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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#140 David Whitehouse - Apollo 11

The stars are mansions built by Nature’s hand,

And, haply, there the spirits of the blest

Dwell, clothed in radiance, their immortal vest;

Huge Ocean shows, within his yellow strand,

A habitation marvellously planned,

For life to occupy in love and rest;

All that we see – is dome, or vault, or nest,

Or fortress, reared at Nature’s sage command.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

David Whitehouse is a former BBC Science Correspondent and BBC Science Editor. He is the author of five books including The Sun: A Biography and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and has written for many newspapers and magazines including The Times, The Guardian, Focus, New Scientist and The Economist. He also appears on many TV and radio programmes. Asteroid 4036 Whitehouse is named after him

'Terrific and enthralling' Author: New Scientist

'An authoritative account of Apollo 11 and the end of the space race, shedding light on the true drama behind the mission.' Author: The Observer

'In the most authoritative book ever written about Apollo, David Whitehouse reveals the true drama behind the mission, telling the story in the words of those who took part based around exclusive interviews with the key players ... [An] enthralling book' Source: All About Space


June 5th 2016 – The New frontiers Juno space probe arrives at Jupiter and begins a 20-month survey of the planet. After travelling for almost 5 years and 1.74 Billion miles (2.8 billion kilometers, 18.7AU). The mission has been extended till July 2021, and almost certainly beyond.

  • There is a plaque on the spacecraft, supplied by the Italian space agency in tribute to Galileo that reads

“ the star closest to Jupiter was half the size than the other and very close to the other so that during the previous nights all of the three observed stars looked of the same dimension and among them equally afar; so that it is evident that around Jupiter there are three moving stars invisible till this time to everyone”

  • Also , three Lego minifigures of Galileo, the Roman god Jupiter, and wife, the goddess Juno, all specially made of flight grade aluminium by lego.

Special word up for Seán Doran who really inspires the poddy with his awesome processing of the Juno pictures.

Tree Rings and Telescopes

Also the birthday of Andrew Ellicott Douglass in 1867, who died in 1962.

He was Percy Lowell assistant at the Lowell observatory, but he fell out with lowell over those pesky canals and other mad theories.

He then built a telescope in Tuscon Arizona, and founded the Steward Observatory, with money from a very rich widow, Mrs Lavina Steward. It was a total pain to build becuase European experts were busy with the first world war so he had to get USA glass makers up to scratch, but when he finally did this is what he said;

"This installation is to be devoted to scientific research. Scientific research is business foresight on a large scale. It is knowledge obtained before it is needed. Knowledge is power, but we cannot tell which fact in the domain of knowledge is the one which is going to give the power, and we therefore develop the idea of knowledge for its own sake, confident that some one fact or training will pay for all the effort. This I believe is the essence of education wherever such education is not strictly vocational. The student learns many facts and has much training. He can only dimly see which fact and which training will be of eminent use to him, but some special part of his education will take root in him and grow and pay for all of the effort which he and his friends have put into it. So it is with the research institutions. In this Observatory I sincerely hope and expect that the boundaries of human knowledge will be advanced along astronomical lines. Astronomy was the first science developed by our primitive ancestors thousands of years ago because it measured time. Performing that same function, it has played a vast part in human history, and today it is telling us facts, forever wonderful, about the size of our universe; perhaps tomorrow it will give us practical help in showing us how to predict climatic conditions in the future"

He then got interested in dating wood, and helped researchers looking at ruins in the southwest, like the Aztecs etc. and contributed massively by getting tree ring data all the way back to AD700, so you could date all ruins with absolute precision. So we know that Aztec Ruins were 1111-1120 for example He said of the crucial bit of timber.”HH-39 in American archaeology is destined to hold a place comparable to Egypt's Rosetta Stone”

He discovered the correlation between tree rings and the sunspot cycle….thus founding

Space word of the Week - dendrochronology

Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is the scientific method of dating tree rings (also called growth rings) to the exact year they were formed.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Douglass founded the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. He reasoned that changes in solar activity would affect climate patterns on earth, which would subsequently be recorded by tree-ring growth patterns.

