samedi 14 septembre 2019

NASA Funds CubeSat Pathfinder Mission to Unique Lunar Orbit

NASA logo.

Sept. 14, 2019

NASA has awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate a CubeSat mission to the same lunar orbit targeted for Gateway – an orbiting outpost astronauts will visit before descending to the surface of the Moon in a landing system as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is expected to be the first spacecraft to operate in a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. In this unique orbit, the CubeSat will rotate together with the Moon as it orbits Earth and will pass as close as 1,000 miles and as far as 43,500 miles from the lunar surface.

Animation above: Highly elliptical, a near rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon takes advantage of a precise balance point in the gravities of Earth and the Moon and creates a stability that is ideal for long-term missions like Gateway. Animation Credit: Advanced Space.

The pathfinder mission represents a rapid lunar flight demonstration and could launch as early as December 2020. CAPSTONE will demonstrate how to enter into and operate in this orbit as well as test a new navigation capability. This information will help reduce logistical uncertainty for Gateway, as NASA and international partners work to ensure astronauts have safe access to the Moon’s surface. It will also provide a platform for science and technology demonstrations.

“This is an exciting opportunity for NASA to aggressively push forward towards the Moon in partnership with several American small businesses as a vanguard to Artemis and sustained human presence beyond low-Earth orbit,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “This mission is highly ambitious in both cost and schedule – and taking that deliberate risk is part of the objective of this mission – alongside the rapid technological advancement in cislunar navigation and the opportunity to verify orbital trajectory assumptions and retire unknowns for future missions.”

The 12-unit CubeSat is about the size of a small microwave oven. Onboard is a communications system capable of determining how far CAPSTONE is from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and how fast the distance between the two spacecraft is changing. The inter-spacecraft information will be used to demonstrate software for autonomous navigation, allowing future missions to determine their location without having to rely exclusively on tracking from Earth.

CAPSTONE will provide NASA and its partners with important insights to support exploration of the Moon and Mars, including:

- Demonstration of spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation services

- Verification of near rectilinear halo orbit characteristics for future spacecraft

- Experience entering this orbit with a highly efficient lunar transfer

- Experience with rideshare or small dedicated launches to the Moon

- Commercial experience providing mission planning and operations support services for CubeSats beyond Earth

- Rapid commercial delivery of a CubeSat mission beyond Earth orbit

“CAPSTONE offers a lot in a small package,” said Advanced Space CEO Bradley Cheetham. “Not only will it serve as a pathfinder for Artemis, but it will also demonstrate key exploration-enabling commercial capabilities. Our team will be pioneering state-of-the-art tools for mission planning and operations to enable growth in the number of future missions to the Moon, Mars, and throughout the solar system.”

A number of launch options are possible for the mission, including being the primary payload on a small spacecraft launch vehicle. After launch, CAPSTONE will take approximately three months to enter its target orbit and begin a six-month primary demonstration phase to understand operations in this unique regime.

Image above: Illustration of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE). Image Credit: Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.

The award to Advanced Space is through a Phase III Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract, a follow-on to earlier SBIR awards that developed CAPSTONE’s autonomous positioning and navigation system experiment.

The CAPSTONE team includes Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc. of Irvine, California. The project is managed by NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology (SST) program within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Based at NASA's Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, SST expands U.S. capability to execute unique missions through rapid development and demonstration of capabilities for small spacecraft applicable to exploration, science and the commercial space sector. Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) within NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will fund the launch and support mission operations. AES engages in activities focused on advanced design, development, and demonstration of exploration capabilities to reduce risk, lower life cycle cost and validate operational concepts for future human missions.

NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

To learn more about NASA’s Artemis program and Moon to Mars exploration approach, visit:

To learn more about NASA's investments in space technology, visit:

To learn more about Advanced Space and the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System, visit:

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Clare Skelly/Ames Research Center/Alison Hawkes​.


vendredi 13 septembre 2019

Biological, Materials Sciences and Inspiration Reign Supreme at End of Workweek

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

September 13, 2019

The crew of Expedition 60 devoted their Friday to working on groundbreaking scientific research aboard the International Space Station, as well as inspiring the Artemis generation during a downlink hosted by the National STEM Cell Foundation.

Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan of NASA took the mantle of fielding selected questions from 39 middle school classrooms nationwide during the space-to-Earth call at 10:55 a.m. EDT. The downlink, hosted by the National STEM Cell Foundation at the Kentucky Science Center, allowed classes that are part of the National STEM Scholar Program to get a firsthand look at what it’s like to live and work in microgravity, with the crewmates providing anecdotes from their time in space.

Image above: Expedition 60 Flight Engineer Christina Koch of NASA conducts research for a protein crystal growth experiment in the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). The research investigates the production of antibody therapies with a longer shelf-life to benefit humans on Earth and in space. Image Credit: NASA.

Hague and Morgan, along with NASA astronaut Christina Koch and Luca Parmitano of (European Space Agency), further investigated the effects of spaceflight on rodent residents with Rodent Research-17, evaluating the changes caused by microgravity to their immunity, cells, bones and musculature. These findings will bolster discoveries for new therapies — both in space and back on Earth.

Koch also performed experiment maintenance, installing a sample cartridge into the Cryo Chiller within an Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station (EXPRESS) locker. This unique chiller provides rapid freezing capability in support of biological sciences, as well as temperature-controlled transfer to and from the space station on visiting vehicles.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Hague and Koch captured cinematic recordings of Morgan working on the Microgravity Crystals experiment for ISS Experience, a virtual reality series will educate to Earth audiences on what Expedition crew members do each day in support of operations and research. The experiment will illustrate how microgravity can be helpful in learning about diseases on Earth through the crystallization of a membrane protein integral to tumor growth and cancer survival. While the crystallization of this protein has yielded unsatisfactory results in gravity, Microgravity Crystals leverages the absence of gravity for extensive protein crystallization work onboard, significantly increasing the likelihood of successful crystal growth. Forthcoming results may support the development of cancer treatments that target the protein more effectively, and with fewer side effects.

Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos joined his American teammates in conducting routine eye ultrasounds. Since long-duration space missions have been shown to cause severe and lasting physical damage to some astronauts’ eyes, continued monitoring of eye health is necessary to mitigate any noticeable effects for the crew.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Rodent Research-17:

Cryo Chiller:

Microgravity Crystals:

ISS Experience:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Catherine Williams.

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VISTA unveils a new image of the Large Magellanic Cloud

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

13 September 2019

The Large Magellanic Cloud revealed by VISTA

ESO’s VISTA telescope reveals a remarkable image of the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our nearest galactic neighbours. VISTA has been surveying this galaxy and its sibling the Small Magellanic Cloud, as well as their surroundings, in unprecedented detail. This survey allows astronomers to observe a large number of stars, opening up new opportunities to study stellar evolution, galactic dynamics, and variable stars.

Highlights of the Large Magellanic Cloud

The Large Magellanic Cloud, or LMC, is one of our nearest galactic neighbors, at only 163 000 light years from Earth. With its sibling the Small Magellanic Cloud, these are among the nearest dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. The LMC is also the home of various stellar conglomerates and is an ideal laboratory for astronomers to study the processes that shape galaxies.

Large Magellanic Cloud

ESO’s VISTA telescope, has been observing these two galaxies for the last decade. The image presented today is the result of one of the many surveys that astronomers have performed with this telescope. The main goal of the VISTA Magellanic Clouds (VMC) Survey has been to map the star formation history of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, as well as their three-dimensional structures.

Zooming on the Large Magellanic Cloud

VISTA was key to this image because it observes the sky in near-infrared wavelengths of light. This allows it to see through clouds of dust that obscure parts of the galaxy. These clouds block a large portion of visible light but are transparent at the longer wavelengths VISTA was built to observe. As a result, many more of the individual stars populating the centre of the galaxy are clearly visible. Astronomers analysed about 10 million individual stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud in detail and determined their ages using cutting-edge stellar models[1]. They found that younger stars trace multiple spiral arms in this galaxy.

Comparison of the Large Magellanic Cloud in infrared and visible light

For millennia, the Magellanic Clouds have fascinated people in the Southern Hemisphere, but they were largely unknown to Europeans until the Age of Discovery. The name we use today harkens back to the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who 500 years ago began the first circumnavigation of the Earth. The records the expedition brought back to Europe revealed many places and things to Europeans for the first time.

