vendredi 19 septembre 2014

Station Crew Keeps Eye on Science While Awaiting Launch of Crewmates

ISS - Expedition 41 Mission patch.

September 19, 2014

Expedition 41 Commander Max Suraev and Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman and Alexander Gerst focused on eye exams and scientific research aboard the International Space Station Thursday while continuing preparations for the arrival of the other half of their crew next week.

Suraev, Wiseman and Gerst, who have been aboard the station since May 28, began the day after their usual 2 a.m. EDT wakeup with an inspection of the orbiting laboratory, followed by a daily planning conference with the flight control teams around the world.

Image above: Photographed with a mounted automated camera, this is one of a number of images featuring the European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle docked with the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Wiseman spent much of his morning preparing the Combustion Integrated Rack for another series of ground-commanded experiment sessions with the Flame Extinguishment Experiment-2, or FLEX-2. This experiment looks at how spherical droplets of fuels burn and extinguish in microgravity, with an eye toward the production of safer spacecraft and increased fuel efficiency for liquid-fuel engines here on Earth.  The NASA astronaut temporarily removed the Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus, or MDCA, from the rack and restrained it to the Maintenance Work Area so he could replace two fuel reservoirs. Wiseman also replaced two windows inside the rack before reinstalling the MDCA.

Gerst meanwhile swapped out a recycle tank inside the Water Recovery System of the station’s regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System. The European Space Agency astronaut later performed a manual fill of the flush water tank of the Waste and Hygiene Compartment to prevent any damage to the toilet in the station’s Tranquility node.

Wiseman then joined Gerst to assist him with more eye exams for the Ocular Health study as flight surgeons keep a close watch on any changes to the crew’s eyesight. NASA recently identified that some astronauts experience changes in their vision, which might be related to the effects of microgravity on the cardiovascular system as the body’s fluids tend to move toward the upper body and head and cause the pressure in the skull to rise. With guidance from the Ocular Health team on the ground, Wiseman used optical coherence tomography equipment to examine his German crewmate’s eyes.  Later, Wiseman collected detailed imagery of the interior of Gerst’s eyes with a fundoscope.

Image above: Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst performs an Ocular Health examination in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Wiseman took a brief break from his afternoon activities to talk with NBC Nightly News about life and work aboard the station and his participation in social media.

Watch NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman's in-flight interview:

On the Russian side of the station, Suraev installed new software on a laptop computer before moving on to replace hoses and hardware in in the Zvezda service module’s bathroom.

After a break for lunch, Suraev connected and secured cables for a TV camera and conducted a streaming video test in preparation for next week’s arrival of three additional station crew members. NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore, Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyaev and Flight Engineer Elena Serova will launch aboard their Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25 at 4:25 p.m. (Sept. 26 at 2:25 a.m., Kazakh time) to begin a six-hour, four-orbit trek to the orbiting complex. Once the Soyuz is docked to the Poisk Mini-Research Module-2 and the hatches are opened, Wilmore, Samokutyaev and Serova will begin a 5 ½-month stay aboard the station. Wilmore will become commander of Expedition 42 when Suraev, Wiseman and Gerst depart in November.

Image above: At the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is encapsulated in the upper stage of the Soyuz booster rocket Sept. 18 that will propel it into orbit. Image Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov.

Meanwhile at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, preparations continue for the launch of the fourth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission on Saturday at 2:14 a.m. The SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle will deliver 2.5 tons for supplies and science to the orbiting laboratory, including critical materials to support 255 science and research investigations that will occur during the Expeditions 41 and 42. NASA Television coverage of the launch begins at 1 a.m. Saturday. As of Thursday afternoon, the probability of favorable weather for Saturday’s launch has decreased to 50%. If the launch is postponed, the next launch opportunity is Sunday.

If Dragon launches Saturday, Gerst and Wiseman will use the 57-foot Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Dragon around 7:30 a.m. Monday for its berthing to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node. NASA TV coverage of the grapple will begin at 5:30 a.m. Coverage will resume at 9:30 a.m. for the installation of Dragon to Harmony.

Learn more about SpaceX Dragon:

Related links:

Flame Extinguishment Experiment-2, or FLEX-2:

Ocular Health study:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA.


Breezy Science, Plant Studies and More Head to Space Station on SpaceX-4

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-4 Mission patch.

September 19, 2014

Imagine a dragon flying through the heavens on mighty, outstretched wings. The majestic beast knows the currents of winds and how to harness their power as it soars above the clouds. SpaceX’s real Dragon – the company’s spacecraft that transports supplies and science to the International Space Station (ISS) – will deliver, and later return, new technology, biology and biotechnology and Earth and space science research to the orbiting outpost.

One of the new Earth science investigations heading into orbit is the ISS-Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidScat). ISS-RapidScat monitors ocean winds from the vantage point of the space station. This space-based scatterometer is a remote sensing instrument that uses radar pulses reflected from the ocean’s surface at different angles to calculate surface wind speed and direction. This information will be useful for weather forecasting and hurricane monitoring.

Image above: This Artist's rendering of the ISS-RapidScat instrument (inset), will measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts. It will be installed on the end of the station's Columbus laboratory. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center.

