vendredi 26 janvier 2018

CASC - Long March 2C launches Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-4

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

January 26, 2018

Long March 2C launches Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-4. Image Credits: CASC

China launched the fourth group of triplet satellites for the Chuangxin-5 (CX-5) constellation. Launched under the name Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-4, the three satellites were orbited by a Long March-2C launch vehicle from the LC3 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Launch took place at 05:39 UTC (on Jan. 25, 2018).

Like the previous missions on the series, this mission is once again classed as involving new remote sensing birds that will be used to “conduct electromagnetic probes and other experiments.”

As was the case in previous launches of the Yaogan Weixing series, analysts believe this class of satellites is used for military purposes, in particular forming a high-revisit smallsat constellation for signal intelligence missions or for imaging activities.

Working with the former Soviet Union (and in a smaller scale with Russia) ‘Cosmos’ designation, the ‘Yaogan’ name is used to hide the true military nature of the vehicles orbited.

The three satellites confirmed as deployed. Image Credit: CCTV+

Previous missions on the CX-5 series were the Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-1 launched on September 29, 2017. On this mission, the Long March (Y29) launch vehicle orbited the Chuangxin-5 (1) to Chuangxin-5 (3) satellites. The three satellites were injected on a 600 km altitude orbit with an inclination of 35.00 degrees and are now spaced by 120° in their orbit.

The second mission on the series, Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-2, was launched on November 24, 2017. The Long March (Y33) launch vehicle orbited the Chuangxin-5 (4) to Chuangxin-5 (6) satellites on similar orbits as the Group-1 satellites but on an orbital plane 119° west of the first satellites.

The Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-3 with the satellites Chuangxin-5 (7) to Chuangxin-5 (9), was launched on December 25, 2017, by the Long March-2C (Y34) launch vehicle. Also orbiting at 600 km altitude with an inclination of 35.00º, the satellites were located on an orbital plane 120° east of the first group.

The now launched Yaogan Weixing-30 Group-4 is composed by the satellites Chuangxin-5 (10), Chuangxing-5 (11) and Chuangxin-5 (12).

The Chuangxing-5 satellites were developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Small Satellite Center.

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA C. Barbosa.


Spacewalkers Preparing for Monday’s Spacewalk With Updated Plan

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

Jan. 26, 2018

During a spacewalk on Jan. 23, 2018, Expedition 54 flight engineers Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle replaced a Latching End Effector (LEE-B) on the Canadarm2 robotic arm. An issue preventing the LEE from transitioning to an operational state on one of two redundant sets of communications strings was detected. The spacewalking crew demated and remated the connectors and ground teams were able to power up the arm to an operational state on its secondary communications string leaving the arm operational but without a redundant communications string.

Image above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei photographed himself with his helmet visor up during a spacewalk that took place on Jan. 23, 2018. Image Credit: NASA.

After extensive troubleshooting by teams from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the decision was made by space station managers to use the scheduled Jan. 29 spacewalk to reinstall the LEE removed on the Jan. 23 spacewalk to restore fully redundant capability to the robotic arm. CSA and its robotics specialists are continuing diagnostics over the weekend to gain additional insight. If data is obtained that could be used to solve the issue, Monday’s spacewalk could be postponed.

Related links:

Expedition 54:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Jupiter’s Stormy North

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Jan. 26, 2018

See Jupiter’s northern polar belt region in this new view taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

This color-enhanced image was taken on Dec. 16, 2017 at 9:47 a.m. PST (12:47 p.m. EST), as Juno performed its tenth close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 5,600 miles (8,787 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of 38.4 degrees north.

Citizen scientist Björn Jónsson processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager. This image has been processed from the raw JunoCam framelets by removing the effects of global illumination. Jónsson then increased the contrast and color and sharpened smallscale features. The image has also been cropped.

While at first glance the view may appear to be in Jupiter’s south, the raw source images were obtained when Juno was above the planet’s northern hemisphere looking south, potentially causing a sense of disorientation to the viewer. The geometry of the scene can be explored using the time of the image and the Juno mission module of NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System:

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, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Björn Jónsson.


Hubble's Standout Stars Bound Together by Gravity

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 26, 2018

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals a glistening and ancient globular cluster named NGC 3201 — a gathering of hundreds of thousands of stars bound together by gravity. NGC 3201 was discovered in 1826 by the Scottish astronomer James Dunlop, who described it as a “pretty large, pretty bright” object that becomes “rather irregular” towards its center.

Globular clusters are found around all large galaxies, but their origin and role in galaxy formation remain tantalizingly unclear. Astronomers recently discovered a black hole lurking at the heart of NGC 3201 — its position was revealed by the strange movements of a star being quickly flung around a massive, invisible counterpart. This sparkling group of stars also has some strange properties that make it unique amongst the more than 150 globular clusters belonging to the Milky Way. NGC 3201 has an extremely fast velocity with respect to the Sun, and its orbit is retrograde, meaning that it moves speedily in the opposite direction to the galactic center.

