SocialSpace for the Aeolus Launch: introducing the #EarthGroupies

I was one of the lucky few to have been invited to the SocialSpace event of ESA for the Aeolus launch.

The Aeolus mission is part of the Earth Explorers’missions of ESA designed to measure winds across the globe to understand winds better and most importantly of all to improve weather predictions. The winds are measured with a new invented laser which took years to develop. Aerosols were the key answer to the difficult task to develop this laser. Aerosols are dust particles or liquid droplets in the air. Aeolus is also a demonstrator for future wind missions. It’s a 3 year mission.

On the ESA website there’s  a lot of information about the mission. Aeolus mission

The launch was planned for Tuesday evening (21 August 2018) on a Vega rocket from the launch site at Kourou (French Guinea). The evening before the launch we got an email that the launch was delayed because of high winds on the launch site! But the SocialSpace event took place anyway. There were about 18 people from different countries (Germany, France, England, Turkey, Venezuela, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Greece). We got to see a lot of interesting sites and rooms at ESOC in Darmstadt.

Earth Explorers Control Room

The missions which are led here are: Cryosat (ice and sea levels), Swarm (magnetic field), Sentinel and of course Aeolus. Copernicus was controlled in another room. It takes about 3 hours between sensing and releasing forecasts. The data us uploaded and downloaded from 2 stations in Sweden and Norway. The satellite is the most visible for those two norhtern stations.

Astronomy Missions Control Room:

GAIA, XMM, Integral  (gamma ray). The GAIA mission is the most famous of these 3 missions. It has already mapped more than a billion stars. The Integral mission detected the collision of the two neutron stars which lead to the detection of gravitational waves. This led to an increased interest in ESA Science.

At Flight dynamics we got an interesting presentation about reaching the right orbit and trajectory of satellites. Aeolus will stay in a low orbit of 320 km. This causes more friction which leads to a height lose of 200m per week. So the satellite needs weekly adjustments of the altitude and uses more fuel therefore than the other Earth observation satellites (most at 600 km altitude).

Planetary Missions Control Room:

Rosetta, Cluster, Mars Express, Bepi Colombo (which will be launched in October), Exomars, Solar Orbiter (future mission), Juice (future mission). These missions have long ground passes (as opposed to Earth Explorers). So the engineers plan commands to be send to the orbiters in advance. The next mission Bepi Colombo will use a couple of Venus flybys to reach enough momentum to reach Mercury. We also visited the Bepi Colombo Engineering Model at ESOC. It stood in Friedrichshafen since 2015 and was moved to ESOC a couple of weeks ago. They can use it for testing and troubleshooting. It has the same components and software as the real orbiter.

Space Debris office

There are 20,000 known pieces of space debris of about 10 by 10 cm by name and trajectory. It’s impossible to do this for the smaller pieces. Space debris can damage satellites and the ISS so it’s important what the chance is of a collision so they can react if necessary. There are two areas with the most space debris, the first around 600 km and the second one concerns the geostationary orbit (GEO; 36,000 km) where most communications satellites are.

This is a piece of solar arrays of the Hubble telescope which was hit by a tiny piece of space debris.

Flight Control

From here the satellite deployment and the first days after the launch are monitored.

Presentation Aeolus mission

We concluded this amazing and super interesting afternoon with a presentation by the Mission Manager (Rune Floberghafen), a mission scientist (Anne Grete Straume) and Satellite manager (Frank de Bruin).

First designs go back 18 years ago. Designing the laser was the most difficult part.

The satellite took the boat to Kourou. They couldn’t risk damaging the measuring instruments.

The Vega rocket is assembled in the launch tower as opposed to other launcher like Ariane 5. The Vega rocket can stay out for 14 days.

It was another fantastic SocialSpace event where I learned new things and met new and interesting people.


Research into particle physics and gravitational waves in Maastricht

I work for the Faculty of  Humanities and Sciences at the University of Maastricht. A new research group is being set up within this faculty which will focus on particle physics and gravitational waves. The main researcher has access to data of the detectors LIGO (USA) and Virgo (Italy). I already wrote the following blogs regarding the two detectors:

Maastricht lies in South Limburg and South Limburg is a candidate for the successor to the current telescopes. In 2 years time the decision will be made where this new telescope will be built. The soil in South Limburg is perfect for this underground telescope. The telescope has already got a name, the Einstein Telescope.

An article on the website of Maastricht University:

So I’m really glad that my personal interests collide with my work although it’s in a supportive way (I’m no scientists unfortunately).


