mercredi 20 septembre 2017

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, week of September 11, 2017

ISS - Expedition 53 Mission patch.

Sept. 20, 2017

(Highlights: Week of September 11, 2017) - NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin launched to the International Space Station on Sept. 12, where they joined Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) to continue scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

As Hurricane Irma lashed the state of Florida, an investigation in orbit took data points that could improve weather prediction models and help emergency responders and coastal residents better prepare for future storms. The Cyclone Intensity Measurements from the International Space Station (Tropical Cyclone) investigation captures images and data of major storms approaching landfall. The investigation uses a specialized, automated camera and other instruments to acquire data about the storms through one of the portals on the space station.

Image above: Crew members captured this image of the aurora borealis and a lightning storm as the International Space Station flew over Canada. Image Credit: NASA.

Scientists are demonstrating new techniques for accurate real-time measurement of the intensities of strong tropical cyclones by using passive instrumentation from low-Earth orbit. This method requires measurements of the temperature of the top of the eye wall clouds of the storm and the height of these clouds above sea level. Combined with information on sea-level surface temperatures and air pressure, scientists can more accurately predict the wind speed, strength and intensities of cyclones prior to landfall. This information could assist emergency responders and coastal residents to better prepare for oncoming storms.

Nespoli continued a week-long run of the Magnetic Flux Experiment (MAGVECTOR) investigation. This ESA study looks in to how Earth's magnetic field interacts with an electrical conductor through extremely sensitive magnetic sensors placed around and above a conductor.

Earth's magnetic field is constantly flowing around us. Aside from protecting us from solar winds, it also makes a compass work and birds find their destination when migrating. This same force can interact and interfere with equipment and experiments on the space station. Using magnetic sensors placed near an electrical conductor, MAGVECTOR will help scientists gain insight into how the field influences conductors. The results will help protect future station experiments and electric equipment, and could offer insights into how magnetic fields influence electrical conductors -- the backbone of current technology.

Image above: The Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new crew members approaches the International Space Station on Sept. 12. Image Credit: NASA.

Scientists are also testing other methods to keep the computer systems on the space station functional, especially during high radiation events. Some of the computers on the orbiting laboratory are commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems that any consumer can purchase. During the High-Performance COTS Computer System on the ISS (Spaceborne Computer) investigation, scientists want to test if using software to lower the power and, by extension, the speed of the computers can protect the systems without expensive, time-consuming or bulky protective shielding.

Radiation is likely to have unanticipated effects on complex computer systems. Radiation-resistant computers can improve the reliability of these systems in space. This investigation can help identify critical failure points and potential software patches to prevent them. Radiation events like solar flares can also pose risks to computing resources on Earth, such as mobile phone towers and traffic monitoring systems. This research could identify solutions to minimize radiation risk for these systems as well.

A collection of life-sciences investigations were prepared to return on the Dragon spacecraft Sept. 17. Among them was the Cardiac Myocytes investigation, using microgravity to examine how stem cells develop into specific cells – heart cells in this case. This study will help us learn how stem cells develop and demonstrate ways to use space as a production facility for medical and regenerative therapies. It could also help reduce the risk of heart failure and other diseases.

Image above: The signal received from a black hole-companion star celestial event as captured by the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer investigation on the space station. The cycle of rays received by NICER as the black hole consumes the star resembles a heartbeat from an electrocardiogram. Image Credit: NASA.

Another investigation is returning live cultures from the station that will help an investigation into 3D bioprinted cardiac and vascular cells. The Maturation Study of Biofabricated Myocyte Construct looks in to the results of developing these cells in microgravity, much like they may grow when the cells are first forming. Scientists believe bioprinted cells will grow and organize more efficiently in space compared to identical cells grown on the ground. The eventual goal is to use tissue from a patient to bioprint complex structures in space, establishing a system to print patient specific tissues and organs in space for transplant back on Earth.

The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) investigation on the space station observed a compelling celestial event. The study captured X-Ray readings of a companion star in the final stages of descending toward a black hole. The black hole is approximately 10 times larger than our sun. The cycle of X-Ray brightness and dimming as the black hole devours the sun resembles a heart-beat on an electrocardiogram. Further study of this particular pairing will help provide more data on the physics of our universe, including identifying neutron stars and using them to help create accurate navigation systems for spacecraft – like a celestial GPS.

