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Spacecraft Modelmaking: Galileo

The Galileo spacecraft was launched on 18th October 1989 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis and, after a six year journey, arrived at Jupiter in December of 1995 to begin its orbital tour of the planet and its moons.

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Galileo spent over 14 years in service at Jupiter, providing us with high resolution data about the planet. Via a detachable probe that descended into Jupiter’s atmosphere, the planet’s composition was directly measured for the first time. The structure of Jupiter’s magnetosphere was also mapped.

Galileo discovered that Jupiter’s faint ring system consists of dust from impacts on the four Jovian moons. Volcanism on Io was imaged, as well as its interaction with Jupiter’s atmosphere. The theory of a liquid subsurface ocean under the ice world of Europa was further bolstered by data collected by Galileo and similar indicators were found to suggest the same occuring under the surface of Ganymede and Callisto.

In 1994, Galileo also observed the collision of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9.

On 21st September 2003, Galileo’s mission was terminated by sending the space craft into Jupiter’s atmosphere at a speed of 50 km/s. This decision was made so that there was no chance of Galileo crashing and contaminating any of Jupiter’s moons.


This model of Galileo was scratch built using modelling plastic styrene sheets and rods, from plans originally designed for paper models but modified for use with plastics. The high gain antenna on the real spacecraft never fully opened but on the model it is shown open to give the impression of it fully functional.galileoIMG_1015galileoIMG_1014galileoIMG_1013

It is a 1/45th scale model and is 150mm long (the real spacecraft weighing about 5000 lbs and being about the size of a small car).

The model, built by Terry Regan, has been composited here (by Paul Kemp) with a NASA/JPL imagery of Jupiter.

Terry Regan is the Chief Spacecraft Model Builder for the Institute of Interstellar Studies, and is currently building a model of the Daedalus spacecraft for the British Interplanetary Society.


Spacecraft Modelmaking: Cassini-Huygens

The spacecraft:
Cassini-Huygens was a joint mission by NASA, ESA and ASI to study Saturn, its rings and moons. It was launched on 15th October 1997 onboard a Titan 1VB Centaur Rocket and, after a journey of 6 years and 9 months, it entered into orbit around Saturn on July 1st 2004. The attached Huygens probe was released from Cassini on Christmas Day 2004 and landed on Titan two weeks later.

The mission has had two extensions since then, in 2008 and 2010, meaning the spacecraft will stay in service around Saturn until 2017.

At 22 feet high and 13 feet wide, the spacecraft is the largest and the most complex built to date, featuring over 1,630 interconnected  electronic components, 22,000 wire connections and over 8 miles of cablings – at launch it weighed in at 5,600 kilograms (12,000lbs).

In June 1999, Cassini’s velocity was recorded at 44.0 kilometres per second (98,346 mph). Radio signals to Cassini take anywhere between 68 to 84 minutes to travel from the Earth.

The model has been composited here by Paul Kemp, with a NASA/JPL Cassini image of Saturn.

The Model:
This is the second spacecraft model built by NEAS member Terry Regan. Again, it has been scratch built from plastic card, rods and struts – materials that model railway modellers use.

The plans were, like Galileo, taken from those designed for paper models, meaning features like fuel cells would be two round discs slotted together at 90 degrees. The antenna dish was formed from thick plastic card, softened by a heat gun and pulled down over a bottom of a truck oil filter to give the correct dish shape, then trimmed up and detailed.

To make the main body of the space craft plastic card was rolled up, and ribs were added using small strips cut and shaped to fit the body. Various pieces went into making the cameras, gyros and rocket engines. The magnetometer boom was made from 0.6 mm plastic rod and over 700 pieces went into this section alone. The model was then painted and a base was made to display the  model. In total, it took about 9 months to build.

In comparison to the actual spacecraft, this model is 170mm long, 90mm wide, with the magnetometer boom 300mm long and the dish 120mm in diameter.

NASA Phoenix Mars lander

On the 25th May, NASA’s Phoenix robotic spacecraft will descend onto the surface of Mars.

NASA and JPL have produced an excellent video (which I found on the Bad Astronomy blog) describing the processes involved with getting the probe down safely and highlights the difficulties of doing so.

Phoenix has a massive scientific payload, including robotic arms, stereo cameras, descent imagers, various chemical analysers and climate detectors. The mission aims to study history of water on the surface and to search for of “biological paydirt” in the icy-soil layers of the surface.

Here’s the video:

See the ISS

The Shuttle Atlantis launched successfully and is on it’s way to the International Space Station to deliver the Columbus module.

You can see both the ISS and Atlantis moving over the skies of Essex throughout February. This helpful page will tell you when and where to look. You may also be able to see the Russian “Progress” supply spacecraft around the same time.

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