Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

This is The End

October 27, 2013

Planck satellite turned off and placed in a graveyard orbit:

It will orbit the Sun for the foreseeable future which, in this case, is a very long time.

The science lives on.



Architecture and Physics

May 12, 2011

I’m going to be one of the speakers at a discussion on The City as Creative Energy at the Architectural Association tomorrow evening.

I think it’s an open even but check with the AA if you’re planning to come.

Beyond Entropy

February 27, 2010

I’m spending the weekend in Geneva at a meeting of the Beyond Entropy project. It’s all rather impressive. We had a tour round CERN today, and this evening we had brief discussions about what all of us do. I’ve discovered I’m spending the weekend with people who do such things as building soliton water sculptures or redesign the geography of The Netherlands. It makes me and my little science interests seem quite unimpressive, but these same people are impressed with what I do.

Which is all rather impressive in its own right.

Tomorrow we start to work out what we’re building for the Venice Biennale. Now that will be scary!

Othercoverage of Beyond Entropy can be found here and here.

New launch date finally confirmed!

April 28, 2009

Arianespace and ESA have this morning confirmed the new launch date as May 14th. The official press release is as follows:

“Now that additional checks on the Ariane 5 ECA launcher have been completed, Arianespace and ESA have set the launch date of Herschel and Planck for Thursday 14 May.

In the meantime, the preparation of the two satellites for launch continues flawlessly at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Herschel and Planck have already been fuelled with hydrazine. Planck’s three-stage active cryogenic cooler, needed to keep the instruments at extremely cold temperatures, has been filled with helium-3 and helium-4. Herschel’s cryogenic tanks are also being filled with superfluid helium.

Planck was also integrated with the Ariane 5 launcher, and is now waiting to be covered with the SYLDA element. This structure is needed to both encapsulate Planck during launch and to support the upper passenger – Herschel”.
Excellent news, as you might imagine! Herschel’s cryogenic tanks are now filled at about the 95% level, and we now await final integration with the Ariane. Heady days lie ahead!

Another launch date slip…. and the launch prep progress.

April 19, 2009

Bad news from ESA  last night…

“Arianespace has announced today a launch delay of a few days, originating from an incident during a qualification test sequence of elements of theupper stage performed in Europe, as this could effect the corresponding  hardware on our rocket.”

Annoying, but not much we can  do. Herschel itself is moving through its launch prep without any  issues:

Today the IRR for the Herschel CDMU OBSW update was held. The new software version, that has been fully validated on the AVM, contain some minor updates, which are not impacting the instrument interfaces at all. However, after implementation on the FM CDMU next Monday, all 3 Herschel instruments will be switched on by proven IST procedures, in order to demonstrate functionality.

– Helium top-up is on going (Currently pumping)

– Herschel move to BAF and follow-on activities will also be delayed by a few days”

So,  all we can do is wait for the new date – hopefully  the slip will  not be significant.

Counting down…

April 15, 2009

Herschel was fueled with hydrazine over the Easter weekend and it has now been mated with the rocket payload adaptor. It’s now being topped up with liquid helium and the helium is being pumped on to turn it into superfluid helium-II.

These are all things you only do when you’re very sure you’re going to launch. Among other things hydrazine is a really nasty chemical which you don’t mess with if you can possibly avoid it.

May 6th launch is thus looking pretty solid…

Herschel on the Sky At Night

April 2, 2009

A heads up for those in the UK – The Sky at Night is showing an episode dedicated to Herschel this Sunday:

It is repeated on BBC Four and on i-Player too. For non-UK readers, the programme should be available online on the BBC site regardless of where you are in the globe on the Sky At Night web site.

The Last-but-one Trip

February 24, 2009

Things have been quiet here for quite a while – probably too quiet for any of you reading this regularly! This is because we’ve had a punishing testing schedule to get Herschel and all its instruments ready  for launch on April 16, 2009.

But things are now changing, as Herschel has started its journey to orbit!

The first steps are always small ones – in this case into a crate and onto the back of a lorry for the trip from ESTEC in Noordwijk to Amsterdam airport and onto a giant Antonov transport plane.

Herschel in its crate being loaded onto the trasport plane

Herschel in its crate being loaded onto the trasport plane

The plane then flew to Cayenne airport in French Guiana and then transported to the launch centre at Kourou. This all happened in the middle of February and you can read more about it here.

Herschel is now going through a final battery of tests at the launch centre before it is joined by Planck and they are both integrated with the Arianne 5 launch vehicle ready for launch.

Herschel being tested at the launch centre.

Herschel being tested at the launch centre.

After the best part of a decade of preparation and development work, Herschel is finally happening – the next few months are going to be exciting and nail-biting for the Herschel team!

We’ve Created a Monster!

July 2, 2008

I’m currently at a meeting at ESTEC concerning Herschel observing programmes. A side feature of this was the first chance of very few to look at the whole Herschel satellite assembled and undergoing testing.

It’s utterly enormous! In some dimensions it’s bigger than a bus, but that’s pretty much the scale of the thing.

Pictures will follow, I promise.

Progress is measured in meetings

June 3, 2008

I’m currently attending a meeting for the Herschel SPIRE instrument control centre (SPIRE is one of the instruments on Herschel). Large international collaborations like the SPIRE instrument have a lot of meetings. Sometimes it seems that meetings are all that we do. But, in spite of that, we have come a very long way in the 7 years I’ve been working on Herschel. There’s a lot to be done, and not much time to do it since launch is rapidly approaching, but, taking a step back it’s clear that we’ve come a very long way. I remember meetings where we were deciding what to do in the most general possible way. Now we’re talking about what are really small details of implementation.

We have an instrument that basically works and data reduction software that essentially does it’s job. There are many i’s to dot and t’s to cross, and many more meetings to be held, but we are getting there.