samedi 11 décembre 2010

The Spaceport's second Soyuz launcher completes its integration and checkout

Arianespace logo labeled.

December 12, 2010

Assembly and checkout of the second Soyuz has been completed in French Guiana, providing additional hands-on experience in preparing and processing the Russian-built vehicle ahead of Arianespace’s introduction of this medium-lift launcher at the Spaceport.

 The Block I third stage is mated with the no. 2 Soyuz at the Spaceport.  This activity occurred inside the new Launcher Integration Building created for the medium-lift vehicle’s operations from French Guiana

The Soyuz’ three basic stages were integrated and tested as part of regular maintenance checks for launchers that are stored while awaiting their turn for liftoff.

During activity in the Spaceport’s new Launcher Integration Building for Soyuz, the vehicle’s four first-stage strap-on boosters were installed on the Block A core second stage, followed by integration of the Block I third stage.  With this build-up activity and related testing completed, the Soyuz is now being disassembled for its return to storage.

Artist's view of the Soyuz-2 launch-pad area in Guiana

It marks the second time a Soyuz has been built up at the Spaceport, following a similar process with the no. 1 vehicle earlier this year.  Both launchers were shipped to French Guiana from Russia in November 2009.

“This activity has provided our teams an excellent opportunity to validate the integration and checkout process ahead of the startup of Soyuz missions next year,” said Bruno Gerard, Arianespace’s project head for Soyuz at the Spaceport.

The European Launcher's Family

Soyuz launch operations at the Spaceport will differ from the traditional process flow employed at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, where the complete integration of launchers and their payloads is handled in the integration building while the launcher is oriented horizontally.

At the Spaceport, Soyuz vehicles will have their first, second and third stages assembled horizontally in the Launcher Integration Building, followed by their transfer to the launch pad and erection to the vertical position for mating of the payload.

The Soyuz’ upper composite – composed of its Fregat upper stage, the mission payload and the protective fairing – will be assembled separately in the Spaceport’s S3B payload preparation building, then transferred to the launch pad for  installation atop the launcher. During this activity, the launcher will be protected by a mobile gantry that has been purpose-built for operations at the Spaceport.

For more informations about Arianespace, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Arianespace / ESA / ROSCOSMOS.

Best regards,

JAXA - AKATSUKI's first shots of Venus taken during health check

JAXA - Venus Climate Orbiter "AKATSUKI" Planet-C patch.

December 11, 2010

JAXA is currently investigating the failure cause of Venus orbit injection of the Venus Climate Orbiter "AKATSUKI." During the course of the orbiter functional verification after data acquisition at the periVenus, we were able to obtain some Venus images captured by the AKATSUKI at around 9:00 a.m. on Dec. 9 (Japan Standard Time).

Images above: from left, an image shot by the UVI, IR1, and LIR. The images are artificially colored: UVI image with blue, and IR1 image with orange.

    * AKATSUKI Special Site:

    * AKATSUKI's first shots of Venus taken during health check (ISAS):

Images, Text, Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).


MCC-M: Ready to Control Soyuz TMA-20

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-20 Mission patch.


Today, the meeting of the Mission Control Center operation and engineering management concluded about readiness of the ground control groups for upcoming Soyuz TMA-20 orbital operations. The conclusion was made as a result of the training (simulations) for the MCC personnel completed recently.

General view of the Soyuz-TMA Main Cosmonaut Console

The objective of the training session was to exercise and to consolidate the skills of the operation control groups regarding Soyuz TMA-20 orbiting, rendezvous and docking.

 Soyuz TMA-20 Crew posing in spacesuits

The scope of the simulation covered actions of the crew and ground controllers in nominal situations and contingencies. In addition, the simulations were to check readiness of the MCC hardware and software for the upcoming operations.

Soyuz TMA-20 launch is scheduled for Dec. 15, 22:09:25 Moscow time. The vehicle is due to dock to the ISS on Dec. 17, at 23:12 MSK (Moscow time).

Follow the launch live at:

Images, Text, Credit: Roscosmos PAO / ESA.


Proton To Return to Flight in December

ILS logo / Khurnichev Space Center logo labeled.


Russia’s Proton rocket will return to service at the end of December to launch a large commercial telecommunications satellite following a government inquiry that found the vehicle’s Dec. 5 failure was caused by overfueling of its upper stage, Russian and International Launch Services (ILS) officials said Dec. 10.

