Tag Archives: asteroids

NASA, U.S. Government and the Asteroid

From Space.com:

NASA’s bold plan to drag an asteroid into orbit around the moon may sound like science fiction, but it’s achievable with current technology, experts say.

President Barack Obama’s 2014 federal budget request, which will be unveiled today (April 10), likely includes about $100 million for NASA to jump-start an asteroid-capture mission, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said last week.

The plan aims to place a roughly 23-foot-wide (7 meters) space rock into a stable lunar orbit, where astronauts could begin visiting it as soon as 2021 using NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, Nelson said.

While challenging, the mission is definitely doable, said Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of billionaire-backed asteroid-mining firm Planetary Resources. [NASA's Asteroid-Capture Plan (Video)]

“Return of a near-Earth asteroid of this size would require today’s largest launch vehicles and today’s most efficient propulsion systems in order to achieve the mission,” Lewicki, who served as flight director for NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers and surface mission manager for the agency’s Phoenix Mars lander, wrote in a blog post Sunday (April 7).

“Even so, capturing and transporting a small asteroid should be a fairly straightforward affair,” Lewicki added. “Mission cost and complexity are likely on par with missions like the [$2.5 billion] Curiosity Mars rover.”

Spurring solar system exploration

NASA’s idea is similar to one proposed last year by scientists based at Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies in Pasadena.

The Keck study estimated that a robotic spacecraft could drag a 23-foot near-Earth asteroid (NEA) — which would likely weigh about 500 tons — into a high lunar orbit for $2.6 billion. The returns on this initial investment are potentially huge, the researchers said.

“Experience gained via human expeditions to the small returned NEA would transfer directly to follow-on international expeditions beyond the Earth-moon system: to other near-Earth asteroids, [the Mars moons] Phobos and Deimos, Mars and potentially someday to the main asteroid belt,” the Keck team wrote in a feasibility study of their plan.

The mission would also help develop asteroid-mining technology, advocates say, and advance scientists’ understanding of how our solar system took shape more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Asteroids “probably represent samples of the earliest matter that was made available to form our solar system and our Earth,” Caltech’s Paul Dimotakis, a member of the Keck study team, told SPACE.com in February.

“We learned a lot about the moon by analyzing the moon rocks that Apollo astronauts brought back,” he added. [NASA's 17 Apollo Moon Missions in Pictures]

A challenging mission

Unmanned probes have successfully rendezvoused with asteroids in deep space multiple times. Japan’s Hayabusa craft even snagged pieces of the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa in 2005, sending them back to our planet for study.

But bagging an entire asteroid and dragging it to our neck of the cosmic woods is unprecedented, and it presents several daunting challenges.

For example, the target asteroid will be spinning, which doesn’t make for a smooth ride to lunar orbit. After the spacecraft captures the asteroid and brings it into a hold of sorts, the space rock will have to be de-spun, likely with thrusters, Dimotakis said.

“You might use reaction jets to take out most of it [the spin],” he said. “You would give you yourself a lot of time to do this, because there’s no second chance in any of this.”

Further, bringing the asteroid onboard greatly increases the spacecraft’s mass, making propulsion and navigation much more difficult. And precise navigation will definitely be required to deliver the space rock to its desired orbit, Dimotakis said (though he also stressed that any asteroid chosen would pose no danger to humanity even if it somehow struck our planet).

But ion thrusters like the ones powering NASA’s Dawn mission to the huge asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres should be muscular enough to make the journey, likely taking a few years to reach the asteroid and somewhat longer to come back. And the asteroid-laden probe could probably still be guided with great care, he added.

“My guess is that all of these are not insurmountable challenges, and you would be able to calibrate yourself after you snagged it and adjust your controls,” Dimotakis said.

Choosing a target

Perhaps the biggest challenge of the entire mission is picking a suitable space rock to retrieve, Lewicki wrote in his blog post.

The Keck study recommends going after a carbonaceous asteroid packed full of water and other volatiles. Carbonaceous asteroids can be very dark, and it’s tough to spot and characterize a 23-foot asteroid in the vast depths of space whatever its color.

So both Lewicki and Dimotakis stressed the importance of searching for potential asteroid targets sooner rather than later. Planetary Resources plans to begin launching a line of small prospecting space telescopes in 2014 or 2015, and these “Arkyd-100″ craft could aid NASA’s mission, Lewicki wrote.

Dimotakis, for his part, is engaged in a follow-up to the Keck study that’s looking for potential targets in observations made by current telescopes.

“We are developing software in collaboration with JPL [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] that is going to exploit the observational digital record and essentially flag things that could be of interest and might be in this class,” he said. “This has never happened before.”

Still, mission scientists and engineers shouldn’t just sit on their hands until an asteroid selection is made, he added.

It’s important “to start developing the spacecraft before you even know where you’re going,” Dimotakis said. “If you do these things in parallel, then the mission timeline shrinks.”

