samedi 24 mai 2014

Successful launch of H-IIA F 24 with DAICHI-2 (ALOS-2)

JAXA - ALOS-2 Mission logo.

May 24, 2014 (JST)

Launch Result of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 24 with “DAICHI-2” (ALOS-2) onboard 

Launch of the H-IIA Launch Vehicle

The launch of the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 24 with The Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 "DAICHI-2" (ALOS-2) aboard was successfully performed at 12:05:14 p.m. on May 24 (Sat.) 2014 (Japan Standard Time). The launch vehicle flew normally and separated the DAICHI-2 at about 15 minutes and 47 seconds after liftoff. The DAICHI-2 will conduct critical phase operations including deploying the PALSER-2 antenna.

Launch of Japanese H-IIA with ALOS-2

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 24 (H-IIA F24) with the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 “DAICHI-2” (ALOS-2) onboard from the Tanegashima Space Center.

The launch vehicle flew smoothly, and, at about 15 minutes and 47 seconds after liftoff, the separation of the DAICHI-2 was confirmed.

We would like to express our profound appreciation for the cooperation and support of all related personnel and organizations that helped contribute to the successful launch of the H-IIA F24.

At the time of the launch, the weather was fine, a wind speed was 3.4 meters/second from the east and the temperature was 24.4 degrees Celsius.

About Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 "DAICHI-2" (ALOS-2)

The Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 (ALOS-2)

The Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 (ALOS-2) is follow-on mission from the "DAICHI", which contributed to cartography, regional observation, disaster monitoring, and resource surveys. ALOS-2 will succeed this mission with enhanced capabilities.
Specifically, JAXA is conducting research and development activities to improve wide and high-resolution observation technologies developed for DAICHI in order to further fulfill social needs.

Related links:

H-IIA Launch Vehicle No.24 Flight Sequence (Quick Estimation):

Mission website:

Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 "DAICHI-2" (ALOS-2):

H-IIA Launch Vehicle:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) / Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.


vendredi 23 mai 2014

Crew Wraps Up Week With Science, New Trio Awaits Launch

ISS - Expedition 40 Mission patch.

May 23, 2014

The three-member Expedition 40 crew is wrapping up its work week with more life science and an investigation into particle impacts on the International Space Station’s external surface. Commander Steve Swanson and Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev are also gearing up to receive a new trio of flight engineers May 28.

Swanson participated in the Skin-B investigation Friday which observes the skin’s adaptation and regeneration in space and compares it to other human organs adapting to weightlessness. The European Space Agency (ESA) is the lead investigator for the experiment that is studying the accelerated aging observed in a crew member’s skin while living in space.

Image above: Commander Steve Swanson, pictured on a television screen, talked live to students at Johnson Space Center on Wednesday during a space station science briefing. Image Credit: NASA.

Read more about Skin-B:

The commander also took part in the long-running Sprint VO2 exercise experiment. That study investigates high-intensity, low duration exercise techniques using a resistance device, an exercise bike and a treadmill. Instead of exercising six days a week, crew members are exploring a three day a week, more intense regimen. Scientists have seen cardiovascular benefits from the aerobic training while also trying to minimize muscle and bone loss.

Space Station Live: Short, High-Intensity Exercise to Stay in Space Shape

Video above: Lori L. Ploutz-Snyder, lead investigator of the Sprint VO2 exercise experiment, talks about the study investigating high-intensity, low duration exercise techniques on the space station using a resistance device, an exercise bike and a treadmill. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Read more about Sprint:

Swanson checked water and light levels for a new experiment taking place onboard the orbital laboratory that explores harvesting salad-type plants for consumption by future crews. The Veggie crop harvesting study seeks to provide the crew with a palatable, nutritious, and safe source of fresh food and a tool to support relaxation and recreation. However, to determine its suitability for future crews the harvested crop will be stored in a freezer for later analysis by scientists on the ground.

Read more about Veggie:

He also checked samples for another botany experiment that investigates plant systems responsible for gravity resistance under microgravity conditions in space.  The Resist Tubule experiment may provide more efficient plant production capabilities on Earth and in space.

Read more about Resist Tubule:

The two cosmonauts, Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, are working their segment of the space station conducting Russian science and maintenance activities. Skvortsov is on his second mission to the orbital lab, his first was as an Expedition 23/24 crew member in 2010, while Artemyev is on his first.

The duo is exploring tools and techniques to detect particle impacts and other hazards on the outside of the station. The Otklik study may provide scientists ways to detect the location of external impacts and risks to station systems.

On Wednesday next week a new trio of Expedition 40/41 crew members will lift off to join the three orbiting residents of the International Space Station. Soyuz Commander and cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European astronaut Alexander Gerst will launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft at 3:57 p.m. EDT (1:57 a.m. May 29 Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Read more about Expedition 40:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


European Orion millestone leads to detailed design

NASA - Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle patch / ESA - European Space Agency patch.

