Blog posts with the tag space exploration | Interested In Everything

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Blog posts with the tag "space exploration"

It looks like ESA and Rosetta are happily talking to one another!  Following on from my earlier post about the Rosetta probe and its long hibernation, I’ve just had a quick look at the ESA website and it appears that it successfully woke up on 20th January.  Apparently, the first “health checks” have been carried out and Rosetta is transmitting a signal back to Earth.  The flight control team had expressed some concerns that the solar panels were generating enough power, but the probe’s systems seem to be functioning correctly so far.  When you stop and think about this, it’s a little more complicated that the little solar panels on my rechargeable garden lights not quite getting enough power in the winter!  Rosetta is currently 673 million kilometres from the sun.  Read that again. 673 million.  Let’s do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation.

Light travels at (approximately)* 3 x 108 m/s

673,000,000 km is equivalent to 6.73 x 1011 m

That means that it takes something in the region of 37½ minutes for the light to reach Rosetta’s solar panels from it leaving the sun.  I’m reminded of a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy here:

“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

And who can argue with Douglas Adams?

*Light actually travels at 299,792,458 m/s.  I’m not going to lose sleep over my lack of accuracy…

On Saturday evening, my sister-in-law called.  Apparently, I missed what she described as “what looked like a meteor shower”.  I was slightly annoyed by this, as it was Saturday night and, instead of being in the Royal Oak (where I belong), I was at the kitchen table marking second year design assignment. The prospect of a good meteor shower would have livened things up a bit.  In fact, I’ve not seen much happening in the sky for quite a while as it’s been way too cloudy over this corner of North East Derbyshire and all I’ve seen is the reflected glow of thousands of sodium street lamps.  The faithful 6” reflector telescope that the Mrs bought me for my 40th is currently sitting gathering dust in the back bedroom and didn’t even manage to get an airing during Brian and Dara’s annual extravaganza the other week.

 

However, someone with much more money and better gear to play with than I can begin to dream of has been looking skyward. The European Space Agency appear to be about to wake up their Rosetta probe that has been quietly snoozing while it hurtles through the vastness of the solar system, so, at some point early next week—probably while I’m sitting in a Formula Student board meeting—it will begin doing some rather exciting space exploration.  While I’m discussing this year’s chassis modifications, the probe will be heading towards this beast.

 

Once it gets there, it will circle the comet, put down its lander and scan the 4.6 billion year old body in order to try and find out more information about the origins of our solar system.  All in a days work for your run-of-the-mill space probe, no doubt, but I have to take my hat off (and I don’t do that very often these days, I like to keep the bald patch insulated) to the engineers who put Rosetta where she is.  Just think – that lump of hardware is now so far away that there’s barely enough light reaching its solar panels to give it any kind of power!  Even so, the folks at ESA are going to attempt to get it to perform a braking manoeuvre to try and slow it down from its estimated velocity of 3,500kmh—from this distance!

 

And I thought getting a Mark 2 Cortina to slow down from motorway speeds could be a challenge!

 

I’m going to be watching this one with much interest, both from the point of view of the professional engineer of 25 years’ standing and from that of the excitable nine year old who still lives inside my head and is fascinated by space exploration!