reentry series chronology
5/5/04Write first draft of Reentry Series description and start research on meteors.
5/6-7/04Send emails to about six leading international researchers on meteors and object reentry. Receive reply from Nicholas Johnson, director, NASA Orbital Debris Program Office and begin email correspondence.
5/10/04Extended telcon with Dr. Johnson of NASA discussing differences between meteors and orbital reentry, get his assesment of how deterministic reentry trajectories are given known initial conditions (very), which results in basic assessment of feasibility (yes) and expense (very high) of the project. His assessment is that the only signficant constraint is cost. Detailed notes of the discussion were taken and sent back to Dr. Johnson for his comments, to which he responded and confirmed my conclusions.
5/28/04Follow-up discussion with Dr. Johnson to clarify some points, including the ability to get an arbitrary reentry orientation (yes) and the use of ballistic vs orbital insertion (either will work), interest in characterizing the mass requirements to get a given visual magnitude. While his office has detailed computer models to predict demise, they do not provide visual information. Scouted some locations for shooting Albuquerque night cityscape from the west along I-40. Did some simple test shots with a 1 Meg HP digital which were encouraging.
6/14/04Scouting better locations for test shots with C-8080 and walked up to the top of one of the volcanoes from the west side of Petroglyph National Monument about 2AM. Perfect. Shot some exposure tests. Some sort of security vehicle parked by my truck which I left by the locked gate so I started down and flashed my light at him. He was gone by the time I got back done. Better call the office.

Went back and evaluated the tests. Very exciting. Laid out a shooting format and conversion rules to get HD and SD as well as 20x30 prints.

6/15/04Spoke to Michael Quijano, Chief Ranger at Petroglyph National Monument (505) 899 0205. I was requesting permission for nighttime photography from the site. He indicated if it was not for commercial purposes and did not involve extensive sets then no special use permit was required.
6/16/04Shoot Albuquerque from Petroglyph National Monument Volcano top.
6/19-24/04Begin to code visualization studies. Research atmospheric distortion and code a simulator of it which added it to the digital camera time exposures to make them look like live footage.
7/1/04Start to add vix code for meteors themselves after researching visual models.
7/15-17/04Further refine meteor and atmospheric distortion code.
7/20/04Visit Dallas and shoot skyline for studies.
9/10/04Shoot Albuquerque from Sandia Peak. Shoot Santa Fe from overlook, atmosphereic perturbation and long exposure require SF reshoot.
9/11/04Resume work on synthetic meteor viz. Code looping of background frames and attempt to imporve sub-pixel rendering of trail.
10/11/04Shoot NYC skyline from Eagle Rock NJ.
10/13/04Shoot NYC skyline from Empire State Bldg.
10/18/04Contact Rose Center for Space at American Museam of Natural History about using Plantarium for visualizations.
12/25/04Shoot San Diego from three vistas.
12/26/04Shoot Downtown LA from Mulholland Drive.
2/22/05Resume contact with Dr. Johnson at NASA to attempt to model mass requirements for sacrificial payloads.
3/2/05Greatly refine website writeup of Reentry Series. Arrange to meet AMNH about meteor visualizaions last weeek of the mont in NYC.
3/11/05Attempt to establish initial contact with Oribtal Sciences Corporation to determine approximate costs for Pegasus lauch as well as determine if refurbished Peacekeepers still retain the MIRV bus, as this would prove extremely useful for sacrifical payload deployment.
3/12/05Recieve reply from Lou Armorosi of Orbital Sciences who responds with information about employing Minutemen or Peacekeepers as launch vehicles. He indicates that a liquid upper stage (which is a requirement for accurate deployment of MIRVs, is available and can dispense multiple payloads. He also notes that "use of these assets requires sponsorship by a US government agency, so you would have to get interest from someone either in the AF orother government agency (NASA, NWS, etc)."
