vendredi 15 juin 2018

A Refreshing Increase in Access to the Orbiting Lab

ISS - International Space Station logo.

June 15, 2018

A new, simple and cost-effective way to conduct experiments and test technology aboard the International Space Station offers another option to make space more accessible for out-of-this-world research. 

A partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Space Application Services (SpaceAps) tests a new system for conducting research in space that lowers several barriers, including cost, development time and support. The International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service, combines a sliding framework permanently installed in the space station’s Columbus module with “plug-and-play” Experiment Cubes. The easy to install and remove Experiment Cubes come in different sizes and often can be built with commercial off-the-shelf components, significantly reducing the cost and time to develop experiments. A ground model allows for integrated tests to verify all interface requirements and operational procedures.

Image above: Preparation of the experiment cubes for the International Commercial Experiment, or ICE Cubes Service. Image Credit: Space Applications Services.

“The idea is to provide fast, direct and affordable access to space for research, technology and education for any organization or customer,” says Hilde Stenuit of SpaceAps, which designed and developed the facility and made it flight-ready for recent delivery to the orbiting laboratory.

Following successful validation of the facility, the plan is to send the first batch of experiments using the system to the space station on an upcoming flight. These include a greenhouse used to observe plant growth rate and morphology under different lighting cycles in microgravity, an investigation of the effects of microgravity on bacteria in order to determine the feasibility of using the microorganisms to produce methane, and a kaleidoscope activated from the ground as a dynamic interactive art event.

SpaceAps, which has more than 30 years of experience developing and coordinating experiments for ESA research, provides service support to users of ICE Cubes. Researchers can monitor and control their orbiting Experiment Cubes in near real-time, from their own facilities, using the complimentary mission control software provided by SpaceAps.

Image above: The sliding framework permanently installed in the Columbus module for “plug-and-play” Experiment Cubes. Image Credit: Space Applications Services.

Ice Cubes Service plans to offer rides on launches approximately every four months, allowing experiments to run for shorter or longer time periods, an important feature for potential commercial users. Use of the system includes astronaut time and expert advice.

“There are many benefits of doing research without the influence of gravity,” Stenuit says. “Removing gravity unveils effects not previously observed or not observable on Earth, allowing research that cannot possibly be done in terrestrial laboratories.”

ICE Cubes reduces the preparation time for launch and offers users one point of contact and a simple, fixed pricing policy.

Image above: An Experiment Cube installed in the ICE Cubes Facility (ICF) in the Columbus European Physiology Module (EPM) rack. Image Credit: NASA.

The system supports both fundamental and applied research in a wide range of disciplines, from pharmaceutical development to experiments on stem cells, radiation, and microbiology, fluid sciences and more. It provides the opportunity to conduct testing and validation of space technologies and processes in a true space environment. Because ICE Cubes can accommodate free-floating experiments in the ESA Columbus module, it can even be used to test guidance, navigation and docking equipment. The system also can support education experiments and demonstrations to inspire future generations of scientists and explorers.

In short, ICE Cubes removes many barriers that limit access to space, providing more people access to flight opportunities.

An international partnership of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada, the space station facilitates growth of a robust commercial market in low-Earth orbit, operating as a microgravity laboratory for scientific research and technology demonstrations under conditions not available on Earth.

Related links:

ICE Cubes Service:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Melissa Gaskill.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of June 11, 2018

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of June 11, 2018

June 15, 2018

Scientific work continued aboard the International Space Station this week, as crew members collected biological samples, observed crystal growth, tested grip force, and more.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency (ESA), and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos recently joined Expedition 56 and began pitching in on these and other science tasks.

Here are more details on this week’s scientific work aboard your orbiting laboratory:

Crystal close-ups

Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-7 (ACE-T-7) investigates self-assembled colloids, which are complex three-dimensional structures made from small particles suspended within a fluid medium. These are vital to design of advanced optical materials and active devices.

Image above: NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold performs maintenance on the Advanced Colloids Experiment Module located inside the Light Microscopy Module, a modified commercial, highly flexible, state-of-the-art light imaging microscope facility that provides researchers with powerful diagnostic hardware and software in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

Activity on ACE-T-7 this week included mixing of Capillaries 1, 2 and 3 based on observed crystal formation. Science imaging of all three capillaries continues, as well as adjusting camera settings on Capillary 1 to optimize surface crystal images.

That feeling in your gut

Fecal samples were collected for JAXA’s Multi-Omics experiment and placed in the Minus Eighty-Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). Crew also collected saliva samples for the investigation.

Multi-Omics evaluates how the space environment and prebiotics affect an astronauts’ immune function, combining data on changes in the gut microbial composition, metabolites profiles, and the immune system.

Get a grip

Image above: Astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency conducts part of the GRIP investigation, which tests how spaceflight affects grip force and upper limb movements. Image Credit: NASA.

The European Space Agency’s GRIP investigation studies the effects of long-duration spaceflight and the forces of gravity and inertia on grip force and upper limb movements during manipulation of objects. Results may provide insight into potential hazards as astronauts move between different gravitational environments, as well as support design and control of human-computer interactions in challenging environments such as space. Information from the investigation also could be useful for rehabilitation of impaired upper limb control as a result of neurological diseases in patients on Earth.

