samedi 19 août 2017

Successful Launch of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 Encapsulating Michibiki No. 3

JAXA - Quasi.Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) patch.

August 19, 2017

H-IIA 204 rocket launches the Michibiki-3 satellite

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and JAXA successfully launched H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 (H-IIA F35) which encapsulates Michibiki No. 3, (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System; geostationary orbit) at 2:29:00 p.m. on August 19, 2017 (JST) from JAXA's Tanegashima Space Center.

H-IIA No.35 launches QZS-3 (Michibiki 3)

The launch and flight of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 proceeded as planned and the separation of the satellite was confirmed at approximately 28 minutes and 37 seconds after liftoff.

Michibiki 3 (QZS 3) satellite

Quasi-zenith Satellite System (QZSS)  is a constellation of Japan’s geographic positioning satellites that significantly improve the accuracy of positioning in areas where GPS signals are not fully received due to interference caused by skyscrapers and mountainous terrain. The H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 frame configuration is a H2A204 launch vehicle utilizing four SRB-As, because QZS-3 has a launch mass of 4,700 kilograms, around 700 kilograms more than QZS-2.

H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 35 Flight Sequence (Quick Estimation) PDF:


MHI Launch Services:

H-IIA Launch Vehicle:

Quashi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS):

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


vendredi 18 août 2017

Station Crew Ends Week Preparing for Eclipse 2017

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

August 18, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The Expedition 52 crew wrapped up a busy week on Friday with more science work, cargo unloading and cleanup after a Russian spacewalk on Thursday. They are also busy preparing for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse on Monday with the chance at several unique views of the event.

The crew participated in several studies including Vascular Echo Ultrasound, a Canadian Space Agency investigation that examines changes in blood vessels and the heart while the crew members are in space. They also completed weekly questionnaires for the ESA Space Headaches investigation which collects information that may help in the development of methods to alleviate associated symptoms and improvement in the well-being and performance of crewmembers in space.

Image above: The station crew will have three chances to see the solar eclipse from space. The third pass will offer the most coverage with the sun 84% obscured by the moon. Image Credit: NASA.

Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy performed cleanup tasks following their Thursday spacewalk which lasted seven hours and 34 minutes. The duo completed a number of tasks including the manual deployment of five nanosatellites from a ladder outside the airlock.

Station crew members will have their cameras outfitted with special filters on Monday for three chances to photograph the solar eclipse from windows aboard the orbiting laboratory. For more information on their opportunities and what they expect to see, visit NASA’s Solar Eclipse website:

Related links:

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dan Huot.

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Large Asteroid to Safely Pass Earth on Sept. 1

Asteroid Watch logo.

Aug. 18, 2017

Asteroid Florence, a large near-Earth asteroid, will pass safely by Earth on Sept. 1, 2017, at a distance of about 4.4 million miles, (7.0 million kilometers, or about 18 Earth-Moon distances). Florence is among the largest near-Earth asteroids that are several miles is size; measurements from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and NEOWISE mission indicate it’s about 2.7 miles (4.4 kilometers) in size. 

Animation of the asteroid trajectory. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began.”

Image above: Asteroid Florence, a large near-Earth asteroid, will pass safely by Earth on Sept. 1, 2017, at a distance of about 4.4 million miles. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This relatively close encounter provides an opportunity for scientists to study this asteroid up close. Florence is expected to be an excellent target for ground-based radar observations. Radar imaging is planned at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and at the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The resulting radar images will show the real size of Florence and also could reveal surface details as small as about 30 feet (10 meters).

Asteroid Florence was discovered by Schelte "Bobby" Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in March 1981. It is named in honor of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing. The 2017 encounter is the closest by this asteroid since 1890 and the closest it will ever be until after 2500. Florence will brighten to ninth magnitude in late August and early September, when it will be visible in small telescopes for several nights as it moves through the constellations Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius and Delphinus.

Radar has been used to observe hundreds of asteroids. When these small, natural remnants of the formation of the solar system pass relatively close to Earth, deep space radar is a powerful technique for studying their sizes, shapes, rotation, surface features and roughness, and for more precise determination of their orbital path.

JPL manages and operates NASA's Deep Space Network, including the Goldstone Solar System Radar, and hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program, an element of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

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

For more information about NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, visit:

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


Atlas V Rocket Launches with TDRS-M Satellite

NASA - TDRS-M Mission patch.

Aug. 18, 2017

Image above: Liftoff of NASA’s TDRS-M spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Image credit: NASA TV.

Liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 8:29 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41.

Atlas V Rocket Launches with TDRS-M Satellite

Video above: The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M (TDRS-M) launches atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch time was 8:29 a.m. EDT. Video Credit: NASA TV.

