vendredi 16 janvier 2015

SpaceX shares dramatic video of failed Falcon 9 landing

SpaceX logo.

16 January 2015

Elon Musk shares dramatic imagery and video of mostly successful Falcon 9 1st recovery attempt, hard landing on Drone Ship

Image above: Elon Musk commented on his tweet: Full RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly) event. Ship is fine minor repairs. Exciting day!

Dramatic new photos and video of the daring and mostly successful attempt by Space X to land their Falcon 9 booster on an ocean-going “drone ship” were released this morning, Friday, Jan. 16, by SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk.

Musk posted the imagery online via his twitter account (@elonmusk) and they vividly show just how close his team came to achieving total success in history’s first attempt to land and recover a rocket on a tiny platform in the ocean.

Falcon 9 rocket crash on SpaceX landing barge

Musk described the attempted rocket landing last weekend as "close, but no cigar" — but this assessment doesn't really do these images justice.

The 14-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket is seen hitting the deck of the barge at a 45-degree angle as the four stabilizing fins lose hydraulic power.

The engines then fire in an attempt to restore balance but it's too late and the rocket smashes into the deck of the ship.

SpaceX landing barge docked

The four images tweeted by Musk, who cheerfully sums up the situation: "Full RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly) event. Ship is fine minor repairs. Exciting day!"

For more information about SpaceX, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/ Aerospace.


NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record

NASA logo / NOAA logo.

January 16, 2015

The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists.

The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

2014 Warmest Year On Record

Video above: The year 2014 now ranks as the warmest on record since 1880, according to an analysis by NASA scientists. Video Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

In an independent analysis of the raw data, also released Friday, NOAA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record.

“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”

Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

2014 Continues Long-Term Global Warming

Video above: This video shows a time series of five-year global temperature averages, mapped from 1880 to 2014, as estimated by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Video Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

While 2014 temperatures continue the planet’s long-term warming trend, scientists still expect to see year-to-year fluctuations in average global temperature caused by phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña. These phenomena warm or cool the tropical Pacific and are thought to have played a role in the flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years. However, 2014’s record warmth occurred during an El Niño-neutral year.

“NOAA provides decision makers with timely and trusted science-based information about our changing world,” said Richard Spinrad, NOAA chief scientist. “As we monitor changes in our climate, demand for the environmental intelligence NOAA provides is only growing. It's critical that we continue to work with our partners, like NASA, to observe these changes and to provide the information communities need to build resiliency.”

Regional differences in temperature are more strongly affected by weather dynamics than the global mean. For example, in the U.S. in 2014, parts of the Midwest and East Coast were unusually cool, while Alaska and three western states – California, Arizona and Nevada – experienced their warmest year on record, according to NOAA.

Image above: This color-coded map displays global temperature anomaly data from 2014. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The GISS analysis incorporates surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. This raw data is analyzed using an algorithm that takes into account the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the calculation. The result is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980.

NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but a different baseline period. They also employ their own methods to estimate global temperatures.

GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites, as well as airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

The data set of 2014 surface temperature measurements is available at:

The methodology used to make the temperature calculation is available at:

For more information about NASA's Earth science activities, visit:

Image (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Steve Cole/Goddard Institute for Space Studies/Leslie McCarthy.


Beagle-2 lander found on Mars

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

16 January 2015

The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which hitched a ride on ESA’s Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, has been found in images taken by a NASA orbiter at the Red Planet.

Colour image of Beagle-2 on Mars

Beagle-2 was released from its mother craft on 19 December 2003 and was due to land six days later. But nothing was heard from the lander after its scheduled touchdown, and searches by Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission were fruitless.

Now, over a decade later, the lander has been identified in images taken by the high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The lander is seen partially deployed on the surface, showing that the entry, descent and landing sequence worked and it did indeed successfully land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.

“We are very happy to learn that Beagle-2 touched down on Mars. The dedication of the various teams in studying high-resolution images in order to find the lander is inspiring,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

Close-up of Beagle-2 on Mars

“Not knowing what happened to Beagle-2 remained a nagging worry. Understanding now that Beagle-2 made it all the way down to the surface is excellent news,” adds Rudolf Schmidt, ESA’s Mars Express project manager at the time.

The high resolution images were initially searched by Michael Croon, a former member of the Mars Express operations team at ESA’s Space Operations Centre, ESOC, in Darmstadt, Germany, working in parallel with members of the Beagle-2 industrial and scientific teams.

The small size of Beagle-2 – less than 2 m across when fully deployed – meant this was a painstaking endeavour, right at the limit of the resolution of cameras in orbit around Mars.

