mercredi 30 décembre 2015

Hubble Views Two Galaxies Merging

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 30, 2015

This image, taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the galaxy NGC 6052, located around 230 million light-years away in the constellation of Hercules.

It would be reasonable to think of this as a single abnormal galaxy, and it was originally classified as such. However, it is in fact a “new” galaxy in the process of forming. Two separate galaxies have been gradually drawn together, attracted by gravity, and have collided. We now see them merging into a single structure.

As the merging process continues, individual stars are thrown out of their original orbits and placed onto entirely new paths, some very distant from the region of the collision itself. Since the stars produce the light we see, the “galaxy” now appears to have a highly chaotic shape. Eventually, this new galaxy will settle down into a stable shape, which may not resemble either of the two original galaxies.

Related link:

Wide Field Planetary Camera 2:

For images and more information, visit:

Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt/Text Credits: European Space Agency/Ashley Morrow.

Season' Greetings,

mardi 29 décembre 2015

NASA Looks at Deadly Weather Over the U.S.

NASA / JAXA - GPM Mission logo.

Dec. 29, 2015

NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement or GPM mission core satellite analyzed extreme weather that affected the U.S. over the course of five days. Heavy rainfall, flooding and tornado outbreaks affected areas of the United States from the Southwest through the Midwest from December 23 to 27, 2015.

NASA Looks at Deadly Weather Over the U.S.

Video above: This animated NASA rainfall analysis from Dec. 23 to 27, 2015, showed highest rainfall totals of almost 938 mm (36.8 inches) were measured by IMERG in the state of Alabama. Video Credits: NASA/JAXA/SSAI, Hal Pierce.

GPM is an international satellite mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to provide next-generation observations of rain and snow worldwide every three hours.

An analysis was made of the rainfall that occurred during the period from December 21 to 28, 2015. This analysis used data generated by NASA's Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG). This analysis showed that during the past week the highest rainfall totals of almost 938 mm (36.8 inches) were measured by IMERG in the state of Alabama.

Image above: A NASA rainfall analysis from Dec. 23 to 27 showed highest rainfall totals of almost 938 mm (36.8 inches) were measured by IMERG in the state of Alabama. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA/SSAI, Hal Pierce.

The GPM satellite passed above a line of tornadic thunderstorms moving through the Midwest on December 23, 2015 at 2232 UTC (5:32 p.m. EST). GPM's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) instruments had an excellent view of the violent weather occurring near the center of the satellite's swath.  The supercell thunderstorm that moved from northern Mississippi into Tennessee generated two tornadoes. Fourteen deaths alone occurred with tornadoes that hit Benton, Mississippi on December 23, 2015.

GPM's Radar (DPR Ku band) revealed the intensity of thunderstorms within this line of powerful storms. Many of those thunderstorms contained heavy showers that were returning 45 dBZ values or greater to the satellite (dBZ values (decibels of Z) represent the energy reflected back to the GPM satellite). At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. the data was used to create a color enhanced 3-D view of the GPM radar's slice through the line of storms.

The low pressure area that brought the severe weather moved into the Great Lakes region on Dec. 29 bringing rain and snow from the Middle/Upper Mississippi.

Valleys across the Great Lakes and into New England.

Image above: GPM data was used to create this color enhanced 3-D slice through a line of storms on Dec. 23 that spawned tornadoes in Mississippi. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA/SSAI, Hal Pierce.

The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center (NWS/WPC) in College Park Md. stated in the Dec. 29 Short Range Forecast Discussion that residual flooding and/or the threat for flooding will persist from Oklahoma to Illinois. NWS/WPC noted that several rivers across the Midwest were out of their banks on Dec. 29. Several locations along the Mississippi River from St. Louis down to the delta are anticipating major flooding, possibly even breaking record flood levels. For updated forecast summaries from NWS/WPC, visit:

For more information about GPM, visit:

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


Long March 3B launches Gaofen-4 satellite, ends 2015 launches year

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

December 28, 2015

Chinese Long March 3B Rocket Successfully Launches Gaofen-4

A Chinese Long March 3B Rocket blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Monday December 28, lifting the Gaofen-4 satellite into orbit to have a watchful eye on Planet Earth, becoming China’s first remote sensing satellite operated from Geosynchronous Orbit.

The launch involved the orbiting of a geostationary remote sensing bird, known as Gaofen-4 (GF-4). It was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 16:05 UTC.

