samedi 10 décembre 2016

Long March 3B launches Fengyun-4A weather satellite

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

Dec. 10, 2016

Long March 3B launches (Illustration)

China launched the first of a new generation geosynchronous meteorological satellites on Saturday. The launch of Fengyun-4A satellite took place at 16:11 UTC using the Long March-3B/G2 (Y42) – or Chang Zheng-3B/G2 per its Chinese name – from the LC3 Launch Complex at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

China Successfully Launches New Generation Weather Satellite

Fengyun-4 (Wind and Cloud) series is China’s second-generation geostationary meteorological satellites after Fengyun-2 satellite series. The performance of Feng Yun-4 has been improved in relation to FY-2 in terms of data amount, network transmission bandwidth, product type and quantity and archiving data and applications.

The satellite attitude is three-axis stabilized to improve the time resolution of observations and regional mobility.

Fengyun-4A meteorological spacecraft

The new generation satellites are designed with an enhanced imagery scanning capability, desirable for monitoring small and medium scale weather systems. It is equipped with vertical atmospheric sounding and microwave detection capabilities to address 3D remote sensing at high altitudes.

The satellite also carries instrumentation for solar observations for extreme ultraviolet and X-rays, in a bid to enhance China’s space weather watch and warning capability.

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

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


vendredi 9 décembre 2016

NASA Juno Mission Prepares for December 11 Jupiter Flyby

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Dec. 9, 2016

On Sunday, December 11, at 9:04 a.m. PST (12:04 p.m. EST, 17:04 UTC) NASA’s Juno spacecraft will make its third science flyby of Jupiter.

At the time of closest approach (called perijove), Juno will be about 2,580 miles (4,150 kilometers) above the gas giant’s roiling cloud tops and traveling at a speed of about 129,000 mph (57.8 kilometers per second) relative to the planet. Seven of Juno’s eight science instruments will be energized and collecting data during the flyby.

"This will be the first time we are planning to operate the full Juno capability to investigate Jupiter's interior structure via its gravity field,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We are looking forward to what Jupiter’s gravity may reveal about the gas giant's past and its future.”

Mission managers have decided not to collect data with the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument during the December flyby, to allow the team to complete an update to the spacecraft software that processes JIRAM’s science data. A software patch allowing JIRAM’s operation is expected to be available prior to the next perijove pass (PJ4) on Feb. 2, 2017.

Image above: Artist's concept of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The spacecraft team continues to weigh its options regarding modifications of Juno’s orbital period -- how long it takes for the spacecraft to complete one orbit around Jupiter. At present, Juno’s orbital period is 53.4 days. There had been plans to perform a period adjustment maneuver with the spacecraft’s main engine on Oct. 19 to reduce the orbital period to 14 days. The team made the decision to forgo the maneuver in order to further study the performance of a set of valves that are part of the spacecraft's fuel pressurization system. The period reduction maneuver was the final scheduled burn of Juno's main engine.

"We have a healthy spacecraft that is performing its mission admirably,” said Rick Nybakken, project manager for Juno from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “What we do not want to do is add any unnecessary risk, so we are moving forward carefully.”

In collaboration with NASA and the Juno team, Apple will release an interactive guide to the mission (an iBook) on Dec. 11.  

The Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet's cloud tops -- as close as about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

Juno's name comes from Roman mythology. The mythical god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife -- the goddess Juno -- was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature.

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

More information on the Juno mission is available at:

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/Tony Greicius/JPL/DC Agle.


New evidence for a warmer and wetter early Mars

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

09 December 2016

A recent study from ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides new evidence for a warm young Mars that hosted water across a geologically long timescale, rather than in short episodic bursts – something that has important consequences for habitability and the possibility of past life on the planet.

Although water is known to have once flowed on Mars, the nature and timeline of how and when it did so is a major open question within planetary science.

Image above: Hellas Basin on Mars. Image Credit: MOLA Science Team

The findings follow an analysis of a region of relatively smooth terrain, called inter-crater plains, just north of the Hellas Basin. With a diameter of 2300 km, the Hellas Basin is one of the largest identified impact craters both on Mars and within the Solar System, and is thought to have formed some 4 billion years ago.

