samedi 17 mai 2014

ISS crew continues to work on the space experiment "Matryoshka-R"

ROSCOSMOS -  Matryoshka-R Mission patch / JAXA - KIBO Area PADLES patch.

May 17, 2014

Cosmonauts of the Russian segment of the International Space Station continues to work on space experiment "Matryoshka-R". One of the main objectives of the experiment is to develop new methods and tools for radiation safety service manned spaceflight SSC RF-IBMP RAS designed for maximum precision in estimating the radiation load on the body when the astronaut space flight.

Study on the distribution of radiation dose in the body of the astronaut performed in 2011 in the framework of the joint Russian-Japanese experiment "Matryoshka-PADLES". The experiment is conducted in the Japanese module Kibo  in various phases of the cycle of solar activity using passive integrating detectors equipped with spherical tissue-equivalent phantom Russian "Matryoshka -R", mimicking the body of the astronaut, and a set of 17 Japanese passive detectors "PADLES", placed at various points in the module.

PADLES passive detectors

Phantom Ball is an innovative development of Russia, which has no analogues in the world. Inside and on the surface of the phantom taken more than 500 passive detectors. Radiation doses to critical organs crew member is defined by a ball phantom, so the presence of a large number of detectors will maximize accurately formulate the requirements for radiation control volume on the surface of the body of the astronaut. Phantom mass is 32 kg and a diameter of 35 cm.

Phantom Ball

Research on board the spacecraft with tissue-equivalent phantoms are of great interest. Currently under development modified sets of active and passive detectors for radiation safety of future missions to the ISS.

Results of the experiment is particularly important in view of the considerable length of future missions, involving the same astronaut in several expeditions and projects planned manned mission to the Moon and Mars.

Cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev working on "Matryoshka-R" experiment

Originally ball phantom was installed in the ISS Service Module, then the modules SB-1, MIM-2, MIM-1 of the Russian segment of the ISS, and now, at the request of the Japanese experts - Module " Kibo " to conduct a joint experiment "Matryoshka-PADLES". The total duration of exposure detectors currently stands at more than 2,000 for 9 days in the experimental sessions.

Total scheduled for 10 sessions of the experiment "PADLES" detectors, successfully passed 5, is currently being completed second. Also scheduled 3 sessions with a ball phantom, one of which has already been completed. The second session is completed in September this year, and a third is planned for the period up to 2016.

Cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky manipulates a Phantom Ball

At the moment we can say that a spherical tissue-equivalent anthropomorphic phantoms and proven applicability for measurements in space flight doses in critical organs, as well as the effective dose of ionizing cosmic radiation. Such phantoms witnesses may be recommended for continuous monitoring of dose distribution in the body of astronauts for future space missions. The procedure for measuring doses of cosmic radiation, implemented in Japan "PADLES" detectors, successfully mastered and will be implemented in practice manned flights as staff resources in the implementation of individual monitoring Russian cosmonauts to the ISS, as well as looking for crews of transport ships of a new generation.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images, Text, Credits: Roscosmos press service / Translation: Aerospace.

Best regards,

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches GPS IIF-6 satellite

ULA - Delta IV & GPS IIF-6 launch poster.

May 17, 2014

Delta IV rocket Launches GPS IIF-6 satellite

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket successfully launched the sixth Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-6 satellite for the U.S. Air Force at 8:03 p.m. EDT (May 16, 2014) from Space Launch Complex-37. This is ULA’s fifth launch in 2014, and the 82nd successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

Delta IV GPS IIF-6 Launch Highlights

“ULA is honored to work with this world-class U.S. government and contractor mission team, and we are proud to contribute to the GPS capabilities that were delivered to orbit today,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “Congratulations to the entire team on tonight’s successful launch of the GPS IIF-6 satellite and the continued one-launch-at-a-time focus.”

This mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium-plus configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) using a single ULA common booster core powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68 main engine, along with two ATK GEM-60 solid rocket motors. The upper stage was powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine with the satellite encapsulated in a four-meter-diameter composite payload fairing.

Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-6 satellite

GPS IIF-6 is the sixth in a series of next generation GPS satellites and will join a worldwide timing and navigation System utilizing 24 satellites in six different planes, with a minimum of four satellites per plane positioned in orbit approximately 11,000 miles above the Earth's surface. The GPS IIF series provides improved accuracy and enhanced performance for GPS users.