China Launches High Definition Earth Observation Satellite

Gaofen-4 is China’s first geosynchronous orbit remote sensing satellite featuring a visible light and infra-red staring optical imager with a common optical system.

The optical resolution is better than 50 meters, while the infrared resolution is better than 400 meters. GF-4 can provide an imaging area of 7,000 km × 7,000 km with individual scene covering an area of 400 km × 400 km, and with capacity for high temporal resolution remote sensing monitor at minute-level. Launch mass is 4,600 kg. Gaofen-4 will be operational for 8 years.

Gaofen 4 satellite

Gaofen 4 was positioned in geostationary orbit with optical and infrared staring imagers for continuous observations of China and surrounding regions, such as disaster monitoring, meteorological observation agriculture, national security, etc.

Monday’s mission was the 222th flight of the Long March rocket series and the 34th liftoff overall for the 3B version. It’s also the 9th launch from Xichang this year.

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

Images, Video, Text, Credits: CASC/CCTV+/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace.


lundi 28 décembre 2015

Wisps Under the Rings

NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

Dec. 28, 2015

Dione's beautiful wispy terrain is brightly lit alongside Saturn's elegant rings.

The "wisps" are relatively young fractures on the trailing hemisphere of Dione's (698 miles or 1123 kilometers across) icy surface. See PIA06162 and PIA06163 for higher resolution views of Dione's wispy terrain.

This view looks toward the anti-Saturn side of Dione. North on Dione is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 15, 2015.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles (1.7 million kilometers) from Dione. Image scale is 7 miles (11 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Related links:

PIA06162: Dione's Surprise:

PIA06163: Highest Resolution View of Dione:

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit or . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at and ESA's website:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Tony Greicius.

Season' Greetings,

Boulders on a Martian Landslide

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

Dec. 28, 2015

The striking feature in this image, acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 19, 2014, is a boulder-covered landslide along a canyon wall. Landslides occur when steep slopes fail, sending a mass of soil and rock to flow downhill, leaving behind a scarp at the top of the slope. The mass of material comes to rest when it reaches shallower slopes, forming a lobe of material that ends in a well-defined edge called a toe.

This landslide is relatively fresh, as many individual boulders still stand out above the main deposit. Additionally, while several small impact craters are visible in the landslide lobe, they are smaller in size and fewer in number than those on the surrounding valley floor. The scarp itself also looks fresh compared to the rest of the cliff: it, too, has boulders, and more varied topography than the adjacent dusty terrain.

Just to the north of the landslide scarp is a similarly-shaped scar on the cliffside. However, there is no landslide material on the valley floor below it. The older landslide deposit has either been removed or buried, a further indicator of the relative youth of the bouldery landslide.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

More information and image products:

For more information about Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), visit:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Caption: HiRISE Targeting Specialists/Sarah Loff.


Europe’s first decade of navigation satellites

ESA - Galileo Programme logo.

28 December 2015

Ten years ago today saw the launch of Europe’s very first navigation satellite. A decade of hard work later, more than a third of the Galileo constellation has followed it into orbit and a ground network sharpening the satnav system’s accuracy encompasses the globe.

GIOVE-A, short for Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element-A, was launched by Soyuz from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 28 December 2005.


“Much work had already taken place on the ground, but GIOVE-A marked the first time that Galileo hardware went into orbit,” recalls Didier Faivre, heading ESA’s navigation directorate.

“It had a crucial role: to claim operating frequencies that had been set aside for Galileo by the International Telecommunications Union, to demonstrate essential technologies such as Galileo’s rubidium atomic clock, and to gather data on the radiation-rich environment of medium-altitude orbit, which was a relatively unknown region for Europe.

“So GIOVE-A opened the way to all that followed – the follow-up GIOVE-B in 2008, and then the launches of the Galileo satellites proper – a total of six double-satellite launches from 2011 to earlier this month, with 12 satellites placed in orbit so far, on the way to the full 30-satellite constellation.

Didier Faivre

“Our three launches this year doubled the number of satellites in orbit, and the pace of progress is set to increase further in 2016, when we will see Ariane 5 called on to launch Galileo for the first time, doubling the number of satellites released on each flight.”

Progress in space has been mirrored on Earth, with the establishment of Galileo’s ground segment: two control centres in Fucino, Italy, and Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, sit at the heart of a worldwide network of ground stations.

This ground segment, as one of the most complex infrastructures ever overseen by ESA, has the task of keeping all the satellites healthy and their navigation signals synched – the timing system accurate to a few billionths of a second that provides the submetre precision.

