vendredi 8 avril 2011

ESA Arctic ice campaign takes off

ESA - CRYOSAT Mission logo.

8 April 2011

To guarantee ESA's CryoSat mission is delivering the best data possible, scientists have set out on a major expedition to the Arctic – part of a collaborative effort between ESA and NASA to gather ice measurements as the satellite orbits above.

CryoSat was launched a year ago today to monitor the changes in the thickness of marine ice in the polar oceans and in the vast ice sheets that blanket Greenland and Antarctica.

Orbiting closer to the poles than any other satellite and carrying the first radar altimeter of its kind, CryoSat is providing scientists with the data they need to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between ice and climate change.

As with any Earth observation mission, it is important to validate the readings acquired from space. This involves comparing the satellite data with measurements taken in situ, usually on the ground and from the air.

For CryoSat, that means sending teams to one of the harshest environments on Earth.

Scientists embarking on this campaign to the Arctic are not only facing the physical challenges of working in a bitterly cold and hostile environment, but also a huge logistical undertaking.

Twin Otter

Tommaso Parrinello, ESA's CryoSat Mission Manager, said, "This is one of the most important validation campaigns for CryoSat, as for the first time, we are going to measure ice simultaneously from space, from the air and on the ground."

The one-month venture involves teams in central Greenland, Svalbard and the Fram Strait, Devon Island and Alert in northern Canada. While direct measurements of land and sea ice are taken on the ground, planes will be flying above taking other measurements at the same time.

Notably, NASA and ESA are collaborating in this huge international effort. As part of their Icebridge airborne campaign to survey polar ice cover, NASA is taking part in joint flights with ESA planes, overflights of European ground sites and underflights of CryoSat.

Taking ground measurements

Malcolm Davidson, ESA's CryoSat Validation Manager said “We are excited by the collaboration with NASA.

"By cooperating in collecting a huge and varied airborne dataset, probing different types of snow and ice with a range of instruments, we get a better understanding of the data from the CryoSat and ICESat missions.

"This is a great opportunity to explore the possibilities of mapping ice-thickness change in the Arctic using both ESA and NASA missions."

In May, ESA's team on the Greenland ice sheet will also be honoured with a visit from His Royal Highness Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. As much of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the management of water is close to the Prince's heart.

Polar ice

As strong supporters of research in the Arctic, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) is organising the royal visit to Greenland. Prince Willem-Alexander will be met on the ice sheet by ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Volker Liebig, who will provide first-hand information on the CryoSat mission and the Arctic campaign.

"As a science-based organisation, WWF welcomes efforts to monitor changes in the Arctic environment," said Johan van de Gronden, CEO of WWF-Netherlands.

"ESA's CryoSat mission will provide precise data about ice thickness and, over time, it will measure changes in detail. Such data are needed to make informed decisions to carefully manage this fragile and rapidly changing environment."

Going live today, events throughout the Arctic campaign can be followed on ESA's CryoSat ice blog:

In depth:


Related links:

NASA Icebridge campaign:

WWF, the Arctic:

Access CryoSat data:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / DTU / Norwegian Polar Institute.


Chandra Observes Extraordinary Event

NASA - Chandra X-Ray Observatory logo.


 The center of this image contains an extraordinary gamma-ray burst (GRB) called GRB 110328A, observed with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This Chandra observation confirms the association of GRB 110328A with the core of a distant galaxy and shows that it was an exceptionally long lived and luminous event compared to other GRBs.

The red cross (roll your mouse over the image above) shows the position of a faint galaxy -- located about 3.8 billion light years from Earth -- observed with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini-North telescope on the ground. Allowing for experimental errors, the position of the galaxy is indistinguishable from that of the X-ray source, showing that the source is located close to the middle of the galaxy. This is consistent with the idea, suggested by some astronomers, that a star was torn apart by a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. This idea differs from the usual interpretation for a GRB, involving the production of a jet when a black hole or neutron star forms after the collapse of a massive star or a merger between two neutron stars.

Remarkably, this "tidal disruption" event may have been caught in real time, rather than detected later from analyzing archival observations. However, this X-ray source is about a hundred times brighter than previously observed tidal disruptions. One possible explanation for this very bright radiation is that debris from the disrupted star fell towards the black hole in a disk and the swirling, magnetized matter generated intense electromagnetic fields that created a powerful jet of particles. If this jet is pointed toward Earth it would boost the observed brightness of the source. This scenario has already been suggested by observers to explain the bright and variable X-ray emission observed by NASA's Swift telescope.

