samedi 26 août 2017

Orbital ATK - Minotaur IV ORS-5 Launch

Orbital ATK - Minotaur IV ORS-5 Mission patch.

Aug. 26, 2017

Image above: Minotaur IV launch of the ORS-5 satellite for the U.S. Air Force. Photo credit: Ben Cooper.

Orbital ATK's Minotaur IV space launch vehicle successfully launched and placed into orbit the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) spacecraft on August 26, 2017. The Minotaur IV launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46), which is operated under license by Space Florida. This mission marks the 26th consecutive successful launch for the company’s Minotaur product line.

Minotaur IV launches ORS-5 Satellite

Orbital ATK is set to launch a Minotaur IV rocket carrying the ORS-5 satellite for the United States Air Force on Friday, August 25, 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.The launch occurred at  06:04 UTC (02:04 EDT) on August 26, 2017.

Minotaur Mission Trajectory. Image Credit: Orbital ATK

About the Mission
Orbital ATK's Minotaur IV space launch vehicle will launch the ORS-5 mission for the U.S. Air Force as a part of the Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3) contract. ORS-5, also known as SensorSat, is designed to scan for other satellites and debris to aid the U.S. military’s tracking of objects in geosynchronous orbit. For the ORS-5 launch, the Minotaur IV use two Orion 38 upper stage motors. The final Orion 38 motor burn reduce the angle of the ORS-5 satellite’s orbit, redirecting the spacecraft to equatorial orbit.

Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3) satellite. Image Credit: Günter Space Page

More Information:

Minotaur IV Fact Sheet:

ORS-5 Fact Sheet:

Minotaur Webpage:

Minotaur Mission History:

Orbital ATK website:

Images (mentioned), Video (SciNews), Text, Credits: Orbital ATK/ Aerospace.


vendredi 25 août 2017

Crew Checks New Exercise Gear, CREAM Observes Cosmic Rays

ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

August 25, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

A pair of Expedition 52 astronauts checked out new, smaller exercise gear today. The crew also worked on a variety of human research while a new cosmic ray detector has begun scanning outer space.

The space station’s two newest astronauts, Paolo Nespoli and Randy Bresnik, joined forces today to measure the effectiveness of the new Mini-Exercise Device-2 (MED2). The MED2 is smaller and less bulky than other space exercise equipment providing more habitability room on a spacecraft. The duo worked out on MED2 and took photographs to demonstrate its ability to provide motion and resistance during an exercise session.

Image above: Astronaut Peggy Whitson is pictured at work inside the Unity module. Unity is the node that connects the Russian segment of the space station to the U.S. segment. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineer Jack Fischer scanned his leg artery with an ultrasound device after a short exercise during the afternoon. The Vascular Echo study is examining how blood vessels and the heart adapt to microgravity. Astronaut Peggy Whitson spent her afternoon swapping cell cultures inside the Advanced Space Experiment Processor.

The Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass Investigation, or CREAM, is now observing cosmic rays coming from across the galaxy. CREAM was attached to the outside of the Kibo lab module on Tuesday after a handoff from the Canadian robotic arm to the Japanese robotic arm. CREAM was delivered aboard the SpaceX Dragon and will help determine the origin of the cosmic rays and measure their features across the energy spectrum.

Related links:

Vascular Echo study:

Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass Investigation (CREAM):

Expedition 52:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Announces Cassini End-of-Mission Activities

NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

August 25, 2017

Image above: NASA's Cassini spacecraft is shown during its Sept. 15, 2017, plunge into Saturn's atmosphere in this artist's depiction. Cassini will use its thrusters to keep its antenna pointed at Earth for as long as possible while sending back unique data about Saturn's atmosphere. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

On Sept. 15, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will complete its remarkable story of exploration with an intentional plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, ending its mission after nearly 20 years in space. News briefings, photo opportunities and other media events will be held at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website (

NASA also will hold a media teleconference Tuesday, Aug. 29 to preview activities for Cassini during its final two weeks.

Cassini: The Wonder of Saturn

Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004 on a mission to study the giant planet, its rings, moons and magnetosphere. In April of this year, Cassini began the final phase of its mission, called its Grand Finale -- a daring series of 22 weekly dives between the planet and its rings. On Sept. 15, Cassini will plunge into Saturn, sending new and unique science about the planet's upper atmosphere to the very end. After losing contact with Earth, the spacecraft will burn up like a meteor. This is the first time a spacecraft has explored this unique region of Saturn -- a dramatic conclusion to a mission that has revealed so much about the ringed planet.

