Deutsches Museum

astronomy, human spaceflight, science, space exploration, travel

At the weekend, I visited the Deutsches Museum (German Museum) in Munich – the world’s largest museum of science and technology. It was a good chance to meet some fellow space enthusiasts in an informal “spacetweetup” (or as it later turned out, meetup) with various friends and friends of friends who live, study or work in/around Munich.

It still amazes me how small the space community is sometimes. I’ve travelled to different cities and it is always great to meet fellow space enthusiasts, especially who are connected through the ISU or SGAC network. Nearby also is the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) which is based in Innsbruck, who have an agreement with SGAC. It was good to connect with some more of their members too. We always seem to have people in common.

Working in the Education and Public Outreach Department (ePOD) at ESO, we produce a lot of materials for the public, including a lot of posters, flyers and booklets. I was pleased I was able to take some along to share with space enthusiasts.

Fellow space enthusiast and ISU alumna, Nikita, my work colleague at ESO. ON our way to the Deutsches Museum.


V2 rocket on display at the Deutsches Museum.

A large display of various rockets to scale at the Deutsches Museum.

A large display of various rockets to scale at the Deutsches Museum.

2013 – A Year In Review

personal, rantings, travel

The weeks and months flutter by so quickly these days. I can hardly believe how fast 2013 has passed by. Now I have settled down a bit here in Munich, I can take a bit of time to reflect on the past year.

For me, 2013 was a great year. One with a great amount of travelling and a range of experiences, meeting new people and learning new things. I am still quite amazed at the sheer number of things I did and I am feeling much better for it.

I suppose 2013 was a strange new start for me. I moved on from some difficult personal circumstances and decided it was time for a change. I was offered a great opportunity to work in Vienna, supporting activities at Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) at their HQ in Vienna.

Looking back, I suppose it was a great get-away at the perfect time, and an opportunity I have much sought, to work for an international organisation relating to space. Of course, prior to this I had been quite active for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) but this was really the first time I had moved to live in a different country for some months and support an organisation on the global level. I am thankful to SGAC for the opportunity and to be able to speak at the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) Scientific and Technical subcommittee.


Me speaking at the UN COPUOS on behalf of SGAC

I am pleased I was able to return later to the UN COPUOS Legal subcommittee before my departure from Vienna. It was a great four months or so there and I will hope to return from Munich shortly.

While in Vienna, I was also busy co-organising the UKSEDS National Student Space Conference 2013, in its 25th year. I was pleased to return to the UK for the celebrations.

From Vienna I travelled on to Berlin, where my good friend Charitarth was studying in an internship in Potsdam. Although I had been in Germany before, this was my first time to the capital. I was rather touched in seeing first-hand some of the history of the city in what remains of the Wall.

While visiting Charitarth, I was pleased to be called for interview for the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Programme (SSP) which I applied for. Shortly after my return to the UK, I found out I was accepted onto the programme in Strasbourg, France at the central campus of ISU. I was amazed I received the full scholarship from the European Space  Agency (ESA) and UK Space Agency – the equivalent of 16,500 Euros!

ISU Campus. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

ISU Campus. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

In June I set out to Strasbourg and learnt more about the European space sector and its role in industry. I was able to visit many sites, including ESA’s mission control centre at ESA Operations Centre (ESOC), EUMETSAT and SES Satellites (Luxembourg). Earlier I had been to Inmarsat and Surrey Satellites Technology Ltd., so it was great to be able to absorb the industry side of space, as I was more familiar with the purely academic side.

It was a great summer. I learnt more about space applications, an up and coming sector, especially in the UK as we have launched Satellite Applications Catapult and our own ESA centre,  the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT). It was also a lot of fun to travel more, meet new people from around the world and become part of a very active network for space. I was pleased I was able to fit in a visit to the Buran Space Shuttle at the Technik Museum Speyer.