"These plains on the northern rim of Hellas are usually interpreted as being volcanic, as we see with similar surfaces on the Moon," said Francesco Salese of IRSPS, Università "Gabriele D'Annunzio", Italy, and lead author on the new paper. "However, our work indicates otherwise. Instead, we found thick, widespread swathes of sedimentary rock."

Sedimentary and volcanic (igneous) rocks form in different ways – volcanic, as the name suggests, needs active volcanism driven by a planet's internal activity, while sedimentary rock usually requires water. Igneous rock is created as volcanic deposits of molten rock cool and solidify, while sedimentary builds up as new deposits of sediment form layers that compact and harden over geologically long timescales.

"To create the kind of sedimentary plains we found at Hellas, we believe that a generally aqueous environment was present in the region some 3.8 billion years ago," said Salese. "Importantly, it must have lasted for a long period of time – on the order of hundreds of millions of years."

A volatile adolescence?

There are a couple of key models for early Mars – both involve the presence of liquid water, but in vastly different ways.

Some studies suggest that Mars' earliest days (the Noachian period, over 3.7 billion years ago) had a steadily warm climate, which enabled vast pools and streams of water to exist across the planet's surface. This watery world then lost both its magnetic field and atmosphere and cooled down, transforming into the dry, arid world we see today.

Alternatively, rather than hosting a warm climate and water-laden surface for eons, Mars may instead have only experienced short, periodic bursts of warmth and wetness that lasted for less than 10 000 years each, facilitated by a sputtering cycle of volcanism that intermittently surged and subsided across the years.
Both scenarios could form some of the water-dependent chemistries and rock morphologies we see across Mars' surface, and have significant consequences for Mars in both a geological sense – how the planet formed and evolved, whether its past has anything in common with Earth's, and the composition and structure of its surface – and in terms of potential habitability.

"Understanding if Mars had a warmer and wetter climate for a long period of time is a key question in our search for past life on the Red Planet," said co-author Nicolas Mangold of CNRS-INSU, Nantes University, France.

"If we can understand how the martian climate evolved, we'll have a better understanding of whether life could have ever flourished, and where to look for it if it did. We can also learn much about rocky planets in general, which is especially exciting in this era of exoplanet science, and about our own planet – the same processes we think to have been important on a young Mars, such as sedimentary processes, volcanism, and impacts, have also been crucial on Earth."

From formation to erosion

Salese and colleagues used imaging and spectro-imaging data from Mars Express and MRO to create a detailed geological map of the area around northern Hellas, taking advantage of so-called "erosional windows" – geological formations that act as natural "drill holes" down into the plains, revealing deeper material (examples include impact craters, grabens, and outcrops).

Image above: Geological map of region north of Hellas Basin. Image Credits: from Salese et al., 2016. J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 121, doi:10.1002/2016JE005039, Reused with permission of the American Geophysical Union.

These data showed the plains to be composed of an over 500-metre-thick band of flat, layered, light-coloured rock. The rock showed several characteristics typical of sedimentary deposition: box-work, which is a type of box-like mineral structure formed by erosion; cross-bedding, identified as layers of rock intersecting at different tilts and inclines; and planar stratification, which manifests as distinct, near-horizontal layers of rock that line up atop one another. These were in addition to large amounts of clays known as smectites.

(Click on the image for enlarge)

Images above: Left: Erosional window carved in sedimentary rock, Hellas Basin region. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS;  Right: Cross-bedding stratifications in sedimentary rocks, Hellas Basin region. Images Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Clays are exciting chemicals, as they indicate that a wet and thus potentially habitable environment once existed at that location. Clays can also trap organic material and potentially preserve signs of life.

"These characteristics suggest that the rock didn't form from lava flow deposits but rather from sedimentary processes, which implies that the region once experienced warm and wet conditions for a relatively long time," said Salese. "When the layered rock was deposited – during the Noachian period, around 3.8 billion years ago – its surroundings must have been soaked in water, with intense liquid circulation. We think it likely formed in a lake (lacustrine) or stream (alluvial) environment, or a combination of both."

The rock then underwent an intense period of volcanic erosion during the Hesperian period (3.7 to 3.3 billion years ago) and was covered by volcanic flows, creating the morphology we see today. The scientists estimate a minimum erosion rate for this time period of one metre per million years – one hundred times higher than the erosion rates estimated on Mars in the past 3 billion years.