This observation was part of a so-called target of opportunity, or TOO, led by Andrew Levan from the University of Warwick in the UK. A TOO allows the telescope to react quickly to unpredictable cosmic events, within 24 hours in some situations. Chandra scientists and engineers can decide to alter the scheduled observations and instead point the telescope to another target if the circumstances warrant it. This process was put into place once the discovery of GRB 110328A with Swift was announced on March 28th, 2011. The Chandra team was able to reset the telescope's schedule to observe GRB 110328A early in the morning of Monday, April 4th for a period of just over four hours.

Read more/access larger images:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA / CXC / Warwick / A.Levan et al.


Value of Sentinels to science highlighted

ESA - Sentinel-3 Mission logo.

8 April 2011

The Sentinel satellites that are being developed to yield data for information services through Europe's GMES programme also have great potential to advance our understanding of Earth. Scientists gathered recently to discuss how to get the most out of these missions.

The Sentinels for Science workshop, held at ESA's Centre for Earth Observation in Italy, set the stage for more than 200 scientists to analyse and prioritise how the various data products from Sentinel-1, Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 could be put to scientific use.


Headed by the European Commission, the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme will provide accurate, timely and easily accessible information to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and help ensure civil security.

Within the framework of this ambitious Earth observation initiative, ESA has been tasked with developing the five new Sentinel missions specifically for the operational needs of the programme.

While the aim is to deliver data to feed into GMES information services, the Sentinels could also be of great benefit to science.

Sentinels for Science workshop

Volker Liebig, Director of ESA's Earth Observation Programmes said, "The range of sensors carried on the different Sentinels, their ability to provide global coverage and rapid revist times coupled with our commitment to providing long-term data, make these missions highly relevant to gaining a deeper insight into the processes and interactions that make up the Earth system and its changes.

"In order to exploit GMES fully, we need constant feedback of science. This will lead to many new applications, as we have seen with Envisat and other satellites."

The first Sentinel is planned to launch in 2013. It is a C-band imaging radar mission to provide an all-weather day-and-night supply of imagery of land and ocean surfaces. Sentinel-1 will be followed by Sentinel-2, which carries a multispectral high-resolution optical instrument to monitor vegetation changes. Sentinel-3 carries a multiple instrument package to measure different ocean variables and monitor land.

Simulated Sentinel-2 image

All three missions will be made up of two identical satellites orbiting as pairs.

Josef Aschbacher, Head ESA's GMES Space Office noted, "The sentinel data contain crucial information for all Earth sciences, especially climate-change related questions that need long time series."

Workshop participants also talked about the complementary and synergistic retrieval of data from the Sentinels with that acquired by other Earth observation missions.

The success of the workshop has clearly paved the way for further investigation into how the Sentinels can be of maximum benefit to all users.

The workshop forms part of ESA's study on Sentinels for Science, or 'SEN4SCI', managed by the Remote Sensing Laboratories at the University of Switzerland.

More information:

Sentinels overview:


SEN4SCI workshop 22-24 March:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / J. Huart.


jeudi 7 avril 2011

SOFIA Completes First Flight Of German Science Instrument

NASA - Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) patch.

April 07, 2011

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, completed its first science flight Wednesday, April 6, using the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) scientific instrument. GREAT is a high-resolution far-infrared spectrometer that finely divides and sorts light into component colors for detailed analysis.

SOFIA is the only operational airborne observatory. It is a joint program between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The observatory is a heavily modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches. Flying at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet, above the water vapor in Earth's lower atmosphere that blocks most infrared radiation from celestial sources, SOFIA conducts astronomy research not possible with ground-based telescopes.

"SOFIA's onboard crew seamlessly combined scientists, engineers and technicians from the U.S. and Germany, working together on an observatory developed in the U.S., using a telescope and instrument built in Germany, to gather data of great interest to the entire world's scientific community," said Bob Meyer, NASA's SOFIA Program manager at the agency's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.

Image above: GREAT collected its first THz photons from the M173W star forming cloud April 6, 2011. Superimposed on a near-infrared false-color image measured by the Spitzer Space Telescope are selected spectra of ionized carbon (white line) and warm carbon monoxide (green line). (GREAT Team / NASA / DLR / USRA / DSI).

GREAT Principal Investigator Rolf Guesten of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and his team conducted observations high above the central and western United States beginning the night of April 5 with their instrument installed on SOFIA's telescope.

