samedi 4 mai 2019

Long March-4B launches two Tianhui II-01 satellites

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

May 4, 2019

Image above: A Long March 4B rocket lifts off Tuesday from the Taiyuan space center in northeastern China. Image Credit: Xinhua.

A Long March-4B launch vehicle launched two Tianhui II-01 satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, Shanxi Province, northern China, on 29 April 2019, at 22:52 UTC (30 April, 06:52 local time).

Long March-4B launches two Tianhui II-01 satellites

According to official sources, the Tianhui II-01 satellites will be used for scientific experiments, land resource surveys, geographic surveys, and mapping.

 Tianhui mapping satellite. Image Credit: Günter Space Page

The three-stage Long March 4B rocket, standing nearly 15 stories tall, turned south from Taiyuan, dropping its spent rocket bodies on Chinese territory. The Long March 4B’s upper stage delivered the two Tianhui mapping satellites to an orbit more than 310 miles (500 kilometers) high, with an inclination of 97.5 degrees to the equator, according to U.S. military tracking data.

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: CASC/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews.


LS2 Report: before the return of the cold

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

May 4, 2019

Since the start of January, the liquid helium flowing through the veins of the LHC’s cooling system has gradually been removed from the accelerator and, one by one, the eight sectors of the LHC have been brought back to room temperature. “It takes about four weeks to bring a single sector from its nominal temperature of 1.9 K (-271°C) back to room temperature,” explains Krzysztof Brodzinski, an engineer working on the operation of the LHC’s cryogenic system. At least 135 tonnes of helium are required to supply the whole of the LHC’s cryogenic system. Once it has been brought up to the surface, some of this precious cooling agent is stored at CERN and the remainder (about 80 tonnes) is entrusted to the suppliers for the duration of LS2.

Image above: One of the LHC cold boxes, located in an underground cavern at point 4 of the ring. Liquid helium is stabilised and stored in a tank at a temperature of approximately 4.5 K (Image: CERN).

The 70 helium compressors are the first links in the LHC’s cryogenic chain. They compress the helium, which is then cooled through expansion in the turbines of the cold boxes. During LS2, all the compressors will be sent away for a full service, mostly to two specialist centres, in Germany and Sweden. “Each of the 70 compressors must be taken apart and then reassembled, in order to check the condition of all parts and make replacements if necessary,” explains Gérard Ferlin, leader of the Operations section in the Cryogenics group. “The 70 electric motors that power the compressors will be sent to Italy to be serviced.”

As for the cold compressors used to lower the temperature of the helium from 4.5 K to 1.9 K, they’re off to Japan. Six of them (of the 28 in the accelerator) showed signs of weakness after the last four years of LHC running and need to be worked on by specialists.

Graphic above: Schedule for warming up all the LHC sectors for LS2 (Image: CERN).

Of course, here at CERN too, the Cryogenics group has a lot on its plate: over 4000 preventive and corrective maintenance operations are planned between now and mid-2020, when cooling of the first sectors of the LHC will start all over again! “Many maintenance operations have been planned for a long time, particularly on the LHC’s eight cold boxes (one per sector). The sensors, thermometers, valves, turbines, filters, etc. will be checked and validated or replaced,” explains Gérard Ferlin. “We will also use the opportunity of LS2 to do some advance upgrades of one of the cold boxes with a view to increasing its power ready for the HL-LHC.”

Throughout LS2, the instrumentation team in the Cryogenics group will also support the DISMAC (Diode Insulation and Superconducting Magnets Consolidation – an article on this subject is coming soon) project team, particularly for the validation of the instrumentation of the cryogenic system. This is especially important given that certain magnets are being replaced and new diagnostic instrumentation is being installed on a pre-determined selection of beam screens.


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 23 Member States.

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

Image (mentioned), Graphic (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Anaïs Schaeffer.

Best regards,

SpaceX Dragon Heads to Space Station After Successful Launch

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-17 Mission patch.

May 4, 2019

Image above: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo credit: NASA.

More than 5,500 pounds of cargo is on its way to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. The company’s 17th commercial cargo mission to resupply the space station began at 2:48 a.m. EDT on May 4, 2019, with liftoff aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Kenny Todd, International Space Station Operations and Integration manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, explained during the postlaunch press conference that launch success far overshadowed fatigue with the early morning launch.

Falcon 9 launches CRS-17 Dragon & Falcon 9 first stage landing

“If you have to be up, I can’t think of a better reason than to see one of these launches — it was absolutely spectacular,” Todd said. “We’re really excited to get Dragon on board in a couple of days.”

After a successful climb into space, the Dragon spacecraft now is in orbit with its solar arrays deployed and drawing power.

Image above: Dragon’s solar arrays deploy en route to the International Space Station on Saturday, May 4, 2019. Photo credit: NASA.

“We had a beautiful launch today; it was really great,” said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president, Build and Flight Reliability. “Dragon is on the way, the orbiter is great — it’s right on the money.”

The Dragon spacecraft will deliver science, supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory. Science experiments include NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) and Space Test Program-Houston 6 (STP-H6).

OCO-3 will be robotically installed on the exterior of the space station’s Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility Unit, where it will measure and map carbon dioxide from space to increase our understanding of the relationship between carbon and climate.

Image above: From left to right, Joshua Santora, NASA Communications; Kenny Todd, manager, International Space Station Operations and Integration, NASA’s Johnson Space Center; and Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability, SpaceX, participate in a postlaunch press conference at Kennedy Space Center following the SpaceX CRS-17 launch on May 4, 2019. The Dragon spacecraft will arrive at the International Space Station on Monday, May 6. Photo credit: NASA.

