lundi 15 juillet 2019

Crew and Cargo Rockets Poised for Rollout Ahead of Weekend Launches

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

July 15, 2019

Two rockets will be rolling out to their launch pads this week in Kazakhstan and Florida to blastoff to the International Space Station. The orbiting Expedition 60 trio will be welcoming three new crewmates Saturday and receive more science experiments and crew supplies next Tuesday, July 23.

First-time space flyer Andrew Morgan of NASA is joining veteran station residents Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos for a ride to the station on Saturday. They will launch aboard the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 12:28 p.m. EDT for a six-and-a-half hour trip to their new home in space. Their mission comes 50 years to the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first stepped on the Moon.

Image above: New Expedition 60 crewmembers (from left) Drew Morgan, Alexander Skvortsov and Luca Parmitano pose for pictures July 12 at the Cosmonaut Hotel crew quarters in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Image Credits: Andrey Shelepin/GCTC.

The SpaceX Dragon space freighter is launching from Kennedy Space Center at 7:35 p.m. on Sunday for its 18th contracted mission to resupply the orbiting lab. The reusable cargo craft is delivering a variety of research gear supporting future space missions and healthier humans. NASA TV is broadcasting live the launch and arrival of both missions to the station.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Christina Koch continue training today for the robotic capture of Dragon when it arrives early next Tuesday. Hague will command the Canadarm2 to reach out and grapple Dragon around 7 a.m. while Koch backs him up. Morgan will monitor telemetry during the spacecraft’s approach and rendezvous.

Station Commander Alexey Ovchinin spent the day on cleaning and maintenance duties on the Russian side of the space station. The veteran cosmonaut also inventoried medical equipment, medicines and dentistry gear.

Related article:

Science Soars to the Space Station on SpaceX CRS-18

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

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Gaia’s biggest operation since launch and commissioning

ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

15 July 2019

On Tuesday 16 July, teams at ESA’s mission control will perform an ‘orbit change manoeuvre’ on the Gaia space observatory – the biggest operation since the spacecraft was launched in 2013.

Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way

Gaia is on a mission to survey more than a billion stars, charting the largest three-dimensional map of our galaxy, the Milky Way. In so doing, the spacecraft is revealing the composition, formation and evolution of our galaxy, and a whole lot more.

For the last five and a half years, the spacecraft has travelled in an orbit designed to keep it out of Earth’s shadow, the second Lagrange point.

Spacecraft on L2

At 1.5 million km from Earth – four times further than the Moon – the ‘L2’ is a fabulous place from which to do science. As the Sun, Earth and Moon are all in one direction relative to the spacecraft, the rest of the sky is free to observe.

Placing Gaia in L2 has also ensured the star-catcher’s stability, because to this day it has never passed into Earth’s shadow. This has kept the spacecraft undisturbed by any change in temperature or varying infra-red radiation that would result from an Earth eclipse.

Although at the end of its planned lifetime, Gaia still has fuel in the tank and a lot more science to do, and so its mission continues. However, its eclipse-dodging path will not. In August and November of this year, without measures to change its orbit, the billion-star hunter will become partially shrouded by Earth’s shadow.

Avoiding Earth's shadow

These two eclipses would prevent enough of the Sun’s light reaching Gaia’s solar panels that the observatory would shut down. As well as affecting its stability and power, such shade would cause a thermal disturbance, impacting the spacecraft’s scientific data acquisition for weeks.

Eclipse avoidance

To keep Gaia safe from these shady possibilities, operators at ESA’s mission control are planning the ‘Whitehead eclipse avoidance manoeuvre’.

On 16 July, Gaia will use a combination of its onboard thrusters to push it in a diagonal direction, away from the shadow, in a special technique known as 'thrust vectoring'.

“We’ve named this operation after a great colleague of ours, Gary Whitehead, who sadly passed away last month after serving on the Flight Control Team for more than 11 years,” says David Milligan, Spacecraft Operations Manager for the mission. 

David Milligan leads the Gaia mission control team

“The manoeuvre will allow us to change Gaia’s orbit without having to turn the spacecraft body, keeping sunlight safely away from its extremely sensitive telescope.”

The world's most stable space observatory

Gaia is an incredibly stable spacecraft. In fact, it is many, many times more stable – and therefore precise – than any other spacecraft in operation today.

“In space, stability takes time to establish,” explains David.

