samedi 10 décembre 2016

Long March 3B launches Fengyun-4A weather satellite

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

Dec. 10, 2016

Long March 3B launches (Illustration)

China launched the first of a new generation geosynchronous meteorological satellites on Saturday. The launch of Fengyun-4A satellite took place at 16:11 UTC using the Long March-3B/G2 (Y42) – or Chang Zheng-3B/G2 per its Chinese name – from the LC3 Launch Complex at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

Fengyun-4 (Wind and Cloud) series is China’s second-generation geostationary meteorological satellites after Fengyun-2 satellite series. The performance of Feng Yun-4 has been improved in relation to FY-2 in terms of data amount, network transmission bandwidth, product type and quantity and archiving data and applications.

The satellite attitude is three-axis stabilized to improve the time resolution of observations and regional mobility.

Fengyun-4A meteorological spacecraft

The new generation satellites are designed with an enhanced imagery scanning capability, desirable for monitoring small and medium scale weather systems. It is equipped with vertical atmospheric sounding and microwave detection capabilities to address 3D remote sensing at high altitudes.

The satellite also carries instrumentation for solar observations for extreme ultraviolet and X-rays, in a bid to enhance China’s space weather watch and warning capability.

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

Images, Text, Credits: CASC/Xinhua/Günter Space Page.


vendredi 9 décembre 2016

NASA Juno Mission Prepares for December 11 Jupiter Flyby

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Dec. 9, 2016

On Sunday, December 11, at 9:04 a.m. PST (12:04 p.m. EST, 17:04 UTC) NASA’s Juno spacecraft will make its third science flyby of Jupiter.

At the time of closest approach (called perijove), Juno will be about 2,580 miles (4,150 kilometers) above the gas giant’s roiling cloud tops and traveling at a speed of about 129,000 mph (57.8 kilometers per second) relative to the planet. Seven of Juno’s eight science instruments will be energized and collecting data during the flyby.

"This will be the first time we are planning to operate the full Juno capability to investigate Jupiter's interior structure via its gravity field,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We are looking forward to what Jupiter’s gravity may reveal about the gas giant's past and its future.”

Mission managers have decided not to collect data with the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument during the December flyby, to allow the team to complete an update to the spacecraft software that processes JIRAM’s science data. A software patch allowing JIRAM’s operation is expected to be available prior to the next perijove pass (PJ4) on Feb. 2, 2017.

Image above: Artist's concept of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The spacecraft team continues to weigh its options regarding modifications of Juno’s orbital period -- how long it takes for the spacecraft to complete one orbit around Jupiter. At present, Juno’s orbital period is 53.4 days. There had been plans to perform a period adjustment maneuver with the spacecraft’s main engine on Oct. 19 to reduce the orbital period to 14 days. The team made the decision to forgo the maneuver in order to further study the performance of a set of valves that are part of the spacecraft's fuel pressurization system. The period reduction maneuver was the final scheduled burn of Juno's main engine.

"We have a healthy spacecraft that is performing its mission admirably,” said Rick Nybakken, project manager for Juno from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “What we do not want to do is add any unnecessary risk, so we are moving forward carefully.”

In collaboration with NASA and the Juno team, Apple will release an interactive guide to the mission (an iBook) on Dec. 11.  

The Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet's cloud tops -- as close as about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

Juno's name comes from Roman mythology. The mythical god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife -- the goddess Juno -- was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature.

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

More information on the Juno mission is available at:

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/Tony Greicius/JPL/DC Agle.


New evidence for a warmer and wetter early Mars

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

09 December 2016

A recent study from ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides new evidence for a warm young Mars that hosted water across a geologically long timescale, rather than in short episodic bursts – something that has important consequences for habitability and the possibility of past life on the planet.

Although water is known to have once flowed on Mars, the nature and timeline of how and when it did so is a major open question within planetary science.

Image above: Hellas Basin on Mars. Image Credit: MOLA Science Team

The findings follow an analysis of a region of relatively smooth terrain, called inter-crater plains, just north of the Hellas Basin. With a diameter of 2300 km, the Hellas Basin is one of the largest identified impact craters both on Mars and within the Solar System, and is thought to have formed some 4 billion years ago.

