Triade

Triade

I finally got round to finishing my first iPad app. Called Triade, it's a fun tool for creating images made entirely out of triangles, using a technique called Delaunay Triangulation.

It's now available in the iTunes store. Click to find out more on the Triade app page here.

The death of Kosmograd

Baikonour

Baikonour is dying.

"Kosmograd was a dream, Colonel. A dream that failed. Like space. We have no need to be here. We have an entire world to put in order."

William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Red Star, Winter Orbit

Starting with the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union used the Baikonour Cosmodrome, originally known as Kosmograd, as the launch site of virtually all of their space missions. (A few were launched from the former missile base at Plesetsk, and also Dombarovsky). Originally Baikonour was so secret that it appeared on no maps, and it was the objective of US U2 spy mission when Gary Powers was shot down in 1960.

Baikonour Spy Map

But with the break-up of the Soviet Union, Baikonour, now part of Kazakhstan, had to be leased by Russia from the Kazakh government, and suddenly looks less and less like a long term solution to the future of space exploration.

There has always been an air of decay around Baikonour, the terrain littered with abandoned launch facilities. The Soviet Union was not known for sensitive land use, with a territory so large, the overriding mentality always seemed to be to build new rather than reuse or adapt. (I'll be considering the topography of Cape Kennedy in a later post). Baikonour could be considered an experiment in distributed urbanism, a space city sprawled out over 1000s of square kilometres, connected by few roads but an extensive network of railways.

Baikonour

One of the most poignant symbols of the decay of Baikonour, and the Soviet dreams of space, is the collapsed hangar 112 that housed the only Buran orbiter to fly (OK-1.01). The roof of the poorly maintained building collapsed on May 12, 2002, killing 7 people, and crushing the orbiter and the Energia booster mock-up it was sitting on. With it were shattered any dreams of reviving the Buran program to fill the gap left by the cessation of the Space Shuttle program after the loss of Columbia.

The collapsed Hangar 112

The collapsed Hangar 112

The railways were key to Baikonour's survival. The rockets that launch at Baikonour come from other parts of the former Soviet Union, from the Energia plant in Russia, or the Yuzhmash facility in Ukraine, and with cargos from around the world docked in Russian and then transported across the vast steppes.

Baikonour map

Baikonour

Current Soyuz-FG launches are made from LC-1, also known as Gargarin's Start, which has been used for over 400 launches since Gagarin blasted off in Vostok-1 in 1961. A powerful diesel locomotive carries the rocket to the launch platform , where it is then elevated to a vertical position, for the attachment of the launch clamps and support towers. Just prior to launch, the towers drop away, and the rocket is held above the blast pit by the four launch clamps. Finally, the engines fire, and momentarily the rocket holds there, before the clamps release and the rocket slowly lifts off. It is one of the the most transformative acts, an architecture of performance, of modernity itself.

Soyuz launch

In Tim Furniss' words:

"The Soyuz looked beautiful in the floodlights, emitting wisps of frosty air from the cold metallic casing of the liquid oxygen tank. The view was deceptive. A Soviet journalist told me "if it blows up, turn around and run like hell!" The small press stand had a very thick wall behind it for protection. We heard occaisional announcements (in Russian) with major countdown milestones. Strange electronic music was played to herald new announcements. If you did not know the time of the launch, you could be having a cup of Russian tea behind the press stand and miss the whole thing! Eventually, came the call "zhaganinhee!" Engine start. The booster rumbled with a pinkish light beneath, which suddenly turned into bright gold and the engines built up to full thrust. The Soyuz seemingly hung there for ages, straining against the clamps suspending it over the flame trench. A gentle rumble turned into a continuous explosion of noise. We saw it all the way in the clear skies, with the jettison of the strap-on boosters, the shutdown and separation of the first core stage and the ignition of the second. It was a tremendous experience - the best of blast offs" Having a decentralised space industry across the Soviet Union was fine while the union held, but upon the break-up, Roskomos' efforts to maintain an active space program, severely hampered. In December 1991 Cosmonaut Krikalev circled the Earth aboard Mir while the nation that had placed him there fell apart beneath him. While not technically stranded on Mir, (Soyuz TM-13 was docked), there was little direction coming from Moscow. Krikalev, who had arrived in May 1991, finally left Mir in March 1992, having logged 311 days in space, 6 months more than originally planned.

