mardi 19 juin 2018

Crew Packs Up on Science and Cleans Up After Spacewalk












ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

June 19, 2018

The Expedition 56 crew‘s schedule is full of space science today as cleanup continues after last week’s spacewalk. The International Space Station’s three newest crew members also brushed up on their safety skills.


Image above: NASA astronaut Drew Feustel is pictured tethered to the International Space Station just outside of the Quest airlock during a spacewalk he conducted with fellow NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold (out of frame) on June 14, 2018. Image Credit: NASA.

Biology and physics were just part of the microgravity research taking place aboard the orbital laboratory today. NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor started her day collecting blood and urine samples for a trio of ongoing human research studies. She then joined European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst for the Myotone study observing how long-term space missions impact the biochemical properties of muscles. Gerst also researched ways to simplify and speed up procedures for astronauts for the Everywear experiment.

Auñón-Chancellor, Gerst and cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev also gathered midday to review the location of safety gear throughout the space station. The trio also practiced emergency communication in the station’s Russian segment.

NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold spent the day cleaning soot created in a burner during a run of the Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment. That study is exploring ways to improve fuel efficiency, reduce pollution and prevent fires in space. Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Prokopyev explored how living in microgravity affects their daily exercise regimen.


Image above: Sunrise over South Indonesia, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'598 Km/h, altitude: 408,97 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam's from ISS on June 19, 2018 at 21:34 UTC. Image Credits: Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Commander Drew Feustel worked in the Quest airlock today continuing cleanup activities after Thursday’s six-hour, 49-minute spacewalk. Feustel scrubbed the U.S. spacesuit water loops then tested water samples for conductivity before wrapping up his day.

Related article:

Spacewalkers Complete HD Camera Installation Work
https://orbiterchspacenews.blogspot.com/2018/06/spacewalkers-complete-hd-camera.html

Related links:

Expedition 56: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition56/index.html

Everywear: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=2041

Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1651

Daily exercise regimen: https://www.energia.ru/en/iss/researches/human/26.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Sentinel-3 flies tandem









ESA - Sentinel-3 Mission logo.

19 June 2018

The key to monitoring Earth’s changing environment and to guaranteeing a consistent stream of satellite data to improve our daily lives is to take the same measurements over the course of decades. But how do you know that measurements from successive satellites, even though identical in build, are like for like?

The answer, for the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission, is to engage in some nifty orbital flying.

Tandem in images

Sentinel-3 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme.

Launched in 2016, Sentinel-3A has been measuring our oceans, land, ice and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics and to provide critical information for marine operations, and more.

Its twin, Sentinel-3B, was launched in April 2018 and is having its instruments calibrated and being commissioned for service. Once Sentinel-3B is operational, the two satellites will orbit Earth 140° apart.

Sentinel-3 spacecraft

Now, however, the satellites have been positioned much closer together, flying a mere 30 seconds apart. Travelling at 7.4 km per second, the separation equates to a distance of 223 km.

The reason for this is to see how their instruments compare.

Even though the two Sentinel-3 satellites are identical, each carrying a radar altimeter, a radiometer and an imaging spectrometer, there’s a chance that their instruments could behave slightly differently.

It is important that any differences are carefully accounted for otherwise the information they deliver could be misinterpreted as changes happening on Earth’s surface.

Given the satellites’ current brief separation, their measurements should be virtually the same.

Sentinel-3 going tandem

This tandem phase is also important for the future Sentinel-3 satellites.

ESA’s ocean scientist, Craig Donlon, explains, “Our Sentinel-3 ocean climate record will eventually be derived from four satellites because we will be launching two further Sentinel-3s in the future.

“We need to understand the small differences between each successive satellite instrument as these influence our ability to determine accurate climate trends.

“The four-month Sentinel-3 tandem phase is a fantastic opportunity to do this and will provide results so that climate scientists can use all Sentinel-3 data with confidence.”

ESA’s Sentinel-3 project manager, Bruno Berruti, said, “Following liftoff and the usual checks, the operations team has been expertly flying Sentinel-3B so that it gradually flies closer to Sentinel-3A.

Sentinel-3 comparison

“We recently reached the magic separation of 30 seconds and I am happy to say that we are now officially in the tandem phase.

“This will last around four months, after which the two satellites will be gently moved apart until they reach their operational separation of 140°. This is different to the other Sentinel missions, but for our mission it is better to measure ocean features such as eddies as accurately as possible.”

ESA’s Sentinel-3 mission manager, Susanne Mecklenburg, added, “So far, we are really happy with the results of the tandem phase. Measurements from the satellites’ instrument packages seem to be very much aligned, but we will be analysing the results very carefully over the next months to make sure we account for any minor differences.”