ULA's next launch is the Atlas V NROL-33 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office scheduled for May 22 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

For more information about United Launch Alliance (ULA), visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ULA / Günter Space Page.


vendredi 16 mai 2014

SpaceX-3 Mission To Return Dragon’s Share of Space Station Science

SpaceX - Falcon 9 & Dragon CRS-3 Mission patch.

May 16, 2014

April launches bring May research returns. While the splashdown of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on May 18 will conclude the company’s third contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station, it also serves as a high point for the scientists who have investigations returning to Earth who are eager to complete their analyses.

When the Dragon spacecraft splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, it will carry with it more than 1,600 pounds of scientific supplies. These supplies include samples from biology, biotechnology and physical science investigations, as well as human research.

"While some of this data can be obtained by on orbit analysis, many analysis techniques have not been miniaturized or modified to allow them to be performed on orbit, which means sample return is the only way to obtain this data," said Marybeth Edeen, space station research integration office deputy manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Image above: SpaceX Dragon's third operational mission will end May 18 after a month-long stay at the International Space Station. The unmanned spacecraft will return more than 1,600 pounds of science materials from the orbital outpost. Image Credit: NASA.

One of many studies returning examines drug-resistant bacteria to determine gene expression patterns and changes in microgravity. The Antibiotic Effectiveness in Space (AES-1) investigation uses E. coli to better understand the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight. The study is set on the premise derived from previous investigations that suggest bacteria are able to grow in space even in an antibiotic concentration that would normally deter growth.

“We intend to further corroborate these early findings and conduct more in depth genetic assays of the returned samples to get a better understanding of what might be responsible for this outcome,” said AES-1 principal investigator David Klaus, Ph.D., of BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

As bacteria grow more resistant to antibiotics, there are less effective pharmaceutical treatment options for people with bacterial infections. The findings from AES-1 may help improve antibiotic development on Earth. Advancing the efficacy of antibiotics and reducing their resistance to bacteria is a priority for health care professionals.

Image above: Astronaut Rick Mastracchio works on the Antibiotic Effectiveness in Space-1 (AES-1) investigation during Expedition 38 aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Another study returning on Dragon is MicroRNA Expression Profiles in Cultured Human Fibroblasts in Space (Micro-7). Micro-7 is the first space investigation to study the effect of microgravity on DNA damage and repair in human fibroblasts, the non-dividing cells that make up most of the human body. Understanding how these cells function in microgravity advances knowledge of changes to organs, tissues and the entire body during spaceflight. Researchers can use data from Micro-7 in future Earth-based studies to examine whether the cell changes observed during spaceflight are seen in disease states of tissues and organs, as well. Ultimately, this may help scientists better understand disease and could lead to development of new drug therapies.

Hardware launched on the Dragon for investigations using the Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) space station facility enabled two experiments. First, the BRIC-18-1 experiment from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, was an attempt by researchers to grow antibiotic-resistant versions of two common bacteria: Bacillus subtilis, found in soil, and Staphylococcus epidermidis, found on the skin. These space-flown bacteria will be compared to ground control samples for evidence of possible mutations induced by spaceflight.

"From this, they may be able to tell whether certain antibiotics will be less effective over time and determine more effective ways to treat infection," said David Flowers, space station ground processing and research project office payload manager at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Image above: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide conducts an oxygen uptake measurement for the ENERGY study during Expedition 33 aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

The second experiment, BRIC-18-2, focuses on the growth and development of seedlings exposed to the stresses of the space environment, such as changes in gravity, radiation, vibration and limited exchange of gases. Seedlings preserved with a chemical fixative are returning to Earth on the Dragon for evaluation. Researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan will observe the seedling results for implications on the general knowledge of stress and to provide solutions for stress management in multicellular organisms, including humans, while living in space. This may also lead to development of plants better suited for space and improvements in sustainable agriculture.

When they return, the Advanced Plant Experiments-02-2 (APEX-02-2) investigation samples will undergo radiation assessment in the lab. The APEX-02-2 study employed a common brewer’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to observe cell adaptation to the unique aspects of the space environment. By identifying specific mechanisms regulated within the regions of genes that respond to growth in microgravity, scientists hope to identify factors associated with how genetic information is transferred.

Yeast is a model organism, often used to interpret the molecular responses of more complicated plant and animal cells. Understanding how environmental changes affect the yeast’s genetic expression could lead to new discovery in more complex cells, including human cells.