"These plains on the northern rim of Hellas are usually interpreted as being volcanic, as we see with similar surfaces on the Moon," said Francesco Salese of IRSPS, Università "Gabriele D'Annunzio", Italy, and lead author on the new paper. "However, our work indicates otherwise. Instead, we found thick, widespread swathes of sedimentary rock."

Sedimentary and volcanic (igneous) rocks form in different ways – volcanic, as the name suggests, needs active volcanism driven by a planet's internal activity, while sedimentary rock usually requires water. Igneous rock is created as volcanic deposits of molten rock cool and solidify, while sedimentary builds up as new deposits of sediment form layers that compact and harden over geologically long timescales.

"To create the kind of sedimentary plains we found at Hellas, we believe that a generally aqueous environment was present in the region some 3.8 billion years ago," said Salese. "Importantly, it must have lasted for a long period of time – on the order of hundreds of millions of years."

A volatile adolescence?

There are a couple of key models for early Mars – both involve the presence of liquid water, but in vastly different ways.

Some studies suggest that Mars' earliest days (the Noachian period, over 3.7 billion years ago) had a steadily warm climate, which enabled vast pools and streams of water to exist across the planet's surface. This watery world then lost both its magnetic field and atmosphere and cooled down, transforming into the dry, arid world we see today.

Alternatively, rather than hosting a warm climate and water-laden surface for eons, Mars may instead have only experienced short, periodic bursts of warmth and wetness that lasted for less than 10 000 years each, facilitated by a sputtering cycle of volcanism that intermittently surged and subsided across the years.
Both scenarios could form some of the water-dependent chemistries and rock morphologies we see across Mars' surface, and have significant consequences for Mars in both a geological sense – how the planet formed and evolved, whether its past has anything in common with Earth's, and the composition and structure of its surface – and in terms of potential habitability.

"Understanding if Mars had a warmer and wetter climate for a long period of time is a key question in our search for past life on the Red Planet," said co-author Nicolas Mangold of CNRS-INSU, Nantes University, France.

"If we can understand how the martian climate evolved, we'll have a better understanding of whether life could have ever flourished, and where to look for it if it did. We can also learn much about rocky planets in general, which is especially exciting in this era of exoplanet science, and about our own planet – the same processes we think to have been important on a young Mars, such as sedimentary processes, volcanism, and impacts, have also been crucial on Earth."

From formation to erosion

Salese and colleagues used imaging and spectro-imaging data from Mars Express and MRO to create a detailed geological map of the area around northern Hellas, taking advantage of so-called "erosional windows" – geological formations that act as natural "drill holes" down into the plains, revealing deeper material (examples include impact craters, grabens, and outcrops).

Image above: Geological map of region north of Hellas Basin. Image Credits: from Salese et al., 2016. J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 121, doi:10.1002/2016JE005039, Reused with permission of the American Geophysical Union.

These data showed the plains to be composed of an over 500-metre-thick band of flat, layered, light-coloured rock. The rock showed several characteristics typical of sedimentary deposition: box-work, which is a type of box-like mineral structure formed by erosion; cross-bedding, identified as layers of rock intersecting at different tilts and inclines; and planar stratification, which manifests as distinct, near-horizontal layers of rock that line up atop one another. These were in addition to large amounts of clays known as smectites.

(Click on the image for enlarge)

Images above: Left: Erosional window carved in sedimentary rock, Hellas Basin region. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS;  Right: Cross-bedding stratifications in sedimentary rocks, Hellas Basin region. Images Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Clays are exciting chemicals, as they indicate that a wet and thus potentially habitable environment once existed at that location. Clays can also trap organic material and potentially preserve signs of life.

"These characteristics suggest that the rock didn't form from lava flow deposits but rather from sedimentary processes, which implies that the region once experienced warm and wet conditions for a relatively long time," said Salese. "When the layered rock was deposited – during the Noachian period, around 3.8 billion years ago – its surroundings must have been soaked in water, with intense liquid circulation. We think it likely formed in a lake (lacustrine) or stream (alluvial) environment, or a combination of both."