After the identification of potential counterparts to Beagle-2 in the expected landing of Isidis Planitia, a large impact basin close the martian equator, further images were obtained and analysed by the camera team, the Beagle-2 team and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Beagle-2 on Mars

The images show the lander in what appears to be a partially deployed configuration, with only one, two or at most three of the four solar panels open, and with the main parachute and what is thought to be the rear cover with its pilot/drogue parachute still attached close by.

The size, shape, colour and separation of the features are consistent with Beagle-2 and its landing components, and lie within the expected landing area at a distance of about 5 km from its centre.

Possible features have also been speculatively identified for airbags, which cushioned the landing, and possibly for the front heatshield. Further imaging will be needed to confirm the latter targets.

The partial deployment explains why no signals were ever received from the lander: full deployment of all solar panels was needed to expose the radio antenna to transmit data and receive commands from Earth.

Artist's impression of Beagle 2 lander

Unfortunately, given the partial deployment and covering of the antenna, there is no possibility of reviving Beagle-2 and recover data from it.

Nevertheless, knowing that Beagle-2 did after all land successfully on Mars adds renewed impetus to the next phase of Europe’s exploration of the Red Planet, with the launches of ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator in 2016 and the ExoMars rover in 2018.

Notes for Editors:

For more information and reaction, see the UKSA news report:

Beagle-2 was the UK’s first mission to another planet. The project was a partnership between the Open University, the University of Leicester and EADS Astrium UK (now Airbus Defence and Space). Other funding partners included ESA, the Office of Science and Technology of the Department of Trade and Industry, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the Wellcome Trust, the National Space Centre and the Millennium Commission.

Professor Colin Pillinger from the Open University led the Beagle-2 project with inspirational enthusiasm; he died in May 2014. Professor George Fraser of the University of Leicester and Professor David Barnes of Aberystwyth University were also major contributors to Beagle-2, both of whom also died in 2014.

For more information about Mars Express, Visit:

Mars Express overview:

Mars Express 10 year brochure:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/HiRISE/NASA/JPL/Parker/Leicester/Beagle 2.


Rejigging the Cluster quartet

ESA - Cluster II Mission patch.

16 January 2015

Aiming to study Earth’s ‘bow shock’ in the solar wind, the constellation of Cluster satellites is being rejigged to bring two of the four to within almost touching distance.

ESA’s Cluster quartet, in orbit since 2000, is studying the detailed structures of Earth’s magnetosphere – our protective magnetic bubble – and its environment in 3D.

Cluster quartet

The four identical satellites fly in highly elliptical orbits between 600 km and 20 000 km apart, depending on the regions that each satellite’s set of 11 identical instruments is studying.

This month, satellites 3 and 4 will be manoeuvred to within about 6 km of each other, adjusting the formation to observe activity at Earth's bow shock – the region where the solar wind decelerates from super- to subsonic speeds before being deflected around our planet.

Checking the maths

“The scientific aim is to have a pair of satellites orbiting a few kilometres apart in the free solar wind just ahead of the bow shock, to collect data at very small scales,” says Detlef Sieg, a flight dynamics specialist working on Cluster at ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

This requires careful calculations of orbits and thruster burns, lining up Cluster 3 and 4 in almost the same orbit while ensuring they can’t collide during this close-formation period.

Earth’s bow shock and magnetosphere

Since there is no communication between the satellites and we know their positions only to within a few hundred metres, they must be flown carefully from the ground to prevent any collision risk.

“During each orbit, they cross almost the same two points just three seconds apart. Between, they are side by side and one overtakes the other.”

The ultra-close alignment was achieved on 7 January, and they will stay like this until mid-March.

During this two-month alignment, the other two satellites will maintain more or less steady positions with respect to the first two, about 5000 km away.

Plenty of teamwork

“Adjusting the formation requires plenty of teamwork and coordination, not only among teams in Darmstadt but also with the Joint Science Operations Centre in the UK and the Payload teams,” notes Cluster operations manager Bruno Sousa.

“We also work to optimise fuel usage and eliminate any risk of potential collision, though this only becomes really significant if we go down to 1–2 km separation.”

Detlef Sieg and Bruno Sousa

The two satellites will be so close that, as seen from a ground tracking station, both will be in the same slice of sky. This allows a single station to communicate with them simultaneously on different frequencies.

However, this time-saving technique requires validation so, for now, only one will be tracked at a time (more about Estrack:

Getting up close to Earth's bow wave

This is not the closest separation achieved between two Cluster satellites – that was just 4 km in 2013 – but it is the first time that two have come so close at the bow shock, which typically occurs some 90 000 km above Earth.

“This enables us to study physical processes such as plasma heating and acceleration at the bow shock,” says Philippe Escoubet, the mission’s project scientist.

“Previous studies of the bow shock have shown electron heating over distances as small as 16 km, but we want to see what is happening using two satellites at smaller scales.”