Proton and Block DM upper stage mounted with 3 Glonass

The state commission investigating the failure, in which three Russian Glonass timing and navigation satellites were destroyed, has cleared Proton’s three lower stages from any involvement in the malfunction. Commercial Proton rockets marketed by Reston, Va.-based ILS use the same lower three stages but a different upper stage, called Breeze M. The Glonass launch used a new version of the Russian Block DM upper stage.

Proton and block DM upper stage

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, on Dec. 10 confirmed the commission’s preliminary finding that the three Proton stages need not be grounded. A final report is due as soon as the week of Dec. 13.

James M. Bonner, chief technical officer for ILS, said the new version of the Block DM stage — which is built by RSC Energia of Korolev, Russia — features larger fuel tanks.

In what appears to have been a remarkable oversight, the personnel fueling the Block DM stage for the Glonass launch did not account for the larger tanks. That led to loading between 1,000 and 2,000 kilograms more fuel on the Block DM stage than what had been planned for the Glonass mission. Like the U.S. GPS navigation satellites, the Glonass system operates in medium Earth orbit.

As a result of the excess fuel, the Proton’s third stage, suffering from the additional weight it was carrying, underperformed, placing the Block DM stage and the stack of Glonass satellites into a lower-than-planned, suborbital drop-off point.

ILS is owned by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, which is prime contractor for Proton’s three lower stages as well as for the Breeze M upper stage.

In an interview, Bonner said ILS will spend the week of Dec. 13 in Moscow reviewing the state commission’s findings. After consulting with insurance underwriters and with Paris-based Eutelsat, whose Ka-Sat satellite is ILS’s next Proton passenger, Ka-Sat’s launch will be moved from Dec. 20 to between Dec. 27 and Dec. 30, he said.

Proton erection on the launch-pad

“We will be there to do our due diligence and to review the state commission’s findings,” Bonner said. “Our assumption now is that this will cause a delay of seven or eight, or up to 10 days.”

Russian holidays the first week of January argue against planning a launch during that period.

The state commission investigating the failure was led by G.G. Raikunov, director general of Russia’s state-owned TsNIIMash space engineering services company. In a statement of preliminary findings that Raikunov signed Dec. 10, the commission says: “[Telemetry] data analyses … show that no issues with the functioning of [Proton’s three-stage] systems and assemblies have been detected .… In view of the above, the Interdepartmental Commission deems it possible to proceed with further technical facility processing operations of [the launch vehicle] to launch … Ka-Sat per the approved schedule.”

For more informations about ILS, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS / ILS / Khurnichev Space Center / Space News.

Best regards,

vendredi 10 décembre 2010

"Wings In Orbit" Details Shuttle History By Those Who Made It Happen

NASA - Space Shuttle's 30 Years Commemorative patch.

Dec. 10, 2010

As NASA's space shuttle fleet nears retirement, the agency is preparing to release a comprehensive account of the program that managed the spacecraft and the dedicated people who made its accomplishments possible.

The 500-plus-page book, "Wings in Orbit" is available for pre-publication sale. The book describes the scientific, engineering and cultural contributions of the space shuttle through text, photographs and graphics, written or selected by those who worked in the shuttle program.

"Not only is this book informative and beautifully done, it captures the passion of those who devoted their energies to the more than three decades of the shuttle program," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations. "It recognizes and celebrates what NASA has accomplished using the shuttle system."

Former shuttle program manager Wayne Hale was the book's executive editor. The book features a wide range of contributors, including the first space shuttle crew and many former flight directors, engineers and program managers.

The book is slated for release in March. To order the book during the pre-publication sale through Dec. 31, visit:

For more information about the space shuttle era, visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA.


Astronaut Alan Poindexter Leaves NASA

NASA logo.

Dec. 10, 2010

Veteran NASA astronaut Alan Poindexter has left the agency to return to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Poindexter, a U.S. Navy captain, earned a Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from the school in 1995. He will return to serve as the dean of students and executive director of programs.

Astronaut Alan Poindexter

"Dex was a well-respected leader within our office," said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We will miss him being part of our team and wish him the best in his new role as he continues his service to the Navy and the country."

A veteran of two spaceflights, Poindexter logged more than 669 hours in space. In 2008, he was the pilot on the STS-122 space shuttle mission to deliver and install the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory to the International Space Station. In 2010, he was the commander for STS-131, a resupply mission to the station that delivered more than 13,000 pounds of hardware and equipment.

