samedi 16 juillet 2011

NASA Begins Testing of Next-Generation J-2X Rocket Engine

NASA - Stennis Space Center 50 Years patch.

July 16, 2011

NASA conducted a combined chill test and 1.9-second ignition test July 14 of the next-generation J-2X rocket engine that could help carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit to deep space.

A 1.9-second ignition test July 14 of the next-generation J-2X rocket engine. (NASA/SSC)

The test at John C. Stennis Space Center is the first in a series of tests that will be conducted on the J-2X engine, which is being developed for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. The ignition test on the A-2 Test Stand is the first of a series of firings over the next several months. Collected data will verify the engine functions as designed.

The J-2X engine

The J-2X engine uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel, which can be mixed to generate 294,000 pounds of thrust to lift a spacecraft into low-Earth orbit or 242,000 pounds of thrust to power a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit into deep space. The engine is designed to start and restart in space.

For more information about the J-2X engine, visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA / SSC / MSFC.

Best regards,

vendredi 15 juillet 2011

Proton-M with Kazsat-2 and SES-3 Satellites Lifts Off from Baikonur

International Launch Services (ILS) logo.


Proton-M/Breeze-M launch vehicle with Kazsat-2 and SES-3 (OS-2) satellites successfully lifted off today at 03.16 MSK from Baikonur.

Proton-M/Breeze-M launch

Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin arrived at the space port the day before to manage the prelaunch and launch operations.


Video above: Proton M / Breeze M rocket launches with the SES-3 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The Breeze upper stage continues injection of the US and Kazakh spacecraft. Once the satellites reach the targeted orbits, the customers will take over control.


The launch by Proton-M was contracted by International Launch Services Inc. (ILS). Russian Khrunichev Space Center is a stock majority holder in ILS.

SES-3 (OS-2) Satellite

For more information about ILS, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: Roscosmos PAO / ILS.


Dawn Spacecraft Entering Asteroid Vesta's Orbit

NASA - DAWN Mission patch.

July 16, 2011

The Dawn spacecraft will study asteroid Vesta for one year and observations will help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system's history. Dawn will be the first mission to enter orbit around a main-belt asteroid.

On July 15, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will begin a prolonged encounter with the asteroid Vesta, making the mission the first to enter orbit around a main-belt asteroid.

The main asteroid belt lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will study Vesta for one year, and observations will help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system's history.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft, illustrated in this artist's concept, is propelled by ion engines. Image credit: NASA / JPL.

As the spacecraft approaches Vesta, surface details are coming into focus, as seen in a recent image taken from a distance of about 26,000 miles (41,000 kilometers). The image is available at:

Engineers expect the spacecraft to be captured into orbit at approximately 10 p.m. PDT Friday, July 15 (1 a.m. EDT Saturday, July 16). They expect to hear from the spacecraft and confirm that it performed as planned during a scheduled communications pass that starts at approximately 11:30 p.m. PDT on Saturday, July 16 (2:30 a.m. EDT Sunday, July 17). When Vesta captures Dawn into its orbit, engineers estimate there will be approximately 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometers) between them. At that point, the spacecraft and asteroid will be approximately 117 million miles (188 million kilometers) from Earth.

"It has taken nearly four years to get to this point," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Our latest tests and check-outs show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally."

NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image of the giant asteroid Vesta with its framing camera on July 9, 2011. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA.

Engineers have been subtly shaping Dawn's trajectory for years to match Vesta's orbit around the sun. Unlike other missions, where dramatic propulsive burns put spacecraft into orbit around a planet, Dawn will ease up next to Vesta. Then the asteroid's gravity will capture the spacecraft into orbit. However, until Dawn nears Vesta and makes accurate measurements, the asteroid's mass and gravity will only be estimates. So the Dawn team will need a few days to refine the exact moment of orbit capture.

Launched in September 2007, Dawn will depart for its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, in July 2012. The spacecraft will be the first to orbit two solar system destinations beyond Earth.

Dawn's mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are part of the mission team.

For a current image of Vesta and more information about the Dawn mission, visit: and .You also can follow the mission on Twitter at:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA.