The rock then underwent an intense period of volcanic erosion during the Hesperian period (3.7 to 3.3 billion years ago) and was covered by volcanic flows, creating the morphology we see today. The scientists estimate a minimum erosion rate for this time period of one metre per million years – one hundred times higher than the erosion rates estimated on Mars in the past 3 billion years.

"This is further evidence of a prolonged period of active geological processes on the surface of early Mars," added Mangold. "We can also extrapolate our finding to the rest of Mars and be confident we understand the evolution of the planet as a whole – we believe that the global climate conditions of Noachian Mars were sufficient to support significant liquid water."

Cosmic Collaboration

This study used data from Mars Express and MRO, which allowed the scientists to explore the region's appearance, topography, morphology, mineralogy, and age. More specifically, Mars Express imaging data allowed Salese and colleagues to study the plains' geology on a regional scale, providing context for the local-scale observations from MRO.

MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter). Image Credits: NASA/JPL

The presence of rock morphologies or minerals that imply a wet history point towards possible habitability at that location in the past – something that is important in selecting landing sites and areas of interest for future robotic and potential human missions to Mars.

Mars Express. Image Credits: ESA, C. Carreau

The presence of rock morphologies or minerals that imply a wet history point towards possible habitability at that location in the past – something that is important in selecting landing sites and areas of interest for future robotic and potential human missions to Mars.

"This work again demonstrates the importance of successful cooperation between different missions, and collaboration between ESA and NASA," said Dmitri Titov, ESA Project Scientist for Mars Express. "No mission would be able to unveil the history of Mars alone. By using multiple spacecraft and different observation techniques, it's possible to characterise all kinds of different geological processes on Mars in all their complexity, and gain a more complete view of Mars' early days."

This finding is part of a series of efforts to understand Mars' history and the planet as a whole, performed using Mars Express and other spacecraft – from studying Mars' early climate by probing the evolution of large lakes that once existed across the planet's surface, to observing Mars' present-day weather (including mystery clouds and aurorae), and characterising the pockets of magnetism locked up within its crust.
More information

The study comprised imaging, topographic, and mineralogical data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) and Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer (OMEGA) aboard ESA's Mars Express, and the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), Context Camera (CTX), and Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instruments aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Related publication

F. Salese, V. Ansan, N. Mangold, J. Carter, A. Ody, F. Poulet, and G. G. Ori (14 November 2016), "A sedimentary origin for intercrater plains north of the Hellas basin: implications for climate conditions and erosion rates on early Mars", J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1002/2016JE005039.

Related Publications:

Salese, F., et al. [2016]:

For more information about Mars Express mission, visit:

Mars Express overview:

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA/Dmitri Titov/CNRS-INSU/Nantes University/Nicolas Mangold/IRSPS, Università "Gabriele D'Annunzio", Pescara, Italy/Francesco Salese.

Best regards,

Launch success of the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6)

JAXA -  H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 & (HTV-6) KOUNOTORI-6 Mission patch.

December 10, 2016 (JST)

Launch success of the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6) with the H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI6" on board

Launch of JAXA H-IIB carrying the Kounotori-6

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6) with cargo transporter to the International Space Station, the H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI6” (HTV6) on board at 10:26:47 p.m. on December 9, 2016 (JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center.

Launch of JAXA H-IIB carrying the Kounotori-6 (HTV-6) cargo ship to the ISS

The launch vehicle flew as planned, and at approximately 15 minutes and 11 seconds after liftoff, the separation of HTV6 was confirmed.

H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)

At the time of the launch, the weather was fine, the wind speed was 4.3 meters/second, from the north-west, and the temperature was 15.5 degrees Celsius.

H-IIB Launch Vehicle No.6 Flight Sequence (Quick Estimation)

(Click on the image for enlarge)

*1 Quick estimation value prior to the detailed estimation.
*2 When the combustion chamber pressure becomes 10% against the largest combustion pressure.
*3 The definition of SRB-A jettison is the separation of the rear brace.


