vendredi 15 avril 2016

BEAM Installation Work Begins Tonight

ISS - International Space Station logo.

April 15, 2016

BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, will be removed from the back of the SpaceX Dragon late tonight before installation on the Tranquility module begins early Saturday. Expansion of the new habitat module won’t occur until late May for two years of habitability tests.

Meanwhile, the six-member Expedition 47 crew kept up its very busy pace of advanced space research this week to benefit life on Earth and crews in space.

Image above: This computer rendering depicts the Canadarm2 robotic arm removing BEAM from the back of the Space X Dragon spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA.

More eye checks were on the schedule today as scientists continued exploring vision changes astronauts have experienced while on orbit. The crew also observed skeletal muscle cells with a microscope to help researchers identify gravity sensors that may prevent muscle atrophy in space. Saliva samples were collected for a Japanese experiment analyzing how an astronaut’s immune system adapts to long-term space missions.

The crew set up software for an experiment recording an astronaut’s cognitive performance during stressful conditions in space. They also answered questions about their station habitat providing insights to engineers to help them design spacecraft to meet the needs of future crews.

Related article and links:

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module:

Skeletal muscle cells:

Astronaut’s immune system:

Cognitive performance:

Station habitat:

For more information about BEAM, visit:

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.


Hubble Peers into the Mouth of Leo A

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

April 15, 2016

At first glance, this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image seems to show an array of different cosmic objects, but the speckling of stars shown here actually forms a single body — a nearby dwarf galaxy known as Leo A. Its few million stars are so sparsely distributed that some distant background galaxies are visible through it. Leo A itself is at a distance of about 2.5 million light-years from Earth and a member of the Local Group of galaxies; a group that includes the Milky Way and the well-known Andromeda galaxy.

Astronomers study dwarf galaxies because they are very numerous and are simpler in structure than their giant cousins. However, their small size makes them difficult to study at great distances. As a result, the dwarf galaxies of the Local Group are of particular interest, as they are close enough to study in detail.

As it turns out, Leo A is a rather unusual galaxy. It is one of the most isolated galaxies in the Local Group, has no obvious structural features beyond being a roughly spherical mass of stars, and shows no evidence for recent interactions with any of its few neighbors. However, the galaxy’s contents are overwhelmingly dominated by relatively young stars, something that would normally be the result of a recent interaction with another galaxy. Around 90% of the stars in Leo A are less than eight billion years old — young in cosmic terms! This raises a number of intriguing questions about why star formation in Leo A did not take place on the “usual” timescale, but instead waited until it was good and ready.

Hubble orbiting Earth

For images and more information about the Milky Way Nuclear Star Cluster and Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Ashley Morrow/Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgment: Judy Schmidt/Video Credit: ESA.


Kepler Remains Stable as Health Check Continues

NASA - Kepler Space Telescope patch.

April 15, 2016

The Kepler spacecraft remains stable as the process of returning it to science continues. The cause of the anomaly, first reported on April 8, remains under investigation.

Since Sunday morning the spacecraft has remained safely "parked" in a stable pointed configuration called Point Rest State. In this state, fuel usage remains low and the communication link to Earth is good. As of Tuesday, mission operations engineers had downlinked all the necessary data from Kepler to triage the situation and plan the steps toward recovery.

The recovery to science began with a thorough assessment of the data, which took a couple days, after which the team had learned all they could about the state of the spacecraft from the data. It was then time to turn back on and test the components deemed low-risk to spacecraft health. Testing begins on the Kepler spacecraft simulator at the flight planning center at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado. With the ground-based simulation a success, we were ready to conduct the tests on Kepler, 75 million miles away. The engineers sent the instructions, along with commands for the spacecraft to protect itself and enter a safe operating mode if there was a problem, and waited for the spacecraft to report back.

Kepler Space Telescope

The spacecraft returned a response that is the equivalent of 'so far, so good.' It did not experience any faults from switching on the components, and all the data suggest the components are working normally. The spacecraft is another step closer to returning to scientific observations for the K2 mission.

The photometer – Kepler’s camera – and the solid state recorder are powered on. The subsystem interface box, which is the interface between the spacecraft sensors and the main computer, was only briefly powered on for an initial assessment, but should be back online early next week. The team will continue recovering the components, as they are deemed safe and low-risk to the spacecraft.

Over the weekend, NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) will remain in contact with the spacecraft while the team gets some much-needed rest. To watch the worldwide array of antennae communicate with the spacecraft, tune-in to DSN Now.

The recovery started slowly and carefully, as we initially merely tried to understand the situation and recover the systems least likely to have been the cause. Over the last day and a half, we’ve begun to turn the corner, by powering on more suspect components. With just one more to go, I expect that we will soon be on the home stretch and picking up speed towards returning to normal science operations.

Updates will be provided as information warrants.

Related article:

Kepler Spacecraft in Emergency Mode:

For more information about K2 Mission, related article:

Deep Space Network: http://http//

Image, Text, Credits: NASA's Ames Research Center/Charlie Sobeck​.

Best regards,

EDRS-A Testing the Waters

ESA logo.

15 April 2016

EDRS-A, Europe’s SpaceDataHighway pioneer, has been in orbit for a month and its testing is going well. The Redu team in Belgium are now pushing it ever-closer to full service by laying the groundwork for it to be ready for its first laser links to the Copernicus Sentinels.


The European Data Relay System’s EDRS-A node was launched on 29 January as a hosted payload aboard Eutelsat’s Eutelsat-9B satellite. As the establishing stone of the SpaceDataHighway network, it is extremely important that the payload is in good health.

Testing began two weeks after the Eutelsat satellite was launched and while it was still travelling towards its final position at 9°E, over Europe.

Ground control to EDRS-A

The tests are being performed by a pan-European web of ground and control centres managed by the various partners with Redu Space Services of Belgium playing a key role.

RSS are carrying out most of the EDRS-A payload tests from ESA’s Redu Centre in Belgium in coordination with the DLR German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, and Eutelsat’s Satellite Control Centre in Rambouillet, France. Airbus Defence and Space hold the overall responsibility as the EDRS partnership prime.