Best regards,

STS-135 Crews Wrap Up Busy Day; Cargo Transfers 70 Percent Complete

NASA - STS-135 Mission patch.

Fri, 15 Jul 2011

The crews of space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station have gone to sleep after a busy day of computer repair, transfer work, a call from President Barack Obama, and a series of media interviews.

STS-135 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 8

Tomorrow, Flight Day 9, once again will be spent moving supplies and equipment back and forth between the space station and the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module. The crew is more than 70 percent done with the transfer activities.

An Amazing View

This panoramic view was photographed from the International Space Station toward Earth, looking past space shuttle Atlantis' docked cargo bay and part of the station, including a solar array panel.

The photo was taken as the joint complex passed over the southern hemisphere. Aurora Australis or the Southern Lights can be seen on Earth's horizon and a number of stars also are visible. Photo credit: NASA.

Survival of the Elements

This close-up image shows the 'Materials on International Space Station Experiment-8.' Taken during the spacewalk on July 12, 2011, the small circles pictured are test beds for materials and computing elements attached to the outside of the International Space Station. These elements are being evaluated for the effects of atomic oxygen, ultraviolet, direct sunlight, radiation, and the extremes of heat and cold. Researchers hope the results will provide a better understanding of the durability of various materials and computing elements when they are exposed to the rigors of space environments and hope to incorporate what is learned into the design of future spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew is scheduled to awaken at about 11:29 p.m. to another special wake up song, which – along with the mission’s previous wakeup calls - will be posted online at:

Live updates to the NASA News Twitter feed will be added throughout the mission and landing. To access the feed, go to the homepage or visit:

All four of Atlantis' crew members are posting updates to Twitter. You can follow them at:

To connect with NASA on Twitter and other social networking sites, visit:

For more information about space shuttle Atlantis' STS-135 mission, visit:

For more information about the space station, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / NASA TV / KSC.


Korean satellite to aid disaster efforts

International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’ seal / South Korea’s space agency seal.

15 July 2011

South Korea’s space agency has joined its international counterparts in putting satellite data at the disposal of rescue authorities following major disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, formally became the newest member of the International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’ on 7 July.

Founded by ESA and the French space agency, CNES, the Charter is an international collaboration between the owners and operators of Earth observation missions to provide rapid access to satellite data to help disaster management authorities in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.

Kompsat-2 image

Through the Charter, satellite data were used to create maps and aid rescue efforts following recent disasters such as the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the February 2011 earthquake in New Zealand and the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

“The Charter in an excellent example of international cooperation in the field of natural disasters, as it has recently been demonstrated in connection with the tsunami in Japan and severe snow in the east coast of Korea,” said Dr Yougsik Chun, Director of Satellite Operations & Applications Division, after the signing ceremony.

Signing ceremony

As the Charter’s newest member, KARI will contribute free images from its Kompsat-2 satellite.

Launched in 2006, Kompsat-2 is equipped with a multispectral camera able to acquire 1 m-resolution panchromatic images and 4 m-resolution colour images.

KARI has now established a collaboration with Korea’s National Institute for Disaster Protection (NIDP) under the National Emergency Management Agency to respond to disasters based on satellite information.

KOMPSAT-2 (Korea Multi-Purpose Satellite-2)

Dr Seung Jo Kim, KARI President, noted, “We are proud to have KARI join its space partners in supporting the disaster charter, particularly since the charter has recently illustrated the relevance of space in alleviating human suffering caused by natural and technological disasters.”

Related links:

Korea Aerospace Research Institute:


In depth:


The International Charter Space and Major Disasters:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / KARI / International Charter.


jeudi 14 juillet 2011

NASA Astronaut Steve Lindsey Leaves The Agency

NASA logo.

July 14, 2011

NASA astronaut Steve Lindsey announced he will leave the agency to pursue a career within the aerospace industry. His last day with NASA will be Friday, July 15.

Lindsey, a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force, is a veteran of five space shuttle missions. He also served as chief of the NASA Astronaut Office from September 2006 to October 2009.

