Archive for the ‘robots’ Category

Latest Cassini Eye Candy

Sunday, March 1st, 2009


The Cassini robotic explorer continues to send back incredible imagery from its mission amongst Saturn and its moons. The latest series of images are part of the Equinox mission to observe the changing seasons on Saturn, and are rendered to expose the incredible detail of the stormy atmosphere underneath the signature rings of the planet. If you look at the lower left corner in the image above you will see an especially well defined storm, seen essentially as a blue dot in Saturn’s atmosphere.

This image was taken with the wide-angle camera on-board Cassini on Dec. 29, 2008 at a distance of approximately 680,000 miles from Saturn.

More on the . More on the . More on my own following of Cassini here on schneiderism.

Sadly, Mars Phoenix Has Signed Off

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

The Phoenix Lander on Mars has not been heard from in nearly two weeks. It was originally designed to last for about 90 days, but it lasted for over 5 months delivering to us a treasure trove of images and information from its landing spot on the surface of Mars. The loss of contact with the robotic explorer is due primarily to weather conditions at its location, which have been steadily worsening. At the same time the sunlight available to recharge its batteries has been lessening each day as the sun gets lower in the Martian sky. Officially, it is the position of the Phoenix team that the mission is now complete, though mission control will continue to listen for any signs that Phoenix is still operational.  However, it does not appear there is much hope this is the case. While the Phoenix Lander’s mission of collecting data from Mars appears to be finished, the mission of reviewing, interpreting, and applying the enormous volume of information from Phoenix continues apace, and will continue well into the future given the volume of data collected. Phoenix was an impressive step forward in deepening our knowledge and understanding of Mars, and it was a mission successful beyond everyone’s expectation.

Mars Phoenix will be especially memorable for me, as not only have I written about Mars several times, but I also followed the Mars Phoenix mission very closely. I followed Mars Phoenix on , getting daily insights into what the robotic explorer was up to. I learned of the mission’s discovery of water ice on Mars via Twitter, and subscribed to the NASA image feeds to be among the first to see what incredible images Phoenix was capturing for us. The Mars Phoenix mission was an excellent exercise by NASA in involving all of us in the great work and exploration that is being done. Mars Phoenix helped us to feel as though we were part of the mission.

Cassini-Huygens. Relentless. Awesome.

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Saturn\'s moon Enceladus shot by Cassini on February 16, 2005 with the atmosphere of Saturn as a backdrop.

That I am absolutely fascinated by the exploration of Saturn and its moons being conducted by the is no mystery. There is the fire hose of discovery that Cassini is beaming back to us, discovery that is changing the way we think about our solar system and how it was formed. As if that alone is not enough to justify this mission of space exploration, there is the incredible imagery sent back to blow our minds like the image above of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, shown with the atmosphere of Saturn in the background, captured by Cassini back in 2005, and images like these:

The image above, taken by Cassini on March 12, 2008, provides us great detail of the pock-marked surface of Enceladus. Contrast this image of Enceladus to this one:

This image shows the deep canyon feature of Enceladus and is noticeably missing the impact craters of the previous image. The picture above was snapped by Cassini earlier this month on October 12th.

These images, and more, can be viewed in incredible resolution at .

Biggest Canyon in The Solar System

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

More incredible imagery from Mars. This time it is a nice detail image of Ius Chasma, an area within Valles Marineris which is believed to be the largest canyon in the solar system. This recently released image by NASA was snapped by the , one of the many robotic explorers working for us on Mars right now, and shows in pretty stunning detail the stratigraphic layers believed to have been created by both wind and water. I am in awe of the detail of this image and with the frequency and quality of images available to us from Mars. Nice work NASA, the ESA, and all of your partners for all of the Mars missions. I’m a fan.

Cassini Provides Enceladus Eye Candy

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I had already posted about Cassini’s August 11th very close flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and some of the amazing images it captured, but this mosaic warrants posting as well. It is a composite of eight images from Cassini that have been stitched together. The image above is shown in enhanced color and Enceladus would not actually look like this to the human eye. Enhanced color, in this case achieved using a combination of five different lenses, is used to bring out more feature differentiation and detail for analysis, things like the four south polar sulci (which are surface depressions or fissures, and often referred to as Enceladus’ “tiger stripes”) visible in this mosaic. To the human eye Enceladus would look more like below, the starkly stunning image that led my previous post on Enceladus:

More on these images at

Up Close With Enceladus

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Saturn’s moon , pictured above in a full color image from a flyby in 2005 and written about on schneiderism before, received a close visit from the on August 11th. This flyby allowed Cassini to snap incredible surface detail images. The following are some of the more compelling pictures to come out of this flyby.