This week, the crew completed the third of three GRIP operations in the supine position, or lying down facing up.

Blood, breath, and no tears

Image above: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor preparing to conduct air sampling for the Marrow investigation, a study of microgravity’s effect on bone marrow and the blood cells it produces. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew collected breath and blood samples for CSA’s Marrow investigation, which looks at the effect of microgravity on bone marrow. It is believed that microgravity has a negative effect on the bone marrow and the blood cells produced in bone marrow, similar to the effects of long-duration bed rest on Earth.

This week also included collection of blood samples for JAXA’s CFE and Medical Proteomics investigations, Vascular Echo, Functional Immune and Probiotics.

Space to Ground: Enhancing the View: 06/15/2018

Other work was done on these investigations: Atomization, Nanoracks/Barrios PCG, CEO, ASIM, Microbial Tracking 2, Plant Habitat, Area PADLES, Veggie/PONDS, HDEV, JEM Camera Robot, Vascular Echo, Functional Immune, Probiotics, and CAL.

Related links:

Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature-7 (ACE-T-7):

JAXA’s Multi-Omics:

Minus Eighty-Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI):

European Space Agency’s GRIP:

CSA’s Marrow:

Vascular Echo:

Functional Immune:



Nanoracks/Barrios PCG:



Microbial Tracking 2:

Plant Habitat:




JEM Camera Robot:


Spot the Station:

Expedition 56:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist (Acting) Expeditions 55 & 56.

Best regards,

Record-Setting NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Retires

NASA logo.

June 15, 2018

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space, is retiring from the agency, effective Friday.

“Peggy Whitson is a testament to the American spirit,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Her determination, strength of mind, character, and dedication to science, exploration, and discovery are an inspiration to NASA and America. We owe her a great debt for her service and she will be missed. We thank her for her service to our agency and country.”

Whitson, a native of Beaconsfield, Iowa, first came to NASA in 1986 as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. She served in a number of scientific roles, including project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program and co-chair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group, before her selection to the astronaut corps in 1996.

“It has been the utmost honor to have Peggy Whitson represent our entire NASA Flight Operations team,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson. “She set the highest standards for human spaceflight operations, as well as being an outstanding role model for women and men in America and across the globe. Godspeed, Peg.”

As an astronaut, Whitson completed three long-duration missions to the International Space Station, setting records on each. She made her first trip in 2002 as part of Expedition 5, during which she took part in 21 science investigations and became NASA’s first space station science officer. In 2008, Whitson returned on Expedition 16 and became the first female commander of the space station.

During her most recent mission, spanning Expeditions 50, 51 and 52 from November 2016 to September 2017, Whitson became the first woman to command the space station twice (Expedition 51). She also claimed the title for most spacewalks by a woman – 10 spacewalks totaling 60 hours and 21 minutes – and set the record for most time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut at 665 days.

Whitson’s time on the ground at NASA was no less groundbreaking. She served as chief of the astronaut corps from 2009 to 2012, becoming both the first woman to hold the position and the first non-military astronaut corps chief.

“Peggy is a classmate and a friend, and she will be deeply missed,” said Pat Forrester, current chief of the Astronaut Office. “Along with her record setting career, she leaves behind a legacy of her passion for space.”

Find Whitson’s complete biography at:

First female commander at ISS:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Stephanie Schierholz/Sean Potter/JSC/Brandi Dean.


Bang and Whoosh!

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

June 15, 2018

This HiRISE image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captures a new, dated (within about a decade) impact crater that triggered a slope streak. When the meteoroid hit the surface and exploded to make the crater, it also destabilized the slope and initiated this avalanche.

The crater itself is only 5 meters across, but the streak it started is 1 kilometer long! Slope streaks are created when dry dust avalanches leave behind dark swaths on dusty Martian hills. The faded scar of an old avalanche is also visible to the side of the new dark streak.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.


Major work starts to boost the luminosity of the LHC

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

15 Jun 2018

Image above: Civil works have begun on the ATLAS and CMS sites to build new underground structures for the High-Luminosity LHC. (Image: Julien Ordan / CERN).

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is officially entering a new stage. Today, a ground-breaking ceremony at CERN celebrates the start of the civil-engineering work for the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC): a new milestone in CERN’s history. By 2026 this major upgrade will have considerably improved the performance of the LHC, by increasing the number of collisions in the large experiments and thus boosting the probability of the discovery of new physics phenomena.

The LHC started colliding particles in 2010. Inside the 27-km LHC ring, bunches of protons travel at almost the speed of light and collide at four interaction points. These collisions generate new particles, which are measured by detectors surrounding the interaction points. By analysing these collisions, physicists from all over the world are deepening our understanding of the laws of nature.

While the LHC is able to produce up to 1 billion proton-proton collisions per second, the HL-LHC will increase this number, referred to by physicists as “luminosity”, by a factor of between five and seven, allowing about 10 times more data to be accumulated between 2026 and 2036. This means that physicists will be able to investigate rare phenomena and make more accurate measurements. For example, the LHC allowed physicists to unearth the Higgs boson in 2012, thereby making great progress in understanding how particles acquire their mass. The HL-LHC upgrade will allow the Higgs boson’s properties to be defined more accurately, and to measure with increased precision how it is produced, how it decays and how it interacts with other particles. In addition, scenarios beyond the Standard Model will be investigated, including supersymmetry (SUSY), theories about extra dimensions and quark substructure (compositeness).

