vendredi 6 juillet 2018

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of July 2, 2018

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

July 6, 2018

The crew members aboard the International Space Station had a busy week with the arrival of the SpaceX CRS-15 Dragon, packed full of new science and supplies.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule along with the Canadarm2. Image Credit: NASA

Read more details about scientific work this week aboard your orbiting laboratory:

Student investigations address challenges to life in space

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) at the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) sponsors a variety of experiments contained within Nanoracks Module-9, all aimed at addressing real challenges of living and working in space. The program is also a key initiative for US science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers to work on the space program.

Image above: The Space Algae investigation explores the genetic basis for productivity of algae cultivated in space. This week, installed the culture bags in the Veggie facility and set up Veggie light intensity and airflow parameters today. Image Credit: NASA.

The investigations include:

    Effect of Microgravity on Nanoparticle Cellular Interaction
    The efficacy of Ideonella sakaiensis in a Microgravity Environment
    Grain Size and Distribution Analysis of Gallium in Microgravity
    Effects of Crossbreeding Sordaria fimicola in Microgravity
    The Effect of Ascorbic Acid on the Rate of Regeneration in Microgravity
    Ca In Space
    Planarian Worm Tail Regrowth
    Growing Carrots on the International Space Station in Microgravity
    Rust in Microgravity
    The Effect of Microgravity on Tooth Decay
    The Effect of Microgravity on the Growth of Golden Lake Artemia
    Brine Shrimp
    The effect microgravity has on the developmental stages of brine shrimp
    Addition of “green plastic” to enhance cement properties in Space

This week, the crew members activated the experiment tubes for the investigations.

A view of the Advanced Plant Habitat on July 4, 2018. Image Credit: NASA

Crew makes room for new station inhabitants

Spaceflight has an on impact many bodily systems. Rodent Research-7 takes a look at how the microgravity environment of space affects the community of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, or microbiota.

The study also evaluates relationships between system changes, such as sleep-wake cycle disruption, and imbalance of microbial populations, to identify contributing factors and supporting development of countermeasures to protect astronaut health during long-term missions, as well as to improve the treatment of gastrointestinal, immune, metabolic and sleep disorders on Earth.

Animation above: The Muscle Tone in Space (Myotones) investigation observes the biochemical properties of muscles (e.g. muscle tone, stiffness, elasticity) during long-term exposure spaceflight environment. Animation Credit: ESA/NASA.

This week, the crew installed and transferred 20 rodents into the install animal habitats. Rodents will remain on station for 70 days, making this the longest-duration rodent investigation conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Tiny operations with potential for big impact

Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are the leading causes of death in developed countries. Angiex Cancer Therapy examines whether microgravity-cultured endothelial cells represent a valid in vitro model to test effects of vascular-targeted agents on normal blood vessels.

Results may create a model system for designing safer drugs, targeting the vasculature of cancer tumors and helping pharmaceutical companies design safer vascular-targeted drugs.

Space to Ground: Meet CIMON: 07/06/2018

This week, the crew performed microscope operations for the samples that arrived on the recent SpaceX CRS resupply vehicle.

Other work was done on these investigations: SPHERES, CIR/ACME, Lighting Effects, CEO, HDEV, Probiotics, STP-H5, Tropical Cyclone, Micro-12, ELF, SABL, BioLab, STaARS BioScience-1, Space Algae, STaARS BioScience-8, MagVector, At Home in Space, MICS, Food Acceptability, ICE Cubes Facility,  Team Task Switching and CAL.

Related links:

SpaceX CRS-15 Dragon:

Rodent Research-7:

Angiex Cancer Therapy:



Lighting Effects:





Tropical Cyclone:





STaARS BioScience-1:

Space Algae:

STaARS BioScience-8:


At Home in Space:


Food Acceptability:

ICE Cubes Facility:

Team Task Switching:


Expedition 56:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Yuri Guinart-Ramirez, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 55 & 56.

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ISOLDE mints isotopes of chromium

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

6 Jul 2018

CERN’s nuclear physics facility, ISOLDE, has minted a new coin in its impressive collection of isotopes. The facility has forged neutron-rich isotopes of the element chromium for the first time, and in prodigious quantities. These isotopes were measured by the ISOLTRAP precision balance, which has been performing mass measurements at ISOLDE for the last 30 years. The new mass values, reported in Physical Review Letters, are up to 300 times more precise than previous results, offering new insight into the nuclear structure of chromium isotopes.

