U.K. — The Place for Space?

U.K Spaceport concept.  Image: U.K. Space Agency via Spaceref

U.K Spaceport concept. Image: U.K. Space Agency via Spaceref

The UK is considering to open a spaceport and do it by 2018. The idea is for the UK to become a leader in the growing space market.

Business Secretary Vince Cable:

“Space is big business for the UK. It already contributes £11.3 billion to the economy each year, supporting nearly 35,000 jobs. That’s why it’s important for us to prepare the UK for new launcher technology and take steps towards meeting our ambition of establishing the first British spaceport by 2018.”

Exploring the opportunities that commercial spaceflight presents, and potentially making strategic investments in this area, will support the growth of this thriving industry and underpin the economy of tomorrow, making the UK the place for space

He and the government are very likely correct, a spaceport will provide a focal point for investment, provided they can get established early on and now is the time.

So how do they plan on getting a spaceport up and running by 2018? It won’t be as difficult as you might expect because existing facilities can be adapted. A recent civil Aviation Authority report named eight existing airfields that might be able to host an spaceport and not just any place will do because in addition to meteorological, environmental and economic criteria a few physical factors come into play:

– an existing runway which is, or is capable of being extended to, over 3000 metres in length
– the ability to accommodate dedicated segregated airspace to manage spaceflights safely
– a reasonable distance from densely populated areas in order to minimise impact on the uninvolved general public

The eight possibilities:

Campbeltown Airport (Scotland)
Glasgow Prestwick Airport (Scotland)
Llanbedr Airport (Wales)
Newquay Cornwall Airport (England)
Kinloss Barracks (Scotland)
RAF Leuchars (Scotland)
RAF Lossiemouth (Scotland)
Stornorway Airport (Scotland)

Will the UK become “The Place for Space”? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Moon Eclipses Saturn

Moon eclipses Saturn. Copyright: Carlo Di Nallo

Moon eclipses Saturn. Copyright: Carlo Di Nallo

This photo taken from Buenos Aires, presumably by Carlo Di Nallo – my hat is off to him. Bravo!

Here’s the caption from ESA:

What happened to half of Saturn? Nothing other than Earth’s Moon getting in the way. As pictured above on the far right, Saturn is partly eclipsed by a dark edge of a Moon itself only partly illuminated by the Sun. This year the orbits of the Moon and Saturn have led to an unusually high number of alignments of the ringed giant behind Earth’s largest satellite. Technically termed an occultation, the above image captured one such photogenic juxtaposition from Buenos Aires, Argentina that occurred early last week. Visible to the unaided eye but best viewed with binoculars, there are still four more eclipses of Saturn by our Moon left in 2014. The next one will be on August 4 and visible from Australia, while the one after will occur on August 31 and be visible from western Africa at night but simultaneously from much of eastern North America during the day.

Eta Carinae Nebula in 3D

Part of the story from the YouTube site:

Between 1838 and 1845, Eta Carinae underwent a period of unusual variability during which it briefly outshone Canopus, normally the second-brightest star. As a part of this event, which astronomers call the Great Eruption, a gaseous shell containing at least 10 and perhaps as much as 40 times the sun’s mass was shot into space. This material forms a twin-lobed dust-filled cloud known as the Homunculus Nebula, which is now about a light-year long and continues to expand at more than 1.3 million mph (2.1 million km/h).

Reminder: Cygnus is ready to launch at 16:52 UTC (12:52 EDT). Check this post to see if you can see the Cygnus and Antares rocket as it goes into orbit.

Venus Express

After eight years in orbit, ESA’s Venus Express has completed routine science observations and is preparing for a daring plunge into the planet’s hostile atmosphere.

Venus Express was launched on 9 November 2005, and arrived at Venus on 11 April 2006.

It has been orbiting Venus in an elliptical 24-hour loop that takes it from a distant 66 000 km over the south pole — affording incredible global views — to an altitude of around 250 km above the surface at the north pole, close to the top of the planet’s atmosphere.

With a suite of seven instruments, the spacecraft has provided a comprehensive study of the ionosphere, atmosphere and surface of Venus.

This video includes interviews in English with Håkan Svedhem, ESA mission scientist and Patrick Martin, ESA Venus Express mission manager

Europa in Color

A color image of Europa. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

A color image of Europa. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA gives us this newly released image of Europa created from images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1997 and 1998.

Click the image to get a good look at the amazing terrain!

The following caption from JPL/NASA:

This colorized image of Europa is a product of clear-filter grayscale data from one orbit of NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, combined with lower-resolution color data taken on a different orbit. The blue-white terrains indicate relatively pure water ice, whereas the reddish areas contain water ice mixed with hydrated salts, potentially magnesium sulfate or sulfuric acid. The reddish material is associated with the broad band in the center of the image, as well as some of the narrower bands, ridges, and disrupted chaos-type features. It is possible that these surface features may have communicated with a global subsurface ocean layer during or after their formation.

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The caption from JPL (link has larger still-images):

NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured this series of pictures of comet C/2012 K1 — also known as comet Pan-STARRS — as it swept across our skies on May 20, 2014. The comet is relatively close to us — it was only about 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) from Earth when this picture was taken. It is seen passing a much more distant spiral galaxy, called NGC 3726, which is about 55 million light-years from Earth, or 2 trillion times farther away than the comet.


Gravity Map

Free air gravity map of the Moon.  Credit: NASA

Free air gravity map of the Moon. Credit: NASA

Here is a gravity map of the Moon’s southern area made from data collected by the GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) by S. Goossens and others.

Because the moon is not a smooth homogeneous sphere of equal altitude, gravity varies from area to area, just as it does here on Earth. The GRAIL spacecraft was able to measure gravitational differences from what would occur of the Moon was like a cue ball. The differences are expressed by color, in this case purple is the low end of the range, yellow is average and red is at the high end.

Get an more in-depth explanation at NASA Goddared Space Fight Center’s photostream at Flickr (along with other pictures).

Something Different

Something a little different for today.

The NACA the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was a US government agency founded on 3 March 1915 to” undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research”.  The NACA was dissolved and its assets and personnel were transferred to what we all know as NASA.

This archived footage comes from the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center (formerly Dryden Flight Research Center) and was made available courtesy the US Department of Defense, NASAimages and the US National Archives. The film shows 1940’s experimental aircraft including the YB-49 flying wing and the X-1 and X-15 space plane.


The Beast

A few days ago you may recall there was an asteroid that passed by Earth. The asteroid passed about three times further from us than our moon. Yes that is quite a ways out, but compared to cosmic distances, pretty close.

NASA was able to get some great images of the more than 366 meter (1200 ft) long oblong shaped rock once it had passed. The video above was pieced together from images taken at a range of 1.25 and 1.39 million km (774,000 to 864,000 miles).

The images were captured by the 70-meter Goldstone antenna working with the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

As an aside: Arecibo is located in a seismically active area being not far from the Caribbean plate boundary. Generally the quakes are fairly small, for example yesterday 14 June there was a magnitude 2.7 quake at a depth of 26 km (22.4 miles) occurred 75 km (47 miles) out in the ocean and that was among eight occurring in the previous 24 hours having magnitudes of 2.7 to 3.2. Sure those are pretty small but I wonder if they are noticed by the observatory especially during an observing run.

The same could be asked of the ESO and Keck now that I think of it, it’s just that Arecibo is so huge.