Related links:

Sentinel-3: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-3

Sentinel data access: https://scihub.copernicus.eu/

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA/S3MPC/ACRI-ST/ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Deep Space Navigation: Tool Tested as Emergency Navigation Device












ISS - International Space Station logo.

June 19, 2018

A tool that has helped guide sailors across oceans for centuries is now being tested aboard the International Space Station as a potential emergency navigation tool for guiding future spacecraft across the cosmos. The Sextant Navigation investigation tests use of a hand-held sextant aboard the space station.


Image above: NASA astronaut Alexander Gerst learns how to use a sextant. “I learned how to navigate after the stars using a sextant,” said Gerst. “It’s actually a test for a backup nav method for #Orion & future deep space missions.” Image Credit: NASA.

Sextants have a telescope-like optical sight to take precise angle measurements between pairs of stars from land or sea, enabling navigation without computer assistance. NASA’s Gemini missions conducted the first sextant sightings from a spacecraft, and designers built a sextant into Apollo vehicles as a navigation backup in the event the crew lost communications from their spacecraft. Jim Lovell demonstrated on Apollo 8 that sextant navigation could return a space vehicle home. Astronauts conducted additional sextant experiments on Skylab.

“The basic concepts are very similar to how it would be used on Earth,” says principal investigator Greg Holt. “But particular challenges on a spacecraft are the logistics; you need to be able to take a stable sighting through a window. We’re asking the crew to evaluate some ideas we have on how to accomplish that and to give us feedback and perhaps new ideas for how to get a stable, clean sight. That’s something we just can’t test on the ground.”


Image above: Jim Lovell demonstrated on Apollo 8 that sextant navigation could return a space vehicle home. Image Credit: NASA.

The investigation tests specific techniques for using a sextant for emergency navigation on space vehicles such as Orion. With the right techniques, crews can use the tool to navigate their way home based on angles between the moon or planets and stars, even if communications and computers become compromised.

“No need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to celestial navigation,” Holt says. “We want a robust, mechanical back-up with as few parts and as little need for power as possible to get you back home safely. Now that we plan to go farther into space than ever before, crews need the capability to navigate autonomously in the event of lost communication with the ground.”

Early explorers put a lot of effort into refining sextants to be compact and relatively easy to use. The tool’s operational simplicity and spaceflight heritage make it a good candidate for further investigation as backup navigation.

Related links:

Sextant Navigation: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7646

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Melissa Gaskill.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

lundi 18 juin 2018

Investigation Tests BEST Method of DNA and RNA Sequencing










NASA - Genes in Space logo.

June 18, 2018

Much of present-day science focuses on exploring the molecular world. A primary tool is DNA sequencing, performed for the first time on the International Space Station in August 2016.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

An investigation now aboard the space station, Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST), seeks to advance use of sequencing in space in three ways: identifying microbes aboard the space station that current methods cannot detect, assessing microbial mutations in the genome because of spaceflight and performing direct RNA sequencing. All use compact tools, including the MinION miniature sequencer, already proven to work onboard the space station.

The remoteness and constrained resources of living in space require simple but effective processes and procedures to monitor the presence of microbial life, some of which might be harmful. A previous investigation, Genes in Space 3, performed in-flight identification of bacteria on the station for the first time. BEST takes that one step farther, says principal investigator Sarah Wallace, identifying unknown microbial organisms using a swab-to-sequencer process rather than a traditional culture-based technique. “That way, we can identify microbes that cannot be detected using traditional culturing methods, and we aren’t increasing the number of potential pathogens that might be present on the station,” Wallace explained.


Image above: Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) seeks to advance use of sequencing in space via three objectives: identifying microbes aboard the space station that current methods cannot detect, assessing microbial mutations in the genome because of spaceflight, and performing direct RNA sequencing. Pictured above are Sarah Stahl and Christian Castro, microbiologists on the project. Image Credit: NASA.

For the second objective, researchers plan to compare full genome sequences from multiple generations of a model organism grown on the space station against those from the same organism grown in parallel on Earth. “This can provide insight into mutation rates in low-Earth orbit,” said project manager Kristen John.

Finally, BEST demonstrates the process of direct RNA sequencing, which opens new avenues for in-flight research. Researchers found that organisms respond to spaceflight by making transcriptomic changes, changes in RNA or gene expression. Sequencing RNA defines what genes are turned on and off, which is important for understanding how life adapts to spaceflight.

“Because the MinION detects changes in current, it can directly sequence RNA as well as DNA,” said co-investigator Aaron Burton. “With most other platforms, you first have to convert RNA to DNA, and this additional processing could bias your data, causing you to miss what’s really going on. Direct RNA sequencing results in near real-time gene expression data.”