"This is further evidence of a prolonged period of active geological processes on the surface of early Mars," added Mangold. "We can also extrapolate our finding to the rest of Mars and be confident we understand the evolution of the planet as a whole – we believe that the global climate conditions of Noachian Mars were sufficient to support significant liquid water."

Cosmic Collaboration

This study used data from Mars Express and MRO, which allowed the scientists to explore the region's appearance, topography, morphology, mineralogy, and age. More specifically, Mars Express imaging data allowed Salese and colleagues to study the plains' geology on a regional scale, providing context for the local-scale observations from MRO.

MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter). Image Credits: NASA/JPL

The presence of rock morphologies or minerals that imply a wet history point towards possible habitability at that location in the past – something that is important in selecting landing sites and areas of interest for future robotic and potential human missions to Mars.

Mars Express. Image Credits: ESA, C. Carreau

The presence of rock morphologies or minerals that imply a wet history point towards possible habitability at that location in the past – something that is important in selecting landing sites and areas of interest for future robotic and potential human missions to Mars.

"This work again demonstrates the importance of successful cooperation between different missions, and collaboration between ESA and NASA," said Dmitri Titov, ESA Project Scientist for Mars Express. "No mission would be able to unveil the history of Mars alone. By using multiple spacecraft and different observation techniques, it's possible to characterise all kinds of different geological processes on Mars in all their complexity, and gain a more complete view of Mars' early days."

This finding is part of a series of efforts to understand Mars' history and the planet as a whole, performed using Mars Express and other spacecraft – from studying Mars' early climate by probing the evolution of large lakes that once existed across the planet's surface, to observing Mars' present-day weather (including mystery clouds and aurorae), and characterising the pockets of magnetism locked up within its crust.
More information

The study comprised imaging, topographic, and mineralogical data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) and Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer (OMEGA) aboard ESA's Mars Express, and the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), Context Camera (CTX), and Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instruments aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Related publication

F. Salese, V. Ansan, N. Mangold, J. Carter, A. Ody, F. Poulet, and G. G. Ori (14 November 2016), "A sedimentary origin for intercrater plains north of the Hellas basin: implications for climate conditions and erosion rates on early Mars", J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1002/2016JE005039.

Related Publications:

Salese, F., et al. [2016]:

For more information about Mars Express mission, visit:

Mars Express overview:

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA/Dmitri Titov/CNRS-INSU/Nantes University/Nicolas Mangold/IRSPS, Università "Gabriele D'Annunzio", Pescara, Italy/Francesco Salese.

Best regards,

Launch success of the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6)

JAXA -  H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 & (HTV-6) KOUNOTORI-6 Mission patch.

December 10, 2016 (JST)

Launch success of the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6) with the H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI6" on board

Launch of JAXA H-IIB carrying the Kounotori-6

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 6 (H-IIB F6) with cargo transporter to the International Space Station, the H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI6” (HTV6) on board at 10:26:47 p.m. on December 9, 2016 (JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center.

Launch of JAXA H-IIB carrying the Kounotori-6 (HTV-6) cargo ship to the ISS

The launch vehicle flew as planned, and at approximately 15 minutes and 11 seconds after liftoff, the separation of HTV6 was confirmed.

H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)

At the time of the launch, the weather was fine, the wind speed was 4.3 meters/second, from the north-west, and the temperature was 15.5 degrees Celsius.

H-IIB Launch Vehicle No.6 Flight Sequence (Quick Estimation)

(Click on the image for enlarge)

*1 Quick estimation value prior to the detailed estimation.
*2 When the combustion chamber pressure becomes 10% against the largest combustion pressure.
*3 The definition of SRB-A jettison is the separation of the rear brace.


MHI Launch Services:

H-IIB Launch Vehicle:

H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI" (HTV):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/National Research and Development Agency/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd./NASA.


jeudi 8 décembre 2016

Teaching an old satellite new tricks

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

8 December 2016


XMM-Newton is one of Europe’s longest-flying and most productive orbiting observatories, investigating the hot X-ray Universe. Thanks to teamwork and technical innovation, it’s on track to keep flying for a long time yet.

