Feeds

Quickening satellite quickens pulses at ESA

Speeding Rosetta orbiter baffles astro-boffins

The next step in data security

Baffled Boffins at the European Space Agency (ESA) are hoping that today's Earth fly-by of the Rosetta satellite will shed light on a problem of significant gravity.

At 07:45GMT this morning, the ESA's Rosetta started its third fly-past of the Earth, looking for a gravitational sling-shot. This particular event is being closely watched by scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, as since 1990 a problem has been bothering eggheads at both NASA and ESA.

Their satellites appear sometimes to be speeding up beyond the predictions set out by the laws of Physics. Even more confusingly, the speed anomaly appears to be random, with many similar missions not experiencing it at all.

Previous NASA missions, including Pioneers 10 and 11, have been subject to the effect. Rosetta experienced the anomaly itself on its first fly-by in 2005, when it was found to have accelerated to 0.0018 m/s above what was expected. However, the satellite did not display such an effect on its second visit to us in 2007.

One could wonder as to whether such a minuscule change in the satellite's speed is worth getting worried about. But a paper released by ESA scientists describes how the satellite had to be manoeuvred in order to compensate for the worrying burst of speed, which could have led to serious consequences if left unchecked.

It is the inability to predict the anomaly that has got scientists into a tizzy, and the lack of a simple answer has led to numerous exotic ideas having been put forward. These include potential distortions to Earth's space-time fabric, the influence of dark matter and even the prospect of changes being required to the General theory of relativity.

These are obviously the sorts of things that slide-rule toting geeks dream of, and the space-botherers are suitably aflutter at the possibilities. In the words of ESA's lead flight dynamics specialist, Trevor Morley: "As it stands now, no one knows what's behind this - it really is a mystery. And your prediction as to whether Rosetta will experience any swing by speed anomaly at all on 13 November is as good as anyone's."

So the boffins are excited. They're not sure if there is anything to be excited about, but they are excited. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.