samedi 11 juin 2011

The Solar Impulse flight to Le Bourget, where it will be the attraction of the show

Solar Impulse logo.

June 11, 2011

Solar Impulse, a solar airplane pilot, was found Saturday afternoon a favorable weather window to fly out of Brussels to go to Le Bourget, outside Paris, where he will be the guest of honor of the 49th International Aerospace Exhibition and space.

Solar Impulse departure from Brussels

The aircraft took off smoothly at 6:37 p.m. at the airport of Brussels-National, in a sky still partly cloudy, according to pictures posted on the website of the Solar Impulse (, on which the flight can be Live Coverage.

The rain and strong wind had prevented the aircraft designed by the Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist Bertrand Piccard to air as scheduled Saturday morning but the weather cleared in Brussels in the afternoon.

It is only the second international flight in its young history.

Video taken between Neufvilles and Montignies-les-Lens

This giant dragonfly, the size of an Airbus, but the weight of a car, can only fly if the wind blows on the track to less than 7 knots (about 13 km / h, ie).

The aircraft to climb to about 2,500 meters above sea level and will drive south-west. During his first hours of flight, the Solar Impulse can still store a little solar energy before sunset and rely on its batteries recharged in the sun Friday.

As a precaution, his teams have preferred to plan his arrival at Le Bourget as soon as possible to be certain to be there when the show opens, June 20

For the first time, organizers of the high mass of the aircraft have appointed a special guest, not least because this prototype, whose wings are covered with 12,000 solar cells, sits on the tarmac in the middle of the stars Aviation as the new A380 or Boeing 747-8.

The prototype Solar Impulse HB-SIA has a wingspan comparable to that of an Airbus A340

And if the weather allows, the Solar Impulse should fly every day of this show, which opens its doors to the public from June 24 to 26

Nevertheless, for its creators, the Solar Impulse is not intended for commercial application. The goal is for them to demonstrate technology solutions to the challenges of today and reach as many people as possible, "explained Bertrand Piccard, famous for having been around the world hot air balloon and from a family of explorers famous.

If an aircraft is capable of flying day and night without fuel, so nobody can say we can not use this system for cars, heating, air conditioning, etc.., "He pleaded. We must return to a search for solutions (...) and a pioneering spirit, he said, eyes sparkling.

The Solar Impulse landed at Brussels on May 13 after taking off thirteen hours earlier from the military airfield of Payerne Switzerland, completing its first international flight.

The solar powered aircraft Solar Impulse takeoff at Brussels, 11 June 2011

The aircraft with a wingspan of 64 meters weighs only 1.6 tons. He had already entered the history of aviation in ensuring flight first 24 hours without interruption and only propelled by solar panels and batteries in July 2010.

First failure for Solar Impulse has had to turn back in flight

The experimental solar plane Solar Impulse, which was to reach Le Bourget airport near Paris, was the first defeat of his young life Saturday after a series of problems in flight, forcing him to put the cap on Brussels to where he had left three hours earlier.

The aircraft, which took off at 6:37 p.m. at the airport of Brussels-National, had to turn back to 9:39 p.m. (7:39 p.m. GMT) shortly after the French town of Bavay (North), a few kilometers from the Belgian border, has told AFP spokeswoman of Solar Impulse. The announcement came after an article published on the blog of the adventure reporting difficulties in series.

There is no airstrip intermediary such as batteries and power decreased, we preferred to turn not to endanger the life of the pilot, Andre Borschberg, said the spokesman. But the plane will try again next week to reach Le Bourget, as soon as a window weather permits, she said. The Solar Impulse is the guest of honor of the 49th Paris Air Show, scheduled to open June 20. Saturday night, the pilot had to deal with such a big headwind, "she said.

The pilot was unable to return including the landing gear by hand, through 80 revolutions of the crank. Consequently, the landing gear remained extended, which slows the aircraft and increases energy expenditure, the team wrote this revolutionary aircraft.

Andre Borschberg was also forced to fly lower than expected due to cloud cover at 2,500 feet instead of 3500, it said on the blog. At first the landing gear was not damaged but it will be confirmed at the landing of the aircraft, said the spokesman. The rain and strong wind had prevented the aircraft designed by the Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist Bertrand Piccard to the air Saturday morning. But the weather cleared on Brussels in the afternoon.

We knew that the ultimate moment to take off was 18.30. However, we left at 6:36 p.m., just at the limit. We had some turbulence in the first two hours, which cost energy. (...) If we took off an hour earlier, it was not a problem to reach Le Bourget, said his side Raymond Clerc, head of mission at the site.

We have not had a mechanical problem, but the battery status, speed and the wind does not allow us to go to Paris, he added. This is the first failure for this prototype aircraft that entered the history of aviation in July 2010 providing a first flight of 24 hours without interruption and only propelled by solar panels and batteries.

The prototype, whose wings feed four electric motors of an output of 10 hp each, were then flown over Switzerland at an altitude of 150-300 m and a speed of 50 km / h.

The next goal of this project of 100 million Swiss francs (75 million) is to build a second prototype, larger and with better performance. This new device should be from 2013 an overview of the Atlantic, at which seasoned drivers will join the experiment.

Solar Impulse at Duebendorf, Switzerland

The ultimate goal of the team based in Duebendorf, Switzerland, is attempting a world tour in five steps to 2013 or 2014.