“The High-Luminosity LHC will extend the LHC’s reach beyond its initial mission, bringing new opportunities for discovery, measuring the properties of particles such as the Higgs boson with greater precision, and exploring the fundamental constituents of the universe ever more profoundly,” said CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti.

The HL-LHC project started as an international endeavour involving 29 institutes from 13 countries. It began in November 2011 and two years later was identified as one of the main priorities of the European Strategy for Particle Physics, before the project was formally approved by the CERN Council in June 2016. After successful prototyping, many new hardware elements will be constructed and installed in the years to come. Overall, more than 1.2 km of the current machine will need to be replaced with many new high-technology components such as magnets, collimators and radiofrequency cavities. 

Image above: Prototype of a quadrupole magnet for the High-Luminosity LHC. (Image: Robert Hradil, Monika Majer/

The secret to increasing the collision rate is to squeeze the particle beam at the interaction points so that the probability of proton-proton collisions increases. To achieve this, the HL-LHC requires about 130 new magnets, in particular 24 new superconducting focusing quadrupoles to focus the beam and four superconducting dipoles. Both the quadrupoles and dipoles reach a field of about 11.5 tesla, as compared to the 8.3 tesla dipoles currently in use in the LHC. Sixteen brand-new “crab cavities” will also be installed to maximise the overlap of the proton bunches at the collision points. Their function is to tilt the bunches so that they appear to move sideways – just like a crab.

Another key ingredient in increasing the overall luminosity in the LHC is to enhance the machine’s availability and efficiency. For this, the HL-LHC project includes the relocation of some equipment to make it more accessible for maintenance. The power converters of the magnets will thus be moved into separate galleries, connected by new innovative superconducting cables capable of carrying up to 100 kA with almost zero energy dissipation.

“Audacity underpins the history of CERN and the High-Luminosity LHC writes a new chapter, building a bridge to the future,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Frédérick Bordry. “It will allow new research and with its new innovative technologies, it is also a window to the accelerators of the future and to new applications for society.”

To allow all these improvements to be carried out, major civil-engineering work at two main sites is needed, in Switzerland and in France. This includes the construction of new buildings, shafts, caverns and underground galleries. Tunnels and underground halls will house new cryogenic equipment, the electrical power supply systems and various plants for electricity, cooling and ventilation.

The road to High Luminosity: what's next for the LHC?

Video above: The LHC will receive a major upgrade and transform into the High-Luminosity LHC over the coming years. But what does this mean and how will its goals be achieved? Find out in this video featuring several people involved in the project. (Video: Polar Media/CERN.).

During the civil engineering work, the LHC will continue to operate, with two long technical stop periods that will allow preparations and installations to be made for high luminosity alongside yearly regular maintenance activities. After completion of this major upgrade, the LHC is expected to produce data in high-luminosity mode from 2026 onwards. By pushing the frontiers of accelerator and detector technology, it will also pave the way for future higher-energy accelerators.


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

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

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

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC):

Supersymmetry (SUSY):

Higgs boson:

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

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Corinne Pralavorio.

Best regards,

jeudi 14 juin 2018

NASA Encounters the Perfect Storm for Science

JPL - Jet Propulsion Laboratory logo.

June 13, 2018

Animation above: This set of images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a fierce dust storm is kicking up on Mars, with rovers on the surface indicated as icons. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

One of the thickest dust storms ever observed on Mars has been spreading for the past week and a half. The storm has caused NASA's Opportunity rover to suspend science operations, but also offers a window for four other spacecraft to learn from the swirling dust.

NASA has three orbiters circling the Red Planet, each equipped with special cameras and other atmospheric instruments. Additionally, NASA's Curiosity rover has begun to see an increase in dust at its location in Gale Crater.

"This is the ideal storm for Mars science," said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. "We have a historic number of spacecraft operating at the Red Planet. Each offers a unique look at how dust storms form and behave -- knowledge that will be essential for future robotic and human missions."

Dusty With a Chance of Dust

Dust storms are a frequent feature on Mars, occurring in all seasons. Occasionally, they can balloon into regional storms in a matter of days, and sometimes even expand until they envelop the planet. These massive, planet-scaled storms are estimated to happen about once every three to four Mars years (six to eight Earth years); the last one was in 2007. They can last weeks, or even months at the longest.

The current storm above Opportunity, which is still growing, now blankets 14 million square miles (35 million square kilometers) of Martian surface -- about a quarter of the planet.

Image above: These two views from NASA’s Curiosity rover, acquired specifically to measure the amount of dust inside Gale Crater, show that dust has increased over three days from a major Martian dust storm. The left-hand image shows a view of the east-northeast rim of Gale Crater on June 7, 2018 (Sol 2074); the right-hand image shows a view of the same feature on June 10, 2018 (Sol 2077). The images were taken by the rover’s Mastcam. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

All dust events, regardless of size, help shape the Martian surface. Studying their physics is critical to understanding the ancient and modern Martian climate, said Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"Each observation of these large storms brings us closer to being able to model these events -- and maybe, someday, being able to forecast them," Zurek said. "That would be like forecasting El Niño events on Earth, or the severity of upcoming hurricane seasons."

