Monday, November 30, 2009

New Zealand has a Space Program....apparently!

One late breaking news item that managed to cut though all the media surrounding the political crisis over the Australian Government's climate change bill, was today's rocket launch in New Zealand.

Apparently New Zealand has a space program!

Launch Image - Credit: Peter Beck CEO Rocket Labs

Rocket Lab a private New Zealand company launched one of its own locally designed and built rockets, into sub-orbital flight with a 22 second burn. The rocket dubbed "Manu Karere" which means "bird messenger" lifted off at 2:28pm local time from Great Mercury Island near the Coramandel's in New Zealand's north island.

Mark Rocket, director of the company, who recently became the first New Zealander to book a space tourist flight on Virgin Atlantic, was eccstatic with the launch which went perfectly to plan.

Perhaps New Zealanders have abandoned their fruitless attempts to whack the Australians in cricket and have set the bar a little higher.

The slim 6 metre long rocket is designed to carry small scientific and commercial payloads, and Rocket Labs is currently reaching out to collaborators and investors for future ventures as part of the self-described "dynamic southern hemisphere space industry".

Of particular interest is the, "almost mandatory" these days, carbon footprint assessment and associated green credentials. The ATEA 2 uses only about 14kg Co2 per launch. Equally impressive is the rapid progression from test firing of the Atea 1 booster on October 1st to the launch on Nov 30, this demonstrates a nimble, small, focused operation.

The maximum payload of the ATEA 2 rocket is 70kg suitable for short duration micro-gravity and atmospheric science experiments. To achieve a maximum altitude of 250Klms the payload optimal mass is 25Kgs. Rocket Lab have developed their own hybrid rocket fuel and solid fuel binder. Hybrid 90A is a polymer-based cold castable elastomer developed in conjunction with their program by Technical Director, award winning scientist and CEO Peter Beck. Peter currently hold 5 patents in the US and Europe.

Peter assures me the Kiwis will be 2-1 up when they belt Australia in the Bledisloe Cup (rugby)!

So where to from here, I for one will be following this with interest. Thanks to Mark Rocket for the images from the Rocket Lab website and Peter Beck for the exclusive launch image.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Carnival of Space #128

Hi, and welcome to this week's Carnival of Space – Edition 128, making a rare stopover in the Southern Hemisphere. Although I am based in Melbourne, Australia, I decided to demonstrate extra-ordinary tolerance and inclusion by actually featuring the historic Sydney Observatory in the banner, which is a bit of a collage today. The Sydney Observatory is at the southern end of the harbour bridge and Luna Park is at the northern end. A great Astronomy/Carnival link. There is a long local history of Melbourne/Sydney jokes and rivalry, so we are putting all that aside today to bring you a truly Australian edition of Carnival of Space.

If you are new here, a “Blog Carnival” is a whistle stop tour of Blogs around a particular community of interest – in this case Astronomy/Space. It features the best and most interesting highlights of this week’s articles from the contributors to the community. The purpose is to share, develop, encourage and network with those of a similar interest. (Its also traditional to blend the themes of Carnival and Space in the banner).

Before we get started, 2009 is the international year of astronomy, and sadly it has gone so quickly and there is only 53 days to go. How have you celebrated? What have you done differently to make the most of “Our Year”? Feel free to complete the following test and score your involvement in this - the international year of astronomy. (If you feel bold enough you could post your score in the comments section of the blog.

I shared my telescope & night sky with children (20 Pts) [ ]
I participated in a cornerstone IYA 2009 project(20 Pts) [ ]
I did a presentation on Astronomy to a group (20 Pts) [ ]
I donated Galileo Scopes to a school/friends/org(20 Pts) [ ]
I went to a star party (20 Pts) [ ]
I logged better than 30 hours on my/a telescope (20 Pts) [ ]
I participated in a research project (20 Pts) [ ]
I reported Astrometric data to IAU/MPC/other (20 Pts) [ ]
I reported Photometric data to AAVSO/other (20 Pts) [ ]
I subscribed to a PodCast/VodCast/RSS/other (20 Pts) [ ]
I wrote an article, blog, podcast or e-learning (20 Pts) [ ]

Ratings >180 – Thought Leader, >140 – Activist, >100 Enthusiast, >60 Participant, <20When’s it on again?
Fear not….. there is still time for you to make it memorable!