The $2.6 Billion price tag looks a little low to me, but the Russians seem to want to get onboard with this idea too.

Unfortunately, the Russian space program is largely financed by NASA payments to launch American and international astronauts to the ISS. So the cost will still be born by the U.S. taxpayer.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a worthwhile effort, but I think NASA should continue to partner with private industry and the Europeans to help defray the expences.

Capturing an Asteroid: How NASA Could Do It

International Spacecraft To Hit Asteroid in 2022

From Huffington Post:

Aida Mission

Scientists in Europe and the United States are moving forward with plans to intentionally smash a spacecraft into a huge nearby asteroid in 2022 to see inside the space rock.

The ambitious European-led Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission, or AIDA, is slated to launch in 2019 to send two spacecraft — one built by scientists in the U.S, and the other by the European Space Agency — on a three-year voyage to the asteroid Didymos and its companion. Didymos has no chance of impacting the Earth, which makes it a great target for this kind of mission, scientists involved in the mission said in a presentation Tuesday (March 19) here at the 44th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Didymos is actually a binary asteroid system consisting of two separate space rocks bound together by gravity. The main asteroid is enormous, measuring 2,625 feet (800 meters) across. It is orbited by a smaller asteroid  about 490 feet (150 m).

The Didymos asteroid setup is an intriguing target for the AIDA mission because it will give scientists their first close look at a binary space rock system while also yielding new insights into ways to deflect dangerous asteroids that could pose an impact threat to the Earth. [Photos of Potentially Dangerous Asteroids]

“Binary systems are quite common,” said Andy Rivkin, a scientist at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., working on the U.S. portion of AIDA project. “This will be our first rendezvous with a binary system.”

In 2022, the Didymos asteroids will be about 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from the Earth, during a close approach, which is why AIDA scientists have timed their mission for that year.

Rivkin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory are building DART (short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test), one of the two spacecraft making up the tag team AIDA mission. Like its acronym suggests, the DART probe crash directly into the smaller Didymos asteroid while travelling at 14,000 mph (22,530 km/h), creating a crater during an impact that will hopefully sending the space rock slightly off course, Rivkin said.

The European Space Agency is building the second AIDA spacecraft, which is called the Asteroid Impact Monitor (or AIM). AIM will observe the impact from a safe distance, and the probe’s data will be used with other data collected by telescopes on Earth to understand exactly what the impact did to the asteroid.

“AIM is the usual shoebox satellite,” ESA researcher Jens Biele,  who works on the AIM spacecraft, said. “It’s nothing very fancy.”

AIDA scientists hope their mission will push the smaller Didymos asteroid off course by only a few millimeters. The small space rock orbits the larger, primary Didymos asteroid once every 12 hours.

The goal, Rivkin said, is to use the DART impact as a testbed for the most basic method of asteroid deflection: a direct collision with a spacecraft.  If the mission is successful, it could have implications for how space agencies around the world learn how to deflect larger, more threatening asteroid that could pose a threat to Earth, he added.

At the moment, AIDA researchers are not sure of the exact composition of the Didymos asteroids. They could just be a loose conglomeration of rocks travelling together through the solar system, or made of much denser stuff.

But once DART impacts the asteroid, scientists will be able to measure how much the asteroid’s orbit is affected as well as classify its surface composition, Rivkin said. And by studying how debris floats outward from the impact site after the crash, researchers could also better prepare for the conditions astronauts may encounter during future manned missions to asteroids — such as NASA’s project to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, he added.

The AIDA mission’s AIM space craft is expected to cost about 150 million euros (about $194 million), while the DART spacecraft is slated to cost about $150 million, mission officials said.

While the DART and AIDA missions are relatively inexpensive ( $150 and $194 million respectively ) private companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries don’t just plan on impacting asteroids, they plan on mining the crap out of them.

The question is whether these companies are willing to wait on the science to be obtained by these government probes in order to save them money on research.

Asteroid Deflection Mission AIDA Set To Crash Two Spacecraft Into Space Rock In 2022

Another Asteroid Mining Company Start-Up

From Centauri Dreams:

Deep Space Industries is announcing today that it will be engaged in asteroid prospecting through a fleet of small ‘Firefly’ spacecraft based on cubesat technologies, cutting the costs still further by launching in combination with communications satellites. The idea is to explore the small asteroids that come close to Earth, which exist in large numbers indeed. JPL analysts have concluded that as many as 100,000 Near Earth Objects larger than the Tunguska impactor (some 30 meters wide) are to be found, with roughly 7000 identified so far. So there’s no shortage of targets (see Greg Matloff’s Deflecting Asteroids in IEEE Spectrum for more on this.

‘Smaller, cheaper, faster’ is a one-time NASA mantra that DSI is now resurrecting through its Firefly spacecraft, each of which masses about 25 kilograms and takes advantages of advances in computing and miniaturization. In its initial announcement, company chairman Rick Tumlinson talked about a production line of Fireflies ready for action whenever an NEO came near the Earth. The first launches are slated to begin in 2015. Sample-return missions that are estimated to take between two and four years to complete are to commence the following year, with 25 to 70 kilograms of asteroid material becoming available for study. Absent a fiery plunge through the atmosphere, such samples will have their primordial composition and structure intact.

