samedi 27 juillet 2019

Long March-2C launches new Yaogan-30 satellites

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

July 27, 2019

Image above: A Long March 2C rocket lifted off at 0357 GMT Friday (11:57 p.m. EDT Thursday) with three Yaogan 30 satellites for the Chinese military. The grid fins are visible on the gray section of the rocket at the top of the first stage. Image Credit: Xinhua.

A Chinese Long March 2C rocket launches with three Yaogan 30-05 surveillance satellites for the Chinese military.

Long March-2C launches new Yaogan-30 satellites

A Long March-2C launch vehicle launched a new group of Yaogan-30 remote sensing satellites from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province, southwest China, on 26 July 2019, at 03:57 UTC (11:57 local time). According to official sources, the satellites have entered the planned orbits, and will be used for electromagnetic environment detection and related technological tests.

The three satellites confirmed as deployed – via CCTV, China

Tracking data published by the U.S. military indicated the Long March 2C rocket achieved a 370-mile-high (600-kilometer) orbit with an inclination of 35 degrees to the equator. The orbit matches that of four previous triplets of Yaogan 30 satellites in late 2017 and early 2018, which also flew into space aboard Long March 2C rockets from Xichang.

Yaogan-30 satellite. Image Credit: Günter Space Page

The Yaogan series of satellites are believed to be operated by the Chinese military for intelligence-gathering purposes.

Some analysts suggested the 12 Yaogan 30-01, 30-02, 30-03 and 30-04 satellites launched in 2017 and 2018 could be testing new electronic eavesdropping equipment or helping the Chinese military track U.S. and other foreign naval deployments.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

China National Space Administration (CNSA):

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


Hayabusa2 second touchdown on asteroid Ryugu

JAXA - Hayabusa2 Mission patch.

July 27, 2019

On July 11, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft performed a 2nd touchdown on the surface of asteroid Ryugu. The touchdown occurred at 10:06 JST at the onboard time and was successful. Below we show images taken before and after the touchdown. As this is a quick bulletin, more detailed information will be given in the future.

Hayabusa2’s second touchdown on asteroid Ryugu

Video above:JAXA’s Asteroid Explorer “Hayabusa2” performed a second touchdown to collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu on 11 July 2019. The video was created from images captured with Hayabusa2’s CAM-H at intervals between 0.5s and 5s and played back at 10x speed.

The first image was taken at an altitude of about 8.5m and the last is from an altitude of about 150m. Video Credits: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST/SciNews.

Images taken with the Optical Navigation Camera – Wide angle (ONC-W1)

Immediately after touchdown, we captured images with the ONC-W1. Here are two bulletin images from this camera.

Image take on July 11 2019 at 10:06:32 JST (onboard time) with the ONC-W1.
(Image credit ※: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu and AIST.)

This image was taken on July 11 2019 at 10:08:53 JST (onboard time) with the ONC-W1.
(Image credit ※: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu and AIST.)

Images from the Small Monitor Camera (CAM-H)

CAM-H operated before and after touchdown, capturing images 4 seconds before touchdown, the moment of touchdown and 4 seconds after touchdown. (CAM-H is the camera that was developed and installed on Hayabusa2 through public donations. The field of view is downwards beside the sampler horn.)

Image taken 4 seconds before touchdown with CAM-H (image credit: JAXA).

Image taken 4 seconds after touchdown with CAM-H (image credit: JAXA).

Cooperation: Kimura lab., Tokyo University of Science (The technology for CAM-H is the result of previous collaborative research between JAXA and the Tokyo University of Science.)

Related links:

Hayabusa2 Project:


Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: JAXA.


Dragon Captured With New Science Experiments

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-18 Mission patch.

July 27, 2019

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon is in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm shortly after it was captured over southern Chile. Image Credit: NASA.

While the International Space Station was traveling more than 260 miles over southern Chile, astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch of NASA grappled Dragon at 9:11 a.m. EDT using the space station’s robotic arm Canadarm2.

Ground controllers will now send commands to begin the robotic installation of the spacecraft on bottom of the station’s Harmony module. NASA Television coverage of installation is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Watch online at

SpaceX CRS-18 Dragon capture

The Dragon lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Thursday, July 25 with more than 5,000 pounds of research, equipment, cargo and supplies that will support dozens of investigations aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Here’s some of the research arriving at station:

Bio-Mining in Microgravity

The Biorock investigation will provide insight into the physical interactions of liquid, rocks and microorganisms under microgravity conditions and improve the efficiency and understanding of mining materials in space. Bio-mining eventually could help explorers on the Moon or Mars acquire needed materials, lessening the need to use precious resources from Earth and reducing the amount of supplies that explorers must take with them.

Printing Biological Tissues in Space

Using 3D biological printers to produce usable human organs has long been a dream of scientists and doctors around the globe. However, printing the tiny, complex structures found inside human organs, such as capillary structures, has proven difficult to accomplish in Earth’s gravity. To overcome this challenge, Techshot designed their BioFabrication Facility to print organ-like tissues in microgravity – a stepping stone in a long-term plan to manufacture whole human organs in space using refined biological 3D printing techniques.

