Continental Europe’s First Spaceport – And It’s Above The Arctic Circle!

When we think of a space launch it’s likely our minds might turn to the lush swampland of Florida’s Cape Canaveral, or the jungle of Kourou in Guyana. These are both in the tropical regions on sites as close to the Equator as the governments who built them could find, because the higher rotational speed of the planet at its widest point gives departing rockets a bit of extra kick. Even the Soviet Baikonur cosmodrome in modern-day Kazakhstan which sits at around 45 degrees North, was chosen in part to lie in one of the more southerly Soviet republics.

It’s unexpected then to report on the opening of what may at the time of writing be the world’s newest spaceport, situated on the island of Andøya in northern Norway, at around 69 degrees North. Just what is going on?

The answer for the German company Isar Aerospace is that their launches from the site will be ideally placed not for low-inclination orbits but for polar orbits, something of a valuable commodity and a worthy point of competition when compared to equatorial sites. We have shamefacedly to admit that we’re not completely au fait with Norwegian geography, so it took us a minute to find Andøya towards the top of the country’s westward chain of islands.

The spaceport itself lies in a bay facing westward over the Norwegian Sea, and the launch platform is on a stone jetty protruding into the water. It appears to be a beautiful landscape, a suitable reward for any hardy souls who make the trip to watch a launch. Unexpectedly the spaceport stands alone in Continental Europe, though before too long it’s likely to be joined by other projects including one in northern Scotland. European skies are likely to become busier over the coming years.

Virginia Cave Is The Largest Musical Instrument In The World

Hit something with a hammer, and it makes a sound. If you’re lucky, it might even make a pleasant sound, which is the idea behind the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Luray Caverns, Virginia. The organ was created in 1954 by [Leland W. Sprinkle], who noticed that some stalactites (the ones that come down from the ceiling of the cave) would make a nice, pure tone when hit.

So, he did what any self-respecting hacker would do: he picked and carved 37 to form a scale and connected them to an electronic keyboard. The resonating stalactites are spread around a 3.5 acre (14,000 square meters) cave, but because it is in a cave, the sound can be heard anywhere from within the cave system, which covers about 64 acres (260,000 square meters). That makes it the largest musical instrument in the world.

We’ll save the pedants the trouble and point out that the name is technically an error — this is not a pipe organ, which relies on air driven into resonant chambers. Instead, it is a lithophone, a percussion instrument that uses rock as the resonator. You can see one of the solenoids that hits the rock to make the sound below.

This is also the sort of environment that gives engineers nightmares: a constant drip-drip-drip of water filled with minerals that love to get left behind when the water evaporates. Fortunately, the Stalacpipe Organ seems to be in good hands: according to an NPR news story about it, the instrument is maintained by lead engineer for the caverns [Larry Moyer] and his two apprentices, [Stephanie Beahm] and [Ben Caton], who are learning the details of maintaining a complex device like this.

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