Cassini flight controllers will monitor the spacecraft's final transmissions from JPL Mission Control.

Cassini Media Events and Schedule:

(All media teleconferences and NASA TV news conferences will be available on the agency's website, and times are subject to change)

Tuesday, Aug. 29:

- 2 p.m. EDT -- Media teleconference about spacecraft science and operations activities for the final orbits leading up to the end of the mission will include:

   - Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist, Headquarters, Washington

   - Earl Maize, Cassini project manager, JPL

   - Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, JPL

Visuals discussed during the telecon will be available at the start of the event at:

Wednesday, Sept. 13:

- 1 p.m. EDT -- News conference from JPL with a detailed preview of final mission activities (also available on NASA TV and online)

Thursday, Sept. 14:

- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m PDT -- NASA Social -- onsite gathering for 30 pre-selected social media followers. Events will include a tour, and a speaker program that will be carried on NASA TV and online.
- About 8 p.m. PDT -- Final downlink of images expected to begin (streamed online only)

Friday, Sept. 15: End of Mission:

- 7 to 8:30 a.m. EDT -- Live commentary on NASA TV and online. In addition, an uninterrupted, clean feed of cameras from JPL Mission Control, with mission audio only, will be available during the commentary on the NASA TV Media Channel and on Ustream.
- About 8 a.m. EDT -- Expected time of last signal and science data from Cassini
- 9:30 a.m. EDT -- Post-mission news conference at JPL (on NASA TV and online).

Cassini Grand Finale. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Media and the public also may ask questions during the events using #askNASA.

For online streaming, visit:

To watch the news conferences online, visit:


To cover these events at JPL, media must have pre-arranged credentials issued via the JPL Media Relations Office. The deadlines to apply for credentials have passed.


A Cassini press kit will be available beginning on Aug. 29 at:

Video for the Cassini mission is available for download at:

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

For more information on the Cassini mission's finale, including graphics, fact sheets, press kit, and an up-to-date timeline of mission events, visit:

Follow the mission on social media at:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (JPL), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/JPL/Preston Dyches.

Best regards,

jeudi 24 août 2017

SpaceX - FORMOSAT-5 launch mission success

SpaceX - FormoSat5 Mission patch.

August 24, 2017

Image above: After the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines pass an automated health check, the Falcon 9 is released from Space Launch Complex 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Image Credit: SpaceX.

On Thursday August 24, at 11:51 a.m. PDT, SpaceX successfully launched the FORMOSAT-5 satellite from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Formosat-5 Mission

Falcon 9 deployed the satellite approximately 11 minutes after launch, placing the FORMOSAT-5 payload into its targeted orbit.

Image above: The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage booster touches down on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Pacific Ocean. Image Credit: SpaceX.

Image above: The Formosat 5 spacecraft deploys from the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage to begin its five-year Earth observation mission. Image Credit: SpaceX.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Formosat 5 Earth observation satellite for Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO).

Formosat 5 Earth observation satellite

The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage will return to landing on a platform downrange in the Pacific Ocean.

For more information about SpaceX, visit:

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


GBAR’s antiproton decelerator installed

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

24 Aug 2017

Image above: Audric Husson working on GBAR’s antiproton decelerator, which his team developed and installed and is now commissioning. (Image: Max Brice/CERN).

If matter falls down, does antimatter do the same? GBAR (Gravitational Behaviour of Antihydrogen at Rest), the experiment that will give us the answer, has just had a brand new part installed – an antiproton decelerator.

Located in the Antiproton Decelerator (AD) hall, GBAR will measure the freefall acceleration of antihydrogen atoms within Earth’s gravitational field. To do that, something special has to be created first – antihydrogen ions, each consisting of one antiproton surrounded by two positrons. While these particles are very hard to produce, they are significantly easier to manipulate than antihydrogen atoms thanks to their positive charge.

