Our thoughts regarding the late Professor Stephen Hawking.
It is perhaps poignant that Professor Stephen Hawking has died only a few days after the world's international space community, including the UK, gathered in Tokyo on March 3rd to declare their resolve for pursuing the next steps in Space Exploration beyond the current focus on the International Space Station.
Credit: Lwp Kommunikáció/Flickr, CC BY-SA
Professor Hawking is rightly celebrated as an exemplary cosmologist but he was also a firm advocate that the destiny of the human race lay with the stars and he didn’t hesitate to assert that we need “to pursue rigorously a space-exploration programme, [with] a view to eventually colonizing suitable planets for human habitation”. He may therefore have been heartened that over 40 nations gathered in Tokyo to keep a bold space exploration agenda on the tables of the world's space leaders.
Indeed his commitment for such an enterprise ran deeply. Despite his own disability, when he was offered a seat on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle, Prof Hawking immediately said yes. Sadly while he never achieved his ambition to fly in space, he was nevertheless memorably able to experience zero-g.
Professor Hawking’s commitment to space exploration was not simply philosophical -it extended into actual technology developments. These centred on his support of the Breakthrough Starshot project to develop a 100 million mile per hour mission to the stars within a generation. At its heart the Starshot vision - self funded by entrepreneurs - seeks a proof of concept for using a light beam to propel gram-scale ‘nanocraft’ to 20 percent of light speed. A possible fly-by mission could therefore reach Alpha Centauri 20 years after its launch.
Time will tell if Starshot can ever leave the world of the drawing board but while we mourn the loss of a great British scientist and communicator, let us also celebrate the life of a British Space Exploration visionary - one who always reminded us “to look upwards at the stars and not down at our feet”.
As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2018, we’re celebrating apprentices and the benefits they bring to the workplace. We would like you to meet our current apprentices working at the UK Space Agency, and hear about their experiences so far.
Robyn Haigh, 20, Communications Apprentice
Being an apprentice at the UK Space Agency means I get to use my creativity and passion for marketing while learning about what I find most interesting: space. This opportunity to do the two things I love for work makes every day exciting. In my day-to-day activities I get to create graphics for social media and design content which is used for events around the country.
What I love about being an apprentice is that my work already directly influences the Agency. You feel as though you are making a difference, you’re a valued member of an influential Agency. If you’re considering an apprenticeship find something that you’re eager to learn about. You gain qualifications while being paid and earn invaluable work experience. For me, I feel so proud to say that I’m on track for a career that I love at the age of 20.
Leah Daniels, 18, Growth Apprentice
The best thing about being an apprentice for me is the opportunity to gain valuable practical experience, building up knowledge and skills, gaining qualifications and earning money all at the same time. It gives you a real chance to put your skills into practice and helps you to gain confidence in a working environment.
Each day consists of something different for me – which I love! Some days I will be doing my usual business/admin work, whilst other days I am going to events and training courses in so many different places. My favourite thing about being a UK Space Agency apprentice is the variety of work as well as learning the most interesting things every day!
Being an apprentice is something I never thought I would be, but after realising all the benefits that come with it, it was an easy decision to make. My advice to anyone else considering an apprenticeship would be to go for it and take every opportunity you can to develop. I am now 4 months in at the UK Space Agency and I could not be happier.
Ellie Hand, 19, Programmes Apprentice
At 18 years old I had lost sight of what I wanted to do with my career. I had drifted through my school years not thinking about my future. Being someone that didn’t enjoy exams (who does?) and not wanting to go to University and end up £30,000+ in debt, I started looking for an apprenticeship where I could get experience in the workplace, earn a qualification and earn a salary at the same time.
My job role includes arranging and attending meetings for administrative support, manage the review process for the Aurora Programme and other one off tasks. At a young age I was fascinated by the solar system, space and the great unknown. Therefore one of the best parts of my job is attending meetings. I am part of the Programme Management Board for Plato, a new medium-classed mission. Its goal is to detect Earth-size planets or super-Earths orbiting around stars in the habitable zone searching for habitable exoplanets.
I am due to finish my Level 3 Business Administration qualification at the end of the month, and will subsequently be starting the Level 4. I am delighted that I have been given the opportunity to stay at the UK Space Agency.
Thinking about what I have achieved on my apprenticeship so far, I would never look back. If you manage to find an apprenticeship which combines your passions, I recommend you pursue it without thinking twice.
Thinking of a career in the space industry?