  • dates from dendrochronology can be used as a calibration and check of radiocarbon dating

  • Using tree rings, scientists have estimated many local climates for hundreds to thousands of years

  • important to art historians in the dating of panel paintings

  • The dating of buildings with wooden structures: The Post Track and Sweet Track, boardwalks or timber trackways, in the Somerset levels, England, have been dated to 3838 BC and 3807 BC

An amazing example of someone who gets involved in many fields of study and solves a problem,... the Polymath it!!!

I wonder if we’ll ever use a chronology like dendrochronology, ice cores, sediment, algae deposits etc on another world???

Space News.

Orion Abort Test

During the approximately three-minute test, called Ascent Abort-2, a test version of the Orion crew module launched at 7 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a modified Peacekeeper missile procured through the U.S. Air Force and built by Northrop Grumman.

The Orion test spacecraft traveled to an altitude of about six miles, at which point it experienced high-stress aerodynamic conditions expected during ascent. The abort sequence triggered and, within milliseconds, the abort motor fired to pull the crew module away from the rocket. Its attitude control motor flipped the capsule end-over-end to properly orient it, and then the jettison motor fired, releasing the crew module for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

A team is collecting the 12 data recorders that were ejected during the test capsule’s descent. Analysis of the information will provide insight into the abort system’s performance.

FRB News

Since we had this on the show a few episodes ago, Astronomers are starting to be able to trace these one off bursts to their host galaxies, 2 in the last week reported in Science by Bannister et al then hot on the heels Nature. By Ravi et al

"This is the big breakthrough that the field has been waiting for since astronomers discovered fast radio bursts in 2007," said astro-engineer Keith Bannister from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) last week.

First up

FRB 180924 - originated in the outskirts of a Milky Way-sized galaxy roughly 3.6 billion light-years from Earth. ...reported last week, by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). "we grabbed and saved the last three seconds of data that had passed through the ASKAP dishes - about 3 billion measurements," Adam Deller of Swinburne University of Technology. "That lets us do a live-action replay of that three seconds, over and over again, as many times as we need to."

Then a week later - FRB 190523, was detected less than a fortnight ago on May 23. by Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), this one 7.9 billion light-years across space, and again similar to milky way!!! "This finding tells us that every galaxy, even a run-of-the-mill galaxy like our Milky Way, can generate an FRB," Vikram Ravi, "The theory that FRBs come from magnetars was developed in part because the earlier FRB 121102 came from an active star-forming environment, where young magnetars can be formed in the supernovae of massive stars," says Ravi.

Dragonfly to TITAN

We just missed this last week. But our new favourite moon Titan, episode 134, is going to get a visitor.

As mentioned on the Titan special there was a proposal called Dragonfly to send a drone to Titan as one of two finalist proposals for a 2025 launch of the New Frontiers program (Like Juno). ...Nasa obviously heard the podcast and chose Dragonfly

The 450kg Dragonfly will explore dozens of locations across the icy world, sampling and measuring the compositions of Titan's organic surface materials to characterize the habitability of Titan’s environment and investigate the progression of prebiotic chemistry

  • Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034

  • After delivery from space in an aeroshell and parachute descent, the design of the cruise stage and entry system demanded signifi-cant effort. The rotorcraft is launched “upside-down” with the stowed skids and the forward face of the aeroshell upward on the launch vehicle., the vehicle lands under rotor power and deploys a high-gain antenna for DTE communication.

  • Powered by a radioisotope power supply that provides heat and trickle-charges a large battery, the vehicle can operate nearly indefinitely as a conventional lander but can also make periodic brief battery-powered rotor flights to new locations.