23 May 2014

Orion orbiting the Moon

ESA is a step closer to building the future of human spaceflight and exploration in Europe by completing the preliminary design review of Europe’s Service Module for NASA’s Orion vehicle to send astronauts beyond low orbit.

Europe is contributing the Service Module and expertise to the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle with flight-proven technology used on ESA’s series of Automated Transfer Vehicle supply spacecraft.

Orion consists of a crew capsule with the European module providing power, thermal control, consumables and propulsion to the vehicle.

The cooperation highlights the major involvement of ESA, NASA and European industry on this important project, based on a long-standing partnership of the agencies across many areas of human and robotic spaceflight.

 Model service module (EFT-1 Service Module)

A Preliminary Design Review is one of a series of checkpoints in complex engineering projects. Having passed this review, the next step is to start the detailed design and procuring the subsystems.

As the review process continues, the spacecraft design will be assessed again to ensure the safety and reliability of the overall system and its compliance with Orion requirements.

The teams developing the Service Module reviewed the documentation in April and May before meeting for a week in Bremen, Germany. Reviewers from ESA, NASA and the US prime contractor Lockheed Martin evaluated documents delivered by Airbus Defence & Space and European contractors.

Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle

The Preliminary Design Review concluded with a formal board on 15 May that provided the go-ahead for the next phase.

The next major review milestone is the Critical Design Review at the end of 2015, aiming for Orion’s uncrewed first flight with Europe’s Service Module in 2017.

Related link:

Automated Transfer Vehicle:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / ESA.


The scientific program of the spacecraft Foton-M



Foton-M spacecraft

July 18, 2014 is scheduled to launch spacecraft Foton-M № 4. Flying Foton-M are important complement to Russian Applied Research on board the Russian segment of the International Space Station. The scientific program of Foton-M  № 4 includes dozens of experiments. Earlier we talked about a series of biomedical research, which will be held on Foton-M (see the publication "Biological studies on the spacecraft Foton-M" of 22.05.2014), but the scientific program of two-orbital flight of the spacecraft is not limited solely to biological experiments. On the Foton-M also placed scientific instruments for research on space materials science.

The "Polizon-2"

One of the most important elements of the scientific equipment of the spacecraft Foton-M is set to "Polizon-2." It is an automatic ELECTROVACUUM electric furnace equipped shop in which 12 capsules loaded with the feedstock. Heaters create a predetermined temperature profile, and the capsule is pulled from the furnace at a certain rate , the crystal grows in a capsule. With this installation is planned to conduct the following experiments:

- "Microstructure" - growing protein crystals of highly directional crystallization method . In the foreseeable future it is planned industrial production of such crystals in space missions to create a new generation of drugs to treat cancer and nanobiosenserov.

- "Intermetal" - directional solidification of intermetallic compounds in microgravity in order to obtain new metal alloys.

- "Fuller ISSP" - the impact of reduced gravity and vibration on the growth of crystals of fullerene to produce new materials with desired properties.

- "Uniformity" - study of the effect of microgravity on the processes of growing single crystals of semiconductors (Ge, GaSb) with high uniformity of properties. The experiment was carried out to optimize the existing earth growing technologies such single crystals for high efficiency thermophotovoltaic converters.

In addition, the spacecraft Foton-M will be scientific equipment "Squirrel" is intended for cultivation in spaceflight protein crystals by liquid diffusion and diffusion of the gaseous medium. Protein crystals used in molecular medicine. In terrestrial conditions, many proteins do not crystallize, forcing the process to carry out in space in zero gravity.

Scientific equipment "Squirrel"

Equipment "Movement" will be posted on "Foton-M" to study the effects of microgravity on the thermal characteristics of phase transitions, the experimental results will be used in the generated currently Global Earth Observation System (GEOSS).

On the spacecraft Foton-M № 4 will also be conducted experiments using scientific equipment "Vibroeon-FM", "CBC-FM", "vibration protection", "Geleon", etc. All of the studies applied nature and are aimed at improving the number of technology. After 60 days of space flight Foton-M № 4, all scientific instruments and experimental samples in the descent capsule will return to Earth for further study.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Related link:

Biological studies on the spacecraft Foton-M:

Biological studies on the spacecraft Foton-M (ROSCOSMOS Press Release):

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

Best regards,

jeudi 22 mai 2014

Russian Powered Atlas V Rocket Blasts off with NROL-33 Top Secret Satellite for USA

ULA - Atlas V - NROL-33 launch poster.

