. It was about the only computer game I ever played then, and I haven't played anything else since. (Except for Ingress, but that's a completely different kettle of fish. Make sure you join the green team!)

X-Wing: cutting edge gameplay circa 1994
Last Christmas, that changed with a gift of the PC game Battlefield 4. Crikey, computer games sure have come a long way! I've sunk almost 400 hours into that game since, and progressed to Level 58 so far. But the reality is I'm not that fast anymore and my kill/death ratio is still pretty sad.

I'm better at the reconnaissance strategy and long long distance sniping than the frantic running around everywhere mode that seems to be the MO of most good players.

When a friend posted a link for a teaser video of the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront game, I could tell immediately it was by EA and DICE—the makers of Battlefield. It looked so much like BF4, but with different uniforms. And ray guns. And jet packs. And space. See for yourself:

12 June 2015

Take a tour of dwarf planet Ceres

Enigmatic bright spots within a crater on Ceres. Photo by NASA JPL on 6 June 2015 at 4400 kilometres altitude,
Resolution 410 metres per pixel.

NASA's Dawn robot entered orbit around dwarf planet Ceres on 6 March 2015.

It's the first spacecraft to visit two distinct interplanetary bodies, after first spending 14 months studying the smaller dwarf planet Vesta in 2011 and 2012.

The Dawn mission team are currently performing mapping orbits at around 13,600 kilometres out and navigational imaging about 5100 kilometres out. Once complete, Dawn will start edging into closer orbits.

NASA has combined images from these orbits to date into this wonderful flyover video released on 8 June:


At 15 seconds in, you'll see the mysterious bright spots (see photo above) in the base of a medium-sized crater that have so intrigued people the world over since they were first imaged months ago as Dawn approached Ceres. Nasa scientists are wondering if it could be a volcano, a geyser or cryo-volcano, shiny rock (as in glassy like molten from an impact), ice or salt.

1 June 2015

Crikey. My Bookmarks in Chrome now look like my Pocket page...

An extract from my new Chrome Bookmarks page

You have to hand it to Google, they don't sit still long (except the sleepy Blogger team who are MIA).

What's this "Bookmarks" link on my Chrome Browser bookmarks bar I just thought. Click—short intro, then bam. There it is, looking for all the world like a page out of my "must read" collection in Pocket (which I really really must get to...). Mt Doom research prior to my hike to the summit, Hobbiton, astronomy goodness, Temasek's great custom ROM for the Samsung Note 3, more.

Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe) summit selfie

14 May 2015

Explosion makes space junk problem worse

US Air Force artist’s concept of DMSP

A US Air Force meteorological satellite exploded in February—possibly due to a NiCad battery exploding—adding some 100 trackable bits of debris to the growing space junk problem.

Although they spread out a lot due to the satellite's polar orbit, the orbital altitude of about 800 kilometres is more than double that of the International Space Station. The ISS moves between about 330 and 430 kilometres, as it is subjected to atmospheric drag and requires periodic boosting by the attached Soyuz capsule. The Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is at a similar altitude and the Hubble Space Telescope is around 560 kilometres (unlike how it is depicted in the movie Gravity). Geosynchronous satellites are way out at about 36,000 kilometres.

6 February 2015

Geek out with these space and science events in Canberra



There are plenty of events coming up for Canberra space and science fans, with an inevitable clash unfortunately:

  • European Space Agency mission experts on the Rosetta Mission
  • Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt on the future of science
  • Peter Garrett on ecology and climate science
  • Anna Frebel (MIT) on the search for our galaxy's oldest stars
  • Badri Younes (NASA) on the interplanetary communications and navigation network.

All of these events are free. Descriptions and details below are as published by the various event organisers.

12 November 2014

ESA's Rosetta about to launch Comet 67P lander - watch live

Philae Lander as it will look as it departs Rosetta for the landing. Picture: European Space Agency
The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is about to launch its lander known as Philae on its long slow approach to 'land' on the surface of the comet.

You can watch the separation coverage from the ESA mission control room here:


If you would like to follow the technical details more closely, there is a very good forum on NASA Spaceflight.

Rosetta was launched in March 2004, and journeyed for 10 years to rendezvous with Comet 67P in August this year. It then proceeded to photograph and map the comet in the search for a good landing site.

There's much more your can read about the mission on ESA's Rosetta website.

As I am about to post this, the Philae lander should have separated from Rosetta. We have to wait about 28 minutes before we will receive the corresponding transmission.