Watching A Spacewalk In Real Time

If you go to, say, a football game, you probably don’t get to see as much of the game as close as you do when you stay home and watch on TV. But there’s something about being there that counts. That’s probably how [Sebastian Voltmer] feels. While we’ve all seen video of astronauts and cosmonauts spacewalking, [Sebastian] managed to take a snapshot of a pair of spacewalkers from his telescope.

Of course, this wasn’t your ordinary department store Christmas gift telescope. The instrument was a Celestron 11 inch EdgeHD Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a very expensive GM2000 HPS mount. An ASI290 planetary camera took the shot. You can see the gear and more about the photos in the video below.

Continue reading “Watching A Spacewalk In Real Time”

30 Days Of Terror: The Logistics Of Launching The James Webb Space Telescope

Back during the 2019 Superconference in Pasadena, I had the chance to go to Northrop Grumman’s Redondo Beach campus to get a look at the James Webb Space Telescope. There is the high-bay class 10,000+ cleanroom in building M8, my wife and I along with fellow space nerd Tom Nardi got a chance to look upon what is likely the most expensive single object ever made. The $10 billion dollar space observatory was undergoing what we thought were its final tests before being packaged up and sent on its way to its forever home at the L2 Lagrange point.

Sadly, thanks to technical difficulties and the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be another two years before JWST was actually ready to ship — not a new story for the project, Mike Szczys toured the same facility back in 2015. But the good news is that it finally has shipped, taking the very, very slow first steps on its journey to space.

Both the terrestrial leg of the trip and the trip through 1.5 million kilometers of space are fraught with peril, of a different kind, of course, but still with plenty of chances for mission-impacting events. Here’s a look at what the priceless and long-awaited observatory will face along the way, and how its minders will endure the “30 days of terror” that lie ahead.

Continue reading “30 Days Of Terror: The Logistics Of Launching The James Webb Space Telescope”

Quick Reaction Saves ESA Space Telescope

Once launched, most spacecraft are out of reach of any upgrades or repairs. Mission critical problems must be solved with whatever’s still working on board, and sometimes there’s very little time. Recently ESA’s INTEGRAL team was confronted with a ruthlessly ticking three hour deadline to save the mission.

European Space Agency INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory is one of many space telescopes currently in orbit. Launched in 2002, it has long surpassed its original designed lifespan of  two or three years, but nothing lasts forever. A failed reaction wheel caused the spacecraft to tumble out of control and its automatic emergency recovery procedures didn’t work. Later it was determined those procedures were dependent on the thrusters, which themselves failed in the summer of 2020. (Another mission-saving hack which the team had shared earlier.)

With solar panels no longer pointed at the sun, battery power became the critical constraint. Hampering this time-critical recovery effort was the fact that antenna on a tumbling spacecraft could only make intermittent radio contact. But there was enough control to shut down additional systems for a few more hours on battery, and enough telemetry so the team could understand what had happened. Control was regained using remaining reaction wheels.

INTEGRAL has since returned to work, but this won’t be the last crisis to face an aging space telescope. In the near future, its automatic emergency recovery procedures will be updated to reflect what the team has learned. Long term, ESA did their part to minimize space debris. Before the big heavy telescope lost its thrusters, it had already been guided onto a path which will reenter the atmosphere sometime around 2029. Between now and then, a very capable and fast-reacting operations team will keep INTEGRAL doing science for as long as possible.

More Than Just Hubble: The Space Observatories Filling The Skies Today And Tomorrow

Amidst the recent news about the Hubble Space Telescope’s troubles (and triumphant resurrection), it is sometimes easy to forget that although Hubble is a pretty unique telescope, it is just one of many space-based observatories that are currently zipping overhead right now or perched in a heliocentric orbit. So what is it that makes these observatories less known than the iconic Hubble telescope?

Hubble is one of the longest-lived space telescopes so far, and it is also the only space telescope that was both launched and serviced by the Space Shuttle. None of the other telescopes have this legacy, the high-profile, or troubled history of Hubble’s intended successor: the James Web Space Telescope (JWST).

