FASTSAT launches tonight

Roamy here.  This is a personal thing for me, but XBradTC tells me if he can celebrate Caturday, I oughta be able to put up some cool space stuff.

From the press release on Facebook

NASA’s Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, or FASTSAT, is set to launch today at 7:24 p.m. Central time. FASTSAT will launch from the Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Watch live on the web at http://www.nasa.gov/fastsat. Coverage starts at 7 p.m. Central time.

Part of FASTSAT is Nanosail-D.

The first Nanosail-D was lost in the Falcon 1 launch failure in 2008. This is the backup sail.  I’ve done a fair amount of work on solar sail materials, including the sail material for this one.  Go, baby, go!

It came from outer space!

Hi, Roamy here.  The Leonid meteor shower is tonight, so after moonset and before sunrise, look up.

This has been predicted to be a fairly light shower with 20 meteors an hour or so.  Meteors can damage satellites in orbit, but the satellite operators can take steps to minimize impacts, and the meteors themselves are small.  A far greater concern is manmade debris orbiting the Earth.

You want to fly through THAT?!?! (click to embiggen)

That’s an old map of what U.S. Space Command tracks in orbit.  Dead satellites, old rocket stages, dropped tools, all flying at kilometers per second.  They can’t track the small stuff – the paint flakes, the bolt floating free, the shrapnel from previous impacts.

When I say old, I mean that I saw that graphic before the Chinese anti-satellite test and the collision of two other satellites.  Fengyun-1C is responsible for 18% of the space debris currently in low Earth orbit.  (source: orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov)  We also seem to be stuck in a deep solar minimum, and while that’s good for some things, it means that the Sun is not heating up Earth’s atmosphere as much, and there’s not enough drag to make these pieces of space junk fall into an ocean somewhere.

What does this mean for you on the ground?  Think about your GPS satellites flying through that, and all the equipment that relies on those GPS satellites to work correctly.  You can manuever away from possible collisions, but that takes fuel, and there’s no refueling in space, yet.  We are vulnerable, which is why there’s a push for better shields (which is still fodder for the next post).

In the meantime, stars fell on Alabama.

XBradTC sez: Think for a moment about just how critical GPS is to our military operations today. Most of the bombs dropped in action have GPS guidance. Virtually all of the command and control systems our troops use have embedded GPS systems. Without GPS, commanders and troops will have a much, much harder time keeping track of where friendly forces are. And then there’s communications. Much of the communications systems worldwide rely on the precision timekeeping of GPS systems to stay in synch. Loss of GPS capability would be a disaster.