The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) System is the solution to an early spaceflight problem: Officials on Earth had to rely on a pieced-together network of ground-based stations to communicate with spacecraft in orbit. The first TDRS satellite, TDRS-A, launched on space shuttle mission STS-6 in April 1983.

Today there are nine TDRS satellites in orbit at fixed points more than 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface. Two ground-based stations in White Sands, New Mexico, and one in Guam form the NASA Space Network. Together, the NASA Space Network and TDRS System provide a reliable high-bandwidth link to the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope and a host of other orbiting missions.

Image above: This illustration depicts the NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-M, in orbit. Image credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The TDRS-M satellite that launched earlier today is the third and final in the system’s third generation of spacecraft. Once TDRS-M separates from the Centaur and begins its mission in space, it will go through a three- to four-month period of testing and calibration, followed by an additional three months of initial testing. At that time TDRS-M will be renamed TDRS-13, and it will either be put into service or stored in orbit until it’s needed by NASA’s Space Network.

Related article:

TDRS: An Era of Continuous Space Communications

For more information about TDRS, visit:

Related links:

SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation):

TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite):

Space Network (SN):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Anna Heiney.


jeudi 17 août 2017

Cosmonauts Spacewalk Completed Successfully

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

August 17, 2017

Cosmonauts Begin Spacewalk

Image above: Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin (left) and Sergey Ryazanskiy are pictured in the Orlan spacesuits they are wearing during today’s spacewalk. Image Credit: @SergeyISS.

Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, of the Russian space agency Roscosmos began a planned six-hour spacewalk from the Pirs Docking Compartment of the International Space Station at 10:36 a.m. EDT.

Space Station Cosmonauts take a Walk in Space

Both spacewalkers are wearing Russian Orlan spacesuits with blue stripes. Yurchikhin is designated extravehicular crew member 1 (EV1) for this spacewalk, the ninth of his career. Ryazanskiy, embarking on his fourth spacewalk, is extravehicular crew member 2 (EV2).

Spacewalk Comes to a Close

Image above: Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, have completed a seven hour and 34 minute spacewalk. They re-entered the airlock at 6:10 p.m. EDT. Image Credit: NASA.

The two spacewalkers exited the Pirs Docking Compartment Station at 10:36 a.m. EDT. Among their accomplishments was manual deployment of five nanosatellites from a ladder outside the airlock.

Image above: Illustration of 3-D printing technology nano-satellites or CubeSat (the one at right). Image Credit: ESA.

One of the satellites, with casings made using 3-D printing technology, will test the effect of the low-Earth-orbit environment on the composition of 3-D printed materials. Another satellite contains recorded greetings to the people of Earth in 11 languages. A third satellite commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Sputnik 1 launch and the 160th anniversary of the birth of Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

They also collected residue samples from various locations outside the Russian segment of the station.

During their work, the cosmonauts mounted scientific equipment on the external surface of the station for the experiments "Restoration" and "Impact", took samples for microbial contamination in four working areas, installed new samples of materials for long exposure in open space, was launched with a hand and using a trigger Five nano-satellites, photographed the outer surface of Russian modules and their individual structural elements. To ensure movement along the surface of the station, astronauts installed soft handrails and struts. The handrail is not installed - the transition from the module "Search" (MIM-2) to the module "Dawn" (FGB).

Roscosmos cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy completed the first in 2017, the way out of the International Space Station (ISS) for the Russian program. The astronauts fulfilled their assigned tasks.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Sputnik 1:

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA TV), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/Melanie Whiting/ROSCOSMOS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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NASA’s LRO Team Wants You to Wave at the Moon

NASA - Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) patch.

Aug. 17, 2017

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team invites the public to wave at the Moon on Aug. 21 as LRO turns its camera toward Earth.

The LRO Camera, which has captured gorgeous views of the lunar landscape and documented geologic activity still occurring today, will turn toward Earth during the solar eclipse on Aug. 21 at approximately 2:25 p.m. EDT (11:25 a.m. PDT) to capture an image of the Moon’s shadow on Earth.

Image above: NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has observed solar eclipses from its vantage point at the moon before. The image LRO takes of Earth on Aug. 21, 2017, is expected to look similar to this view, which the satellite captured in May 2012. Australia is visible at the bottom left of this image, and the shadow cast on Earth's surface by the moon is the dark area just to the right of top-center. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University.

“I’m really excited about this campaign because it is something so many people can be a part of,” said Andrea Jones, LRO public engagement lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “So much attention has been focused on the lucky folks who will get to experience eclipse totality, but everyone in an entire hemisphere of the Earth can wave at the Moon as LRO takes our picture!”