Launched 17 years ago, ESA’s orbiting X-ray telescope has helped scientists around the world to understand some of our Universe’s most mysterious events, from what happens in and around black holes to how galaxies formed.

At 3800 kg, the 10 m-long XMM-Newton is the biggest science satellite ever built in Europe and its telescope mirrors are the most sensitive ever developed.

Expected to operate for as long as a decade, the hardy spacecraft has happily surprised everyone by lasting almost two decades – and it shows no signs of giving up.

XMM testing

The success of XMM-Newton has been possible not only because of the robust spacecraft, but also the close cooperation between ESA’s astronomy centre near Madrid, Spain, and the mission controllers at ESA’s operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

“The total number of 4775 scientific publications to date, with 358 from this year alone, is an impressive record of the mission’s scientific success, covering many, many areas of astrophysics,” notes project scientist Norbert Schartel.

But keeping it fit and healthy into its third decade means the team must continue to develop and test new control techniques. A complex change to the orbit control system has almost halved fuel consumption, for example.

(Not) running on empty

For starters, keeping XMM in orbit will require occasional thruster firings, about once per day, and that means burning fuel.

“We’ve got plenty of fuel and over the years we’ve figured out how to use less and less to maintain our science orbit,” says Marcus Kirsch, spacecraft operations manager.

“The fuel is distributed between four separate tanks, but the main tank will run dry first. The design means we could not use the remaining fuel in the other tanks, so we're moving it all into tank 1. This will enable us to continue operations into the coming decade.”

Back in the control room

As part of this process, the flight control team returned to ESA’s large, general-purpose Main Control Room at mission control in November – the first time since launch in 1999 – for five days of intensive simulations. The team usually works from a smaller, dedicated room shared with the Integral and Gaia mission teams.

Team training

The simulations checked the procedures that will be used for moving the fuel and for reconfiguring XMM for working beyond 2017.

No one's new done this before

“Not many spacecraft use the specially designed tank fuel system like on XMM,” says Nikolai von Krusenstiern, spacecraft operations engineer.

“As far as we know, no one’s ever shifted fuel from one tank to another with a tank design like ours in a satellite in orbit, and we want to take as much time as necessary to minimise any risk to the mission.”

XMM space selfie

Tank-to-tank replenishment was never foreseen in the original design specifications – as XMM wasn’t meant to last so long – so no process was devised by builder Astrium (now Airbus Defence & Space).

“Airbus have been very helpful – they even helped us get in touch with the now-retired designer of the fuel system to help us to safely design the procedures,” says Nikolai.

XMM's third decade

The team will now analyse results of last month’s simulations with the aim of reconfiguring the spacecraft in 2017. This will complement the careful optimisation of the flight control procedures already in place, and keep XMM thrusters firing – and the spacecraft flying reliably – into 2023.

After that, the team will have a low-risk and confirmed plan on hand to conduct the fuel replenishment, which would thereafter keep the craft in its science mission well into its third decade.

“The time spent in training and simulations last month was hugely valuable for the entire team,” says Marcus.

“We worked together to devise a solid solution for XMM’s coming decades, and the individual engineers gained excellent training experience that they can use for XMM or even take with them if assigned to other missions.”

Related links:




XMM-Newton operations:

XMM Science Operations Centre:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros.

Best regards,

NASA Remembers American Legend John Glenn

NASA logo.

December 08, 2016

The first man of the "free world" to have gone into space died that day

Image above: President Barack Obama presents former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut and United States Senator John Glenn with a Medal of Freedom, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Sen. John Glenn:

“Today, the first American to orbit the Earth, NASA astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn, passed away. We mourn this tremendous loss for our nation and the world. As one of NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts, Glenn's riveting flight aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, united our nation, launched America to the forefront of the space race, and secured for him a unique place in the annals of history.

“While that first orbit was the experience of a lifetime, Glenn, who also had flown combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War as a Marine aviator, continued to serve his country as a four-term Senator from Ohio, as a trusted statesman, and an educator. In 1998, at the age of 77, he became the oldest human to venture into space as a crew member on the Discovery space shuttle -- once again advancing our understanding of living and working in space.

