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  sci-tech > space > story pagecorner  

In Brief:

September 2, 1999
Web posted at: 1:40 p.m. EDT (1740 GMT)

Foundation finances search for dangerous asteroids

(CNN) -- The Space Frontier Foundation has announced the donation of its first international financial grants to astronomers involved in the search for Earth-orbit-crossing asteroids. The first grant will be made to Professor Vladimir Shkodrov and Dr. Violeta Ivanova of the Institute of Astronomy of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The second grant will be made to Dr. Petr Pravec of the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. The grants are being issued by "The Watch," the Foundation's asteroid-detection project.

"It is becoming apparent that what was once ridiculed as being far fetched, an asteroid impacting the Earth, in actuality may have seriously impacted civilizations during the last few millennia," said Richard Godwin, executive director of The Watch. "We established this project to raise funds for asteroid detection because a large impact would produce devastating consequences for the human race if it happened now."

The Space Frontier Foundation is a worldwide media and policy organization of space activists, scientists and engineers, and citizens from all backgrounds dedicated to promoting the large-scale permanent settlement of space.

Good Leonid shows predicted through 2002

(CNN) -- Skywatchers can expect four consecutive years of good displays from the Leonid meteor shower, according to new research by Dr David Asher, of Armagh Observatory, and Dr Rob McNaught of the Australian National University.

Writing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (August 21 issue), they show how the times when Earth passes through the dense streams of matter in space that produce meteor showers can now be predicted with remarkable accuracy.

Their latest analysis, covering Leonid meteor storms over the past 200 years, shows that the peak times of the strongest storms and sharpest outbursts are predictable to within about five minutes.

The technique involves mapping the fine "braided" structure of the dense dust trails within the Leonid meteoroid stream. Although comet Tempel-Tuttle, the "parent" of the Leonid stream, passed close to the Earth in 1998, Asher and McNaught predict strong meteor storms in both 2001 and 2002. 1999 and 2000 will be less spectacular, but good.

In 1999, observers at European longitudes are favored, and may see up to 20 meteors a minute (in ideal conditions under a clear, dark sky) at around 2 a.m. on the morning of November 18.

Japanese achieve first auto-docking in space

(CNN) -- Japanese engineers succeeded Wednesday in a novel experiment with a robotic arm on an orbiting satellite that released and then automatically recaptured another satellite without a ground command.

The National Space Development Agency of Japan said the two-day test involved the release of a satellite called Orihime into a semi-closed space within another satellite's docking mechanism but about 20 cm (7 inches) from its robotic arm.

In 1996, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata worked with NASA astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour to successfully capture a Japanese satellite using the shuttle manipulator manually.

The latest experiment is the first involving the automatic operation of a robotic arm, an approach that could be helpful for recovering and repairing satellites robotically in the future.

The robot arm first grasped Orihime while aboard the controlling satellite, called Hikoboshi, and then moved it into an area created by loosening the mother satellite's docking mechanism.

Next, a finger at the end of the robot arm was opened, gently releasing Orihime and allowing it to float freely.

The robot arm then was retracted and put into an automatic capture mode. The arm tracked a special marker attached to Orihime, approached it and recaptured it by closing its finger.

X-33 engine testing to start

(CNN) -- Testing will start this month on a new engine designed to power a half-scale demonstrator for a reusable space-plane that could eventually replace NASA's space shuttle.

The XRS-2200 Linear Aerospike Engine, developed by Boeing Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power in California, arrived July 10 at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

NASA considered using the aerospike engine for the shuttle 25 years ago, but chose instead to go with the space shuttle main engine. The aerospike now is being revived for the X-33 and VentureStar shuttle replacement project.

The aerospike is shorter and lighter than its conventional counterpart, and its shape works well with the X-33's airframe design for lower drag during flight.

The half-scale X-33 will rely on two smaller versions of the aerospike, while the VentureStar will rely on seven full-size aerospikes.

The X-33, scheduled to begin flying in summer 2000, is being developed under a cooperative agreement between NASA and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works of California. Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama manages the program.

Stennis personnel will conduct a total of 41 test firings on four engines -- two test engines and two flight engines.

After successful testing, the two flight engines will be shipped to Lockheed Martin Skunk Works to be mounted on the X-33 near the end of this year.

More testing will follow on a dual-engine arrangement at Stennis on a test stand. In that round, 16 firings are planned for a total of 2,646 seconds.

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