  • Will fly to dozens of locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth

  • ORganic Dunes, “Shangri La”

  • Impact craters, like Selk, where water and complex organics could have mixed for millenia

  • Dragonfly will take advantage of 13 years’ worth of Cassini data to choose a calm weather period to land, along with a safe initial landing site and scientifically interesting targets

  • it has eight rotors and flies like a large drone, and can hop up to 5 miles at a time.

  • Although there is a small aerodynamic penalty in the “over–under” quad octocopter layout (with a top and bottom pair of motors/rotors at each corner of the vehicle) compared with a “pure” quad, the octocopter configuration is more resilient, being able to tolerate the loss of at least one rotor or motor

  • the first practical helicopter to fly in the United States, in 1924, was a multi-rotor vehicle, the “flying octopus”

  • Titan dense atmosphere and low gravity make it ideal for drones! The lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers) – nearly double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined.

  • Jim Bridenstine. “Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”

  • Made to do a 2.7 year mission, Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed, atmospheric and surface properties, subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. And the chemical evidence of past or extant life.

  • Dragonfly was selected as part of the agency’s New Frontiers program, which includes the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu. Dragonfly is led by Principal Investigator Dr Elizabeth “zibi” Turtle who is based at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory Maryland. Turtle was an associate of the imaging team on the Galileo mission and is currently an associate of the imaging and RADAR teams on the Cassini mission. She also serves as a co-investigator working with the camera on board the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. She has co-authored many scholarly articles about planetary impact features, surface processes, and planetary imaging and mapping. Turtle is the Principal Investigator on the Europa Imaging System (EIS) instrument, which was selected for inclusion on the Europa Clipper to the moon Europa. She rows competitively with the Baltimore Rowing Club. and use to play Taiko (Japanese drumming) with the drumming ensemble Odaiko Sonora

  • New Frontiers supports missions that have been identified as top solar system exploration priorities by the planetary community. The program is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Planetary Science Division in Washington.

  • the sample acquisition system, to be provided by Honeybee Robotics,

  • a sampling arm like those used on Viking, Phoe-nix, or the Mars Science Laboratory, was considered, but it would be expensive and heavy and presented a single-point failure.

  • Instead, two sample acquisition drills, one on each landing skid, with simple 1-degree-of-freedom actuators were selected. These provide a sample choice and redundancy.

  • Titan’s dense atmosphere permits the sample (whether sand, icy drill cuttings, or other mate-rial) to be conveyed pneumatically by a blower—the material is sucked up through a hose and is extracted in a cyclone separator (much like in a Dyson vacuum cleaner) for delivery to the mass spectrometer instrument

  • Power

  • Energy is the fundamental limitation in Titan surface exploration

  • Sunlight at Titan’s surface is ~100× weaker than at Earth, dropping down to 1000 times due to thick atmosphere.

  • ike the Huygens probe, has thick insulation around its main electronics box, and “waste” heat from the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelec-tric Generator (MMRTG) is tapped to maintain this interior (and most particularly, the battery) at benign temperatures.

  • On the other hand, the sensitive gamma-ray detector of the DraGNS instrument is mounted outside this warm box, exploiting the dense cold atmosphere to attain low operating temperatures without needing a mechanical cryocooler.

  • A mission following on from Huygens should logically do better than Huygens. The Huygens probe returned about 100 MB of data (~3.5 h of an S-band link at 8 kbps, relayed to Earth by the Cassini orbiter). To do, say, 100 times better, 10 GB, would therefore require at 10 AU about 0.5 GJ of energy (140,000 Wh, far beyond the capa-bility of practical stored energy systems like primary batteries) and necessitates radioisotope power., but only 1 out of the allowed 3 is required.

  • Slow degradation of the thermoelectric converter, in addition to the decay of the plutonium heat source, means the electrical power output at Titan is consider-ably lower than at launch, 9 years earlier. also uncertainty in that degradation (known only from ground tests and from the ~5 years of operation of the MMRTG on Curiosity) requires healthy margins on the power budget.

