Freetronics is Australia's answer to a lot of electronic tinkerers' needs, selling items like Arduino compatible boards, cables, and specialized tools. Founder Jonathan Oxer is a (serious) electronics hobbyist himself; he talked with Slashdot last year about making ArduSats, which were then launched to the International Space Station. Now, Oxer has written an excellent guide for hobbyists who might get the chance to travel to Shenzhen, where so many of the world's electronic bits and bobs are made. As travel writing goes, it's fascinating for the sheer novelty of the place. If you actually have the chance to go, some of the advice here might save you money and time. For those of you who have been to Shenzhen, what else should visitors know?
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astroengine writes with news of SpaceX's next step in experimenting with vertical landings for rocket stages. From the article: "Space Exploration Technologies is installing landing legs on its next Falcon 9 rocket, part of an ongoing quest to develop boosters that fly themselves back to the launch site for reuse. For the upcoming demonstration, scheduled for March 16, the Falcon 9's first stage will splash down, as usual, in the ocean after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This time, however, SpaceX hopes to cushion the rocket's destructive impact into the Atlantic Ocean by restarting the Falcon 9's engine and extending landing legs that will be attached to the booster's aft section. The goal is a soft touchdown on the water." The test is scheduled for their ISS resupply mission on March 16th 2014 (the mission also features the launch of the crowdfunded KickSat nano nanosatellites) .
An anonymous reader writes "Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft delivered 3,000 pounds of equipment, fresh fruit, and Christmas presents from the families of all six ISS spacemen today. 'From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares (rocket) and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer, and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts,' said David W. Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Orbital, in a written statement from the company."
An anonymous reader writes with news that funding has been secured for the ISS through at least 2024. From NASA: "'...We are pleased to announce that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station until at least 2024. We are hopeful and optimistic that our ISS partners will join this extension effort and thus enable continuation of the groundbreaking research being conducted in this unique orbiting laboratory for at least another decade. ... A further benefit of ISS extension is it will give NASA and its private-sector partners time to more fully transition to the commercial space industry the transportation of cargo and crew to low-Earth-orbit, allowing NASA to continue to increase its focus on developing the next-generation heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule necessary for deep-space exploration."
ClockEndGooner writes "A giant coronal mass ejection from the Sun yesterday has resulted in a higher than normal level of radioactivity, and in turn, forced Orbital Sciences to postpone their first mission launch of the Cygnus space truck to the International Space Station. Citing concerns of the effect increased levels of space radiation may have on the Antares launcher and Cygnus avionics, the NASA and Orbital launch team is now evaluating if conditions will improve for a launch on Thursday, which would have Cygnus arriving at the ISS on Sunday morning." In other ISS news, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that NASA has gotten approval from the White House to extend the ISS's mission for another four years, pushing the end date back to 2024. An official announcement is expected later this week.
the_newsbeagle writes "'As 2014 dawns, China has the most active and ambitious space program in the world,' says this article. While it's true that the Chinese space agency is just now reaching milestones that the U.S. and Russia reached 40 years ago (its first lunar rover landed in December), the Chinese government's strong support for space exploration means that it's catching up fast. On the agenda for the next decade: A space station to rival the ISS, a new spaceport, new heavy-lift rockets, a global satellite navigation system to rival GPS, and China's first space science satellites."
Yesterday, two astronauts completed a seven hour spacewalk to finish installation of a spare coolant pump after a failed coolant pump forced a partial shut down of the ISS. As of late yesterday afternoon, that pump is online and operating normally: "The new pump now is considered fully functional, but it will take some time to fully reintegrate the pump and Loop A of the two-loop external cooling system. Teams at mission control are following a schedule that should allow the restored cooling loop to be fully activated and integrated into the station’s cooling system on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. ... Electrical systems that depend on cooling from Loop A will be repowered or moved back from temporary support on Loop B gradually on Thursday, Friday, and throughout the weekend."