EDRS-A has two antennas. One large and fixed in place, for beaming data down to Europe via Ka-band radio frequencies, and one small and mobile, which will be used for locking on to low-orbit vehicles such as the International Space Station.

Redu flags

ESA’s EDRS-A Procurement Manager Khalil Kably notes: “Launches put a lot of stress on intricate, sophisticated technology like that of EDRS. The equipment must endure a very violent environment – both in vibrations and acoustically. The Redu Centre has been making sure the payload’s power is as expected and antennas are still in good health after the trial.”

They’ve done so by comparing the strength of EDRS-A’s down- and uplink beams with the performance of the payload when it was still on the ground. The Redu team have also mapped the antennas’ coverage by comparing it to predicted models.

Reduc connecting Europe to space

Formally recognised in 2014 as ‘critical infrastructure’ by ESA and Belgium, the ESA Redu centre has been in charge of monitoring the first steps of some of ESA’s most important projects.

Every satellite of the European Commission’s flagship navigation programme Galileo has been tested at Redu after launch. The Centre also controls all three of ESA’s flying Proba satellites, and over the years has been involved with all European satellite operators in one way or another.

ESA Director of Telecommunications Magali Vassiere said: “Redu has a great deal of in-orbit testing heritage, which is why it was chosen as the EDRS Backup Mission Operation Centre. Redu is building expertise and securing a promising role as Europe’s hub for ground segment activities.”

Redu has been following the progress of EDRS-A using its new Ka-band antenna – one of more than 30 that have been built over the past decade to develop the site as a world-class operations centre.

Linking to the Sentinels

Before EDRS-A starts establishing test links to Sentinels-1A and -2A in April, the payload must first check the accuracy of its laser by making contact with an ESA ground station in the Canary Islands.

This ‘illumination test’ will prove the terminal is capable of locking onto a target over 36 000 km away – a feat that will become routine once it starts operations in June.


As the Sentinels orbit Earth, EDRS-A’s laser will locate and lock on to their partner terminals. The Sentinels will send the information they have collected via the laser. EDRS-A’s Ka-band payload will then send it down to Europe, where the Ottobrunn Mission Operation Centre will measure the duration of the link and speed of the data transmission. The centre will compare the results with that of a similar terminal on Alphasat, as well as the data the Sentinels are downlinking via their own ground station network.

The test links between the satellites are crucial, as they will be used to verify the health of the payload as well as set the standard for all future links.

Magali Vaissiere said: “EDRS is the most ambitious satcom programme ever carried out under an ESA partnership with the European space sector. It takes on board the most sophisticated communications technology in the world. We look forward to it being fully operational this summer, marking a new chapter for global telecommunications.”

Related links:

Copernicus Sentinels:

Copernicus Programme:

Redu Centre:




DLR German Aerospace Center:


Airbus website - Airbus SpaceDataHighway services:

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


jeudi 14 avril 2016

A Space Spider Watches Over Young Stars

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope logo.

April 14, 2016

Image above: The Spider Nebula lies about 10,000 light-years away from Earth and is a site of active star formation. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS.

A nebula known as "the Spider" glows fluorescent green in an infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). The Spider, officially named IC 417, lies near a much smaller object called NGC 1931, not pictured in the image. Together, the two are called "The Spider and the Fly" nebulae. Nebulae are clouds of interstellar gas and dust where stars can form.

The Spider, located about 10,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Auriga, is clearly a site of star formation. It resides in the outer part of the Milky Way, almost exactly in the opposite direction from the galactic center. A group of students, teachers and scientists focused their attention on this region as part of the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) in 2015. They worked on identifying new stars in this area.

One of the largest clusters of young stars in the Spider can be seen easily in the image. Toward the right of center, against the black background of space, you can see a bright group of stars called "Stock 8." The light from this cluster carves out a bowl in the nearby dust clouds, seen in the imageas green fluff. Along the sinuous tail in the center, and to the left, the groupings of red point sources clumped in the green are also young stars.

In the image, infrared wavelengths, which are invisible to the unaided eye, have been assigned visible colors. Light with a wavelength of 1.2 microns, detected by 2MASS, is shown in blue. The Spitzer wavelengths of 3.6 and 4.5 microns are green and red, respectively.

Spitzer data used to create the image were obtained during the space telescope's "warm mission" phase, following its depletion of coolant in mid-2009. Due to its design, Spitzer remains cold enough to operate efficiently at two channels of infrared light. It is now in its 12th year of operation since launch.

Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

The 2MASS mission was a joint effort between the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data from 2MASS and Spitzer are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Related links:

NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP):

"The Spider and the Fly" nebulae:

More information on Spitzer can be found at its website:

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


Solar Impulse re-enters ‘Mission Mode’

SolarImpulse - Around The World patch.

April 14, 2016

Before every great takeoff, there is a moment of hesitancy, -of trepidation, -of uncertainty. That might perturb some, but it is this sensation that the Solar Impulse team lives for. Now, we are stepping forward and have truly entered “Mission Mode.”

You might be wondering where Solar Impulse is at-and what’s going to happen next? The past two months have been filled with preparations: maintenance and training flights. We have completed both Bertrand Piccard’s last high altitude flight and André Borschberg’s last training flight these past two weeks. Now our pilots are fully prepared to take on the next big challenge: the flight from Hawaii to North America.

The past eight months have exemplified the team spirit, embracing setbacks and seeing them as opportunities. After replacing the batteries that overheated during the flight from Nagoya to Hawaii, the countdown has now started for the Solar Impulse team to finish what they started, and head back to their departure point: Abu Dhabi.

Last year, we conquered the skies with the sun’s power from Abu Dhabi, across Oman, India, Myanmar, China, and Japan until reaching Hawaii. Soon, we will attempt to complete the circumference of the earth, from Hawaii, over the Pacific Ocean, across North America, over the Atlantic Ocean, and across Europe or North Africa, finally landing in Abu Dhabi once again.

Weather allowing, we could take-off for our flight over the Pacific Ocean soon. I’m sure you have never had a job that depends on the weather so much, huh? As we all know, the weather can change at any minute, so our engineers at the Mission Control Center in Monaco are busy searching for a weather window. What exactly does that entail?

