samedi 30 juin 2018

Interstellar Technology’s second rocket crashes seconds after liftoff at Hokkaido

Interstellar Technologies logo.

June 30, 2018

Interstellar Technologies rocket third launch failed

The launch of what would have been Japan’s first privately developed rocket to reach outer space failed Saturday after it burst into flames just seconds after liftoff from Hokkaido, its developer said.

Officials of Interstellar Technologies Inc., founded in Hokkaido by former Livedoor Co. President Takafumi Horie, said the rocket, Momo-2, exploded at around 5:30 a.m., just after it was launched in Taiki.

The unmanned 1-ton rocket, which was 10 meters long and 50 cm in diameter, marked the second failure in a row for Interstellar Technologies. Last July, it tried to get its Momo-1 rocket to an altitude of over 100 km but had to abort after losing contact some 70 seconds into the flight. It originally planned to launch Momo-2 in late April but pushed back the date due to a nitrogen leak.

The failure suggests a difficult road ahead for private rockets. The project members were shocked and dismayed.

"Civilian rocket" big explosion. lost propulsive force right after launch falling in Hokkaido

Video above: The launch of a private rocket took place early in the morning of June 30 in Hokkaido · Tokachi Town in the Tokachi district immediately after launch, the aircraft dropped and the explosion flames. The third challenge also failed.

“I could not immediately understand what happened,” Interstellar Technologies President Takahiro Inagawa said at a news conference.

“We could not accomplish what we were expected to do. I feel sorry for that,” Inagawa said.

Interstellar Technologies rocket

While noting that nothing has been decided regarding the next launch, he said, “I feel that I would like to keep giving it a shot.”

Horie, who called it “an unprecedented failure,” said he was willing to take another shot. “We have to find ways to improve,” he added.

Inagawa said Momo-2 lost thrust four seconds after liftoff and that the main engine probably encountered a problem.

“Since the first rocket flew to some extent, the latest failure right after liftoff was unexpected,” an official of the venture said.

Interstellar Technologies rocket description

The launch costs tens of millions of yen. The company raised about ¥28.4 million ($257,000) through crowdfunding.

Momo-2 was scheduled to fall into the sea after reaching outer space. Equipment developed by Kochi University of Technology to gauge how sound waves propagate at high altitude was installed in its nose. About 600 people gathered to observe the launch.

For more information about Interstellar Technologies, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: The Japan Times/Kyodo/Hokkaido News UHB/Taiki cho/Interstellar Technologies, LLC/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 29 juin 2018

Dragon Blasts Off Carrying Science and Supplies for Station Crew

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

June 29, 2018

Dragon successfully launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 5:42 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spacecraft’s solar arrays have deployed. It will arrive at the International Space Station Monday morning carrying more than 5,900 pounds of research investigations and equipment, cargo and supplies that will support some of the hundreds of investigations aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft was successfully launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad LC-40 at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will use the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 5:30 a.m. Monday, July 2. Installation coverage is set to begin at 9 a.m.

Research materials flying inside Dragon’s pressurized cargo area include a cellular biology investigation (Micro-12) to understand how microgravity affects the growth, gene expression and ability of a model bacterium to transfer electrons through its cell membrane along the bacterial nanowires it produces. Such bacteria could be used in microbial fuel cells to make electricity from waste organic material.

An Earth science instrument called the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) will provide a new space-based measurement of how plants respond to changes in water availability. This data can help society better manage agricultural water use.

Image above: Flying over United States of America, Montana, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'607 Km/h, altitude: 412,12 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 29, 2018 at 18:11 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

An observational pilot study with the Crew Interactive MObile companioN (CIMON) aims to provide first insights into the effects of crew support from an artificial intelligence (AI) in terms of efficiency and acceptance during long-term missions in space.

Among the hundreds of pounds of hardware flying to the space station is a spare Canadian-built Latching End Effector (LEE). Each end of the Canadarm2 robotic arm has an identical LEE, and they are used as the “hands” that grapple payloads and visiting cargo spaceships. They also enable Canadarm2 to “walk” to different locations on the orbiting outpost.

Related article:

New NASA Research, Hardware Heading to Space Station on 15th SpaceX Resupply Mission

Related links:





Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Captures Cluster of Aging Stars

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

June 29, 2018

This rich and dense smattering of stars is a massive globular cluster, a gravitationally bound collection of stars that orbits the Milky Way. Globular clusters are denser and more spherical than open star clusters like the famous Pleiades. They typically contain hundreds of thousands of stars that are thought to have formed at roughly the same time.

Studies have shown that this globular cluster, named NGC 6139, is home to an aging population of stars. Most globular clusters orbiting the Milky Way are estimated to be over 10 billion years old; as a result, they contain some of the oldest stars in our galaxy, formed very early in the galaxy’s history. However, their role in galactic evolution is still a matter of study.

This cluster is seen roughly in the direction of the center of the Milky Way, in the constellation of Scorpius (the Scorpion). This constellation is a goldmine of fascinating astronomical objects. Hubble has set its sights on Scorpius many times to observe objects such as the Butterfly Nebula, surprising binary star systems, and other dazzling globular clusters.

 Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation, Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/Hubble & NASA/Text Credits: ESA/NASA/Rob Garner.


NASA Uses Earth as Laboratory to Study Distant Worlds

NASA & NOAA - Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) patch.

