Click visits the European Space Agency to find out more about 'pocket' satellites. And Peter Gibbs travels to Malawi to launch a weather balloon.
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Hello, darling. Slight problem.
I think this week's shoot is going to go on
a bit longer than I thought.
I think I've got on the wrong flight. Yeah.
I won't be needing dinner tonight, no.
Get ready for blast-off. This week, Click is heading to space.
On the way up we'll take in some spectacular views of Earth,
swing by the moon on a spacecraft you could make at home
and then head half a billion kilometres into the unknown
to hook up with a comet that could reveal the secrets of life on Earth.
Welcome to Click. I'm Spencer Kelly and welcome to ESTEC,
the European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands.
This is where the European Space Agency develops its spacecraft.
That is a full-size replica of the Columbus module, which is
currently orbiting Earth as part of the International Space Station,
and this is my happy face.
Some kids want to drive trains.
I've always wanted to go into space,
and here at ESTEC, researchers from 35 countries,
and with similar dreams,
work together to explore other worlds
and progress further out into the void.
The place is a real mix of replica spacecraft and working prototypes.
This is the closest I will ever get
to being on board the International Space Station
and I have to say, it's awesome enough for me.
Of course, the major difference
if you're on board the real thing is, first of all, no way is up
and secondly, if there's a problem, there's no way down.
The smallest problems on Earth can be fatal in space.
That's why absolutely everything that goes up is tested to
breaking point first.
In these vacuum chambers, the smallest components
and new materials are being blasted with the extreme heat,
cold and solar radiation of an orbit around Mercury.
Entire spacecraft undergo the same kinds of tests in similar,
if much larger, environments
because even on unmanned missions equipment failure can mean
mission failure and a tonne of money lost in the vacuum.
Launching a satellite into orbit is a big, expensive deal,
but not all satellites are anywhere near that size. Look at this.
This is a CubeSat.
Each one is a regulation 10 x 10 x 10cm,
and these are packed into the gaps in a launcher.
Because they're made of cheaper, off-the-shelf components,
it means that smaller institutions like universities can build
their own and then explore space.
CubeSats have been used for all sorts of projects so far,
and Richard Taylor has been looking at some of the stunning
results one of them has produced.
This modest office in downtown San Francisco is light years
away from your traditional satellite manufacturing lab.
But it's from here that the 40-strong team of engineers is
working on building the biggest
constellation of satellites the world has ever seen.
Earlier this year, the first few camera-equipped CubeSats were
ejected out of the International Space Station and into orbit.
When we saw the satellites come out of the International Space Station,
it blew my mind because to see the things we have actually
built here in this lab in orbit,
with the Earth behind them, was fantastic.
These CubeSats are now sending back their first images
as they pass over Earth five miles a second.
Nowadays, we put more capability into these little satellites,
the few kilograms,
than you can possibly imagine.
They're much more capable than a satellite was five years ago
that was ten tonnes.
The pictures are detailed enough to pick out individual trees
which will give an unparalleled insight into activity
on the planet's surface.
Instead of seeing a hole in the Amazon a few months after
trees have been taken down there, we can see some loggers
and provide warning that that's happening.
Right now, the team is working on augmenting the few of these
so-called doves currently in low-Earth orbit.
They aim to have 131 by the end of next year,
giving an almost blanket snapshot of Earth.
But this revolution in satellite imaging is not confined to
simply still pictures.
This is the first high-definition commercial video of planet Earth.
It was taken from a satellite launched in December
by another Silicon Valley start-up, Skybox,
already rumoured to be in acquisition talks with Google.
Able to pick out moving cars, it means an even more concentrated
and deeper understanding of activity on the planet.
If you show somebody a still image of an area,
they can gain some understanding of what's happening,
but if you show someone even just a few-second clip of video about
an area, we intuitively understand a lot about what's happening.
Skybox satellites are monitored closely from mission control,
essential to protect its investment.
Though costing under 20 million each,
they're far less than the multi-billion-dollar creations
which characterise older satellite technology.
And this is where the satellites are physically assembled.
This one here, a carbon copy of the satellite currently in orbit around Earth.