So now I’ll get off my soap box…… its Carnival Time!!!! Enjoy! Disclaimer: If there are any real Sheldon's out there, I appologise in advance for my Big Bang Theory jokes.

In the money!
Who has "lifted" the prize money in the various competitions in the race to build, or at least provide proof of concept, for a space ladder? A number of our Bloggers cover this issue off this week with exciting reports from the various competitions. This a very hot topic at the moment and I'll leave our presenters to provide commentary.

Brian Wang at Next Big Future has been a regular on this issue and talks about the Lasermotive team's efforts.Brian also takes a look at another race in Spain to build a Space Hotel.

Cosmiclog also covers off the efforts of the competitors in the Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and comments on the Space Ladder competitions and discusses other NASA initiatives.

Chuck Black from A Curious Guy takes a look at commercial space satellites.

Ken Murphy at Out of the Cradle rounds up over 50 scholarship and competitions opportunities.

Hard Science!
Chris from Weird Warp takes a look at various forms of space travel being researched and proposed.

e-Astronomy pioneer Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy reviews and comments on the first Hubble image after it's recent "makeover". The stunning image of M83 stellar nursery is worth a look.

The Chandra Blog features a bio on Chandra researcher Leisa Townsley. The Chandra Mission also posted details of research on a Neutron Star that has a carbon atmosphere.

Steinn SigurĂ°sson from Dynamics of Cats also follows up the Chandra article and explores the implications with an interesting article - Diamond encrusted dragon's egg, perhaps Dr Who's [BBC] diamond planet Midnight is not so far fetched.

Emma from We are all in the Gutter shares a cool movie on Blazars from NASA's Fermi Gamma ray telescope.

Paul from Centauri-Dreams writes about a paper by Claudio Maccone that analyzes the Sun's
gravitational lens not only in terms of imaging distant planets but as
a huge amplifier of radio signals.

A very relevant current topic is addressed by Cheap Astronomy beginning an epic two part podcast on Greenhouse Earth.

Steve's Astro Corner has some great suggestions for some maintenance tasks on your favorite glassware and eyepieces.

Regular contributor Stuart Atkinson from Cumbrian Sky has a great article about the naming of martian meteorites found by the Opportunity and Spirit rovers....its all a bit of a mash-up. I was also struck by the most amazing job title I have ever heard of - "Payload Uplink Lead for the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer" I wonder how you fit that on a business card ;-).

Fun Stuff!
So we begin the fun stuff with Beyond Apollo blog by David Portree and a rather interesting article about calculations for the perfect three planet manned fly-by.

Colony Worlds compares some Trekkie Techie with Lunar mission needs.

Ryan Anderson departs from his usual blog at Martian Chronicles to share an article he wrote for a Science writing competition. Ryan becomes Q for a day and investigates "James Bond" like qualities of future Martian Probes. Ryan invites us to vote for his entry if we feel so inclined. [Why, wouldn't that tamper with the statistical validity of the sample voter pool? I have one thing to say - Sheldon.....its halo night!! where was I?]

Robert Pearlman at the Collect Space blog "roadtests" the Space Station CRV emergency Crew return vehicle in a test with some great photos and a fascinating article.

If you're looking for a Lagrange Point to escape the pull on your space and time, Louise Riofrio, from A Babe in the Universe, does an entertainment review on Max Q a Band playing in a cafe across the road from the Johnson Space centre. Louise also explains the significance of the band's name - we love a blend of Art and Science here at AARTScope.

This past week was Halloween, and I can report that an increasing number of Australians now participate in this annual ritual. Tracy from Tiny Mantras has been having some fun with Solar System costumes in Being Jupiter for a week.

On a more serious note.....
The first moving object that comes anywhere near the Hill Sphere in 2012 is going to send the conspiracy whackos looking for Google Ad revenue into a frenzy on their suddenly authoritative conspiracy sites (Someone hold up the sarcasm sign for Sheldon) ;-). Alice from AstroInfo has some great info about how to talk to your friends about 2012. With the release of the recent "action/disaster" movie, it is a good time to have that conversation with your kids and friends.