Images, Video, Text, Credits: AFP / KEYSTONE / Video: Internet user unidentified / Translation:

Solar Impulse website, visit.


vendredi 10 juin 2011

Nearby Galaxy Boasts Two Monster Black Holes, Both Active

NASA - SWIFT Mission patch.


A study using NASA's Swift satellite and the Chandra X-ray Observatory has found a second supersized black hole at the heart of an unusual nearby galaxy already known to be sporting one.

The galaxy, which is known as Markarian 739 or NGC 3758, lies 425 million light-years away toward the constellation Leo. Only about 11,000 light-years separate the two cores, each of which contains a black hole gorging on infalling gas. The study will appear in a forthcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Video above: Zoom into Markarian 739, a nearby galaxy hosting two monster black holes. Using NASA's Swift and Chandra, astronomers have shown that both black holes are producing energy as gas falls into them. The object is only the second-known binary active galactic nucleus within half-a-billion light-years. (No audio. Animation begins with visible light view of Markarian 739 and transitions into an artistic rendering of the two black holes. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center).

"At the hearts of most large galaxies, including our own Milky Way, lies a supermassive black hole weighing millions of times the sun's mass," said Michael Koss, the study's lead author at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the University of Maryland in College Park (UMCP). "Some of them radiate billions of times as much energy as the sun."

Astronomers refer to galaxy centers exhibiting such intense emission as active galactic nuclei (AGN). Yet as common as monster black holes are, only about one percent of them are currently powerful AGN. Binary AGN are rarer still: Markarian 739 is only the second identified within half a billion light-years.

Many scientists think that disruptive events like galaxy collisions trigger AGN to switch on by sending large amounts of gas toward the black hole. As the gas spirals inward, it becomes extremely hot and radiates huge amounts of energy.

Since 2004, the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) aboard Swift has been mapping high-energy X-ray sources all around the sky. The survey is sensitive to AGN up to 650 million light-years away and has uncovered dozens of previously unrecognized systems. Follow-up studies by Koss and colleagues published in 2010 reveal that about a quarter of the Swift BAT AGN were either interacting or in close pairs, with perhaps 60 percent of them poised to merge in another billion years.

SWIFT spacecraft. Credit: NASA.

"If two galaxies collide and each possesses a supermassive black hole, there should be times when both black holes switch on as AGN," said coauthor Richard Mushotzky, professor of astronomy at UMCP. "We weren't seeing many double AGN, so we turned to Chandra for help."

Swift's BAT instrument is scanning one-tenth of the sky at any given moment, its X-ray survey growing more sensitive every year as its exposure increases. Where Swift's BAT provided a wide-angle view, the X-ray telescope aboard the Chandra X-ray Observatory acted like a zoom lens and resolved details a hundred times smaller.

For decades, astronomers have known that the eastern nucleus of Markarian 739 contains a black hole that is actively accreting matter and generating prodigious energy. The Chandra study shows that its western neighbor is too. This makes the galaxy one of the nearest and clearest cases of a binary AGN.

The distance separating the two black holes is about a third of the distance separating the solar system from the center of our own galaxy. The dual AGN of Markarian 739 is the second-closest known, both in terms of distance from one another and distance from Earth. However, another galaxy known as NGC 6240 holds both records.

How did the second AGN remain hidden for so long? "Markarian 739 West shows no evidence of being an AGN in visible, ultraviolet and radio observations," said coauthor Sylvain Veilleux, a professor of astronomy at UMCP. "This highlights the critical importance of high-resolution observations at high X-ray energies in locating binary AGN."

Image above: Viewed in visible light, Markarian 739 resembles a smiling face, with a pair of bright cores underscored by an arcing spiral arm. The object is really a pair of merging galaxies. Data from Swift and Chandra reveal the western core (right) to be a previously unknown AGN; past studies already had identified an AGN in the eastern core. The two supermassive black holes are separated by about 11,000 light-years. The galaxy is 425 million light-years away. Credit: SDSS.

The research team also includes Ezequiel Treister and David Sanders at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Kevin Schawinski at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and Ranjan Vasudevan, Neal Miller and Margaret Trippe at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Swift, launched in November 2004, is managed by Goddard. It was built and is being operated in collaboration with Penn State University, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and General Dynamics in Falls Church, Va.; the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Sciences Laboratory in the United Kingdom; Brera Observatory and the Italian Space Agency in Italy; plus additional partners in Germany and Japan.

The Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

More information about SWIFT Spacecraft & Instruments:

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


Raising the ISS: ATV Johannes Kepler conducts the 'Big Boost'

ESA - ATV-2 Johannes Kepler Mission patch.

10 June 2011

It's the International Space Station's biggest increase in altitude to date, and, thanks to ESA's ATV Johannes Kepler, it will significantly improve the 417-tonne Station's orbital mileage through the next decade of scientific research.

During three intensive reboost manoeuvres, ATV Johannes Kepler is raising the ISS altitude from around 345 km to 380 km, where it will use far less fuel to maintain its orbit and cutting the amount of fuel that must be sent up in the coming years by almost half.

Boosting the ISS in 2008. Now it's Kepler's turn

"These reboosts will improve ISS scientific exploitation enormously, since we'll need to send much less fuel into orbit, making more launch capacity available for spare parts, scientific instruments and supplies," says ESA's Nico Dettmann, ATV programme head.

Almost nothing remains of Earth's atmosphere at 350 or 400 km except faint whips of gas molecules. These are sufficient, however, to cause the Station's orbit to steadily decay due to drag unless it is periodically reboosted. Moving the Station to a higher orbit means that even fewer reboosts, using even less fuel, must be done in the future.