These observations one of the main aims for the 2015–16 mission extension, which was agreed by ESA’s Science Programme Committee in November 2014:

Exploring the Sun-Earth connection:

Cluster overview:

Cluster Operations:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab.


Nothing to Squirm About: Space Station Worms Help Battle Muscle and Bone Loss

ISS - International Space Station patch.

January 16, 2015

It is said that great things can come in small packages. In this case, one key to keeping astronauts healthy on long-duration space missions may be found in a tiny roundworm barely a millimeter long.

Image above: Caenorhabditis elegans -- a millimeter-long roundworm with a genetic makeup scientists understand -- will be central to a pair of Japan Aerospace Agency investigations into muscle and bone loss of astronauts on the International Space Station in the first few months of 2015. Image Credit: NASA.

Two Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) investigations on the International Space Station help researchers seek clues to physiological problems found in astronauts by studying Caenorhabditis elegans -- a millimeter-long roundworm that, like the fruit fly, is widely used as a model for larger organisms. The results of the investigation could lead to new treatments for bone and muscle loss in humans living in space. Findings may also be beneficial to people on Earth suffering from muscle and bone diseases.

"Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts," said Julie Robinson, NASA's Chief Scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We investigate solutions on the station not only to keep astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions, but also to help those on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness."

We rely on gravity to develop stronger muscles and bones. Athletes will lift weights -- resisting the pull of gravity -- to make their bodies even stronger. When gravity is greatly reduced -- as in spaceflight -- we don't use those muscles to resist the force of gravity, and muscles and bones can slowly start to deteriorate. Even with assigned daily exercise, the bodies of astronauts in microgravity lose bone and muscle mass.

International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

This is the same problem facing people who are on prolonged bed rest. The inactivity, even removing simple daily movement, can have a negative effect on the bones and muscles of the infirm or elderly. Patients on prolonged bed rest experience muscle atrophy, bone density loss and changes in metabolism, similar to the effects of long-duration spaceflight.

One investigation, scheduled for launch to the station on the SpaceX’s sixth space station resupply mission in 2015, is called Alterations of C. elegans muscle fibers by microgravity (Nematode Muscle). It will look into the muscle fibers and cytoskeleton of the roundworm to clarify how those physiological systems alter in response to microgravity. Space station crew members will grow these worms in microgravity, as well as another batch in one-g using a centrifuge. This will simulate the force of gravity while the C. elegans remain physically in orbit, allowing a direct comparison of the effects of different gravity levels on organisms in space.

A different JAXA investigation currently on station is taking a much closer look at C. elegans by examining their DNA. The Epigenetics in spaceflown C. elegans (Epigenetics) study launched to the space station on the SpaceX CRS-5 resupply mission. It requires astronauts on the orbiting laboratory to grow four generations of the worm, with adults and larvae from each generation preserved at different points during their lifespan. The worms will return to Earth in the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in January.

Image above: A researcher prepares samples of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Epigenetics investigation at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch on the fifth SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station. Image Credit: JAXA/Tohoku University.

"The astronauts will cultivate multiple generations of the organism, so we can examine the organisms in different states of development," said Atsushi Higashitani, principal investigator for both investigations with Tohoku University in Miyagi, Japan. "Our studies will help clarify how and why these changes to health take place in microgravity and determine if the adaptations to space are transmitted from one cell generation to another without changing the basic DNA of an organism. Then, we can investigate if those effects could be treated with different medicines or therapies."

Worms grown in each investigation will be compared to similar batches grown in a laboratory in Japan. Understanding the molecular changes that take place in microgravity could help researchers develop treatments or therapies to counteract the physical changes associated with aging and extended bed rest, such as muscle atrophy or osteoporosis, and could help develop treatments or exercises for astronauts on long voyages.

This simple, tiny roundworm could lead to a cure for symptoms affecting millions of the aging and infirm population of Earth, and the astronauts orbiting it, potentially offering a solution to a major problem in an extremely small package.

Related links:

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

Model for larger organisms:

The Epigenetics in spaceflown C. elegans (Epigenetics) study:

SpaceX CRS-5 resupply mission:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/International Space Station Program Science Office, By Bill Hubscher/NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

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jeudi 15 janvier 2015

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Begins First Stages of Pluto Encounter

NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

January 15, 2015

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft recently began its long-awaited, historic encounter with Pluto. The spacecraft is entering the first of several approach phases that culminate July 14 with the first close-up flyby of the dwarf planet, 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) from Earth.

“NASA first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”

NASA New Horizons animations

Video above: NASA’s New Horizons is the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt of icy, rocky mini-worlds on the solar system’s outer frontier. This animation follows the New Horizons spacecraft as it leaves Earth after its January 2006 launch, through a gravity-assist flyby of Jupiter in February 2007, to the encounter with Pluto and its moons in summer 2015. Video Credit: NASA/JHUAPL.