Buran Space Shuttle at Technik Museum Speyer. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

Buran Space Shuttle at Technik Museum Speyer. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

We were warned by our professor, Scott Madry about the “de-orbit” from ISU. Throughout the summer, we worked in overdrive, deadlines were tight, there was one amazing opportunity from the next, a lot of travel but soon the nine weeks came to an end. We returned to our homes and time would appear to slow down. Indeed, when I returned home to Skegness it seemed like much of the summer was a dream. We did so many great things and met so many great people.

When I returned home, I was on the search for work. The current prospects in Europe are rather tough but I felt rather inspired by ISU and the new experiences I had learnt. Some days though, it was somewhat depressing to realise ISU was over and the reality set in. I applied to a number of positions and was pleased to be offered amazing opportunities at both UNAWE, based in the Netherlands and at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Germany. Thankfully it worked out that I was able to do both.

In October, I moved to Leiden in the Netherlands to work at UNAWE, based at Leiden University. My role was to disseminate Space Scoop, astronomy news for kids and aim to bring this to a much wider audience. It was a great experience to share Space Scoop with my existing network and learn of some new ones. In less week of me working at UNAWE, I travelled to Heidelberg, Germany and the Haus der Astronomie (House of Astronomy) where we held the UNAWE international workshop which brought together all the international partners.

It was amazing how many people I already knew in the Netherlands at ESTEC, nearby at TU Delft, as well as a couple of people at Leiden University itself. I was able to connect with the “ISU family” in a dinner there. I left with fond memories of Leiden and it is a shame it was so short-lived. I was pleased that I was able fit in a visit to Brussels, Belgium for the SGAC Christmas Dinner at the start of December, only a couple of hours drive away.

I returned home for Christmas for a week and then prepared for my next travels, onto Munich where I am currently based. I saw New Years through with a good friend and met some cool people in the hostel I stayed in.

2013 was a year with a lot of travel and different experiences. I was pleased at the opportunity to be able to work and study in a few different places. Whereas I really enjoyed this all, I feel I do need to focus more on permanent position in science communication, my main aim for 2014. I hope to bring all my experience to a new level.

I am now working at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching, near Munich, the capital of the state of Bavaria in Germany. I will be working as a journalist, science communication intern for the next months. I will work with a team of professional science communicators for the preparation of ESO and ESA/Hubble news and photo releases, publications, web pages, video scripts, exhibition panels and other public communication products.

Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons


On Saturday, following the ISU Rocket Launch, a few of us made our way to Region Lorraine for the Mondial Air Ballons (World Air Balloons).

It was very much an impromptu visit. Our colleague, Michael, only booked the hire car at 11:30pm on Friday night and sent the e-mail out soon after. I immediately jumped at the chance to go to this. Other than my department trips, I hadn’t managed a trip outside of Strasbourg, so it was a perfect opportunity to escape Strasbourg and explore some countryside.


Nearby countryside


Nearby sign posts

Chambley, in the region of Lorraine, just outside of Metz was about 2.5-3 hours from Strasbourg. We left the ISU rocket launches at 3:15pm and after half an hour trying to leave Strasbourg (on last day of the sales, we later realised) we arrived at the aerodrome.

A very pleasant drive through Lorraine, the region was a spectacular sight among the soaring heat.


Fields of sunflowers

Chambley aerodrome sign

Chambley aerodrome sign

After some delay, the balloons finally were inflated.

Hot air balloons just being inflated

Hot air balloons being inflated

The sky was suddenly full of a multitude of colour among the blue sky. Here’s a very British balloon I photographed.


It was quite surreal to have so many balloons flying around you. Powered by no engines, they just blew past silently, sometimes above your head. It was a great feeling to have those people fly past, waving back at them.



Established in 1989, Lorraine Mondial is the world’s largest hot air balloon gathering.

IMG_9926**Update** 1st August: Day in Pictures “More than 400 hot-air balloons in Chambley-Bussieres, eastern France, attempt to set a world record for collective taking-off.”

Visit to SES, Luxembourg

ISU, travel

On Tuesday, July 23, we were joined the Space Management and Business (MGB) and Space Policy, Economics, and Law (PEL) Departments for a professional visit to SES Luxembourg.