NASA Astronaut Steve Lindsey

"Steve's a consummate leader and has been a great role model within the corps," said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office. "His calm demeanor and steady presence has been invaluable to not only his shuttle mission crews but also our office as a whole. I know he will be a great asset to the next team privileged to work with him."

As chief of the Astronaut Office, Lindsey was responsible for spacecraft development; crew selection and training; flight test and crew operations in support of the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station Programs.

Lindsey commanded the STS-133 flight in February 2011, STS-121 in 2006 and STS-104 in 2001. He served as the pilot on STS-95 in 1998 and STS-87 in 1997. He joined NASA as an astronaut candidate in 1994. Lindsey logged more than 1500 hours in space.

For Lindsey's complete biography, visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA.

Best regards,

A Pulsar and Its Mysterious Tail

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

July 14, 2011

A spinning neutron star is tied to a mysterious tail -- or so it seems. Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have found that this pulsar, known as PSR J0357+3205 (or PSR J0357 for short), apparently has a long, X-ray bright tail streaming away from it.

This composite image shows Chandra data in blue and Digitized Sky Survey data in yellow. The position of the pulsar at the upper right end of the tail is seen by mousing over the image. The two bright sources lying near the lower left end of the tail are both thought to be unrelated background objects located outside our galaxy.

PSR J0357 was originally discovered by the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope in 2009. Astronomers calculate that the pulsar lies about 1,600 light years from Earth and is about half a million years old, which makes it roughly middle-aged for this type of object.

If the tail is at the same distance as the pulsar then it stretches for 4.2 light years in length. This would make it one of the the longest X-ray tails ever associated with a so-called "rotation-powered" pulsar, a class of pulsar that get its power from the energy lost as the rotation of the pulsar slows down. (Other types of pulsars include those driven by strong magnetic fields and still others that are powered by material falling onto the neutron star.)

The Chandra data indicate that the X-ray tail may be produced by emission from energetic particles in a pulsar wind, with the particles produced by the pulsar spiraling around magnetic field lines. Other X-ray tails around pulsars have been interpreted as bow-shocks generated by the supersonic motion of pulsars through space, with the wind trailing behind as its particles are swept back by the pulsar's interaction with the interstellar gas it encounters.

Chandra X-ray Observatory

However, this bow-shock interpretation may or may not be correct for PSR J0357, with several issues that need to be explained. For example, the Fermi data show that PSR J0357 is losing a very small amount of energy as its spin slows down with time. This energy loss is important, because it is converted into radiation and powering a particle wind from the pulsar. This places limits on the amount of energy that particles in the wind can attain, and so might not account for the quantity of X-rays seen by Chandra in the tail.

Another challenge to this explanation is that other pulsars with bow-shocks show bright X-ray emission surrounding the pulsar, and this is not seen for PSR J0357. Also, the brightest portion of the tail is well away from the pulsar and this differs from what has been seen for other pulsars with bow-shocks.

Further observations with Chandra could help test this bow-shock interpretation. If the pulsar is seen moving in the opposite direction from that of the tail, this would support the bow-shock idea.

These results were published in the June 1st, 2011 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The first author is Andrea De Luca of Institute of Advanced Study in Pavia, Italy (IUSS), the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) in Rome, and the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Milano.

The co-authors are M. Marelli of INAF, Milano and the University of Insubria in Italy; R. Mignani of University College London, UK and University of Zielona Gora, Poland; P. Caraveo of INAF, Milano; W. Hummel of ESO, Germany; S. Collins and A. Shearer of National University of Ireland; P. Saz Parkinson of University of California at Santa Cruz; A. Belfiore of University of California at Santa Cruz and University of Pavia; and, G. Bignami of IUSS, Pavia and INAF, Milano.

Read more/access all images:

Images, Text, Credits: X-ray: NASA / CXC / IUSS / A.De Luca et al; Optical: DSS.


mercredi 13 juillet 2011

Hubble's Neptune Anniversary Pictures

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.


Yesterday, Neptune has arrived at the same location in space where it was discovered nearly 165 years ago. To commemorate the event, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken these "anniversary pictures" of the blue-green giant planet.