Among their targets were IC 342, a spiral galaxy located 11 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Camelopardalis ("The Giraffe"), and the Omega Nebula (known as M17), 5,000 light-years away in Sagittarius. The team captured and analyzed radiation from ionized carbon atoms and carbon monoxide molecules to probe the chemical reactions, motions of matter and flows of energy occurring in interstellar clouds. Astronomers have evidence such clouds in both IC 342 and M17 are forming numerous massive stars.

"These first spectra are the reward for the many years of work creating this technology, and underline the scientific potential of airborne far-infrared spectroscopy," Guesten said.

Image above: The German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies spectrometer, or GREAT, is mounted on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy’s telescope in its normal position.

GREAT focused on strong far-infrared emissions from interstellar clouds that cool the clouds. The balance between heating and cooling processes regulates the temperature of the interstellar material and controls initial conditions for the formation of new stars.

"These observations give us unique information about the physical processes and chemical conditions in the stellar nurseries," said Juergen Stutzki, a co-investigator on the GREAT team. "SOFIA will give us new and deep insight into how stars form."
GREAT, one of two German first-generation SOFIA scientific instruments, was developed by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and the University of Cologne in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and the DLR Institute of Planetary Research.

"This first science flight with a German instrument is a huge milestone for the SOFIA observatory," said John Gagosian, SOFIA program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "GREAT, in combination with SOFIA's other German and U.S.-developed instruments, demonstrates SOFIA's extraordinary versatility, allowing it to play a unique and essential role alongside the Spitzer and Herschel spacecraft."

NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. SOFIA is based and managed at Dryden's Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.

For more information about SOFIA, visit:

For information about SOFIA's science mission, visit: and

Images, Text, Credit: NASA.


NASA Telescopes Join Forces To Observe Unprecedented Explosion

NASA - Chandra X-Ray Observatory logo / NASA - SWIFT Mission patch.

April 07, 2011

NASA's Swift satellite, Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory have teamed up to study one of the most puzzling cosmic blasts ever observed. More than a week later, high-energy radiation continues to brighten and fade from its location.
Astronomers say they have never seen such a bright, variable, high-energy, long-lasting burst before. Usually, gamma-ray bursts mark the destruction of a massive star, and flaring emission from these events never lasts more than a few hours.

Images from Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical (white, purple) and X-ray telescopes (yellow and red) were combined in this view of GRB 110328A. The blast was detected only in X-rays, which were collected over a 3.4-hour period on March 28. Credit: NASA / Swift / Stefan Immler.

Although research is ongoing, astronomers feel the unusual blast likely arose when a star wandered too close to its galaxy's central black hole. Intense tidal forces probably tore the star apart, and the infalling gas continues to stream toward the hole. According to this model, the spinning black hole formed an outflowing jet along its rotational axis. A powerful blast of X- and gamma rays is seen when the jet is pointed in our direction.

On March 28, Swift's Burst Alert Telescope discovered the source in the constellation Draco when it erupted with the first in a series of powerful blasts.

This is a visible-light image of GRB 110328A's host galaxy (arrow) taken on April 4 by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3. The galaxy is 3.8 billion light-years away. Credit: NASA /ESA / A. Fruchter (STScI).

"We know of objects in our own galaxy that can produce repeated bursts, but they are thousands to millions of times less powerful than the bursts we are seeing. This is truly extraordinary," said Andrew Fruchter at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Swift determined a position for the explosion, which now is cataloged as gamma-ray burst (GRB) 110328A, and informed astronomers worldwide.

As dozens of telescopes turned to study the spot, astronomers quickly noticed a small, distant galaxy very near the Swift position. A deep image taken by Hubble on Monday, April 4, pinpointed the source of the explosion at the center of this galaxy, which lies 3.8 billion light-years away from Earth. That same day, astronomers used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to make a four-hour-long exposure of the puzzling source. The image, which locates the X-ray object 10 times more precisely than Swift, shows it lies at the center of the galaxy Hubble imaged.

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory completed this four-hour exposure of GRB 110328A on April 4. The center of the X-ray source corresponds to the very center of the host galaxy imaged by Hubble (red cross). Credit: NASA/CXC/ Warwick/A. Levan.

"We have been eagerly awaiting the Hubble observation," said Neil Gehrels, the lead scientist for Swift at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The fact that the explosion occurred in the center of a galaxy tells us it is most likely associated with a massive black hole. This solves a key question about the mysterious event."

Most galaxies, including our own, contain central black holes with millions of times the sun's mass; those in the largest galaxies can be a thousand times larger. The disrupted star probably succumbed to a black hole less massive than the Milky Way's, which has a mass four million times that of our sun.