GIOVE-A liftoff

Sensor stations to monitor Galileo signals and return data to the control centres are required all across the vast footprint of the system. Their locations range from the Arctic to Antarctic to lonely mid-ocean islands, all connected back to Europe via satellite.

Initial Galileo services are set to be available during next year. New generations of commercial satnav receivers are already ‘Galileo-ready’, having received extensive technical checks from ESA’s Navigation Laboratory.

And national governments are already preparing to make use of Galileo’s Public Regulated Service – PRS, the most secure and precise class of service, restricted to authorised users. Belgium, France, Italy and the UK have all performed their own PRS acquisitions and positioning testing.

GIOVE-A on ground

As for GIOVE-A, the satellite that started it all, its ESA mission concluded in 2012, once the first four Galileo satellites followed it to orbit. Remarkably, it is still operational, controlled by builder Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd in the UK.

In the past it has carried out tests of high-altitude satnav detection. Its radiation monitor continues monitoring the medium-altitude orbit environment, helping to forecast the future long-term performance of its Galileo descendants.

Related links:

Tests of high-altitude satnav detection:

Launching Galileo website:

Galileo Tour:

EC Galileo website:

European GNSS Agency:

Far-out space navigation from sideways satnav signals:

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited:

Galileo: the future becomes reality - brochure (PDF):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/J. Mai/Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

Season's Greetings,

vendredi 25 décembre 2015

An astronaut erroneously called by phone a granny on Earth

ISS - Expedition 46 Mission patch.

December 25, 2015

Astronaut Tim Peake, in six-month mission in space, misadventures with phone calls to the Earth.

British astronaut Tim Peake The currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), apologized Friday from a lady he called in error (wrong number) from space by asking "Hello, is this planet Earth?".

Tim Peake twit screen capture

"It was not a hoax, just a wrong number," he said on Twitter. "I would like to apologize to the lady that I just called by mistake by asking "Hello, is this planet Earth?", he added.

Tim Peake twit screen capture

This is not the first time that "Major Tim", who joined the ISS on December 15 for a six-month mission, misadventures with phone calls to the Earth. On Monday, he told how the phone rang in the void when he tried to reach his parents Nigel and Angela. He left them a message on their answering machine.

A first for Columbia

Astronaut Tim Peake

Tim Peake, 43, is subject to maximum attention in the UK where the media report his every move in space. I must say it is the first Briton to travel to the ISS and only the second in the space after Helen Sharman in 1991.

He took off on December 15 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, along with American Tim Kopra and the Russian Yuri Malenchenko captain. The three men had to manually dock to the ISS because of a technical problem.

Related links:

Astronaut Tim Peake on Twitter:

Principia mission:

Principia in UK:

NASA One-year mission:

To learn more about the International Space Station, visit:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Tim Peake/Wikipedia/Twitter/NXP/AFP/Translation & screen captures: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Season's Greetings,

Radar Images of a Christmas-Eve Asteroid: An Early Gift for Astronomers

Asteroid Watch logo.

Dec. 25, 2015

Images above: These images of an asteroid that is at least 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) long were taken on Dec. 17, 2015, (left) and Dec. 22 (right) by scientists using NASA's 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California. This asteroid, named 2003 SD2020, will safely fly past Earth on Thursday, Dec. 24, at a distance of 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers). On Dec. 17, it was about 7.3 million miles (12 million kilometers) from Earth. By Dec. 22, it was closing in on its Christmas Eve flyby distance. Images Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR.

Asteroid 2003 SD220 safely fly past Earth on Dec. 24 at a distance of 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers). Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have generated the highest-resolution images to date of this asteroid using the Deep Space Network's 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at Goldstone, California. The radar images were acquired between Dec. 17 and Dec. 22, when the distance to this near-Earth object (NEO) was narrowing from 7.3 million miles (12 million kilometers) to almost the flyby distance.

"The radar images data suggest that asteroid 2003 SD220 is highly elongated and at least 3,600 feet [1,100 meters] in length," said Lance Benner of JPL, who leads NASA's asteroid radar research program. "The data acquired during this pass of the asteroid will help us plan for radar imaging during its upcoming closer approach in 2018."

Three years from now, the asteroid will safely fly past Earth again, but even closer, at a distance of 1.8 million miles (2.8 million kilometers). The 2018 flyby will be the closest the asteroid will get to Earth until 2070, when it is expected to safely fly past our planet at a distance of about 1.7 million miles (2.7 million kilometers).

