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Last Updated on Monday, 30 January 2006 10:50
Published on Friday, 01 July 2005 00:00
This release contains a summary of some significant astronomical and space events that will be taking place during July, including the return to flight of the Space Shuttle, the collision of Deep Impact with comet Tempel 1, and the launch of Astro-E2. 

After a voyage of 173 days and 431 million km (268 million miles), NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft will attempt to reveal the internal secrets of a comet when it fires a copper projectile into the icy nucleus of comet Tempel 1. The high speed collision will take place at 6.52 am BST (+/- 2 mins) on 4 July.

During the early morning hours of July 3 (EDT), the Deep Impact spacecraft will deploy a 1 metre (39 inch) wide impactor into the path of the comet, which is about half the size of Manhattan Island, New York. Over the next 22 hours, Deep Impact navigators and mission members located more than 133 million km (83 million miles) away at JPL in Pasadena, California, will steer both spacecraft and impactor toward the comet. The impactor will head towards the comet’s nucleus while the flyby craft will pass approximately 500 km (310 miles) below.

The potentially spectacular collision will be observed by the Deep Impact spacecraft, as well as numerous ground and space-based observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft which is en route to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory and all seven telescopes operated by the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

Tempel 1 is hurtling through space at approximately 37,100 km/h (23,000 mph or 6.3 ml/s). At that speed you could travel from New York to Los Angeles in less than 6.5 minutes. Two hours before impact, the impactor will kick into autonomous navigation mode. It must perform its own navigational solutions and thruster firings to make contact with the mountain-sized comet nucleus.

The crater created by the impact could range in size from a large house up to a football stadium, and from two to 14 storeys deep. Ice and dust debris will be ejected from the crater, revealing the material beneath. The flyby spacecraft has approximately 13 minutes to take images and spectra of the crater and its ejecta before it must endure a potential blizzard of particles from the nucleus.

The Deep Impact spacecraft has four instruments to observe the effects of the collision. A camera and infrared spectrometer, which comprise the High Resolution Instrument, are carried on the flyby spacecraft, along with a Medium Resolution Instrument. A duplicate of the Medium Resolution Instrument on the impactor will record the vehicle's final moments before it is run over by Tempel 1.

Deep Impact will provide the first glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material from the solar system's formation remains relatively unchanged. Mission scientists expect the project will answer basic questions about the formation of the solar system, by offering a better look at the nature and composition of the frozen celestial travellers we call comets.

Media are invited to a PPARC “Live” briefing, “NASA’s Deep Impact hits home!” between 6.30 am and 8.30 am on 4 July (Registration from 6.00 am) at Church House Conference Centre, Dean's Yard, Westminster, London SW1P 3NZ. There will be the opportunity to follow events live on NASA and ESA TV as the impact occurs and obtain “on the spot” reactions and comment from the following UK astronomers and space scientists who are involved in ground and space based observations:
Professor Iwan Williams [Queen Mary, University of London]
Dr Andrew Coates [Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL]
Professor Monica Grady [Open University]
Dr Paul Roche [Faulkes Project Scientist]

Since no one knows exactly what will happen after the impact, ground-based telescopes around the world (including some with UK involvement) will be observing the comet before and after the encounter to see what changes occur.

The 2-metre robotic Faulkes telescope in Hawaii is part of a global network of telescopes that will be providing data to NASA. However, NASA will not be the only recipient of the images. Across the UK schoolchildren will have the opportunity to see the images as events in space unfold, and will process the raw data to detect any changes to the comet as they happen.

In Wales the Spaceguard Centre near Knighton is hosting groups from Welsh schools, while Thinktank in Birmingham will be the English centre. In Northern Ireland the centre of activity will be the Armagh Planetarium, in association with the Ulster Museum, Belfast, and the centre in Scotland will be the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

Each centre will be receiving images of the encounter directly from Hawaii in near real time, giving them the earliest data in the country. Students will then process the raw images to try to detect any changes to the comet. There will be opportunities for photographs and interviews at each centre, and links between them can be established.


For further information see

For information on the role of UK astronomers and space scientists, and comprehensive list of sites where Deep Impact images will be posted, see:

This year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition will take place from Monday 4 to Thursday 7 July 2005 at the Royal Society premises, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG.

The Summer Science Exhibition offers a fantastic opportunity to discover the best of the UK's science and technology research. And what makes this event unique is the chance visitors get to meet and talk to the researchers themselves who are behind the work on show. Admission is free and open to all, without tickets. No pre-registration is required.

Exhibits this year include:
* Fatal attraction: double pulsar tests Einstein’s theories -
Manifestations of general relativity abound in the first-discovered double-pulsar system.
* Touch down on Titan -
The Huygens spacecraft reveals the surface of Saturn's largest moon.
* Cosmic cookery: growing galaxies in a computer -
Explaining the biggest challenge in cosmology: how did galaxies form.
* Seeing the invisible at the edge of the Universe -
The next generation of instruments.

