galacticjourney: (Default)
Here's a couple of interesting space news items:

Firstly, a new Explorer (#7) has soared into the sky. This one was launched at the tip of the Juno II rocket, the one that sent Pioneer 4 past the Moon and into solar orbit. Whereas Explorer 6 was known as "The Windmill," the quite different Explorer 7 has been nicknamed "The Gyroscope." Though the craft bears the same Explorer designation as its predecessor, it was actually made by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories, the (somehwhat) friendly rival of Space Technology Laboratories, darling of the U.S. Air Force.



Explorer 7 is a lovely, complex satellite, with a battery of scientific instrumentation. Not only will it probe the radiation and micrometeoric environment of space, as prior spacecraft have done, it also wields a new experiment designed to measure the heat budget of the Earth. Simply, it will help determine how much of the sun's energy is absorbed and reflected by our planet, measuring quantitatively the sun's effect on the Earth. Pretty neat stuff! I will definitely report on the science as it is published.

Secondly, Explorer 6 has finally gone silent, but even mute, it has proven useful. On October 13, the Air Force shot a plane-launched Bold Orion anti-missile rocket at it to test our ability to intercept Soviet missiles in flight. I can't get exact figures, but it got pretty close, apparently. Probably close enough that, if the rocket had a little nuclear bomb on it, it could destroy an enemy missile.



Meanwhile, in the "why bother" department, a piece in the Miami News caught my attention. The first, titled Space Science Called Foolish, has Brown University Professor Emeritus Dr. Charles A. Krause humbugging all over the space program. "There's a lot of nonsense going on in the field of space science," the esteemed doctor opined. "I'm for forgetting this nonsense and keeping our earth science up to date." He went on to say, "Space is a vacuum, void of matter or gas. There is nothing to be gotten out of a vacuum. We can get a lot out of the Earth."

Apparently, Dr. Krause is not aware that the Earth's upper atmosphere and magnetic field, integral parts of this planet, can only be surveyed from space. Moreover, he is blissfully ignorant that there is plenty to be gotten from a vacuum, one far better than any that can be manufactured on Earth. In any event, the Sun, the Moon, the planets, the asteroids, meteors, comets, micrometeoroids, charged particles, solar wind, etc. all exist in space. It is hardly devoid of matter or gas. Understanding how they move and interact perfects our knowledge of Earth-bound physics.

In short, Dr. Krause is a schmuck. And so are the editors of the Miami News.

Oh, and here's another one: Rockets too Puny for Moon. It's less inflammatory, but it is already out of date. The seminal quote is, "U.S. guidance systems are on par with those of Russia. The weight-carrying capacity of our moon rockets is not." The unknown author's point is that, until we get beefier rockets, we can't send guidance good enough to get a probe on the moon.

Given that the new Atlas Able will be launching before the end of the year, this defeatism seems misplaced. I guess we'll see.


Footage from a new TV show, Destination Space


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Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!








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galacticjourney: (Default)
For more than a month and a half, Explorer 6 has been a busy bee, happily conducting the most advanced science in orbit to date thanks to its highly eccentric orbit, taking it several thousand miles above the surface of the Earth, and its battery of sophisticated instruments.

What has this intrepid little fellow reaped in terms of scientific data? A veritable bonanza.

Firstly, let’s look at the most accessible treasure—the first picture of the Earth taken from orbit.



On August 14, 1959, one week after launch, Explorer 6 turned its photographic eye to its mother planet. It wasn’t a camera in the normal sense of the word; such a device would have been too heavy. Rather, it was a simple eye that scanned the sky in strips as the satellite spun around (it rotates for stability). Engineers on the ground then attempted to assemble the strips so that they might piece together into something recognizable as the Earth. It was much like trying to restore a shredded document. As Charles P. Sonnet, head of the scientific team commented, “You have to make the a priori judgment that the Earth is round.”

Apparently, one recent press conference attendee called the photo a “fake.” Chuck replied, “No, it’s not a fake… but it is pretty limited.”


Chuck Sonnet

So as a phototourist, Explorer 6 was a bit of a dud. In other categories, however, Explorer 6 is an unqualified winner. For two weeks, before the probe’s ion chamber broke down, Explorer 6 returned an unprecedented map of the Van Allen Belts of trapped radiation encircling the globe, and results are still coming in, though it is harder to determine the energy of encountered particles. The on-board cosmic ray scintillator has determined that the “solar wind,” the waves of particles emanating from the sun, are not modulated by Earth’s magnetic fields but rather are controlled almost exclusively by the solar magnetic field. Explorer 6’s magnetometer has returned a comprehensive map of Earth’s fields, which conform to theoretical predictions only out to a distance of five Earth radii—after that, they get unexpectedly variable.


Explorer 6's magetometer and the ones who built it: Paul Coleman and George Takahashi

The only field we still don’t have good data on is micrometeorites. Virtually every launched space probe has had an experiment to measure the number and energy of little orbital particles to see if they might pose a significant threat to satellites and spaceships. The data they have returned has not been robust enough to reach any real conclusions. All we can determine thus far is that there are some particles up there, but they can’t be too hazardous since our satellites haven’t been damaged by them!

Explorer 6 continues to return data, not only augmenting humanity’s fund of scientific data, but also proving the efficacy of the first digital telemetry system—a necessity for any interplanetary space shot. It is unknown how long the satellite will last, but there is no question that it has done yeoman’s work to date. It is arguably the most successful orbital probe ever launched, and it is a harbinger of good tidings for the upcoming Pioneer Able launches to the moon and Pioneer Thor deep space probe.

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P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



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