"There is no cause for concern over the upcoming flyby of asteroid 2003 SD220 this Christmas Eve," said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for NEO Studies at JPL. "The closest this object will come to Santa and his eight tiny reindeer is about 28 times the distance between Earth and the moon."

Radar has been used to observe hundreds of asteroids. When these primitive denizens of the solar system pass relatively close to Earth, radar is a powerful technique for studying their sizes, shapes, rotation, surface features and roughness, and for improving the calculation of their orbits.

JPL hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program within the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects can be found at:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/DC Agle/Tony Greicius.

Season's Greetings,

jeudi 24 décembre 2015

ROSCOSMOS: Proton-M with the Express-AMU1 was successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome



 Proton-M carrying Express-AMU1 launch

December 25, 2015 at 00:31 MSK (Moscow Time)launch vehicle (LV) Proton-M with the upper stage Briz-M and telecommunications spacecraft Express-AMU1 successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome platform №200.

Starting performed by specialists and enterprises of Roskosmos space industry of Russia. 10 minutes after the start of the rocket, the upper stage and spacecraft cleanly separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle and entered the calculated orbit.

Launch of space rocket Proton-M with the spacecraft Express AMU1

Further injection into the target orbit carried by the upper stage Breeze-M. The total duration of excretion from the start of the launcher before separation of the spacecraft, will be 9 hours and 12 minutes, the separation of spacecraft Express-AMU1 scheduled for 9:43 MSK December 25, 2015.

The launch was the seventh success since the beginning of 2015 with the launch of a space rocket Proton-M, and 409 for all lёtnuyu its history since 1965.

 Express AMU1 satellite

The spacecraft made by order of subordinate Federal Communications Agency of FSUE Russian Satellite Communications. The device is designed for direct broadcasting and broadband data in the European part of the Russian Federation, as well as sub-Saharan Africa. Spacecraft AMU1 Express will be placed in geostationary orbit at 36 degrees East.  Lifetime of the device is 15 years.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/ROSCOSMOS TV/Airbus/Translation: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Merry Christmas, best regards, (Roland)

mardi 22 décembre 2015

Space Station Receives New Space Tool to Help Locate Ammonia Leaks

ISS - International Space station patch.

Dec. 22, 2015

Nobody wants a spacecraft to spring a leak – but if it happens, the best thing you can do is locate and fix it, fast. That’s why NASA launched the International Space Station (ISS) Robotic External Leak Locator (IRELL), a new tool that could help mission operators detect the location of an external leak and rapidly confirm a successful repair.

Image above: The IRELL tool could help mission operators sniff out and locate potential leaks that might occur on the space station thermal control system. Image Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn.

The IRELL launched to the space station aboard the fourth Orbital ATK Commercial Resupply Services Flight (CRS-4). The tool will be put through a series of tests to evaluate its performance and determine its capabilities as a leak locator for the orbiting space laboratory.

If IRELL’s concept is proven successful, the robotic tool could potentially greatly reduce the time that astronauts spend on spacewalks finding and repairing external leaks on the ISS.  Future versions of IRELL could also potentially support other programs and vehicles operating in low Earth orbit and beyond.

Helping the ISS Operate Optimally

Just as coolant in your car cools its engine, ammonia is circulated through a huge system of pumps, reservoirs and radiators on the space station to cool all of its complex life support systems, spacecraft equipment and science experiments. The coolant system contains thousands of feet of tubing and hundreds of joints. Throughout its lifetime, this system has experienced tens of thousands of thermal cycles through each orbital night and day and the normal wear and tear of 15 years in service. The station also has to contend with micrometeoroids: tiny objects whizzing through space at speeds that can easily exceed 20,000 mph – and that can cause unwanted, microscopic holes in spacecraft equipment.

Image above: Engineers from the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center prepare the IRELL for flight. Image Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn.

Over time, there have been intermittent component failures and leaks in the ammonia cooling loop. Astronauts have undertaken spacewalks to help diagnose, troubleshoot and replace components within the complex active thermal control system. Without a way to robotically locate the leak with high accuracy, astronauts have used valuable spacewalk time to inspect and isolate a potential leak site before addressing the problem at hand.

Working together, the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) and the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) developed the IRELL for the ISS Program to allow ground-based operators to robotically locate leaks so astronauts could dedicate their time and energy to other duties on-orbit.

“This was a fantastic collaborative effort with Johnson,” says Benjamin Reed, deputy project manager of SSCO. “Their team knows the ISS structure inside and out. Every step of the way, we co-designed the IRELL so that it would be precisely ‘the right tool for the job.’”

