Exploring the Space. Probes, launchers and satellites

A journey inside the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci in Milan and through the highlights of the exhibition on Space exploration.

By National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

Model of core sampling drill (2014) and parachute prototype (2012) from the ExoMars mission

Of all the planets in our Solar System, Mars has been studied the most by space probes.
As early as the 1970s, NASA's Viking project landed a pair of twin probes on Mars to photograph the surface of the planet and perform physical and chemical analyses of the soil. The goal was to look for signs of life. Many other probes–not only American but also European–have been launched for the same purpose. Over recent years, the European Space Agency has developed an ambitious plan for Mars.
ExoMars is the first mission in the program being carried out in collaboration with Russia's Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities.
The mission is divided into two parts. The first was completed in 2016 by placing a satellite in orbit around Mars to study its surface in detail. The second will take place in 2020, when a rover fitted with a drill will land on the surface and drill into the ground for the first time, going two meters deep in search of proof of life.
Exhibited here are a replica of the future rover's drill and a prototype of the parachute that will slow its descent toward the surface of Mars.

Jet-X telescope X-ray mirror (1994) and replica of Riccardo Giacconi's first X-ray astronomy mirror (1962)

The first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was launched in 1957. Until then, astronomers had only observed space from the ground, with the atmosphere acting as a filter between the earth and the object in question. Overcoming this barrier allows us to discover new phenomena, since it makes it possible to investigate all the radiation emitted by celestial bodies, including X-rays. The nature of this radiation is very similar to visible light or radio waves, but it is emitted under extreme physical conditions; the quantity of energy transported can be up to a million times greater than that of light.
Normal telescopes cannot be used for X-ray astronomy; instead, specific instruments with specially shaped mirror lenses are required.
The Italian Riccardo Giacconi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002, was one of the first to use X-rays.
In 1962, using a mirror just like the faithful replica you see here, Giacconi observed a celestial source of X-rays for the first time. This led to the birth of a new branch of astrophysics: high-energy astrophysics.
Today, the Brera-Merate Astronomical Observatory is a world leader in the design of these instruments. It produced the telescope for the Swift satellite and the Jet-X telescope for the Russian Spectrum-X-Gamma mission, which comprises 12 concentric mirrors made of nickel and gold as seen here.

Qualification model of the San Marco-C satellite (1971)

Thanks to the San Marco project, Italy became the third nation in the world after the Soviet Union and the United States to design and produce a satellite and put it into orbit around the earth. In 1964, just seven years after the launch of the first artificial satellite in history (Sputnik 1) by the Soviets, San Marco 1 reached its orbit around the Equator. It studied the atmosphere in a zone that had never been investigated before: a highly prestigious scientific and technological endeavor. By 1988, four more satellites from the San Marco family had been launched. Air density at high altitudes, the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, its chemical composition, the density of the ionosphere, solar radiation monitoring, and the study of the phenomena of the upper atmosphere and their influence on the earth's climate were among the scientific parameters measured by these satellites.
The model shown here is totally identical to the one launched into space. It was used on the ground to check the on-board equipment installed on the satellite destined to be launched.

Qualification model of the SIRIO telecommunications satellite (1977)

SIRIO, the Italian Satellite for Industrial and Operational Research, was an experimental artificial telecommunications satellite. Designed and built in Italy, it was launched on August 26, 1977 from the Cape Canaveral base in the USA. Thanks to experiments conceived at the Polytechnic University of Milan and the tools used to carry them out, we now have a better understanding of the effects of meteorological conditions on the propagation of very high frequency radio waves used in telephone and television communications, thus expanding the possibilities open to us. SIRIO was a program led by the CNR (National Research Council), while the satellite was built by the Compagnia Industriale Aerospaziale (CIA - Industrial Aerospace Company). Originally designed to operate for just two years, SIRIO was actually used for approximately eight years, until 1985. The model shown here is totally identical to the one launched into space. It was used on the ground to check the on-board equipment installed on the satellite destined to be launched.

Avio Zefiro 9 engine from the European launcher Vega (2014)

The Z9 is the third stage of Vega. Like the first two, it does not contain any operational payload, only a large rocket engine. The cylindrical section houses the solid propellant which, once lit, forces hot gas through the exhaust nozzle, providing upward thrust.
Vega is one of the most important launchers that the European Space Agency has made available to European institutions and the market for the launch of small satellites into orbit. European Launch Vehicle (ELV), a company owned by the Italian firm Avio and the Italian Space Agency, began developing it in 1998. Vega can bring up to 1,500 kilograms into low orbit (below an altitude of 1,000 kilometers). With a height of 30 meters and a maximum diameter of 3, it is largely made from carbon fiber, making it strong yet light at the same time.

Credits: Story

Exhibition by
Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia
Leonardo da Vinci

Via San Vittore 21


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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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