Comparison of the Tarantula nebula in infrared and visible light

The spirit of exploration and discovery is ever more live today in the work of astronomers around the world, including the VMC Survey team whose observations led to this stunning image of the LMC.

Panning across the Large Magellanic Cloud


[1] Stellar models allow astronomers to predict the life and death of stars, providing insights into properties like their ages, mass, and temperature.

More information:

The stars revealed by this image were discussed in the paper “The VMC Survey - XXXIV. Morphology of Stellar Populations in the Magellanic Clouds” to appear in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


ESOcast 206 Light: VISTA Unveils the Large Magellanic Cloud

Research paper:

Photos of VISTA:

ESO’s VISTA telescope:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Mariya Lyubenova/Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP)/Maria-Rosa Cioni/ESO/VMC Survey/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Videos: ESO, N. Rinsinger ( Music: Astral Electronic/VMC Survey.

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jeudi 12 septembre 2019

CASC - Long March-4B launches ZY-1 02D satellite

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

12 sept. 2019

Long March-4B launches ZY-1 02D satellite

A Long March-4B launch vehicle launched ZY-1 02D Earth-observation satellite and two small satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, Shanxi Province, northern China, on 12 September 2019, at 03:26 UTC (11:26 local time).

Long March-4B launches ZY-1 02D satellite

According to official sources, ZY-1 02D will provide observation data for natural resources asset management, ecological monitoring, disaster prevention and control, environmental protection, urban construction, transportation and contingency management.

ZY-1 02D satellite

The small satellite BNU-1 was developed by Beijing Normal University and the other satellite belongs to a Shanghai-based private space technology company. Both have an expected lifespan of one year.

It will provide observation data for natural resources asset management, ecological monitoring, disaster prevention and control, environmental protection, urban construction, transportation and contingency management. With an expected lifespan of five years, ZY-1 02D will form a network with more satellites to follow.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

Images, Text, Video, Text, Credits: CASC/CNSA/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


New Station Crew Continues Preparations for Launch as Expedition 60 Enjoys Off Day

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

September 12, 2019

The crew of Expedition 60, consisting of Commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos; NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Andrew Morgan and Nick Hague; ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano; and cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, took much-needed respite during an off-duty day aboard the International Space Station. Tomorrow, investigations furthering scientific research in support of crew health and extended travels to destinations deeper in the solar system will resume.

Image above: In the Integration Building at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 61 crew member Jessica Meir of NASA runs through procedures Sept. 11 aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft during an initial Soyuz vehicle fit check. Image Credits: NASA/Victor Zelentsov.

On Earth, the Expedition 61 prime crew of cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, along with spaceflight participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, are at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, finalizing pre-launch training and preparations for their launch on Sept. 25 aboard a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft. Yesterday, they ran through procedures and completed the necessary fit check, spacesuits donned, within the Soyuz vehicle. Today, they took part in ceremonial activities, such as raising the flags of Russia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates, along with backup crew members Tom Marshburn of NASA, Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos and spaceflight participant Sultan Al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Catherine Williams.

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Two Asteroids to Safely Fly by Earth

Asteroid Watch logo.

Sept. 12, 2019

Two relatively medium-sized asteroids will fly safely past Earth overnight Sept. 13-14 (Eastern U.S. time). NASA is tracking the objects, but orbit calculations ruled out any chance that the objects could pose a threat to our planet.

“These asteroids have been well observed—once since 2000 and the other since 2010—and their orbits are very well known,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer and program executive for the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. “Both of these asteroids are passing at about 14 lunar distances from the Earth, or about 3.5 million miles away, but small asteroids pass by Earth this close all the time.”

Near-Earth asteroid 2010 C01, estimated to be 400 to 850 feet (120 to 260 meters) in size, will safely pass Earth at 11:42 p.m. EDT on Sept. 13 (3:42 UTC on Sept. 14). The second object, 2000 QWZ is estimated to be 950 to 2,100 feet (290 to 650 meters) in size will pass later at 7:54 a.m. EDT Sept. 14 (23:54 UTC).

What is a near-Earth object?

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are asteroids and comets that orbit the Sun, but their orbits bring them into Earth’s neighborhood – within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.

