Nick Matzke posted Entry 2261 on May 5, 2006 09:03 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2256

It is well known that The Panda’s Thumb is not just an evolution blog, it is also occasionally a Cassini-Huygens fanclub blog. We live-blogged the Huygens landing, and gushed over the discovery of stream channels (although annoyingly the methane oceans have not yet appeared, there clearly is some kind of methalogical cycle going on).

Someone has finally done the obvious thing and put together all of the Huygens images into a continuous animation. See the one with narration and the one with boops and beeps indicating various onboard processes. The fisheye camera perspective is kind of weird but we get a much better picture of what the surface topography looked like up close than we did from just the isolated snapshots.

It all just makes me wish they’d put a balloon and one of them plutonium-fueled Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators on Huygens so that it could float around for a few months at 10 k elevation and give us some more details of what is down there.

While I’m demanding things from NASA, here are my other requests for the Cassini mission if it goes into “extra innings” like other recent NASA missions have: (1) get some more images of the Giant Equatorial Ridge on Iapetus, (2) full radar map of Titan’s surface, and then (3) a suicide mission to get a really super-up-close view of Saturn’s rings. I want to see the individual particles, darn it! A friend tells me there is no way to slow down the Cassini craft enough to get both slow enough and close enough to image 1-meter ice boulders, but I don’t buy it. There has got to be a way!

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Comment #100057

Posted by Jon Voisey on May 5, 2006 10:22 PM (e)

There’s been a few craft that have flown through Saturn’s ring plane. However, they usually try to cross in one of the divisions where the density it lowest.

The only way I can see to actually get a good shot of the particles would be to enter in an orbit slightly faster than the orbital velocities of the particles and then creep up on it, taking images the whole way, and then breaking off when it got too close. However, such maneuvers require a lot of fuel and are impractical.

Comment #100064

Posted by Chris on May 6, 2006 2:26 AM (e)

Cassinin has at least another couple of years left on its nominal mission, and gossip says that the odds on an extended mission are good (despite NASA’s current problems with its science budget). So you’re likely to get at least the first item on your list.

The oceans have gone - there was a paper in science which had close up Cassini imaging of the surface features once thought to be liquid which reveals that they’re sand dunes.

Comment #100066

Posted by Slang on May 6, 2006 3:45 AM (e)

“A friend tells me there is no way to slow down the Cassini craft enough to get both slow enough and close enough to image 1-meter ice boulders, but I don’t buy it. There has got to be a way!”

Aero-braking! Although perhaps the electromagnetic environment might be too harsh in the upper atmosphere layers of Saturn… but spectacular it would be.

Comment #100069

Posted by Ian Musgrave on May 6, 2006 7:27 AM (e)

Man, those are amazing videos. The space buff in me yearns to go there myself (after Mars of course). The an article about the “sand”-dunces is here. It’s not clear that waht we thought of as “seas” are in fact sand dunes (in the video, the “sea is not part of the sand dune system, that is off to the left). Some of the high latitude dark areas may in fact be lakes or “marshes” of methane.

Comment #100073

Posted by Engineer-Poet, FCD, ΔΠΓ on May 6, 2006 9:51 AM (e)

Aerobraking would both require an out-of-plane orbit (to keep from running the gauntlet of the ring particles for millions of km every orbit) and, once the apoapsis was lowered to the distance of the rings, leave the craft moving far slower than the orbital speed of the rings.

If Cassini had something like Deep Space One’s ion drive it might have been able to do this, but not with chemical propulsion.  It just couldn’t carry enough fuel to do the job.

Comment #100074

Posted by LlaniteDave on May 6, 2006 10:16 AM (e)

Cassini could conceivably do it if it stayed close to the ring plane, and did some really creative energy-depleting encounters with Satrun’s inner moons. It might be fairly time consuming, though. However, IIRC, the later mission plan envisions Cassini being lofted well above the ring plane to study Saturn’s poles and get a more complete picture of its magnetic field. Once there, I don’t think there’s much chance of getting back to the ring plane at any reasonable velocity.

Comment #100076

Posted by David B. Benson on May 6, 2006 11:07 AM (e)

Ian — You really want robots to go for you. See the March? 2006 issue of Scientific American regarding why you yourself do not want to make the journey. Sorry.