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The Deep Space Industries announcement is to be streamed live later today. It will reflect the company’s ambitious game plan, one that relies on public involvement and corporate sponsorship to move the ball forward. David Gump is CEO of the new venture:

“The public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers, and other innovative ways to open the doors wide. The Google Lunar X Prize, Unilever, and Red Bull each are spending tens of millions of dollars on space sponsorships, so the opportunity to sponsor a FireFly expedition into deep space will be enticing.”

The vision of exploiting space resources to forge a permanent presence there will not be unfamiliar to Centauri Dreams readers. Tumlinson sums up the agenda:

“We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there. This is the Deep Space mission – to find, harvest and process the resources of space to help save our civilization and support the expansion of humanity beyond the Earth – and doing so in a step by step manner that leverages off our space legacy to create an amazing and hopeful future for humanity. We are squarely focused on giving new generations the opportunity to change not only this world, but all the worlds of tomorrow.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”

So we have asteroid sample return as part of the mix, but the larger strategy calls for the use of asteroid-derived products to power up space industries. The company talks about using asteroid-derived propellants to supply eventual manned missions to Mars and elsewhere, with Gump likening nearby asteroid resources to the Iron Range of Minnesota, which supplied Detroit’s car industry in the 20th Century. DSI foresees supplying propellant to communication satellites to extend their working lifetime, estimating that each extra month is worth $5 million to $8 million per satellite. The vision extends to harvesting building materials for subsequent technologies like space-based power stations. Like I said, the key word is ‘ambitious.’

“Mining asteroids for rare metals alone isn’t economical, but makes sense if you already are processing them for volatiles and bulk metals for in-space uses,” said Mark Sonter, a member of the DSI Board of Directors. “Turning asteroids into propellant and building materials damages no ecospheres since they are lifeless rocks left over from the formation of the solar system.  Several hundred thousand that cross near Earth are available.”

In the near-term category, the company has a technology it’s calling MicroGravity Foundry that is designed to transform raw asteroid materials into metal parts for space missions. The 3D printer uses lasers to draw patterns in a nickel-charged gas medium, building up parts from the precision placement of nickel deposits. Because it does not require a gravitational field to work, the MicroGravity Foundry could be a tool used by deep space astronauts to create new parts aboard their spacecraft by printing replacements.

The team behind Deep Space Industries has experience in commercial space activities. Tumlinson, a well-known space advocate, was a founding trustee of the X Prize and founder of Orbital Outfitters, a commercial spacesuit company. Gump has done space-related TV work, producing a commercial shot on the International Space Station. He’s also a co-founder of Transformational Space Corporation. Geoffrey Notkin is the star of ‘Meteorite Men,’ a TV series about hunting meteorites. The question will be how successful DSI proves to be in leveraging that background to attract both customers and corporate sponsors.

With such bold objectives, I can only wish Deep Space Industries well. The idea of exploiting inexpensive CubeSat technology and combining it with continuing progress in miniaturizing digital tools is exciting, but the crucial validation will be in those early Firefly missions and the data they return. If DSI can proceed with the heavier sample return missions it now envisions, the competitive world of asteroid prospecting (think Planetary Resources) will have taken another step forward. Can a ‘land rush’ for asteroid resources spark the public’s interest, with all the ramifications that would hold for the future of commercial space? Could it be the beginning of the system-wide infrastructure we’ll have to build before we think of going interstellar?

All of this asteroid mining activity sounds exciting and I can hardly wait for DSI and Planetary Resources to begin their plans. Both are using untried and new technology to develop these new industries and can be extended to such environments as the Moon and Mars.

Mankind will eventually follow. And these new technologies will let us expand into this Universe.

Or the Multiverse.

Deep Space Industries: Mining Near-Earth Asteroids

Carl Sagan and the U.S. Military

From io9.com:

News of Carl Sagan’s involvement with a plan to “nuke” the moon, Project A119, has become relevant again. In fact, Sagan was involved in a number of military causes during his all-too-short lifetime. But later, he cut all ties with the military. Here’s what happened.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbfOqgQVKmI&feature=player_embedded

Carl Sagan spent his childhood under the ominous cloud of World War II. As the war faded and the United States and USSR entered a Cold War, the United States once again looked to its best and brightest — including many academic scientists — to consult with the military.

Sagan’s extremely limited involvement in a theoretical plan to “Nuke the Moon” as a show of U.S. military might recently caused an uproar, but this was just one aspect of Sagan’s involvement with the militarily. Sagan’s involvement in Project A-119 occurred while he worked toward his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. The good scientist actually broke personnel restrictions placed on the classified project by listing his involvement on a job application.

