lundi 19 août 2019

Robotics Work Prepping Docking Port Ahead of Wednesday’s Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

August 19, 2019

Robotics controllers are preparing a new commercial crew docking port for installation during a spacewalk on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Expedition 60 crew is researching life science and physics while packing a cargo ship for return to Earth next week.

The Canadarm2 robotic arm will extract the International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3) from the trunk of the Space Dragon cargo craft during the crew’s sleep shift tonight. Ground controllers will remotely position the IDA-3 on top of the Harmony module where it will soon become a permanent part of the orbiting lab.

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague takes an out-of-this-world “space-selfie” during a spacewalk on March 22, 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

Spacewalkers Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan will exit the station Wednesday about 8:20 a.m. EDT to finish the IDA-3 installation job. The duo will work outside Harmony for about six and a half hours routing cables and configuring the IDA-3 in preparation for the arrival of future SpaceX and Boeing crew vehicles. See an animation (bellow) of their planned activities.

IDA 3 Spacewalk Animation

Hague had time on Monday afternoon to research ways to improve tire manufacturing and performance on Earth. Morgan and NASA astronaut Christina Koch were packing Dragon and readying the space freighter for its return to Earth on Aug. 27.

Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) spent the day on a variety of life science studies. He first collected his blood and urine samples for analysis, and then he tested his blood sugar for the Vascular Aging study observing cardiovascular health and insulin resistance in space. Finally, he spun cell culture samples in a centrifuge for the Micro-15 study investigating cell differentiation.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The two cosmonauts, Alexey Ovchinin and Alexander Skvortsov, kept up the Russian segment of the orbiting lab today. Commander Ovchinin checked out a treadmill in the Zvezda service module before gathering items for return to Earth on a Soyuz spaceship. Flight Engineer Skvortsov is recording his heart activity for the next 24 hours while also maintaining Russian life support hardware.

Russia’s Soyuz MS-14 crew ship has rolled out to its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today. It will launch Wednesday with no crew onboard at 11:38 p.m. EDT to test its 2.1a booster segment during ascent. The unpiloted Soyuz spacecraft will automatically dock Saturday at 1:30 a.m. to the station’s Poisk module.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3):

Harmony module:

Tire manufacturing and performance:

Vascular Aging:


Zvezda service module:

Poisk module:

NASA TV: and

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Data Rate Increase on the International Space Station Supports Future Exploration

SCaN - Space Communication and Navigation patch.

Aug. 19, 2019

NASA recently doubled the rate at which data from the International Space Station returns to Earth, paving the way for similar future upgrades on Gateway, NASA’s upcoming outpost in lunar orbit, and other exploration missions. This new data rate will enable the space station to send back more science data faster than ever before.

NASA’s missions, both near and far, rely on quick and effective communications to relay critical mission data to control centers and scientists here on Earth. The station now supports a 600 megabit-per-second (Mbps) connection, doubling the amount of data that the station can transmit and receive at a time.

Image above: Upgrades to the International Space Station’s data rate has proven increased communications capabilities for future missions. Image Credit: NASA.

“NASA’s communications networks play a pivotal role in every NASA mission, enabling data from human spaceflight, space and Earth science research missions and technological demonstrations to reach Earth for the benefit of humanity,” said George Morrow, the acting center director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This increase in data rate capability for the International Space Station underlines our commitment to provide high-quality operational services for NASA exploration missions today and in the future.”

The space station’s unique environment allows astronauts to conduct research that would not otherwise be possible on Earth. These experiments and technology demonstrations are increasingly reliant on high data rates between the station and researchers on Earth. The work on the orbiting laboratory provides knowledge in human research, experience in long-duration spaceflight, and capabilities for technology demonstrations that may enable future missions. With the data rate increase, the station can now accommodate new experiments and technology demonstrations that require higher resolution or more detailed data than was previously possible.

Image above: The unique environment of the station allows astronauts to perform important science research. These upgrades will increase the amount of data from these experiments that can be sent back to Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

The space station communicates with Earth through radio frequency signals using a system of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) and ground-based antennas called the Space Network. The TDRS are placed in a high orbit above the Earth, over various strategic locations so that they can relay data to the ground from anywhere in orbit. Landlines then send the signal to various NASA centers, and their computer systems turn the radio signal back into readable data. To send data back, the process repeats in the other direction. This happens with less than a one-second delay in communication.

