Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

April 18, 2024

Debris from Space Station crash into Florida home destroying two floors

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,Science Related — Suramya @ 11:38 AM

A long time ago I watched a show called ‘Dead Like Me‘ where the main character (George) is killed in the pilot episode by a toilet seat falling from the deorbiting Mir space station. At that time it was portrayed as an absurd way to die and George is understandably upset about it.

Showing that at times life does imitate fiction, last month a piece of space junk from the International Space Station crashed through the roof and two floors of a Florida home. This was confirmed by NASA earlier this week. NASA and others have been dumping things into orbit with the assumption that they will burn up during re-entry and this debris was from a cargo pallet intentionally released from the space station three years ago.

The piece of space junk is roughly cylindrical in shape and is about 4-inches tall and 1.6-inches wide. NASA said agency staff studied the object’s features and metal composition and matched it to the hardware that had been jettisoned from the space station in 2021.

At that time, new lithium-ion batteries had recently been installed at the space station, so the old nickel hydrogen batteries were packed up for disposal. The space station’s robotic arm released the 5,800-pound cargo pallet containing the batteries over the Pacific Ocean, as the outpost orbited 260 miles above the Earth’s surface, according to NASA.

I think that this habit is a bad idea and should be reconsidered. When items burn up in the atmosphere they release toxic byproducts that pollute the environment and if the item doesn’t burn up completely (as was the case here) they can cause significant damage when they crash into the Earth.

– Suramya

April 1, 2024

ISRO successfully tested their Reusable launch vehicle Pushpak

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts,Science Related — Suramya @ 6:00 PM

ISRO’s successfully tested the latest version of their Reusable launch vehicle (RLV) technology through the RLV LEX-02 landing experiment. The Lander called Pushpak (RLV-TD) landed autonomously with precision on the runway after being released from an off-nominal position.

RLV-LEX-02/Pushpak landing autonomously
RLV-LEX-02/Pushpak landing autonomously (Pic Credit: ISRO)

The winged vehicle, called Pushpak, was lifted by an Indian Airforce Chinook helicopter and was released from 4.5 km altitude. After release at a distance of 4 km from the runway, Pushpak autonomously approached the runway along with cross-range corrections. It landed precisely on the runway and came to a halt using its brake parachute, landing gear brakes and nose wheel steering system.

This mission successfully simulated the approach and high-speed landing conditions of RLV returning from space. With this second mission, ISRO has re-validated the indigenously developed technologies in the areas of navigation, control systems, landing gear and deceleration systems essential for performing a high-speed autonomous landing of a space-returning vehicle. The winged body and all flight systems used in RLV-LEX-01 were reused in the RLV-LEX-02 mission after due certification/clearances. Hence reuse capability of flight hardware and flight systems is also demonstrated in this mission. Based on the observations from RLV-LEX-01, the airframe structure and landing gear were strengthened to tolerate higher landing loads.

This was the second successful test of the system and the winged body and all flight systems used in RLV-LEX-01 were reused in the RLV-LEX-02 demonstrating the reuse capability of flight hardware and flight systems. This system is essential to the creation and use of RLV technology in future launches which will enable us to reduce the cost of the launches going forward. This will also allow us to increase the number of launches and the payload we can put in orbit in a given time period. Another key point to note is that all the technology used in the craft was developed indigenously in India.

Source: ISRO achieves yet another success in the RLV Landing Experiment

– Suramya

February 29, 2024

Scientists are using wood of all things to build a satellite and launch it to orbit

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts,Science Related — Suramya @ 9:08 PM

When people talk about strong materials that can be used to make durable satellites wood is nowhere even close to being considered. I mean come on, the image people (including me) have in their mind of wood is that it is something not too strong and for the most part is not durable. However, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are set to prove that is not the case and are planning to launch the world’s first wooden satellite into space. Yes, you did read that correctly; they are planning to use wood to make a satellite instead of Stainless Steel or titanium which will make the process a lot more sustainable. LignoSat is a coffee mug-size satellite made from magnolia wood and will be launched into orbit sometime during the Summer of 2024. Wood has an advantage over other materials in that it will burn up into ash during reentry into the atmosphere without releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere (which is what happens when Steel or Titanium reenters the atmosphere and burns up).

To verify the feasibility of using the material Kyoto University researchers sent samples of magnolia, cherry and birch up to the International Space Station and exposed it to space for 10 months, after which tests were run against the samples and when they confirmed that there was no decomposition or deformation in the samples it gave them confidence to move ahead with the project. LignoSat will be made using the wood from magnolia trees primarily because of the relative ease of working with it, dimensional stability, and overall strength as compared to the other candidates.

Another advantage of a wooden satellite is that it is less reflective than other materials which means that it would reduce the amount of ambient light pollution that astronomers have been complaining about over the past few years. Especially since the Starlink low orbit satellites were launched. Wood is also easier to grow so the overall cost might be lower.

