Worlds Largest Model Rocket

What goes up must come down: flight profile of PRIMERA amateur rocket. CSXT

In a "space-breaking" event, a group of amateur rocket builders is set to launch the first amateur rocket to "poke" into space. Flying into space under the auspices of the Civilian Space eXploration Team (CSXT), the PRIMERA rocket is 17-feet tall and weights 511-lbs. PRIMERA is expected to break amateur speed records when it accelerates to 5-times the speed of sound in its 15-second fuel burn. That punctuated acceleration will coast the craft to an altitude past the 50-nautical miles (57-miles) mark - the threshold of space -- in 90-seconds. Maximum expected altitude is 62-nautical miles (71-miles). The rocket will descend in two parts and land 25-miles from the launch point. Flight duration is expected to be about 10-minutes.


Dubbed "Spaceshot 2002", the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved launch will be from Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Exact date and location of the attempt will not be announced until shortly before launch: this is at the request of the FAA to minimize the danger to onlookers.

CSXT founder Ky Michaelson promises "this flight is just the beginning. We're about to unveil a truly out-of-this world mission."


More information:

Civilian Space eXploration Team; Aug. 27, 2002; Press Release: "World's First Amateur Space Rocket Cleared for Launch by U.S. Government"

Yes, It CAN Happen to You!

A 14-year-old girl has been hit in the foot by a small meteorite. The teenager, from the North Yorkshire area of England, was not hurt by the thumb-sized rock. The incident happened at about 10:30 a.m. local time as she was getting into the family car.


"After all it is not every day you get hit by a meteorite."
-- Siobhan Cowton's Dad


The girl, Siobhan Cowton, said she saw the stone falling from roof height. She found that it was hot, rusty looking, and had a bubbled surface like lava -- though it was shiny on one side.

The family plans to have the rock analyzed at Durham University and has longer-term plans for the rock. According to the father, Mr. Cowton, "We will have it mounted in a glass presentation case so she can keep it for the rest of her life. After all it is not every day you get hit by a meteorite."


More information:; Aug. 27, 2002; Science/Nature: "'Meteorite' hits girl"

Paint the Planet Red

Intently studying paint. ESA

The news of celebrities and millionaires flying into space will soon be commonplace. But have you heard about the Ferrari set to fly on the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Mars Express mission in the spring of 2003?


Well, it's not the whole car: just a sample of Ferrari's famous "Rosso Corsa" (Racing Red) paint. The paint recently underwent temperature, pressure, and vibration testing - far worse than anything experienced on the track - to see how it would react to space flight.


Apparently ESA believes a European flight to the "Red Planet" wouldn't be complete without including a sample of Europe's most famous red. And they are quite serious about the whole thing, according to the press release, a "formal ceremony" will be held this month for the official integration of the paint sample into the Mars-bound spacecraft.


More information:

European Space Agency; Aug. 21, 2002; Press Release: "Ferrari Red Paint Competes For An Extraordinary Qualification"

Sooner or Laser

NASA Deep Space Network 70-meter dish at Canberra, Australia: one of the three such installations NASA has around the world. NASA

A recent policy paper in the journal Science urges the adoption of laser communications for future  spacecraft. The authors warn that relying on current systems will lead to a deep-space communications bottleneck in the near future. This is based on the analysis of predicted data collection rates and data collection infrastructure. 


The paper states that future exploratory spacecraft will require 100 gigabits per second transmission rates to send data back to Earth. To accomplish this, a spacecraft could use several lasers, of slightly different wavelength, transmitting data in the 40 gigabit per second range. Each laser would transmit thousands of times more data than a current generation radio transmitter. This ability is due to light's higher frequency.


Setting up the laser receiver network may be an expensive proposition. The short wavelength of light (compared to radio) requires a high-precision optical surface on the receiver. Envisioned as 10-meter class telescopes, they would be among the largest optical instruments on Earth. To prevent cloud-cover from blocking the signals, these receivers would be stationed on mountain peaks around the globe - further increasing construction costs.


NASA is aware of the problem and is considering the use of lasers, but more conventional means such as higher radio frequencies may be employed in the future.


More information:; July 25; 2002; News: "Laser communications crucial for space exploration"

If Rocks Could Talk

The gray slab of sedimentary rock on the desk of Louisiana State University geologist Gary Byerly tells a tragic story. The rock began 3.5-billion years ago as layers of fine sand interspersed with "spherules" - droplets of a condensate.



This condensate contains the remains of an explosion caused by a 12- to 30-mile in diameter asteroid that encountered the Earth with the energy of 1-billion atomic bombs. This boiled off the top 30 to 300 feet of ocean and sent tidal waves, a half-mile high, across the oceans at 500-miles per hour. They circled the Earth, collided, circling back, and colliding again repeatedly. Layers of sediment in the gray rock attest to this pattern. The resulting tidal-wave erosion reformed the coastlines and flooded vast areas inland, only the mountains escaped the deluge.


Any of the primitive bacterial life on Earth at that time -- that survived vaporization -- would have died during the years-long winter it would take for particles to settle out of the atmosphere and allow the Sun the shine through. According to Byerly, "Anything that survived would have been in deep rocks or below the surface of the Earth."


This asteroid collision was not an isolated incident: craters on the Moon, Mars, and Venus attest to a series of bombardments over a 300-million year period that began 3.8-billion years ago. It is estimated that these impacts were hundreds or thousands of time more powerful than the one that killed off the dinosaurs 65-million years ago. Like most scientists, Byerly expects another "big one" at some point. "We know that large asteroids get disturbed by interactions with Jupiter and fall into Earth's orbit. When that happens they will strike the Earth. We can't say when it will happen but we can say for certain that it will happen."


More information:

Louisiana State University; Aug. 23, 2002; Press Release: "Evidence of massive, ancient meteor strike published in Science"