“We'll be able to see how wind speed changes with the time of day," said Ernesto Rodríguez, principal investigator for ISS-RapidScat at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "ISS-RapidScat will link together all previous and current scatterometer missions, providing us with a more complete picture of how ocean winds change. Combined with data from the European ASCAT scatterometer mission, we'll be able to observe 90 percent of Earth's surface at least once a day, and in many places, several times a day."

In addition to improving weather models, RapidScat enhances measurements from other international scatterometers by cross-checking their data. Due to its unique orbit, RapidScat will observe different parts of the planet at different times of day. This allows the instrument to track the effects of the sun on ocean winds as the day progresses. Because the instrument reuses leftover hardware originally built to test parts of the now inoperable NASA QuikScat scatterometer, this investigation demonstrates a unique way to replace an instrument aboard an aging satellite. Learn more about ISS-RapidScat in this video bellow.

NASA's RapidScat: Watching the Winds from Space

New biomedical hardware launching on SpaceX’s fourth commercial resupply mission to the space station will facilitate prolonged biological studies in microgravity. The Rodent Research Hardware and Operations Validation (Rodent Research-1) investigation provides a platform for long-duration rodent experiments in space. These experiments examine how microgravity affects animals, providing information relevant to human spaceflight, discoveries in basic biology and knowledge that may have direct impact toward human health on Earth. Rodent Research-1 tests the operational capabilities of the new hardware system, including the transporter, rodent habitat and access unit.

Image above: The Rodent Research Hardware System includes three modules: (Left) Habitat, (Center) Transporter, and (Right) Animal Access Unit. Image Credit: NASA / Dominic Hart.

Because rodents experience developmental stages and aging processes more quickly than humans, they make ideal research model organisms to infer information about disease development and progression in humans. Model organisms are non-human species with characteristics that allow them easily to be maintained, reproduced and studied in a laboratory. Learn more about rodent research in microgravity in this video.

“In the coming years, rodent studies conducted aboard the space station will gather foundational data that will help advance human space exploration and provide new opportunities to improve quality of life on Earth,” said Ruth Globus, Ph.D., Rodent Research Project scientist and researcher in the Space Biosciences Division at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Another biological research investigation aboard Dragon includes a new plant study. The Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) hardware has supported a variety of plant growth experiments aboard the space station. The BRIC-19 investigation, the first to collect data for the geneLAB research platform, will focus on the growth and development of Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings in microgravity.  A. thaliana is a small flowering plant related to cabbage, and its genetic makeup is simple and well-understood by the plant biology community. This knowledge offers easy recognition of any changes that occur as a result of microgravity adaptation.

Plant development on Earth is impacted by mechanical forces such as wind or a plant’s own weight. Researchers hope to get a better understanding of how the growth responses of plants are altered by the absence of these forces when grown in microgravity.

Image above: A view of seedling growth in a petri dish during space shuttle Discovery's STS-95 mission in 1998, which used similar hardware to the upcoming Biological Research in Canisters -19 investigation aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

The BRIC hardware helps to maximize research and minimize space and crew time since it does not use power to operate and the canister is the size of a bread box. This study may add to the collective body of knowledge about basic plant growth phenomena and could help improve farming practices on Earth.

In addition to Earth and biological science studies, several new technology demonstrations are making their way to the space station. One of those, known as the Special Purpose Inexpensive Satellite, or SpinSat, will test how a small satellite moves and positions itself in space using new thruster technology. It will launch into orbit from the space station through the new Cyclops small satellite deployer, also known as the Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems (SSIKLOPS). Learn more about Cyclops in this video.

SpinSat is a spherical satellite measuring 22 inches in diameter. It will test advanced thruster technology that uses a new class of non-pyrotechnic materials known as Electrically-Controlled Solid Propellants (ESP). ESPs are ignited only by electric current.

Researchers can use high-resolution atmospheric data captured by SpinSat to determine the density of the thermosphere, one of the uppermost layers of the atmosphere. With better knowledge of the thermosphere, engineers and scientists can refine satellite and telecommunications technology.

Another new technology demonstration catching a ride on the Dragon is the 3-D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration (3-D Printing In Zero-G), which will be the first ever 3-D printer in space. Additive manufacturing could enable parts to be manufactured quickly and cheaply in space, instead of waiting for the next cargo resupply vehicle delivery. The research team also can gain valuable insight into improving 3-D printing technology on Earth by demonstrating it in microgravity.

With so many new investigations that directly impact human life, this Dragon’s delivery is helping the space station make discoveries off the Earth, for the Earth.

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

For more information about SpaceX’s Dragon, visit:

Related links:

ISS-Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidScat):

European ASCAT scatterometer mission:

NASA QuikScat scatterometer:

The Rodent Research Hardware and Operations Validation (Rodent Research-1):

Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems (SSIKLOPS):

3-D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration (3-D Printing In Zero-G):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Johnson Space Center/Laura Niles.


Winter in Argyre

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

19 September 2014

Perspective view of Hooke crater in Argyre basin

Over billions of years, the southern uplands of Mars have been pockmarked by numerous impact features, which are often so closely packed that they overlap. One such feature is Hooke crater, shown in this frost-tinged scene, imaged by ESA’s Mars Express during winter in the southern hemisphere.