Space to Ground: Full Strength: 09/15/2017

Video above: NASA's Space to Ground is a weekly update on what is happening on the International Space Station. Social media users can post with #spacetoground to ask questions or make a comment. Video Credit: NASA.

Progress was made on other investigations this week, including: Combustion Integration Rack (CIR), Long Duration Sorbent Testbed (LDST), Lighting Effects, Lung Tissue, FIR LMM, Fine Motor Skills, ADSEP, Rodent Research-9, ISS Ham, Cool Flames, Advanced Research Thermal Passive Exchange (ARTE), Tangolab, and SABL2.

Related links:

Tropical Cyclone:

Magnetic Flux Experiment (MAGVECTOR):

Spaceborne Computer:

Cardiac Myocytes:

Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER):

Combustion Integration Rack (CIR):

Long Duration Sorbent Testbed (LDST):

Lighting Effects:

Lung Tissue:



Fine Motor Skills:


Rodent Research-9:

ISS Ham:

Cool Flames:

Advanced Research Thermal Passive Exchange (ARTE):


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 53 & 54.

Best regards,

NASA Finds Very Heavy Rainfall in Hurricane Maria

NASA - Suomi NPP Mission logo / NOAA & NASA - GOES Mission logo / NASA & JAXA - GPM Mission patch.

Sept. 20, 2017

Maria (Atlantic Ocean)

NASA looked into Hurricane Maria and found that powerful convective storms within the hurricane were dropping heavy rainfall. Maria brought that heavy rainfall to Puerto Rico and made landfall on Sept. 20 at 6:15 a.m. EDT.

Satellite Analyzes Rainfall in Hurricanes Maria, Jose

Video above: On Sept. 18, 2017, the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, or GPM, core satellite found rain falling at a rate of more than 6.44 inches (163.7 mm) per hour in powerful storms that reached above 9.7 miles (15.7 km). Shades of green to red represent liquid precipitation extending down to the ground. GPM is a joint mission of NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Video Credits: NASA/JAXA/NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

The Global Precipitation Measurement mission, or GPM, core observatory satellite collected data on rainfall rates as it passed above Hurricane Maria earlier on Sept. 19 at 9:51 p.m. AST/EDT (Sept. 20 0151 UTC). The rainfall analysis was derived from GPM's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) data received by the satellite. GPM's radar (DPR Ku band) found that some extreme storms within the hurricane's feeder bands were dropping rain at a rate of greater than 5.4 inches (137 mm) per hour. 

GPM is a joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Image above: NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite VIIRS instrument captured this thermal image on Sept. 20, 2017, at 2:12 a.m. EDT (0612 UTC). At the time, Maria’s eye was just east of the American Virgin Islands, and its northwestern quadrant stretched over Puerto Rico. Image Credits: NASA Goddard Rapid Response Team.

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite VIIRS instrument captured a thermal image on Sept. 20 at 2:12 a.m. EDT (0612 UTC). The image showed very cold cloud top temperatures in the powerful thunderstorms in Maria’s eyewall. At the time, Maria’s eye was just east of the American Virgin Islands, and its northwestern quadrant stretched over Puerto Rico.

Landfall in Puerto Rico

The National Hurricane Center noted: “Geostationary satellite images and surface observations indicate that the center of Hurricane Maria made landfall near Yabucoa,

Puerto Rico, around 6:15 a.m. EDT/AST. Maximum sustained winds in the hurricane were reported to be 149.5 mph (130 knots) as Maria moved toward San Juan, Puerto Rico. A sustained wind 60 mph (96 kph) with a wind gust to 113 mph (182 kph) was reported at Yabucoa Harbor, Puerto Rico.”

Image above: On Sept. 19, 2017, at 9:51 p.m. AST/EDT GPM's radar found that some extreme storms within the Hurricane Maria's feeder bands were dropping rain at a rate of greater than 5.4 inches (137 mm) per hour. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce.

A National Ocean Service tide gauge at Yabucoa Harbor, Puerto Rico, recently reported a water level of 4.3 feet above Mean Higher High Water (MHHW).

Maria Engulfs Puerto Rico in Satellite Imagery

A visible light image of Hurricane Maria was taken from NOAA’s GOES East satellite on Sept. 20 at 10:45 a.m. EDT (1445) as the Category 4 hurricane was moving across Puerto Rico. The island was totally covered by Maria’s clouds. Maria’s eastern quadrant also covered the western half of Hispaniola.