STP-H6 is an X-ray communication investigation that will be used to perform a space-based demonstration of a new technology for generating beams of modulated X-rays. This technology may be useful for providing efficient communication to deep space probes, or communicating with hypersonic vehicles where plasma sheaths prevent traditional radio communications.

Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, May 6. Capture is scheduled for 7 a.m.; installation coverage is set to begin at 9 a.m. Astronauts aboard the station will capture the Dragon using the space station’s robotic arm and then install it on the station’s Harmony module.

The Dragon spacecraft will spend about four weeks attached to the space station, returning to Earth with more than 4,200 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.

Related articles:

Drone Ship Power Issue Forces Scrub of CRS-17 Launch

Hermes to Bring Asteroid Research to the ISS

Dragon’s 17th Flight Carries Science to the Space Station

Related links:

Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3):

Space Test Program-Houston 6 (STP-H6):

NASA Television and the agency’s website:

For updates during the mission, visit

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/James Cawley/SpaceX/NASA TV/SciNews.

Best regards,

Blue Origin NS-11 Mission

Blue Origin logo.

May 4, 2019

The New Shepard booster lands during Mission NS-11 on May 2, 2019

The New Shepard reusable launch system was launched and landed at Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site, on 2 May 2019, at 13:35 UTC (08:35 CDT).

Blue Origin NS-11: New Shepard launch & landing, 2 May 2019

This was the fifth mission, launch and landing, for this New Shepard launch vehicle. For Blue Origin’s mission NS-11, the New Shepard Crew Capsule 2.0 transported 38 payloads, including 9 NASA-supported payloads: Characterization of 3D Printing Processes under Microgravity Conditions, Developing a Centrifuge for Blue Origin's New Shepard, Cryogenic Gauging Technology Geometry Development, Evolved Medical Microgravity Suction Device, Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2, Flow Boiling in Microgap Coolers, BioChip SubOrbitalLab, Strata-S1. Other payloads include TESSERAE: Self Assembling Space Architecture, Floral Cosmonauts: Crystal Electro-Nucleation and Queen Bee Maiden Flight.

Image above: NS-11 flew 38 payloads to space for a variety of schools, universities, government agencies and private companies.

Related article:

NASA and Blue Origin Help Classrooms and Researchers Reach Space

Related links:

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program:

3D printing experiment:

Evolved Medical Microgravity Suction Device:

Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2:

Flow Boiling in Microgap Coolers:

BioChip SubOrbitalLab:


Blue Origin:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Blue Origin/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 3 mai 2019

Building Better Life Support Systems for Future Space Travel

ISS - International Space Station logo.

May 3, 2019

Astronauts on future long-duration spaceflight missions to the Moon and Mars could rely on microalgae to supply essentials including food, water and oxygen. A new investigation aboard the International Space Station tests using the microalgae Chlorella vulgaris as a biological component of a hybrid life support system (LSS).

 Orion spacecraft in space above the Moon. Image Credits: NASA/ESA

As humans travel farther from Earth and for longer periods of time, bringing along sufficient supplies of food, water and oxygen becomes a challenge. Packing food that is nutritious and perhaps even tasty may prove harder still.

Current life support systems, such as the Life Support Rack (LSR), use physicochemical processes and chemical reactions to generate oxygen and water and remove carbon dioxide from the space station.

Image above: Chlorella vulgaris cells under the microscope. These microalgae have a variety of uses on Earth and may be part of life support systems on future space voyages. Image Credits: Institute of Space Systems – University of Stuttgart, Germany.

The Photobioreactor (PBR) investigation demonstrates creating a hybrid LSS by adding the biological processes of a microalgae, which has a photosynthetic efficiency up to ten times greater than more complex plants. These tiny plants could take concentrated carbon dioxide removed from the cabin atmosphere and use photosynthesis to produce oxygen and possibly even food for astronauts, according to Norbert Henn, a co-investigator and consultant at the Institute of Space Systems at University of Stuttgart.

The Institute of Space Systems began research on microalgae for space applications back in 2008 and started work on Photobioreactor in 2014, together with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Airbus.

“The use of biological systems in general gains importance for missions as the duration and the distance from Earth increase. To further reduce the dependency on resupply from Earth, as many resources as possible should be recycled on board,” said co-investigator Gisela Detrell.

Image above: The Photobioreactor chamber is used to cultivate microalgae aboard the International Space Station in a demonstration of creating hybrid life support systems that use both biological and physicochemical processes. Image Credits: Institute of Space Systems – University of Stuttgart, Germany.

Astronauts activate the system hardware aboard the space station and let the microalgae grow for 180 days. That span of time allows researchers to evaluate the stability and long-term performance of the Photobioreactor in space, as well as the growth behavior of the microalgae and its ability to recycle carbon dioxide and release oxygen, according to co-investigator Jochen Keppler. Investigators plan to analyze samples back on Earth to determine the effects of microgravity and space radiation on the microalgae cells.

“This is the first data from a flight-proven, long-term operation of a biological LSS component,” said Keppler. The algae’s resilience to space conditions has been widely demonstrated in small-scale cell culture, but this will be the first investigation to cultivate it in a PBR in space.

Chlorella, one of the most studied and widely characterized algae worldwide, is used in biofuels, animal feed, aquaculture, human nutrition, wastewater treatment and bio-fertilizer in agriculture.