The fastest spacecraft when it was launched, New Horizons lifted off in January 2006. It awoke from its final hibernation period last month after a voyage of more than 3 billion miles, and will soon pass close to Pluto, inside the orbits of its five known moons. In preparation  for the close encounter, the mission’s science, engineering and spacecraft operations teams configured the piano-sized probe for distant observations of the Pluto system that start Sunday, Jan. 25 with a long-range photo shoot.

The images captured by New Horizons’ telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) will give mission scientists a continually improving look at the dynamics of Pluto’s moons. The images also will play a critical role in navigating the spacecraft as it covers the remaining 135 million miles (220 million kilometers) to Pluto.

Image above: Artist’s concept of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passes Pluto and Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, in July 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI/Steve Gribben.

“We’ve completed the longest journey any spacecraft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto over the next few months to refine current estimates of the distance between the spacecraft and the dwarf planet. Though the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until May, mission navigators will use the data to design course-correction maneuvers to aim the spacecraft toward its target point this summer. The first such maneuver could occur as early as March.

“We need to refine our knowledge of where Pluto will be when New Horizons flies past it,” said Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. “The flyby timing also has to be exact, because the computer commands that will orient the spacecraft and point the science instruments are based on precisely knowing the time we pass Pluto – which these images will help us determine.”

The “optical navigation” campaign that begins this month marks the first time pictures from New Horizons will be used to help pinpoint Pluto’s location.

Throughout the first approach phase, which runs until spring, New Horizons will conduct a significant amount of additional science. Spacecraft instruments will gather continuous data on the interplanetary environment where the planetary system orbits, including measurements of the high-energy particles streaming from the sun and dust-particle concentrations in the inner reaches of the Kuiper Belt. In addition to Pluto, this area, the unexplored outer region of the solar system, potentially includes thousands of similar icy, rocky small planets.

Graphic above: Timeline of the approach and departure phases — surrounding close approach on July 14, 2015 — of the New Horizons Pluto encounter. Image Credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI.

More intensive studies of Pluto begin in the spring, when the cameras and spectrometers aboard New Horizons will be able to provide image resolutions higher than the most powerful telescopes on Earth. Eventually, the spacecraft will obtain images good enough to map Pluto and its moons more accurately than achieved by previous planetary reconnaissance missions.

APL manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), headquartered in San Antonio, is the principal investigator and leads the mission. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft.

For more information about the New Horizons mission, visit: and

Image & Graphic (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Michael Buckley/Southwest Research Institute/Maria Stothoff.


NEOWISE: A Yearlong Look at the Sky

NASA - NEO WISE Mission logo.

January 15, 2015

NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft discovered and characterized 40 near-Earth objects (NEOs) in the first year after the mission was re-started in December 2013. Eight of the discoveries have been classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs), based on their size and how close their orbits could come to Earth's orbit.

One Year of NEOWISE Observations Mapped

Video above: This movie shows the progression of NASA's NEOWISE survey in the year after its Dec. 2013 restart.

The mission has further observed and characterized 245 previously known near-Earth objects. From December 2013 to December 2014, NEOWISE discovered three new comets and observed 32 others. One of the others has turned into the brightest comet in Earth's night sky in early 2015, comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy).

NEOWISE always looks in the dawn and twilight skies – the direction perpendicular to a line between Earth and the sun. This unique vantage point makes it easy for NEOWISE to spot NEOs that get particularly close to Earth.

Image above: Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is one of more than 32 comets imaged by NASA's NEOWISE mission from December 2013 to December 2014. This image of comet Lovejoy combines a series of observations made in November 2013. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Originally called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft was placed in hibernation in 2011 after its primary mission was completed. In September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission to assist NASA's efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. NEOWISE is also characterizing previously known asteroids and comets to provide information about their sizes and compositions.

NEOWISE is a space telescope that scans the skies for asteroids and comets. The telescope sees infrared light, which allows it to pick up the heat signature of asteroids and obtain better estimates of their true sizes. As a result, NEOWISE can see dark asteroids that are harder for visible-light surveys to find. Nearly all of the NEOWISE discoveries have been large (hundreds of yards, or meters, wide) and very dark, similar to printer toner. When NEOWISE's infrared data on an object is combined with that of a visible-light optical telescope, it helps scientists understand the object's composition.

Image above: On clear nights in January 2015, comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is visible in the Taurus region of the sky to observers using binoculars. This chart indicates where to look for it on different dates during the month. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the NEOWISE mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about NEOWISE, visit:

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/JPL/DC Agle.


Cracks in the Swiss Air Force F-5E Tiger

Swiss Air Force - Patrouille Suisse patch.

January 15, 2015

The Swiss Air Force Team Patrouille Suisse

La Patrouille Suisse will simply steal some with gray planes over the next years: the Swiss Air Force discovered cracks in two Tiger F-5E single-seat aircraft.