Comment #100079

Posted by williamdembski on May 6, 2006 12:01 PM (e)

Can’t you see that the probe is designed and therefor so must be the planet and it’s moons?

Comment #100121

Posted by stevaroni on May 6, 2006 5:58 PM (e)

Hmruff!

Doesn’t prove a damned thing!

Orbital dynamics is just a theory! Nobody has actually ever seen one of these so called “planets” in person, now have they?

Pointy headed scientists think they know everything.

Comment #100124

Posted by stevaroni on May 6, 2006 6:10 PM (e)

I’ve always been a proponent of space exploration, the Viking missions got me into engineering in the first place. As a young boy I was fascinated that man could build a machine that could go to another planet all on its own and send back a picture.

I like astronauts as much as anyone, but I’ve always been irritated that the real science of NASA has to be such an unfunded backwater. Cassini couldn’t have possibly cost more than the average shuttle mission, yet look what it’s accomplished.

Pop quiz - what useful news came off the space station last week? Last month? Last year?

Comment #100136

Posted by Dan Hocson, FCD, BBDS on May 6, 2006 7:46 PM (e)

stevaroni:

Hasn’t the space station crew done some ground breaking work in the area of clogged toilet vents? Or was that the shuttle?

Comment #100148

Posted by Joules on May 6, 2006 10:08 PM (e)

I’ve been a regular reader for… um, about a year?.. now, and enjoy the blog greatly. Quite a bit of it is beyond me - I’m not at all science-trained, though I do my damnedest to keep up with what’s happening on all fronts (hampered by the fact I’m almost old enough to be a dinosaur myself!) - but nevertheless I’ve learned a lot, for which my hearty thanks are due to the contributors.
I’m commenting now, for the first time, because I want to express my particular appreciation for the link to the Huygens animation. I’ve bookmarked it to show my 11 year old son tomorrow - he’ll love it, and I have no doubt it will spark another wave of exploration for him.
With my thanks for a wonderful insight into this fascinating planet. (And into the IDiots who want to wreck it for our children.)

Comment #100176

Posted by Nick Matzke on May 7, 2006 1:13 AM (e)

Aerobraking would both require an out-of-plane orbit (to keep from running the gauntlet of the ring particles for millions of km every orbit) and, once the apoapsis was lowered to the distance of the rings, leave the craft moving far slower than the orbital speed of the rings.

Sounds fine to me! It’s a suicide, end-of-mission thing I’m talking about here…

Comment #100217

Posted by Kevin on May 7, 2006 1:38 PM (e)

It all just makes me wish they’d put a balloon and one of them plutonium-fueled Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators on Huygens so that it could float around for a few months at 10 k elevation and give us some more details of what is down there.

The problem is that Huygens wasn’t capable of transmitting data straight back to Earth. So if you want it to do a couple of months of science, then it needs to be able to store all that data and then survive until Cassini is back within reception range again - and even then Cassini needs to be able to figure out where it is.

get some more images of the Giant Equatorial Ridge on Iapetus

I think there’s at least one more flyby of Iapetus on the cards, but Iapetus has a very strange orbit, so it’s hard for Cassini to get close to it more than occasionally.

a suicide mission to get a really super-up-close view of Saturn’s rings

The problem is that Cassini doesn’t send back its data in realtime. They’d have to come up with a way to send the data right when it’s taken and right before Cassini goes splat into some ring object.

They’re all great ideas, to be sure, but the engineering is more than a little tricky to accomplish any of them.

Comment #100220

Posted by FanOfRealScience on May 7, 2006 3:50 PM (e)

SOOOOOOOO much better than evolutionary wool gathering!

Comment #100222

Posted by Markk on May 7, 2006 6:59 PM (e)

“Cassini couldn’t have possibly cost more than the average shuttle mission, yet look what it’s accomplished.”

Uhm - depending on how you depreciate the shuttles, yes Cassini did cost more (or a lot more) than an average shuttle mission. Cassini was the last of the billion dollar plus unmanned missions - by the U.S. anyway.

Comment #100224

Posted by K.E. on May 7, 2006 7:50 PM (e)

I don’t know where to put this
From: The Scotsman, Fri 5 May 2006

Creationism dismissed as ‘a kind of paganism’ by Vatican’s astronomer

….He described creationism, whose supporters want it taught in schools alongside evolution, as a “kind of paganism” because it harked back to the days of “nature gods” who were responsible for natural events…..

