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How geodesy created a vision of the Earth through the jewelled LAGEOS satellites

11 May 2017, 04:16 UTC
How geodesy created a vision of the Earth through the jewelled LAGEOS satellites
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Image courtesy of NASACould this be the most beautiful satellite ever made? In fact it is one of twins, as there are two of these jewelled spheres in Earth orbit. They're the LAGEOS satellites, essentially inert reflectors to bounce lasers off. The jewels are fused silica, except for four made from germanium. The interior is not a void filled with instruments: it's a solid brass cylindrical core, covered in a thick aluminium shell, as you can see in the video below.(Hang on, you say. Fused silica? Isn't that just glass? Well yes and no. It's amorphous silica, but without any of the other ingredients that make up the glass we use, like lime, soda and potash).LAGEOS stands for LAser GEOdynamic Satellite. The first was launched by the US on May 4 1976, and the second, made by the Italian Space Agency, was launched in 1992. This means in 2017 the 60 cm sphere - harking back to the spherical satellites of the early space age, such as Sputnik, Vanguard and Echo, achieved 41 years in orbit. It's a veteran of space science.And because they're completely passive, with no power, fuel, solar panels or instruments, their missions are not ending any ...

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