The thin atmosphere makes these storms vastly different from anything encountered on Earth: Despite the drama of "The Martian," the most powerful surface winds encountered on Mars would not topple a spacecraft, although they can sand-blast dust particles into the atmosphere.


Members of NASA's spacecraft "family" at Mars often help each other out. The agency's orbiters regularly relay data from NASA's rovers back to Earth. Orbiters and rovers also offer different perspectives on Martian terrain, allowing their science to complement one another.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a special role, acting as an early warning system for weather events such as the recent storm. It was the orbiter's wide-angle camera, called the Mars Color Imager, that offered the Opportunity team a heads up about the storm. This imager, built and operated by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, can create daily global maps of the planet that track how storms evolve, not unlike weather satellites that track hurricanes here on Earth.

Image above: This series of images shows simulated views of a darkening Martian sky blotting out the Sun from NASA’s Opportunity rover’s point of view, with the right side simulating Opportunity’s current view in the global dust storm (June 2018). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU.

NASA's two other orbiters -- 2001 Mars Odyssey and MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) -- also provide unique science views. Odyssey has an infrared camera called THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System) that can measure the amount of dust below it; MAVEN is designed to study the behavior of the upper atmosphere and the loss of gas to space.

Science happens on the ground as well, of course. Despite being on the other side of the planet from the evolving dust storm, NASA's Curiosity rover is beginning to detect increased "tau," the measure of the veil of dusty haze that blots out sunlight during a storm. As of Tuesday, June 12, the tau inside Gale Crater was varying between 1.0 and 2.0 -- figures that are average for dust season, though these levels usually show up later in the season.

Fortunately, Curiosity has a nuclear-powered battery. That means it doesn't face the same risk as the solar-powered Opportunity.

The Next Big One?

Since 2007, Mars scientists have been patiently waiting for a planet-encircling dust event -- less precisely called a "global" dust storm, though the storms never truly cover the entire globe of Mars. In 1971, one of these storms came close, leaving just the peaks of Mars' Tharsis volcanoes poking out above the dust.

Image above: This graphic shows the ongoing contributions of NASA’s rovers and orbiters during a Martian dust storm that began on May 30, 2018. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The most recent dust storm is the earliest ever observed in the northern hemisphere of Mars, said Bruce Cantor of Malin Space Science Systems, deputy principal investigator for the Mars Color Imager. But it could take several more days before anyone can tell whether the storm is encircling the planet.

If it does "go global," the storm will offer a brand new look at Martian weather. Four spacecraft stand ready to collect the science that shakes out.

Fine Print

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Exploration Rover mission; the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover; the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project; and the 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Image above: This graphic shows how the energy available to NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars (in watt-hours) depends on how clear or opaque the atmosphere is (measured in a value called tau). When the tau value (blue) is high, the rover’s power levels (yellow) drop. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/New Mexico Museum of Natural History.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the Odyssey, MRO and MAVEN projects, having developed and built all three orbiters. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL for Odyssey and MRO, and jointly with the GSFC for MAVEN.

The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) was developed by Arizona State University, Tempe, in collaboration with Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing. The THEMIS investigation is led by Philip Christensen at Arizona State University.

Related articles:

Shades of Martian Darkness

Opportunity Hunkers Down During Dust Storm

For more updates about the Martian dust storm visit:

For more information about NASA's Mars missions, visit:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

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


Spacewalkers Complete HD Camera Installation Work

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

June 14, 2018

Image above: Spacewalkers Ricky Arnold (left) and Drew Feustel (right) are suited up inside the Quest airlock prior to beginning today’s spacewalk. Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor (top) and Alexander Gerst (bottom) assisted the duo this morning. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Expedition 56 Commander Drew Feustel and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold of NASA completed the sixth spacewalk at the International Space Station this year at 2:55 p.m. EDT, lasting 6 hours, 49 minutes. The two astronauts installed new high-definition cameras that will provide enhanced views during the final phase of approach and docking of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner commercial crew spacecraft that will soon begin launching from American soil.

Image above: Astronaut Ricky Arnold exits the Quest airlock beginning the sixth spacewalk of 2018. Image Credits: @OlegMKS/NASA.

This was the 211th spacewalk in support of assembly and maintenance of the unique orbiting laboratory where humans have been living and working continuously for nearly 18 years. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 1,319 hours and 29 minutes working outside the station.

Image above: NASA astronaut Drew Feustel seemingly hangs off the International Space Station while conducting a spacewalk with fellow NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold (out of frame) on March 29, 2018. Feustel, as are all spacewalkers, was safely tethered at all times to the space station during the six-hour, ten-minute spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA.

During the ninth spacewalk of Feustel’s career, he moved into third place for total cumulative time spent spacewalking with a total of 61 hours and 48 minutes. It was Arnold’s fifth spacewalk with a total time of 34 hours and 4 minutes.

Related links:

Commercial crew:

Expedition 56:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

mercredi 13 juin 2018

Shades of Martian Darkness

NASA - Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-B) patch.