Neptune is the most distant major planet in our solar system. German astronomer Johann Galle discovered the planet on September 23, 1846. At the time, the discovery doubled the size of the known solar system. The planet is 2.8 billion miles (4.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun, 30 times farther than Earth. Under the Sun's weak pull at that distance, Neptune plods along in its huge orbit, slowly completing one revolution approximately every 165 years.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

These four Hubble images of Neptune were taken with the Wide Field Camera 3 on June 25-26, during the planet's 16-hour rotation. The snapshots were taken at roughly four-hour intervals, offering a full view of the planet. The images reveal high-altitude clouds in the northern and southern hemispheres. The clouds are composed of methane ice crystals.

The giant planet experiences seasons just as Earth does, because it is tilted 29 degrees, similar to Earth's 23-degree-tilt. Instead of lasting a few months, each of Neptune's seasons continues for about 40 years.

The snapshots show that Neptune has more clouds than a few years ago, when most of the clouds were in the southern hemisphere. These Hubble views reveal that the cloud activity is shifting to the northern hemisphere. It is early summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the northern hemisphere.

In the Hubble images, absorption of red light by methane in Neptune's atmosphere gives the planet its distinctive aqua color. The clouds are tinted pink because they are reflecting near-infrared light.

A faint, dark band near the bottom of the southern hemisphere is probably caused by a decrease in the hazes in the atmosphere that scatter blue light. The band was imaged by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989, and may be tied to circumpolar circulation created by high-velocity winds in that region.

The temperature difference between Neptune's strong internal heat source and its frigid cloud tops, about minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, might trigger instabilities in the atmosphere that drive large-scale weather changes.

This illustration is a composite of numerous separate Hubble WFC3 images. A color image composed of exposures made through three color filters shows the disk of Neptune, revealing clouds in its atmosphere. 48 separate images from a single filter were brightened to reveal the very faint moons. The white dots are Neptune's inner moons moving along their orbits during Hubble's observations. The solid green lines trace the full orbit of each moon. The spacing of the moon images follows the timing of each Hubble exposure. About 30 moons are known to orbit Neptune, most of which are too faint or orbit too far away to appear in these images. Illustration credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI).

Neptune has an intriguing history. It was Uranus that led astronomers to Neptune. Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun, is Neptune's inner neighbor. British astronomer Sir William Herschel and his sister Caroline found Uranus in 1781, 55 years before Neptune was spotted. Shortly after the discovery, Herschel noticed that the orbit of Uranus did not match the predictions of Newton's theory of gravity. Studying Uranus in 1821, French astronomer Alexis Bouvard speculated that another planet was tugging on the giant planet, altering its motion.

Twenty years later, Urbain Le Verrier of France and John Couch Adams of England, who were mathematicians and astronomers, independently predicted the location of the mystery planet by measuring how the gravity of a hypothetical unseen object could affect Uranus's path. Le Verrier sent a note describing his predicted location of the new planet to the German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle at the Berlin Observatory. Over the course of two nights in 1846, Galle found and identified Neptune as a planet, less than a degree from Le Verrier's predicted position. The discovery was hailed as a major success for Newton's theory of gravity and the understanding of the universe.

Galle was not the first to see Neptune. In December 1612, while observing Jupiter and its moons with his handmade telescope, astronomer Galileo Galilei recorded Neptune in his notebook, but as a star. More than a month later, in January 1613, he noted that the "star" appeared to have moved relative to other stars. But Galileo never identified Neptune as a planet, and apparently did not follow up those observations, so he failed to be credited with the discovery.

This video sequence compiles data from Hubble's observations of Neptune to show the blue-green planet rotating on its tilted axis. A day on Neptune is 16 hours long, and Hubble took images of the planet every four hours. Some of Neptune's moons are also shown. (No audio.)
Video Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
Science Credit: The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) and A. Simon-Miller (NASA Goddard).

Neptune is not visible to the naked eye, but may be seen in binoculars or a small telescope. It can be found in the constellation Aquarius, close to the boundary with Capricorn.

Neptune-mass planets orbiting other stars may be common in our Milky Way galaxy. NASA's Kepler mission, launched in 2009 to hunt for Earth-size planets, is finding increasingly smaller extrasolar planets, including many the size of Neptune.

