Mullard Space Science Centre – 2nd November

Carole Pope writes:

7 Members of OAS made their way down to the MSSL Centre in Surrey.  There were magnificent views of the valley below and when it got dark later in the evening it was a fantastically dark sky for Astronomy purposes.  Unfortunately the skies did not stay clear long enough for the Guildford Astronomical Society to be able to show very much through the telescopes they had brought with them, an LX90, and a Coronado etc.

There was lots to see around the house, including exhibits of models such as the Giotto flight “spares” , Cassini’s Electron spectrometer flight spare, and what is left of the toxic Cluster instrument – complete with hydrazine encased in a glass cabinet, and scale models of Ampte UKS spacecraft.  In the hallway there was the British Skylard rocket up the stair well (in 3 sections).  Around the walls were posters of the missions MSSL have been involved in.

The afternoon started off with a talk from Prof. Alan Smith, the Director of MSSL who told us about the history of MSSL and what they do.  MSSL was established in 1965.  Holmbury House, was bought and renovated and MSSL moved in and it was  formally opened in 1967.  He told us that they had been involved in 19 past missions, 12 current missions and 11 planned in the future such as Euclid, Plato, Gaia, IXO and Cross-Sale missions, where they make instruments which go on other people’s rockets.  The instruments must be durable to withstand the effects of space flight and last the length of the mission.  MSSL are interested, among other things, in Climate Extremes, Solar and Stellar Physics, Imaging, Cryogenics and the Electromagnetic spectrum as well as Space Weather.

We then had a talk from Prof. Andrew Coates who talked about the absence of magnetic fields on Venus, Mars, Titan and comets comparing them to Earth with a magnetic field.  He has been involved in Venus Express, Mars Express and the Huygens missions, and future mission Exomans in 2016 by the MSSL who will build the panoramic optical lenses.

There was a 3rd talk from Professor Louise Harra, who talked about space weather, solar maximum and solar minimum and briefly touched on the SOHO and STEREO missions.  One interesting fact she told us is that homing pigeons should not be flown when there is high geomagnetic activity as they can lose their sense of direction, and also that many whales can be stranded at such times as the GPS signals are blocked.

There were other activities going on with Joanna Griffin an artist who talked about satellite stories which continued into the grounds and ended up at the lake where later Chinese lanterns were floated on the water.

There was also a children’s tent with various activities such as making solar system bracelets and water rockets etc.

The day was free and refreshments were provided including cakes and mulled wine.

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