Getting ready to roll…

Quite a few things are limbering up for a launch of one kind or another.

The James Webb Space Telescope isn’t due to set off until 2014, however, the various bits and pieces are to be tested to make sure they’ll survive the ordeal of living in space. The various segments of the 6.5m mirror have been cooled to 25K, or -248C, to see how they react to the cold. Changes in the material as it shrinks need to be accounted for when the mirror is smoothed, since this is the temperature that the mirror will be operating at.

A glimpse into the making of the Herschel Space Telescope’s 3.5m mirror has been revealed by ESA. Herschel’s mirror, despite being larger than the Hubble Space Telescope’s 2.5m mirror, is a third of the mass, all thanks to a small company in France.

The various parts of the Ariane 5 rocket that will launch from Arianespace, ESA’s spaceport, are in the process of being assembled. Flight V197 is expected to blast off on the 4th of August.

Back in 1996, the Cassini probe, now sending back great stuff from Saturn, underwent preflight testing. This image gives an idea of the size of the device compared to a man in a boiler suit. I cannot guarantee that this is an average sized man in a boiler suit as he was chosen for his working capacity rather than illustrative purposes. Actually, I can’t even guarantee it is a man.

Something else not a man and provided for illustrative purposes is this mockup of Robonaut 2, enjoying a moment in the limelight with some passing students.

Another picture is this one of Professor Brian Cox demonstrating something about protons in the upcoming Wonders of the Universe series, which will be the sequel to Wonders of the Solar System.

With several new rovers setting their robotic eyes on the red planet, researchers are determined to find a good place to stick them. One possible site has reared its head, looking rather like a site in Australia known for preserving the most ancient evidence of primitive life on Earth. Nili Fossae shares many features with Pilbara in North-West Australia. The rocks are ancient, a considerable fraction of their planet’s age, and mineralogically very similar. In Pilbara, ancient microbes left signatures in the rocks called stromatolites that could be identified today, it is possible that if there were early life on Mars a similar process could also have left its mark. The site has been delisted as a possible landing place for the Curiosity rover as the rocky terrain doesn’t lend itself to landing. But other rovers are heading that way and it is possible that one may venture over to see it.

…and finally, one big thing getting a big launch is the twitter Meteorwatch (have I mentioned this before?). The trailer for the Meteorwatch, which will see people in their thousands viewing the Perseid meteor shower during the peak days of the 11th-14th of August, communicating their awe, questions, videos, observations and pictures over the website twitter, has been released over youtube and is visible below. The hope is that if the entire world watches over the course of a few nights, someone might catch a break in the clouds.


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