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RAS PN06/03: Space & Astronomy Digest February 2006

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:40
Published on Tuesday, 31 January 2006 00:00
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during February. These include the launch of the Astro-F infrared space observatory, the launch of Space Technology 5 and the RAS meeting to discuss the latest results from Cassini-Huygens.

One of the strangest satellites in the history of the space age is scheduled to go into orbit on 3 February, when astronauts on board the International Space Station will hurl an empty spacesuit overboard. Known as "SuitSat", the Russian Orlan spacesuit, equipped with three batteries, a radio transmitter, and internal sensors to measure temperature and battery power, will transmit its condition to the ground as it circles the Earth.


NASA Science web site:

The annual European Astrofest will be held at Kensington Town Hall on 3 and 4 February. Speakers include Stephen O'Meara, who is recognised as being the world’s greatest living visual observer; Dan Green, head of the IAU's telegram bureau in Harvard; and the renowned space artist David Hardy. Subjects range from star formation, active galaxies and gamma ray bursts to black holes, wormholes and time travel.


9 FEBRUARY (?) MAIDEN LAUNCH OF FALCON 1 ROCKET AND FALCONSAT-2 The maiden launch of Space X's Falcon 1 rocket is currently scheduled for 8 February at 4:30 p.m. California time (00:30 GMT on 9 February). Falcon 1 will make history because:
• It will be the first privately developed, liquid fuelled rocket to reach orbit;
• It will be the world's first all-new orbital rocket in over a decade;
• The main engine of Falcon 1 (Merlin) will be the first all-new American hydrocarbon engine for an orbital rocket to fly in 40 years and only the second new American booster engine of any kind in 25 years;
• The Falcon 1 is the only rocket flying 21st century avionics, which require a small fraction of the power and mass of other systems;
• It will be the world's only semi-reusable orbital rocket apart from the Shuttle;
• With a launch price of $6.7 million, Falcon 1 will provide the lowest cost per flight to orbit of any launch vehicle in the world.

The maiden flight will take place from the U.S. military’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Test Site on Omelek Island near Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands. Future launches will also be staged from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

On board the Falcon 1 rocket will be FalconSat-2, a student-built satellite to measure the effect of space plasma on global positioning system (GPS) satellites and other space-based communications systems. The satellite is part of a programme run by the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA). The target orbit is 400 km x 500 km (just above the International Space Station) at an inclination of 39 degrees.


SPACEX web site:

Falcon1 / Falconsat-2 press kit:

US Air Force press release:

Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House Piccadilly, London W1, 10.30 – 15.30.
This discussion meeting will examine the latest scientific findings about Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Following the successful landing of the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe on Titan in January 2005, scientists are now analysing the huge amount of data that was returned. Meanwhile, NASA’s Cassini mission is continuously providing new observations of Titan's surface, atmosphere and space environment. Their ongoing interpretation, together with theoretical modelling, Earth-based observations and laboratory measurements, will substantially benefit from cross-disciplinary collaborations in the same way that different regions on Titan, its space environment, atmosphere and surface are known to directly interact.
10:30 - 11:00: F. Neubauer (University of Cologne, Germany): Magnetic Field Observations near Titan during the Voyager and Cassini missions
11:00 - 11:15: C. Bertucci (Imperial College London): Titan's interaction with its plasma environment: joint magnetic field and plasma observations by Cassini
11:15 - 11:30: A. Coates (Mullard Space Science Laboratory –University College London): Plasma at Titan: results from CAPS instrument
11:30 - 12:00: N. Teanby (Oxford University): Nitrile compounds in Titan's atmosphere measured by Cassini CIRS instrument as a tracer for atmospheric circulation
12:00 - 12:15: P. Stevens (University of Birmingham and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory): Estimating ion mobility in Titan’s Lower Atmosphere
12:15 - 12:30: N. Owen (University of Birmingham and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory): Developing a method to calculate ion mobility spectra on Titan
12:30 - 12:50: R. Lorenz (University of Arizona, Tucson, USA): Cassini RADAR Observations of Titan's Dynamic Surface
14:00 - 14:30: J.-P. Lebreton (European Space Agency): New views of Titan from Cassini/Huygens
14:30 - 14:45 N. Petford (Kingston University, London): Flow Rheology of Congested Ammonia-Water Cyromagmas on Titan
14:45 - 15:15: J. Zarnecki (The Open University): Titan: The View from Huygens
15:15 - 15:30: D. Fortes (University College London): A sulfate-rich model of Titan’s interior: consequences for the composition of surface materials, and for styles of volcanic activity


Dr. Ingo Mueller-Wodarg
Imperial College London
Tel: +44 (0)207-594-7674
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr. Andrew Coates
Mullard Space Science Laboratory - UCL
Tel: +44 (0)1483-204145
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Meeting web site:

Society of Antiquaries Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, 10.30 – 15.30.
This meeting is intended to explore progress and prospects for the major theoretical and computational challenges in solar plasma physics, for example coupling the magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) and kinetic regimes, or modelling dynamics across the steep gradients presented by the lower atmosphere. This topic is motivated both by recent modelling steps in these directions, and by the prospect of new opportunities for observation with forthcoming solar and solar-terrestrial satellites.
Invited Reviews
Peter Cargill (Imperial College, London)
Cross-scale coupling in the solar atmosphere: a "grand challenge" problem
Mats Carlsson (University of Oslo)
Modelling the dynamic solar chromosphere — recent results and future prospects
Invited Contributions
Tony Arber (University of Warwick)
Coupled MHD-kinetic simulations of flares - why they are needed, the obstacles and future prospects
David Tsiklauri (University of Salford)
On a possible solution to the coronal heating problem: a new mechanism for parallel electric field generation in the MHD limit
Robert Erdélyi (University of Sheffield)
Dynamic Coupling of MHD Waves in the Lower Solar Atmosphere