Now, I'm not actually allowed inside this clean room because
being inside would be a violation of international arms regulations.
And it highlights the potential power that satellites can wield,
offering powerful analysis
not just for humanitarian
or benign corporate purposes,
but for potentially more hostile actions too, radically transforming
access to information for anyone with deep enough pockets to pay.
Do you worry about the information being used in negative ways?
What allows me to sleep at night is,
although any radical change in information will be
exploited for nefarious purposes, the number of applications
that are a benefit to humanity far outweigh those sort of misuses.
Space satellite experts acknowledge this is a watershed moment
but with it comes a warning.
We simply don't know where it will lead.
Richard Taylor. Those CubeSats are a bit different from this thing.
This is an unmanned Russian spy satellite which spent two weeks
in 1988 photographing the Earth from cameras
mounted in the windows at the front, before it re-entered
the atmosphere and plummeted back down to the ground.
In those days, they had to get the films out of the camera
and develop them before they could see the pictures.
Anyway, more from space in a second after
we hear what's been happening back down here on terra firma.
An EU court has ordered Google to amend its search results
at the request of ordinary people in a key test
of the so-called Right To Be Forgotten.
The European Court of Justice said links to irrelevant or outdated
data should be erased on request.
It comes after a Spanish man complained that a search
of his name brought up an old auction notice of his repossessed home.
Critics, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, warned that
removing the links, even though the actual data remains,
amounts to wide, sweeping censorship.
Electronics giant Samsung has proposed to compensate factory
workers in South Korea who developed cancer while working for it.
Following a long-running dispute,
Samsung apologised for not acting earlier but didn't admit to a direct
correlation between working at its chip plant and developing leukaemia.
Google's headset, Glass, has gone on general sale in the United States
for a cool 1,500.
Glass has been in private beta-testing for several years
and then last month went on sale for just one day.
Now Google says it will sell the headsets to
anyone in the United States. It's expected that the glasses will
get an update and high-profile global launch towards the end of this year.
This isn't your average rocket launch.
While this SpaceX rocket may be loaded with 2,500 tonnes of
precious cargo bound for the International Space Station, there
are a few kilograms in there that could mean the start of something much bigger.
The culmination of over three years of work hidden away
in the spare cargo space is a device that means the personal,
open-source space age has begun.
So our idea is mass-exploration of space by private individuals.
So people helping scientists do research,
but also doing stuff for their own interests.
The first thing we want to see is out, actually, of interest.
It sounds ridiculous to say you could have your own
spacecraft in space for a few hundred pounds,
and is that actually possible? Can that be done?
Michael co-created KickSat,
a crowd-funded project to send over 100 tiny satellites called
sprites into space not for millions, but for less than £200 a pop.
The big idea is to make satellites so tiny that you can send hundreds
or even thousands up at once. Launching stuff into space
can cost up to 100,000 a kilogram, but if you split the bill
a few thousand ways, that suddenly becomes a lot more affordable.
These Lilliputian computers are packed into CubeSats,
those 10 x 10 x 10cm cubes that we saw earlier,
which then hitch a ride to Zero-G in the leftover space on major missions
by the likes of NASA and SpaceX.
Once the rocket has completed its main mission, the CubeSats
are jettisoned and they then deploy the sprites.
But the real value of these tiny satellites is that, like similar
small computers such as the Raspberry Pi, each one is customisable.
Luke is a sixth form student from York.
He heard about KickSat while studying astronomy at school
and since then he's been programming their software. Space software.
I had no idea that I was going to do this,
and then one week I just decided to send an e-mail,
not really expecting much to happen from it.
Then, four months later,
I'm here waiting for the launch of a rocket which has something
which I helped create on it.
If you ask these guys,
KickSat means the start of the age of personal space exploration.
But Michael's next project, Pocket Spacecraft, has much bigger ambitions.
We're really interested in interplanetary exploration.
We want to go out and visit the solar system.
So at Pocket Spacecraft, we're working on a mission to the moon
which hopefully will be launched next year.