  • An electrical power output of about 70 W from a single MMRTG is anticipated at Titan. While this is indeed low, it may be recalled that both Viking landers operated for years on this power level. The key is that landed operations are undemanding (no propulsion or attitude control) and flexible.

  • a logical maximum size of the battery is that which completely captures MMRTG power during the Titan night, or 75*192 = 14 kWh. Such a battery—about a quarter of the size of the battery in a Tesla electric car—would be rather massive (140 kg), assuming a rep-resentative specific energy metric for space-qualified bat-teries of 100 Wh/kg. In practice, a smaller battery may be chosen, sacrificing some energy-harvesting efficiency for lower mass and cost.

  • Power could last up to 8 years.

  • In addition to horizontal mobility, there is science value in achieving altitude. Of particular interest is the possibility of profiling the planetary boundary layer (PBL) via ascent to 500 m to 4 km altitude.

  • Payload

  • DraMS—Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer able to handle high-molecular-weight materials and samples of prebiotic interest. using elements from the highly successful SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument on Curiosity, which has pyrolysis and gas chromatographic analysis capabilities, and also draws on developments for the ExoMars/MOMA (Mars Organic Material Analyser).

  • DraGNS—Dragonfly Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer, allows the elemental composition of the ground immediately under the lander to be determined without requiring any sampling operations. Note that because Titan’s thick and extended atmosphere shields the surface from cosmic rays that excite gamma-rays on Mars and airless bodies, the instrument includes a pulsed neutron generator to excite the gamma-ray signature, as also advocated for Venus missions. The abundances of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen allow a rapid classification of the surface material (for example, ammonia-rich water ice, pure ice, and carbon-rich dune sands). This instrument also permits the detection of minor inorganic elements such as sodium or sulfur. This quick chemical reconnaissance at each new site can inform the science team as to which types of sampling (if any) and detailed chemical analysis should be performed.

  • DraGMet—Dragonfly Geophysics and Meteorology Package a suite of simple sensors Atmospheric pressure and temperature are sensed with COTS sensors. Wind speed and direction are determined with thermal anemometers (similar to those flown on several Mars missions) placed outboard of each rotor hub, so that at least one senses wind upstream of the lander body, minimizing flow perturbations due to obstruction and by the thermal plume from the MMRTG. Methane abun-dance (humidity) is sensed by differential near-IR absorption, using components identified in the TiME Phase A study. Electrodes on the landing skids are used to sense electric fields (and in particular the AC field associated with the Schumann resonance, which probes the depth to Titan’s interior liquid water ocean) as well as to measure the dielectric constant of the ground. The thermal properties of the ground are sensed with a heated temperature sensor to assess porosity and dampness. Finally, seismic instrumentation assesses regolith properties (e.g., via sensing drill noise) and searches for tectonic activity and possibly infers Titan’s interior structure.

  • DragonCam—Dragonfly Camera Suite A set of cameras, driven by a common electronics unit, provides for forward and downward imaging (landed and in flight), and a microscopic imager can examine surface material down to sand-grain scale. Panoramic cameras can survey sites in detail after land-ing: in many respects, the imaging system is similar to that on Mars landers, although the optical design takes the weaker illumination at Titan (known from Huygens data) into account. LED illuminators permit color imag-ing at night, and a UV source permits the detection of certain organics (notably polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) via fluorescence.

  • Engineering systems. Data from the inertial measure-ment unit (IMU) may be used to recover an atmospheric density profile via the deceleration history during entry. IMU and other navigation data may provide constraints on winds during rotorcraft flight. Additionally, the radio link via Doppler and/or ranging measurements may shed light on Titan’s rotation state, which, in turn, is influ-enced by its internal structure.

Huge shout out to Joanna Jones for including us in: 15 Star Companies of the UK Space Sector. SAY WHAT!!!!!

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