Also awaiting space-flown samples from Dragon for analysis of changes in gene expression and protein synthesis, the T-Cell Activation in Aging investigation team seeks to identify a defect in T-cell activation during microgravity exposureOur immune systems protect us from disease, and T-cells are the first cells in the immune system to be mobilized when illness is introduced to the body. T-cells are activated to fight foreign antigens and help the body return to a healthy status. This research can help in understanding and treating a range of auto-immune diseases such as arthritis and diabetes. Identifying the defect in T-cell activation in microgravity may someday help to inhibit the decline of the immune system as a normal part of the aging process.

A myriad of other study samples also are returning to Earth on Dragon, including those of the Cardiovascular Health Consequences of Long-Duration Space Flight (Vascular) and the Astronaut's Energy Requirements for Long-Term Space Flight (Energy) investigations. Vascular assess the impact of long-duration spaceflight on the blood vessels of astronauts, while Energy measures changes in energy balance in crew members following long-term missions. Knowledge gleaned from these studies helps to ensure the health of crew members during long-duration spaceflight and may contribute to treatments for similar health problems on Earth.

With these Dragon-sized research returns to Earth, more scientific discovery may be possible. With discovery comes inspiration for follow-up investigations as well as brand new ideas and approaches to address. With the Dragon’s help, and the help of other resupply vehicles which deliver scientific investigations to the orbital laboratory, these ideas can take flight aboard the space station.

Related links:

International Space Station:

Dragon spacecraft:

The Antibiotic Effectiveness in Space (AES-1) investigation:

BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado:

MicroRNA Expression Profiles in Cultured Human Fibroblasts in Space (Micro-7):

Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC):

Advanced Plant Experiments-02-2 (APEX-02-2):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Laura Niles.

Best regards,

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Wrapping Up Waypoint Work

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

May 16, 2014

Portions of powdered rock collected by drilling into a sandstone target last week have been delivered to laboratory instruments inside NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, and the rover will soon drive on toward its long-term destination on a mountain slope.

Other instruments on the rover have inspected the rock's interior exposed in the hole and in drill cuttings heaped around the hole. The target rock, "Windjana," is a sandstone slab within a science waypoint area called "The Kimberley."

Image above: The Mars Hand Lens Imager on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover provided this nighttime view of a hole produced by the rover's drill and, inside the hole, a line of scars produced by the rover's rock-zapping laser. The camera used its own white-light LEDs to illuminate the scene on May 13, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The camera and spectrometer at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm examined the texture and composition of the cuttings.  The instrument that fires a laser from atop the rover's mast zapped a series of points inside the hole with sharpshooter accuracy.

The rover team has decided not to drill any other rock target at this waypoint. In coming days, Curiosity will resume driving toward Mount Sharp, the layered mountain at the middle of Mars' Gale Crater. The rover is carrying with it some of the powdered sample material from Windjana that can be delivered for additional internal laboratory analysis during pauses in the drive.

Image above: This May 12, 2014, view from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) in NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows the rock target "Windjana" and its immediate surroundings after inspection of the site by the rover by drilling and other activities. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The mission's two previous rock-drilling sites, at mudstone targets, yielded evidence last year of an ancient lakebed environment with key chemical elements and a chemical energy source that long ago provided conditions favorable for microbial life.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For more information about Curiosity, visit and You can follow the mission on Facebook at and on Twitter at

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Guy Webster.


Hubble Sees Starbursts in the Wake of a Fleeting Romance

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

May 16, 2014

This image from NASA/ESA's Hubble Space Telescope shows galaxy NGC 4485 in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). The galaxy is irregular in shape, but it hasn’t always been so. Part of NGC 4485 has been dragged towards a second galaxy, named NGC 4490 — which lies out of frame to the bottom right of this image.

Between them, these two galaxies make up a galaxy pair called Arp 269. Their interactions have warped them both, turning them from spiral galaxies into irregular ones. NGC 4485 is the smaller galaxy in this pair, which provides a fantastic real-world example for astronomers to compare to their computer models of galactic collisions. The most intense interaction between these two galaxies is all but over; they have made their closest approach and are now separating. The trail of bright stars and knotty orange clumps that we see here extending out from NGC 4485 is all that connects them — a trail that spans some 24 000 light-years.

Hubble Space Telescope

Many of the stars in this connecting trail could never have existed without the galaxies’ fleeting romance. When galaxies interact hydrogen gas is shared between them, triggering intense bursts of star formation. The orange knots of light in this image are examples of such regions, clouded with gas and dust.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: and

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Kathy van Pelt.


Space Station Science

ESA - Blue dot mission patch.

16 May 2014

Installing dark matter detector AMS-02 outside Space Station

Four years of training, a hair-raising launch strapped to 274 tonnes of rocket propellants, docking two spacecraft travelling at 28 800 km/h and living in one of the most inhospitable environments known. Space agencies would not consider these awe-inspiring undertakings without the unique opportunity for conducting science on the microgravity laboratory that is the International Space Station.

