Archive for European Space Agency

Can SpaceX save Euclid?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2022 by telescoper

A little over a month ago I posted a piece about the European Space Agency’s Euclid Mission which had been due to be launched in 2023 on a Soyuz ST 2-1b rocket. That no longer being possible because of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, it seemed there would be a lengthy delay in the launch of Euclid, with late 2024 seeming the earliest feasible date for launch on the obvious alternative, the new Ariane 6.

I ended that piece with this:

It seems to me that the best hope for a resolution of this problem would be for ESA to permit the launch of Euclid using something other than Ariane 6, which means using a vehicle supplied by an independent commercial operator. I sincerely hope ESA is able to come up with an imaginative solution to this very serious problem.

In the Dark, 17th June

I have heard various rumours since then but yesterday I saw a piece by Paris-based astronomer Henry Joy McCracken (a famous name in Ireland) that reveals that a proposal is being actively investigated to launch Euclid on a Falcon 9 rocket operated by Elon Musk’s outfit SpaceX. If all goes well it might be possible to launch Euclid by the end of 2023, and at a fraction of the cost of the alternative Ariane 6-2.

Setting aside any personal opinions about Elon Musk, the Falcon 9 has proved to be very reliable, with the latest version having 110 out of 110 successful launches. Euclid will not be in an Earth orbit, like most of the satellites so far launched by SpaceX, but has to be delivered to the 2nd Lagrange Point, L2. That should not pose to much of a difficulty.

As far as I understand it the decision whether or not this is feasible will be taken later this year after extensive engineering tests, especially to see how Euclid can cope with the spectrum of vibrations generated by Falcon 9. There’s no guarantee this will work out but it might just save a lot of money and a lot of careers.

Euclid Launch Concern

Posted in Politics, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on April 27, 2022 by telescoper

I saw the following picture on Twitter. It was taken during a talk at the annual Euclid Consortium Meeting (which I am not at) and it gives a not -very-optimistic update about the timescale for the launch of Euclid.

Picture Credit: Hervé Aussel

I thought a delay in the launch was inevitable as soon as news broke of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (see here) because the original plan was to launch on a Russian Soyuz vehicle. The subsequent decision by the Russians to remove all their personnel from the launch site at Kourou (see here) made these even more likely, although according to the slide not certain.

The basic problem is that Plan B involves launching Euclid on an Ariane 6 rocket (which comes in two varieties, Ariane62 and Ariane64, with two and four payloads boosters respectively). The problems are (a) that Ariane 6 is that it hasn’t yet had its first flight and (b) Euclid isn’t the only spacecraft having to find an alternative launcher. The competition from commercial and military satellites may mean a lengthy delay to the Euclid Launch unless lobbying succeeds at a political level, which is what the last lines of the slide are about.

Being one of life’s pessimists I think a long delay is the likeliest outcome, though this is not based on any specific knowledge at all about the discussions going on and I’d be delighted to be proved wrong. I am now however seriously wondering whether Euclid will be launched before I retire!

Merry JWSTmas!

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on December 25, 2021 by telescoper

Well it’s 10.20am on Christmas Day and I’ve got up specially early in order to be ready for the launch at 12.20pm today (Irish Time) of the James Webb Space Telescope from Kourou in French Guiana. The JWST project has been almost thirty years in the making and it is great that it is finally going to be heading into space. The launch however is just the start – JWST has a very complicated journey in front of it – as demonstrated by the following little video.

In particular, JWST should separate from the Ariane 5 launcher at about 27 minutes after takeoff so look out for that.

I have no direct personal involvement with JWST but I am still feeling a bit nervous. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have spent decades working on it. I know a great many astronomers around the world who are waiting anxiously and hoping all goes well. Fingers crossed!

If you want to watch the launch live you can do so on Youtube here:

You can find alternative viewing options here.

The launch window opens at 12.20 UTC and lasts for 31 minutes but I understand they’re going to launch as early as possible within that so it looks like we’re in for a launch before lunch rather than the other way round.

I’ll update with any news as the day goes on.

UPDATE: 12.28pm Launched right on time, everything nominal as JWST leaves Earth’s atmosphere propelled by Stage One of the Ariane 5.