Astronomers previously have detected stars disrupted by supermassive black holes, but none have shown the X-ray brightness and variability seen in GRB 110328A. The source has undergone numerous flares. Since Sunday, April 3, for example, it has brightened by more than five times.

Scientists think the X-rays may be coming from matter moving near the speed of light in a particle jet that forms along the rotation axis of the spinning black hole as the star's gas falls into a disk around the black hole.

Image above: GRB 110328A has repeatedly flared in the days following its discovery by Swift. This plot shows the brightness changes recorded by Swift's X-ray Telescope. Credit: NASA / Swift / Penn State / J. Kennea.

"The best explanation at the moment is we happen to be looking down the barrel of this jet," said Andrew Levan at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, who led the Chandra observations. "When we look straight down these jets, a brightness boost lets us view details we might otherwise miss."

This brightness increase, which is called relativistic beaming, occurs when matter moving close to the speed of light is viewed nearly head on. Astronomers plan additional Hubble observations to see if the galaxy's core changes brightness.

Goddard manages Swift and Hubble. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages Chandra. Hubble was built and is operated in partnership with the European Space Agency. Science operations for all three missions include contributions from many national and international partners.

For more information and images associated with these observations, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


Breakthrough Study Confirms Cause Of Short Gamma-Ray Bursts

NASA - SWIFT Mission patch.

April 7, 2011

A new supercomputer simulation shows the collision of two neutron stars can naturally produce the magnetic structures thought to power the high-speed particle jets associated with short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The study provides the most detailed glimpse of the forces driving some of the universe's most energetic explosions.

Video above: State-of-the-art supercomputer models show that merging neutron stars can power a short gamma-ray burst. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

The state-of-the-art simulation ran for nearly seven weeks on the Damiana computer cluster at the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) in Potsdam, Germany. It traces events that unfold over 35 milliseconds -- about three times faster than the blink of an eye.

GRBs are among the brightest events known, emitting as much energy in a few seconds as our entire galaxy does in a year. Most of this emission comes in the form of gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light.

"For the first time, we've managed to run the simulation well past the merger and the formation of the black hole," said Chryssa Kouveliotou, a co-author of the study at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "This is by far the longest simulation of this process, and only on sufficiently long timescales does the magnetic field grow and reorganize itself from a chaotic structure into something resembling a jet."

GRBs longer than two seconds are the most common type and are widely thought to be triggered by the collapse of a massive star into a black hole. As matter falls toward the black hole, some of it forms jets in the opposite direction that move near the speed of light. These jets bore through the collapsing star along its rotational axis and produce a blast of gamma rays after they emerge. Understanding short GRBs, which fade quickly, proved more elusive. Astronomers had difficulty obtaining precise positions for follow-up studies.

That began to change in 2004, when NASA's Swift satellite began rapidly locating bursts and alerting astronomers where to look.

"For more than two decades, the leading model of short GRBs was the merger of two neutron stars," said co-author Bruno Giacomazzo at the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Only now can we show that the merger of neutron stars actually produces an ultrastrong magnetic field structured like the jets needed for a GRB."

A neutron star is the compressed core left behind when a star weighing less than about 30 times the sun's mass explodes as a supernova. Its matter reaches densities that cannot be reproduced on Earth -- a single spoonful outweighs the Himalayan Mountains.

The simulation began with a pair of magnetized neutron stars orbiting just 11 miles apart. Each star packed 1.5 times the mass of the sun into a sphere just 17 miles across and generated a magnetic field about a trillion times stronger than the sun's.

These images show the merger of two neutron stars recently simulated using a new supercomputer model. Redder colors indicate lower densities. Green and white ribbons and lines represent magnetic fields. The orbiting neutron stars rapidly lose energy by emitting gravitational waves and merge after about three orbits, or in less than 8 milliseconds. The merger amplifies and scrambles the merged magnetic field. A black hole forms and the magnetic field becomes more organized, eventually producing structures capable of supporting the jets that power short gamma-ray bursts. Credit: NASA/AEI/ZIB/M. Koppitz and L. Rezzolla.

In 15 milliseconds, the two neutron stars crashed, merged and transformed into a rapidly spinning black hole weighing 2.9 suns. The edge of the black hole, known as its event horizon, spanned less than six miles. A swirling chaos of superdense matter with temperatures exceeding 18 billion degrees Fahrenheit surrounded the newborn black hole. The merger amplified the strength of the combined magnetic field, but it also scrambled it into disarray.