NOAA manages the GOES Series of satellites and images and animations are created at the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Warnings and Watches

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques, Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Southeastern Bahamas.

Image above: This visible light image of Hurricane Maria was taken from NOAA’s GOES East satellite on Sept. 20, 2017, at 10:45 a.m. EDT (1445) as the Category 4 hurricane was moving across Puerto Rico. Image Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Dominican Republic west of Puerto Plata to the northern border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Dominican Republic west of Cabo Engano to Punta Palenque. A Hurricane Watch is in effect for the Dominican Republic from Isla Saona to Cabo Engano.

Status on Sept. 20, 2017

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC), the center of Hurricane Maria was located inland over Puerto Rico near 18.4 degrees north latitude and 66.5 degrees west longitude. Maria is moving toward the northwest near 12 mph (19 kph), and this general motion with a gradual decrease in forward speed is expected through early Friday, Sept. 22.  

Maximum sustained winds are near 140 mph (220 kph) with higher gusts. Maria is a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Little change in strength is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to remain a dangerous major hurricane through Friday. The estimated minimum central pressure is 930 millibars.

On the forecast track, the center will pass offshore of the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and Thursday and then move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas Thursday night and Friday.

For updated forecasts, visit:

GOES (Geostationary Environmental Operational Satellites):

Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership):

GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Harold F. Pierce/Rob Gutro.


Hubble discovers a unique type of object in the Solar System

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

20 September 2017

The binary asteroid 288P (artist’s impression)

With the help of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, a German-led group of astronomers have observed the intriguing characteristics of an unusual type of object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter: two asteroids orbiting each other and exhibiting comet-like features, including a bright coma and a long tail. This is the first known binary asteroid also classified as a comet. The research is presented in a paper published in the journal Nature this week.

In September 2016, just before the asteroid 288P made its closest approach to the Sun, it was close enough to Earth to allow astronomers a detailed look at it using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope [1].

Hubble Space Telescope

The images of 288P, which is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, revealed that it was actually not a single object, but two asteroids of almost the same mass and size, orbiting each other at a distance of about 100 kilometres. That discovery was in itself an important find; because they orbit each other, the masses of the objects in such systems can be measured.

But the observations also revealed ongoing activity in the binary system. “We detected strong indications of the sublimation of water ice due to the increased solar heating — similar to how the tail of a comet is created,” explains Jessica Agarwal (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany), the team leader and main author of the research paper. This makes 288P the first known binary asteroid that is also classified as a main-belt comet.

Images of binary asteroid system 288P

Understanding the origin and evolution of main-belt comets — asteroids orbiting between Mars and Jupiter that show comet-like activity — is a crucial element in our understanding of the formation and evolution of the whole Solar System. Among the questions main-belt comets can help to answer is how water came to Earth [2]. Since only a few objects of this type are known, 288P presents itself as an extremely important system for future studies.

The various features of 288P — wide separation of the two components, near-equal component size, high eccentricity and comet-like activity — also make it unique among the few known wide asteroid binaries in the Solar System. The observed activity of 288P also reveals information about its past, notes Agarwal: “Surface ice cannot survive in the asteroid belt for the age of the Solar System but can be protected for billions of years by a refractory dust mantle, only a few metres thick.”

Asteroid belt

From this, the team concluded that 288P has existed as a binary system  for only about 5000 years. Agarwal elaborates on the formation scenario: “The most probable formation scenario of 288P is a breakup due to fast rotation. After that, the two fragments may have been moved further apart by sublimation torques.”

Fly towards 288P (artist’s impression)

The fact that 288P is so different from all other known binary asteroids raises some questions about whether it is not just a coincidence that it presents such unique properties. As finding 288P included a lot of luck, it is likely to remain the only example of its kind for a long time. “We need more theoretical and observational work, as well as more objects similar to 288P, to find an answer to this question,” concludes Agarwal.

Time-lapse video of 288P


[1] Like any object orbiting the Sun, 288P travels along an elliptical path, bringing it closer and further away to the Sun during the course of one orbit.

[2] Current research indicates that water came to Earth not via comets, as long thought, but via icy asteroids.

More information:

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

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of Jessica Agarwal (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany), David Jewitt (Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences and Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of California at Los Angeles, USA), Max Mutchler (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, USA), Harold Weaver (The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Maryland, USA) and Stephen Larson (Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA).

