vendredi 2 mars 2018

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Feb 26, 2018

ISS - Expedition 55 Mission patch.

March 2, 2018

Image above: This week, the Sally Ride EarthKAM aboard the International Space Station captured this image of the country of Mauritania, the 11th largest in Africa. Ninety percent of Mauritania lies within the Sahara Desert. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew members aboard the International Space Station put in many hours working on scientific investigations this week. Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov, Flight Engineers Scott Tingle of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency also took a day off after saying farewell to Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei. The three returned to Earth inside the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft Feb 27, landing in south central Kazakhstan at 9:31 p.m. EST.

Veteran NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel, along with cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev of Russian space agency Roscosmos, are scheduled for a March 21 launch to the station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft.

Image above: Crew members aboard the International Space Station have grown two batches of mixed greens (mizuna, red romaine lettuce and tokyo bekana cabbage), and are now running two Veggie facilities simultaneously. Image Credit: NASA.

Here are more details on some of the science that happened last week aboard your orbiting laboratory:

Blood sample collection continues

Cell-Free Epigenome, a JAXA study, collects blood samples from astronauts and analyzes them for cellular genes. Blood carries molecular signals released from cells inside the body, and this analysis gives scientists insight into how the human body functions during space flight. This week, crew members completed blood draws for the experiment.

Device installed to study almost-boiling liquids

Device for the study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization (DECLIC) is a multi-user facility for studying transparent media and their phase transitions in microgravity. This week, the crew installed and activated the DECLIC Alice-Like Insert-Refurbishment (DECLIC ALI-R), which studies liquids at the verge of boiling. Heat during boiling events flows in different ways in microgravity and on Earth, and understanding these heat flows helps scientists develop better cooling systems for use in microgravity.

Image above: This week, the crew relocated the LAB1P1 Internal Thermal Control System (ITCS), a reconfiguration that allows MTL rack flow control, which is required to support the Life Support Rack, arriving on HTV-7 later this year. Image Credit: NASA.

EarthKAM racked up thousands of images

The Sally Ride Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students (EarthKAM) investigation allowed students to remotely control a digital camera aboard the station to photograph interesting features on Earth. This week, crew shut down and stowed EarthKAM. In all, a total of 273 schools representing 21,417 students and 35 countries signed up to request images, 36,801 image requests were submitted, with 8,716 images downlinked and posted to the website

Other work was done on these investigations: Crew Earth Observations, BEAM,  Space Headaches, Lighting Effects, Transparent Alloys, DOSIS-3D, Manufacturing Device, VESSEL ID, Plant Gravity Perception, VEG-03, Rodent Research-6, Circadian Rhythms, Biochem Profile, Meteor, NICER, Two Phase Flow, Functional Immune, Marrow, and Cerebral Autoregulation.

Space to Ground: Home at Last: 03/02/2018

For opportunities to see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot the Station:

Related links:

Critical Liquids and Crystallization (DECLIC):

DECLIC Alice-Like Insert-Refurbishment (DECLIC ALI-R):


Crew Earth Observations:


Space Headaches:

Lighting Effects:

Transparent Alloys:


Manufacturing Device:


Plant Gravity Perception:


Rodent Research-6:

Circadian Rhythms:

Biochem Profile:



Two Phase Flow:

Functional Immune:


Cerebral Autoregulation:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/NASA Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 53 & 54.

Best regards,

Beaming with the Light of Millions of Suns

NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

March 2, 2018

In the 1980s, scientists started discovering a new class of extremely bright sources of X-rays in galaxies. These sources were a surprise, as they were clearly located away from the supermassive black holes found in the center of galaxies. At first, researchers thought that many of these ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs, were black holes containing masses between about a hundred and a hundred thousand times that of the sun. Later work has shown some of them may be stellar-mass black holes, containing up to a few tens of times the mass of the sun.

In 2014, observations with NASA's NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) and Chandra X-ray Observatory showed that a few ULXs, which glow with X-ray light equal in luminosity to the total output at all wavelengths of millions of suns, are even less massive objects called neutron stars. These are the burnt-out cores of massive stars that exploded. Neutron stars typically contain only about 1.5 times the mass of the sun. Three such ULXs were identified as neutron stars in the last few years. Scientists discovered regular variations, or "pulsations," in the X-ray emission from ULXs, behavior that is exhibited by neutron stars but not black holes.

Now, researchers using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have identified a fourth ULX as being a neutron star, and found new clues about how these objects can shine so brightly. The newly characterized ULX is located in the Whirlpool galaxy, also known as M51. This composite image of the Whirlpool contains X-rays from Chandra (purple) and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). The ULX is marked with a circle.

Neutron stars are extremely dense objects — a teaspoon would weigh more than a billion tons, as much as a mountain. The intense gravity of the neutron stars pulls surrounding material away from companion stars, and as this material falls toward the neutron star, it heats up and glows with X-rays. As more and more matter falls onto the neutron star, there comes a time when the pressure from the resulting X-ray light becomes so intense that it pushes the matter away. Astronomers call this point — when the objects typically cannot accumulate matter any faster and give off any more X-rays — the Eddington limit. The new result shows this ULX is surpassing the Eddington limit for a neutron star.