The unusual behavior of this cluster suggests that it may have extragalactic origins but at some point was captured by the Milky Way’s gravity. However, the chemical makeup of this intriguing cluster tells a different story — the stars within NGC 3201 are chemically very similar to those of other galactic globular clusters, implying that they formed at a similar location and time to their neighbors.

Whether this mysterious cluster was adopted by our galaxy or has for some reason evolved very differently from the family of clusters it grew up with, it is certainly an unusual astronomical beauty.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Sarajedini et al/Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Karl Hille.


Arianespace: Satellite put into orbit at the wrong place

CNES / ESA / Arianespace Flight VA241 Mission poster.

Jan. 26, 2018

Two satellites, including the SES-14 for the Luxembourg operator SES, were put into orbit Thursday night by the European launcher Ariane 5, but not at the right place.

The two telecommunications satellites, embarked aboard the European launcher Ariane 5, which took off Thursday night from Guyana, were put into orbit, but, rare, not in the right place.

Arianespace, contacted by AFP, hoped, however, a future "repositioning satellites in the right place with their propulsion system." "The latest news was reassuring after strong concerns," added the company that markets the launches.

Ariane 5 Flight VA241 lift off

Big fright indeed for its first launch of the year. Shortly after the start of the operation, Arianespace's CEO, Stéphane Israël, announced an "anomaly" in the Jupiter room of the Kourou Space Center and reported a "loss of contact with the launcher".

A loss of contact, "a little over nine minutes" after takeoff and "a few seconds after the ignition of the upper deck" and which lasted "from the 9th to the 37th minute of the mission", has Arianespace said in a statement.

Two telecommunications satellites

From then on, the mission's "second control station" located in Natal, Brazil, did not acquire launcher telemetry, Arianespace notes. The situation was the same at the Ascencion station, on a South Atlantic island (supposed to collect data 13 minutes and 36 seconds after take-off), at that of Libreville in Gabon (18 minutes and 19 seconds after its take-off) and that near the town of Malindi in Kenya (22 minutes and 56 seconds after take-off). If "thereafter, the two satellites were confirmed separated, acquired and put into orbit", notes Arianespace's release they were "not separated at the place where they should have been".

SES-14 satellite

The European rocket had taken off Thursday as scheduled at 19:20 local time (23:20 in Paris), the Guiana space center of Kourou, carrying two telecommunications satellites, SES-14 for the Luxembourg operator SES and Al Yah 3 for Yahsat, operator of the United Arab Emirates.

The SES-14 satellite also hosts a scientific load for NASA's exploration program GOLD (Global-scale Observation of the Limb and Disk), a program that must allow, from a geostationary orbit, to reconstitute all half-hour a complete picture of the terrestrial disk.

Al Yah 3 satellite

Built by Airbus Defense and Space in Toulouse, SES-14, a little over 4.4 tons on takeoff, is the 53rd satellite operator SES (European Satellite Company) to be launched by Arianespace since 1984, has indicated Arianespace.

Built by Orbital ATK, Al Yah 3, with a take-off weight of nearly 3.8 tonnes, is the second satellite to be taken for Yahsat (Al Yah Satellite Communications Company), after a first launch in 2011.

Related articles:

Ariane 5: loss of contact with the launcher

NASA GOLD Mission to Image Earth’s Interface to Space

For more information about Arianespace, visit:

Images, text, Credits: AFP/Arianespace/Airbus/Orbital ATK/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

jeudi 25 janvier 2018

Ariane 5: loss of contact with the launcher

CNES / ESA / Arianespace - Flight VA241 Mission poster.

Jan. 25, 2018

Ariane 5 Flight VA241 lift off

The first shot of the year of Ariane 5, which carried two satellites Thursday, did not go as planned, according to its CEO.

Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël has announced an "anomaly" concerning the first firing of the year of Ariane 5 Thursday evening in French Guiana, from the Jupiter Hall of the Kourou Space Center, reporting a "loss of contact with the Ariane 5 launcher during its mission ".

Arianespace Flight VA241 - Launch Sequence

It was the first launch of the year for Arianespace, the company that markets the launches, and for the Ariane 5 rocket. The CEO apologized to the customers. Contacted by AFP, Arianespace promised further information on this anomaly and its possible consequences.

Al Yah 3 satellite

Ariane 5 had taken off at 19h20 Thursday Guyanese time (23h20 in Paris) by shipping two telecommunications satellites, SES-14 for the Luxembourg operator SES and Al Yah 3 for Yahsat, the operator of United Arab Emirates.