Below is an image of “The Mound,” which is the object in the center right of the image which is casting a long shadow to the right. The incredible detail of this photo shows us the complexity of ridges, fissures, and cracks that makes up the surface of Enceladus, looking almost like a close-up image of elephant skin.

One thing that Cassini potentially revealed is evidence of the active venting occurring on Enceladus, venting observed by Cassini on previous missions. The image below appears to show this venting in progress, and in detail. Looking at the center of the image, note the blurred whisps over the whitish fissure feature. Serious speculation suggests that we’re seeing active venting right there:

Cassini was able to get very close to Enceladus, much closer than previous visits, and the images below show the high detail that this made possible. The first was taken by Cassini at a distance of about 1600 miles, the second even closer taken from about 975 miles. Both are incredible.

From 1600 miles:

From 975 miles:

I do not think that we can overstate how incredible it is to be seeing the surface of Enceladus in such rich detail, truly an important and amazing accomplishment. These images are a treasure trove of information for researchers and scientists seeking to learn more about our solar system.

More on Cassini’s August 11th flyby of Enceladus at , and a very informative article on Enceladus can be found at .

Good Time 360 Panoramic Machine

Friday, August 15th, 2008

from on .

I came across this video at earlier this week and loved it. I dig this song, and expected a video like this from Cut Chemist. This is the first music video to be shot with a 360 degree panoramic lens. You’ve got to admit that it’s pretty amazing. To really experience this I suggest clicking through to and watching the video in HD.

DARPA Turns 50

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Over the last 50 years nothing has driven technology innovation like the military industrial complex. Sure, academic institutions, independent researchers, and private industry have achieved many things, but for sheer volume nothing can touch what the United States military technology research behemoth has accomplished. For researchers, this is where the big money lies and we’re talking about projects in areas beyond armaments and weapons like networking science, trauma medicine, communications, materials sciences, robotics, and transportation. Behind this is , the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is the central force behind the Department of Defense research initiatives that we usually hear about after they are no longer relevant. Their motto is “Bridging The Gap,” which may be a stretch. Regardless, DARPA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and along with that celebrating 50 years of technology innovation… some of which is not actually used to kill people.

Oddly silly promotional video for DARPA’s 50th:

Found this video via .

The Icy Solitude of Rhea

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

I subscribe to the NASA RSS feed for the mission and just came upon this image taken back on June 10th of this year. This simple black and white image taken by Cassini conveys so much detail about the icy moon. There is the surface, riddled with impact craters and covered in ridges and striations. If you look at the upper right edge of the moon silhoetted against the blackness of space you get a sense of the dimensionality of the moon’s surface. Rhea is the second largest of Saturn’s moons at about 950 miles across, this image definitely gives it presence. Some more detail on Rhea:

  • Rhea was discovered in 1642 by Giovanni Cassini, the namesake for the Cassini space probe and the astronomer who also discovered the Saturn moons Iapetus, Dione, and Tethys
  • In direct sunlight the temp is as warm as -281°F, and in the shade -364°F
  • Rhea has a rocky core that is about one-third of its mass, the rest is water-ice
  • It is about 527,000 km from Saturn

Mercury: That’s Going to Leave a Mark

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Catching up on the deluge that is my RSS reader lately, I came across this image from of the (also called Caloris Planitia) on Mercury recently snapped by the Mercury Messenger robotic explorer. It’s huge, and one of the largest impact basins from an asteroid-sized object in our solar system. The basin measures over 1,500 km across. The image above is a image in order to enhance details not visible in a true color image. The yellowish object dominating the image is obviously the impact crater of the Caloris basin, but the orange spots above denote volcanic activity on Mercury, which is new evidence provided by Messenger that the smooth plains of Mercury are actually lava flows.

I had previously written about Mercury and NASA’s Messenger mission here and here.