Image above: The Photobioreactor science team from the Institute of Space Research. Top, left to right: Prof. Reinhold Ewald, Johannes Martin, Prof. Stefanos Fasoulas. Bottom, left to right: Jochen Keppler, Dr. Gisela Detrell, Harald Helisch. Image Credits: Institute of Space Systems – University of Stuttgart, Germany.

“Chlorella biomass is a common food supplement and can contribute to a balanced diet thanks to its high content of protein, unsaturated fatty acids, and various vitamins, including B12,” said co-investigator and biotechnologist Harald Helisch at the Institute of Space Systems. As for the taste, he adds, “if you like sushi, you will love it.”

The long-term goal is to facilitate longer space missions by reducing total system mass and resupply dependency, said co-investigator Johannes Martin. “To achieve this, future areas of focus include downstream processing of the algae into edible food and scaling up the system to supply one astronaut with oxygen. We’ll also be working on interconnections with other subsystems of the LSS, such as the waste water treatment system, and transfer and adaption of the technology to a gravity-based system such as a lunar base.”         

Astronauts still may have to pack their own wasabi.

Related links:

Photobioreactor (PBR):

Institute of Space Systems (University of Stuttgart):

German Aerospace Center (DLR):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Drone Ship Power Issue Forces Scrub of CRS-17 Launch

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-17 Mission patch.

May 3, 2019

This morning’s launch attempt has scrubbed due to a drone ship power issue. The next launch opportunity will be at 2:48 a.m. EDT Saturday, May 4.

The launch and postlaunch news conference will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website:

Image above: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands ready at Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in the early morning May 3, 2019. The launch vehicle will boost a Dragon cargo module to the International Space Station on the company’s 17th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-17) mission for NASA. Liftoff is scheduled for 3:11 a.m. EDT. Photo credit: NASA.

Launch coverage for the SpaceX CRS-17 mission to the International Space Station will begin at 2:30 a.m. EDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website. A launch of the SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft on Saturday will result in its arrival at the space station on Monday, May 6.

Read more about the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft:

Falcon 9 rocket:

Dragon spacecraft:

Related links:

Expedition 59:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/James Cawley.


Hubble Assembles Wide View of the Distant Universe

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

3 May 2019

Hubble’s Spectacular Wide View of the Universe

Astronomers developed a mosaic of the distant Universe that documents 16 years of observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image, called the Hubble Legacy Field, contains roughly 265,000 galaxies that stretch back to just 500 million years after the Big Bang.

The wavelength range of this image stretches from ultraviolet to near-infrared light, capturing all the features of galaxy assembly over time. The faintest and farthest galaxies in the image are just one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can observe.

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

“Now that we have gone wider than in previous surveys, we are harvesting many more distant galaxies in the largest such dataset ever produced,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, leader of the team that assembled the image. “No image will surpass this one until future space telescopes like James Webb are launched."

The Hubble Legacy Field combines observations taken by several Hubble deep-field surveys. In 1995, the Hubble Deep Field captured several thousand previously unseen galaxies. The subsequent Hubble Ultra Deep Field from 2004 revealed nearly 10,000 galaxies in a single image. The 2012 Hubble eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, was assembled by combining ten years of NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations taken of a patch of sky within the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

The new set of Hubble images, created from nearly 7,500 individual exposures, is the first in a series of Hubble Legacy Field images. The image comprises the collective work of 31 Hubble programs by different teams of astronomers [1]. Hubble has spent more time on this small area than on any other region of the sky, totaling more than 250 days. The team is working on a second set of images, totaling more than 5,200 Hubble exposures.

"One exciting aspect of these new images is the large number of sensitive colour channels now available to view distant galaxies, especially in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum," explained team member Rychard Bouwens of Leiden University in the Netherlands. "With images at so many frequencies, we can dissect the light from galaxies into the contributions from old and young stars, as well as active galactic nuclei."

 The Hubble Deep Field

Before Hubble was launched in 1990, astronomers were able to see galaxies up to about seven billion light-years away, half way back to the Big Bang. Observations with ground-based telescopes were not able to establish how galaxies formed and evolved in the early Universe. Like watching individual frames of a motion picture, the Hubble deep surveys reveal the emergence of structure in the infant Universe and the subsequent dynamic stages of galaxy evolution. Deep-field views of galaxies such as this help astronomers to trace the expansion of the universe to develop our understanding of the underlying physics of the cosmos. Galaxies also show when the chemical elements originated and enable the conditions that eventually led to the emergence of life.

Zooming in on the Hubble Legacy Field

The imae yields a huge catalog of distant galaxies. "Such exquisite high-resolution measurements of the numerous galaxies in thie catalog enable a wide swath of extragalactic study," said catalog lead researcher Katherine Whitaker of the University of Connecticut.

Pan across the Hubble Legacy Field

The upcoming NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope will allow astronomers to push much deeper into the legacy field to reveal how the infant galaxies developed over time.


[1] The image, along with the individual exposures that make up the new view, is available to the worldwide astronomical community through the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST).

More information:

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

The international team involved in the Hubble Legacy Field consists of G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Connecticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field team.


Images of Hubble:

Hubblesite release:

Hubble deep-field surveys:

Hubble Ultra Deep Field:

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field:

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/ESA/Bethany Downer/G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Conneticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field Team/Videos: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Connecticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field team/Music: James Creasey -

Best regards,

Hera’s APEX CubeSat will reveal the stuff that asteroids are made of

ESA - Hera Mission logo.