How the IRELL Works

Two instruments working in sync give the IRELL its ammonia-detecting superpowers. The first sensor, explains Dino Rossetti, the SSCO IRELL Instrument Integration Lead, is a small mass spectrometer. Designed for use in a vacuum, it measures the atomic masses of the molecules present to create a “mass spectrum” reading. From this spectrum, analysts can distinguish between gases that are naturally present in the orbital environment versus ammonia, which could only be coming from the ISS itself. Far more sensitive than a human nose, the instrument can detect ammonia from a football field’s length away.

Image above: Mission Control room at Johnson Space Center from which Dextre operations are commanded. Image Credit: NASA.

The second instrument is an ion vacuum pressure gauge. True to its name, this device measures total pressure in space. It cannot distinguish between different gas molecules, but it can sniff for a large leak up close and locate a leak’s position to within a few inches. If the mass spectrometer is overcome by a sizeable leak, the gauge also offers an alternate method of detection.

After IRELL’s arrival at ISS, the Canadian Dextre robot – completely controlled by ground operators at Johnson – will pick up the tool for an initial series of tests. During subsequent operations, Dextre will point the IRELL toward the space station’s cooling lines while a NASA team monitors from Earth. That’s when the game of “Hot and Cold” begins. When the tool is pointed at a leak, the tool’s signal goes up. The closer the tool comes to the leak source, the higher the reading becomes. When not in use, the instrument will be stored within the ISS.

A Tale of Two Centers

As they locked down the tool’s technical design, the combined Goddard and Johnson teams focused on delivering IRELL quickly and cost-efficiently.

“The challenge,” said Rossetti, “was to identify and incorporate the right sensors and ruggedize the entire instrument, in a cost effective way, for the space environment.”

They also wanted to put the IRELL on a delivery truck 18 months after the designers’ pens touched paper – an incredibly tight timeline for a brand new space tool.

Image above: NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy (right) and Tom Marshburn are seen on a 2013 spacewalk to inspect and replace a pump controller box on the International Space Station's far port truss (P6) leaking ammonia coolant. Image Credit: NASA.

To accelerate the process, the team used an off-the-shelf mass spectrometer called a “residual gas analyzer” developed by Stanford Research Systems. Working with NASA, the company modified their existing design for use in IRELL’s mass spectrometer so NASA wouldn’t have to start from scratch. The ion gauge was also an off-the-shelf device that the team repackaged to fit within the instrument housing.

Through every phase of development, the IRELL project drew heavily from the combined NASA team experience. With a long history of cutting-edge mission planning and operations, the Johnson team is responsible for keeping the immense, orbiting research asset operating safely and reliably for global use. Robotic tools like the IRELL can help them to monitor the space station’s vital signs and prescribe efficient maintenance.

Image above: Controlled by a team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), the Canadian Space Agency’s Dextre robot will point IRELL toward the station’s cooling lines. A NASA ground team will monitor the signals from Earth. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard Spaceflight Center.

Jesse Buffington, the IRELL project manager at JSC, explained that, “The IRELL is a critical capability that will mitigate risk for ISS and will also establish a capability that future extended duration exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit will benefit from.”

In creating the IRELL, SSCO leveraged the experience they gained building and executing the multi-phased Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), an experiment on the space station that is successfully demonstrating robotic tools, technologies and techniques to service spacecraft that were not designed for in-flight repair. Prior to SSCO’s formation in 2009, its core team spent 26 years building more than 300 tools for astronauts to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

“It is very exciting,” said Buffington, “to see the talent and dedication of so many people come together across NASA and our International Partners to create new tools and techniques like the Leak Locator. This new capability will be there to help ensure the ISS can safely operate well into the next decade and point the way for future spacecraft addressing similar concerns.”

Related links:

Robotic External Leak Locator (IRELL):

Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO):

Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM):

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

Space Station Research and Technology:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Jennifer Harbaugh/GSFC/Peter Sooy.

Best regards,

ISS Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist

ISS - International Space Station logo.

December 22, 2015

The International Space Station welcomed three new crew members this week who immediately set to work growing plants in space and conducting science investigations on their own bodies. Data collected from both will not only provide important understanding when planning long-duration missions into our solar system, but could help with plant and human health on Earth.

A Soyuz rocket launched from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, Dec. 15, carrying Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake. The three will spend the next six months living and working on board the orbiting facility.