Sagan and Project Blue Book The majority of Sagan’s contact with the military came as a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board beginning in 1966. Sagan lectured at Harvard at this time in his life, but would soon depart to become Associate Professor of Astronomy in the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell after being denied tenure by Harvard.

At this time in his career, Sagan had already begun to publish his suppositions about the atmosphere of Venus and became a member of the fringe in the eyes of many thanks to his ruminations on the possibility of intelligent life in the universe. Sagan also played a role in advising the U.S. Space Program, a program synonymous with military applications during the Cold War era.

Sagan allegedly received $800 per day (roughly $4500 in current dollars), an astounding sum for a university lecturer, to act as a consultant for the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. The United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board began in 1944 as a secret program with a variety of missions, including determining the possibility of using atomic energy in jet propulsion as well as non-traditional use of nuclear weapons.

Sagan’s military contact revolved around Project Blue Book, a 23-year study of UFOs conducted by the United States Air Force that ceased in January of 1970. Project Blue Book took a systematic approach to the study of unidentified flying objects, analyzing possible UFO data and aiming to determine if these objects were a danger to United States national security.

Within the two-decade-plus report are 12,618 “sightings”, with analysis leaving a mere 700 classified as unidentified. The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, however concluded that Project Blue Book did not meet necessary rigors, suggesting a university-led study of unidentified flying objects would be far more conclusive.

Separation from the military After the closure of Project Blue Book, Sagan continued to act as a prominent scientific advisor for NASA, arguing for the financial merit of robotic spacecraft.

Sagan became an extremely vocal advocate against nuclear proliferation after the rise of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Sagan openly protested the testing of nuclear weapons, with the sage arrested for trespassing after a 1986 underground detonation of a thermonuclear warhead in the Nevada desert.

Though he cut ties with the military, Sagan continued to ponder the idea of space war. He concocted the Deflection Dilemma — the idea that the using a significant blast to knock a near earth object on a trajectory towards earth off course could also be used as a weapon, sending the object into the country or countries of choice.

If you are curious, you can lose an entire weekend and browse through the entirety of Project Blue Book online thanks to the Project Blue Book Archive, or have a marathon of Twin Peaks to catch a hint of the intrigue surrounded Project Blue Book.

The idea of blowing up the Moon seems far-fetched, but not knocking an asteroid into an orbit that intercepts a certain country(s) and wreaks destruction over one side of the planet. It’s the ultimate Dooms-Day Device!

That’s why I don’t think NASA’s plan of flying to an asteroid in 2025 and Planetary Resources’ idea of asteroid capture and mining will be politically viable or palatable in the international arena because if a country that has the technology to move planetary objects into different orbits, especially in Earth orbit has the ultimate weapon over other nations in the form of a huge hammer.

And I’m really surprised this isn’t mentioned at various mainstream space sites.

Maybe it’s an unmentionable thing?

What Exactly Was Carl Sagan Working on with the U.S. Military?

Close Shaves and Alien Volcanoes

Did you hear of the close shave we had with an asteroid yesterday? (The asteroid is the streak)

Check this out from Wired:

When asteroid 2010 RX30 zipped past Earth early Wednesday, observers at the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy were ready. At 12:45 a.m. Mountain time, amateur astronomers Ernesto Guido and Giovanni Sostero remotely controlled a 0.25-meter telescope in Mayhill, New Mexico, through the Global Remote Astronomy Telescope Network. They got four separate exposures of 30 seconds each and stitched them together to make this animation.

At its closest approach, 2010 RX30 was about 154,100 miles from Earth, or 60 percent the distance between the Earth and the moon.

Another asteroid, 2010 RF12, swung past Earth at a distance of 49,000 miles (20 percent the Earth-moon distance) at 5:12 p.m. EDT (0012 UT Thursday). Check back for more photos of these cosmic interlopers in action.

Wow. Maybe we do need those asteroid missions the Obamanator is proposing for NASA, eh?

Close-Shave Asteroid Caught on Camera

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From asteroids to volcanoes on alien worlds, can it get any better than that?:

Volcanoes display the awesome power of Nature like few other events. Earlier this year, ash from an Icelandic volcano disrupted air travel throughout much of northern Europe. Yet this recent eruption pales next to the fury of Jupiter’s moon Io, the most volcanic body in our solar system.

Now that astronomers are finding rocky worlds orbiting distant stars, they’re asking the next logical questions: Do any of those worlds have volcanoes? And if so, could we detect them? Work by theorists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggests that the answer to the latter is a qualified “Yes.”

“You would need something truly earthshaking, an eruption that dumped a lot of gases into the atmosphere,” said Smithsonian astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger. “Using the James Webb Space Telescope, we could spot an eruption 10 to 100 times the size of Pinatubo for the closest stars,” she added.

Astronomers are decades away from being able to image the surface of an alien world, or exoplanet. However, in a few cases they have been able to detect exoplanet atmospheres for gas giants known as “hot Jupiters.” An eruption sends out fumes and various gases, so volcanic activity on a rocky exoplanet might leave a telltale atmospheric signature.

