New telescope at ESO’s La Silla joins effort to protect Earth from risky asteroids

La Silla Observatory
The new Test-Bed Telescope 2, a European Space Agency telescope, is housed inside the shiny white dome shown in this picture, at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The telescope has now started operations and will assist its northern-hemisphere twin in protecting us from potentially hazardous, near-Earth objects. The domes of ESO’s 0.5 m and the Danish 0.5 m telescopes are visible in the background of this image. Credit: I. Saviane/ESO

Part of the world-wide effort to scan and identify near-Earth objects, the European Space Agency’s Test-Bed Telescope 2 (TBT2), a technology demonstrator hosted at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, has now started operating. Working alongside its northern-hemisphere partner telescope, TBT2 will keep a close eye on the sky for asteroids that could pose a risk to Earth, testing hardware and software for a future telescope network.

“To be able to calculate the risk posed by potentially hazardous objects in the Solar System, we first need a census of these objects. The TBT project is a step in that direction,” says Ivo Saviane, the site manager for ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

The project, which is a collaboration between the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA), “is a test-bed to demonstrate the capabilities needed to detect and follow-up near-Earth objects with the same telescope system,” says ESA’s Head of the Optical Technologies Section Clemens Heese, who is leading this project.

Guiding the structure of the Test-Bed Telescope 2 into place
An engineer guides the telescope structure of the Test-Bed Telescope 2 carefully into place as it is lowered into its sheltering dome at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. Credit: P. Sinclaire/ESO

The 56-cm telescope at ESO’s La Silla and TBT1, its identical counterpart located at the ESA’s deep-space ground station at Cebreros in Spain, will act as precursors to the planned ‘Flyeye’ telescope network, a separate project that ESA is developing to survey and track fast-moving objects in the sky. This future network will be entirely robotic; software will perform real-time scheduling of observations and, at the end of the day, it will report the positions and other information about the objects detected. The TBT project is designed to show that the software and hardware work as expected.

“The start of observations of TBT2 at La Silla will enable the observing system to work in its intended two-telescope configuration, finally fulfilling the project’s objectives,” says Heese.

While seriously harmful asteroid impacts on Earth are extremely rare, they are not inconceivable. Earth has been periodically bombarded with both large and small asteroids for billions of years, and the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor event, which caused some 1,600 injuries, most due to flying splinters and broken glass, further raised the public’s awareness of the threat posed by near-Earth objects. Larger objects do more damage, but are thankfully easier to spot and the orbits of known large asteroids are already thoroughly studied. However, it is estimated that there are large numbers of smaller, yet-undiscovered objects we are unaware of that could do serious damage if they were to hit a populated area.

That’s where TBT and the future planned network of Flyeye telescopes come in. Once fully operational the network’s design would allow it to survey the night sky to track fast-moving objects, a significant advancement in Europe’s capacity to spot potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

A little Ingenuity, a big accomplishment

Shown in this screen grab from a video, the small “Ingenuity” rotorcraft made history, hovering above Jezero Crater, demonstrating that powered, controlled flight on another planet is possible. The video including this image was captured by the Perseverance rover parked nearby. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

April 19, 2021 — NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. The Ingenuity team at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California confirmed the flight succeeded after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT (3:46 a.m. PDT).

A tight crop from a video frame showing the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its historic first flight on Mars. The video including this image was captured by the Perseverance rover parked nearby. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) – 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) – a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.

For more on the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter technology demonstration, click here!

As Artemis moves forward, NASA picks SpaceX Human Lunar Lander

Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry NASA astronauts to the Moon’s surface during the Artemis mission. Credit: SpaceX

April 16, 2021 — NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to explore more of the Moon as part of the Artemis program, and the agency has selected SpaceX to continue development of the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface.

The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

“With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate. “This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.”

“This is an exciting time for NASA and especially the Artemis team,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for HLS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “During the Apollo program, we proved that it is possible to do the seemingly impossible: land humans on the Moon. By taking a collaborative approach in working with industry while leveraging NASA’s proven technical expertise and capabilities, we will return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface once again, this time to explore new areas for longer periods of time.”

SpaceX’s HLS Starship, designed to land on the Moon, leans on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks. The Starship architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.

April 12 Membership Meeting

The April 12, 2021 membership meeting of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) will take place via the Zoom online service beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The evening’s speaker will be Joe Kolecki, retired NASA Scientist, speaking on “Physics and Experience, it’s all relative!” Kokecki said, “I am mostly going to focus on observable effects. The merging of physics and geometry will be approached from the perspective that scientific facts arise from measurement (metros, Gk.) and that time and space measurements are interconnected in relativity through the speed of light. Thus united, time and space can be dealt with as geometry.” An aerospace engineer, he retired from NASA in 2006. His work included developing orbital flight systems for generating and processing electrical power in space. Kokecki has worked in the United States and abroad on flight systems for Earth orbit and for interplanetary exploration. He also identified and developed mitigation strategies for electrostatic charging of vehicles and astronauts moving about and working of the surface of Mars. His interest in relativity came about early in life when he discovered an article on Einstein and set out to see what his work was all about. Relativity became a life-long passion and he has written books on the mathematics involved with the theory.

Attendees may join the Zoom meeting beginning at 7:20 p.m. the nights of CAA scheduled meetings and meetings begin at 7:30.

The evening will begin with introductions and the featured speaker followed by the monthly membership business meeting, typically concluding at about 9 p.m.. Guest attendees are welcome.

To attend:

You can either “Phone in” or watch and participate via “Zoom Video”.

Phone In:  Just dial:  1-312-626-6799  (Chicago number)

You will be required to enter our meeting number:  954 8268 6049

Zoom Video with video and audio, on your web browser. (No camera required)
https://zoom.us/j/95482686049

Or download the desktop application from: https://zoom.us/download#client_4meeting