Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hermes spacecraft - 1979 early draft

I think that the Hermes program, that runs from 1977 to 1993, is one of the longest, most passionate and eventually the most frustrated development of a spacecraft ever started.
There was a lot of hiccups all over this project.
Some technical issues first, that added some weight constantly over the time. It gave challenges to both the airframe and the booster.
Some political fights then between the main fund-raisers of ESA the European space agency in charge of Hermes. The British, the French and the German strongly disagree on the direction to go.
And last, some financial issue that put a stop to the work when the budget over exceeded all initial forecasts and the fundraisers decided to close their wallets.

But let's go back to 1977.
That year while the space shuttle Enterprise underwent its first free atmospheric test flight, CNES, the French space agency initiated a pre-study of a tiny space plane that could carry  European astronauts into orbit.
The plane was to be launched atop an Ariane rocket à la Dyansoar/Titan booster. But while the Ariane 1 was at that time in its final development stage (its maiden flight was in 1979) CNES envisionned a much more powerful launcher variant, the Ariane 5/H, to lift off Hermes.

In 1979, CNES presented a set of blueprints and artist rendering to the press.
The plane was 12,5 meters long with a wingspan of 8 meters and weighted 10 tons. It could carry 5 astronauts or 2 astronauts and a 1,5 tons payload. While much smaller it had a similar double delta wing shape as use on the US space shuttle.

I based my CAD modelling on this 1979 material and tried to imagine what would be that small bird into orbit.

References :

Monday, September 17, 2012

JAXA Super Sensitive camera : Real time night video from the ISS

I am fascinated by time lapse videos of earth at night shot from the ISS. Several of these videos were made and uploaded on streaming sites in the past months and they precisely depict earth in all its beauty : city lights flybys, dancing auroras and lightings that are striking the dark ground of continents and oceans.

But all of these movies are not based on videos footage. Instead, they were patiently built by artists by stacking thousands of long exposure pictures made by the ISS astronauts using Nikon digital cameras. The Nikon cameras are usually bracket mounted in the ISS cupola to keep a stable framing. An automatic remote control system is then plugged to the camera in order to take continuous long exposure of around 2s during a flyby of earth at night that the ISS will cover in about 40 minutes.
The artists have then to manually stitched the photos (most of time after a despeckling/ denoising operation that will improve the quality of each pics).

The main issue with the use of video camcorder to record at night from the ISS is the same as you will have shooting the sea from a cliff on a moonless night : Very low light condition and no way to use projectors to better render the scene.
But what about building a dedicated video camera that push the sensitivity border enough to film in the dark and make possible to get real time videos of earth at night ?

That is what JAXA the Japanese space agency made with the help of NHK broadcasting company. They built the SS-HDTV, the super sensitive HDTV video camera and flew it to space.

1 : Lens (shown here is a Fujinon HA18x7.6ERM/ERD lens), 2 : Camera body, 3 : LCD screen, 4 : SD card recorder
(credit : JAXA)

The camera was delivered to the ISS by the Progress M-10M on 29 April 2011 and transferred to the Kibo module. It then waited for its operator, the japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa who boarded the station in June 2011.
Within the next 2 months, Satoshi prepared and set up the camera. He then transmitted videos during a period that culminated with a four-segment live TV show in September 2011.

Satoshi Furukawa recorded lightning, auroras and the islands of Japan at night with the SS-HDTV
(credit : JAXA/NHK)

The camera is built around a 2/3" EM-CCD sensor, EM stands for Electron multiplyer. This CCD technology is quite new and its main advantage is to deliver a very good signal to noise ratio as well as low light capabilities. Therefore, EM-CCDs cameras find growing use in astronomy and scientific application where light become scarce.
Thanks to its sensor, the SS-HDTV can work with a minimum illumination of 0,05 lux.

Surrounding the sensor is a thoughened body that give protection from the solar radiation level that is higher in the ISS than on ground level. On one side of the body is a liveview LCD monitor, on the other is a SD card reader that records the video sequences on 32GB interchangeable SD cards.
An interchangeable lens is used to focus the image. A set of 5 lenses is available in the ISS :
Four fixed focal lens : 4,8mm, 8mm, 17mm, 25mm and one zoom lens : 7,6 ~ 137mm 16X.

