jeudi 27 juin 2013

IRIS Solar Observatory Launches, Begins Mission

Orbital - Pegasus XL / IRIS Launch Mission patch / NASA - Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) solar observatory patch.

June 28, 2013

 NASA IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) Launches. Credit: NASA TV

At 10:27 p.m. EDT, Orbital Sciences' Pegasus rocket carrying NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) solar observatory was dropped from the L-1011 carrier aircraft Stargazer . The rocket's first-stage engine ignited as planned. Following the successful launch, IRIS separated from its Pegasus rocket and reached the proper orbit.

IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer Mission to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun's lower atmosphere. This interface region between the sun's photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind.

IRIS Launch, Deploy and Beauty Pass Animation

Video above: An animation of the launch and deployment of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, NASA launch animation, to observe the lowest layers of the sun’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA/GSFC.

Lying just above the sun’s surface is an enigmatic region of the solar atmosphere called the interface region. A relatively thin region, just 3,000 to 6,000 miles thick, it pulses with movement: Zones of different temperature and density are scattered throughout, while energy and heat course through the solar material.

Understanding how the energy travels through this region – energy that helps heat the upper layer of the atmosphere, the corona, to temperatures of 1 million kelvins (about 1.8 million F), some thousand times hotter than the sun’s surface itself – is the goal of NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS.

Stargazer Airborne

Video above: The Orbital Sciences L-1011 and F-18 chase plane take off. Credit: NASA

“IRIS will extend our observations of the sun to a region that has historically been difficult to study,” said Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Understanding the interface region better improves our understanding of the whole corona and, in turn, how it affects the solar system.”

Scientists wish to understand the interface region in exquisite detail, because energy flowing through this region has an effect on so many aspects of near-Earth space. For one thing, despite the intense amount of energy deposited into the interface region, only a fraction leaks through, but this fraction drives the solar wind, the constant stream of particles that flows out to fill the entire solar system. The interface region is also the source of most of the sun’s ultraviolet emission, which impacts both the near-Earth space environment and Earth’s climate.

IRIS’s capabilities are uniquely tailored to unravel the interface region by providing both high-resolution images and a kind of data known as spectra. For its high-resolution images, IRIS will capture data on about 1 percent of the sun at a time. While these are relatively small snapshots, IRIS will be able to see very fine features, as small as 150 miles across.

“Previous observations suggest there are structures in the solar atmosphere just 100 or 150 miles across, but 100,000 miles long,” said Alan Title, the principal investigator for IRIS at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, Calif. “Imagine giant jets, like the huge fountains you see in Las Vegas. Except these jets have a footprint the size of Los Angeles, and are long enough and fast enough that they would zoom around Earth in 20 seconds. We have seen hints of these structures, but never with the high resolution or the information about velocity, temperature and density that IRIS will provide.”

Artist's concept of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) satellite in orbit. Credit: NASA

The velocity, temperature and density information will be provided by IRIS’ spectrograph. While ultraviolet images look at only one wavelength of light at a time, spectrographs show information about many wavelengths of light at once. Spectrographs split the sun’s light into its various wavelengths and measure how much of any given wavelength is present. This is then portrayed on a graph showing spectral “lines.” Taller lines correspond to wavelengths in which the sun emits relatively more light. Analysis of the spectral lines can also provide velocity, temperature and density information, key information when trying to track how energy and heat moves through the region.

Not only does IRIS provide state-of-the-art observations to look at the interface region, it makes uses of advanced computing to help interpret what it sees. Indeed, interpreting the light flowing out of the interface region could not be done well prior to the advent of today’s supercomputers because, in this area of the sun, photons of light bounce around so much that it is difficult to understand the path the photon traveled.

“When you observe the interface region, there is no intuitive approach to understanding the light’s path from the sun’s surface and that’s been a major stumbling block,” said Bart De Pontieu, the IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin. “We’re trying to understand something that’s hidden in a fog – but now, thanks to the enormous advance of computers and sophisticated numerical models, the fog is lifting.”

IRIS: The Science of NASA's Newest Solar Explorer. Credit: NASA/GSFC

This modeling of the IRIS data takes place on cutting-edge supercomputers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Moreover, science teams at Lockheed Martin and the University of Oslo in Norway have worked over the last year to create and refine the models to interpret the dominant processes expected to be at work in the interface region.

After launch, the IRIS team will perform post-flight checkouts for about 60 days before the official science campaign begins. Once the campaign starts, IRIS will join a host of other spacecraft currently observing the sun and its effects on Earth. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and the joint NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hinode, for example, both capture high-resolution images of the sun, but focusing on different layers of the sun. Together, the observatories will explore how the corona and solar wind are powered – Hinode and SDO monitoring the solar surface and outer atmosphere, with IRIS watching the region in between.