For centuries, scientists have been tinkering with variables in laboratories to understand natural phenomenon. They can raise temperatures, increase pressure, adjust lighting, add water, remove oxygen and even create a vacuum. But until spaceflight scientists could not ‘remove’ gravity from their experiments for more than a few seconds at a time.

The Space Station offers scientists a fully equipped laboratory to run experiments which could never be done on Earth. From being a test subject to using intricate metal furnaces, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has a full roster of science planned for his Blue Dot mission.

Storing samples in Space Station

"We go somewhere, get data, do science and bring back home results that help us here on Earth."

During his 40-hour working week as much time as possible is spent on science. He will run about 39 European experiments but will take part in even more from partner space agencies. Many are continuations from previous Expeditions – the Station’s longevity is part of what makes it so special for scientists.

Installing Europe's space laboratory Columbus

Other platforms allow scientists to experiment with weightlessness but only the Space Station can offer permanent access to microgravity. This allows experiments to be run over many months or repeated with many test subjects.

The Station’s orbit is lower than most satellites but still above our atmosphere. Its constant presence above our planet offers a platform to test equipment and attach experiments. From launching minisatellites to testing signals received from fishing trawlers as well as recreating the martian atmosphere or observing our Sun, the versatile outpost offers scientists from all disciplines the world over a unique place to conduct science for benefit of all.

"On the International Space Station we do science that we cannot do anywhere else on Earth."

Related links:

All about Blue Dot:

Blue Dot blog:

Connect with Alexander Gerst:

Where is the International Space Station?:

Space Station live:

Alexander Gerst's personal homepage:

Space Station crew timeline:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / NASA.


Venus Express gets ready to take the plunge

ESA - Venus Express Mission patch.

16 May 2014

After eight years in orbit, ESA’s Venus Express has completed routine science observations and is preparing for a daring plunge into the planet’s hostile atmosphere.

Venus Express was launched on a Soyuz–Fregat from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 9 November 2005, and arrived at Venus on 11 April 2006.

It has been orbiting Venus in an elliptical 24-hour loop that takes it from a distant 66 000 km over the south pole – affording incredible global views – to an altitude of around 250 km above the surface at the north pole, close to the top of the planet’s atmosphere.

Visualisation of the Venus Express aerobraking manoeuvre

With a suite of seven instruments, the spacecraft has provided a comprehensive study of the ionosphere, atmosphere and surface of Venus.

“Venus Express has taught us just how variable the planet is on all timescales and, furthermore, has given us clues as to how it might have changed since its formation 4.6 billion years ago,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s project scientist.

“This information is helping us decipher how Earth and Venus came to lead such dramatically different lives, but we’ve also noticed that there are some fundamental similarities.”

Separated at birth?

Venus has a surface temperature of over 450°C, far hotter than a normal kitchen oven, and an extremely dense, choking mixture of noxious gases for an atmosphere. But from the mission’s infrared survey of the chemical composition of the rocky surface, we have learned that Venus might have once had a plate tectonics system like Earth, and even an ocean of water.

Just like Earth, Venus is losing parts of its upper atmosphere to space and Venus Express measured twice as many hydrogen atoms escaping out of the atmosphere than oxygen. Because water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, the observed escape indicates that water is being broken up in the atmosphere.

South polar dipole mosaic

Today, the total amount of water on Earth is 100 000 times that on Venus. But because the two planets are about the same size and formed at the same time, both may have had similar amounts of the precious liquid in their early years.

Meanwhile, the spacecraft’s cameras have tracked thousands of features in the cloud tops some 70 km above the planet’s surface, including an enormous swirling vortex at the planet’s south pole that shares similarities with hurricanes on Earth. The spacecraft also recorded bursts of lightning – identified by their electromagnetic signature – generated in clouds of sulphuric acid.

Studies of the planet’s ‘super-rotating’ atmosphere – it whips around the planet in just four Earth-days, much faster than the 243 days the planet takes to complete one rotation about its axis – also turned up some intriguing surprises. In one study, average wind speeds were found to have increased from roughly 300 km/h to 400 km/h over a period of six Earth years.

Conversely, a separate study found that the rotation of the planet had slowed by 6.5 minutes since NASA’s Magellan, which completed its 5-year mission at Venus 20 years ago, measured it.

However, it remains unknown if there is a relationship between the increasing wind speeds and the slowing rotation.