“This project demonstrated that advanced radio frequency waveforms can be used efficiently to increase data rates and improve performance for high-rate communication services,” said Risha George, the upgrade project lead for the Space Network.  “Operational use of these advanced waveforms proves that they can also be used for future missions, such as on the Gateway, a small spaceship that will orbit the Moon and provide a stepping stone to human exploration on Mars.”

Image above: Many components of the Space Network were upgraded to support the increased data rate, including at ground stations such as this one in White Sands, New Mexico. Image Credit: NASA.

Several components in this global communications system were upgraded to support the increased data rate, including a new digital ground architecture for the Space Network. Technicians updated the space station’s software-based modem, improved data processors at various NASA centers, and enhanced routers, interfaces and other equipment and software at the ground stations. The circuits and bandwidth of the terrestrial data lines between the various Earth-based components were also upgraded. The team then performed extensive testing to ensure the upgrades worked correctly. All of this was done while still providing real-time support to the more than 40 missions the network regularly supports.

“Partnerships like this are crucial to our continued success as an agency,” said Penny Roberts, the upgrade project lead for the space station. “Our continued partnership will transition us to 600 Mbps, and who knows where else we will go together.”

Related links:

Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway:

Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS):

Space Network:

Humans in Space:

SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation):

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Matthew D. Peters.


NASA Gets a Rare Look at a Rocky Exoplanet's Surface

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 19, 2019

Image above: This artist's illustration depicts the exoplanet LHS 3844b, which is 1.3 times the mass of Earth and orbits an M dwarf star. The planet's surface may be covered mostly in dark lava rock, with no apparent atmosphere, according to observations by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC).

A new study using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope provides a rare glimpse of conditions on the surface of a rocky planet orbiting a star beyond the Sun. The study, published today in the journal Nature, shows that the planet's surface may resemble those of Earth's Moon or Mercury: The planet likely has little to no atmosphere and could be covered in the same cooled volcanic material found in the dark areas of the Moon's surface, called mare.

Discovered in 2018 by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS) mission, planet LHS 3844b is located 48.6 light-years from Earth and has a radius 1.3 times that of Earth. It orbits a small, cool type of star called an M dwarf — especially noteworthy because, as the most common and long-lived type of star in the Milky Way galaxy, M dwarfs may host a high percentage of the total number of planets in the galaxy.

TESS found the planet via the transit method, which involves detecting when the observed light of a parent star dims because of a planet orbiting between the star and Earth. Detecting light coming directly from a planet's surface — another method — is difficult because the star is so much brighter and drowns out the planet's light.

But during follow-up observations, Spitzer was able to detect light from the surface of LHS 3844b. The planet makes one full revolution around its parent star in just 11 hours. With such a tight orbit, LHS 3844b is most likely "tidally locked," which is when one side of a planet permanently faces the star. The star-facing side, or dayside, is about 1,410 degrees Fahrenheit (770 degrees Celsius). Being extremely hot, the planet radiates a lot of infrared light, and Spitzer is an infrared telescope. The planet's parent star is relatively cool (though still much hotter than the planet), making direct observation of LHS 3844b's dayside possible.

This observation marks the first time Spitzer data have been able to provide information about the atmosphere of a terrestrial world around an M dwarf.

The Search for Life

By measuring the temperature difference between the planet's hot and cold sides, the team found that there is a negligible amount of heat being transferred between the two. If an atmosphere were present, hot air on the dayside would naturally expand, generating winds that would transfer heat around the planet. On a rocky world with little to no atmosphere, like the Moon, there is no air present to transfer heat.

"The temperature contrast on this planet is about as big as it can possibly be," said Laura Kreidberg, a researcher at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lead author of the new study. "That matches beautifully with our model of a bare rock with no atmosphere."

Understanding the factors that could preserve or destroy planetary atmospheres is part of how scientists plan to search for habitable environments beyond our solar system. Earth's atmosphere is the reason liquid water can exist on the surface, enabling life to thrive. On the other hand, the atmospheric pressure of Mars is now less than 1% of Earth's, and the oceans and rivers that once dotted the Red Planet's surface have disappeared.

"We've got lots of theories about how planetary atmospheres fare around M dwarfs, but we haven't been able to study them empirically," Kreidberg said. "Now, with LHS 3844b, we have a terrestrial planet outside our solar system where for the first time we can determine observationally that an atmosphere is not present."

