Sunday, August 29, 2010

Remote sensing and space age archaeology

"Space age archaeology" is a term you often see applied to the technique of using satellite imagery to detect landscape patterns, and built environments, that are not apparent from aerial images or on the ground.  All fine stuff.

But it's not what I do.  Space people, and indeed many other people, leap to the assumption that space archaeology means the use of remote sensing in terrestrial archaeology, or the study of re-entered material (ie bits of spacecraft that survive reentry to fall to the surface of the earth). The idea that the material culture of space, both in space and on Earth, is worthy of research, often takes some time to make sense to those who have not come across it before.

And that's OK.  It's just that I am totally over remote sensing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A manifesto for space archaeology and its Dada precedents

I have been planning to write a manifesto for a while, but manifestos require more sustained thought that can be mustered in the overworked brain of a university lecturer.  Perhaps on my sabbatical next year.

In the meantime, I have been contemplating the appropriate pithy quote with which to open such a work. (These things are important).  I feel it ought to come from another manifesto.  Manifestos are often not a ripping read, by their very nature, but there are exceptions.  My all-time favourite would have to be Tristan Tzara's Dada manifestos.  As far as I'm concerned, Dada was over far too soon.

So, reading through Tzara's Seven Dada Manifestos and Lampisteries, I came across many that might do.  I offer a few here to see what you think.

To launch a manifesto you have to want:  A.B. & C., and fulminate against 1, 2, & 3, work yourself up and sharpen your wings to conquer and circulate lower and upper case As, Bs & Cs, sign, shout, swear, organise prose into a form that is absolutely and irrefutably obvious, prove its ne plus ultra .......

(I like that about manifestos too, that they have to be launched - just like a rocket, ha! - and then you wait for action and reaction, because manifestos are meant to upset people  ..... )

I always speak about myself because I don't want to convince, and I have no right to drag others in my wake, I'm not compelling anyone to follow me, because everyone makes his art in his own way, if he knows anything about the joy that rises like an arrow up to the astral strata, or that which descends into the mines strewn with the flowers of corpses and fertile spasms.

or this:

Every object,  all objects, feelings and obscurities, every apparition  and the precise shock of parallel lines, are means for the battle of:  DADA; the abolition of memory:  DADA; the abolition of archaeology:  DADA; the abolition of prophets:  DADA; the abolition of the future:  DADA.....

Admittedly, these do not lend themselves obviously to my purpose, but sometimes trying to see the relevance in something you like leads to new connections.  This is certainly what I found when writing a talk (which I really must write into a paper) about archaeology, space and Edwin Abbott's Flatland.  In the last quote, I like the sequence of memory, archaeology, prophecy, future.

Tzara, Tristan  1984 [1963] Seven Dada Manifestos and Lampisteries.  London:  John Calder and New York:  Riverrun Press.  Translated by Barbara Wright.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New measures for active orbital debris mitigation

Space News (8/9, Werner, subscription required) reported, "Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is proposing plans for a small satellite designed to address one of the most vexing problems facing spacecraft operators in low Earth orbit: debris too small to be tracked by ground-based telescopes but large enough to penetrate satellite shielding." The plans are expected to be "discussed publicly" at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics small satellite conference on Wednesday. "The spacecraft would operate in low Earth orbit as a sweeper or shield, breaking up debris particles and reducing their velocity, according to Jose Guerrero, chief technologist for ATK Spacecraft Division's Systems and Advanced Technology Group." The concept has been discussed with NASA, DARPA, and the US Air Force, "Guerrero said. Further development of the concept, including testing, will require government funding, he added."
Quoted from AIAA Daily Launch

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The top ten orbital debris-producing missions of all time

This is recent data released by NASA's Orbital Debris Office.  As a result of over 4 700 launches since 1957, there are currently around 19 000 pieces of trackable debris.  Most of this derives from missions launched by the USA, the former USSR and China.  

The missions which produced the greatest quantity of debris are: 

Name                                Year        Debris          Cause of Breakup 
Fengyun-1C                    2007          2,841          Intentional Collision 
Cosmos 2251                  2009          1,267          Accidental Collision
STEP 2 Rocket Body       1996           713             Accidental Explosion
Iridium 33                     2009           521             Accidental Collision
Cosmos 2421                2008           509             Unknown
SPOT 1 Rocket Body     1986           492             Accidental Explosion 
OV2-1/LCS 2 Rocket     1965           473             Accidental Explosion 
Nimbus 4 Rocket Body  1970           374             Accidental Explosion
TES Rocket Body           2001           370             Accidental Explosion 
CBERS 1 Rocket Body   2000            343            Accidental Explosion

What's interesting to note about this is that the most frequent source of debris in the top ten is rocket bodies, and I presume this is largely due to residual fuel (there is a large amount of literature on the problem of passivation at the end of mission life).  And six are also within the last ten years, suggesting that, despite guidelines for limiting the creation of orbital debris being around for a decade or more, they may not be very effective ...... Note also that there are only two accidental collisions in this list, which supports my argument that the risks posed by large objects that may have heritage value, if they are left in orbit,  are not as great as we might think.

Of course this is only the top ten, and a more thorough investigation of the figures may be illuminating.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Space Age Archaeology archived by the National Library

Terrified that some technical glitch will cause all of Space Age Archaeology to disappear as if it had never been? (I know I am).  Wondering how future generations will learn about space archaeology when blogs are as antiquated as cuneiform?  Well worry no more!

Space Age Archaeology has been placed on the PANDORA archive at the National Library of Australia.  This is what PANDORA is about:

PANDORA, Australia's Web Archive, is a growing collection of Australian online publications, established initially by the National Library of Australia in 1996, and now built in collaboration with nine other Australian libraries and cultural collecting organisations.   The name, PANDORA, is an acronym that encapsulates our mission: Preserving and Accessing Networked Documentary Resources of Australia.

This is, I like to feel, something of an accolade.