SES-14 satellite

The SES-14 satellite also hosts a scientific load for NASA's exploration program GOLD (Global-scale Observation of the Limb and Disk), a program that must allow, from a geostationary orbit, to reconstitute all half-hour a complete picture of the terrestrial disk.

Related article:

NASA GOLD Mission to Image Earth’s Interface to Space

For more information about Arianespace, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: AFP/Arianespace/Airbus/Orbital ATK/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Crew Looks to Monday Spacewalk and Works on Science Hardware

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

Jan. 25, 2018

Two Expedition 54 astronauts continue preparing for Monday’s upcoming spacewalk to wrap up robotics repair work. The crew is also working on a variety of science gear to ensure the orbital laboratory is in tip-top shape.

Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei is going outside the International Space Station again for this year’s second spacewalk. This time he’ll work with Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai to finish maintenance on a Latching End Effector, or the robotic hand of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. That work was started Tuesday when Vande Hei partnered with NASA astronaut Scott Tingle during a seven-hour and 24-minute spacewalk. Monday’s spacewalk begins at 7:10 a.m. EST with live NASA TV coverage beginning at 5:30 a.m.

Image above: Astronaut Joe Acaba (clockwise from bottom) assists spacewalkers Norishige Kanai, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration, and Mark Vande Hei, from NASA, during a fit check of their U.S. spacesuits. Kanai and Vande Hei will conduct a spacewalk Jan. 29 wrapping up work on a Latching End Effector from the Canadarm2.Image above: NASA.

As usual, advanced microgravity research is ongoing inside and outside the space station. This morning, veteran station astronaut Joe Acaba tended to a pair of science freezers ensuring they maintain proper temperatures for the stowage of biological samples. Kanai checked out a 3D printed satellite deployer that will spring-launch four tiny satellites known as FemtoSats from the station.

Related links:


Expedition 54:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Jan. 15, 2018

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

Jan. 25, 2018

After the successful return of 4,100 pounds of science and cargo aboard the SpaceX Dragon this past weekend, the crew living and working on the International Space Station returned to scientific operations as they began the second week of January. As crewmembers continued to prepare for an upcoming spacewalk, they also explored research in the fields of human research, education and plant biology.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei photographed the petri plates for the Petri Plants-2 investigation. Animation Credit: NASA.

Take a look at some of the science that happened this week aboard the orbiting laboratory:

Cardiac and Vessel Structure and Function with Long-Duration Space Flight and Recovery (Vascular Echo) examines changes in blood vessels and the heart, both in space and on Earth. The results may provide insight into potential countermeasures to help maintain crewmember health, and quality of life for those on Earth. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Norishige Kanai completed scans of his neck, thigh, portal vein, and heart, followed by blood pressure measurements.

The Non-invasive Assessment of Intracranial Pressure for Spaceflight and Related Visual Impairment (IPVI) investigation studies changes to crewmembers’ eyes and optic nerves by analyzing arterial blood pressure and blood flow to the brain before and after spaceflight. This investigation uses non-invasive methods to measure intracranial pressure, rather than commonly-used, more invasive methods. This week, a crewmember took front and side photographs to check for any facial swelling, followed by a conference with ground experts.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Joe Acaba conducts an Arthrospira-B reservoir exchange. Animation Credit: NASA

The NanoRacks-DreamUp Xtronaut Crystal Growth (DreamXCG) investigation teaches students about the effects of microgravity on crystal formations using near-identical flight kits flown and operated aboard the space station. With access to crew videos and data, students are able compare crystal formations in space to those in their classrooms. The investigation aims to promote STEM fields to the next generation of students. This week, the crew used dissolved sugar crystals in two pouches and transferred sugar water into the pouches with seeded dowels.

Plants cultivated in microgravity look mostly normal, but space-grown plants have a number of distinct features compared to plants grown in comparable habitats on Earth, most notably in the way their roots grow. The Characterizing Arabidopsis Root Attractions-2 (CARA-2 or Petri Plants-2) investigation studies the molecular signals that can cause these changes, including the genetic underpinnings of how a plant senses the direction of gravity. Results may improve efforts to grow plants in microgravity on future space missions, enabling crews to use plants for food and oxygen, and give a deeper understanding of how plants may survive on Earth in extreme conditions. Using the light meter in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), the crew took light intensity measurements before NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei transported the plates to photograph, showing that the plants have germinated as expected.

Image above: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Norishige Kanai works on the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) Tether Slosh experiment, that uses two SPHERES robots tethered to a fluid-filled container covered in sensors to test strategies for safely steering spacecraft such as dead satellites that might still have fuel in the tank. Image Credit: NASA.

Other work was done on these investigations: EIISS, SPHERES Tether Slosh, Biochemical Profile, AMS-02, Repository, Meteor, DOSIS-3D, MagVector, Circadian Rhythms, Transparent Alloys, ACME, Rodent Research-6, Microbial Tracking-2, Lighting Effects, Airway Monitoring, Space Headaches and Arthrospira-B.

