Thursday, July 28, 2011

NASA: Planet Earth Chasing Trojan Asteroid

A robotic NASA explorer uncovered evidence of a "Trojan asteroid" flying in the same orbit around the sun as Earth, but the space rock is no threat to the planet, officials said.

Trojans are asteroids that fly in the same orbits as planets. Since they constantly lead or follow, they can never collide with the planet they share an orbit with.

In this case, instruments aboard NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer scanned the entire sky with infrared instruments during a 13-month period that began in January 2010. Astronomers studying the observations discovered the first known Trojan following Earth. Neptune, Mars and Jupiter have Trojans. So do two of Saturn's moons.

Asteroid 2010 TK7 is about 1,000 feet in diameter. It's now flying about 50 million miles ahead of Earth, and it is not expected to come closer to Earth than 15 million miles in the next 100 years.

Go HERE for more information.

NASA's WISE spacecraft was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket in December 2009 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

1 comment:

steele-environmental said...

Re: Russian Eyes are Smiling!

Somewhere in the vaulted halls of the Kremlin, more specifically in the offices of Roscosmos, they must be surely smiling.

“RUSSIA has declared it now ''the era of the Soyuz'' after the US shuttle's last flight left the Russian system the only way left to take astronauts to the International Space Station.”

I began writing this letter yesterday and this morning I saw two reports in the newspaper that confirmed my feelings:

The newfound object, called 2010 TK7, was discovered last year by NASA's WISE satellite. Dr Connors and colleagues were able to focus a ground-based telescope in Hawaii on it in April, determining its orbit with enough precision to show it was a Trojan.


Russia: 'We'll dump the ISS into the sea after 2020'
US: 'Not so fast, Ivan'

So not only are the Russians in the proverbial Cat Bird Seat (I wonder how that translates in Russian?), they are also facing an opportunity to, once again, Beat The Americans In Space!

Talk about cruel irony!

Another story last week detailed possible other uses for the Japanese ATV, possibly as a hard-attachment point for the still- to be built Constellation vehicle. As we know, the ATVs are dumped back into the ocean filled with trash after their planned missions to the ISS.

So the Russians could buy a used ATV for little or nothing, re-furbish it on-orbit and use it to their advantage.

Russian Mission to 2010 TK7
Objective: Send a manned crew on a rendezvous/landing mission to the Trojan known as 2010 TK7 and return safely to low earth orbit.
Spacecraft requirements: Upper Stage (J2X?) used to launch from ISS to Trojan; (Living quarters and supplies required for 2-4 cosmonauts to live up to six months (planned mission time: 3-4 months), EVA capable using old MMU technology. “Land” on TK7 to collect samples for return to earth. All of the physical crew requirements (power, consumables, etc) have been well established on the ISS during the past decade.

Luckily for the Russians, most of the components for such a mission are already on orbit at the ISS. It would be a simple (?) matter to undock key components and re-arrange them for the Trojan mission. [note to editor: can you provide some good graphics here?]

Leonardo ICC (cargo carrier)
Soyuz w/ PIRs

If the folks at Roscomos are bold and well financed (they should be, thanks to U.S. $), this type of mission would seem to be right up their alley and doable using existing technology.

Then I was thinking, would they have to develop a new high-gain communications system antenna for this mission? I recalled the other recent story:

A newly-launched Russian radio telescope successfully unfurled a 10-meter dish-shaped reflector this weekend, overcoming one of the biggest risks on the observatory's ambitious mission to see inside black holes and view other cosmic phenomena.

Photo of Spektr-R's 33-foot radio dish antenna during ground testing. Credit: NPO Lavochkin

The Spektr-R spacecraft launched July 18 aboard a Zenit rocket with a Fregat upper stage, which released the 8,000-pound satellite in an orbit stretching to nearly the distance of the moon.

So the Russians are well poised to receive low powered communications with any Russian spacecraft on their future missions.

One question to be answered: Would there be any Americans onboard?

Rick Steele