Landing event at EAC Cologne

I was one of the lucky ones to attend the landing event of French astronaut Thomas Pesquet at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) in Cologne on 2 June 2017. Great place to meet new and old friends.

And most importantly the landing went well.

The amazing hall of the EAC with a great model of the ISS

What a lovely miniature Soyuz with a mini Alexander Gerst:

Photo of the screen showing the landing:

The hall with all the press people:

Groups photo

Open day ESTEC

My son and I visited the Open Day at ESA’s Technical Center on 8 October. Really a must do and see experience. Numerous lectures by scientists and astronauts and a tour of the Test Center are one of the many activities on that day. I was able to talk to a couple of scientists about their missions, like GAIA (thanks Jos de Bruijne) and Galileo. A visit to neighbor Space Expo is also possible. My son loved the centrifuge the most.

There’s a fantastic program for kids at the open day but there’s also a lot to see and do for adults. The open day is usually in October so don’t miss the next one. You won’t regret it!

This is the Large European Acoustic Facility (LEAF):

The beautiful Hertz radio frequency test chamber:

Moon rover and test area in the Erasmus High Bay:

ExoMars model:

The Centrifuge at full speed used for testing:

The charred capsule of Dutch astronaut André Kuipers:

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti wore this Startrek suit on Startrek day on the ISS in 2015.

Me and the capsule of André Kuipers. He landed with this capsule on 1 July 2012. Space Expo acquired this capsule mainly by donations. It was pretty costly to buy this capsule from the Russians.

The most complete star catalog

gaiaToday the GAIA team of the European Space Agency shared the following exciting news. The biggest star map of our galaxy was published. The data of nearly 1.7 billion stars is included in this star map. Scientists/astronomers can conduct years of science with these data. What a detail is found in these images. Wish I was an astronomer at this moment. Following GAIA team members on social media is a joy to do and in there’re so kind when meeting them in person.

The ESA announcement can be found here:

Het ontbrekende heelal

Auke Pieter Colijn, werkzaam aan de UvA en UU (bijzonder hoogleraar) is een experimenteel astrofysicus. Hij test of theorieën kloppen. Hij is een van de 40 onderzoekers van de detector in Gran Sasso (LNGS). Het heelal lijkt heel eeg leeg. De massa van sterren en planeten geeft maar een heel lage dichtheid.

Als je de snelheid van sterren in een sterrenstelsel (middels roodverschuiving) meet, verwacht je een afnemende curve. Sterren dichtbij de kern bewegen sneller dan verder weg bij het centrum. Na metingen blijkt dat niet zo te zijn:

Er lijkt massa te missen.

Het hele heelal is 2 graden Kelvin. Samenstelling heelal nu: donkere materie 72%, atomen 4,6%, donkere materie 23%. Donkere materie zendt geen licht uit. 13,7 miljard jaar geleden: donkere materie 63%, atomen 12%, fotonen 15%, neutrino’s 10%.

Donkere energie heb je nodig om te verklaren om te verklaren dat het heelal steeds sneller uitdijdt. Op een gegeven moment (miljarden jaren later) kun je alleen maar de sterren van de Melkweg ziet. Het licht van andere sterren bereikt ons niet meer.

Alles is opgebouwd uit 3 onderdelen: elektronen, up en down quarks.

Theorieën met mogelijke deeltjes die proberen om donkere materie te verklaren:

Het gewicht van donkere materie op aarde is slechts 300 gram. Donkere materie is niet gelijk verdeeld.
3 manieren om donkere materie te meten: indirect via satellieten, zelf maken via een deeltjesversneller en direct meten.

Detectoren richten zich op 1 van de 3 volgende gevolgen van de botsing tussen donkere materie en atomen: warmte, zendt het licht uit of komen er ionen uit (ionisatie). Alle detectoren zitten zo diep mogelijk. Om zo min mogelijk last te hebben van andere deeltjes. De faciliteiten in Gran Sasso (midden Italië):

Waarom moeilijk om te detecteren: nagenoeg is alles radioactief. Alle onderdelen zijn getest op radioactiviteit. Net begonnen met meten. Meest gevoelige detector op dit moment.

Solar Eclipse 2017

Our trip to the Solar Eclipse on 21 August is planned. We plan to see the solar eclipse in Rexburg, Idaho. Totality will last 2 minutes and 17 seconds in Rexburg and Rexburg has a high chance of clear skies in summer. We’ll keep a close eye on the weather forecast and are able to drive to another place.

More info about the solar eclipse in Rexburg can be found at:,_2017