The results were released in the paper “A binary main belt comet” to be published in Nature.


Images of Hubble:

Link to hubblesite release:

Link to science paper:

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research:

ESA's Hubble site:

Images. Animation, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA/ESA/Lauren Fuge/Max Planck Institute for Solar-System Research/Jessica Agarwal/Hubble, L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser.

Best regards,

Ageing Star Blows Off Smoky Bubble

ALMA - Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array logo.

20 September 2017

Delicate bubble of expelled material around the cool red star U Antliae

Astronomers have used ALMA to capture a strikingly beautiful view of a delicate bubble of expelled material around the exotic red star U Antliae. These observations will help astronomers to better understand how stars evolve during the later stages of their life-cycles.

The star U Ant in the constellation of Antlia (The Air Pump)

In the faint southern constellation of Antlia (The Air Pump) the careful observer with binoculars will spot a very red star, which varies slightly in brightness from week to week. This very unusual star is called U Antliae and new observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) are revealing a remarkably thin spherical shell around it.

Wide-field image of the sky around U Antliae

U Antliae [1] is a carbon star, an evolved, cool and luminous star of the asymptotic giant branch type. Around 2700 years ago, U Antliae went through a short period of rapid mass loss. During this period of only a few hundred years, the material making up the shell seen in the new ALMA data was ejected at high speed. Examination of this shell in further detail also shows some evidence of thin, wispy gas clouds known as filamentary substructures.

ALMA view of the motions of material in the shell around U Antliae

This spectacular view was only made possible by the unique ability to create sharp images at multiple wavelengths that is provided by the ALMA radio telescope, located on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile’s Atacama Desert. ALMA can see much finer structure in the U Antliae shell than has previously been possible.

Flying from the Earth to the star U Antliae

The new ALMA data are not just a single image; ALMA produces a three-dimensional dataset  (a data cube) with each slice being observed at a slightly different wavelength. Because of the Doppler Effect, this means that different slices of the data cube show images of gas moving at different speeds towards or away from the observer. This shell is also remarkable as it is very symmetrically round and also remarkably thin. By displaying the different velocities we can cut this cosmic bubble into virtual slices just as we do in computer tomography of a human body.

Tomography of a cosmic bubble

Understanding the chemical composition of the shells and atmospheres of these stars, and how these shells form by mass loss, is important to properly understand how stars evolve in the early Universe and also how galaxies evolved. Shells such as the one around U Antliae show a rich variety of chemical compounds based on carbon and other elements. They also help to recycle matter, and contribute up to 70% of the dust between stars.


[1] The name U Antliae reflects the fact that it is the fourth star that changes its brightness to be found in the constellation of Antlia (The Air Pump). The naming of such variable stars followed a complicated sequence as more and more were found and is explained here.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “Rings and filaments. The remarkable detached CO shell of U Antliae”, by F. Kerschbaum et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team is composed of F. Kerschbaum (University of Vienna, Austria), M. Maercker (Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden), M. Brunner (University of Vienna, Austria), M. Lindqvist (Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden), H. Olofsson (Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden), M. Mecina (University of Vienna, Austria), E. De Beck (Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden), M. A. T. Groenewegen (Koninklijke Sterrenwacht van België, Belgium), E. Lagadec (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, CNRS, France), S. Mohamed (University of Cape Town, South Africa), C. Paladini (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium), S. Ramstedt (Uppsala University, Sweden), W. H. T. Vlemmings (Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden), and M. Wittkowski (ESO)

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI).

ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. 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. 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”.


Research paper:

Photos of ALMA:

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA):

Doppler Effect:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESO/Richard Hook/University of Vienna/Franz Kerschbaum/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/F. Kerschbaum/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/


First steps: returning humanity to the Moon

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

20 September 2017

In the first act of lunar exploration, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were major characters. In setting its sights on the Moon, ESA hopes to bring many more actors to this off-world stage.


By testing the market for transport services to the Moon, ESA aims to push the limits of technology and create new models of space business.

Touching down on the Moon was a monumental moment in human history. Eight short years and enormous resources took humankind to the lunar surface, initially for less than one day. Those small steps for humanity, and the missions that followed, taught us much about the Moon, our cosmic time capsule. But humans have not returned since Apollo 17 departed in 1972. 