MHI Launch Services:

H-IIB Launch Vehicle:

H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI" (HTV):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/National Research and Development Agency/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd./NASA.


jeudi 8 décembre 2016

Teaching an old satellite new tricks

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

8 December 2016


XMM-Newton is one of Europe’s longest-flying and most productive orbiting observatories, investigating the hot X-ray Universe. Thanks to teamwork and technical innovation, it’s on track to keep flying for a long time yet.

Launched 17 years ago, ESA’s orbiting X-ray telescope has helped scientists around the world to understand some of our Universe’s most mysterious events, from what happens in and around black holes to how galaxies formed.

At 3800 kg, the 10 m-long XMM-Newton is the biggest science satellite ever built in Europe and its telescope mirrors are the most sensitive ever developed.

Expected to operate for as long as a decade, the hardy spacecraft has happily surprised everyone by lasting almost two decades – and it shows no signs of giving up.

XMM testing

The success of XMM-Newton has been possible not only because of the robust spacecraft, but also the close cooperation between ESA’s astronomy centre near Madrid, Spain, and the mission controllers at ESA’s operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

“The total number of 4775 scientific publications to date, with 358 from this year alone, is an impressive record of the mission’s scientific success, covering many, many areas of astrophysics,” notes project scientist Norbert Schartel.

But keeping it fit and healthy into its third decade means the team must continue to develop and test new control techniques. A complex change to the orbit control system has almost halved fuel consumption, for example.

(Not) running on empty

For starters, keeping XMM in orbit will require occasional thruster firings, about once per day, and that means burning fuel.

“We’ve got plenty of fuel and over the years we’ve figured out how to use less and less to maintain our science orbit,” says Marcus Kirsch, spacecraft operations manager.

“The fuel is distributed between four separate tanks, but the main tank will run dry first. The design means we could not use the remaining fuel in the other tanks, so we're moving it all into tank 1. This will enable us to continue operations into the coming decade.”

Back in the control room

As part of this process, the flight control team returned to ESA’s large, general-purpose Main Control Room at mission control in November – the first time since launch in 1999 – for five days of intensive simulations. The team usually works from a smaller, dedicated room shared with the Integral and Gaia mission teams.

Team training

The simulations checked the procedures that will be used for moving the fuel and for reconfiguring XMM for working beyond 2017.

No one's new done this before

“Not many spacecraft use the specially designed tank fuel system like on XMM,” says Nikolai von Krusenstiern, spacecraft operations engineer.

“As far as we know, no one’s ever shifted fuel from one tank to another with a tank design like ours in a satellite in orbit, and we want to take as much time as necessary to minimise any risk to the mission.”

XMM space selfie

Tank-to-tank replenishment was never foreseen in the original design specifications – as XMM wasn’t meant to last so long – so no process was devised by builder Astrium (now Airbus Defence & Space).

“Airbus have been very helpful – they even helped us get in touch with the now-retired designer of the fuel system to help us to safely design the procedures,” says Nikolai.

XMM's third decade

The team will now analyse results of last month’s simulations with the aim of reconfiguring the spacecraft in 2017. This will complement the careful optimisation of the flight control procedures already in place, and keep XMM thrusters firing – and the spacecraft flying reliably – into 2023.

After that, the team will have a low-risk and confirmed plan on hand to conduct the fuel replenishment, which would thereafter keep the craft in its science mission well into its third decade.

“The time spent in training and simulations last month was hugely valuable for the entire team,” says Marcus.

“We worked together to devise a solid solution for XMM’s coming decades, and the individual engineers gained excellent training experience that they can use for XMM or even take with them if assigned to other missions.”

Related links:




XMM-Newton operations:

XMM Science Operations Centre:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros.

Best regards,

NASA Remembers American Legend John Glenn

NASA logo.

December 08, 2016

The first man of the "free world" to have gone into space died that day

Image above: President Barack Obama presents former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut and United States Senator John Glenn with a Medal of Freedom, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Sen. John Glenn:

“Today, the first American to orbit the Earth, NASA astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn, passed away. We mourn this tremendous loss for our nation and the world. As one of NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts, Glenn's riveting flight aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, united our nation, launched America to the forefront of the space race, and secured for him a unique place in the annals of history.