The scientists analyzed archival X-ray data taken by Chandra and discovered an unusual dip in the ULX's X-ray spectrum, which is the intensity of X-rays measured at different wavelengths. After ruling out other possibilities, they concluded that the dip was likely from a process called cyclotron resonance scattering, which occurs when charged particles — either positively charged protons or negatively charged electrons — circle around in a magnetic field. The size of the dip in the X-ray spectrum, called a cyclotron line, implies magnetic field strengths that are at least 10,000 times greater than those associated with matter spiraling into a stellar-mass black hole, but are within the range observed for neutron stars. This provides strong evidence that this ULX is a neutron star rather than a black hole, and is the first such identification that did not involve the detection of X-ray pulsations.

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Animation Credits: NASA/CXC

An accurate determination of the magnetic field strength depends on whether the cause of the cyclotron line, either protons or electrons, is known. If the line is from protons, then the magnetic fields around the neutron star are extremely strong, comparable to the strongest magnetic fields produced by neutron stars, and may in fact be helping to break the Eddington limit. Such strong magnetic fields could reduce the pressure from a ULX's X-rays — the pressure that normally pushes away matter — allowing the neutron star to consume more matter than expected.

If the cyclotron line is from circling electrons, by contrast, then the magnetic field strength around the neutron star would be about 10,000 times less strong, and thus not powerful enough for the flow onto this neutron star to break the Eddington limit.

The researchers currently don't have a spectrum of the new ULX with enough detail to determine the cyclotron line's origin. To further address this mystery, the researchers are planning to acquire more X-ray data on the ULX in M51 and look for cyclotron lines in other ULXs.

A paper describing this research, led by Murray Brightman of the California Institute of Technology, appears in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy. The other authors include F. Fürst of the European Space Astronomy Centre; M.J. Middleton of University of Southampton, United Kingdom; D.J. Walton and A.C. Fabian of University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; D. Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; M. Heida of Caltech; D. Barret of France's Centre national de la recherche scientifique and University of Toulouse; and M. Bachetti of Italy's Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

Image credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Caltech/M. Brightman et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI.

Eddington limit.:

Nature Astronomy issue:

Read More from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory:

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon.


Jovian 'Twilight Zone'

NASA - JUNO Mission patch.

March 2, 2018

This image captures the swirling cloud formations around the south pole of Jupiter, looking up toward the equatorial region.

NASA's Juno spacecraft took the color-enhanced image during its eleventh close flyby of the gas giant planet on Feb. 7 at 7:11 a.m. PST (10:11 a.m. EST). At the time, the spacecraft was 74,896 miles (120,533 kilometers) from the tops of Jupiter's clouds at 84.9 degrees south latitude.

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager. This image was created by reprocessing raw JunoCam data using trajectory and pointing data from the spacecraft. This image is one in a series of images taken in an experiment to capture the best results for illuminated parts of Jupiter's polar region.

To make features more visible in Jupiter's terminator -- the region where day meets night -- the Juno team adjusted JunoCam so that it would perform like a portrait photographer taking multiple photos at different exposures, hoping to capture one image with the intended light balance. For JunoCam to collect enough light to reveal features in Jupiter's dark twilight zone, the much brighter illuminated day-side of Jupiter becomes overexposed with the higher exposure.

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

More information about Juno is online at and

Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

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

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt.


Hayabusa2 has detected Ryugu

JAXA - Hayabusa-2 Mission patch.

March 2, 2018

On February 26, 2018, Hayabusa2 saw its destination -asteroid Ryugu- for the first time! The photographs were captured by the ONC-T (Optical Navigation Camera - Telescopic) onboard the spacecraft. Images were taken on February 26th.

The distance between Ryugu and Hayabusa2 when the images were taken is about 1.3 million km. Ryugu as seen from Hayabusa2 is in the direction of the constellation Pisces.

"Now that we see Ryugu, the Hayabusa2 project has shifted to the final preparation stage for arrival at the asteroid. There are no problems with the route towards Ryugu or the performance of the spacecraft, and we will be proceeding with maximum thrust," explains Project Manager, Yuichi Tsuda.

The ONC-T was developed under collaboration between JAXA, the University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, The University of Aizu, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).

More information:


Asteroid Explorer "Hayabusa2":

Images, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/National Research and Development Agency.


jeudi 1 mars 2018

Three Up, Three Down, Another Three Prepare for Launch

ISS - Expedition 55 Mission patch.

March 1, 2018

Image above: The next crew to launch to the International Space Station is the Expedition 55-56 crew. (From left) Drew Feustel, Oleg Artemyev and Ricky Arnold. Image Credits: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center/Andrey Shelepin and Irina Spektor.

Three Expedition 55 crew members are back to work today on the International Space Station, having taken a day off Wednesday following the landing of the three Expedition 54 crew members on Tuesday. The departing space residents are back on Earth, having returned to their homes less than a day after landing.

Now on board the station, Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov is leading Flight Engineers Scott Tingle of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The three crewmates have been onboard the orbital laboratory since Dec. 19 and are due to return to Earth June 3. They will greet a new set of Expedition 55-56 crew members on March 23.

Flying over South Atlantic Ocean seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'579 Km/h, altitude: 417,19 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam's from ISS on February 28, 2018 at 16:50 UTC.

Those new residents, Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos and NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel are in Star City, Russia completing training for their mission and will soon head to Kazakhstan for final launch preparations. They will blast off March 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome inside the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft for a two-day ride to their new home in space.