Improving Tire Manufacturing from Orbit

The Goodyear Tire investigation will use microgravity to push the limits of silica fillers for tire applications. A better understanding of silica morphology and the relationship between silica structure and its properties could improve the silica design process, silica rubber formulation and tire manufacturing and performance. Such improvements could include increased fuel efficiency, which would reduce transportation costs and help to protect Earth’s environment.

Related articles:

Dragon Reaches Orbit, Astronauts Prepare for Saturday Capture

SpaceX Falcon 9 Successfully Launches CRS-18

Related links:




BioFabrication Facility:

Goodyear Tire:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


vendredi 26 juillet 2019

Station Gets Ready to Receive Dragon Cargo Craft Saturday Morning

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

July 26, 2019

The SpaceX Dragon space freighter is on its way to the International Space Station following a Thursday launch from Florida. The six-member Expedition 60 crew will be waiting for the commercial cargo craft’s arrival Saturday morning.

Dragon will rendezvous with the station Saturday morning reaching a point about 10 meters from the station. Flight Engineer Nick Hague will then command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to grapple the resupply ship about 10 a.m. EDT. Fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch will back him up inside the cupola as NASA Flight Engineer Drew Morgan monitors Dragon’s approach and rendezvous. NASA TV begins its live capture and installation coverage Saturday at 8:30 a.m.

Image above: The last SpaceX Dragon cargo craft to visit the space station is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm moments before its release on June 3, 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

The three NASA astronauts continued robotics training today and practiced techniques to capture the commercial space freighter. The trio conducted simulation capture runs on a computer today preparing for a variety of Dragon approach and rendezvous scenarios.

Dragon is delivering over 5,000 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies and vehicle hardware. This includes the International Docking Adapter-3 for installation during an upcoming spacewalk on the Harmony module’s space-facing Pressurized Mating Adapter.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The Dragon-capturing trio later joined new crewmates Luca Parmitano and Alexander Skvortsov in the afternoon reviewing the spacecraft’s payload configuration. They will be unpacking time-critical research samples for stowage in station science freezers and incubators to analyze microgravity’s effect on biology.

Station Commander Alexey Ovchinin started Friday briefing his three newest crewmembers, who have been in space six days, on emergency hardware locations and procedures. The veteran cosmonaut then packed obsolete gear and trash inside a Russian resupply ship that is departing on Monday.

Related articles:

Dragon Reaches Orbit, Astronauts Prepare for Saturday Capture

SpaceX Falcon 9 Successfully Launches CRS-18

Related links:


Expedition 60:


International Docking Adapter-3:

Harmony module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA’s TESS Mission Completes First Year of Survey, Turns to Northern Sky

NASA - Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) logo.

July 25, 2019

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered 21 planets outside our solar system and captured data on other interesting events occurring in the southern sky during its first year of science. TESS has now turned its attention to the Northern Hemisphere to complete the most comprehensive planet-hunting expedition ever undertaken.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS. Image Credit: NASA

TESS began hunting for exoplanets (or worlds orbiting distant stars) in the southern sky in July of 2018, while also collecting data on supernovae, black holes and other phenomena in its line of sight. Along with the planets TESS has discovered, the mission has identified over 850 candidate exoplanets that are waiting for confirmation by ground-based telescopes.

“The pace and productivity of TESS in its first year of operations has far exceeded our most optimistic hopes for the mission,” said George Ricker, TESS’s principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “In addition to finding a diverse set of exoplanets, TESS has discovered a treasure trove of astrophysical phenomena, including thousands of violently variable stellar objects.”

To search for exoplanets, TESS uses four large cameras to watch a 24-by-96-degree section of the sky for 27 days at a time. Some of these sections overlap, so some parts of the sky are observed for almost a year. TESS is concentrating on stars closer than 300 light-years from our solar system, watching for transits, which are periodic dips in brightness caused by an object, like a planet, passing in front of the star.

Highlight From TESS's First Year

Video above: Here are highlights from TESS's first year of science operations. All exoplanet animations are illustrations. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

On July 18, the southern portion of the survey was completed and the spacecraft turned its cameras to the north. When it completes the northern section in 2020, TESS will have mapped over three quarters of the sky.

“Kepler discovered the amazing result that, on average, every star system has a planet or planets around it,” said Padi Boyd, TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “TESS takes the next step. If planets are everywhere, let’s find those orbiting bright, nearby stars because they’ll be the ones we can now follow up with existing ground and space-based telescopes, and the next generation of instruments for decades to come.”

Here are a few of the interesting objects and events TESS saw during its first year.


To qualify as an exoplanet candidate, an object must make at least three transits in the TESS data, and then pass through several additional checks to make sure the transits were not a false positive caused by an eclipse or companion star, but may in fact be an exoplanet. Once a candidate is identified, astronomers deploy a large network of ground-based telescopes to confirm it.

