With the end of the space shuttle, we may also be seeing an end to manned space travel as a science endeavor.  I am not saying we shouldn't send people into space, we certainly should, but it should be just that - a bold voyage into the unknown and not rationalized with science, where it is not a very good one.  Robots are cheaper and better and the Congressional hearings are less messy if a robot dies.

President Obama likely agrees about robots, since he canceled the manned successor to the space shuttle, the Constellation project and there is no valid replacement in sight.
The Redemption of Gus Grissom

The 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard's flight, the first American in space, was something of a big deal in pop culture.  The 50th anniversary of John Glenn orbiting the Earth, arriving this winter, will likely be a much bigger deal because Sen. Glenn has a lot of name recognition.

But between them in aerospace history, chosen to be among the "Mercury 7" test pilots who were picked when NASA was just six months old and who risked their lives flying into the great unknown, is a guy who doesn't get enough respect.  
Some cry that it is daft to make your own satellite (ignoring 40 years of AMSAT history). Others exclaim that, hey, whatever I am doing, they can do better.  To the former, my building Project Calliope is proof that we're entering a new age of private space exploration.

To the latter, I say "yes, yes you can."  And now, O'Reilly Media is launching a DIY Space series.  I'll be writing four eBooks so you, too, can design and launch your own picosatellite, Tubesat, Cubesat, or whatever you wish to build.

1) DIY Satellite Platforms (Realtime eBook #1)
Building a space-ready general base picosatellite for any mission
I've long said that what NASA needs is not a James Webb Space Telescope but an actual James Webb for the 21st century.

Webb, if you are not familiar with NASA lore, was a bold leader rather than a bureaucrat tasked with perpetuating funding, and it was due to his leadership that NASA launched 75 missions into space, including putting a man on the Moon.

Calliope, like any Low Earth Orbit satellite (LEO), is going up to, well, LEO.  Space weather-- radiation and energetic particles emitted from an active Sun-- can damage satellites.  This region of space is partially protected from the worst effects of space weather by the Earth's ionosphere, but it is an active and threatening place.

If space wasn't active, there wouldn't be any point in sending up Calliope to measure it.  However, we'd prefer to keep the physical damage to the electronics to a minimum.  The primary source of damage due to solar activity is due to highly energetic electrons, protons and ions emitted by the Sun.

Into every satellite a little grunt work must fall.  Today you get to read the exceedingly boring but entirely real details of a typical week of satellite construction and project management.

Outreach Work

The flight pins and first mission patches have arrived for the 76 exceptional contributors to Calliope!  This week I will be packaging up approximately 76 bundles to mail out.  Oh, and I have to write this week's project update-- which you're reading now.

Assembly Work

Fellow Tubesat pioneer Wesley Faler of Fluid&Reason has calculated power curves we can expect for our orbiting picosatellites.  His summarized estimate is that 6-cell solar panel in a sun-synchronous polar orbit with perfect positioning can expect to produce 0.5 Watts.  This sets our ultimate power budget for the satellite, and helps us choose appropriate instrumentation and control schemes.
'Project Calliope' will have a nearly circular polar low-earth orbit... but what does that actually mean?  Here's a brief mini course in orbital mechanics.

Any orbit requires 6 elements to specify the position and motion fully.  Since we live in 3-D space, it's equivalent to 3 spatial dimensions and 3 velocities.  You could use (x,y,z) for the position and (vx,vy,vz) for the velocities.  You could use spherical coordinates, or Euler angles.  All of those give you, at any instant, the full position and motion in 3D of the satellite at a specific instance in time.
50 years ago today Alan Shepard became the first American into space, launching at just after 9AM from the Space Coast of Florida and finishing just over 15 minutes and 117 miles up later. 

The most famous book (and movie) about the early days of NASA is "The Right Stuff" and it is surprisingly faithful in its telling.   Alan Shepard did pee in his suit and then say, after three hours of being immobilized in a tiny capsule, "Why don't you just fix your little problem and light this candle?"   but he was also a guy who said, "You know, being a test pilot isn't always the healthiest business in the world" so he understood the risks.   96% chance of survival was acceptable risk.
50 years ago today, Alan Shepard journeyed into the Final Frontier and became the first American in space, following USSR cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by a period of weeks.

Here is a look at some of details from that period and, when you are done, you can see our interview with Arthur Cohen, one of the lead engineers for the Mercury Program from 1959-1963.

project mercury ballistic capsule