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#163 - Xavier De Kestelier - Phaethon

Updated: Dec 15, 2019


This week Matt and Colin Philp from the BIS catch up with Xavier De Kestelier at the London Design Museum Mars Exhibition to talk about his Mars Habitat designs. We chat about the strangest asteroid Phaethon with a WISPR. We talk about Mars water maps and the week's launches.


“We need to pull our heads out of the sand because we are refusing to see what’s happening, We need to see the problem to change it and to change ourselves.”

International Space Station (ISS) commander Luca Parmitano speaks through an in-flight connection from space to panellists including United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Spain's Science Minister Pedro Duque at the High-Level event on Global Climate Action during the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain December 11, 2019




Space Nugget

Brevard County, Florida or the Countdown County!

Back in 1999 America was rejigging its area codes and was about to award Chicago with the area code 321, Robert Ozzie Osband was not caught napping and seized the moment. The local resident of Brevard County petitioned that 321 should be used to commemorate the countdown of space launches from Cape Canaveral. He won and now that area has the dialing code 321 since 2000.








Space Mission of the Week


Near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Credits: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF

A camera aboard a space probe has conformed an asteroid phenomenon.

Back in 1923, Thomas Edison started the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), a US Navy and Marine Corps science laboratory, whose remit is to look into plasma physics, space physics, materials science, and tactical electronic warfare. NRL’s research expenditures are approximately $1 billion per year and it employs about 2600 staff of which 90 are from the military.

Despite popular belief, the Parker Solar Probe does have a camera on it, admittedly it doesn’t point at the sun, because it would melt, but instead looks at a very wide field (13 to 108 degrees away from the sun). But why.? The Camera built by the NRL, is called The Wide-Field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR), is designed to study the electron density and velocity structure of the corona, it’s actually made of 2 cameras on telescopes, which together cover more than 100-degrees angular width from the Sun,

WISP takes advantage of the spacecraft's proximity to the Sun by taking coronagraph-style images of the solar corona and features like coronal streamers, plumes, and mass ejections, but this weeks discovery is something else.



"This is why NRL's heliospheric imagers are so ground-breaking," "They allow you to see near-Sun outflows massively fainter than the Sun itself, which would otherwise blind our cameras. And in this case, you can also see solar system objects extremely close to the Sun, which most telescopes cannot do." said Karl Battams at a NASA press conference this week, Battams is a computational scientist in NRL's Space Science Division, whose cometary images have found there way onto APODs, and he has identified a dust cloud trailing behind the asteroid 3200 Phaethon

Now 3200 Phaethon is very interesting indeed!

  • The first asteroid to be discovered using images from a spacecraft (Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS)) in 1983

  • An Apollo Asteroid ie an Earth Crossing asteroid, (perihelion smaller than earth orbit and Aphelion larger) ….gulp. Like Bennu and Ryugu, and just like the February 15, 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia, injuring an estimated 1000 people with flying glass from broken windows, was an Apollo class asteroid, The largest known Apollo asteroid is 1866 Sisyphus, with a diameter of about 8.5 km

  • It is a PHA (Potentially Hazardous asteroid) luckily we know the position of it with great certainty for the next 400 years. The 2017 Earth approach distance of about 10 million km (27 x moon distance) was known with an accuracy of ±700 m, it will get 5 times closer in 2093.

  • 3200 Phaethon has an orbit that brings it closer to the Sun than any other named asteroid. (20.9 Million km, 13 million millies) (almost 7 times closer than the earth, and twice as near to the sun as Mercury)

  • Harvard legend Fred Whipple of “comets are dirty snowballs” fame pointed out shortly after the discovery that Phaethon is the cause of the Gemenids Meteor shower., very odd for an asteroid to be creating a meteor shower, that peaks 13th and 14th december !

  • Phaéthōn was the son of the solar deity Helios

  • The highly eccentric orbit is more like a comet orbit, and this asteroid appears to be a sort of dead comet / Asteroid Hybrid in many ways and is often called the “Rock Comet”

  • Using NASA's STEREO spacecraft, dust tails have been observed and in 2010, Phaethon was detected ejecting dust, maybe the Sun's heat is causing fractures similar to mud cracks in a dry lake bed.

  • It is BLUE!!!! Very rare indeed.

  • It can get to 800 degrees Celcius at perihelion and that turn the metals in the asteroid to goo.

  • There was an unexpected brightening, twice as bright in fact, of Phaethon in 2009 at perihelion.

  • A very exciting mission, especially after the success of Hayabusa, is DESTINY+ (Demonstration and Experiment of Space Technology for INterplanetary voYage Phaethon fLyby dUSt science) is a planned JAXA mission to flyby in 202 planned to be launched in 2022.

  • Karl Battams data from WISPR suggest that the dust trail is 14m miles long and weighs a few billion tons.

"Something catastrophic happened to Phaethon a couple of thousand years ago and created the Geminid Meteor shower," Battams said. "There's no way the asteroid is anywhere near active enough when it is near the Sun to produce the mass of dust we are seeing, so we are confident that WISPR is seeing part of the Geminid meteor stream."

