Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's Late

The return to Earth of the UARS satellite, I mean. I love these deals...multitudes of like-minded enthusiasts following braking events online. Seriously, I had way more fun than I earned tonight!

It took a while, but NASA's big UARS satellite finally found it's way back to Earth, debris is reported on the ground near Okotoks, Alberta Canada. Confirmation from NASA and USSTRATCOM is taking a while, but reportedly, there's a local reporter on the scene at the Wilmuth Farm.

It looked like touch and go for Kirkvallus for a while. I had my hands full, watching the twitter feeds, following the tracking models...all while watching the SF Giants vs the Arizona Diamondbacks. A couple of phone calls, and Kirkvallus was prepped...I don't know if he saw the pass or not. It was the last pass for sure, UARS augered in a few minutes after passing over Interstate 5 in Oregon and Washington.

Getting confirmation took me up to the replay of P2 from Singapore, where the Formula One Circus has landed for the weekend. Singapore is a pretty attractive venue, loads of modern architecture under the lights, and a tight, fast, temporary street course.

A good time as had by all, but I've got to turn in...Qualifying from Singapore takes the green flag at 0700!

Good night...I expect confirmation of the UARS impact when I wake up...I'm talking to you NASA!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tracking Error

God this heat wave is playin' hell with my sleep this week! I was up trying to fall asleep until 2AM last night. Thank God for streaming internet radio! I found a stream of the Dennis Miller Show, and while I was too hot to sleep, I wasn't to hot to laugh out loud!

My alarm aroused me at 0600 and I tuned in the Armstrong and Getty Show...I faded quickly and rejoined the conscious listeners around 0800.With a start,I remembered that the UARS satellite was set to reenter any hour now,so I hit the 'net for the latest intel.

It seems that the satellite is slightly confounding the tracking people. After some high solar activity last week,the Sun has settled down enough to allow the Earth's upper atmosphere to contract enough to allow UARS a few more orbits before the inevitable.

Tracking maps I've seen show some debris tracks over the United States! NASA says the final orbit will now be late Friday or early Saturday EDT. Depending on which orbit is the last one, the debris field could be near New Orleans, across San Diego, with the debris field stretching into  Southern Nevada, and Arizona, or a few hundred miles offshore from Oregon.

I've spent a couple of hours trying to download the latest tracks and images,but all the tracking websites are overloaded now. Still standing is Spaceflight Now's UARS tracking page.

I found a twitter feed from @UARS_Reentry. They say four more orbits with reentry between 7:55PM PDT and 8:20PM PDT which puts it on the United States West Coast. It looks like off the Oregon coast.

KirkVallus, got a hard hat?

3:30PM PDT Update

It looks like splash-down will be off the Washington State coast, still in the 7:55-8:20PM PDT window.


There's space news this week! Sometime around mid-day Friday PDT, a NASA satellite the size of a school bus, weighing 6.3 tons, will reenter the Earth's atmosphere, begin to tumble and break up, and then burn up...except for 26 larger pieces that may make it intact to  the surface. NASA and US Strategic Command who track these things, say the surviving bits will land along a 500 mile path. NASA and USSTRATCOM say the largest piece will weigh about 330 lbs.

As I write (5PM Thursday PDT), the impact track is forecast to be over the Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines Islands.

From my viewpoint, this is one of those Good News/Bad News deals. The good news is those big chunks won't hit anybody (unless there's a sailor out there with really, really bad karma). The bad news is "you can't see it from here!"

As we move into the future, we're looking at a few more years of these reentering space junk episodes. Today, USSTRATCOM is tracking 22,000 objects in Low Earth Orbit that range in size from four inches across to the 900,000 pound International Space Station that's roughly the size of a football field.

Friday's entry in the Space Junk Derby is named UARS, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite. It was launched from Space Shuttle Discovery on September 15, 1991, and decommissioned in 2005. UARS studied the upper reaches of the atmosphere with emphasis on the ozone layer.