June 13, 2018

Science operations for NASA's Opportunity rover have been temporarily suspended as it waits out a dust storm on Mars. This series of images shows simulated views of a darkening Martian sky blotting out the Sun from NASA's Opportunity rover's point of view, with the right side simulating Opportunity's current view in the global dust storm (June 2018). The left starts with a blindingly bright mid-afternoon sky, with the sun appearing bigger because of brightness. The right shows the Sun so obscured by dust it looks like a pinprick. Each frame corresponds to a tau value, or measure of opacity: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Related article:

Opportunity Hunkers Down During Dust Storm

For more information about Opportunity, visit and

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Sarah Loff/JPL-Caltech/TAMU.


Crew Huddles Up Before Spacewalk as Science Continues

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

June 13, 2018

The Expedition 56 astronauts huddled together today finalizing preparations for Thursday’s spacewalk to ready the International Space Station for commercial crew vehicles. The crew members also managed to squeeze in some human research and physics experiments today.

Image above: The newly-expanded six-member Expedition 56 crew gathers in the Zvezda service module shortly after three new crew members arrived June 8, 2018. In the front row (from left) are the newest Expedition 56 Flight Engineers Sergey Prokopyev, Alexander Gerst and Serena Auñón-Chancellor. In the back (from left) are Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev, Commander Drew Feustel and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Drew Feustel and Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold went over their spacewalk procedures again today with fellow crew members Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst. The quartet worked throughout the day to configure the robotics workstation, ready spacesuits and set up the Quest airlock before tomorrow’s spacewalk set to begin at 8:10 a.m. EDT.

Feustel and Arnold will install new high definition cameras during tomorrow’s 6.5-hour spacewalk to support upcoming commercial crew missions from SpaceX and Boeing to the orbital laboratory. The duo will be supported in and out of their spacesuits by Gerst while Auñón-Chancellor will maneuver the Canadarm2 to support tomorrow’s activities. NASA TV begins its live broadcast of the sixth spacewalk this year at 6:30 a.m.

Image above: Expedition 56 commander Drew Feustel and flight engineer Ricky Arnold of NASA will conduct a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk on Thursday, June 14.
Image Credit: NASA.

Gerst, who has been on the station for less than a week, worked a pair of experiments today helping scientists understand the effects of living and working in space. He laid down in a face-up position in the morning for the Grip study that is researching the nervous system. Observations may improve the design of safer space habitats and help patients on Earth with neurological diseases. Gerst later installed sample gear in the Electromagnetic Levitator, a furnace that enables observations of the properties of materials exposed to extremely high temperatures.

Related links:

Grip study:

Electromagnetic Levitator:



Expedition 56:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

ALMA Discovers Trio of Infant Planets around Newborn Star

ALMA - Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array logo.

13 June 2018

Novel technique to find youngest planets in our galaxy

ALMA Discovers Trio of Infant Planets

Two independent teams of astronomers have used ALMA to uncover convincing evidence that three young planets are in orbit around the infant star HD 163296. Using a novel planet-finding technique, the astronomers identified three disturbances in the gas-filled disc around the young star: the strongest evidence yet that newly formed planets are in orbit there. These are considered the first planets to be discovered with ALMA.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has transformed our understanding of protoplanetary discs — the gas- and dust-filled planet factories that encircle young stars. The rings and gaps in these discs provide intriguing circumstantial evidence for the presence of protoplanets [1]. Other phenomena, however, could also account for these tantalising features.

Planets in the making

But now, using a novel planet-hunting technique that identifies unusual patterns in the flow of gas within a planet-forming disc around a young star, two teams of astronomers have each confirmed distinct, telltale hallmarks of newly formed planets orbiting an infant star [2].

“Measuring the flow of gas within a protoplanetary disc gives us much more certainty that planets are present around a young star,” said Christophe Pinte of Monash University in Australia and Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble (Université de Grenoble-Alpes/CNRS) in France, and lead author on one of the two papers. “This technique offers a promising new direction to understand how planetary systems form.”

The young star HD 163296 in the constellation of Sagittarius

To make their respective discoveries, each team analysed ALMA observations of HD 163296, a young star about 330 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer) [3]. This star is about twice the mass of the Sun but is just four million years old — just a thousandth of the age of the Sun.

“We looked at the localised, small-scale motion of gas in the star’s protoplanetary disc. This entirely new approach could uncover some of the youngest planets in our galaxy, all thanks to the high-resolution images from ALMA,” said Richard Teague, an astronomer at the University of Michigan and principal author on the other paper.

Surroundings of the young star HD 163296

Rather than focusing on the dust within the disc, which was clearly imaged in earlier ALMA observations, the astronomers instead studied carbon monoxide (CO) gas spread throughout the disc. Molecules of CO emit a very distinctive millimetre-wavelength light that ALMA can observe in great detail. Subtle changes in the wavelength of this light due to the Doppler effect reveal the motions of the gas in the disc.

The team led by Teague identified two planets located approximately 12 billion and 21 billion kilometres from the star. The other team, led by Pinte, identified a planet at about 39 billion kilometres from the star [4].

ALMA Discovers Trio of Infant Planets

The two teams used variations on the same technique, which looks for anomalies in the flow of gas — as evidenced by the shifting wavelengths of the CO emission — that indicate the gas is interacting with a massive object [5].