UPDATE: 12.31pm Stage One jettisoned, Stage 2 ignition. All still nominal.

UPDATE: 12.48pm JWST has separated from the launch vehicle and is on its way. The solar panel is deployed and is working. The spectacular onboard video showing the separation of JWST from the Ariane 5 launch vehicle and the deployment of the solar panels was supplied by Irish company Réaltra.

P.S. I still think JWST should have had a different name.

JWST: Nice Telescope, Shame about the Name…

Posted in LGBT, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on October 17, 2021 by telescoper
The JWST deployable mirror undergoing tests

I heard last week that the ship carrying the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrived safely in French Guiana and is now being prepared for launch on an Ariane-5 rocket at the European Space Agency’s facility at Kourou. Since the telescope cost approximately $10 billion there was some nervousness it might have been hijacked by pirates on the way.

I’m old enough to remember JWST when it was called the Next Generation Space Telescope NGST); it was frequently discussed at various advisory panels I was on about 20 years ago. Although the basic concept hasn’t changed much – it was planned to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope working in the infrared and with a deployable mirror – at that time it was going to have an even bigger mirror than the 6.5m it ended up with, was going to be launched in or around 2010, and was to have a budget of around $600 million. About a decade ago cost overruns, NASA budget problems, and technical hitches led to suggestions that it should be cancelled. It turned out however that it was indeed too big too fail. Now it is set for launch in December total cost greater than ten times the original estimate.

I know many people involved in the JWST project itself or waiting to use it to make observations, and I’ll be crossing my fingers on launch day and for the period until its remarkable folding mirror is deployed about a fortnight later. I hope it goes well, and look forward to the celebrations when it does.

There is a big problem with JWST however and that is its name, which was changed in 2002 from the Next Generation Space Telescope to the James Webb Space Telescope after James E. Webb, a civil servant who was NASA’s chief administrator from 1961 to 1968.

It’s not uncommon for scientific space missions like this to be named after people once the proposal has moved off the drawing board and into serious planning. That happened with the European Space Agency’s Planck and Herschel to give two examples. In any case Next General Space Telescope was clearly never anything but a working title. Yet naming this important mission after a Government official always seemed a strange decision to me. Then news emerged that James Webb had enthusiastically cooperated in a McCarthyite purge of LGBT+ people working in government institutions, part of a wider moral panic referred to by historians as the Lavender Scare. There have been high-profile protests (see, e.g., here) and a petition that received over a thousand signatures, but NASA has ruled out any change of name.

The main reason NASA give is that they found no evidence that Webb himself was personally involved in discrimination or persecution. I find that very unconvincing. He was in charge, so had responsibility for what went on in his organization. If he didn’t know then why didn’t he know? Oh, and by the way, he didn’t have anything to do with infrared astronomy either…

It’s a shame that this fantastic telescope should have its image so tarnished by the adoption of an inappropriate name. The name is a symbol of a time when homophobic discrimination was even more prevalent than it is now, and as such will be a constant reminder to us that NASA seems not to care about the many LGBT+ people working for them directly or as members of the wider astronomical community.

P.S. As an alternative name I suggest the Lavender Scare Space Telescope (LSST)…

Memories of Philae

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 12, 2020 by telescoper

It seems that today is the sixth anniversary of the day (November 12th 2014) that the probe Philae, having detached from its parent spacecraft Rosetta, and subsequently landed successfully (ish) on the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

I didn’t realise it was so long ago, but who could forget the feeling of intense excitement we felt on that day as Philae approached its objective?

Not the Euclid Consortium Meeting

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on May 4, 2020 by telescoper

It’s a bright sunny Bank Holiday Monday and I’m here in my flat in Maynooth taking a coffee break before resuming work from home.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak started I had imagined that I’d be spending this week (or at least most of it) in Sitges near Barcelona for the annual Euclid Consortium Meeting which was planned to take place there. That has understandably been cancelled and replaced with a virtual meeting. Yet more Zoom sessions beckon…

Over the past weeks my workload has increased enormously but I’ve tried to clear the decks a little so I can tune in to some of the sessions but I won’t be able to make them all or even most.

