Satellites showing off…

Several satellites, past, present and future, have been showing off their abilities, looks and talents.

The Japanese Hayabusa is a satellite well past its sell by date. Nearly half a decade after coming a cropper in its efforts to retrieve material from the asteroid Itokawa, long after exhausting its fuel reserves and shortly after losing all ion engines, the small craft is on its way home after technicians on the ground linked components from two engines together to synthesise a single working one. Now the spacecraft has managed to use this to point its way toward the planet. Two more burns of the engine are expected – one on the 6th of June to point it at Australia, rather than just the general direction of the Earth, and a second to point it in a way that will allow the canister potentially (but not likely to) containing samples from the asteroid to plummet to Earth, slowed by parachutes, marking the first ever asteroid return mission. More details here.

The XMM-Newton X-ray Space Telescope has been showing off a new mosaic mode that allows it to build up images of areas of the sky larger than its camera field of view much more rapidly than before. The first observations using this including a look at two new galaxy clusters that shine in the x-ray, SPT-CL J2332-5358 and SPT-CL J2342-5411. These clusters were also discovered in data from the South Pole Telescope, which looked at the Cosmic Microwave Background. Interactions between CMB photons and the plasma of the clusters alter their energy, meaning they don’t appear in images taken at their original wavelength, producing shadows – this is the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich Effect. The optical signal was found to be buried in the Blanco Cosmology Survey, providing redshifts and other associated data. The full story is in this ESA press release.

Meanwhile future space probe, the James Webb Infrared Space Telescope has had a mock-up on display in New York City for the World Science Festival, 2010. More details here and a timelapse of the thing being put together is below (from its Youtube Channel):

…and why might these things be putting on a show? Well, perhaps its the competition from airborne telescopes like SOFIA, which has been in the news. Its first light image of Jupiter is here.


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