3/14/05Telcon with Warren Frick, Advanced Programs, Launch Systems Group, Orbital Sciences Corporation, who had emailed indicating he would call in response to an additional question regarding reentry velocities to Mr. Armorisi. A very productive half hour discussion with Warren yeilded a wealth of information, most notably, that it is possible to achieve meteor-like reentry velocities from man-made objects. He indicated they were looking at 30 km/sec for the Mars exploration mission, presumeably to test reentry vehicles or materials at these speeds. He felt the 10-20 km/sec of meteoriods was very possible. He also indicated that it would be possible to deploy MIRVs with a Pegasus, although these high velocities might not be possible. The primary requirement was a liquid upper stage, to deliver the precision and attitidue control for the MIRV deployment. The Peacekeeper might not be the vehicle of choise, there being only 50. A more cost-effective choice might be a Minuteman, of which there are hundreds. These can be configured as Minotaur IVs with liguid upper stages. He also mentioned there may be the possibility of employing large sounding rockets. He mentioned the Australian program he thought was entitled "HiStart", which tested hypersonic vehicle systems by lofting them on a sounding rocket, then employing a final stage directed back at the earth, to get higher velocities than free-fall. He suggested researching the NASROC suborbital launch program and the Wallops Virginia Flight Facility (WFF). He questioned the location for the works. I indicated I was doing visualizations over cities to provide a foreground and ground for the dark night scenes but he indicated he was skeptical about ever being able to do that. In his workds "You want to shoot an ICBM at a city"? I indicated that the works might have to be done over the South Pacific, like the Orbital Debris Office planned demise events, at least initially. We also discussed the difficulty I was having in obtaining data on visual reentry artifacts. He indicated part of the reason may be that this information had been classified as a result of the ABM program, the spectral signatures of reentering vehicles now having strategic value for anti-missile weapons systems. In the light of that (which had not occurred to me) we both agreed it might be more productive to focus on reentry velocities and masses in the range of meteorites, whose visual artifacts were in the open scientific domain. He suggested that it might be a good idea to get an NSF grant, even a small one, to provide federal agency support for the use of an ICBM booster. We also discussed the vehicle requirements to support a MIRV and he suggest the following mission profile: The solid stages fire straight out but achieving less than the 7km/sec needed for orbit. As the vehicle starts to fall back in, aim the final stage back at the earth to obtain higher reentry velocities. Then, once the desired velocity was reached, but still out of the atmosphere, turn the vehicle at right angles and do a burn in that direction and start dispensing MIRVs. This would provide the ability to create a plane of parallel lines. We also talked about other means to create diverging lines, his thought that mechanical springs probably might not do the trick. He was unsure about how it might be possible to stagger the arrival of meteors of seconds to tens of seconds from the same launch. (Later it occurred to me: Maybe have multiple final stages or a more complex path for the final stage, have a burn to get back in, then move at right angles and deploy some of the MIRVs, then head back in to get more velocity, then turn at right andgles again and deploy a second set of MIRVs.). I described my interest in creating intersecting lines with multiple launches and he indicated that sounding rockets would certainly enable this, being in the hundreds of thousands per launch instead of millions or tens of millions.

