Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, August 02, 2008

  Failed separation

It was a seemingly perfect launch, that went bad suddenly at MECO.

After the webcast cut out due to the anomaly, 23+ people gathered in the #spacex channel on irc.freenode.org to grieve.

Within minutes, more information flowed in from alternate sources.

One person got on his cell to friends at Marshall Space center, and got the altitude of the anomaly. 45km. Another tuned us all into Tosca Musk's twitter feed. A complete flight video was posted, speculation commenced over at Nasa spaceflight and on arocket.

I'm glad to not have to go through pain like this alone, not like I did years ago.

And as always, I am impressed and encouraged by Elon Musk's determination to succeed. Still a little piece of me, and a lot of other people, floats as ashes over the pacific tonight.

The wake on irc was a good thing - Spider Robinson was right - pain shared is lessened.

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  Falcon 1 launch soon with the Trailblazer sat

The last major software project I worked on was Spacedev's Trailblazer satellite bus. It wasn't called that then, it was a part of the much more elaborate DSE, and later, broken out and renamed/refocused as the MMB-100, and now, renamed and refocused once again, to be Trailblazer.

Although I spent over a year (part time) supporting the Spacedev team, I never bothered putting the project on my resume as Trailblazer was first canceled about a year ago, and I left to go around the world at about the same time.

I am also under a pair of non-disclosure agreements... but, today, I can't help but write a little about the project... Imagine my surprise when I learned early last month that they'd pulled it out of mothballs and it was actually going to fly!??

Trailblazer had a long and twisted development history, filled with interesting things that I can't talk about due to those pesky NDAs. I can only recap what's in the public domain already: it's got one of the most powerful computers ever flown on board - the principal processor runs Linux - it has all sorts of standard busses for the connection of peripherals, like RS-422, USB and ethernet - and it costs an estimated 10 m dollars - cheap as such things go.

Trailblazer is NOT a satellite except in the broader senses of the term. More correctly, Trailblazer is an in-orbit test of a satellite bus - a smart interconnect for a wide range of potential USB, RS-422, and ethernet based peripherals - on a communications platform that can talk to earth. What happens when these designed-for-earth interfaces are exposed to vacuum, g forces, and radiation is what is under test.

Just as Spacex is trying to cut costs for access to space with their Falcon series of rockets, a standard set of busses like those in Spacedev's Trailblazer could cut costs for satellite development by a huge factor, opening up many new possibilities for smaller organizations to be able to loft new instruments and spacecraft, cheaper.

There's all sorts of geeky details to this enabling concept that I hope Spacedev will reveal with some upcoming papers. A paper about their use of TCP/ip in the system was published in the 2006 smallsat conference and another in the 2008 IEEE Aerospace but I haven't been able to find copies online (yet).

Me, I went to bed every night with the refrain of an old filk song in my head - "You can build a spaceship from the things you find at home", because you could attach any of zillions of devices that talk over USB or ethernet and send them into space with a minimal amount of testing. Need a camera? An old webcam will do... heck, plug in 3 if you want - need GPS? go for garmin... etc.

So theoretically the Falcon 1 rocket that Trailblazer is on launches Saturday. (webcast here) If it achieves orbit, and Trailblazer achieves start and separation... it's cleared by the FCC for operations for the next 6 months, and will hopefully be in orbit for over 18 months before it falls back to earth.

I have a much larger article on my musings about all that it takes to put a satellite in orbit - all the people involved - etc - that I just can't put any love into until after a successful launch. I tried to write, once upon a time, about what a launch feels like, here.

Update: Spacex has officially announced that they are shooting for today, August 2nd, for the launch. More details here. Also onboard is Nanosail-D.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

  How to write when happy?

The surf has been consistently good, the wind lightly offshore.

I'm losing weight and gaining muscle mass. At the rate I'm going I'll be in the best shape I've been in 4 years by November. I'm dark brown from head to toe, except for the parts that are typically covered by baggies.

Not one, but two local bars are starting up open mic nights and with any luck a band or three will congeal out of that over time. I'm playing at Coquitos tonight with Aaron.