During the eclipse the Moon will be far enough from Earth that the resolution of the images are 2.5 miles per pixel. While the LRO Camera won’t be able to see people or buildings, it will be able to see the continents, clouds and large surface features.

“While people should not expect to see themselves in the images, this campaign is a great way to personalize the eclipse experience,” said Noah Petro, LRO deputy project scientist at Goddard.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Animation Credits: NASA/GSFC

A note of caution: the only time it’s safe to look at the Sun without eye protection is if you’re in the 70-mile-wide path of totality and only during the minutes of totality. Do not look directly at the Sun at any other time without certified eclipse glasses. For more information on eclipse eye safety:

The LRO Camera has imaged a solar eclipse previously. To see an example of the type of image captured, go to:

Launched on June 18, 2009, LRO has collected a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge about the Moon. LRO is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

For more information on LRO, visit:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Nancy Neal Jones.

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Jupiter: A New Point of View

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Aug. 17, 2017

This striking Jovian vista was created by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

The tumultuous Great Red Spot is fading from Juno's view while the dynamic bands of the southern region of Jupiter come into focus. North is to the left of the image, and south is on the right.

The image was taken on July 10, 2017 at 7:12 p.m. PDT (10:12 p.m. EDT), as the Juno spacecraft performed its seventh close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was 10,274 miles (16,535 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of -36.9 degrees.

JUNO spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at:     

More information about Juno is at: and

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran.

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Scientists Improve Brown Dwarf Weather Forecasts

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 17, 2017

Dim objects called brown dwarfs, less massive than the Sun but more massive than Jupiter, have powerful winds and clouds -- specifically, hot patchy clouds made of iron droplets and silicate dust. Scientists recently realized these giant clouds can move and thicken or thin surprisingly rapidly, in less than an Earth day, but did not understand why.

Now, researchers have a new model for explaining how clouds move and change shape in brown dwarfs, using insights from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Giant waves cause large-scale movement of particles in brown dwarfs' atmospheres, changing the thickness of the silicate clouds, researchers report in the journal Science. The study also suggests these clouds are organized in bands confined to different latitudes, traveling with different speeds in different bands.

Animation above: This artist's concept shows a brown dwarf with bands of clouds, thought to resemble those seen at Neptune and the other outer planets. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"This is the first time we have seen atmospheric bands and waves in brown dwarfs," said lead author Daniel Apai, associate professor of astronomy and planetary sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Just as in Earth’s ocean, different types of waves can form in planetary atmospheres. For example, in Earth’s atmosphere, very long waves mix cold air from the polar regions to mid-latitudes, which often lead clouds to form or dissipate.

The distribution and motions of the clouds on brown dwarfs in this study are more similar to those seen on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Neptune has cloud structures that follow banded paths too, but its clouds are made of ice. Observations of Neptune from NASA's Kepler spacecraft, operating in its K2 mission, were important in this comparison between the planet and brown dwarfs.

"The atmospheric winds of brown dwarfs seem to be more like Jupiter’s familiar regular pattern of belts and zones than the chaotic atmospheric boiling seen on the Sun and many other stars," said study co-author Mark Marley at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

Brown dwarfs can be thought of as failed stars because they are too small to fuse chemical elements in their cores. They can also be thought of as "super planets" because they are more massive than Jupiter, yet have roughly the same diameter. Like gas giant planets, brown dwarfs are mostly made of hydrogen and helium, but they are often found apart from any planetary systems. In a 2014 study using Spitzer, scientists found that brown dwarfs commonly have atmospheric storms.

Due to their similarity to giant exoplanets, brown dwarfs are windows into planetary systems beyond our own. It is easier to study brown dwarfs than planets because they often do not have a bright host star that obscures them.

"It is likely the banded structure and large atmospheric waves we found in brown dwarfs will also be common in giant exoplanets," Apai said.

Using Spitzer, scientists monitored brightness changes in six brown dwarfs over more than a year, observing each of them rotate 32 times. As a brown dwarf rotates, its clouds move in and out of the hemisphere seen by the telescope, causing changes in the brightness of the brown dwarf. Scientists then analyzed these brightness variations to explore how silicate clouds are distributed in the brown dwarfs.

Researchers had been expecting these brown dwarfs to have elliptical storms resembling Jupiter's Great Red Spot, caused by high-pressure zones. The Great Red Spot has been present in Jupiter for hundreds of years and changes very slowly: Such "spots" could not explain the rapid changes in brightness that scientists saw while observing these brown dwarfs. The brightness levels of the brown dwarfs varied markedly just over the course of an Earth day.