With the collapse of the union came the end of collaboration. Ukraine held Russia to ransom over key components such as the Kurs radio telemetry docking system, and withdrew their fleet of tracking ships. Meanwhile in Kazakhstan cargoes at Baikonour were often looted, and there were frequent power cuts across the region. In July 1993, there was a power failure half and hour before the launch of Soyuz TM-17. Ultimately this all led to the decision to abandon Mir, which was put into de-orbit on 21 March 2001.

Twin launch pads 110

Baikonur is leased until 2050, but already plans are being made to move rocket launches to new sites. Roskosmos has already constructed a new launch facility at Kourou in French Guyana until such time that a new dedicated facility on Russian soil can be built, almost certainly at Vostochny, the former Svobodny missile base. It's likely that Kascosmos, the Kazakh space agency, may use some of the facilities, but the relatively northern latitude of Baikonour makes it less efficient for rocket launches than equatorial locations such as Kourou.

For the time being, the sight of Soyuz rockets rising over the steppe remains one of the potent reminders of the glories of the Soviet space program.

Launch at Baikonour

Red Mars 3

Mars One

As the Curiousity mission to Mars nears the Red Planet, another venture, Mars One, aims to build a permanent settled colony on Mars by 2023. They make it sound so easy. But landing on Mars has always been anything but easy.

The key concept of the Mars One project is that, by not trying to return from Mars, it instantly solves all the problems about escaping Mars' gravity well. It's a one way ticket for settlers, never to return. Whilst Elton tells us that "Mars ain't no place to raise your kids", the brains behind Mars One expect there to be no shortage of volunteers to start a new life in the off world colonies. The project creators seem to think that media interest will generate income in the ultimate reality TV show - "Big Brother will pale in comparison". But the Apollo mission should serve as a warning here. Whilst an estimated half a billion people watched Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the Moon, by the time of the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, just 3 years later, TV audiences had grown bored of watching astronauts prancing around on the lunar surface.

Mars One

Watching the CGI footage of craft gently touching down, in a neatly arranged row, it seems they have grossly underestimated just how difficult it will be to land on Mars. In this super-slick video, the scientists at NASA behind the Curiousity mission, describe the 7 minutes of terror during which it will be impossible to determine whether Curiousity has made it or not. The rather hubristic video shows the solution to slow Curiousity down to a speed upon which it can deposit the rover gently, a process utilising atmospheric braking, parachutes and retro-rockets.

Mars Curiousity

Mars has just enough atmosphere to create a problem, but not really enough to provide enough atmospheric braking enable a glider-like approach that the Space Shuttle used to return to Earth. The thin atmosphere also means that parachutes will not be as effective as on Earth, and there is no large body of water in which to splashdown. Unlike the Moon, the gravitational pull of Mars is enough to generate considerable acceleration of vehicles towards it. For any return trip, the lander will need to carry enough fuel to lift off again, which will increase its weight and make it even harder to land. At least Mars One doesn't have this consideration.

As this chart by Bryan Christie Designs shows, previous missions have a low success rate., often referred to as the Martian Curse.

Mars Missions infographic

Mars One is not the only privately backed project looking to get people to move to Mars. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, which managed to send an unmanned vessel to the ISS earlier in 2012, also thinks that a manned Mars mission will be not big deal. Musk figures he needs to get the cost down to $500,000 per person:

'"roughly the cost of a middle-class house in California.” Why that price point? Musk imagines that then, "enough people would choose to sell all their stuff and move to Mars."'

But apart from the price-point, not much seems to have been determined other than some vague assertions that that everything will need to be reusable to make it economic, and that the fuel for the return journey must be available on Mars itself:

""My vision is for a fully reusable rocket transport system between Earth and Mars that is able to re-fuel on Mars - this is very important - so you don't have to carry the return fuel when you go there"

Musk's thinking doesn't seem to have got any further than Wernher von Braun, who conceived his Marsprojekt as early as 1946, and refined it almost continuously over the next 23 years, including a program made for Disney in 1957. On screen von Braun, a showman as much as a scientist, makes an elegant, considered proposal for a manned voyage to Mars. These proposals are even more remarkable given that no-one had even placed any craft in orbit.