Is Venus volcanically active?

Magellan’s radar survey of the planet revealed that its surface was heavily altered in the past by a large number of volcanoes. But Venus Express has provided tantalising hints that the planet may well be still geologically active today. One study found numerous lava flows that must have been created no more than 2.5 million years ago, just yesterday on geological timescales, and perhaps much more recently.

Indeed, measurements of sulphur dioxide in the upper atmosphere have shown large variations over the course of the mission. Although peculiarities in the atmospheric circulation may produce a similar result, it is the most convincing argument to date of present-day active volcanism.

Final swansong

Now, after eight years in orbit, the fuel supplies necessary to maintain the elliptical orbit are running low and will soon be exhausted. Thus, routine science operations concluded this week, and the spacecraft is being prepared for one final mission: to make a controlled plunge deeper into the atmosphere than ever before attempted.

“We have performed previous short ‘aerodrag’ campaigns where we’ve skimmed the thin upper layers of the atmosphere at about 165 km, but we want to go deeper, perhaps as deep as 130 km, maybe even lower,” says Patrick Martin, Venus Express mission manager.

“It is only by carrying out daring operations like these that we can gain new insights, not only about usually inaccessible regions of the planet’s atmosphere, but also how the spacecraft and its components respond to such a hostile environment.”

This ‘experimental aerobraking’ phase is planned for 18 June – 11 July, during which time some limited science measurements with the spacecraft’s magnetic field, solar wind and atom analysing instruments will be possible. Also, temperature and pressure sensors will record the conditions that the spacecraft is experiencing.

Venus Express aerobraking

“The campaign also provides the opportunity to develop and practise the critical operations techniques required for aerobraking, an experience that will be precious for the preparation of future planetary missions that may require it operationally,” says Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations.

Aerobraking can be used as a way of getting into orbit around planets without having to carry quite so much fuel, thus reducing the launch mass.

It is possible that the remaining fuel in Venus Express will be exhausted during this phase or that the spacecraft does not survive these risky operations. But if the spacecraft is still healthy afterwards, its orbit will be raised again and limited operations will continue for several more months, fuel permitting.

However, by the end of the year, it is likely that Venus Express will have made its final descent into the atmosphere of the planet, bringing a fantastic scientific endeavour to an end.

“Venus Express has penetrated deeper into the mysteries of this veiled planet than anyone ever dreamed, and will no doubt continue to surprise us down to the last minute,” adds Håkan.

More information:

Prior to and during the aerobraking campaign, short updates will be published via @esaoperations and/or the Rocket Science blog whenever they are available. A final report will be published on the ESA Portal soon after the aerobraking campaign.

Rocket Science blog:

In depth:

Eight mission highlights for eight years in orbit – read more about these key mission discoveries:

Shape-shifting polar vortices:

Recent volcanism?:

Spinning Venus is slowing down:

Super-rotation is speeding up:

Snow on Venus?:

Ozone layer:

Water loss:

A magnetic surprise:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/C. Carreau/AOES/VIRTIS-VenusX/INAF-IASF/Obs. de Paris-LESIA (A.Cardesin Moinelo, IASF-INAF).

Best regards,

jeudi 15 mai 2014

Launch failure for Proton-M with Express AM4R, satellite are lost


May 15, 2014

Proton-M with Express AM4R launch

A Russian government Proton rocket with a Breeze M upper stage, lofting the Express AM4R satellite in orbit to provide television broadcasting, broadband Internet, multimedia services and mobile communications for the Russian Satellite Communications Co.

 Launch of Proton-M with Express AM4R

Launch of the Proton-M rocket took place from Launch Pad 39 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 21:42 GMT. However, an unspecified failure was noted during third stage flight. The rocket and satellite are lost.

Proton-M description

The spacecraft sported 30 C-band, 28 Ku-band, 2 Ka-band and 3 L-band transponders and was to provide digital television and radio broadcasting services across Russia, mobile presidential and government communications, multimedia services (telephony, video conferencing, data transmission, Internet access) as well as solutions based on VSAT network technologies.

Breeze M upper stage

The Astrium-built Ekspress-AM4R – which now appears to be lost – had a mass at launch of 5,741 kg. It is based on the Eurostar E3000 platform and was expected to enjoy a service life of 15 years.

Artist's view of Express AM4R satellite (lost)

A similar incident took place at the launch satellites Express-MD2 and Telkom-3 by the same launcher on August 7, 2012:

For more information about Proton-M rocket, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS TV / Tsenki / Astrium / Khrunichev / Aerospace.