The technique used by Teague, which derived averaged variations in the flow of the gas as small as a few percent, revealed the impact of multiple planets on the gas motions nearer to the star. The technique used by Pinte, which more directly measured the flow of the gas, is better suited to studying the outer portion of the disc. It allowed the authors to more accurately locate the third planet, but is restricted to larger deviations of the flow, greater than about 10%.

Zooming in on the young star HD 163296

In both cases, the researchers identified areas where the flow of the gas did not match its surroundings — a bit like eddies around a rock in a river. By carefully analysing this motion, they could clearly see the influence of planetary bodies similar in mass to Jupiter.

This new technique allows astronomers to more precisely estimate protoplanetary masses and is less likely to produce false positives. “We are now bringing ALMA front and centre into the realm of planet detection,” said coauthor Ted Bergin of the University of Michigan.

Both teams will continue refining this method and will apply it to other discs, where they hope to better understand how atmospheres are formed and which elements and molecules are delivered to a planet at its birth.


[1] Although thousands of exoplanets have been discovered in the last two decades, detecting protoplanets remains at the cutting edge of science and there have been no unambiguous detections before now. The techniques currently used for finding exoplanets in fully formed planetary systems — such as measuring the wobble of a star or the dimming of starlight due to a transiting planet — do not lend themselves to detecting protoplanets.

[2] The motion of gas around a star in the absence of planets has a very simple, predictable pattern (Keplerian rotation) that is nearly impossible to alter both coherently and locally, so that only the presence of a relatively massive object can create such disturbances.

[3] ALMA’s stunning images of HD 163296 and other similar systems have revealed intriguing patterns of concentric rings and gaps within protoplanetary discs. These gaps may be evidence that protoplanets are ploughing the dust and gas away from their orbits, incorporating some of it into their own atmospheres. A previous study of this particular star’s disc shows that the gaps in the dust and gas overlap, suggesting that at least two planets have formed there.

These initial observations, however, merely provided circumstantial evidence and could not be used to accurately estimate the masses of the planets.

[4] These correspond to 80, 140 and 260 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

[5] This technique is similar to the one that led to the discovery of the planet Neptune in the nineteenth century. In that case anomalies in the motion of the planet Uranus were traced to the gravitational effect of an unknown body, which was subsequently discovered visually in 1846 and found to be the eighth planet in the Solar System.

More information:

This research was presented in two papers to appear in the same edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The first is entitled “Kinematic evidence for an embedded protoplanet in a circumstellar disc”, by C. Pinte et al. and the second “A Kinematic Detection of Two Unseen Jupiter Mass Embedded Protoplanets”, by R. Teague et al.

The Pinte team is composed of: C. Pinte (Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia; Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IPAG, Grenoble, France), D. J. Price (Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia), F. Ménard (Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IPAG, Grenoble, France), G. Duchêne (University of California, Berkeley California, USA; Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IPAG, Grenoble, France), W.R.F. Dent (Joint ALMA Observatory, Santiago, Chile), T. Hill (Joint ALMA Observatory, Santiago, Chile), I. de Gregorio-Monsalvo (Joint ALMA Observatory, Santiago, Chile), A. Hales (Joint ALMA Observatory, Santiago, Chile; National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA) and D. Mentiplay (Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia).

The Teague team is composed of: Richard D. Teague (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA), Jaehan Bae (Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, DC, USA), Edwin A. Bergin (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA), Tilman Birnstiel (University Observatory, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany) and Daniel Foreman- Mackey (Center for Computational Astrophysics, Flatiron Institute, New York, USA).

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA. ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


ESOcast 164 Light: ALMA Discovers Trio of Infant Planets:

Research paper Pinte et al. in Astrophysical Journal Letters:

Research paper Teague et al. in Astrophysical Journal Letters:

Photos of ALMA:

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA):

Images: ESO, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); Pinte et al./A. Isella; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Text: ESO/Calum Turner/University of Michigan/Richard Teague/Monash University/Christophe Pinte/Video: ESO. Music: Astral Electronic.

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Antarctica hikes up sea level

ESA - CryoSat Mission logo.

13 June 2018

In a major collaborative effort, scientists from around the world have used information from satellites to reveal that ice melting in Antarctica has not only raised sea levels by 7.6 mm since 1992, but, critically, almost half of this rise has occurred in the last five years.

Antarctica and sea-level rise

Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds in the UK and Erik Ivins from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory led a group of 84 scientists from 44 international organisations in research that has resulted in the most complete picture to date of how Antarctica’s ice sheet is changing.

Their research, published in Nature, reveals that prior to 2012, when the last such study was carried out, Antarctica was losing 76 billion tonnes of ice a year. This was causing sea levels to rise at a rate of 0.2 mm a year.

Since then, however, Antarctica has been losing ice three times as fast.

Image above: Changes in the Antarctic ice sheet’s contribution to global sea level, 1992 to 2017. Image Credits: IMBIE/Planetary Visions.

Between 2012 and 2017, Antarctica lost 219 billion tonnes of ice a year, raising sea levels by 0.6 mm a year.

This information is key to understanding how climate change is affecting the most remote part of the planet and how this has consequences for the rest of the world.

Prof. Shepherd said, “We have long suspected that changes in Earth’s climate will affect the polar ice sheets. Thanks to the satellites that our space agencies have launched, we can now track their ice losses and global sea-level contribution with confidence.