To examine which volcanic gases might be detectable, Kaltenegger and her Harvard colleagues, Wade Henning and Dimitar Sasselov, developed a model for eruptions on an Earth-like exoplanet based on the present-day Earth. They found that sulfur dioxide from a very large, explosive eruption is potentially measurable because a lot is produced and it is slow to wash out of the air.

“Our first sniffs of volcanoes from an alien Earth might be pretty rank!” Kaltenegger said. “Seeing a volcanic eruption on an exoplanet will show us similarities or differences among rocky worlds.”

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed about 17 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere — a layer of air 6 to 30 miles above Earth’s surface. The largest volcanic eruption in recorded history, the 1815 Tambora event, was about 10 times more powerful.

Such gigantic eruptions are infrequent, so astronomers would have to monitor many Earth-sized planets for years to catch one in the act. However, if alien worlds are more volcanically active than Earth, success might be more likely.

“A Tambora-sized eruption doesn’t happen often here, but could be more common on a younger planet, or a strongly tidally active planet — analogous to Io,” said Henning. “Once you detected one eruption, you could keep watch for further ones, to learn if frequent eruptions are common on other planets.”

To look for volcanic sulfur dioxide, astronomers would rely on a technique known as the secondary eclipse, which requires the exoplanet to cross behind its star as seen from Earth. By collecting light from the star and planet, then subtracting the light from the star (while the planet is hidden), astronomers are left with the signal from the planet alone. They can search that signal for signs of particular chemical molecules.

Due to its proximity, a hypothetical Earth or super-Earth orbiting Alpha Centauri would offer a best-case scenario for a sun-like star. A super-Earth orbiting a smaller host star close to our own Sun would show the biggest signal. But any Earth-like planet less than 30 light-years away could show faint signs of volcanism when studied with the James Webb Space Telescope.

I think our telescope ability will out-pace our space probe capability simply because of economic conditions, not technological.

It’ll be cheaper to develop super long range sensor technology and couple that with virtual reality/super computing abilities.

Can you say “Avatar?”

Can we spot volcanoes on Alien Worlds?

Today’s hat tips go to The Daily Grail and Graham Hancock’s Site

Dark Energy Cam and NEO Caught On Film

Depending on your take on certain theories of how the Universe works, the following piece of equipment might be a total waste of time. Dark Energy, or dark matter in this case, supposedly makes up a good part of the mass of the Universe and can be detected with technology we recently have developed.

Now Fermilab, the one bastion of high technology we still have in the fundamentalist US, in cooperation with international astronomers and astrophysicists have built a telescope/camera that is capable of detecting and photographing said elusive dark matter/energy:

The planet’s biggest -570-megapixel- camera the size of a smart car is being built at Fermilab by an international team of particle physicists and astronomers, to help solve one of the great mysteries of the cosmos: what is dark energy -the ubiquitous, invisible matter believed to make up 70 percent of the universe and the hidden force behind the acceleration of the universe.

This is actually an impressive piece of technology. Our far range detection/sensor technology has outpaced our rocket tech by leaps and bounds. Couple that with our advancing software/AI tech, within a decade we’ll be able to discover an Earth-like planet and pick out details from its surface!

Why are we developing that kind of tech instead of  rocket tech? Is there a reason behind it?

Maybe it’s nothing. In the meantime however, I’ll eagerly await the results from this camera and see if dark matter actually exists.

The Dark Eye: Monster Camera To Seek Mysterious “Anti-Gravity Force” In Cosmos

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Remember that asteroid that crossed Earth’s orbit within 76,000 miles yesterday?

Italian astronomers got a real good look at it and took some pictures:

team of astronomers from Italy captured images of the asteroid that passed by Earth Wednesday at a distance one-third that between the Earth and the Moon.

The rock, between 30 and 50 feet across, was not in danger of striking the planet and probably would have burned up in the atmosphere before hitting Earth’s surface, if it had headed our way. The asteroid, dubbed 2010 AL30 was first spotted and announced Monday. It is the closest encounter Earth will have with any known object until 2024.

In 2029 an asteroid known as Apophis will come three times closer than Wednesday’s asteroid did. Though the chances it will hit Earth are just one in 250,000, it is the subject of a lot of discussion, and Russia has announced it is making plans to deflect it.

The Russians deflecting Apophis meme in 2029 is still strong in the media.

I can say with some certainty however that it isn’t gonna happen without a huge infusion of cash.

Something the Russians don’t have.

In the meantime, the Italians got some good pictures, didn’t they?

Wednesday’s Near Earth Asteroid Caught On Film

Duck and Cover, Quantum Computing and Kurzweil Interview

Duck your head!

Astronomers say it may be space junk or it could be a tiny asteroid, too small to cause damage even if it hit. It’s 33 to 50 feet wide at most.

says that on Wednesday at 7:47 a.m. EST, it will streak by, missing Earth by about 80,000 miles. In the western United States it may be bright enough to be seen with a good .

