Space missions

Finding Pluto – An adventure in time and space

After noting Rob’s attempt at observing Pluto, I tried to image it myself, with a similar lack of success.

The only option, then, is to visit the pesky (non-) planet.

So visiting York today, and noting this sign:

I employed a trusty British electrically-driven starship

As well as 3 levels of assistance to the impulse drive (aka pedals), it has a secret “warp” button. So after imbibing Captain Picard’s favourite Earl Grey tea from the thermos – er – replicator, and uttering “Engage” and “Make it so”, I pressed the button. We soon arrived at Pluto, where fortunately it had been re-instated.

The last time here someone, probably Romulan, had stolen it. (

I was then intrigued by this sign:

So pressing the “warp” button again, off we went.

We soon overtook Voyager,

and crossed the Yorkiopause into the outer darkness, also known as Selby.

Here a mysterious wormhole crossing sometimes known as the “Selby rail swing bridge” was observed, where a transport vehicle suddenly de-cloaked, and thundered across the wormhole.

It was now time to return to normal space. So we re-entered the normal solar system domain at Neptune,

Pluto, of course having been relegated to the second division.


If anyone is interested here is the route pointer.


You might “get your kicks on route sixty-six” but you can “stay alive on route sixty-five”!

An ‘Astronomy’ related day – plus… I met an astronaut!

I started my working day photographing ceramics at Richard Winterton Auctioneers (you might have seen him on daytime telly – Bargain Hunt and David Dickinson’s Real Deal), ready for the next sale later in the month.

One of the early lots was this pair of Lorna Bailey limited edition ‘Celestial’ vases…. very much a space theme in evidence:

Later in the day I found Jon, our resident toy expert looking through some old newspapers, he’s here, hiding behind this one!


I left work early as Julie had got us both tickets to Lichfield’s Guild Hall to see a talk by retired NASA astronaut, Winston Scott.

It was a 5.30 opening for a 6.00pm start. We arrived just after the doors opened and I was surprised to see the back of a man in a blue jump-suit… the main man himself !

Considering Winston and his wife had only just flown into the UK and had been travelling most of the day, he had a big smile and seemed genuinely happy to meet and greet us (and everyone else) on our arrival. Julie and I had chance to talk with him before his presentation and I said I was a member of a local astronomy group. He asked about us and I told him about the new observatory. He didn’t just politely listen (as you might expect), but asked what sort of scope we were going to put in it, etc.

His talk lasted about half an hour. He told us about his childhood, education and how he finally joined the US Navy – becoming a fighter pilot, flying F14 Tomcats. As he explained for those that didn’t know their planes, that was the one made famous by Tom Cruise in TopGun – although he quipped that he had actually ‘flown’ the things! The picture below was taken after he had received notification that he was off to NASA for astronaut training…

He explained that he trained to become a helicopter pilot flying anti-submarine machines in the Vietnam war, before applying to NASA.

His talk continued about the training involved to become an astronaut and his two missions, which included early experiments for construction in space – what would become the ISS. One of the most important things he did (yet hadn’t practised for), was after the Shuttle had released a SPARTAN solar observation satellite that malfunctioned. It was decided that he (and his Japanese colleague) should try and manually rescue said satellite (because it was slowly spinning out of control, the Shuttle crew could not use the robotic arm). Instead the two astronauts strapped their feet into position and over a 3.5 hr EVA, Winston guided the Shuttle pilot ever closer to the satellite so the two astronauts could physically grab it and load it back into the Shuttle cargo bay!


The satellite in question:

A link to him talking about catching the satellite:

He then explained the re-entry and landing procedure for the unpowered Shuttle and the extraction of the crew. He made an interesting comment… that you never see the crew leave the Shuttle as that is always done in isolation, “because some don’t cope with the return to Earth too well”, which is unlike the footage we see when they are being pulled / carried out of the Soyuz craft… had never occurred to me, that fact.