3 May 2019

From Earth asteroids appear as little more than dots in the sky. Europe’s miniature APEX spacecraft will operate as a mineral prospector in deep space, surveying the make-up of its target asteroids down to individual boulders, helping prepare the way for future mining missions.

ESA’s proposed Hera mission for planetary defence will explore the twin Didymos asteroids, but it will not go there alone: it will also serve as mothership for Europe’s first two ‘CubeSats’ into deep space.

APEX CubeSat

CubeSats are nanosatellite-class missions based on standardised 10-cm boxes, making maximum use of commercial off the shelf systems.  APEX, the Asteroid Prospection Explorer, will be a ‘6-unit’ CubeSat, selected to fly aboard Hera along with the similarly-sized Juventas, led by the Gomspace company.

APEX is being designed for ESA by a Swedish-Finnish-German-Czech consortium, representing a coming together of two CubeSat designs originally chosen to accompany Hera’s predecessor, the Asteroid Impact Mission.

“We’re a prospecting mission because we are focused on revealing the composition and structure of the Didymos asteroids,” explains Tomas Kohout of Helsinki University in Finland and The Czech Academy of Sciences.


“Our Asteroid Spectral Imager will perform detailed spectral measurements of both asteroids on a global basis. It will record the sunlight reflected by Didymos and break down its various colours to look for distinctive absorption ‘fingerprints’, to help map the surface makeup. We’ll obtain a full spectrum for each pixel we see, to make comparisons with terrestrial meteorite samples.”

Another instrument, the Secondary Ion Mass Analyser, will gather data from the constant interaction of the asteroid surfaces with the solar wind from the Sun.

“Incoming ions from the solar wind trigger a sputtering of ions of various elements such as silica, iron and magnesium,” comments Jan-Erik Wahlund of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics. “With this data we can gather the elemental composition of the asteroids.

Lagrange points in Didymos system

“Between these two instruments we also hope to see how these asteroids have interacted with the space environment, pinpointing any differences in composition between the two. And we will closely image the impact crater left by the US DART’s spacecraft’s asteroid deflection test and the ejecta deposited across both surfaces.”

The first stage of its approximately two-month long mission will involve global surveys of the two asteroids from around 4 km away.

After a couple of weeks APEX would then close in on the smaller of the two asteroids, to close in within 500 m of ‘Didymoon’. At this point the CubeSat will make use of localised Lagrange points, gravitationally stable points within the Didymos system. During this ‘inner system science operations phase’ a third instrument would come into play: a magnetometer mounted on a boom away from the main CubeSat body, to maximise its sensitivity.

“At close proximity to Didymoon the magnetometer can separate the interplanetary solar wind from the magnetisation of the asteroid itself,” adds Jan-Erik.

Magnetometer measurements

“This will tell us if there are magnetic minerals within it. By extension it will also give us an idea of the asteroid’s internal structure: if there is a single magnetic dipole resembling Earth’s, then the asteroid is a single monolith. If we find multiple magnetic fields then it is probable the asteroid was broken apart at some point in its past.”

A dedicated navigation camera would help enable the precision flying required by these various mission phases, culminating in an asteroid touchdown.

“Like terrestrial drones, CubeSats have the potential to operate autonomously, in a highly manoeuvrable way,” concludes Tomas. “We will only be checking back with the main Hera spacecraft every one or two days, otherwise we will take advantage of the latest autonomy technology to take care of ourselves.”

Hera mission

The Hera mission, including its twin CubeSats, will be presented to ESA’s Space19+ meeting this November, where Europe’s space ministers will take a final decision on flying the mission.

Space Safety at ESA

Solar activity, asteroids and artificial space debris all pose threats to our planet and our use of space.

ESA's Space Safety activities aim to safeguard society and the critical satellites on which we depend, identifying and mitigating threats from space through projects such as the Flyeye telescopes, the Lagrange space weather mission and the Hera asteroid mission.

As asteroid experts meet for the international Planetary Defense Conference, ESA is focusing on the threat we face from space rocks. How likely is an asteroid impact? What is ESA doing to mitigate impact risks? Follow the hashtag #PlanetaryDefense to find out more.

Related links:

Asteroid Impact Mission:

Asteroid deflection test:

ESA’s Space19+:

ESA's Space Safety:

Planetary Defense Conference:

Helsinki University:

The Czech Academy of Sciences:

Swedish Institute of Space Physics:

Hera Mission:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Tomi Kärkkäinen / Reaktor Space Lab/Science Office/DLR.

Best regards,

jeudi 2 mai 2019

Robotics Work Successful, Station Returned to Full Power

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 2, 2019

This morning, Robotics Ground Controllers in Mission Control Houston successfully completed an operation to remove a failed Main Bus Switching Unit-3 and replace it with a spare. The MBSU in question had failed on April 29 and reduced the station’s power supply by about 25%. There were no immediate concerns for the crew or the station. The crew had installed a series of jumpers in Node 1 following the failure to reroute power to experiments and hardware and ensure limited impact to continued station operations. Since the successful replacement, the MBSU was powered up and checked out successfully with all station systems back to nominal power configuration, including redundant power to the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Image above: The International Space Station’s Canadarm2 and Dextre, also known as the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (SPDM), was used to replace a failed Main Bus Switching Unit and restore full power capability to the station. Image Credit: NASA.