“He earned many honors for both his military and public service achievements. In 2012, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the country can bestow, and he also received the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Glenn's extraordinary courage, intellect, patriotism and humanity were the hallmarks of a life of greatness. His missions have helped make possible everything our space program has since achieved and the human missions to an asteroid and Mars that we are striving toward now.

“With all his accomplishments, he was always focused on the young people of today, who would soon lead the world. ‘The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel,’ he said. ‘To me, there is no greater calling … If I can inspire young people to dedicate themselves to the good of mankind, I've accomplished something.’

“Senator Glenn's legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching. The entire NASA Family will be forever grateful for his outstanding service, commitment and friendship. Personally, I shall miss him greatly. As a fellow Marine and aviator, he was a mentor, role model and, most importantly, a dear friend.  My prayers go out to his lovely and devoted wife, Annie, and the entire Glenn family at this time of their great loss."

For more information about Glenn’s NASA career, and his agency biography, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Bob Jacobs.

Rest In Peace John,

New Galileos join Europe’s satnav constellation

ESA - Galileo Programme logo.

8 December 2016

Galileo satellites 13 and 14 have begun transmitting navigation signals as fully operational members of Europe’s satnav constellation.

The two were launched together from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 24 May.

Galileo satellites

Their flight into space, and subsequent manoeuvres to reach their final orbital altitude, was only the start of their quest to join the operational constellation.

Next, their navigation and search and rescue payloads were methodically switched on, checked out and their performance assessed in relation to the rest of the worldwide Galileo system.

This lengthy test phase saw the satellites being run from the second Galileo Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, while their payloads’ output was assessed from ESA’s Redu centre in Belgium, equipped for the tests with specialised antennas for receiving and uplinking signals.

Galileo liftoff

The test campaign measured the accuracy and stability of the satellites’ atomic clocks – essential for the timing precision to within a billionth of a second as the basis of satellite navigation – as well as assessing the quality of the navigation signals.

Oberpfaffenhofen and Redu were linked for the entire campaign, allowing the team to compare Galileo signals with satellite telemetry in near-real time.

These two satellites were visible in the sky above Redu for a limited time each day, ranging from three to nine hours, so tests were scheduled accordingly.

Galileo's 20-m L-band antenna

Now that in-orbit testing is completed, the satellites are transmitting working navigation signals and are ready to relay any Cospas-Sarsat distress calls to emergency services.

The next four satellites, launched together on 17 November, are beginning the same in-orbit testing activity, with the aim of joining the network next spring.

About Galileo

Galileo is Europe’s civil global satellite navigation system. It will allow users worldwide to know their exact position in time and space with great precision and reliability. Once complete, the system will consist of 24 operational satellites and the ground infrastructure for positioning, navigation and timing services.

The Galileo programme is funded and owned by the EU. The European Commission has the overall responsibility for the programme, managing and overseeing the implementation of all programme activities.

Galileos 13 & 14 under launcher fairing

Galileo’s deployment, the design and development of the new generation of systems and the technical development of infrastructure are entrusted to ESA. The definition, development and in-orbit validation phases were carried out by ESA, and co-funded by ESA and the European Commission.

The European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency (GSA) is ensuring the uptake and security of Galileo. Galileo operations and provision of services will be entrusted to the GSA from 2017.

Related article:

And Yet It Moves: 14 Galileo Satellites Now In Orbit

Related links:


Launching Galileo website:

Galileo Tour:

EC Galileo website:

European GNSS Agency:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/OHB/CNES/ARIANESPACE-Optique Video du CSG, P. Piron/JM Guillon.

Best regards,

mercredi 7 décembre 2016

Swiss adventurer unveils incredible stratospheric solar plane

SolarStratos logo.

Dec. 7, 2016

Image above: The main goal of the SolarStratos Mission project is to be the first solar flight ever made to perform in 2018, with a climb to more than 75,000 feet, a stratospheric flight. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Credit: AP.

Just months after two Swiss pilots completed a historic round-the-world trip in a Sun-powered plane, another Swiss adventurer on Wednesday unveiled a solar plane aimed at reaching the stratosphere.