After the conversation, start thinking about the utility to the scientific community of actually creating proper synthetic meteors, with known composition and velocities in the range of real meteors. This could be a way to conduct meteor research to validate the various models of meteors and their trains which have been advanced. Send off an email to Dr. Jenniskens, the most visible meteor researcher, due to his theories of meteors being the terrestrial delivery mechnism for primordial organic compounds which were the progenitor of life on earth. I had emailed him last year when I first thought of the reentry series but he did not respond.

3/15/05Telcon with Dr. Nicholas Johnson, Director NASA Orbital Debris Program Office. We discuss the new wrinkle of Orbital Science's claim to be able to get as much as 30 km/sec reentry velocities. He is skeptical. I suggest this may require a seperate path in my investigations of the requirements for sacrificial payload mass, and he agrees, indicating I should really pin them down on this claim. If true, it would theoretically permit much smaller payloads, possibly in the sub-kilogram range (in my words, bbs instead of bowling balls). He suggested that I should continue to research mass requirements at the nominal LEO reentry velocity of 8 km/sec. He also felt that the paucity of visual data on demise events was not some the result of classification of that data due to SDI or ABM research as the simple fact that these events were difficult if not impossible to predict, making the deployment of sensors difficult. I asked if his office had any visual data from planned demise events that might be of assistance in determining payload requirements and he indicated yes, for Mir, for instance. The problem is that this is a massive object, far larger than my estimated or reseaonable payload range. I asked if they track smaller objects of known mass and composition and he indicated that while they are aware of their demise, it is unplanned, since they will not reach the ground, and not well monitored. There are typically one per day. I mentioned that I had made another attempt to contact Peter Jenniskens, whom he knows it turns out, about the possiblity of using synthetic meteors to validate meteor models. He indicated his office does a lot of meteor work and wasn't particularly sold on the utility of such an effort, although he thougt it certainly wouldn't hurt to take another run at the meteor guys with the idea. We discussed how his office's reentry models might be of assistance, since they do not model visual data. I also indicated the preliminary meteor visual model information I had obtained indicated that most of the visibility was due to ionization affects at a typical radius of tens of meters, as the result of the shock wave created by the meteor and he indicated his models did not predict that. He was concerned that his model data might not be of use, as it dealt with heating, ablation, and demise. I then indicated that this would be of fundamental interest in simply predicting the duration of the demise of various size payloads. This is a fundamental aspect of visibility, simply how long the reentry event lasts, making the assumption that when the object had completely ablated, it would no longer produce a visual artifact. He felt this was reasonable. I asked if such an investigation would require funding and he indicated that his support thus far was out of professional courtesy and he could extend that to running some simple modelling. I suggested that a simple demise model be run to see how long it would take for a 10, 100, and 1000 kilogram mass to ablate. He suggested scaling down an order of magnitude to 1, 10 amd 100 kg. We agreed that a generic LEO orbital decay reentry be used, so he said 0 degree FPA, 8 km/sec. He though to add a .1 kg mass to include the typcial meteorite mass range. We then decided that the temperature profile and velocity profile would also be of interest to possibly determine ionization effects. He indicated he would try to get something done along these lines. I also mentioned that I might be visiting JSC in connection with some consulting work and expressed an interest in meeting fact to face next month and he advise me of his travel schedule.
3/16/05Receive email from Dr. Johnson at JSC Houson with analysis of the survival profiles for the iron sheres. Both a .1 kg and 1 kg will demise by the time they reach the earth, having the relatively long demise times of 88 and 148 seconds. Now the critical question becomes will this size object produce a meteor of adequate visibility now that these masses have ben declared "safe" by NASA. Over the next few day research meteor mass information and find that for the higher velocities of meteors a 1kg mass is sufficient to produce a very bright meteor, known as a fireball, with astronomical magnitudes in the region of -8 to -10, which is bright enough to be very visible in even a night city sky. This is VERY IMPORTANT information, as the mass requirements have dropped by two orders of magnitude, with the drect result of launch costs dropping similarly.