June 29, 2018

The study of exoplanets -- planets that lie outside our solar system -- could help scientists answer big questions about our place in the universe, and whether life exists beyond Earth. But, these distant worlds are extremely faint and difficult to image directly. A new study uses Earth as a stand-in for an exoplanet, and shows that even with very little light -- as little as one pixel -- it is still possible to measure key characteristics of distant worlds.

Image above: These images show the sunlit side of Earth in 10 different wavelengths of light that fall within the infrared, visible and ultraviolet ranges; the images are representational-color, because not all of these wavelengths are visible to the human eye. Each wavelength highlights different features of the planet -- for example, the continent of Africa is visible in the lower right image, but is nearly invisible in the upper left image. These observations were obtained by NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument onboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, satellite, on Aug. 2, 2017. Image Credits: NASA/NOAA.

The new study uses data from NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument, which is onboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, satellite. DSCOVR goes around the Sun at Lagrange point 1, a specific orbit that provides EPIC with a constant view of our home planet's sunlit surface. EPIC has been observing Earth continuously since June 2015, producing nuanced maps of the planet's surface in multiple wavelengths, and contributing to studies of climate and weather.

The EPIC instrument captures reflected light from Earth in 10 different wavelengths, or colors. So, each time EPIC "takes a picture" of Earth, it actually captures 10 images. The new study averages each image into a single brightness value, or the equivalent of one "single-pixel" image for each wavelength. A single, one-pixel snapshot of the planet would provide very little information about the surface. But in the new study, the authors analyzed a data set containing single-pixel images taken multiple times per day, in 10 wavelengths, over an extended period. Despite the fact that the entire planet had been reduced to a single point of light, the authors were able to identify water clouds in the atmosphere and measure the planet's rotation rate (the length of its day). The authors say the study, in the June 27 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, demonstrates that the same information could be derived from single-pixel observations of exoplanets.

Image above: This artist's illustration shows an enhanced-color image of Earth from NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument (top). EPIC observes the planet in 10 wavelength bands, shown here as 10 representational-color images (middle). A new study averages data from each EPIC wavelength band down into a single brightness value, or the equivalent of one "single-pixel" image. This allowed the study authors to simulate observations of a distant exoplanet. Image Credits: NASA/NOAA/JPL-Caltech.

"The benefit of using Earth as a proxy for an exoplanet is that we can verify our conclusions derived from the single-pixel data with the wealth of data that we actually have for Earth -- we can't do that if we're using data from a distant, actual exoplanet," said Jonathan Jiang, an atmospheric and climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author on the new study.

A tiny point of light

When Jiang's daughter, Teresa, was in elementary school, he organized a star-observing event for her and her friends. Jiang pointed to the stars, and told his daughter that the Sun is also star, and that there are planets orbiting other stars just as planets orbit the Sun. She pressed her father for more information, asking how scientists could possibly learn about those distant worlds from such tiny points of light in the sky.

"Kids ask a lot of good questions," Jiang said. "And that question stuck in my mind -- if I can see an exoplanet as only a tiny point of light, can I see clouds and oceans and land?"

Jiang began his career in astrophysics, but for his PhD work, he decided to apply his computer and physical modeling skills to Earth's climate. Now, he's using climate data to assist the study of exoplanets. Exoplanets are significantly dimmer than stars and much more difficult to detect. Earth, for example, is about 10 billion times fainter than the Sun. Only about 45 exoplanets have been discovered by direct imaging, all of which are much larger than Earth. The majority of known exoplanets (over 3,700 have been confirmed) were detected indirectly, using techniques such as the transit method, in which scientists observe the slight dimming of a star caused by the transit of an exoplanet across the face of the star.

The EPIC instrument captures reflected light from the sunlit side of Earth in 10 different wavelengths, or colors, because different materials reflect different wavelengths of light to different degrees -- plants, for example, reflect mostly green light. And a reddish planet like Mars, for example, would have a very different color profile compared to a planet covered in ice.

Image above: This image shows the sunlit side of Earth, observed in 10 wavelengths by the EPIC instrument aboard the DSCOVR satellite. Each image shows the same snapshot of Earth in a different wavelength. The specific wavelength bands are indicated above each image. Image Credits: NASA/NOAA.

The new study shows that by observing a planet with distinct features over time -- such as oceans and continents -- it is possible to measure the planet's rotation rate by observing a repeating pattern in the reflected light. This pattern would arise from those planetary features moving into view with a regular cadence. For example, every 24 hours, Australia and the Pacific Ocean fills EPIC's field of view, and about 12 hours later South America and the Atlantic fill the frame, with Africa and the Indian Ocean passing by in between. This pattern of changing light would repeat day after day. In the new paper, the authors show that they can detect this repeating cycle and thus determine the rotation rate, or the length of the planet's day. The rotation rate of a planet can reveal information about how and when the planet formed, and is a particularly difficult property to measure with current methods.

Animation above: This animation shows a series of observations taken by the EPIC instrument in one of 10 wavelengths. At this wavelength, the distinction between continents and oceans is particularly visible. The repeating pattern created by the planet's rotation could be observable to a powerful telescope observing the planet from many light years away, according to a new study. Animation Credits: NASA/NOAA.