The SolarStratos, a sleek, white two-seater aircraft with long wings covered with 22 square metres of solar panels, is set to become the first manned solar plane to make a stratospheric flight, according to Raphael Domjan, who is behind the project.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that current technology offers us the possibility to achieve above and beyond what fossil fuels offer,” he said in a statement, after unveiling the plane at the Payerne air base in western Switzerland.

Image above: Swiss adventurer Raphael Domjan poses with the solar-powered plane SolarStratos during the roll out ceremony at the air base in Payerne, Switzerland. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Credit: AP.

“Electric and solar vehicles are amongst the major challenges of the 21st century,” said the 44-year-old, adding that the SolarStratos “can fly at an altitude of 25,000 metres.”

SolarStratos is scheduled to begin test flights next February, while medium altitude flights are planned for next summer, and the first stratospheric flights should take place in 2018, the statement said.

To keep down the weight, the plane will not be pressurised, and Mr Domjan will wear a spacesuit, also powered by solar energy, which will also mark a world first, it added.


Image above: The invention is set to become the first manned solar plane to make a stratospheric flight. Image Credit: SolarStratos.

The statement also claimed the craft could “reach space”.

“Travelling to the stratosphere will take approximately five hours: 2.5 hours to reach space, 15 minutes of broad daylight and stars, then three hours to return to Earth,” it said.

The stratosphere lies above Earth’s lowest atmospheric layer, called the troposphere.

At middle latitudes, the stratosphere runs from a lower boundary of about 10,000 metres to an upper boundary of about 50,000 metres.

SolarStratos, to the edge of space

Aeronautics engineers use a rough benchmark called the Karman line, located at about 100,000 metres above sea level, for defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

The announcement came after two of Domjan’s compatriots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, completed the first-ever round-the-globe trip in a solar plane last July, in a bid to showcase the possibilities for the future of renewable energy.

Solar Impulse 2 circumnavigated the globe in 17 stages, covering a remarkable 43,000 kilometres across four continents, two oceans and three seas, in 23 days of flying without using a drop of fuel.

Domjan meanwhile launched his SolarStratos project in 2014, two years after he became the first person to sail around the world in a fully solar-powered boat.

Image above: The solar-powered plane SolarStratos of Swiss adventurer Raphael Domjanis pictured during the roll out ceremony. Picture: Laurent Gillieron/Credit: AP.

He insisted Wednesday that the new aircraft’s ability to pierce the stratosphere “opens the door to the possibility of electric and solar commercial aviation, close to space.” Until now, reaching the stratosphere has until now required large quantities of energy or helium.

But the SolarStratos aircraft, could do so leaving only “the equivalent environmental footprint of an electric car”, Wednesday’s statement said.

The project “opens the door to new scientific knowledge, at an affordable price, exploration and the peaceful use of our stratosphere,” said Roland Loos, who heads SolarXplorers, the organisation in charge of developing the project.

SolarStratos – To the edge of space:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: SolarStratos/AFP.


United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches WGS-8 Mission for the U.S. Air Force

ULA - Delta IV / WGS-8 Mission poster.

Dec. 7, 2016

Delta IV rocket  liftoff (archive image)

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the eighth installment of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) satellite for the United States Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-37 Dec. 7 at 6:53 p.m. EDT. This is ULA’s 11th launch in 2016 and the 114th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

“Thank you to the U.S. Air Force and industry team whose flawless execution enabled today’s successful launch of the WGS-8 mission,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president of Custom Services. “Last week ULA celebrated our anniversary and 10 years of 100% mission success. This evening’s launch epitomizes why our customers continue to entrust ULA to deliver our nation’s most crucial space capabilities.”

Launch of WGS-8 on Delta IV Rocket from Cape Canaveral

This mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium+ (5, 4) configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) powered by one common booster core and four solid rocket motors built by Orbital ATK. The common booster core was powered by an RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing 705,250 pounds of thrust at sea level. A single RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powered the second stage. The booster and upper stage engines are both built by Aerojet Rocketdyne. ULA constructed the Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) launch vehicle in Decatur, Alabama.

WGS-8, the second Block II Follow-on satellite, supports communications links in the X-band and Ka-band spectra. The WGS-8 satellite will be able filter and downlink up to 8.088 GHz of bandwidth. WGS satellites are an important element of a new high-capacity satellite communications system providing enhanced communications capability to our troops in the field.