Related links:

Expedition 54:

Expedition 55:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Atlas V Launches With NOAA’s GOES-S Satellite

ULA - Atlas V / GOES-S Mission poster / NOAA & NASA - GOES-S Mission patch.

March 1, 2018

Image above: The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NOAA’s GOES-S satellite launched at 5:02 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo credit: NASA.

Booster ignition and liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 5:02 p.m. EST, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying NOAA’s GOES-S satellite. The rocket is on its way, carrying NOAA’s second in a series of four next-generation weather satellites.

Liftoff of GOES-S

About four minutes into flight, a series of key events occurs in rapid succession: Atlas booster engine cutoff, separation of the booster from the Centaur upper stage, ignition of the Centaur main engine for its first of two burns, then jettison of the payload fairing.

Image above: Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-S (GOES-S). Image Credits: NASA/NOAA.

NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-S (GOES-S) is the second in the GOES-R Series of weather satellites that includes GOES-R (now named GOES-16), -S, -T and -U. The GOES-S satellite will be renamed GOES-17 when it reaches geostationary orbit. Once the satellite is declared operational, late this year, it will occupy NOAA’s GOES-West position and provide faster, more accurate data for tracking wildfires, tropical cyclones, fog and other storm systems and hazards that threaten the western United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, Mexico, Central America and the Pacific Ocean, all the way to New Zealand.

More information about NOAA’s GOES satellites is available at

United Launch Alliance (ULA):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credit: NASA.


Hubble observes exoplanet atmosphere in more detail than ever before

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

1 March 2018

An international team of scientists has used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the atmosphere of the hot exoplanet WASP-39b. By combining this new data with older data they created the most complete study yet of an exoplanet atmosphere. The atmospheric composition of WASP-39b hints that the formation processes of exoplanets can be very different from those of our own Solar System giants.

Wasp-39b and its parent star (artist’s impression)

Investigating exoplanet atmospheres can provide new insight into how and where planets form around a star. “We need to look outward to help us understand our own Solar System,” explains lead investigator Hannah Wakeford from the University of Exeter in the UK and the Space Telescope Science Institute in the USA.

Therefore the British-American team combined the capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope with those of other ground- and space-based telescopes for a detailed study of the exoplanet WASP-39b. They have produced the most complete spectrum of an exoplanet’s atmosphere possible with present-day technology [1].

WASP-39b is orbiting a Sun-like star, about 700 light-years from Earth. The exoplanet is classified as a “Hot-Saturn”, reflecting both its mass being similar to the planet Saturn in our own Solar System and its proximity to its parent star. This study found that the two planets, despite having a similar mass, are profoundly different in many ways. Not only is WASP-39b not known to have a ring system, it also has a puffy atmosphere that is free of high-altitude clouds. This characteristic allowed Hubble to peer deep into its atmosphere.

By dissecting starlight filtering through the planet’s atmosphere [2] the team found clear evidence for atmospheric water vapour. In fact, WASP-39b has three times as much water as Saturn does. Although the researchers had predicted they would see water vapour, they were surprised by the amount that they found. This surprise, combined with the water abundance allowed to infer the presence of large amount of heavier elements in the atmosphere. This in turn suggests that the planet was bombarded by a lot of icy material which gathered in its atmosphere. This kind of bombardment would only be possible if WASP-39b formed much further away from its host star than it is right now.

Comprehensive Spectrum of WASP-39b

“WASP-39b shows exoplanets are full of surprises and can have very different compositions than those of our Solar System,” says co-author David Sing from the University of Exeter, UK.

The analysis of the atmospheric composition and the current position of the planet indicate that WASP-39b most likely underwent an interesting inward migration, making an epic journey across its planetary system. “Exoplanets are showing us that planet formation is more complicated and more confusing than we thought it was. And that’s fantastic!”, adds Wakeford.

Having made its incredible inward journey WASP-39b is now eight times closer to its parent star, WASP-39, than Mercury is to the Sun and it takes only four days to complete an orbit. The planet is also tidally locked, meaning it always shows the same side to its star. Wakeford and her team measured the temperature of WASP-39b to be a scorching 750 degrees Celsius. Although only one side of the planet faces its parent star, powerful winds transport heat from the bright side around the planet, keeping the dark side almost as hot.

“Hopefully this diversity we see in exoplanets will help us figure out all the different ways a planet can form and evolve,” explains David Sing.

Hubble Space Telescope

Looking ahead, the team wants to use the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope — scheduled to launch in 2019 — to capture an even more complete spectrum of the atmosphere of WASP-39b. James Webb will be able to collect data about the planet’s atmospheric carbon, which absorbs light of longer wavelengths than Hubble can see [3]. Wakeford concludes: “By calculating the amount of carbon and oxygen in the atmosphere, we can learn even more about where and how this planet formed.”


[1] Data used to produce the full spectrum was also collected by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ESO’s Very Large Telescope. In addition older data from Hubble were used.

[2] When starlight passes through the atmosphere of an exoplanet, it interacts with the atoms and molecules in it. This leaves a weak fingerprint of the atmosphere in the spectrum of the star. Certain peaks and troughs in the resulting spectrum correspond to specific atoms and molecules, allowing scientists to see exactly what gases make up the atmosphere.