“Because any temperature change or unusual movement could take weeks to diminish or dampen, we always limit the time where special activities are performed that disturb scientific observations.”

Gaia, 2011, our galaxy as never seen before

“As well as the Whitehead manoeuvre, we will perform some maintenance and calibration activities on the spacecraft’s complex subsystems, which would otherwise have disturbed Gaia’s science.”

Because of its position and unparalleled precision, Gaia is one of the most productive spacecraft out there. Last year alone, more than 800 scientific papers were published based on its observations.

Gaia’s sky in colour

Related links:

ESA’s mission control:

Gaia space observatory:

Lagrange point:

Flight Dynamics:

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

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NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 Gets First Data

ISS - Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) logo.

July 15, 2019

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), the agency's newest carbon dioxide-measuring mission to launch into space, has seen the light. From its perch on the International Space Station, OCO-3 captured its first glimpses of sunlight reflected by Earth's surface on June 25, 2019. Just weeks later, the OCO-3 team was able to make its first determinations of carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence - the "glow" that plants emit from photosynthesis, a process that includes the capture of carbon from the atmosphere.

The first image shows carbon dioxide, or CO2, over the United States during OCO-3's first few days of science data collection. These initial measurements are consistent with measurements taken by OCO-3's older sibling, OCO-2, over the same area - meaning that even though OCO-3's instrument calibration is not yet complete, it is right on track to continue its (currently still operational) predecessor's data record.

Image above: Preliminary carbon dioxide (CO2) measurements from OCO-3 over the United States. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

OCO-3 was also able to make its first measurements of solar-induced fluorescence. The second image shows solar-induced fluorescence in western Asia. Areas with lower plant glow - indicating lower photosynthesis activity - are shown in light green; areas with higher photosynthesis activity are shown in dark green. As expected, there is significant contrast in plant activity from areas of low vegetation near the Caspian Sea to the forests and farms north and east of the Mingachevir Reservoir (near the center of the image).

"The team is so excited to see how well OCO-3 is performing," said Project Scientist Annmarie Eldering, who is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "These preliminary carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence retrievals look fantastic and will only improve as calibration improves."

OCO-3 launched to the space station on May 4. Although one of its main objectives is to continue the five-year data record started by OCO-2, it has two unique capabilities. First, OCO-3 is equipped with a new pointing mirror assembly that will allow scientists to map local variations in carbon dioxide from space more completely than can be achieved by OCO-2.

Second, the space station's orbit will allow OCO-3 to see the same location on Earth at different times of day, which will allow scientists to study how carbon dioxide fluctuates throughout the day. OCO-2, not mounted on the space station, is in a near polar orbit that only allows it to see the same location at the same time of day.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

OCO-3's data will complement data from two other Earth-observing missions aboard the space station - ECOSTRESS, which measures temperature stress and water use by plants, and GEDI, which assesses the amount of above-ground organic plant material present particularly in forests. The combined data from all of these instruments will give scientists both an unprecedented level of detail about how plants around the globe are responding to changes in climate and a more complete understanding of the carbon cycle.

The mission team expects to complete OCO-3's in-orbit checkout phase - the period where they ensure all instruments and components are working and calibrated correctly - next month. They are scheduled to release official carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence data to the science community a year later; however, given the quality of the measurements that OCO-3 is already making, the data will likely be available sooner.

The OCO-3 project is managed by JPL. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Related links:

OCO-3 (Orbiting Climate Observatory 3):

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Esprit Smith.


samedi 13 juillet 2019

Roscosmos - Spektr-RG launched


13 juil. 2019

Proton-M carrying Spektr-RG launch

A Proton-M launch vehicle, with a DM-03 upper stage, launched Spektr-RG astrophysical space observatory from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on 13 July 2019, at 12:30:57 UTC (18:30 local time).

Spektr-RG launch

Spektr-RG (Спектр-Рентген-Гамма, Spectrum X-ray Gamma, SRG) is an astrophysical space observatory, aimed at studying the Universe in the X-ray band of the electromagnetic spectrum from the Lagrange point L2 of the Sun-Earth system, 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth.

Spektr-RG X-ray observatory

Spektr-RG is a joint project between Roscosmos and DLR, the Russian and German space agencies. The mission will conduct an all-sky X-ray survey, observing galaxies and large-scale galactic clusters to help astronomers examine the role of dark energy and dark matter in the evolution of the universe.