Spitzer Space Telescope. Credits: NASA/JPL

To make sense of the ups and downs of brightness, scientists had to rethink their assumptions about what was going on in the brown dwarf atmospheres. The best model to explain the variations involves large waves, propagating through the atmosphere with different periods. These waves would make the cloud structures rotate with different speeds in different bands.

University of Arizona researcher Theodora Karalidi used a supercomputer and a new computer algorithm to create maps of how clouds travel on these brown dwarfs.

"When the peaks of the two waves are offset, over the course of the day there are two points of maximum brightness," Karalidi said. "When the waves are in sync, you get one large peak, making the brown dwarf twice as bright as with a single wave."

The results explain the puzzling behavior and brightness changes that researchers previously saw. The next step is to try to better understand what causes the waves that drive cloud behavior. 

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit:

Observations of Neptune from NASA's Kepler spacecraft:

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

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NASA-led Mission Studies Storm Intensification

NASA - Airborne Science Program patch.

August 17, 2017

A group of NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists, including scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, are teaming up this month for an airborne mission focused on studying severe storm processes and intensification. The Hands-On Project Experience (HOPE) Eastern Pacific Origins and Characteristics of Hurricanes (EPOCH) field campaign will use NASA's Global Hawk autonomous aircraft to study storms in the Northern Hemisphere to learn more about how storms intensify as they brew out over the ocean.

The scope of the mission initially focused only on the East Pacific region, but was expanded to both the Gulf and Atlantic regions to give the science team broader opportunities for data collection.

"Our key point of interest is still the Eastern Pacific, but if the team saw something developing off the East Coast that may have high impact to coastal communities, we would definitely recalibrate to send the aircraft to that area," said Amber Emory, NASA's principal investigator.

Image above: NASA's Global Hawk being prepared at Armstrong to monitor and take scientific measurements of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Image Credits: NASA Photo/Lauren Hughes.

Having a better understanding of storm intensification is an important goal of HOPE EPOCH. The data will help improve models that predict storm impact to coastal regions, where property damage and threat to human life can be high.

NASA has led the campaign through integration of the HOPE EPOCH science payload onto the Global Hawk platform and maintained operational oversight for the six planned mission flights. NOAA's role will be to incorporate data from dropsondes -- devices dropped from aircraft to measure storm conditions -- into NOAA National Weather Service operational models to improve storm track and intensity forecasts that will be provided to the public. NOAA first used the Global Hawk to study Hurricane Gaston in 2016.

With the Global Hawk flying at altitudes of 60,000 feet (18,300 meters), the team will conduct six 24-hour-long flights, three of which are being supported and funded through a partnership with NOAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems program.

NASA's autonomous Global Hawk is operated from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California and was developed for the U.S. Air Force by Northrop Grumman. It is ideally suited for high-altitude, long-duration Earth science flights.

The ability of the Global Hawk to autonomously fly long distances, remain aloft for extended periods of time and carry large payloads brings a new capability to the science community for measuring, monitoring and observing remote locations of Earth not feasible or practical with piloted aircraft or space satellites.

The science payload consists of a variety of instruments that will measure different aspects of storm systems, including wind velocity, pressure, temperature, humidity, cloud moisture content and the overall structure of the storm system.

Many of the science instruments have flown previously on the Global Hawk, including the High-Altitude MMIC Sounding Radiometer (HAMSR), a microwave sounder instrument that takes vertical profiles of temperature and humidity; and the Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS) dropsondes, which are released from the aircraft to profile temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and direction.

New to the science payload is the ER-2 X-band Doppler Radar (EXRAD) instrument that observes vertical velocity of a storm system. EXRAD has one conically scanning beam as well as one nadir beam, which looks down directly underneath the aircraft. EXRAD now allows researchers to get direct retrievals of vertical velocities directly underneath the plane.

The EXRAD instrument is managed and operated by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and the HAMSR instrument is managed by JPL. The National Center for Atmospheric Research developed the AVAPS dropsonde system, and the NOAA team will manage and operate the system for the HOPE EPOCH mission.

Besides the scientific value that the HOPE EPOCH mission brings, the campaign also provides a unique opportunity for early-career scientists and project managers to gain professional development.

HOPE is a cooperative workforce development program sponsored by the Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL) program and NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The HOPE Training Program provides an opportunity for a team of early-entry NASA employees to propose, design, develop, build and launch a suborbital flight project over the course of 18 months. This opportunity enables participants to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to manage NASA's future flight projects.

Emory started as a NASA Pathways Intern in 2009. The HOPE EPOCH mission is particularly exciting for her, as some of her first science projects at NASA began with the Global Hawk program.

The NASA Global Hawk had its first flights during the 2010 Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) campaign. Incidentally, the first EPOCH science flight targeted Tropical Storm Franklin as it emerged from the Yucatan peninsula into the Gulf of Campeche along a track almost identical to that of Hurricane Karl in 2010, which was targeted during GRIP and where Emory played an important role.