Image above: The MinION miniature sequencer and the miniPCR, both compact tools used aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

“With small modifications to our process, you can pretty much do any type of sequencing on the station,” said Wallace. “Until now, we had to bring samples back to the ground to see these changes. We know gene expression changes, but freezing a sample and bringing it back to the ground could result in alterations not caused by the spaceflight environment. If we could look at it while on the station, it might look very different. There is so much to be gained from that real-time snapshot of gene expression.”

The investigation’s DNA and RNA sequencing components provide important information about the station’s microbial occupants, including which organisms are present and how they respond to the spaceflight environment -- knowledge that will help protect humans during future space exploration. The validation of direct RNA sequencing has the potential to be a game-changer for research into crew health by eliminating the need for conversion and bias it may introduce. Knowledge gained from BEST also can be implemented to provide new ways to monitor the presence of microbes in remote locations on Earth.

Related links:

Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7687

Genes in Space 3: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7448

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Melissa Gaskill.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

55 Years ago the first woman in space












ROSCOSMOS - Vostok 6 Mission patch.

June 18, 2018

55 years ago Valentina Tereshkova escaped to the stars and herself became a bright star!  The first "Seagull" of Soviet cosmonautics (such a call-sign was invented for Tereshkova by SP Korolev) is still the only woman of the planet who made a single space flight.

Valentina Tereshkova entering inside Vostok 6 spacecraft

The first woman in space was former civilian parachutist Valentina Tereshkova, born 6 March 1937, is a retired Russian cosmonaut, engineer, and politician. She is the first woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than 400 applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. In order to join the Cosmonaut Corps, Tereshkova was honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space.

55 years since the flight of Valentina Tereshkova

who entered orbit on June 16, 1963, aboard the Soviet mission Vostok 6. The chief Soviet spacecraft designer, Sergey Korolyov, conceived of the idea to recruit a female cosmonaut corps and launch two women concurrently on Vostok 5/6. However, his plan was changed to launch a male first in Vostok 5, followed shortly afterward by Tereshkova. Khrushchev personally spoke to Tereshkova by radio during her flight.

Valentina Tereshkova

On November 3, 1963, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev, who had previously flown on Vostok 3. On June 8, 1964, she gave birth to the first child conceived by two space travelers.  The second woman to fly to space was aviator Svetlana Savitskaya, aboard Soyuz T-7 on August 18, 1982.

More information:

Chronicle of soviet-russian space program: http://en.roscosmos.ru/174/

Valentina Tereshkova on Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentina_Tereshkova

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/Wikipedia.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Star shredded by rare breed of black hole












ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

18 June 2018

ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory has discovered the best-ever candidate for a very rare and elusive type of cosmic phenomenon: a medium-weight black hole in the process of tearing apart and feasting on a nearby star.

There are various types of black hole lurking throughout the Universe: massive stars create stellar-mass black holes when they die, while galaxies host supermassive black holes at their centres, with masses equivalent to millions or billions of Suns.

Black hole candidate and host galaxy

Lying between these extremes is a more retiring member of the black hole family: intermediate-mass black holes. Thought to be seeds that will eventually grow to become supermassive, these black holes are especially elusive, and thus very few robust candidates have ever been found.

Now, a team of researchers using data from ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, as well as NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Swift X-Ray Telescope, has found a rare telltale sign of activity. They detected an enormous flare of radiation in the outskirts of a distant galaxy, thrown off as a star passed too close to a black hole and was subsequently devoured.

“This is incredibly exciting: this type of black hole hasn’t been spotted so clearly before,” says lead scientist Dacheng Lin of the University of New Hampshire, USA.

“A few candidates have been found, but on the whole they’re extremely rare and very sought after. This is the best intermediate-mass black hole candidate observed so far.”

This breed of black hole is thought to form in various ways. One formation scenario is the runaway merger of massive stars lying within dense star clusters, making the centres of these clusters one of the best places to hunt for them. However, by the time such black holes have formed, these sites tend to be devoid of gas, leaving the black holes with no material to consume and thus little radiation to emit – which in turn makes them extremely difficult to spot.

XMM-Newton view

“One of the few methods we can use to try to find an intermediate-mass black hole is to wait for a star to pass close to it and become disrupted — this essentially ‘activates’ the black hole’s appetite again and prompts it to emit a flare that we can observe,” adds Lin.

“This kind of event has only been clearly seen at the centre of a galaxy before, not at the outer edges.”

Lin and colleagues sifted through data from XMM-Newton to find the candidate. They identified it in observations of a large galaxy some 740 million light-years away, taken in 2006 and 2009 as part of a galaxy survey, and in additional data from Chandra (2006 and 2016) and Swift (2014).

