ATV 5 – Georges Lemaître. 1 Week until undocking

It’s just 1 week until the 5th and final Automated Transfer Vehicle built by Airbus Defence and Space, undocks from the ISS.

ATV 5, named Georges Lemaître, provided the ISS with a rare de-boost last week, bring the orbit down by approximately 1km.

A lower orbit slightly increases the (already tiny) drag exerted by the wisps of atmosphere on the ISS and, therefore, also increases the decay of the ISS orbit. This allows the visiting vehicles (Progress, SpaceX, Cygnus, &etc.) to bring up a heavier load.

It is the first time that an ATV has been used to decrease the altitude; usually, on the contrary, ATV propulsive support is used to lift the orbit due to the regular decay (around 1 or 2 km per month). To allow this manoeuvre, the ISS has been turned 180 degrees so that the ATV, docked to the rear, is in front of the other modules with its thrusters directed opposite to the Station’s velocity vector.

(EDIT: ATV-1 did conduct a similar ‘retro’ burn in 2008, as part of a debris avoidance manoeuvre)

ATV 5 will undock carrying solid and liquid waste from the ISS, and burn up in the atmosphere two weeks later.


And don’t forget, the ATV platform is the basis for the new Service Module on NASA’s Orion Spacecraft!


Crash Course in Astronomy

I’m a big fan of Phil Plait. I follow his Bad Astronomy blog here, and his debunking of Moon landing hoax theories are second to none.

He has just released episode one of his new on-line video series, Crash Course Astronomy.

Phil says “I’m not gonna lie to you: I’m pretty happy about this. It was a lot of fun to write, and a lot of fun to film it. I hope y’all like it.”

So here you go, episode 1! Enjoy!

Astro Pi needs you!

Blog followers, help me get the word out about Astro Pi!

Sign up for the mailing list at the official website here, follow Astro Pi on Twitter, and check out the Facebook page!

Tell your friends, teachers, students and parents about the competition to write code to fly in space!

Testing Astro Pi to fly on the ISS will start soon, follow it’s progress on-line!


Go Falcon 9 and Dragon!

Today, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon supply capsule to the ISS.

Replay of launch below.

(Skip forward to 15 minutes for the launch, and 32 minutes for the deployment of the solar panels and a spectacular sunrise)

During this flight, SpaceX will attempt the precision landing of a Falcon 9 first stage for the first time, on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an unanchored ocean platform is significantly more challenging.

The odds of success are not great—perhaps 50% at best. However this test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage.

Early reports are that it made it down, but a landed hard.

Still an impressive show.

Well done!

London Classic Car Show 2015

I have just got back from the London Classic Car Show.

What’s that got to do with space?

Well, James May has an exhibition of cars that changed the world, one of which is Airbus Defence and Space’ prototype Mars rover, Bruno.

This evening he was there to unveil the exhibit, and I was kindly invited to attend.

I managed to have a chat with James about the Raspberry Pi and the Astro Pi project. He told me he has a Raspberry Pi at home, and he asked me a few start up technical questions, which now, I hope, means he will actually use it!

I also managed to talk to F1 car designer Adrian Newey, TV presenter Jake Humprey and former F1 driver David Coulthard!

They all signed an Astro Pi mini poster!



Merry Christmas – From me and the crew of Apollo 8

December 21st 1968, Apollo 8 launched from Florida carrying the first humans to leave Earth and head for the Moon.

Only the third launch of the Saturn V rocket, and the first manned, the mission was not to land, but to orbit the moon, testing the spacecraft, the navigation, mission control, and the astronauts on board.

Astronauts, Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans to directly see the far side of the moon.

On Christmas Eve they read the fist 10 verses from the Book of Genesis from lunar orbit.

They also took the famous “earth rise” photo, shown blow in the correct orientation.



Merry Christmas, to all of you on the good Earth.