If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in the space industry, the UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS) have a website dedicated to getting you started. Visit the Space Careers website to see how to kick off your career in space!
What did you get up to on Monday? I went for a walk on Mars.
Dr Claire Cousins, from the University of St Andrews, who is contributing Mars geology expertise to the project, using the VR set at Aberystwyth.
Not your usual beginning to a working week, but I headed off to a very cold and windy Aberystwyth University to visit Dr Helen Miles and Dr Matt Gunn to have a look at their progress with creating a virtual reality Mars you can walk around.
It was in a small, mostly empty office where I was offered a headset, and two unusual looking controllers. Controllers in hand I looked around me as the screen dissolved and was replaced with the landscape of Mars, complete with ExoMars Rover trundling along towards me. Not wanting to find out what would happen if it ran me over I leapt to the side before realising that actually it wasn’t real so it wouldn’t have hurt me. That’s how realistic it all seemed, everywhere I looked I could see the famous red terrain, and after being taught how to use the controller to move around I hopped about, climbing to the top of ridges and standing right in front of the ExoMars Rover (once it had stopped of course) to see how tall it is. All of the images were actual images taken by previous rovers on Mars, so it really was the next best thing to actually being there myself.
The ExoMars Rover is a part of the ESA ExoMars programme aiming to look for signs of life on Mars. The Rover is UK built and houses many instruments from various European countries and Russia, which will be used as it traverses the rocky landscape of Mars. The UK has been involved in the Rover software and some of the instruments; the PanCam (Panoramic Camera) instrument is led by UK scientists and will provide photos of the terrain which will help geologists determine the history of Mars.
Artist's impression of the ExoMars Rover. Credit: ESA.
Once the ExoMars Rover lands in 2021, Dr Miles and Dr Gunn are hoping to develop the technology further to allow the data gathered by PanCam to be used by the system, to scale, allowing scientists to go for a walk around the areas visited by the Rover and examine the rocks as if they were actually on Mars. This could help increase the speed at which things are discovered, as well as providing a fantastic tool for outreach. What could be a better start to the week than visiting Mars to see what the Rover has been up to lately, all from the comfort of your own living room?
I recently had the opportunity to join the University of Brighton, helping them carry out an experiment on a parabolic flight.
I joined Professor Marco Marengo and his team, who are researching new designs of heat pipes, which are designed to transfer thermal energy from one solid surface to another. They use a liquid inside a tube, and through a combination of evaporation and condensation allow heat to be transferred very efficiently between the two surfaces. Both on Earth and in space, they are used in cooling electronic devices, such as fuel cells and batteries.
Their new technology, called a pulsating heat pipes, could not only be more cheaply produced than traditional heat pipes, but it also has the potential to perform better in the absence of gravity than on ground, making the technology ideal for space applications. In order to validate that the designs really do work in space, the team have been testing their designs for short periods in microgravity on a series of parabolic flights. This has allowed them to refine their designs and technology and the concept is now ready for a larger test when it is demonstrated on the ISS next year. After that, the new designs will start to be used on satellites.
As the UK Space Agency’s Human Spaceflight and Microgravity Programme Manager, I work with all the UK scientists who carry out research on ESA’s microgravity platforms. The most obvious and famous of these is the International Space Station, which is a scientific laboratory that is in orbit, or permanent free-fall, around the Earth. By being in free fall, the ISS and all the objects in it no longer feel the effects of gravity. Scientists can use this environment and design experiments that can further our understanding of how things work without it - which will help us understand better what gravity does.
The ISS, though, isn’t the only place such science can be done. On Earth, we can create the same conditions for a short amount of time, through drop towers, sub-orbital flights, or parabolic flights.
When you throw a stone into a pond, or kick a ball into the air, the objects are in free fall, subject only to gravity and air resistance. Parabolic flights work on the same principle. Three highly skilled pilots fly a specially kitted out A310 aircraft in a series of parabolas. From level flight, they point the nose up and put the engines on full thrust - effectively the ‘kick’ into the parabola, during which time we experience a hyper-gravity phase, feeling about twice as heavy as we do on Earth. After about 20 seconds, the pilots then ‘inject’ the plane into the free-fall portion of the parabola. They control the aircraft’s wings and angle to remove all forces, only applying a tiny bit of thrust from the engines to counter the air-resistance. This puts the aircraft, and everything and everyone into free-fall - moving through the air subject only to gravity, just like a spacecraft in orbit around the Earth. We continue to travel up, over the top of the parabola and then back down again, giving 22 seconds of weightlessness. As we are plummeting nose first towards the Earth, the pilots re-engage the engine thrust and pull the plane back to level flight. During the pull up, we experience a period of hyper gravity, peaking at 1.8g, nearly twice the force we usually feel on Earth, before we return to a normal cruise. The pilots repeat this manoeuvre 30 times during the course of the flight, giving the experimenters about 10 minutes of microgravity in total.