Mars Projekt Mars Projekt

Inevitably, von Braun's counterpart in the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev, also harboured plans to go to Mars, and in 1960, gained permission from the Kremlin to forge ahead with proposals for both manned and unmanned interplanetary missions. In 1960, 2 attempts were made to launch probes to Mars, in the Marsnik program. In 1962, the Mars 1 probe was launched, but only to within approximately 190,000 km from Mars before resuming a heliocentric orbit. The Mars 2 and Mars 3 probes did at least reach Mars. in 1971 but their descent modules malfunctioned either on descent or shortly after landing on the Martian surface.

Most people think of the American Viking landers as the first craft to land on Mars, but they were not. Mars 3 landed successfully on the surface of the Red Planet in 1971, but only managed to broadcast less than 20 seconds of data back to Earth, including the first photograph of the planet's surface, before a malfunction occurred, or a dust-storm destroyed some of the equipment. It would be another 5 years before Vikings 1 and 2 would send back extensive data and colour images of the Martian landscape.

In 1973, the Mars 4 and Mars 5 probes both achieved orbit of Mars, but did not included descent modules. From then on, the 'Martian Curse' seems to have taken hold of the Soviet space program. In 1973, Mars 6 did crash-land a descent module on the surface but was able to transmit data during the descent. The Mars 7 probe reached Mars in 1974 but the lander separated prematurely and missed the surface of the planet.

It was another 15 years before the Soviet Union attempted to reach Mars or its moons again. The Phobos 1 and 2 probes were planned in the 1970s but finally launched in 1989, designed to collect soil from Phobos and gather extensive data on Mars. However, neither spacecraft made it to Mars.

In 1996 another probe, the Mars 96 spacecraft failed to achieve orbit. And of course earlier this year the Phobos-Grunt vessel failed to exit Earth's orbit.

Korolev's plans for manned missions were as ambitious as they were impractical. Unlike the cautious US approach of small incremental steps, re-iterating and refining, the Soviet approach to spaceflight was to think on the grand scale, and try to turn dreams into reality by sheer force of will. The history of Soviet rocketry is full of grand visions and a long list of heroic failures, punctuated by the odd genuine success. In this aspect the Soviet space program mirrored many other facets of Soviet society.

Soviet manned mission proposal 1960

Korolev's 1960 plan was suitably grandiose:

"According to Korolev, the manned expedition on the surface of the planet would include 3 or 4 spacecraft flying in formation. The crew, returning from the surface of the planet, was expected to dock with one of the backup ships, which would be then used for the flight back to Earth"

The plan evolved further to become a Martian 'train", five moveable platforms that could traverse the Martian surface, from pole to pole, gathering samples and data:

"One platform would carry the crew cabin with a manipulator and a device for drilling soil. The second platform would be a launch pad for an aircraft capable of flying in the Martian atmosphere. Two more platforms would carry main and backup return rockets, which would allow the crew to take off from Mars.

Finally, the fifth platform would be equipped with a nuclear-powered generator, which would supply the expedition with energy. The "train" would travel across the Martian terrain for a year, collecting samples and relaying data to the base craft orbiting the Red Planet.

At the end of the mission, the crew would take off from the surface to rendezvous with the orbiting base ship for the return journey home."

Planning for manned missions to Mars gained new impetus in the Soviet Union following the success of the Apollo program in landing Americans on the moon. Once the Stars and Stripes had been planted on the surface of the Sea of Tranquility, Soviet ambitions turned away from the Moon and looked with renewed vigour towards Venus and Mars.

Manned Mars mission proposals cropped up again in 1969, 1987, 1989 and 1999. The 1969 project looked to develop a general purpose interplanetary rocket, based around the N1M nuclear powered launch vehicle,a modified version of the massive N1, the Soviet rival to the Saturn V rocket.