Ars Technica reports that the next planned spacewalk in the continuing repairs of the International Space Station's ammonia pump has been delayed, because of problems with the spacesuit worn by astronaut Rick Mastracchio. From the article: "According to Deutsche Welle, the problem is with how the sublimator (a cooling unit) in Mastracchio's suit operated when entering ISS airlock. NASA said the question is whether water entered the sublimator at that time. 'During repressurization of the station's airlock following the spacewalk, a spacesuit configuration issue put the suit Mastracchio was wearing in question for the next excursion,' NASA said in a statement. Delaying the next steps of the valve replacement from Monday until Tuesday will give NASA time to address the issue. Mastracchio is scheduled to wear a backup suit and needs this time to have it resized."
The ISS crew can breathe a little easier now; the NY Times reports that the ammonia pump repair that the station has needed has now been partly completed, and in less time than expected. More work is scheduled, but, says The Times: "The astronauts, Col. Michael S. Hopkins of the Air Force and Richard A. Mastracchio, were far ahead of schedule throughout the spacewalk as they detached tubing and electrical connectors from the pump. They were able to remove the 780-pound module and move it to a temporary storage location, a task that had been scheduled for a second spacewalk on Monday. ... Colonel Hopkins and Mr. Mastracchio stepped out of an airlock at 7:01 a.m. Eastern time, and even though they accomplished more than they had set out to do, they were able to return at 12:29 p.m., an hour earlier than had been scheduled. The two encountered few complications." Ars Technica has video, too.
The ISS has been operating at partial capacity after a coolant pump malfunctioned last week. NASA has now announced the repair mission: "NASA currently plans for two Expedition 38 astronauts to venture outside the space station Dec. 21, 23, and 25. NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins will remove a pump module that has a failed valve. They will replace it with an existing spare that is stored on an external stowage platform. The pump is associated with one of the station's two external cooling loops, which circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool. Each of the three spacewalks will begin at 7:10 a.m. and is scheduled to last six and a half hours. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:15 a.m." NASA TV will be airing a preview of the space walks at 3 p.m. EST. As a result of the coolant pump malfunction and the repairs, NASA has also delayed the launch of Orbital Sciences' cargo resupply mission until at least mid-January.
astroengine writes "As if the International Space Station couldn't get any cooler, the Japanese segment of the orbiting outpost has launched a barrage of small satellites — known as "cubesats" — from their very own Cubesat Cannon! Of course, the real name of the cubesat deployment system isn't quite as dramatic, but the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) adds a certain sci-fi flair to space station science."
DavidGilbert99 writes "Nowhere is safe. Even in the cold expanse of space, computer malware manages to find a way. According to Russian security expert Eugene Kaspersky, the SCADA systems on board the International Space Station have been infected by malware which was carried into space on USB sticks by Russian astronauts."
The Bad Astronomer writes "It sounds like a scene from Gravity: Astronauts aboard the International Space Station Thursday saw a weird, glowing cloud of light in the distance, most likely caused by a fuel dump or leaking fuel from a Russian missile launch. The extended life of a Topol missile was being tested in a ballistic launch to a test target in Kazakhstan, and the astronauts were able to take pictures of both the launch vapor trail and the glowing cloud. This event is similar to the eerie spiral lights seen over Norway in 2009 caused by a Russian missile launch as well."
minty3 writes "An 11-year-old Colorado boy may have found a way to literally make a beer that's out of this world. Michal Bodzianowski, a sixth grader at Douglas County's STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch, Colo., recently won a national competition where his beer-making experiment will be flown to the International Space Station." Noting that beer is safer than contaminated water, Bodzianowski pointed out that beer could be useful “in future civilization as an emergency backup hydration and medical source."