After concluding the main talk, the floor was opened for a half hour question and answer session which covered questions relating to travel to Mars, his training, pre-flight feelings and expectations, the private sector and space tourism, the future direction of space travel… and even his Navy ‘Call-Sign’… no, it wasn’t Maverick.. or Ice Man!

At the end Julie and I both went up separately to thank him. J got chance to ask a few more questions (!), one was about languages (as you might expect from a modern languages teacher!!!) and the other was about how they decide which way is ‘up’ in space – he’s answering that question below… (it depends on the craft).

We left with a signed photograph having had an absolutely super evening. We couldn’t have met a nicer and more down to earth guy. If intelligent life ever visited Earth, he would make a great ‘First Contact’ ambassador !

Damian and Julie


ISS and Harvest Moon October 5th 2017

ISS Spotter App – ISS rising from 7.36+ and setting after 7.42+ pm.

Mag -3.5 at 80 degrees.

Another chance tonight (Friday 6th: 8.21.35, peaking t 8.24.58, setting at 8.25.53. 71 degrees elevation again at Mag -3.5)

Popped out from work in Leominster and tried to capture on the phone (iPhone6).

Couldn’t pick it up via video, so resorted to the odd pic as it disappeared in and out of cloud!


Photos, video & further data analysis from balloon from Queen Mary’s Grammar School for Boys Walsall Horizon team near-space balloon launch 1/7/2017

The photos and video and further data analysis from the balloon launch are now available & you can see these below – see other posts regarding this near-space balloon launch mission – the closest an amateur astronomer can get to doing what NASA and ESA do with their space missions. The photos in the previous posts were taken off LED screen on the back of the camera – losts of dust bunnies! These better quality images give a far better sense of the incredible experience of launching one of these balloons – RAG definitely must do this!

Andy & Rhys

Video from the launch can be seen here:

Further analyses can be seen in the two documents below, with graphs – the two files show different information:

Celsius Data (PDF file)

UV AND CH4 DATA (Excel .xlsx file)

You can look at previous posts on this mission with further details via these links:

Launching near space balloon Queen Marys Grammar School Walsall 1/7/2017

Initial analysis of science data from Horizon Project near-space high altitude balloon launch Queen Marys Grammar School for boys, Walsall

Photos taken from the balloon:

Initial analysis of science data from Horizon Project near-space high altitude balloon launch Queen Marys Grammar School for boys, Walsall

If you have been following the Queen Marys Horizon Project balloon launch:

Then you will remember that several science instruments were part of the payload package launched. The balloon reached nearly 40,000m altitude (100,000 feet) and last night I had a chance to analyze some of this science data. I have uploaded the results of this initial analysis (click on link below)

Analysis Horizon data 100717


From: Peter Hill
Sent: 11 July 2017 15:01

Hi Andy,

Interesting data, the humidity measure shows the boundary between the troposphere (where our weather occurs) and the stratosphere. The temperature data shows the drop in temp with altitude nicely, the “thermal inertia” of the device probably limited its’ response to the sudden increase in temp as it fell from max height, if mounted outside did it get “iced up” which kept it cool on way down? Interesting link with CH4 concentration and UV levels. Do you have data showing rate of ascent and descent? The tracking line showed a dramatic change in direction from launch/ ascent and it’s descent, different wind directions at different levels?

Pete Hill


From: Umei Nambio (member of Horizon team who designed and built sensors for science data)
Sent: 11 July 2017 21:34

First of all, I would like to say that you have done a phenomenal job analysing the data (voluntarily nonetheless). I honestly did not expect something like this, so it was a pleasant surprise when you sent me the attached PDF, which did guide me on my own data analysis. In fact, some of the graphs are of good quality and your some of your observations and hypotheses are unique, especially your link with UV light affecting methane concentrations. It is something I have never thought of and currently pondering about.