“Relating observations from IRIS to other solar observatories will open the door for crucial research into basic, unanswered questions about the corona,” said Davila.

Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) solar observatory description. Credit: NASA

Answering such fundamental physics questions about the sun’s atmosphere has applications outside of simply understanding the sun, as well. Explosions in the corona can send radiation and solar particles toward Earth, interfering with satellites, causing power grid failures and disrupting GPS services. By knowing more about what causes such solar eruptions, scientists can improve their ability to forecast such space weather. Moreover, the better we understand this closest star, the better we can understand how other stars are energized as well.

Goddard manages IRIS, a NASA Small Explorer Program mission. IRIS’ launch is managed by NASA's Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center designed and built the IRIS spacecraft and instrument. Ames provides mission operations and ground data systems. The Norwegian Space Centre is providing regular downlinks of science data. Other contributors include the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., and the University of Oslo in Norway.

For more information about NASA's IRIS mission, please visit:

Images (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / Karen C. Fox.


NASA's Voyager 1 Explores Final Frontier of Our 'Solar Bubble'

NASA - Voyager 1 & 2 Mission patch.

June 27, 2013

Data from Voyager 1, now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, suggest the spacecraft is closer to becoming the first human-made object to reach interstellar space.

Research using Voyager 1 data and published in the journal Science today provides new detail on the last region the spacecraft will cross before it leaves the heliosphere, or the bubble around our sun, and enters interstellar space. Three papers describe how Voyager 1's entry into a region called the magnetic highway resulted in simultaneous observations of the highest rate so far of charged particles from outside heliosphere and the disappearance of charged particles from inside the heliosphere.

Scientists have seen two of the three signs of interstellar arrival they expected to see: charged particles disappearing as they zoom out along the solar magnetic field, and cosmic rays from far outside zooming in. Scientists have not yet seen the third sign, an abrupt change in the direction of the magnetic field, which would indicate the presence of the interstellar magnetic field.

Artist concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

"This strange, last region before interstellar space is coming into focus, thanks to Voyager 1, humankind's most distant scout," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "If you looked at the cosmic ray and energetic particle data in isolation, you might think Voyager had reached interstellar space, but the team feels Voyager 1 has not yet gotten there because we are still within the domain of the sun's magnetic field."

Scientists do not know exactly how far Voyager 1 has to go to reach interstellar space. They estimate it could take several more months, or even years, to get there. The heliosphere extends at least 8 billion miles (13 billion kilometers) beyond all the planets in our solar system. It is dominated by the sun's magnetic field and an ionized wind expanding outward from the sun. Outside the heliosphere, interstellar space is filled with matter from other stars and the magnetic field present in the nearby region of the Milky Way.

Voyager 1 and its twin spacecraft, Voyager 2, were launched in 1977. They toured Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune before embarking on their interstellar mission in 1990. They now aim to leave the heliosphere. Measuring the size of the heliosphere is part of the Voyagers' mission.

The Science papers focus on observations made from May to September 2012 by Voyager 1's cosmic ray, low-energy charged particle and magnetometer instruments, with some additional charged particle data obtained through April of this year.

Voyager 2 is about 9 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) from the sun and still inside the heliosphere. Voyager 1 was about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun Aug. 25 when it reached the magnetic highway, also known as the depletion region, and a connection to interstellar space. This region allows charged particles to travel into and out of the heliosphere along a smooth magnetic field line, instead of bouncing around in all directions as if trapped on local roads. For the first time in this region, scientists could detect low-energy cosmic rays that originate from dying stars.

"We saw a dramatic and rapid disappearance of the solar-originating particles. They decreased in intensity by more than 1,000 times, as if there was a huge vacuum pump at the entrance ramp onto the magnetic highway," said Stamatios Krimigis, the low-energy charged particle instrument's principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "We have never witnessed such a decrease before, except when Voyager 1 exited the giant magnetosphere of Jupiter, some 34 years ago."

Other charged particle behavior observed by Voyager 1 also indicates the spacecraft still is in a region of transition to the interstellar medium. While crossing into the new region, the charged particles originating from the heliosphere that decreased most quickly were those shooting straightest along solar magnetic field lines. Particles moving perpendicular to the magnetic field did not decrease as quickly. However, cosmic rays moving along the field lines in the magnetic highway region were somewhat more populous than those moving perpendicular to the field. In interstellar space, the direction of the moving charged particles is not expected to matter.

Voyager 1 Explores the "Magnetic Highway"

In the span of about 24 hours, the magnetic field originating from the sun also began piling up, like cars backed up on a freeway exit ramp. But scientists were able to quantify that the magnetic field barely changed direction -- by no more than 2 degrees.