Near-Earth Asteroid's

These objects are relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.6 billion years ago. Most of the rocky asteroids originally formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, while comets, composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, formed in the cold outer solar system.

Who searches for near-Earth objects?

NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program finds, tracks and monitors near-Earth asteroids and comets. Astronomers supported by the program use telescopes to follow up the discoveries to make additional measurements, as do many observatories all over the world. The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also uses these data to calculate high-precision orbits for all known near-Earth objects and predict future close approaches by them to Earth, as well as the potential for any future impacts.

How Does NASA Spot a Near-Earth Asteroid?

How do we calculate the orbit of a near-Earth object?

Scientists determine the orbit of an asteroid by comparing measurements of its position as it moves across the sky to the predictions of a computer model of its orbit around the Sun. The more observations that are used and the longer the period over which those observations are made, the more accurate the calculated orbit and the predictions that can be made from it.

How many near-Earth objects have been discovered so far?
All Known Asteroids in the Solar System (1999-2018)

At the start of 2019, the number of discovered NEOs totaled more than 19,000, and it has since surpassed 20,000. An average of 30 new discoveries are added each week. More than 95 percent of these objects were discovered by NASA-funded surveys since 1998, when NASA initially established its NEO Observations Program and began tracking and cataloguing them.

Related links:

Planetary Defense Coordination Office:

Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program:

Center for Near-Earth Object Studies:

Read More:

NASA Planetary Defense:

NASA Center for Near-Earth Object Studies:

International Astronomical Union (IAU) Minor Planet Center:

Twitter: Asteroid Watch:


Images, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA/Brian Dunbar/ESA.


Hubble Reveals Latest Portrait of Saturn

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

12 September 2019

Latest Saturn Portrait

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 observed Saturn on 20 June 2019 as the planet made its closest approach to Earth this year, at approximately 1.36 billion kilometres away.

Since the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, its goal has been to study not only distant astronomical objects, but also the planets within our Solar System. Hubble’s high-resolution images of our planetary neighbours can only be surpassed by pictures taken from spacecraft that actually visit these bodies. However, Hubble has one advantage over space probes; it can look at these objects periodically and observe them over much longer periods than any passing probe could.

The Moons of Saturn (annotated)

Saturn hosts many recognisable features, most notably its trademark ring system, which is now tilted towards Earth. This gives us a magnificent view of its bright icy structure. Hubble resolves numerous ringlets and the fainter inner rings. Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens first identified the rings in 1655 and thought they were a continuous disk encircling the planet, but we now know them to be composed of orbiting particles of ice and dust. Though all of the gas giants boast rings, Saturn’s are the largest and most spectacular.

The age of Saturn’s ring system continues to be debated. And, even more perplexingly, it’s unknown what cosmic event formed the rings. There is no consensus among planetary astronomers today.

Another intriguing feature is the long-lasting hexagon-shaped structure circling the planet’s north pole. It is a mysterious six-sided pattern caused by a high-speed jetstream. The hexagon is so large that four Earths could fit inside its boundaries (there is no similar structure at Saturn’s south pole).

Pan Over Saturn

Other features, however, are not as long-lasting. A large storm in the north polar region spotted by Hubble last year has disappeared. Smaller, convective storms, such as the one just above the centre of the planet’s image, also come and go.

Saturn’s amber colours come from summer smog-like hazes, produced in photochemical reactions driven by solar ultraviolet radiation. Below the haze lie clouds of ammonia ice crystals, as well as deeper, unseen lower-level clouds of ammonium hydrosulphide and water. The planet’s banded structure is caused by the winds and clouds at different altitudes.

Animation of Saturn’s Moon

Saturn’s appearance changes with its seasons, caused by the planet’s 27-degree axial tilt. This image was taken during summer in the planet’s northern hemisphere.

This image is the second in a yearly series of snapshots taken as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) project. OPAL is helping scientists to understand the atmospheric dynamics and evolution of our Solar System’s gas giant planets. In Saturn’s case, astronomers will be able to track shifting weather patterns and other changes to identify trends.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

More information:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


Images of Hubble:

Images of Saturn from Hubble:

Hubblesite release:

Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL):

Images, Videos, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)/NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC) and the OPAL Team/Videos: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)/NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and J. DePasquale (STScI).

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