One potential problem with this approach would be that it will require a lot of wood which would mean that forests would be logged offsetting the environmental gains made by using wood. Assuming the test is successful, we can look forward to using wood in more places instead of non eco friendly materials. But I doubt that it would replace the traditional materials completely.

– Suramya

Source: Wood Working Network: Japan set to launch first wood satellite

January 23, 2024

New research shows that Neptune’s color is more of a greenish blue than the vivid blue we associate with it

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 5:15 PM

When we look at the photographs of the outer planets in our solar system, the planet Neptune stands out because of it’s striking blue color as shown in the photos taken by Voyager 2 back in 1989. (See below)

Photo of Neptune as taken by Voyager 2
Photo of Neptune as taken by Voyager 2

In a new study just published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers found that the color balance in Voyager was a little skewed that led to the planet appearing more blue than it actually is. Basically due to the way the images from Voyager were contrast enhanced to accentuate fainter features and better illustrate the atmospheric features of the planet the image released was bluer than what the planet actually looked like. They used observations of the planet taken from 1950 to 2016 along with data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope to create a more accurate representation of the planet’s color which is closer Uranus’s color than the vivid blue we are used to seeing. (See below)

Panels a and b show early images of the visible appearance of Uranus and Neptune reconstructed from Voyager 2 ISS images in 1986 and 1989, respectively, showing Uranus to be pale blue-green, and Neptune dark blue (PIA18182 and PIA01492, credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech).
Panels c and d show more recent reconstructions of the true colours of these planets, showing them to be more similarly coloured (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Björn Jónsson)

From the Paper:

We present a quantitative analysis of the seasonal record of Uranus’s disc-averaged colour and photometric magnitude in Strömgren b and y filters (centred at 467 and 551 nm, respectively), recorded at the Lowell Observatory from 1950 to 2016, and supplemented with HST/WFC3 observations from 2016 to 2022. We find that the seasonal variations of magnitude can be explained by the lower abundance of methane at polar latitudes combined with a time-dependent increase of the reflectivity of the aerosol particles in layer near the methane condensation level at 1 – 2 bar. This increase in reflectivity is consistent with the addition of conservatively scattering particles to this layer, for which the modelled background haze particles are strongly absorbing at both blue and red wavelengths. We suggest that this additional component may come from a higher proportion of methane ice particles. We suggest that the increase in reflectivity of Uranus in both filters between the equinoxes in 1966 and 2007, noted by previous authors, might be related to Uranus’s distance from the Sun and the production rate of dark photochemical haze products. Finally, we find that although the visible colour of Uranus is less blue than Neptune, due to the increased aerosol thickness on Uranus, and this difference is greatest at Uranus’s solstices, it is much less significant than is commonly believed due to a long-standing misperception of Neptune’s ‘true’ colour. We describe how filter-imaging observations, such as those from Voyager-2/ISS and HST/WFC3, should be processed to yield accurate true colour representations.

It is facinating how much more there is to learn in the cosmos even about our own stellar neighbors never mind the whole wide universe out there with its infinite mysteries and grandeur.

Source: Neptune is more of a greenish blue than is commonly depicted

– Suramya

December 6, 2023

ISRO Returns the Propulsion Module from Chandrayaan-3 mission to Earth orbit

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:55 AM

ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) made a surprising announcement earlier this week about a new accomplishment by the Chandrayaan-3 Propulsion Module after the team managed to successfully return the propulsion module used by the spacecraft into a high orbit around Earth. This is a big deal and something only achieved by 3 countries before India (US, China and USSR).

This was not one of the planned missions for the module and was attempted when the team found that they still have over 100 kg of fuel in the PM available on the module for maneuvers. Its a credit to the precise planning and execution of the entire mission that the module still had extra fuel available for followup missions. So the orbit was modified over the course of a few months to move to an Earth orbit at about 1.54 lakhs kms (154,000 kms) allowing the module to complete an orbit every 13 days.

In order to continue SHAPE payload for Earth observation, it was decided to re-orbit the PM to a suitable Earth orbit.This mission plan was worked out considering the collision avoidance such as preventing the PM from crashing on to the Moon’s surface or entering into the Earth’s GEO belt at 36000 km and orbits below that. Considering the estimated fuel availability and the safety to GEO spacecrafts, the optimal Earth return trajectory was designed for October 2023 month.

