CryoSat-2, a Satellite that Looks Like a Shed, Doing Science in the Freezer

Cryosat-2. Resembles something Da Vinci would design (ESA)
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…
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An Intimate View From the Space Shuttle Garage

"So what do you do?" "Oh, I have the boring job attaching rocket engines to the Shuttle..." (NASA/Kim Shiflett)
"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…
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Tune into Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack Tonight at 9pm (EST): 10 Mysteries of the Solar System

Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack logo
Paranormal Radio with Captain Jack logo

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!

For more information on the show, see tonight’s profile. Remember, the show will be airing live over several US cities, satellite radio and the Internet. For more information on where it will be airing, check out the Paranormal Radio homepage. To listen to the live podcast, starting at 6pm (PST), 9pm (EST) or 2am (GMT), download the .pls file to activate your podcast-listening software, or use the popup Media Player (plugin needed).

Cheers! Ian

Astroengine 2.0 Launches!

Astroengine v2.0
Astroengine v2.0

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…
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GOCE Will be the Coolest Satellite to Orbit Earth, Ever

Solar panels have never looked so good. GOCE is the Porsche of orbital engineering (GOCE/ESA)
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…
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Carnival of Space Week 68 – Crowlspace

Schematic showing Sagittarius A crossing the beam of Indlebe on 28 July 2008 (Stuart MacPherson)
Schematic showing Sagittarius A crossing the beam of Indlebe on 28 July 2008 (Stuart MacPherson)

For this week’s outing into the wild world of space blogging Carnival style, we dock at Crowlspace.com for a superb mix of space news, views and opinions. It’s entitled “…star travel won’t be easy,” and they’re not kidding! It seems this week has focused around the conventional, and sci-fi modes of transportation (although the question of energy in either case will be the limiting factor). For my part, I submitted my opinions about the recent misinterpretation of a radio signal from the centre of our galaxy. No, it isn’t aliens, it’s totally natural, I promise

ExoMars Rover Will be the Coolest Martian on Six Wheels

The ESA Pasteur Rover, the Mercedes Benz of Martian roving (ESA)
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…
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Astroengine is Now Vibrating at a New Resonance: Upgrade to WordPress Version 2.6.1

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.

Superb, thanks Keith Dsouza for developing the WordPress Automatic Upgrade! It made Astroengine.com very happy.

Anyhow, that’s me for the night, I’m off to see the huge lightning storm outside…

Carnival of Space Week 67 – Next Generation (Discovery)

The Apollo missions: A wasted opportunity? (NASA)
The Apollo missions: A wasted opportunity? (NASA)

David Chandler, veteran science journalist working at MIT, hosts this week’s superb Carnival over at Discovery Space: Next Generation. We have discussions about what should have been done with the Apollo missions, the recent Cassini observations of the moon Enceladus to my musings about the Higgs boson and all the fun we’ll have when the LHC goes online next month.

Go and check out Next Generation with David Chandler and enjoy the 67th week of the Carnival…

An Interview with Buzz Aldrin. What Would You Ask Him?

Beginning at the “Fly Me to the Moon” premier in Hollywood last week (which I attended and met the great man himself!), this video interview shows a relaxed Buzz answering some questions from the public on the New York streets. A nice (and rare) insight to the life of a 60’s astronaut…

Go to ScienCentral for the interview

Video Source: ScienCentral