Over the next 11 milliseconds, gas swirling close to the speed of light continued to amplify the magnetic field, which ultimately became a thousand times stronger than the neutron stars' original fields. At the same time, the field became more organized and gradually formed a pair of outwardly directed funnels along the black hole's rotational axis.

 SWIFT Satellite

This is exactly the configuration needed to power the jets of ultrafast particles that produce a short gamma-ray burst. Neither of the magnetic funnels was filled with high-speed matter when the simulation ended, but earlier studies have shown that jet formation can occur under these conditions.

"By solving Einstein's relativity equations as never before and letting nature take its course, we've lifted the veil on short GRBs and revealed what could be their central engine," said Luciano Rezzolla, the study's lead author at AEI. "This is a long-awaited result. Now it appears that neutron star mergers inevitably produce aligned jet-like structures in an ultrastrong magnetic field."

The study is available online and will appear in the May 1 edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The authors note the ultimate proof of the merger model will have to await the detection of gravitational waves -- ripples in the fabric of space-time predicted by relativity. Merging neutron stars are expected to be prominent sources, so the researchers also computed what the model's gravitational-wave signal would look like. Observatories around the world are searching for gravitational waves, so far without success because the signals are so faint.

For more information, video and images associated with this release, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.

Best regards,

The Art of Making Stars

NASA - Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) patch.

7 April 2011

Rho Ophiuchi might look like an abstract painting, but this splash of colors is in fact a busy star-forming complex. WISE, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Explorer captured the picturesque image of the region, which is one of the closest star-forming complexes to Earth.

The amazing variety of colors seen in this image represents different wavelengths of infrared light. The bright white nebula in the center of the image is glowing due to heating from nearby stars, resulting in what is called an emission nebula. The same is true for most of the multi-hued gas prevalent throughout the entire image, including the bluish, bow-shaped feature near the bottom right. The bright red area in the bottom right is light from the star in the center--Sigma Scorpii--that is reflected off of the dust surrounding it, creating what is called a reflection nebula. And the much darker areas scattered throughout the image are pockets of cool, dense gas that block out the background light, resulting in absorption (or 'dark') nebulae. WISE's longer wavelength detectors can typically see through dark nebulae, but these are exceptionally opaque.

The bright pink objects just left of center are young stellar objects--baby stars just beginning to form. Many of them are still enveloped in their own tiny compact nebulae. In visible light, these baby stars are completely hidden in the dark nebula that surrounds them. Also seen in this image are some of the oldest stars in our Milky Way galaxy. The first cluster, M80, is on the far right edge of the image towards the top. The second, NGC 6144, is found close to the bottom edge near the center. They both appear as small densely compacted groups of blue stars. Globular clusters such as these typically harbor some of the oldest stars known, some as old as 13 billion years, born soon after the universe formed.

Image, Text,  Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA.


mardi 5 avril 2011

Scientists Find New Type Of Mineral In Historic Meteorite

Meteorites and Comets Searches.

April 5, 2011

NASA and co-researchers from the United States, South Korea and Japan have found a new mineral named "Wassonite" in one of the most historically significant meteorites recovered in Antarctica in December 1969.

The new mineral was discovered within the meteorite officially designated Yamato 691 enstatite chondrite. The meteorite was discovered the same year as other landmark meteorites Allende and Murchison and the return of the first Apollo lunar samples. The study of meteorites helps define our understanding of the formation and history of the solar system.

The meteorite likely may have originated from an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Wassonite is among the tiniest, yet most important, minerals identified in the 4.5-billion-year-old sample. The research team, headed by NASA space scientist Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, added the mineral to the list of 4,500 officially approved by the International Mineralogical Association.

"Wassonite is a mineral formed from only two elements, sulfur and titanium, yet it possesses a unique crystal structure that has not been previously observed in nature," said Nakamura-Messenger.

In 1969, members of the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition discovered nine meteorites on the blue ice field of the Yamato Mountains in Antarctica. This was the first significant recovery of Antarctic meteorites and represented samples of several different types. As a result, the United States and Japan conducted systematic follow-up searches for meteorites in Antarctica that recovered more than 40,000 specimens, including extremely rare Martian and lunar meteorites.

Researchers found Wassonite surrounded by additional unknown minerals that are being investigated. The mineral is less than one-hundredth the width of a human hair or 50x450 nanometers. It would have been impossible to discover without NASA's transmission electron microscope, which is capable of isolating the Wassonite grains and determining their chemical composition and atomic structure.

A bright field scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) micrograph showing a Wassonite grain in dark contrast

"More secrets of the universe can be revealed from these specimens using 21st century nano-technology," said Nakamura-Messenger.