Hooke crater is located near the northern edge of the 1800 km-wide Argyre basin – one of the most impressive impact structures on Mars, excavated in a giant collision about 4 billion years ago.

Hooke crater context

Sitting in a flat part of the basin known as Argyre Planitia, Hooke crater has a diameter of 138 km and a maximum depth of about 2.4 km. It is named after the English physicist and astronomer Robert Hooke (1635–1703).

Hooke crater comprises two different impact structures, with a smaller impactor blasting a depression off-centre in the floor of a larger, pre-existing crater. The newer crater in the centre is filled with a large mound topped by a dark dune field. The mound appears to be composed of layered material, possibly alternating sheets of sand and frost.

Dark dunes also spread southwards (to the left in the topographic, main colour and 3D images) from the smaller crater, partially covering the floor of the main crater. The local topography modifies the airflow, serving as a sand trap for the wind-blown sediments.

Hooke crater topography

In these images, much of the low-lying region to the south, as well as the central mound inside Hooke crater, is covered with a thin, white coating of carbon dioxide frost. At higher elevations and on north-facing crater walls, the frost is largely absent and appears only in areas shaded from direct sunlight by the walls of smaller craters.

Outside the crater, there are a number of linear features visible on the floor of Argyre Planitia, on the south (left) side of the topographic, main colour and 3D images. These are examples of ‘yardangs’, rocky ridges that have been shaped by prolonged wind erosion. Most of the yardangs are oriented towards Hooke crater, indicating the prevailing wind direction.

Hooke crater in Argyre basin

Also visible on the floor of the Argyre basin are small areas of chaotic terrain, which resemble depressions containing flat-topped mesas, buttes and hills. In the topographic, main colour and 3D images, one of these regions can be seen at the top edge, about a third of the way from the left, and another in the lower middle part, down from the left-most edge of the crater.

Chaotic terrains like these are thought to have been created when large-scale melting of ground ice caused the ground to collapse. Where the terrain has not collapsed completely, the larger mesas may still contain substantial water ice.

Hooke crater in 3D

Clearly, this region has been greatly modified by natural forces since the dramatic impacts billions of years ago that formed the Argyre basin and, later, the pair of Hooke craters.

Related links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera:

Behind the lens...:

Frequently asked questions:

ESA Planetary Science archive (PSA):

NASA Planetary Data System:

HRSC data viewer:

Mars Express overview:

Mars Express 10 year brochure:

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


jeudi 18 septembre 2014

Halfway through Blue Dot mission

ESA - Blue Dot Mission patch.

18 September 2014

Halfway through his six-month Blue Dot mission, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is sharing the International Space Station with only two colleagues: Maxim Suraev and Reid Wiseman.

The astronauts from Expedition 40 left the orbital outpost last week and landed safely back on Earth. Max, Alexander and Reid will have the Space Station to themselves until the next Soyuz spacecraft arrives on 25 October with NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and cosmonauts Elena Serova and Alexander Samoukutyaev.

 Robotics workstation

But the research work does not come to a halt during the two weeks the Station has a reduced crew.

On 22 September Alexander and Reid will use the robotic arm to grapple and berth the latest Dragon cargo vessel bringing supplies. They began preparing the workstation by routing cables and setting up controls in the six-window Cupola observatory. Alexander also collected items for return to Earth on the Dragon ferry.

International science

Alexander and Reid continue to collect inputs for ESA’s Energy experiment that charts precisely how many calories astronauts need in space. The duo took urine and water samples and prepared them for for analysis on Earth.

For Japan’s space agency, JAXA, Alexander worked on experiments on growing semiconductors in microgravity and how animal cells sense gravity.

Science in space

Alexander continues to use his experience as a volunteer firefighter for NASA’s experiments burning fuel droplets. The results will improve our understanding of how fires behave in space and help to raise the fuel efficiency of engines on the ground.

Earlier this month, Alexander worked on MagVector, a European experiment investigating how Earth’s magnetic field interacts with electrical conductors. This research will not only help to improve future Space Station experiments and electrical experiments but it could also offer insights into how magnetic fields influence conductors in general – a backbone of terrestrial technology.

Space MacGyver

Sawing launch bolt

In his spare time, Alexander takes amazing images of our planet and continues to work on scientific experiments. The large Electromagnetic Levitator arrived at the Station on ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle in August but a bolt securing the hardware for launch was stuck. Alexander managed to saw the bolt out, cleverly using shaving foam to keep any metal debris from floating free. All in a day’s work for an astronaut.

Sandstorm over the Sahara

Follow Alexander and his mission via

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.


Lemon juice: new ingredient for space designers?

ESA - Clean Space logo.

18 September 2014

Corrosion resistance and high strength put stainless steel high on the list of essential materials for satellite and rocket designers. Now ESA plans to investigate an alternative, environmental-friendly method of readying this important metal.

Lemons: source of citric acid

Back in 1913, metallurgist Harry Brearley glanced at a pile of experimental steel alloys, rejected for not being hard enough, and noticed one specimen that gleamed as bright as new, rather than rusting like all the rest.