The completion of the robotics work marks the second time an MBSU was swapped out by means other than a spacewalk. The International Space Station continues to be a critical test bed where NASA is pioneering new methods to explore space, from complex robotic work to refueling spacecraft in flight and developing new robotic systems to assist astronauts on the frontier of space. Technologies like these will be vital as NASA looks to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA’s commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting 3:11 a.m. EDT on Friday, May 3, for the launch of its 17th resupply mission to the International Space Station. Packed with more than 5,500 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Related links:

Expedition 59:

Refueling spacecraft in flight:

New robotic systems:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Martian Dust Could Help Explain Water Loss, Plus Other Learnings From Global Storm

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

May 2, 2019

Dust is not just a household nuisance; it’s a planetary one, particularly on Mars. Before astronauts visit the Red Planet, we need to understand how the dust particles that often fill the atmosphere could impact them and their equipment.

The global Martian dust storm of summer 2018 — the one that blotted out sunlight for weeks and put NASA’s beloved Opportunity rover out of business — offered an unprecedented learning opportunity. For the first time, humans had eight spacecraft orbiting Mars or roving its surface — the largest cadre of robotic explorers ever to watch a global dust storm unfold.

Animation above: Images showing the advancing, global dust storm, taken by Curiosity's Mast Camera between Sol 2075 and Sol 2170 on Mars, which would've fallen between June 8, 2018, and Sept. 13, 2018, on Earth. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/York University.

Scientists around the globe are still analyzing reams of data, but preliminary reports include insights on how massive dust storms could have affected ancient Martian water, winds, and climate, and how they could affect future weather and solar power.

Martian dust storms are common, especially during southern hemisphere spring and summer. They tend to last a couple of days and can cover regions of the planet the size of the United States. But planet-encircling ones are unpredictable, sometimes lingering for months. Why? “We still don’t know what drives the variability, but the 2018 storm gives another data point,” says Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who’s a lead in NASA’s dust storm investigation.

NASA first saw a global dust storm up close in 1971 when our Mariner 9 spacecraft — the first to orbit another planet — arrived at a dust-engulfed Red Planet. Since then, we’ve seen global storms in 1977 (twice), 1982, 1994, 2001, 2007 and 2018.

Here are a few things we saw from space and from the ground during the recent global dust storm that helped address some open questions and exposed new ones:

Could global dust storms have blown away the planet’s water? 
Measuring Mars' Ancient Ocean

Video above: Hydrogen atoms escape from the Mars upper atmosphere, while water containing heavy hydrogen (deuterium) remains trapped on the planet. The escape of hydrogen helped to turn Mars from a wet planet 4.5 billion years ago into a dry world today. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Scientists have found loads of evidence that Mars had rivers, lakes and maybe even oceans of water billions of years ago. Dry riverbeds, ancient shorelines, and salty surface chemistry are all clues. But why did much of the water disappear? And how? “The global dust storm may give us an explanation,” says Geronimo Villanueva, a Martian water expert at NASA Goddard.

Villanueva worked with colleagues at the ESA (European Space Agency) and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to confirm that powerful, global dust storms appear to loft water vapor from its typical altitude of 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the Martian surface to much higher elevations of at least 50 miles (80 kilometers). NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observed a similar phenomenon in 2007.

By thrusting water into the upper atmosphere, global dust storms may interfere with the planet’s water cycle, preventing H2O from condensing and falling back down to the surface. On Earth, H2O falls back down as rain or snow. The same process could have existed on Mars billions of years ago.

Animation above: This animated image blinks two versions of a May 11, 2016, selfie of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover at a drilled sample site called "Okoruso." In one version, cameras atop the rover's mast face the arm-mounted camera taking the portrait. In the other, they face away. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

At higher altitudes, where the Martian atmosphere is especially tenuous, solar radiation can easily penetrate to break up the water molecules and blow their component elements into space, Villanueva and his colleagues speculate. “When you bring water to higher parts of the atmosphere, it gets blown away so much easier,” says Villanueva, who has spent his career piecing together the history of water on Mars.

Villanueva and his colleagues reported on April 10 in the journal Nature that they found evidence of receding water vapor by using the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars, a spacecraft managed by ESA and Roscosmos. The orbiter measured water molecules at different altitudes before and after the 2018 storm. Scientists saw for the first time that all types of water molecules (there are lighter and heavier ones) reached the “escape region” of the upper atmosphere, which was an important insight into how water may be disappearing from Mars. Now, says Villanueva​, scientists will have to take this new information into account in their predictions about how much water flowed on ancient Mars and how long it took for it to disappear.

Global dust storms don’t seem to significantly reshape Martian sand dunes

Image above: The surface of Mars is covered by constantly shifting sand blown by the planet’s winds. This creates an ever-evolving desert landscape with diverse and striking dunes. Loose mounds of sand are found all over Mars, ranging in height from a few dozen feet to higher than some of Earth’s tallest skyscrapers. Images taken by the HiRISE instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft have allowed scientists to study Mars’ dunes in unprecedented detail. The enhanced-color views captured from orbit reveal characteristics of their shape, composition, and movements over time, giving clues about the planet’s dynamic atmosphere and current climate. Image Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

For scientists who track sand dunes shift inches across the surface, the global dust storm offered critical evidence in their investigation of wind patterns on the Red Planet. Only the forceful winds during a global dust storm would be able to move the planet’s extensive dunes, scientists once thought, given that Mars’ super thin atmosphere makes 100-mile-per-hour wind feel like a breeze. Yet images from orbiters and landers throughout the decades have revealed that Martian sand moves all the time, implying that it doesn’t need strong gusts to do so. This was a surprise to researchers.