What Pocket Spacecraft's mission to the moon aims to do is to
launch at least 2,000 of our thin-film spacecraft.
Michael and his team of collaborators and volunteers around the world
are working on an even thinner miniature satellite called a Scout,
made from a material only five microns thick.
That's 1/200th of a millimetre.
It's all about using clever design to keep costs and weight down.
The tiny wire around the edge simultaneously keeps the Scout
rigid and acts as the aerial for communications,
and much of the electronics on the Scout are printed using conductive ink.
The only actual components are the solar cells and the central chip.
With funding from the European Space Agency, Pocket Spacecraft is
also working on a mission control app and website, so you'll be able
to monitor the data from your spacecraft once it's up there.
Pocket Spacecraft already has over 2,000 backers,
pledging funds to the 500,000 mission.
Even though space is so vast, the best way to explore it may be
with the tiniest of tools.
What an amazing opportunity to do what these guys did, albeit remotely.
Even if you can't get to the moon, even if you can't get into space,
there's still plenty of exploration
to be done inside the Earth's atmosphere.
We sent the BBC weather presenter Peter Gibbs to Malawi to get
a view of the Earth even he hasn't seen before.
Mvuu National Park.
The scenery's stunning, but myself and my friends Andrew
and Jerry are hoping to get some far higher sights.
The culmination of months of hard work is our chance to launch
a weather balloon into the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
When I saw somebody doing this thing of sending up
cameras into the stratosphere, I thought I had to get involved.
It's actually part of the atmosphere that's very hard to get
any imagery of any other way,
because it's too high for aircraft but it's too low for spacecraft.
Unless you've got something very specialised, these are the
only way you're going to get into that region of the atmosphere.
And I'm not the only one.
All sorts of people are taking cheap, intelligent electronics
and putting it together to send fairly sophisticated
packages to the edge of space and back.
It's great fun but it also has the potential to provide some very
Our balloon's carrying a couple of HD action cameras,
temperature sensors, plus radio and satellite trackers
so we know exactly where it is.
All this is wrapped inside a home-made polystyrene box to
deal with temperatures that'll go down to -80 degrees.
So a standard 600g balloon.
Latex rubber. When you fill it with something like hydrogen,
it expands as it rises. It gets so big it actually bursts.
With all that last-minute preparations complete, it's almost
time for lift-off and the nerves are taking over.
-Three, two, one. Go.
Data on position, speed and altitude are being fed back from
the balloon directly to our radio receiver but also via satellite,
as long as we have Wi-Fi or mobile signal.
I'm desperate to get internet access so I can see whether we
are getting messages, because we really are in the middle of nowhere.
This balloon also has a little something special in it.
We are putting in a Geiger counter.
The professor from Reading University Meteorological Department
has asked us to fly this. That's the real science of this whole thing.
The sun sends a stream of charged particles known as the solar wind
into our atmosphere and it's thought this may influence how clouds form.
There's very little data available from the tropics
so we're helping to fill gaps in the science.
-Andrew, the tracker's working.
-God, I'm so happy.
We're at altitude 15,630 metres.
-16km. So, let's go. Let's go and find it.
-Not long to burst.
At 22km altitude, the air is so thin it's only
a matter of time before the balloon will swell and burst.
While it's in the air, we can track its location
but once it hits the ground that's not guaranteed.
The chase is on to retrieve it.
It's at 1km high.
About half a mile that way.
There it is.
That is totally amazing.
It's always a relief when you find the package.
A great sense of achievement.
It's taken over a year to put this project together, but it's worked.
That's one project that's come to an end.
We want to move to a balloon that goes up and just floats at a set altitude.
With that you can get onto the jet stream.
You can ride the world's winds. Potentially, we could go
right around the world and that's a bit of a dream of ours.
Now, when you think of space exploration, it's easy to
focus on the spectacular rocket launches.
But they're only the briefest part of a mission that can span
years of planning beforehand and sometimes years of waiting afterwards
while whatever you've launched gets itself into position.
And this year, 2014 marks the end of a ten-year wait before
EASA's most daring mission yet can reach its final stage.
The Rosetta Project lifted off in 2004.