Spitzer Space Telescope. Animation Credit: NASA

Compared to Sun-like stars, M dwarfs emit high levels of ultraviolet light (though less light overall), which is harmful to life and can erode a planet's atmosphere. They're particularly violent in their youth, belching up a large number of flares, or bursts of radiation and particles that could strip away budding planetary atmospheres.

The Spitzer observations rule out an atmosphere with more than 10 times the pressure of Earth's. (Measured in units called bars, Earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level is about 1 bar.) An atmosphere between 1 and 10 bars on LHS 3844b has been almost entirely ruled out as well, although the authors note there's a slim chance it could exist if the stellar and planetary properties were to meet some very specific and unlikely criteria. They also argue that with the planet so close to a star, a thin atmosphere would be stripped away by the star's intense radiation and outflow of material (often called stellar winds).

"I'm still hopeful that other planets around M dwarfs could keep their atmospheres," Kreidberg said. "The terrestrial planets in our solar system are enormously diverse, and I expect the same will be true for exoplanet systems."

A Bare Rock

Spitzer and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have previously gathered information about the atmospheres of multiple gas planets, but LHS 3844b appears to be the smallest planet for which scientists have used the light coming from its surface to learn about its atmosphere (or lack thereof). Spitzer previously used the transit method to study the seven rocky worlds around the TRAPPIST-1 star (also an M dwarf) and learn about their possible overall composition; for instance, some of them likely contain water ice.

The authors of the new study went one step further, using LHS 3844b's surface albedo (or its reflectiveness) to try to infer its composition.

The Nature study shows that LHS 3844b is "quite dark," according to co-author Renyu Hu, an exoplanet scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages the Spitzer Space Telescope. He and his co-authors believe the planet is covered with basalt, a kind of volcanic rock. "We know that the mare of the Moon are formed by ancient volcanism," Hu said, "and we postulate that this might be what has happened on this planet."

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Space operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Related link:

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS):

For more information on Spitzer, visit:

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


The 'Look Ma, No Hands' mission success

Rocket Lab - Look Ma, No Hands patch.

Aug. 19, 2019

Look Ma, No Hands lift off

Lift-off of the Look Ma, No Hands mission occurred at 12:12 UTC on August 19 2019 from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula.

Look Ma, No Hands Launch - 08/19/2019

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket launch on its eighth flight from a facility on the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island. The Electron rocket and its Curie upper stage will place four small satellites into orbit on a rideshare mission arranged by Spaceflight and Rocket Lab.

BlackSky constellation

The payloads include the BlackSky Global 4 commercial Earth observation satellite, two tech demo CubeSats for Air Force Space Command’s Pearl White program, and commercial CubeSat for the French company UnseenLabs, which is developing a constellation of maritime surveillance spacecraft. The mission is nicknamed “Look Ma, No Hands.”

Related links:


Rocket Lab:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Rocket Lab/BlackSky/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

samedi 17 août 2019

Smart Dragon-1 (First commercial launcher) launches three satellites

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

Aug. 17, 2019

Smart Dragon-1 lift off

Smart Dragon-1 launch vehicle launched three satellites from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu Province, northwest China, on 17 August 2019, at 04:11 UTC (12:11 local time).

Smart Dragon-1 (SD-1, also known as Lightning Dragon No.1, Jielong-1, 捷龙一号) is a new solid-propellant rocket developed by the China Rocket Co. Ltd. affiliated to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT). According to official sources, SD-1 has a total length of 19.5 meters, a diameter of 1.2 meter, a takeoff weight of about 23.1 tonnes and is capable of sending 200 kg payloads to a Sun-synchronous orbit with at an altitude of 500 km.

Smart Dragon-1's first launch (捷龙一号, Jielong-1)

Four rocket motors fired in succession as the Jielong 1 booster flew south from Jiuquan. CALT said the Jielong 1 rocket placed its three satellite payloads into orbit, and Chinese officials hailed the mission as a success.

The Jielong 1 carried three satellites on Saturday’s launch.

Smart Dragon-1 (捷龙一号, Jielong-1)

 One of the microsatellites, owned by a Beijing-based company named Qiansheng Exploration Technology Co. Ltd., weighed around 140 pounds (65 kilograms) at the time of launch. The spacecraft hosts an Earth-imaging instrument with a resolution of less than 6.6 feet (2 meters), could pave the way for a fleet of Earth-observing satellites from Qiansheng.