The first ingredient of the antihydrogen ions – the antiprotons – will be supplied by the new ELENA (Extra Low Energy Antiproton) deceleration ring. The lower their energy, the bigger the probability that antihydrogen ions will form, so the beam coming from ELENA at 100 KeV will be further slowed down to just 1 KeV by the newly installed GBAR antiproton decelerator.

The second ingredient – the positrons – will be created with the help of the GBAR linear accelerator installed earlier in 2017.

A week after the first antiprotons circulated in ELENA, an antiproton extraction line was installed between that deceleration ring and the GBAR decelerator.

Image above: The extraction line connecting ELENA to GBAR’s newly installed decelerator. (Image: Julien Ordan/CERN).

In the coming months, the first antiprotons will fly out of ELENA into GBAR, which will be the first of five experiments in the AD hall to receive a beam from ELENA.

In the meantime, both the decelerator and the linac will be carefully prepared for the first phase of the experiment, which is dedicated to the creation of the first antihydrogen ions. “Beam path, energy and the efficiency of the system are the three things we will measure to make sure that the antiproton beam behaves the way we expect. We need to know the exact number of antiprotons in the bunch and how their energy diminishes while passing through the decelerator’s chambers,” explains Audric Husson, a member of the team that developed and installed the new part, and currently in charge of its commissioning.

The rest of the equipment needed to measure the freefall of the antihydrogen atoms will be installed by the end of 2018. The first data might even be taken before Long Shutdown 2, due to start in January 2019, during which the accelerator complex will be closed for upgrades.


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

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

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

Related articles & links:

Antiproton Decelerator (AD):

ELENA (Extra Low Energy Antiproton):

First antiprotons in ELENA:

GBAR linear accelerator:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Iva Raynova.

Best regards,

NASA's Satellites Finds Heavy Rainfall in Intensifying Tropical Storm Harvey

NASA & NOAA - Goes Mission logo / NASA - EOS Aqua Mission logo / NASA & JAXA - GPM Mission patch.

Aug. 24, 2017

Harvey (was TD 09 - Atlantic Ocean)

NASA examined Harvey as it began to intensify and organize and found heavy rainfall in the system. NASA also created an animation that showed Harvey's intensification from a low pressure area into a hurricane.

Image above: NOAA's GOES-East satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Harvey in the western Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 24 at 1:07 p.m. EDT (17:07 UTC). Image Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) upgraded the remnants of tropical storm Harvey to a tropical depression on August 23, 2017 at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC).  Harvey became better organized and was revived after moving from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula into the Bay of Campeche. The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and favorable vertical wind shear promoted the regeneration of the tropical cyclone.

On Aug. 24, NHC noted that Harvey was quickly strengthening and is forecast to be a major Hurricane when it approaches the middle Texas coast. In addition, life-threatening storm surge and freshwater flooding expected.

Image above: On Aug. 23, the GPM core satellite saw feeder band of thunderstorms spiraling in from the southern side of Harvey's center contained rain falling at a rate of greater than 1.96 inches (50 mm) per hour. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce.

The previous day, NASA provided a look at Harvey's intensifying rainfall. The Global Precipitation Measurement mission or GPM core observatory satellite flew over the regenerating tropical cyclone on Aug. 23 at 7:58 a.m. EDT (1158 UTC). Data collected by GPM's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) instruments showed that Harvey's remnants contained areas of moderate to heavy rainfall. A feeder band spiraling in from the southern side of the low contained rain falling at a rate of greater than 1.96 inches (50 mm) per hour. As Harvey intensifies its rainfall capacity can also increase.

GPM's radar (DPR Ku band) data were used to create the rainfall structure of rainfall within regenerating tropical depression Harvey in 3-D. Those 3-D scans showed that storm tops with the feeder bands in the Bay of Campeche were reaching heights above 8.6 miles (13.9 km). GPM is a joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA.

At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, an animation was created using infrared and visible light data from NOAA's GOES-East satellite imagery from August 22 to 24. The animation showed the movement of Harvey as a remnant low pressure area moving off the Yucatan Peninsula, re-forming into a tropical depression and now into a hurricane in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA manages the GOES series of satellites, and NASA uses the satellite data to create images and animations. The animation was created by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

On Aug. 24, many warnings and watches were in effect: A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from Port Mansfield to San Luis Pass Texas. A Storm Surge Watch is in effect from south of Port Mansfield Texas to the mouth of the Rio Grande River and from north of San Luis Pass to High Island, Texas.  A Hurricane Warning is in effect from Port Mansfield to Matagorda, Texas. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from north of Matagorda to High Island, Texas and south of Port Mansfield, Texas to the Mouth of the Rio Grande. A Hurricane Watch is in effect from south of Port Mansfield, Texas to the Mouth of the Rio Grande. A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect from south of the mouth of the Rio Grande to Boca de Catan, Mexico.