“The team is currently focused on finding the best candidates to confirm by ground-based follow-up,” said Natalia Guerrero, who manages the team in charge of identifying exoplanet candidates at MIT. “But there are many more potential exoplanet candidates in the data yet to be analyzed, so we’re really just seeing the tip of the iceberg here. TESS has only scratched the surface.”

The planets TESS has discovered so far range from a world 80% the size of Earth to ones comparable to or exceeding the sizes of Jupiter and Saturn. Like Kepler, TESS is finding many planets smaller in size than Neptune, but larger than Earth.

Image above: Illustration of L 98-59b, the smallest exoplanet discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Ravyn Cullor.

While NASA is striving to put astronauts on some of our nearest neighbors — the Moon and Mars — in order to understand more about the planets in our own solar system, follow-up observations with powerful telescopes of the planets TESS discovers will enable us to better understand how Earth and the solar system formed.

With TESS’s data, scientists using current and future observatories, like the James Webb Space Telescope, will be able to study other aspects of exoplanets, like the presence and composition of any atmosphere, which would impact the possibility of developing life.


Before science operations started, TESS snapped clear images of a newly discovered comet in our solar system. During on-orbit instrument testing, the satellite’s cameras took a series of images that captured the motion of C/2018 N1, a comet found on June 29 by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).

TESS captured data on similar objects outside the solar system as well.


Data from the mission were also used to identify transits by comets orbiting another star:   Beta Pictoris, located 63 light-years away. Astronomers were able to find three comets that were too small to be planets and had detectable tails, the first identification of its type in visible light.


Because TESS spends nearly a month looking in the same location, it can capture data on stellar events, like supernovae, as they begin. During its first months of science operations, TESS spotted six supernovae occurring in distant galaxies that were later discovered by ground-based telescopes.

Scientists hope to use these types of observations to better understand the origins of a specific kind of explosion known as a Type Ia supernova.

Type Ia supernovae occur either in star systems where one white dwarf draws gas from another star or when two white dwarfs merge. Astronomers don’t know which case is more common, but with data from TESS, they’ll have a clearer understanding of the origins of these cosmic blasts.

Type Ia supernovae are a class of objects called a “standard candle,” meaning astronomers know how luminous they are and can use them to calculate quantities like how quickly the universe is expanding. TESS data will help them understand differences between Type Ia supernovae created in both circumstances, which could have a large impact on how we understand events happening billions of light-years away and, ultimately, the fate of the universe.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite):

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of July 22, 2019

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

July 26, 2019

Scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station last week included work on radiation, flying robots, space plasma, and DNA damage and repair in space. The Expedition 60 crew also made preparations for the Saturday arrival of the 18th SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) and its cargo of supplies and additional scientific investigations. The orbiting lab provides a platform for commercial research and development and many of its investigations support Artemis, NASA’s program to return humans to the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-13 crew ship approaches the International Space Station carrying three new Expedition 60 members: Drew Morgan of NASA, Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos. The Soyuz docked to the station on July 20, the 50th anniversary of NASA landing humans on the Moon for the first time. Image Credit: NASA.

Here are details on some of the science conducted on the space station during the week of July 22:

Detecting and mapping radiation dose

Last week, the crew deployed the eleven dosimeters for the DOSIS-3D experiment, which uses active and passive detectors to determine the radiation doses in different locations inside the space station. It provides documentation of the actual nature and distribution of the radiation fields, used to develop a three-dimensional map of the dose distribution in all segments of the space station. Continual exposure to varying levels of radiation in space can be harmful to the health of astronauts and learning more about that exposure is key to protecting crew members.

Examining plasma crystal formation

The crew initiated a run that will catch particle clouds inside the Plasma chamber for PK 4. This investigation, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), studies complex plasmas or low temperature gaseous mixtures composed of ionized gas, neutral gas, and micron-sized particles. These particles become highly charged and interact with each other, which can lead to formation of self-organized structures called plasma crystals. Understanding how these structures form in microgravity could shed light on plasma phenomena in space and lead to new research methods and improved spacecraft designs.

New robot assistants flying on the station

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch monitors a mobility test of an Astrobee, the blue, black and white box floating in front of her. Astronauts are currently testing three of these free-flying robotic assistants on the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Astrobee is a demonstration of three free-flying robots designed to help scientists and engineers develop and test technologies that can assist astronauts with routine chores and give ground controllers additional eyes and ears on the space station The autonomous robots, powered by fans and vision-based navigation, perform crew monitoring, sampling, and logistics management, and accommodate up to three investigations. The crew collected data for use in calibration and localization for future mobility testing of the robots.