Fuel vs cargo: Optimising upload tonnage

While the higher orbit means the ISS itself will need less fuel, visiting vessels, such as Russia's Soyuz, Japan's HTV and ESA's ATV will use more fuel to get themselves up to the higher altitude.

The International Space Station with ATV-2 and Endeavour

"Yes, this means a saving for the ISS but an increased usage for the visiting vessels. Nonetheless, a significantly larger tonnage of food, water, spare parts and research instruments and samples can be sent up, keeping the Station operational until 2020 and beyond," says Dettmann.

The new orbit is being achieved in several steps.

Small steps to Big Boost

On top of a small reboost performed by the Space Shuttle Endeavour on 29 May, ATV is firing the eight thrusters of its Orbit Correction System (OCS) on three separate days under the watchful eyes of the joint ESA/CNES mission operations team at the ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC), Toulouse.

ATV conducted the first boost on 3 June, raising the ISS orbit by about 3.8 km. The next boosts are scheduled for 12 and 15 June and will provide a much bigger jump.

ATV cutaway description

On each day, ATV will be commanded to conduct two individual burns lasting about 75 minutes each and consuming, in total, about 1400 kg of propellant.

"A pause between each burn is necessary due to how Kepler's fuel system pumps propellant and to let the thrusters cool down," says ESA's Mike Steinkopf, Mission Director for reboost activities at ATV-CC. Each day will see the Station's orbit increase by about 20 km."

Boosting the Station is an excellent example of how ESA's contribution to the ISS helps all of the international partners.

"With the end of the shuttle era, the Station's orbit can be optimised at a higher level, which helps all partners make most efficient use of the orbiting outpost's unique scientific capabilities," says Dettmann.

"We really are quite pleased that ATV can help out like this. It's truly a marvellous vessel."

Related links:

International Space Station:

EADS Astrium:


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


Entry, descent and surface science for 2016 Mars mission

ESA / NASA - ExoMars Mission logo.

10 June 2011

ESA and NASA have announced the scientific investigations selected for their 2016 ExoMars lander demonstrator. They will probe the atmosphere during the descent, and return the first ever data on electrical fields at the surface of Mars.

The EDM Entry, descent, and landing Demonstrator Module is part of the joint ESA/NASA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission to be launched in 2016 for arrival at Mars nine months later.

Although its main goal is to demonstrate European entry, descent and landing technologies for future visits to Mars, it will also offer some limited, but useful, scientific opportunities.

 The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

“The EDM will be landing during the dust storm season,” says Jorge Vago, ExoMars Project Scientist. “This will provide a unique chance to characterise a dust-loaded atmosphere during entry and descent, and to conduct interesting surface measurements associated with a dust-rich environment.” 
“Although its main goal is to demonstrate European entry, descent and landing technologies for future visits to Mars, it will also offer some limited, but useful, scientific opportunities.”
For the descent phase, two proposed investigations called Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) Science and IDEAS (Investigations During Entry and Atmospheric Science) were selected and combined into one Entry and Descent Science programme.

The joint team will use the module’s entry, descent and landing engineering data to reconstruct its trajectory and determine the atmospheric conditions.

Once on the surface, the DREAMS (Dust characterisation, Risk assessment, and Environment Analyser on the Martian Surface) scientific payload will function as an environmental station for the two to four days of the surface mission.

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

Image above: An artist's impression of the ESA/NASA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The orbiter will carry a European entry, descent and landing demonstrator vehicle.

To achieve this, teams of scientists and engineers from nine countries around the world will develop a dedicated suite of sensors to measure the wind speed and direction (MetWind), humidity (MetHumi), pressure (MetBaro) and surface temperature (MarsTem), and to determine the transparency of the atmosphere (ODS).

DREAMS will also make the first measurements of electrical fields at the planet’s surface with its MicroARES detector. Electrical fields are likely to be generated when grains rub against each other in the dust-rich atmosphere, so landing during the dust storm season increases the chance of being able to study this charging and its consequences.

In addition to the surface payload, a colour camera system on the EDM will deliver valuable additional scientific data, as well as spectacular images. No design has yet been chosen for the camera, but a decision is expected before the end of this year.

“The selection of these science investigations complements the technological goals of the EDM,” says Dr Vago. “This has been an important step that will allow our team to move on to the development of this important mission element.”

Related links:

Mars Express:

Robotic exploration of Mars:

Images, Text, Credit: ESA


Aquarius Launches on Mission To Observe Salty Seas

NASA - SAC-D / Aquarius Mission patch.

10 June 2011

Image above: Liftoff of the Delta II rocket with the Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Right on schedule, the Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft separated from the Delta II launch vehicle's second stage nearly one hour into its flight, placing the satellite in Earth orbit.

Aquarius SAC-D Soars into Orbit!

The successful release of the spacecraft comes after a smooth countdown and liftoff from NASA's Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Launch was on time at 7:20 a.m. PDT (10:20 a.m. EDT) at the start of a five-minute launch window.

NASA's Aquarius instrument is part of the SAC-D spacecraft built by CONAE, Argentina's space agency. The mission is expected to gather global measurements of ocean surface salinity, leading to a better understanding of ocean circulation, climate and Earth's water cycle. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will go through a checkout period before it begins its three-year mission.