May 22, 2014

Russian powered Atlas V rocket with American Centaur upperstage ready for launch

A Russian powered Atlas V rocket with American Centaur upperstage successfully launched today, May 22nd 2014 at 13:09 UTC carrying a top secret American payload, NROL-33, into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. This was the 46th launch of the Atlas V.

Russian Powered Atlas V Rocket Blasts off with NRO

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, designated AV-046, launch a classified spacecraft payload. The rocket will fly in the 401 vehicle configuration with a four-meter fairing, no solid rocket boosters and a single-engine Centaur upper stage.

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

Images, Video, Text, Credits: United Launch Alliance (ULA) / Aerospace.


NASA Mars Weather Camera Helps Find New Crater on Red Planet

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

May 22, 2014

Large, Fresh Crater Surrounded by Smaller Craters

Image above: The new Mars crater spans half the length of a football field in this photo from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s sharpest-sighted camera, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

Researchers have discovered on the Red Planet the largest fresh meteor-impact crater ever firmly documented with before-and-after images. The images were captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The crater spans half the length of a football field and first appeared in March 2012. The impact that created it likely was preceded by an explosion in the Martian sky caused by intense friction between an incoming asteroid and the planet's atmosphere. This series of events can be likened to the meteor blast that shattered windows in Chelyabinsk, Russia, last year. The air burst and ground impact darkened an area of the Martian surface about 5 miles (8 kilometers) across.

Mars Weathercam Helps Find Big, New Crater

Video above: Scientists using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found a fresh meteor-impact crater, and by golly it's big. It's the largest ever located anywhere by using before-and-after pictures.

The darkened spot appears in images taken by the orbiter's weather-monitoring camera, the Mars Color Imager (MARCI). Images of the site from MARCI and from the two telescopic cameras on MRO are at:

Since the orbiter began its systematic observation of Mars in 2006, scientist Bruce Cantor has examined MARCI's daily global coverage, looking for evidence of dust storms and other observable weather events in the images. Cantor is this camera's deputy principal investigator at Malin Space Science Systems, the San Diego company that built and operates MARCI and the orbiter's telescopic Context Camera (CTX). Through his careful review of the images, he helps operators of NASA's solar-powered Mars rover, Opportunity, plan for weather events that may diminish the rover's energy. He also posts weekly Mars weather reports.

About two months ago, Cantor noticed an inconspicuous dark dot near the equator in one of the images.

"It wasn't what I was looking for," Cantor said. "I was doing my usual weather monitoring and something caught my eye. It looked usual, with rays emanating from a central spot."

Landslides Near Fresh Crater on Mars

Image above: This April 6, 2014, image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows numerous landslides in the vicinity of where an impact crater was excavated in March 2012. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.

He began examining earlier images, skipping back a month or more at a time. The images revealed that the dark spot was present a year ago, but not five years ago. He homed in further, checking images from about 40 different dates, and pinned down the date the impact event occurred; the spot was not there up through March 27, 2012, and then appeared before the daily imaging on March 28, 2012.

Once the dark spot was verified as new, it was targeted last month by CTX and the orbiter's sharpest-sighted camera, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). Of the approximately 400 fresh crater-causing impacts on Mars that have been documented with before-and-after images, this is the only one discovered using a MARCI image, rather than an image from a higher-resolution camera.

CTX has imaged nearly the entire surface of Mars at least once during the orbiter's seven-plus years of observations. It had photographed the site of this newly-discovered crater in January 2012, prior to the impact. Two craters appear in the April 2014 CTX image that were not present in the earlier one, confirming  the dark spot revealed by MARCI is related to a new impact crater.

Best-Ever Pinning Down When a Space Rock Hit Mars

Image above: These two images taken one day apart by the MARCI weather camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal when an asteroid impact made the scar seen in the right-hand image. The left image was taken during Martian afternoon on March 27, 2012; the right one on the afternoon of March 28, 2012. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

HiRISE reveals more than a dozen smaller craters near the two larger ones seen in the CTX image, possibly created by chunks of the exploding asteroid or secondary impacts of material ejected from the main craters during impact. It also reveals many landslides that darkened slopes in the 5-mile surrounding area. A second HiRISE image in May 2014 added three-dimensional information.

"The biggest crater is unusual, quite shallow compared to other fresh craters we have observed," said HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

The largest crater is slightly elongated and spans 159 by 143 feet (48.5 by 43.5 meters).

McEwen estimates  the impact object measured about 10 to 18 feet (3 to 5 meters) long, which is less than a third the estimated length of the asteroid that hit Earth's atmosphere near Chelyabinsk. Because Mars has much less atmosphere than Earth, space rocks of comparable size are more likely to penetrate to the surface of Mars and cause larger craters.