 Xingshidai 5 satellite

A small Earth observation satellite named Xingshidai 5, owned by Chengdu Guoxing Aerospace Technology Co. Ltd., was also aboard the Jielong 1 rocket Saturday. An experimental data relay satellite named Tianqi 2, developed by Guodian Gaoke in Beijing, was the third payload on Saturday’s launch.

Related links:

China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT):

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: CALVT/CASC/ China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 16 août 2019

Station Preps for New Docking Port During Science and Soyuz Checks

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

August 16, 2019

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Three NASA astronauts remain focused on preparations for next week’s spacewalk at the International Space Station. The rest of the Expedition 60 focused on biology research and a pair of docked spaceships.

Flight Engineer Christina Koch has been supporting spacewalkers Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan, as they get ready for the fifth spacewalk of the year on Aug. 21. The pair will install the new International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3) to the Harmony module’s space-facing port during the six-and-a-half-hour job.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is pictured attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module as the orbital complex flew 260 miles above the Nile River Delta in Egypt. Image Credit: NASA.

Koch printed out checklists the spacewalkers will wear on their spacesuit cuffs and verified the spacesuits are the correct size. She also joined Hague and Morgan reviewing next week’s spacewalk procedures. The spacewalking duo also set up the Quest airlock where they will collect their tools and suit up ahead of their excursion.

Robotics controllers will remotely command the Canadarm2 to detach the IDA-3 from the rear portion of the SpaceX Dragon on Monday. They will maneuver the new docking port to a pressurized mating adapter on top of Harmony readying it for Wednesday’s spacewalk. Hague and Morgan in their U.S. spacesuits will then route cables and configure hardware readying the IDA-3 for new SpaceX and Boeing crew ships.

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague, in his white U.S. spacesuit, is contrasted by the blackness of space during a six-hour, 39-minute spacewalk that took place in March 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

Luca Parmitano, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut on his second station mission, worked on a biology experiment today with potential benefits for the medicine industry. He tended to stem cell samples growing in a specialized incubator to help researchers understand cell behavior in space.

Cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Alexander Skvortsov checked out two docked Soyuz crew ships today. The duo tested and recharged communications gear in the vehicles and continued packing gear for return to Earth.

SpaceX Dragon CRS-18 related articles:

Dragon Installed to Station’s Harmony Module for Cargo Operations

Dragon Captured With New Science Experiments

Dragon Reaches Orbit, Astronauts Prepare for Saturday Capture

SpaceX Falcon 9 Successfully Launches CRS-18

Science Soars to the Space Station on SpaceX CRS-18

Related links:

Expedition 60:

International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3):

Harmony module:

Quest airlock:


stem cell samples:

specialized incubator:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble’s Portrait of Star’s Gaseous Glow

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 16, 2019

Although it looks more like an entity seen through a microscope than a telescope, this rounded object, named NGC 2022, is certainly not algae or tiny, blobby jellyfish. Instead, it is a vast orb of gas in space, cast off by an aging star. The star is visible in the orb's center, shining through the gases it formerly held onto for most of its stellar life.

When stars like the Sun grow advanced in age, they expand and glow red. These so-called red giants then begin to lose their outer layers of material into space. More than half of such a star's mass can be shed in this manner, forming a shell of surrounding gas. At the same time, the star's core shrinks and grows hotter, emitting ultraviolet light that causes the expelled gases to glow.

This type of object is called, somewhat confusingly, a planetary nebula, though it has nothing to do with planets. The name derives from the rounded, planet-like appearance of these objects in early telescopes.

NGC 2022 is located in the constellation of Orion (the Hunter).

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

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


Robotic Tool Operations Bring In-Space Refueling Closer to Reality

ISS - Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) patch.

Aug. 16, 2019

Image above: Robotic Refueling Mission 3’s Multi-Function Tool 2, operated by Dextre, demonstrates robotic refueling operations on the outside of space station. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission 3 (RRM3) completed an initial set of tool operations, bringing the idea of using water ice or methane from other worlds as fuel for spacecraft one step closer to reality. The ability to store and transfer cryogens (super-cold hydrogen, oxygen and methane) will help spacecraft journey father into our solar system and beyond.

Image above: The RRM3 team manages operations from the Goddard Satellite Servicing Control Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Image Credits: NASA/Taylor Mickal.

The successful operations demonstrated the first of three tools designed by the Satellite Servicing Projects Division to robotically transfer liquid methane from one tank to another in space. Operated by space station’s Dextre robot, the Multi-function Tool 2 unstowed the cryogen coupler adapter and inserted it into the cryogen coupler adapter port. This operation would make it possible to then transfer cryogenic fuel using the remaining RRM3 tools. Additional RRM3 tool operations will be carried out later this year.