Real-time analysis of DNA repair

Damage to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) caused by increased exposure to radiation in space can affect the long-term health of astronauts. Genes in Space-6 determines the optimal DNA repair mechanisms that cells use in the spaceflight environment. The investigation evaluates the entire process in space for the first time by inducing DNA damage in cells and assessing mutation and repair at the molecular level using the miniPCR and the Biomolecule Sequencer tools aboard the space station. Last week, crew members swabbed samples for this inflight analysis.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Photobioreactor tests whether the biological processes of microalgae work together with existing systems to create a hybrid life support system. This approach could reduce the amount of consumables required from Earth for future long-duration missions:

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague services the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR), which supports safe flame and fuel research with potential benefit for fire safety on Earth and in space as well as applications in the design of advanced combustion systems for spacecraft and Earth-bound vehicles. Image Credit: NASA.

- ACME Flame Design, which studies the production and control of soot to optimize oxygen-enriched combustion and the design of robust, soot-free flames, is part of a series of independent ACME experiments using the space station’s Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR):

- The ISS Experience creates short virtual reality videos from footage taken during the yearlong investigation covering different aspects of crew life, execution of science, and the international partnerships involved on the space station:

- Space Moss determines how microgravity affects the growth, development, and other features of moss. Tiny plants without roots, mosses need only a small area for growth, an advantage for their potential use in space and future bases on the Moon or Mars:

- The Actiwatch is a wristwatch-like monitor containing an accelerometer to measure motion and color sensitive photodetectors for monitoring ambient lighting to help analyze the crew’s circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity:

- Food Acceptability examines changes in the appeal of food aboard the space station during long-duration missions. “Menu fatigue” from repeatedly consuming a limited choice of foods may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases:

- ISS HAM or Amateur Radio on the International Space Station lets students around the world talk directly with crew members on the space station, inspiring them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, and engaging them with radio science technology through amateur radio:

Space to Ground: Gateway to the Future: 07/26/2019

Related links:

Expedition 60:



PK 4:


Genes in Space-6:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Vic Cooley, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 60.

Best regards,

Hubble Snaps a Galactic Potpourri of Particles

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 26, 2019

Every now and then, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope glimpses a common object — say, a spiral galaxy — in an interesting or unusual way. A sharply angled perspective, such as the one shown in this Hubble image, can make it seem as if we, the viewers, are craning our necks to see over a barrier into the galaxy's bright center.

In the case of NGC 3169, this barrier is the thick dust embedded within the galaxy's spiral arms. Cosmic dust comprises a potpourri of particles, including water ice, hydrocarbons, silicates and other solid material. It has many origins and sources, from the leftovers of star and planet formation to molecules modified over millions of years by interactions with starlight.

NGC 3169 is located about 70 million light-years away in the constellation of Sextans (the Sextant). It is part of the Leo I Group of galaxies, which, like the Local Group that houses our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is part of a larger galactic congregation known as the Virgo Supercluster.

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, L. Ho.


Dragon Reaches Orbit, Astronauts Prepare for Saturday Capture

ISS - Expedition 60 Mission patch.

July 26, 2019

Dragon’s solar arrays have deployed and the spacecraft is safely in orbit following a launch on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:01 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying more than 5,000 pounds of research, hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Dragon is scheduled to arrive at the orbiting laboratory Saturday, July 27.

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch trains on the robotics workstation inside the cupola to capture the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague will grapple Dragon with Christina Koch acting as a backup. NASA’s Andrew Morgan will assist the duo by monitoring telemetry during Dragon’s approach. The station crew will monitor Dragon vehicle functions during rendezvous. After Dragon capture, ground commands will be sent from mission control in Houston for the station’s arm to rotate and install it on the bottom of the station’s Harmony module.

Image above: Mission Controllers in Houston watch the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Florida on its way to the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Mission coverage is as follows:

- 8:30 a.m. – Dragon rendezvous, grapple and berthing. Capture is scheduled for approximately 10 a.m.

- 12 p.m. – Dragon installation to the nadir port of the Harmony module of the station

This delivery, SpaceX’s 18th cargo flight to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, will support dozens of new and existing investigations. NASA’s research and development work aboard the space station contributes to the agency’s deep space exploration plans, including returning astronauts to the Moon’s surface in five years.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Highlights of space station research that will be facilitated by Dragon spacecraft’s arrival are:

- The BioFabrication Facility is designed to print organ-like tissues in microgravity, acting as a stepping- stone in a long-term plan to manufacture whole human organs in space using refined biological 3D printing techniques:

- A Goodyear Tire investigation is pushing the limits of silica fillers for tire applications. A better understanding of silica morphology and the relationship between silica structure and its properties could improve the silica design process, silica rubber formulation, and tire manufacturing and performance on the ground:

- The Space Tango – Induced Stem Cells investigation will take cells from patients with Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis to be cultured on the space station to examine cell to cell interactions that occur in neurodegenerative disease:

- The Cell Science-02 investigation is comparing the ability of two different bone inducing growth factors, one novel and one currently used in bone healing therapies, to stimulate growth, differentiation and related cellular functions of osteoblast in the microgravity environment:

Related article:

SpaceX Falcon 9 Successfully Launches CRS-18

Related links:

Commercial Resupply Services:

Expedition 60:

NASA TV: and


Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

jeudi 25 juillet 2019

SpaceX Falcon 9 Successfully Launches CRS-18

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-18 Mission patch.

