Waking Up to New Horizons

Nicholas Kachel:

Our Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex just received a signal, sent at the speed of light, from 4.8 billion kilometres away. Who was it from? What was it about? Find out below…

Originally posted on Universe @ CSIRO:

New Horizons' flies past Pluto in this artists' rendition. Image: NASA/JHUAPL

New Horizons’ flies past Pluto in this artists’ rendition. Image: NASA/JHUAPL

I guess we all love to sleep in on a Sunday morning, maybe just snoozing under the doona, laying there for a few hours before getting up for a late brunch. Ah! Luxury.

On Sunday 7th December 2014, the New Horizons spacecraft, 5 billion kilometres away from the warmth of Earth, had little time to sleep in. It was ‘wake up’ day. The final awakening from hibernation for the next 2 years until well after its encounter with rapidly approaching dwarf planet, Pluto, set for the 14th July 2015.

Waiting back on Earth to hear the spacecraft’s morning ‘alarm’ go off was the giant 70 metre antenna dish at the CSIRO-managed, Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43).

Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra receiving the 'wake up' call from the New Horizons spacecraft. Image: CDSCC/CSIRO Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra receiving the ‘wake up’ call from the New…

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Welcome to Port Celebrations in just two weeks!

On Friday 12 December, we’ll be hosting Welcome to Port Celebrations for RV Investigator at the CSIRO Laboratories at Battery Point in Hobart and we’d love all of you to come!

In the morning will be a formal function for invited guests, and then in the afternoon from 3-8pm we’ll be throwing open the doors of CSIRO so you can come and look at RV Investigator, the new Marine National Facility research vessel.

There’s so much happening on the day, we could barely squeeze it into our poster!

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If you can’t read all of the detail, you can download the RV Investigator Welcome to Port Celebrations poster.

This post originally appeared on the RV Investigator blog.


The Adventures of Rosetta and Philae

Artist's impression of the Philae lander on the surface of the comet. Image: ESA

The European Space Agency is set to make a daring attempt to land the Philae probe on the surface of an icy comet.

The giant antenna dishes of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex are supporting the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, relaying data that the refrigerator-sized Philae probe has commenced its descent to the unknown surface of Comet 67-P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Nearly 450 million kilometres from Earth and travelling at 18 kilometres per second, the bizarre ice, dust and rock strewn surface of the 5 kilometre long, 10 billion tonne comet called Churyumov-Gerasimenko will be stage for one of the most daring landing attempts in the history of space exploration.

The Rosetta spacecraft drops off the Philae lander for a 7 hour descent towards the comet's surface. Image: ESA

After a 10-year journey, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft arrived at the comet (also known as Comet 67P) in August 2014. For the past several months Rosetta scientists have been using the spacecraft’s instruments to analyse and photograph the comet’s surface looking for a potential landing site. Several candidate locations were chosen but one, ‘Site J’, seemed to present the best chance for a successful touchdown of Rosetta’s ‘Philae’ probe on the comet’s unexplored surface.

Comet 67P Churyumov Gerasimenko is a relative newcomer to the inner solar system, possibly originating from the Oort Cloud. Image: ESA

Site J, now called Agilkia (after an island in the Nile River), however, only offers the instrument-laden Philae lander a 75% chance of a safe touchdown at 3.02am (AEDST) on Thursday 13th November. Low gravity, car-sized boulders, 30 metre cliffs, deep holes and an unknown surface composition are just some hazards that the unaided robotic probe will have to face.

Keeping an eye on events as they unfold will be the giant antenna dishes of NASA’s Deep Space Network and those of the European Space Agency, which have tracked the spacecraft throughout its 10 year adventure.

Deep Space Station 34 in Canberra is supporting the European Space Agency's daring comet mission. Image: NASA/JPL

At the CSIRO-managed Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), Deep Space Station 34 (DSS34) will listen in on relayed signals from the Rosetta mothercraft as it releases the Philae probe on a 7-hour descent towards the comet’s surface. Along withESA’s New Norcia antenna near Perth, separation of the two craft will be confirmed late Wednesday evening (12th November). DSS34 will provide ongoing back-up communication coverage between the Rosetta/Philae spacecraft and the anxious science team located at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

The path Philae will take to the comet's surface. Image: ESA

As the Earth continues to turn and the spacecraft fall out of Australia’s view, the Canberra and New Norcia antennas will hand over to sister stations in Spain and Argentina for the last leg of the journey and the historic touchdown signal on Thursday morning (13th November).