TWEET A paper with preliminary analysis has been submitted, but we're gonna need more data in future encounters to really nail down the specs on this. It's a noise-level detection, so a few more photos would also be nice, Much kudos to my colleagues/co-authors Brendan Gallagher, Guillermo Stenborg and Russ Howard, and @UMDAstronomy's Matthew Knight and Mike Kelley


In the meantime, the first batch of Parker Solar probe data has been received and is being poured over by scientists. Parker Solar Probe measured sudden reversals in the Sun's magnetic field. These events, called "switchbacks," may provide clues to the processes that heat the Sun's outer atmosphere to millions of degrees. The Sun’s corona reaches temperatures up to several million degrees Fahrenheit, which is 200 to 500 times hotter than the solar surface below, but Why this is the main question that Parker Solar probe has been sent to answer, and hopefully that full answer will be with us soon. See Podcast 93 for more details about Parker Solar Probe.



Space Nugget

Who is the first Scottish Astronaut?

2019 saw another Brit go into space, Dave Mackay flew the Richard Branson’s Virgin VSS Unity higher and faster than any of Virgin Galactic’s previous missions, travelling at three times the speed of sound and crossing NASA’s official boundary for space on February 22. This week he celebrated receiving an honorary PHD from Robert Gordon University, which named him a Doctor of Technology.

“I hope that someone maybe takes some inspiration from my journey from a small highlands village to space.”






Patreon Shout out

Shout out to Neil “Bionic Surgeon” Hopper, friend if patron Bob. Despite losing both his lower legs to sepsis last year has return to work like a legend to carry on as a surgeon in Truro.


Science Article of the Week

Geographical research letters

Widespread Shallow Water Ice on Mars at High and Mid Latitudes

Sylvain Piqueux et al


A new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters will help by providing a map of water ice believed to be as little as an inch (2.5 centimeters) below the surface, This rainbow-colored map shows underground water ice on Mars. Cool colors are closer to the surface than warm colors; black zones indicate areas where a spacecraft would sink into fine dust; the outlined box represents the ideal region to send astronauts for them to dig up water ice.


This rainbow-colored map shows underground water ice on Mars. Cool colors are closer to the surface than warm colors; black zones indicate areas where a spacecraft would sink into fine dust; the outlined box represents the ideal region to send astronauts for them to dig up water ice. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

They derive the depth of the water ice table on Mars by fitting seasonal surface temperature trends acquired by the NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Mars Climate Sounder and Mars Odyssey orbiter Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) with a two‐layer regolith model assuming frozen H2O as the lower material.

Their results are consistent with widespread water ice at latitudes as low as 35°N/45°S buried sometimes only a few cm below sand‐like material.

Others have already predicted this near‐surface ice on Mars, but this new info solidifies the concepts of;

  • very shallow depths accessible with limited equipment,

  • continuous regional coverage including the mid‐latitudes, and 3) they

  • yield moderate spatial resolution maps relevant to landing site selection studies.

Basically, this is a map that shows the ice that could be exploited on‐site for drinking water, breathable oxygen, etc., at a much lower cost than if brought from Earth.



Interview with Xavier De Kestelier




His concept for a ‘home’ on Mars – part of NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.

Xavier De Kestelier is the Head of Design Technology and Innovation at HASSELL studio. Prior to this, he was co-head of the Specialist Modelling Group, the research and innovation arm of Foster + Partners.

Xavier has led several multidisciplinary research projects in the field of large scale 3D printing. In his latest work with NASA and ESA he researched the potential of 3D printed habitats on the Moon and Mars


Massive shout out to the rest of the SKLON level Spodcats

Antony Peggs, Audun Vaaler, Bob Hodges, Christopher Andreasen, Darren Fooks, James Goodwin, John Benac, Julio Aprea, Kaarel Siim, Mark Scheuern, Matt Gilliland, Patrick Haywood, Rob Annable, Stas Shusha, Sven Neuhaus



Space Launches of the Week

2 very exciting ones!!!

16 December

  • China Long March 3B- 2 x BeiDou Earth Navigation Sats

17 December

  • United States Falcon 9 Block 5 Cape Canaveral Japan and Singapore Geosynchronous Communications satellites

  • Russia Soyuz ST-A / Fregat-M - Kourou ESA COSMIC VISION S1 CHEOPS

Also cubesats

  • Italy COSMO-SkyMed (earth obvs.)

  • ESA OPS-SAT Technology demonstration (cube sat with an experimental fast computer) CNES EyeSat to study Zodiacal light, Brian May will be pleased.

  • CNES ANGELS Technology demonstration for an environmental ARGOS system.

20 December

  • China Long March 4B - China and Brazil CBERS 4A / Ziyuan Earth observation

  • The first-ever Ethiopian satellite ETRSS-1 Earth observation

  • Brazil university FloripaSat-1 Technology demonstration

  • Atlas V - United States Starliner Flight test / ISS logistics

  • Boeing Orbital Flight Test of CST-100 Starliner as part of Commercial Crew Development program. A 30-day robotic mission.


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