Now that scientists finally got to watch a global dust storm from the ground through the eyes of NASA’s Curiosity rover, they noticed another surprising characteristic of Martian wind: strong gusts don’t appear to move sand more than normal. “This has added to the overall mystery of how wind behaves on Mars,” says Mariah Baker, a Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who helps track changes in Martian sand ripples

Ongoing analysis of the entire Martian globe will reveal whether Gale Crater, where Curiosity is roving, was unique. The heart of the storm was over Opportunity, after all, which was roving on the other side of the globe from Curiosity. Plus, wind may behave differently inside Gale Crater, scientists note. “Were we being sheltered?” Guzewich says. “That’s possible.”

If it turns out sand dunes didn’t shift much anywhere on Mars during the storm, there could be a good reason, Baker says: “Winds swirling dust around in the atmosphere might not be the same thing as winds on the surface.” Some scientists think that when dust gets lifted into the atmosphere during a global storm, blocking sunlight from reaching the surface, it shuts down the wind-generating process close to the ground that, under normal conditions, is induced by temperature fluctuations between the air and surface.

Whatever the reason turns out to be, understanding the behavior of sand dunes today helps us reveal Mars’s ancient climate, says Baker: “We can look at wind-shaped sandstones on the surface and look at dunes that are moving now, and say, ‘OK, what does that say about the conditions that were here billions of years ago when these dunes were moving and now are cemented into the rock record?’”

Dust storms make rover-cleansing dust devils disappear 
Dust Devils on Mars Seen by NASA's Curiosity Rover

Video above: Navigation cameras aboard NASA's Curiosity Mars rover observed several whirlwinds carrying Martian dust across Gale Crater in 2017. Dust devils result from sunshine warming the ground, prompting convective rising of air. All the dust devils were seen in a southward direction from the rover. Timing is accelerated and contrast has been modified to make frame-to-frame changes easier to see. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU.

Dust devils, which are rotating columns of air and dust, are common on Mars. They form when hot air from the surface rises, creating a current of air that forms a whirlwind. These devils are useful for cleaning off dust from the panels of solar-powered spacecraft, like InSight, as they pass over them. Thus, it’s important to understand how often they occur.

Curiosity is powered by a nuclear battery, which allowed it to collect data while Opportunity hibernated, with minimal sunlight reaching its solar panels. Through Curiosity, we learned that dust devils disappear during a dust storm, right when we need them most, and for months afterwards. This happens because of an interruption in the same wind-generating process that might affect the movement of sand dunes.

Guzewich says that understanding a global storm’s impact on dust devils is important in planning how to power equipment during future Mars missions: “You need to be prepared to go a while before your next dust devil passes over and cleans you off.”

Related articles:

'Storm Chasers' on Mars Searching for Dusty Secrets

NASA Encounters the Perfect Storm for Science

Related links:


Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity):

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Svetlana Shekhtman/Goddard Space Flight Center, story by Lonnie Shekhtman.


Observing Gaia from Earth to improve its star maps

ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

2 May 2019

While ESA’s Gaia mission has been surveying more than one billion stars from space, astronomers have been regularly monitoring the satellite’s position in the sky with telescopes across the world, including the European Southern Observatory in Chile, to further refine Gaia’s orbit and ultimately improve the accuracy of its stellar census.

One year ago, the Gaia mission released its much-awaited second set of data, which included high-precision measurements – positions, distance indicators and proper motions – of more than one billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

Gaia among the stars

The catalogue, based on less than two years of observations and almost four years of data processing and analysis by a collaboration of about 450 scientists and software engineers, has enabled transformational studies in many fields of astronomy, generating more than 1000 scientific publications in the past twelve months.

Meanwhile in space, Gaia keeps scanning the sky and gathering data that is being crunched for future releases to achieve even higher precision on the position and motion of stars and enable ever deeper and more detailed studies into our place in the cosmos. But to reach the accuracy expected for Gaia’s final catalogue, it is crucial to pinpoint the position and motion of the satellite from Earth.

To this aim, the flight dynamics experts at ESA’s operations centre make use of a combination of techniques, from traditional radio tracking and ranging to simultaneous observing using two radio antennas – the so-called delta-DOR method.

Gaia scanning the sky

In a unique and novel approach for ESA, the ground-based tracking of Gaia also includes optical observations provided by a network of medium-size telescopes across the planet.

The European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) 2.6-metre VLT Survey Telescope (VST) in Chile records Gaia’s position in the sky for about 180 nights every year.

“This is an exciting ground-space collaboration, using one of ESO’s world-class telescopes to anchor the trailblazing observations of ESA’s billion star surveyor,” says Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA.

“The VST is the perfect tool for picking out the motion of Gaia,” adds Ferdinando Patat, head of the ESO’s Observing Programmes Office. “Using one of ESO’s first-rate ground-based facilities to bolster cutting-edge space observations is a fine example of scientific cooperation.”

In addition, the two-metre Liverpool telescope located on La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain, and the Las Cumbres Optical Global Telescope Network, which operates two-metre telescopes in Australia and the US, have also been observing Gaia over the past five years as part of the Ground Based Optical Tracking (GBOT) campaign.