Peake started his mission on the station by joining NASA astronaut Scott Kelly in caring for the Zinnia flower seedlings in the Veggie facility as part of the Veggie hardware validation test (Veg-01) investigation. The two refilled the plant pillows with water to keep the plants healthy, but are varying the amount of water replaced in the pillows based on the status of each individual plant.

Image above: Zinnia flowers are starting to grow in the International Space Station's Veggie facility as part of the VEG-01 investigation attempting to grow plants in the form of a growth chamber and planting "pillows,” which provide nutrients for the root system in orbit. These plants appear larger than their ground-based counterparts and scientists expect buds to form on the larger plants soon. Image Credits: NASA.

Veggie provides lighting and nutrient supply for plants in the form of a low-cost growth chamber and planting "pillows,” which provide nutrients for the root system. It supports a variety of plant species that can be cultivated for educational outreach, fresh food and even recreation for crew members on long-duration missions. The Veg-01 investigation is used to assess on-orbit function and performance of the Veggie facility, focusing on the growth and development of seedlings in the spaceflight environment and the composition of microbial flora on the plants and the facility. Previously, the facility has grown lettuce -- which was consumed by the crew earlier this year -- and now investigators are attempting to grow Zinnia flowers. Understanding how flowering plants grow in microgravity can be applied to growing other edible flowering plants, such as tomatoes.

Image above: The Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new crew members to the International Space Station docked with the orbiting laboratory on Dec. 15. This image taken from the station shows the newly docked Soyuz in the center with a Progress resupply vehicle already attached to the station in the upper right. Image Credit: NASA.

The Veggie pillow concept is a low mass, low maintenance, modular system that requires no additional energy beyond a special light to help plant growth. Data from this investigation could benefit agricultural practices on Earth by designing systems that use valuable resources, such as water, more efficiently.

While astronauts work to grow healthy plants, they are also trying to keep their own blood healthy. It is believed that microgravity, like long-duration bed rest on Earth, has a negative effect on astronaut bone marrow and the blood cells that are produced there. The extent of this effect and recovery from it are of interest to space research and healthcare providers on Earth.

Peake and Kelly began setup for the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) MARROW study into the effect of microgravity on human bone marrow. Fat cells and blood-producing cells share the same space in bone marrow. During prolonged bed rest on Earth, the fat cells grow at the expense of blood-producing cells. Scientists want to learn if changes in bone marrow fat in space can help explain blood changes for crew members.

Image above: ESA astronaut Tim Peake tweeted a picture of his first blood draw completed in space. The sample was taken as part of the MARROW investigation. Image Credits: Tim Peake on Twitter.

MARROW measures fat changes in the bone marrow before, and after exposure to microgravity. In addition, this investigation measures specific changes of red and white blood cell functions. Bone marrow fat is measured using magnetic resonance. Red blood cell function is measured with a breath sample analyzed with a gas chromatograph, and white blood cell function is studied through their genetic expression. Peake completed his air (breath and ambient air) and blood sampling sessions. This research produces the first data on bone marrow fat changes in microgravity, a vital organ responsible for the production of all red and white blood cells. Data from this study may lead to treatments that would enable safe human space exploration and better recovery from prolonged bed rest on Earth.

The fourth Orbital ATK resupply mission reaching the space station on Dec. 9 brought a new series of NanoRacks Module investigations -- small, encapsulated studies that are added to a rack of investigations on the station. The rack provides data transfer, power and water based on the needs of the individual investigation. The five modules installed this week contain a range of experiments developed by students at Valley Christian School in San Jose, California, and include investigations in to water purification, protein crystallization in space, plant inoculation for disease protection (Plant Inoculum), and background radiation and magnetic fields in microgravity.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly installed NanoRacks modules that arrived on the fourth Orbital ATK resupply mission in a NanoRacks Platform-2 locker in the Japanese Exploration Module (JEM). Animation Credit: NASA.

One of these investigations could impact the design of future spacecraft. The High Temperature Dispersion in Microgravity study examines how heat dissipates in space, examining various methods of accelerating heat dissipation. Thermal control is difficult in the vacuum environment of space, where temperatures can fluctuate several hundred degrees between sunlight and shade and where radiation is the only way to transfer heat. There is no natural convection in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station, so fans are necessary to move heat and air around. This investigation uses resistors to heat up liquid crystal paper and measures temperatures according to the paper’s color change. Research data could change the development of future cooling and thermal regulation systems for next-generation spacecraft as students get a hands-on education about thermodynamics and the nation's space program.