During an inspection, a crack was found in the supporting structure of a Tiger F-5E and resulted in an order to control 30 devices of this type still in service. On this occasion, another crack "very serious" was found on another plane, the Swiss Air Force said Monday.

Pending be controlled, thirteen machines are suspended flight. Audits require about two weeks per machine and should be completed by the summer. Both devices are damaged repair.

Swiss Air Force Northrop F-5E Tiger II

The temporary flight restriction also affects Tiger painted in the colors of the Patrouille Suisse. During the air show scheduled next weekend at Lauberhorn (BE), the pilots will probably have to settle for flying with four red appliances white cross and two gray, said the head of communications of the Swiss Air Force Jürg Nussbaum.

The commitment of the Swiss Air Force at the Davos Economic Forum will however ensured by the F/A 18. As to aircraft F-5E Tiger grounded, they are not concerned with issues affecting the air security.

For more information about the Patrouille Suisse, visit:

Images Text, Credits: ATS/Wikimedia/Translation: Aerospace.


mercredi 14 janvier 2015

International Space Station: Responding to the Unexpected

ISS - International Space Station logo.

January 14, 2015

Space Station Live: Responding to the Unexpected

NASA Public Affairs Officer Dan Huot talks with International Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini about the quick response on orbit and in Mission Control Houston to indications of a possible ammonia leak in the U.S. Operating Segment of the vehicle which prompted evacuation of the crew members to the Russian segment of the station.

ISS - International Space Station

The latest indications are that there was not an actual leak of ammonia, and flight controllers are working through the procedures to get all systems back to full operation so the crew can return to the US segment of the station.

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

Image, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/NASA TV.


Crystal-Rich Rock 'Mojave' is Next Mars Drill Target

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

January 14, 2015

A rock target where NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is using its sample-collection drill this week may have a salty story to tell.

This target, called "Mojave," displays copious slender features, slightly smaller than grains of rice, that appear to be mineral crystals. A chance to learn their composition prompted the Curiosity science team to choose Mojave as the next rock-drilling target for the 29-month-old mission investigating Mars' Gale Crater. The features might be a salt mineral left behind when lakewater evaporated.

Image above: This view from the wide-angle Hazard Avoidance Camera on the front of NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows the rover's drill in position for a mini-drill test to assess whether a rock target called "Mojave" is appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a sample. It was taken on Jan. 13, 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This week, Curiosity is beginning a "mini-drill" test to assess the rock's suitability for deeper drilling, which collects a sample for onboard laboratory analysis.

A weeklong pause in science operations to install a new version of rover flight software is scheduled to begin early next week, possibly before completion of the drilling and sample delivery. This is the fourth new version of the onboard software since the rover's August 2012 landing.

The Mojave drilling begins Curiosity's third round of investigating the basal layer of Mount Sharp exposed at an area called "Pahrump Hills." In the first round, the rover drove about 360 feet (110 meters) and scouted sites ranging about 30 feet (9 meters) in elevation. Then it followed a similar path, investigating selected sites in more detail. That second pass included inspection of Mojave in November 2014 with the dust-removal brush, close-up camera and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer on the rover's arm. The results put Mojave at the head of the list of targets for the rover's most intensive inspection, using laboratory instruments that ingest powdered rock collected by the drill.

Image above: This Jan. 13, 2015, view from the Mars Hand Lens Imager on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows outcomes of a mini-drill test to assess whether the "Mojave" rock is appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a sample. Cracking of the rock has made freshly exposed surfaces available for inspection. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

"The crystal shapes are apparent in the earlier images of Mojave, but we don't know what they represent," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "We're hoping that mineral identifications we get from the rover's laboratory will shed more light than we got from just the images and bulk chemistry."

Curiosity's Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, or CheMin, can identify specific minerals in rock powder from a drilled sample. Analysis of the drill hole and drill tailings may also reveal whether the crystals are only at the surface, like a salty crust, or are also deeper in the rock.

"There could be a fairly involved story here," Vasavada said. "Are they salt crystals left from a drying lake? Or are they more pervasive through the rock, formed by fluids moving through the rock? In either case, a later fluid may have removed or replaced the original minerals with something else."

Curiosity's work at Pahrump Hills may include drilling one or more additional rocks before heading to higher layers of Mount Sharp.

Next week's planned software revision, like the mission's earlier ones, adds protections against vulnerabilities identified in rover testbed activities on Earth. It also adds improvements to make planning drives more efficient.

Image above: Lozenge-shaped crystals are evident in this magnified view of a Martian rock target called "Mojave," taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on the arm of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

"The files have already been uplinked and are sitting in the rover's file system to be ready for the installation," said JPL's Danny Lam, the deputy engineering operations chief leading the upgrade process.  

