Successes and failures
Low Earth orbit is an exciting place just now. Today the first satellite built entirely by European students took off from Plesetsk, the first launch from the site since CryoSat earlier in the month. This small satellite is part of the Student Space Exploration and Technology Initiative (SSETI , nothing to do with SETI by the way) which involved a collaboration of students from across Europe designing and building, from scratch, a working satellite with help from experienced engineers at the European Space Agency. The SSETI Express satellite had to pass all the same reviews and checks that any other satellite launched by ESA has to go through and is the first project to be completed, but more are planned for the future.
Russian engineers have also discovered the fault which led to the failure of the Rockot launcher which should have carried CryoSat into orbit. The problem was a failure in the control system in the upper stage of the rocket. A signal which should have shut down the second stage engines was not received, so the engines continued firing until they ran out of fuel. CryoSat overshot the intended orbit and plumetted back into the sea. Now that the failure has been identified it can be fixed and the launcher can continue to be used. The scientists who worked on the mission are calling for funds to enable them to build another CryoSat.
It is also looking good for Venus Express. The engineers have been busy removing the particles of insulation material that caused the initial delay in the launch campaign and ESA are confident that the craft will be launched well before November 24th when the launch window closes.
For the first time in quite a while the sky is looking good. The rain of the last few days has gone, the wind has dropped significantly and we may actually get to use the telescope tonight. Fingers crossed...