He had just discovered stainless steel. Adding chromium to steel in the correct ratio prevents it from tarnishing in air. Instead of forming iron oxide in reaction to air and water, stainless steel builds an invisible protective layer of chromium oxide instead.

A century on and stainless steel is used to make everything from cutlery to architecture to aircraft – as well as rockets and satellites.

Metallurgist Harry Brearley

For the space business, stainless steel is commonly used in the storage and handling of propellants and waste, components of thermal protection systems and fasteners such as high-strength bolts.

Before they are put to use, however, stainless steel parts must first be ‘passivated’ – stripping off their surface layer to remove any imperfections or contamination left over from the machining process, which might otherwise start to rust.

Traditionally this is done by bathing the parts in nitric acid, but this has environmental and safety disadvantages. It involves special handling and produces nitrogen oxides, which are greenhouse gases and potentially harmful to workers.

Satellite thruster systems employ stainless steel parts

Citric acid – found in a dilute form in lemon juice – has been put forward as a greener passivation alternative, being adopted in a variety of sectors, including the medical, automotive and aerospace industries.

But does this alternative option satisfy the unique requirements of the space industry? A new study by ESA’s Clean Space initiative, tasked with reducing the space industry’s environmental impact on Earth and space, aims to find out.

Stainless steel valve for ISS

The study will involve passivating stainless steel alloys and components typically used in the space sector, assessing their manufacturing process, then subjecting them to a gamut of environmental tests – including stress corrosion cracking, atmospheric and laboratory corrosion testing, adhesion testing and mechanical fatigue – along with a complete metallurgical analysis.

Bidders are welcome on the study contract. For more information, check the invitation package, accessible here:

Related link:


About Clean Space:

What is Clean Space?:

Why is it needed?:

What are its objectives?:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Vidéo du CSG-S. Martin/Wikimedia Commons–André Karwath-David Morris.

Best regards,

mercredi 17 septembre 2014

Meteor-M 1 five years in orbit



September 17, 2014, it was five years since the successful launch of the spacecraft (SC) Meteor-M 1.

Meteor-M 1 spacecraft

Meteor-M 1 - the first device space complex hydrometeorological and oceanographic software "Meteor-3M", which is designed to receive the remote sensing (RS) for operational meteorology, hydrology, meteorology, climate monitoring and the environment, including including near-Earth space.
To achieve the objectives of the target equipment Meteor-M 1 includes such devices as a set of multispectral satellite imagery (KMSS), a multi-channel scanner, low resolution (MSU-MR), the module temperature and humidity atmospheric sounding (MTVZA) airborne radar system (BRLK) and others.

With these equipment Meteor-M 1 on a regular basis are working on rapid mapping of ice conditions in the domestic and external seas of Russia, built survey and local maps clouds.

Global Data MSU-ll allow you to track the path of the typhoon, cyclone, hurricane, which belong to the most dangerous natural phenomena. Data are used Roshydromet, the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian Transport Ministry to recommend a course of pilotage and timely warning to the population.

Monitoring tropical storm

For forecasting spring floods and floods on the basis of Meteor-M 1 prepared by satellite images of the degree of destruction of ice cover and river flows.

Each year, survey data from the Meteor-M 1 are used for real-time monitoring of Russian regions covered by forest and peat fires. Operational data recording after standard work every day in season fires enter the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the regions.

Satellite imagery Meteor-M 1 regularly used to monitor volcanic activity, agricultural land use, forest management (illegal logging, reforestation), as well as solutions and other applications.

Among the consumers of this information - the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Economic Development, Roshydromet, Roscosmos, Russian Academy of Sciences, the executive authorities of the Russian Federation (the Voronezh region, Lipetsk region, Magadan region, Tambov region, Volgograd region, Tomsk Oblast Kaluga region, Vladimir region, Kirov region, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Kamchatka Krai, Khabarovsk Krai, Altai Republic) and many others.

Monitoring of forest fires

Over five years, 821 developed and implemented the program of work onboard target equipment. Means of ground-based receiving, processing, archiving and dissemination of satellite data and Roscosmos Hydromet was held 17079 transmissions targeted information with Meteor-M 1. During this period, were received and processed 6,340 requests for information from the equipment KMSS. Survey of the entire Earth's surface equipment MSU-MR performed without applications in continuous mode.

In addition, during the reporting period were processed and promptly comply with requests of EMERCOM of Russia, the Russian operator input from the International Charter "Space and natural disasters."

During operation of the consumers given more than 581 million. Sq. km. information with KMSS and more 23915000000. sq. km. information from the MSU-MR.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

The press service of the Russian Space Agency and JSC "Corporation VNIIEM"/ Roscosmos / Translation: Aerospace.


Station Crew Trains to Capture Dragon

ISS - Expedition 41 Mission patch.

September 17, 2014

While they await next week’s launch of the other half of their crew to the International Space Station, Expedition 41 Commander Max Suraev and Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman and Alexander Gerst focused Wednesday on health checks, cargo operations and robotic practice for the capture of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship set to launch Saturday.

Commander Suraev began the day downloading micro-accelerometer data from the Identification experiment. This study measures the loads on the station during dynamic events like reboosts, such as the one that took place on Saturday when the engines of the “Georges Lemaitre” Automated Transfer Vehicle-5 docked to the Zvezda service module were fired to adjust the station’s orbit.