"A day made such a difference in this region with the magnetic field suddenly doubling and becoming extraordinarily smooth," said Leonard Burlaga, the lead author of one of the papers, and based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But since there was no significant change in the magnetic field direction, we're still observing the field lines originating at the sun."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif., built and operates the Voyager spacecraft. California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA. The Voyager missions are a part of NASA's Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

For more information about the Voyager spacecraft mission, visit: and .

Image, Text, Credits: NASA / Steve Cole / JPL / Jia-Rui C. Cook / Video credits: Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

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The Remarkable Remains of a Recent Supernova

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

June 27, 2013

Astronomers estimate that a star explodes as a supernova in our Galaxy, on average, about twice per century. In 2008, a team of scientists announced they discovered the remains of a supernova that is the most recent, in Earth's time frame, known to have occurred in the Milky Way.

The explosion would have been visible from Earth a little more than a hundred years ago if it had not been heavily obscured by dust and gas. Its likely location is about 28,000 light years from Earth near the center of the Milky Way. A long observation equivalent to more than 11 days of observations of its debris field, now known as the supernova remnant G1.9+0.3, with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is providing new details about this important event.

The source of G1.9+0.3 was most likely a white dwarf star that underwent a thermonuclear detonation and was destroyed after merging with another white dwarf, or pulling material from an orbiting companion star. This is a particular class of supernova explosions (known as Type Ia) that are used as distance indicators in cosmology because they are so consistent in brightness and incredibly luminous.

The explosion ejected stellar debris at high velocities, creating the supernova remnant that is seen today by Chandra and other telescopes. This new image is a composite from Chandra where low-energy X-rays are red, intermediate energies are green and higher-energy ones are blue. Also shown are optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey, with appearing stars in white. The new Chandra data, obtained in 2011, reveal that G1.9+0.3 has several remarkable properties.

The Chandra data show that most of the X-ray emission is "synchrotron radiation," produced by extremely energetic electrons accelerated in the rapidly expanding blast wave of the supernova. This emission gives information about the origin of cosmic rays -- energetic particles that constantly strike the Earth's atmosphere -- but not much information about Type Ia supernovas.

In addition, some of the X-ray emission comes from elements produced in the supernova, providing clues to the nature of the explosion. The long Chandra observation was required to dig out those clues.

Most Type Ia supernova remnants are symmetrical in shape, with debris evenly distributed in all directions. However, G1.9+0.3 exhibits an extremely asymmetric pattern. The strongest X-ray emission from elements like silicon, sulfur, and iron is found in the northern part of the remnant, giving an extremely asymmetric pattern.

Another exceptional feature of this remnant is that iron, which is expected to form deep in the doomed star's interior and move relatively slowly, is found far from the center and is moving at extremely high speeds of over 3.8 million miles per hour. The iron is mixed with lighter elements expected to form further out in the star.

Because of the uneven distribution of the remnant's debris and their extreme velocities, the researchers conclude that the original supernova explosion also had very unusual properties. That is, the explosion itself must have been highly non-uniform and unusually energetic.

By comparing the properties of the remnant with theoretical models, the researchers found hints about the explosion mechanism. Their favorite concept for what happened in G1.9+0.3 is a "delayed detonation," where the explosion occurs in two different phases. First, nuclear reactions occur in a slowly expanding wavefront, producing iron and similar elements. The energy from these reactions causes the star to expand, changing its density and allowing a much faster-moving detonation front of nuclear reactions to occur.

Chandra X-ray Observatory spacecraft

If the explosion were highly asymmetric, then there should be large variations in expansion rate in different parts of the remnant. These should be measurable with future observations with X-rays using Chandra and radio waves with the NSF's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array.

Observations of G1.9+0.3 allow astronomers a special, close-up view of a young supernova remnant and its rapidly changing debris. Many of these changes are driven by the radioactive decay of elements ejected in the explosion. For example, a large amount of antimatter should have formed after the explosion by radioactive decay of cobalt. Based on the estimated mass of iron, which is formed by radioactive decay of nickel to cobalt to iron, over a hundred million trillion (i.e. ten raised to the power of twenty) pounds of positrons, the antimatter counterpart to electrons, should have formed. However, nearly all of these positrons should have combined with electrons and been destroyed, so no direct observational signature of this antimatter should remain.

A paper describing these results is available online and will be published in the July 1, 2013 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The first author is Kazimierz Borkowski of North Carolina State University (NCSU), in Raleigh, NC and his co-authors are Stephen Reynolds, also of NCSU; Una Hwang from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD; David Green from Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, UK; Robert Petre, also from GSFC; Kalyani Krishnamurthy from Duke University in Durham, NC and Rebecca Willett, also from Duke University. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., 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.