He was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1998 and served in the Astronaut Office Shuttle Operations Branch as the lead support astronaut at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He also served as a spacecraft communicator, or capcom, for several missions.

For Poindexter's biographical information, visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA.


Wind and water have shaped Schiaparelli on Mars

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

10 December 2010

 Schiaparelli on Mars

The small crater embedded in the northwestern rim of the Schiaparelli impact basin features prominently in this new image from ESA’s Mars Express. All around is evidence for past water and the great martian winds that periodically blow.

Schiaparelli is a large impact basin about 460 km in diameter located in the eastern Terra Meridiani region of the equator of Mars. The centre of the basin lies at about 3°S/17°E and is named after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835–1910). Although he also studied Mercury and Venus, he is best known for his observations of the Red Planet.

During the ‘Great Opposition’ of 1877, when Mars passed close to Earth, Schiaparelli mapped the planet, perceiving a number of straight dark lines across the red surface. He assumed that these were natural water-filled channels and used the equivalent Italian word, ‘canali’.

 Schiaparelli in context

However, other astronomers thought he meant canals, meaning artificial irrigation and transportation routes, which led to a few astronomers, and a large number of the general public, believing that they had been created by intelligent Martians.

Now we know that Schiaparelli’s ‘canali’ were illusions created by the comparatively poor telescopes of the time and there are no water-filled channels on Mars today. Nevertheless, there is evidence in this new picture that water was once present in this region of the planet, perhaps in the form of a lake.

Schiaparelli Elevation

This image was taken on 15 July 2010 by the High-Resolution Stereo Camera of ESA’s Mars Express.

The scene shows a small part of the northwestern area of the Schiaparelli basin with the crater rim, the crater interior and parts of the surrounding highlands. Evidence for water can be seen in the form of dark sediments that appear on the floor of Schiaparelli, resembling those deposited by evaporated lakes on Earth.

Schiaparelli in perspective

The interior of Schiaparelli has been modified by multiple geological processes, including the fall of ejecta blasted upwards by the initial impact, flows of lava to create the smooth plains, and watery sediments. Box 1 shows part of these sedimentary deposits. Also in the crater floor, smaller impact craters have been partially flooded and filled.

Schiaparelli in perspective

The sediments forming the smooth plains in Box 2 have been modified by erosion, either by wind, water or both to form sharp contours such as the skinny plateau at bottom left. In other places, material has been deposited by the wind to form hills and dunes.

Features in Schiaparelli

The prominent crater in Box 3 is 42 km across and rests on the inner rim of Schiaparelli. The interior of the smaller crater is filled with sediments that appear to form a terrace in the northern part and a delta-like structure near the centre. The latter seems to be partially composed of rounded light-coloured mounds. Dark wind-borne material has accumulated in the southern portion of the crater.

Schiaparelli in high resolution

 Schiaparelli in 3D

Related links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Behind the lens...:

Frequently asked questions:

For specialists:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

NASA Planetary Data System:

HRSC data viewer:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / NASA MGS MOLA Science Team.


jeudi 9 décembre 2010

NASA And German Aerospace Center Sign Civil Space Agreements

DLR logo / NASA logo.

Dec. 09, 2010

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Chairman of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Executive Board Johann-Dietrich Worner signed a framework agreement for cooperative activities in aeronautics, exploration and the peaceful use of space Wednesday at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The agreement is intended to enhance cooperation between the two agencies during the next decade.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Chairman of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Executive Board Johann-Dietrich Worner signing agreement

"NASA has a long history of successful cooperation with the government of Germany and an outstanding relationship with DLR," Bolden said. "Today's signing will further enhance our ability to work closely together in a variety of mutually beneficial activities in virtually every NASA mission area."

The agreement sets forth the general terms and conditions for cooperation on a range of activities related to human spaceflight, exploration, aeronautics, global climate change and Earth and space science.

"Many space missions and projects can only be carried out through international cooperation, for example, with NASA, because of their great complexity and the associated costs," Worner said. "This is why DLR, as Germany's national space agency and research center, is endeavoring to set up bilateral collaborations such as this."

Bolden and Worner also signed an agreement making DLR a NASA Lunar Science Institute associate partner. The institute brings together scientists from around the world to conduct collaborative research in lunar science.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

For more information about DLR, visit:

Grüße - greetings,

NASA Scientists Theorize Final Growth Spurt For Planets

NASA logo labeled.

