Polar Orbit Satellite

Hopefully there are fewer and fewer people in the industrialized world who are non-believers of anthropogenic (human) induced climate change. Maybe there are some who will never be convinced, especially those who have a vested interest in not believing it, or perhaps they are anti-leftist thinking, or just plainly anti-everything.

If you are one of those – please read the following intently, and if you are a believer then please read knowing that yet more evidence (if we need it) is going to come down the technical pipeline.

Over the last decade or more, NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites have monitored the clouds, oceans, vegetation, ice, land and atmosphere, but the latest satellites promise even better information

he NPOESS (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System), now called Soumi NPOESS, has been monitoring Earth’s environment with keen scientific eyes since its launch in October 2011. The NASA satellite is also supported and used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Defense (DOD). Unlikely bed-fellows but beggars can’t be choosers and at least the data is likely to be mostly used for good of the planet (humans, animals, and the environment).

Soumi looks at cloud coverage, oceans health, and Earth’s vegetation coverage, looking for changes and helping climate scientists model our ever-changing world. It will also help improve weather prediction and identify future climate patterns.

The high tech hardware it carries includes an Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (for global temperature and moisture measurements), a Cross-track Infrared Sounder (atmosphere monitoring), and an Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (the hole in Earth’s protective radiation shield that people seem to have forgotten about).

But there is more, it also carries a Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (detecting and monitoring wildfires, ice and land changes) and, if that wasn’t enough already, a Clouds and Earth Radiant Energy System. This last instrument maps thermal radiation and checks on Earth’s energy balance with space, which will show definitively that Earth is absorbing more and more heat energy and warming up globally.

Soumi will measure snowstorms, droughts, floods, hurricanes and dust plumes (that affect climate models and weather predictions), soots, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Monitoring the vegetation will help measure the Earth’s carbon cycle and agricultural processes, helping predict food shortages. The global temperature record of the atmosphere, land and sea surface will be essential to know how quickly the Earth’s climate is changing.

With the existing plethora of earth observation satellites, both US, European and other countries are launching, soon there will be nowhere for scientifically-minded non-believers to hide. The big question then will be once again what to do politically about the hard facts staring people in the face. Procrastinate some more or start changing the way we live.

Trevor Williams is a University of Victoria Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate specializing in renewable energy, power grid modeling and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. He has a bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering, a Masters in Management Science and over 23 years international experience in the space industry, having worked on Earth observation and telecommunications satellites. He is the author of the Eco-Geek blog.

March 15, 2012

Space Junk Janitor

The Swiss Space Center at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, have designed a “janitor satellite” to help clean up the growing problem of space junk. The US$11million (10 million Swiss Francs) CleanSpace One satellite is a prototype for what they hope to be a family of satellites that are sent to retrieve large, defunct satellites and de-orbit them – making them burn-up in Earth’s atmosphere or splash down in an ocean.

NASA tracks 16,000 pieces of space junk larger than 4 inch (10.2cm) in diameter, but in reality the U.S. space agency estimates that over 500,000 pieces of space junk is up there, consisting of spent rocket stages and broken satellites. The debris orbital velocity is around 28,000 km/h (mph), and even the tiniest of particles can damage spacecraft or impact other debris, splitting it into ever-smaller pieces.

Known trash impacts include a French satellite damaged in 1996 by a rocket casing, and an U.S. Iridium Communications Satellite that was destroyed in 2009 in a collision with a defunct Russian satellite. The Iridium Satellites are in low earth orbit constellations, occupying the same orbital path so this debris will eventually spread around the Earth, affecting the other Iridium Satellites.

The CleanSpace One satellite is being built to solve three problems, such as how to maneuver a spacecraft into the same orbital path as the debris, so EPFL are developing a compact propulsion system for their small satellite (actually a 3 cube Cubesat). The next problem, after catching up with the debris, is to capture it and hold it but without creating even more debris. This could be very difficult, especially if the debris is spinning and for inspiration the researchers are looking at how plants and animals capture their prey. Finally, it has to slow the debris down and drag it into Earth’s atmosphere. CleanSpace One is going to try and de-orbit Switzerland’s first orbiting satellite, the Swisscube Picosatellite launched in 2009, or the second TIsat, launched in July 2010.