"People have been talking for some time about using this approach to measure the rotation rate of exoplanets, but there's been no demonstration that it could work because we didn't have any real data," said Renyu Hu, an exoplanet scientist at JPL and a coauthor on the new study. "We've shown that in every wavelength, the 24-hour period appears, which means this approach to measuring planet rotation is robust."

The authors note, however, that the effectiveness of this method would depend on the unique features of the planet. A daily-cycle pattern might not be visible on a planet that is largely homogenous over its surface. Venus, for example, is covered in thick clouds and has no oceans on its surface, so a recurring daylong pattern might not appear, or might not be distinct enough to observe in a one-pixel image. Planets like Mercury and Mars would also be challenging, but Jiang said planetary features like craters could also contribute to a pattern that could be used to measure the rotation period.

Imaging exoplanets

Previous studies used Earth as a proxy for exoplanets, to investigate what kinds of planetary properties could be derived from afar, but no previous studies looked at so many wavelength bands. This is also the first such study to capture such a large data set, taken over an extended period of time: it used more than 27 months of observations, with images taken by EPIC about 13 times per day.

Image above: This image, taken by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft from beyond the orbit of Neptune, shows planet Earth as seen from about 3.7 billion miles (5.9 billion km) away. Earth appears as a very small point of light in the right half of the image, indicated by an arrow. Dubbed the "Pale Blue Dot," the image illustrates just how small an Earth-sized planet appears from far away. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Direct observations of exoplanets have far less data than what was used in the new study, but the researchers report that to measure the rotation rate of an exoplanet with more than 90 percent confidence would require taking images only two to three times per orbital period (that is, per "day" on that particular exoplanet) for about seven orbital periods.

The amount of time astronomers would have to observe an exoplanet to identify its rotation rate also depends on how much unwanted light is included in the exoplanet data. The EPIC data provide an exceptionally clear view of Earth, largely unfettered by light from other sources. But one primary challenge in directly imaging exoplanets is that they are so much dimmer than their parent stars. The light from the nearby star can easily drown out the light from an exoplanet, rendering the latter invisible. With the signal from the planet competing with light from the star, it may take longer to discern a pattern that could reveal the planet's rotation rate. NASA is investigating potential designs for next-generation telescopes that might be able to directly image Earth-size exoplanets.

With the field of exoplanet direct imaging moving ahead, Jiang is not done thinking about the question his daughter asked him more than a decade ago. If scientists can learn about the surface features of distant planets, then could they answer an even bigger question that his daughter posed -- do any of those planets host life?

Related link:

Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR):

NASA website:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Calla Cofield.


Dragon delivers some ICE

ISS - International Space Station logo.

29 June 2018

The newly installed International Commercial Experiments service – ICE Cubes for short – facility providing commercial access to microgravity will soon receive the first experiment cubes after today’s successful SpaceX Dragon resupply launch.

The 15th resupply mission lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 5:42 ET (11:42 CEST) with standard cargo for the International Space Station as well as the first 10 x 10 x 10 cm experiment cubes.

SpaceX CRS-15 lifts off

In partnership with Space Applications Services, ESA is extending access to research in weightlessness with ICE Cubes to ensure humans live better, work smarter, and explore farther.

Research and educational institutions can run their payloads spanning various disciplines in the facility housed in the Columbus laboratory on the Space Station. At a reduced cost and with shorter book-to-fly time, research teams also benefit from 24 hour access to data via remote login and a dedicated control centre. 


The International Space University is the first to run experiments in ICE Cubes. Once on board the Space Station, the plug-and-play cubes need only to be slotted into the facility by an astronaut. And the data collection begins.

One cube will house an experiment that is continuing research on methane-producing microorganisms to see how they survive in space conditions. In the longer term, the knowledge gained could lead to these microorganisms for bio-mining of asteroids to produce methane to fuel future space missions.

ICE Cubes experiment unit

The second ISU experiment is an interactive art installation that brings space to Earth and back again, highlighting the versatility of the ICE Cubes facility. The cube contains a kaleidoscope linked to a ground installation that is activated by the pulse of participants. The images are then beamed down to the installation to Earth, thanks to ICE Cubes’ unique 24-hour accessibility.

“We’re very excited to welcome the first ICE Cubes experiments by the International Space University. A big advantage of commercial access to the Space Station is that universities and other educational users get easier, faster and more affordable access to research in weightlessness,” said David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration. “We can’t wait to see what promising young minds come up with.”

ICE Cubes in Columbus

Researchers can access the data from their payloads at any time via a dedicated mission control centre at Space Applications Services’ premises in Sint-Stevens-Woluwe, Belgium. Clients can connect to their experiment from their own location over internet to read the data and even send commands directly.

Dragon is due to berth with the Space Station on 2 July, after which time the cubes will be installed. The ISU experiments will return to Earth on the next cargo resupply vehicle set to return in December this year. This is yet another advantage of the ICE Cubes service: experiments and samples can be returned for post-flight analysis with the regular cargo resupply missions that take place approximately every three months.

For more information on ICE Cubes, visit the website:

Related articles:

New NASA Research, Hardware Heading to Space Station on 15th SpaceX Resupply Mission

A Refreshing Increase in Access to the Orbiting Lab

Related links:

European space laboratory Columbus:

Experiment archive:

International Space Station Benefits for Humanity:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/SpaceX/ICE Cubes/ISU/NASA.

Best regards,

New NASA Research, Hardware Heading to Space Station on 15th SpaceX Resupply Mission

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-15 Mission patch.