Dec. 9, 2010

A team of NASA-funded researchers has unveiled a new theory that contends planets gained the final portions of their mass from a limited number of large comet or asteroid impacts more than 4.5 billion years ago. These impacts added less than one percent of the planets' mass.

Scientists hope the research not only will provide a better historical picture of the birth and evolution of Earth, the moon and Mars, but also allow researchers to better explore what happened in our solar system's beginning and middle stages of planet formation.

Planet formation (Artist's view)

“No one has a model of precisely what happened at the end of planet formation—we’ve had a broad idea—but variables such as impactor size, the approximate timing of the impacts, and how they affect the evolution of the planets are unknown,” said William Bottke, principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Boulder, Colo. “This research hopefully provides better insights into the early stages of planet formation.”

The team used numerical models, lunar samples returned by Apollo astronauts and meteorites believed to be from Mars to develop its findings. The scientists examined the abundances of elements such as gold and platinum in the mantles, or layers beneath the crust, of Earth, the moon and Mars. Consistent with previous studies, they concluded the elements were added by a process called late accretion during a planet's final growth spurt.

"These impactors probably represent the largest objects to hit Earth since the giant impact that formed our moon," Bottke said. “They also may be responsible for the accessible abundance of gold, platinum, palladium, and other important metals used by our society today in items ranging from jewelry to our cars’ catalytic convertors.”

Formation of Earth (Artist's view)

The results indicate the largest Earth impactor was between 1,500 - 2,000 miles in diameter, roughly the size of Pluto. Because it is smaller than Earth, the moon avoided such enormous projectiles and was only hit by impactors 150 - 200 miles wide. These impacts may have played important roles in the evolution of both worlds. For example, the projectiles that struck Earth may have modified the orientation of its spin axis by 10 degrees, while those that hit the moon may have delivered water to its mantle.

"Keep in mind that while the idea the Earth-moon system owes its existence to a single, random event was initially viewed as radical, it is now believed that large impacts were commonplace during the final stages of planet formation,’ Bottke said. “Our new results provide additional evidence that the effects of large impacts did not end with the moon-forming event."

The paper, "Stochastic Late Accretion to the Earth, Moon, and Mars," was published in the Dec. 9 issue of Science. It was written by Bottke and David Nesvorny of SWRI; Richard J. Walker of the University of Maryland; James Day of the University of Maryland and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; and Linda Elkins-Tanton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The research is funded by the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

The NLSI is a virtual organization that enables collaborative, interdisciplinary research in support of NASA lunar science programs. The institute uses technology to bring scientists together around the world and comprises competitively selected U.S. teams and several international partners. NASA's Science Mission Directorate and the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington, funds the institute, which is managed by a central office at Ames.

For more information on NLSI, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / David Hardy / American Museum of Natural History.

Best regards,

NASA Selects Boeing For Advanced Aircraft Vehicle Concepts

NASA logo.

Dec. 09, 2010

NASA has awarded a third contract for studies designed to identify advanced concepts for airliners that could enter service in 2025, fly with less noise, cleaner exhaust and lower fuel consumption. NASA refers to technology that is two generations more advanced than what is on aircraft in service today as N+2.

A team led by The Boeing Company of Huntington Beach, Calif., was selected for a contract worth $5.29 million. The contract has a performance period of one year beginning this month.

As part of the same research effort, NASA previously awarded contracts worth $2.99 million and $2.65 million to teams led by Lockheed Martin in Palmdale, Calif., and Northrop Grumman in El Segundo, Calif.

 NASA's N2A concept (top) and Northrop's 1940s flying wing

A key objective of the N+2 research is to ensure the technological elements proposed for meeting NASA's noise, emissions and fuel burn reduction goals can be integrated on a single aircraft that could operate safely within a modernized air traffic management system.

The research contracts will identify innovations that will provide the necessary technologies to industry for development and flight demonstrations to support entry into service in the 2025 time frame.

The Boeing team will define a preferred system concept for an aircraft that can achieve speeds up to 85 percent of the speed of sound, cover a range of nearly 7,000 miles and carry between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of payload, either passengers or cargo.

NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project sponsors the studies. The project is part of the Integrated Systems Research Program managed by the agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.