"It's exciting to work with people who are so committed to making the mission successful," Emory said. "Every mission has its own set of challenges, but when people come to the table with new ideas on how to solve those challenges, it makes for a very rewarding experience and we end up learning a lot from one another."

Related links:

NOAA first used the Global Hawk to study Hurricane Gaston in 2016:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):


Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Armstrong Flight Research Center, written by Kate Squires/JPL/Alan Buis.


Sentinel-1 speeds up crop insurance payouts

ESA - Sentinel-1 Mission logo.

17 August 2017

For the first time in India, a state government is using satellites to assess lost crops so that farmers can benefit from speedy insurance payouts.

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is home to around 68 million people, of which almost a million are rice farmers. However, Tamil Nadu is facing the worst drought in 140 years, leading to the land being too dry for paddy fields, lost yield, widespread misery and unrest.

Assessing rice crops with Sentinel-1

The Copernicus Sentinel-1 radar mission has been used to alleviate a little of the suffering by providing evidence of damaged land and failed crops so that the Agricultural Insurance Company of India can compensate farmers as quickly as possible. So far, more than 200 000 farmers have received payouts.

Malay Kumar Poddar, the company’s general manager, said, “Assessing damages based on remote-sensing technology is introducing much objectivity into the crop insurance programme.

“Beyond the area loss assessment, we are also keen to apply the technology to assess actual yields at the end of the season.”

Satellites carrying optical cameras can provide images of Earth’s surface only in daylight and in the absence of cloud, but the Sentinel-1 satellites carry radar which works regardless.

Sentinel-1: seeing through clouds

This makes it an ideal mission to use in tropical and subtropical regions, which are often cloudy.

Sentinel-1 radar imagery combined with rice-yield modelling is at the heart of the German–Swiss Remote-Sensing based Information and Insurance for Crops in Emerging Economies initiative (RIICE).

Francesco Holecz, from sarmap, set up the service in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute, RIICE partners, Indian authorities and universities.

He said, “The reliable repetitiveness of the Sentinels, their short revisit intervals, the free, quick and easy access to the products and the high quality of the data have contributed a lot to the practicability of satellite-based rice monitoring systems.”

Start of rice cropping

Gagandeep Singh Bedi, agricultural production commissioner and principle secretary to the government in Tamil Nadu added, “RIICE remote-sensing technology allows us to assess crop loss and damages in a more transparent and timely manner.

“It was particularly useful during the last cropping season to identify villages that had been hit by drought, and farmers benefited from the technology by getting claims in a record time.”

The research network is also working with partners in other countries to develop the method further.

Rice yield

For example, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines are looking to use it to assess yields at the end of the season.

Sellaperumal Pazhanivelan, from the university, said, “We believe that this technology can help the state governments to obtain objective and transparent data on actual rice yields so that farmers affected by natural hazards can be identified quickly.”

Related links:


Sentinel data access & technical information:


Agriculture Insurance Company of India:

Tamil Nadu Agricultural University:

Government of Tamil Nadu–Agriculture Department:

International Rice Institute:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by RIICE/TNAU.


ESA’s Proba-3 will create artificial solar eclipses

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

17 August 2017

Astrophysicists are joining sightseers in watching Monday’s total solar eclipse across North America but, in the decade to come, they will be viewing eclipses that last for hours instead of a few minutes – thanks to a pioneering ESA space mission.

Aiming for launch in late 2020, Proba-3 is not one but two small metre-scale satellites, lining up to cast a precise shadow across space to block out the solar disc for six hours at a time, and give researchers a sustained view of the Sun’s immediate vicinity.


Total eclipses occur thanks to a remarkable cosmic coincidence: Earth’s Moon is about 400 times smaller than our parent star, which is about 400 times further away. During the rare periods when the two overlap, the Moon can sometimes blank out the Sun entirely.

This brief period of ‘totality’ – Monday’s will be just 160 seconds long at most – reveals features of the Sun normally hidden by its intense glare, most notably the faint atmosphere, known as its corona.

The corona is a focus of interest because it is the source of the solar wind and space weather that can affect satellites and Earth itself, especially through the irregular eruptions of energy called ‘coronal mass ejections’.

Solar eclipses

With temperatures reaching more than a million degrees celsius, the corona is also much hotter than the relatively cool 5500ºC surface of the Sun – a fact that seems to contradict common sense.

Researchers seek ways to increase the corona’s visibility, chiefly through ‘coronagraphs’ – telescopes bearing discs to block out the direct light of the Sun. These are used both on the ground and in space, as aboard the veteran Sun-watching SOHO satellite. 