Read more:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credit: NASA / NASA TV:


China's second moon orbiter Chang'e-2 goes to outer space

CNSA - Chang'e-2 (CLEP) Mission logo.

June 10, 2011

China's second moon orbiter Chang'e-2 on Thursday set off from its moon orbit for outer space about 1.5 million km away from the earth, Chinese scientists said Thursday.

The orbiter left its moon orbit at 5:10 p.m. and it will take about 85 days for the orbiter to reach outer space, according to the State Administration of Science,Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND). The orbiter had finished all its tasks within its designed life span of six months by April 1. Scientists decided to let it carry out additional exploratory tasks as the orbiter still had fuel in reserve.

Chang'e-2 China is going deep

Traveling into outer space from the moon's orbit is the most important task among five additional ones, according to the SASTIND. "It's the first time in the world for a satellite to be set off from the moon in remote outer space," said Zhou Jianliang, deputy chief engineer of the Chang'e-2 measure and control system of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC).

Moon exploration means about 400,000 km away from the earth, but outer space exploration means 1.5 million km, posing great challenges to the country's technology in measure and control, telecommunications, data transaction and orbit design, scientists said. Before flying away, the orbiter had finished two additional tasks as of May 23.

One was to take photos of the northern and southern poles of the moon. The other was to descend again to the perilune orbit, about 15 km away from the surface, to catch high-resolution images of the Sinus Iridum, or Bay of Rainbows, the proposed landing ground for future moon missions. Scientists hope the satellite can continue operations until the end of next year.

"We are developing outer space measure and control stations in outer space and they will be capable to carry out tasks by the end of the second half next year," said an SASTIND scientist, who declined to be named. At that time, the satellite can be used to test the two stations' functions, the scientist said.

Challenges exist as Chang'e-2 was not designed for the additional task and it is now in extended service without extra capacities to deal with abnormal risks, Zhou said. Meanwhile, long-distance brings many problems like weakening signals and difficulties in measure and control, Zhou said. The Chang'e probes are named after a legendary Chinese moon goddess who flew to the moon.

Video of the mission Chang'e-2

Besides the current operations, China's ambitious three-stage moon mission will include a moon landing and launch of a moon rover around 2012 in the second phase. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research around 2017. The country has no plan or timetable for a manned moon landing for now.

China launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, in October 2007. It became the third country after Russia and the United States to send a person into space in 2003. Two more manned space missions followed with the more recent in 2008 involving the country's first human space walk.

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Deng Shasha, Xinhua News Agency / CNSA / CCTV (Youtube).

Related links:

China National Space Administration (CNSA):

Xinhua News Agency:

Best regards,

Small Sun-watcher Proba-2 offers detailed view of massive solar eruption

ESA - Proba-2 logo.

10 June 2011

ESA’s Proba-2 small Sun-watcher was among the flotilla of satellites on watch as the Sun erupted spectacularly this week.

7 June solar flare eruption seen by Proba-2

After years of relative quietness, the Sun is waking up. Tuesday 7 June saw a medium-class M2.5 solar flare, associated with a proton storm, a coronal mass ejection that glanced past Earth on Thursday 9 June and an accompanying burst of radio energy.

ESA’s Proba-2 satellite was launched in November 2009, during the most inactive period of the solar cycle, but now the Sun is growing more active as it progresses towards ‘solar max’, expected in 2013.

Less than a cubic metre in volume, Proba-2 is the smallest member of the class of Sun-monitoring satellites that includes the ESA/NASA SOHO, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and STEREO and Japan's Hinode.

Proba-2’s radiometer measures the energy intensity of the Sun across four separate ultraviolet bands every 50 milliseconds, and observed a spike across its two short-wavelength bands due to the flare.

LYRA measures solar flare intensity

At the same time, the satellite’s SWAP Sun-imager captured the massive prominence eruption as it occurred, as a mass of high-energy particles and superheated gas rose up from the solar surface.

This gas was relatively cool – about 80 000ºC – which explains why it appears quite dark at the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of SWAP.


Much of this gas then fell back to the Sun, with dark downflows that brighten as they fall, probably due to localised heating. This darkening actually caused a decrease in the average intensity seen by SWAP.

Solar prominence seen in context

Proba-2 is a technology demonstration satellite that also houses a quartet of science instruments. The imager and radiometer are operated by the Royal Observatory of Belgium. Two instruments operated by the Czech Astronomical Institute monitor the plasma environment around the satellite, including assessing how the coronal mass ejection affects Earth’s electrically charged ionosphere.

More information:

Proba-2: science payloads:

Proba-2: technology demonstrations:

Royal Observatory of Belgium:

ROB Proba-2 science centre:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / ROB.


jeudi 9 juin 2011

Soyuz TMA-02M Docks with the ISS

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-02M Mission patch.


Soyuz TMA-02M docking at ISS

Soyuz TMA-02M crew vehicle successfully docked to the International Space Station today at 01:18 a.m. MSK. The vehicle is now attached to the Rassvet docking port. The rendezvous and docking was in automatic mode, under the control of the MCC experts and the crew.

Michael Fossum (NASA), Sergey Volkov (Roscosmos), Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA)

After leak check of the interface and the compartments, TMA-02M crew – commander Sergey Volkov (Roscosmos), flight engineers Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA), Michael Fossum (NASA)– will join Andrey Borisenko, station commander, and Alexander Samokutiaev and Ronald Garan to start the 6-crew stage of increment 28.