"Studies of fresh impact craters on Mars yield valuable information about impact rates and about subsurface material exposed by the excavations," said Leslie Tamppari, deputy project scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "The combination of HiRISE and CTX has found and examined many of them, and now MARCI's daily coverage has given great precision about when a significant impact occurred."

NASA  is developing concepts for its asteroid initiative to redirect a near-Earth asteroid -- possibly about the size of the rock that hit Mars on March 27 or 28, 2012 -- but much closer to Earth's distance from the sun. The project would involve a solar-powered spacecraft capturing a small asteroid or removing a piece of a larger asteroid, and redirecting it into a stable orbit around Earth's moon.

Astronauts will travel to the asteroid aboard NASA's Orion spacecraft, launched on the agency's Space Launch System rocket, to rendezvous with the captured asteroid. Once there, they would collect samples to return to Earth for study. This experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit will help NASA test new systems and capabilities needed to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates MARCI and CTX. The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft and collaborates with JPL to operate it.

For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and its findings, visit:

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


NASA's WISE Findings Poke Hole in Black Hole 'Doughnut' Theory

NASA - WISE Mission patch.

May 22, 2014

The Clumping Behavior of Galaxies

Image above: This image shows galaxies clumped together in the Fornax cluster, located 60 million light-years from Earth. The picture was taken by WISE, but has been artistically enhanced to illustrate the idea that clumped galaxies will, on average, be surrounded by larger halos of dark matter (purple). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A survey of more than 170,000 supermassive black holes, using NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), has astronomers reexamining a decades-old theory about the varying appearances of these interstellar objects.

The unified theory of active, supermassive black holes, first developed in the late 1970s, was created to explain why black holes, though similar in nature, can look completely different. Some appear to be shrouded in dust, while others are exposed and easy to see.

The unified model answers this question by proposing that every black hole is surrounded by a dusty, doughnut-shaped structure called a torus. Depending on how these "doughnuts" are oriented in space, the black holes will take on various appearances. For example, if the doughnut is positioned so that we see it edge-on, the black hole is hidden from view. If the doughnut is observed from above or below, face-on, the black hole is clearly visible.

However, the new WISE results do not corroborate this theory. The researchers found evidence that something other than a doughnut structure may, in some circumstances, determine whether a black hole is visible or hidden. The team has not yet determined what this may be, but the results suggest the unified, or doughnut, model does not have all the answers.

"Our finding revealed a new feature about active black holes we never knew before, yet the details remain a mystery," said Lin Yan of NASA's Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "We hope our work will inspire future studies to better understand these fascinating objects."

Yan is the second author of the research accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. The lead author is post-doctoral researcher, Emilio Donoso, who worked with Yan at IPAC and has since moved to the Instituto de Ciencias Astronómicas, de la Tierra y del Espacio in Argentina. The research also was co-authored by Daniel Stern at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, and Roberto Assef of Universidad Diego Portales in Chile and formerly of JPL.

Every galaxy has a massive black hole at its heart. The new study focuses on the "feeding" ones, called active, supermassive black holes, or active galactic nuclei. These black holes gorge on surrounding gas material that fuels their growth.

With the aid of computers, scientists were able to pick out more than 170,000 active supermassive black holes from the WISE data. They then measured the clustering of the galaxies containing both hidden and exposed black holes -- the degree to which the objects clump together across the sky.

 (Click on the image for enlarge)
Unified, or ‘Doughnut,’ Theory of Active, Black Holes

Image above: This infographic explains a popular theory of active supermassive black holes, referred to as the unified model -- and how new data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, is at conflict with the model. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/NOAO/AURA/NSF/ESO.

If the unified model was true, and the hidden black holes are simply blocked from view by doughnuts in the edge-on configuration, then researchers would expect them to cluster in the same way as the exposed ones. According to theory, since the doughnut structures would take on random orientations, the black holes should also be distributed randomly. It is like tossing a bunch of glazed doughnuts in the air -- roughly the same percentage of doughnuts always will be positioned in the edge-on and face-on positions, regardless of whether they are tightly clumped or spread far apart.

But WISE found something totally unexpected. The results showed the galaxies with hidden black holes are more clumped together than those of the exposed black holes. If these findings are confirmed, scientists will have to adjust the unified model and come up with new ways to explain why some black holes appear hidden.

"The main purpose of unification was to put a zoo of different kinds of active nuclei into a single umbrella," said Donoso. Now, that has become increasingly complex to do as we dig deeper into the WISE data."

Another way to understand the WISE results involves dark matter. Dark matter is an invisible substance that dominates matter in the universe, outweighing the regular matter that makes up people, planets and stars. Every galaxy sits in the center of a dark matter halo. Bigger halos have more gravity and, therefore, pull other galaxies toward them.

