Friends, Cassini is currently using not one, not two, not three, but FOUR Deep Space Network ground stations for an experiment. You can watch this happening here until about 15:40 BST.

This is so cool.
As many of you know, I work on the Cassini mission as an operations engineer and have done for over a decade.

Tomorrow is the spacecraft’s final close flyby (T126) of Saturn’s moon Titan.

Just to put this into perspective for you, this may be the last time in decades that we get anywhere near Titan. There are no missions to Saturn or its most interesting* moons, Titan and Enceladus, currently funded or being built. That means there’s a minimum of ten years before a new mission could be launched. Given that the transit time to Saturn is, at a minimum, seven years and on average more like ten, that’s two decades until we can repeat Cassini’s observations.

Cassini’s impending demise makes me sad, of course, but what bothers me even more is the lack of continuity in our exploration of our solar system.

You can read the details of tomorrow’s Cassini’s observations on the NASA-JPL press release here. It includes an animation of the flyby over the surface, from the perspective of the spacecraft.

* “most interesting” being ever so slightly subjective, of course
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Mar. 6th, 2017 10:22 pm)
[Deliberately low-resolution screenshot of my desktop with the short form of one of the design runs.]

Today I submitted, for my line manager's scrutiny, the final set of pointing designs that I will ever do for the Cassini spacecraft. These commands will execute in late August/early September.

Pointing design has been one of my favourite instrument operations tasks for ten years. I am quite sad that it's leaving my repertoire.

(I would be going off to have a whisky now, but since the toddler came home today after four explody nappies due to a gastrointestinal bug that's doing the rounds at nursery, I will instead be trying to get some other work done as he's banned from the nursery for 48 hours. And thus is melancholy tempered by necessity.)
nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Nov. 2nd, 2016 04:55 pm)
Leiden Centraal to Noordwijk
A selfie I took on the bus from Leiden Centraal to Noordwijk. The bus takes about 45 minutes, so most people opt for a taxi when they’re visiting ESTEC. I like the bus, though. It’s a really pretty route through the city and out into the countryside. Plus, it only costs 4 euros.

While I’m on the subject of space agencies, here are a few links.

  • Want to holiday like an Elder God? Try these lethal exoplanet destinations! Galaxy of Horrors (h/t to [personal profile] redsixwing)

  • For a more soothing experience, you can watch a mildly animated page of the Deep Space Network stations uplinking and downlinking data from different spacecraft. I sometimes do this. I mean, I have a PDF with all the scheduled DSN passes for Cassini, but let’s face it, this is much prettier. Eyes on the DSN.

  • And finally, in Geeky Space Swag news, the Rosetta mission shop has been updated with new shirts and hoodies that include the cartoon spacecraft from the “Once Upon a Time” video series about the mission. Best of all, you can get your mitts on a cuddly/plushy toy of Rosetta and Philae, or donate one to be sent to a primary school.

This ESA Rosetta mission shirt is only sold at the ESRIN site in Frascati, Italy. I call it the "Welcome to the gun show" shirt because I suspect its very form-fitting cut and perfunctory sleeves were designed for a svelte Italian man with large biceps to swan around on his scooter in his aviators. I'm better at eating gelato than hitting the gym regularly, so I'm afraid my guns aren't quite up to the task.

Anyway, I've been a bit busy lately what with updating several hundred requirements in our database (complete!) and submitting a grant application on behalf of the artist I'm hoping will be able to join me in January to document the final months of the Cassini mission (also complete!). Additionally, I acquired a new phone. I don't know what it is about new gizmos. Somehow even though it's running the same OS and is the same brand, just a bit bigger and faster, it has turned my fingers into hams and it's taken me the better part of two days to not be afraid to touch the damn thing. This was not helped by me forgetting which Google account I'd used to create my Pokémon Go account, logging in with the wrong one, and immediately being devastated to find I was back at Level 1. Eventually I figured out what had gone wrong, but not before a lot of lip-wobbling and wibbling unhappily at the bloke. I caught a Clefairy at Birmingham New Street station this morning, so I'm almost reconciled to the brief period of unnecessary mourning.

I decided not to port my Neko Atsume game data over from my old phone either, so I'm starting again from the beginning. AND I now have space to install The Room 3. WIN.

[Cassini swag: 3 lithographs, a Grand Finale flyer, bookmarks, postcards, NASA stickers, Ring World DVD, info cards for Saturn/Titan/Enceladus/Iapetus]

A couple of weeks ago, I contacted JPL to ask to replenish my supplies of backlit Saturn lithographs. I was put in contact with a new outreach person, who promptly sent me a list (a list!) of available outreach materials, the existence of which I had not previously been aware. I looked at the list and said yes please, one of everything if that's not too greedy. I was expecting not to get all of it.

I was wrong. Earlier this week I received a message from Stores saying, "You have a package waiting for you." I dashed down excitedly to pick up my box. The Stores person looked at me and laughed. "You're going to need a trolley."

I don't have the time at present to assemble swag packs for people, but I can send out the postcards (on the lower right in the photo). They have a good deal of information on the back, so any message from me will be quite short. Would you like one? If so, please fill out the poll below. The answers are visible only to me. Alternatively, you can DM me. ([personal profile] emelbe & [ profile] imyril: you do not need to fill out the poll.)

Poll #17283 Cassini postcards
This poll is closed.
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: Just the Poll Creator, participants: 15

I would like a Cassini postcard, please! Here is an address where it will reach me.

ETA 01/02/2016: I've closed the poll because I've run out of stamps! All the cards requested via poll response or DM on DW have been sent.