Finding a weather window is the outcome of a tight collaboration between:

    our Air Traffic Control (ATC) team;
    our meteorologists;
    our mission engineers;
    and the ALTRAN team that executes flight simulations.

They all work together to identify the best possible options to fly. ALTRAN, a Solar Impulse partner, has provided us with a software that illustrates Si2’s flight path through forecasted weather conditions and ATC routes in order to evaluate whether the aircraft can fly while identifying the path Si2 should follow. If the flight path is clear until the final destination, the aircraft can safely proceed to its landing point.

At Solar Impulse, we are opportunists in the sense that we always take advantage of weather windows that provide clear flight paths for Si2 to fly. The first Mission Flight of this year will be long, lasting several days in order to cross the rest of the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to North America. Before takeoff, our team undergoes regular simulations in order to receive the most accurate weather forecast during the flight. It is only a few hours before the flight that we can fully confirm it will take place. This state of unknown lasts until the aircraft has taken off and reached the point of no return and is what ultimately motivates all Solar Impulse members, enabling us to become closer than a team: a family.

We have prepared a lot of interesting information for you that will be released in the coming days, leading up to the upcoming flight over the Pacific Ocean. To start with, here is a video about Solar Impulse’s time in Hawaii!

Solar Impulse's time in Hawaii

We will surely take the first possible opportunity to resume our adventure and will let you know as soon as an opening comes up! If you haven’t already, subscribe on the link bellow to make sure you receive our updates.

For more information about Solar Impulse Around the World, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credit: SolarImpulse.


Interstellar dust intercepted at Saturn

NASA - Cassini International logo.

14 April 2016

The international Cassini spacecraft has detected the faint but distinct signature of dust coming from outside our Solar System.

Cassini has been flying around the Saturnian system for 12 years, studying the giant planet and its rings and satellites. It has also found millions of ice-rich dust grains with its Cosmic Dust Analyser, the vast majority of which are from icy satellite Enceladus and which make up one of Saturn’s outer rings.

Interstellar dust at Saturn

Amongst the grains detected, 36 stick out from the crowd – and scientists conclude they came from beyond our Solar System.

Alien dust in the Solar System is not entirely unexpected. In the 1990s, the ESA/NASA Ulysses mission made the first in-situ discovery of interstellar dust, later confirmed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft.

The dust was traced back to the local interstellar cloud: an almost empty bubble of gas and dust we are travelling through with a distinct direction and speed.

“From that discovery, we always hoped we would be able detect these interstellar interlopers at Saturn with Cassini: we knew that if we looked in the right direction, we should find them,” says Nicolas Altobelli, ESA’s Cassini project scientist and lead author of the study reporting the results in Science.

“And indeed, on average, we have captured a few per year, travelling at high speed and on a specific path quite different to that of the usual icy grains we collect around Saturn.”

The tiny dust grains were speeding through at over 72 000 km/h, fast enough to avoid being trapped inside the Solar System by Saturn’s – or even the Sun’s – gravity.

Importantly, unlike Ulysses and Galileo, Cassini analysed the composition of the dust for the first time, showing them to be made of a very specific mixture of minerals, not ice.

Local interstellar cloud

They all had a surprisingly similar chemical make-up, containing major rock-forming elements like magnesium, silicon, iron and calcium in average cosmic proportions. Conversely, more reactive elements like sulphur and carbon were found to be less abundant compared to the average.

“Cosmic dust is produced when stars die, but with the vast range of types of stars in the Universe we naturally expected to encounter a huge range of dust types over the long period of our study,” says Frank Postberg, co-author on the paper and co-investigator of Cassini’s dust analyser, of the University of Heidelberg.

“Surprisingly, the grains we’ve detected aren’t old, pristine and compositionally diverse like the stardust grains we find in ancient meteorites,” says Mario Trieloff, a co-author also at the University of Heidelberg. “They have apparently been made rather uniform through some repetitive processing in the interstellar medium.”

Image above: Of the millions of dust grains Cassini has sampled at Saturn, a few dozen appear to have come from beyond our solar system. Scientists believe these special grains have interstellar origins because they moved much faster and in different directions compared to dusty material native to Saturn. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The team speculate that dust in a star-forming region could be destroyed and recondense multiple times as the shockwaves from dying stars passed through, before the resulting similar grains ended up streaming towards our Solar System.

“The long duration of the Cassini mission has enabled us to use it like a micrometeorite observatory, providing us privileged access to the contribution of dust from outside our Solar System that could not have been obtained in any other way,” adds Nicolas.

Notes for Editors:

“Flux and composition of interstellar dust at Saturn from Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer,” by N. Altobelli et al, is published in Science:

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The Cosmic Dust Analyser is supported by the German Aerospace Center (DLR); the instrument is managed by the University of Stuttgart, Germany.

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

Images, Text, Credits: ESA; dust grain inset: NASA/JPL; Saturn image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.


First light for ExoMars

ESA & ROSCOSMOS - ExoMars Mission logo.

14 April 2016

The ESA–Roscosmos ExoMars spacecraft are in excellent health following launch last month, with the orbiter sending back its first test image of a starry view taken en route to the Red Planet.

In the weeks following liftoff on 14 March, mission operators and scientists have been intensively checking the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli entry, descent, and landing demonstrator to ensure they will be ready for Mars in October.

ExoMars first light

TGO’s control, navigation and communication systems have been set up, the 2.2 m-diameter high-gain dish is already providing a 2 Mbit/s link with Earth, and the science instruments have undergone initial checks.

Once orbiting Mars, TGO will embark on a mission to measure the abundance and distribution of rare gases in the atmosphere with its sophisticated sensors. Of particular interest is methane, which could point to active geological or biological processes on the planet.

Meanwhile, Schiaparelli will demonstrate the technology needed to make a controlled landing on the planet, set for 19 October.

“All systems have been activated and checked out, including power, communications, startrackers, guidance and navigation, all payloads and Schiaparelli, while the flight control team have become more comfortable operating this new and sophisticated spacecraft,” says Peter Schmitz, ESA’s Spacecraft Operations Manager.