Afterward, Suraev conducted a communications system test before moving on to replace hardware inside Zvezda.

Meanwhile, Wiseman was assisting Gerst with more eye exams for the ongoing Ocular Health study. After Gerst performed a vision test, Wiseman used a tonometer to check the pressure of his German crewmate’s eyes and assisted with a blood pressure reading. NASA recently identified that some astronauts experience changes in their vision, which might be related to effects of microgravity on the cardiovascular system as the body’s fluids tend to move toward the upper body and head and cause the pressure in the skull to rise. Flight surgeons are keeping close tabs on this issue to maintain the crew’s ocular health and develop countermeasures to reduce the risk.

Image above: In the International Space Station's Harmony node, Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst performs an eye exam for the Ocular Health experiment which observes and seeks to understand vision changes during long-term space missions. Image Credit: NASA.

Wiseman then gathered hardware and set up the Maintenance Work Area for some replacement work he will perform Thursday on the Combustion Integrated Rack’s Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus. The rack, which includes an optics bench, combustion chamber, fuel and oxidizer control and five different cameras, allows a variety of combustion experiments to be performed safely aboard the station.

Wiseman took a brief break in the morning to use the amateur radio in the Columbus laboratory to talk with students in Switzerland about living and working in space.

As they moved into the heart of the workday, Gerst and Wiseman focused on preparations for the arrival of the fourth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission, SpaceX CRS-4. The SpaceX Dragon cargo ship, loaded with more than 5,000 pounds of scientific experiments and supplies, will launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Saturday at 2:16 a.m. NASA Television coverage of the launch will begin at 1:15 a.m.

Image above: Though clouds over Florida in this Expedition 41 picture from the International Space Station cover most of the state, their adherence to the outline of the peninsula give away the identity of the state. Image Credit: NASA.

Gerst and Wiseman will use the 57-foot Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture the commercial cargo craft around 7:30 a.m. Monday for its berthing to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node. NASA TV coverage of the grapple will begin at 5:30 a.m. Coverage will resume at 9:30 a.m. for the installation of Dragon to Harmony.

Learn more about SpaceX CRS-4:

To prepare for the influx of new science and supplies, Gerst and Wiseman participated in a conference with the ground team to discuss the Dragon cargo operations. Later, Gerst and Wiseman conducted some on-board training to practice the procedures for grappling Dragon with Canadarm2.

Wiseman then packed up the Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability experiment, or FASES, for return to Earth aboard Dragon. The SpaceX cargo ship will remain attached to Harmony for more than four weeks and then splash down in the Pacific Ocean with almost two tons of experiment samples and equipment returning from the station.

Image above: Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst uses a strip of tape to help secure the doors of the NanoRacks CubeSat deployer mechanism inside the Kibo airlock aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Wiseman also powered up the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, which provides a temperature-controlled environment for experiments on cells, microbes and plants.

Gerst, who spent some time in the Columbus laboratory for a pair of in-flight interviews, spent much of the remainder of his day working in the Kibo laboratory. After he pressurized the Japanese lab’s scientific airlock, he opened the door to access the NanoRacks CubeSat deployer mechanism inside the airlock. The deployer mechanism was used to deploy CubeSats into orbit while it was attached to the end of the Japanese robotic arm outside the station last month. While some of the mechanism’s CubeSats were deployed successfully last month, others did not eject from the mechanism as planned. With the deployer mechanism now back inside the airlock, Gerst secured the doors to the two remaining CubeSats to prevent any further inadvertent deploys.

Image above: At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore, Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyaev and Flight Engineer Elena Serova pose for pictures Sept. 13 in front of their Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov.

Suraev spent his afternoon stowing trash and unneeded items inside the ISS Progress 56 cargo craft docked to the Pirs docking compartment. That resupply ship, which delivered nearly three tons of cargo when it arrived on July 23, will undock from the station in late October for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

Suraev, Wiseman and Gerst closed out the day with a handover conference to pass along the lessons learned during their first four months aboard the station to the next three crew members set to arrive next week. NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore, Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyaev and Flight Engineer Elena Serova are at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan completing final preparations for their launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft on Sept. 25 at 4:25 p.m. (Sept. 26. at 2:25 a.m., Kazakh time). After a six-hour, four-orbit trek to the orbiting complex, Wilmore, Samokutyaev and Serova will spend nearly six months living and working in space.

Learn more about Expedition 41:

Related links:

Ocular Health study:

Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability experiment, or FASES:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA.


NASA Mars Spacecraft Ready for Sept. 21 Orbit Insertion

NASA - MAVEN Mission logo.

September 17, 2014

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is nearing its scheduled Sept. 21 insertion into Martian orbit after completing a 10-month interplanetary journey of 442 million miles.

Flight Controllers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado, will be responsible for the health and safety of the spacecraft throughout the process. The spacecraft’s mission timeline will place the spacecraft in orbit at approximately 9:50 p.m. EDT.

“So far, so good with the performance of the spacecraft and payloads on the cruise to Mars,” said David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The team, the flight system, and all ground assets are ready for Mars orbit insertion.”