The new mineral's name was approved by the International Mineralogical Association. It honors John T. Wasson, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Wasson is known for his achievements across a broad swath of meteorite and impact research, including the use of neutron activation data to classify meteorites and to formulate models for the chemical makeup of bulk chondrites.

"Meteorites, and the minerals within them, are windows to the formation of our solar system," said Lindsay Keller, space scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Keller is the co-discoverer and principal investigator of the microscope used to analyze the Wassonite crystals. "Through these kinds of studies we can learn about the conditions that existed and the processes that were occurring then."

Johnson's advanced work in nanotechnology is part of the center's Astromaterial Research and Exploration Science Directorate. It is currently the location for celestial materials that would be returned to Earth from spacecraft. The facility collaborates with industry, academic and international organizations.

"The beauty of this research is that it really demonstrates how the Johnson Space Center has become a pre-eminent leader in the field of nanoscale analysis," said Simon Clemett, a space scientist at Johnson and co-discoverer of the new mineral. "In the words of the great English poet William Blake, we are now able 'to see the world in a grain of sand'.

Collaborators in the discovery of the new mineral include Clemett, Keller and Zia Rahman in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at Johnson; Alan Rubin from UCLA; Byeon-Gak Choi from Seoul National University, South Korea; Shouliang Zhang from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston; and Katsunari Oikawa from Tohoku University, Japan.

To see images of Wassonite, visit:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA / Tohoku University, Japan.


ESA increases availability of made-in-Europe space parts

ESA logo.

5 April 2011

Helping to ensure that future satellites are also European on the inside, ESA is extending its effort to increase the amount of high-performance European components available to forthcoming missions.

On 17 March ESA’s Council approved a €20 million budget for the next phase of the European Components Initiative (ECI), for the years 2011 to 2012, and work has started to define a long-term, sustained financing formula for presentation to the 2012 Ministerial Council.

Components are the building blocks of space missions

“This very positive decision illustrates that national delegations are well aware of the strategic importance that EEE [electrical, electronic and electro-mechanical] components have to sustain our ability to build innovative and competitive space systems,” commented Wolfgang Veith, head of ESA’s Product Assurance and Safety Department.

“Until 2006, the number of European EEE components used in European satellites was in a decade-long decline, but the Initiative has reversed this trend with an impressive portfolio of new space components that have also found success in the wider marketplace.”

From resistors to transistors, integrated circuits to monolithic microwave devices, EEE components are the fundamental building blocks of satellites. Their reliability, quality and performance play a key role in ESA missions.

ECI double-balanced mixer

Begun in 2004, the Initiative is a combined effort between ESA and national space agencies working with component manufacturers and end-users to reduce Europe’s dependence on foreign EEE items.

Such components are often subject to export restrictions, most notably the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Continued reliance limits the European access to high-end EEE-component technologies, curtailing the effectiveness of future missions and diminishing the competitiveness of Europe’s space sector.

The announcement came as around 200 space components specialists were gathered at ESTEC, ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands, for the European Space Components Conference, ESCCON 2011.

LEON2-FT microprocessor

Starting on 15 March, the three-day event was organised by the steering board of the European Space Component Coordination (ESCC), an organisation of space agencies and industry to harmonise EEE research and development activities and operate a system for qualifying European space components. The ECI serves to fill strategic gaps that are identified by the ESCC.

Wolfgang also serves as chairman of the ESCC steering board. Introducing the conference, he noted that the space programme represented a small fraction of the global EEE components market, combining low-volume demand with very high requirements on reliability, robustness and radiation resistance.

“But space has such a huge impact on our society and economy, that it is universally recognised that this niche has to be filled,” he commented.

The ECI’s initial motivation was to seek direct ‘drop in’ replacements for ITAR-controlled devices, explained Mikko Nikulainen, Head of ESA's Materials and Component Technology Division and in charge of implementing the ECI.

Herschel-Planck were 60% European

“Its second phase, from 2009 to this year, sought to develop competitive alternatives to foreign parts in terms of function, performance, cost and time to market.

“In the third phase, stretching into 2013, the focus is to ensure European access to key strategic components and enabling technologies to maintain long-term competitiveness of European space industry.”

Areas of interest include deep submicron technology (producing microcircuits with feature sizes as small as 65 nanometres, tinier than a typical bacterium), large Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs, reconfigurable circuits for varied uses) and high pin-count assembly technologies (allowing dense placement of components on printed circuit boards).

More information:

EEE Components Initiative:

What is the ECI?:

ESCCON 2011:


Credits: ESA / OMMIC.