The fact that atoms weigh less than the sum of the masses of their constituent protons, neutrons and electrons gives access to their nuclear binding energy – the minimum energy required to disassemble an atom’s nucleus. Therefore, the nuclear binding energy provides information about an atom’s nuclear structure. Certain configurations of protons and neutrons are more strongly bound than others, revealing “magic numbers” of protons or neutrons that are arranged into filled shells within the nucleus. One of the main goals of modern nuclear physics is to produce systems at the extremes of nuclear stability to check whether these magic numbers are still valid (see CERN Courier), providing a tough test for nuclear models.

Image above: ISOLDE’s resonant ionisation laser ion source (RILIS) provided the first beams of neutron-rich chromium isotopes to the ISOLTRAP precision balance. (Image: Noemí Carabán González/CERN).

Chromium (Cr) has 24 protons, situating it midway between the magic calcium (with 20 protons) and the magic nickel (with 28). Its isotopes with a large number of neutrons, around 63Cr, are interesting for the study of nuclear structure. This is because these isotopes are located midway between the magic neutron numbers 28 and 50, where different nuclear models predict different deformed nuclear shapes and, in some cases, a new magic number at neutron number 40.

In this new study, the ISOLDE researchers have used a chemically selective ion source called a resonant ionisation laser ion source (RILIS) to deliver beams of neutron-rich chromium isotopes to the ISOLTRAP weigh station, allowing it to venture as far in neutron number as 63Cr, whose half-life is only 130 ms.

The filled shells of nuclei with magic numbers favour spherical nuclear shapes. By contrast, the nuclei of the chromium isotopes weighed by ISOLTRAP are deformed. However, contrary to previous conclusions, the ISOLTRAP measurements show that the deformation sets in gradually with the addition of a further neutron. Comparison between the ISOLDE measurements and improved models to describe unfilled-shell nuclei is expected to shed more light on the nuclear structure of chromium isotopes.


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:

Physical Review Letters:

CERN Courier:


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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Ana Lopes.

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New Earth Obs Study Installed Before Monday Russian Cargo Mission

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

July 6, 2018

More research gear continues to be unloaded from inside and outside of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft today. Back on Earth, another resupply ship is poised to blast off Monday on a quick delivery mission to the International Space Station.

Image above: A star-lit sky and Earth’s atmospheric glow are the backdrop as the Canadarm2 robotic arm with its Dextre robotic hand attached is poised to begin extracting cargo from the SpaceX Dragon’s trunk. Image Credit: NASA.

Overnight, mission controllers commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to extract a new Earth-observing experiment from the rear of the Dragon space freighter. The new ECOSTRESS gear was then remotely installed on the outside of the Kibo laboratory module. ECOSTRESS will provide thermal infrared measurements of Earth’s surface helping scientists assess water and vegetation changes on agriculture.

Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst processed and stowed their blood samples today for the Myotones muscle study. Observations may help doctors develop strategies to keep astronauts healthy in space and improve conditions for patients on Earth with mobility or aging issues.

Image above: Sunset over Argentina, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'571 Km/h, altitude: 410,06 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 July 6, 2018 at 20:36 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

The Progress 70 resupply ship from Roscosmos is being processed for launch Monday at 5:51 p.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Russian mission controllers are planning a short 3 hour and 48 minute delivery trip, or just two orbits, to the station’s Pirs docking compartment. NASA TV will broadcast the launch and automated docking live beginning Monday at 5:30 p.m. and again at 9 p.m.

Related links:

SpaceX Dragon:




Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Pauses Science Observations to Download Science Data

NASA - Kpler Space Telescope patch.

July 6, 2018

Earlier this week, NASA’s Kepler team received an indication that the spacecraft fuel tank is running very low. NASA has placed the spacecraft in a hibernation-like state in preparation to download the science data collected in its latest observation campaign. Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel.

Since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015. The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones. Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel.

Kepler Space Telescope

To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August. Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. On August 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data. If the maneuver and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel.

NASA will provide an update after the scheduled download. The agency has been monitoring the Kepler spacecraft closely for signs of low fuel, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months.

As engineers preserve the new data stored on the spacecraft, scientists are continuing to mine existing data already on the ground. Among other findings, recently 24 new planet discoveries were made using data from the 10th observation campaign, adding to the spacecraft’s growing bounty of 2,650 confirmed planets.

NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages the Kepler mission and follow-up K2 mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Kepler and K2:

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Rick Chen/Ames Research Center/Tiffany Blake.


Ice Block Avalanche

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

July 6, 2018

One of the most actively changing areas on Mars are the steep edges of the North Polar layered deposits. This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows many new ice blocks compared to an earlier image in December 2006 (bellow).

Ridge of Polar Layered Deposits, December 2006

HiRISE has been re-imaging regions first photographed in 2006 through 2007, six Mars years ago. This long baseline allows us to see large, rare changes as well as many smaller changes.