Antenna deployment

On 7 April, TGO’s high-resolution camera was switched on for the first time, acquiring its first images of space.

The view shows a randomly selected portion of the sky close to the southern celestial pole. This image is composed of two frames taken in slightly different directions by using the camera’s rotation mechanism. Subtracting one frame from the other reveals a number of equally offset positive and negative images of stars.

This shows that the camera and its pointing mechanism are working well.

“The initial switch-on went quite smoothly and so far things look good,” says Nicolas Thomas from the University of Bern in Switzerland, and camera principal investigator.

“Although it was not designed to look at faint stars, these first images are very reassuring. Everything points to us being able to get good data at Mars.”

Offset stars indicated

Once at Mars, it will study surface features – including those that may be related to gas sources such as volcanoes.

The trace gas sensors, along with the atomic particle detector that will be able to detect buried water-ice deposits, were also all switched on for the first time last week, and science teams obtained first test data.

Engineers have also begun an intensive series of checks on Schiaparelli’s flight systems and instruments.

While primarily a technology demonstrator, Schiaparelli will conduct a number of environmental studies during its short mission on the surface of Mars. For example, it will make the first measurements of electric fields that, combined with measurements of the concentration of atmospheric dust, will provide new insights into the role of electric forces on dust lifting – a possible trigger for dust storms.

It will also take a handful of images during its six-minute descent to the surface.

Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli

“TGO and Schiaparelli instruments are all working well, and the science teams that operate them will continue calibration and configuration checks while en route to Mars to ensure they are ready for the exciting mission that lies ahead,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s ExoMars 2016 project scientist.

One upcoming milestone is a major course correction in July, which will line the spacecraft up for arrival at Mars on 19 October.

As of today, one month following launch, TGO and Schiaparelli have completed more than 83 million km of their 500 million km journey to Mars.

Related links:

Robotic exploration of Mars:

ExoMars mission:

About ExoMars:

What is ExoMars?:

Why are we going to Mars?:

More about...

ExoMars Factsheet:

ExoMars frequently asked questions:

ExoMars brochure:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS/ATG medialab.


mercredi 13 avril 2016

New Science Begins as Station Boosts Orbit

ISS - Expedition 47 Mission patch.

April 13, 2016

The Expedition 47 crew has begun working new science delivered aboard the new Dragon and Cygnus commercial cargo ships. The crew is also getting ready for the extraction and installation of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module scheduled for Saturday.

One of the experiments delivered aboard Dragon is already being set up for operation. The Rodent Research-3 experiment is exploring an antibody used on Earth to see if it prevents muscle atrophy and bone loss in space. The crew is also working the Gecko Gripper study, launched aboard Cygnus, which is researching advanced adhesive technology.

Image above: Expedition 47 crew members (from left) Tim Kopra, Jeff Williams Tim Peake eat dinner inside the Unity module aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Tim Kopra and British astronaut Tim Peake conducted vision tests and blood pressure checks today for the Ocular Health study. Scientists are researching vision changes reported during long-term space missions and how long before vision returns to normal when an astronaut returns to Earth.

The International Space Station began a series of orbital boosts today to get ready for a June crew swap. Kopra and Peake along with fellow Expedition 46-47 crew member Yuri Malenchenko will return home in early June. They will be replaced about two weeks later when Expedition 48-49 crew members Anatoly Ivanishin, Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi launch.

Related links:

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module:

Rodent Research-3 experiment:

Gecko Gripper study:

Ocular Health study:

International Space Station (ISS):

Space Station Research and Technology:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

A spacecraft the size of a smartphone launched to 60'000 Km/s to Alpha Centauri

Breakthrough Initiatives logo.

April 13, 2016

Yuri Milner, investor and Russian billionaire, unveiled alongside the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, his plan to send micro-probe to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth. The head in the stars, some billionaires seem to enjoy putting their wealth in the aerospace service. After Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, it is the turn of Yuri Milner of talking to him with his project for the less visionary.

Image above: A probe about the size of a smartphone, a sail and lasers to push. Image Credits: BreakthroughStarshot.

Called "Breakthrough Starshot", it is just as ambitious as that of his predecessors. Philanthropist wants indeed to send into space a fleet of tiny spacecraft to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth. The challenge lies in the distance of travel, estimated at 4.37 light years, more than 41,000 billion kilometers. Knowing that the New Horizons spacecraft, which reached Pluto last year, is moving at a speed of 49 kilometers per second, it would take over 24,000 years to reach this destination.

Micro-probe traveling 20% ​​of the speed of light

Suffice to say, the man of business will have to show a lot of innovation to develop a new generation of high-speed vessels. Those he planned with his team of Silicon Valley, are the size of a chip and could reach 60,000 kilometers per second, or 20% of the speed of light. A true record.

Breakthrough Starshot

At this speed, the journey could be done in just twenty years, possibly leaving the billionaire 54 years time to enjoy the fruits of his efforts. At a conference broadcast live on the Web, the investor announced, not without eloquence, plans of this impressive expedition. "For the first time in history, we can do more than look at the stars, we can achieve them. It is time to take the next big leap in the history of humanity," he said. And for this, Yuri Milner is ready for anything.

The principle of photonic propulsion

The billionaire has decided to invest its $ 100 million pocket (€ 88 million) and is surrounded by the greatest astrophysicists including the famous Stephen Hawking. Together they devised a system based on the principle of photonic propulsion. It consists of tow using a light sail micro probes of a few grams at most. The device will be powered by a laser beam of 100 gigawatts sent from Earth. For comparison, this represents a little more than the energy required to peel a space shuttle.

The project aims to use only existing core technologies and improve. Estimating 20 years development time, it would be possible to receive images Alpha Centauri by 2061. The probes will meanwhile be mass produced to explore areas closer adjoining our solar system.

Editor's Note:

I would like to personally thank these visionary men and pioneers of the exploration and colonization of space, the future of humanity is in the stars. Planet Earth is our cradle, space our home. Ad Astra Per Aspera! Roland Berga.