[3] Given the large amount of heavy elements in WASP-39b’s atmosphere, Wakeford and her team predict that carbon dioxide will be the dominant form of carbon. This could be measured at a wavelength of 4.5 micrometres with James Webb’s NIRSpec instrument. Such follow-up investigations would allow further constraints to be placed on the ratio of carbon to oxygen, and on the metallicity of WASP-39b’s atmosphere.

More information:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of H.R. Wakeford (University of Exeter, UK; Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), D.K. Sing (University of Exeter, UK), D. Deming (University of Maryland, USA), N.K. Lewis (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), J. Goyal (University of Exeter, UK), T.J. Wilson (University of Exeter, UK), J. Barstow (University College London, UK), T. Kataria (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA), B. Drummond (University of Exeter, UK), T.M. Evans (University of Exeter, UK), A.L. Carter (University of Exeter, UK), N. Nikolov (University of Exeter, UK), H.A. Knutson (California Institute of Technology, USA), G.E. Ballester (University of Arizona, USA), A.M. Mandell (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA).


Images of Hubble:

Hubblesite release:

Science paper:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT):

NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope:

James Webb’s NIRSpec instrument:

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon and A. Feild (STScI), and H. Wakeford (STScI/Univ. of Exeter).

Best regards,

Mars Express views moons set against Saturn's rings

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

1 March 2018

New images and video from ESA’s Mars Express show Phobos and Deimos drifting in front of Saturn and background stars, revealing more about the positioning and surfaces of the Red Planet’s mysterious moons.

Phobos surface

Mars’ two small moons are intriguing objects. While we know something of their size, appearance and position thanks to spacecraft such as ESA’s Mars Express, much remains unknown. How and where did they form? What are they made of? What exactly is on their surfaces – and could we send a lander to find out?

Mars Express has been studying Mars and its moons for many years. The satellite recently observed both Phobos, Mars’ innermost and largest moon at up to 26 km in diameter, and Deimos, Phobos’ smaller sibling at 6.2 km in diameter, to produce this new video and series of images.

The video combines 30 images as individual frames and shows Phobos passing through the frame with the gas giant planet Saturn, which sits roughly a billion kilometres away, visible as a small ringed dot in the background.

Precise positioning

Phobos surface sequence

Mars Express has been working for more than 14 years at the Red Planet. While several other spacecraft are currently at Mars, including ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, Mars Express’ near-polar elliptical orbit gives it some advantages for certain observations.

In particular, its path takes it closer to Phobos than any other spacecraft, and allows it to periodically observe the moon close up from within 150 km – in the summer of 2017, it came as close as 115 km.

The images of Phobos and Saturn comprising the video were taken on 26 November 2016 by the High Resolution Stereo Camera. Mars Express was travelling at about 3 km/s when it obtained these views, highlighting the importance of knowing Phobos’ exact position: the spacecraft had just seconds to image the rocky body as it passed by.

Scientists repeatedly refine our knowledge of the moons’ positioning in the sky and ensure it is up-to-date by observing each moon against background reference stars and other Solar System bodies. These calculated positions are incredibly precise, and can be accurate to just a couple of kilometres.

Studying the surface

These images are also key to understanding the surface and structure of the moons. Alongside the view of Phobos set against Saturn, Mars Express also obtained images of Phobos against a reference star on 8 January 2018 (star circled in red), close-up images of Phobos’ pockmarked surface on 12 September 2017, and images of Deimos with Saturn on 15 January 2018.

Phobos and background star

The frames of Phobos’ surface were taken during close flybys, and show the bumpy, irregular and dimpled surface in detail. Phobos has one of the largest impact craters relative to body size in the Solar System: Stickney crater’s 9 km diameter is around a third of the moon’s diameter. It is visible as the largest crater in these frames.

The same side of the moon always faces the planet, which means multiple flybys are needed to build up a full map of its surface.

Deimos and Saturn

Deimos is visible as an irregular and partially shadowed body in the foreground of one of the new Mars Express images, with the delicate rings of Saturn just about visible encircling the small dot in the background.

Phobos and Saturn

Deimos is significantly further away from Mars than its bigger sibling: while Phobos sits at just 6000 km from the surface, Deimos orbits at nearly 23 500 km. For comparison, our own satellite is around 16 times further from Earth than Deimos is from Mars.

Future missions to Mars

There is much we still wish to know about the Mars system. The moons remain particularly mysterious, with open questions about their origins, formation and composition. As a result, combined with their proximity to the Red Planet, the little moons have generated a lot of interest as a target for future missions.

Mars Express

Phobos in particular has been considered for a possible landing and sample-return mission. Owing to its nearness to Mars and one side always facing its parent, the moon could also be a possible location for a more permanent observation post. This would enable long-term monitoring and study of the martian surface and atmosphere, and communications relay for other spacecraft.

Understanding more about the positioning, surface, composition and terrain of both Phobos and Deimos from Mars Express observations is important for preparing for future missions.

Related links:

ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO):

ESA’s Mars Express:


HRSC data viewer:

Mars Express overview:

Behind the lens...:

Frequently asked questions:

Mars Webcam:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Best regards,

mercredi 28 février 2018

Curiosity Tests a New Way to Drill on Mars

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

Feb. 28, 2018

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has conducted the first test of a new drilling technique on the Red Planet since its drill stopped working reliably.