One change in the new software is to enable use of the rover's gyroscope-containing "inertial measurement unit" at the same time as the rover's drill, for better capability to sense slippage of the rover during a drilling operation. Another is a set of improvements to the rover's ability to autonously identify and drive in good terrain.

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

For more information about Curiosity, visit: and

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: and

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


Latest images received from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta

ESA - Rosetta Mission patch.

January 14, 2015

This four-image mosaic comprises images taken from a distance of 27.5 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 8 January. The image resolution at this distance is about 2.3 m/pixel and the individual 1024 x 1024 frames measure about 2.4 km across. The mosaic measures 4.3 x 3.9 km.

Comet on 8 January 2015 – NavCam

Image above: This four-image mosaic comprising images taken on 8 January 2015. Rotation and translation of the comet during the imaging sequence make it difficult to create an accurate mosaic, so always refer to the individual images before drawing conclusions about any strange structures or low intensity extended emission. Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

In this view the smaller of the comet’s two lobes is to the right, presenting a side-on look into the large, roughly 1 km-wide depression towards the edge of the mosaic. The rugged outline of the smaller lobe can be traced into the shadows, creating a nice contrast against the smooth neck region in the centre of the image. As noted in this portion of the neck has some particularly interesting features, such as the bright, exposed cliffs, the curved trough-like features and dark markings in the dusty layer.

Image above: This four-image mosaic comprising images taken on 8 January 2015. Rotation and translation of the comet during the imaging sequence make it difficult to create an accurate mosaic, so always refer to the individual images before drawing conclusions about any strange structures or low intensity extended emission. Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.

To the left, the image offers a striking view of the large comet lobe, in particular the steep, layered cliff face that towers above a smoother, dust-covered ledge. At its edge, it appears as though some of the dust may have slipped away. Towards the background, ridges seem to cut through the terrain, while several flat-topped plateaus are set along the horizon.

For more information about Rosetta mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: ESA.


A year on-station for Gaia

ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

January 14, 2015

Time flies when you’re mapping a billion stars!

One year ago, Gaia performed its last major orbit insertion burn and was stable at 'L2'.

Image above: Gaia is an ambitious mission to chart a three-dimensional map of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, in the process revealing the composition, formation and evolution of the Galaxy. Credit: ESA–D. Ducros, 2013.

After a smooth, but operationally intense lift-off, LEOP (launch and early orbit phase) and transfer phase, in which Gaia travelled the 1.5 million km from Earth to the point at which the sky survey will be done, the work to start Gaia’s mapping task was only just beginning.

The five thrusters used to perform the orbit insertion are commanded to stop firing and there are smiles in the control room at ESOC as the telemetry on the screens confirm the last planned ‘critical operation’ is successfully completed.

Thruster Firings

Earlier, Gaia’s operators had to perform a number of critical operations in the initial post-launch period: the first autonomous flight activation; sun-shield deployment and three orbit manoeuvres – when the thrusters were heavily used – all between 2 and 27 days after launch.

Had these gone wrong, the mission operations team would have been in a race against the clock to stop Gaia drifting off into interplanetary space.

Today we are one year on from the last of these.

The blue line in the Earth-centered plot below shows the correct trajectory (i.e. the nominal case when the manoeuvre worked) and the green shows what would have happened without this manoeuvre (drift around the Earth-Moon system followed by escape into interplanetary space).

Graphic above: Gaia L2 arrival - worst case scenario. Graphic Credit: ESA.

Now that this activity was over, the operations team could fully focus on the commissioning phase, testing and configuring the spacecraft and payload operations until system performance was ready to perform science.

This was not time-critical, but was technically demanding, and this phase would eventually last six months.

Gaia is a one-off, purpose-built spacecraft that is capable of mapping the positions of one billion stars to unprecedented precision (to the micro-arc-second level, comparable to the width of a smart phone on the Moon as viewed from Earth). This performance is far beyond anything previously achieved, and the Gaia spacecraft is a marvel of engineering in its own right.

Spacecraft are complex

Spacecraft such as Gaia are complex machines, which have layered operational modes.

The spacecraft can be flown and operated, performing the more basic tasks, with a subset of service module units on and working. Just like the tip of a pyramid can only be placed on top after all other stones have been laid, all on-board prime units must be switched on and correctly configured for full performance. This, together with checking a number of redundant units and functions, is the task of teams on ground during the commissioning phase.

The Gaia spacecraft has a relatively large fraction of ‘bespoke’ units i.e. custom designed, due largely to the incredible precision requirements. Not the least of these are the telescopes and camera.

Gaia’s camera is the most impressive ever flown in space, containing 106 CCDs, which are around 90% light efficient (a CCD in a typical digital camera is around 20% efficient).