Animation above shows one example, where a section of ice cliff collapsed. The older image above (acquired in bin-2 mode) is not as sharp as the newer one.

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


Latest report on space junk

ESA - Clean Space patch.

6 July 2018

ESA’s Annual Space Environment Report is full of facts, figures and tables that provide a detailed picture of how the space debris environment around Earth has evolved.

Space Debris

Space debris includes all human-made, non-functioning objects in orbit around Earth, some of which regularly re-enter the atmosphere. As of the end of 2017, it was determined that 19 894 bits of space junk were circling our planet, with a combined mass of at least 8135 tons – that’s more mass than the entire metal structure of the Eifel Tower.

The space age began on 4 October 1957 with the launch of Sputnik 1, Earth's first artificial satellite. Ever since,the amount of debris in orbit has steadily increased, initially due to discarded rocket upper stages and defunct satellites left adrift in orbit, and later due to small bits generated by explosions, expended fuel and even collisions.

ESA’s annual report on space debris not only looks at how the space environment has evolved in the past year, but also at how it has changed since we first sent rockets and their satellite payloads into the heavens.

Sputnik 1

These ghosts of past scientific endeavours continue to haunt Earth’s environment; on occasion, some smash into each other in orbit, creating ever more fragments with the potential to do further damage to active missions. Eventually some debris pieces will re-enter the atmosphere, and while the smaller pieces will burn up, larger pieces have the potential to crash land on the Earth surface, potentially near populated areas.

This year’s report includes how the number of objects, their total mass and the area they cover has changed over time until 2017 – and it may come as no surprise that in each of these measures the numbers are increasing.

Just over 60-years into the space age we have begun implementing ‘End-of-Life’ options for the instruments we propel from Earth into orbit. This includes ESA’s Clean Space Initiative that is currently looking at ways of cleaning up our space environment, as well as preventing this build-up of space junk in the first place.

Hypervelocity Impact

The Annual Space Environment Report provides the information needed to inform technical policy makers, designers and manufacturers to help prevent the future creation of additional debris.

As vast and empty as space may be, it is not an infinite resource. With the rapid development and deployment of small and increasingly accessible technologies such as CubeSats, space near us is filling up. To continue operating and benefiting from satellites and instruments in orbit around our planet, we need to look after, and clean up, our space environment to ensure future sustainability.

Access ESA’s 2017 Annual Space Environment Report:

Related links:

Space Debris Office:

ESA presents... Clean Space:

CleanSat: new satellite technologies for cleaner low orbits:

Fraunhofer Ernst Mach Institute:

CISAS - Center for Studies and Activities for Space:

Space debris activities at ESOC:

Space Debris Conference:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.


jeudi 5 juillet 2018

JPL Shares in Cosmology Prize for Planck Mission

ESA - Planck Mission patch.

July 5, 2018

Image above: An artist's concept of the Planck spacecraft. Image Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The team of scientists behind the European Space Agency's Planck mission has been awarded the prestigious 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, played a key role in the design and construction of the Planck instrument, and in the scientific analysis of the mission's data.

The Gruber International Prize Program is sponsored by the Gruber Foundation, based at Yale University. The Cosmology Prize "honors a leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist or scientific philosopher for theoretical, analytical, conceptual or observational discoveries leading to fundamental advances in our understanding of the universe."

Launched in 2009, the Planck satellite spent 4 years making a high-resolution map of the oldest light in the universe, the cosmic microwave background (CMB), emitted 13.8 billion years ago when the universe was only 470,000 years old, giving us a "baby picture" of the cosmos.

This map allows researchers to learn about the entire 13.8-billion-year history of the universe, including its age, rate of expansion, and the distribution of mass and energy throughout. While Planck is not the first mission to map the microwave background, it did so with unprecedented angular resolution, sensitivity, and frequency coverage, producing the most accurate and detailed CMB map ever made.

JPL is managed by Caltech, also in Pasadena. Caltech’s science and data center for astronomy, IPAC, hosted the U.S. Data Center for Planck.

“The scientific goals of Planck were highly ambitious and have been realized completely," said Charles Lawrence of JPL, project scientist for the U.S. Planck Project.  "Well over 100 people from JPL and IPAC worked on Planck over the years and contributed enabling hardware, software and analysis to the mission. We can be proud of this mission's legacy, and the recognition of its importance by the Gruber Cosmology Prize.”