First maneuver was performed on October 9, 2023 to raise apolune altitude to 5112 km from 150 km thus, increasing the period of orbit from 2.1 hrs to 7.2 hrs. Later, considering the estimate of available propellant, the second maneuver plan was revised to target an Earth orbit of 1.8 lakhs x 3.8 lakhs km. The Trans-Earthinjection (TEI)maneuver was performed on October 13, 2023. In thepost-TEI maneuver realized orbit, propulsion module made four Moon fly-bys before departing Moon SOI on November 10. Currently, propulsion module is orbiting Earth and crossedits first perigee on November 22nd with an altitude of 1.54 lakhs km. The orbit period is nearly 13 days with 27 deg inclination. The perigee and apogee altitude vary during its trajectory and the predicted minimum perigee altitude is 1.15 lakhs km. Hence as per current orbit prediction, there is no threats of close approach with any operational Earth orbiting satellites.

This test was a good way to prepare for future lunar missions where one of the mission parameters would be to bring back samples from the Moon to earth for study. The module’s expected lifetime was about 3 months and its already past that and still going on. Looking forward to finding out what other additional experiments we can run on it.

– Suramya

Source: India reveals that it has returned lunar spacecraft to Earth orbit

September 3, 2023

Aditya-L1 Mission is a successful launch

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

The Aditya-L1 was launched successfully on Saturday and inserted into orbit as per the plan. This is India’s first mission to study the Sun, and is a natural next step (if you think about it) after a successful moon mission. The planned duration of the mission is 5.2 years.

Was talking to Jani yesterday and she asked what the L1 point was, and I had just assumed everyone knew what it was because I knew it. But then I realized that this is not common knowledge though more people are learning about it thanks to the coverage of the Aditya-L1 mission. Basically, the definition is as below:

Lagrange points are positions in space where objects sent there tend to stay put. At Lagrange points, the gravitational pull of two large masses precisely equals the centripetal force required for a small object to move with them. These points in space can be used by spacecraft to reduce fuel consumption needed to remain in position.

To put in a simpler way, this is a place between the Earth and Sun where the gravitational pull of the sun is cancelled by the gravitational pull of the Earth. There are multiple such points around the solar system. The L1 point is approximately 1.5 million km away from Earth (about 1% of the Earth-Sun distance)

Visual depiction of Lagrange Points
Visual depiction of Lagrange Points, curtsy of ISRO

The Indian space program is shining because of their two back to back missions where very few other countries have succeeded in the past, so obviously we have folks in the western media claiming that the Chandrayaan-3 mission was faked and lots of editorials where ‘experts’ talk about how India should focus on feeding its poor instead of the space program. These folks need to take a closer look at their own countries and the state of their poor & the state of their infra instead of lecturing India.

That being said, not everyone responded in a racist way, plenty of publications covered the mission and were complementary about how much India has achieved in the past few years. Ars Technica did a pretty indepth and balanced walk through of India’s space programs and how it ranks against the other global powers.

Also, to those who from the UK who are asking for their ‘aid money’ back (which was actually investment money being shown as aid money), you are more than welcome to ask for it back after you pay back all the money the British Raj looted from India, and have returned all the stolen treasures being showcased in the British museum. Actually, why don’t we do this: deduct the money you claim to have sent for aid and then return the rest and then we can talk. Till then we will keep ignoring you.

Jai Hind.

– Suramya

August 30, 2023

ISRO Aditya mission to the Sun is scheduled to Launch this Friday

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:39 AM

After successfully landing Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon, ISRO is not resting on its laurels. Their next mission (Aditya L1) is on schedule to launch on 1st Sept 2023 and this will be the first space based Indian mission to study the Sun. The craft, named after the Hindi word for the sun, will be launched from the spaceport in Sriharikota using India’s heavy-duty launch vehicle, the PSLV, which will travel about 1.5 million km (932,000 miles). The craft will be placed in a halo orbit around the Lagrange point 1 (L1) of the Sun-Earth system, which gives it the advantage of continuously viewing the Sun without any eclipses or blockages. So far only 3 other countries/entities have successfully launched Solar probes: NASA (US), DFVLR (Germany), ESA (European Union). ISRO will be the 4th to do so.

Citizens are invited to witness the launch from the Launch View Gallery at Sriharikota by registering at their website. This is an awesome improvement in the process to visit the launch site. A few years ago when Surabhi and Vinit wanted to take the kids to watch the launch, they ended up having to reach out to an ISRO scientist and use a personal connection to get access. Now we can do it via a website. The advantage is that this is building up the hype for ISRO and getting more people interested in space.

The Science Objectives of the mission are as follows:

  • Study of Solar upper atmospheric (chromosphere and corona) dynamics.
  • Study of chromospheric and coronal heating, physics of the partially ionized plasma, initiation of the coronal mass ejections, and flares
  • Observe the in-situ particle and plasma environment providing data for the study of particle dynamics from the Sun.
  • Physics of solar corona and its heating mechanism.
  • Diagnostics of the coronal and coronal loops plasma: Temperature, velocity and density.
  • Development, dynamics and origin of CMEs.
  • Identify the sequence of processes that occur at multiple layers (chromosphere, base and extended corona) which eventually leads to solar eruptive events.
  • Magnetic field topology and magnetic field measurements in the solar corona .
  • Drivers for space weather (origin, composition and dynamics of solar wind .