Even so, the mission profiles of these myriad other observatories are no less interesting, least of the many firsts accomplished recently such as a long-term moon-based telescope (Chang’e 3’s LUT) and those of the many upcoming and proposed missions. Let’s take a look at the space observatories many of us have never heard of.

Continue reading “More Than Just Hubble: The Space Observatories Filling The Skies Today And Tomorrow”

Portable Telescope Rolls Anywhere

Since Galileo began observing celestial objects with a telescope, an almost uncountable number of improvements have been made to his designs and methods. Telescopes can now view anything from radio waves to gamma waves, come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and some are also fairly accessible to hobbyists as well. In fact, several homemade telescopes are specifically designed for ease of use, portability, and minimum cost, like this portable ball telescope. (Google Translate from Italian)

The telescope was designed and built by [andrea console] and features a ball-shaped mount for the mirror which was built from a bowl. Ball designs like this are easier to orient than other telescopes since the ball allows for quick repositioning in any direction, but the main focus of this project was to investigate focal length with various accessories while also being as portable as possible. To that end, the mount for the eyepiece is on a lattice that assembles and disassembles quickly, and the ball and other equipment are easily packed. This makes transportation quick and easy and reduces weight compared to a more traditional, or even Dobsonian, telescope.

This build is impressive not just from having an extremely portable telescope, but also from [andrea console]’s documentation of the optics in his build. It includes some adjustable parts which can increase the magnification and has detailed notes on all of the finer points of its operation. The ball telescope is a popular build, and we’ve recently seen others made out of parts from IKEA as well.

Continue reading “Portable Telescope Rolls Anywhere”

A Milky Way Photo Twelve Years In The Making

Starting projects is easy. It’s the finishing part that many of us have trouble with. We can hardly imagine completing a project after more than a decade, but seeing the breathtaking results of [J-P Metsavainio]’s gigapixel composite image of our galaxy might just make us reconsider. The photograph, which we highly suggest you go check out in its full glory, has been in progress since 2009, features 1250 total hours of exposure time, and spans across 125 degrees of sky. It is simply spectacular.

Of course, it wasn’t an absolutely continuous effort to make this one image over those twelve years. Part of the reason for the extended time span is many frames of the mosaic were shot, processed, and released as their own individual pieces; each of the many astronomical features impressive in its own right. But, over the years, he’s filled in the gaps between and has been able to release a more and more complete picture of our galactic home.

A project this long, somewhat predictably, eventually outlives the technology used to create it. Up until 2014, [Metsavainio]’s setup included a Meade 12-inch telescope and some modified Canon optics. Since then, he’s used a dedicated equatorial mount, astrocamera, and a Tokina lens (again, modified) with an 11-inch Celestron for longer focal lengths. He processes the frames in Photoshop, accounting for small exposure and color differences and aligning the images based on background stars. He’s had plenty of time to get his process down, though, so the necessary tweaking is relatively minor.

Amateur astronomy is an awesome hobby, and the barrier to entry is lower than it might seem. You can get started on a budget with the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi or with the slightly less practical Game Boy Camera. And if you’re just interested in viewing the cosmos, there are options for building your own telescope as well.

[via PetaPixel]

DIY Telescope Courtesy Of IKEA

Some of the most expensive hobbies have some of the more ingenious hacks on display, generally to lower the cost of entry to various parts the hobby itself. Amateur astronomy has expensive, necessary equipment such as telescopes and other optics, but also has a large group of people willing to build their own gear out of some surprising materials rather than buy pre-built equipment.

One of the latest telescopes from [The Amateur Engineer] uses several bowls from IKEA to build the mirror mount. It’s a variation of a Portaball telescope, which is similar to a Dobsonian telescope except that it is much easier to adjust and point in any direction. This “Portabowl” telescope uses two bowls epoxied together and weighted at the bottom as the core of the build. The mirror mounts inside the ball, and some supports are attached to it to hold the eyepiece and mount. With some paint and some minor adjustments it’s ready to go stargazing.

There are a few improvements to this build planned for the future, such as the creation of a larger ball that will make operating the scope easier. All in all, though, it’s an excellent example of amateur astronomy even without needing to go as far as grinding one’s own mirrors.