Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines

BCMs #15 – The Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex

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The 70 meter deep space station antenna named 'Mars', a.k.a. DSS-14

Good morning everyone.

Today I thought that we’d take a quick look at the network of instruments that send and receive data to our spacecraft, satellites, and space probes, including the Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover. In particular, we’ll look at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex and the radio antennas (antennae are found on critters, FYI) located there.

Goldstone is one of three facilities of the NASA Deep Space Network that are spaced approximately 120o around the world to allow constant communications with spacecraft as the Earth rotates. There is the Goldstone complex, also called the Goldstone Observatory, in the Mojave Desert in California; the Spanish Complex near Madrid; and the Australian Complex near Canberra.

From the NASA/JPL website:

“Each complex consists of at least four deep space stations equipped with ultrasensitive receiving systems and large parabolic dish antennas. There are:

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Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines, Military Surplus

The NRO Takes Pity on NASA, Gives Them Spare “Hardware”

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A KH-9 spy satellite, which has nothing to do with the article.

Last year, or possibly the year before, some of the bean-counting type of spooks that work for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) were evidently sorting through the excess hardware at one of their storage facilities when they found that they had a couple of telescopes that they didn’t need anymore. They were brand new and it seemed a shame to just chuck them out, so they considered who might want to take them off of their hands. NASA and its continually shrinking budget came to mind, so they gave NASA a call.

Continue reading The NRO Takes Pity on NASA, Gives Them Spare “Hardware”

Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines

Big, Complicated machines #12 – The Green Bank Telescope

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The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI

Good morning everyone.

Today we’re going to take a quick look at radio telescopes in general and the Green Bank Telescope in particular.

A radio telescope is a type of steerable radio antenna that is used in astronomy for studying celestial radio sources. The same types of antennas are also used for tracking and communicating with satellites and spaces probes. When used as telescopes for astronomy, they collect electromagnetic radiation in the radio frequency spectrum, from ~3kHz to 300Ghz, as opposed to optical telescopes which collect visible light. They are used for the study of many celestial objects that optical telescopes either cannot or have difficulty in observing, such as the objects in the center of our galaxy. Radio telescopes are typically very large parabolic, or dish antennas, and are used singly or in arrays. The diameter of the antenna dish is called the aperture of the telescope, and just like optical telescopes, a larger aperture means that a telescope can detect and study fainter objects. Radio telescopes that are thousands of miles apart can be linked together in a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry which gives the resolution of a single telescope that is thousands of miles in diameter. Radio telescopes are the giant constructs of astronomy, the largest being the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico at 1,000 feet in diameter.

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Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines, Geeky Astronomy

Supporting the 200 Inch Mirror in the Hale Telescope

Mirror cell for the 200 inch mirror at the Babcock & Wilcox factory

Good morning, everyone.

Today I’m going talk about the Hale telescope again, but not about the parts of the telescope that I was originally going to talk about, because while researching the part I was going to talk about, I found this really interesting other part of the telescope to talk about, so I’m going to talk about that instead of what I was going to talk about. I just want to be clear about that.

The last time we talked about the Hale telescope, we talked about how the mirror was cast, ground, and polished. The next step for the mirror would be its journey to Mt. Palomar, and its installation into the telescope structure. What we’re going to look at this time is the supporting structure for the 200 inch mirror, a collection of mechanisms that are more important and more complex than you might imagine.

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Astronomical Engines

X-Ray Telescopes

X-ray image of Sagittarius A*

Good morning, everyone.

Just about everyone here has had some experience with X-rays; you get your teeth X-rayed at the dentist, if you break a bone, you get X-rayed at the hospital. Critical welds in gas pipelines are quality checked using X-rays (they are supposed to be, anyway). The inner workings of machines can be examined using X-rays, and even fossils of dinosaurs can be examined while still encased in rock. It seems that X-rays can be used to see through just about anything.

However, consider the photograph at the top of this article. It is an image of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and it was taken with the X-ray telescope on the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

An X-ray telescope? How do you make a telescope to work with X-rays? How do you make a mirror or a lens to focus photons that are energetic enough to penetrate pretty much any material that we know of?