WGS-8 satellite

The EELV program was established by the U.S. Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads. The commercially developed EELV program supports the full range of government mission requirements, while delivering on schedule and providing significant cost savings over the heritage launch systems.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 110 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

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

Images, Video, Text, Credits: United Lauch Alliance (ULA)/USAAF.


Mars One - Missions to the Red Planet Postponed

Mars One logo.

Dec. 7, 2016

The British-Dutch company has postponed for several years the dates scheduled for its first missions, with or without passengers. The controversial British-Dutch company Mars One has delayed for several years the dates scheduled for its first missions to the red planet, with or without passengers, said Wednesday.

"In the new Mars One roadmap, the first unmanned mission is now scheduled for 2022" instead of 2018, the company said in a statement, pointing out that the first inhabited mission would now start in 2031, not 2026 as initially predicted.

Animated view of Mars One's human settlement on Mars

The change is explained by a "new financial strategy", said the group, which announced Friday that it has accepted an offer to buy the Swiss company InFin Innovative Finance AG.

Mars One wants to send pioneers to settle permanently on the red planet and is currently in the first stage of a project regularly criticized.

200,000 volunteers

While some 200,000 people from 140 countries had signed up for the project, which wanted to be funded by television, 24 would be selected to move to Mars, divided into six groups of four people .

Mars One permanent base project

Without return, they will have to live in small habitats, find water, produce their oxygen and grow their own food.

So far, there have been only robotic missions on Mars, successfully carried out by NASA, but the United States wants to send astronauts to this planet in about twenty years.

Editor's Note:

In the current state of research, a human mission on Mars is too early, as many technologies used to ensure the survival of the first settlers of Mars are not yet completed. Currently, only salads (lettuce) are grown in the Space Station (ISS), more complex vegetables and fruits are not yet tested or experimented in space, moreover the soil of Mars is sterile and acid, it can not be used without being de-acidified and fertilized with organic fertilizers. There is no guarantee of a varied and balanced diet essential to the survival of a human being. Not to mention various other equipments necessary for their survival will not finalize before a decade.

For more information about Mars One, visit:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Mars One/AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


TIMED: 15 Years Exploring Our Interface to Space

NASA  -  TIMED Mission patch.

Dec. 7, 2016

Launched Dec. 7, 2001, NASA’s TIMED spacecraft has spent 15 years observing the dynamics of the upper regions of Earth’s atmosphere – comprising the mesosphere, thermosphere and ionosphere. The slice that TIMED studies spans altitudes of about 40 to 110 miles above Earth’s surface. Here, the atmosphere is just a tenuous wash of particles that reacts both to energy inputs from above – from changes in the space environment largely due to the sun – and forcing from below, including terrestrial winds.

Image above: Artist’s impression of the TIMED spacecraft in orbit above Earth. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

TIMED’s 15 years of data has given scientists an unprecedented perspective on changes in the upper atmosphere. The long lifespan has allowed scientists to track the upper atmosphere’s response to both quick-changing conditions – like individual solar storms – throughout the sun’s 11-year activity cycle, as well as longer trends, like TIMED’s detection of unexpectedly fast increases in carbon dioxide in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the TIMED mission for the Heliophysics Division within the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, built and operates the spacecraft for NASA.

Related links:

TIMED’s detection of unexpectedly fast increases in carbon dioxide in Earth’s upper atmosphere:

Timed - The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory:

TIMED / SEE - Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics:

TIMED mission - CCAR:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Sarah Frazier/Rob Garner.


ESA to supply Service Module for first crewed Orion mission

NASA - Orion Spacecraft patch.

7 December 2016

ESA and NASA are extending their collaboration in human space exploration following confirmation that Europe will supply a second Service Module to support the first crewed mission of the Orion spacecraft.


The Service Module provides propulsion, electrical power, water and thermal control as well as maintaining the oxygen and nitrogen atmosphere for the crew.

The mission is set for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, as early as 2021 and will include up to four astronauts – the first time humans have left low orbit since 1972. Crew size and composition will be determined closer to launch.