Soyuz TMA-02M Docks with the ISS

Soyuz TMA-02M is a new-series vehicle which undergoes flight testing. The spaceship is equipped with digital control systems.

For more information about Expedition 29 and the space station, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Roscosmos PAO / NASA TV.


NASA Probes Suggest Magnetic Bubbles Reside At Solar System Edge

NASA - Voyager 1 & 2 Mission patch.

June 09, 2011

Observations from NASA's Voyager spacecraft, humanity's farthest deep space sentinels, suggest the edge of our solar system may not be smooth, but filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles.

While using a new computer model to analyze Voyager data, scientists found the sun's distant magnetic field is made up of bubbles approximately 100 million miles wide. The bubbles are created when magnetic field lines reorganize. The new model suggests the field lines are broken up into self-contained structures disconnected from the solar magnetic field. The findings are described in the June 9 edition of the Astrophysical Journal.

Video above: Using a computer model based on Voyager data, scientists have shown that the sun's magnetic field becomes bubbly in the heliosheath due to reconnection. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

Like Earth, our sun has a magnetic field with a north pole and a south pole. The field lines are stretched outward by the solar wind or a stream of charged particles emanating from the star that interacts with material expelled from others in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy.

The Voyager spacecraft, more than nine billion miles away from Earth, are traveling in a boundary region. In that area, the solar wind and magnetic field are affected by material expelled from other stars in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy.

Image above: Magnetic bubbles at the edge of the solar system are aboout 100 million miles wide--similar to the distance between Earth and the Sun. Credit: NASA.

"The sun's magnetic field extends all the way to the edge of the solar system," said astronomer Merav Opher of Boston University. "Because the sun spins, its magnetic field becomes twisted and wrinkled, a bit like a ballerina's skirt. Far, far away from the sun, where the Voyagers are, the folds of the skirt bunch up."

Voyager probe

Understanding the structure of the sun's magnetic field will allow scientists to explain how galactic cosmic rays enter our solar system and help define how the star interacts with the rest of the galaxy.

So far, much of the evidence for the existence of the bubbles originates from an instrument aboard the spacecraft that measures energetic particles. Investigators are studying more information and hoping to find signatures of the bubbles in the Voyager magnetic field data.

Image above: Old and new views of the heliosheath. Red and blue spirals are the gracefully curving magnetic field lines of orthodox models. New data from Voyager add a magnetic froth (inset) to the mix. Credit: NASA. (click on the image for enlarge)

"We are still trying to wrap our minds around the implications of the findings," said University of Maryland physicist Jim Drake, one of Opher's colleagues.

Launched in 1977, the Voyager twin spacecraft have been on a 33-year journey. They are en route to reach the edge of interstellar space. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., built the spacecraft and continues to operate them. The Voyager missions are a part of the Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To view supporting images about the research, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center.


The story behind Paolo’s Space Station photos

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz TMA-20 Mission patch / ISS - Expedition 27 Mission patch.

9 June 2011

This image of the International Space Station with the docked Europe's ATV Johannes Kepler and Space Shuttle Endeavour was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on 24 May 2011.

When the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli had a special job to do: capture unique images of the orbital outpost with the Shuttle and Europe’s ATV ferry attached. Paolo tells us about those precious minutes.

ISS with Space Shuttle Endeavour and ATV-2 Docked
Seen on a TV screen on 23 May, it all looked very easy and smooth: Soyuz stopped about 200 m away and the Station tilted to present a better view. Paolo took his photos through a small window in the Soyuz orbital module before returning to his seat in the descent module alongside crewmates Dmitri Kondratyev and Catherine Coleman for the landing.

“This was a complex and delicate manoeuvre that could have caused serious problems if not executed properly, but I felt it was worth the risk,” says Paolo, who had only few seconds to admire the view.

Complex undertaking for great photos

“Taking these pictures was not as straightforward as aiming the camera and shooting,” explains Paolo.

“When we undocked, we were already strapped in our seats wearing spacesuits. Our suits and the three hatches between the landing and orbital modules were leak-checked and normally after undocking the seals are not any more broken because retesting them costs oxygen – and there is not so much of it onboard.”

The only problem was that the window where the pictures needed to be taken was in the orbital module – already then partly depressurised.

Paolo had to remove his gloves, unstrap from his seat, carefully float to the hatch, repressurise the forward module and open the hatch.

“I had to slide over Dmitry, paying attention not to hit the manual controls, and go up to the orbital module where I had prepared the cameras before hatch closure.”

Paolo recorded stills and video, alternating them while paying attention to the composition: “The position of the Earth, the reflections on the glass of the window, and I had to make sure that the lens was in the centre of the window.

“I really prayed that these would be good, since I was conscious of their value. But what was done was done – and I quickly forgot them when I had to concentrate on redoing correctly the hatch and suit leak checks and pick up the reentry and landing procedures.”

Now feeling great

After the landing, Paolo looked exhausted when he was pulled from the Soyuz, but now he is feeling good. Staying in Houston, he is exercising two hours a day and his muscles are recovering.

“We have continued with collecting scientific data on how we are readapting to gravity, and we have already started the long series of technical debriefings.

“It’s good to be back and seeing in person my wife and my two year-old daughter, who is getting used to the fact that I have legs and don’t live inside a television set.”

Image above: “Once I was pulled out of the Soyuz, I had difficulty keeping my eyes open because I had the Sun right in front of me and I felt it burning my face," said Paolo Nespoli afterwarda about his landing. "That was a welcome feeling and I really savoured it.”