For more information about Breakthrough Starshot, visit:

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: BreakthroughStarshot/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Photographic Shockwave Research Reaches New Heights with BOSCO Flights

NASA - Armstrong Flight Research Center patch.

April 13, 2016

NASA’s goal of developing a quiet supersonic aircraft is another step closer following a pair of successful first flights in a series demonstrating patent-pending Background Oriented Schlieren using Celestial Objects (BOSCO) technology, effectively using the sun as a background in capturing unique, measurable images of shockwaves.

Improved image-processing technology makes it possible to capture hundreds of observations with each shockwave, benefiting engineers in their efforts to develop a supersonic aircraft that will produce a soft “thump” in place of a disruptive sonic boom.

Image above: An Air Force Test Pilot School T-38 passes in front of the sun at supersonic speed, creating shockwaves that are captured using schlieren photography to visualize supersonic flow. Image Credits: NASA Photo/Ken Ulbrich.

The tests, flown from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, build on other recent NASA tests to further the art of schlieren photography.  Schlieren is a technique that can make important invisible flow features visible.  Although schlieren has been in use for over a century, recent research by NASA has enabled its application in flight and greatly enhanced the detail of the images that can be obtained.  In this case, NASA improved schlieren captured the visual data of shockwaves produced by a U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School's T-38 aircraft traveling at supersonic speeds. The tests used a camera lens filter commonly used when photographing the sun The filter, known as a hydrogen-alpha solar filter was installed in one of three modified high-speed cameras positioned strategically on the ground, and allowed visually fine details of the sun to be seen.

As a result of the research, the supersonic aircraft and its shockwaves are seen with distinct clarity in front of the solar background. Observing air density changes makes the details clearer, explained BOSCO principal investigator Mike Hill.

“The hydrogen alpha filter basically looks at light coming off of certain hydrogen atoms on the sun’s surface,” Hill said. “By looking at one specific wavelength of light it brings texture out on the image of the sun. That texture is what we use to process the raw images into schlieren images.

“As the light rays come through the flow around the airplane, the different air density caused by the flow bends the light, which allows us to see the texture of the sun’s surface move on the digital image. We can calculate how far each “speckle” on the sun moved, and that gives us the schlieren image.”

This concept is similar to seeing heat waves that are coming off of a hot surface in the summer.  The blur of the objects in the distance is visible because the hot air over the surface is a different density than the air around it.  When light travels through that density change, it bends, causing objects in the background to appear blurry to the eye.

The BOSCO technique is one of two exciting new NASA developments in the field of schlieren. The second involves using cameras on one airplane to photograph another. Both techniques are capable of producing images of greatly improved quality, and each has unique features.

Image above: Principal investigator Mike Hill (left) awaits data along with subproject manager Brett Pauer (right) as the Air Force Test Pilot School T-38 creates visible shockwaves in front of the sun via supersonic flight in March 2016. Image Credits: NASA Photo/Ken Ulbrich.

“One advantage for BOSCO is that we’re flying one airplane,” Hill explained. “We can have our cameras on the ground, and we can use consumer-grade telescopes and non-flight rated equipment. We don’t need to put any imaging equipment on an airplane, so there are obvious savings in operational costs.”

This method can be applied to imaging wing vortex locations and relative strengths important for NASA Armstrong’s research into improved efficiency for subsonic aircraft.

Background Oriented Schlieren (BOS), which is a useful method for capturing clear, accurate images of shockwaves, distorts background patterns, allowing the location of the waves to be analyzed, tracked and compared in a series of photographs captured by the high-speed cameras.

BOSCO continues the work of Calcium-K Eclipse Background Oriented Schlieren, or CaKEBOS, which initially validated the concept of using the sun as a background in BOS photography. The hope with the new imaging system used in BOSCO is to capture a more detailed picture of the flow field around the aircraft.

Commercial Supersonic Technology subproject manager Brett Pauer says the first flights for BOSCO met high expectations. Pauer was involved in NASA’s photographic research of shockwaves through AirBOS, CaKEBOS, and Ground-to-Air Schlieren Photography System (GASPS).

“I am very happy with these flights,” Pauer stated. “Our Air Force pilots were spot on, our ground operators performed very well, and we captured some spectacular images. These have been our most successful ground-based schlieren flights yet.”

Image above: Shockwaves produced by a U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School T-38 banking at Mach 1.05 are captured by a new ground-operated camera and filter to study flow patterns and provide NASA engineers with methods of furthering research toward developing a soft “thump” in place of heavy sonic boom. Image Credit: NASA Photo.

The data collected from the flights will help engineers determine the most sufficient method of designing and executing further tests in NASA’s research of shockwaves created by supersonic flight.  The overall goal of the schlieren imaging research is to develop a system to image the shock waves propagating from the bottom of the aircraft to the ground.  This necessitates imaging a side view of the aircraft in near level flight.

Visualizing these complex flow patterns of shockwaves produced by a supersonic vehicle will allow NASA researchers to validate design tools used to develop the proposed Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) research aircraft. QueSST will be the first ever aircraft to demonstrate supersonic flight with the soft sonic “thump”, and could unlock the future to commercial supersonic flight over land.

Related links:


CaKEBOS, and Ground-to-Air Schlieren Photography System (GASPS):

NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center:

NASA Aeronautics:

Supersonic Flight:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center/Matt Kamlet/Monroe Conner.

Best regards,

Inside the Fiery Furnace

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

13 April 2016

VLT Survey Telescope Captures the Fornax Cluster

VST image of the Fornax Galaxy Cluster

This new image from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile captures a spectacular concentration of galaxies known as the Fornax Cluster, which can be found in the southern hemisphere constellation of Fornax (The Furnace). The cluster plays host to a menagerie of galaxies of all shapes and sizes, some of which are hiding secrets.

Galaxies, it seems, are sociable animals and they like to gather together in large groups, known as clusters. Actually it’s gravity that holds the galaxies in the cluster close together as a single entity, with the pull of gravity arising from large amounts of dark matter, as well as from the galaxies we can see. Clusters can contain anything between about 100 and 1000 galaxies and can be between about 5 and 30 million light-years across.