Hubble is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. Goddard manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope:

NASA Main Hubble Page:


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


What Activates a Supermassive Black Hole?

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

13 July 2011

The COSMOS field

A new study combining data from ESO’s Very Large Telescope and ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory has turned up a surprise. Most of the huge black holes in the centres of galaxies in the past 11 billion years were not turned on by mergers between galaxies, as had been previously thought.

At the heart of most, if not all, large galaxies lurks a supermassive black hole with a mass millions, or sometimes billions, times greater than that of the Sun. In many galaxies, including our own Milky Way, the central black hole is quiet. But in some galaxies, particularly early on in the history of the Universe [1], the central monster feasts on material that gives off intense radiation as it falls into the black hole.

The COSMOS field in the constellation of Sextans (The Sextant)

One unsolved mystery is where the material comes from to activate a sleeping black hole and trigger violent outbursts at a galaxy’s centre, so that it then becomes an active galactic nucleus. Up to now, many astronomers thought that most of these active nuclei were turned on when two galaxies merge or when they pass close to each other and the disrupted material becomes fuel for the central black hole. However, new results indicate that this idea may be wrong for many active galaxies.

Viola Allevato (Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik; Excellence Cluster Universe, Garching, Germany) and an international team of scientists from the COSMOS collaboration [2] have now looked in detail at more than 600 of these active galaxies in an extensively studied patch of the sky called the COSMOS field [3]. As expected, the astronomers found that extremely brilliant active nuclei were rare, while the bulk of the active galaxies in the past 11 billion years were only moderately bright. But there was a surprise; the new data showed that the majority of these more common, less bright active galaxies, even looking back far into the past, were not triggered by mergers between galaxies [4]. The results will appear in The Astrophysical Journal.

Wide-field view of the COSMOS field

The presence of active galactic nuclei is revealed by the X-rays emitted from around the black hole, which were picked up by ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory. These galaxies were subsequently observed using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, which was able to measure the distances to the galaxies [5]. When combined, the observations allowed the team to make a three-dimensional map showing where the active galaxies lie.

“It took more than five years, but we were able to provide one of the largest and most complete inventories of active galaxies in the X-ray sky,” said Marcella Brusa, one of the authors of the study.

The astronomers could use this new map to find out how the active galaxies were distributed and compare this with predictions from theory. They could also see how the distribution changed as the Universe aged — all the way from about 11 billion years ago to almost the present day.

The team found that active nuclei are mostly found in large massive galaxies with lots of dark matter [6]. This was a surprise and not consistent with the prediction from theory — if most active nuclei were a consequence of mergers and collisions between galaxies it had been expected that they would be found in galaxies with moderate mass (about a trillion times the mass of the Sun). The team found that most active nuclei reside in galaxies with masses about 20 times larger than the value predicted by merger theory.

The COSMOS field (unannotated)

“These new results give us a new insight into how supermassive black holes start their meals,” said Viola Allevato, who is lead author on the new paper. “They indicate that black holes are usually fed by processes within the galaxy itself, such as disc instabilities and starbursts, as opposed to galaxy collisions.”

Alexis Finoguenov, who supervised the work, concludes: “Even in the distant past, up to almost 11 billion years ago, galaxy collisions can only account for a small percentage of the moderately bright active galaxies. At that time galaxies were closer together so mergers were expected to be more frequent than in the more recent past, so the new results are all the more surprising.”


[1] The brightest active galaxies were most common in the Universe about three to four billion years after the Big Bang and the less brilliant objects rather later, peaking at around eight billion years after the Big Bang.

[2] The new study is based on two large European astronomical programmes: the XMM-Newton survey of the COSMOS field led by Professor Günther Hasinger and ESO’s zCOSMOS led by Professor Simon Lilly. These programmes are part of the COSMOS initiative, an international endeavour to observe a patch of sky using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra X-ray space telescopes as well as NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope in addition to observations by ESO’s Very Large Telescope and other ground-based facilities.

[3] The COSMOS field is an area about ten times that of the full Moon, in the constellation of Sextans (The Sextant). It has been mapped by a multitude of telescopes at different wavelengths so that a series of studies and investigations can benefit from this wealth of data.