Satellite Shows Harvey Regenerate into a Hurricane

Video above: This animation of NOAA's GOES-East satellite imagery from August 22 to 24 shows movement, and re-intensification of Harvey into a hurricane in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. TRT: 00:57. Video Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.

The heavy rainfall that the GPM core satellite observed continued to build, and on Aug. 24, the NHC noted that rainfall totals are expected to be tremendous. NHC said "Harvey is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 12 to 20 inches and isolated maximum amounts of 30 inches over the middle and upper Texas coast through next Wednesday. During the same time period Harvey is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 5 to 12 inches in far south Texas and the Texas Hill Country to central Louisiana, with accumulations of less than 5 inches extending into other parts of Texas and the lower Mississippi Valley. Rainfall from Harvey may cause life-threatening flooding."

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC), the center of Tropical Storm Harvey was located by an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft near 24.0 degrees north latitude and 93.3 degrees west longitude. That's about 365 miles (590 km) southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Image above: NASA's Aqua satellite analyzed Harvey in infrared light on Aug. 23 at 4:11 a.m. EDT (0811 UTC) and found coldest temperatures and strongest storms around the center (purple). Image Credits: NASA JPL/Ed Olsen.

Data from the Hurricane Hunter plane indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 65 mph (100 km/h) with higher gusts. Rapid strengthening is forecast, and Harvey is expected to become a major hurricane before it reaches the middle Texas coast. The minimum central pressure based on reconnaissance data is 982 millibars.

Harvey was moving toward the north-northwest near 10 mph (17 kph).  The NHC forecast noted a turn toward the northwest is expected later today, and Harvey's forward speed is forecast to slow down during the next couple of days.  On the forecast track, Harvey will approach the middle Texas coast on Friday, Aug. 25 and make landfall Friday night or early Saturday, and then stall near the middle Texas coast through the weekend.

For updated forecasts from the NHC, visit:

Space Station Camera Captures New Views of Hurricane Harvey

Video above: The National Hurricane Center (NHC) upgraded the remnants of tropical storm Harvey to a tropical depression on August 23, 2017 at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC). Harvey became better organized and was revived after moving from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula into the Bay of Campeche. The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and favorable vertical wind shear promoted the regeneration of the tropical cyclone. This video includes views from The International Space Station recorded on August 24, 2017 at 6:15 p.m. Eastern Time. Video Credits: NASA Johnson Space Center.

GOES (Geostationary Environmental Operational Satellites):

GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement): and

Aqua Satellite:

Images (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, by Rob Gutro.


James Webb Space Telescope Will Study Our Solar System’s “Ocean Worlds”

NASA & ESA & CSA - James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) patch.

Aug. 24, 2017

James Webb Space Telescope will use its infrared capabilities to study the “ocean worlds” of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, adding to observations previously made by NASA’s Galileo and Cassini orbiters. The Webb telescope’s observations could also help guide future missions to the icy moons.

Image above: Possible spectroscopy results from one of Europa’s water plumes. This is an example of the data the Webb telescope could return. Image Credits: NASA-GSFC/SVS, Hubble Space Telescope, Stefanie Milam, Geronimo Villanueva.

Europa and Enceladus are on the Webb telescope’s list of targets chosen by guaranteed time observers, scientists who helped develop the telescope and thus get to be among the first to use it to observe the universe. One of the telescope’s science goals is to study planets that could help shed light on the origins of life, but this does not just mean exoplanets; Webb will also help unravel the mysteries still held by objects in our own solar system (from Mars outward).

Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the lead scientist on the Webb telescope’s observation of Europa and Enceladus. His team is part of a larger effort to study our solar system with the telescope, spearheaded by astronomer Heidi Hammel, the executive vice president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). NASA selected Hammel as an interdisciplinary scientist for Webb in 2002.