Paolo and crewmates Catherine Coleman and Dmitri Kondratyev landed back on Earth, 24 May 2011, to conclude his 159-day mission to the International Space Station.

For Paolo, taking the historic photos was an honour. “Since I was a kid, photography has been a hobby dear to me and all through my life photography had brought me to unusual places and made me live unexpected experiences.

Paolo with camera on ISS

“Like a photographer who has a gorgeous model in front of him, I was more concentrated on getting a good technical and artistic product than admiring it.

“I saw the view when changing from still to video images, but I purposely limited looking because I know I would have been mesmerised by the beauty of it.”

“Dreams are possible. We all should keep dreaming since even the most impossible dream sometimes can become a reality.”

Related links:

ISS Expedition 26 (NASA):

Soyuz TMA-20 landing photos (NASA):

Paolo's ISS photos:

In depth:

Launch Press Kit (English):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / S. Corvaja / NASA.


mercredi 8 juin 2011

The First European in Space

Soyuz 28 Mission patch / Soyuz T-6 Mission patch.

9 June 2011

In this year's 50 th anniversary of the first man in space, let us remember that was the first European in space:

Born 20 August 1938, in the town of La Rochelle, France, Jean-Loup Jacques Marie Chrétien, is a French engineer, a retired Général de Brigade (brigadier general) in the Armée de l'Air (French air force), and a former CNES astronaut. He flew on two Franco-Soviet space missions and a NASA Space Shuttle mission. Chrétien was the first Frenchman in space.

Astronaut Jean-Loup Chrétien

In April 1979, the Soviet Union offered France the opportunity to fly a cosmonaut on board a joint Soviet-French space flight, along the same lines as the agreement to fly non-Soviet cosmonauts from member countries of the Intercosmos program. The offer was accepted, and France began a spationaut selection process in September 1979.

Chrétien was one of two finalists named on 12 June 1980. He started training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in September 1980. The following year he was named as the Research Cosmonaut for the prime crew of the Soyuz T-6 mission.

Soyuz T spacecraft

Soyuz T-6 was launched on 24 June 1982, and Chrétien, Dzhanibekov and Ivanchenkov linked up with Salyut 7 and joined the crew of Berezovoi and Lebedev already on board. They spent nearly seven days carrying out a program of joint Soviet-French experiments, including a series of French echography cardiovascular monitoring system experiments, before returning to Earth after a flight lasting 7 days, 21 hours, 50 minutes, 42 seconds. This flight made him the first Western non-American to go to space, as well as the first Western European.

Allegory of the Franco-Soviet mission Soyuz T-6

Following the mission he was appointed Chief, CNES Astronaut Office.

The Prime

From a geographic standpoint, the history changes, because the first man of the European continent that was the first European in space is Vladimir Remek.

Cosmonaut Vladimir Remek

Vladimir Remek is a cosmonaut who was born on September 26, 1948, in Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic). Before he became a cosmonaut, Remek was in the Czech Air Force.

Remek became a cosmonaut in 1976. He was the first citizen of a nation other than the United States or the USSR to go into space. He flew aboard Soyuz 28, March 2, 1978. The crew spent 8 days aboard the Salyut 6 space station.

Salyut Space Station & Soyuz and Progress spacecrafts

The station has operates on orbit for 1763 days. Salyut 6 was completely rebuilt and equipped with two connecting nodes compared to the previous stations. It enabled to send to the station also the „visiting“ crew besides the basic own one and complete the reserves on the continuous basis through freight spacecraft Progress.

Salyut-6 Space Station with docked Progress

31 spacecrafts have docked with the station in total. The reached operating life of the station severalfold exceeded the planned one. Also the first international crew Alexey Gubarev and Vladimír Remek resided at Salyut 6 (transfered by the spacecraft Soyuz 28).

So, if we refer to the historical context, the first European astronaut's from the "free world" is the French Jean-Loup Chretien. Only in the geographical context is the Czech Vladimir Remek.

Actually member of European Parliament, the First Czech Cosmonaut on Soyuz 28, First European in space.

To everyone agrees, I will say that these are two countries with the same colors on the flags: blue, white, and red! And finally under the same flag, that of EU.

Related links:

(Russian) Biography of Jean-Loup Chrétien at the website on Heroes of the Soviet Union and Russia:

NASA Biography of Jean-Loup Chrétien:

ESA - 50 years of humans in space - Vladimír Remek:

Biography of Vladimír Remek at the European Parliament:

Personal website of Vladimir Remek (Czech/English):

Images, Text, Credits: / Wikipedia / NASA / ESA / ROSCOSMOS.


Rosetta comet probe enters hibernation in deep space

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

8 June 2011

The final command placing ESA's Rosetta comet-chaser into deep-space hibernation was sent earlier today. With virtually all systems shut down, the probe will now coast for 31 months until waking up in 2014 for arrival at its comet destination.

Remarkable images: Rosetta's first view of Comet 67-P March 2011

Today's dramatic event marks the end of the hugely successful first phase of Rosetta's ten-year cruise and the start of a long, dark hibernation during which all instruments and almost all control systems will be silent.

The deep sleep is made necessary by the craft's enormous distance from the Sun and the weakness of the sunlight falling on its solar panels, which cannot produce enough electricity to power the probe fully.