Finding Chart for the Fornax Galaxy Cluster

Galaxy clusters do not come in neatly defined shapes so it is difficult to determine exactly where they begin and end. However, astronomers have estimated that the centre of the Fornax Cluster is in the region of 65 million light-years from Earth. What is more accurately known is that it contains nearly sixty large galaxies, and a similar number of smaller dwarf galaxies. Galaxy clusters like this one are commonplace in the Universe and illustrate the powerful influence of gravity over large distances as it draws together the enormous masses of individual galaxies into one region.

At the centre of this particular cluster, in the middle of the three bright fuzzy blobs on the left side of the image, is what is known as a cD galaxy — a galactic cannibal. cD galaxies like this one, called NGC 1399, look similar to elliptical galaxies but are bigger and have extended, faint envelopes [1]. This is because they have grown by swallowing smaller galaxies drawn by gravity towards the centre of the cluster [2].

The location of the Fornax Galaxy Cluster

Indeed, there is evidence that this process is happening before our eyes — if you look closely enough. Recent work by a team of astronomers led by Enrichetta Iodice (INAF – Osservatorio di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy)  [3], using data from ESO’s VST, has revealed a very faint bridge of light between NGC 1399 and the smaller galaxy NGC 1387 to its right. This bridge, which has not been seen before (and is too faint to show up in this picture), is somewhat bluer than either galaxy, indicating that it consists of stars created in gas that was drawn away from NGC 1387 by the gravitational pull of NGC 1399. Despite there being little evidence for ongoing interactions in the Fornax Cluster overall, it seems that NGC 1399 at least is still feeding on its neighbours.

Wide-field view of the Fornax Galaxy Cluster

Towards the bottom right of this image is the large barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365. This is a striking example of its type, the prominent bar passing through the central core of the galaxy, and the spiral arms emerging from the ends of the bar. In keeping with the nature of cluster galaxies, there is more to NGC 1365 than meets the eye. It is classified as a Seyfert Galaxy, with a bright active galactic nucleus also containing a supermassive black hole at its centre.

Zooming in on the Fornax Galaxy cluster

This spectacular image was taken by the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. At 2.6 metres in diameter, the VST is by no means a large telescope by today’s standards, but it has been designed specifically to conduct large-scale surveys of the sky. What sets it apart is its huge corrected field of view and 256-megapixel camera, called OmegaCAM, which was specially developed for surveying the sky. With this camera the VST can produce deep images of large areas of sky quickly, leaving the really big telescopes — like ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) — to explore the details of individual objects.

VST image of the Fornax Galaxy Cluster


[1] The image captures only the central regions of the Fornax Cluster; it extends over a larger region of sky.

[2] The central galaxy is often the brightest galaxy in a cluster, but in this case the brightest galaxy, NGC 1316, is situated at the edge of the cluster, just outside the area covered by this image. Also known as Fornax A, it is one of the most powerful sources of radio waves in the sky. The radio waves, which can be seen by specialised telescopes sensitive to this kind of radiation, emanate from two enormous lobes extending far into space either side of the visible galaxy. The energy that powers the radio emission comes from a supermassive black hole lurking at the centre of the galaxy which is emitting two opposing jets of high-energy particles. These jets produce the radio waves when they plough into the rarefied gas which occupies the space between galaxies in the cluster.

[3] “The Fornax Deep Survey with VST. I. The extended and diffuse stellar halo of NGC1399 out to 192 kpc” by E. Iodice, M. Capaccioli , A. Grado , L. Limatola, M. Spavone, N.R. Napolitano, M. Paolillo, R. F. Peletier, M. Cantiello, T. Lisker, C. Wittmann, A. Venhola , M. Hilker , R. D’Abrusco, V. Pota, and P. Schipani has been published in the Astrophysical Journal.

More information:

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper:

Photos of the VST:

Press releases involving the VST:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT):

Images, Text, Credits:ESO/Richard Hook/Acknowledgement: Aniello Grado and Luca Limatola/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin/Videos: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/A. Fujii. Acknowledgement: Aniello Grado and Luca Limatola. Music: Johan B. Monell (


mardi 12 avril 2016

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist April 12, 2016

ISS - International Space Station logo.

April 12, 2016

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

(Highlights: Week of March 28, 2016) - Investigations on the International Space Station this week focused on the kind of soil we may find while exploring our solar system and how we are turning to a lizard found on Earth for better adhesives to use in space.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake completed setup of the Strata-1 study investigating the properties and behavior of regolith in microgravity, in preparation for the upcoming activation. Regolith is the "soil" made up of dust and broken rock found on asteroids, comets, the moon and other airless worlds. It is different from the dirt on Earth in that it contains no living material. Sealed tubes of simulated regolith were delivered to the station and will be subjected to microgravity and the ambient vibration of the orbiting laboratory. Any changes will be recorded on video images relayed to the Strata-1 team at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Image above: Crew members on the International Space Station captured this unique cloud formations during orbit. Image Credit: NASA.

Scientists believe Strata-1 will give us answers about how easy or difficult it will be to anchor a spacecraft in regolith, how it will react to spacecraft and spacesuit materials and how to safely move and process large volumes of regolith once we reach the surface of these bodies. Results may also apply to mixing of dry materials on Earth, such as pharmaceuticals, or the study of dune migration and dynamics.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams completed a round of tests for the Gecko Gripper investigation. This demonstration tests an adhesive gripping device much like what is found on the toes of a gecko. These lizards have special hair on their feet called setae that let them stick to vertical surfaces without falling. This NASA investigation tests a device that engineers believe will stick to surfaces in the space environment. The technology promises to enable many new capabilities including robotic crawlers working on spacecraft exteriors or grippers using a touch-to-stick method to capture and release objects such as orbital debris. Robots using this adhesive to climb walls also have military and security applications on Earth. The machining industry could also use the technology, handling fragile or lightweight objects like glass, boxes or bags.