Volker Gass, The Swiss Space Center’s director hopes to someday “offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites.”

One of the problems of increasing debris, apart from the risk to satellites, and any human launches or space stations, is the increasing cost of insurance. A new, US$150-500million satellite could be launched into orbit and then get knocked out of service by a $0.30 steel bolt or even a flake of paint.

The Swiss Re Insurance Company estimated that every year, there is almost a one in 10,000 chance that a 107sq.ft. (10sq.m.) satellite traveling in a sun-synchronous low earth orbit 373-621 mile (600-1,000km) will get hit by a 0.16sq.inch (sq.cm.) piece of space junk. So, if there are continuously 1000 spacecraft in this orbit, and they stay there for 10 years, there is a certainty that at least one of them will get hit over a 10-year period.

The European Union and United States hope to agree to internationally binding agreements to limit future space debris, ensuring that what goes up does eventually come down safely and efficiently without having to wait thousands or tens of thousands of years for the trash to come down by itself.

Visit: http://actu.epfl.ch/

Via CBC

Trevor Williams is a University of Victoria Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate specializing in renewable energy, power grid modeling and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. He has a bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering, a Masters in Management Science and over 23 years international experience in the space industry, having worked on Earth observation and telecommunications satellites. He is the author of the Eco-Geek blog.

 

February 21, 2012

Plastic in Marine Animals

I just read recently the BBC News article about microscopic plastic particles that have been found in marine animals, including the fish we eat, and then they end up inside us. Where does all this plastic come from? From those discarded plastic bags of course, all that trash that gets dumped in the ocean or washed out to see or partly burnt and blown away, and that really obnoxious polystyrene shipping foam that breaks into little balls. Much of that plastic photo degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, and has been written about before.

But this microscopic plastic contamination is different, it comes from the synthetic clothes we buy, wear and wash! The research is published in the Journal Environmental Science and Technology, and shows that 1,900 tiny fibres come off each item of clothing and into the water that gets flushed away.

“Research we had done before… showed that when we looked at all the bits of plastic in the environment, about 80% was made up from smaller bits of plastic,” said co-author Mark Browne, an ecologist now based at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a member of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, USA

Other research shows that plastic particles less than 1mm in size get eaten by animals.

“Once the plastics had been eaten, it transferred from [the animals’] stomachs to their circulation system and actually accumulated in their cells,” according to Browne’s interview with the BBC. At 18 beaches around the world the researchers found evidence of the microscopic plastic particles. They tested city sewage discharge and looked at the outflow from washing machines and clearly showed the microscopic plastic was coming from water discharge from washing machines.

“It suggests to us that a large proportion of the fibres we were finding in the environment, in the strongest evidence yet, was derived from the sewerage as a consequence from washing clothes.”

I remember (unfortunately!) that back in the 1970s and 1980s there was a big push to buy synthetic clothing, including polyester shirts (that really got very sweater, stained and stunk), nylon/polyester bed sheets that gave you a million volt shock every time you pulled back the sheets, and the countless sock, trouser, jacket, glove and scarf that came in a combo of synthetic textiles. Most of them made my flesh creep and it sends a shiver down my spine even thinking about it.

Is it any different today, I don’t think so, probably much worse as there seems to be an ever increasing mix of spandex, latex, viscose and whatever other funky fabric combo they dream up. And have you ever wondered where all those little fibrous and dusty bits go when you shake out your clothes – even if they have been in a drawer or wardrobe or just washed. Then there is the laundry soap, with activated chemical scrubs and a whole bunch of sulphates, phosphates, benzyl, softeners, whiteners, anti-microbials, and more…!

Now I only buy, as best I can, only organic cotton, wool, and natural fabrics, and use the most benign clothes washing detergents. My clothes last longer (I’m not a dedicated follower of fashion!), they look clean, I don’t think I smell (!) and I don’t get zapped by a million volts every time I get into or out of bed or walk across the room in my organic cotton/wool socks.

Trevor Williams is a University of Victoria Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate specializing in renewable energy, power grid modeling and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. He has a bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering, a Masters in Management Science and over 23 years international experience in the space industry, having worked on Earth observation and telecommunications satellites. He is the author of the Eco-Geek blog.

January 29, 2012