The orbit-insertion maneuver will begin with the brief firing of six small thruster engines to steady the spacecraft. The engines will ignite and burn for 33 minutes to slow the craft, allowing it to be pulled into an elliptical orbit with a period of 35 hours.

Image above: This artist concept depicts the process of orbital insertion of NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC.

Following orbit insertion, MAVEN will begin a six-week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering the spacecraft into its final orbit and testing its instruments and science-mapping commands. Thereafter, MAVEN will begin its one-Earth-year primary mission to take measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind.

“The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where did the water that was present on early Mars go, about where did the carbon dioxide go,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate, and its potential to support at least microbial life.”

MAVEN launched Nov. 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying three instrument packages. It is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars. The mission’s combination of detailed measurements at specific points in Mars’ atmosphere and global imaging provides a powerful tool for understanding the properties of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere.

Investigating the Martian Atmosphere

“MAVEN is another NASA robotic scientific explorer that is paving the way for our journey to Mars,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Together, robotics and humans will pioneer the Red Planet and the solar system to help answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth.”

The spacecraft’s principal investigator is based at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at University of Colorado, Boulder. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the project and also provided two science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley provided four science instruments for MAVEN. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

To learn more about the MAVEN mission, visit:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Goddard Space Flight Center/Nancy Neal-Jones/Elizabeth Zubritsky.


Hubble helps astronomers find smallest known galaxy with supermassive black hole

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

17 September 2014

Big surprises can come in small packages

Artist’s concept of supermassive black hole within M60-UCD1

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have found a monster lurking in a very unlikely place. New observations of the ultracompact dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1 have revealed a supermassive black hole at its heart, making this tiny galaxy the smallest ever found to host a supermassive black hole. This suggests that there may be many more supermassive black holes that we have missed, and tells us more about the formation of these incredibly dense galaxies. The results will be published in the journal Nature on 18 September 2014.

Hubble image of Messier 60 and M60-UCD1

Lying about 50 million light-years away, M60-UCD1 is a tiny galaxy with a diameter of 300 light-years — just 1/500th of the diameter of the Milky Way. Despite its size it is pretty crowded, containing some 140 million stars. While this is characteristic of an ultracompact dwarf galaxy (UCD) like M60-UCD1, this particular UCD happens to be the densest ever seen [1].

Ultracompact dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1 as viewed by Hubble

Despite their huge numbers of stars, UCDs always seem to be heavier than they should be. Now, an international team of astronomers has made a new discovery that may explain why — at the heart of M60-UCD1 lurks a supermassive black hole [2] with the mass of 20 million Suns.

Hubble image of galaxy pair Arp 116

"We've known for some time that many UCDs are a bit overweight. They just appear to be too heavy for the luminosity of their stars," says co-author Steffen Mieske of the European Southern Observatory in Chile. "We had already published a study that suggested this additional weight could come from the presence of supermassive black holes, but it was only a theory. Now, by studying the movement of the stars within M60-UCD1, we have detected the effects of such a black hole at its centre. This is a very exciting result and we want to know how many more UCDs may harbour such extremely massive objects."

Hubble image of Arp 116 (annotated)

The supermassive black hole at the centre of M60-UCD1 makes up a huge 15 percent of the galaxy's total mass, and weighs five times that of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. "That is pretty amazing, given that the Milky Way is 500 times larger and more than 1000 times heavier than M60-UCD1," explains Anil Seth of the University of Utah, USA, lead author of the international study. "In fact, even though the black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy has the mass of 4 million Suns it is still less than 0.01 percent of the Milky Way's total mass, which makes you realise how significant M60-UCD1's black hole really is."

Ground-based image of Arp 116 and its surroundings

The team discovered the supermassive black hole by observing M60-UCD1 with both the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini North 8-metre optical and infrared telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, USA. The sharp Hubble images provided information about the galaxy's diameter and stellar density, whilst Gemini was used to measure the movement of stars in the galaxy as they were affected by the black hole's gravitational pull. These data were then used to calculate the mass of the unseen black hole.

Video simulation showing artist’s impression of dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1's formation

The finding implies that there may be a substantial population of previously unnoticed black holes. In fact, the astronomers predict there may be as many as double the known number of black holes in the local Universe.

Additionally, the results could affect theories of how such UCDs form. "This finding suggests that dwarf galaxies may actually be the stripped remnants of larger galaxies that were torn apart during collisions with other galaxies, rather than small islands of stars born in isolation," explains Seth. "We don't know of any other way you could make a black hole so big in an object this small."

Zoom into galaxy pair Arp 116

One explanation is that M60-UCD1 was once a large galaxy containing 10 billion stars, and a supermassive black hole to match. "This galaxy may have passed too close to the centre of its much larger neighbouring galaxy, Messier 60," explains co author Remco van den Bosch of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. "In that process the outer part of the galaxy would have been torn away to become part of Messier 60, leaving behind only the small and compact galaxy we see today."