Because WISE found that the obscured black holes are more clustered than the others, the researchers know  those hidden black holes reside in galaxies with larger dark matter halos. Though the halos themselves would not be responsible for hiding the black holes, they could be a clue about what is occurring.

"The unified theory was proposed to explain the complexity of what astronomers were seeing," said Stern. "It seems that simple model may have been too simple. As Einstein said, models should be made 'as simple as possible, but not simpler.'"

Scientists still are actively combing public data from WISE, put into hibernation in 2011 after scanning Earth's entire sky twice. WISE was reactivated in 2013, renamed NEOWISE, and given a new mission to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

For more information about NEOWISE, visit:

For more information about WISE, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / J.D. Harrington / JPL / Whitney Clavin.


Biological studies on the spacecraft Foton-M



At Baikonur continue to prepare for the launch of the spacecraft (SC) "Foton-M". Launch rocket Soyuz-2.1a with Foton-M is scheduled for July 18, 2014. 60 days orbiting satellite Foton-M will carry out an extensive research program, which includes a number of technological and biological research.

Experiment "gecko-F4"

The biological part of the mission Foton-M in space includes eight experiments. First of all, to be sent into orbit preparing geckos . They can already be called "astronauts tested" because geckos lizard family has successfully participated in the scientific program biosatellites Bion-M. This time they are involved in the experiment "gecko-F4", whose main objective is to study the effects of microgravity on the body of adult animals, their sexual behavior and embryonic development. For two months, will be a continuous video recording of this experiment.

Experiment "bioelectricity"

Experiment "FLUOTREK" will be conducted in order to study the dynamics of changes in the state of intracellular systems under the action of space flight factors. To do this, at different stages of flight using fluorescent probes will be conducted registration mitochondrial membrane potential and explore the effect of temperature on intracellular processes regulating the functional state of the cells in vitro.

Experiment "BIOFROST"

Investigation of the process to generate electricity using microorganisms - electrogenic in weightlessness will be held in the experiment "bioelectricity". Objects of study are the electrodes (anode and cathode) and cation exchange membranes forming a microbial fuel cell, as well as microbial associations and pure cultures of microorganisms - electrogenic.

The purpose of the experiment "BIOFROST" is the study of the influence of space flight on microbial complex, isolated from permafrost.

During the experiment, "BIORADIATSIYA-F" will examine the characteristics of cosmic ionizing radiation effects and its impact on biological objects in open space and inside the satellite. Research objects are dried seeds, silkworm eggs and other biological objects that do not require life support in space flight.

 Experiment "Meteor"

Experiment "METEORITE" should reveal the chances of survival of microorganisms on materials that mimic the basics of meteorites and asteroids.

Structural and functional study of the growth and development of pure culture mushroom, mushroom spore mass (Pleurotus ostreatus), as well as fungal thalli symbiotic organisms (lichens Peltigera aphthosa and Hypogymnia physodes) in space flight will be carried out in the experiment "MYCOLOGY."

Foton-M spacecraft description

Objects of research experiment "BIOTRANSFORMATION" are aerobic bacteria culture. The purpose of the experiment - to study the process of biodegradation of polyethylene film microorganisms without any additional ingredients and forced removal of metabolic products in spaceflight.

Upon completion of studies with scientific equipment prototypes in the descent capsule will return to Earth for further study.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

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

Best regards,

mercredi 21 mai 2014

ISS - Trio Conducts Science to Benefit Life on Earth and Future Crews

ISS - Expedition 40 Mission patch.

May 21, 2014

The three member Expedition 40 crew was conducting more science work Wednesday to improve life on Earth and in space. The trio comprised of Commander Steve Swanson and Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev also continued their daily maintenance and exercise activities.

Swanson began Wednesday with a few minutes of spacesuit work inside the U.S. Quest airlock. He completed the regeneration of the metal oxide (METOX) canisters by baking out the carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the METOX during a spacewalk.

Image above: Commander Steve Swanson stirs an experiment sample with a magnet for the ACE investigation. Image Credit: NASA TV.

After that work, the commander worked on a fluids science experiment and a botany investigation. He then finished his workday with some plumbing and science hardware maintenance.

Swanson spent the majority of his time on the Advanced Colloids Experiment (ACE) exploring the properties of microscopic particles suspended in a liquid such as a gel or a cream. He mixed a sample for the ACE experiment with a magnet being careful to not touch the sample.

Results from the ACE study could improve the shelf life of products here on Earth. The object of ACE is to prevent the coarsening, or the clumping of particles, of certain liquids which can spoil a product.

Read more about the Advanced Colloids Experiment:

Swanson also did some light gardening Wednesday attending to lettuce being grown for the Veggie experiment. He checked the water bags that hydrate the lettuce and photographed the growing crop. The lettuce will be harvested but not consumed as scientists want to analyze the crop to determine its suitability for consumption by future crews.