3/19/05Receive phone call from Dr. Peter Jenniskens in response to my email of last week. We enjoy an amiable and animated phone conversation of about 45 minutes where I explain the project and my findings to date. Dr. Jenniskens, much to my delight, has worked with artists on astronomy-related projects in the past in his native Netherlands and is extremely receptive to the project. I explain my latest data from Dr. Johnson's office at NASA and ask him if he can confirm that a meteor of a .1 to 1 kilogram mass should be visible in a night city sky. (Typical meteors are a tenth of a gram). He confirms this most emphatically, noting that this a range is considered a fireball and should be in the -8 to -10 magnitude range which is very bright, far brighter than any star. Dr. Jenniskens indicates that it should be possible to control the color of meteors as well, as I had suspected. We discuss funding requirments and the various launch possibilities and he is very interested to learn of the high (30km/s) reentry velocities which Orbital Sciences feels they can attain. Perhpas most importantly, as I had hoped, Dr. Jenniskens feels there is an opportunity to do science in conjunction with these artworks, and would be interested in developing companion studies with scientific funding to study the events as they would provide an excellent opportunity to validate the various meteor visibility and demise models he has been working on. He has also been doing work on exploring meteors as the primary deposition mechaism for the organic carbon compounds needed for the creation of life on the earth. These compounds are only generated in deep space and were not present in the processes which formed the earth, they had to be deposited by some mechanism and his work has convincingly postulated meteors as this mechanism. I indicate I will be travelling to Northern California next month to get the camera port installed in my airplane for the Grid Switch pieces and we agree to meet face to face at that time. A very productive and encouraging conversation.
4/3-14/05On a trip to NYC have a series of meetings with staff from the Rose Center for Space at the American Museum of Natural History. My lead contact there is Carter Emmart, Director of Astrovisualization. I discuss my interest in using the dome to present visualizations of Studies for Synthetic Meteors. Present the Studies to him and he is very supportive. Have a series of meetings with Laure Danly, a manager with the Rose Center, Denton Ebel, Assistant Curator of Metoerites, and the production staff of teh new planetarium film, scheduled for debut in early 2006. Originally interested in the possiblity of bartering the use some of my meteor visualizations in one segment of that movie in return for the opportunity to present a short program of meteor visualizations in the dome. Due to the tight time frame and uncertainly of inclusion of that segment in the final cut it was decided to no proceed with that scenario. To my delight the staff indicated a stand-alone use of the dome for my presentation might be a distinct possibility as part of a series of events to promote the opening of the new film. The planetarium recieves NASA funding for creating exhibits and programs for popularizing space and space exploration and this might fit in under that aegis. All of the staff who saw the visualizations seemd to enjoy them and expressed real interest and enthusiasm for the project. Carter subsequently sent me the dome camera configuration and suggested I contact Dave Beining at the Lodestar Planetarium in Abuquerque, which holds a festival every year for dome presentations. As the result of the good reception of some 8x10 digital prints of the Studies decide to prepare 20x30 digital prints of the Studies and obtain very good results. The possiblity exists to go to 40x60. Decide to do digital C-prints and am very happy with the quality and some special papers suggested by the printer.
4/4/05While visiting NYC make a late night trip to Washington DC and shoot a long shot from the Marriot and shots from the Capital loawn of the Capital building and the Washington Monument. While on the way back have the idea for the "Emergencies" pieces.
4/11/05Meeting with Tony Shafrazi in NYC through a mutual friend. Tony graciously spends a couple hours advising me on how to actualize the project, both as an artwork and as a public art project.
4/19/05While on a trip to Northern California shoot San Francisco from the fort overlooking the Golden Gate and from the North anchorage Vista Point.
4/25/05Meet at the SETI Institute in San Fanscisco with Dr. Peter Jenniskens. We enjoy a three hour meeting where I present "Studies for Synthetis Meteors" version 1 in a prerelease. His comments are quite interesting, being a highly experience meteor observer. He quite likes the cityscapes, but is somewhat critical of the meteors themselves. Having only casual observation experience myself I am curious about his critique. He indicates the velocities are too high. This somewhat surprises me but since I have never seen a fireball, only the much shorter streaks of a typical Leonid or Perseid I begin to understand that the percieved higher speed of my observatin experience is due to the relatively short degree arcs of these lesser meteors, making them appear to be faster moving than they really are. He also indicates that my meteor tails are far too long. It turns out this stems from the fact that I have based my animations on still photographs, which are time exposures. The meteor itself, particularly very bright ones, a visually much coser to a moving point than a streak. They do have defined wakes, but not nearly as long as the ones I have drawn. Again, in my experience of casual observation of smaller meteors, retinal persistance probably made the wakes appear to be longer. He speculates that we can probably engineer the wakes to have enhanced luminosity. Finally, my versions of persistant trains are much too bright. He indicates the visual magnitudes of naturally occurring trains are perhaps +8, making them far dimmer than my studies. Again, through careful engineering of the artificial meteorites or meteoriods we may be able to enhance this brightness. I indicate that these are studies and I am not overly concerned with these discrepancies at this time but will be interested in refining the visualizations in future studies. He shows me a low light level video of a fireball from one of his airborne missions. He also refers me to another researcher who can provide 3D modelling data for more accurate velocities. I later send him an email about the representations I have made indicating that a major reference for the visualizations I have done is the Apocalytic Sublime and found it funny that a computer animation might owe more to a 19th century painting mode of representation than to contemporary science.