“The inner extent of the view afforded by standard coronagraphs is limited by stray light,” explains  Andrei Zhukov of the Royal Observatory of Belgium, serving as Principal Investigator for Proba-3’s coronagraph.

Proba-3 satellites form artificial eclipse

“Stray light is a sort of light pollution inside an instrument. In coronagraphs it is a kind of bending of the sunlight around the blocking disc.

“This problem can be minimised by extending the coronagraph length, the distance between the camera and the disc, as far as possible – but there are practical limits to coronagraph size.

Proba-3's pair of satellites

“Instead, Proba-3’s coronagraph uses two craft: a camera satellite and a disc satellite. They fly together so precisely that they operate like a single coronagraph, 150 m long.”

Each six-hour artificial eclipse per 19.6 hour Proba-3 orbit of Earth should provide a view close to the Sun’s visible surface. This will span the current observing gap between standard coronagraphs and the extreme-ultraviolet imagers used to monitor the face of the Sun on missions such as NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and ESA’s Proba-2.

The challenge is in keeping the satellites safely controlled and correctly positioned, using new technologies and  sensors, plus intelligent software – autonomous driving, but this time in space.

Proba-3: Dancing with the stars

Proba-3 development is progressing well, with a structural and thermal model version of the coronagraph built, ahead of its critical design review this autumn, followed by that of the entire mission.

Related links:

Proba-3 mission:

Science backing for formation-flying Sun-watcher Proba-3:

Models of Proba-3 designs:

Proba-3: set the controls for the verge of the Sun:

Eclipse 2017:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/P. Carril/Wendy Carlos & Fred Espenak.


Khrunichev Center: The 100th launch of the Proton-M LV was completed successfully



Proton-M carrying Blagovest No. 11L launch

Started today, August 17, 2017 at 01:07 Moscow time from the Baikonur cosmodrome, the Proton-M booster rocket with the Breeze-M upper stage successfully launched a spacecraft into the orbit in the interests of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

The launch was the jubilee, 100th, for the RN of the heavy-duty Proton-M class, which has been in use since 2001, and the 414th launch in the Proton carrier rocket history (all modifications since 1965).

Proton-M carrying Blagovest No. 11L at the launch-pad few second before launch

The Proton-M booster rocket and the Breeze-M upper stage are designed and mass-produced in the State Space Research and Production Center of the Khrunichev Space Research Center. M.V. Khrunichev (Khrunichev Center, part of the State Corporation "ROSCOSMOS").

Proton-M carrying Blagovest No. 11L rollout

Proton-M is a heavy-duty launch vehicle. The launch vehicle is intended for launches of various space vehicles for state and commercial programs. Today, the Proton-M rocket with the Breeze-M boost unit provides for the launch of a payload of more than 6 tons to the geostationary orbit and directly to the geostationary orbit to 3.3 tons. Proton-M is the development of a carrier rocket "Proton-K" and has improved energy-mass, operational and environmental characteristics. The first launch of the Proton-M - Breeze-M complex took place on April 7, 2001. The developer and manufacturer of the Proton-M LV is the FSUE "GKNPTS im. MV Khrunichev. "

Blagovest No. 11L satellite

At present, the Proton-M rocket with the Breeze-M upper stage is the main Russian heavy-duty rocket launcher that is used to launch automatic spacecraft into near-earth orbit and off-track trajectories within the framework of federal and commercial programs. With the help of the Proton-M LV, the national orbiting satellite systems GLONASS and EXPRESS are being updated and deployed, which provide the regions of Russia with communications. The Proton LV is the main means of launching the orbital modules for the ISS Russian Segment. In early 2002, the first launch of the Proton-M LV with the Breeze-M upper stage with commercial payload (Nimiq 2 spacecraft) took place. Over the past years, with the help of the Proton-M LV, about 70 space vehicles have been launched in the interests of foreign customers.

Roscosmos Press Release:

More information about ROSCOSMOS:

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/Khrunichev Center/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

mercredi 16 août 2017

TDRS: An Era of Continuous Space Communications

NASA - TDRS-M Mission patch.

Aug. 16, 2017

More than 50 years ago, at the dawn of human spaceflight, the first brave astronauts were only able to communicate with mission control operators on Earth for about 15 percent of each orbit. If this were true today, the International Space Station would only be in contact with the ground for less than 15 minutes out of its 90-minute orbit. Today, nearly continuous communications with the space station and other Earth-orbiting missions is possible through a space-based communications network allowing nearly continuous global communications coverage for astronauts and robotic missions alike.