The project is working to develop technology that would enable future aircraft to burn 50 percent less fuel than today's most efficient models, with 50 percent fewer harmful emissions; and to shrink the size of geographic areas affected by objectionable airport noise by 83 percent.

For information about NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project, visit:

For information about NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA.


Space station tracks months-long voyages of ships at sea

ISS - International Space Station patch.

9 December 2010

ESA’s experimental ship detector on the International Space Station has pinpointed more than 60 000 ocean-going vessels so far. It has been able to follow the routes of individual ships for months at a time.

Hosted by Europe’s Columbus research module on the International Space Station (ISS), and activated on 1 June, the tracking system picks up Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals, more usually employed by port authorities and coastguards to keep tabs on local ship traffic.

ISS tracks vessels on months-long ocean trips

All international vessels, passenger carriers and cargo ships above 300 tonnes are mandated to carry AIS VHF-radio transponders.

“AIS messages are designed to be used only on a local basis, with a range of 50 km or so to the horizon,” explained Torkild Eriksen of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), which built the NORAIS receiver in collaboration with Kongsberg Seatex.

AIS antenna unfurled

“Instead, we are picking them up from 350 km in orbit, when they might have travelled up to 2000 km. Our receiver, therefore, had to be designed for extreme sensitivity to detect such weak signals.”

This initiative, funded by ESA, is part of the trend of using the ISS as a platform to observe and monitor our planet. The Station’s orbital inclination and altitude are different to those of most observation satellites, offering other ground patterns over about 95% of the population.

“Operating from space, we have been able to track ships for long periods as they cross the ocean,” explained Andreas-Nordomo Skauen of FFI. Nearly 30 million AIS messages were received in only four months from more than 60 000 different transmitters.

ISS tracking a single ship over four months
The results give an overview of the ship traffic beneath the Station’s orbit, with coverage extending as far as polar latitudes.

A wide field of view

“Over the four-month period,” added Mr Skauen, “we watched one ship travel from the western Pacific to Argentina then over to Europe and down to Africa, picking up its AIS signal from two to seven times per day, depending on latitude.

Same ship makes unreported stopover

“So we can reveal exactly where a vessel has been in the marine environment, information that would be very useful to port, fisheries and marine authorities.”

From the Station’s orbit, the NORAIS receiver has a maximum 4400 km-diameter field of view. Signal detection is easiest when vessels are far apart in open water. In the busiest stretches of water such as the English Channel, North Sea and Malacca Straits, AIS signals swamp each other, and vessels get lost in the crowd.

Daily NORAIS access worldwide

“This is not a problem, however, as these particular areas are already well covered by coastal base stations,” explained Mr Eriksen. “This system’s usefulness is its global reach.”

The Vessel ID System on Columbus has run on a largely automated basis with weekly instructions uploaded via Norway’s national User Support Operations Centre, part of an ESA-wide network serving ISS experimenters.

“We surveyed both land and ocean, and will pass our findings to the International Telecommunications Union and International Maritime Organisation as they consider introducing these new bands,” said Mr Eriksen.

Related links:


Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI):

Kongsberg Seatex:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA / FFI.


Intergalactic Weather Map

NASA - Chandra X-Ray Observatory logo.


This composite image shows an intergalactic "weather map" around the elliptical galaxy NGC 5813, the dominant central galaxy in a galaxy group located about 105 million light years away from Earth. Just like a weather map for a local forecast on Earth, the colored circle depicts variations in temperature across a region. This particular maps presents the range of temperature in a region of space as observed by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, with the hotter temperatures shown in red and decreasingly cooler temperatures shown in orange, yellow, green, and blue.

A notable feature of this image is the relatively small variation in temperature across the weather map, with a range of only about 30% across several hundred thousand light years. Without any sources of heat, the densest gas near the center of the map should cool to much lower temperatures as energy is lost because of radiation. However, regular outbursts generated by the supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 5813 provide heat, preventing the gas near the center of the galaxy from cooling to such low temperatures. This decreases the amount of cool gas available to form new stars. This process is analogous to the sun providing heat for Earth's atmosphere and preventing water and water vapor from cooling and freezing.

How do outbursts generated by the black hole provide heat? Powerful jets produced as gas swirls toward the black hole push cavities into the hot gas and drive shock waves -- like sonic booms -- outwards, heating the gas. The shocks from the most recent outburst, which occurred about 3 million years ago in Earth’s time frame, show up as a "figure eight" structure at the center of the image. This is the first system where the observed heating from shocks alone is sufficient to keep the gas from cooling indefinitely. These shocks allow the relatively tiny black hole to heat the huge area surrounding it, as shown here.