Animation above: The Robotic Refueling Mission is testing the tools and techniques that will one day enable robots to refuel, repair and upgrade satellites in space. Animation Credit: NASA.

RRM3 launched to the International Space Station in December 2018. While the mission is no longer capable of transferring liquid methane due to a hardware issue in April, it has achieved several objectives. RRM3 demonstrated the longest storage of a cryogen without loss due to a process called boil off. Boil off is a loss of fluid that occurs when the cryogen is not maintained at a low enough temperature. Special coolers within RRM3 kept the liquid cold for four months.

Related links:

Robotic Refueling Mission 3 (RRM3):


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Vanessa Lloyd and Peter Jacobs.


Virgin Galactic presents its new HQ

Virgin Galactic logo.

August 16, 2019

Virgin Galactic unveiled Thursday its new control center and announced its latest tests for commercial flights in space.

The new Virgin Galactic HQ in New Mexico

The Virgin Galactic space tourism company on Thursday presented its new headquarters in the US state of New Mexico and unveiled the schedule of its latest test flights, getting even closer to its first commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic's control room was installed in the Spaceport America base, owned by New Mexico. This base was officially "opened" in 2011 by British billionaire Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004.

The new Virgin Galactic HQ in New Mexico

After years of development, delayed by a fatal accident in 2014, Virgin Galactic has created a spaceship and crossed the border twice, but never with paying customers, even though 600 people - including celebrities Hollywood girls - signed up for the program.

First flights next year

Managing Director George Whitesides confirmed to AFP that he expected the first flights to take place "next year". "Today was a great day," he explained. "It's extraordinarily satisfying to see all the pieces put in place, the last touches, the vehicle, the staff, the place ... and the customers." "We are extremely happy to have arrived there," he concluded.

Gateway to Space

On the same day, Virgin Galactic presented to its guests two floors of "Spaceport America" ​​"dedicated primarily to flight operations". The complex also includes "communal spaces designed to be used, in the future, by Virgin Galactic customers, their friends and their families," the company said in a statement. This "means that the base is now functional and able to meet the demands of Virgin Galactic charter flights."

The company announced last month the upcoming lifting of hundreds of millions of dollars in order to send, finally, its first customers in space, within a year. Virgin Galactic will offer a few minutes of weightlessness to six passengers at a time. They will float in the cabin and will see the curvature of the Earth, under a black sky, by large portholes.

Virgin Galactic Opens the Doors to the ‘Gateway to Space’

Virgin's chief pilot, Scotland's Dave Mackay, wrote on a blog that VMS Eve, Virgin's carrier ship, had arrived at the base and that the new test phases would begin soon. Later in the year, VMS Eve will return to California for "final testing".

Virgin Galactic:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Virgin Galactic/AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

jeudi 15 août 2019

Station Orbits Higher as Crew Preps for Spacewalk and New Spaceship

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

August 15, 2019

The International Space Station is orbiting higher today as the Expedition 60 crew continued setting up for next week’s spacewalk. The orbiting residents also focused on space biology experiments and packing gear for return to Earth.

A docked Progress 73 (73P) spacecraft fired its thrusters overnight in two 10-minute burns three hours apart raising the station’s altitude. The maneuver puts the complex at the proper phasing for the rendezvous and docking of Russia’s unpiloted Soyuz MS-14 crew ship late next week.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft is processed for its Aug. 21 launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

The Soyuz MS-14 will lift off on Aug. 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a test of the spacecraft’s 2.1a booster during its ascent into Earth orbit. It will arrive at the station Aug. 24 for an automated docking to the Poisk module. The vehicle will undock on Sept. 6 for a return to Earth.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan continue servicing their spacesuits and reviewing procedures for the fifth spacewalk of the year. The duo will route cables and configure hardware to install the International Docking Adapter-3 on top of the station’s Harmony module. They will exit the station Aug. 21 for the six-and-a-half-hour job that takes place the same day the Soyuz MS-14 lifts off.

Spacewalk views from helmet camera. Animation Credit: NASA

Rodent research and stem cell differentiation were Thursday’s primary space science activities. Flight Engineer Christina Koch fed mice and cleaned their cages as scientists observed the creatures that are genetically similar to humans. Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency wore the Bio-Monitor recording his vital signs while exploring how microgravity affects a variety of cell functions.

Cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Alexander Skvortsov will be ready for next week’s arrival of the Soyuz MS-14. They are taking inventory of gear for return in the spacecraft while continuing to unload cargo from the 73P.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Progress 73 (73P):

Poisk module:

International Docking Adapter-3:

Harmony module:


Cell functions:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Moon Glows Brighter Than Sun in Images From NASA's Fermi

NASA - Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope logo.

Aug. 15, 2019

If our eyes could see high-energy radiation called gamma rays, the Moon would appear brighter than the Sun! That’s how NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has seen our neighbor in space for the past decade.

Gamma-ray observations are not sensitive enough to clearly see the shape of the Moon’s disk or any surface features. Instead, Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) detects a prominent glow centered on the Moon’s position in the sky.

Animation above: The Moon shines brightly in gamma rays as seen in this time sequence from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Each 5-by-5-degree image is centered on the Moon and shows gamma rays with energies above 31 million electron volts, or tens of millions of times that of visible light. At these energies, the Moon is actually brighter than the Sun. Brighter colors indicate greater numbers of gamma rays. This animation shows how longer exposure, ranging from two to 128 months (10.7 years), improved the view. Image Credits: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration.

Mario Nicola Mazziotta and Francesco Loparco, both at Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Bari, have been analyzing the Moon’s gamma-ray glow as a way of better understanding another type of radiation from space: fast-moving particles called cosmic rays.

“Cosmic rays are mostly protons accelerated by some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe, like the blast waves of exploding stars and jets produced when matter falls into black holes,” explained Mazziotta.

Because the particles are electrically charged, they’re strongly affected by magnetic fields, which the Moon lacks. As a result, even low-energy cosmic rays can reach the surface, turning the Moon into a handy space-based particle detector. When cosmic rays strike, they interact with the powdery surface of the Moon, called the regolith, to produce gamma-ray emission. The Moon absorbs most of these gamma rays, but some of them escape.

Mazziotta and Loparco analyzed Fermi LAT lunar observations to show how the view has improved during the mission. They rounded up data for gamma rays with energies above 31 million electron volts — more than 10 million times greater than the energy of visible light — and organized them over time, showing how longer exposures improve the view.

“Seen at these energies, the Moon would never go through its monthly cycle of phases and would always look full,” said Loparco.

Image above: These images show the steadily improving view of the Moon’s gamma-ray glow from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Each 5-by-5-degree image is centered on the Moon and shows gamma rays with energies above 31 million electron volts, or tens of millions of times that of visible light. At these energies, the Moon is actually brighter than the Sun. Brighter colors indicate greater numbers of gamma rays. This image sequence shows how longer exposure, ranging from two to 128 months (10.7 years), improved the view. Image Credits: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration.

As NASA sets its sights on sending humans to the Moon by 2024 through the Artemis program, with the eventual goal of sending astronauts to Mars, understanding various aspects of the lunar environment take on new importance. These gamma-ray observations are a reminder that astronauts on the Moon will require protection from the same cosmic rays that produce this high-energy gamma radiation.

While the Moon’s gamma-ray glow is surprising and impressive, the Sun does shine brighter in gamma rays with energies higher than 1 billion electron volts. Cosmic rays with lower energies do not reach the Sun because its powerful magnetic field screens them out. But much more energetic cosmic rays can penetrate this magnetic shield and strike the Sun’s denser atmosphere, producing gamma rays that can reach Fermi.

Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Animation Credit: NASA

Although the gamma-ray Moon doesn’t show a monthly cycle of phases, its brightness does change over time. Fermi LAT data show that the Moon’s brightness varies by about 20% over the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle. Variations in the intensity of the Sun’s magnetic field during the cycle change the rate of cosmic rays reaching the Moon, altering the production of gamma rays.

- Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope:

Related link:

Artemis program:

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


mercredi 14 août 2019

Robotics Supporting Exploration; Briefers Talk Friday About Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

August 14, 2019

The Expedition 60 crew is busy conducting space research everyday inside the International Space Station. While they work, scientists and engineers on Earth can remotely control and observe experiments attached to the outside of the orbiting lab.