Image above: Artist rendering showing an interior cross-section of the crust of Enceladus, which shows how hydrothermal activity may be causing the plumes of water at the moon’s surface. Image Credits: NASA-GSFC/SVS, NASA/JPL-Caltech/Southwest Research Institute.

Of particular interest to the scientists are the plumes of water that breach the surface of Enceladus and Europa, and that contain a mixture of water vapor and simple organic chemicals. NASA’s Cassini-Huygens and Galileo missions, and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, previously gathered evidence that these jets are the result of geologic processes heating large subsurface oceans. “We chose these two moons because of their potential to exhibit chemical signatures of astrobiological interest,” said Hammel.

Villanueva and his team plan to use Webb’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) to take high-resolution imagery of Europa, which they will use to study its surface and to search for hot surface regions indicative of plume activity and active geologic processes. Once they locate a plume, they will use Webb’s near-infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec) and mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) to spectroscopically analyze the plume’s composition.

Webb telescope’s observations might be particularly telling for the plumes on Europa, the composition of which largely remains a mystery. “Are they made of water ice? Is hot water vapor being released? What is the temperature of the active regions and the emitted water?” questioned Villanueva. “Webb telescope’s measurements will allow us to address these questions with unprecedented accuracy and precision.”

For Enceladus, Villanueva explained that because that moon is nearly 10 times smaller than Europa as seen from the Webb telescope, high-resolution imagery of its surface will not be possible. However, the telescope can still analyze the molecular composition of Enceladus’ plumes and perform a broad analysis of its surface features. Much of the moon’s terrain has already been mapped by NASA’s Cassini orbiter, which has spent about 13 years studying Saturn and its satellites. 

Possible Spectroscopy Results of Europa Using Webb

Video above: This simulation shows possible spectroscopy results of Europa’s water plumes, obtained using the Webb telescope’s NIRSpec instrument. Video Credits: NASA-GSFC/SVS, Hubble Space Telescope, Stefanie Milam, Geronimo Villanueva.

Villanueva cautioned that while he and his team plan to use NIRSpec to search for organic signatures (such as methane, methanol, and ethane) in the plumes of both moons, there is no guarantee the team will be able to time the Webb telescope’s observations to catch one of the intermittent emissions, nor that the emissions will have a significant organic composition. “We only expect detections if the plumes are particularly active and if they are organic-rich,” said Villanueva.

Evidence of life in the plumes could prove even more elusive. Villanueva explained that while chemical disequilibrium in the plumes (an unexpected abundance or scarcity of certain chemicals) could be a sign of the natural processes of microbial life, it could also be caused by natural geologic processes.

Artist's view of James Webb Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

While the Webb telescope may be unable to concretely answer whether the subsurface oceans of the moons contain life, Villanueva said it will be able to pinpoint and better characterize active regions of the moons that could merit further study. Future missions, such as NASA’s Europa Clipper, the primary objective of which is to determine if Europa is habitable, could use Webb’s data to hone in on prime locations for observation.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific complement to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

For more information about the Webb telescope, visit: or and and

Related links:

Webb’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam):

Webb’s near-infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec):

Webb’s mid-infrared instrument (MIRI):

NASA’s Europa Clipper:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lynn Jenner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Eric Villard.

Best regards,

Setting the Spaceplane Stage

Sierra Nevada Space Systems - Dream Chaser patch.

Aug. 24, 2017

Image above: The Dream Chaser photographed at dawn on the NASA Armstrong Research Center runway. Image Credit: NASA.

Fly frequently, travel safely, land on (most) runways, and operate economically: such are the guiding principles for 21st century spaceplanes, cargo-carrying aerospace workhorses routinely launching to low-Earth orbit for space station resupply and crew transfers. Fans disconsolate after retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet can take heart: The next generation in reusable space vehicles is set to debut.

A new spaceplane stage has been set by decades of NASA work done at Langley Research Center on horizontal-landing, or HL, lifting bodies. Sporting a design reminiscent of the upward-flexing pectoral fins on breaching manta rays, HL vehicles feature rudimentary wings. As the craft settles through Earth’s atmosphere from orbit the chubby, cigar-like fuselage generates lift from more air pressure on the bottom than on the top.