The video sequences are encoded using the MPC (Multi-Protocol Converter) at 27Mbit/s before downlinking it to earth through the Ku-band data flow of the station. The MPC, developped by NASA, ESA and JAXA is used to compress HD video stream and therefore limit the use of bandwidth. This operation is achieved either in real time or by processing

The camera was extinsively used by Satoshi until October 2011. No activity is reported in the ISS status since this time.

References :

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

multi role recovery capsule - 3 side view

Here is  a composite 3 views of the model in order to depict the overall shape of the capsule.
  • The front part hosts a Common Berthing Mechanism. It includes a large hatch of 127 cms wide that would have allow astronauts to carry large piece cargo to the Freedom station.
  • Beside the hatch, on each side of the capsule are located 2 RCS units in order to steer the spacecraft to and back from the station.
  • The bold red line is the edge of the reentry heatshield that ends the Command Module.
  • The back side of the ship is the service module. It protects the heatshield upto the reentry sequence, durig launch and maneuvers in orbit. But its main purpose in space is to hosts both the electrical production through solar panel and the telecommunication equipment to send data, voice and video back to earth or through relay satellites.
Related topic on :

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Most expensive Camera shelf ever

ISS crew has the great chance to use top of the line Nikon cameras. Here is a view of some of the gears available in the space station.
Some D2s and D3s are waiting to be used and are stored on their articulated monopods in the ISS cupola.

When you consider that each camera has a price tag of roughly 5000$ and the ISS cost is said to be above 100 bn$, one can say that either the station is the most expensive place to hold Nikons or  these cameras are most probably the cheapest pieces of hardware flying around the earth...

Credit :

Sunday, May 13, 2012

British Aerospace - Multi role recovery Capsule - 1987

In the mid eighties, ESA was to choose a project to give Europe a manned access to space. While the French were pushing to develop the Hermes spaceplane further, the British unveiled a much simpler alternative : The multi-role recovery capsule (MRRC).

British Aerospace made a pre-study for a 7 tons capsule that could carry 4 to 6 persons in orbit. The existing Ariane 4 rocket or some US rockets could be used as the launcher after being man-rated. In BAe’s plan, besides providing Europe with a man access to space, the capsule was envisioned to be also used as a lifeboat for the therefore planned US space station. Unfortunately, despite its versatility, the capsule was dropped by the ESA at the end of 1987 in favor of the ambitious Hermes spaceplane. However, several years later, the Hermes spaceplane will also be cancelled.

I found little information about this project. So I build the 3D model from this single artwork depicting the capsule. 

The capsule includes a Command Module with most probably a Common Berthing Mechanism to dock with the space station Freedom and some RCS thrusters on the top part. Windows and hatch are on the side. On the back is a disposable service module with its solar panel array and the communication antenna. 

References :
  1. Marcus Lindroos - Astronautix -
  2. BAe proposes manned capsule - FLIGHT INTERNATIONAL, 24 October 1987 -

Aerospatiale STS-2000

Back in the 80s, the future of space exploration seemed to lie in Single Stage to Orbit vehicles. Every design team around the world was working on various reusable spaceplanes in order to achieve SSTO and reach the ultimate dream : get a cheap, reliable and common way to access low earth orbit.

Aerospatiale, a french company that will later merged into EADS, came up with an elegant spaceplane concept study. Known as the Space Transportation System of years 2000 (STS-2000), it included a combination of air-breathing and rocket engines and was able to deliver 7 tons in orbit. The SSTO 73 meters long plane weighted 338 tons when taking-off horizontally.

I made a 3D model of the plane and pasted it over a high altitude pics of the earth.
Below is an original artwork of the plan.


References :
  1. STS-2000 SSTO -
  2. DESMA - Défi Aérospatial Etudiant 2011 -
  3. Aerospaceplane technology - GAO - July 1991 - pp39 -
  4. Earth background credit =