Mapping the CMB

Maps of the cosmic microwave background show the sky covered in seemingly random freckles of color. Those colors represent variations in the CMB's temperature, which the Planck satellite could measure down to one millionth of a degree. Those incredibly subtle variations arise from quantum fluctuations in the very early universe, which develop into the large-scale distribution of matter in the universe that we see today. In addition, the light from the CMB that reaches Earth has traveled through the entire visible universe, and very massive objects, like clusters of galaxies, act like obstacles that can also change the patterns that scientists observe in the Planck data.

Image above: This map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected by the Planck mission. The ancient light, called the cosmic microwave background, was imprinted on the sky when the universe was 370,000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today. Image Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA's Planck Project Office -- which led the US contribution to the mission -- was based at JPL, where scientists and engineers developed the overall thermal design concept for the mission; built the 20-K hydrogen sorption cooler system, which cooled the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI) to its operating temperature and provided precooling for the High Frequency Instrument (HFI); built the detectors for the HFI; and developed the amplifier technology for the LFI.

Engineers and scientists at IPAC are responsible for retrieving mission data from the Planck Data Processing Centers (in Paris, France and Trieste, Italy), staging data for usage by Planck team members, and for archival research by the astronomical community. The U.S. team at IPAC also generated the Early Release Compact Source Catalog (ERCSC), the first public data product from the mission.

The Planck data have provided a wealth of results for the field of cosmology, including: a refined measurement of the age of the universe, its rate of expansion and other cosmological properties; a refined estimate of when the first stars appeared; a catalog of more than 1,500 galaxy clusters (collections of multiple galaxies held together by gravity); unprecedented observations of the microwave and infrared light coming from the Milky Way galaxy; and studies of the galaxy's magnetic fields. The results tested the most widely accepted cosmological model of the universe to high precision, and opened up new areas of study both inside and outside the Milky Way.

Planck also helped researchers take a census of the three components that make up matter and energy in the universe: "regular matter," the kind we are made of, makes up just 4.9 percent; dark matter, detected only by the effects of its gravitational pull, makes up 26.2 percent; and dark energy, the name we give to whatever is causing the universe's accelerated expansion, makes up 68.9 percent.

JPL scientists also played essential roles in turning the Planck measurements into all-sky CMB maps of unprecedented quality, and in the scientific analysis that led to the cosmological results recognized by the Gruber Prize.

Planck mapping the oldest light in our universe. Animation Credit: ESA

"Planck was by far the very best instrument of its kind, like a high-performance race car," said Krzysztof Gorski, a senior research scientist at JPL. Gorski joined the Planck mission on the European side in 1996 before transferring to JPL and then joining the U.S. Planck Project in 2003.

"As it was designed to do, Planck provided complete closure on CMB temperature measurements and answered many important questions about the universe," he said. "But it also gave us hints about even bigger questions in cosmology that we can't fully answer yet -- so it left us wondering. All of that is a priceless legacy of the Planck mission.”

The $500,000 prize will be divided between Planck's principal investigators, Nazzareno Mandolesi and Jean-Loup Puget, and "the Planck team." Hundreds of scientists have contributed to various aspects of the mission; a smaller group will represent the Planck team and accept the prize money. More than 300 scientists and engineers from the Planck mission, including many from JPL and IPAC, will accept the Gruber Prize at the 30th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Vienna, Austria, this August.

The Gruber Prize was also awarded to two previous NASA missions that mapped the CMB: the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), launched in 1989, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), launched in 2001.

Related links:

NASA's Planck:

ESA's Planck:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

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

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Europa’s Ocean Ascending

NASA - Europa Clipper Mission patch.

July 5, 2018

This animation demonstrates how deformation in the icy surface of Europa could transport subsurface ocean water to the moon’s surface.

This is just one of several simulated behaviors reported in a new study performed by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The study focused on linear features called “bands” and “groove lanes” found on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede. Scientists have used the same numerical model to solve mysteries about motion in Earth’s crust.

The animation is a two-dimensional simulation of a possible cross-section of a band running through Europa’s ice shell. At the extreme bottom is Europa’s ocean, and the thick white line across the top represents the moon’s surface ice. The midsection is the bulk of Europa’s ice shell, with warmer colors (red, orange, yellow) representing stronger, more rigid ice. Depth is marked on the left side of the animation while numbers on the bottom measure distance from the center of the band feature on Europa’s surface. Bands on Europa and Ganymede are typically tens of miles wide and hundreds of miles long. Numbers at the top mark the passage of time in thousands of years.

As the animation runs forward, the ice shell is deformed by gravitational interactions with Jupiter. The cold, brittle ice at the surface gets pulled apart. At the same time, faults in the upper ice form, heal, and re-form (visible as diagonal yellow, green and blue lines in the upper center of the animation). The churning material that quickly fills the bottom half of the view is a collection of tiny white dots representing bits of Europa’s ocean that have been frozen into the bottom of Europa’s ice shell (i.e. where the liquid ocean is in contact with the frozen shell).