Read more about VEGGIE:

At the end of the day, Swanson conducted some plumbing work filling and depressurizing tanks in the Harmony node’s Waste and Hygiene Compartment. Finally, he inserted ice bricks into a science freezer to keep the device at ultra-cold temperatures to preserve scientific samples.

Read more about the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS:

Image above: Expedition 40/41 crew members plant trees as part of ceremonial activities before their May 28 (U.S. time) launch to the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov.

Cosmonauts Skvortsov and Artemyev worked throughout their day in the orbital laboratory’s Russian segment. The duo primarily worked maintenance checking Russian life support systems and cleaning fans and filters.

Artemyev later worked on ISS Progress 53 cargo transfers preparing the vehicle for its June 9 automated departure. He and Skvortsov also took photographs of the Earth at the end of the day to document the effects of industrialization on the ecology of Russian territories.

Read more about EKON:

Three new Expedition 40/41 crew members are counting down to their May 28 (U.S. time) launch to the orbital laboratory. The trio has been in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, conducting ceremonial flag-raising and tree-planting activities while undergoing launch and entry suit fit checks.

Read more about Expedition 40:

Soyuz Commander and cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European astronaut Alexander Gerst will launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft at 3:57 p.m. EDT (1:57 a.m. May 29 Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. They are scheduled to dock to Rassvet after just four orbits at 9:48 p.m. returning the space station to its full complement of six crew members.

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


Pitch Black: Cosmic Clumps Cast the Darkest Shadows

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

May 21, 2014

Mapping the Densest Dusty Cloud Cores

Image above: Astronomers have found cosmic clumps so dark, dense and dusty that they throw the deepest shadows ever recorded. The clumps were discovered within a huge cosmic cloud of gas and dust. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Zurich.

Astronomers have found cosmic clumps so dark, dense and dusty that they throw the deepest shadows ever recorded. Infrared observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope of these blackest-of-black regions paradoxically light the way to understanding how the brightest stars form.

The clumps represent the darkest portions of a huge, cosmic cloud of gas and dust located about 16,000 light-years away. A new study takes advantage of the shadows cast by these clumps to measure the cloud's structure and mass.

The dusty cloud, results suggest, will likely evolve into one of the most massive young clusters of stars in our galaxy. The densest clumps will blossom into the cluster's biggest, most powerful stars, called O-type stars, the formation of which has long puzzled scientists. These hulking stars have major impacts on their local stellar environments while also helping to create the heavy elements needed for life. 

"The map of the structure of the cloud and its dense cores we have made in this study reveals a lot of fine details about the massive star and star cluster formation process," said Michael Butler, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and lead author of the study, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The state-of-the-art map has helped pin down the cloud's mass to the equivalent of 7,000 suns packed into an area spanning about 50 light-years in diameter. The map comes courtesy of Spitzer observing in infrared light, which can more easily penetrate gas and dust than short-wavelength visible light. The effect is similar to that behind the deep red color of sunsets on smoggy days -- longer-wavelength red light more readily reaches our eyes through the haze, which scatters and absorbs shorter-wavelength blue light. In this case, however, the densest pockets of star-forming material within the cloud are so thick with dust that they scatter and block not only visible light, but also almost all background infrared light.

Observing in infrared lets scientists peer into otherwise inscrutable cosmic clouds and catch the early phases of star and star cluster formation. Typically, Spitzer detects infrared light emitted by young stars still shrouded in their dusty cocoons. For the new study, astronomers instead gauged the amount of background infrared light obscured by the cloud, using these shadows to infer where material had lumped together within the cloud. These blobs of gas and dust will eventually collapse gravitationally to make hundreds of thousands of new stars.

Most stars in the universe, perhaps our sun included, are thought to have formed en masse in these sorts of environments. Clusters of low-mass stars are quite common and well-studied. But clusters giving birth to higher-mass stars, like the cluster described here, are scarce and distant, which makes them harder to examine.

Artist's view of the Spitzer Space Telescope

"In this rare kind of cloud, Spitzer has provided us with an important picture of massive star cluster formation caught in its earliest, embryonic stages," said Jonathan Tan, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and co-author of the study.

The new findings will also help reveal how O-type stars form. O-type stars shine a brilliant white-blue, possess at least 16 times the sun's mass and have surface temperatures above 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit (30,000 degrees Celsius). These giant stars have a tremendous influence on their local stellar neighborhoods. Their winds and intense radiation blow away material that might draw together to create other stars and planetary systems. O-type stars are short-lived and quickly explode as supernovas, releasing enormous amounts of energy and forging the heavy elements needed to form planets and living organisms.