Related links:

Vascular Echo:



(CARA-2 or Petri Plants-2:


SPHERES Tether Slosh:

Biochemical Profile:






Circadian Rhythms:

Transparent Alloys:


Rodent Research-6:

Microbial Tracking-2:

Lighting Effects:

Airway Monitoring:

Space Headaches:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animations (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Erling Holm/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 53 & 54.

Best regards,

mercredi 24 janvier 2018

NASA GOLD Mission to Image Earth’s Interface to Space

NASA logo.

Jan. 24, 2018

Image above: Illustration of SES-14, a commercial communications satellite that will carry NASA's GOLD instrument. Image Credits: NASA Goddard's Conceptual Image Lab/Chris Meaney.

On Jan. 25, 2018, NASA launches Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, or GOLD, a hosted payload aboard SES-14, a commercial communications satellite. GOLD will investigate the dynamic intermingling of space and Earth’s uppermost atmosphere — and is the first NASA science mission to fly an instrument as a commercially hosted payload.

Space is not completely empty: It’s teeming with fast-moving charged particles and electric and magnetic fields that guide their motion. At the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, the charged particles —called the ionosphere — co-exist with the upper reaches of the neutral atmosphere, called the thermosphere. The two commingle and influence one another constantly. This interplay — and the role terrestrial weather, space weather and Earth’s own magnetic field each have in it — is the focus of GOLD’s mission.

Why NASA Is Exploring The Edge Of Our Planet's Atmosphere

Video above: GOLD launches Jan. 25, 2018, to study the dynamic region where space and Earth’s uppermost atmosphere meet. Here’s why NASA is exploring the edge of our home planet. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng.

“The upper atmosphere is far more variable than previously imagined, but we don’t understand the interactions between all the factors involved,” said Richard Eastes, GOLD principal investigator at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder. “That’s where GOLD comes in: For the first time, the mission gives us the big picture of how different drivers meet and influence each other.”    

Historically difficult to observe, this little understood region responds both to terrestrial weather in the lower atmosphere below and the tumult of space weather from above. And it responds rapidly too, undergoing dramatic change in as little as an hour, Eastes said.

Big events in the lower atmosphere, like hurricanes or tsunamis, create waves that can travel all the way up to this interface to space, changing wind patterns and causing disruptions. On the opposite side, from above this region, flurries of energized particles and solar storms carry electric and magnetic fields and have the potential to disrupt Earth’s space environment. This combination of factors makes it difficult to predict changes in the ionosphere — and these changes can have a big impact.

“Space isn’t just the home of astronauts and satellites; it affects our day-to-day lives,” said Sarah Jones, GOLD mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Low-Earth orbiting satellites — including the International Space Station — fly through the ionosphere. But communication signals, like radio waves and signals that make our GPS systems work, also travel through this region, and sudden changes can distort them or even cut them off completely.

Animation above: The ionosphere stretches from roughly 50 – 360 miles above Earth’s surface. Red and green swaths of light, known as airglow, are seen in this video of Earth’s limb shot from the International Space Station. Animation Credit: NASA.

GOLD seeks to understand what drives change in this critical region. Resulting data will improve forecasting models of the space weather events that can impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space. GOLD is the first mission that can provide us with observations fast enough to monitor the details of regular, hour-by-hour changes in space weather — not just its overarching climate.

“The first meteorological satellites revolutionized our understanding of — and ability to predict — terrestrial weather,” said Elsayed Talaat, heliophysics chief scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We anticipate GOLD will give us new, similar insight into the dynamics of the upper atmosphere and our planet’s space environment.”  

Roughly the size of a mini fridge, the 80-pound GOLD instrument is an imaging spectrograph, an instrument that breaks light down into its component wavelengths and measures their intensities. Specifically, it measures far ultraviolet light, creating full-disk ultraviolet images of Earth from its geostationary vantage point above the Western Hemisphere.

“Just like an infrared camera allows you to see how temperatures change with different colors, GOLD images ultraviolet light to provide a map of the Earth that reveals how temperature and atmospheric composition change by location,” Eastes said.

From these images, scientists can determine the temperature and relative amounts of different particles — such as atomic oxygen and molecular nitrogen — present in the neutral atmosphere, which is useful for determining how these neutral gases shape ionospheric conditions. These data will provide the first maps of the upper atmosphere’s changing temperature and composition all over the Americas.

Animation above: GOLD scans the entirety of the Earth’s disk every half hour. Animation Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scientific Visualization Studio.

GOLD is a NASA mission of opportunity led by the University of Central Florida. The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder built the instrument. A payload hosted on an otherwise unrelated satellite, the GOLD instrument flies in geostationary orbit on a commercial communications satellite, SES-14, built by Airbus for Luxembourg-based satellite operator, SES.