June 29, 2018

Image above: SpaceX launches its Dragon cargo craft on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:42 a.m. EDT June 29, 2018. The early-morning launch is the company's 15th resupply mission to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
Image Credit: NASA TV.

Experiments investigating cellular biology, Earth science and artificial intelligence are among the research heading to the International Space Station following Friday’s launch of a NASA-contracted SpaceX Dragon spacecraft at 5:42 a.m. EDT.

SpaceX CRS-15 Mission

Dragon lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with more than 5,900 pounds of research, equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of investigations aboard the space station.

NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will use the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 5:30 a.m. Monday, July 2. Installation coverage is set to begin at 9 a.m.

Image above: About nine minutes and 31 seconds after launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 29, 2018, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft separates from the second stage engine. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Research materials flying inside Dragon's pressurized cargo area include a cellular biology investigation (Micro-12) to understand how microgravity affects the growth, gene expression and ability of a model bacterium to transfer electrons through its cell membrane along the bacterial nanowires it produces. Such bacteria could be used in microbial fuel cells to make electricity from waste organic material.

An Earth science instrument called the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) will provide a new space-based measurement of how plants respond to changes in water availability. This data can help society better manage agricultural water use.

An observational pilot study with the Crew Interactive MObile companioN (CIMON) aims to provide first insights into the effects of crew support from an artificial intelligence (AI) in terms of efficiency and acceptance during long-term missions in space.

Image above: About 11 minutes after launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 29, 2018, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully deploys its solar arrays. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Among the hundreds of pounds of hardware flying to the space station is a spare Canadian-built Latching End Effector (LEE). Each end of the Canadarm2 robotic arm has an identical LEE, and they are used as the “hands” that grapple payloads and visiting cargo spaceships. They also enable Canadarm2 to “walk” to different locations on the orbiting outpost.

This is SpaceX’s 15th cargo flight to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon is scheduled to depart the station in August and return to Earth with more than 3,800 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.

For more than 17 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, 230 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,400 research investigations from researchers in 103 countries.

Related links:




SpaceX Dragon:

Commercial Resupply:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (SpaceX), Text, Credits: NASA/Karen Northon/Stephanie Schierholz/JSC/Gary Jordan.

Best regards,

jeudi 28 juin 2018

Students Help Select Two of Four New Plants Heading to Space

ISS - International Space Station logo.

June 28, 2018

Four new varieties of plants are headed to the International Space Station on SpaceX CRS-15 for testing in the Veggie growth chamber. NASA researchers had help on this mission from middle and high school students who identified ‘Dragoon’ lettuce and ‘Extra Dwarf’ pak choi in experiments for the Growing Beyond Earth portion of The Fairchild Challenge. ‘Red Russian’ kale and ‘Wasabi’ mustard, along with ‘Outredgeous’ red romaine lettuce, which astronauts have already grown in space, round out the 18 plant growth pillows going to the station.

“We’re using Veggie to answer questions of science about the types of plants we can grow in space for astronauts to eat,” said Trent Smith, Veggie project manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We want astronauts to be able to grow fresh food to supplement their diets.”

Image above: Students participate in Fairchild Challenge events held at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, Florida. Photo Credits: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden/Maureen Tan.

NASA’s partnership with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami, Florida, has engaged thousands of students with the space program and taught them science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, skills through the citizen-science competition. The students construct and use a plant growth system that approximates conditions found in the Veggie growth chambers on the space station, such as having LED lighting and watering systems similar to the plant pillows. They followed research protocols to measure and record valuable data, which astronauts will put to the ultimate test in space.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens will expand on Growing Beyond Earth through a grant award it received earlier in June, from NASA’s Teams Engaging Affiliated Museums and Informal Institutions. The Growing Beyond Earth Innovation Studio will develop a makerspace in the botanic garden. By opening a research facility to the community, participants will have the opportunity to gain awareness of the importance of growing plants in space, while learning about botany and making contributions to data NASA uses.

Since launching to the station more than four years ago, Veggie has had a dual purpose of being both a scientific platform and a garden in space. Some of the experiments become scientific samples, while some of the harvests have fed astronauts fresh food grown in space.

Image above: Extra Dwarf Pak Choy and Wasabi plants are growing in a laboratory in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Seeds from these and two other new varieties of plants will be delivered to the International Space Station on SpaceX's 15th Commercial Resupply Services mission. Photo Credits: NASA/Matt Romeyn.

This mission–VEG-03G, H, I–also is a bit unique compared to past Veggie missions because the four new crops specifically provide astronauts with vitamins B1, C, K and potassium, according to Matthew Romeyn, a plant researcher at Kennedy. The Human Research Program identified these nutrients because they are low in the packaged diet and degrade in prepacked foods stored for long periods. The Veggie experiments will continue to generate data on palatable food sources astronauts can replenish in space.

“The nutritional boost of fresh, nutritious food and the psychological benefits of growing plants become paramount as the agency plans for future missions to deep space destinations,” said Smith. “And having the Fairchild students participate is so exciting. These students stick with these long experiments throughout the semester showing they have the tenacity it takes to be scientists.”

Related links:


Growing Beyond Earth:

The Fairchild Challenge:


Fed astronauts fresh food:

Human Research Program:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Kennedy Space Center:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Linda Herridge/NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center, by Leejay Lockhart.