Full details of the mission are available at the ISRO: ADITYA-L1 Website. Will write more after the launch.

– Suramya

August 23, 2023

ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 Successfully lands on the Moon!!!

Filed under: Astronomy / Space — Suramya @ 6:33 PM

We did it!!!! India made it all the way to the moon on its home grown Spacecraft and successfully achieved a soft landing on the Moon! This is a proud day for India and Indian’s world wide. We achieved something that only a few other countries have achieved so far and now India’s ambition to put up our own orbital station doesn’t seem that far fetched anymore…

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) Chandrayaan-3, which takes its name from the Sanskrit word for “mooncraft”, took off onboard a Launch Vehicle Mark-III rocket from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh on 14 July and has spent six weeks covering about 380,000 kilometres en route to the moon. It was a remarkably smooth landing process to the point that it wasn’t immediately apparent that it had touched down…

The news conference is ongoing: ISRO Live Telecast

Will post a more detailed post with my thoughts later on but for now: We are on the MOON!!!

Jai Hind!

– Suramya

August 16, 2023

ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 successfully completed its Fifth and final orbit reduction maneuver

Filed under: Astronomy / Space — Suramya @ 6:57 PM

Chandrayaan-3 is the third spacecraft sent to the moon by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the second one to attempt a soft landing on the far side of the moon. The Chandrayaan-3 consists of a lander module (LM), a propulsion module (PM) and a rover. Earlier today the craft successfully completed its 5th firing that has put the Chandrayaan-3 into an orbit of 153 km x 163 km around the moon as intended bringing it another step closer to its moon landing attempt which is expected to happen at 5.47 p.m on August 23rd 2023.

Chandrayaan-3’s Moon-bound maneuvers

After the completion of the five orbit reduction maneuvers ISRO said that it is gearing up for the next most crucial operations which is scheduled on August 17.

“It’s time for preparations as the Propulsion Module and the Lander Module gear up for their separate journeys. Separation of the Lander Module from the Propulsion Module is planned for August 17, 2023,” the space agency said

The propulsion module will separate from the lander while in orbit.

Following that, a series of complex braking maneuvers will be executed to facilitate a soft landing in the South Polar region of the Moon on August 23. The lander is expected to touch down on the moon surface at 5.47 p.m.

I am eagerly waiting for this attempt with fingers crossed. Although I think that the mission would have been even better if it was landing on the moon on 15th Aug (India’s Independence Day). More details on the mission and the craft is available over at the IRSO’s Chandrayaan-3 site.

– Suramya

June 26, 2023

BepiColombo takes fabulous photos during its flyby of Mercury 236 km above the planet’s surface

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,Science Related — Suramya @ 9:10 PM

Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun has been a challenge to explore and examine because of its closeness to the Sun. This is the second craft to orbit the planet after NASA’s MESSENGER probe, which orbited the planet from 2011 to 2015. BepiColombo is a joint venture between European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The latest flyby was 3rd of the 6 planned flybys of the planet. The team has released a short video composed of 217 images taken during the flyby.

Photo taken by BepiColombo during its 3rd flyby of Venus

Pic Credit: European Space Agency/ Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

The closest approach took place at 19:34 UTC (21:34 CEST) on 19 June 2023, about 236 km above the planet’s surface, on the night side of the planet.

Approaching on the nightside of the planet, a few features started to appear out of the shadows about 12 minutes following the closest approach, when BepiColombo was already about 1800 km from the surface. The planet’s surface became more optimally illuminated for imaging from about 20 minutes after close approach and onwards, corresponding to a distance of about 3500 km and beyond. In these closer images, a bounty of geological features are visible, including a newly named crater.

While not apparent in these flyby images, the nature of the dark material associated with Manley Crater and elsewhere will be explored further by BepiColombo from orbit. It will seek to measure just how much carbon it contains and what minerals are associated with it, in order to learn more about Mercury’s geological history.

The next Mercury flyby will happen in September 2024 but the next next long solar electric propulsion ‘thruster arc’ is planned to start early August until mid-September which will help BepiColombo in Braking against the gravitational pull of the Sun. During the lifetime of the project, the module will have completed 15,000 hours of solar electric propulsion operations which will allow it to perform 9 planetary flybys in total — one at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury.

The more we explore our celestial neighbors, the more information we will have before we start working towards space colonization and building settlements. Although, I don’t think that Mercury will be a contender in the near future for a settlement, unless we find a rare mineral or something over there.

Source: Slashdot: New Video Shows a Flyby of the Planet Mercury – with AI-Assisted Music

– Suramya

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