The gas around NGC 5813 shows evidence for three distinct outbursts from the black hole, which occurred 3 million, 20 million and 90 million years ago, in Earth's time frame. The average power of the two most recent outbursts differ by about a factor of six, showing that the power delivered by the jets can vary significantly over timescales of about 10 million years.

A paper describing these results has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. The first author of the paper is Scott Randall from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and the co-authors are Bill Forman from CfA; Simona Giacintucci from CfA and INAF in Bologna, Italy; Paul Nulsen from CfA; Ming Sun from the University of Virginia; Christine Jones from CfA; Eugene Churazov from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany and the Space Research Institute in Moscow, Russia; Larry David and Ralph Kraft from CfA; Megan Donahue from Michigan State University; Elizabeth Blanton from Boston University; and Aurora Simionescu and Norbert Werner from Stanford University.

> Read more/access larger images:

Images, Text, Credits: X-ray: NASA / CXC / SAO / S.Randall et al., Optical: SDSS.


mercredi 8 décembre 2010

Kepler Mission Manager Update

NASA - Kepler Mission logo.

Dec. 08, 2010 (published 6 December).

The Kepler project team successfully completed another science data download Nov. 22-23, 2010. This download of science data from the Kepler spacecraft marked the completion of Quarter 7, Month 2 data collection. All spacecraft commanding was accomplished without incident, as operations have been nominal for several months. As the operation concluded, the team turned its attention to prepare for the upcoming quarterly roll of the spacecraft for the winter season. This operation is planned for Dec. 21-23, 2010, and will be accompanied by another download of science data from Quarter 7, Month 3.

 Artist's view of the Kepler spacecraft

The 2010 ground-based observing season is completed for the Kepler Mission. Next year’s ground-based observing season will begin in spring 2011. The Kepler Follow-up Observation Team is now devoting its energy to examining planetary candidates to eliminate false positives and refine the candidate list based on currently available data. The refined list will be published in a major paper about Kepler planet candidates in conjunction with the release of Quarter 2 of the Kepler data in February 2011. The February 2011 release will also contain quarters 0-2 for the 400 planetary candidates withheld from the June 2010 data release.

Kepler search area

The Kepler project is moving the next data release date (originally planned for June 2011) forward to Feb. 1, 2011. The Quarter 2 data set is the first consisting of a complete three months of observations. It will contain light curves for approximately 165,000 stars (most of which are late-type Main Sequence stars) brighter than 16th magnitude in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations sampled at a 30-minute cadence. Three subsets of one-month each of 512 stars were sampled at a one-minute cadence. The shorter cadence data will be released on the same schedule.

The new release will augment the Quarter 0 and Quarter 1 data that were released mid-2010. Quarter 0 data is a unique set of approximately 10 days of data taken during commissioning of approximately 53,000 stars of varying spectral types. Quarter 1 data consisted of 33 days of data of approximately 150,000 stars taken between the end of commissioning and the first quarterly roll. The motivation for the early data release is to better support the 2011 NASA Astrophysics Data Analysis Program (ADAP), a funding opportunity that supports the analysis and interpretation of data in the public archives. By tripling the volume of Kepler data in the public archive, we hope to increase research opportunities that might be captured under the ADAP umbrella.

The project will hold a splinter session at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting Jan. 9-13, 2011 in Seattle to inform potential users how to make use of the archive.

Further information about Kepler can be found at

The data will be made available through MAST at

Meanwhile, the Kepler science team has held several working group meetings in the past month. The team has been busy with its analysis of data, and is drafting several research papers for publication and/or presentation at upcoming venues. Many science team members will attend the AAS meeting in Seattle in early January where several sessions will be dedicated to Kepler science activities.

At intervals, NASA selects funded proposals for the Kepler Participating Scientists Program (PSP). The Kepler PSP is designed to augment the skill set of the Kepler science team, thereby enabling it to more effectively execute the mission’s science program. Participating scientists serve as members of the Kepler science team and participate in science team activities, such as data processing and analysis, transit candidate follow-up and characterization, and publication. The next deadline for cycle 2 PSP proposals, open to all candidates, is Feb. 11, 2011. Proposal instructions and element details are provided at

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / Jon Lomberg (Milky Way Galaxy).