Other investigations and facilities with significant activity this week included Cardio-Ox, DOSIS-3D, OASIS, MELFI, EML, and EXPRESS Racks.

Progress made on human research investigations this week included Cognition, Fine Motor Skills, Habitability, Journals, and Space Headaches.

Related links:

Veggie hardware validation test (Veg-01) investigation:

MARROW study:

High Temperature Dispersion in Microgravity study:






For more information about ISS the space laboratory, visit:

Space Station Research and Technology:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist/Jennifer Harbaugh.

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Lowdown on Ceres: Images From Dawn's Closest Orbit

NASA - Dawn Mission patch.

Dec. 22, 2015

Image above: This image of Ceres was taken in Dawn's low-altitude mapping orbit around a crater chain called Gerber Catena. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft, cruising in its lowest and final orbit at dwarf planet Ceres, has delivered the first images from its best-ever viewpoint. The new images showcase details of the cratered and fractured surface. 3-D versions of two of these views are also available.

Dawn took these images of the southern hemisphere of Ceres on Dec. 10, at an approximate altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers), which is its lowest-ever orbital altitude. Dawn will remain at this altitude for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward. The resolution of the new images is about 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel.

Image above: This 3-D image, best viewed with red-blue glasses, shows a portion of Ceres' southern hemisphere. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Among the striking views is a chain of craters called Gerber Catena, located just west of the large crater Urvara. Troughs are common on larger planetary bodies, caused by contraction, impact stresses and the loading of the crust by large mountains -- Olympus Mons on Mars is one example. The fracturing found all across Ceres' surface indicates that similar processes may have occurred there, despite its smaller size (the average diameter of Ceres is 584 miles, or 940 kilometers). Many of the troughs and grooves on Ceres were likely formed as a result of impacts, but some appear to be tectonic, reflecting internal stresses that broke the crust.

"Why they are so prominent is not yet understood, but they are probably related to the complex crustal structure of Ceres," said Paul Schenk, a Dawn science team member at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.

Image above: This part of Ceres, near the south pole, has such long shadows because, from the perspective of this location, the sun is near the horizon. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

The images were taken as part of a test of Dawn's backup framing camera. The primary framing camera, which is essentially identical, began its imaging campaign at this lowest orbit on Dec. 16. Both cameras are healthy.

Dawn's other instruments also began their intense period of observations this month. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer will help identify minerals by looking at how various wavelengths of light are reflected by the surface of Ceres. The gamma ray and neutron detector is also active. By measuring the energies and numbers of gamma rays and neutrons, two components of nuclear radiation, it will help scientists determine the abundances of some elements on Ceres.

Image above: This view of Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on December 10, shows an area in the southern mid-latitudes of the dwarf planet. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Earlier in December, Dawn science team members revealed that the bright material found in such notable craters as Occator is consistent with salt -- and proposed that a type of magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite may be present. A different group of Dawn scientists found that Ceres also contains ammoniated clays. Because ammonia is abundant in the outer solar system, this finding suggests that Ceres could have formed in the vicinity of Neptune and migrated inward, or formed in place with material that migrated in from the outer solar system.

"As we take the highest-resolution data ever from Ceres, we will continue to examine our hypotheses and uncover even more surprises about this mysterious world," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Image above: Dawn took this image in its low-altitude mapping orbit from an approximate distance of 240 miles (385 kilometers) from Ceres. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet, and the first mission outside the Earth-moon system to orbit two distinct solar system targets. It orbited protoplanet Vesta for 14 months in 2011 and 2012, and arrived at Ceres on March 6, 2015.

Dawn's mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of mission participants, visit:

More information about Dawn is available at the following sites:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Elizabeth Landau/Preston Dyches.


lundi 21 décembre 2015

Falcon 9 OrbComm OG2 launch & Successful First Rocket Landing

SpaceX - ORBICOMM-2 Mission logo.

December 21, 2015

Image above: First OG1 Mission lift off from SpaceX's launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida (archive image).

On December 21, 2015 at 8:10pm ET, a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.2 rocket successfully launched 11 communications satellites for Orbcomm. This marks the company's return to flight after a faulty strut caused the June 28 explosion of the CRS-7 Falcon 9.

Falcon 9 OrbComm OG2 launch & Successful First Rocket Landing

This launch was the 20th overall launch of the Falcon 9 family. Another successful event that occurred during this flight was the boostback of the first stage and its eventual landing on Landing Complex 1 at Cape Canaveral.