Image above: llustration of a first-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) have provided critical communication and navigation services to NASA’s missions as part of the Space Network (SN) since the launch of the first satellite, TDRS-A, in 1983. The next satellite in the network, TDRS-M, is scheduled to launch Aug. 18, 2017. The satellites are initially given a letter designation, and then when they reach their orbit and become operational, their name changes from a letter to a number. With the addition of TDRS-M to the fleet, to be designated TDRS-13, the SN will have the ability to provide space communications and navigation support into the mid-2020s.

The Space Network is a communications network built and operated by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The TDRS program was established in 1973 to reduce NASA’s dependence on ground stations around the world. Prior to TDRS, space missions such as Skylab (America’s first space station) and the space shuttle could only communicate with their ground teams while passing overhead of the communications network’s ground station antennas. These passes only lasted minutes, resulting in intermittent communication.

Animation above: TDRS-M will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Aug. 18, 2017, at 8:03 a.m. aboard ULA’s Atlas V rocket. Animation Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Once the first two TDRS became operational, spacecraft coverage in low-Earth orbit increased to 85 percent. The uncovered 15 percent, above the Indian Ocean, was known as the “zone of exclusion,” or ZOE. With the construction of the Guam Remote Ground Terminal, declared operational in 1998, the ZOE was closed and Earth-orbiting mission coverage increased to more than 99 percent of every orbit. This constant communication is essential to NASA’s human and science missions.

Currently, there are nine TDRS in orbit, positioned above the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Through three different frequencies of radio waves (S-band, Ku-band and Ka-band), TDRS uplinks and downlinks more than 99 percent of NASA’s mission data and provides data for navigating those missions in low-Earth orbit. The different frequencies are able to communicate different amounts of data at once. Ka-band, for example, can communicate the most data at a time of the three. Spacecraft beam their data through TDRS to ground stations that then forward the received data to scientists and those operating the mission for analysis and possible new discoveries about the universe.

Animation above: TDRS uses radio waves to communicate with the International Space Station and more than 40 other NASA missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope.
Animation Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Shortly after TDRS-10 was launched, NASA determined that replenishment of the fleet with additional satellites was needed and began work on the third generation: TDRS-11, TDRS-12 and TDRS-M. While each TDRS generation is distinct (for example, the second and third TDRS generations provide Ka-band service with higher data rates than the first generation), they are functionally identical, providing reliable space communication services.

NASA is currently developing its next-generation space communications architecture, including laser communications, also known as optical communications, which encodes data onto a beam of light that is transmitted between spacecraft and eventually to Earth terminals. Both radio and lasers travel at the speed of light, but lasers travel in a higher-frequency bandwidth. That allows them to carry more information than radio waves, which is crucial when missions collect massive amounts of data and have narrow windows of time to send that data back to Earth.

Image above: NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, set to launch in 2019, will be the agency’s next step in implementing a revolutionary communications system. Laser communications has the potential to communicate 10 to 100 times as much data at a time as radio-frequency systems. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The scientific data received from TDRS over the last 34 years has provided vital insight to making discoveries about our universe. A particularly noteworthy discovery was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2006 for the blackbody discovery and characterization of cosmic microwave background radiation from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) mission.

Laser communications may be a next step in space communications for NASA’s space communications networks, and no matter the technology utilized, the Space Network will be with the space station and more than 40 other NASA missions for years to come providing critical navigation and communication connectivity around the clock and around the globe.

Artist's view of TDRS-M satellite. Image Credit: Boeing

NASA's Space Communications and Navigation program, part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) at the agency's Headquarters in Washington, is responsible for the Space Network. The TDRS project office at Goddard Space Flight Center manages the TDRS development program. Launch management of the launch service for TDRS-M is the responsibility of HEOMD’s Launch Services Program based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. United Launch Alliance provided the Atlas V rocket launch service.

For more information about TDRS, visit:

SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation):

TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite):

Space Network (SN):

Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE):

NASA History:

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Katherine Schauer/Dewayne Washington.


Supermassive Black Holes Feed on Cosmic Jellyfish

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

16 August 2017

ESO’s MUSE instrument on the VLT discovers new way to fuel black holes

Example of a jellyfish galaxy

Observations of “Jellyfish galaxies” with ESO’s Very Large Telescope have revealed a previously unknown way to fuel supermassive black holes. It seems the mechanism that produces the tentacles of gas and newborn stars that give these galaxies their nickname also makes it possible for the gas to reach the central regions of the galaxies, feeding the black hole that lurks in each of them and causing it to shine brilliantly. The results appeared today in the journal Nature.

Example of a jellyfish galaxy

An Italian-led team of astronomers used the MUSE (Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer) instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile to study how gas can be stripped from galaxies. They focused on extreme examples of jellyfish galaxies in nearby galaxy clusters, named after the remarkable long “tentacles” of material that extend for tens of thousands of light-years beyond their galactic discs [1][2].