Continue reading X-Ray Telescopes

Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines

Making the James Webb Space Telescope’s Mirrors

The back side of a JWST mirror segment

Good morning, everyone.

Today I’m going to talk more about the mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and what went into making them. As you remember from the article on the journey that the mirror segments take during manufacturing (you all did read that article, correct?), the segments make 14 stops during the process. I’m not going write up each stage of the fabrication, otherwise we’d be here all day and I have other things that need to be done, plus my foot hurts.

Continue reading Making the James Webb Space Telescope’s Mirrors

Astronomical Engines

A Look at the James Webb Space Telescope

An artist's rendering of the JWST

Good morning again, everyone.

It still is the morning, correct? My coffee is still hot and [opens curtains] it’s quite bright out. Morning it is.

Today we’re going to look at the New Technology Space Telescope, now known as the James Webb Space Telescope. As I’m sure you all know, James Webb was the second administrator of NASA, and evidently did some good things as a bureaucrat during his reign there. It looks to be an ill-omened name, however, considering all of the bureaucratic bungling and huge cost overruns that the project has had, and is still having. The project was originally estimated to cost $1.6 billion, but as development progressed, that grew to $5 billion by the time that construction was confirmed and scheduled to start in 2008, with a launch date of 2011. Because of the cost overruns, NASA shuffled the management, but that caused a big delay in the planned launch date, which was now pushed back to 2018 at least, and maybe out to 2020. Maybe longer. And the cost keeps going up. In July 2011, the cost had risen to $6.5 billion, and in August it rose to 8.7 billion for the cost of the telescope and 5 years of operation.

Eight point seven billion dollars. Jeebus H. Fooking Kleist on a ladder.

Ahem.

Continue reading A Look at the James Webb Space Telescope

Astronomical Engines, Big Complicated Machines

Making the 200 Inch Mirror for the Hale Telescope

Inspecting the 200 inch mirror blank

Greetings, everyone.

Today I’m going to talk about the making of the 200 inch mirror for the Hale telescope. I was originally going to talk about the telescope as a whole, but that would require an article that’s far too long for the bulk of our readers to deal with. There is a lot of history associated with the Hale telescope, in its creation and construction, and in the myriad discoveries that have been made using it. On top of that, I’ve been fascinated by the instrument for decades, and I know enough about the thing to bore a zombie into a stupor.  What I’ve decided  to do, is to write two or three articles about the telescope, with lots of references so that those of you who want to know more about the Hale telescope can do so, while the casual reader won’t be driven off by the extent of my voluminous verbosity. That’s the plan, anyway. Continue reading Making the 200 Inch Mirror for the Hale Telescope

Astronomical Engines, I Spy With My Little Eye

A Celestial Coordinate System

 

A somewhat challenging coordinate system.

Greetings, everyone.

Today I want to talk about how celestial objects are mapped and located in the sky by astronomers and telescope wielding enthusiasts. It is really not all that complicated, it is much like terrestrial coordinates except mapped out to the sky onto what is called the celestial sphere. I’ll try to keep this as short as I can, but there are several terms that will need explaining. Yes, I’m going to require that you read again. Ah, I can hear the groans already.

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Astronomical Engines

Some Background on Reflecting Telescopes

The 200 inch primary mirror for the Hale telescope, ready to be coated with aluminum.

Greetings, everyone.

Today I’m going to talk to you about reflecting telescopes, or telescopes that use a mirror to focus incoming light rather than a series of lenses, such as the refracting telescopes that we’ve already looked at. The reason for this is that I’m going to be showing you some of the great telescopes of our time in later articles, and the bulk of them are the reflector type. If I give you the basic background on those instruments now, then I won’t have to natter on and on in each article, explaining things over and over again, and forcing you to read, heaven forbid. It will also cut down on the amount of writing I’ll have to do, and that way we’ll all be happy. I will anyway, and that’s the important thing.

Continue reading Some Background on Reflecting Telescopes

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