….
Brother Consolmagno, who was due to give a speech at the Glasgow Science Centre last night, entitled “Why the Pope has an Astronomer”, said the idea of papal infallibility had been a “PR disaster”. What it actually meant was that, on matters of faith, followers should accept “somebody has got to be the boss, the final authority”.

“It’s not like he has a magic power, that God whispers the truth in his ear,” he said……

Comment #100226

Posted by stevaroni on May 7, 2006 9:58 PM (e)

Uhm - depending on how you depreciate the shuttles, yes Cassini did cost more (or a lot more) than an average shuttle mission. Cassini was the last of the billion dollar plus unmanned missions - by the U.S. anyway.

Yes, I appear to have spoken rashly.

Having looked up the real numbers, I stand corrected. NASA currently plans to spend about 15.2 billion dollars to fly the remaining 17 shuttle missions at about $890 million a mission, which is probably the most charitable way to quote the price, since it totally ignores sunk development costs.

Of course, that’s not counting the costs of the ISS, which seems to exist mostly as a place for the shuttle to fly to.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a really big fan of space, but we’re 40+ years down the road of space exploration and it now costs more to get someone out there than it ever has. I can’t help but feel that NASA has lost a quite a bit of the spirit of discovery in the swamp of government inertia.

As Mike Griffen, NASA’s chief administrator, has said “Leadership means setting priorities”. I wonder if Mr. Griffen sees the irony of his own words?

Comment #100230

Posted by Jason on May 8, 2006 12:49 AM (e)

by the U.S. anyway.

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/press-release-details.cfm?newsID=655

The Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan is a joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. ESA supplied and manages the Huygens probe that descended to Titan’s surface.

Comment #100258

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on May 8, 2006 11:23 AM (e)

we’re 40+ years down the road of space exploration and it now costs more to get someone out there than it ever has.

Is that in constant dollars, accounting for inflation? And I’d also point out that the Apollo missions were actually much higher risk than the shuttles (we were really lucky to avoid tragedy on Apollo 13, and there were, what, ten or eleven actual flying Apollo missions vs. 100 or so shuttle missions thus far, which are generally of longer duration than the Apollo flights).

Comment #100294

Posted by stevaroni on May 8, 2006 5:34 PM (e)

Is that in constant dollars, accounting for inflation?

Sadly, yes. The constant price of a pound to low earth orbit on the Shuttle is much higher than any other lift vehicle, only exceeded by the very early launchers where there were huge R&D efforts going on just to get a rocket up. In fact, again in constant dollars, it’s getting more expensive to launch a pound with every flight.

People argue that it’s unfair to compare the Shuttle with expendable vehicles, since most of the expendables were re-purposed ballistic vehicles and much of their R&D cost on was subsidized by the military, but that’s misleading for three reasons 1) the shuttle was similarly subsidized by the Air Force 2) Arianne and the Japanese H1 compete effectively and they have no direct missile ancestors and 3) the last real new money spent on any big missile project was the MX in the 80’s. Titan and Delta have had two generations since then.

People point out that the shuttle is more expensive than other options because it has many jobs, it transports both people and cargo, and it’s reusable. But that’s just the point. Why reuse it?

Small capsules like Soyuz are much cheaper for lifting people than the shuttle, and big lifters like the Titan 4 are much cheaper for lifting cargo. And why put 7 people at risk to loft a satellite anyway? It’s not like they can do anything when something goes wrong anyway - they’re not going to bring a fuel-laden satellite back when it fails to deploy.

And I’d also point out that the Apollo missions were actually much higher risk than the shuttles

Sort of. But don’t forget that that Apollo was a ground-breaking effort, the Shuttle was sold as an inexpensive delivery truck, hence the name “Shuttle”. It’s supposed to be a lot safer.

Nonetheless, if you take the 14 Apollo missions (counting Skylab & Soyuz) and throw in the 12 Gemini missions (which, realistically, were the Apollo R&D program) you get 36 flown missions with one disaster (A1) and two near misses (A13 & G8). A damned good record, all things considered.

This compares quite favorably with the Shuttle record of 2 in 102 or so, on technically less demanding missions.

Comment #100297

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on May 8, 2006 6:33 PM (e)

People point out that the shuttle is more expensive than other options because it has many jobs, it transports both people and cargo, and it’s reusable. But that’s just the point. Why reuse it?