[4] Work published last year from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (heic1101) had shown that there was no strong link between active nuclei in galaxies and mergers in a sample of relatively close galaxies. That study looked back about eight billion years into the past but the new work pushes this conclusion three billion years further to a time when galaxies were packed even closer together.

[5] The team used a spectrograph on the VLT to split the faint light from the galaxies up into its component colours. Careful analysis then allowed them to determine the redshift: how much the light has been stretched by the expansion of the Universe since it emerged from the galaxies and hence how distant they are. Because light travels at a finite speed this also tells us how far back in time we are seeing these distant objects.

[6] Dark matter is a mysterious substance that forms an invisible component of most, if not all, galaxies (active or not) — including our own Milky Way. The authors have estimated the amount of dark matter mass in each galaxy — which indicates its total mass — from the distribution of the galaxies in the new study.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper that will appear in The Astrophysical Journal in July 2011.

The team is composed of V. Allevato (Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik [IPP]; Excellence Cluster Universe, Garching, Germany), A. Finoguenov (Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik [MPE], Garching, Germany and University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA), N. Cappelluti (INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico de Bologna [INAF-OA], Italy and University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA), T.Miyaji (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Ensenada, Mexico and University of California at San Diego, USA), G. Hasinger (IPP), M. Salvato (IPP, Excellence Cluster Universe, Garching, Germany), M. Brusa (MPE), R. Gilli (INAF-OA), G. Zamorani (INAF-OA), F. Shankar (Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik, Garching, Germany), J. B. James (University of California at Berkeley, USA and University of Copenhagen, Denmark), H. J. McCracken (Observatoire de Paris, France), A. Bongiorno (MPE), A. Merloni (Excellence Cluster Universe, Garching, Germany and MPE), J. A. Peacock (University of California at Berkeley, USA), J. Silverman (University of Tokyo, Japan) and A. Comastri (INAF-OA).

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 40-metre-class European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


    Research paper:

    Photos of the VLT:

    Link to Hubble release (heic1101):

    Link to zoom in on the COSMOS field:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / CFHT / IAP / Terapix / CNRS / IAU and Sky & Telescope / Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin.


mardi 12 juillet 2011

Soyuz-2.1a Successfully Lifts Off from Baikonur

Rosocosmos logo.


Soyuz-2.1a Successfully Lifts Off

Soyuz-2.1a space carrier with six U.S. Globalstar-2 communications satellites blasted off on Wednesday morning from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, said.

Soyuz-2-1A Fregat with Globalstar-2 Launch Coverage

The launch of the spacecraft equipped with a Fregat booster was initially scheduled for July 11 and was later moved to July 12. Both launches were postponed due to various technical reasons during the preparations for the launch.

The separation of the satellites from the Fregat booster is scheduled for 8:39 Moscow time [4:39 GMT]," the spokesman said.

Globalstar is a low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite-based telecommunications system founded by U.S.-based Loral Corporation and Qualcomm Inc. It provides high-quality satellite voice and data services across North America, and to over 120 countries worldwide.

GlobalStar2 artist view

Commercial launches of Soyuz carrier rockets are managed by Starsem, a European-Russian joint venture, which comprises EADS SPACE, Arianespace, the Russian Federal Space Agency, and the Samara-based Progress design and production center.

Once the satellites reach the targeted orbit, the customer will take over control.
Soyuz-2 is a modification of the Soyuz-class rocket produced by Russian TSKB-Progress.

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Roscosmos PAO / RiaNovosti / Arianespace / Thales Aliena Space.

Best regards,

STS-135 Spacewalkers Progressing Through Tasks

NASA - STS-135 Mission patch.

Tue, 12 Jul 2011

Spacewalker Mike Fossum fixed a grounding wire protruding from a Zarya module payload data grapple fixture (PDGF) that was installed on STS-134. The PDGF is a mounting position that the station’s robotic arm can attach to for access to the Russian segment.

Image above: Expedition 28 Flight Engineers Ron Garan (top) and Mike Fossum exit the International Space Station's Quest airlock to begin their spacewalk. Image credit: NASA TV.