Researchers today concluded a run of the external Robotic Refueling Mission 3 experiment. Robotics controllers on the ground remotely guided the Dextre robotic hand, attached to the Canadarm2 robotic arm, and tested cryogenic refueling techniques in space. Refueling and repairing satellites and spacecraft supports NASA’s objective of sending humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Image above: Expedition 60 Flight Engineer Christina Koch of NASA photographs Earth landmarks through the station’s “window to the world,” the seven-windowed cupola. Image Credit: NASA.

Back inside the space station, the astronauts continued supporting human research activities. NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan joined ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano for eye exams at the end of the day. Morgan also serviced a variety of science freezers holding experiment samples for analysis. Parmitano continued researching stem cell differentiation for the Micro-15 experiment.

Hague and Morgan are also getting ready for a spacewalk on Aug. 21. The duo spent a couple of hours Wednesday configuring spacewalking tools and tethers they will use next week. The spacewalkers’ mission is to install a second commercial crew vehicle docking port, the International Docking Adapter-3, on top of the Harmony module. Briefers will discuss the spacewalk details on NASA TV beginning Friday at 2 p.m. EDT.

All six crewmembers, including NASA astronaut Christina Koch and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Alexander Skvortsov, participated in an emergency simulation during the afternoon. The station crew practiced the activities necessary to contain emergencies such as pressure and chemical leaks or a fire.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Two reboosts will occur overnight tonight to set up the correct phasing for the uncrewed Soyuz MS-14 34-orbit rendezvous next week and landing Sept. 6. The Soyuz and its 2.1a booster are scheduled to roll out to the Site 31 launch pad on Monday.

In Louisville, Colorado, Sierra Nevada Corporation announced the selection of United Launch Alliance as launch provider for the Dream Chaser spacecraft. Dream Chaser is scheduled to begin missions to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station in late 2021.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

Robotic Refueling Mission 3:

Dextre robotic hand:



International Docking Adapter-3:

Harmony module:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Selects Proposals to Further Study the Fundamental Nature of Space

NASA logo.

Aug. 14, 2019

NASA has selected two proposals for concept studies that could help us better understand the fundamental nature of space and how it changes in response to planetary atmospheres, radiation from the Sun, and interstellar particles. The proposals will advance NASA’s heliophysics program and could lead to better protection for both technology and humans as we travel farther from home.

Each of these Heliophysics Science Mission of Opportunity proposals will receive $400,000 to conduct a nine-month mission concept study. After the studies, NASA will choose one proposal to launch as a secondary payload on the agency’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP).

Image above: NASA has chosen two new science proposals for nine-month concept studies to advance our understanding of how the particles and energy in space – shown here flowing from the Sun in an illustration of the solar wind – affect the fundamental nature of space. One proposal will ultimately be chosen to launch along with NASA’s upcoming Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe in October 2024. Image Credit: NASA.

The proposals were selected based on potential science value and feasibility of development plans. Total cost of this Mission of Opportunity is capped at $75 million and is funded by NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program.

The selected proposals are:

Spatial/Spectral Imaging of Heliospheric Lyman Alpha (SIHLA)

SIHLA would map the entire sky to determine the shape and underlying mechanisms of the boundary between the heliosphere, the area of our Sun’s magnetic influence, and the interstellar medium, a boundary known as the heliopause. The observations would gather far-ultraviolet light emitted from hydrogen atoms. This wavelength is key for examining many astrophysical phenomena, including planetary atmospheres and comets, because so much of the universe is composed of hydrogen. SIHLA will focus on mapping the velocity and distribution of the solar wind – the outpouring of particles from the Sun – helping to resolve our understanding of what drives structure in the solar wind and heliopause. This is an area of research undergoing rapid evolution due to data from NASA missions, such as Voyager, Parker Solar Probe and Interstellar Boundary Explorer.

The principal investigator for SIHLA is Larry Paxton at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Global Lyman-alpha Imagers of the Dynamic Exosphere (GLIDE)

The GLIDE mission would study variability in Earth’s exosphere, the uppermost region of its atmosphere, by tracking far ultraviolet light emitted from hydrogen. The proposed mission would fill an existing measurement gap, as only a handful of such images previously have been made from outside the exosphere. The mission would gather observations at a high rate, with a view of the entire exosphere, ensuring a truly global and comprehensive set of data. Understanding the ways in which Earth’s exosphere changes in response to influences of the Sun above or the atmosphere below, would provide us with better ways to forecast and, ultimately, mitigate the ways in which space weather can interfere with radio communications in space.