Each parabolic flight campaign consists of three flights, and I was part of a team on the second of these flights, taking the role of operator number 3. My job was to control the high speed camera, which was capturing the behaviour of the heat pipe. The camera was started automatically before each parabola, and I was to ensure that the recording started, continued through the parabola, and then, after the end of the second hyper-gravity phase, stop the recording.
Each day was an early start - teams have to be at the airport hangar by 7.45, ready for a 9am departure. After a brief weather delay, we got all clear to fly and lined up to see the doctor to be injected with our anti-nausea medication - a vital part of any parabolic flight. We got on the plane, into our seats and listened to the safety briefing. Then all the lights went out.
After a few minutes the pilots informed us there was a technical issue and they would try to restart the engines. All was good for about 10 seconds before suddenly everything went dead again. It was clear there was a problem, and sure enough, we were soon all asked to head back to the buildings and await further news.
We were soon told by the technicians that there was an issue with the Auxiallary Power Unit, and they were working to fix it. We were told to get some lunch and then wait for more news. When we returned from lunch there was a great hubbub in the labs – we had a take-off slot, the plane was fixed and we had to get ready. As our anti-nausea medication would wear off with the later flight, we had to get a second injection, and then took our seats on the plane. This time everything went according to plan and we headed down the runway and then out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Once the plane is airborne the pilot turns off the seatbelt signs and we were able to go and power up the experiment. Everything looked OK and we got ready for the first parabola.
The pilots called out a countdown to the first parabola. 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2… 1, 30 seconds… then ‘Pull Up’ – as the engines hit full thrust and the pilots pull the nose up. I felt heavy as my body was pulled down, and I made very sure to keep my head still as advised, to minimise the risks of feeling, or being, sick. I felt At this point the g-forces increase to nearly twice the force of gravity. Your body is pulled. The pilots call out the angles of attack, and then ‘Injection’.
All of a sudden we were weightless and there was a collective instinctive chorus of ‘Woooahhh….’ as we felt our stomachs lift and started to float for the first time, everyone grinning from ear to ear. We couldn’t revel in this feeling though; there was science to be done.
Sadly at this point the University of Brighton Team started to realise there was a problem, - for some reason the infra-red camera was not working. The team focussed on trying to troubleshoot the problem – there was little I could do at this point but watch on and make sure that the high speed camera was doing its job, which it was.
After 22 seconds of microgravity the pilots again call ‘pull up’ as they put the engines back to full thrust and manoeuvre the plane from a nose down dive to level flight again. The microgravity ended with a very literal bump as I made contact with the floor again, and then stayed still for 20 seconds of hyper gravity before returning to level flight.
After this first ‘shake-down’ parabola (known as parabola zero) the team kept troubleshooting, realising that the power supply was likely at fault. Over the next few parabolas they worked to isolate the root cause and confirmed that indeed it was the power supply – subsequence analysis suggested that it was possible the problems that the aircraft has suffered earlier in the morning had contributed to the trip.
The experiment continued though, without the infrared imaging for this flight, still collecting valuable data about the behaviour of the heat pipe.
The team at Brighton were able to cover my camera-operator duties for a few parabolas so I had a chance to spend some time in the Free Floating area, - and have a chance to truly experiment microgravity. I’ve spent over a decade working alongside astronauts, I’ve spent years in mission control watching the crew work on the ISS and I’ve spoken to lots of colleagues who have flown on parabolic flights, so I thought I knew what weightlessness would be like. It turns out it was just like I expected, but so, so much better. It felt so natural so just be floating in the middle of cabin, able to move from one wall to another with just the push of a finger. It took some getting used to, and it was always such a shame to have to hit the floor at the end of each parabola, but it was an amazing feeling. I was soon back at the experiment again though, making sure the high speed imagery was collected.