More recent satellites now in orbit are equipped with reentry guidance controls, theoretically giving the satellite's minders some measure of control upon reentry. The next few years will see the last of the crap-shoot style reentries of these derelict satellites.

You can track the reentry of UARS at the Heavens Above website. Take a little time at Heavens Above to input and save your location data. I have bookmarked three locations at Heavens Above: The DaveCave, The Ancestral Digs, and My Mountain.This makes it a snap to find satellite passes and print them before I head out for the night.

I still get a kick out of watching the ISS pass overhead...I did see two Space Shuttle Reentries, thanks to Heavens Above, and I was able to see Russia's MIR Space Station and the Space Shuttle at the same time just weeks before MIR was deorbited. You can also find astronomical data on the Sun, Moon and Planets as well as comets and meteor showers. Heavens Above has printable sky maps for most observable events, as well as satellite pass info for radio hobbyists.

The internet is tailor-made for events like this one. All the data you need to know of, and view these global events. Even in today's 24/7 CableNews world this event is only getting cursory coverage. This is very different from the first major reentry of the Space Age...

I remember NASA's Skylab fondly, and remember the worldwide media circus surrounding it's reentry. The year was 1979. Being the first big satellite to return to Earth, Skylab was on everybody's radar. In San Francisco both daily papers held contests. The Examiner offered $10,000 for the first piece of Skylab delivered to the Examiner Offices. Not to be outdone, the SF Chronicle offered $200,000 to any subscriber who suffered personal injury or property damage from Skylab's fall.

On the fateful day, my girlfriend and I were in San Francisco. It was Wednesday July 11, 1979. In Union Square we ran into the LIVE Remote of KSAN the FM album rock station.The DJ asked the girlfriend where she wanted Skylab to land. She didn't hesitate to answer: "On the jerk who stole my bicycle!" The small crowd laughed and broke into applause.

Pieces of Skylab did land near Perth, Western Australia. The Examiner Prize was claimed, and a hunk of Skylab debris was displayed on stage at the Miss Universe Pageant which was held in Perth on July 20th. Wikipedia has the whole story and it's a fun read.

Reading the Wiki on Skylab raised some questions. Back in 1979, NASA estimated that the odds of a human being struck by Skylab debris were 1 in 152. Though I can't find the source I that saw this week, today NASA says the odds are 1 in 3200 for the human hit.

OK, I'm no math whiz, but one or both of these odds must be off. Higher odds in 1979 when there were 4.4 billion human targets, but today much better odds of a miss despite almost twice the targets- almost 7 billion people are walking around on Earth now.

Color me where's my Skylab Hard Hat?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To Sleep...Perchance to Dream...

What a week so far! It started with a bang...up at Stead Field, and I've been riding the "Emotional Roller Coaster" ever since. I felt real pain when the Giants had Monday off...I needed that pastoral beauty of baseball to distract me from my feelings for a few hours...

The not knowing is the worst...I sat near those boxes where Jimmy's racer impacted the first time I attended the Reno National Championship Air Races back in 1981. I've only missed three years since.

One of those years was 2001 when the Air races were cancelled in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, and the Pentagon. General Aviation was still grounded by FAA decree two weeks later when the Races were scheduled.

The first time I missed was 1993. I was stoked to see Burt Rutan's Pond Racer compete in the Unlimited Class again. In '92 it qualified at 400MPH and looked to be the future of Unlimited Racing. The Pond Racer was a purpose-built composite, Burt Rutan designed, twin engine racer with Electromotive Nissan Auto Racing Engines.

The Pond Racer with Rick Brickert
I'm a history fanatic, and I hate to see the dwindling supply of historic WW2 warbirds being cannibalized and turned into racers, though I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit the thrill I get every time one of those old fighters fly over in full song. There is something irresistible about "The Sound of Freedom" echoing through the Valley of Speed!

