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All DP1 Physics students were invited to take a tour of the European Space Agency (ESA), more specifically the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt. The tour was divided into two segments; a detailed tour through the operational facilities of ESA, and a talk about the XMM Newton Space Telescope.
Michael Denis gave the students a tour around the ESA. Not only was Mr. Denis a tour guide, he is also the Flight Operations Director for the ExoMars mission, which was launched on March 14th, 2016. The main objective of this mission is to search for evidence of methane, and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes. Mr. Denis proceeded to explain that, by taking advantage of Earth’s and Mars’ positions, the journey of the satellite, named Schiaparelli, is limited to roughly 7 months. Schiaparelli will arrive at Mars in October 2016. The students were shown around the Mission Control Centers at ESA, attaining a feel for what a mission launch may feel like from the office. Interesting exhibits around the facilities included an exact replica of the Rosetta satellite, “Europe’s Comet Chaser”, high definition photos of Mars’ landscapes, and debris from a previously failed Ariane 5 rocket launch.
The students were then handed over to Dr. Markus Kirsch, the Spacecraft Operations Manager for the XMM Newton Space Telescope, the most powerful X-ray telescope ever placed in orbit. The ongoing mission was launched in December 1999. As an operations manager, Dr. Kirsch’s responsibility is to regulate the commands that are being sent to the telescope. He gave the students an interesting lecture about x-rays, how they are created in the universe through extremely violent processes, and about the development of his camera, which is used on-board the spacecraft.