The 1988 project was based around using a space station such as Mir as an orbiting ship-yard. The rocketry would place into Earth orbit all the constituent parts to create the fleet of craft to travel to Mars. The space station was to be used as an assembly point to build the vessels that would make the 9 month trip to Mars.

Mars Opportunity panorama

But what will men do on Mars? Recently released by NASA is an amazing panorama of the surface of Mars, stitched together from over 800 photos taken from the Opportunity rover, which has been wandering around the planet since 2004. If you needed any more convincing of the crushing loneliness of being stuck on Mars, it is traced out in the wheel tracks of the Opportunity rover, patiently toiling on its mission, much like the last remaining robot in Silent Running.


Previously

The spectacular city

"In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation."

Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle.

Fabian Cancellara Photo by Flickr user Will Rose

As I stood in Hyde Park on Saturday, among an estimated 1 million people that turned out to witness the Tour de France coming to London for the first time ever, I had the rather surreal sensation that I was participating in some kind of mass consensual hallucination.

Elsewhere this weekend, London hosted a Live Earth concert at Wembley and tennis finals at Wimbledon. Just one week after a failed car bomb explosion and 2 years after the 07/07 tube bombings, London was reaffirming its identity through a series of grand spectacles.

With the beautiful weather, the garish skinsuits and sleek machines of the riders, set against the backdrop of landmarks such as the House of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, while helicopter shots of the Thames and the London Eye beamed around the world, London never looked more spectacular, in the true sense of the word.

Olympics Brand Exclusion Zone

Advertising restriction zone around Olympic Park In graphic design, an 'exclusion zone' is an area around a logo which must be left clear. Corporate brand and logo usage guidelines demonstrate the proportion of vertical and horizontal space around a logo into which no other element can intrude.

In urban design, exclusion zones are becoming commonplace in relation to sponsorship of sporting events. The Brand Exclusion Zone is the newest form of urban demarcation, and can be used not only to affect signage and advertising, but also restrict personal freedom of choice. Within this context, the London 2012 Olympics represents one of the most radical restructuring of the rights of the city in London. The 'canvas' of London will belong exclusively to the Olympic marquee brands.

In essence, London has abdicated all rights and responsibilities to the International Olympic Committee, and implemented legislation which creates radical new spatial demarcations not only within the Olympic Park, but because of the distributed nature of the Olympic venues, across the whole of central London. London has surrendered the traditional rights to the city to the demands of the Olympic 'family' and their corporate paymasters. What the IOC want, London will give. London will be on brand lockdown.

The most carefully policed Brand Exclusion Zone will be around the Olympic Park, and extend up to 1km beyond its perimeter, for up to 35 days. Within this area, officially called an Advertising and Street Trade Restrictions venue restriction zone, no advertising for brands designated as competing with those of the official Olympic sponsors will be allowed. (Originally, as detailed here, only official sponsors were allowed to advertise, but leftover sites are now available). This will be supported by preventing spectators from wearing clothing prominently displaying competing brands, or from entering the exclusion zone with unofficial snack and beverage choices. Within the Zone, the world's biggest McDonald's will be the only branded food outlet, and Visa will be the only payment card accepted.

Advertising restriction zone around Greenwich

Advertising restriction zone around Wimbledon

This brand apartheid is designed to prevent "ambush marketing", the gaining exposure of an brand through unofficial means. One of the best known examples of this was in the World Cup in 2010, where a bevy of 36 Dutch beauties in orange dresses provided by Bavaria beer gained considerable media attention, to the chagrin of the official World Cup beer, Budweiser. At London 2012, branding 'police' will be on hand to ensure that nothing like this happens, with potential criminal prosecutions against those responsible. Organising committee LOCOG will also take steps to ensure that no unofficial business tries to associate itself with the Olympics by using phrases like 'London 2012', even on such innocuous things such as a cafe menu offering an 'Olympic breakfast'. The Olympics authorities are looking to control both language and space.

Ambush marketing at World Cup 2010

And it's not just London. All the venues for the 2012 Olympics will be on brand lockdown. In Coventry, even the roadsigns will be changed so that there is no reference to the Ricoh Arena, which is hosting matches in the football tournament. Even logos on hand dryers in the toilets are being covered up. The Sports Direct Arena in Newcastle will have to revert back to St. James Park for the duration of the Olympics.