Early in the week, the Pond Racer with Rick Brickert at the controls, developed an oil leak, then fire, and was lost along with Brickert. I just didn't have the desire to go to the races after that. 

The third year was this year, I was packing to go to Reno when the news of Jimmy Leeward's crash came crashing into my Twitter feed.

I've spent a fair amount of time commiserating on the Air Racing Bulletin Boards, while looking for answers that will quiet my mind's search for answers for a while. I was fairly unsettled when my post "Chilled" got noticed online and attracted 14K hits. I watched in morbid fascination as hundreds of web surfers clicked on my blog hour after hour, all weekend long and into the work week.

Today I surfed across a blog that puts my mind at ease. Martt at AirPigz nails it in my opinion. Martt posits that the Trim Tab Pushrod failed, beginning the chain of failure that lead to the tragic end. I can relax now, eventually the NTSB will publish it's findings, but Martt's theory does it for me for now. We may never know the exact failure...did the pushrod break, the mounting point, the fasteners?

Several eyewitnesses in the Pits saw high-speed oscillations of the tail leading to the pull-up. That's the smoking gun in my opinion. The blog features photos of the Galloping Ghost overhead with the trim tab still attached, after the high G pull-up. The tab breaks and separates before the rollover is completed.

Tonight I enjoyed the Giants beating the Los Angeles Dodgers at their house. You could really hear the traveling Giants' fans in the nearly empty Dodgers' Stadium.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


What a week. I sure missed the Giants Monday! Going into their day off, their offense came alive, and they resembled World Beaters, winning eight games and gaining ground in both races to the playoffs. They trimmed Arizona's lead by two games to 5.5 games back for the NL West, and moved up in the Wild Card standings now 4.5 games back. Even when the Giants play their nail biting, come from behind brand of baseball that earned the moniker "Torture", the pastoral nature of the game comes through to soothe this savage beast. I needed the Giants games this week in the wake of the tragic crash at the Reno Air Races.

Watching the Media Feeding Frenzy over the tragedy is amazing. Four days out the pretty field reporters still can't name aircraft parts by their correct names! The NTSB has been to Stead Field, mapped and collected all the crash debris, and the bigwigs have already returned to DC. Latest word is the NTSB will issue preliminary findings Friday. Interestingly, investigators found several digital memory cards in the debris. The Galloping Ghost had both an out-facing video camera, and a digital data logger on board, both stored their data to the SD Cards. The data logger is an analog to commercial aviation's "Black Boxes", though with many fewer channels of data, and without a voice recorder.

Hopefully, the data on these cards wasn't lost on impact. Much could be learned from the data logger files...airspeed, engine RPM, oil temp and pressure plus GPS info. Alas this data does not include control surface data. The wild speculation of the first week aftermath won't help the Reno Air Races continue into the future, and the last of their kind Races should endure.

Changes in Altitudes
On the winter sports front, the Skiing Press seems to be ramping up. Twitter had more early snow pictures from the Alps and Rockies. Friday's Autumnal Equinox is the first day of fall, and while the TV Forecasters haven't used the phrase "Indian Summer" yet, it can't be far off. Our current Heat Wave will continue into the weekend with a slight cooling Monday and Tuesday. Forecast AFDs say another warming trend after the short chill will bring back above normal temps. Better stay Fire Safe out there!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Devil's Arithmetic Visits The Valley of Speed

 I've been thinking about this all day. News is slowly leaking out from Reno and Stead Field. I'm struck by the misinformation that the field reporters are providing the viewers of the 24/7 CableNews channels. One handsome guy on FoxNews reported that mechanical issues might have caused Friday's crash...then went on to call the offending part an "Elevator Trim Raise"

I'm pretty sure he means "Elevator Trim Tab"...

It turns out there was a similar incident at the 1998 Reno Air Races.