July 25, 2019

Image above: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for SpaceX’s 18th Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station on July 25, 2019, at 6:01 p.m. Photo Credit: NASA.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida on July 25, 2019, at 6:01 p.m. EDT, carrying the company’s Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on its 18th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-18) mission.

SpaceX CRS-18 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing

“It was a great launch, we were really happy to see the weather clear out the way it did,” said Bill Spetch, deputy manager of the International Space Station Transportation Integration Office at NASA.

Weather was one thing the launch team closely monitored. Originally scheduled to launch July 24, unfavorable weather conditions caused a last-minute scrub. The morning of July 25, the weather looked much the same but cleared up just in time.

Image above: In this file photo, a SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage returns to Landing Zone 1 during the company’s 13th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-13) mission. Image Credit: SpaceX.

After a picture-perfect launch and spacecraft separation, Dragon is now drawing power from its solar arrays as it begins its solo, two-day trip to the orbiting laboratory. This is the first time a Dragon spacecraft will journey to the space station for a third time. To mark this accomplishment, it is outfitted with three noteworthy stickers: two station badges representing the previous resupply missions it has flown (CRS-6 and CRS-13) and the Apollo 50th anniversary logo.

“We are still inspired by all of the Apollo missions and are excited to continue to work with NASA as they continue to explore the universe,” SpaceX Director of Dragon Mission Management Jessica Jensen said in a prelaunch news conference July 24.

CRS-18 will deliver a number of science investigations, supplies and equipment to the orbiting laboratory, including the International Docking Adapter-3 – a new docking adapter that will enable future spacecraft built under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to autonomously attach to the station.

Image above: Dragon’s solar arrays deploy on its journey to the International Space Station July 25, 2019. Photo Credit: NASA.

Tune in to NASA TV and the agency’s website Saturday, July 27, beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT to watch Dragon rendezvous, grapple and berthing to the station. When it arrives, NASA astronaut Nick Hague will robotically grapple Dragon, with NASA astronaut Christina Koch serving as backup.

After spacecraft capture – scheduled for approximately 10 a.m. – mission control in Houston will send ground commands for the station’s arm to rotate and install it on the bottom of the orbiting laboratory’s Harmony module. Dragon will remain at the space station until Aug. 20, when it will return to Earth with research and return cargo.

Related article:

Science Soars to the Space Station on SpaceX CRS-18

Related links:

Expedition 60:

NASA TV: and


Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

CERN - NA64 casts light on dark photons

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

25 July, 2019

The NA64 collaboration has placed new limits on the interaction between a photon and its hypothetical dark-matter counterpart 

The NA64 experiment (Image: CERN)

Without dark matter, most galaxies in the universe would not hold together. Scientists are pretty sure about this. However, they have not been able to observe dark matter and the particles that comprise it directly. They have only been able to infer its presence through the gravitational pull it exerts on visible matter.

One hypothesis is that dark matter consists of particles that interact with each other and with visible matter through a new force carried by a particle called the dark photon. In a recent study, the collaboration behind the NA64 experiment at CERN describes how it has tried to hunt down such dark photons.

NA64 is a fixed-target experiment. A beam of particles is fired onto a fixed target to look for particles and phenomena produced by collisions between the beam particles and atomic nuclei in the target. Specifically, the experiment uses an electron beam of 100 GeV energy from the Super Proton Synchrotron accelerator. In the new study, the NA64 team looked for dark photons using the missing-energy technique: although dark photons would escape through the NA64 detector unnoticed, they would carry away energy that can be identified by analysing the energy budget of the collisions.

The team analysed data collected in 2016, 2017 and 2018, which together corresponded to a whopping hundred billion electrons hitting the target. They found no evidence of dark photons in the data but their analysis resulted in the most stringent bounds yet on the strength of the interaction between a photon and a dark photon for dark-photon masses between 1 MeV and 0.2 GeV.

These bounds imply that a 1-MeV dark photon would interact with an electron with a force that is at least one hundred thousand times weaker than the electromagnetic force carried by a photon, whereas a 0.2-GeV dark photon would interact with an electron with a force that is at least one thousand times weaker. The collaboration anticipates obtaining even stronger limits with the upgraded detector, which is expected to be completed in 2021.


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.

Related links:

CERN NA64 experiment Study:

Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS):

Dark matter:

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

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


Patrouille de France: "The plane is off the track"

Patrouille de France patch.

July 25, 2019

Just landed at the airport of Perpignan, the plane went off the track and ended not far from a road. The pilot who ejected was slightly injured.

Image above: The Alphajet of the Patrouille de France hit a wall, along the road. Image Credits: Twitter/France 3.

The Alphajets are now equipped with ejectable seats "zero-zero" (for zero altitude, zero speed), the pilot could eject, as provided by the procedure in case of loss of control. He was slightly injured.

The Patrouille de France. Image Credit: Patrouille de France/

The plane caused a start of vegetation fire that could be controlled. The Patrouille de France was expected in the afternoon at Saint-Cyprien for an air demonstration.