“For years, we’ve studied Earth’s upper atmosphere in detail from the ground and low-Earth orbit,” Eastes said. “By backing out to geostationary, we can put things in a global context. You can see half the Earth from out there.”

Also launching this year is the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, which will study the ionosphere and neutral upper atmosphere. But while GOLD flies in geostationary orbit 22,000 miles above the Western Hemisphere, ICON flies just 350 miles above Earth, where it can gather close-up images of this region. Together, these missions provide the most comprehensive ionosphere observations we’ve ever had, enabling a deeper understanding of how our planet interacts with space.

Image above: GOLD and ICON are teaming up to explore Earth’s interface to space — a little-understood area that’s close to home but historically hard to observe. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk.

Download ICON-GOLD infographic as PDF:

GOLD is the newest addition to NASA’s fleet of Heliophysics missions. NASA Heliophysics missions study a vast interconnected system from the Sun to the space surrounding Earth and other planets, and to the farthest limits of the Sun’s constantly flowing stream of solar wind. GOLD’s observations will provide key information about how Earth’s upper atmosphere is connected to this dynamic and complex system. 

To learn more about the GOLD mission, visit:


Two Heads Are Better than One: ICON & GOLD Teaming Up to Explore Earth’s Interface to Space:

NASA’s ICON Explores the Boundary Between Earth and Space:

GOLD (Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk):

Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON):

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lina Tran.


Two Astronauts, Two Cosmonauts Prepping for Spacewalks Next Week

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

January 24, 2018

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

One spacewalk down, two more to go before next weekend. A U.S. and a Japanese astronaut will go on the next spacewalk Jan. 29 followed by two cosmonauts on Feb. 2.

Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai will put on their U.S. spacesuits early next week and exit the Quest airlock to wrap up maintenance on the Canadarm2. The duo will spend about six and a half hours wrapping up work from Tuesday’s spacewalk on swapping a degraded Latching End Effector from the Canadarm2. The spacewalkers will start their excursion Monday at 7:10 a.m. EST and NASA TV coverage will begin at 5:30 a.m.

Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Alexander Misurkin are also preparing for their next spacewalk set for next Friday when they open the Pirs docking compartment hatch at 10:34 a.m. The veteran station residents will don their Russian Orlan spacesuits for a near six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station’s Russian segment. The duo will retrieve science samples exposed to outer space and install a high gain antenna on the rear of the Zvezda service module. NASA TV coverage starts 9:45 a.m.

Image above: Spacewalker Mark Vande Hei took his own photograph during the first spacewalk of 2018. These sky-high pictures are better known as “space-selfies.” Image Credit: NASA.

Both excursions come in the wake of Tuesday’s spacewalk with astronauts Vande Hei and Scott Tingle lasting seven hours and 24 minutes. The two astronauts replaced a Latching End Effector (LEE) on the station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2.

In the midst of the busy spacewalk work, the Expedition 54 crew has been conducting science to understand how living in space affects the human body. Vande Hei is exploring how station lighting affects crew sleep while astronaut Scott Tingle looked at microgravity’s impacts on the brain. Flight Engineer Joe Acaba explored using a special strain of bacteria to support long-term life support systems on future spacecraft.

Related links:


Lighting affects:

Microgravity’s impacts on the brain:

Special strain of bacteria:

Expedition 54:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Explorer 1: The Beginning of American Space Science

USAF - Explorer-1 Mission patch.

January 24, 2018

Sixty years ago next week, the hopes of Cold War America soared into the night sky as a rocket lofted skyward above Cape Canaveral, a soon-to-be-famous barrier island off the Florida coast.

The date was Jan. 31, 1958. NASA had yet to be formed, and the honor of this first flight belonged to the U.S. Army. The rocket's sole payload was a javelin-shaped satellite built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Explorer 1, as it would soon come to be called, was America's first satellite.

Explorer 1: First : U.S. Satellite

Video above: Against the backdrop of the 1950s Cold War, after the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik, Americans were determined to launch their own Earth-orbiting satellite. Flash back to events leading up to the successful launch of America's Explorer 1, and the beginnings of America's Space Age, as told through newsreel and documentary clips of the time. Video Credit: NASA.

"The launch of Explorer 1 marked the beginning of U.S. spaceflight, as well as the scientific exploration of space, which led to a series of bold missions that have opened humanity's eyes to new wonders of the solar system," said Michael Watkins, current director of JPL. "It was a watershed moment for the nation that also defined who we are at JPL."

In the mid-1950s, both the United States and the Soviet Union were proceeding toward the capability to put a spacecraft in orbit. Yet great uncertainty hung over the pursuit. As the Cold War between the two countries deepened, it had not yet been determined whether the sovereignty of a nation's borders extended upward into space. Accordingly, then-President Eisenhower sought to ensure that the first American satellites were not perceived to be military or national security assets.