Botanical Studies, Dragon Departure Preps for Station Crew

ISS - International Space Station patch / ISS - Expedition 40 Mission patch.

May 15, 2014

The three-person Expedition 40 crew spent its first full workday Thursday aboard the International Space Station working with a trio of botanical experiments and preparing for Sunday’s departure of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.

Following the crew’s daily planning conference with the flight control teams around the world, Commander Steve Swanson set up a test sample for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Resist Tubule experiment, which takes a look at the mechanisms for gravity resistance in plants.  Results from this study will help researchers learn more about the evolution of plants and enable efficient plant production both on Earth and in space. During a long-duration mission beyond low-Earth orbit, plants can provide future astronauts with regenerative sources of food and supplemental methods of converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Image above: This snapshot of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft docked to the International Space Station was photographed by one of two spacewalking astronauts on April 22, 2014. Image Credit: NASA.

Read more about Resist Tubule:

Afterward, Swanson teamed up with Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev to transfer research samples from some of the freezers aboard the station into the GLACIER freezer that will be returning to Earth aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.

On Sunday, Dragon is set to be detached from the Earth-facing side of the station's Harmony module and unberthed through commands sent by robotic ground controllers at mission control in Houston operating the Canadarm 2 robotic arm. Dragon then will be maneuvered into place for its release, which is scheduled for 9:26 a.m. EDT. Dragon, which delivered about 2.5 tons of science and supplies to the station for the SpaceX-3 commercial resupply services mission when it arrived at the complex April 20, will be carrying 3,500 pounds of NASA science samples and cargo when it splashes down for recovery off the coast of California at 3:02 p.m. (12:02 p.m. PDT).

Learn more about SpaceX Dragon:

Swanson later thinned out “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce seedlings growing in the Veggie plant facility to give the remaining plants more room to grow.  Veggie is a low-cost plant growth chamber that uses a flat-panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation. For the Veg-01 experiment, researchers are testing and validating the Veggie hardware, and the plants will be harvested and returned to Earth to determine food safety.

Read more about Veg-01:

The commander then transferred the Micro-7 BioCell habitat to the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus.  Micro-7 takes a look at how microgravity affects the genetic expression and physical shape of non-dividing cells, which are the majority of cells that make up the human body.

Read more about Micro-7:

After checking out a crew command control panel for Sunday’s Dragon activities, Swanson fielded questions from Denver television station KMGH-TV for an in-flight interview in the station’s Destiny laboratory. Swanson, who hails from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, discussed life aboard the station and his attempts to spot his hometown from space.

Image above: Commander Steve Swanson fields questions from Denver television station KMGH-TV for an in-flight interview in the station’s Destiny laboratory.  Image Credit: NASA.

Swanson rounded out his day by removing the Biotube-MICRO payload from one of the station’s EXPRESS racks for return aboard Dragon. This experiment investigates the potential for magnetic fields to orient plant roots as they grow in microgravity. Plants are not directly sensitive to magnetic fields, but starch grains, called amyloplasts, in plant cells respond to external magnetic fields. Results from Biotube-MICRO may lead to using high-strength magnetic fields in space as a substitute for gravitational cues for growing plants during long-duration missions.

Read more about Biotube-MICRO:

On the Russian side of the complex, Artemyev conducted the Uragan Earth-observation experiment, which seeks to document and predict the development of natural and man-made disasters on Earth. He also participated in the Interactions experiment, which studies the impacts of personal, cultural and national differences among crew members.

Image above: With the statue of Vladimir Lenin in the background at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Expedition 40 Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman (right), Maxim Suraev (center) and Alexander Gerst pose for pictures prior to departing for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineer Alexander Skvortsov focused much of his attention on routing and connecting cables for the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) control panel and proximity communication equipment inside the Zvezda service module.   The fifth and final ATV cargo ship, dubbed “Georges Lemaître,” is targeted to launch to the station this summer.

Meanwhile, the three flight engineers who will return the station to its full six-person crew complement are now in the homestretch leading up to their May 28 launch to the station. Reid Wiseman of NASA, Max Suraev of Roscosmos and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency wrapped up pre-flight activities Thursday in Star City, Russia, and flew to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where their Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft is being prepared for launch.

View video of crew departure from Star City, Russia:

Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev have been operating the station as a three-person crew since the departure of their Expedition 39 crewmates – Commander Koichi Wakata and Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin – on Tuesday.

Read more about the Expedition 39 crew landing:

For more information about the International Space Station (ISS), visit:

Images, Text, Credit: NASA / NASA TV.