Read more/access all images:

Chandra's Flickr photoset:

NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory website:

Images, Text, Credits: X-ray: NASA / CXC / NCSU / K. Borkowski et al.; Optical: DSS.


mercredi 26 juin 2013

From CERN to space - and back

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

June 26, 2013

At the end of May, 40 years after he worked as a fellow on the Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR), former astronaut Ernst Messerschmid gave a seminar at CERN. His experience in the laboratory’s international environment was an important factor in the process that led to his becoming one of the first Germans in space.

Ernst Messerschmid in the Spacelab module (Image: DLR - CC-BY 3.0)

Ernst Messerschmid first arrived at CERN as a summer student in 1970, just as preparations were being made for the start-up of the ISR, and he soon returned as a fellow. His diploma thesis and PhD thesis were both based on his work at the ISR. All seemed set for a career in accelerator physics, but in 1977, while deciding on his future, Ernst spotted an advert in the newspaper Die Zeit: "Astronauts wanted". “There were five boxes that needed to be ticked,” he says. “Scientific training, good health, psychological stability, language skills and experience in an international environment. Thanks to my time at CERN I was able to tick them all.”

Out of some 7000 applicants in ESA’s first astronaut selection campaign, he was among five in Germany of whom three were later chosen for training and for spaceflight missions. In 1978 he went to work at the German Aerospace Test and Research Institute for Aviation and Space Flight (DFVLR). He finally went into space in 1985, as a payload specialist on the first German Spacelab mission, D1, on board the space shuttle Challenger.

Ernst Messerschmid's colloquium at CERN

In the video above, astronaut Ernst Messerschmid returns to Spacelab - 25 years after the D1 mission" (Video: German Aerospace Center).

Ernst and his colleagues performed more than 70 experiments, which were the first series, he says, to take full advantage of the “weightless” conditions. They covered a range of topics in physical, engineering and life science disciplines. It was the experiments – rather than the launch and the distance from the Earth – that proved the most stressful. “There were 100 or so professors and some 200 students relying on the data we were collecting,” says Messerschmid. “We worked 15 to 18 hours a day. There was not much time to look out of the window!”

After his space flight, Ernst moved to the University of Stuttgart and went on to become head of the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne from 2000 to 2004. There he was involved in training Christer Fuglesang, another CERN fellow who became an astronaut and has since flown twice on board a space shuttle to the International Space Station.

Ernst continues to teach astronautics and, as in the colloquium at CERN, to spread the word about the value of space flights for knowledge and innovation. “We fly on a mission,” he says, “and afterwards, as professors, we become 'missionaries’ - ambassadors for science and innovation.”


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 20 Member States.

Related links:

Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR):

CERN summer student:

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN):

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN /  Christine Sutton.


Ten Thousandth Near-Earth Object Unearthed in Space

Asteroid Watch.

June 26, 2013

More than 10,000 asteroids and comets that can pass near Earth have now been discovered. The 10,000th near-Earth object, asteroid 2013 MZ5, was first detected on the night of June 18, 2013, by the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope, located on the 10,000-foot (3,000-meter) summit of the Haleakala crater on Maui. Managed by the University of Hawaii, the PanSTARRS survey receives NASA funding.

Ninety-eight percent of all near-Earth objects discovered were first detected by NASA-supported surveys.

"Finding 10,000 near-Earth objects is a significant milestone," said Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "But there are at least 10 times that many more to be found before we can be assured we will have found any and all that could impact and do significant harm to the citizens of Earth." During Johnson's decade-long tenure, 76 percent of the NEO discoveries have been made.

Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are asteroids and comets that can approach the Earth's orbital distance to within about 28 million miles (45 million kilometers). They range in size from as small as a few feet to as large as 25 miles (41 kilometers) for the largest near-Earth asteroid, 1036 Ganymed.

Asteroid 2013 MZ5 is approximately 1,000 feet (300 meters) across. Its orbit is well understood and will not approach close enough to Earth to be considered potentially hazardous.

"The first near-Earth object was discovered in 1898," said Don Yeomans, long-time manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Over the next hundred years, only about 500 had been found. But then, with the advent of NASA's NEO Observations program in 1998, we've been racking them up ever since. And with new, more capable systems coming on line, we are learning even more about where the NEOs are currently in our solar system, and where they will be in the future."

Animation above: Asteroid 2013 MZ5 as seen by the University of Hawaii's PanSTARR-1 telescope. In this animated gif, the asteroid moves relative to a fixed background of stars. Asteroid 2013 MZ5 is in the right of the first image, towards the top, moving diagonally left/down. Image credit: PS-1/UH.

Of the 10,000 discoveries, roughly 10 percent are larger than six tenths of a mile (one kilometer) in size - roughly the size that could produce global consequences should one impact the Earth. However, the NASA NEOO program has found that none of these larger NEOs currently pose an impact threat and probably only a few dozen more of these large NEOs remain undiscovered.

