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C1XS Animations

October 14th, 2008

It’s all Peter Grindrod’s fault. Katie Joy from Birkbeck College is a Co-I for the C1XS spectrometer onboard Chandrayaan-1, the Indian lunar orbiter set to launch in just over a week. I saw her on The Sky at Night (welcome to the club Katie!) talking about the new instrument, and it seems we had exactly the same thought at about the same time…what a pity they didn’t have a nice animation of the mission and the instrument to drop into the edit of The Sky at Night. Pete mentioned my name, and I said yes, I’d love to do some animations for them, not get paid, but get to visit RAL and see some actual space hardware, and maybe see the resulting work on the news!

Chris Howe kindly went into work on a Saturday to suit me up in clean-room attire to see C1XS in the flesh - well, sort of. The flight instrument was actually in a chamber being calibrated. The door of the flight instrument, bolted to the spare instrument, were in the clean room. I now know what Steve Squyres meant when he described the JPL High Bay as being almost holy ground. Granted, the RAL clean room isn’t a huge venue for spacecraft assembly, but it is a place where a little piece of the magic happens!

Me with the C1XS spare, with the flight door

You wouldn’t believe how hot and sweaty you can get inside all that kit - especially the gloves. I can tell you from experience (from my real ‘daytime’ job) that this place is cleaner and more strict than an actual working operating theatre.


C1XS technically comes in two halves - that half that monitors the Xrays as they reflect back off the surface of the moon, and an Xray Solar Monitor, to see how many Xrays are hitting the moon in the first place.

C1XS Xray Solar Monitor

That is actual flight hardware. I think the velcro-like-material is use to help attach the insulating foil that surrounds spacecraft. Chris did an amazing job to get CAD files of the instrument to me - which I then broke apart and re-modelled most of, in 3ds Max. I wasn’t able to replicate the full complexity of the instrument, but I think it’s reasonably indicative of reality.

C1XS onboard C1

Details of its home, Chandrayaan-1, were harder to come by. Katie and Chris did a great job and got just enough information out of ISRO so that I could have a stab at modelling something a bit bling, roughly representative of the spacecraft, but most of all something that just looked ‘OK’ to put C1XS into. I don’t think the end result is the very best it could be, but it’s ‘good enough’. It looks cool, complicated, and spacey - what more could you ask for!

C1XS onboard Chandrayaan 1 over the Moon

Of course, it’s not just C1XS and C1 that had to be modelled. I needed a Moon, and an Earth. Rendering a realistic Earth is a challenge….and I cheated. I simply took an image of the Earth taken by the Messenger spacecraft on its Earth flyby of a few years ago and slapped it onto a giant virtual billboard! As for the moon… well, we need the data from this flotilla of spacecraft to better model it. Doing this animation in 2 years time will be an awesome revisit once the laser altimeters, high resolution cameras, and cartographic gurus have done their job. Currently, we have much much better data with which to model and animate Mars, than we do of Earth ( mainly down to the work done by MOLA onboard Mars Global Surveyor). I simply hunted for the best map I could find, and the best bump map - both USGS derived products. Neither are great - but in a subtle way, they represent a reminder that these missions have been long overdue!


Of course, Xrays are not a visible thing. How do you illustrate a speed-of-light fast stream of invisible Xray photons flying past the spacecraft, and bouncing back in different flavours, indicating elemental composition? I just asked 3ds max to fling particles all over the place. White for Xrays, and then a mix of red, green and blue particles to hint at the data that bounces back. The end result has C1XS seemingly vacuum up Skittle sweets from the moon - but it does represent what happens to some degree!

Candy-Hoover, C1XS

The finished result - about 90 seconds of animation spread across 5 different shots that hopefully, give the public enough ‘ooo’ to wonder what’s going on and find out more, and give the media enough ‘fill’ to spend time talking about it!

Thanks to Katie and Chris. And if you don’t like it - don’t blame me - it was all Grindrod’s idea anyway. Blame him ;)   If you do like it - thank you.  If you really like it and want something for a mission or instrument of your own, get in touch….but don’t expect it for free next time.  Pete owes me a years salary in beer.

Doug animation

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