Inside Gaia's billion-pixel camera

These have to be linked to the on-board attitude control system to achieve the needed and incredible precision for mapping the stars.

Gaia must rotate once every 6 hours to scan the heavens and this rate is so precisely controlled that the error is equivalent to one rotation every 410 years. There are (and can be) no moving parts on board, so the data is downlinked through a novel electromagnetically steerable antenna.

Attitude control is provided by a micro propulsion system that has its first flight use with Gaia. This delivers micro-Newton levels of thrust primarily to oppose the quantum mechanical force exerted by sunlight falling onto the sunshield. An atomic clock is used for precise time-stamping, which in fact allows controllers to see the time dilation effects from Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

Just after entry into the operational orbit, most of these hardware units were either off or had hardly been used at all.

Solving problems with teamwork

One year ago, the critical phases were over and the operations team began focusing on the complex task of bringing the spacecraft up to full performance.

In terms of what was planned, this consisted of an iterative phase where teams on the ground send commands to move the mirrors and adjust the spacecraft spin rate and then industry (i.e. the spacecraft manufacturer) and the mission science teams analysed the results before the next tuning cycle. The other major element planned was the tuning of Gaia’s seven powerful video processing units, each connected to a row of the camera’s CCDs, responsible for identifying and characterizing the stars that will make up Gaia’s map.

These tasks progressed well, but almost immediately after orbit insertion some problems became apparent.

First noticed through an apparent dimming of the on-board laser used to track the angle between the telescope mirrors, and later confirmed by data from the stars themselves, ice was unexpectedly building up and had to be dealt with .

Also apparent was more background light than expected .

These issues, like many others, were dealt with and solved in a series of brainstorming review meetings between experts, some of which required in-orbit special operations to be developed and executed to provide the necessary data. For example, Gaia’s normally rock-stable sun-attitude was changed twice in special operations designed to characterise the stray-light problem.

Examples elsewhere from the spacecraft commissioning period included a micro-propulsion thruster with unexpected performance levels and a back-up chemical thruster that had a failed valve (meaning it was permanently lost).

Teamwork has been critical

Again, teamwork in brainstorming review meetings was critical to solving these issues. The on-board software could be quickly reprogrammed to match the new performance of the micro-propulsion thruster and the on-board protection software was changed to make sure the system would never try to use the chemical thruster that had failed (for this was a thruster present in case the spacecraft was in trouble and needed to put itself into ‘Safe Mode’).

Image above: An artist’s impression of a Type Ia supernova – the explosion of a white dwarf locked in a binary system with a companion star. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab/C. Carreau.

By the end of the commissioning phase, the teamwork between the ESA operations, project and science teams together with the industry experts at AirbusDS and the wider Gaia scientific community organised into the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC) had delivered the spacecraft in excellent shape.

The spacecraft was correctly configured and the software of the majority of on-board units had been changed based on the lessons learned to date. In getting to this stage, approximately 400 000 telecommands had been sent by ground teams.

Shortly after the commissioning ended, a new Survival Mode was activated on board, using thrusters that are normally used only for orbit manoeuvres. This meant that single failure tolerance had been fully restored, even with a permanently lost thruster.

The mapping begins

By July 2014, Gaia was busy mapping parts of the sky that had been calibrated by ground telescopes, before its nominal scanning mode was entered in September.

At this point Gaia was working so well that it was producing more data than originally foreseen, since it was able to see stars fainter than required. Towards the end of the year, operators had to come up with a method to partially automate ground operations allowing Gaia to take advantage of more ground station time and expand its mapping data set.

It’s been a busy first year for Gaia, but at the one-year point there’s a good sense of achievement.

The science data are now coming down in huge quantities (11 billion camera transits were recorded by the one-year launch anniversary), with anticipation slowly building for what Gaia may find in the coming years.

But even before the first map release next year, Gaia is already making discoveries (see "Gaia discovers its first supernova"

Happy anniversary Rosetta!

Rosetta update provided by Gaia Spacecraft Operations Manager Dave Milligan at ESOC.

Related link:


For more information about Gaia mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Graphic, Video, Text, Credit: European Space Agency (ESA).

Best regards,

Tracking a ghost mission 238 million km away

ESA - Venus Express Mission patch.

January 14, 2015

On 16 December, ESA's hugely successful Venus Express mission came to an end after it exhausting its remaining propellant as of 28 November (see "Venus Express goes gently into the night"

No more fuel means no more ability to control the spacecraft and keep the high-gain antenna (HGA) pointed toward Earth, which in turn means there is no way to upload telecommands nor receive telemetry (including the on-board housekeeping data).

Basically, Venus Express is ghosting along in its orbit, with the pericentre height (height of closest altitude above the surface) during each orbit steadily decaying due to gravity and natural perturbations.