The vast majority of NEOs are smaller than one kilometer, with the number of objects of a particular size increasing as their sizes decrease. For example, there are expected to be about 15,000 NEOs that are about one-and-half football fields in size (460 feet, or 140 meters), and more than a million that are about one-third a football field in size (100 feet, or 30 meters). A NEO hitting Earth would need to be about 100 feet (30 meters) or larger to cause significant devastation in populated areas. Almost 30 percent of the 460-foot-sized NEOs have been found, but less than 1 percent of the 100-foot-sized NEOs have been detected.

When it originated, the NASA-instituted Near-Earth Object Observations Program provided support to search programs run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory (LINEAR); the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NEAT); the University of Arizona (Spacewatch, and later Catalina Sky Survey) and the Lowell Observatory (LONEOS). All these search teams report their observations to the Minor Planet Center, the central node where all observations from observatories worldwide are correlated with objects, and they are given unique designations and their orbits are calculated.

"When I began surveying for asteroids and comets in 1992, a near-Earth object discovery was a rare event," said Tim Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center. "These days we average three NEO discoveries a day, and each month the Minor Planet Center receives hundreds of thousands of observations on asteroids, including those in the main-belt. The work done by the NASA surveys, and the other international professional and amateur astronomers, to discover and track NEOs is really remarkable."

Within a dozen years, the program achieved its goal of discovering 90 percent of near-Earth objects larger than 3,300 feet (1 kilometer) in size. In December 2005, NASA was directed by Congress to extend the search to find and catalog 90 percent of the NEOs larger than 500 feet (140 meters) in size. When this goal is achieved, the risk of an unwarned future Earth impact will be reduced to a level of only one percent when compared to pre-survey risk levels. This reduces the risk to human populations, because once an NEO threat is known well in advance, the object could be deflected with current space technologies.

Currently, the major NEO discovery teams are the Catalina Sky Survey, the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS survey and the LINEAR survey. The current discovery rate of NEOs is about 1,000 per year.

NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program manages and funds the search for, study of and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. The Minor Planet Center is funded by NASA and hosted by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA. JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is available at:, and via Twitter at .

Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / DC Agle.


Shenzhou-10 capsule makes successful landing

CASC - Shenzhou-10 Mission patch.

June 26, 2013

 Shenzhou-10 landing

Return capsule of Shenzhou 10 spacecraft touched down successfully at around 8:07 a.m. Beijing Time Wednesday at the main landing area in north China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

Three astronauts  (Taïkonaut's) within the return capsule all reported good health condition prior to their entry of the black-out area, the control center said.

The three astronauts on the country's fifth and longest manned mission are expected to complete their trip and return to Earth at around 8 am on Wednesday.

Before its return, the manned Shenzhou 10 spacecraft conducted the country's first test flight around the Tiangong-1 space module on Tuesday, as future vessels will need to dock from more than one direction.

On Tuesday morning, the astronauts left the orbiting space module where they had lived for 12 days.

The three Taïkonaut's, safety landed

The three astronauts — crew commander Nie Haisheng, astronaut Zhang Xiaoguang and female astronaut Wang Yaping — closed the module's hatch at 5:07 am, according to the manned space program.

Before they left, each of them used sign language to express their gratitude to scientific staff on the ground and others following the space mission.

At 7:05 am, the spacecraft undocked from Tiangong-1. The spacecraft then flew around the space module. In the process, both vessels were maneuvered to reverse their positions in orbit, and then conducted a rendezvous procedure.

Shenzhou-10 docked at  Tiangong-1 space lab

"The first circling and rendezvous test was successful, and we have achieved our expected result," said a space program spokesman.

Bao Weimin, the technological division chief of the spacecraft's builder, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, said the experiment was conducted to gain experience for the future construction of a space station in orbit.

A space station might have multiple docking ports, requiring spacecraft to dock from different directions, so China must test these skills, Bao said.

Shenzhou-10 docks with space module

The experiment was also a test of the ground staff's ability to maneuver the vessels as well as a test of the spacecraft's performance, said a space expert who declined to be named.

"It's the same as piloting a jet. The pilot will always want to develop better skills to control the jet, so that he can be flexible when tough situations emerge," the expert said.

China's Shenzhou 10 spacecraft's docking maneuvers a success

Video above: Chinese astronauts in the Shenzhou X space module carry out docking tests high over the Earth. The craft undocked and then re-docked with the Tiangong 1 space station in a complex move for the crew members. The test was designed to provide more data toward the construction by the Chinese of another space station.

Tuesday also marked the end of the mission of Tiangong-1, which was sent into orbit on Sept 29, 2011.

The simple space lab, designed with a two-year lifespan, had operated in orbit for 634 days by Tuesday, the spokesman said.

The unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft docked with it in 2011, and the manned Shenzhou IX vessel in 2012. It has sheltered six astronauts on two missions.

Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space program, told China Daily in March that the space lab has sufficient fuel to operate in orbit for another two years. He did not reveal what additional tasks it will be used for.

The Shenzhou X spacecraft blasted off from northwestern China on June 11.

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: CASC / China Daily / Xin Dingding / CCTV /

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mardi 25 juin 2013

Arianespace: O3b Networks’ first four satellites are in orbit

Arianespace - O3b satellites launch poster.

June 25, 2013

Soyuz flight VS05

Soyuz 2-1b rocket with four 03b satellites aboard, waiting for liftoff

Arianespace played an important role in improving the world’s connectivity with a successful medium-lift Soyuz launch this afternoon that orbited O3b Networks’ initial four satellites.

Launch of Soyuz-STB from Kourou with O3b Constellation

The cluster of spacecraft was lofted on Arianespace’s maiden Soyuz mission for O3b Networks, clearing the way for the establishment of telecommunications and Internet services over Asia, Africa, South America, Australia and the Middle East that combine the global reach of satellite coverage with the speed of a fiber-optic network.

O3b Networks’ strategy is to provide billions of consumers and businesses in nearly 180 countries with low-cost, high-speed, low latency Internet and mobile connectivity.

The O3b Networks’ slogan for this crucial launch was: “The Journey Begins,” with these words even emblazoned on a charter aircraft that brought its executives – along with personnel from Arianespace, satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space and other guests – to French Guiana from Paris.

O3b satellite

“Definitely, we can now say that ‘the O3b journey has begun,’” said Arianespace Chairman & CEO Stéphane Israël in comments from the mission control center after confirmation of the Soyuz mission success.  “Let me tell you that there is no better reward for Arianespace than seeing the happy faces of our customer in the front row.  In this very moment, pride and gratitude are the two words coming naturally to my mind.”

Israël noted that O3b Networks is the 33rd new entrant in the satellite telecommunications business to choose Arianespace for launches that have started their operations.

Today’s 2 hour, 22 minute flight began with the propulsion of Soyuz’ basic three-stage launch vehicle, and was followed by four burns of its Fregat upper stage. O3b Networks’ four satellites were released in two phases from a dispenser system atop the Fregat stage for operation in medium Earth orbit.

Soyuz 2-1b rocket with four 03b satellites aboard, liftoff!

A total of 12 O3b Networks satellites are to be orbited by Arianespace in groups of four, with the next mission planned for later this year, and another in 2014.  Thales Alenia Space produced the Ka-band relay platforms, which have a liftoff mass of approximately 700 kg. each.

Total payload lift performance for this mission – designated Flight VS05 in Arianespace’s family numbering system, notating the fifth launch of its medium-lift workhorse from French Guiana – was 3,204 kg.

03b networks satellites constellation

Steve Collar, the CEO of O3b Networks, thanked Arianespace for a “remarkable demonstration of power and beauty” during Soyuz’ liftoff from the Spaceport’s ELS launch zone, and confirmed that initial contact was made with the four satellites shortly after their deployment.

Today’s flight was Arianespace's third since Stéphane Israël became its new Chairman & CEO, which he noted in post-launch comments, acknowledging that the company’s worldwide reputation is more than deserved.

Image above: O3b Networks team members show the company spirit in front of a chartered Boeing 767 that brought executives and guests from Paris to French Guiana for today’s VS05 Soyuz mission. This aircraft carried the company’s slogan for today’s mission: “The Journey Begins,” along with the logos of O3b Networks, Arianespace and Thales Alenia Space.

“Arianespace’s key success factors are the commitment of its institutional and industrial partners, the complementarity, reliability and availability of its launch vehicle family, as well as the dedication and competency of its teams,” Israël explained. “Indeed, I wanted tonight to pay a tribute to the women and men who make Arianespace what it is on a daily basis, wherever they are located, in Evry, Kourou, or in our commercial offices abroad.

The next Arianespace mission is scheduled for July 25, using a heavy-lift Ariane 5 to orbit the Alphasat and INSAT-3D satellites.

Related links:

O3b Networks website:

Blog for O3b Networks:

Thales Alenia Space website:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: Arianespace / Arianespace TV / Thales Alenia Space.

Best regards,

From the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch of the spacecraft Resource-P


June 25, 2013

Launch of Soyuz 2-1B with Resurs-P1 on board

June 25 at 21 hours 28 minutes Moscow time from the Baikonur launch facility Baikonur pl.31 was launched missile launch vehicle (LV), Soyuz-2.1b with the spacecraft (SC) Resource-P.