Researchers are not sure how, in O-type stars, it is possible for material to accumulate on scales of tens to 100 times the mass of our sun without dissipating or breaking down into multiple, smaller stars.

"We still do not have a settled theory or explanation of how these massive stars form," said Tan. "Therefore, detailed measurements of the birth clouds of future massive stars, as we have recorded in this study, are important for guiding new theoretical understanding."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit: and

Images, Text, Credits: NASA / JPL / Whitney Clavin.

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NASA Signs Agreement with Citizen Scientists Attempting to Communicate with Old Spacecraft

NASA - International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) patch.

May 21, 2014

NASA has given a green light to a group of citizen scientists attempting to breathe new scientific life into a more than 35-year old agency spacecraft.

The agency has signed a Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement (NRSAA) with Skycorp, Inc., in Los Gatos, California, allowing the company to attempt to contact, and possibly command and control, NASA’s International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft as part of the company’s ISEE-3 Reboot Project. This is the first time NASA has worked such an agreement for use of a spacecraft the agency is no longer using or ever planned to use again.

The NRSAA details the technical, safety, legal and proprietary issues that will be addressed before any attempts are made to communicate with or control the 1970’s-era spacecraft as it nears the Earth in August.

Artist's concept image of ISEE-3 (ICE) spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

"The intrepid ISEE-3 spacecraft was sent away from its primary mission to study the physics of the solar wind extending its mission of discovery to study two comets." said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. "We have a chance to engage a new generation of citizen scientists through this creative effort to recapture the ISEE-3 spacecraft as it zips by the Earth this summer."

Launched in 1978 to study the constant flow of solar wind streaming toward Earth, ISEE-3 successfully completed its prime mission in 1981. With remaining fuel and functioning instruments, it then was redirected to observe two comets. Following the completion of that mission, the spacecraft continued in orbit around the sun. It is now making its closest approach to Earth in more than 30 years.

The goal of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project is to put the spacecraft into an orbit at   a gravitationally stable point between Earth and the sun known as Lagrangian 1 (L1). Once safely back in orbit, the next step would be to return the spacecraft to operations and use its instruments as they were originally designed. ISEE-3's close approach in the coming weeks provides optimal conditions to attempt communication. If communications are unsuccessful, the spacecraft will swing by the moon and continue to orbit the sun.

NASA has shared technical data with these citizen scientists to help them communicate with and return data from ISEE-3. The contributions of any citizen science provided by the spacecraft, if it is successfully recovered, depend on the current condition of its instruments. New data resulting from the project will be shared with the science community and the public, providing a unique tool for teaching students and the public about spacecraft operations and data gathering. The data also will provide valuable information about the effects of the space environment on the 36-year old spacecraft.

The ISEE-3 mission opened new pathways for scientific exploration, helping scientists better understand the sun-Earth system, which at its most turbulent can affect satellites around Earth and disrupt our technological infrastructure.

To learn more about the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, visit:

To learn more about ISEE-3, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Steve Cole / Skycorp/ISEE-3 Reboot Project / Dennis Wingo.


Water mission boosts food security

ESA - SMOS Mission logo.

21 May 2014

ESA’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity mission has gone beyond its original scientific brief of delivering critical information for understanding the water cycle – this versatile satellite is now being used to predict drought and improve crop yield in regions prone to famine.

The US Department of Agriculture use satellite images and soil moisture data to help identify abnormal weather that may affect the production and yield of crops. Using this information, they publish monthly estimates of world production, supply and distribution.

Crop yield

As well as offering traders and commodity markets a source of unbiased information, these estimates provide decision-makers with critical information for countries that may need food aid as a result of severe droughts.

Identifying when and where there may be a risk of famine involves measuring soil moisture in the ‘root-zone’ during the growing season, and detecting the onset and severity of drought.

Analysts use information linked to drought from a range of observing systems to compile these crop production forecasts.

SMOS satellite

In the past, the amount of moisture in the soil available to plants was estimated by integrating daily observations of rainfall and temperatures into computer models of soil–water balance. However, this approach only works reliably in areas where high-quality observations are available.

In large areas of the world, such as southern Africa, there are little or no such data.

Turning to space, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service has started to incorporate data from ESA’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite into their forecasting system.

SMOS boosts soil moisture mapping

Carrying a novel sensor, SMOS captures images of ‘brightness temperature’. These images correspond to microwave radiation emitted from Earth’s surface and can be related to soil moisture and ocean salinity – two key variables in Earth’s water cycle.

Through SMOS, the US service obtains timely information on soil moisture patterns, which help to predict how the health of plants will change and, therefore, how productive they will be.

Testing the SMOS readings for this purpose, they received very positive feedback from analysts in southern Africa. This is a challenging area because there are very few working rain gauges.