Arcing through millions of kilometres of space

Between now and January 2014, Rosetta will arc unattended through millions of kilometres of cold, distant space, heading toward a rendezvous with 67-P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Only the computer and several heaters will remain active. These will be automatically controlled to ensure that the entire satellite doesn't freeze as its orbit takes it from 660 million km from the Sun out to 790 million km and back between now and 2014.

"We sent the command via NASA's 70 m Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia, ensuring the signal was transmitted with enough power to reach Rosetta, which is now 549 million km from Earth," said ESA's Spacecraft Operations Manager Andrea Accomazzo.

"We'll monitor via ESA's 35 m station at New Norcia in Australia for a few days to see if any problems occur, but we expect to receive no radio signal until 2014. Rosetta's on her own now."

Wake up call in 2014

On 20 January 2014, a timer will wake the slumbering spacecraft, which will then transmit a signal to Earth to announce that its revival.

Happiness after final command sent

Mission controllers will then spend several weeks gradually warming up and reactivating the spacecraft in preparation for its rendezvous with the comet in July 2014.

Mission controllers at ESOC, ESA's Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, have spent most of the past year preparing for hibernation.

A special hibernation mode of the spacecraft was designed by engineers at EADS Astrium, the main industrial prime contractor that build Rosetta, to allow it to survive the large distances from the Sun during its cruise.

All of the scientific instruments were switched off by the end of March. In April and May, with Rosetta orbiting at more than 600 million km from the Sun, tests were conducted with the solar arrays to confirm that sufficient power would be available for today's hibernation.

Final shut-down command sent today

At 08:00 UT (10:00 CEST) today, Rosetta automatically started spinning, which will stabilise the probe while the normal attitude control system is off throughout hibernation, and at 12:58 UT (14:58 CEST) the final shut-down command was sent. Confirmation of successful entry into hibernation came at 14:13 UT (16:13 CEST) when radio contact was lost, as expected.

"With flybys of asteroids Steins in 2008 and Lutetia in 2010, Rosetta has already delivered excellent scientific results," says Paolo Ferri, Head of ESOC's Solar and Planetary Mission Operations Division.

"Hibernation is a necessary step to reach the final target. We are now looking forward to 2014, when Rosetta becomes the first spacecraft to track the life of a comet as it arcs in toward the Sun."

Related link:

ESA's comet chaser:

In depth:

Rosetta in depth:

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA 2011 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / RSSD / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA.


First Images from the VLT Survey Telescope

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

8 June 2011

VST and 268 megapixel OmegaCAM start work

Image above: VST image of the star-forming region Messier 17. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute.

The VLT Survey Telescope (VST), the latest addition to ESO’s Paranal Observatory, has made its first release of impressive images of the southern sky. The VST is a state-of-the-art 2.6-metre telescope, with the huge 268-megapixel camera OmegaCAM at its heart, which is designed to map the sky both quickly and with very fine image quality. It is a visible-light telescope that perfectly complements ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope. New images of the Omega Nebula and the globular cluster Omega Centauri demonstrate the VST’s power.

Image above. VST image of the giant globular cluster Omega Centauri. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: A. Grado/INAF-Capodimonte Observatory.

A New Telescope and Camera

The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) is the latest telescope to be added to ESO’s Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. It is housed in an enclosure immediately adjacent to the four VLT Unit Telescopes on the summit of Cerro Paranal under the pristine skies of one of the best observing sites on Earth. The VST is a wide-field survey telescope with a field of view twice as broad as the full Moon. It is the largest telescope in the world designed to exclusively survey the sky in visible light. Over the next few years the VST and its camera OmegaCAM will make several very detailed surveys of the southern sky. All survey data will be made public.

Image above: The VLT Survey Telescope: the largest telescope in the world designed for visible light sky surveys. Credits: ESO/G. Lombardi.

“I am very pleased to see the impressive first images from the VST and OmegaCAM. The unique combination of the VST and the VISTA infrared survey telescope will allow many interesting objects to be identified for more detailed follow-up observations with the powerful telescopes of the VLT,” says Tim de Zeeuw, the ESO Director General.

Image above: OmegaCAM, the monster camera of the VLT Survey Telescope. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM/O. Iwert.

“The VST project has overcome many difficulties but it is now repaying, with its excellent image quality, the expectations of the astronomical community and the efforts of the many people at INAF involved in its construction. I am very pleased to see the VST in operation,” adds Tommaso Maccacaro, the President of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF).

Image above. Highlights from the VST image of Messier 17. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astrowise/Kapteyn Institute.

The VST programme is a joint venture between the INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy [1] and ESO. INAF has designed and built the telescope with the collaboration of leading Italian industries and ESO is responsible for the enclosure and the civil engineering works at the site. OmegaCAM, the VST’s camera, was designed and built by a consortium including institutes in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy [2] with major contributions from ESO. The new facility will be operated by ESO, which will also archive and distribute data from the telescope.

Image above: Highlights from the VST image of Omega Centauri. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: A. Grado/INAF-Capodimonte Observatory.

The VST is a state-of-the-art 2.6-metre aperture telescope with an active optics system to keep the mirrors perfectly positioned at all times. At its core, behind large lenses that ensure the best possible image quality [3], lies the 770 kg OmegaCAM camera, built around 32 CCD detectors [4], sealed in vacuum, that together create 268-megapixel images [5].

Image above: The star-forming region Messier 17 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Credits: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope.

The First Images

Both the telescope and the camera have been designed to fully exploit the high quality skies at Paranal.