ESO's VLT Survey Telescope

“Gaia observations require a special observing procedure,” explains Monika Petr-Gotzens, who has coordinated the execution of ESO’s observations of Gaia since 2013. “The spacecraft is what we call a ‘moving target’, as it is moving quickly relative to background stars – tracking Gaia is quite the challenge!”

In these images Gaia is a mere dot of light among the many stars that the satellite itself has been measuring, so painstaking calibration is needed to transform this body of observations into meaningful data that can be included in the determination of the satellite’s orbit.

This required using data from Gaia’s second release to identify the stars in each of the images collected over the past five years and calculate the satellite’s position in the sky with a precision of 20 milliarcseconds or better (one arcsecond is equivalent to the size of a Euro coin seen from a distance of about four kilometres).

“This is a challenging process: we are using Gaia’s measurements of the stars to calibrate the position of the Gaia spacecraft and ultimately improve its measurements of the stars,” explains Timo.

Gaia’s sky in colour

The ground-based observations also provide key information to improve the determination of Gaia’s velocity through space, which must be known to the precision of a few millimetres per second. This is necessary to correct for a phenomenon known as aberration of light – an apparent distortion in the direction of incoming light due to the relative motion between the source and an observer – in a way similar to tilting one’s umbrella while walking through the rain.

“After careful and lengthy data processing, we have now achieved the accuracy required for the ground-based observations of Gaia to be implemented as part of the orbit determination,” says Martin Altmann, lead of the GBOT campaign from the Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University, Germany, who works in close collaboration with colleagues from the Paris Observatory in France.

The GBOT information will be used to improve our knowledge of Gaia’s orbit not only in observations to come, but also for all the data that have been gathered from Earth in the previous years, leading to improvements in the data products that will be included in future releases.

Notes for editors

ESA’s Gaia satellite was launched in 2013 to create the most precise three-dimensional map of one billion of the stars within the Milky Way. The mission has released two lots of data so far: Gaia Data Release 1 on 14 September 2016, and Gaia Data Release 2 on 25 April 2018 (the latter of which was used in this study). More releases will follow in coming years.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor.

The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) is currently the largest survey telescope observing the sky in visible light. This state-of-the-art 2.6-m telescope is located at ESO’s Paranal Observatory.

On 20 August 2015, the ESA and ESO Directors General signed a cooperation agreement between the two organisations.

In order to foster exchanges between astrophysics-related spaceborne missions and ground-based facilities, as well as between their respective communities, ESA and ESO are joining forces to organise a series of international astronomy meetings.

The first ESA-ESO joint workshop, with a focus on multi-messenger astronomy, will take place in November 2019 at ESO’s headquarters in Garching, Germany, and a call for proposals for the second workshop, to take place in 2020 at ESA’s astronomy centre near Madrid, Spain, is currently open.

Related links:

Gaia Data Release 1:

Gaia Data Release 2:

GBOT information:

First ESA-ESO joint workshop:

European Southern Observatory’s (ESO):

European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) release:

VLT Survey Telescope (VST):


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/Timo Prusti/ESO/Calum Turner/Astronomisches Rechen-Institut/Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University/Martin Altmann/ESO/Y. Beletsky; CC BY 4.0/ESA/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.


mercredi 1 mai 2019

Astronauts Relax Today Before Robotics Work and Dragon Cargo Mission

ISS - Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 1, 2019

The Expedition 59 astronauts are off-duty today relaxing before the planned launch and capture of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship this weekend. In Mission Control, robotics engineers are preparing to swap a failed power distributor outside the International Space Station.

On April 29, the space station team identified an issue with one of the station’s Main Bus Switching Units (MBSU) that distributes power to two of the eight power channels on the station.  There are no immediate concerns for the crew or the station. Flight controllers are scheduled to perform a series of maneuvers to robotically swap the failed MBSU for a spare on Wednesday, May 1 and Thursday, May 2. After the swap is complete, flight controllers will conduct a series of checkouts on the newly installed MBSU and take steps to return the station to full power capability to support SpaceX capture and berthing.

Image above: Astronauts David Saint-Jacques (foreground) and Nick Hague are pictured April 24 training to capture the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft on the robotics workstation inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

CRS-17 Liftoff No Earlier Than Friday, May 3, at 3:11 EDT

NASA and SpaceX are pressing ahead to launch Dragon no earlier than Friday May 3 at 3:11 a.m. EDT to deliver nearly 5,500 pounds of science, supplies and hardware. Astronauts David Saint-Jacques and Nick Hague will be in the cupola Sunday to command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture Dragon around 7 a.m.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Flight Engineers Anne McClain and Christina Koch will help unpack and activate the time critical experiments after Dragon is installed on the Harmony module. New lab mice will be quickly transferred and housed in specialized habitats for an immune system study. Fresh biological samples, such as kidney cells, will be also stowed in science freezers and incubators for later analysis.

Related links:

Expedition 59:

SpaceX Dragon:


Immune system study:

Kidney cells:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA and Blue Origin Help Classrooms and Researchers Reach Space

NASA logo.

May 1, 2019

“We are now on the verge of giving students and teachers the ability to build and fly affordable experiments in space. When teachers are this excited about putting experiments in space, their students can’t help but get excited about space, too.”

Image above: As human explorers venture to the Moon and Mars, what are the biological and physiological effects they must contend with? Nanoracks is hoping to give researchers a new tool to answer that question with a new centrifuge designed for suborbital rockets like Blue Origin’s New Shepard. Image Credit: NASA.