Nerval's Lobster writes "The upcoming movie Gravity features a pair of astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) stranded in orbit after their space shuttle is destroyed by floating debris. Faced with dwindling oxygen levels, they struggle to reach the nearby International Space Station (ISS). It's a movie, so some deviations from reality are expected, but it also opens up an opportunity to talk with a NASA astronaut about what it's like to live in space. Catherine 'Cady' Coleman, who has spent thousands of hours aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station, who gave Bullock advice on the role, suggests that the real NASA has the whole orbital-debris issue well in hand, but that it takes a lot of training (and on-the-job experience) to get the hang of living in space. 'When we get up to space and the people up there run around and show us stuff — that's really, really effective and there was nothing like that compared to the classroom.' Despite the physical and mental demands, and the the time spent away from family, she sees the endeavor as supremely worth it. 'We're all very privileged to do this job,' Coleman says. 'They spend a lot of money making you ready, and you have a responsibility to do your job.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Orbital Sciences Corp's robotic Cygnus spacecraft made history by docking with the International Space Station early Sunday. From the article: 'The robotic Cygnus spacecraft was captured by space station astronauts using the outpost's robotic arm at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) as the two spacecraft sailed over the Indian Ocean. The orbital arrival, which occurred one week later than planned due to a software data glitch, appeared to go flawlessly.'"
Reuters has a quick report that "[a] software glitch will delay Orbital Sciences' trial cargo ship from reaching the International Space Station until Tuesday, officials said on Sunday. The company's Cygnus capsule, which blasted off Wednesday from Virginia for a test flight, had been scheduled to reach the station on Sunday. ... Orbital Sciences said it had found the cause of the data discrepancy and was developing a software fix. ... The next opportunity for the capsule to rendezvous and dock with the station will be on Tuesday." The WSJ has a more detailed article, and notes "The mission is a challenge for Orbital, which has invested more than five years and about $500 million of its own funds to develop a commercial-cargo capability. But it also presents a dramatic test of NASA's plans to outsource to industry all U.S. resupply missions to the space station. The agency has paid Orbital about $285 million to spur development of the Cygnus and Antares rocket system."
R3d M3rcury writes with the story that "NASA and Boeing, along with other nations, are studying the feasibility of keeping the International Space Station in orbit until 2020 and possibly until 2028 — the 30 year anniversary of the launch of the first module." From the article: "To assess the long-term structural health of the station, Boeing engineers developed detailed computer models based on NASA's projected use -- the expected stresses caused by future dockings, reboosts, crew activity and thermal cycles -- and combined that with actual data from on-board accelerometers and strain gauges. ... "What we're looking at is theoretical crack growth," Pamela McVeigh, the engineer in charge of the Boeing structural analysis in Houston, told CBS News. "So the failure mode would be you'd have a crack beginning, probably (at) a bolt hole, and the crack would grow to another edge. So you'd lose like a flange on a C-beam, or an I-beam. The stiffness of your structure would then change, the bolt hole you that you were growing the crack out of, now that bolt wouldn't be effective."
Months after a successful test launch of the Antares rocket with a dummy payload, today Orbital Sciences Corp successfully launched their demo cargo mission to the ISS. Their Cygnus resupply craft detached from the second stage and at 11:33 a.m. deployed its solar array. From NASA: "Solar array deployment is complete for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus spacecraft, now traveling 17,500 mph in Earth's orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Sunday, Sept. 22, for a demonstration resupply mission. The spacecraft will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the space station's Expedition 37 crew, who will grapple and attach the capsule using the orbiting laboratory's robotic arm." There's an updates weblog, and some pictures.
Modern Farmer magazine has an article about NASA's efforts into growing food in space, a slow, difficult process that's nonetheless necessary if humanity is to have any significant presence away from Earth's surface. Quoting: "This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs, filled with a material akin to kitty litter, functioning as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. The burgundy-hued lettuce (NASA favors the 'Outredgeous' strain) will be grown under bright-pink LED lights, ready to harvest after just 28 days. NASA has a long history of testing plant growth in space, but the goals have been largely academic. Experiments have included figuring out the effects of zero-gravity on plant growth, testing quick-grow sprouts on shuttle missions and assessing the viability of different kinds of artificial light. But [the Vegetable Production System] is NASA's first attempt to grow produce that could actually sustain space travelers. Naturally, the dream is to create a regenerative growth system, so food could be continually grown on the space station — or, potentially, on moon colonies or Mars. ... Plant size is a vital calculation in determining what to grow on the space station, where every square foot is carefully allotted. Harvest time is also of extreme importance; the program wants to maximize growth cycles within each crew’s (on average) six-month stay."