At Simostronomy Don't miss Mike Simonsen's touching tribute to the passing of legendary AAVSO member - Dick Wend.

Finally returning to the Observatory theme with which I began, my own blog AARTScope features a tour of the worlds most quirky, amazing and bizarre private observatories - the roll on/off roof edition. Some of these have to be seen to be believed.

Thanks for stopping by........look out for the next episode in about a week. For the "back issues" and future info goto Universe Today - Carnival of Space.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Top Ten Favourite Private Observatories

This week I thought I would take you on a tour of some of the world’s most amazing private observatories.

When I was a little boy lying out in the backyard in a sleeping bag counting meteors and dreaming of being an Astronomer, I often pondered what it would be like to have my own observatory. We used to go on camping trips and a number of times travelled via Siding Springs in the beautiful Warrumbungle Ranges near Coonabarrabran in western New South Wales.

Most conversations with my parents and the school career guidance officer ended with the comments …….”you’re not good enough at Maths and there is only one or two astronomers in the country anyway and its not going to be you”. (This was the 70’s) The advice that I took was: “get a good job in electronics/telecommunications and then you’ll have money for your hobbies”.

Since that time I have often been bemused by the contrast between real astronomers dedicating themselves to a lifetime of study and research at great personal sacrifice versus the amateur astronomers who seem to have a limitless supply of disposable income to pour into their passion.

I think this is one of the reasons why the co-operation between amateur and professional astronomers has been so successful. Professionals sourcing research grants to secure scarce precious time on specialist instruments and self funded amateurs doing the grunt work (long hours waiting for something to happen) , follow-up observations and at times pre-work for critical missions.

Ice In Space the amateur astronomy online community even has a Spectroscopy group now, they are doing some wild stuff. I am going to do a separate blog post on this shortly.

So to the Observatories of our eccentric hobbyists, today’s selection is roll-on/ roll-off roof style of construction (I might do a separate post on Domes):

The Top Ten (My favourites) Private Observatories.

The most amazing thing about private observatories is the innovation, individual style and effort that goes into them, and the locations and beautiful settings in which they are located. Many amateurs have gone to great lengths to document the constructions and happily share their obvious skill, and even in some cases their designs and blueprints. So if you want an observatory with pneumatic chairs, pizza ovens, 7.1 surround sound, play swings or somewhere to also park your car – Take the Tour!!!!

Selection criteria: Location, design innovation, aspect, view during the day time.

1) Asian influence, superb design – Ptolemy’s CafĂ© Observatory

Ptolemy's Cafe Observatory

2) Size does matter – The Ultimate Private Observatory

For pure engineering skill and the audacity of it all, not to mention the electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic systems, oh yes …and the F5 Tornado proof structure with 7.1 Surround Sound system.

3) Duel Function Radio and Optical Observatory – Tennessee Skynet
Bill and Melinda Lord have created a unique operation leveraging both optical and radio astronomy, great to see couples sharing their interests.

4) Stunning design. Observatorio de la Bollonia

5) Duel Purpose – Dorset Astronomy’s Frome Valley Observatory

Frome Valley Observatory

6) L’Osservatore Ponte Di Legno
I love the planter boxes……No#1 in cuteness factor

7) Most Amusing Name – Cloudbait Observatory

Also some amazing projects!

8) His and Hers – Watzke Astronomy. John and Beth each have their own observatory keeping aperture envy within the family.

9) Close to home, ultimate functionality - Saaletal Observatorium

Saaletal Observatory

10) Of course the best observatory is – your own.

The AART – Australian Amateur Research Telescope

Finally a couple of additional noteworthy mentions:

Star Navigator Observatory – The only one with a wood fire Pizza Oven

South Tamworth Observatory (great Photo)

Pleasant Valley Observatory

Well that is quite a selection it was hard to narrow it down to 10 and I’m sure to have missed a few, feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section below and complete the poll which is better: Roll-on/off or Dome.

NB: all photos served from their original websites


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