ESA's unexpected fleet of space weather monitors

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

28 June 2018

A team of researchers, supported under ESA’s Basic Activities, has recently investigated a resourceful new method of monitoring space weather. They analysed data from spacecraft magnetometers typically used for attitude control — so-called “platform magnetometers”— to see if these devices could also be used to investigate the impact of solar storms on the magnetic field around Earth.

Future lagrange mission

From a distance, the Sun appears to be a serenely glowing ball of light and warmth. But this seemingly gentle star has a violent temper. It goes through periods of intense activity, during which it can send powerful blasts of charged particles through space, which can be hazardous if they head in our direction.

This variation in the space environment between Earth and the Sun, and in particular its impact on Earth, is known as space weather. Luckily, Earth is protected from most space weather events by its magnetic field, but some solar activity can still affect vital infrastructure, including telecommunication and navigation satellites in space, and power grids on the ground.

Swarm constellation over Earth

Space weather events can be monitored using devices that measure magnetic fields, called magnetometers. Some spacecraft carry extremely sensitive magnetometers for scientific studies — these instruments are placed on booms, away from stray magnetic field sources inside the spacecraft. But many more spacecraft host less-sensitive magnetometers on board, called platform magnetometers, to keep the spacecraft pointed in the right direction. Could these platform magnetometers also be used to monitor space weather? In late 2016, ESA’s General Studies Programme invited research groups to find out.

The investigation was taken on by a team consisting of scientists from TU Delft and the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, who recently presented their findings at ESTEC. The group looked at data from Swarm, GOCE and LISA Pathfinder to investigate whether platform magnetometer data could also be used for space weather diagnostics.

Fabrice Cipriani, responsible for the project from ESA’s side, explains: “This was a bit of an exploratory study for us. Quantifying the effects that solar storms have on Earth is extremely important to monitor and assess the impacts on sensitive infrastructure and so we want to exploit as many source of data as possible that can provide meaningful information, especially when there are no major development costs involved.”

Data comparison between platform magnetometers versus payload magnetometers

The team compared the data from Swarm’s scientific magnetometer with its platform magnetometer to determine the accuracy of the latter, before applying this knowledge to an analysis of GOCE magnetometer data. As Swarm and GOCE are both in low-Earth orbit, they can tell us a lot about how Earth responds to space weather. A magnetometer was also hosted on board LISA Pathfinder to keep an eye on the satellite’s precise measurement system.

Eelco Doornbos, from Delft University of Technology, elaborates: “LISA Pathfinder is positioned between Earth and the Sun, outside Earth’s magnetosphere. This gives it a great view of the solar wind.”

LISA Pathfinder’s platform magnetometer data was compared with that from American space weather observatories WIND, ACE and DSCOVR.

“We investigated data from LISA Pathfinder, which can observe the solar wind, and from Swarm and GOCE, which can observe magnetic field currents closer to Earth. In both cases the platform magnetometer data was good enough to recover a good signal, even when the magnetometer is not very precise and is close to other instruments,” adds Eelco.

LISA Pathfinder in space

The team concluded that platform magnetometers can provide excellent insight into space weather. Their contribution to monitoring this phenomenon can be significantly increased by initiating coordination between different groups and developing new data processing techniques, both of which are relatively low cost compared to developing dedicated instruments and missions.

Traditionally platform magnetometer data is only sent to Earth so that engineers can check that a spacecraft is working properly. The next step is to make this data accessible to more people.

Fabrice explains, “We want to encourage data users to be involved at an early design phase when developing new spacecraft, to help figure out how to enable easier access to this data.”

“Space weather is such a complicated system that changes so rapidly that the more observations you have, the better. This is why it’s great to get as many satellites as possible looking into it,” Eelco concludes.

ESA links:

Space weather forecasting with almost any spacecraft:



LISA Pathfinder:

Swarm turns to whistlers and storms:

Space Weather - SWE Segment:

ESA Space Weather Service Network:

Related links:

NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/A. Baker, C.Carreau, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/AOES Medialab.


mercredi 27 juin 2018

Cancer and Cement Studies on Station Could Lead to Earth Benefits

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

June 27, 2018

Today’s science activities aboard the International Space Station are looking to improve cancer therapies and benefit cement processing on Earth. Meanwhile, two astronauts are practicing to capture the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft next week.

Image above: An Expedition 56 crew member aboard the International Space Station pictured lagoons in the Crimea between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea which appear different colors due to shallow waters and their varied chemical composition. Image Credit: NASA.

Cancer research in space can unlock positive benefits that are cloaked by Earth’s gravity possibly leading to advanced therapies. Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor is preparing for the Angiex Cancer Therapy experiment which will be delivered aboard the SpaceX Dragon. She is setting up the Microgravity Science Glovebox for the study that may lead to safer, more effective vascular-targeted drugs without animal testing.

Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold mixed cement samples today for stowage and future analysis on Earth. Studying how cement reacts in space during the hardening process may help engineers better understand its microstructure and material properties. Observations could improve cement processing techniques on Earth and lead to the design of safer, lightweight space habitats.

Arnold will lead Monday morning’s capture of the SpaceX Dragon when he commands the Canadarm2 to grapple the space freighter Monday at 7 a.m. EDT. Commander Drew Feustel will back him up in the Cupola monitoring its approach and rendezvous. The duo set up the Cupola today and practiced the robotic maneuvers they will use to capture Dragon when it reaches a point about 10 meters from the station.