2 hours and 30 parabolas all too soon over, and we landed back in Bordeaux with hard drives full of data and beaming smiles from the experience. Other than the issues with the infrared camera, the experiment had gone well and the University of Brighton team were happy with the data we had collected. Fortunately, the team were able to fix the power supply overnight and the following day collected a full set of data. Joining and shadowing the University of Brighton team has been a hugely useful professional experience, allowing me to experiencing first-hand the opportunities afforded to the UK science community, and it was a privilege to be a part of the science team, collecting data that will play its part in furthering technology for use on Earth and in space.
Professor Marco Marengo and his team were able have access to the parabolic flights for their experiments thanks to the UK Space Agency’s subscriptions to the European Space Agency’s Exploration programme, which we have been a part of since 2012. The experiment itself is funded by EPSRC.
All UK scientists are able to apply to the European Space Agency for experiment space on a parabolic flight, as the UK subscribes to ESA’s exploration programme. For more information about this opportunity please visit the ESA website or contact Libby Jackson (email@example.com).
As well as the University of Brighton team, there were 10 other teams on the flight. Five were other university teams carrying out research, whilst the other five were student teams who were selected to fly their experiments as part of ESA’s ‘Fly Your Thesis’ programme, an annual opportunity for students to carry out experiments on parabolic flights. There are similar programmes for drop towers, centrifuges and sounding rockets, all of which are open to UK students.
COP23 is the 23rd annual conference under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Nations are coming together to progress the Paris Agreement which aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.
I’ve just met some remarkable seedlings at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, where Kew Gardens keeps its Millennium Seed Bank. They are the experts when it comes to anything to do with storing and growing plant seeds.
The seeds in question were flown on the International Space Station with Tim Peake and were collected from the apple tree in Isaac Newton’s mother’s orchard where Newton saw the famous apple fall, which helped him figure out the laws of gravity. Isaac Newton (born in 1643) was a physicist and mathematician who developed the principles of modern physics including the laws of gravity and motion.
The tree is still flourishing at Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton’s home near Grantham, 330 years after he wrote his great work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which set out the laws of gravitation on which every space mission depends. This was the great work that Tim Peake’s Principia mission was named after.
Newton’s apple tree – and the seeds being presented by Dallas Campbell and Jannette Warrener to the Agency’s Head of Education and Skills, Jeremy Curtis.
The National Trust’s Operations Manager at Woolsthorpe Manor, Jannette Warrener, and her team harvested the seeds and presented them to the UK Space Agency during Grantham’s annual Gravity Fields festival in October 2014. We then delivered them to Wakehurst Place to dry and pack them for their epic journey into space.
The seeds were delivered to space in SpaceX-8, a cargo supply to the International Space Station, on the 16 April 2016 and spent 198 days in space before returning to Earth with SpaceX-9 on 26 August 2016.
Tim with seeds on ISS.
On their return from space, the well-travelled seeds then went back to Wakehurst Place where they spent 90 days sitting on a bed of agar jelly at 5°C to simulate the winter cold needed to break dormancy. Spring arrived for them in May 2017 when they were warmed to 15°C and the young seedlings started to emerge.
Since then they have grown fast and we now have ten healthy young plants. The Kew staff, led by Hugh Pritchard (Head of Comparative Seed Biology) and Anne Visscher (Career Development Fellow), will continue to nurture them until they are large enough to fend for themselves.
The healthy young apple trees with the Kew team. From left to right: Jannette Warrener, Joanna Walmisley, Jeremy Curtis, Eliana Van Der Schraft, Anne Visscher, Cristina Blandino, David Cleeve, Hugh Pritchard.
The next step will be to find suitable welcoming homes for the young trees so that they can help tell the intertwining stories of Newton, seed science and space travel. Watch this space for details of how to make your bid to host one of these precious plants.
Happy Dark Matter Day! Thomas Kitching, Reader in Astrophysics, gives an overview of Dark Matter and the UK's involvement in Euclid. A mission which will map the geometry of the dark Universe.
Dark matter is in fact a terrible name for the transparent, ubiquitous scaffolding of matter that comprises most of the matter in Universe; because it’s not really dark but completely invisible. However the real problem with dark matter is that even though it's the most common form of matter that exists, nobody knows what dark matter is. Despite these facts we can still make a map of where the dark matter is using an effect called gravitational lensing: the effect where light from distant galaxies is distorted by presence of the invisible mass. This works in a similar way to how a bathroom window – made of glass that is also transparent – distorts images behind it, or the way in which we see the bottom a swimming pool apparently ripple and wriggle because of waves in the water – which is also transparent. By measuring the distortions of galaxy images caused by the intervening dark matter we can therefore make a map of the dark matter in the Universe.