“The superb images now coming from VST and OmegaCAM are a tribute to the hard work of many groups around Europe over many years. We are now looking forward to a rich harvest of science and unexpected discoveries from the VST surveys,” adds Massimo Capaccioli, principal investigator of the VST project.

Image above: The globular star cluster Omega Centauri in the constellation of Centaurus. Credits: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope.

The first released image shows the spectacular star-forming region Messier 17, also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula, as it has never been seen before. This dramatic region of gas, dust and hot young stars lies in the heart of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer). The VST field of view is so large that the entire nebula, including its fainter outer parts, is captured — and retains its superb sharpness across the entire image.

Image above: Comparison of the field of view of VST/OmegaCAM and other telescopes. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM/Digitised Sky Survey 2.

The second released image may be the best portrait of the globular star cluster Omega Centauri ever made. This is the largest globular cluster in the sky, but the very wide field of view of VST and OmegaCAM can encompass even the faint outer regions of this spectacular object. This view, which includes about 300 000 stars, demonstrates the excellent resolution of VST.

The detectors of OmegaCAM. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM/O. Iwert.

The Surveys

The VST will make three public surveys over the next five years [6]. The KIDS survey will image several regions of the sky away from the Milky Way. It will further the study of dark matter, dark energy and galaxy evolution, and find many new galaxy clusters and high-redshift quasars. The VST ATLAS survey will cover a larger area of sky and focus on understanding dark energy and supporting more detailed studies using the VLT and other telescopes. The third survey, VPHAS+, will image the central plane of the Milky Way to map the structure of the Galactic disc and its star formation history. VPHAS+ will yield a catalogue of around 500 million objects and will discover many new examples of unusual stars at all stages of their evolution.

Image above: The VLT Survey Telescope observing on a moonlit night. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM/G. Lombardi.

The data volume produced by OmegaCAM will be large. About 30 terabytes of raw data will be produced per year and will flow back into data centres in Europe for processing [7]. A novel and sophisticated software system has been developed at Groningen and Naples to handle the very large data flow. The end products from the processing will be huge lists of the objects found, as well as images, and these will be made available to astronomers worldwide for scientific analysis.

Image above: The VLT Survey Telescope observing on a moonlit night. Credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM/G. Lombardi.

“The combination of large field of view, excellent image quality, and the very efficient operations scheme of the VST will produce an enormous wealth of information that will advance many fields of astrophysics,” concludes Konrad Kuijken, head of the OmegaCAM consortium.

Zooming in on the star-forming region Messier 17

Zooming in on the globular cluster Omega Centauri


[1] The VST has been designed at the Astronomical Observatory of INAF at Capodimonte, Naples. All components apart from the main optics, which were supplied by the Russian firm LZOS, have been built by Italian industries. INAF has managed the construction and secured the assembly at the Paranal Observatory. This work was performed with the contribution of the project manager G. De Paris and the AIV manager D. Fierro, members of the INAF Department of National Projects, Monte Mario, Rome, Italy. The project manager of the current phase of commissioning is P. Schipani from INAF-Capodimonte Observatory. He was the former VST project engineer and leads a team mostly from the Naples and Padua Observatories. The VST-Tube software system to handle the data at Naples was developed by A. Grado.

[2] The OmegaCAM consortium is comprised of institutes in the Netherlands (NOVA, in particular the Kapteyn Institute / OmegaCEN Groningen and Leiden Observatory), Germany (in particular the university observatories of Munich, Göttingen and Bonn) and Italy (INAF, in particular the Padua and Naples Observatories). The ESO Optical Detector Team provides the detector system. OmegaCAM is headed by PI K. Kuijken (Groningen and Leiden University) and co-PI’s R. Bender (Munich USM/MPE) and E. Cappellaro (INAF, Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova), project management is done by B. Muschielok and R. Häfner (University Observatory of the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich) and the data handling system, Astro-WISE, is developed by OmegaCEN-NOVA led by E.A. Valentijn (Groningen).

[3] The telescope optics also include correction for dispersion by the Earth’s atmosphere.

[4] The camera also contains extra CCDs, which work with the telescope’s systems to help control the guiding and active optics systems.

[5] To measure the colours of objects in the sky, different very large glass filters can be slid automatically in front of the detectors. Each filter is over 30 cm on a side and most have special coatings that ensure that very little light is lost. There is also a very large shutter consisting of two blades that can be used to block the light while the detectors are read out.

[6] More details about the VST public surveys are available at

[7] The VST/OmegaCAM surveys will make use of a new, dedicated fast intercontinental data link between Paranal and Europe that was established with support from the European Union (eso1043).

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 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, 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 two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. 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”.


ESOcast 30: First Images from the VLT Survey Telescope -- VST and 268 megapixel OmegaCAM start work:

Video News Release 33: First Images from the VLT Survey Telescope – VST and 268 megapixel OmegaCAM start work (eso1119b):

Panning across the VST image of the star-forming region Messier 17:

Panning across the VST image of the globular cluster Omega Centauri:

Timelapse sequences of the VST enclosure at night:

Timelapse sequences of the VST enclosure at night (2):

Timelapse sequences of the VST enclosure at night (3):


    Photos of the VST:

    Link to the ESO VST public web pages:

    Press release from the Georg-August Universität Göttingen:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: ESO / Videos: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM/S. Brunier/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astrowise/Kapteyn Institute/Acknowledgement: A. Grado/INAF-Capodimonte Observatory/Music: John Dyson (from the album Darklight).

Best regards,