Follow the adventures of Rosetta and Philae. Image: ESA

The European Space Agency has been doing a remarkable job engaging the public in this great adventure. You can following along with the events of Rosetta and Philae’s great adventure on their mission blog. ESA is also broadcasting live coverage of the descent and landing. Updates also via Twitter – Rosetta | Philae

This originally appeared on the CSIRO Universe blog.


Sounding out the ghosts of the depths

Sonar image of shipwreck

MV Lake Illawarra lies on the floor of the Derwent River

Nearly 40 years ago, on 5 January 1975, the 135m bulk ore carrier MV Lake Illawarra was heading up the Derwent River in Hobart to offload its cargo of 10 000 tonnes of zinc ore concentrate. It was off course as it neared the Tasman Bridge linking Hobart’s eastern suburbs to the rest of the city.

MV Lake Illawarra wreckThere was a strong current running at the time, and the ship was travelling too slowly. It became unmanageable. Several unwise decisions by the captain added up to disaster: the ship drifted towards the eastern shore of the Derwent, striking two of the bridge pylons. Three spans of the bridge and a 127m section of roadway came crashing down into the river and onto the vessel’s deck.

Twelve people died as a result. Five were in cars that were on the bridge at the time and drove over the gap, falling 45m into the water below. The others were trapped crew members of the MV Lake Illawarra, which sank almost immediately after the impact in 34m of water. It was never salvaged, and remains there to this day.

The Geophysical Survey and Mapping (GSM) Team on our new research vessel, RV Investigator, works on mapping any part of the ocean floor to any depth. They recently took delivery of a new EM2040c, a High Resolution Multibeam Echosounder (shallow water sonar) that can map the sea floor to 500 metres. To calibrate it, they took out a support vessel and had a closer look at the wreck of MV Lake Illawarra.MV Lake Illawarra wreck

With this new sonar equipment, mapping the whole wreck took about an hour. It’s just an example of its capabilities. The EM2040c is mobile, can be lifted by a single person and can fit on almost any vessel. The beam can be up to four times the water depth and it’s able to send and receive signals at a rate of 50 times per second.

And there’s a lot to use it for. Only about 12 per cent of Australia’s ocean floor has been mapped: there’s a great deal to find out yet.


Going undercover with a marine biologist

Sure, everybody wants to be a marine biologist. It’s a glamorous job: working on the ocean, diving off coral reefs, discovering a new species here, saving an endangered species there. It’s definitely a profession that would have you as the talk of the table at dinners and family barbeques.

But what you don’t often hear about is the behind the scenes work – the endless report writing, the rigorous trip planning, getting the smell of fish off your hands. Being a marine biologist is, at times, a thankless task.

Luckily for you, today we’re going to focus on the glamorous part.

Marine biologists from our Wealth from Oceans Flagship and The University of Western Australia recently took a trip to the coral reefs of the Pilbara region, in north Western Australia, where they were scouting survey sites for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership.

Platygyra coral form intricate patterns on a reef off the Southern Barrow Shoals. For myself and the research team, the greatest challenge for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership will be to understand how the unique coral reefs in the Pilbara have adapted to such a diverse range of conditions, and how they will survive into the future. We want to make sure that the region’s ecosystem is better understood and appreciated on an international scale.

Platygyra coral form intricate patterns on a reef off the Southern Barrow Shoals, West Pilbara.

This five year project is taking a snap-shot of the health of the marine ecosystems in this biodiversity hotspot, compiling a baseline of research data that will inform environmental and industrial monitoring programs. This data will underpin the Pilbara’s marine management and ensure long-term commercial and conservation sustainability in the region.

The Partnership is all about providing the science for sound decision making, and this research trip has put the process into practice.

Unfortunately, on the trip the research team found evidence of coral bleaching in the region due to some recent marine heatwaves, including the bleaching of a pocket of ancient coral heads – many up to 400 years old – that have provided an important record of reef health.

“We suspect this bleaching event was due to marine heatwaves that occurred in the region over the past few summers, and to see it up so close was sobering,” said our lead scientist on the project, Dr Russ Babcock.

“But to offset this loss, some reefs only a short distance north showed much less damage and will continue to contribute to a healthy ecosystem. By studying these sorts of variations and why they occur, we can improve our overall understanding of the marine environment in the region, and how we can best preserve it”.

The team managed to take some great images of the incredibly diverse flora and fauna that sits under the waters of the Pilbara. We asked Russ to run us through a few photos from the trip to give you an insight into the work of a marine biologist – and maybe even help you learn something in the process! Click on one of the images below to view the gallery.