However this is a very difficult measurement to make because the change in observed shape of a galaxy caused by dark matter’s influence is very, very small. So we need the best telescopes in world in a very stable well-controlled environment; the only such place, for such a science case, is space.
In just over 3 years a new space telescope called Euclid will launch, one of whose primary objectives is to make a dark matter map of most of the observable Universe using the gravitational lensing method. Euclid will observe three-quarters of the extra-galactic sky back in time over three-quarters the age of the Universe. Over its mission it will take 277 HD TV’s worth of data every 10 minutes continuously for 6 years; resulting in an observed area of sky thousands of time larger than that observed by the Hubble Space Telescope over its entire 25 year lifetime. The final set will contain billions of galaxies.
Credit: ESA/C. Carreau.
The Euclid Consortium of scientists and engineers is a truly international endeavour consisting of over 1,500 people in 15 countries, working together towards the common goal of exploring the Universe for over 20 years from the initial conception to the final pixel of observations analysed.
The UK is involved in every part of the gravitational lensing measurements of Euclid. For example the digital camera, 50 times larger than your smartphone camera – one of the largest to be launched into space to date – is being built in the Surrey Hills at the Mullard Space Science Lab, using microchips developed in Essex at a company called e2v; and the supercomputers, thousands of times more powerful than your laptop, which will analyse the data for the tiny gravitational lensing effects, are being built in Edinburgh; and all over the UK researchers are creating new analysis methods to extract every bit of information from data.
So in a sense we live in the dark ages, cosmologically speaking, where we know for sure that we don’t really know anything at all about most of the Universe. But all this will change very soon when, by mapping where the dark matter is, we can fill in the blank bits in our knowledge, and begin to explore the amazing Universe we live in through our new spaced-based telescope Euclid.
Dark Matter Day
Today (31 October 2017), the world is celebrating the historic hunt for the unseen - something that scientists refer to as dark matter. Global, regional, and local events are being planned on and around that date by institutions and individuals looking to engage the public in discussions about what we already know about dark matter and the many present as well as planned experiments seeking to solve its mysteries. Visit the Dark Matter Day website for more infotmation.
Who would have thought that preparation for Europe's ExoMars mission includes a crash course in Geology and a couple of visits to the first aider.
Rachel Luke, Robotic Exploration Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency, recently attended an ExoMars field trip with a group of scientists for training on sedimentology and stratigraphy, brushing up their geology knowledge ready for the ExoMars 2020 mission. Here she tells how she enjoyed her crash course in geology, despite a couple of visits to the first aider.
While it sounded great to go to South Pembrokeshire for a week, to be honest, the prospect of looking at rocks for the whole time did not fill me with excitement.
Geology was something I always used to think of as boring, a rock was just a rock right? How interesting could they be? I dropped geography in Year 9, and it wasn’t until starting at the UK Space Agency that I began to realise that geologists actually had a key part in understanding the history of various planets, especially Mars.
I arrived at the Youth Hostel we’d be staying in with some trepidation. The kit list for the trip had listed all sorts of weird and wonderful things, a hand lens, a grain size chart, and the most intriguing – a compass clinometer. The other items that I had heard of, such as waterproof trousers and sturdy walking boots I had borrowed from various members of my family. My usual outdoor gear is more suited to Glastonbury festival rather than serious walking, but I’d managed to gather everything I thought I’d need, and checked into my room which I’d be sharing with the other women on the trip.
Since my last time staying in a Youth Hostel at school, they’d improved greatly, and after tucking into a lovely dinner with multiple helpings of pudding we gathered in the classroom to find out what we’d be doing over the next 3 days. Professor Sanjeev Gupta, who was running the trip, listed the various beaches we’d be going to, including Freshwater West which is where they had filmed part of the Harry Potter series. I am a huge fan of Harry Potter, so I have to admit a little squeal of excitement got let out at that point; especially as it was the first place we’d be visiting the following day.
The next day dawned lovely and bright, and after a hearty breakfast we piled into the minibus and headed to the beach, donned our high-vis jackets and off we went to start learning about what the rocks can tell us.
The first thing I learnt is that rocks have a “way up” which is how you can figure out what was originally on the surface of the earth and what was underneath, as this can twist and change over time due to other forces. The layering in rocks isn’t just pretty; it also can tell you which are the youngest, and can tell tales of heavy rainfalls, and what happened in the past. I have to admit, as time went on and I began to learn more, I got the bug. It’s so interesting being able to look at a rock and get an idea of the history of the area, especially if that area was Mars.