Editor note:

This article is the 8000th published (since October 2010) on this blog by Roland Berga aka

Related link:

Patrouille de France:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Le Matin/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Europe prepares for Mars courier

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

25 July 2019

The first round-trip to the Red Planet will see a European orbiter bringing martian samples back to Earth. ESA is opening the door to industry to build the spacecraft that will deliver the precious rocks, dust and gas from Mars – the key to understanding whether life ever existed on our closest planetary neighbour.

Mars Sample Return – overview

This ‘take-away’ service is called the Earth Return Orbiter, and will be ESA’s major contribution to the Mars Sample Return campaign. The ESA Orbiter will carry NASA’s Capture and Containment and Return System, which will rely on the ESA-led spacecraft for transit to and from Mars.

Three launches from Earth and one from Mars – the first ever from another planet –, two rovers and an autonomous capture in Mars orbit are all part of an ambitious series of missions that ESA is embarking on together with NASA.

The campaign aims to bring at least 500 grams of samples back from the Jezero crater that once held a lake and contains an ancient preserved river delta. The rocks in the area preserve information about Mars’ diverse geology.

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover that is slated for launch in July 2020 will scientifically select the best samples to store in tubes and deposit them onto the martian surface for later retrieval.

Mars Sample Return overview infographic

ESA is also studying concepts for a small ‘fetch’ rover to scurry quickly across the martian surface to locate and recover the stored samples.

It would then carry them back to a football-sized canister that would be launched with a NASA Mars Ascent System – a small rocket.

The Earth Return Orbiter will capture the canister in orbit and transfer it safely to Earth, a return trip that will take about 13 months.

“We will have the responsibility of finding, capturing and transporting these precious martian treasures home for careful analysis in state-of-the-art labs on our planet,” explains Sanjay Vijendran, ESA’s Mars Sample Return campaign coordinator. “It’s an interplanetary treasure hunt!”

Bringing Mars back to Earth

The Earth Return Orbiter is set to get onto the launch pad by 2026 from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Through this call, ESA will be selecting a prime contractor for the spacecraft.

“The mission is becoming a reality, and we are proud to give European industry the chance to join the challenge,” says Orson Sutherland, study manager for the Earth Return Orbiter.

Mars sample return

The main challenges are the electric propulsion and power generation. “Not to forget finding and navigating the spacecraft to rendezvous with the football sized orbiting sample over 50 million km away from ground control,” adds Orson.

The spacecraft will use technological heritage from ESA’s most recently launched science mission, BepiColombo: both use electric propulsion and multi-stage detachable modules.

“Europe is ready to do its bit for the Mars Sample Return campaign, in close partnership with NASA, and is up to the challenge of putting the spacecraft onto the launch pad in 2026,” says Orson.

Related links:

European vision for space exploration:

ExoMars: Europe's new era of Mars exploration:

Robotic exploration of Mars:

Mars Sample Return:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/K. Oldenburg/ATG Medialab/NASA.

Best regards,

Astronomers spy Europa blocking distant star – thanks to Gaia

ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

25 July 2019

On 31 March 2017, Jupiter’s moon Europa passed in front of a background star – a rare event that was captured for the first time by ground-based telescopes thanks to data provided by ESA’s Gaia spacecraft.

Gaia spacecraft

Previously, observatories had only managed to watch two of Jupiter’s other moons – Io and Ganymede – during such an event.

Gaia has been operating in space since late 2013. The mission aims to produce a three-dimensional map of our Galaxy, and characterise the myriad stars that call the Milky Way home. It has been immensely successful so far, revealing the locations and motions of over one billion stars.

Knowing the precise locations of the stars we see in the sky allows scientists to predict when various bodies in the Solar System will appear to pass in front of a background star from a given vantage point: an event known as a stellar occultation.

Jupiter's largest moons

Gaia is no stranger to such events – the spacecraft helped astronomers make unique observations of Neptune’s moon Triton as it passed in front of a distant star in 2017, revealing more about the moon’s atmosphere and properties.

Occultations are hugely valuable; they enable measurements of the characteristics of the foreground body (size, shape, position, and more), and can reveal structures like rings, jets, and atmospheres. Such measurements can be made from the ground – something that Bruno Morgado of the Brazilian National Observatory and LIneA, Brazil, and colleagues took advantage of to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“We used data from Gaia’s first data release to forecast that, from our viewpoint in South America, Europa would pass in front of a bright background star in March 2017 – and to predict the best location from which to observe this occultation,” said Bruno, lead researcher of a new paper reporting the findings from the 2017 occultation. Gaia’s first data release was provided in September 2016.

“This gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore Europa, as the technique offers an accuracy comparable to that of images obtained by space probes.”

The Gaia data showed that the event would be visible from a thick band slicing from north-west to south-east across South America. Three observatories located in Brazil and Chile were able to capture data – a total of eight sites attempted, but many experienced poor weather conditions.