Pan across galaxy pair Arp 116

The team believes that M60-UDC1 may one day merge with Messier 60 to form a single galaxy. Messier 60 also has its own monster black hole an amazing 4.5 billion times the size of our Sun and more than 1000 times bigger than the black hole in our Milky Way. A merger between the two galaxies would also cause the black holes to merge, creating an even more monstrous black hole.


[1] In fact, if you lived inside this galaxy the night sky would dazzle with the light of at least a million stars, all visible to the naked eye. On Earth, a comparatively measly 4000 stars are visible.

[2] Black holes are ultracompact objects with a gravitational pull so strong that even light cannot escape. Supermassive black holes — those with the mass of at least 1 million stars like our Sun — are thought to be at the centres of many galaxies.

Notes for editors:

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

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of A.C. Seth (University of Utah, USA); R. van den Bosch (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany); S. Mieske (European Southern Observatory, Chile); H. Baumgardt (University of Queensland, Australia); M. den Brok (University of Utah, USA); J. Strader (Michigan State University, USA); N. Neumayer (European Southern Observatory, Germany); I. Chilingarian (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, USA; Moscow State University, Russia); M. Hilker (European Southern Observatory, Germany); R. McDermid (Australian Astronomical Observatory, Australia; Macquarie University, Australia); L. Spitler (Australian Astronomical Observatory, Australia; Macquarie University, Australia); J. Brodie (University of California, USA); M. J. Frank (Heidelberg University, Germany); J. L. Walsh (The University of Texas at Austin, USA).


Images of Hubble:

NASA press release:

Science paper in Nature:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/ESA/D. Coe/G. Bacon (STScI)/A. Seth (University of Utah, USA)/Hubble Heritage(STScI/AURA)/Digitized Sky Survey 2 (Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin)/Videos: NASA/ESA/H. Baumgardt (University of Queensland)/A. Fujii, Digitized Sky Survey 2. Music: R. Vreeland (


Launch of Top Secret CLIO Payload on Atlas V Rocket

ULA - Atlas V / CLIO Mission poster.

Sept. 17, 2014

Atlas V CLIO mission liftoff

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the CLIO mission for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company launched at 8:10 p.m. EDT (Sept. 16, 2014) from Space Launch Complex-41.

“It is an honor to work with Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company and all of our mission partners to launch this very important satellite,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “Today’s launch marks ULA’s 11th successful mission this year and the 88th successful mission since ULA was formed in December 2006, a true testament to the teams focus on mission success, one launch at a time.”

 Launch of Top Secret CLIO Payload on Atlas V Rocket

This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter-diameter payload fairing.  The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A engine.

 Atlas V 401 configuration vehicle description

“The ULA, Lockheed Martin, supplier, and government teams seamlessly integrated to ensure accurate delivery of the CLIO mission to orbit,” said Sponnick.

ULA's next launch is the Atlas V GPS IIF-8 mission for the United States Air Force scheduled for Oct. 29, from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 85 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system. ULA – Bringing rocket science down to Earth.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at Join the conversation at and

Images, Video, Text, Credit: United Launch Alliance (ULA) /


Violent Origins of Disc Galaxies Probed by ALMA

ESO - Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) logo.

17 September 2014

New observations explain why Milky Way-like galaxies are so common in the Universe

For decades scientists have believed that galaxy mergers usually result in the formation of elliptical galaxies. Now, for the the first time, researchers using ALMA and a host of other radio telescopes have found direct evidence that merging galaxies can instead form disc galaxies, and that this outcome is in fact quite common. This surprising result could explain why there are so many spiral galaxies like the Milky Way in the Universe.

An international research group led by Junko Ueda, a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science postdoctoral fellow, has made surprising observations that most galaxy collisions in the nearby Universe — within 40–600 million light-years from Earth — result in so-called disc galaxies. Disc galaxies — including spiral galaxies like the Milky Way and lenticular galaxies — are defined by pancake-shaped regions of dust and gas, and are distinct from the category of elliptical galaxies.

Distribution of molecular gas in 30 merging galaxies

It has, for some time, been widely accepted that merging disc galaxies would eventually form an elliptically shaped galaxy. During these violent interactions the galaxies do not only gain mass as they merge or cannibalise each-other, but they are also changing their shape throughout cosmic time, and therefore changing type along the way.

Computer simulations from the 1970s predicted that mergers between two comparable disc galaxies would result in an elliptical galaxy. The simulations predict that most galaxies today are elliptical, clashing with observations that over 70% of galaxies are in fact disc galaxies. However, more recent simulations have suggested that collisions could also form disc galaxies.

To identify the final shapes of galaxies after mergers observationally, the group studied the distribution of gas in 37 galaxies that are in their final stages of merging. The Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) and several other radio telescopes [1] were used to observe emission from carbon monoxide (CO), an indicator of molecular gas.

Merger between two galaxies (artist’s impression) 

The team’s research is the largest study of molecular gas in galaxies to date and provides unique insight into how the Milky Way might have formed. Their study revealed that almost all of the mergers show pancake-shaped areas of molecular gas, and hence are disc galaxies in the making. Ueda explains: “For the first time there is observational evidence for merging galaxies that could result in disc galaxies. This is a large and unexpected step towards understanding the mystery of the birth of disc galaxies.”