Being pretty clumsy, I was a little nervous about climbing over rocks all week, and my nerves were justified when climbing over rocks and rock pools to get to an interesting section, I overbalanced and spectacularly fell over, dunking my head into a rock pool (lucky it was there), cutting up my hands and spraining my index finger. I felt like such a fool having to get first aid attention, however everyone was so lovely and wanted to make sure I was okay. Thankfully the weather was glorious that day, as can be seen from the photos, so I soon dried off and was able to carry on learning all about what the rocks had to say.
Unfortunately the next day was not as sunny as the previous one. We woke up to a bit of a wet and miserable day, and whilst driving to the site it began to truly throw it down with rain. We attempted to start the walk to the beach but as we were being buffeted against the cliffs the decision was made to go elsewhere as it was not going to be safe to walk over the slippery rocks to where we needed to go. I have to admit I did sigh in relief at this, and the alternative beach we went to was very interesting, even if we were all getting rather soggy. I was reliably informed by the scientists on the trip that the weather we were experiencing was a lot more usual for a field trip, and the sunny weather from the day before was a rarity to be enjoyed. After drying off in a pub over lunch we headed back out again, and I carried on learning all about the various things that could be seen in the rock faces.
This was the final day, and although it began looking a bit dubious, the weather ended up being glorious again, thankfully. Putting on damp boots in the morning has made me vow to buy some waterproof walking boots, and I learnt a major lesson of the field trip, always take far more pairs of socks with you than you think you would need.
Once on the final beach we started to role play as if we were the ExoMars Rover, with us deducing which outcrops (get my terminology!) we should visit first to determine the maximum amount of knowledge about the area. This was a great way to put ourselves in the shoes of the rover, and to begin to figure out what the priorities should be once the rover reaches Mars. I began to use the terminology and knowledge I had learned over the week, and I have to admit, I was very excited about the things we could learn from all the various rocks.
It was a very tired, sore, but happy Rachel that got to the minibus at the end of the trip, and as much as I was looking forward to a long shower and my own bed, I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and my crash course in geology. However as a certain scientist (who shall remain nameless) was putting their bag up on the baggage shelf, their almost full bottle of water fell out and hit me on the head, leading to my second use of the first aiders and my second ice pack of the week. You will be pleased to know I am completely fine now, and my sprained finger is healing nicely, but even though I had all of the injuries of the week I would love to go on another field trip to carry on my descent into being a geology fan.
Rachel Luke Robotic Exploration Programme Manager UK Space Agency
One programme we're proud of here at the Agency is our International Partnership Programme (IPP). It's a 5 year, £152 million programme using the UK Space sector’s research and innovation strengths to deliver a sustainable, economic or societal benefit to undeveloped nations and developing economies.
Check out some of the exciting case studies from the program below:
It is with great sadness that we recently learned of the death of one of our colleagues, Dr Helen Walker. Helen died peacefully in her sleep on 19 September, after a short illness.
Working in the Space Physics and Operations Division at STFC’s RAL Space, she made a significant contribution to astronomy and space physics over many years, with a large number of publications and an enviable reputation, both in the UK and internationally.
Until her sudden illness, Helen was playing a hugely influential role in a wide range of space science projects including Cluster, an ESA mission to study the Earth’s magnetic field and its interaction with the Sun, and MIRI, one of the instruments due to fly on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble. MIRI Principal Investigator Prof Gillian Wright recalls that Helen joined the MIRI team in 2008, and spent long hours working on shift at both RAL and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in support of the instrument test campaigns, contributing to their success.
She was also Mission Operations Manager for the UK Space Agency’s pilot cubesat mission, UKube-1. At the Agency we will remember Helen’s tireless and unstinting work on this project, which exemplified her natural inclination to make the greatest possible success of whatever she was involved with.
Helen had a true passion as a populariser and supporter of astronomy in the UK. She had been Secretary of Royal Astronomical Society Council and Treasurer of the Society for Popular Astronomy. She made frequent media appearances, including being a regular guest on programmes such as “The Sky at Night”. In particular, Helen was a role model for women in science, Chairing the ‘She is an Astronomer’ project for the IAUs International Year of Astronomy in 2009, and was a passionate advocate of the vital importance of equality and diversity in this field. Her dedication, expertise and good humour will be sorely missed by those who knew her and worked with her.
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