Curiosity's New Drilling Technique

Video above: After more than a year without the use of the Curiosity Mars rover's drill, engineers have devised a workaround and tested it for the first time on the Red Planet. More testing of the drill method is planned for the future. Video Credits: NASA/JPL.

This early test produced a hole about a half-inch (1-centimeter) deep at a target called Lake Orcadie -- not enough for a full scientific sample, but enough to validate that the new method works mechanically. This was just the first in what will be a series of tests to determine how well the new drill method can collect samples. If this drill had achieved sufficient depth to collect a sample, the team would have begun testing a new sample delivery process, ultimately delivering to instruments inside the rover.

The drill is used for pulverizing rock samples into powder, which are then deposited into two of Curiosity's laboratory instruments, Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, and Chemistry and Mineralogy, or CheMin. Curiosity has used its drill to collect samples 15 times since landing in 2012. Then, in December of 2016, a key part of the drill stopped working. The drill was designed to use two finger-like stabilizers to steady itself against rock; a faulty motor prevented the drill bit from extending and retracting between these stabilizers.

After months of effort, Curiosity's engineering team was able to extend the drill all the way out past the stabilizers, but the motor issue persisted. The team posed a challenge for themselves: could they hack the space robot's drill so that it didn't require stabilizers?

Image above: NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used a new drill method to produce a hole on February 26 in a target named Lake Orcadie. The hole marks the first operation of the rover's drill since a motor problem began acting up more than a year ago. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Images of a new hole on upper Vera Rubin Ridge, Curiosity's current location, suggest this “MacGyvering” is paying off. By leaving the drill in an extended position, engineers were able to practice this freehand drilling for months during testing here on Earth. This hole at Lake Orcadie provides the first insights into how this operation will work in the Martian environment.

If the previous method was like a drill press, holding the bit steady as it extends into a surface, it's now more freehand. The NASA rover is using its entire arm to push the drill forward, re-centering itself while taking measurements with a force sensor. That sensor was originally included to stop the rover's arm if it received a high-force jolt. It now offers Curiosity a vital sense of touch, preventing the drill bit from drifting sideways too much and getting stuck in rock.

"We're now drilling on Mars more like the way you do at home," said Steven Lee, deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Humans are pretty good at re-centering the drill, almost without thinking about it. Programming Curiosity to do this by itself was challenging -- especially when it wasn't designed to do that."

It hasn't been easy. JPL engineers spent many double-shifts testing the new method, including on weekends and holidays. They also had to perform "invasive surgery" on their testbed -- a near-exact replica of Curiosity -- installing a force sensor to match the one on Mars. The Earth-based testbed's sensor had stopped working before Curiosity's launch in 2012, but there had never been reason to replace it before now.

"This is a really good sign for the new drilling method," said Doug Klein of JPL, one of Curiosity's sampling engineers. "Next, we have to drill a full-depth hole and demonstrate our new techniques for delivering the sample to Curiosity's two onboard labs."

Leaving the drill in its extended position means it no longer has access to a device that sieves, portions and delivers the rock powder to the rover's instruments (called Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis, or CHIMRA).

CHIMRA: Scoops, Sieves and Delivers Samples

Image above: This false-color engineering drawing shows the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device, attached to the turret at the end of the robotic arm on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. This device processes samples acquired from the built-in scoop (red) and the drill, which is not shown but is also part of the turret. CHIMRA also delivers samples to the analytical lab instruments inside the rover. Two paths to get material into CHIMRA are shown (the scoop delivers material to the location marked at the bottom, and the drill deposits material to the sample transfer tube shown at top). Also marked are the location of the vibration mechanism used to shake the turret and cause the sample to move inside CHIMRA, and the portion box (yellow) from which the material processed through a sieve is delivered to the analytical lab instruments. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

JPL also had to invent a new way to deposit the powder without this device. The new solution makes Curiosity look as though it is adding seasoning to its science, shaking out grains from the drill's bit as if it were tapping salt from a shaker.

This tapping has been successfully tested here on Earth -- but Earth's atmosphere and gravity are very different from that of Mars. Whether rock powder on Mars will fall out in the same volume and in a controlled way has yet to be seen.

In the days ahead, Curiosity's engineers will evaluate the results of this recent test and likely drill again nearby. If enough sample is collected, they will test portioning the sample out, using the rover's Mastcam to estimate how much powder can be shaken from the drill bit.

Though this first test of the drill didn't produce a full sample, Curiosity's science team is excited to see this step on the path back to routine drilling. There's high interest in getting multiple drilled samples from Vera Rubin Ridge, especially from the upper ridge that contains both gray and red rocks. The latter are rich in hematite, an iron oxide mineral that forms in the presence of water. Drilled samples might shed light on the origin of the ridge and the history of its interaction with water.

For more information about Curiosity, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Andrew Good.


XMM-Newton spies first clear X-ray flares from massive stellar lighthouse

ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

28 February 2018

In 2014, ESA's XMM-Newton spotted X-rays emanating from the massive star Rho Ophiuchi A and, last year, found these to ebb and flow periodically in the form of intense flares – both unexpected results. The team has now used ESO's Very Large Telescope to find that the star boasts a strong magnetic field, confirming its status as a cosmic lighthouse.