“For myself and the research team, the greatest challenge for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership will be to understand how the unique coral reefs in the Pilbara have adapted to such a diverse range of conditions, and how they will survive into the future. We want to make sure that the region’s ecosystem is better understood and appreciated on an international scale,” says Russ.

Find out more about the Partnership here.


Do you see what I see?

By Adam Harper

630 kilometres may be a long way to travel for an eye check-up; but when those eyes are viewing landscapes at over 2,000 kilometres away and are responsible for millions of dollars worth of information supporting decisions on environmental management, farming practices and mineral exploration, it’s well worth the trip.

That’s exactly what CSIRO researchers did on a recent mission from Perth when they travelled out to Lake Lefroy (near Kalgoorlie) with colleagues from France, Israel, China and Japan. Their job was to make sure the information coming from several Earth observation satellites orbiting the globe is accurate; it’s a process called vicarious calibration.

And this time, their space communication mission went space age.

Our 'Outback Rover’ is helping scientists improve the accuracy of satellites.

Our ‘Outback Rover’ is helping scientists improve the accuracy of satellites.

Nicknamed the ‘Outback Rover’, this vehicle may look like a cousin to R2-D2 from Star Wars, but it is a prototype from CSIRO, which could enable future calibration missions to be conducted remotely.

CSIRO Research Scientist, Dr Alberto Elfes, said: “Outback Rover could potentially be operating out here at Lake Lefroy on its own while researchers back in their home cities or even countries oversee its movements to take various measurements. These are then fed wirelessly and instantly back to the researchers, saving hours if not days of travel and field work.”

For more information about the Outback Rover and the recent mission to Lake Lefroy, check out this video:

View the transcript. 


Robots, radar and exploding gummy bears

As part of National Science Week, the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies – affectionately known as QCAT – is inviting members of the public to a special Open Day to celebrate 20 years of research in Pullenvale.

Showcasing the amazing science and technology developed at the centre, the day will include shows from CSIRO Education, as well as demonstrations, displays and discussions on technologies that are transforming Australia’s industries.

Meet Dr Rob from TV’s SCOPE science show, talk to our experts about the latest innovations in energy, mining and robotics, see the labs and discover what amazing work is going on in your neighbourhood.

Dr Rob

Dr Rob will be doing some ‘scien-terrific’ experiments for all the family to enjoy… gummy bear beware! (credit: courtesy of SCOPE, Channel Ten)

QCAT’s Executive Manager, Dr Michael Brünig, says Australia’s best and brightest scientists are eager to share their knowledge and experience with the community.

“From developing the world’s biggest robot to the world’s most accurate underground longwall coal mining guidance system, research coming out of QCAT has been at the forefront of Australia’s innovation for the past two decades,” said Dr Brünig.

“We want everyone who visits the Open Day to help us celebrate this milestone by leaving with at least one ‘wow’ moment. Whether that happens by talking to our researchers, watching Dr Rob blow up a gummy bear or touring labs by remote control with our robot, there is sure to be a ‘scien-terrific’ experience for everyone.”

Robots to delight: check out the aerial drones being developed on site.

Robots to delight: check out the aerial drones being developed on site.

Highlights include:

  • Science shows for all the family at 11.30am, 12.30pm and 1.30pm
  • Stealth robots and unmanned aerial vehicles
  • 3D mapping and clever navigation systems
  • Public lectures in the auditorium
  • Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) hypersonic research
  • Displays from Rio Tinto Alcan and Metso Process Technology and Innovation
  • A chance to win one of seven Raspberry Pi® mini-computers that you can code at home.

For more information visit www.csiro.au/QCAT-OpenDay.

What: Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies Open Day
When: 10am to 3pm, Saturday 17 August 2013
Where: 1 Technology Court, Pullenvale 4069 (located at on the corner of Moggill Road and Bainbridge Drive, Pullenvale)

Important information for visitors: QCAT is an industrial research facility and so for safety reasons, visitors are advised to wear closed footwear (i.e. no thongs, clogs or sandals).

About the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies

The Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies (QCAT) is Australia’s largest integrated research and development precinct for the resources and associated advanced technology industries.

Officially opened in 1993, QCAT was established as a cooperative venture between CSIRO and the State of Queensland as a centre of excellence in mining research, iron ore and coal processing, energy research, autonomous systems and social science.

Along with CSIRO, QCAT also houses the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and commercial tenants Applied Mining Technologies Pty Ltd, BHP Billiton Carbon Steel Technical Marketing Group, CET Group, GeoTek Solutions, Metso and Rio Tinto Alcan Queensland Research and Development Centre.

QCAT has over 380 workers on site, making it one of the largest centres of employment in the region.


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