Image above: A 28-foot model of the HL-10 lifting-body reentry vehicle is shown being mounted in NASA Langley Research Center's Full Scale Wind Tunnel to determine its low-speed static stability and control. Image Credit: NASA.

Flying Wingless First championed for flight testing by NASA engineer H. Dale Reed in the early 1960s, the HL concept went through a number of design changes and improvements, eventually resulting in a series of experimental piloted aircraft. The Northrop HL-10 – referring to the tenth design evaluated by Langley engineers – was built to assess specific structural refinements. Langley laboratories and wind tunnels hosted a variety of early studies on scale models before any full-scale craft were constructed.

The HL-10 would be one of five “heavyweight” lifting body designs flown at NASA’s Flight Research Center (now known as Armstrong Research Center) from July 1966 to November 1975 to demonstrate a pilot’s ability to maneuver and safely land a wingless vehicle. The information the lifting-body program generated contributed to a database crucial to the genesis of the space shuttle program.

Image above: Artist’s concept of an HL-20 at a space station. Image Credit: NASA.

A New Kid Spurred by the Soviet Union’s development of its subscale, unmanned BOR-4 – a testbed for the country’s would-be Buran space shuttle – by the 1980s Langley had set to work on a HL-10 successor, known as the HL-20, or “Personal Launch System (PSL).” The effort’s goals were straightforward: to assess the feasibility of low operational costs, make improvements to flight safety, and evaluate the possibility of conventional-runway landings. Yoked to the PSL research was wind tunnel testing and human-performed landing scenarios created in Langley simulators.

By 1990s, a 29-foot full-size, non-flying HL-20 model was built by the students and faculty of North Carolina State University and North Carolina A & T University to study crew-seating arrangements, habitability, equipment layout and how best to enter and exit. Although never flight-tested, the PSL did ultimately deliver: its design would be the basis for development of Sierra Nevada’s Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser.

Image above: Model of Sierra Nevada Corp. Dream Chaser spacecraft inside NASA Langley’s Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel. Image Credit: NASA.

Mission Flexibility In January 2016 SNC was one of three companies awarded contracts to ferry cargo from 2019 through 2024 to the International Space Station (ISS). Under the terms of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and as part of a Space Act Agreement, SNC is able to use agency wind tunnels for Dream Chaser studies and experiments. That’s where Langley came in, mounting a Dream Chaser scale model in its Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel for extensive aerodynamic data gathering, which was subsequently added to the spacecraft’s performance database.

Although a quarter of the size of any of the now-retired space shuttles, Dream Chaser can carry as many as seven crew members. Although there is but one basic spacecraft airframe, there are two system variants optimized for either manned or unmanned missions. SNC asserts the Dream Chaser can be reused 15 or more times, more than any other current operational space vehicle. The company also touts the spacecraft’s flexibility in remote sensing, satellite servicing, and even “active debris removal,” otherwise known as space-trash cleanup.

A second round of Dream Chaser flight tests at NASA’s Armstrong Research Center is slated to continue through the end of the 2017 calendar year.

Related links:

Commercial Space:

Sierra Nevada’s Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Eric Vitug/Langley Research Center/Jim Schultz.


A World of Snowy Dunes on Mars

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

Aug. 24, 2017

It was spring in the Northern hemisphere when this image was taken on May 21, 2017, at 13:21 local Mars time, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Over the winter, snow and ice have inexorably covered the dunes. Unlike on Earth, this snow and ice is carbon dioxide, better known to us as dry ice.

When the sun starts shining on it in the spring, the ice on the smooth surface of the dune cracks and escaping gas carries dark sand out from the dune below, often creating beautiful patterns. On the rough surface between the dunes, frost is trapped behind small sheltered ridges.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.

More information and image products: HiRISE:

High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE):

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Sarah Loff/JPL/University of Arizona/Caption: Candy Hansen.


ESA and Chinese astronauts train together

ESA - European Astronauts patch.

24 August 2017

Sea survival training China

ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Matthias Maurer joined 16 Chinese astronauts earlier this month for nine days of sea survival training off China’s coastal city of Yantai. The ultimate goal is for ESA to establish a long term cooperation with China and ESA astronaut to fly on China’s space station.

Returning from space, astronauts need to be prepared for any eventuality – including landing in water. Sea survival is a staple of all training but this is the first time that other astronauts had joined their Chinese counterparts.