Follow The Water

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

The Phoenix Mars mission team released some on June 20th. The Phoenix Mars explorer, since landing on Mars on May 25th,  had definitively established that the white material exposed with its digging tool earlier is in fact frozen water. Phoenix had found water ice just below the Martian regolith. That was a significant part of the mission, and to accomplish it so quickly and efficiently is a big win for NASA, JPL, and the whole mission team. The proof is represented in the image above. If you watch the image you see the white material begin to shrink and disappear. That is called , which is the transition of an element or compound from solid to gas without the intermediary liquid step. Given the atmospheric conditions on Mars, you are seeing evidence above of the frozen water on mars subliming.

Identifying water ice was the first important step in the mission team’s “follow-the-water” mission framework. Knowing that they are working with water ice now triggers a series of analyses that will help identify the mineral components and chemicals in that water ice, and also look for any organic materials. This investigation will help determine if the conditions just below the Martian surface are conducive to microbial life, and if that life exists or has existed on Mars.

Robots For Oil Spills

Friday, June 20th, 2008

There is a very good chance that drilling will begin in the coastal waters of the United States, and perhaps also places like the . This brings the possibility of environmental disasters due to accidents and spills much closer to home. There are arguments for and against doing this, and one of the more interesting arguments for allowing the drilling is that the United States has been outsourcing its environmental disasters for too long, and that the drilling off our coasts is inevitable. We have the technology and care for the environment to drill in a way that will minimize environmental impact and address accidents in a fast and efficient manner. I do not really agree with this logic, but knowing that the drilling is going to happen it is good to have technology on our side.

Enter the OSP robot, a concept by product designer Ji-hoon Kim, which is a modular, easily transportable, solar powered, oil spill containment solution. Once deployed the robots autonomously contain the spill with an inflatable barrier quickly minimizing the impact of the oil spill and supporting the successful cleanup and management of the accident by the cleanup teams. Response to a spill with these robots is swift, as they can be quickly deployed from special dispensers on board helicopters or boats:

OSP Robot deployment options

This is one of many oil spill containment tools that should be investigated, and it would be good to not wait until we are drilling off the coast of the United States to do so. An environmental disaster in Africa or Asia from an oil spill has reverberations throughout the global environment, and establishing and mandating a response protocol would be a very, very good thing.


Four Years in, Cassini Still Delivers Big

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Image via Cassini-Huygens

The robot explorer, written about here before, will hit the four year mark on June 30th in the relentless pursuit of its prime mission to explore Saturn and its many moons. After June 30th Cassini is operating in bonus territory, as it was not expected that the probe would last this long or work this well. They call this additional time the “extended mission”. Obviously, everyone is ecstatic as the Cassini mission has been profoundly successful in sending us back and images of Saturn (like the one above of Saturn’s rings), as well as the moons Titan, Enceladus, Dione, Tethys, Phoebe and Iapetus. In many ways the discoveries regarding Saturn’s moons has largely overshadowed the many, many findings with regards to Saturn itself.

Following the work of Cassini has been like following your favorite band on tour. Nearly every month the mission team has reported more incredible findings or provided another series of stunning images. This catalogs dozens of events and accomplishments. This year alone Cassini has scheduled over a dozen different flybys to allow the use of the craft’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UIS), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS), and Radio Science Subsystem. Cassini is packed with gear, and it is not only amazing that it all is still working as planned, but that it made it there in the first place. Congratulations to the Cassini-Huygens mission team on the four year anniversary.

NASA Robotic Prototypes

Friday, June 13th, 2008

NASA Crew Mobility Prototype

NASA engineers have been busy testing for potential use on future missions to the moon and Mars. The engineers, in full astronaut gear, have been putting the machines through their paces on terrain at Moses Lake, Washington that approximates the mobility challenges of navigating the surface of the moon.

The robotic prototypes tested include the twelve wheeled robotic transport pictured above, as well as a six-legged all-terrain vehicle that can carry large payloads, an autonomous drilling rover and a mapping robot. There is an incredibly large and well-shot image gallery of the testing, and the various robotic vehicles, that is worth viewing. The public was invited to observe, which is further proof of the efforts that NASA is undertaking to engage the public and enlist their enthusiasm. NASA’s relatively recent adoption of social media as a way to create dialog with the public is an additional indicator of a changed view of the role of the public in space exploration.