I hope the virtual meeting goes well. Euclid is due to be launched in 2022 so time is getting short and there is much preparatory work still to do.

Well, talking of work I better get back to it! The first plenary is not until this afternoon and I’ve lots to do before then.

I wonder if normality will have returned in time for there to be a Euclid Consortium Meeting next year?

The Gaia video!

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on October 24, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve blogged quite a few times about the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission (see this tag). Social media brought this nice new video to my attention this morning so I couldn’t resist adding it to the collection. I don’t think it accompanies any new data release or scientific results but it’s very impressive anyway!

The Comet – The Video!

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 14, 2019 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist sharing this remarkable video about the rendezvous and subsequent landing of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft on the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko 67P. You can find a few posts I did about this at the time (2014) here. Here’s one of the memorable from one of those posts:


Anyway, after the end of the mission, in 2017, the European Space Agency released over 400,000 images from Rosetta, based on which Christian Stangl and Wolfgang Stangl worked together to create this short film. The sequences are digitally-enhanced versions of real pictures taken by the Rosetta Probe and they’re stunning!

Euclid Updates

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on June 17, 2019 by telescoper

Following the Euclid Consortium Meeting in Helsinki a couple of weeks ago, here are a couple of updates.

First, here is the conference photograph so you can play Spot The Telescoper:

(The picture was taken from the roof of the Finlandia Hall, by the way, which accounts for the strange viewpoint.

The other update is that the European Space Agency has released a Press Release releasing information about the location on the sky of the planned Euclid Deep Fields. Here they are (marked in yellow):

These deep fields amount to only about 40 square degrees, a small fraction of the total sky coverage of Euclid (~15,000 square degrees), but the Euclid telescope will point at them multiple times in order to detect very faint distant galaxies at enormous look-back times to study galaxy evolution. It is expected that these fields will produce several hundred thousand galaxy images per square degree…

Selecting these fields was a difficult task because one has to avoid bright sources in both optical and infrared (such as stars and zodiacal emission) so as not to mess with Euclid’s very sensitive camera. Roberto Scaramella gave a talk at the Helsinki Meeting showing how hard it is to find fields that satisfy all the constraints. The problem is that there are just too many stars and other bits of rubbish in the sky getting in the way of the interesting stuff!


For much more detail see here.


Notes from Euclid 2019

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on June 4, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve just had my breakfast so I thought I’d do a quick post before the start of play on of the 2019 Euclid Consortium Meeting in Helsinki. Previous Euclid Consortium meetings were held in: Bologna (2011); Copenhagen (2012); Leiden (2013); Marseille (2014); Lausanne (2015); Lisbon (2016); London (2017); and Bonn (2018). I’ve only attended the last two: I was non-Euclidean before that.

Finlandia Hall

The venue is the Finlandia Hall, which looks splendid from the outside. I passed it during my stroll yesterday afternoon just so I could be sure where it is. It’s easy to find as it is very central and on the edge of a lake next to a major thoroughfare (Mannerheimintie). . I arrived yesterday to beautiful sunny weather but that has changed – it is pouring down as I write this, with thunder and lightning to boot. I don’t have to leave the Hotel for an hour or so, however, so perhaps it will have passed. There’s no sign of that just yet but I brought a brolly, and it’s only 15 minutes away from the Hotel on foot.

According to the web page there are 408 participants at the last count. I expect there’ll be quite a few people I know here but I haven’t met any yet. The Euclid Consortium has well over a thousand members, but obviously they’re not all here this week. I seem still to be the only representative of Ireland.

There’s a nice webpage showing all the institutions around the world who belong to the consortium behind the European Space Agency’s Euclid Mission. Here’s a screen grab that shows all the logos of all the institutions involved in this very large Consortium:

There are so many that it’s hard to see them all, but if you look very closely about half way down, among the Ms, you will see Maynooth University among them. Ireland is a member state of the European Space Agency, by the way.

Top tips for participants include not to tip:

Here is the latest timeline for the Euclid mission: launch around June 2022 followed by six years of operations.

If you want to follow on Twitter the relevant hashtag is #Euclid2019.