Anomation above: ESA (European Space Agency) Tim Peake installed the Strata-1 investigation on the International Space Station. The study looks in to how regolith -- the dirt found on asteroids, moons and other planets -- would react in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

Peake installed two protein crystal growth canisters to continue the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) High Quality Protein Crystal Growth (JAXA PCG) experiment. The canisters were installed in the Protein Crystal Research Facility (PCRF). The crystals will grow for about seven weeks as scientists look more closely at the structures of protein crystals grown in microgravity and search for methods to improve their quality.

Protein crystals have been grown in space for many years and the benefits are widespread. Detailed analysis of high quality protein crystal structures is useful in designing new pharmaceuticals for diseases and contributes to a range of commercial aspects including industrial and energy sectors.

Principal investigators announced the successful completion of NASA's Advanced Colloid Experiment - Heated 2 (ACE-H-2) investigation. This investigation studies charged nanoparticles in a colloid stored in the Fluid Integration Rack, allowing for crystallization and self-assembly to stabilize and create an even concentration of the mixture.

Image above: A view of the contents of two of Strata-1's tubes. The regolith simulant on the left is a simplified model consisting of angular fragments of colored glass, sorted into three sizes. The tube on the right contains pulverized meteorite material to closely resemble the actual regolith on a small asteroid, also sorted into three sizes. Image Credit: NASA.

Many household cleaning products are a special kind of liquid called a colloid — a mixture of liquid with minuscule particles floating in it. In the orbiting laboratory, gravity isn’t weighing down the particles and changing the concentration of the mixture, so scientists can better study colloids. Scientists want to use the microgravity environment to discover how the crystalline structures are formed and investigate the nanoparticle concentration. The investigation could help scientists and engineers design advanced materials and sensors with submicron features.

Human research investigations conducted this week included Biochem Profile, Cardio Ox, Marrow, Repository, Circadian Rhythms, Cognition, Dose Tracker, Fine Motor Skills, Habitability, Multi-Omics, Sprint, and Space Headaches.

Space Station Live: Getting a Grip on the Space Station

Video above: NASA Commentator Lori Meggs at the Marshall Space Flight Center talks to Aaron Parness, the principal investigator for the Gecko Gripper experiment, an adhesive technology inspired by nature. The Gecko Gripper can stick to a surface on command, and is being considered as a way to enable new capabilities in space such as reusable sensor mounts and robotic crawlers that could walk along spacecraft surfaces inside and out.

Progress made on other investigations and facilities this week include Cell Mechanosensing-3, NanoRacks Module-48, Rodent Research-3, FLEX-2, EPO Peake, ISS Ham, AMS-02, Cell Biology Experiment Facility, EFU Adapter, and HRF-2.

Related links:

Strata-1 study:

Gecko Gripper investigation:

High Quality Protein Crystal Growth (JAXA PCG) experiment:

NASA's Advanced Colloid Experiment - Heated 2 (ACE-H-2) investigation:

Cell Mechanosensing-3:

Rodent Research-3:

EPO Peake:

ISS Ham:


Space Headaches:


Fine Motor Skills:

Dose Tracker:


Circadian Rhythms:

International Space Station (ISS):

Space Station Research and Technology:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 47 & 48/Yuri Guinart-Ramirez.

Best regards,

NASA to Attach, Test First Expandable Habitat on International Space Station

ISS - International Space Station patch.

April 12, 2016

Image above: This artist’s concept depicts the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module attached to the International Space Station’s Tranquility module. Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace.

The first human-rated expandable structure that may help inform the design of deep space habitats is set to be installed to the International Space Station Saturday, April 16. NASA Television coverage of the installation will begin at 5:30 a.m. EDT.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be attached to the station’s Tranquility module over a period of about four hours. Controllers in mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will remove BEAM from the unpressurized trunk of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, using the robotic Canadarm2, and move it into position next to Tranquility’s aft assembly port. NASA astronauts aboard the station will secure BEAM using common berthing mechanism controls. Robotic operations begin at 2:15 a.m. and are expected to be complete by 6:15 a.m.

Space Station Live: BEAMing up to ISS

BEAM launched aboard Dragon on April 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. At the end of May, the module will be expanded to nearly five times its compressed size of 7 feet in diameter by 8 feet in length to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet in length.

Astronauts will first enter the habitat about a week after expansion and, during a two-year test mission, will return to the module for a few hours several times a year to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions.

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a rocket, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat performs overall and, specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space. Once the test period is over, BEAM will be released from the space station, and will burn up during its descent through Earth’s atmosphere.

Image above: The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental expandable capsule that attaches to the space station. Image Credits: Bigelow Aerospace, LLC.

BEAM is an example of NASA’s increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of the commercial use of space. The BEAM project is co-sponsored by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace.

The International Space Station serves as the world's leading laboratory for conducting cutting-edge microgravity research and is the primary platform for technology development and testing in space to enable human and robotic exploration of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars.

For coverage times and to watch the BEAM installation live, visit:

For more information about BEAM, visit:

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Cheryl Warner/Karen Northon/Johnson Space Center/Dan Huot.


lundi 11 avril 2016

CERN - Too quiet to hear a particle drop

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

April 11, 2016

Image above: An event display showing the first collisions after the 2015 year-end technical stop as seen by the CMS experiment (Image: CERN).

Since 25 March 2016 the LHC has quietly been sending bunches of particles back into the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) beam pipe.

Last week, due to a number of innovative developments and impressive work from those involved in the restart, the beam was ramped up earlier than expected to an energy of 6.5 TeV.

As of Friday, 8 April 2016 physicists were confident to move to the next stage of the restart – fine-tuning the set-up for colliding beams.

To do this they circulate a small number of particle bunches around the LHC and bring them into collision at top energy. Full-scale data taking by the experiments is not possible at this stage but these early tests, known as ‘quiet beams’, give the experiments their first sight of collisions.

The design of the LHC allows more than 2800 bunches of protons to circulate in each beam at a time. But the LHC Operations team will start collision tests with just one or two bunches per beam to be certain that the beams are colliding properly and that they know the exact points that the beams interact.

In the meantime, the large LHC experiments, ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb will use the test data to check specific parts of their detectors for the upcoming physics run.

The LHC Operations team plans to declare "stable beams" in the coming weeks – the signal for the LHC experiments to start taking physics data again.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 Member States.