In accordance with cyclogram flight 21 hours 38 minutes Resource-P separated from the third stage of the Soyuz-2.1b and launched into the desired orbit.

Spacecraft Resource-P is designed and manufactured "TsSKB Progress" and is designed for remote sensing (RS) and the transmission of the data over the air to the ground complex planning target application, receiving, processing and dissemination of remote sensing data for a wide range of targets in the interests of its customers - the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery Agency, Meteorological, and the Federal Service for State Registration, Cadastre and Cartography of Russia.

Resource-P spacecraft

Remote sensing data obtained by space complex Resource-P, will be used to solve problems:

- Inventory and monitoring of natural resources (agricultural and forest land, pasture, fishing areas seafood Cadastre) and control business processes to ensure the rational activity in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, water and other sectors of the economy;

- Monitoring of the emergency zones in order to pre-empt the development of natural disasters, accidents, and to assess their implications for planning remediation.

- Provide data for compiling and updating the general geographic, topographic and thematic maps of various scales;

- Control of pollution and degradation of the environment, including environmental monitoring in areas of exploration and mining operations, the identification and study of environmental pollution,

- Control of water conservation and protected areas;

- Information support for search of oil, natural gas, ore and other mineral deposits;

- Control of development of territories, to obtain data for engineering evaluation areas for the benefit of economic activity;

- Information provision laying roads and major buildings, roads, railways, oil and gas pipelines, communication systems;

- The detection of illicit drug cultivation and control of their destruction;

- Assess the ice conditions.

Information obtained from satellite Resource-P, can also be used to promote international cooperation in the field of Russian control and protection of the environment and other pressing problems of remote sensing of the Earth.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos PAO) / / Translation: Aerospace.


Three Planets in Habitable Zone of Nearby Star

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

25 June 2013

Gliese 667C reexamined

Artist's impression of the Gliese 667C system

A team of astronomers has combined new observations of Gliese 667C with existing data from HARPS at ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope in Chile, to reveal a system with at least six planets. A record-breaking three of these planets are super-Earths lying in the zone around the star where liquid water could exist, making them possible candidates for the presence of life. This is the first system found with a fully packed habitable zone.

Gliese 667C is a very well-studied star. Just over one third of the mass of the Sun, it is part of a triple star system known as Gliese 667 (also referred to as GJ 667), 22 light-years away in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). This is quite close to us — within the Sun’s neighbourhood — and much closer than the star systems investigated using telescopes such as the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

The planetary system around Gliese 667C

Previous studies of Gliese 667C had found that the star hosts three planets (eso0939, eso1214) with one of them in the habitable zone. Now, a team of astronomers led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of the University of Göttingen, Germany and Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, has reexamined the system. They have added new HARPS observations, along with data from ESO's Very Large Telescope, the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Magellan Telescopes, to the already existing picture [1]. The team has found evidence for up to seven planets around the star [2].

These planets orbit the third fainter star of a triple star system. Viewed from one of these newly found planets the two other suns would look like a pair of very bright stars visible in the daytime and at night they would provide as much illumination as the full Moon. The new planets completely fill up the habitable zone of Gliese 667C, as there are no more stable orbits in which a planet could exist at the right distance to it.

The sky around the star Gliese 667C

“We knew that the star had three planets from previous studies, so we wanted to see whether there were any more,” says Tuomi. “By adding some new observations and revisiting existing data we were able to confirm these three and confidently reveal several more. Finding three low-mass planets in the star’s habitable zone is very exciting!”

Three of these planets are confirmed to be super-Earths — planets more massive than Earth, but less massive than planets like Uranus or Neptune — that are within their star’s habitable zone, a thin shell around a star in which water may be present in liquid form if conditions are right. This is the first time that three such planets have been spotted orbiting in this zone in the same system [3].

Artist's impression of the orbits of the planets in the Gliese 667C system

“The number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy is much greater if we can expect to find several of them around each low-mass star — instead of looking at ten stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them,” adds co-author Rory Barnes (University of Washington, USA).

Compact systems around Sun-like stars have been found to be abundant in the Milky Way. Around such stars, planets orbiting close to the parent star are very hot and are unlikely to be habitable. But this is not true for cooler and dimmer stars such as Gliese 667C. In this case the habitable zone lies entirely within an orbit the size of Mercury's, much closer in than for our Sun. The Gliese 667C system is the first example of a system where such a low-mass star is seen to host several potentially rocky planets in the habitable zone.

Artist's impression of the Gliese 667C system

The ESO scientist responsible for HARPS, Gaspare Lo Curto, remarks: “This exciting result was largely made possible by the power of HARPS and its associated software and it also underlines the value of the ESO archive. It is very good to also see several independent research groups exploiting this unique instrument and achieving the ultimate precision.”