Today’s technology could easily get us back to the Moon, but it is still expensive to develop the ride and take everything needed to support life with us. ESA wants our return to the Moon to be sustainable and based on partnerships – not only with international space agencies but also with business. A commercial approach may just be the ticket – literally and figuratively – to making it happen. 

Rather than develop a complete lander mission from scratch – a long and costly process – ESA wants to buy a ride on a commercial lander to deliver our precious research equipment safely to the surface. Once there, we are ready to pay the ‘roaming charges’ to talk to our hardware.

In-Situ Resource Utilisation

But for our return to the Moon to be truly sustainable, we must make use of lunar resources. So in addition to transportation and communication, we are looking to invest in the development and pay for the use of technology that can turn indigenous lunar material into oxygen and water, critical resources for sustaining future human operations in deep space.

Why the emphasis on sustainability? If been there, done that were the sole definition of exploration, then setting our sights only on more remote parts of our Solar System would make sense. But while we learned a lot about the Moon from Apollo, we literally just scratched the surface of Earth’s eighth continent.

Satellites orbiting the Moon have since revealed the presence of oxygen and water ice. These are potential usable resources for our spacefaring future.

Destination: Moon

Shape the next act

 ESA is inviting service providers with the right ideas to take part in a one-year study that will shape this In-Situ Resource Utilisation Demonstrator Mission. We want to hear what commercial partners need from us and share what we expect from them.

Together, we want to explore what it would mean to make lunar exploration a viable, competitive, and, most importantly, sustainable endeavour.

Lunar base made with 3D printing

We want to go back to the Moon to crack its mysteries and use it as a springboard towards humanity’s future in deep space. If you are a commercial enterprise ready to take on the challenge and build on the legacy of Neil and Buzz, then we want to hear from you.

Find more information and details on how to submit proposals here and apply here:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/K. Oldenburg/NASA/Foster + Partners.

Best regards,

mardi 19 septembre 2017

Astronomy Gear Work and Muscle Scans on Tuesday’s Schedule

ISS - Expedition 53 Mission patch.

September 19, 2017

Auroras seen from International Space Station. Animation Credit: NASA

The Expedition 53 crew worked on a variety of astronomy gear today that looks at meteors in Earth orbit and harmful radiation from deep space. The crew also explored how microgravity affects human bones and muscles.

Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei worked on a camera for the Meteor experiment, ongoing since March 2016, which peers out of a specialized window in the Destiny laboratory module. The camera observes meteors and meteor showers and analyzes the imagery to determine their physical and chemical composition.

Image above: The spectacular aurora borealis, or the “northern lights,” over Canada is sighted from the space station near the highest point of its orbital path. The station’s main solar arrays are seen in the left foreground. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineer Joe Acaba installed the Fast Neutron Spectrometer in the Unity module today to explore a new technique that measures deep space radiation. The new technology may be used to provide a more accurate assessment of the mixed radiation future crews and spacecraft may be exposed to.

Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy strapped himself into the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) chair today for a look at his calf muscle and tendons. Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli assisted Ryazanskiy into the MARES chair and Commander Randy Bresnik collected ultrasound imagery of his leg. The data is being collected for the Sarcolab-3 experiment that is observing space-induced chemical and structural changes in muscle fibers.

Related links:


Fast Neutron Spectrometer:


Expedition 53:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

P.S:: 6000 th article since the creation of this blog (2010).

Best regards,

NASA Small Satellite Promises Big Discoveries

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

Sept. 19, 2017

Small satellites provide a cheap, responsive alternative to larger, more expensive satellites. As demand grows, engineers must adapt these “nanosatellites” to provide greater data returns. NASA, in collaboration with educational partners, targets 2021 for the launch of an innovative CubeSat that addresses these challenges.

CubeSats consist of standardized cubed units, or U’s, typically up to 12U. A 1U CubeSat is 10 cubic centimeters and can weigh as little as three pounds. They launch as auxiliary payloads on existing missions, providing a cost-effective opportunity for small-scale research projects. The satellites spend an average 90 days in orbit before falling to Earth and burning up in the atmosphere. Since their inception, CubeSats have been a boon to small satellite research and development.

