Daily Archives: March 18, 2017

NASA’s interplanetary radar spots tiny derelict satellite in forgotten lunar orbit

Before anything else, no, it’s not an alien spacecraft. It’s one of India’s.

Still here? Good, because this is still super cool.

If you want to find the exact location of something orbiting the moon, just looking with an optical telescope is difficult, because the moon is so bright it overwhelms the view of any object passing in front of or nearby it. Radar doesn’t mind, of course, but at distances of hundreds of thousands of miles, it’s better at finding things like the moon itself, not car-sized objects in its orbit.

NASA uses giant radar dishes to detect things like asteroids millions of miles away, and it’s pretty easy to track satellites in Earth’s orbit, but there are awkward middle distances that aren’t so easy to monitor. Lunar orbit is one of them.

But because using terrestrial radar to find and track satellites, spacecraft and other objects that have gone dark (or are naturally so) would be handy, NASA researchers made it work anyway.

Using a pair of large antennas, one in inland California and another in West Virginia, the JPL team blasted microwaves at areas near the moon where they expected each of a pair of dead satellites would be. (Their missions have ended but they don’t disappear when that happens.)

Chandrayaan-1’s orbit profile. But after a few more trips around the moon, who knows where it might have gotten to?

“Finding LRO [the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter] was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission’s navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located,” principal investigator Marina Brozovic said in a JPL news release. “Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009.”

That meant they had to extrapolate its current position from its last known one — and a lot of things can change over 8 years of orbit. Micrometeorite impacts could send it one direction or another, or it might have been affected by one of the many mass concentrations, or mascons, that exert extra gravitational force. As it turns out, Chandrayaan-1 — which is only the size of a small car — was on orbit as expected, but on the exact opposite side of the moon they thought it would be.

Both craft were tracked from Earth over a period of months to produce updated orbital predictions — which can now be used should future missions wish to avoid or recover them. Pretty awesome, right?

Oculus CTO John Carmack is suing ZeniMax for $22.5 million

The feud between Oculus and ZeniMax Media is opening up once again, this time with the CTO of Oculus, John Carmack, suing his former employer for earnings that he claims are still owed to him.

The suit is largely unrelated to the $6 billion trade secrets suit which ended last month with a $500 million judgment against Oculus. Instead, Carmack is suing ZeniMax Media for $22.5 million that he says has not been paid to him for the 2009 sale of his game studio, id Software, known for such pioneering video game classics as Doom and Quake.

The lawsuit reveals that ZeniMax Media paid $150 million for the game studio.

The document details that Carmack was set to earn $45 million from the id acquisition. In 2011, Carmack converted half of that note into a half-million shares of ZeniMax common stock, but has yet to receive the other half of his earnings in cash or common stock from the company, despite formal requests being made.

Carmack stayed on at ZeniMax Media, a game publisher behind such titles as Skyrim, until late 2013 when his contract expired, at which point he joined Oculus VR as its CTO.

 In the suit, reported first by Dallas News, Carmack claims ZeniMax Media has not paid the remaining sum due to, what the suit calls, “a series of allegations regarding claimed violations of Mr. Carmack’s Employment Agreement,” this assumedly relating to ZeniMax’s suit against Oculus regarding the theft of trade secrets. 

ZeniMax, however, never brought charges of breach of contract against Carmack in that lawsuit, and Oculus was not found guilty for stealing trade secrets. The judgment was instead levied against Oculus and two of its founders for copyright infringement, false designation and the violation of Palmer Luckey’s NDA.

Carmack’s suit claims “sour grapes” on ZeniMax’s part in not paying back the money he says he is owed, something that has caused Carmack “serious injury” to the tune of more than $22.5 million.