We next discuss possible collaboration structures that would enable him to do science in conjunction with these art pieces. We agree that funding for the piece itself, the launch and development of the deployment vehicle would come from the "art" budget, while funding for the study of the events would come from scientific sources, such as the NSF or NASA. This should meet the federal use criteria for strategic assets like decommissioned Peacekeepers, should we need vehicles of that scale. With the downward-revised mass requirements we may not. He is particulary interested in having sufficient time to study possible synthetic meteoroid structures and composition. He figures a researcher could spend the better part of a year characterizing the most productive physical structures as well as materials. For instance, my original synthetic meteorite model of a solid iron sphere may not be optimal for visibility. He indicates that real meteorites have a flaky structure of ice and solids and a sintered composition of disparate materials might be a productive direction. He indicates he would also be extremely interested in flying a data sampling device in the synthetic meteoroid itself, to record data on the heating and wake composition, which are invaluable for validating his thesis about organic compounds surviving reentry. We agree there is a lot to be done in the area of determining synthetic meteoroid composition. We conclude that much of this work should be funded by the science side.

The final topic we discuss is the synthetic meteor velocity issue. First, Dr. Jenniskens would prefer 15 k/s at a minimum to model meteor behavior and would prefer 20 km/s. We discuss this in the light of the lower mass requirements and relative ease of 8 km/s orbital decay events versus a dedicated ballistic launch and its higher costs. This is an area where our objectives may somewhat diverge. The crucial question becomes one of visibility mechanisms as a function of velocity. It is well documented that a .1-1.0 kg meteoroid moving at 20 km/s will create a -8 to -10 visual magnitude meteor. Will this be the case at lower velocites? If so, then for the art piece I have no need to incur the cost of the higher velocities. He is not sure. He provides me with the best meteor visibility equation available to date from his forthcoming book. The effects of velocity below 20km/s are not well understood. He does indicate that some researchers believe that visibliity is relatively independent of velocity (which is good for my purposes, as slower is cheaper), but this may not be so. We agree that prior to a "big show" there will need to be some simple piggy-back tests which might provide some visibility points for orbital velocities.

On the topic of obtaining observations of known synthetic meteor reentry events, in order to more accurately model meteor visual behavoir, Dr. Jenniskens referred me to several hypervelocity reentry events of returning spacecarft which he is involved with on the strudy teams. The Genesis spacecraft returned to earth on September 8th 2004 with a visual magnitude of -9. Unfortuneately, the reentry event occured during the day to assist with payload recovery. The Stardust spacecraft will be returning on January 15th, 2006 and may be a night return, providing more oppotunity to study and record the visual artifacts of large, bright synthetic meteor events. We agreed to continue to monitor these programs with the possibility of establishing an art-oriented recording program.

I then explain that my primary focus in the next year or two, based on my discussions in NYC, is to obtain as many exhibition opportunities for the project as possible. I mention the Hayden Planetarium as a possible venue and he offers his interest and assistance with this. We agree to stay in touch and work together from our separate disciplines to try to make this happen. A most productive meeting.

5/5/05Meeting with Dr. Nicholas Johnson, Director NASA Orbital Debris Program Office at JSC Houston while visiting the Space Center for a consulting client who is working on the Advanced Cockpit Evaluation System and SCOUT, a proof of technology testbed for an extraterrestial exploration support vehicle. Have a very fascinating meeting with Dr. Johnson for over an hour. I first present the Studies for Synthetic Meteors, largely in the same form shown to Dr. Jenniskens. He enjoys seeing them and is interested in some of the spatial dsitributions of meteors which I propose in them. We discuss the difficulty in getting the cross range distributions I am interested in. I again explore the possibility of getting some demise visibility data from objects of known velocity and mass. He indicates the only events his office gets involved in predicting are when big stuff (whole vehicles or satellites) comes down which is possibly going to result in pieces on the ground. I indicate I am desperate for data points on the visiblity of smaller objects, to determine is orbital velocities will result in similar brightness to the higher meteor veolcities for a given mass. We kick this around for a which and he points out the ODERACS project which his office flew on a Shuttle mission. This project involved releasing what were in effect synthetic meteors from a special launcher built for the project. Various size iron spheres were released for the purpose of calibrating the ground radars used to track orbital debris. This provided an exact calibration point, in that a known cross section was providing the return. Unfortuneately (for my purposes) they did not track the objects during reentry and measure thier brightness. He indicated this approach might be productive for doing a similar visiblity calibration test. He showed me photos of the experiment and I begin to get an idea of what a synthetic meteor deployment device might look like. It was a very exciting moment and whenever I look at the ODERACS description on his website I have this wonderful sense of the concrete with regard to the project. We discussed the need to fly one or more test missions to validate techniques and performance and lamented the loss of the Shuttle fleet in the popular "get away specials".

I then asked Dr. Johnson if he were I how would he proceed and he contributed some signficant ideas. First, he suggested flying a test on a Progress International Space Station robotic resupply vehicle. He was of the opinon that they are now flying small piggyback missions and since we are only talking about an all-up experiment weight of maybe a couple kilograms this should be a possibility. The vehicle also flies a programmed demise deorbit burn, so could release the synthetic metoeroids in conjuntion with this activity, providing the reentry guidance. The deployment mechanism need only release the objects on command. Of course, the reentry area would probably be in the South Pacific, but hell... He then suggesting getting a university to design and build the deployment device, which is what his office did on ODERACS. He indicated they typically jump at the chance to design and build an experiment which actually gets flown. Dr. Johnson advised that it might be better to approach the Russians though some ESA contacts who typically act as intermediaries. He agreed to provide me with US Univeristy contacts who might be interested in participating as well as some contacts at the ESA. Another very productive meeting.

6/1-6/05Major site update. Added first clips and stills from Studies V1.