Image above: Artist's illustration of the Europa Clipper, a NASA spacecraft that will study Jupiter's ocean-harboring moon Europa during dozens of flybys. Image Credit: NASA.

In the paper, the scientists describe it as “fossil” ocean material because the bits of ocean trapped in Europa’s ice shell spend many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years being carried to the surface. In other words, by the time the ocean material reaches Europa’s surface where it can be analyzed by a passing spacecraft, it no longer serves as a sample of Europa’s ocean as it is in the present. Instead, the spacecraft would actually be studying Europa’s ocean as it was a million or more years ago. Hence, it is fossil ocean material.

NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is intended to launch in the early 2020s. The spacecraft will then orbit Jupiter and become the first spacecraft to study Europa exclusively, including the composition of the moon’s surface material. The mission will likely be able to test the model simulated above by using ice-penetrating radar to probe the moon’s bands. If Europa indeed behaves the way the simulation suggests, it might carry ocean material to the moon’s surface, where Europa Clipper would analyze it remotely using the spacecraft’s infrared and ultraviolet instruments, among others. Scientists could then study the material’s composition to consider whether Europa’s ocean might be hospitable for some form of life.

Related links:

JPL study:

Europa Clipper:

Europa (Moon):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Gretchen McCartney.


Successful Second Deep Space Maneuver for OSIRIS-REx Confirmed

NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

July 5, 2018

New tracking data confirms that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully completed its second Deep Space Maneuver (DSM-2) on June 28. The thruster burn put the spacecraft on course for a series of asteroid approach maneuvers to be executed this fall that will culminate with the spacecraft’s scheduled arrival at asteroid Bennu on Dec. 3.

The DSM-2 burn, which employed the spacecraft’s Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thruster set, resulted in a 37 miles per hour (16.7 meters per second) change in the vehicle’s velocity and consumed 28.2 pounds (12.8 kilograms) of fuel.

Tracking data from the Deep Space Network provided preliminary confirmation of the burn’s execution, and the subsequent downlink of telemetry from the spacecraft shows that all subsystems performed as expected.

Image above: illustration of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its main engine. Image Credits: University of Arizona.

DSM-2 was OSIRIS-REx’s last deep space maneuver of its outbound cruise to Bennu. The next engine burn, Asteroid Approach Maneuver 1 (AAM-1), is scheduled for early October. AAM-1 is a major braking maneuver designed to slow the spacecraft’s speed from approximately 1,130 to 320 miles per hour (506.2 to 144.4 meters per second) relative to Bennu and is the first of four asteroid approach maneuvers scheduled for this fall.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center/Nancy N. Jones.


mercredi 4 juillet 2018

Space Station's Plant Habitat Celebrates the Fourth of July

ISS - International Space Station logo.

July 4, 2018

The Advanced Plant Habitat on the International Space Station celebrates the Fourth of July with its LED lights, displaying an American flag pattern. Roughly the size of a mini-fridge, the habitat is designed to test which growth conditions plants prefer in space and provides specimens a larger root and shoot area. This space in turn will allow a wider variety of crops to grow aboard the station.

International Space Station (ISS)

The habitat is equipped with a monitoring system, the Plant Habitat Avionics Real-Time Manager, or PHARMER, that provides real-time telemetry, remote commanding and photo downlink to the team at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The system records data from its 180 sensors, including water usage, carbon dioxide levels, light levels, temperature, humidity and oxygen in the growth chamber, and temperature, humidity and oxygen levels in the plant root systems, and sends it back to Kennedy for analysis.

Related article:

Giving Roots and Shoots Their Space: The Advanced Plant Habitat

Related links:

The Advanced Plant Habitat (APH):



Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/Sarah Loff.

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The toxic side of the Moon

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

4 July 2018

When the Apollo astronauts returned from the Moon, the dust that clung to their spacesuits made their throats sore and their eyes water. Lunar dust is made of sharp, abrasive and nasty particles, but how toxic is it for humans?

The Moon as seen from the Space Station

The “lunar hay fever”, as NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt described it during the Apollo 17 mission created symptoms in all 12 people who have stepped on the Moon. From sneezing to nasal congestion, in some cases it took days for the reactions to fade. Inside the spacecraft, the dust smelt like burnt gunpowder.

The Moon missions left an unanswered question of lunar exploration – one that could affect humanity’s next steps in the Solar System: can lunar dust jeopardise human health?

An ambitious ESA research programme with experts from around the planet is now addressing the issues related to lunar dust.

