Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

So that's what a spacecraft going to Mars looks like

Our team is usually imaging comets, asteroids and logging tons of data with the minor planet centre, but on occasion we get to have a bit of fun, hence the idea to combine projects like #Project Snoopy, where we're trying to hunt down the lost Apollo 10 lunar ascent module, still in orbit around the Sun. Today however, we picked up (using a relatively small robotic scope) something a bit younger and closer to home. A few days ago, the Mars Curiosity rover launched on a multi million mile journey to Gale crater on the red planet. The Centaur upper stage of the rocket is still up with it, and our team managed to get a brief snapshot of it...

Here she is...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Talking Space

Since becoming a STEM ambassador and doing my first gig at a local secondary school with a few others from Wiltshire Astro Society, I think my passion to talk about all things space, from how our Sun works to 9 year olds through to tracking and finding comets and asteroids to undergraduates, which is where I find myself going this weekend, has grown.

Giving lectures to University students is something I used to do in my former life as a Product Development and Planning "guru" for Yamaha R&D, where I was lecturing also on a part time basis to the University of Westminster's Masters Degree program for a time on the topics of synthesis and acoustics, but space science is different.

Sure, I talk about comets to astro societies and at such prestigious locations as the Festival of Astronomy, but this is just usually to enthusiastic amateurs, and not people who wish to make a full time career out of astronomy. So this past few weeks, after finishing up my latest piece for ESA on the amazing LISA Pathfinder mission testing, I have spent a lot of time reading up on orbital eccentricity and general areas related to the type of work we at Faulkes have been doing with students and my amazing friends in Italy in hunting down comets, main belt asteroids and this new "Jupiter Trojan" area..

Writing lecture notes, you begin to realise just how demanding being a full time lecturer can be, as not only are they researching, writing and doing general admin/day to day work, they also mark, personal tutor etc as's a tough old gig, so respect is very very much due.

The scopes (Faulkes and La Palma) have been undergoing maintenance and upgrades these past few weeks, which has given me some much needed downtime to re-assess many things, but one thing is for certain, my passion for all things spacey just gets bigger and bigger, and a passion that extends to trying to enthuse others, in particular children in to astronomy, I hope can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Testing in the extreme

When I first got to work on this paper, I was quite literally peeling my jaw off the floor... basically the accuracy of measurements being performed here, is like nothing ever seen before...

Read on ...

Flares in the Crab

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Phobos Grunt

There's a lot being said about this mission online, mostly supportive of the ROSCOSMOS team, who, given the budgetary constraints faced by almost everyone globally, have attempted, what seemed to be the impossible. Using largely untested equipment, move a multi-tonne satellite, one of the largest ever, in to an orbit around the Martian moon Phobos, land a sample collection probe, and get that back to Earth. The failure, after what seemed like a perfect launch to get from low Earth orbit (at time of writing), is indicative of the level of risk they faced.

Does this mean the end of ROSCOCMOS with regards to deep space missions. The great galactic ghoul does seem to be attracted to Russian missions when it comes to Mars (but then look at the amazing success of their Venus missions), with so far 18/18 missions all failing in one way or another, but one has to admire the fact that they are trying something so audacious and complex, in these chastened times (unless you're a bank, in which case, what's chastened?), and even if it does fail, at the cost of <$170 million, according to estimates, it's a relatively small price compared to other missions.

The story is unfolding still, maybe they will recover it, maybe it will splash down in to the sea in the next 4 weeks...but, maybe humankind will take some inspiration from the effort being put in to doing something, not because it is easy...but because it is hard.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Mars 500 - The aftermath

What struck me at the end of the Mars500 mission was just how happy/together the crew looked. It's an incredible experiment for sure, locking 6 people (all male? this realistic?) into something which looked like a Swedish Sauna for 520 days, simulating docking, landing, orbits etc...but the three critical human (never mind the technical) factors which make it real still need to be tested

They being

1: The psychological effects of knowing that you're millions of miles away with absolutely no chance of a rescue should something go wrong. Mars500 crew knew they were in a hangar, and could step out at any that element still needs to be It's a good question, but probably the only way is to just do it, much like the Apollo program just "did it" to test systems. The effects of being removed from your family I think are also compounded by real distance.

2: Weightlessness and the effects on the body for 520 days - We've come close with ISS and MIR over the years, but this is still a step above that, and again, you're compounding the medical effects with a lack of a suitable radiation shield which the Earth provides.

3. The post mission effect. Trivial compared to the other two, but someone will be the first/second etc person to set foot on Mars. Look what that did to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Being able to manage that in the 60s without the massively increased media (good and bad) was tough enough...doing it in the digital age...ratchet that up a notch or six..

Congratulations though to a team who've proved many of the elements for long duration missions can be achieved, it's a small step for man, and a giant leap towards Mars

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

BBC News - Again

Looks like after asteroids, we now seem to be doing well on comets!

Almost There

Saving the James Webb is a long and winding process. Multiple senate/sub committee votes to pass/go through before the scope is in fact "saved" though it's looking likely to get its funding. The question though remains...what impact will a funded JWST have on other NASA science missions? The JWST is a hugely risky project for sure, a real "it has to work first time or nothing" job, but...if it does work, the results will be quite astonishing.

BREAKING NEWS: The U.S. Senate has just passed the CJS bill with full funding for JWST: Previously, a Senate subcommittee voted for full funding ($529 million), but it had yet to pass a full vote in the Senate. That happened today. A MASSIVE thank you to U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski for championing this bill in the Senate. | Next Up: The House and Senate will reconcile their bills to produce a final figure for JWST in FY2012.