Elizabeth Kennick, president of Teachers in Space, does not take the opportunity to fly an experiment to space for granted. The nonprofit organization has worked with educators and engineers to design and test standard equipment for classroom-developed experiments, including 3D-printed frames, customizable processors, power adaptors and more. The equipment first flew on high-altitude balloons and more recently on a stratospheric glider. Now, thanks to support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the equipment will fly higher than ever before: to space on the next launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Image above: A sustainable human presence on the Moon will require manufacturing materials and structures on the surface. Space-based 3D printing capabilities will be key to this endeavor. On the next Blue Origin launch, researchers from the University of Kentucky will test 3D printing techniques that could be the first to produce metal components in space. Image Credit: NASA.

Nine NASA-supported payloads are expected to ride on New Shepard, targeting liftoff from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site no earlier than May 2 at 9:30 a.m. EDT. Blue Origin’s live launch webcast will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

“It’s such a huge milestone,” said Kennick. “This opens the door to flying more experiments for more schools, and that means exposing more teachers and students to the promise of spaceflight.”

Image above: Teachers in Space will fly a standardized framework for classroom-developed space experiments on Blue Origin’s next flight. Comprised of 3D-printed CubeSat frames, a standard set of customizable processors and a fireproof cabinet housing, the equipment will provide a turnkey solution for housing student- and teacher-developed payloads on future flights to space. Image Credit: Teachers in Space.

That promise is bolstered by Flight Opportunities, which lets researchers test technologies in a relevant environment—particularly innovations that will help NASA return to the Moon and send crewed missions to Mars.

The payloads will experience the rigors of a rocket launch and the challenges of a zero-gravity environment. These conditions will give researchers valuable insights into how their technologies would hold up on exploration missions.

A 3D printing experiment from the University of Kentucky could further advance in space manufacturing—a critical capability for long-term stays on the lunar surface. While there are 3D printers on the International Space Station, the university’s experiment, if successful, would provide the capability to manufacture metal components in space.

Image above: The nonprofit Teachers in Space aims to engage educators in spaceflight and inspire the next generation of space explorers along the way. Emily, Drucilla, and Jadalynn (left to right), students at New York’s Central Square Middle School, have developed a method of testing whether moss could survive a trip to the stratosphere, and flew it on a Perlan glider in El Calafate, Argentina. The equipment tested on Blue Origin’s upcoming flight will open the door to putting their moss experiment—and many others—in space. Here, the girls work on assembling a CubeSat frame, similar to one that will fly on New Shepard. Image Credits: Teachers in Space/Jim Kuhl.

Future explorers will need protection from potentially negative effects of deep space travel. With a new suborbital centrifuge from NanoRacks, researchers may be able to collect biological and physical data on suborbital rocket flights. A space-based centrifuge can simulate the gravity environment on the Moon or Mars. The capability could make it faster and cheaper to gather critical data.

Missions to the Moon and the Red Planet will also require advanced fuel gauging systems— giving accurate measurements of the amount of propellant onboard vehicles operating in deep space without the need for complex procedures. A propellant gauging experiment from Purdue University aims to do just that.

Blue Origin's New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. launch. Image Credit: Blue Origin

The other Flight Opportunities—supported payloads aboard this launch are:

Evolved Medical Microgravity Suction Device

Orbital Medicine, Inc., Richmond, Virginia
This medical device could assist in treating space-based emergencies, such as a collapsed lung. It would collect blood in microgravity, allow lungs to continuously inflate, and store blood for transfusion.

Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2

NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston
This instrumentation package is designed to characterize the flight environment (e.g., acceleration, acoustics, temperature, pressure, humidity) of suborbital vehicles that are candidates for testing new space technologies.

Flow Boiling in Microgap Coolers

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
This thermal management technique addresses the limitations of current cooling methods for miniaturized devices and electronics needed for technology payloads on space-bound missions.

BioChip SubOrbitalLab

HNu Photonics, LLC, Kahului, Hawaii
This experiment aims to enable researchers to observe cell function in real time during flight, in order to understand how microgravity and space exposure effects human physiology—critical insights for long-duration missions.


University of Central Florida, Orlando
This payload addresses the need for detailed understanding of the behavior of space dust, regolith and other particles on the surfaces of small bodies in space, to inform both robotic and human space exploration.

About Flight Opportunities

The Flight Opportunities program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington and managed at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages the solicitation and evaluation of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.

Standardized Stacks Provide Easy Payload Support

Image above: The Crew Capsule is designed to accommodate up to six payload stacks with as many as 36 individual Payload Lockers. Future flights will replace some of these stacks with seats to support human-tended payload flights, allowing researchers to conduct their own hands-on work in space. Image Credit: Blue Origin.

Blue Origin and other U.S. commercial spaceflight providers are contracted to provide flight services to NASA for flight testing and technology demonstration. Researchers from academia and industry with concepts for exploration, commercial space applications or other space utilization technologies of potential interest to NASA can receive grants from the Flight Opportunities program to purchase suborbital flights from these and other U.S. commercial spaceflight providers.

Related links:

NASA’s Flight Opportunities program:

NASA Television:

3D printing experiment:

Evolved Medical Microgravity Suction Device:

Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2:

Flow Boiling in Microgap Coolers:

BioChip SubOrbitalLab:


NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate:

NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center:

NASA's Ames Research Center:

Blue Origin:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Loura Hall/Armstrong Flight Research Center, by Nicole Quenelle.