Aerospace

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 at 3:03 PM PDT (California), Venus will do something we on Earth will have witnessed for only the eighth since the invention of the telescope - it will cross in front of the sun. This transit is among the rarest of planetary alignments and it has an interesting cycle. Two Venus transits always occur within eight years of each other and then there is a break of either 105 or 121 years before it happens again.
Today's primer: orbital mechanics, or how we have to manuever to catch debris.  There's a lot of debris in low earth orbit, ranging from paint chips and spare bolts to a heavy toolbox up through entirely dead satellites.  It's tracked, it's plentiful, it was even featured in Wall-E.  How is it a satellite in orbit runs into debris?
NASA visualization of orbital debris
The Square Kilometre Array telescope will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, but it had a bit of a problem most big science projects do not have; multiple countries wanted to host it.
Is it cheaper to privatize deliveries?  Sure is, that is why UPS and FedEx are doing well and the US Post Office is now advertising that companies should send more junk mail and waste natural resources.(1)
Shortly after celebrating the tenth anniversary of its time in service, engineers have declared the Envisat satellite lost, following numerous attempts to re-establish contact since April 8th.
I've some background in space weather-- the influence of solar activity on Earth and near-Earth orbits.  My new job as a professor at Capitol College has brought me into contact with several bright students working on using picosatellites to test our orbital debris removal concepts.  Further, the number of other groups doing balloon and picosatellite work is increasing (yay!)  So it's time to update this column more frequently with not only my progress, but stories of other pico teams.
100 years yesterday, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg while crossing the North Atlantic and sank, killing over 1500 passengers and crew. 
On April 5, 2010, the sun spewed a two million-mile-per-hour stream of charged particles toward the magnetosphere, the invisible magnetic fields surrounding Earth.

As the particles interacted with the magnetic fields, the incoming stream of energy caused stormy conditions near Earth. Some scientists believe that it was this solar storm that interfered with commands to a communications satellite, Galaxy-15, which subsequently foundered and drifted, taking almost a year to return to its station.
The Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS), a sensor which is a mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and laser-radar (LADAR) technology, will start airborne tests this summer. It will be placed on a robotic helicopter called Fire Scout and carry advanced automatic target recognition software, so sensor prototype will allow Fire Scout to autonomously identify small boats on the water, reducing the workload of sailors operating it from control stations aboard Navy ships.

Look out pirates. You're now that much easier to find. 
Supersonic passenger jets are so 1970s. The Concorde has been gone for almost 10 years and most people don't miss it.  But its fundamental concept - people want to get places faster - has not gone away.

Now an MIT researcher says he has come up with a concept that may solve many of the problems that grounded the Concorde, like expensive tickets, high fuel costs, limited seating and noise disruption from the jet’s sonic boom. Qiqi Wang, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, says the solution, in principle, is simple, going back to the earliest days of flight: Instead of flying with one wing to a side, why not two?