XMM-Newton view of massive star Rho Ophiuchi A

Image above: XMM-Newton view of massive star Rho Ophiuchi A. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton; I. Pillitteri (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo).

Stars like the Sun are known to produce strong X-ray flares, but massive stars appear to be very different. In stars upwards of eight solar masses X-ray emission is steady, and no such star had been confidently observed to repeatedly flare in this part of the spectrum – until recently.

In 2014, a team of scientists used ESA's XMM-Newton space observatory to observe a massive star named Rho Ophiuchi A. This star sits at the heart of the Rho Ophiuchi Dark Cloud, a nearby region known to be actively forming new stars. Surprisingly, the data showed an abundance of X-rays streaming out from the star, prompting the team to look closer.

"We observed the star with XMM-Newton for almost 40 hours and found something even more unexpected," says Ignazio Pillitteri of the INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo, Italy, and leader of the research team.

"Rather than a smooth, steady emission, the X-rays pulsed periodically outwards from Rho Ophiuchi A, varying over a period of roughly 1.2 days as the star rotated – like an X-ray lighthouse! This is quite a new phenomenon in stars bigger than the Sun."

X-ray flares from Rho Ophiuchi A

Animation above: X-ray flares from Rho Ophiuchi A. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton; I. Pillitteri (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo).

Rho Ophiuchi A is far hotter and more massive than our parent star. It remains unknown how X-rays are generated in such stellar heavyweights; one possibility is a strong intrinsic magnetism, which would be observable via signs of surface magnetism. However, how such a magnetic field would come to be – and how it would be linked to any X-ray emission – remains unclear.

"We guessed that there may be a giant active magnetic spot on the surface of Rho Ophiuchi A – a bit like a sunspot, only far bigger and more stable," adds Pillitteri.

"As the star rotates, this spot would come in and out of view, causing the observed pulsing X-rays. However, this idea was somewhat unlikely; spots on stars form when an interior magnetic field pops out to the surface, and we know that only one in ten massive stars has a measurable magnetic field."

Another way the pulsing 'lighthouse effect' could be created is via a lower-mass orbiting companion that added its own copious X-rays to the light attributed to Rho Ophiuchi A; this X-ray emission would vary in strength as the hypothetical smaller star crossed in front of and behind Rho Ophiuchi A during its 1.2-day orbit. The team also considered this possibility: that Rho Ophiuchi A could have a small, unseen, lower-mass companion in a very tight orbit.

"To find out one way or another, we rushed to get magnetic measurements of Rho Ophiuchi A using one of the largest ground-based telescopes in existence: ESO's Very Large Telescope," says Lida Oskinova of the University of Potsdam, Germany, a member of the international team that conducted the study.

"Excitingly, these measurements confirmed one of our predictions and showed that the X-rays are most likely linked to magnetic structures on the surface of the star."

These measurements were made in visible light using a technique known as spectropolarimetry, which involves studying various wavelengths of polarised light emanating from a star. The data showed Rho Ophiuchi A to have an intense magnetic field some 500 times stronger than that of the Sun.

"Such a strong field is easily capable of producing the kind of flares we spotted," says Pillitteri.

XMM-Newton. Image Credit: ESA

"This confirms that what we discovered using XMM-Newton were indeed X-ray flares on Rho Ophiuchi A, that massive stars can be magnetically active – as shown by the optical observations – and that this activity can be seen in X-rays."

The combined data indicate that Rho Ophiuchi A is the only star of its type to have a confirmed active magnetic region on its surface that emits X-rays. Hunting for similar behaviour in stars like Rho Ophiuchi A will help scientists to understand how prevalent this phenomenon is, and unravel more about the magnetic properties of such stars.

"This study is an important one in our exploration of massive stars – there's much we still don't understand about these objects," says Norbert Schartel, ESA XMM-Newton Project Scientist.

"Together, the extraordinary capabilities of XMM-Newton and the Very Large Telescope have now uncovered another piece of the puzzle."

"As a bonus, it illustrates the process of science very well – of finding something interesting or unusual, investigating and coming up with a few possible hypotheses, and following up with more observation to figure out which is correct. It's a wonderful example of an international collaboration between telescopes, both in orbit and on the ground, working together to explore and explain the phenomena we see throughout the cosmos."

Notes for editors:

These findings are described in three papers published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics: "Smooth X-ray variability from ρ Ophiuchi A+B: A strongly magnetized primary B2 star?" by Pillitteri et al. (2014), doi: 10.1051/0004-6361/201424243; "The early B-type star Rho Ophiuchi A is an X-ray lighthouse" by Pillitteri et al. (2017), doi: 10.1051/0004-6361/201630070; and "Detection of magnetic field in the B2 star ρ Oph A with ESO FORS2" by Pillitteri et al. (2018), doi: 10.1051/0004-6361/201732078.

More information about ESA's XMM-Newton mission can be found here:

The optical observations were performed using the FOcal Reducer/low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) instrument on the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, located in Chile.

Images (Mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESA/Norbert Schartel/Institute of Physics and Astronomy, University of Potsdam/Lida Oskinova/INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo/Ignazio Pillitteri.

Best regards,

Touchdown! Three Expedition 54 Crewmates Back on Earth

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-06 Mission patch.