At about 06:00 BST on 5 July, the Earth will reach aphelion, when it will be at its furthest from the Sun. The Earth will then be 152,600,000 km from the Sun, compared with its minimum distance from the Sun (perihelion) of 147,500,000 km in January.

Since the eccentricity of our planet’s orbit is very small and the orbit is nearly circular, aphelion and perihelion differ from the mean Sun-Earth distance by less than 2%. If you drew Earth’s orbit on a sheet of paper it would be difficult to distinguish from a perfect circle.

Since Earth is at its furthest from the Sun, average global sunlight arriving in July is about 7% less intense than it is in January. However, the average temperature of Earth at aphelion is about 2.3C higher than it is at perihelion - Earth is actually warmer when it is further from the Sun.

This is because our planet has more land in the northern hemisphere and more water in the south. During July - near the start of northern summer - the land-crowded northern half of our planet is tilted toward the Sun, and the continents heat up more easily than the oceans.

The Astro-E2 X-ray observatory is scheduled for launch aboard a Japanese M-V rocket between 6 July and 2 August. Observing the X-ray spectrum of the distant universe, Astro-E2 will open a new window into the workings of black holes, neutron stars, active galaxies, and other very energetic objects.

Astro-E2 is a joint effort of the Japanese space agency JAXA/ISAS and NASA. It replaces the Astro-E observatory which was lost during a launch mishap in February 2000. NASA is providing the core instrument, the high resolution X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS). The XRS will be the first X-ray microcalorimeter array to be placed in orbit. It measures the heat created by individual X-ray photons.

The XRS operates at a temperature of 65 mK, which is only 1/10 degree above absolute zero. It is held at this temperature by a three-stage cooling system developed jointly by NASA and the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Japan. The cryogenic system is capable of maintaining the temperature of the microcalorimeter array for about two years in orbit. Japan is providing the other instruments on Astro-E2: a set of four X-ray cameras and a high-energy X-ray detector. NASA is also providing the five X-ray telescopes required to focus X-rays on the XRS and the X-ray cameras.

Astro-E2 will be launched from Japan's Uchinoura Space Center into a near-Earth circular orbit at approximately 570 km (353 miles). The observatory's expected mission lifetime is five years. With its official name to be bestowed after deployment, Astro-E2 is the fifth in a series of Japanese satellites devoted to studying celestial X-ray sources. Previous missions are Hakucho, Tenma, Ginga, and ASCA.

The 114th Space Shuttle flight will be the first Shuttle flight since the loss of Columbia on 1 February 2003. The so-called Shuttle Return to Flight (RTF) mission is scheduled for lift-off during a launch window between 13 - 31 July. In response to the recommendations of the accident investigation board, major changes have been incorporated into the Shuttle Discovery for the mission, including a redesigned External Tank, new sensors and a boom that will allow astronauts to inspect the Shuttle for any potential damage.

The seven-member Discovery crew, commanded by Air Force Col. Eileen M. Collins, will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) primarily to test and evaluate new safety inspection and repair techniques. STS-114 is classified as Logistics Flight 1. Station-related activities include delivery of supplies and replacement of one of the Station’s Control Moment Gyroscopes (CMGs). STS-114 will also carry the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and the External Stowage Platform-2.

The crew is scheduled to conduct at least three spacewalks while at the ISS. The first of these will demonstrate techniques for repairing the Shuttle's Thermal Protection System. During the second, the spacewalkers will replace the failed gyroscope. On the third, they will install the External Stowage Platform.

The British Interplanetary Society is organising a one-day symposium about Small Remote Sensing Technology, to be held at the Society’s HQ, 27/29 South Lambeth Road
LONDON SW8 1SZ between 10:00 and 17:00 on 20 July.

With the development of ever-more capable spacecraft and sensors, there has been a considerable expansion in recent years of the worldwide utilisation of remotely sensed data and consequently of the impact of this important space activity on everyday life. However, within the UK, emphasis has been placed on the applications of remote sensing systems, and comparatively little attention has been paid to the fundamental technologies underlying this success. It is now intended to correct this imbalance by holding a BIS Symposium covering the spacecraft and sensor technologies involved. In this, emphasis will be placed on small satellites, since there is currently much interest in reducing the expense to the end user of remotely sensed data by minimising the size and cost of the spacecraft employed.

The programme includes:
“An overview of SSTL’s small satellite remote sensing capabilities” -
James Penson, Stuart Eves et al, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.
“Topsat: a UK mission delivering radically reduced costs for remote sensing” -
William Levett and John Lacock, QinetiQ
“A small satellite hyper-spectral mission” -
Mike Cutter, SIRA Technology Ltd
There will also be speakers from the University of Southampton; Marotta UK, EP Solutions and EADS Astrium.


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.