Spektr-RG description

Spektr-RG is a Russian project with German participation, aimed at creating an orbital astrophysical observatory for studying the Universe in the X-ray wavelength range. The main goal of the project is to build a map of the whole sky, on which all the largest clusters of galaxies (about a hundred thousand) will be marked, and also to register about three million supermassive black holes.

Roscosmos Press Releases:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Roscosmos/КЦ «Южный»/ЦЭНКИ/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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vendredi 12 juillet 2019

NASA Finds an Asymmetric Tropical Storm Barry

NASA - EOS Aqua Mission logo.

July 12, 2019

Barry (was TD2) – Atlantic Ocean

Infrared imagery from NASA’s Aqua satellite shows that Tropical Storm Barry doesn’t look like a typical strong tropical cyclone. Imagery revealed that Barry is elongated and the strongest storms were south of it’s stretched out center of circulation.  

Image above: On July 12 at 4:10 a.m. EDT (0810 UTC) the MODIS instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite showed strongest storms in Tropical Storm Barry were south of the elongated center where cloud top temperatures were as cold as minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 56.6 Celsius). Image Credits: NASA/NRL.

Warnings and Watches

At 8 a.m. EDT (1200 UTC) on Friday, July 12, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami, Florida said that Barry is moving slowly to the west-northwest in the Gulf of Mexico, and south of the coast of southeastern Louisiana. NHC warns of dangerous storm surge, heavy rains, and wind conditions expected across the north-central Gulf coast.

Many warnings and watches are in effect as Barry hugs that northern Gulf coast, hammering the region. A Hurricane Warning is in effect from Intracoastal City to Grand Isle, Louisiana. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from the mouth of the Pearl River to Grand Isle, La. and for Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas including metropolitan New Orleans, and from Intracoastal City, Louisiana to Cameron, Louisiana.

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from Intracoastal City to Shell Beach, Louisiana. A Storm Surge Watch is in effect from Shell Beach to the Mississippi/Alabama border and for Lake Pontchartrain. A Hurricane Watch is in effect from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Grand Isle, La. and for Intracoastal City to Cameron, La. A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect from east of the Mouth of the Pearl River to the Mississippi/Alabama border.

Satellite Imagery

NASA’s Aqua satellite used infrared light to analyze the strength of storms and found the bulk of them in the southern quadrant. Infrared data provides temperature information, and the strongest thunderstorms that reach high into the atmosphere have the coldest cloud top temperatures.

On July 12 at 4:10 a.m. EDT (0810 UTC),  the Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite gathered infrared data on Tropical Storm Barry. Strongest thunderstorms had cloud top temperatures as cold as minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 56.6 Celsius). Cloud top temperatures that cold indicate strong storms with the potential to generate heavy rainfall. Those strongest storms were south and southeast of the center of the elongated circulation.

EOS Aqua satellite. Image Credit: NASA

The NHC said, “Barry does not have the typical presentation of a tropical cyclone on satellite imagery at this time. The cloud pattern consists of a cyclonically curved convective band on the southern semicircle, and the system is devoid of an inner convective core near the center. Barry is an asymmetric storm with most of the tropical-storm-force winds occurring in the eastern semicircle. Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km) to the east of the center.”

Barry’s Status on July 12, 2019 at 8 a.m. EDT

On July 12 at 8 a.m. EDT (1200 UTC), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the broad circulation center of Tropical Storm Barry was located near latitude 28.2 degrees north and longitude 90.3 degrees west. The minimum central pressure based on the Hurricane Hunter aircraft data is 998 millibars (29.47 inches).

Barry is moving toward the west-northwest near 5 mph (7 kph). A track toward the northwest is expected to begin later in the day on Friday, July 12, followed by a turn toward the north on Saturday, July 13.

Reports from NOAA and Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that the maximum sustained winds remain near 50 mph (85 kph) with higher gusts. Some strengthening is expected during the next day or so, and Barry could become a hurricane tonight or early on July 13 when the center is near the Louisiana coast. After landfall, weakening is expected after Barry moves inland.

Barry’s Path Forward

On the NHC forecast track, the center of Barry will be near or over the central or southeastern coast of Louisiana tonight or Saturday, July 13 and then move inland over the Lower Mississippi Valley on Sunday, July 14.

Key Messages from the National Hurricane Center

- There is a danger of life-threatening storm surge inundation along the coast of southern and southeastern Louisiana where a Storm Surge Warning is in effect. The highest storm surge inundation is expected between Intracoastal City and Shell Beach. Residents in these areas should listen to any advice given by local officials.