Hmm..makes a good case for the Flexible Path asteroid missions, eh?

Mystery object to whizz by Earth

From the wonderful world(s) of the multiverse and quantum entanglement:

For the first time, physicists have convincingly demonstrated that physically separated particles in solid-state devices can be quantum-mechanically entangled. The achievement is analogous to the  of light, except that it involves particles in circuitry instead of photons in optical systems. Both optical and solid-state entanglement offer potential routes to and secure communications, but solid-state versions may ultimately be easier to incorporate into electronic devices.

The experiment is reported in an upcoming issue of Physical Review Lettersand highlighted with a Viewpoint in the January 11 issue of Physics.

In optical entanglement experiments, a pair of entangled photons may be separated via a beam splitter. Despite their physical separation, the entangled photons continue to act as a single quantum object. A team of physicists from France, Germany and Spain has now performed a solid-state entanglement experiment that uses electrons in a superconductor in place of photons in an optical system.

As conventional  are cooled, the electrons they conduct entangle to form what are known as Cooper pairs. In the new experiment, Cooper pairs flow through a superconducting bridge until they reach a  that acts as the electronic equivalent of a beam splitter. Occasionally, the electrons part ways and are directed to separate — but remain entangled. Although the quantum dots are only a micron or so apart, the distance is large enough to demonstrate entanglement comparable to that seen in optical systems.

In addition to the possibility of using entangled electrons in solid-state devices for computing and secure communications, the breakthrough opens a whole new vista on the study of quantum mechanically entangled systems in solid materials.

Optical connections not needed? Solid state devices can utilize quantum configurations?

This is huge. Maybe Kurzweil can get his mechanical AI sooner than thought?

A solid case of entanglement

Speaking of Ray Kurzweil, the Guru of the Technological Singularity grants an interview with the Transhumanist ezine H+:

RAY KURZWEIL: One area I commented on was the question of a possible link between quantum computing and the brain. Do we need quantum computing to create human level AI? My conclusion is no, mainly because we don‘t see any quantum computing in the brain. Roger Penrose‘s conjecture that there was quantum computing in tubules does not seem to have been verified by any experimental evidence.

Quantum computing is a specialized form of computing where you examine in parallel every possible combination of qubits. So it‘s very good at certain kinds of problems, the classical one being cracking encryption codes by factoring large numbers. But the types of problems that would be vastly accelerated by quantum computing are not things that the human brain is very good at. When it comes to the kinds of problems I just mentioned, the human brain isn‘t even as good as classical computing. So in terms of what we can do with our brains there‘s no indication that it involves quantum computing. Do we need quantum computing for consciousness? The only justification for that conjecture from Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff is that consciousness is mysterious and quantum mechanics is mysterious, so there must be a link between the two.

I get very excited about discussions about the true nature of consciousness, because I‘ve been thinking about this issue for literally 50 years, going back to junior high school. And it‘s a very difficult subject. When some article purports to present the neurological basis of consciousness… I read it. And the articles usually start out, “Well, we think that consciousness is caused by…” You know, fill in the blank. And then it goes on with a big extensive examination of that phenomenon. And at the end of the article, I inevitably find myself thinking… where is the link to consciousness? Where is any justification for believing that this phenomenon should cause consciousness? Why would it cause consciousness?

Kurzweil takes his reputation as the Guru of the Singularity in stride. He feels pretty confident in its eventual arrival.

Will it? Check out this interview!

Ray Kurzweil Interview With H+ Ezine

More Asteroid Drama

Two weeks ago around Christmas time, the head of the Russian Space Agency, Anatoly Perminov, announced that his agency is going to develop a plan to deflect the asteroid Apophis as it approaches the Earth in 2029.

Now a NASA research scientist, Dr. Paul Chodas, claims that Apophis only has a 1 in 250,000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2029.

But in its close approach to Earth’s gravitational field, chances can be altered:

[...]Apophis (previously known by its provisional designation 2004 MN4) is a near-Earth asteroid that caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a relatively large probability that it would strike the Earth in 2029. Additional observations provided improved predictions that eliminated the possibility of an impact on Earth or the Moon in 2029. However there remained a possibility that during the 2029 close encounter with Earth, Apophis would pass through a “gravitational keyhole”, a precise region in space no more than about 400 meters across, that would set up a future impact on April 13, 2036. This possibility kept the asteroid at Level 1 on the Torino impact hazard scale until August 2006.

Additional observations of the trajectory of Apophis revealed the “keyhole” would likely be missed and on August 5, 2006, Apophis was lowered to a Level 0 on the Torino Scale. As of October 19, 2006 the impact probability for April 13, 2036 is estimated at 1 in 45,000. An additional impact date in 2037 has been identified, however the impact probability for that encounter is 1 in 12.3 million.

