PN04/33: SEPTEMBER SPACE DIGEST
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during September. It has been written in order to assist the media in planning and researching future stories related to space science and astronomy, particularly those with UK involvement. It is not intended to be fully comprehensive. Dates and times may be subject to change.
September 3: ISS SPACEWALK
NASA Flight Engineer and ISS Science Officer Michael Fincke and Station Commander Gennady Padalka will take part in their fourth and final spacewalk. They will use Russian spacesuits and exit the Russian Pirs airlock. Their work outside will include installing three antennas on the exterior of the Zvezda living quarters module that will aid the navigation of a new Station supply craft, called the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, during its maiden flight next year. Other tasks include replacement of a pump panel on the Zarya module that is part of the Russian segment's cooling system; installation of guides for spacesuit tethers on Zarya handrails; and the installation of handrail covers near the Pirs hatch.
The spacewalk on Friday will begin at 11:50 a.m. CDT (17:50 BST) and last about six hours. It will be the 56th spacewalk since the construction of the ISS began in 1998.
September 8: THE RETURN OF GENESIS
NASA's Genesis mission will climax with a September 8 mid-air rendezvous intended to capture the spacecraft's precious cargo of solar-wind samples – the first samples of extraterrestrial material brought to Earth since a 170-g sample of lunar soil carried by the Soviet Union's Luna 24 on 1976 August 23, and the first material collected beyond the Moon. Genesis was launched in 2001 August on a journey to capture some of the atomic particles ejected at high speed from the Sun – the storehouse for 99 per cent of all the material in our Solar System. The spacecraft spent almost 27 months far beyond the Moon's orbit, where it could collect pristine particles from the solar wind. The samples, collected on ultra-pure wafers of gold, sapphire, silicon and diamond, will provide new information on the composition of the Sun and shed light on the origins of our Solar System by revealing the makeup of the cloud from which it formed nearly five billion years ago. A total sample mass of about 10 to 20 micrograms is expected.
On 8 September, Genesis will dispatch a sample return capsule into Earth's atmosphere for a planned mid-air capture above the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range, southwest of Salt Lake City. To preserve the delicate solar particles, specially trained helicopter pilots will snag the return capsule from mid-air using the space-age equivalent of a fisherman's rod and reel. The flight crews for the two helicopters assigned for Genesis capture and return comprise former military aviators and Hollywood stunt pilots.
As part of the Genesis Science Team since 1997, the Open University's Planetary Sciences group represents the UK's only involvement in the mission, including design of the diamond collector, and allocation of a portion of the returned material for analysis. Dr Ian Franchi and Professor Colin Pillinger and their team have been involved in the development of the collectors and analytical techniques required for the Genesis samples and will receive an early allocation of material to analyse some of the priority elements to be investigated.
BA FESTIVAL OF SCIENCE IN EXETER.
On the morning of Wednesday 8 September, scientists from the Open University will be holding a press briefing about Genesis and the impending capture of the solar wind capsule at the BA Festival of Science in Exeter. Later in the day there will be the opportunity to watch the events unfold live via the web on a large screen. Once again scientists from the Open University will be on hand to provide comment. The main parachute is due to deploy at 17:00 (BST) with the first helicopter interception at 17.13 BST.
September 6-10: BA FESTIVAL OF SCIENCE, EXETER.
Apart from the Genesis events, presentations at the BA Festival include:
CHEMISTRY OF THE EARTH - PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Date: 7 September, Time : 09.30 - 12.30 and 14.00 - 17.00
SECRETS OF OUR UNIVERSE
Date: September 9, Time: 10.00 - 12.30
UK GOES TO THE PLANETS
Date : September 9 - Time: 13.30 - 16.30
STARS, STEALTH AND SOMETHING QUITE SMALL AND VERY INTERESTING.
Date: 10 September, Time: 10.00 - 12.30
15 September: JOINT NERC-PPARC PLANETARY SCIENCE INITIATIVE
A Town Meeting will take place on Wednesday 15 September at The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, to discuss the opportunities for a joint PPARC and NERC research programme to fund research into the origin and early evolution of the Earth and Earth-like planets, planets as platforms for life, and planetary atmospheres.
The purpose of the meeting will be to establish the range and strength of UK science in these areas and place this in the framework of the opportunities for sample return, data resources from planned space missions, and to focus the scope of any such initiative.
The format of the meeting will include keynote lectures from Professor Alex Halliday, (Oxford University), Professor Fred Taylor, (Oxford University) and Dr. Charles Cockell (British Antarctic Survey), on the general themes of planetary geochemistry, atmospheres and habitats for life. This will be followed by a limited number of short (5mins) presentations from other participants.
29 September: CLOSE FLYBY OF ASTEROID TOUTATIS - BUT NO THREAT
Asteroid 4179 Toutatis, with a length of more than 5 km, is one of the largest near-Earth asteroids. On 29 September it will make an unusually close approach, about 1.5 million km from Earth, One of the advantages of coming so close is that astronomers can use radar to make images of this asteroid, and they will certainly be doing so in late September.
NB. THERE IS NO DANGER OF COLLISION. Because it is so large and well observed, the orbit of Toutatis is known with great precision and it does not threaten Earth in any way. Millions of years from now, however, it could hit our planet. If and when that happens, a Toutatis impact would be large enough to cause the extinction of many species.
Toutatis will be at its brightest on 28 September, but visible only in the southern hemisphere. However, it will be visible from the UK around 22:00 BST in mid-September, very low in the southern sky, not far from the bright star Fomalhaut. It may then be seen with small telescopes or binoculars, as it passes through the constellation of Capricorn.
29 SEPTEMBER: FIRST X-PRIZE ATTEMPT
The American Mojave Aerospace Ventures, LLC Team (a partnership between Paul G. Allen and Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites) has scheduled its first flight to compete for the Ansari X Prize on 29 September. The flight will begin from the Mojave Airport Civilian Aerospace Test Center in Mojave, California. To win the $10 million, SpaceShipOne will need to make a second flight within two weeks, by 13 October. The Ansari X Prize is intended to jumpstart the space tourism industry through competition among the most talented entrepreneurs and rocket experts in the world. The $10 million cash prize will be awarded to the first team that:
Date: 1st September 2004
Issued by Peter Bond, RAS Communications Officer.