February 28, 2018

Three members of the Expedition 54 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS), including NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, have returned to Earth after months of performing research and spacewalks in low-Earth orbit.

Vande Hei, Acaba and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos landed at 9:31 p.m. EST (8:31 a.m. Feb. 28 in Kazakhstan) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

 Soyuz With Expedition 54 Trio Aboard Returns to Earth

Image above: The Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 54 crew members Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei of NASA and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 (Feb. 27 Eastern time). Acaba, Vande Hei, and Misurkin are returning after 168 days in space where they served as members of the Expedition 53 and 54 crews onboard the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Their time on station marked the beginning of the first long-term increase in crew size on the U.S. segment, enabling NASA to double the time dedicated to research and achieve a record-setting week of research that surpassed 100 hours. Highlights from this research include investigations into the manufacturing of fiber optic filaments in microgravity, improving the accuracy of an implantable glucoses biosensor, and measuring the Sun’s energy input to Earth.

Soyuz MS-06 hatch closure, undocking & landing

The crew also welcomed four cargo spacecraft delivering several tons of supplies and research experiments. Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived at the station in November on the company’s eighth commercial resupply mission, followed in December by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on the company’s thirteenth resupply mission. Two Russian ISS Progress cargo craft arrived at the station in October and February.

Vande Hei logged 168 days in space on this, his first, mission. He ventured outside the space station on four spacewalks to perform work that included replacing and lubricating the Latching End Effectors on both ends of the Canadarm2. Acaba completed one spacewalk to lubricate an end effector and install new cameras on the station’s arm and truss. He now has accrued 306 days in space on three flights. Acaba and Vande Hei also participated in dozens of educational events while in space as part of NASA’s Year of Education on Station.

Image above: NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei relax after their return trip from the International Space Station to their landing site southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, where they touched down at 9:31 p.m. EST Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Misurkin conducted one record-setting spacewalk with fellow cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to replace an electronics box for a high-gain communications antenna on the Zvezda service module in February. The spacewalk timed out at 8 hours and 13 minutes, the longest in Russian space program history. Misurkin now has spent 334 days in space on two flights.

Now operating the station are Expedition 55 crew members Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Flight Engineers Scott Tingle of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel of NASA, and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos are scheduled to launch March 21 and arrive at the space station two days later, returning the crew size to six.

Related links:

Fiber optic filaments:

Glucoses biosensor:

Sun’s energy input to Earth:

NASA’s Year of Education on Station:

Expedition 54:

Expedition 55:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Sarah Loff/Mark Garcia/NASA TV/ROSCOSMOS/SciNews.


mardi 27 février 2018

JAXA - Reconnaissance satellite launched by H-2A rocket

JAXA - Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency logo.

February 27, 2018

Image above: A Japanese reconnaissance satellite rode to orbit Tuesday aboard the country's H-IIA carrier rocket. Liftoff, from the Tanegashima Space Centre.

A Japanese H-2A rocket launched Tuesday with a clandestine government-owned satellite to collect sharp-eyed views of North Korea’s missile developments and other global hotspots.

The 174-foot-tall (53-meter) rocket fired its hydrogen-fueled LE-7A main engine and two solid rocket boosters at 0434 GMT Tuesday (11:34 p.m. EST Monday) to fire into space from the Tanegashima Space Center, a launch base carved into a rocky oceanfront outcrop on an island off Japan’s southwestern coast.

Propelled by 1.4 million pounds of thrust, the H-2A rocket climbed through a clear afternoon sky at Tanegashima, where launch occurred at 1:34 p.m. local time Tuesday.

Japanese H-2A Rocket Launches IGS Optical 6 Earth Observation Satellite

The two solid rocket boosters consumed their pre-packed propellants in less than two minutes before falling away to plummet into the Pacific Ocean. The H-2A’s nose shroud jettisoned around four minutes after liftoff, followed by shutdown of the rocket’s first stage engine around six-and-a-half minutes into the flight.

An upper stage LE-5B engine, also burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, ignited to send Japan’s newest Information Gathering Satellite into an orbit that will take it around Earth over the poles.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the H-2A rocket’s main contractor, did not provide a live video webcast of the mission. But news media and other spectators near the launch pad streamed the launch live online, and announcements over loudspeakers at the Tanegashima press site confirmed separation of the IGS Optical 6 satellite in orbit.

IGS Optical 6 Earth Observation Satellite

The spacecraft’s specifications, including its imaging performance, are kept secret by the Japanese government. But the government has acknowledged the satellite will join a fleet of Information Gathering Satellites operated by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which reports directly to the Japanese government’s executive leadership.

Tuesday’s mission was the 38th flight of an H-2A rocket, and the 12th time an H-2A launcher has lifted off with an Information Gathering Satellite, a record that includes one launch failure. The H-2A rocket flew in the basic “202” configuration with two strap-on solid rocket boosters. Heavier satellites launching on the H-2A sometimes need four boosters to reach orbit.

For more information about Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: JAXA/Spaceflight Now/Stephen Clark/Julian Danzer.


Expedition 54 Trio Undocks from Station, Begins Ride Home

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-06 Mission patch.

February 27, 2018

Image above: Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov (foreground) says farewell to his Expedition 54 crewmates inside the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft that will return them to Earth today. Image Credit: NASA TV.

NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba and Commander Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos undocked from the International Space Station at 6:08 p.m. EST to begin their voyage home to Earth.