Image above: Flying over South Pacific Ocean, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'608 Km/h, altitude: 405,86 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 27, 2018 at 23:21 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

NASA TV begins its live broadcast Friday at 5:15 a.m. EDT of Dragon’s launch aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Dragon will blast off at 5:42 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center on a three-day trip to the orbital lab carrying almost six thousand pounds of new science experiments, crew supplies and space station hardware. NASA TV will be back on the air Monday at 5:30 a.m. covering Dragon’s approach and rendezvous and again at 9 a.m. for Dragon’s installation to the Harmony module.

Related links:

SpaceX Dragon:

Angiex Cancer Therapy:

Cement reacts in space:


Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


NASA’s Experimental Supersonic Aircraft Now Known as X-59 QueSST

NASA - X-59 Low Boom Flight Demonstration patch.

June 27, 2018

NASA’s newest experimental aircraft, designed with quiet supersonic technology and intended to help open a new era in faster-than-sound air travel over land, will forever be known in the history books as the X-59 QueSST.

The U.S. Air Force, which is the government entity responsible for assigning X-number designations and the popular name associated with the aircraft, officially informed NASA of their decision on June 26.

“For everyone working on this important project, this is great news and we’re thrilled with the designation,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics.

“I’m confident that the contributions the X-59 QueSST will make to our nation and the world will ensure its place among the greatest NASA X-planes ever flown,” Shin said.

Image above: In several years, the X-59 QueSST will test its quiet supersonic technologies by flying over communities in the United States. Image Credit: NASA.

The X-plane number designation continues a tradition of naming important experimental aircraft and rockets that dates back to 1947 and the X-1, the rocket-powered airplane that Chuck Yeager flew to become the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound.

And while that famous X-1 was nicknamed the Glamourous Glennis, for Yeager’s wife, today’s X-59 takes its QueSST nickname from the quiet supersonic technology the aircraft will be equipped with.

Now under construction by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company at its famed Skunk Works plant in Palmdale, Calif., the X-59 QueSST is designed so that when flying supersonic, people on the ground will hear nothing more than a sonic thump – if anything at all.

Once fully tested and pronounced safe to fly within the National Airspace, the X-59 in late 2022 will begin making supersonic flights over select communities to measure residents’ reactions to any noise they might hear.

The scientifically valid data gathered from these community overflights will be presented to U.S. and international regulators, who will use the information to help them come up with rules based on noise levels that enable new commercial markets for supersonic flight over land.

Related links:

Low-Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD):

Supersonic Flight:


Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lillian Gipson/Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate/Jim Banke.


Complex organics bubble from the depths of ocean-world Enceladus

ESA - Cassini Mission to Saturn logo.

27 June 2018

Data from the international Cassini spacecraft have revealed complex organic molecules originating from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, strengthening the idea that this ocean-world hosts conditions suitable for life.

Very little was known about Enceladus prior to 2005 – the year when Cassini first flew close. Since then, it has become a continuous source of surprises, with secrets still being revealed even now, after the mission end.

Enceladus jets and shadows

During the spacecraft's incredible career, scientists discovered that 500 km–diameter Enceladus has a massive sub-surface ocean hidden underneath a thick icy crust, with evidence pointing to powerful hydrothermal vents on the seabed that mix up material from the moon’s water-filled, porous core with the ocean water.

They detected mighty geysers releasing a mixture of water vapour and ice grains from the oceans into space through cracks – nicknamed ‘tiger stripes’ – in the moon’s icy shell, providing material for one of Saturn’s rings.

 Now, a team led by Frank Postberg and Nozair Khawaja of the University of Heidelberg, Germany, has identified fragments of large organic molecules in these ejected ice grains. The results are published today in Nature.

“It is the first ever detection of complex organics coming from an extraterrestrial water-world,” says Frank.

Tiger stripes

“We found large molecular fragments that show structures typical for very complex organic molecules,” adds Nozair. “These huge molecules contain a complex network often built from hundreds of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and likely nitrogen that form ring-shaped and chain-like substructures.”

The fragments, of up to 200 units of molecular mass, are created as the ice grains hit the dust-analysing instrument on Cassini at speeds of about 30 000 kilometres per hour, but the researchers believe that, prior to the collision, the grains contain the original, even larger molecules, which could have molecular weights of thousands of atomic mass units.

Scientists calculate molecular mass, or weight, as the sum of weights of individual atoms contained in the molecule. Previously, Cassini had only detected lightweight organic molecules at Enceladus that were much smaller than the most recently found fragments.

Such large molecules can only be created by complex chemical processes – including those related to life. Alternatively, they could come from primordial material as found in some meteorites or, more likely, be generated by hydrothermal activity.

Hydrothermal activity in Enceladus’ core and the rise of organic-rich bubbles

“In my opinion the fragments we found are of hydrothermal origin, having been processed inside the hydrothermally active core of Enceladus: in the high pressures and warm temperatures we expect there, it is possible that complex organic molecules can arise,” says Frank.

Recent simulations show that enough heat to power hydrothermal activity for tens of millions of years could be generated through tidal friction if the moon has a porous core with ocean water percolating through it. 