Moon dust on astronaut after moonwalk

“We don’t know how bad this dust is. It all comes down to an effort to estimate the degree of risk involved,” says Kim Prisk, a pulmonary physiologist from the University of California with over 20 years of experience in human spaceflight – one of the 12 scientists taking part in ESA’s research.

Nasty dust

Lunar dust has silicate in it, a material commonly found on planetary bodies with volcanic activity. Miners on Earth suffer from inflamed and scarred lungs from inhaling silicate. On the Moon, the dust is so abrasive that it ate away layers of spacesuit boots and destroyed the vacuum seals of Apollo sample containers.

Fine like powder, but sharp like glass. The low gravity of the Moon, one sixth of what we have on Earth, allows tiny particles to stay suspended for longer and penetrate more deeply into the lung.

Lunar dust particle

“Particles 50 times smaller than a human hair can hang around for months inside your lungs. The longer the particle stays, the greater the chance for toxic effects,” explains Kim.

The potential damage from inhaling this dust is unknown but research shows that lunar soil simulants can destroy lung and brain cells after long-term exposure.

Down to the particle

 On Earth, fine particles tend to smoothen over years of erosion by wind and water, lunar dust however, is not round, but sharp and spiky.

In addition the Moon has no atmosphere and is constantly bombarded by radiation from the Sun that causes the soil to become electrostatically charged.

Collecting lunar samples

This charge can be so strong that the dust levitates above the lunar surface, making it even more likely to get inside equipment and people’s lungs.

Dusty workplace

To test equipment and the behaviour of lunar dust, ESA will be working with simulated Moon dust mined from a volcanic region in Germany.

Working with the simulant is no easy feat. “The rarity of the lunar glass-like material makes it a special kind of dust. We need to grind the source material but that means removing the sharp edges,” says Erin Tranfield, biologist and expert in dust toxicity.

Deep breath

The lunar soil does have a bright side. “You can heat it to produce bricks that can offer shelter for astronauts. Oxygen can be extracted from the soil to sustain human missions on the Moon,” explains science advisor Aidan Cowley.

This week ESA is hosting a workshop on lunar resources at the European Space Research Technology Centre in the Netherlands, meanwhile in space ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is running a session of the Airway Monitoring experiment to monitor lung health in reduced gravity – preparing for a sustainable return to our nearest neighbour in the Solar System.

Related links:

European vision for space exploration:

Exploration of the Moon:

Lunar exploration interactive guide:

Airway Monitoring:

Lunar resources workshop:

Lunar soil simulants research:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/JSC.

Best regards,

mardi 3 juillet 2018

Expedition 56 Crew Unpacks Dragon to Begin New Science Operations

ISS - Expedition 56 Mission patch.

July 3, 2018

The International Space Station crew from the United States, Russia and Germany is going into the Fourth of July holiday unpacking new research gear from the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. The six Expedition 56 crew members also conducted advanced space research and orbital lab maintenance today.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is pictured moments after being captured with the Canadarm2 (the 57.7-foot-long robotic arm designed and built by the Canadian Space Agency) controlled by NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold as the International Space Station orbited over Quebec, Canada. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold opened the hatches to the SpaceX Dragon space freighter Tuesday morning beginning a month of cargo swaps. He and Commander Drew Feustel began retrieving and unpacking a variety of new space cargo. Next, Flight Engineers Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst transferred critical science gear into the space station. The duo reviewed the experiment installation and research operations to help scientists learn how microgravity affects physics and biology.

Image above: Flying over Blue Marble, South Atlantic Ocean, seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'605 Km/h, altitude: 408,34 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 July 3, 2018 at 15:10 UTC. Image Credits: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

The space residents, including cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev, will spend the Fourth of July holiday with light duty. Gerst and Auñón-Chancellor will begin transferring mice delivered aboard Dragon into their new habitats aboard the station on Wednesday. The rodents will be observed to understand how microbes impact the gastrointestinal system in microgravity. Arnold and Feustel will be swapping frozen research samples from the Japanese Kibo lab module into the U.S. Destiny lab module.

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Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/NASA TV/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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NASA's NuSTAR Mission Proves Superstar Eta Carinae Shoots Cosmic Rays

NASA - Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) patch.

July 3, 2018

A new study using data from NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope suggests that Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years, is accelerating particles to high energies — some of which may reach Earth as cosmic rays.

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). Image Credit: NASA

“We know the blast waves of exploded stars can accelerate cosmic ray particles to speeds comparable to that of light, an incredible energy boost,” said Kenji Hamaguchi, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the lead author of the study. “Similar processes must occur in other extreme environments. Our analysis indicates Eta Carinae is one of them.”