In-keeping with previous measurements, the observations refined Europa’s radius to 1561.2 km, precisely determined Europa’s position in space and in relation to its host planet, Jupiter, and characterised the moon’s shape. Rather than being exactly spherical, Europa is known to be an ellipsoid. The observations show the moon to measure 1562 km when measured across in one direction (the so-called apparent ‘semi-major’ axis), and 1560.4 km when measured across the other (the apparent ‘semi-minor’ axis).

Upcoming stellar occultations by Jupiter’s four largest moons

“It’s likely that we’ll be able to observe far more occultations like this by Jupiter’s moons in 2019 and 2020,” adds Bruno. “Jupiter is passing through a patch of sky that has the galactic centre in the background, making it drastically more likely that its moons will pass in front of bright background stars. This would really help us to pin down their three-dimensional shapes and positions – not only for Jupiter's four largest moons, but for smaller, more irregularly-shaped ones, too.”

Using Gaia’s second data release, provided in April 2018, the scientists predict the dates of further occultations of bright stars by Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto in coming years, and list a total of 10 events through 2019 and 2021. Future events comprise stellar occultations by Europa (22 June 2020), Callisto (20 June 2020, 4 May 2021), Io (9 and 21 September 2019, 2 April 2021), and Ganymede (25 April 2021).

Three have already taken place in 2019, two of which – stellar occultations by Europa (4 June) and Callisto (5 June) – were also observed by the researchers, and for which the data are still under analysis.

The upcoming occultations will be observable even with amateur telescopes as small as 20 cm from various regions around the world. The favourable position of Jupiter, with the galactic plane in the background, will only occur again in 2031.

Juice will fly by Europa during its tour of the Jovian system

“Stellar occultation studies allow us to learn about moons in the Solar System from afar, and are also relevant for future missions that will visit these worlds,” says Timo Prusti, ESA Gaia Project Scientist. “As this result shows, Gaia is a hugely versatile mission: it not only advances our knowledge of stars, but also of the Solar System more widely.”

An accurate knowledge of Europa’s orbit will help to prepare space missions targeting the Jovian system such as ESA’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (Juice) and NASA’s Europa Clipper, both of which are scheduled for launch in the next decade.

“These kinds of observations are hugely exciting,” says Olivier Witasse, ESA’s Juice Project Scientist. “Juice will reach Jupiter in 2029; having the best possible knowledge of the positions of the system’s moons will help us to prepare for the mission navigation and future data analysis, and plan all of the science we intend to do.

“This science depends upon us knowing things such as accurate moon trajectories and understanding how close a spacecraft will come to a given body, so the better our knowledge, the better this planning – and the subsequent data analysis – will be.”

Notes for editors:

“First stellar occultation by the Galilean moon Europa and upcoming events between 2019 and 2021” by B. Morgado et al. (2019), is published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Details of past and future stellar occultation observing campaigns for Jupiter’s moons and other Solar System objects will be listed here:

Gaia was launched in 2013 to create the most precise three-dimensional map of more than one billion stars in the Milky Way. The mission has released two lots of data thus far: Gaia Data Release 1 in 2016 and Gaia Data Release 2 in 2018. More releases will follow in the coming years.

Gaia Data Release 1:

Gaia Data Release 2:

Juice is the first large-class mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision 2015–2025 programme. It is planned for launch in 2022, and will complete a unique tour of Jupiter and its large ocean-bearing moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto after it arrives in 2029.

Related links:

Gaia: and


Images, Animations, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL/DLR/Gaia/DPAC; Bruno Morgado (Brazilian National Observatory/LIneA, Brazil) et al (2019).


mercredi 24 juillet 2019

Inside Dark, Polar Moon Craters, Water Not as Invincible as Expected, Scientists Argue

NASA - Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) patch.

July 24, 2019

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Image Credit: NASA

The Moon’s south pole region is home to some of the most extreme environments in the solar system: it’s unimaginably cold, massively cratered, and has areas that are either constantly bathed in sunlight or in darkness. This is precisely why NASA wants to send astronauts there in 2024 as part of its Artemis program.

The most enticing feature of this southernmost region is the craters, some of which never see the light of day reach their floors. The reason for this is the low angle of sunlight striking the surface at the poles. To a person standing at the lunar south pole, the Sun would appear on the horizon, illuminating the surface sideways, and, thus, skimming primarily the rims of some craters while leaving their deep interiors in shadow.

Animation above: Streams of meteoroids striking the Moon's surface. AnimationCredits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

As a result of the permanent darkness, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has measured the coldest temperatures in the solar system inside these craters, which have become known as perfect environments for preserving material like water for eons. Or so we thought.

It turns out that despite temperature that dips to -388 degrees Fahrenheit (-233 Celsius) and can presumably keep frost locked in soil virtually forever, water is slowly escaping the topmost, super thin layer (thinner than the width of a red blood cell) of the Moon’s surface. NASA scientists reported this finding recently in paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“People think of some areas in these polar craters as trapping water and that’s it,” said William M. Farrell, a plasma physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who led the lunar frost research. “But there are solar wind particles and meteoroids hitting the surface, and they can drive reactions that typically occur at warmer surface temperatures. That’s something that’s not been emphasized.”

