All posts by spaceflightuk

Space enthusiast

First rocket launched from UK into space – bet you missed it!

In October 2015, the first rocket launched from the UK left earth’s atmosphere and entered into space. “What!?” I hear you cry “how on earth did I miss it?”

Above is what a Terrier-Orion rocket launch is like when it’s not a secret military operation!

Well, certainly don’t beat yourself up, everyone missed it, and it’s not due to a space program, but rather the a UK military test with the American military. The Terrier-Orion two-stage rocket was launched from the Hebrides missile range in the Western Isles, and blown to pieces by the USS Ross over the Atlantic.

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Launch apparatus at the missile range. Photo Credit Greg Morss 

The Terrier component is the booster, originally from a surface to air US navy missile, and the Orion is a sounding rocket developed at the NASA Goddard Wallops facility. The Orion component on its own would have a ceiling of 85km, but with the Terrier booster the improved Terrier-Orion can reach 200km with a payload of between 90 – 360kg.

Terrier-Orion rocket. Photo credit NASA

Okay, so less exciting to space enthusiasts that this was a military test, however does it set any kind of precedent for the UK? Well yes it is a first, and it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t possible to launch things like that from the UK. However, the difference with the kinds of rockets you and I are interested in, is that we want them to come down too!

There are several Scottish sites in the running to become Spaceport UK, however that facility if it’s built won’t facilitate vertical launch, only horizontal, so it’s banking on the success of people like Virgin Galactic to get their act together, XCor to make great strides, and Skylon to some day be operational from the UK.

Could northern Scotland be the UK’s Cape Canaveral?

Blue Origin’s Bezos links the past to the future

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Jeff Bezos at the Seattle Museum of Flight unveiling the F1 engine

Jeff Bezos, boss of Amazon and rocket company Blue Origin, recently gave a gift to Seattle’s Museum of flight which is a piece of America’s spaceflight history – Apollo rocket engines recovered from 14,000 feet beneath the Atlantic ocean.

This incredible bit of history was recovered by a team funded, and led, by Bezos himself, and a restored engine donated to the museum at his request. This would be an amazing act in itself, made more so by the fact that Bezos, through his company Blue Origin, is at the cutting edge of rocket technology today.

The Apollo F-1 cone-shaped engines, arrayed in a cluster of five at the base of each rocket, each delivered 1.5 million pounds of thrust and burned 6,000 pounds of rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second. 600px-SaturnF1EngineDiagram

The massive engines, each more than 18.5 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter, burned for just a few minutes, long enough to boost the 50-ton Saturn V rocket to the edge of space.

Then the first stage, including the engines, fell away and plunged some 40 miles back to Earth and into the Atlantic, as NASA planned. What is perhaps surprising is how these engines, which afterall were designed by an ex-German 2nd World War officer Werner von Braun, are still so incredible even by today’s standards.

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A British policeman examines the wreckage of Von Braun’s early work on the streets on London during World War II
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The Saturn V with 5 of the F1 engines. Credit: NASA

“This is still in some ways the most remarkable rocket engine ever engineered” says Jeff Bezos

Then he added, “That’s a little embarrassing. It’s 2015.”

But Bezos has less to be embarrassed about than most, as Blue Origin has been quietly getting on with the job of working on efficient engines, and recoverable rocket boosters. At its first attempt in April this year (2015) the rocket successfully flew to 58 miles, and the capsule landed well, however the booster was not recovered okay on this occasion. For Bezos and Blue Origin thought, its still early days, and there’s a great deal more to come from this exciting venture.

Thanks to Seattle Times and Bezos Expeditions for some material 

Can Mars’ Lost Atmosphere be fixed?

It has been illustrated exactly exactly how Mars lost it’s atmosphere due to the lack of magnetic field, of the kind that protects us here on Earth. This is a slightly gloomy discovery, not nearly so exciting and optimistic as the water announcement – but is there a way to mitigate this issue on a planetary scale? There may be an answer…

NASA did this with another one of their “We’ve got something really important to tell you on Thursday” events recently, and this time it wasn’t flowing water on Mars, but the fact that the MAVEN mission has been able to show how the solar wind has stripped Mars of its atmosphere over time.

This wasn’t a shock like flowing water, but it’s nonetheless a great piece of the puzzle, and as ever from NASA, accompanied by this nice clip below

This had always been a question for Mars colonisation enthusiasts – what is the virtue of terra-forming the planet if any ‘new’ atmosphere would simply be stripped away too. Mars is not just smaller at 53% the diameter, but also far less dense than Earth, only 10% of Earth’s mass. In addition, the outer core of Mars is believed to not be liquid as it is with Earth, and this loss of the dynamo creating the magnetic field is the reason why Mars lost it’s atmosphere, it’s oceans, and why it’s a bad candidate for terra-forming. How could this possibly be changed? There are plenty of sci-fi answers, like capturing and slamming asteroids into Mars, and trying to get the radioactive metals to the core, but is there actually something much-more real that can be done?

Research on the 1200 megajule generator at Los Alamos National Lab

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s biggest magnet facility have met the grand challenge of producing magnetic fields in excess of 100 tesla while conducting six different experiments. The hundred-tesla level is roughly equivalent to 2 million times Earth’s magnetic field.