The mission will see Orion follow three progressively elongated orbits to reach past the Moon and return to Earth, faster than any manned spacecraft has reentered our atmosphere before.

Orion with European Service Module

ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight, Dave Parker, says, “We are excited to be a part of this historic mission and appreciate NASA’s trust in us to help extend humanity’s exploration farther afield into our Solar System.”

The first Orion with the service module will be launched in late 2018 on NASA’s new Space Launch System. The month-long mission will be unmanned and will orbit the Moon before returning to Earth, testing the spacecraft and rocket before carrying astronauts.

Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)

The European Service Module is designed, built and assembled by a team of companies from 11 countries led by Airbus Space & Defence, based on proven technology from ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle that flew to the International Space Station five times with supplies.

The mission and collaboration with NASA is part of ESA’s vision to prepare for future voyages of exploration further into the Solar System, and continues the spirit of international cooperation that forms the foundation of the International Space Station. 

Related links:

ESA's Orion blog:

NASA Orion:

Orion at Airbus:

Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros/NASA/Roscosmos/O. Artemyev.

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PSLV-C36 Successfully Launches RESOURCESAT-2A

ISRO - Indian Space Research Organisation logo.

Dec 07, 2016

PSLV-C36 carrying RESOURCESAT-2A take off

PSLV-C36 is the thirty eighth flight of ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) placed the 1235 kg RESOURCESAT-2A into an 817 km polar Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO). PSLV-C36 was launched from the First Launch Pad (FLP) at Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. In this flight, the 'XL' version of PSLV with six solid strap-on motors was used.

PSLV-C36 launches Resourcesat-2A. Video Credit: SciNews

PSLV is the ISRO's versatile launch vehicle for launching multiple satellites in polar SSOs, Low Earth Orbits (LEO) as well as Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) and sub GTO. With 36 successful launches, PSLV has emerged as the workhorse launch vehicle of ISRO and is offered for launching satellites for international customers. During 1994-2016 period, PSLV has launched a total of 121 satellites, of which 79 satellites are from abroad and 42 are Indian satellites.

RESOURCESAT-2A satellite

PSLV-C36 / RESOURCESAT-2A was successfully launched on December 07, 2016 at 10:25 hrs (IST) from SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota.

Resourcesat 2A Earth observation satellite designed to support agriculture and urban planning, monitor water resources and land use, and help officials respond to natural disasters.

For more information about Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), visit:

Images, Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: ISRO/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace.


Cassini Beams Back First Images from New Orbit

NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

December 7, 2016

Image above: This view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft was obtained about half a day before its first close pass by the outer edges of Saturn's main rings during its penultimate mission phase. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn's atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn's northern hemisphere, including the planet's intriguing hexagon-shaped jet stream.

Cassini began its new mission phase, called its Ring-Grazing Orbits, on Nov. 30. Each of these weeklong orbits -- 20 in all -- carries the spacecraft high above Saturn's northern hemisphere before sending it skimming past the outer edges of the planet's main rings.

Cassini's imaging cameras acquired these latest views on Dec. 2 and 3, about two days before the first ring-grazing approach to the planet. Future passes will include images from near closest approach, including some of the closest-ever views of the outer rings and small moons that orbit there.

Image above: This collage of images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows Saturn's northern hemisphere and rings as viewed with four different spectral filters. Images Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

"This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn. Let these images -- and those to come -- remind you that we've lived a bold and daring adventure around the solar system's most magnificent planet," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

The next pass by the rings' outer edges is planned for Dec. 11. The ring-grazing orbits will continue until April 22, when the last close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan will once again reshape Cassini's flight path. With that encounter, Cassini will begin its Grand Finale, leaping over the rings and making the first of 22 plunges through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400-kilometer) gap between Saturn and its innermost ring on April 26.

On Sept. 15, the mission's planned conclusion will be a final dive into Saturn's atmosphere. During its plunge, Cassini will transmit data about the atmosphere's composition until its signal is lost.

Cassini spacecraft around Saturn. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Launched in 1997, Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving in 2004 for an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons. Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within the moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on another moon, Titan.

For details about Cassini's ring-grazing orbits, visit:

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

Related article:

Cassini Makes First Ring-Grazing Plunge

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Preston Dyches.