After this term is over I'll do another postcard round, and there will also be swag packs on offer although I'll have to be more selective with those or the postage could get prohibitively expensive.
The last of the press releases I was waiting for to make Announcements About Space came out yesterday so I can now write my Post of Great Happiness.

  1. The European Space Agency's Cluster mission, studying the Earth's plasma environment and interaction with the heliosphere, has been extended from 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2016. This is the mission's seventh extension - the original mission began at the start of 2001 and was scheduled to last for two years. It is both astonishing and wonderful that all four spacecraft have lasted this long and continue to return such a rich seam of results. The quartet of spacecraft, flying in a tetrahedral formation, have gradually been approaching closer and closer to Earth, exploring different regions of the magnetosphere. It will be years, probably decades, before the potential of the data can be said to have been mined exhaustively.

    The instrument I work on (the magnetometer) is fully operational on all four spacecraft. A couple of years ago, I calculated that I'd personally inspected tens of millions of magnetic field vectors. I suspect that number may have since entered the hundreds of millions.

  2. Support for the European instruments aboard the joint NASA-ESA Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn has been approved by ESA's Science Programme Committee. Cassini is scheduled to take its final plunge into Saturn's atmosphere in late 2017. The magnetometer (our instrument) is still going strong.

  3. Other missions that I don't work on personally, but know people who do, also had two-year extensions approved: INTEGRAL, Mars Express, PROBA-2, SOHO, XMM-Newton, Hinode and HST. So many different types of exciting science!

    Also, holy long-lasting spacecraft, Batman. Cluster is far from the most venerable. SOHO was launched in 1995 and went into operation, observing the Sun, in 1996. The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990. 1990. I hadn't the faintest inkling that I would end up becoming a scientist in 1990. /o\

  4. Finally, the really big one. The JUICE mission to the Jupiter system, which will be the first spacecraft to orbit one of the Galilean moons (Ganymede), has been formally adopted by the agency. This means we are now allowed to leave the design phase, wherein our spacecraft and instruments exist only on paper (lots and LOTS of paper), and enter the implementation phase, wherein we begin to Build Things. I am both proud and excited to be a part of one of the instrument teams.

And now, I must go and rescue my pumpkin and pecan pies from beneath the noses of bloke and cat, for we are celebrating American Thanksgiving tomorrow.
Poll #16119 Space mission publicity
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 38

I have heard of the following missions independently from your journal.

View Answers

Cassini-Huygens (NASA-ESA mission: spacecraft currently in orbit around Saturn)
29 (85.3%)

JUICE (ESA mission: future spacecraft, to orbit Jupiter and the Galilean moons)
9 (26.5%)

Cluster (ESA mission: set of 4 spacecraft currently studying Earth's space plasma environment)
9 (26.5%)

Rosetta (ESA mission: spacecraft orbiting a comet, soon to release a lander)
29 (85.3%)

I would not have heard about these missions if I didn't read your journal.

View Answers

Cassini-Huygens (NASA-ESA mission: spacecraft currently in orbit around Saturn)
8 (25.8%)

JUICE (ESA mission: future spacecraft, to orbit Jupiter and the Galilean moons)
26 (83.9%)

Cluster (ESA mission: set of 4 spacecraft currently studying Earth's space plasma environment)
25 (80.6%)

Rosetta (ESA mission: spacecraft orbiting a comet, soon to release a lander)
7 (22.6%)

I keep up with space science news through various media channels.

View Answers

Yes, pretty regularly
12 (32.4%)

Only when it hits the headlines
25 (67.6%)

It's not really my thing
0 (0.0%)

nanila: (tachikoma: celebratory)
( Nov. 3rd, 2014 07:25 pm)
My boss has been awarded a Royal Society Research Professorship!

The blurb for the fellowship says: "This scheme is for world-class scientists who would benefit from a period of long-term support to allow them to focus on research and collaboration based at an institution in the UK." Appointments are made for up to ten years (usually the full amount).

And my boss said:
“I am very excited to have been awarded a Royal Society Research Professorship,” said Professor Dougherty. “It will enable me to focus on the fantastic science which my instrument onboard Cassini will produce during the final 3 years of orbit around Saturn, as well as plan the instrument design and science we will do with the JUICE mission to orbit Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon.”


[PS Her appointment brings the grand total of female persons currently holding an RS Research Professorship to three (out of 17).]
A long and difficult week is ending on a positive note!

The Royal Astronomical Society has awarded the Cassini Magnetometer (MAG) team a Group Achievement Award in geophysics.

From the awards announcement:

The Magnetometer has been one of the most successful instruments aboard the spacecraft, continuously returning data about the fields in the peri-kronian environment, through the ringed planet’s bow shock and magnetopause and deep inside its magnetosphere. One of the key findings of Cassini – and one of the most unexpected and scientifically challenging – was that the small, icy moon Enceladus is pouring a jet of water into Saturn’s magnetosphere. This finding is a direct result of the efforts of the Magnetometer Team and its Principal Investigator, Professor Michele Dougherty.

From Prof. Dougherty* on the Imperial web site news item:

I am very honoured that the Cassini magnetometer team has been recognised by the RAS in this way. It is been an extremely rich and rewarding experience to work closely with such a fantastic group of scientists and engineers** from the magnetometer team, other Cassini instrument teams and the Cassini Project. I look forward to continuing the very fruitful collaboration we’ve all had in the remaining 4-years of the mission at Saturn.

* That's my boss!
** That's me! \o/