The principal investigator for GLIDE is Lara Waldrop at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

IMAP currently is scheduled to launch in October 2024 to orbit a point between Earth and the Sun known as the first Lagrangian point, or L1. From there, IMAP will help researchers better understand the interstellar boundary region, where particles from the Sun collide with material from the rest of the galaxy. This distant area controls the amount of harmful cosmic radiation entering the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble that shields our solar system from charged particles surrounding it. Cosmic rays from the galaxy and beyond affect astronauts and can harm technological systems. They also may play a role in the presence of life in the universe.

From the start of IMAP mission formulation, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) planned to include secondary spacecraft on the launch under the agency’s new SMD Rideshare Initiative, which cuts costs by sending multiple missions on a single launch. This launch will also include a Heliophysics Technology Demonstration Mission of Opportunity – which will be announced separately – to test technologies that can enable future science missions, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Follow-On mission, which will expand that agency’s space weather forecasting capabilities.

“Launching missions together like this is a great way to ensure maximum science return while keeping costs low,” said Peg Luce, deputy director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division. “We carefully select new heliophysics spacecraft to complement the well-placed spacecraft NASA has in orbit to study this vast solar wind system – and our rideshare initiative increases our opportunities to send such key missions into space.”

Related links:

NASA’s heliophysics program:

Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP):


Parker Solar Probe:

Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX):

For information about NASA and space science, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Grey Hautaluoma/Karen Fox.


Atlas V launches AEHF-5

ULA - Atlas V / AEHF-5 Mission poster.

August 14, 2019

Liftoff! Atlas V AEHF-5

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 551 rocket launched the AEHF-5 satellite from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 8 August 2019, at 10:13 UTC (06:13 EDT).

Atlas V launches AEHF-5

Built by Lockheed Martin, Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites provide highly-secure, jam-proof connectivity for the U.S. Air Force.

AEHF-5 satellite

The mission was the 80th for an Atlas V launch vehicle and the 10th in the 551 configuration. The Atlas V 551 rocket is the most powerful in the Atlas V fleet.

United Launch Alliance (ULA):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: United Launch Alliance (ULA)/USAF/SciNews.


mardi 13 août 2019

Crew Gets Ready for Next Spacewalk and New Spaceships

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

August 13, 2019

The International Space Station will soon see U.S., Russian and Japanese spaceships arriving and departing over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, the Expedition 60 crew is staying focused on an upcoming spacewalk while continuing ongoing microgravity research.

Next week’s spacewalkers, NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan, are reviewing their procedures and practicing their maneuvers on a computer today. The duo will exit the station Aug. 21 and install the station’s second commercial crew vehicle docking port, the International Docking Adapter-3, to the Harmony module’s space-facing port.

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague conducts science operations for the Cell Science-02 bone healing and tissue regeneration experiment. Image Credit: NASA.

Morgan wrapped up his day setting up experiments designed by middle and high school students researching a variety of space phenomena. Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency continued exploring stem cell differentiation. Christina Koch of NASA serviced and replaced hardware that fuels experiments inside the Combustion Integrated Rack.

Cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Alexander Skvortsov worked during the morning tearing down a Russian atmosphere purification unit. The duo then moved on to cardiopulmonary research before winding down the day with exercise.

The next spacecraft to launch to the orbiting lab will be an unpiloted Soyuz MS-14 crew ship on Aug. 22. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a test of its upgraded 2.1a Soyuz booster. The new Soyuz will automatically dock to the Poisk module two days later where it will stay until Sept. 6.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Russia will launch its next crewed mission Sept. 25 aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft. Cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka will lead the six-hour flight to the station with NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and Spaceflight Participant Hazzaa Ali Almansoori.

SpaceX is planning to retrieve its Dragon resupply ship on Aug. 27 when it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean after its release from the Harmony module. Dragon will return to Earth with several thousand pounds of completed science experiments for analysis and station hardware for servicing.

Finally, Japan’s resupply ship, the H-II Transfer Vehicle-8 (HTV-8), is scheduled to blast off to the station Sept. 10 (U.S. time) from the Tanegashima Space Center. It will arrive at the station Sept. 14 for a robotic capture and installation to the same Harmony port Dragon will vacate at the end of the month. HTV-8’s scheduled liftoff date comes exactly 10 years after the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched its first HTV cargo freighter to the space station.

Related links:

Expedition 60:

International Docking Adapter-3:

Harmony module:

Poisk module:

H-II Transfer Vehicle-8 (HTV-8):

HTV cargo freighter:

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,