Nonetheless, there is a lot more to discover. Ueda added: “We have to start focusing on the formation of stars in these gas discs. Furthermore, we need to look farther out in the more distant Universe. We know that the majority of galaxies in the more distant Universe also have discs. We however do not yet know whether galaxy mergers are also responsible for these, or whether they are formed by cold gas gradually falling into the galaxy. Maybe we have found a general mechanism that applies throughout the history of the Universe.”


[1] The data were obtained by ALMA; the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy: a millimeter array consisting of 23 parabola antennas in California; the Submillimeter Array a submillimeter array consisting of eight parabola antennas in Mauna Kea, Hawaii; the Plateau de Bure Interferometer; the NAOJ Nobeyama Radio Observatory 45m radio telescope; USA’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory 12m telescope; USA's Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory 14m telescope; IRAM’s 30m telescope; and the Swedish-ESO Submillimeter Telescope as a supplement.

More information:

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

These observation results were published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement (August 2014) as Ueda et al. "Cold Molecular Gas in Merger Remnants. I. Formation of Molecular Gas Discs".

The team is composed of Junko Ueda (JSPS postdoctoral fellow/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan [NAOJ]), Daisuke Iono (NAOJ/The Graduate University for Advanced Studies [SOKENDAI]), Min S. Yun (The University of Massachusetts), Alison F. Crocker (The University of Toledo), Desika Narayanan (Haverford College), Shinya Komugi (Kogakuin University/ NAOJ), Daniel Espada (NAOJ/SOKENDAI/Joint ALMA Observatory), Bunyo Hatsukade (NAOJ), Hiroyuki Kaneko (University of Tsukuba), Yoichi Tamura (The University of Tokyo), David J. Wilner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Ryohei Kawabe (NAOJ/ SOKENDAI/The University of Tokyo) and Hsi-An Pan (Hokkaido University/SOKENDAI/NAOJ)

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper on Astro-Ph:

For more information about ALMA, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/SMA/CARMA/IRAM/J. Ueda et al./Video: NAOJ.

Best regards,

mardi 16 septembre 2014

Satellites Sees Tropical Storm Odile Knocking at Southwest

NASA / NOAA - GOES Mission patch / NASA - EOS TERRA Mission patch.

September 16, 2014

Odile (Eastern Pacific)

Tropical Storm Odile continues to drench western Mexico and has now entered into the U.S. Southwest. On September 15, NASA's Terra satellite saw Odile's northernmost edge crossing the Mexican border into southern California. NOAA's GOES-East satellite on Sept. 16 showed Odile's outer bands were already bringing storms to southern Arizona.

Image above: On Sept. 15 at 2:35 p.m. EDT, NASA's Terra satellite saw the northern fringes of Hurricane Odile straddling the border with southern California and Arizona. Image Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team.

NASA Sees Odile Knocking on U.S. Border

On Sept. 15 at 2:35 p.m. EDT, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite saw the northern fringes of Hurricane Odile straddling the border with southern California and Arizona. By the next day, September 16, NOAA's GOES-West satellite saw an outer band of the now weakened Tropical Storm Odile affecting Arizona.

Flood Watch in Effect for Tucson, Arizona and Surrounding Area

In the U.S., flash flood watch remains in effect from late tonight (Sept. 16) through Thursday afternoon including the greater Tucson area. The National Weather Service cautioned that the heaviest rainfall amounts will total 3 to 5 inches by late Thursday.  For details visit:

Warnings in Effect in Mexico

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for the west coast of the Baja Peninsula from Puerto San Andresito to San Jose De Las Palomas and the east coast of the peninsula from Loreto to San Felipe.  In addition, a Tropical Storm Warning is up for mainland Mexico From Huatabampito to Puerto Libertad. A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for the west coast of the Baja Peninsula north of San Jose De Las Palomas to Cabo San Quintin.

Odile's Status on September 16

At 8 a.m. EDT on September 16, the center of Tropical Storm Odile was located near latitude 28.1 north and longitude 113.0 west. Odile was moving toward the north-northwest near 10 mph (17 kph) and a turn toward the north and north-northeast is expected later in the day. Maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 60 mph (95 kph) and weakening is forecast. The estimated minimum central pressure is 994 millibars.

Image above: This visible image taken on Sept. 16 at 10:11 a.m. EDT from NOAA's GOES-West satellite shows Tropical Storm Odile moving over Baja California, Mexico and stretching into the southwestern U.S. Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

The National Hurricane Center noted that on the forecast track, the center of Odile will continue to move over or near the east coast of the Baja California Peninsula through today...and move over the northern Gulf of California tonight and into northern mainland Mexico on Wednesday.

GOES Video of Odile Making Landfall in Baja

Video above: Satellite Movie Shows Hurricane Odile Make Landfall in Baja California This animation of NOAA's GOES-West satellite imagery from September 13 through September 15 shows Hurricane Odile's movement and landfall near Cabo San Lucas on Mexico's Baja California. TRT 0:42 Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

A visible image on Sept. 16 at 10:11 a.m. from NOAA's GOES-West satellite showed Tropical Storm Odile moving over Baja California, Mexico and stretching into the southwestern U.S.

Odile is likely to become a tropical depression by early Wednesday, September 17.

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

Best regards,