Visualisation of Venus Express during the aerobraking in 2014. Image Credits: ESA/C. Carreau

But while no more science data can be gathered, and no more attempts to send commands will be made, the operations team at ESOC are able to continue monitoring radio signals from the spacecraft; they can 'see' the X-band carrier wave being transmitted from the spacecraft's high-gain antenna despite the fact that it is not pointed at Earth, although this, too, is steadily dropping off.

The intrepid craft may be stuck in Sun-acquisition mode. This could mean it is maintaining a coarse pointing with the solar arrays and HGA pointed approximately toward the Sun, within perhaps 5 degrees or so.

But whether pointing toward the Sun or not, the HGA is not pointing toward our ground station on Earth, and as Venus and Earth move in their orbits, this off-Earth pointing (see 'Sun-spacecraft-Earth angle' in the chart) is becoming larger. This means that the strength of the received carrier signal is steadily declining.

"On New Year's day, we saw a weak but detectable signal level and could lock onto it for most of the almost-5-hour tracking pass using the Cebreros deep-space tracking station," says Rick Blake, Venus Express spacecraft operations engineer at ESOC.

"But on 7 January, we only got carrier lock on a more weakened signal for just five percent of the pass; on 8 January, we were back to a good lock for most of the pass, so it's definitely an unpredictable situation."

"We plan to continue monitoring the signal level in January until we see it has disappeared for good," says Blake.

VEX carrier lock 1-8 Jan 2015

In an earlier email, Håkan Svedhem, ESA's Venus Express project scientist, said he expected the pericentre altitude to drop to about 130km around 12 January and 120km around 20 January.

"My personal guess is that the spacecraft will start breaking up soon after that."

This will be unseen by any human, and it appears that we'll never know when it actually happens.

"It will be destroyed in the atmosphere most likely toward the end of January or early February," says Patrick Martin, ESA’s Venus Express mission manager.

But while the spacecraft will burn up in the dense Venusian atmosphere – experiencing a lonely and poignant end – the science and operations teams on Earth will begin work on the important post-operations phase.

This will ensure that the vital science and flight data recorded during eight years of exploring Venus are available to current and future researchers, making a fitting legacy for such a successful mission.

For more information about Venus Express mission, visit:

Image (mentioned), Graphic, Text, Credit: ESA.


Asteroid to Fly By Earth Safely on January 26

Asteroid watch logo.

January 14, 2015

An asteroid, designated 2004 BL86, will safely pass about three times the distance of Earth to the moon on January 26. From its reflected brightness, astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about a third of a mile (0.5 kilometers) in size.

Graphic depicts the trajectory of asteroid 2004 BL86

The flyby of 2004 BL86 will be the closest by any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027. At the time of its closest approach on January 26, the asteroid will be approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth.

Asteroid Watch: For more information about asteroids and near-Earth objects, visit: and . Updates about near-Earth objects are also available by following AsteroidWatch on Twitter at .

Near-Earth Object Program Office:

Graphic, Text, Credit: NASA.


Crew Safe After Alarm on Station

ISS - International Space Station patch.

January 14, 2015

(STS-134) view of the International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA TV

The Expedition 42 crew members are safe and in good shape inside the Russian segment of the International Space Station following an alarm in the U.S. segment at about 4 a.m. EST.

Flight controllers in Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston saw an increase in pressure in the station’s water loop for thermal control system B then later saw a cabin pressure increase that could be indicative of an ammonia leak in the worst case scenario. Acting conservatively to protect for the worst case scenario, the crew was directed to isolate themselves in the Russian segment while the teams are evaluating the situation. Non-essential equipment in the U.S. segment of the station was also powered down per the procedures.

In an exchange at 7:02 a.m. with Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, spacecraft communicator James Kelly said flight controllers were analyzing their data but said it is not yet known if the alarm was actually triggered by a leak or whether the situation was caused by a faulty sensor or by a problem in a computer relay box that sends data and commands to various systems on the station.

NASA TV will provide a live update at 7:45 a.m. ET at

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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.


mardi 13 janvier 2015

Space Station Crew Opens Dragon for Business

ISS - Expedition 42 Mission patch.

13 January 2015

The hatches to Dragon were opened for business Tuesday morning at 3:23 a.m. EST and the crew began unpacking critical gear that will support 256 science experiments. The SpaceX commercial cargo craft was attached Monday to the Harmony module at 8:54 a.m.

Read more about the arrival of the SpaceX CRS-5 mission:

Image above: Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti takes a peek inside the just opened Dragon commercial cargo craft. Credit: NASA TV.

One experiment that was immediately set up by Flight Engineer Terry Virts was the Micro-5 study. That experiment observes microorganisms as a model for humans so scientists can understand changes in a crew member’s immune system and the risk of infectious disease in space.

Read more about Micro-5:

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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA.

Best regards,