STS-135 Spacewalk beginning
The multi-layer insulation (MLI) grounding wire was stuck in a latch door, and Fossum tucked it under Velcro tabs and put the MLI back in place. Fossum performed the same operation on a second latch door and checked the remaining two latch doors.
This image of Atlantis' payload bay, focusing on the docking mechanism, was photographed by the STS-135 crew from inside the crew cabin. The orbiter boom sensor system and a portion of the remote manipulator system's robot arm are visible in the frame, exposed during a busy third day in space for the astronauts. The photo was made shortly before the shuttle docked with the International Space Station.

STS-135 Spacewalkers Progressing Through Tasks
Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off July 8 on the final flight of the shuttle program, STS-135, a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. Atlantis carries a crew of four and the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station. The STS-135 astronauts are: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

Live updates to the NASA News Twitter feed will be added throughout the mission and landing. To access the feed, go to the homepage or visit:

All four of Atlantis' crew members are posting updates to Twitter. You can follow them at:

To connect with NASA on Twitter and other social networking sites, visit:

For more information about space shuttle Atlantis' STS-135 mission, visit:

For more information about the space station, visit:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA / NASA TV / KSC.


Celebrating 10 years of Artemis

ESA - Artemis Mission patch.

12 July 2011

ESA’s pioneering Artemis satellite today marks a decade in space. The Advanced Relay and Technology Mission was a breakthrough in telecommunications satellites for Europe, packed with new technologies such as laser links and ion thrusters for proving in space.

A launch problem on 12 July 2001 almost ended the mission before it even began, when the rocket’s upper stage injected Artemis into a low transfer orbit. For any conventional satellite, this would have resulted in the loss of the mission.

Artemis satellite artist's view

But thanks to the combination of the satellite’s advanced technologies and the unique recovery procedures devised by the control team, the satellite was slowly and carefully coaxed over 18 months into its intended operating position.

Dubbed ‘mission impossible’ at the time, and despite damaged onboard equipment, Artemis has demonstrated critical new technologies and continues in operation today.

Artemis testing

Artemis clocked up a number of unique firsts in space during its recovery. It created the first laser data link between satellites in different orbits; it was the first telecommunications satellite to be extensively reprogrammed in orbit; it was the first to use ion propulsion to reach geostationary orbit, 36 000 km up, after surviving the longest-ever drift to its destination.

Artemis ion thruster

Thanks to the laser relay, Earth images collected by ESA’s Envisat 35 000 km below Artemis were delivered to customers almost in real time at a high rate.

The first MERIS image obtained via Artemis

The same service was provided to France’s SPOT-4 observation satellite together with a second link via another experimental payload, this time at radio frequencies.

 Artemis and SPOT 4

Artemis also provided communications between ground controllers and Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicles as the cargo ferries flew to the International Space Station.

In 2008, Artemis leapt into service at short notice during the ferry’s first mission when NASA’s system was shut down as Hurricane Ike struck the country.

The ATV team in Toulouse, France, and their Artemis counterparts in Redu, Belgium, sprang into action. With only a few hours to prepare, they held contact with the vessel throughout the night of 11 September.

ESA's Redu station in Belgium

While Artemis is controlled via Telespazio facilities in Fucino, Italy, ESA’s Redu centre houses its Mission Control Facility to schedule the services for users and to maintain the different payloads.

“Artemis has delivered tremendous service availability over its entire operational life at full satisfaction of final users,” says Daniele Galardini, Head of ESA Redu Centre and in charge of Artemis.

“The capability and professionalism of the teams in Fucino and Redu are the basis of the Artemis achievements.”

Related links:

Telecommunications and Integrated Applications:

What is special about Artemis:

Artemis finally reaches operational orbit:

Artemis team receives award for space rescue:

Artemis relays first images for Envisat:

Communicating with the world:

Another world first for Artemis: a laser link with an aircraft:

Artemis provides communications for Jules Verne ATV:




Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV):

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


lundi 11 juillet 2011

STS-135 Crew Wraps Up Busy Day of Cargo Transfers, Spacewalk Preps

NASA - STS-135 Mission patch / MPLM's patch.