Rosetta’s target comet is becoming active

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

15 May 2014

The target of ESA’s Rosetta mission has started to reveal its true personality as a comet, its dusty veil clearly developing over the last six weeks.

The sequence of images presented here of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko were taken between 27 March and 4 May, as the gap between craft and comet closed from around 5 million km to 2 million km.

Comet develops a coma

By the end of the sequence, the comet’s dusty veil – the ‘coma’ – extends some 1300 km into space. By comparison, the nucleus is roughly only 4 km across, and cannot yet be ‘resolved’.

The coma has developed as a result of the comet moving progressively closer to the Sun along its 6.5 year orbit. Even though it is still more than 600 million km from the Sun – more than four times the distance between Earth and Sun – its surface has already started to warm, causing its surface ices to sublimate and gas to escape from its rock–ice nucleus.

As the gas escapes, it also carries a cloud of tiny dust particles out into space, which slowly expands to create the coma.

Comet on 30 April

As the comet continues to move closer to the Sun, the warming continues and activity rises, and pressure from the solar wind will eventually cause some of the material to stream out into a long tail.

Rosetta and the comet will be closest to the Sun in August 2015, between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

The onset of activity now offers scientists the opportunity to study dust production and structures within the coma before getting much closer.

“It’s beginning to look like a real comet,” says Holger Sierks, principal investigator for OSIRIS, the Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System, at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany.

“It’s hard to believe that only a few months from now, Rosetta will be deep inside this cloud of dust and en route to the origin of the comet’s activity.”

Close-up of comet on 30 April

In addition, tracking the periodic changes in brightness reveals the nucleus is rotating every 12.4 hours – about 20 minutes shorter than previously thought.

“These early observations are helping us to develop models of the comet that will be essential to help us navigate around it once we get closer,” says Sylvain Lodiot, ESA Rosetta spacecraft operations manager.

OSIRIS and the spacecraft’s dedicated navigation cameras have been regularly acquiring images to help determine Rosetta’s exact trajectory relative to the comet. Using this information, the spacecraft has already started a series of manoeuvres that will slowly bring it in line with the comet before making its rendezvous in the first week of August.

Detailed scientific observations will then help to find the best location on the comet for the Philae lander’s descent to the surface in November. 

Rosetta spacecraft

The images shown here were taken during a six-week period that saw the orbiter’s 11 science experiments and the lander and its 10 instruments switched back on and checked out after more than 2.5 years of hibernation.

Earlier this week, a formal review brought these commissioning activities to a close, giving the official ‘go’ for routine science operations.

“We have a challenging three months ahead of us as we navigate closer to the comet, but after a 10-year journey it’s great to be able to say that our spacecraft is ready to conduct unique science at comet 67P/C-G,” says Fred Jansen, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager.

More about Rosetta

Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI. Rosetta will be the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander.

Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the Sun and its planets formed. By studying the gas, dust and structure of the nucleus and organic materials associated with the comet, via both remote and in-situ observations, the Rosetta mission should become the key to unlocking the history and evolution of our Solar System, as well as answering questions regarding the origin of Earth’s water and perhaps even life.

More about OSIRIS

The scientific imaging system was built by a consortium led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Germany) in collaboration with CISAS, University of Padova (Italy), the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (France), the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC (Spain), ESA’s Scientific Support Office, the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (Spain), the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain), the Department of Physics and Astronomy of Uppsala University (Sweden), and the Institute of Computer and Network Engineering of the TU Braunschweig (Germany). OSIRIS was financially supported by the national funding agencies of Germany (DLR), France (CNES), Italy (ASI), Spain (MEC) and Sweden (SNSB), and the ESA Technical Directorate.

Related links:

Rosetta overview:

Rosetta at Astrium:

Rosetta at DLR:

Ground-based comet observation campaign:

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


The shrinking of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

15 May 2014

Hubble snaps stormy region at its smallest size ever

Jupiter and its shrunken Great Red Spot

Jupiter's trademark Great Red Spot — a swirling storm feature larger than Earth — is shrinking. This downsizing, which is changing the shape of the spot from an oval into a circle, has been known about since the 1930s, but now these striking new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope images capture the spot at a smaller size than ever before.