In 1954, an international council of scientists called for artificial satellites to be orbited as part of a worldwide science program called the International Geophysical Year (IGY), set to take place from July 1957 to December 1958. Both the American and Soviet governments seized on the idea, announcing they would launch spacecraft as part of the effort. Soon, a competition began between the Army, Air Force and Navy to develop a U.S. satellite and launch vehicle capable of reaching orbit.

Image above: A vintage JPL graphic celebrating the Explorer 1 satellite. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

At that time, JPL, which was part of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, primarily performed defense work for the Army. (The "jet" in JPL's name traces back to rocket motors used to provide "jet assisted" takeoff for Army planes during World War II.) In 1954, the laboratory's engineers began working with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Alabama on a project called "Orbiter." The Army team included Wernher von Braun (who would later design NASA's Saturn V rocket) and his team of engineers. Their work centered around the Redstone Jupiter-C rocket, which was derived from the V-2 missile Germany had used against Britain during the war.

JPL's role was to prepare the three upper stages for the launch vehicle, which included the satellite itself. These used solid rocket motors the laboratory had developed for the Army's Sergeant guided missile. JPL would also be responsible for receiving and transmitting the orbiting spacecraft's communications. In addition to JPL's involvement in the Orbiter program, the laboratory's then-director, William Pickering, chaired the science committee on satellite tracking for the U.S. launch effort overall.

The Navy's entry, called Vanguard, had a competitive edge in that it was not derived from a ballistic missile program -- its rocket was designed, from the ground up, for civilian scientific purposes. The Army's Jupiter-C rocket had made its first successful suborbital flight in 1956, so Army commanders were confident they could be ready to launch a satellite fairly quickly. Nevertheless, the Navy's program was chosen to launch a satellite for the IGY.

Image above: Explorer 1 sits atop the Jupiter-C rocket (designated "Juno-1") in the gantry as its launch date nears. Image credits: NASA.

University of Iowa physicist James Van Allen, whose instrument proposal had been chosen for the Vanguard satellite, was concerned about development issues on the project. Thus, he made sure his scientific instrument payload -- a cosmic ray detector -- would fit either launch vehicle. Meanwhile, although their project was officially mothballed, JPL engineers used a pre-existing rocket casing to quietly build a flight-worthy satellite, just in case it might be needed.

The world changed on Oct. 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched a 23-inch (58-centimeter) metal sphere called Sputnik. With that singular event, the space age had begun. The launch resolved a key diplomatic uncertainty about the future of spaceflight, establishing the right to orbit above any territory on the globe. The Russians quickly followed up their first launch with a second Sputnik just a month later. Under pressure to mount a U.S. response, the Eisenhower administration decided a scheduled test flight of the Vanguard rocket, already being planned in support of the IGY, would fit the bill. But when the Vanguard rocket was, embarrassingly, destroyed during the launch attempt on Dec. 6, the administration turned to the Army's program to save the country's reputation as a technological leader.

Unbeknownst to JPL, von Braun and his team had also been developing their own satellite, but after some consideration, the Army decided that JPL would still provide the spacecraft. The result of that fateful decision was that JPL's focus shifted permanently -- from rockets to what sits on top of them.

Image above: The Juno-1 launch vehicle carrying Explorer 1 lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 10:48 p.m. EST on Jan. 31, 1958. Image credits: NASA.

The Army team had its orders to be ready for launch within 90 days. Thanks to its advance preparation, 84 days later, its satellite stood on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The spacecraft was launched at 10:48 p.m. EST on Friday, Jan. 31, 1958. An hour and a half later, a JPL tracking station in California picked up its signal transmitted from orbit. In keeping with the desire to portray the launch as the fulfillment of the U.S. commitment under the International Geophysical Year, the announcement of its success was made early the next morning at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, with Pickering, Van Allen and von Braun on hand to answer questions from the media.

Following the launch, the spacecraft was given its official name, Explorer 1. (In the following decades, nearly a hundred spacecraft would be given the designation "Explorer.") The satellite continued to transmit data for about four months, until its batteries were exhausted, and it ceased operating on May 23, 1958.

Later that year, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established by Congress, Pickering and Caltech worked to shift JPL away from its defense work to become part of the new agency. JPL remains a division of Caltech, which manages the laboratory for NASA.

Image above: A model of Explorer 1 is held high by (left to right) JPL Director William Pickering, James Van Allen, and Wernher von Braun at a late-night news conference announcing the launch of Explorer 1, held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The beginnings of U.S. space exploration were not without setbacks -- of the first five Explorer satellites, two failed to reach orbit. But the three that made it gave the world the first scientific discovery in space -- the Van Allen radiation belts. These doughnut-shaped regions of high-energy particles, held in place by Earth's magnetic field, may have been important in making Earth habitable for life. Explorer 1, with Van Allen's cosmic ray detector on board, was the first to detect this phenomenon, which is still being studied today.

