The last look at GOCE before it is packed away inside the rocket two half-shells (ESA)
As you probably know, I am a huge fan of the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) as it is the sleekest, most aesthetically pleasing spacecraft I have ever seen. Rather than looking like a generic satellite, GOCE has been constructed in the shape of an aerodynamic spaceship as its orbit is so low that atmospheric drag will be a factor. Adding to the wow! factor is the GOCE ion engine giving a small but steady thrust to make sure GOCE doesn’t lose altitude during its Sun-synchronous orbit. Combine all these factors with the incredibly advanced science it will be carrying out during its 20 month lifetime, this is about as advanced as a terrestrial satellite can get.
So, ahead of its launch on September 10th, GOCE has been packed safely inside the Breeze-KM Upper Stage at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Next time the craft sees light will be three-minutes after launch in six days time… Continue reading →
Over a month ago, I was asked to be a surprise guest over on Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack. And what was the discussion? Walter Wagner was on air discussing his “Doomsday Suit” against the US partners of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and I had the great opportunity to put some questions to him. Critically for me, at about 99 minutes into the three-hour show (as I make my entrance), I ask Walter about his previous attempts at suing other particle accelerators (such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider – RHIC – back in 1999). From that point on I believe the validity of the current LHC lawsuit seemed purely academic, but it certainly made for some great discussion.
Walter put across his views in a coherent and knowledgeable way and I made a point that scientists need to be challenged so the LHC can be fully justified (but I did also point out that filing a lawsuit might have pushed it a little too far). Although enjoyable, Walter didn’t convince me to change my views…
(Listen out for how many times I say “speculative”…)
Cryosat-2. Resembles something Da Vinci would have designed (ESA)
ESA Cryosat-2 is set for launch in 2009 and it is the second attempt at getting the technology into orbit. Back in 2005, the original CryoSat was lost after a rocket malfunction caused it to fall short of the desired orbit, but much like the Phoenix Mars Lander story (i.e. it rose from the ashes of the lost Mars Polar Lander mission, recycled spare parts and reassembled the robot), Cryosat will fly once more. So what makes this mission so important? Well, it will carry out an essential three-year survey, measuring the thickness of global ice sheets.
But why am I really mentioning it? Like many ESA missions, the designs of their satellites and robots are so cool, and Cryosat-2 is no different. From some angles it looks like a sturdy intergalactic battleship, from others it looks like it was painstakingly designed by Da Vinci. Sometimes it even looks like a flying shed. In my books, that’s one interesting satellite. The science isn’t bad either… Continue reading →
"So what do you do?" "Oh, I'm just the Shuttle rocket engine crane operator..." (NASA/Kim Shiflett)
If you thought that Shuttle launches were easy, think again. Preparing each Shuttle launch is a laborious task, taking several months and thousands of NASA employees. Pictured above is one of Atlantis’ Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) being installed back on June 11th at Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility bay 1, and I think this image epitomizes what space flight is all about. Rocket science is complex, we know that, but when I see just how big these things are, I gain a better respect for how far we have come. Best thing is, this is an image of a 23 year old space vehicle, just imagine what the future Ares V will look like… Continue reading →
For my fourth appearance on Captain Jack’s Paranormal Radio show, I’ve been invited back to discuss a recent Universe Today article I wrote detailing some of my favourite Solar System mysteries. These mysteries include the coronal heating problem, the “Mars Curse” and Uranus’ tilt. I don’t have many answers, but there should be some surprises thrown in. Most likely Jack and I will meander into different topics, so it should be fun to listen in!
After much deliberation and planning, I made the decision to give Astroengine.com a complete facelift. Although the black-background/off-white text had served me well, I noticed that the dark colour scheme was ageing pretty quickly (and giving some of my readers eye strain!). As the traffic has increased 100-fold in the last six months, I thought it was a good time to launch a brand new image, using a professional template that I could easily customize… Continue reading →
Solar panels have never looked so good. GOCE is the Porsche of orbital engineering (GOCE/ESA)
The European Space Agency is set to launch the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) Star Destroyer satellite on September 10th. This advanced mission will be the most sophisticated piece of kit ever to orbit the Earth, investigating the Earth’s gravitational field. It will perform a highly accurate mapping campaign, producing a high resolution reference shape of the geoid (i.e. the shape of our planet). The mission will be unprecedented, but that’s not the reason why I’m drawing attention to it…
Only last week I remarked on the coolness of the 2013 Mars rover mission in the shape of the dazzling Pasteur Rover (set to drill two-metres into Mars), and today with the announcement of the launch GOCE, it looks like ESA has done it again. They’ve encased their state-of-the-art instrumentation inside something that belongs in a science fiction movie, more reminiscent of the Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars than a tin box satellite… Continue reading →
The ESA Pasteur Rover, the Mercedes Benz of Martian roving (ESA)
Preparations for the European ExoMars mission appear to be in full swing for a 2013 launch to the Red Planet. This will be a huge mission for ESA as they have yet to control a robot on another planet. Yes, us Europeans had control of the Huygens probe that drifted through the atmosphere of Titan (and had a few minutes to feel what it was like to sit on another planet before Huygens slipped into robot heaven), but it’s been NASA who has made all the strides in robotic roving technology. Although Russia gave the rover thing a blast back in 1971, the roads have been clear for the 1998 Mars Pathfinder Sojourner rover and the current NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers. Spirit and Opportunity are still exploring the planet (regardless of the limping and stiff robotic arms), several years after their warranty expired. But the Exploration Rovers won’t be the most hi-tech robotic buggies to rove the Martian regolith for much longer.
Enter the ESA Pasteur Rover, possibly the meanest looking rover you will ever see, with the intent of probing Mars to its core… Continue reading →
Not a huge announcement this one. Not even news worthy. Just upgraded Astroengine to WordPress 2.6.1.
The only reason I mention it is because it took me three minutes to backup the database, all the files, switch off the plugins, display the “site under maintenance” page, upload all the new files, unpack them, install them, fire up all the plugins and verify the whole lot is ticking along as it should. I used to put aside a couple of hours to do an upgrade, catering for all unforeseen eventualities, sometimes crashing the whole site and bugging the WordPress forums for advice. But not today! WordPress 2.6 has a crispy-neat automatic upgrade function that does everything (and more), ensuring I had a trouble-free upgrade. It was like having a little electrician rewiring the house in record time with no fuss over getting paid.