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

LHC experiments:

Related article:

Return of the LHC – season 2 continues:

For more information about the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Harriet Kim Jarlett.

Best regards,

NASA Begins Testing of Revolutionary E-Sail Technology

NASA logo.

April 11, 2016

Testing has started at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on a concept for a potentially revolutionary propulsion system that could send spacecraft to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, faster than ever before.

The test results will provide modeling data for the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS). The proposed HERTS E-Sail concept, a propellant-less propulsion system, would harness solar wind to travel into interstellar space.

“The sun releases protons and electrons into the solar wind at very high speeds -- 400 to 750 kilometers per second,” said Bruce Wiegmann an engineer in Marshall’s Advanced Concepts Office and the principal investigator for the HERTS E-Sail. “The E-Sail would use these protons to propel the spacecraft.”

Image above: In this concept, long, very thin, bare wires construct the large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving solar protons. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft’s thrust. Image Credits: NASA/MSFC.

Extending outward from the center of the spacecraft, 10 to 20 electrically charged, bare aluminum wires would produce a large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving protons of the solar wind. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft’s thrust. Each tether is extremely thin, only 1 millimeter -- the width of a standard paperclip -- and very long, nearly 12 and a half miles -- almost 219 football fields. As the spacecraft slowly rotates at one revolution per hour, centrifugal forces will stretch the tethers into position.

The testing, which is taking place in the High Intensity Solar Environment Test system, is designed to examine the rate of proton and electron collisions with a positively charged wire. Within a controlled plasma chamber simulating plasma in a space, the team is using a stainless steel wire as an analog for the lightweight aluminum wire. Though denser than aluminum, stainless steel’s non-corrosive properties will mimic that of aluminum in space and allow more testing with no degradation.

Engineers are measuring deflections of protons from the energized charged wire within the chamber to improve modeling data that will be scaled up and applied to future development of E-Sail technology. The tests are also measuring the amount of electrons attracted to the wire. This information will be used to develop the specifications for the required electron gun, or an electron emitter, that will expel excess electrons from the spacecraft to maintain the wire’s positive voltage bias, which is critical to its operation as a propulsion system.

Image above: NASA engineer Bruce Wiegmann, principal investigator for the HERTS E-Sail, demonstrates the long, thin wires that will construct the E-Sail. Each tether is extremely thin, only 1 millimeter -- the width of a standard paperclip -- and very long, 12.5 miles. Image Credits: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given.

This concept builds upon the electric sail invention of Dr. Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the current technologies required for an E-Sail integrated propulsion system are at a low technology readiness level. If the results from plasma testing, modeling, and wire deployer investigations prove promising after the current two-year investigation, there is still a great deal of work necessary to design and build this new type of propulsion system. The earliest actual use of the technology is probably at least a decade away.

The HERTS E-Sail concept is being studied in response to the National Academy of Science’s 2012 Heliophysics Decadal Survey, a study conducted by experts from NASA, industry, academia and government agencies, that identified advanced propulsion as the main technical hurdle for future exploration of the heliosphere. The survey, which offered the agency a road map of the heliophysics community’s priorities for 2013-2022, highlighted the need for propulsion systems that could reach the edge of our solar system significantly faster than in the past.

To send a scientific probe on a deep space journey, the sail would have to have a large effective area. Space travel is generally measured in astronomical units, or the distance from Earth to the sun. At 1 AU, the E-Sail would have an effective area of about 232 square miles, slightly smaller than the city of Chicago. The effective area would increase to more than 463 square miles-- similar to Los Angeles -- at 5 AU.

Animation of Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transport System (HERTS)

Video above: NASA engineers are conducting tests to develop models for the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transport System (HERTS) concept. HERTS builds upon the electric sail invention of Dr. Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute. An electric sail could potentially send scientific payloads to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, in less than 10 years. The research is led by Bruce M. Wiegmann, an engineer in the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The HERTS E-Sail concept development and testing is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. Video Credits: NASA/MSFC.

This increase in area would lead to continued acceleration much longer than comparable propulsion technologies. For example, when solar sail spacecraft reach the asteroid belt at 5 AU, the energy of the solar photons dissipates and acceleration stops. Wiegmann believes the E-Sail would continue to accelerate well beyond that.

“The same concerns don’t apply to the protons in the solar wind,” he said. “With the continuous flow of protons, and the increased area, the E-Sail will continue to accelerate to 16-20 AU -- at least three times farther than the solar sail. This will create much higher speeds.”

In 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to ever cross the heliopause and reach interstellar space. Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 took almost 35 years to make its 121 AU journey. The goal of HERTS is to develop an E-Sail that could make the same journey in less than one-third that time.

“Our investigation has shown that an interstellar probe mission propelled by an E-Sail could travel to the heliopause in just under 10 years,” he said. “This could revolutionize the scientific returns of these types of missions.”

The HERTS E-Sail concept development and testing is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, which encourages visionary ideas that could transform future missions with the creation of radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts. NIAC projects study innovative, technically credible, advanced concepts that could one day "change the possible" in aerospace.

Image above: Within a controlled plasma chamber -- the High Intensity Solar Environment Test system -- tests will examine the rate of proton and electron collisions with a positively charged tether. Results will help improve modeling data that will be applied to future development of E-Sail technology concept. Image Credits: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given.

Selected as a Phase II NIAC Fellow in 2015, the HERTS team was awarded an additional $500,000 to further test the E-Sail and possibly change not only the way NASA travels to the heliopause, but also within our solar system.

“As the team studied this concept, it became clear that the design is flexible and adaptable,” said Wiegmann. “Mission and vehicle designers can trade off wire length, number of wires and voltage levels to fit their needs -- inner planetary, outer planetary or heliopause. The E-Sail is very scalable.”

Steering can be accomplished by modulating the wire’s voltage individually as the spacecraft rotates. Affecting a difference in force applied on different portions of the E-Sail, would give engineers the ability to steer the spacecraft, similar to the sails of a boat.

For more information on the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System, visit:

For more information on the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/Marshall Space Flight Center/Tracy McMahan/Kimberly Newton.

Best regards,