Image above: A high-resolution free-air gravity map based on data returned from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission, overlaid on terrain based on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter altimeter and camera data. The view is south-up, with the south pole near the horizon in the upper left. The terminator crosses the eastern rim of the Schrödinger basin. Gravity is painted onto the areas that are in or near the night side. Red corresponds to mass excesses and blue to mass deficits. Image Credits: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.

Unlike Earth, with its plush atmosphere, the Moon has no atmosphere to protect its surface. So when the Sun sprays charged particles known as the solar wind into the solar system, some of them bombard the Moon’s surface and kick up water molecules that bounce around to new locations.

Likewise, wayward meteoroids constantly smash into the surface and uproot soil mingled with frozen bits of water. Meteoroids can hurtle these soil particles — which are many times smaller than the width of a human hair — as far as 19 miles (30 kilometers) away from the impact site, depending on the size of the meteoroid. The particles can travel so far because the Moon has low gravity and no air to slow things down: “So every time you have one of these impacts, a very thin layer of ice grains is spread across the surface, exposed to the heat of the Sun and to the space environment, and eventually sublimated or lost to other environmental processes,” said Dana Hurley, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

While it’s important to consider that even in the shadowed craters water is slowly seeping out, it’s possible that water is being added, too, the paper authors note. Icy comets that crash into the Moon, plus the solar wind, could be replenishing it as part of a global water cycle; that’s something scientists are trying to figure out. Additionally, it’s not clear how much water there is. Is it sitting only in the top layer of the Moon’s surface or does it extend deep into the Moon’s crust, scientists wonder?

Either way, the topmost layer of polar crater floors is getting reworked over thousands of years, according to calculations by Farrell, Hurley, and their team. Therefore, the faint patches of frost that scientists have detected at the poles using instruments such as LRO’s Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) instrument could be just 2,000 years old, instead of millions or billions of years old as some might expect, Farrell’s team estimated. “We can’t think of these craters as icy dead spots,” he noted.

To confirm his team’s calculations, Farrell said, a future instrument capable of detecting water vapor should find, above the Moon’s surface, one to 10 water molecules per cubic centimeter that have been liberated by impacts.

The Good News for Future Lunar Exploration

For forthcoming science and exploration, the scattering of water particles could be great news. It means astronauts may need not to subject themselves and their instruments to the harsh environment of shadowed crater floors in order to find water-rich soil — they could just find it in sunny regions nearby.

Image above: A permanently shadowed lunar crater. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

“This research is telling us that meteoroids are doing some of the work for us and transporting material from the coldest places to some of the boundary regions where astronauts can access it with a solar-powered rover,” Hurley said. “It’s also telling us that what we need to do is get on the surface of one of these regions and get some firsthand data about what’s happening.”

Getting to the lunar surface would make it much easier to assess how much water is on the Moon. Because identifying water from afar, particularly in permanently shadowed craters, is tricky business. The primary way that scientists find water is through remote sensing instruments that can identify what chemical elements things are made of based on the light they reflect or absorb. “But for that, you need a light source,” Hurley said. “And by definition, these permanently shadowed regions don’t have a strong one.”

Understanding the Water Environment on the Moon

Until NASA astronauts get back to the Moon to dig up some soil, or the agency sends new instruments near the surface that can sniff out floating water molecules, the research team’s theory about the influence of meteoroids on the environment inside shadowed craters could help chip away at some of the mysteries surrounding the Moon’s water. It already has helped scientists understand if the uppermost surface water is new or ancient, or how it may migrate around the Moon. Another thing meteoroid impacts to the crater floors could help explain is why scientists are finding patches of wispy frost diluted in regolith, or Moon soil, rather than blocks of pure water ice.

Animation above: This animation shows evidence of high concentrations of hydrogen at the south pole of the Moon. In 1998 NASA's Lunar Prospector mission identified hydrogen on the Moon, which was early evidence of potential ice deposits. As you can see in this video, Prospector data showed significantly more hydrogen (shown in blue) at the Moon's south pole. Animation Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.

Even though water questions abound, it’s important to remember, Farrell said, that it was only in the last decade that scientists found evidence that the Moon is not a dry, dead rock, as many had long assumed. The LRO, with its thousands of orbits and 1 petabyte of returned science data (equivalent to about 200,000, high-definition, feature-length films streamed online), has been instrumental. So has the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which revealed frozen water after purposely crashing into Cabeus crater in 2009 and releasing a plume of preserved material from the crater floor that included water.

“We suspected there was water at the poles and learned for sure from LCROSS, but we now have evidence that there’s water at mid latitudes,” Farrell said. “We also have evidence that there’s water coming from micrometeoroid impacts, and we have measurements of frost. But the question is, how are all these water sources related?”

That’s a question Farrell and his colleagues are closer to answering than ever before.

Related links:

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):

Geophysical Research Letters:

Earth's Moon:

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