Dr. Lyndsay Fletcher
Dept. of Physics & Astronomy
University of Glasgow
Tel: +44 (0)141-330-5311
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr. Rekha Jain
Dept. of Applied Mathematics
University of Sheffield
Tel: +44 (0)114-22-23732
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr. David Williams
Dept. of Space & Climate Physics
Mullard Space Science Laboratory - UCL
Tel: +44 (0)1483-204211
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Meeting web site:

Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, London W1, 16.00-18.00
Talks will include:
Prof. Kathy Whaler - THE 2006 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS: USING MAGNETIC FIELD OBSERVATIONS TO PROBE THE DEEP EARTH. Since 1999, the geomagnetic field has been monitored continuously by near-Earth satellites, supplementing the long running ground-based observatory network. This talk will outline how we model the data and use them to investigate the Earth's core.
Prof. Frank Close (Oxford) - Human Space Exploration (summary of a report commissioned by the RAS)
Prof. Rob Kennicutt (IoA, Cambridge) - Nearby Galaxies as Revealed by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

ASTRO-F, also known as the Infra-Red Imaging Surveyor (IRIS), will be launched by Japan’s M-V launch vehicle on 21 February into a sun-synchronous polar orbit with an altitude of 750 km. It is expected to be one of the most important international space observatories of the decade.

ASTRO-F is the second infrared astronomy mission of the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) and the first spacecraft to map the entire sky at infrared wavelengths since the IRAS mission of the 1980s. However, its survey of the infrared sky will be much more sensitive than that of IRAS, enabling it to detect hundreds of thousands of galaxies.

ASTRO-F carries a 70 cm telescope which is cooled by liquid helium to a temperature of only 6 K (-267 degrees C). The nominal mission lifetime is 550 days, after which the spacecraft is expected to run out of helium. However, ASTRO-F’s near-infrared camera can continue observations after the helium expires.

Through its ability to penetrate dense clouds of dust which block visible light, it will investigate the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars, planets and brown dwarfs, as well as the mysterious dark matter.

The ASTRO-F project is led by ISAS in collaboration with other Japanese institutions, a UK-Netherlands consortium, Seoul National University in Korea and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The UK is involved in the mission through teams at Imperial College London, the Open University and the University of Sussex. Together with Groningen University in the Netherlands, they developed some of the data analysis for ASTRO-F, and will be working on ASTRO-F’s pioneering all-sky infrared survey. European astronomers (including those in the UK) will also use 10% of the non-survey time on ASTRO-F.


Dr. Stephen Serjeant
Open University
Tel: +44 (0)7946-605913
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr. Rich Savage
University of Sussex
Tel: +44 (0)1273-678069
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Dr. Seb Oliver
University of Sussex
Tel: +44 (0)1273 678852
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Prof. Michael Rowan-Robinson
Imperial College London
Tel: +44 (0)207-594-7530
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Prof. Glenn White
The Open University and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: +44 (0)771-423-4897
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Dr. Chris Pearson
ESA support astronomer at ISAS
Tel: +44 (0)208-857-6200 or +81 (0)42-759-8519
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


ISAS-JAXA web sites:

European Space Agency ASTRO-F website:

Imperial College London web site:

UK sky watchers will have their best opportunity of the year to observe Mercury, the innermost planet of the Solar System, as an evening “star”. On the evening of 24 February, the little planet, shining at magnitude -0.4, will set in the west nearly two hours after the Sun. Its elongation (apparent distance from the Sun) in the sky will then be a maximum 18 degrees.

On the afternoon of 28 February, three small experimental satellites will be placed into orbit by a Pegasus XL rocket launched from beneath from an aircraft that takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Known as Space Technology 5, the mission is intended to push the limits of miniaturisation by building and testing three microsats. Each microsat weighs approximately 25 kilograms (55 pounds) when fully fuelled and resembles a very large birthday cake at 53 cm (20.7 inches) across and 48 cm (18.7 inches) high.

The satellites will be placed in an elliptical, Sun synchronous, orbit around the Earth that ranges between 300 km (186 miles) and 4500 km (2796 miles). Orbital inclination will be 105.6 degrees with an orbital period of 136 minutes. The mission will last for 90 days.

Development of these satellites will test and validate new technologies and aid scientists in understanding the harsh environment of the Earth's magnetosphere. After deployment, the microsats will be positioned in a "string of pearls" constellation that demonstrates the ability to position the microsats to perform simultaneous multi-point measurements of the magnetic field using highly sensitive magnetometers. Using data collected from the ST5 constellation, scientists can begin to understand and map the intensity and direction of the magnetic field, its relation to space weather events, and the affects on our planet.

The ST5 Project is an instrumental part of the New Millennium Programme, which was created to identify, develop, build, and test innovative technologies and concepts that may contribute to future missions.


ST5 web site:

This release 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.