To boldly go where (nearly) no Brit has gone before

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When I met Major Tim Peake two years ago he was pretty unsure about his chances of getting to the International Space Station. While Britain contributes to the European Space Agency’s €4,000,000,000 budget we’ve never poured money into its manned spaceflight programme and the countries that do haven’t exactly been keen for us to get time in space for free.

Nevertheless a monumental lobbying effort on behalf of the UK Space Agency appears to have paid off. And the fact that there will be a Brit on board the Space Station for five months in 2015 is literally one of the most important things to happen to British space science for years.

Contrary to popular belief we Brits do ‘do space’. We have a growing small satellite industry, plans for a revolutionary launch system and our space industry contributes around £9billion to the UK economy. But nothing has the power to capture the general public like seeing someone like us floating about up there.

Someone suffering from #Britishastronautproblems, no tea bags till the next supply ship arrives, lending another astronaut some change for the space vending machine and being too awkward to ask for it back before, or having the entire plot of his favourite American drama spoiled by Twitter before someone can beam it up to space.

On a serious note though, if Tim Peake could be half as successful as the recently landed Commander Chris Hadfield he could inspire a whole generation of Brits to take up a science, or consider going into engineering or even just realise that the International Space Station exists, and people live there and it’s so big you can see it with your own eyes if you look in the right direction at the right time. I’ve heard he can play the guitar, so that’s a start.

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Today is just the start to Tim’s journey, so do yourself a favour and follow him on Twitter. Live his journey from today’s press conference in the Science Museum; to the moment he climbs into a rocket in a freezing desert in the middle of Kazakhstan and long after he lands back on earth almost half a year later. He’s soon to become a member of a very select club, but as the first Brit to do it, he’s going to be taking us all with him.

The interview i did with Tim Peake two years ago (here if you’re on a mobile):

Have you heard the one about the Isle of Wight Space Program?

It’s one of those funny little facts that not many people know. The UK used to have a government funded satellite launcher program and we tested rockets on the Isle of Wight.

And this Friday marked 40 years since Prospero, the only British built satellite to launch on a British built rocket began it’s adventure on space. So I (along with several otheer people) went for a bit of an adventure with some fellow space geeks to the it’s birth place..

The Black Knight program was very basic, a stumbling into the world of space exploration compared to the work of some of our American cousins and it was cancelled almost immediately after Prospero completed it’s first orbit but for many it was the start of a long career in various aerospace industries. And if you want to hear their thoughts listen below…
 

This will be start of a series of posts about the secret UK space industry, as i’m just about to start working on a radio documentary all about it. So if you thought space is only about NASA and Space Shuttles, prepare to be proved wrong.

Rockets, satellites and tours of the VAB

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It’s been a big weekend for the European Space Agency. After years of planning, building and logistics a Soyuz rocket finally lifted off from ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana.

This is the beginning of something big. It’s also the realisation of a dream ESA has had for a long time. And turning the colonial piece of land first but together by the French on their own into the European equivalent of Florida’s Space Coast.

It means that Europe can now launch the worlds more reliable rocket (as long as we buy them off the Russians) and we can begin to build our competitor to America’s GPS system.

Galileo, I case you haven’t heard, is meant to create a global positioning system more accurate than the current GPS system and could lead to technologies such as ‘cars driving themselves’ to become a reality.

It also means that if the US Army ever decides to turn their system off for whatever reason we might all still be able to find our way to our Nan’s house without bringing out the A to Z.

Unfortunately while it’s taken years to get a couple of satellites up into space it’s going to take even longer to complete the set and get to the point where devices are available to buy that can receive their signals. And until that happens the whole scheme is a little pointless.

Good on ESA for having the vision to expand our spaceport, but until I see some humans riding those Soyuz rockets it’s all a little boring.

P.S. nice little add on. This tweet dropped down this evening…

I went around the VAB earlier this year and that tweet means the tourists to KSC next month are going to get an amazing treat!

Amazing Space Shuttle engine photo

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The shuttles are well on their way to being museum pieces. And I thought I’d just blog this nice little piece posted up by NASA’s @nasakennedy twitter account.

These are all the shuttle engines together for in one place for the first and final time.

They also posted up some nice little stats about those famous engines

If you’re a bit geeky about the shuttle decommissioning, or still mourning it’s loss make sure you’re following that account.

Abandon Ship?

And it’s all because of this…

If the news of the loss of a Progress supply ship wasn’t bad enough ISS controllers are now staring a the possibility of leaving the space station unmanned for the first time since humans starting living up there. This would be a massive set back to the world of human space flight and fill newspapers and news bulletins with negative headlines about how the world’s space agencies really up to the job so soon after the media outlets mourned the end of the Space Shuttle.

Part of the problem of an abandonment of the ISS is also linked to the mildly racist view of the Russian’s involvement in the station by some of our American cousins. Some people have been so wrapped up in the Space Shuttle they haven’t learnt about how vital the Russian’s are and what their technology looks like. Shall we change that courtesy of Space.com?

The grounding of the Soyuz rocket can only be a good thing, they’ve got to make sure it’s safe before we stick humans on the top again. Because we’re very lucky there weren’t humans involved this time.But if the station does have to be empty at Christmas it’ll be full again before you know it. After all one failure in the rocket’s entire history sounds more like bad luck rather than a systematic problem.

Annoyingly it might push back some of the private companies wanting to launch cargo to the station before the end of the year. But it’s a price worth paying if we save astronaut’s lives.

A sad email to write and a load of pictures

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Nothing to do with a lack of Space news, last week was a hive of activity with NASA’s Juno lifting off, liquid water potentially being found on Mars and the launch of an Ariane V from French Guiana. It’s just been a busy week.

So to make up for radio silence I’ve dug out a load of pictures that might tickle your fancy…

You might remember that I’ve posted the above picture before as part of a throw away comment about the Russian’s failed Space Shuttle experiment. The context of that picture is actually much more of a positive one. It’s from a series taken as one of the five Buran orbiters is taken to be refurbished for display.

I stumbled across the rest of the series earlier this week, which can be found here, but i thought I would feature it as well…

As you can see it’s in a bit of a sorry state…

But the really amazing photos are on the inside…

And this cargo bay picture really is something special…

and look at the knackered cockpit!

That’s a long way from the ‘glass cockpit’ the Shuttle Astronauts enjoyed (twinge of sadness over past tense).

Well i hope you enjoyed those I had a sad email to write today, I was lucky enough to be awarded one of 60 places at @ESA‘s #Spacetweetup, and annoyingly am now unable to go. I’m going to try to reschedule a trip over to ESA at some point this year but it looks like my ESA fun wont be for a while. On the bright side, lucky person on the #spacewaitup list. I got upgraded from the wait list for my NASA fun this year, so I know how someone will feel in a little while.