Venus Climate Orbiter ‘AKATSUKI’ Venus Observation Orbit Injection

JAXA - Venus Climate Orbiter ‘AKATSUKI’ Planet-C patch.

Venus Climate Orbiter ‘AKATSUKI’ Venus Observation Orbit Injection (VOI-1) Result

December 8, 2010 (JST)

The Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (ISAS/JAXA) performed Venus orbit insertion maneuver (VOI-1) for the Venus Climate Orbiter “AKATSUKI” at 8:49 a.m. on December 7 (Japan Standard Time,) but, unfortunately, we have found that the orbiter was not injected into the planned orbit as a result of orbit estimation.

Venus Climate Orbiter ‘AKATSUKI’ Planet-C spacecraft

The “AKATSUKI” was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center on May 21, 2010 (JST.)

JAXA has set up an investigation team led by ISAS Director within JAXA to study the cause of the failure. We will update you with the countermeasures and investigation results.

Mission website:

AKATSUKI Special Site:

Venus Climate Orbiter AKATSUKI (PLANET-C):

Images, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)


ESO - A Swarm of Ancient Stars

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

8 December 2010

ESO - The globular star cluster Messier 107

We know of about 150 of the rich collections of old stars called globular clusters that orbit our galaxy, the Milky Way. This sharp new image of Messier 107, captured by the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, displays the structure of one such globular cluster in exquisite detail. Studying these stellar swarms has revealed much about the history of our galaxy and how stars evolve.

The globular cluster Messier 107, also known as NGC 6171, is a compact and ancient family of stars that lies about 21 000 light-years away. Messier 107 is a bustling metropolis: thousands of stars in globular clusters like this one are concentrated into a space that is only about twenty times the distance between our Sun and its nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Centauri, across. A significant number of these stars have already evolved into red giants, one of the last stages of a star’s life, and have a yellowish colour in this image.

Globular clusters are among the oldest objects in the Universe. And since the stars within a globular cluster formed from the same cloud of interstellar matter at roughly the same time — typically over 10 billion years ago — they are all low-mass stars, as lightweights burn their hydrogen fuel supply much more slowly than stellar behemoths. Globular clusters formed during the earliest stages in the formation of their host galaxies and therefore studying these objects can give significant insights into how galaxies, and their component stars, evolve.

ESO - The globular star cluster Messier 107 in the constellation of Ophiuchus

Messier 107 has undergone intensive observations, being one of the 160 stellar fields that was selected for the Pre-FLAMES Survey — a preliminary survey conducted between 1999 and 2002 using the 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, to find suitable stars for follow-up observations with the VLT’s spectroscopic instrument FLAMES [1]. Using FLAMES, it is possible to observe up to 130 targets at the same time, making it particularly well suited to the spectroscopic study of densely populated stellar fields, such as globular clusters.

M107 is not visible to the naked eye, but, with an apparent magnitude of about eight, it can easily be observed from a dark site with binoculars or a small telescope. The globular cluster is about 13 arcminutes across, which corresponds to about 80 light-years at its distance, and it is found in the constellation of Ophiuchus, north of the pincers of Scorpius. Roughly half of the Milky Way’s known globular clusters are actually found in the constellations of Sagittarius, Scorpius and Ophiuchus, in the general direction of the centre of the Milky Way. This is because they are all in elongated orbits around the central region and are on average most likely to be seen in this direction.

ESO - Zooming in on the globular star cluster Messier 107

Messier 107 was discovered by Pierre Méchain in April 1782 and it was added to the list of seven Additional Messier Objects that were originally not included in the final version of Messier’s catalogue, which was published the previous year. On 12 May 1793, it was independently rediscovered by William Herschel, who was able to resolve this globular cluster into stars for the first time. But it was not until 1947 that this globular cluster finally took its place in Messier’s catalogue as M107, making it the most recent star cluster to be added to this famous list.

This image is composed from exposures taken through the blue, green and near-infrared filters by the Wide Field Camera (WFI) on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.


[1] Fibre Large Array Multi-Element Spectrograph More information:

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 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, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and VISTA, the world’s largest survey telescope. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


    * Photo of MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / La Silla / Paranal / E-ELT and Survey Telescopes - Imaging Survey / IAU and Sky & Telescope / Video credits: ESO Imaging Survey / S. Brunier. Music: John Dyson from the album moonwind.