The deborbit burn is targeted for 8:38 p.m., and will lead to a landing at 9:31 p.m. NASA Television coverage of deorbit and landing begins at 8 p.m. Watch their return to Earth online at NASA website.

Their time on station marked the beginning of the first long-term increase in crew size on the U.S. segment from three people to four, enabling NASA to double the time dedicated to research and achieve a record-setting week of research that surpassed 100 hours. Highlights from this research include investigations into the manufacturing of fiber optic filaments in microgravity, improving the accuracy of an implantable glucoses biosensor, and measuring the Sun’s energy input to Earth.

Image above. Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft in free flight after undocked International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA TV.

This mission was the first spaceflight for Vande Hei, the second for Misurkin, and the third for Acaba. Their cumulative time in space, respectively, is 168 days, 334 days, and 306 days.

With the undocking, Expedition 55 has now begun aboard the station with Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos as the Commander and Flight Engineers Scott Tingle of NASA, and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Three additional crew members arrive on March 23. Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel of NASA and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 21 for a two-day journey to join Expedition 55 on station.

Related links:


Fiber optic filaments:

Implantable glucoses biosensor:

Sun’s energy input to Earth:

Expedition 54:

Expedition 55:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

lundi 26 février 2018

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Feb 19, 2018

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

Feb. 26, 2018

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

In addition to many hours of scientific investigations, crew members aboard the International Space Station spent the week preparing for the departure of Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei, who will return to Earth next week.

Take a more detailed look at some of the science that happened last week aboard your orbiting laboratory:

Plant Habitat continues grow-out of two separate species of plant

Understanding how plants grow and thrive in harsh environments, both on Earth and in space, is important for advancements in agriculture. The Advanced Plant Habitat Facility (Plant Habitat) is a fully automated facility used to conduct plant bioscience research and provides a large, enclosed, environmentally controlled chamber aboard the space station.

Image above: NASA astronaut Joe Acaba works within the EMCS as a part of the Gravity Perception Systems (Plant Gravity Perception) investigation. Plant Gravity Perception studies plants’ gravity and light perception in the microgravity environment of the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

For the past five weeks, the Plant Habitat has been performing a validation grow-out of 2 different species of plants, Arabidopsis and dwarf wheat.

Facility prepared for arrival of new investigation

Mouse Stress Defense, a JAXA investigation, examines how Nuclear factor-like 2 (Nrf2), a protein that controls the rate of transcription of genetic information, contributes to effective prevention against the space-originated stressors.

Image above: NASA astronaut Scott Tingle works within the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) as part of the ACME-CLD FLAME investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

This week, crew members prepared the Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF) for the arrival of the investigation. The CBEF is used in various life science experiments and consists of an incubator and control equipment for control and communications.

Igniter tip replaced as a part of the ACME investigation

The Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment (ACME) investigation is a set of five independent studies of gaseous flames to be conducted in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR), one of which being Coflow Laminar Diffusion Flame (CLD Flame). ACME’s goals are to improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollutant production in practical combustion on Earth, and to improve spacecraft fire prevention through innovative research focused on materials flammability.

This week, the crew successfully partially removed the ACME chamber insert from the combustion chamber, replaced a burned out igniter tip and reinstalled the chamber insert.

Crew members monitor potential changes in blood vessels and heart

As humans get older, arteries stiffen, causing an increase in blood pressure and elevating the risk for cardiovascular disease. Recently, it has been observed that some crew members returning from the space station have much stiffer arteries than when they went into space. The Cardiac and Vessel Structure and Function with Long-Duration Space Flight and Recovery (Vascular Echo) investigation examines changes in crew members’ blood vessels and heart, while in space and upon their return home, following them through their recovery. The results could provide insight into potential countermeasures to help maintain crew member health, and quality of life for those on Earth.

Image above: NASA astronaut with a saliva sample, taken as a part of the Functional Immune investigation. Functional Immune studies previously uninvestigated areas of the body’s immune response and if spaceflight alters a crew member’s susceptibility to disease. Image Credit: NASA.

This week, crew members conducted scanning activities using Electrocardiography (ECG) and leg cuffs before transferring information to ground teams for analysis.

Space to Ground: Successful Spacewalk: 02/23/2018

Other work was done on these investigations: Crew Earth Observations, BEAM, EMCS, MagVector, Space Headaches, Lighting Effects, Transparent Alloys, DOSIS-3D, EIISS, Manufacturing Device, VESSEL ID, Plant Gravity Perception, VEG-03, EarthKAM, Rodent Research-6, Circadian Rhythms, Biochem Profile, Meteor, BioLab, NICER, Two Phase Flow, Functional Immune, Marrow, Cerebral Autoregulation, and DreamXCG.

Related links:

Plant Habitat:

Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF):

Advanced Combustion Microgravity Experiment (ACME):

Combustion Integration Rack (CIR):

Coflow Laminar Diffusion Flame (CLD Flame):

Vascular Echo:

Crew Earth Observations:




Space Headaches:

Lighting Effects:

Transparent Alloys:



Manufacturing Device:


Plant Gravity Perception:



Rodent Research-6:

Circadian Rhythms:

Biochem Profile:




Two Phase Flow:

Functional Immune:


Cerebral Autoregulation:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 53 & 54.

Best regards,