So, is it perhaps conceivable that this technology might once day be constructed on Mars to protect humans from the ravages of the solar radiation, and allow thickening of the atmosphere?…it’s a tantalising thought, with a million fresh challenges, but it’d make a great movie!
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Great Events at the Science Museum

Experience some great events for space enthusiasts at the Science Museum in London.

Wednesday 25 November, Science Museum London
19.30 (Groups Entrance to museum open from 18.45)
IMAX Theatre. Tickets £15, with 20% discount for Mars Society Members

As part of this month’s Maths-themed Lates, join us for a one-off screening of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar in IMAX 70mm, preceded by a discussion between the Science Museum’s Director of External Affairs Roger Highfield, Science Museum Fellow of Modern Science Harry Cliff and Interstellar’s Oscar-winning Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Franklin.

Roger is a noted science writer and the co-author of the acclaimed biography The Private Lives of Albert Einstein. Harry is a particle physicist at Cambridge and the Large Hadron Collider.

interstellar-movie-chris-nolanThe panel will talk about the film and about Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the centenary of which we commemorate this year. Covering space, time, gravity, black holes and the origin and fate of the universe, scientists are still grappling with its implications a century after its publication.

Interstellar is based on the theories of physicist Kip Thorne, one of the world’s leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s theory. A mindbending sci-fi epic, the film follows a team of explorers on the most important mission in history, as they journey through a wormhole in space in a desperate attempt to save humanity.

£15 – over 18s only (Join the Mars Society and receive your exclusive discount of this and other events!)

Information for your visit

  • This film is showing in 70mm IMAX and is not in IMAX 3D
  • As this takes place during our adult Lates event, the screening is for ages 18 and over
  • Entry is via the Group Entrance on Imperial College Road
  • Please allow plenty of time to reach the IMAX Theatre
  • Seating is unreserved

Why see it at our IMAX Theatre?

  • Director Christopher Nolan designed and captured Interstellar for true 70mm IMAX film viewing, meaning you’ll see 40% more film image on our screen than on those found at large cinema chains that use digital IMAX technology
  • Our screen is one of the largest in the UK. It’s almost double the size of those found at large cinema chains, measuring 16.8m from floor to ceiling and 24.3m from wall to wall. That’s the height of four double-decker buses or a car park for 64 taxis
  • Experience 10 times the image quality, resolution and sound than you would at a conventional digital cinema, making you feel like you’re part of the action

Last UK Appearance for Tim Peake prior to launch for ISS

Credit: ESA
Tim Peake, first British Astronaut to go to the ISS. Credit: ESA

On 6 November, ESA’s first British astronaut, Tim Peake, will be paying his last visit to the UK before his launch to the International Space Station. He will take part in a news conference at the Science Museum London to discuss his upcoming mission.

Together with Jo Johnson, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science, Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, and David Parker, CEO of the UK Space Agency, Tim will talk with journalists about his training, and the science and education objectives of his mission. While in space, Tim will perform more than 30 experiments for ESA and its Member States and take part in numerous others from ESA’s international partners.

Tim’s mission is ESA’s eighth long-duration mission to the Space Station. It will start aboard a Soyuz spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 15 December. Together with NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, Tim will embark on a six-month stay in space.

Soyua craft docked at ISS.  Credit: NASA
Soyua craft docked at ISS. Credit: NASA

The mission is named Principia, after Isaac Newton’s ground-breakingNaturalis Principia Mathematica, which describes the principal laws of motion and gravity.

ESA and the UK Space Agency are together developing many exciting educational activities aimed at sparking the interest of young children in science and space, including Rocket Science, AstroPi, Zero Robotics, Mission-X Train like an Astronaut, and amateur radio contacts in space.

Europe’s Mission to Mars in 2016

EXOMARS is an exciting mission that’s happening sooner than you think, with a launch window now in March 2016. The mission, which is a joint venture with ESA and Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) will not only result in a presence in orbit around Mars taking measurements of atmospheric gases (potentially linked to present-day biological activity) but will also test landing capability on the red planet in advance of a more sophisticated landing mission, Exomars 2018.

Exomars ESA Rover, made and undergoing testing at Airbus, Stevenage UK, prior to its 2018 mission. Photo credit: Airbus Space and Defence
Exomars ESA Rover, made and undergoing testing at Airbus, Stevenage UK, prior to its 2018 mission. Photo credit: Airbus Space and Defence

The Schiaparelli module will separate from the orbiter and prove controlled landing technology to be used again with Exomars 2018. This mission will see the first European Rover on Mars, a robotic vehicle currently being tested at the Airbus facility near Stevenage in the UK. The analogue Martian surface is a large space at the Airbus Space centre near Stevenage, and it will continue use after the mission begins in order to be on hand to work out and resolve any challenges that may come toe rover’s way on Mars.

The collaboration between ESA and Roscosmos may seem to exist without a great deal of fanfare about the link-up between the two (are we in that post-political age?) but the deal is a far-reaching one, with ESA involvement in the proposed Luna25 manned Moon mission, the Russian connection could pay huge dividends to the European space program which it wouldn’t be achieving alone (and of course the same could be said for the Russians).

The 2016 mission is of course going to address the mystery Martian methane, and The Trace Gas Orbiter will also serve as a data relay asset for the 2018 rover mission of the ExoMars programme and until the end of 2022.