Small capsules like Soyuz are much cheaper for lifting people than the shuttle, and big lifters like the Titan 4 are much cheaper for lifting cargo. And why put 7 people at risk to loft a satellite anyway? It’s not like they can do anything when something goes wrong anyway - they’re not going to bring a fuel-laden satellite back when it fails to deploy.

I agree that the shuttle did not fulfill it’s promise. I agree that it was given “busywork” that could have been done more cheaply with expendables at the time. No surprise, really, that a bloated, micromanaged bureaucracy came up with an overly expensive solution to an overly-specified problem that could have been stated much more simply a la the X-prize competition. Having said that, I think the answer to the question, “Why reuse it?” must be that if we don’t come up with something reusable, the cost will never really come down as far as it needs to. Surely you don’t think the cost of expendables could ever sink to, say, 10X the price per pound of flying on an airplane?

Comment #100373

Posted by fanofrealscience on May 11, 2006 8:40 AM (e)

Most of the commenters here appear to have little understanding of the space shuttle. It does things that no other vehicle can do with its capability to deliver 8 crew and cargo the size of a Greyhound bus to LEO, plus volatiles to support the crew for weeks, and fuel to range widely in orbit. And like a truck when it delivers one load from earth to LEO it can pick up a new load in LEO for return to earth.

While it’s true we need a vastly cheaper way to accomplish smaller missions, and research has been going on for over a decade in the various reusable launch vehicle (RLV) X-projects and with a recent success in Scaled Composites winning the X-prize there will still be a need for the big mission capable spacecraft like the space shuttle.

Maybe wool gathering about evolution IS the best place for y’all. At least you can’t cause any harm to real science isolated and arguing over the precise order that extinct animals should appear in the phylogenetic tree. Just don’t expect anyone to get all excited over it.

http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761580679/Space_Shuttle.html

“The space shuttle’s cargo bay is adaptable to hundreds of tasks. Large enough to accommodate a tour bus at 18 by 4.6 m (60 by 15 ft), the cargo bay carries satellites, spacecraft, and scientific laboratories for the modular Spacelab system to and from orbit around Earth. It also is a workstation for astronauts to repair satellites, a foundation from which to erect space structures, and a storage area for satellites retrieved from space to be returned to Earth.

Mounted on the port (left, as seen while facing the nose of the shuttle) side of the cargo bay behind the crew quarters is the remote manipulator system (RMS), developed and funded by the Canadian government. The RMS (about 15 m/50 ft in length) is a robot arm and hand with three joints analogous to those of the human shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Two television cameras mounted near its elbow and wrist provide visual cues to the crew member who operates it from the rear station of the orbiter’s flight deck. The RMS can move anything from satellites to astronauts to and from the cargo bay or to different points in nearby space. It has been used on many missions, deploying and retrieving various scientific and communications satellites.

Two of the orbiters, Atlantis and Discovery, have carried special adapters in their cargo bays for attaching to the Russian Mir space station. A tunnel connected the airlock of the shuttle to a circular mechanism that latched onto the docking module on Mir. Astronauts and cosmonauts could move between the two spacecraft without having to don spacesuits. Atlantis’s docking mechanism was installed in 1995, and Discovery got its own docking mechanism in 1997. Shuttle/Mir missions ended in 1998.”

Comment #100383

Posted by ben on May 11, 2006 9:30 AM (e)

SOOOOOOOO much better than evolutionary wool gathering!

Yeah, it must be pretty tedious lurking around an evolutionary biology blog waiting for people to start talking about the nuts and bolts of space exploration. Fish where the fish are, eh?

Comment #100405

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on May 11, 2006 11:15 AM (e)

My last word on the Shuttle: Yes, it is an amazing vehicle, and it does things that no other can do, but how many of those things need to be done all by one vehicle? For as long as we have a space station (not that I’m 100% confident it won’t end up like Mir), we don’t need to have a heavy lifting vehicle support large crews for long periods. Heavy lifting can be done by vehicles that don’t have all those capabilities. Granted, right now there is no other way to return things from orbit, but there’s no longer any need to have one vehicle that can do all these things. The shuttle was designed to be all things to all people (which is the source of most of its problems), and other than cost and safety factors, it did pretty well. (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?)