Seven time AMA Motocross Champion, Bob "Hurricane" Hannah piloting another highly modified P51D, lost his left elevator trim tab during the Saturday Gold Heat Race, and "Voodoo" shot straight up pulling 10+Gs of deceleration, causing Hannah to black out. Hannah regained consciousness  at 9000ft, regained control, called a Mayday and landed safely. Voodoo sat out the rest of the weekend.

Voodoo's missing left elevator trim tab
I witnessed this from the fenceline in the Valley of Speed, far from the grandstands and the Home Pylon. Until today I'd never heard the whole story of Hannah and Voodoo's narrow escape.

It's the rare man who can keep it together when confronted with 10Gs. I think it's fair to assume that Jimmy blacked out when the Galloping Ghost shot skyward in front of the Pits Friday afternoon. The plane's lazy tumble from the top of the climb into the fatal dive without any throttle input, would imply an impaired-pilot situation.

That so many eyewitness pilots said the Jimmy did everything he could to keep his craft out of the crowd, indicates to me that Jimmy was probably coming to and instinctively pulling back on the stick in the final second or so of the fatal dive. There's no substitute for experience, and Jimmy Leeward had spades. The 50ft or so difference between impacting the tarmac and the VIP Boxes versus crashing into the grandstand probably reduced casualties by a factor of five...Godspeed Jimmy, good on ya'.

The Devil's Other Arithmetic

The Metric System...sorry European Readers, not your Metric System...we Americans don't cotton to your metric system (unless we're American Soldiers, who've been conversant in meters and kilometers since the Marshall Plan)

No I'm talking Web Metrics here...that's American Geek Dialect for Web counting at it's most basic and downright intrusive data collection at it's most extreme.

I've been writing my little...what does KirkVallus' sister call it..."his blog about the weather and other stuff?" for a couple of years. Until Google's Blogger Service added their "Stats" feature in the spring of 2009 I had no idea if I even had any readers aside from a couple of characters who are friends and appear in CorduroyPlanet from time to time. Since last spring I've been averaging 30-35 page views a day. CorduroyPlanet is a labor of love, I like it advertizing-free, and outside of posting a link on Facebook or Twitter from time to time, I've done nothing to try and build a commercially viable audience.

So imagine my surprise when I had six comments in need of moderation this morning! After I published them, I clicked on the Stats Tab and my jaw hit the desk! Over 4000 views of Friday night's "Chilled" blog!

I was dumbfounded! I clicked through the Stats Tabs and found that commenters on a couple of Tech Blogs had linked to my blog. Throughout the day, I looked in every hour or so and the hits just kept coming. Page views hit 10K in 22 hours.

Blogger Stats is "Web Metrics Lite" It tracks a few things, but it isn't intrusive to visitors to my blog, and doesn't give nearly the in depth, detailed info that the industry standard Google Analytics does. I do get a look at Referring urls and Referring Pages...curious, I clicked through and found links on several Techie and Gearhead websites.

Devil's Arithmetic
I got pounded on a British Gearhead Forum for being "The blogger on that link doesn't have a clue what he's talking about" I followed that guy's link to the 1998 Voodoo story and photo.

Here's the links that linked CorduroyPlanet...these were the major drivers of the click storm:

SlashDot linked James Gosling's Blog link, and about half the page views came from these two sites.

I'm grateful to have all these folks read my screed...I just wish it wasn't a Train Wreck Event that caused all the commotion. I'd have preferred the traffic went to the posts I'm most proud of like my Father's Day Blast, or my Proposal for a Lincoln Highway Centennial Bicycle Tour.

I did get a hint last year when I wrote daily from the Valley of Speed about the Reno Air Races and a non-fatal crash on Saturday. I got many visits from European readers for those blogs.

As much as I hate what happened Friday, the Air Racing Community will regroup, emotions will ease, the NTSB will issue their findings, and everyone can relax once again. The Leeward family will go on with their hearts heavy, and we all will pray that the Reno Air Races will return to us next September.