“According to our analysis, there has been a step increase in ice losses from Antarctica during the past decade, and the continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years.

Assessing Antarctic ice loss

“This has to be a concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities.”

While a number of different satellite missions were used in this assessment, ESA’s CryoSat and the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission were particularly useful.

Carrying a radar altimeter, CryoSat is designed to measure changes in the height of the ice, which is used to calculate changes in the volume of the ice. It is also especially designed to measure changes around the margins of ice sheets where ice is calved as icebergs.

The two-satellite Sentinel-1 radar mission, which is used to monitor ice motion, can image Earth regardless of the weather or whether is day or night – which is essential during the dark polar winters.

ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, added, “CryoSat and Sentinel-1 are clearly making an essential contribution to understanding how ice sheets are responding to climate change and affecting sea level, which is a major concern.

“While these impressive results demonstrate our commitment to climate research through efforts such as our Climate Change Initiative and scientific data exploitation activities, they also show what can be achieved by working with our NASA colleagues.

ESA's ice mission

“Looking to the future, however, it is important that we have satellites to continue measuring Earth’s ice to maintain the ice-sheet climate data record.”

The threefold increase in ice loss from the continent as a whole is partly down to glaciers flowing faster in West Antarctica and at the Antarctic Peninsula.

West Antarctica has experienced the biggest ice loss, going from a loss of 53 billion tonnes a year in the 1990s to 159 billion tonnes a year since 2012. Most of this is because Pine Island Glacier and Thwaites Glacier are retreating rapidly owing to warmer seawater under their floating shelves.

Eric Rignot, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, added, “Measurements collected by radar satellites and Landsat over the years have documented glacier changes around Antarctica at an amazing level of precision, so that we have now a very detailed and thorough understanding of the rapid changes in ice flow taking place in Antarctica and how they raise sea level worldwide.”

Related links:



Access CryoSat data:


Sentinel data access:

ESA's Climate Change Initiative:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab/IMBIE/University of Leeds/Planetary Visions.


mardi 12 juin 2018

JAXA H-IIA rocket launches IGS Radar 6

IGS - Information Gathering Satellite logo.

June 12, 2018

H-IIA F39 Mission launch

An all-weather spy satellite for the Japanese government launched Tuesday on top of an H-2A rocket, extending the country’s surveillance reach with coverage of North Korea and other strategic locations worldwide.

The radar-equipped reconnaissance craft lifted off at 0420 GMT (12:20 a.m. EDT) Tuesday from the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan’s primary launch base, located on an island in the southern part of the country.

Liftoff occurred at 1:20 p.m. Japan Standard Time, marking the 39th launch of an H-2A rocket, and the second H-2A launch of the year.

The 174-foot-tall (53-meter) H-2A rocket lit its hydrogen-fueled LE-7A main engine and fired away from Tanegashima, heading south over the Pacific Ocean with the aid of two strap-on solid rocket boosters.

The H-2A launcher climbed away from Tanegashima, a picturesque spaceport nestled on a rocky overlook on the Pacific Ocean, with 1.4 million pounds of thrust from its main engine and twin solid-fueled boosters.

Lift off of Japanese H-2A Rocket Launching IGS Radar 6 Reconnaissance Satellite

The strap-on boosters burned out less than two minutes after liftoff and jettisoned, and the H-2A’s payload fairing jettisoned around four minutes into the mission. The first stage main engine switched off approximately six-and-a-half minutes after launch, then the first stage separated to fall into the Pacific Ocean. The upper stage’s LE-5B engine, burning a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, ignited to place Japan’s newest surveillance satellite into polar orbit.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration confirmed in a statement that the Information Gathering Satellite deployed as planned from the H-2A’s upper stage.

JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the H-2A rocket’s prime contractor, did not provide a live webcast of Tuesday’s launch. Japanese launch officials typically provide live video coverage of space launches, but not for missions carrying the country’s spy satellites.

The satellite launched Tuesday, named IGS Radar 6, carries a synthetic aperture radar imaging payload capable of resolving objects on the ground day and night, regardless of weather conditions.

Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) Radar

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.

The IGS Radar 6 satellite is Japan’s seventh radar reconnaissance satellite. The radar observers operate in tandem with electro-optical surveillance satellites, which offer better resolution, but only when their imaging targets have clear skies overhead.

Japan started its spy satellite program in 1998 after a North Korean missile test flew over Japanese territory.

Tuesday’s launch was delayed 24 hours from Monday to allow inclement weather to move away from the Tanegahima launch site.

Related links:

The Information Gathering Satellite (IGS):

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

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


Two NASA Astronauts Set to Go on Their Third Spacewalk This Year

ISS  Expedition 56 Mission patch.

June 12, 2018

NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel are set to go on their third spacewalk together this year on Thursday at the International Space Station. Their new Expedition 56 crewmates Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst are training today to support the two spacewalkers.

Image above: NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel are suited up inside U.S. spacesuits for a fit check verification ahead of a spacewalk that took place May 16, 2016. Image Credit: NASA.