On Mars, Phoenix Scores Big

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

View under Phoenix on Mars shows exposed ice table

This image is the result of the Mars Phoenix mission team instructing the robotic arm camera to look under the vehicle. What you are looking at is the surface of Mars, and it shows that the Martian soil has been displaced by the landing thrusters on Phoenix to expose what is most probably ice. The simple action of Phoenix landing on Mars has potentially exposed polar ice directly under the vehicle, ice that was covered by a very loose and thin layer of soil.

There is a rumor that when the mission leaders saw this image the first words uttered were “Holy cow!”

Living in The Age of Dean Kamen

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Pretty incredible video of work in robotic prosthetics being done by Dean Kamen and his team. Knowing that prosthetic limbs have not really progressed much, technologically, in the last fifty years it is stunning to see the leaps that Kamen’s team has made. The initial prototype of the robotic arm was completed in one year at the behest of the Department of Defense searching for a solution to soldiers who had suffered the loss of their arms.

Venus Via Express

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Venus Explorer images of vortex in southern polar region

Posts lately have been all things solar system, and that is because there is so much going on right now with regards to robotic exploration of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and the their various moons. It is an exciting time to be a space exploration geek. I just came across the above image taken by the explorer of a vortex occurring in the southern polar region of the planet. This image was captured by Express back in 2006. I also found an excellent of Express approaching Venus that shows some detail in the cloud covering that surrounds Venus.

Venus Express is essentially a reconfiguration of the ESA’s explorer technology and left for Venus back in 2005. The goals for Venus Express are to explore the atmospheric composition and circulation on Earth’s closest neighbor, as well as how the atmosphere interacts with the planet’s surface. Venus is definitely inhospitable, with an atmosphere mostly comprised of noxious gasses and an incredibly hot surface temperature. Surprisingly, given the close proximity of Venus, we still know very, very little about the planet. Venus Express is helping to change this.

The View From Mars

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Image of Phoenix landing pad on Mars 5/25/08

The Phoenix robotic explorer has been on Mars now for about 27 hours after an incredibly successful entry, descent and landing. It has been very busy. Incredible images are already streaming to Earth, and those of us geeked out by things of this nature are absolutely riveted. I was excited to discover how many people I know were following @MarsPhoenix on Twitter.

Many images are coming back, and most right now are of the explorer itself and the immediate vicinity as the mission managers check systems and get their bearings. The above image of one of the craft’s landing pads is one of my favorites because that image is of the pad of a man-made robotic explorer sitting on the surface of Mars millions of miles away from Earth, and it was taken in the last 24 hours. Astounding. Even more astounding is this of the Martian surface, terrain and horizon taken by Phoenix today.

Mars’ Promethei Planum Images & Detail

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Promethei Planum on Mars by the ESA

Earlier this month the European Space Agency posted some high resolution images taken by the of the ice covered oddity that is . The images are striking and gorgeous, and depict the seasonal ice coverage of this cratered area that measures as deep as 3,500 meters in places. In the image below on the right is an impact crater, partially covered in ice, that measures roughly 100 km wide and 800 meters deep.

Promethei Planum on Mars by the ESA image II

It’s A “Manhunter”

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Northrop Grumman X-47B

It has been a while since I have posted about robots, so via comes news that we are that much closer to bigger, better, and more stealthy flying robots of death. At least the United States Navy is. We’ve had operational drones and remotely piloted craft that could fire on targets, but within the next year the Northrop Grumman X-47B will take flight, and begin aircraft carrier landing testing a year after that. This is a mean machine, and brings an array of capabilities to bear all from a compact, efficient, and radar resistant form factor. It’s not a small craft, but it is much smaller than all other carrier based aircraft. It’s mission profile reads like a Tom Clancy novel:

  • Ballistic missle defense
  • Irregular force attack
  • “Manhunting”
  • Strike-coordinated armed reconnaissance
  • Combat air support
  • Special operations force support
  • Air interdiction
  • Electronic surveillance
  • SEAD/EW (I have no idea what this means…)

The impetus behind creating this robotic aircraft is to provide the Navy and Marines with a platform that can stay in flight for 50-100 hours, carry 4,500 pounds of ordinance, and perform the toughest missions under the most dangerous of circumstances. Clearly criteria that make a pilotless option priority. Additionally, there are plans to make the airframe compatible with carrying directed energy weapons. That would be lasers.

Again, reality maps to science fiction.