Let’s keep in mind that Apophis isn’t the only NEO (Near Earth Object) flying around crossing Earth’s orbit, there are hundreds.

And more are discovered every day.

Recently the Presidential panel that reviewed NASA’s Vision of Space Exploration, the Augustine Commity, listed as an option a plan called the “Flexible Path” to replace the proposed Moon and Mars landings. The main reason for the change was economic, there simply isn’t any money to fund the Moon and Mars plans. But the Flexible Path suggests exploring Libration Points, constructing large telescopes, close Lunar orbits with robot landers exploring the Moon and taking an Hohmann orbit journey to Mars’ moon Phobos.

But the central meme of the Flexible Path is NEO exploration.

In fact, a study was already done by Lockheed-Martin last fall on that very thing:

Call it Operation: Plymouth Rock. A plan to send a crew of astronauts to an asteroid is gaining momentum, both within NASA and industry circles.

Not only would the deep space sojourn shake out hardware, it would also build confidence in long-duration stints at the moon and Mars. At the same time, the trek would sharpen skills to deal with a future space rock found on a collision course with Earth.

In Lockheed Martin briefing charts, the mission has been dubbed “Plymouth Rock – An Early Human Asteroid Mission Using Orion.” Lockheed is the builder of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the capsule-based replacement for the space shuttle.

Study teams are now readying high-level briefings for NASA leaders – perhaps as early as this week – on a pilgrimage to an asteroid, along with appraisals of anchoring large, astronaut-enabled telescopes far from Earth, a human precursor mission to the vicinity of Mars, as well as an initiative to power-beam energy from space to Earth.

The briefings have been spurred in response to the recent Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee and the option of a “Flexible Path” to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

In my view, the Russian Space Agency’s announcement isn’t a surprise at all, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised that NASA knew about it before hand!

Just my opinion y’know.  ;)

Russia, US at Odds Over Future Asteroid Hit

Article On Human NEO Mission

Asteroid Deflection and A New NASA Mega-Rocket?

There has been alot of noise lately about the deflection of the asteroid Apophis in 2029 proposed by the Russian Space Agency as it passes by the Earth within 30,000 kilometers (18,641 miles). While this is a close shave by astronomical distances, experts claim Earth is in no danger.

But others say it’s “too close a shave”:

Apophis will first pass us at close range in just under 20 years. It may almost graze the Earth, missing by only 30,000 kilometres, less than the distance between Earth and the moon. At this point, astronomers have ruled out the possibility that it will hit us.

However, there is a very small chance that it will pass through a 600 metre-wide “gravitational keyhole” as it swings by. That would alter its course and cause it to slingshot back and hit the Earth in 2036. New NASA calculations released in October rate the chance of impact during the second pass at 1 in 250,000.

That still doesn’t sound terribly alarming, but as Dr. William Ailor, of California’s Aerospace Corporation, said Wednesday, “That’s a pretty high probability if you’re betting the planet.”

In April, Ailor chaired the biannual Planetary Defense Conference of the world’s leading asteroid experts.

“There are still issues around how great does the risk have to be before you start planning a (defence) mission like this. But ultimately, everyone agrees that we will have to do this sooner or later,” Ailor said.

Donald K. Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office, says the time to make a decision on Apophis will be in late 2012 and early 2013, when it makes another close approach, within about 14 million kilometres of Earth.

“The additional optical and radar data taken then will almost certainly remove any possibility of an Earth collision in April 2036. To my mind it would make sense to wait until 2013, refine the orbit and in the very unlikely event that the impact probability increases, then begin planning possible deflection options,” Yeomans said.

“While Apophis is almost certainly not a problem, I am encouraged that the Russian science community is willing to study the various deflection options that would be available in the event of a future Earth-threatening encounter by an asteroid.”

A variety of deflection methods have been suggested in the past: gravitational tractors; landing a manned mission on Apophis; knocking it off target by ramming it or striking it with nuclear weapons. There is no broad consensus on what might work best.

“There’s also the question of how you design the `campaign’ to attack the asteroid. You’d probably have to launch multiple vehicles, in case some failed,” Ailor said.

Five years ago, Ailor said, the Aerospace Corp. ballparked the cost of such a mission at $80 billion (U.S.). NASA’s current annual budget is a little over $17 billion. Perminov, sounding less than expert on the grasp of details, got the year of impact wrong (2032), couldn’t cite the latest estimates accurately and seriously underestimated the potential cost. But he’s right about the risk.

Ailor points out that the 1908 asteroid that exploded over Tunguska in Siberia was only 30 metres across. It devastated more than 2,000 square kilometres of forest. Apophis is 270 metres in diameter.

What if it hit the Earth directly?

“That’d be a very bad day,” Ailor said.

“Probably not the end of all life as we know it. But a bad day.”

The exploration of asteroid meme has been pushed by the mainstream lately, given that the Augustine Commission review has stressed this as a new path to be taken by NASA, given the funding realities of the original Moon and Mars proposals in 2004 are unrealistic (note: the Flexible Path option that includes asteroid exploration requires a budget increase also).