“While that first orbit was the experience of a lifetime, Glenn, who also had flown combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War as a Marine aviator, continued to serve his country as a four-term Senator from Ohio, as a trusted statesman, and an educator. In 1998, at the age of 77, he became the oldest human to venture into space as a crew member on the Discovery space shuttle -- once again advancing our understanding of living and working in space.

“He earned many honors for both his military and public service achievements. In 2012, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the country can bestow, and he also received the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Glenn's extraordinary courage, intellect, patriotism and humanity were the hallmarks of a life of greatness. His missions have helped make possible everything our space program has since achieved and the human missions to an asteroid and Mars that we are striving toward now.

“With all his accomplishments, he was always focused on the young people of today, who would soon lead the world. ‘The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel,’ he said. ‘To me, there is no greater calling … If I can inspire young people to dedicate themselves to the good of mankind, I've accomplished something.’

“Senator Glenn's legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching. The entire NASA Family will be forever grateful for his outstanding service, commitment and friendship. Personally, I shall miss him greatly. As a fellow Marine and aviator, he was a mentor, role model and, most importantly, a dear friend.  My prayers go out to his lovely and devoted wife, Annie, and the entire Glenn family at this time of their great loss."

For more information about Glenn’s NASA career, and his agency biography, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Bob Jacobs.

Rest In Peace John,

New Galileos join Europe’s satnav constellation

ESA - Galileo Programme logo.

8 December 2016

Galileo satellites 13 and 14 have begun transmitting navigation signals as fully operational members of Europe’s satnav constellation.

The two were launched together from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 24 May.

Galileo satellites

Their flight into space, and subsequent manoeuvres to reach their final orbital altitude, was only the start of their quest to join the operational constellation.

Next, their navigation and search and rescue payloads were methodically switched on, checked out and their performance assessed in relation to the rest of the worldwide Galileo system.

This lengthy test phase saw the satellites being run from the second Galileo Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, while their payloads’ output was assessed from ESA’s Redu centre in Belgium, equipped for the tests with specialised antennas for receiving and uplinking signals.

Galileo liftoff

The test campaign measured the accuracy and stability of the satellites’ atomic clocks – essential for the timing precision to within a billionth of a second as the basis of satellite navigation – as well as assessing the quality of the navigation signals.

Oberpfaffenhofen and Redu were linked for the entire campaign, allowing the team to compare Galileo signals with satellite telemetry in near-real time.

These two satellites were visible in the sky above Redu for a limited time each day, ranging from three to nine hours, so tests were scheduled accordingly.

Galileo's 20-m L-band antenna

Now that in-orbit testing is completed, the satellites are transmitting working navigation signals and are ready to relay any Cospas-Sarsat distress calls to emergency services.

The next four satellites, launched together on 17 November, are beginning the same in-orbit testing activity, with the aim of joining the network next spring.

About Galileo

Galileo is Europe’s civil global satellite navigation system. It will allow users worldwide to know their exact position in time and space with great precision and reliability. Once complete, the system will consist of 24 operational satellites and the ground infrastructure for positioning, navigation and timing services.

The Galileo programme is funded and owned by the EU. The European Commission has the overall responsibility for the programme, managing and overseeing the implementation of all programme activities.

Galileos 13 & 14 under launcher fairing

Galileo’s deployment, the design and development of the new generation of systems and the technical development of infrastructure are entrusted to ESA. The definition, development and in-orbit validation phases were carried out by ESA, and co-funded by ESA and the European Commission.

The European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency (GSA) is ensuring the uptake and security of Galileo. Galileo operations and provision of services will be entrusted to the GSA from 2017.

Related article:

And Yet It Moves: 14 Galileo Satellites Now In Orbit

Related links:


Launching Galileo website:

Galileo Tour:

EC Galileo website:

European GNSS Agency:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/OHB/CNES/ARIANESPACE-Optique Video du CSG, P. Piron/JM Guillon.

Best regards,