More power to Alphabus

ESA - ALPHAbus Satellite Communications logo.

5 April 2011

The high-power end of the communication satellite market will be better served thanks to Alphabus, Europe’s new telecommunications platform.

Jointly developed by Astrium and Thales Alenia Space under an ESA and French space agency contract, Alphabus is Europe’s coordinated response to the increasing market demand for larger payloads.

Alphabus is already available commercially to handle missions calling for up to 18 kW of payload power, but its range will now be extended to 22 kW.

Alphabus satellite

The contract for this Alphabus Extension programme, signed last week, includes increasing the payload mass from 1250 kg to 2000 kg, boosting the output to an equivalent of more than 1000 TV channels and raising the thermal rejection capacity to 19 kW from 11.5 kW.

The programme also provides opportunities for Europe’s satcom industry to develop key satellite communications technologies, such as a deployable panel radiator for increased heat dissipation and an ultra-stable antenna module for future very large Alphabus satellites.

“After the qualification of Alphabus, the Extension programme will put Europe at the forefront of the worldwide satcom market,” said Magali Vaissiere, ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications.

“The Alphabus platform is already available for our offers addressing the high-power market, and the first satellite is in the final integration stage,” said Arnaud de Rosnay and Emmanuel Grave speaking on behalf of the industrial consortium of Astrium and Thales Alenia Space.

An extension contract to develop a more powerful Alphabus was signed in Toulouse, France on Friday, 1 April

“Now with the extension in Alphabus capacity, we will be able to further extend our offer, beyond any other product available in the worldwide market.”

A wide range of commercial payloads to provide TV broadcast, Internet access and mobile and fixed telecommunication services can be accommodated on Alphabus.

Alphasat, a public–private partnership between ESA and Inmarsat, is the first satellite to use the Alphabus platform. Its new generation of advanced geomobile communications payload will augment Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network service, enabling communications across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East with increased capacity.

Launch is planned for late 2012 on Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

For more information, see the links below:

Telecommunications and Integrated Applications:

ARTES 8 Alphabus/Alphasat:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / Astrium / CNES / E. Grimault.


lundi 4 avril 2011

Space Station Crew Launches from Birthplace of Human Spaceflight

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-21 / 50th Gagarin Flight Commemorative Mission patch / ISS - Expedition 27 Mission patch.

April 4, 2011

One week shy of the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight, NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev launched to the International Space Station at 6:18 p.m. EDT Monday (4:18 a.m. local time, April 5) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Expedition 27 Crew

The Soyuz rocket that lifted Garan, Borisenko and Samokutyaev into orbit was decorated with Yuri Gagarin's name. The mission lifted off from the same launch pad used April 12, 1961, when Gagarin became the first human to journey into space.

The crew is scheduled to dock its Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft to the station's Poisk port at 7:18 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6. The crew members will join Expedition 27 Commander Dmitry Kondratyev and Flight Engineers Cady Coleman of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, who have been aboard the orbiting laboratory since December 2010.

Soyuz TMA-21 launch

On Wednesday, NASA Television will broadcast live coverage of the docking beginning at 6:45 p.m. Coverage of the hatch opening and a welcoming ceremony aboard the station will begin at 8:45 p.m. For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit:

Soyuz TMA-21 Launch  to ISS Expedition 27 Crew

During Expedition 27, the six-person crew will continue scientific research, perform station maintenance and welcome two visiting vehicles. In addition to space shuttle Endeavour's planned visit during the STS-134 mission, the Expedition 27 crew is expecting the arrival of the 42nd Russian Progress cargo ship near the end of April.

Kondratyev, Coleman and Nespoli are scheduled to depart the station May 16.

NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Satoshi Furukawa are scheduled to join Garan, Borisenko and Samokutyaev aboard the station to complete the Expedition 28 crew. Their launch is set for May 30.

For updates about the space station and Expedition 27/28 crew members, visit:

To view the new official International Space Station page on Facebook and follow crew member posts from space, visit:

To follow Twitter updates from Expedition 27/28 crew member Garan, visit:

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


Make your satnav idea a reality

ESNC 2011 logo labeled.

4 April 2011

Submit a great satnav idea and win a prize with ESA support to create your own business. Previous winning ideas today guide visitors around exhibition centres, help position offshore ships with centimetre accuracy and spot pollution in waterways.

The eighth European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC) began on 1 April. Inventors and entrepreneurs can propose their ideas on how to use satellite navigation technology in new applications on Earth.