UF-Radsat's Orbit

Video above: UF-Radsat, in a highly elliptical orbit, will communicate with the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) constellation and the Near Earth Network. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Typically, NASA’s Near Earth Network (NEN) provides direct-to-ground communication for CubeSats. Communication only occurs when a satellite passes over one of the NEN antennas, located around the globe. A team of engineers and scientists from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the University of Florida are collaborating on a 12U CubeSat that will be the first to interface with NASA’s Space Network, which provides continuous communications services. The University of Florida RadSat (UF-RadSat) is a collaborative design effort of NASA interns from several universities across the country, who have filed multiple invention disclosures for its technologies. The satellite will circle Earth in a geosynchronous transfer orbit, communicating with three Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) and NEN ground stations. This methodology provides almost constant data coverage — an innovation that could be useful to many future CubeSat missions.

“The purpose of our mission is to simultaneously provide critical engineering data to strengthen NASA missions while demonstrating the operational advantages of near-continuous communications between CubeSats and the TDRS constellation,” said Harry Shaw, a NASA co-investigator on the project. “The work we execute for our CubeSat mission will enable this communications option for other CubeSats.”

Image above: Dr. Reyhan Baktur, a co-investigator from Utah State University, poses with a glass component of UF-Radsat’s solar array. Image Credits: Utah State University.

UF-RadSat is more than just a communications demonstration. NASA will also run two radiation experiments aboard the CubeSat. The first experiment was created by a team at the University of Florida under the direction of Michele Manuel, department chair of Materials Science and Engineering. The team developed a magnesium and gadolinium alloy with radiation mitigating properties. The alloy, stronger and lighter than steel or aluminum, will be tested for its on-orbit effectiveness in trapping thermal neutrons, a radiation health hazard. The experiment will determine the metal’s usefulness in mitigating the risks posed by radiation to future human spaceflight endeavors.

The second experiment aboard UF-RadSat originates at Goddard. Ray Ladbury and Jean-Marie Lauenstein, scientists from Goddard’s Radiation Effects Group, will assess the reliability of power metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) under the harsh radiation conditions of space. Spacecraft power systems use MOSFETs to amplify or switch electronic signals. They can be damaged or destroyed by the radiation environment in space. The experiment will contribute to assessing and improving MOSFETs on-orbit reliability and provide valuable insight into single-event gate rupture, a primary radiation-induced failure in MOSFETs.

“Since its beginnings in the late 1950s, NASA has played a key and influential role in advancing space capabilities,” said Pat Patterson, the Small Satellite Conference committee chair. “The same can be said for NASA’s influence on the rise of small satellites, as NASA is now using these technologies to continue to advance scientific and human exploration, reduce the cost of new space missions, and expand access to space.”

Animation above: UF-Radsat will deploy its parabolic mesh high-gain antenna once placed in orbit. Animation Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The research aboard UF-RadSat continues NASA’s legacy in the small satellite community. Nanosatellites like UF-RadSat reflect NASA’s dedication to cost-effective research at the cutting edge of communications technology.

NASA interns from University of Maryland, College Park; Morgan State University; University of Puerto Rico; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Colorado; and University of Florida collaborated on UF-Radsat.

CubeSats. Image Credit: NASA

Small satellites, including CubeSats, are playing an increasingly larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research and educational investigations at NASA, including: planetary space exploration; Earth observations; fundamental Earth and space science; and developing precursor science instruments like cutting-edge laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement capabilities.

To learn more about NASA’s CubeSats, visit

Related links:

SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation):

Small Satellite Missions:

TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite):


Near Earth Network (NEN):

Space Network:

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center:

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Danny Baird.


NASA Looks Within Category 5 Hurricane Maria Before and After First Landfall

NOAA & NASA - GOES Mission logo / NASA - EOS Aqua Mission logo / NASA & JAXA - GPM Mission patch.

Sept. 19, 2017

Maria (Atlantic Ocean)

Satellite data is enabling forecasters to look inside and outside of powerful Hurricane Maria. A NASA animation of satellite imagery shows Hurricane Maria's first landfall on the island of Dominica. NASA's GPM satellite provided a 3-D look at the storms within that gave forecasters a clue to Maria strengthening into a Category 5 storm, and NASA's Aqua satellite gathered temperature data on the frigid cloud tops of the storm.