Astronomers know that cosmic rays with energies greater than 1 billion electron volts (eV) come to us from beyond our solar system. But because these particles — electrons, protons and atomic nuclei — all carry an electrical charge, they veer off course whenever they encounter magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and masks their origins.

Superstar Eta Carinae Shoots Cosmic Rays

Video above: Zoom into Eta Carinae, where the outflows of two massive stars collide and shoot accelerated particles — cosmic rays — into space. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Eta Carinae, located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, is famous for a 19th century outburst that briefly made it the second-brightest star in the sky. This event also ejected a massive hourglass-shaped nebula, but the cause of the eruption remains poorly understood.

The system contains a pair of massive stars whose eccentric orbits bring them unusually close every 5.5 years. The stars contain 90 and 30 times the mass of our Sun and pass 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) apart at their closest approach — about the average distance separating Mars and the Sun.

“Both of Eta Carinae’s stars drive powerful outflows called stellar winds,” said team member Michael Corcoran, also at Goddard. “Where these winds clash changes during the orbital cycle, which produces a periodic signal in low-energy X-rays we’ve been tracking for more than two decades.”

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope also observes a change in gamma rays — light packing far more energy than X-rays — from a source in the direction of Eta Carinae. But Fermi’s vision isn’t as sharp as X-ray telescopes, so astronomers couldn’t confirm the connection.

To bridge the gap between low-energy X-ray monitoring and Fermi observations, Hamaguchi and his colleagues turned to NuSTAR. Launched in 2012, NuSTAR can focus X-rays of much greater energy than any previous telescope. Using both newly taken and archival data, the team examined NuSTAR observations acquired between March 2014 and June 2016, along with lower-energy X-ray observations from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite over the same period.

Image above: Eta Carinae shines in X-rays in this image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The colors indicate different energies. Red spans 300 to 1,000 electron volts (eV), green ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 eV and blue covers 3,000 to 10,000 eV. For comparison, the energy of visible light is about 2 to 3 eV. NuSTAR observations (green contours) reveal a source of X-rays with energies some three times higher than Chandra detects. X-rays seen from the central point source arise from the binary’s stellar wind collision. The NuSTAR detection shows that shock waves in the wind collision zone accelerate charged particles like electrons and protons to near the speed of light. Some of these may reach Earth, where they will be detected as cosmic ray particles. X-rays scattered by debris ejected in Eta Carinae's famous 1840 eruption may produce the broader red emission. Image Credits: NASA/CXC and NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Eta Carinae’s low-energy, or soft, X-rays come from gas at the interface of the colliding stellar winds, where temperatures exceed 70 million degrees Fahrenheit (40 million degrees Celsius). But NuSTAR detects a source emitting X-rays above 30,000 eV, some three times higher than can be explained by shock waves in the colliding winds. For comparison, the energy of visible light ranges from about 2 to 3 eV.

The team’s analysis, presented in a paper published on Monday, July 2, in Nature Astronomy, shows that these “hard” X-rays vary with the binary orbital period and show a similar pattern of energy output as the gamma rays observed by Fermi.

The researchers say that the best explanation for both the hard X-ray and the gamma-ray emission is electrons accelerated in violent shock waves along the boundary of the colliding stellar winds. The X-rays detected by NuSTAR and the gamma rays detected by Fermi arise from starlight given a huge energy boost by interactions with these electrons.

Image above: Eta Carinae's great eruption in the 1840s created the billowing Homunculus Nebula, imaged here by Hubble. Now about a light-year long, the expanding cloud contains enough material to make at least 10 copies of our Sun. Astronomers cannot yet explain what caused this eruption. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team.

Some of the superfast electrons, as well as other accelerated particles, must escape the system and perhaps some eventually wander to Earth, where they may be detected as cosmic rays.

“We’ve known for some time that the region around Eta Carinae is the source of energetic emission in high-energy X-rays and gamma rays”, said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a professor of astronomy at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “But until NuSTAR was able to pinpoint the radiation, show it comes from the binary and study its properties in detail, the origin was mysterious.”

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR's mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA's High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission's ground station and a mirror archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Francis Reddy.


Burst of Celestial Fireworks

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 3, 2018

Like a July 4 fireworks display, a young, glittering collection of stars resembles an aerial burst. The cluster is surrounded by clouds of interstellar gas and dust - the raw material for new star formation. The nebula, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina, contains a central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603.