Satellite Galileo

The winners will get the chance to turn them into viable businesses with the support from business incubations centres throughout Europe.

Galileo Masters competition becomes global ESNC

What began in Bavaria in 2004 as the ‘Galileo Masters’ with just three regions has turned into the global ESNC, with more than 20 high-tech regions.

Many of the thousand-plus ideas submitted have turned into new businesses in Europe.

Each region offers a prize to its winners. Special topic prizes sponsored by partners from industry and research add to the €1 million prize pool.

ESNC 2010 winners

The best overall idea is awarded the Galileo Master grand prize of
€20 000 and the opportunity to realise the project during a six-month incubation programme. Other organisations also award prizes.

The ESA Special Prize is awarded for the best idea that can be quickly nurtured into a profitable business with the technical and financial assistance from one of our five, soon to become six, ESA Business Incubation Centres. The winner will also receive a €10 000 cash award.

ESA prizes lead to business

The 2008 winner proposed pseudo-satellites for indoor navigation, where real satellite signals cannot penetrate. French company Insiteo was started and supported by ESA’s Business Incubation Centre in, the Netherlands, and ESA engineers to develop its patented solution.

Today, Insideo’s indoor navigation system is helping the six million annual visitors find their way around Expo Porte de Versailles, the largest exhibition centre in Paris.

ESA BIC start-up company Insiteo guides visitors at trade exhibitions

Two years ago, Tim Springer proposed a computation system that uses GPS and Glonass satnav signals for realtime positioning to centimetre accuracy.

Based on ESA’s NAPEOS system used in satellite control, it offers higher precision than other commercial packages. Tim’s German start-up company is now hosted at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre (BIC) in Darmstadt, Germany to complete the system and get the business going.

ESA special prize 2009 winner

“Our business plan is to commercialise NAPEOS and improve its precision significantly as well as reduce the processing time,” explains Tim. Meanwhile, Positim’s system is already being used to position off-shore ships and platforms.

Last year, the ESA Special Prize went to Rafael Olmedo and Luis Burillo, from Spain’s INTA research institute.

They proposed using the extreme accuracy of EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) to help authorities uncover illegal polluting wastewater flowing into waterways.

Irrigation channel

“Space pays handsomely back. Every euro invested in satellite manufacturing returns tens of euros downstream,” explains Frank M. Salzgeber, head of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO).

“We want to squeeze it even more and increase the return of space technologies and systems for daily life applications on Earth.”

“Ready and available, and even if developed initially for our space exploration, these often advanced technologies have turned out to provide the right answers to many problems here on Earth as well as opened up for innovative solutions and systems helping our citizens.”

Funding agriculture gets help from new system using satellite information

At the ESA BICs, winners may be assisted by ESA experts and have access to space technologies and laboratories. These centres are located in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and the UK, with a sixth to open this year in Belgium.

But the support does not stop there. TTPO will help the companies to acquire funding through its annual ESA Investment Forum and the ESA-initiated Open Sky Technologies Fund.

ESNC 2011 opening conference

The ESNC 2011 International Kick-Off Conference to learn more about the completion will be held on 11 May and hosted by the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London. The event will be opened on the evening before with a lively 'elevator pitch' session and a warm-up party at Inmarsat, with a guided tour of their Satellite Control Centre.

“The ESNC 2011 in brief:
• Start-up aid worth €1 million
• €130 000 cash in the prize pool
• More than 20 partner regions
• Eight special prizes”

The conference will be opened by Carlo des Dorides, the new Executive Director of the European GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) Agency. Representatives of the competition's sponsors will introduce this year's special topic prizes and all the benefits ESNC can offer participants.

Experts will give an overview on financing opportunities and intellectual property rights and outline which sectors and application areas have the most potential.

Previous competition winners will be on hand to share their ESNC experience: how did winning the ESNC influence their business, what has happened since winning, and what was the result?

How to take part

The competition is open from 1 April to 30 June 2011 to companies, entrepreneurs, research institutes, universities and individuals from all over the world.

Entries should be made online at the competition website ( where more details can be found.

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)

The TTPO’s main mission is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to demonstrate the benefit of the European space programme to European citizens.

The office is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies, including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding. For more information, please contact:

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office:

European Space Agency
Keplerlaan 1
2200 AG, Noordwijk
The Netherlands

More information:

European Satellite Navigation Competition:

Technology Transfer Programme Office:

Business Incubation:


Credits: ESA / J.Huart / Simone Hörmann / European Satellite Navigation Competition / Insiteo / NEPA / Joevilliers / Wikipedia / Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen.

Best regards,