Image above: This image of Category 5 Hurricane Maria moving through the eastern Caribbean Sea was taken on Sept. 19 at 11 a.m. EDT from NOAA's GOES East satellite. Image Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

Maria's First Landfall

On Monday, Sept. 18 at 9:35 p.m. AST/EDT the National Hurricane Center reported that Maria made landfall on Dominica as a category 5 hurricane. Radar data from Martinique and Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft reports indicated that Maria made landfall on Dominica around 9:15 p.m. AST/EDT (0115 UTC) with estimated winds of 160 mph (260 kph). Dominica is an island in the Caribbean Sea that has mountainous terrain, natural hot springs and tropical rainforests.

NASA Puts Maria's Past Track in Motion

An animation of NOAA's GOES East satellite imagery from Sept. 15 at 7:45 a.m. EDT (1145 UTC) to Sept. 19 ending at 4:45 a.m. EDT (0845 UTC) showed Hurricane Jose moving north along the U.S. East coast and Hurricane Maria move through the Leeward Islands and strengthen to a Category 5 hurricane. The animation shows Maria's landfall in Domenica. The imagery revealed a clear, cloudless eye.

GOES-East Video of Jose and Maria

Video above: This animation of NOAA's GOES East satellite imagery from Sept. 15 at 7:45 a.m. EDT (1145 UTC) to Sept. 19 ending at 4:45 a.m. EDT (0845 UTC) shows Hurricane Jose moving north along the U.S. East coast and Hurricane Maria moving through the Leeward Islands and strengthening to a Category 5 hurricane. Video Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

NOAA manages the GOES Series of satellites. The animation was created by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA's 3-D Look at Maria

Image above: On Sept. 18, the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite saw an impressively tall cell of precipitation in Hurricane Maria that stretched into the lower stratosphere at 16.75 km altitude. Image Credits: NASA / JAXA, Owen Kelley.

Also at NASA Goddard, a 3-D image of Hurricane Maria was made to understand what was happening within the storm. The dual-frequency radar on the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite saw an impressively tall thunderstorms cell of precipitation in the compact eyewall of Hurricane Maria on Monday, Sept.18, 2017. "Enough water vapor was condensing into rain inside of this cell that rapid updrafts developed, rapid enough to lift the precipitation until it froze and then even higher until it penetrated into the lower stratosphere at 16.75 km altitude," said Owen Kelley of NASA Goddard's Precipitation Processing System..

"This tall cell (also known as a "hot tower") was part of a sequence of such cells that were seen by infrared satellite instruments, such as the one on the recently launched GOES-16 satellite. Meanwhile, Maria put on an unexpectedly fast intensification from category 1 to category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale on Monday (Sept. 18)."

Research conducted at NASA, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and elsewhere suggests that a sequence of hot towers, also known as a "convective burst," is one a way to detect that a hurricane's heat engine going into high gear.  The end result is intensified winds circling the eye at the ocean's surface.

Maria continued to intensify after GPM passed overhead and reached Category 5 status that night.

A Stunning Infrared View of Maria

On Sept. 19 at 2:15 a.m. EDT (0615 UTC) the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite analyzed Maria's cloud top temperatures in infrared light.

Image above: This infrared image of Hurricane Maria's frigid cloud top temperatures was captured by the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite on Sept. 19 at 2:15 a.m. EDT (0615 UTC) as it moved through the Leeward Islands. Image Credits: NASA/NRL.

MODIS found cloud top temperatures of strong thunderstorms in Maria's eyewall as cold as or colder than minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 62.2 Celsius). Cloud top temperatures that cold indicate strong storms that have the capability to create heavy rain.

Warnings and Watches in Effect

The National Hurricane Center warned "potentially catastrophic Hurricane Maria continues west-northwestward toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico."

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, Anguilla and Martinique.

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, Isla Saona to Puerto Plata.

Maria's Location and Status on Sept. 19

At 11 a.m. AST/EDT (1500 UTC), the eye of Hurricane Maria was located near 16.3 degrees north latitude and 63.1 degrees west longitude. That's about 115 miles (180 k) west of Guadeloupe and about 150 miles (240 km) southeast of St. Croix.

Maria was moving toward the west-northwest near 10 mph (17 kph), and this general motion is expected to continue through Wednesday night, Sept. 20. Maximum sustained winds are near 160 mph (260 kph) with higher gusts.  Maria is a potentially catastrophic category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.  Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous category 4 or 5 hurricane until it moves near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The minimum central pressure based on data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft is 927 millibars.