Appearing colorful and serene, this environment is anything but. Ultraviolet radiation and violent stellar winds have blown out an enormous cavity in the gas and dust enveloping the cluster. Most of the stars in the cluster were born around the same time but differ in size, mass, temperature and color. The course of a star's life is determined by its mass, so a cluster of a given age will contain stars in various stages of their lives, giving an opportunity for detailed analyses of stellar life cycles. NGC 3603 also contains some of the most massive stars known. These huge stars live fast and die young, burning through their hydrogen fuel quickly and ultimately ending their lives in supernova explosions.

Star clusters like NGC 3603 provide important clues to understanding the origin of massive star formation in the early, distant universe. Astronomers also use massive clusters to study distant starbursts that occur when galaxies collide, igniting a flurry of star formation. The proximity of NGC 3603 makes it an excellent lab for studying such distant and momentous events.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

This Hubble Space Telescope image was captured in August 2009 and December 2009 with the Wide Field Camera 3 in both visible and infrared light, which trace the glow of sulfur, hydrogen, and iron.

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Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, R. O'Connell (University of Virginia), F. Paresce (National Institute for Astrophysics, Bologna, Italy), E. Young (Universities Space Research Association/Ames Research Center), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

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First Laser Light for GRACE Follow-On

NASA - GRACE Follow-On Mission logo.

July 3, 2018

The laser ranging interferometer (LRI) instrument has been successfully switched on aboard the recently launched twin U.S./German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites. The LRI, which is being flown as a technology demonstration, has made its first measurements in parallel with GRACE-FO's main microwave ranging instrument, and initial comparisons of the data from the two types of instruments show that they agree as expected.

"The LRI is a breakthrough for precision distance measurements in space," said LRI Instrument Manager Kirk McKenzie of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages NASA's contribution to the instrument. "It's the first inter-spacecraft laser interferometer and the culmination of about a decade of NASA- and German-funded research and development."

Image above: Artist's rendering of the twin spacecraft of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, scheduled to launch in May. GRACE-FO will track the evolution of Earth's water cycle by monitoring changes in the distribution of mass on Earth.Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The GRACE-FO mission, launched on May 22, continues the work of the original GRACE mission of monitoring phenomena such as the melting of ice sheets and changes in groundwater levels by tracking the changing pull of gravity on the GRACE-FO satellites. The microwave ranging interferometer records these changes in gravity by measuring how they change the distance between the twin spacecraft. By accurately measuring these minute changes as the two spacecraft orbit the planet, scientists are able to calculate month-to-month variations in Earth's gravity field. The LRI is an enabling technology for future GRACE-FO-like missions with potential to significantly improve the accuracy of those missions. The instrument is jointly managed by JPL and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Hanover, Germany.

Seeing the light

The LRI's "first light" operation took place over two days. On June 13, the two GRACE-FO satellites began sweeping their lasers in spiral patterns in search of each other. Gerhard Heinzel, leader of the space interferometry research group at the Albert Einstein Institute and manager of the German contribution to the LRI, explained the challenge: "There are coin-sized holes on each satellite through which the laser has to be precisely pointed towards the holes in the other satellite over a distance of more than 200 kilometers [137 miles], while both spacecraft race around Earth at 27,000 kilometers an hour [16,000 miles per hour]. It is truly mind-boggling." (Here is a fuller explanation of how the LRI operates

In the data that were downlinked the next day, it was clear that each spacecraft had seen several flashes of light during the spiral scans, indicating both LRI instruments received light from the opposite spacecraft and were working as expected. The settings needed to establish a continuous laser link were calculated and uploaded to the satellites, and the LRI delivered its first intersatellite range data at a later downlink that day.

Image above: As GRACE-FO orbits (ground track at bottom; north is to the right) the distance between the two spacecraft changes very slightly (top) as the mass below changes (middle, shown as changes in ground elevation). Image Credits: B. Knispel/G.Heinzel/AEI/GFZ/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SRTM.

"The plan for establishing the laser link worked exactly as designed. In fact, the laser link locked in on the first attempt," said Christopher Woodruff, the LRI mission operations lead at JPL.

In the coming weeks and months, the GRACE-FO research team will work on fine-tuning the operation of this novel instrument and completing their understanding of the data it delivers.

The fine print

GRACE-FO is a partnership between NASA and German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany. JPL manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Additional contributors to the laser ranging interferometer include SpaceTech in Immenstaad, Germany; Tesat-Spacecom in Backnang, Germany; Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado; iXblue in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France; the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics in Adlershof and Institute of Space Systems in Bremen; Hensoldt Optronics in Oberkochen; Apcon AeroSpace and Defence in Neubiberg/Munich; Diamond USA, Inc., and Diamond SA in Losone, Switzerland; and Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen.

For more information on the LRI, see:

For more information about GRACE-FO, see:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Alan Buis/Esprit Smith.