In advocating for a civilian space agency before Congress after the launch of Explorer 1, Pickering drew on Van Allen's discovery, stating, "Dr. Van Allen has given us some completely new information about the radiation present in outer space....This is a rather dramatic example of a quite simple scientific experiment which was our first step out into space."

Explorer 1 re-entered Earth's atmosphere and burned up on March 31, 1970, after more than 58,000 orbits.

For more information about Explorer 1 and the 60 years of U.S. space exploration that have followed it, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Alan Buis, written by Preston Dyches.


mardi 23 janvier 2018

Dust Storms Linked to Gas Escape from Mars Atmosphere

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) / NASA - MAVEN Mission patch.

Jan. 23, 2018

Image above: Two 2001 images from the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter show a dramatic change in the planet's appearance when haze raised by dust-storm activity in the south became globally distributed. The images were taken about a month apart. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Some Mars experts are eager and optimistic for a dust storm this year to grow so grand it darkens skies around the entire Red Planet.

This biggest type of phenomenon in the environment of modern Mars could be examined as never before possible, using the combination of spacecraft now at Mars.

A study published this week based on observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) during the most recent Martian global dust storm -- in 2007 -- suggests such storms play a role in the ongoing process of gas escaping from the top of Mars' atmosphere. That process long ago transformed wetter, warmer ancient Mars into today's arid, frozen planet.

Graphic above: Rising air during a 2007 global dust storm on Mars lofted water vapor into the planet's middle atmosphere, researchers learned from data derived from observations by the Mars Climate Sounder instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Hampton Univ.

"We found there's an increase in water vapor in the middle atmosphere in connection with dust storms," said Nicholas Heavens of Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, lead author of the report in Nature Astronomy. "Water vapor is carried up with the same air mass rising with the dust."

A link between the presence of water vapor in Mars' middle atmosphere -- roughly 30 to 60 miles (50 to 100 kilometers) high -- and escape of hydrogen from the top of the atmosphere has been detected by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, but mainly in years without the dramatic changes produced in a global dust storm. NASA's MAVEN mission arrived at Mars in 2014 to study the process of atmosphere escape.

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution or MAVEN sapcecraft. Image Credit: NASA

"It would be great to have a global dust storm we could observe with all the assets now at Mars, and that could happen this year," said David Kass of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. He is a co-author of the new report and deputy principal investigator for the instrument that is the main source of data for it, MRO's Mars Climate Sounder.

Not all Mars watchers are thrilled with the idea of a global dust storm, which can adversely affect ongoing missions. For instance: Opportunity, as a solar powered rover, would have to hunker down to save energy; the upcoming InSight lander's parameters would need to be adjusted for safe entry, descent and landing in November; and all the cameras on rovers and orbiters would need to deal with low visibility.

Decades of Mars observations document a pattern of multiple regional dust storms arising during the northern spring and summer. In most Martian years, which are nearly twice as long as Earth years, all the regional storms dissipate and none swells into a global dust storm. But such expansion happened in 1977, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2007. The next Martian dust storm season is expected to begin this summer and last into early 2019.

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

The Mars Climate Sounder on MRO can scan the atmosphere to directly detect dust and ice particles and can indirectly sense water vapor concentrations from effects on temperature. Heavens and co-authors of the new paper report the sounder's data show slight increases in middle-atmosphere water vapor during regional dust storms and reveal a sharp jump in the altitude reached by water vapor during the 2007 global dust storm. Using recently refined analysis methods for the 2007 data, the researchers found an increase in water vapor by more than a hundred-fold in the middle atmosphere during that global storm.

Before MAVEN reached Mars, many scientists expected to see loss of hydrogen from the top of the atmosphere occurring at a rather steady rate, with variation tied to changes in the solar wind's flow of charged particles from the Sun. Data from MAVEN and Mars Express haven't fit that pattern, instead showing a pattern that appears more related to Martian seasons than to solar activity. Heavens and coauthors present the dust storms' hoisting of water vapor to higher altitudes as a likely key to the seasonal pattern in hydrogen escape from the top of the atmosphere. MAVEN observations during the stronger effects of a global dust storm could boost understanding of their possible link to the escape of gas from the atmosphere.

Related links:

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution):

Images (mentioned), Graphic (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laurie Cantillo/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Guy Webster.

Best regards,

CubeSats for hunting secrets in lunar darkness

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

23 January 2018

Imagine sending a spacecraft the size of an airline cabin bag to the Moon – what would you have it do? ESA issued that challenge to European teams last year, and two winners have now been chosen.

