Autonomous Satellites

How smart does a satellite have to be to function? I'm working on the design of the Project Calliope satellite, and near as I can tell, it doesn't need a brain. All it needs is energy, sensors, the ability to yell or shut up, and a small stuffed animal.

Let's back up a bit. My picosatellite kid has a computer core and a Radiometrix transmitter. I unpacked it and then discussed how the pieces went together. But how minimal can I go?
Time for a little space business by a citizen scientist-- an ordinary scienc-y person who just happens to be building a personal satellite in his basement.  I'm at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum today, where scientists and policy makers try to tackle space weather awareness from a real world 'money&lives' stance. On Friday I'll write it up in my main column, but for now I'm going to connect these issues with some 'Project Calliope' concerns.

When launching a personal satellite, who will be at fault if there is trouble with the satellite?
The Phoenix Mars Lander is dead, says NASA.  Last week, the Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site in final attempts to communicate with the lander but no transmission was detected and since Phoenix also did not communicate during 150 flights earlier this year, NASA declared its mission over.

The latest image transmitted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed what appears to be ice damage to the lander's solar panels.
So yes, I'm launching a satellite.  And an $8K Personal Satellite needs a brain. But which brain? IOS' kits includes the BasicX processor; for Christmas I received the Arduino kit so beloved by DIY folks. Both are potentially flyable.  Let's compare.

BasicX-24 ( 32K memory, requires 20mA plus up to 40mA I/O loads, operates at -40C to +85C. Programmed in BASIC (ugh) via serial cable.
Hip, hip, hooray. The Hubble has reached its twentieth anniversary* and is  still alive and kicking. Congratulations go to NASA and ESA. And to the Hubble itself. Long live the Hubble!

Chances are, that by now you will be able to read more than a few blogs hailing the two decades of the Hubble as mankind's supreme window to the universe. And indeed, the Hubble has provided us with some spectacular pictures of the universe.

After a decade of development, the Air Force has launched the the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on an Atlas V expendable launch vehicle, and the Internet is abuzz with speculation about what it means because it is the first craft to have autonomous space re-entry.  Star Wars 2010?   
Have you ever seen a galaxy ?

I mean, not a picture of one. The real thing. A picture is a representation of reality, and as such it conveys to our senses only a pale suggestion of the stimulation that experiencing the real thing provides. In a world where images, still and in motion, have a dominant role in our lives, we tend to forget how different are some things when we experience them directly.
People want to see awesome stuff.

That's the main idea behind this blog, and the interpretation of a recent report on people's decisions to share New York Times articles with friends (via Rycharde Mann). So, without further ado, here is some awesomeness:

1) From absolute zero to the plank temperature...a nice interactive graphic showing where we fit in the scheme of temperatures.

2) A visible sonic boom, as a rocket passes by a sundog (the rainbow splotch at ~1:55 in the video)
ESA’s comet chaser Rosetta has swung by Earth for the third and final time, skimming past our planet to pick up a gravitational boost for an epic journey to rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.

Rosetta passed over the ocean just South of the Indonesian island of Java at exactly 08:45:40 CET with a speed of 13.34 km/s with respect to Earth and an altitude of 2481 km. 

The successful swingby was confirmed at 09:05 CET and spacecraft operators have confirmed that the swingby provided a boost of 3.6 km/s.