Jupiter with comparison images of the Great Red Spot from 1995, 2009 and 2014

Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a churning anticyclonic storm [1]. It shows up in images of the giant planet as a conspicuous deep red eye embedded in swirling layers of pale yellow, orange and white. Winds inside this Jovian storm rage at immense speeds, reaching several hundreds of kilometres per hour.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot in 2014

Historic observations as far back as the late 1800s [2] gauged this turbulent spot to span about 41 000 kilometres at its widest point — wide enough to fit three Earths comfortably side by side. In 1979 and 1980 the NASA Voyager fly-bys measured the spot at a shrunken 23 335 kilometres across. Now, Hubble has spied this feature to be smaller than ever before.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot in 2009

"Recent Hubble Space Telescope observations confirm that the spot is now just under 16 500 kilometres across, the smallest diameter we've ever measured," said Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, USA.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot in 1995

Amateur observations starting in 2012 revealed a noticeable increase in the spot's shrinkage rate. The spot's "waistline" is getting smaller by just under 1000 kilometres per year. The cause of this shrinkage is not yet known.

Pan across Jupiter

"In our new observations it is apparent that very small eddies are feeding into the storm," said Simon. "We hypothesised that these may be responsible for the accelerated change by altering the internal dynamics of the Great Red Spot."

Jupiter’s shrinking spot

Simon's team plan to study the motions of these eddies, and also the internal dynamics of the spot, to determine how the stormy vortex is fed with or sapped of momentum.

This full-disc image of Jupiter was taken on 21 April 2014 with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).


[1] The Great Red Spot is a high-pressure anticyclone. It rotates in an anti-clockwise direction in Jupiter's southern hemisphere.

[2] The Great Red Spot itself may have been mentioned in writings before the late 1800s. There are references to Jupiter's "permanent spot" dating back as far as the late 1600s, although some astronomers disagree that the permanent spot mentioned is the Great Red Spot.
Notes for editors

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


NASA press release:

Images of Hubble:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA / ESA and A. Simon (GSFC) / Acknowledgement: C. Go / H. Hammel (SSI and AURA) and R. Beebe (NMSU).

Best regards,

Cascading dunes in a martian crater

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

15 May 2014

Rabe crater perspective view

A new mosaic from ESA’s Mars Express shows a swirling field of dark dunes cascading into sunken pits within a large impact crater.

The mosaic was created from two images taken on 7 December 2005 and 9 January 2014, and focuses on the 108 km-wide Rabe crater. The region is 320 km to the west of the large Hellas impact basin, about halfway between the planet’s equator and south pole. 

Wind-sculpted dunes and impact craters are common features on Mars but here we can see them combined, creating a stunning vista.

Rabe Crater in context

Rabe crater has an interesting topography: its flat floor has a number of smaller craters and large sunken pits within it. The bulk of the dune material sits atop the flat remnant of the original crater floor, but then some of it spills dramatically down into the pits below.

The dunes stand some 150-200 m tall and their swirling patterns indicate the prevailing direction of the winds that have whipped across the crater over time.

The dunes are made of basaltic material, a common volcanic rock that was deposited widely across Mars in the past. In the region shown here, it was subsequently covered over by other layers of material, uncovered by erosion within the crater itself.

Zooming in on the western (top in the main colour image) portion of the crater reveals distinct layers of dark material exposed in the crater walls. One possible interpretation is that the impact crater punched through the top surface to reveal these otherwise hidden layers. Over time, this material has been eroded and swept up by wind to form the dunes seen towards the centre of the crater.

Rabe Crater

Similar dark material can also be seen in several of the smaller craters surrounding Rabe, with streaks staining the surface in between, most notably in the left-hand side of the image above. It is possible that some of the dune material was lifted out of Rabe by strong winds and spread locally.

Other nearby craters look degraded, their once-distinct rims and internal features crumbling over time. This ‘terrain softening’ process is often associated with the presence of ice just below the surface: this can facilitate the slow and steady creep of material downslope, resulting in a smooth appearance.

Rabe Crater topography

Material deposited from the atmosphere, perhaps during sand storms, can also contribute to an apparent softening of features over time.

By contrast, one crater to the upper left of Rabe in the main colour, topography and 3D images shown here retains a sharper appearance. A closer examination of this relatively deep crater reveals fresh-looking channels and grooves in the crater walls.

Rabe Crater 3D

Grooves like these are often associated with erosion by liquid water but, regardless of their formation history, they can also expose underlying layers, such as the dark material common to this region. Furthermore, a dense patch of this material is seen concentrated in the deepest part of the crater floor. 

Impact craters like Rabe offer a window into the past by exposing ancient rocks that would otherwise remain hidden from view. Meanwhile, the dunes show the important continuing role played by wind in shaping the martian landscape.

Related links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Mars Express overview:

Behind the lens...:

Frequently asked questions:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

NASA Planetary Data System:

HRSC data viewer:

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