Category Archives: Cool Stuff

DSA-1 in 3D


Grab those 3D glasses and have a look at this picture from ESA of the Deep Space Network Antenna (DSA 1) with credit to  D. O’Donnell/ESA – CC BY-SA 3.0.

ESA has a large version of this image, see it here.

A visit to DSN Now is a good way to find out which spacecraft are communicating.

From ESA

This 3D anaglyph image, taken on 3 August 2015, shows ESA’s 35 m-diameter deep-space tracking dish at New Norcia, Western Australia, at night. It can be viewed using stereoscopic glasses with red–blue filters.

This Deep Space Antenna, DSA-1, regularly communicates with distant spacecraft such as Mars Express, Rosetta and Gaia. In the near future, it will also work with BepiColombo at Mercury, LISA Pathfinder and ExoMars.

In 2014, it beamed commands and received data from Rosetta, voyaging 800 million km away. On 12 November 2014, it received data relayed by Rosetta as DLR’s Philae craft landed on its target comet.

Despite the moveable structure weighing 580 tonnes, engineers can point it accurately at 1 degree per second in the horizontal and vertical axes.

On 3 August, the dish was illuminated for that evening’s photography – it usually operates in the dark to reduce power usage and avoid light pollution.

In 2015, ESA’s Estrack ground station network celebrates 40 years of European tracking


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Exploring the Galactic Center

The center of our Milky Way galaxy is a mysterious place. Not only is it thousands of light-years away, it’s also cloaked in so much dust that most stars within are rendered invisible. Harvard researchers are proposing a new way to clear the fog and spot stars hiding there. They suggest looking for radio waves coming from supersonic stars.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the galactic center, and a lot we want to learn,” says lead author Idan Ginsburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “Using this technique, we think we can find stars that no one has seen before.”

The long path from the center of our galaxy to Earth is so choked with dust that out of every trillion photons of visible light coming our way, only one photon will reach our telescopes. Radio waves, from a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum, have lower energies and longer wavelengths. They can pass through the dust unimpeded.

On their own, stars aren’t bright enough in the radio for us to detect them at such distances. However, if a star is traveling through gas faster than the speed of sound, the situation changes. Material blowing off of the star as a stellar wind can plow into the interstellar gases and create a shock wave. And through a process called synchrotron radiation, electrons accelerated by that shock wave produce radio emission that we could potentially detect.

“In a sense, we’re looking for the cosmic equivalent of a sonic boom from an airplane,” explains Ginsburg.

To create a shock wave, the star would have to be moving at a speed of thousands of miles per second. This is possible in the galactic center since the stars there are influenced by the strong gravity of a supermassive black hole. When an orbiting star reaches its closest approach to the black hole, it can easily acquire the required speed.

The researchers suggest looking for this effect from one already known star called S2. This star, which is hot and bright enough to be seen in the infrared despite all the dust, will make its closest approach to the Galactic center in late 2017 or early 2018. When it does, radio astronomers can target it to look for radio emission from its shock wave.

“S2 will be our litmus test. If it’s seen in the radio, then potentially we can use this method to find smaller and fainter stars – stars that can’t be seen any other way,” says co-author Avi Loeb of the CfA.

This work is reported in a paper authored by Idan Ginsburg, Xiawei Wang, Avi Loeb, and Ofer Cohen (CfA). It has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

– See more at:

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Gotta love those CubeSats!

Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen introduces the AAUSAT5 CubeSat, explaining who constructed it and what its mission objectives are. AAUSAT5, a CubeSat entirely built by a university team with ESA’s support.


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Remote Rover Control

I recently posted a video about the Interact rover, more specifically the ESA Interact Centaur rover and how it was going to be controlled by ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen. The Interact Centaur is designed to be able to have tactile ability, touch and heft.

Could the rover be controlled from an orbiting spacecraft with a delicate enough touch to put say a metal peg 4 cm into a hole with only one sixth of millimeter clearance to make an electrical connection?

Here’s the answer:

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