Following up on this scenario, the organic material is injected into the ocean by hydrothermal vents on the floor of Enceladus’ ocean – something akin to the hydrothermal sites found at the bottom of the oceans on Earth, which are one of the possible environments that scientists investigate for the emergence of life on our own planet.

In Earth’s oceans, organic substances from deeper waters can accumulate efficiently on the walls of rising air bubbles, transporting them to the surface where they are dispersed along with sea spray when the bubble bursts.

Last Enceladus plume observation

Scientists think a similar process could be happening on Enceladus. Bubbles of gas, rising through tens of kilometres of ocean, could bring up organic material from depth where they form a thin film floating on the ocean surface beneath the icy shell.

When the bubbles burst at the surface it helps disperse some of the organics, along with spray of salty ocean water. Tiny droplets of the dispersed organic material become ice-coated when water vapour freezes on their surface, and along with the frozen spray of salty ocean water, are ejected in the plumes and then detected by Cassini.

This is the most recent in a long series of discoveries made by Cassini that have been painting Enceladus as a potentially habitable water-world.

With Cassini data alone, however, it is not possible to confirm the exact origin of the newly found organics from which the observed fragments derive, as the size of the fragments is at the maximum limit that could be detected by the instruments.

“If we could visit Enceladus again, we would take instruments that can see the entire molecules, not just these fragments, and that would tell us exactly what they are and how they have been created,” says Frank.

Exploring Jupiter

“It seems that this mysterious moon will keep this secret for some time, but it is in the reach of a future mission to Enceladus to solve this part of the puzzle,” adds Nozair.

The Cassini revelations will also have important implications for ESA’s upcoming JUpiter ICy moons Explorer, Juice, which is planned for launch in 2022, with an arrival at the Jupiter system in 2029.

Similar to Saturn, Jupiter has a complex system of natural satellites, with three of the largest – Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – thought to have an underground ocean.

“Thanks to the Cassini experience, we will know what to look for and how to study it in the Jupiter system,” says Nicolas Altobelli, ESA Cassini project scientist who is also responsible for the development of Juice science operations at ESA.

“Juice will continue the exploration of potentially habitable worlds, investigating the conditions where life could have emerged in our Solar System.”

Notes for Editors:

"Macromolecular organic compounds from the depths of Enceladus" by F. Postberg et al, is published in Nature:

The study was conducted with data from two mass spectrometers aboard the Cassini spacecraft: the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) and the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS).

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency.

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/Nicolas Altobelli/Institut für Geowissenschaften, Universität Heidelberg, Germany/Nozair Khawaja/Frank Postberg/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/ESA/F. Postberg et al (2018)/ATG medialab; Jupiter: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols (University of Leicester); Ganymede: NASA/JPL; Io: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona; Callisto and Europa: NASA/JPL/DLR.

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Hubble sees `Oumuamua getting a boost

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

27 June 2018

New results indicate interstellar nomad is a comet

Artist’s impression of the interstellar asteroid `Oumuamua

`Oumuamua, the first interstellar object discovered in the Solar System, is moving away from the Sun faster than expected. This anomalous behaviour was detected using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in cooperation with ground-based telescopes. The new results suggest that `Oumuamua is most likely a comet and not an asteroid. The discovery appears in the journal Nature.

Predicted position of `Oumuamua versus observed position

`Oumuamua — the first interstellar object discovered within our Solar System — has been the subject of intense scrutiny since its discovery in October 2017 [1]. Now, by combining data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the Gemini South Telescope, an international team of astronomers has found that the object is moving faster than predicted. The measured gain in speed is tiny and `Oumuamua is still slowing down because of the pull of the Sun — just not as fast as predicted by celestial mechanics.

Animation of `Oumuamua outgassing

The team, led by Marco Micheli (European Space Agency) explored several scenarios to explain the faster-than-predicted speed of this peculiar interstellar visitor. The most likely explanation is that `Oumuamua is venting material from its surface due to solar heating — a behaviour known as outgassing [2]. The thrust from this ejected material is thought to provide the small but steady push that is sending `Oumuamua hurtling out of the Solar System faster than expected — as of 1 June, it is travelling with about 114 000 kilometres per hour.

Animation of `Oumuamua outgassing and rotating

Such outgassing is a typical behaviour for comets and contradicts the previous classification of `Oumuamua as an interstellar asteroid. “We think this is a tiny, weird comet,” comments Marco Micheli. “We can see in the data that its boost is getting smaller the farther away it travels from the Sun, which is typical for comets.”

Animation of `Oumuamua passing through the Solar System

Usually, when comets are warmed by the Sun they eject dust and gas, which form a cloud of material — called a coma — around them, as well as the characteristic tail. However, the research team could not detect any visual evidence of outgassing.

Animation of `Oumuamua passing through the Solar System (annotated)

“We did not see any dust, coma, or tail, which is unusual,” explains co-author Karen Meech (University of Hawaii, USA) who led the discovery team’s characterisation of `Oumuamua in 2017. “We think  that ‘Oumuamua may vent unusually large, coarse dust grains.”

The team speculated that perhaps the small dust grains adorning the surface of most comets eroded during `Oumuamua’s journey through interstellar space, with only larger dust grains remaining. A cloud of these larger particles would not be bright enough to be detected by Hubble.