Detecting lunar impacts

The Lunar Meteoroid Impact Orbiter, or Lumio for short, would circle over the far side of the Moon to detect bright impact flashes during the lunar night, mapping meteoroid bombardments as they occur.

The other, the Lunar Volatile and Mineralogy Mapping Orbiter, or VMMO, would focus on a permanently shadowed crater near the lunar south pole, searching out deposits of water ice and other volatiles of interest to future colonists, while also measuring lunar radiation.

Hunting for ice

“It was a difficult process to select these final winners, because the high quality of all the concept studies we received – and especially our four semi-finalists,” explains Roger Walker, ESA’s technology CubeSat manager.

European companies, universities and research centres teamed up to design lunar missions to fit within the low-cost CubeSat standard – built up from 10 cm- cubes.

ESA design centre

Roger adds: “The idea behind our lunar CubeSat competition was challenging – up until now CubeSats have operated solely within Earth orbit. However, opportunities should open up to piggyback to the Moon in the coming decade, with circumlunar flights of the NASA–ESA Orion spacecraft and planned commercial flights.”

The two winners were chosen after final presentations within ESA’s advanced multimedia centre used to design all Agency missions. They now have the chance to work with ESA specialists on mission development during February and March.

Lunar impact detector

The impact-tracking Lumio is a single 12-unit CubeSat, conceived by a consortium including Politecnico di Milano; TU Delft, EPFL, S[&]T Norway, Leonardo-Finnmeccanica and the University of Arizona.

Orbiting a special point in space, Lumio’s sophisticated optical camera would detect impacts on the Moon’s far side. Such near-side flashes are mapped by telescopes on Earth during the night, but the Moon’s other face is a blind spot.

Away from the stray light of the terrestrial environment, very faint flashes should be detectable, improving our understanding of past and present meteoroid patterns across the Solar System. Such an observation system could also develop into a system offering early warning to future settlers. 


VMMO, developed by MPB Communications Inc, Surrey Space Centre, University of Winnipeg and Lens R&D, also adopts a 12-unit CubeSat design. Its miniaturised laser would probe its primary target of Shackleton Crater, adjacent to the South Pole, for measuring the abundance of water ice. The region inside the crater is in permanent darkness, allowing water molecules to condense and freeze there in the very cold conditions.

Scanning a 10 m-wide path, VMMO would take around 260 days to build a high-resolution map of water ice inside the 20 km-diameter crater. Its laser would also beam high-bandwidth data back to Earth through an optical communications experiment.

Lunar south pole

VMMO would also map lunar resources such as minerals as it overflew sunlit regions, as well as monitoring the distribution of ice and other volatiles across darkened areas to gain understanding of how condensates migrate across the surface during the two-week lunar night.

A secondary radiation-detecting payload would build up a detailed model of the radiation environment for the benefit of follow-on mission hardware – as well as human explorers.

Roger Walker: Space cubed – CubeSats for technology testing

“This competition – run through ESA’s SysNova Challenge scheme – has helped to bring together lunar and CubeSat specialists,” adds ESA’s Ian Carnelli. “This means Europe’s space sector should be more able to take advantages of such flight opportunities as they arise in future.”

The runner-up missions were the radiation-analysing MoonCARE and the far-side radio astronomy CLE.

Related links:

General Studies Programme:

ESA’s SysNova Challenge scheme:

Technology CubeSats:

Concurrent Design Facility:

Lunar exploration interactive guide:



Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/MPB Communications Inc/Surrey Space Centre/University of Winnipeg/Lens R&D/Politecnico di Milano/TU Delft/EPFL/S[&]T Norway/Leonardo-Finnmeccanica/University of Arizona.


NASA Astronauts Wrap Up First Spacewalk of 2018

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

January 23, 2018

Image above: File photo from a spacewalk last year repairing the space station's robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA.

Expedition 54 Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle of NASA completed the first spacewalk this year at 2:13 p.m. EST, lasting 7 hours, 24 minutes. The two astronauts replaced a Latching End Effector (LEE) on the station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2.

 Space Station Crew Walks in Space to Conduct Robotics Upgrades

There are two redundant end effectors on each end of the arm used to grapple visiting vehicles and components during a variety of operational activities. The spacewalk was the 206th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the third in Vande Hei’s career and the first for Tingle. Vande Hei will venture outside the station again Jan. 29 with Flight Engineer Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to stow a spare latching end effector removed from the robotic arm last October on to the station’s mobile base system rail car for future use.

Image above: Astronaut Joe Acaba (left) assists astronaut Scott Tingle during a fit check in his U.S. spacesuit. Image Credit: NASA.

Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 53 days, 13 hours, and 49 minutes working outside the station in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory.

Related links:

station’s mobile base system:

Expedition 54:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA TV), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,