Traditionally, the most epic guerrilla marketing war has taken place between sportswear rivals Nike and Adidas. Whereas Adidas has long been an official sponsor of major sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics, Nike has cast itself as the hip, streetwise alternative, and taken considerable steps to trump Adidas in gaining exposure at major sporting events.

1996 was ambush marketing's breakout year, with Nike making a concerted effort to upset the official sporting sponsors of both the Euro 96 football tournament in England and the Olympic games in Atlanta:

"The 1996 edition of the European Championships, Uefa’s premier international quadrennial soccer tournament, provided an example of ambush marketing that changed the face of sports sponsorship. English sportswear company Umbro had paid for the rights to be the official sportswear supplier of the championships, only to find that Nike had purchased all the poster space and advertising sites in and around Wembley Park underground station, the main travel hub for England’s national stadium, Wembley. Nike’s move completely negated the power of Umbro’s official partnership. The same thing happened for the World Cup in 1998 when Nike hijacked Adidas’ official association in much the same way. As a consequence Uefa, European soccer’s governing body, has spearheaded the use and enforcement of marketing exclusion zones surrounding stadia, forcing the official sponsorship agencies of the competition in question to buy all the advertising space within a 1.3 mile radius of the stadia. The IOC too was quick to adopt this counter-ambushing strategy. The ability to implement such exclusion zones is now a key element in the process to decide future Olympic host cities."

In World Cup 2010 in South Africa, Nike circumvented the billboard advertising ban by projecting onto the side of a building in Johannesburg. As the authorities get wiser, Nike get smarter.

Nike Write the Future

Nike Write the Future

Whereas the Beijing Olympics represented an embracing of China into the coven of Westernism, the London Olympics will show us just how venal unfettered capitalism can be, how its default modus operandi is paranoia, and rather than a celebration of human endeavour and athleticism, it demonstrates more that the power of branding requires such strict parameters of control that nothing can be left to chance. Brand Exclusion Zones are just one manifestation of the privatisation of public space that London is fast-tracking. For a more thorough analysis of the much hyped legacy of London 2012, I urge you to read Anna Minton's Ground Control, recently updated to include a new chapter on the Olympics.

London Olympics Riot

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the marketeers are way ahead of the urbanists in understanding how the city works. The spatial politics of brand paranoia will be part of the true legacy of the London Olympics.


Previously:

ma.r.s.

ma.r.s. C-print

Finishing this week is Thomas Ruff's exhibition ma.r.s. at the Gagosian gallery on Brittania Street.

The exhibition features a series of large C-prints of manipulated photographs, based on digital images originally taken by the HiRISE camera aboard the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in 2006.

Ruff firstly blows these image up to room size proportions, often 2.5 metres high, to the point where the C-print takes on the surface appearance of a painting.

Further manipulations push the images further - sometimes slanting them to make it look that they were taken from a lower angle, rather than an orbiting craft; sometimes saturating the colours with a red hue, and sometimes adding a 3D stereographic process that splits out red-green spectrum.

ma.r.s. C-print

In the description that accompanies the exhibition at the Mai 36 gallery in Zurich in 2011, Valeria Lieberman describes Ruff's Ma.r.s series thus:

"Not only does he use the pictures themselves; he processes them to bring out the aesthetic quality of his scientific sources. He invites us to take a fictional voyage of exploration into the beauty of outer space. Given the current debate on the near future of manned space travel for the public-at-large, these pictures seem to prefigure what travellers will one day bring home from their journeys into outer space."

ma.r.s. C-print

Viewed close up, the surface of Mars occupying almost all of your vision, it is almost possible to fall into the image, to be hovering over the red planet, to imagine yourself there. Then you pull back, and contemplate the immense human achievement in capturing these images, and the meticulous work of Ruff in turning these scientific images into works of art.

ma.r.s. C-print

You can view the original HiRISE images on the NASA HiRISE viewer site. There's also a good review of the MRO mission on the Planetary Society site.