The BBC has an interesting article on Point Nemo, AKA the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility, AKA the spacecraft graveyard. This is the place in the ocean that is furthest from land, in the middle of the usually stormy South Pacific. It’s as far out there as you can get without leaving the planet: about 2,688 kilometers (1670 miles) from the nearest dry land. Even the ocean floor is 4 km (2.5 miles) down; the closest human life is the International Space Station (ISS) astronauts flying 415 km (260 miles) above it. It is not near any shipping lanes or transport routes. It is, to put it bluntly, the middle of goddam nowhere. So, it is a perfect place to dump derelict spacecraft.
Since 1971, over 160 spacecraft have met their end in these chilly waters, from the fiery public end of the Mir space station to the secret death of numerous secret spy satellites. The article in question focuses on the Soviet satellites, but plenty of other countries dump their end-of-life satellites there, including trash from the ISS. The Chinese Taingong-1 space station crashed nearby, although that was more by accident than design. The ISS is scheduled to join its trash in a few years: the current plan is that the massive space station will be de-orbited and crashed near Point Nemo in 2030.
Will there be anyone to see it? When the Mir space station was de-orbited, some entrepreneurial companies offered flights to the area to catch a glimpse, but the best view was from the island of Fiji. So, start planning your trip now…
Continue reading “Dumping Spacecraft In The Middle Of Nowhere”
Right-to-repair has been a hot-button topic lately, with everyone from consumers to farmers pretty much united behind the idea that owning an item should come with a plausible path to getting it fixed if it breaks, or more specifically, that you shouldn’t be subject to prosecution for trying to repair your widget. Not everyone likes right-to-repair, of course — plenty of big corporations want to keep you from getting up close and personal with their intellectual property. Strangely enough, their ranks are now apparently joined by the Church of Scientology, who through a media outfit in charge of the accumulated works of Church founder L. Ron Hubbard are arguing against exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that make self-repair possible for certain classes of devices. They apparently want the exemption amended to not allow self-repair of any “software-powered devices that can only be purchased by someone with particular qualifications or training or that use software ‘governed by a license agreement negotiated and executed’ before purchase.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: September 3, 2023”
Sad news in the tech world this week as Intel co-founder Gordon Moore passed away in Hawaii at the age of 94. Along with Robert Noyce in 1968, Moore founded NM Electronics, the company that would later go on to become Intel Corporation and give the world the first commercially available microprocessor, the 4004, in 1971. The four-bit microprocessor would be joined a few years later by the 8008 and 8080, chips that paved the way for the PC revolution to come. Surprisingly, Moore was not an electrical engineer but a chemist, earning his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1954 before his postdoctoral research at the prestigious Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins. He briefly worked alongside Nobel laureate and transistor co-inventor William Shockley before jumping ship with Noyce and others to found Fairchild Semiconductor, which is where he made the observation that integrated circuit component density doubled roughly every two years. This calculation would go on to be known as “Moore’s Law.”
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: March 26, 2023”
Low Earth orbit was already relatively crowded when only the big players were launching satellites, but as access to space has gotten cheaper, more and more pieces of hardware have started whizzing around overhead. SpaceX alone has launched nearly 1,800 individual satellites as part of its Starlink network since 2019, and could loft as many as 40,000 more in the coming decades. They aren’t alone, either. While their ambitions might not be nearly as grand, companies such as Amazon and Samsung have announced plans to create satellite “mega-constellations” of their own in the near future.
At least on paper, there’s plenty of room for everyone. But what about when things go wrong? Should a satellite fail and become unresponsive, it’s no longer able to maneuver its way out of close calls with other objects in orbit. This is an especially troubling scenario as not everything in orbit around the Earth has the ability to move itself in the first place. Should two of these uncontrollable objects find themselves on a collision course, there’s nothing we can do on the ground but watch and hope for the best. The resulting hypervelocity impact can send shrapnel and debris flying for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers in all three dimensions, creating an extremely hazardous situation for other vehicles.
One way to mitigate the problem is to design satellites in such a way that they will quickly reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up at the end of their mission. Ideally, the deorbit procedure could even activate automatically if the vehicle became unresponsive or suffered some serious malfunction. Naturally, to foster as wide adoption as possible, such a system would have to be cheap, lightweight, simple to integrate into arbitrary spacecraft designs, and as reliable as possible. A tall order, to be sure.
But perhaps not an impossible one. Boeing subsidiary Millennium Space Systems recently announced it had successfully deployed a promising deorbiting device developed by Tethers Unlimited. Known as the Terminator Tape, the compact unit is designed to rapidly slow down an orbiting satellite by increasing the amount of drag it experiences in the wispy upper atmosphere.
Continue reading “Pinning Tails On Satellites To Help Prevent Space Junk”