Visualisation of MUSE view of Jellyfish Galaxy

The tentacles of jellyfish galaxies are produced in galaxy clusters by a process called ram pressure stripping. Their mutual gravitational attraction causes galaxies to fall at high speed into galaxy clusters, where they encounter a hot, dense gas which acts like a powerful wind, forcing tails of gas out of the galaxy’s disc and triggering starbursts within it.

Example of a jellyfish galaxy

Six out of the seven jellyfish galaxies in the study were found to host a supermassive black hole at the centre, feeding on the surrounding gas [3]. This fraction is unexpectedly high — among galaxies in general the fraction is less than one in ten.

Visualisation of galaxy undergoing ram pressure stripping

“This strong link between ram pressure stripping and active black holes was not predicted and has never been reported before,” said team leader Bianca Poggianti from the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova in Italy. “It seems that the central black hole is being fed because some of the gas, rather than being removed, reaches the galaxy centre.” [4]

Artist's impression of ram pressure stripping

A long-standing question is why only a small fraction of supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies are active. Supermassive black holes are present in almost all galaxies, so why are only a few accreting matter and shining brightly? These results reveal a previously unknown mechanism by which the black holes can be fed.

Yara Jaffé, an ESO fellow who contributed to the paper explains the significance: “These MUSE observations suggest a novel mechanism for gas to be funnelled towards the black hole’s neighbourhood. This result is important because it provides a new piece in the puzzle of the poorly understood connections between supermassive black holes and their host galaxies.”

Visualisation of a galaxy undergoing ram pressure stripping

The current observations are part of a much more extensive study of many more jellyfish galaxies that is currently in progress.

“This survey, when completed, will reveal how many, and which, gas-rich galaxies entering clusters go through a period of increased activity at their cores,” concludes Poggianti. “A long-standing puzzle in astronomy has been to understand how galaxies form and change in our expanding and evolving Universe. Jellyfish galaxies are a key to understanding galaxy evolution as they are galaxies caught in the middle of a dramatic transformation.”


[1] To date, just over 400 candidate jellyfish galaxies have been found.

[2] The results were produced as part of the observational programme known as GASP (GAs Stripping Phenomena in galaxies with MUSE), which is an ESO Large Programme aimed at studying where, how and why gas can be removed from galaxies. GASP is obtaining deep, detailed MUSE data for 114 galaxies in various environments, specifically targeting jellyfish galaxies. Observations are currently in progress.

[3] It is well established that almost every, if not every, galaxy hosts a supermassive black hole at its centre, between a few million and a few billion times as massive as our Sun. When a black hole pulls in matter from its surroundings, it emits electromagnetic energy, giving rise to some of the most energetic of astrophysical phenomena: active galactic nuclei (AGN).

[4] The team also investigated the alternative explanation that the central AGN activity contributes to stripping gas from the galaxies, but considered it less likely. Inside the galaxy cluster, the jellyfish galaxies are located in a zone where the hot, dense gas of the intergalactic medium is particularly likely to create the galaxy’s long tentacles, reducing the possibility that they are created by AGN activity. There is therefore stronger evidence that ram pressure triggers the AGN and not vice versa.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “Ram Pressure Feeding Supermassive Black Holes” by B. Poggianti et al., to appear in the journal Nature on 17 August 2017.

The team is composed of B. Poggianti (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), Y. Jaffé (ESO, Chile), A. Moretti (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), M. Gullieuszik (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), M. Radovich (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), S. Tonnesen (Carnegie Observatory, USA), J. Fritz (Instituto de Radioastronomía y Astrofísica, Mexico), D. Bettoni (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), B. Vulcani (University of Melbourne, Australia; INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), G. Fasano (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy), C. Bellhouse (University of Birmingham, UK; ESO, Chile), G. Hau (ESO, Chile) and A. Omizzolo (Vatican Observatory, Vatican City State).

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 and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


Research paper in Nature:

Photos of the VLT:

Photos of MUSE:

Further details about the GASP (GAs Stripping Phenomena in galaxies with MUSE) programme:

Jellyfish galaxies 3D models: JW100, JO175, and JO194:

ESOcast 122 Light: Supermassive Black Holes Feed on Cosmic Jellyfish (4K UHD):

Very Large Telescope (VLT):

ESO’s Paranal Observatory:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESO/Richard Hook/INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padova/Bianca Poggianti/GASP collaboration/Callum Bellhouse/NASA, ESA, and M. Kornmesser/Acknowledgements: Ming Sun (UAH) and Serge Meunier.

Best regards,