First look at our massive new Landing Zone 1

The launch is part of ORBCOMM's second and final OG2 Mission and will lift off from SpaceX's launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

This mission also marks the first time SpaceX attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land. The landing orockets so they can be re-used was a secondary test objective. Has much broader implications for the future of space travel. If Elon Musk and Co. can develop reusable rockets, it’ll drastically drive down the cost of launching stuff into orbit and usher in a new era for space travel.
Successful First Falcon 9 rocket landing

Right now, getting stuff up into space is ridiculously expensive. It varies from launch to launch, but costs typically range from about $5,000 to $15,000 per pound. That makes putting things into orbit prohibitively expensive for smaller companies that don’t have deep pockets. If SpaceX can figure out this reusable rocket thing though, it’ll lower the cost of entry for anyone and everyone looking to get something into space. The proverbial floodgates will be open, and in a few years time, space will be like the wild west — filled with opportunities for anyone brave or enterprising enough to go there.

ORBCOMM satellite

SpaceX has been working on reusable rockets for years now, and while it hasn’t managed to safely bring one back down from orbit quite yet, it’s getting closer and closer with each attempt. Musk and Co. have experienced their fair share of setbacks, but now the company is back with a new-and-improved Falcon 9 rocket that finally stick the landing.

For more information, visit and

Images, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/Günter Soace Page/ Aerospace.


Cassini Completes Final Close Enceladus Flyby

NASA - Cassini International logo.

Dec. 21, 2015

Enceladus, Old and New

Enceladus dramatically displays the contrast between its older and newer terrain.

Newer surfaces (on the left in the image) will not have had time to accumulate craters. But as material sits exposed on the surface, impact scars build up, as in the more heavily cratered area on the top and right. Scientists can use this, along with estimates of how frequently impacts happen, to determine ages of surfaces of solid planets and of moons like Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across).

This view looks toward the anti-Saturn side of Enceladus. North on Enceladus is up and rotated 36 degrees to the right. The image was taken in green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 18, 2015.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 85,000 miles (137,000 kilometers) from Enceladus. Image scale is 2,680 feet (818 meters) per pixel.

Image above: NASA's Cassini spacecraft paused during its final close flyby of Enceladus to focus on the icy moon's craggy, dimly lit limb, with the planet Saturn beyond. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has begun transmitting data and images from the mission's final close flyby of Saturn's active moon Enceladus. Cassini passed Enceladus at a distance of 3,106 miles (4,999 kilometers) on Saturday, Dec. 19, at 9:49 a.m. PST (12:49 p.m. EST).

"This final Enceladus flyby elicits feelings of both sadness and triumph," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "While we're sad to have the close flybys behind us, we've placed the capstone on an incredible decade of investigating one of the most intriguing bodies in the solar system."

Cassini will continue to monitor activity on Enceladus from a distance, through the end of its mission in Sept. 2017. Future encounters will be much farther away -- at closest, more than four times farther than this latest encounter.

This was the 22nd Enceladus encounter of Cassini's mission. The spacecraft's discovery of geologic activity there, not long after arriving at Saturn, prompted changes to the mission's flight plan to maximize the number and quality of flybys of the icy moon.

Image above: During its final close flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus, NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view featuring the nearly parallel furrows and ridges of the feature named Samarkand Sulci. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

"We bid a poignant goodbye to our close views of this amazing icy world," said Linda Spilker, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Cassini has made so many breathtaking discoveries about Enceladus, yet so much more remains to be done to answer that pivotal question, 'Does this tiny ocean world harbor life?'"

After revealing Enceladus' surprising geologic activity in 2005, Cassini made a series of discoveries about the material gushing from warm fractures near its south pole. Scientists announced strong evidence for a regional subsurface sea in 2014, revising their understanding in 2015 to confirm that the moon hosts a global ocean beneath its icy crust.

In addition to the processed images, unprocessed, or "raw," images appear on the Cassini mission website at:

Additional information and multimedia products for Cassini's final Enceladus flybys are available at:

Image above: NASA's Cassini spacecraft peered out over the northern territory on Saturn's moon Enceladus, capturing this view of two different terrain types. A region of older terrain covered in craters that have been modified by geological processes is seen at right, while at left is a province of relatively craterless, and presumably more youthful, wrinkled terrain. Cassini acquired the view during its final close flyby of Enceladus, on Dec. 19, 2015. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit or . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at and ESA's website:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Preston Dyches/Space Science Institute/Tony Greicius.

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