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Royal Astronomical Society September Space Digest


Space digest: September 2004

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.

3 September: 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.

8 September: 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 back to Earth since the Apollo 17 mission of 1972, and the first material collected beyond the Moon. Genesis was launched in August 2001 on a journey to capture some of the atomic particles ejected at high speed from the Sun - the storehouse for 99 percent 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.

Dr Ian Franchi, Open University; Tel: +44 (0)1908-655173
Professor Colin Pillinger, Open University; Tel: +44 (0)1908-655169

Gill Ormrod, PPARC Press Office
Tel: +44 (0)1793-442012. Mobile: +44 (0)781-8013509

Further information:
Genesis home page
More information about the actual capture and return process is available at:
PPARC press release: Catching the solar wind, 12 August 2004.

6 - 10 September: 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

- ESA’s SMART-1 Mission to the Moon: Technology and Science - Bernard Foing, European Space Agency
- Fossils of planet formation: the Rosetta mission - Ian Wright, Open University
- Meteorites: a window on planetary evolution - Monica Grady, The Natural History Museum
- Earth: present and future chaired by - Andrew Shaw, University of Exeter
- Atmospheric futures: chemistry and climate - Colin Johnson, Met Office
- Atmospheric chemistry - air quality and climate change - Mike Pilling, University of Leeds

Secrets of our universe

Date: 9 September, Time: 10.00 - 12.30
- The particle odyssey - a journey to the start of time - Frank Close, Oxford University
- From molecules to mammals : how asteroid and comet impacts are good for life - Charles Cockell, British Antarctic Survey
- The past, present and future of the Universe - Gerry Gilmore, Cambridge University

UK goes to the planets

Date : 9 September - Time: 13.30 - 16.30
- Introduction - Andrew Coates, Mullard Space Science Laboratory
- Missions to the early Solar System - Simeon Barber, Open University
- Cassini-Huygens mission - Carl Murray, Queen Mary, University of London
- Mars and the Search for Life - Andrew Coates, Mullard Space Science Laboratory

Stars, stealth and something quite small and very interesting
Date: 10 September, Time: 10.00 - 12.30
- Making stars and planets - Tim Naylor, School of Physics, Exeter University

Further information:
BA Festival of Science Web site:

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.

Julia Maddock, Community Press Officer
Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue,
Swindon, Wiltshire, SN2 1SZ
Tel +44 (0)1793 442094,
Mobile 07901 514975
Fax +44 (0)1793 442002

Further information:
Geological Society Web site:

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.

Martin Mobberley, British Astronomical Association
Tel: (0)1284-828431

Further information:
Radar images from the 1996 close pass of Toutatis -
Space.Com article: Alain Maury’s Toutatis webpage at

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:
- Privately finances, builds and launches a spaceship able to carry three people to 100 km (62.5 miles)
- Returns safely to Earth
- Repeats the launch with the same ship within 2 weeks.

Ian Murphy,
X-Prize Foundation
Tel.: +1-202-498-7267 or +1-703-527-3310,

Web resources:
Scaled Composites -
X-Prize Foundation -

Peter Bond | alfa
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