- The slow movement of Barry will result in a long duration heavy rainfall and flood threat along the central Gulf Coast and inland through the lower Mississippi Valley through the weekend into early next week. Flash flooding and river flooding will become increasingly likely, some of which may be significant, especially along and east of the track of the system.

- Hurricane conditions are expected along a portion of the coast of Louisiana, where a Hurricane Warning has been issued. Residents in these areas should rush their preparations to completion, as tropical storm conditions are expected to arrive in the warning area by Friday morning.

Related article:

NASA Tracks Tropical Storm Barry in Gulf of Mexico

For updated forecasts, visit:

NASA’s Aqua satellite:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Rob Gutro.


New Crew, New Science Experiments Launching Next Weekend

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

July 12, 2019

The International Space Station is gearing up for a pair of spaceships launching next weekend to deliver a new crew and more science and supplies. The Expedition 60 crew is also testing a new robotic assistant and learning how long-term weightlessness impacts crew performance.

Three people are at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan counting down to their historic July 20 launch to the orbiting lab aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship. Astronauts Drew Morgan and Luca Parmitano will flank cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov in the Soyuz spaceship as he commands their six-and-a-half hour ride to their new home in space. The trio’s launch comes 50 years to the day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the Moon for the first time.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft that will carry three new crewmembers to the International Space Station is processed for its July 20 launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

The following day on July 21, SpaceX will launch its Dragon space freighter from Florida on a day-and-a-half flight to the space station. Dragon is delivering supplies and a variety of new research gear to explore space-mining techniques, neurodegenerative disease treatments, space botany and microbial evolution.

NASA Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Christina Koch are training to capture Dragon with the Canadarm2 robotic arm when it arrives Tuesday, July 23. Hague will command Canadarm2 to reach out and grapple Dragon when the resupply ship reaches a point about 10 meters from the station. Koch will back up Hague and monitor Dragon’s approach and rendezvous from inside the cupola.

Image above: At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 60 crew members Drew Morgan of NASA, Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) pose for pictures July 5, 2019, in front of their Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft during prelaunch preparations. They will launch July 20, 2019 from Baikonur for their mission on the International Space Station. Image Credits: Roscosmos/Andrey Shelepin.

Koch set up the Astrobee free-flying robotic helper Friday afternoon and monitored its flight test in the Kibo laboratory module. Engineers are testing and calibrating the cube-shaped Astrobee’s mobility for its potential to perform routine lab monitoring and station tasks.

Hague started the day helping scientists understand how microgravity affects blood flow to the brain for the Cerebral Autoregulation biomedical study. After completing that study, he closed out the Two-Phase Flow heat transfer experiment that may advance the design of cooling systems for Earth and space applications.

Station Commander Alexey Ovchinin is helping his home space agency, Roscosmos, train future cosmonauts today. He performed tasks to help scientists understand how microgravity affects a crewmember’s ability to pilot a spacecraft or remotely control a robotic vehicle on a planetary surface.

Related links:

NASA to Broadcast Launch, Arrival of Astronaut Andrew Morgan at Space Station:

Expedition 60:


Variety of new research gear:




Kibo laboratory module:

Cerebral Autoregulation:

Two-Phase Flow:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.


Hubble Peers at Galactic Cherry Blossoms

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 12, 2019

The galaxy NGC 1156 resembles a delicate cherry blossom tree flowering in springtime in this Hubble image. The many bright "blooms" within the galaxy are in fact stellar nurseries — regions where new stars are springing to life. Energetic light emitted by newborn stars in these regions streams outwards and encounters nearby pockets of hydrogen gas, causing the gas to glow with a characteristic pink hue.

NGC 1156 is located in the constellation of Aries (the Ram). It is classified as a dwarf irregular galaxy, meaning that it lacks a clear spiral or rounded shape, as other galaxies have, and is on the smaller side, albeit with a relatively large central region that is more densely packed with stars.

Some pockets of gas within NGC 1156 rotate in the opposite direction to the rest of the galaxy, suggesting that there has been a close encounter with another galaxy in NGC 1156's past. The gravity of this other galaxy — and the turbulent chaos of such an interaction — could have scrambled the likely more orderly rotation of material within NGC 1156, producing the odd behavior we see today.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Rob Garner/Image, Animation,  Credits: ESA/Hubble, NASA, R. Jansen.

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