“We also looked at images of the galaxy taken by a whole host of other telescopes, to see what the emission looked like optically,” says co-author Jay Strader of Michigan State University, USA.

“We spotted the source flaring in brightness in two images from 2005 — it appeared far bluer and brighter than it had just a few years previously. By comparing all the data we determined that the unfortunate star was likely disrupted in October 2003 in our time, and produced a burst of energy that decayed over the following 10 years or so.”

The scientists believe that the star was disrupted and torn apart by a black hole with a mass of around fifty thousand times that of the Sun.

Such star-triggered outbursts are expected to only happen rarely from this type of black hole, so this discovery suggests that there could be many more lurking in a dormant state in galaxy peripheries across the local Universe.

“This candidate was discovered via an intensive search of XMM-Newton’s X-ray Source Catalogue, which is filled with high-quality data covering large areas of sky, essential for determining how large the black hole was and what happened to cause the observed burst of radiation,” says Norbert Schartel, ESA Project Scientist for XMM-Newton.

XMM-Newton

“The XMM-Newton X-ray Source Catalogue is presently the largest catalogue of this type, containing more than half a million sources: exotic objects like the one discovered in our study are still hidden there and waiting to be discovered through intensive data mining,” adds co-author Natalie Webb, director of the XMM-Newton Survey Science Center at theResearch Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP) in Toulouse, France.

“Learning more about these objects and associated phenomena is key to our understanding of black holes. Our models are currently akin to a scenario in which an alien civilisation observes Earth and spots grandparents dropping their grandchildren at pre-school: they might assume that there’s something intermediate to fit their model of a human lifespan, but without observing that link, there’s no way to know for sure. This finding is incredibly important, and shows that the discovery method employed here is a good one to use,” concludes Norbert.

Notes for Editors:

"A luminous X-ray outburst from an intermediate-mass black hole in an off-centre star cluster", by D. Lin et al, is published in Nature Astronomy. DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0493-1

The study used data from ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and NASA’s Swift X-Ray Telescope, and additional images from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NAOJ’s SubaruTelescope, the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) Telescope, and the Gemini Observatory.

The galaxy is named 6dFGS gJ215022.2-055059, while the X-ray source inferred to contain the IMBH is named 3XMM J215022.4−055108. 

Related links:

Nature Astronomy: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-018-0493-1

XMM-Newton: http://sci.esa.int/xmm-newton/

XMM-Newton overview: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/XMM-Newton_overview

XMM-Newton image gallery: http://xmm.esac.esa.int/external/xmm_science/gallery/public/index.php

XMM-Newton in-depth: http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=23

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/XMM-Newton/Norbert Schartel/Natalie Webb/Michigan State University/Jay Strader/University of New Hampshire/Dacheng Lin/Optical: NASA/ESA/Hubble/STScI; X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNH/D. Lin et al./ESA/XMM-Newton; D. Lin et al (University of New Hampshire, USA). Acknowledgement: NASA/CXC.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Dark and Stormy Jupiter












NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

June 18, 2018


This image captures the intensity of the jets and vortices in Jupiter’s North North Temperate Belt.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft took this color-enhanced image at 10:31 p.m. PDT on May 23, 2018 (1:31 a.m. EDT on May 24), as Juno performed its 13th close flyby of Jupiter. At the time, the spacecraft was about 4,900 miles (7,900 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the gas giant planet at a northern latitude of about 41 degrees. The view is oriented with south on Jupiter toward upper left and north toward lower right.

The North North Temperate Belt is the prominent reddish-orange band left of center. It rotates in the same direction as the planet and is predominantly cyclonic, which in the northern hemisphere means its features spin in a counter-clockwise direction. Within the belt are two gray-colored anticyclones. 

To the left of the belt is a brighter band (the North North Temperate Zone) with high clouds whose vertical relief is accentuated by the low angle of sunlight near the terminator. These clouds are likely made of ammonia-ice crystals, or possibly a combination of ammonia ice and water. Although the region as a whole appears chaotic, there is an alternating pattern of rotating, lighter-colored features on the zone's north and south sides.

Scientists think the large-scale dark regions are places where the clouds are deeper, based on infrared observations made at the same time by Juno’s JIRAM experiment and Earth-based supporting observations. Those observations show warmer, and thus deeper, thermal emission from these regions.

Juno orbiting Jupiter. Animation Credit: NASA

To the right of the bright zone, and farther north on the planet, Jupiter’s striking banded structure becomes less evident and a region of individual cyclones can be seen, interspersed with smaller, darker anticyclones.

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager.

JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at: http://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam

More information about Juno is at: https://www.nasa.gov/juno and http://missionjuno.swri.edu

Image, Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch