August is, apparently, the season for Certificates of Appreciation in spacecraft engineering!

First up is the one for Solar Orbiter.
This has an image of the spacecraft approaching the Sun in the upper right corner. It reads, “This certificate recognises the significant contribution of [nanila] to the development of the magnetometer instrument on the Solar Orbiter spacecraft. In recognition of this contribution, your name will be carried within the memory of the magnetometer instrument on its voyage to explore the Sun and the inner solar system.” It’s signed by the instrument PI (Principal Investigator) and instrument manager (my fantastic colleague and labmate Helen).

My name’s going to the Sun! (TBH I’m glad it’s just name. It’s a bit...lethal-radiation-y out there.)

Second is the one from Rosetta.
This as, as its backdrop, a stunning close-up image of Comet 67P taken by the OSIRIS instrument. There’s a sketched Rosetta spacecraft in the upper left corner, and a sketched Philae in the lower right. It reads, “European Space Agency presents this certificate to [nanila] in recognition of your outstanding contribution to the ESA Rosetta Mission.” It’s signed by the Director of Science at ESA, the Rosetta Mission Manager and the Rosetta Project Scientist.

Finally, here’s an old one from the Cluster and Double Star anniversaries.
This one has an image of the Sun and the Earth (not to scale), as well as the Earth’s magnetic field in blue. The four Cluster spacecraft are in formation at the bottom right and the two Double Star spacecraft are closer to the Earth. Also not to scale (“These are small and those are far away”).

The certificate reads “Cluster 15th and Double Star 10th anniversary. ESA and NSSC present this certificate to [nanila] in recognition of your outstanding contribution to the Cluster and Double Star missions.” It’s signed by the Chinese National Space Science Center director, the Cluster & Double Star project scientist and the Director of Science & Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency.

The Cluster mission is now in its 17th year since the commissioning phase ended and still going strong. The Double Star spacecraft are no longer operational.

I’ve worked on the Cluster mission since 2006.
[Image of a fluxgate magnetometer in its housing with its frayed MLI-coated cable curled round it. The destroyed connectors can be seen. The whole assembly is sitting on top of an antistatic envelope. The sensor housing reads: "CLUSTER-FGM SENSOR 08 FM1", where FM means "flight model".]

I gave an outreach talk at an open day this morning, to about a hundred A-level students, their parents and their teachers. The talk was focused on the Cassini end-of-mission science, but I managed to sneak in this bit of space history when explaining what a magnetometer does.

The fluxgate in the photo above actually went into space for a few brief seconds. It got about 5 km up before it was unceremoniously returned to the Earth. The Ariane 5 rocket that launched the spacecraft whose payload it was part of had exploded, showering the swamps of French Guiana with wreckage.

This sensor sat in that swamp for a good few weeks before a French Foreign Legionnaire fished it out.

I'm afraid that being blown up and mouldering in a tropical pond was, in fact, enough to kill it, but it's still a pretty cool object, and the students seemed to like seeing it very much.
Tenerife balcony
Me in another dress, on my balcony. Did I mention I only brought dresses to wear at this meeting? YAY DRESSES.

The Operations Review is over. I have completed one presentation. Tomorrow, the Cross-Calibration meeting begins, and I do my second presentation.

I have been running on the beach before the dawn both mornings so far. I have eaten ALL THE THINGS because this resort is all-inclusive with the food and the drinks. I have been swimming in, and lounging by, the pool with my fellow lady engineer/programmer/scientist colleagues. I have done a great deal of work, including some on-the-fly analysis that I've just put into tomorrow's presentation. I'm feeling accomplished.

It just might be rum o'clock.

I'm in Tenerife for, believe it or not, work. I had to arrive a day early because the first instrument team talk on Monday morning is mine.

So this is me after a long Skype conversation with my family, standing on the balcony outside my ridiculously-outsized-for-one-person room, breathing deeply.
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%)

I've spent the last few days at a meeting in the new Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Goettingen, Germany. The building itself is pretty impressive, particularly the entrance hall, and the Philae lander model merited a selfie.

Details. )

One additional awesome thing about the new Institute: There's a full-time creche (daycare) inside the building. Not just on the University campus. In the building. And the Institute's on-site library includes a children's section. Apparently there are a lot of female scientists who, when the Institute moved from its old site in Lindau, suddenly decided it was time to start a family. Interesting, no? <dry>
As you may have noticed, I spent most of last week in Italy. I’d never been to Italy previously. Even though it was a work trip, it was still hugely enjoyable.

ESRIN is the European Space Agency centre for Earth observation. It has quite an impressive entrance and some very swish office buildings, but not a lot in the way of otherwise space-y accoutrements. Because let’s face it, what we all want when we visit space agency centres are awesome spacecraft models and big dishes. ESRIN has none of the former and only one of the latter.

What it lacks in visible space gizmos and decent WiFi ESRIN makes up for with a fantastic canteen and rather good coffee. The canteen brought to mind the episode of “Spaced” in which Brian takes Twist to view an exhibition of white paintings. The first puzzle you have to solve is which of the white cubicles along the entrance hall might hold the (white) trays and (white) napkins. Next, you must work out which of the white stands artfully arranged in the white interior is concealing the drinks refrigerator, which the salad bar and which the pasta. When you’ve sorted this out, you walk to the white register to pay the white-clad cashier. It’s as much participatory performance art as it is lunch.

ESRIN’s one big dish.

More from ESRIN )

Frascati by day
Frascati is on a hill. A very steep hill. The hotel we were staying in was very nice, but it was also at the bottom of the hill. To get to the centre of the old town once the day’s business was done, we had to climb the hill. This was perhaps for the best, as the evening meals tended to be long and involved.

Frascati by day )

Frascati by night
One of the best things about participating in this particular well-established space mission is that everyone gets on really well. When it comes time for the evening meal, almost the entire quorum gathers to eat together. And we’re not talking about a quick bite in a pizzeria. No. We’re talking about a three hour, minimum-three-course session with wine, followed by gelato (since we were in Italy) and drinks at a bar. I’m grateful to have worked on this mission for so long. Our team delivers our data on time and have done for years. I can sincerely say that I put the effort in not just from professional pride, but out of love.

The fetish pig from the photo meme post resides in this restaurant.

Gluttony )

I’m looking forward to seeing all these faces again in Madrid in June, when we have our Operations Review.
nanila: wrong side of the mirror (me: wrong side of the mirror)
( Jun. 19th, 2013 08:41 am)
Earlier this month I was in Madrid for a meeting at ESAC, the European Space Astronomy Centre. It's actually about a half-hour drive from the centre of Madrid in the hilly countryside, since putting big satellite dishes in the middle of a city is generally neither wise nor effective.

ESAC is a much smaller site than ESTEC (in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, where I was at the end of May) and is less restrictive about on-site photography since little (or possibly no, I'm not sure) hardware development takes place there. Hence, pictures of dishes and spacecraft models!

One big dish and one small dish nestled amongst the trees at ESAC.

More dishes & spacecraft models )

My hotel room was on the seventh floor, so I had some rather nice views over the city from my window.

At dawn.

One more. )

After the meeting, the correct course of action was to go out for tapas and beer.

Scientists and beer. They haven't had much beer yet and are still looking a bit serious.

Things get sillier. )
This is not the most important thing that I learned at the 15th Cross-Calibration meeting for the Cluster Active Archive earlier this week, but it is the funniest.

"We're going to Nice for the next meeting? Nice is full of dog shit. And people on scooters, riding on the pavements. So you have to walk with one eye on the pavement and one eye pointing straight ahead. By the end of the week, you have eyestrain. Or you smell of dog shit. Or you're in hospital because you've been run down by some jerk on a scooter."

--A Highly Respected Space Physicist