Animation showing the expected and measured trajectory of `Oumuamua

Not only is `Oumuamua’s hypothesised outgassing an unsolved mystery, but also its interstellar origin. The team originally performed the new observations on `Oumuamua to exactly determine its path which would have probably allowed it to trace the object back to its parent star system. The new results means it will be more challenging to obtain this information.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

“The true nature of this enigmatic interstellar nomad may remain a mystery,” concludes team member Olivier Hainaut (European Southern Observatory, Germany). “`Oumuamua’s recently-detected gain in speed makes it more difficult to be able to trace the path it took from its extrasolar home star.”


[1]`Oumuamua, pronounced “oh-MOO-ah-MOO-ah”, was first discovered using the Pan-STARRS telescope at the Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii. Its name means “a messenger from afar, arriving first” in Hawaiian, and reflects its nature as the first known object of interstellar origin to have entered the Solar System.

[2] The team tested several hypotheses to explain the unexpected change in speed. They analysed whether solar radiation pressure, the Yarkovsky effect, or friction-like effects could explain the observations. It was also checked whether the gain in speed could have been caused by an impulse event (such as a collision), by `Oumuamua being a binary object or by `Oumuamua being a magnetised object. Also, the unlikely theory that `Oumuamua is an interstellar spaceship was rejected: the smooth and continuous change in speed is not typical for thrusters and the object is tumbling on all three axes, speaking against it being an artificial object.

More information:

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

The research team’s work is presented in the scientific paper “Non-gravitational acceleration in the trajectory of 1I/2017 U1 (`Oumuamua)”, which will be published in the journal Nature on 27 June 2018.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of Marco Micheli (European Space Agency & INAF, Italy), Davide Farnocchia (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA), Karen J. Meech (University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, USA), Marc W. Buie (Southwest Research Institute, USA), Olivier R. Hainaut (European Southern Observatory, Germany), Dina Prialnik (Tel Aviv University School of Geosciences, Israel), Harold A. Weaver (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, USA), Paul W. Chodas (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA), Jan T. Kleyna (University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, USA), Robert Weryk (University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, USA), Richard J. Wainscoat (University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, USA), Harald Ebeling (University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, USA), Jacqueline V. Keane (University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, USA), Kenneth C. Chambers (University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, USA), Detlef Koschny (European Space Agency, European Space Research and Technology Centre, & Technical University of Munich, Germany), and Anastassios E. Petropoulos (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA).


Hubblecast 111: Hubble sees `Oumuamua getting a boost:

Images of Hubble:

Hubblesite release:

European Southern Observatory press release:

Institute for Astronomy (University of Hawaii) press release:

Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope press release:

European Space Agency press release:

Science paper:

Press release about the discovery of `Oumuamua (European Southern Observatory, 2017):

Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT):

Gemini South Telescope:

Images, Animation, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, M. Kornmesser, L. Calcada/JPL-Caltech/Music: Mylonite - MRP (Mylonite Recordz Production).

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A Japanese probe reaches its target asteroid

JAXA - Hayabusa2 Mission patch.

June 27, 2018

The Hayabusa2 probe arrived Wednesday near its target asteroid to study the origin of life. Hayabusa2 has stabilized 20 kilometers from Ryugu, which is currently about 280 million kilometers from our planet.

Asteroid Ryugu seen from a distance of around 40km

The Japanese probe Hayabusa2 arrived Wednesday, after a journey of 3.2 billion kilometers, ready for its target asteroid where it must collect information on the birth of the solar system and the origin of life.

At 9:35 (00H35 GMT), after more than three years of travel, Hayabusa2 has stabilized 20 kilometers from Ryugu, which is currently about 280 million kilometers from our planet, announced the Japanese Space Agency (Jaxa).

Artist's view of Hayabusa2 arrival at Ryugu

The probe will now maintain this distance the time to fulfill its scientific purpose, the high point of which is throwing a projectile on Ryugu violently to cause a shock on the surface and collect the dust thus created.

The ultimate goal is to help enrich the knowledge of our space environment "to better understand the formation of the solar system and the emergence of life on Earth," says Jaxa.

2nd mission of this type for Japan

The first photos taken at 40 kilometers from Ryugu by Hayabusa2, launched at the end of 2014, excited the director of the mission: "the craters are visible, the rocks too, and the geographical structure seems to vary from one place to another", commented Yuichi Tsuda, on the website dedicated to this new space adventure.

Ryugu, which owes its name to a mythical castle of a Japanese folk tale, was originally presented as having a spherical shape, but it turns out to be different, close to the cube, he says.

This is the second mission of this type for Japan, the first having been an epic full of twists. "This time we want a mission less weighted with various problems," said the team.

Hayabusa2 images during Ryugu approach

As with the original Hayabusa mission (towards the asteroid Itokawa), the goal is to collect dust from the subsoil of this rocky celestial body that contains carbon and water, to try to understand what organic and aqueous matter were originally present in the solar system. The return to Earth is expected in 2020.

Hayabusa2 will also drop on Ryugu a robot called Minerva2 and an autonomous analyzer named Mascot, designed by the French National Center for Space Studies (Cnes) and its German counterpart DLR.

Mascot, whose lifespan is only a dozen hours, will use four instruments, including a spectral microscope developed by the French Institute of Space Astrophysics that will allow to know the mineralogical composition of the soil of the Earth. asteroid with the number 162173.

JAXA Press Release:

More information:

Images, Text, Credits: JAXA/NXP/AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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