Arnold and Feustel will begin Thursday’s spacewalk at 8:10 a.m. to install new high definition cameras to support upcoming commercial crew missions from SpaceX and Boeing to the orbital laboratory. The first uncrewed test missions are planned to begin at the end of the year. The cameras will provide improved views of the commercial crew vehicles as they approach and dock to the station. NASA TV will provide complete live coverage of the 211th space station spacewalk starting at 6:30 a.m.

Auñón-Chancellor and Gerst, who just arrived at the station on Friday, will assist the spacewalkers on Thursday. Gerst will help the spacewalkers in and out of their spacesuits. Auñón-Chancellor will operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm. The duo practiced today on a computer the robotics procedures necessary to maneuver a spacewalker to and from the worksite on the starboard side of the station’s truss structure.

Image above: Flying over North Pacific Ocean, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'611 Km/h, altitude: 409,26 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 June 12, 2018 at 21:39 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Arnold and Feustel had some extra time today to work on science and maintenance activities. Arnold worked with the Microgravity Science Glovebox to troubleshoot a semiconductor crystal growth experiment. Feustel performed some plumbing work in the Tranquility module before relocating a pair of incubator units to support new experiments being delivered on the next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission. Finally, the duo readied the Quest airlock and their spacesuits for Thursday morning’s spacewalk.

Related links:



Semiconductor crystal growth:

SpaceX Dragon:

Expedition 56:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Flies Large Unmanned Aircraft in Public Airspace Without Chase Plane for First Time

NASA - Armstrong Flight Research Center patch.

June 12, 2018

NASA’s remotely-piloted Ikhana aircraft, based at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, successfully flew its first mission in the National Airspace System without a safety chase aircraft on Tuesday. This historic flight moves the United States one step closer to normalizing unmanned aircraft operations in the airspace used by commercial and private pilots.

Flying these large remotely-piloted aircraft over the United States opens the doors to all types of services, from monitoring and fighting forest fires, to providing new emergency search and rescue operations. The technology in this aircraft could, at some point, be scaled down for use in other general aviation aircraft.

Image above: Aircraft maintenance crews at NASA‘s Armstrong Flight Research Center prepare the remotely-piloted Ikhana aircraft for a test flight June 12, 2018. The test flight was performed to validate key technologies and operations necessary for the Federal Aviation Administration's approval to fly the aircraft in the public airspace without a safety chase aircraft. Image Credits: NASA/Ken Ulbrich.

“This is a huge milestone for our Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System project team,” said Ed Waggoner, NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program director. “We worked closely with our Federal Aviation Administration colleagues for several months to ensure we met all their requirements to make this initial flight happen.”

Flights of large craft like Ikhana, have traditionally required a safety chase aircraft to follow the unmanned aircraft as it travels through the same airspace used by commercial aircraft. The Ikhana flew in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Technical Standard Order 211 -- Detect and Avoid Systems -- and Technical Standard Order 212 -- Air-to-Air Radar for Traffic Surveillance.

The FAA granted NASA special permission to conduct this flight under the authority of a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization on March 30. The certificate permitted Ikhana’s pilot to rely on the latest Detect and Avoid technology, enabling the remote pilot on the ground to see and avoid other aircraft during the flight.

Image above: NASA’s remotely-piloted Ikhana aircraft, based at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, is flown in preparation for its first mission in public airspace without a safety chase aircraft. Image Credits: NASA/Carla Thomas.

NASA successfully worked with its industry partners to develop a standard for Detect and Avoid technologies, complied with the requirements of the FAA Technical Standard Orders, and garnered flight approval from the FAA.

The Ikhana aircraft was equipped with detect and avoid technologies, including an airborne radar developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., a Honeywell Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System, a Detect and Avoid Fusion Tracker, and an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast capability – a surveillance technology where the aircraft determines its position via satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts this information so other aircraft can track it.

The flight took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California and entered controlled air space almost immediately. Ikhana flew into the Class-A airspace, where commercial airliners fly, just west of Edwards at an altitude of about 20,000 feet. The aircraft then turned north toward Fresno, requiring air traffic control to be transferred from the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center to the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center. On the return trip, the pilot headed south toward Victorville, California, requiring communication control to be transferred back to Los Angles.

Image above: Engineers at NASA‘s Armstrong Flight Research Center monitor the remotely-piloted Ikhana aircraft from a mission control room during a test flight June 12, 2018. Image Credits: NASA/Ken Ulbrich.

During the return flight, the pilot began a gentle decent over the city of Tehachapi, California, into Class E airspace -- about 10,000 feet -- where general aviation pilots fly. The pilot initiated an approach into Victorville airport at 5,000 feet, coordinating in real time with air traffic controllers at the airport. After successfully executing all of these milestones, the aircraft exited the public airspace and returned to its base at Armstrong.

“We are flying with a suite of sophisticated technology that greatly enhances the safety capabilities of pilots flying large unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System,” said Scott Howe, Armstrong test pilot. “We took the time to mitigate the risks and to ensure that we, as a program, were prepared for this flight.”

Tuesday’s flight was the first remotely-piloted aircraft to use airborne detect and avoid technology to meet the intent of the FAA’s “see and avoid” rules, with all test objectives successfully accomplished.

For more information on NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System project, visit:

For more information about NASA’s aeronautics research, visit:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/J.D. Harrington/Karen Northon/Armstrong Flight Research Center/Rebecca Richardson.