The new product is available on the Crop Explorer website:

Wade Crow of the USDA said, “SMOS is substantially improving USDA’s ability to globally monitor agricultural drought and predict its short-term impact on vegetation health and agricultural yield.

“The positive impact of SMOS is especially significant over data-poor areas of the world prone to food insecurity and famine such as southern Africa.”

Effect of drought on corn yields

Matthias Drusch, ESA’s SMOS Mission Scientist, added, “Given the excellent quality of the SMOS soil moisture product, we can also expect a positive effect of the observations in other areas such as the Horn of Africa and South America.

“Potentially, India and Central Asia could also benefit from this service if we continue reducing the number of sources of radio-frequency interference in these regions.”

SMOS was built primarily to deliver important information for scientific research, but this is another example of how its measurements are now also being used operationally to benefit economies and societies.

Along with advancing science, this multifaceted mission has already shown its value in mapping thin sea-ice, improving weather forecasts and tracking surface winds under hurricanes. It has now turned its talents to helping tackle a major global concern: food security.

The project was based on funding from the NASA Applied Science Water Resources Program and application-orientated research by the USDA Agricultural Research Service, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Satellite and Information Service.

Related links:

US Foreign Agriculture Service:

Crop Explorer:

NASA Applied Science Water Resources Program:

USDA Agricultural Research Service:

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center:

NOAA Satellite and Information Service:

Access SMOS data:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / B. Mahalder / AOES Medialab / USDA FAS.


A Star Cluster in the Wake of Carina

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

21 May 2014

The colourful star cluster NGC 3590

This colourful new image from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the star cluster NGC 3590. These stars shine brightly in front of a dramatic landscape of dark patches of dust and richly hued clouds of glowing gas. This small stellar gathering gives astronomers clues about how these stars form and evolve — as well as giving hints about the structure of our galaxy's pinwheeling arms.

NGC 3590 is a small open cluster of stars around 7500 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Carina (The Keel). It is a gathering of dozens of stars loosely bound together by gravity and is roughly 35 million years old.

This cluster is not just pretty; it is very useful to astronomers. By studying this particular cluster — and others nearby — astronomers can explore the properties of the spiral disc of our galaxy, the Milky Way. NGC 3590 is located in the largest single segment of a spiral arm that can be seen from our position in the galaxy: the Carina spiral feature.

The star cluster NGC 3590 in the constellation of Carina

The Milky Way has multiple spiral arms, long curved streams of gas and stars stretching out from the galactic centre. These arms — two major star-filled arms, and two less populated minor arms — are each named after the constellations in which they are most prominent [1]. The Carina spiral feature is seen from Earth as a patch of sky heavily populated with stars, in the Carina-Sagittarius minor arm.

The name of this arm — Carina, or The Keel — is quite appropriate. These spiral arms are actually waves of piled up gas and stars sweeping through the galactic disc, triggering sparkling bursts of star formation and leaving clusters like NGC 3590 in their wake. By finding and observing young stars like those in NGC 3590, it is possible to determine the distances to the different parts of this spiral arm, telling us more about its structure.

Zooming in on the colourful star cluster NGC 3590

Typical open clusters can contain anything from a few tens to a few thousands of stars, and provide astronomers with clues about stellar evolution. The stars in a cluster like NGC 3590 are born at around the same time from the same cloud of gas, making these clusters perfect test sites for theories on how stars form and evolve.

This image from the Wide Field Imager (WFI) on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla, shows the cluster and the gas clouds surrounding it, which glow in orange and red hues due to the radiation coming from nearby hot stars. WFI's large field of view also captures a colossal number of background stars.

The colourful star cluster NGC 3590

To obtain this image, multiple observations were made using different filters to capture the different colours of the scene. This image was created by combining images taken in the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum, and a special filter that collected only light coming from glowing hydrogen.


[1] These four arms are named the Carina-Sagittarius, Norma, Scutum-Centaurus, and Perseus arms.

More information:

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”.


Photos of the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope:

Photos from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope:

Photos of La Silla:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/G. Beccari/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Videos: ESO/G. Beccari/Nick Risinger ( Music: movetwo.


mardi 20 mai 2014

Roscosmos survey conducted operational area floods in Serbia



In Serbia, there are major recent flooding caused by rains that led to the exit of the river banks and flooding vast areas.

Addressed to the Russian Emergencies Ministry received a request from the Government of Serbia on satellite imagery flooded areas.

Roscosmos Russian Emergency Situations Ministry on request to photograph the affected areas by the ERS satellites (Earth Remote-Sensing Satellites) from the Russian orbital group in order to eliminate the effects of floods and damage assessment.

Satellite imagery of flooding in the area of Serbia passed the Russian Emergencies Ministry.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

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