Tue, 12 Jul 2011

STS-135 Flight Day 4 is drawing to a close as the crews of the International Space Station and Atlantis prepare for bed at 6:29 p.m. EDT and 6:59 p.m., respectively.

Image above: The station's robotic arm, Canadarm2, operated by STS-135 astronauts Doug Hurley and Sandy Magnus, grapples the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module from the shuttle's payload bay. Image credit: NASA TV.

They attached the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module to the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony node at 6:45 a.m., opened the hatch at 12:10 p.m. and began offloading 9,403 pounds of spare parts, equipment and supplies. They also prepared for the mission’s only spacewalk, which will be conducted by station crew members Mike Fossum and Ron Garan beginning at 8:44 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

STS-135 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 4

Video above: A video recap of flight day 4 of the STS-135 mission of space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station.

Mission coverage, including the latest NASA Television schedule, is available on the main space shuttle website at:

NASA is providing continuous television and Internet coverage of the mission. NASA TV features live mission events, daily status news conferences and 24-hour commentary. For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit:

For more information about the space station, visit:

All four of Atlantis' crew members are posting updates to Twitter. You can follow them at:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: NASA / NASA TV / KSC.


Astrium to build ESA's Sentinel-4 atmospheric sensors

ESA - Sentinel-3 Mission logo.

11 July 2011

ESA today awarded a contract worth almost €150 million to Astrium to develop and build two satellite sensors that will monitor Earth's atmosphere as part of Europe's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme.

The identical spectrometers, known as Sentinel-4, will each be carried on Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) weather satellites, to be launched in 2019 and 2027.

From geostationary orbit 36 000 km above the equator, Sentinel-4 will provide data every hour on the chemical composition of the atmosphere including trace gases and ultraviolet radiation.


By providing data on sulphur dioxide and aerosols over Europe, the mission will also help to improve the monitoring of plumes from volcanic eruptions.

Marking the go-ahead for these specialised sensors, the contract was signed by Volker Liebig, ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes, and Evert Dudok, CEO of Astrium Satellites, at the company's premises in Ottobrunn near Munich in Germany.

Prof. Liebig said, "This contract marks another significant step forward in realising ESA's series of Sentinel satellites.

"Sentinel-4 will be the first spectrometer of this kind placed in geostationary orbit.

Signing of Sentinel-4 contract

"This mission will not only provide accurate data for air quality forecasting services, but also provide information about greenhouse gases that can be used by decision-makers in formulating strategies aimed at reducing emissions."

Sentinel-4 is one of a family of five missions ESA is developing for the EU's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme.

Through GMES, decision-makers will have reliable, timely and accurate information to manage the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security.

These services will be realised through the integration of data collected from space, from the air, at sea and on the ground. However, the space component forms the backbone of the programme.

NO2 over Europe monitored by GOME-2

ESA's first GMES satellite, Sentinel-1, is planned to be launched in 2013.

Taking advantage of the long-standing collaboration between ESA and Eumetsat, each full Sentinel-4 mission will comprise the ultraviolet–visible–near-infrared spectrometer that Astrium will build, along with data from Eumetsat's thermal-infrared sensor. Both instruments will be carried on MTG-Sounder satellites.

In addition, the Sentinel-4 mission will also make use of data from the imager that will be flown on the MTG-Imager satellites.

For example, the data from Sentinel-4 on sulphur dioxide and aerosols will complement those provided by the MTG-Imager for volcanic plume monitoring.

Sentinels-4 will provide data to monitor air pollution

MTG is a cooperative venture between Eumetsat and ESA ensuring continuity with the Meteosat Second Generation satellites currently in operation.

The series will be made up of four MTG-Imaging satellites and two MTG-Sounding satellites.

"Sentinel-4 will be an important MTG instrument for high-definition monitoring of the atmosphere over Europe," said Mr Dudok.

"As prime industrial contractor, Astrium will coordinate the work of 45 companies in 11 European countries for the construction of the two instruments."

Related links:



Related missions:


Meteorological missions:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA / AOES Medialab / KNMI / TEMIS.