Sea survival training

Working in groups of three, the astronauts donned pressure suits and entered a mock Shenzhou capsule that was then released into the sea. The astronauts had to swap their flightsuits for insulation and buoyancy suits before jumping into inflatable boats. They then practised rescue procedures with both a ship and a helicopter.

Samantha says: “The training was superbly planned and conducted. It was a great opportunity to refresh my skills and a first time practising capsule egress in the ocean with decent waves.

Samantha in Chinese flightsuit

“Most importantly, we were welcomed as colleagues and friends by the ‘taikonauts’ and the instructors. Language and cultural differences are obviously a challenge, but also adds value, as we are all focused on the common goal of space exploration."

Matthias agrees: “The reception was warm. We truly felt the spirit of belonging to one universal astronaut family, sharing the same values, goals and vision.

Matthias with capsule

“Language was, as expected, the single most challenging obstacle, which we overcame with great enthusiasm and team spirit, speaking a mixture of Chinese and English.”

Team work

Accompanying Samantha and Matthias were an ESA flight surgeon and training specialist to gain insights into the different cultural nuances and approaches.

ESA’s head of astronaut training, Rudiger Seine, adds, “I see this as another milestone towards establishing good cooperation with China as a space partner.”


While this is the first time ESA astronauts have trained in China, it is not the first collaboration. Last year, Chinese astronaut Ye Guangfu joined ESA’s caving course in Sardinia to experience an extreme environment as part of a multicultural crew. 

Both activities stem from the 2015 agreement to boost collaboration between ESA and the China Manned Space Agency, with the goal of flying European astronauts on the Chinese space station from 2022.

In the meantime, other training opportunities and joint activities are in the pipeline to get to know each other better.


The course was organised by the Astronaut Center of China in cooperation with the Ministry of Transport’s Beihai Rescue Bureau.

Matthias concludes: “I am very much looking forward to expanding our cooperation with our Chinese friends into space.”

Sea survival training China

Related links:

Chinese astronaut Ye Guangfu joined ESA’s caving course:

ESA's Astronauts:

Human Spaceflight:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Stephane Corvaja, 2017.

Best regards,

mercredi 23 août 2017

Hinode Satellite Captures Powerful Aug. 21 Eclipse Images, Video

NASA & JAXA - Hinode X-ray telescope (XRT) logo.

Aug. 23, 2017

Hinode Satellite Captures Total Solar Eclipse Video Aug. 21

Video above: By assembling still images shot by the X-ray telescope aboard the Hinode solar observation satellite Aug. 21, partner scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and NASA produced this video of the total solar eclipse which crossed much of the continental United States -- a path unseen in this country for nearly a century. Learn more about the Aug. 21 eclipse at Video Credits: JAXA/NASA.

Image above: Hinode captures a shot of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse 2 minutes into the Moon's transit across the face of the Sun. Image Credits: JAXA/NASA.

As millions of Americans watched the total solar eclipse that crossed the continental United States Aug. 21, the international Hinode solar observation satellite captured its own images of the awe-inspiring natural phenomenon as it orbited the planet. Researchers adapted the still images into a time-lapse video presentation.

Image above: A second image from Hinode of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, taken approximately 5 minutes farther into lunar transit. Image Credits: JAXA/NASA.

Among its many solar research tasks, the satellite's observation of the eclipse was intended to add new data to ongoing scientific study of the coronal structure in the Sun's polar region and the mechanism of jets of superheated plasma frequently created there. These powerful jets can sometimes erupt 10 million to 12 million miles into space.

Image above: A third image from Hinode of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, taken 2 minutes before the end of the eclipse event. Image Credits: JAXA/NASA.

The images were taken with Hinode's X-ray telescope (XRT) as it flew above the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of the United States, at an altitude of approximately 422 miles (680 km).

 Hinode X-ray telescope (XRT). Image Credits: NASA/JAXA

Hinode is a joint endeavor by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the European Space Agency, the United Kingdom Space Agency and NASA.

For more information about Hinode, visit:

Learn more about the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse at NASA's dedicated site:

For more about NASA and its Hinode partners, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/Marshall Space Flight Center/Molly Porter.