And Anglada-Escudé concludes: “These new results highlight how valuable it can be to re-analyse data in this way and combine results from different teams on different telescopes.”

Artist's impression of the Gliese 667C system


[1] The team used data from the UVES spectrograph on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile (to determine the properties of the star accurately), the Carnegie Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS) at the 6.5-metre Magellan II Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, the HIRES spectrograph mounted on the Keck 10-metre telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii as well as extensive previous data from HARPS (the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) at ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope in Chile (gathered through the M dwarf programme led by X. Bonfils and M. Mayor 2003–2010 described here).

[2] The team looked at radial velocity data of Gliese 667C, a method often used to hunt for exoplanets. They performed a robust Bayesian statistical analysis to spot the signals of the planets. The first five signals are very confident, while the sixth is tentative, and seventh more tentative still. This system consists of three habitable-zone super-Earths, two hot planets further in, and two cooler planets further out. The planets in the habitable zone and those closer to the star are expected to always have the same side facing the star, so that their day and year will be the same lengths, with one side in perpetual sunshine and the other always night.

[3] In the Solar System Venus orbits close to the inner edge of the habitable zone and Mars close to the outer edge. The precise extent of the habitable zone depends on many factors.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “A dynamically-packed planetary system around GJ 667C with three super-Earths in its habitable zone”, to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team is composed of G. Anglada-Escudé (University of Göttingen, Germany), M. Tuomi (University of Hertfordshire, UK), E. Gerlach (Technical University of Dresden, Germany), R. Barnes (University of Washington, USA), R. Heller (Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics, Potsdam, Germany), J. S. Jenkins (Universidad de Chile, Chile), S. Wende (University of Göttingen, Germany), S. S. Vogt (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA), R. P. Butler (Carnegie Institution of Washington, USA), A. Reiners (University of Göttingen, Germany), and H. R. A. Jones (University of Hertfordshire, UK).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 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 the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper:

Description of HARPS:

Photos of the La Silla Observatory:

eso1214 — press release describing earlier observations of Gliese 667C by the HARPS team:

eso0939 — press release describing original observations of this star using HARPS:

Keck Observatory:

Las Campanas — Magellan telescopes:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO / M. Kornmesser / Videos: ESO  /M. Kornmesser/Rory Barnes.


lundi 24 juin 2013

Spacewalkers Prepare Exterior of Station for New Russian Lab

EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch / ISS - International Space Station patch.

June 24, 2013

 Expedition 35 Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin preparing spacewalk

Expedition 35 Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin completed a 6-hour, 34-minute spacewalk  Monday. Opened the hatch to the International Space Station’s Pirs docking compartment at 4:06 p.m. EDT. Image above, credit: NASA TV.

Yurchikhin and Misurkin are conducting the excursion to prepare for the addition of a new Russian module later this year.

During the spacewalk, they replaced an aging fluid flow control panel on the station's Zarya module as preventative maintenance on the cooling system for the Russian segment of the station. They also installed clamps for future power cables as an early step toward swapping the Pirs airlock with a new multipurpose laboratory module. The Russian Federal Space Agency plans to launch a combination research facility, airlock and docking port late this year on a Proton rocket.

Image above: Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin work on the exterior of the International Space Station during a spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV.

Yurchikhin and Misurkin also retrieved two science experiments and installed one new one.

The spacewalk was the 169th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the sixth for Yurchikhin and the first for Misurkin.

Yurchikhin wore the Orlan-MK spacesuit with red stripes and Misurkin wore a suit with blue stripes. Both spacewalkers were equipped with NASA helmet cameras to provide close-up views of their work.

Image above: Russian Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin perform a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV.

This was the second of up to six Russian spacewalks planned for this year. Two U.S. spacewalks by NASA's Chris Cassidy and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency are scheduled in July.

Meanwhile inside the orbiting laboratory, the other four Expedition 36 crew members, Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Flight Engineers Chris Cassidy, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano, provided spacewalk support and continued their work on a variety of science and maintenance activities.

During the spacewalk, Cassidy and Vinogradov were isolated in their Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft that is attached to the Poisk module on the Russian segment due to the closure of hatches to the other passageways on the Russian side of the station. Parmitano and Nyberg were free to move about the U.S. segment of the station since their Soyuz vehicle (TMA-09M) is docked to the Rassvet module on the Earth-facing side of the Zarya module.

Russian spacewalk_June 24, 2013

Parmitano and Nyberg participated in vision tests as part of the crew Health Maintenance System. The data collected was then downlinked for analysis by medical ground support teams to study the effect of microgravity on sight.

Nyberg also worked with the Advanced Colloids Experiment which observes materials containing small colloidal particles and how their physical properties behave in space.

Read more about the Advanced Colloids Experiment:

Read more about Expedition 36:

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

Best regards,