The youth hostel I help run now and then, La Casa Feliz, has been packed with interesting visitors from all over the world for months now. (Last year, the year they started, they weren't). I have met more people in the past year than in my entire life prior, and gained insight into many viewpoints. I've been sharing my office with writers from 5ones.com, Shaun chills out here a lot - and Cameron just did a wonderful writeup of his trip to Nicaragua. Kelly Ann Thomas of Picasso Dreams writes of Nicaraguan politics and white woman's guilt...

A couple days back I met a bunch of folk visiting a friend in the peace corps, one of them writes a darn good blog about everything from the rights of primates to robots... Tom Trumpinski now has his first book, The Hellbound Train, available for sale from lulu, Brian Clapper has resumed writing about everything from python to Django- and Cubic Dog's been posting about environmental issues and has up a nice rant about responsibility. Doc continues writing profoundly on everything from Lyndon LaRouche (on his birthday, no less) to the memery, to opening the cellular infrastructure...

and me... I sit here with 30,000 words stacked up and don't care... I've been through dry periods before, but this one is different...

I'm happier and calmer than I've been for a really long time, and although I have frustrations - like deciding to never own anything that can be easily stolen again - I'm happy... and... although I'm surrounded now by writers... I don't have any driving urge to write!???

I have several big articles on important subjects (stuff that angers me) stalled out, I don't have the drive to finish any of that. I poke a paragraph here, a sentence there, and quit. I've spent a little time organizing things so people can go through my old threads on space, asteroids, the 2008 election, and my assaults on the framing issues the mainstream media has, but that's it.

I find English slipping away more and more often as I attempt to operate in Spanish. I keep thinking that I could exit the internet with nary a backward glance, and use up the time for something else.

Wordlessly, I have an urge to paint - and instead of words, music fills my head. Music has always filled up my head, I have no idea how it gets stored, but I always used to ignore it, now it is louder than it has ever been....

I keep thinking - is that bad? It's not like I make a living from writing. Why should I subject myself to the pain of exposing truth or bias in the media, when there's a living, breathing world all around, with fun things to do, friends to hang with, and good things to eat and music to be made? - And everybody else, actively writing, doing such a great job?

Perhaps, today, I'll finish something. In my grabbag, fed by the prolefeed, are subjects like stagflation, the pending decline of Australia's economy, the saga of Terry Childs, and some stuff on corporate governance that all tie together... somehow.

Perhaps I can just serve as an amplifier for a while.

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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


Resume,Songs,
My new blog, NeX-6, My facebook page
Orgs I like
The EFF - keeping free speech in the world
Musical stuff I like
Jeff, Rick, Ardour, Jack
Prior Rants - Wireless and Wifi in 2015 - not what I dreamed of Saving wifi! Fixing Bufferbloat! Fighting the vend... Virgin Media - Fixing the epidemic of bufferbloat ... 49... and trying to find my navel Wheels down on mars! Tracking the landing of Curiosity, from Seattle spotting NEOs from around venus's orbit Asteroids as lunar orbit resources SOPA is bad news Departing France for England, then 'home'.
Best of the blog:
Uncle Bill's Helicopter - A speech I gave to ITT Tech - Chicken soup for engineers
Beating the Brand - A pathological exploration of how branding makes it hard to think straight
Inside the Internet Mind - trying to map the weather within the global supercomputer that consists of humans and google
Sex In Politics - If politicians spent more time pounding the flesh rather than pressing it, it would be a better world
Getting resources from space - An alternative to blowing money on mars using NEAs.
On the Columbia - Why I care about space
Authors I like:
Doc Searls
Where's Cherie?
UrbanAgora
Jerry Pournelle
The Cubic Dog
Evan Hunt
The Bay Area is talking
Brizzled
Zimnoiac Emanations
Eric Raymond
Unlocking The Air
Bob Mage
BroadBand & Me
SpaceCraft
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My Pencil
Transterrestial Musings
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Callahans
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If you really want to, you can poke through the below links as well.

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