Best Ever Image of a Star’s Surface and Atmosphere

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

23 August 2017

First map of motion of material on a star other than the Sun

VLTI reconstructed view of the surface of Antares

Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer astronomers have constructed the most detailed image ever of a star — the red supergiant star Antares. They have also made the first map of the velocities of material in the atmosphere of a star other than the Sun, revealing unexpected turbulence in Antares’s huge extended atmosphere. The results were published in the journal Nature.

To the unaided eye the famous, bright star Antares shines with a strong red tint in the heart of the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). It is a huge and comparatively cool red supergiant star in the late stages of its life, on the way to becoming a supernova [1].

Artist’s impression of the red supergiant star Antares

A team of astronomers, led by Keiichi Ohnaka, of the Universidad Católica del Norte in Chile, has now used ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile to map Antares’s surface and to measure the motions of the surface material. This is the best image of the surface and atmosphere of any star other than the Sun.

The VLTI is a unique facility that can combine the light from up to four telescopes, either the 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes, or the smaller Auxiliary Telescopes, to create a virtual telescope equivalent to a single mirror up to 200 metres across. This allows it to resolve fine details far beyond what can be seen with a single telescope alone.

VLTI velocity map of the surface of Antares

“How stars like Antares lose mass so quickly in the final phase of their evolution has been a problem for over half a century,” said Keiichi Ohnaka, who is also the lead author of the paper. “The VLTI is the only facility that can directly measure the gas motions in the extended atmosphere of Antares — a crucial step towards clarifying this problem. The next challenge is to identify what’s driving the turbulent motions.”

Using the new results the team has created the first two-dimensional velocity map of the atmosphere of a star other than the Sun. They did this using the VLTI with three of the Auxiliary Telescopes and an instrument called AMBER to make separate images of the surface of Antares over a small range of infrared wavelengths. The team then used these data to calculate the difference between the speed of the atmospheric gas at different positions on the star and the average speed over the entire star [2]. This resulted in a map of the relative speed of the atmospheric gas across the entire disc of Antares — the first ever created for a star other than the Sun.

The bright red star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius

The astronomers found turbulent, low-density gas much further from the star than predicted, and concluded that the movement could not result from convection [3], that is, from large-scale movement of matter which transfers energy from the core to the outer atmosphere of many stars. They reason that a new, currently unknown, process may be needed to explain these movements in the extended atmospheres of red supergiants like Antares.

Zooming in on the red supergiant star Antares

“In the future, this observing technique can be applied to different types of stars to study their surfaces and atmospheres in unprecedented detail. This has been limited to just the Sun up to now,” concludes Ohnaka. “Our work brings stellar astrophysics to a new dimension and opens an entirely new window to observe stars.”

3D animation of Antares

Approaching Antares (artist's impression)


[1] Antares is considered by astronomers to be a typical red supergiant. These huge dying stars are formed with between nine and 40 times the mass of the Sun. When a star becomes a red supergiant, its atmosphere extends outward so it becomes large and luminous, but low-density. Antares now has a mass about 12 times that of the Sun and a diameter about 700 times larger than the Sun’s. It is thought that it started life with a mass more like 15 times that of the Sun, and has shed three solar-masses of material during its life.

[2] The velocity of material towards or away from Earth can be measured by the Doppler Effect, which shifts spectral lines either towards the red or blue ends of the spectrum, depending on whether the material emitting or absorbing light is receding from or approaching the observer.

[3] Convection is the process whereby cold material moves downwards and hot material moves upwards in a circular pattern. The process occurs on Earth in the atmosphere and ocean currents, but it also moves gas around within stars.

More information:

This research was presented in a paper entitled “Vigorous atmospheric motion in the red supergiant star Antares”, by K. Ohnaka et al., published in the journal Nature.

The team is composed of K. Ohnaka (Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta, Chile), G. Weigelt (Max- Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany) and K. -H. Hofmann (Max- Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany)

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”.


ESOcast 123 Light: Best Ever Image of a Star’s Surface and Atmosphere:

Research paper:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI):

Paranal Observatory:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Richard Hook/M. Kornmesser/Instituto de Astronomía — Universidad Católica del Norte Antofagasta/Keiichi Ohnaka/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Videos: ESO/K. Ohnaka//M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger ( Music:  astral electronic/

Best regards,