We were honoured to be joined by Dr Joe Pelton, Emeritus Director of the Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute (SACRI) at George Washington University and author of several publications and editor of this year’s textbook, The Farthest Shore.

Joe Pelton

Dr Joe Pelton speaking to us about some of the background of SES and some important facts about ITU, on our way to Luxembourg

SES logo

SES sign

We were given an introduction and background to the company, a tour of its facilities, as well as an opportunity to meet with several ISU Alumni at SES. The company is a global player in satellite communications and is constantly expanding his markets. It is attracting a number of space professionals such as those from ISU.


Walter Peeters

Prof. Walter Peeters, President of ISU thanks Jean-Paul Hoffman for his support to ISU

Space Apps department at SES

Space Apps department at SES

Me at SES

Me at SES

Illumination of Strasbourg Cathedral

ISU, travel

On Saturday (7th) we saw the Illumination of Strasbourg “Notre-Dame” Cathedral in a fantastic spectacle; the first of many throughout the summer.

From Saturday, July 7th to Sunday, September 2nd – every evening, from 10.30 pm to 0.30 am in July, and from 10.10 pm to 0.30 am in August, in the Cathedral square.

This year, the Cathedral illuminations celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of the Elysée and the French-German friendship.

Illumination of Strasbourg Cathedral

Illumination of Strasbourg Cathedral. Photo credit: Ryan Laird

Visit to Surrey Satellites Technology Ltd (SSTL)

travel, UKSEDS
Picture of SSTL logo.

Picture of SSTL logo at front of Kepler Building, SSTL.

Soon after my return to the UK, I was pleased to attend a tour of Surrey Satellites Technology Ltd (SSTL). Members of UKSEDS met at the site in Guildford, Surrey on 26th April.

Unfortunately we were not permitted to take photos inside the buildings themselves.

We were given an overview of the company, along with SSTL’s missions – those launched, those and those currently in development and manufacture, as well as careers at SSTL including their Graduate Development Programme.

We were told of the news of STRaND-1 – the world’s first “phonesat”; a nanosatellite carrying a smartphone (Google Nexus One) built in engineer’s free time and using advanced commercial off-the-shelf components.

Many images taken by satellites built by the company were on display throughout the buildings, many which can be viewed here. For example, NigeriaSAT-2 took a rather “familiar” image of the East-End of London, below.

Acquired by NigeriaSat-2 a few days before the Olympics 2012, this image shows the East End of the city of London including the Olympic Park  to the North of the Thames, London City Airport, London's flood defence - the Thames Barrier, and the Millenium Dome. Credit: NASRDA

Acquired by NigeriaSat-2 a few days before the Olympics 2012, this image shows the East End of the city of London including the Olympic Park to the North of the Thames, London City Airport, London’s flood defence – the Thames Barrier, and the Millenium Dome.
Credit: NASRDA

We were given a tour around Tycho House which accommodates the company’s mission analysis, engineering, project management, operations and administration teams. We could see their Mission Control Centre where in-orbit operations are performed.

Adjacent to the Tycho Building is the Kepler Building, SSTL’s technical facility which houses SSTL’s cleanrooms, test facilities and laboratories. Unfortunately the first Galileo satellite, just ready for transport to ESA was hidden away from public view on our visit.


UKSEDS members outside SSTL

Update 16 May 2013: “First New Galileo Satellite Arrives At ESA for Space Testing”

Easter at Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien (Schoenbrunn Palace, Vienna)


I spent my Good Friday at Schloß Schönbrunn, Wien (Schoenbrunn Palace, Vienna) where there was an Easter Market. Armed with my camera, I took many photos (which can be viewed in full here). From an artistic point of view, I loved the many decorated Easter eggs and other decorations. Here are some of my highlights:

Decorated Easter eggs.

Decorated Easter eggs.


Decorated wood rabbits.

Giant Easter eggs displayed at Schoebrunn Palace Easter market.

Giant Easter eggs displayed at Schoebrunn Palace Easter market.

Bird in nest model on display.

Bird in nest model on display.

Schoenbrunn Palace

Schoenbrunn Palace