Its mission - to investigate the origins of life on Earth.
Scientists are hoping to find out whether the water frozen into comets
contains complex-enough molecules to have created life here on our world.
To do that, Rosetta is chasing down a comet called 67PCG,
and that's the easy bit.
The audacious plan is to orbit the 4km-wide chunk of ice
and then land a probe on its surface...
..all while half a billion kilometres from Earth,
a distance at which any communication will take half an hour to reach it.
As mission manager Fred Jansen explained,
that makes it too far away to be controlled manually.
Rosetta will have to fly itself.
It is working autonomously, isn't it?
Yes, because everything is preloaded on board in terms of commands.
We load a few days of commands and it's executed by itself
and after two days we load another set of commands.
The universe is the most distant firmware upgrade, I guess.
It's true. I mean, this makes life easier, in a sense,
that you have these ten years, although you have to make sure that
when you launch that all the elements, hardware-wise, are there
to allow you to do what you need to do.
One thing that will be decided by humans is the landing site.
Rosetta will take images of the whole comet, and over about a month,
the candidate sites will be gradually narrowed down
from five to two to one.
The reason for that stepping process is, we continuously come
closer to the comet and our images, the resolution will increase.
So at the time, we have to pick five.
We don't have the resolution to pick the final one.
-Who gets the final say on the final landing point? Is it you?
-How do you feel about that?
-Well, it's my job. It's the way it is.
It's going to be an exciting time and a very nerve-racking one too,
as you've heard.
Right, time to break from the Netherlands for a few minutes
and head back to London or wherever it is that
she keeps that mysterious underground bunker of hers.
Here comes Kate Russell with Webscape.
The rest of the team might have got to visit the
European Space Agency this week
but I've been enjoying a trip aboard the International Space Station.
Virtually speaking, of course.
Thanks to the ISS HD Earth-viewing experiment,
we can all see what it's like to orbit Earth,
which is rather spectacular.
A picture speaks 1,000 words - so the saying goes -
which is perhaps why the craze for infographics has
taken off on the web.
You don't need to be a designer to make your own as there
are a swathe of great tools hoping to cash in on this trend.
We looked at infogr.am a few months ago
and it is definitely a hot contender.
The company is also about to launch a video infographic maker,
which sounds pretty neat.
You can sign up for launch notification on their website.
If you follow me on social media, you might have heard me
talk about how annoying infographics are.
But don't get me wrong, done well,
like the example here from Socialnomics, they are a brilliant
addition to a web page and have been proven to drive more traffic.
There have been lots of psychological studies too,
determining that we learn and retain more from images than words.
But all too often I see them used as a cheap
and easy way to add eye candy to a website,
bringing no clarity to the subject, and in some cases just confusing it.
And that is no help to anyone.
Easel.ly is another neat tool that, as the name would suggest, is
really easy to pick up and start using.
Just choose a theme, then drop in your data to make your graphic.
If you're looking for work, visualize.me
will make an infographic out of your resume,
using data gleamed from your LinkedIn profile.
This is one-click simple
and you'll have an eye-catching introduction to share.
The key thing to consider when designing an infographic is
what kind of visualisation will make the data clearer.
I think this is where lots of makers get it wrong.
IBM has a neat experimental tool that lets you try out
lots of different styles, to see which one works.
It's called Many Eyes.
Head along to the research page
and try on a few styles with just a click.
Kate Russell's Webscape.
And just before we go, I thought I'd show you ESA's Mars Yard.
This is where they've been testing designs for the
ExoMars rover which is due to head to the Red Planet in 2018.
For example, they've been experimenting with different types
and numbers of wheels, and even the best way to control the thing
from back here on Earth.
Well, that is it. It's been a fascinating trip. Not just me, is it?
No, I didn't think so.
Hope you've enjoyed our brief voyage through the future of space travel,
and if you'd like more from us then visit our website.
And get in touch.
Or tweet us at...
Thank you very much for watching and we'll see you next time.
Click visits the European Space Agency to find out more about 'pocket' satellites. And Peter Gibbs travels to Malawi to launch a weather balloon.