However, I do have some comments on your work and to Peter’s response. In regards to your work, your graph on external temperature and altitude on a logarithmic scale is actually very useful. It shows the progression of the flight with its corresponding temperature (the ascent and descent) in distinct parts but still in a continuous line.

Also, the last two graphs on the Earth’s atmosphere and its differing substance concentrations and the reaction rates of different methane reactions gives us the tools to discover more results, with the former showing volume mixing ratios of methane, which can be calculated from methane concentration and can show interesting results if compared with humidity (highlighting particular processes of methane decomposition using the latter graph).

For Peter’s response, I would like to respond to his observation that both temperature sensor may have “iced up” during ascent. This is indeed true! I noticed that the DHT22 sensor had residue ice crystals in places where the electronics did not heat up and melt them when I first observed the sensor array after the recovery. This is also true from the Blackbox sensor as Mr Sepede did tell me that the device (and especially the auxiliary sensors exposed outside) was still very cold even after inspection at Sunday morning. It may also provide an explanation as to why the DHT22 rapidly went from recording negatives to roughly the external temperature outside of 21 degrees but the Blackbox sensor did not, which is that the DHT22’s electronic layout produced much more heat than the Blackbox data (which had the sensor and a cable linked to the power source and the internal computer only as it controlled the voltage and other settings from the computer rather than right next to the sensor itself). Therefore, the DHT22 was able to melt the ice crystals inside the sensor due to the excess heat whilst the Blackbox did not which corresponds to recording negatives to roughly the external temperature and still recording negatives respectively.

As for the request for the rate of ascent and descent and differing wind directions, there is data on these from the Blackbox, albeit it does mean processing altitude and time stamps to get the rate and meddling with the position and acceleration data respectively (Maybe I could send this tomorrow or Thursday).

Finally, we do have a massive amount of video and still photos taken during the launch. I am sure that you have some of the stills but the video is kept by Mr Sepede and his dedicated Horizon hard drive. But fear not as there will be a YouTube video showing the best parts of the flight as soon as Thursday. The account is HorizonQMGS (this is the link:

My own data analysis and subsequent graphs and charts are nearly completed, but it wouldn’t be until tomorrow when I will be fully finished and polished to be approved by the team for display in an upcoming school assembly. The raw data, though, has been sent to Mr Sepede and some of the team and they were thoroughly impressed of the results taken. Finally, I have asked Rhys if I could do this and he approved but…would it be possible I could use some of the graphs for school assembly? I would really like to know soon because they are really good if I could display them and I do not want to get into any unnecessary trouble!

If you have anything else to say, please do not hesitate to talk to me.


Launching near space balloon Queen Marys Grammar School Walsall 1/7/2017

I would like to thank Queen Mary’s Grammar School who allowed me to accompany the Horizon team and my son Rhys as they launched their near space balloon, using a helium filled weather balloon and their own homemade payload. Rhys and the school’s Horizom team have spent the whole academic year designing and constructing this space probe!I was impressed with their NASA-style multiple redundant systems (multiple independent cameras and sensors, GPS homemade board and also professional “black box”).

12:50. As I upload these pictures we are facing down M5 to run down the balloon – having launched in Walsall at the school it is now close to Stratford and still moving….

13:25. Balloon had burst north of Kidderminster at 37864m altitude – over 100,000 feet!

13:55. Now back down to 3165m altitude.

14:02. Eagle (well Celsius) has landed! In South Worcester. 36 miles from Queen Mary’s Grammar School – the closest it has ever landed to the school. We have been driving back and fore chasing it around.

14:53. Still trying to find the balloon. The GPS have one location before landed then stopped working. A backup mobile phone on board giving location 18 minutes drive away. We have been to first location and not found it – now on way to second. At least the sun is shining on lovely day now for such an excursion.

15:08. Success! Payload retrieved from wheat field.

Photo below of Rhys holding the retrieved payload and initial data from one of the cameras on board – this is composed simply of pictures taken of the camera screen.