The Apophis Project requires $80 billion to be pulled off. Surely an international effort, no?

I’m certain that the US would be the prime financial backer of the project however.

Bumping asteroid from Earth could cost more than $80B
Chances of a direct hit might be low, but as one expert put it, `not if you’re betting the planet’

As this most probably is leading to this little tidbit of info…

[...]

However, another Heavy Lift vehicle came out of the blue in December, via an internal 65 page presentation on NASA’s overview (available on L2) of what it believes can be accomplished via the Flexible Path options, per Augustine Commission.

While the presentation is far-reaching on various mission outlines – including missions to Near Earth Objects (NEOs), GEO Space Telescopes, and manned missions to Mars (all of which will be reported in an upcoming article) – a monster 200 metric ton human rated “Exploration Class” launch vehicle is referenced several times.

A3“Exploration-Class Rocket: A human-rated system with LEO throw-mass on the order of 200 mt, designed purposely for extremely high reliability and minimum operations cost, rather than being sized directly by an architecture that may change later,” noted the presentation. “200 mt, sized by ‘knee in the curve’ of LV economics. Not driven by the architecture de jour.”

No specific designs are included in the presentation, with a Saturn V schematic shown next to the 200mt references. However, such a vehicle would likely to be a three stage Ares V type heavy lifter. How such a massive vehicle could be afforded is questionable.

For the interim, all eyes remain on the President, who – it is hoped – will show his willingness to help NASA achieve its goals via support for an increased budget.

A generic 200 mT heavy-lift launch vehicle, separate from the architecture that is destined to replace the space shuttle?

How is this to happen, given that the Program of Record, Constellation, is going to be revamped possibly by the cancellation of the Ares 1 rocket, and the Ares V reverting to a ‘Classic’ design that is more ‘shuttle-derived’ due to budgetary considerations?

As stated above, asteroid exploration (NEOs) is a huge part of the Flexible Path option being considered as NASA’s new directive and a 200 mT HLV would be a great tool to have.

Especially if the goal is to put vehicles on the surface of an asteroid in order to move it.

If this is the case, funding for such a beast would have to be international as part of the whole project.

Battle of the Heavy Lift Launchers – Monster 200mt vehicle noted

Great Balls of Fire, more Cryptoterrestrials and the Threshold of SETA

What looked like a fireball streaked across the Texas sky on Sunday morning, leading many people to call authorities to report seeing falling debris.

“We don’t know what it was,” said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Roland Herwig.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office used a helicopter to search after callers said they thought they saw a plane crashing, a spokesman said.

“We don’t doubt what people saw” but authorities found nothing, said spokesman John Foster.

There’s speculation the event might be tied to the recent Russian/American satellite collision.

The military denies it of course.

Mystery fireball streaks across Texas sky

Military denies link to ‘fireball’ reports, satellite collision

Hat tip to The Anomalist

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Here’s one for you Mac Tonnies ‘cryptoterrestrial’ supporters out there:

Davies will challenge the orthodox view that there is only one form of life in a lecture titled “Shadow Life: Life As We Don’t Yet Know It” on Feb. 15 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His presentation is part of the symposium “Weird Life.”

“Life as we know it appears to have had a single common ancestor, yet, could life on Earth have started many times? Might it exist on Earth today in extreme environments and remain undetected because our techniques are customized to the biochemistry of known life?” asks Davies, who also is the director of the BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

It begs the question of how many catastrophes has occurred to the Earth over the billions of years and how other planets in different solar systems form and develop their own biologies, if any.

Cosmologist Explores Notion of ‘Alien’ Life On Earth

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In the fall of 2005, the TV show “Threshold” was broadcast on CBS. It was a contemporary time, sci-fi show like “Stargate SG1″ (meaning the time is the present, not the future) that posited an alien invasion from space (or the future possibly). In the premier episode, an alien “probe”, which was simultaneouly existing in multiple dimensions, appeared over a Navy research ship and broadcasted a signal that killed most of the crew, but the survivors’ DNA was altered in such a way as to describe them as “alien.”

The show only lasted 9 episodes on network TV, then the show’s entire 13 episodes were shown on the Sci-Fi channel in 2006. It was released on DVD about then too.

The reason I’m mentioning this is because I happened to rent the whole series at a local video store over the weekend and after watching it I was amazed at the good quality of it! The last few shows were showing signs of drifting away from the premise, but overall, I thought the series was good and that it died a premature death.

The science was cutting edge, with multiple dimension theory and using automated, artificial intelligent probes to carry encoded copies of the invader’s DNA to convert (subvert?) the indigenous population’s, modeling methods that we might carry out on interstellar colonizations (invasions?).

Alas, as always on network TV, if one doesn’t capture the all important 18-39 year-old demographic within two weeks, a show dies an ignoble death.

Especially if it’s sci-fi.

Threshold at Episodeworld.com

The Search For Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA)

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