On the forecast track, the eye of Maria will move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea today, Sept. 19 and then pass near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

For updates and effects on wind, storm surge and rainfall, visit:

Aqua Satellite:

GOES (Geostationary Environmental Operational Satellites):

GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement):


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


Solar antics

NASA & ESA - SOHO Mission patch.

19 September 2017

The Sun’s recent activity has caught the interest of scientists and space weather forecasters worldwide, highlighting the need to keep a watchful eye on our star and its awesome power.

On 6 and 10 September, our Sun produced a pair of solar flares, the strongest observed in over 10 years. They were accompanied by huge eruptions of billions of tonnes of matter into space.

Mass ejection seen by SOHO

While many such eruptions fall back onto the hot surface, these two did not and became ‘coronal mass ejections’ (CMEs) – clouds of electrically charged atomic particles escaping the Sun and expanding into interplanetary space.

This cloud containing protons, electrons and heavy ions can be detected by sensors on satellites around our planet and on probes in interplanetary space.

The flares and accompanying CMEs burst out of an ‘active region’ on the Sun’s photosphere, which is the surface we see from Earth.

“Appearance of this active region producing strong flares and several CMEs was very interesting after months of very low solar activity,” says Juha-Pekka Luntama, responsible for space weather within ESA’s Space Situational Awareness office.

“Although these eruptions are very difficult to predict, and the active region that produced these events has now rotated around to the far side of the Sun, we are keeping watch on the situation, particularly when the active region rotates back into view.”

First big event

The first eruption occurred on 6 September, and produced a severe geomagnetic storm when it reached Earth on the evening of 7 September. Its arrival was detected by a number of ESA and NASA spacecraft watching our Sun or orbiting Earth.

ESA/NASA Sun-watching SOHO spacecraft

The arrival also gave rise to increased auroras on 7 and 8 September, visible as far south as northern Germany in Europe and the northern USA in North America.

The flare and CME were accompanied by a flood of energetic atomic particles from the Sun. These could be detected by satellites in orbit, but not at ground level owing to the shielding effect of our atmosphere.

Second big event

The second eruption occurred on 10 September (see video above). This was associated with a large solar flare that also emitted a strong pulse of X-rays and a flood of extremely high-speed protons, some travelling near to the speed of light.

This CME was faster than the first one, but it, too, travelled off the direct Sun–Earth path and only a tail end of it washed across our planet on 12 September.

This event caused a strong increase in energetic particles, with increased levels of radiation detected at Earth’s surface by monitoring networks, and a moderate geomagnetic storm was observed on 12 and 13 September.

Effects on satellites and communications

The radiation that arrived in advance of the second CME was sufficient to cause the navigation cameras on some satellites to be temporarily blinded, and was expected to disrupt radio communications temporarily at high latitudes.

In one case, ESA’s Integral satellite, an orbiting gamma-ray observatory whose instrument electronics are especially sensitive to radiation, had to rely on its onboard autonomy to configure its instruments into a ‘safe mode’, to wait until radiation levels fell.


“Our instruments were off during one 64-hour revolution, which unfortunately meant that we lost some high-priority observing time,” says Integral operations manager Richard Southworth. “They instruments were reactivated with no sign of damage.”

ESA’s Gaia star mapper also experienced some comparatively minor effects.

Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way

“Gaia’s telescope temporarily experienced a very high number of ‘false’ star detections, which resulted in correspondingly data generation and some small variations in the spacecraft’s attitude,” says operations manager David Milligan.

“The false detections can be removed from the data catalogue and Gaia continues working very well.”

Keep an eye on the Sun

The second event was also notable because it emanated from an active region on the Sun that had already rotated across the disc as seen from Earth, and disappeared out of view very soon afterwards.

“We have no spacecraft on that side of the Sun to keep an eye on current activity,” says Juha-Pekka.

“What we really need are more ways to view the side of the Sun that is rotating to face Earth, which would enable us to improve our forecasting and predictions.”

ESA is already defining a future mission to the Sun that would improve our space weather monitoring and forecasting capability.

Related articles:

Two Significant Solar Flares Imaged by NASA's SDO

Sun Erupts With Significant Flare

Related links:

ESA Space Weather Service Network:

ESA's SOHO home page:

ESA Space Environments and Effects:

International GNSS Service (IGS):

International Space Environment Service:

European Space Weather Portal:

The Sun now:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros /ATG medialab; Sun: SOHO (ESA & NASA)/ESO/S. Brunier.