jeudi 31 décembre 2020

Crew Exploring Life Science Before Relaxing on New Year’s Day


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 31, 2020

The seven Expedition 64 crew members aboard the International Space Station will see the New Year sixteen times today and take the day off on the first day of 2021. The orbital residents are also exploring how microgravity affects mice and protein crystals to improve human health.

The station orbits the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour) giving the crew the opportunity to see 16 sunrises and sunsets each day. The space residents set their clocks to GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, and will start their new year at 12:00 a.m. GMT on Jan. 1, or five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Image above: NASA astronaut Shannon Walker sets up hardware inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox for an experiment to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth. Image Credit: NASA.

Rodent research has been taking place all December aboard the station so scientists can understand how living in space impacts vision and bone tissue. NASA astronaut Victor Glover tended to mice today for the two studies before they will return in January aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon for analysis on Earth.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins photographed scientific samples for a study that seeks to commercialize the production of medical therapies in space. The Monoclonal Antibodies investigation is specifically exploring the creation of protein crystals that target cancer cells and could improve the crystallization process on Earth.

Поздравление экипажа МКС-64 с Новым годом

Rubins also joined Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi as the trio packed the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter throughout Thursday. The trio packed Cygnus with trash and discarded gear for its departure scheduled on Jan. 6. After its separation, Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for flight tests and science experiments.

International Space Station Astronauts Expedition 64 crew Happy New Year Wishes

Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov serviced a variety of Russian hardware today before loading the Progress 76 cargo craft ahead of its February departure from the Pirs docking compartment. Cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov spent Thursday on engineering and plumbing tasks in the orbiting lab’s Russian segment.

Related links:

Expedition 64:


Bone tissue:

Monoclonal Antibodies:

Pirs docking compartment:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards, Happy new year,

Chaos at the Heart of the Orion Nebula


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 31, 2020

Gaseous swirls of hydrogen, sulfur, and hydrocarbons cradle a collection of infant stars in this composite image of the Orion Nebula, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space telescope. Together, the two telescopes expose carbon-rich molecules in the cosmic cloud of this star-formation factory located 1,500 light-years away.

Hubble's ultraviolet and visible-light view reveal hydrogen and sulfur gas that have been heated and ionized by intense ultraviolet radiation from the massive stars, collectively known as the "Trapezium." Meanwhile, Spitzer's infrared view exposes carbon-rich molecules in the cloud. Together, the telescopes expose the stars in Orion as a rainbow of dots sprinkled throughout the image.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech STScI/NASA/Andres Almeida.

Greetings & Happy new year,

mercredi 30 décembre 2020

Cargo Packing and Radish Harvesting Aboard Station Today


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 30, 2020

The Expedition 64 crew is packing a pair of U.S. resupply ships for departure next month. The International Space Station is also humming with microgravity research to benefit humans on and off the Earth.

Space agriculture is key to the long-term success of human exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Astronauts and botanists are learning how to manage food production aboard the station and have been harvesting a variety of edible plants for several years.

Image above: Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is pictured inside the U.S. Quest airlock carrying a pair of pistol grip tools used for maintenance work during spacewalks. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins spent Wednesday harvesting radish plants and readying them for consumption for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment. Their short cultivation time is ideal for research and evaluating nutrition and taste in microgravity.

Rodents are being studied to understand the impacts to vision and bone tissue while living in space. Today, JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi fed the mice and cleaned their specialized research habitats. Those mice will be returned to Earth for analysis next month aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Shannon Walker packed trash inside the Cygnus space freighter today ahead of its Jan. 6 departure. Following its separation, Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own for an extended period of flight tests and science experiments. Walker also readied research and development hardware and sample modules for return to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon less than a week after Cygnus departs.

Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos spent the day configuring communications gear and cleaning ventilation systems inside the orbiting lab’s Russian segment. His fellow cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov wiped down module surfaces to rid the station of microbes and vacuumed the Zarya module.

Related article:

NASA Television to Air Departure of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus from Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Plant Habitat-02 experiment:


Bone tissue:

Specialized research habitats:

SpaceX Crew Dragon:

Research and development hardware:

Sample modules:

Zarya module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Space Colony Artwork from the '70


NASA logo.

Dec. 30, 2020

NASA Ames and Stanford University conducted three space colony summer studies in the 1970s. A number of artistic renderings of the concepts were made and they have been scanned as high-quality.

Torus construction

This fictional toroidal (doughnut-shaped) space colony, illustrated by Rick Guidice, is one of many artistic renderings that were born out of an art program at NASA's Ames Research Center in the 1970s.

Torus interior

Ames scientists conducted three different studies into how humans may one build massive space colonies.

Toroidal colony

Artistic endeavors like these help form connections between science and the public, acting as valuable tools in illustrating NASA's explorations and discoveries.

Exterior view of Toroidal colony

Though the NASA Art Program isn't as vast as it used to be, makers and creators continue working with NASA scientists and engineers to create visually engaging concept art and animations, like the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Exoplanet Planet Travel Bureau.

Editor note:

For Asgardia the Space Nation, it is still a topical subject as it is part of its future projects. Become Asgadian:

Related links:

NASA Art Program:

NASA's Ames Research Center:

Images, Text,  Credits: NASA's Ames Research Center/NASA/Andres Almeida.


Crater Slopes: The Power of a Repeat Image


NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

Dec. 30, 2020

Map Projected Browse Image

Why does HiRISE take so many repeat images of the same area? Repeat coverage actually serves a special purpose, such as detecting seasonal changes (frost deposition and sublimation) and temporal changes (dust devil tracks and avalanches.) These repeat images also give us a "sneak peek" of future pictures to determine any differences.

Such is the case for this observation which we took in June 2014, and covers a small 1-kilometer sized simple crater located in the Southern hemisphere. In this composite and enhanced image, the crater shows frost on all its south-facing slopes (e.g., the crater's north wall and southern ejecta). This image was taken in late Martian winter as Mars is heading into spring.

With a repeat image, we can now see any changes of the same crater. And what do you know: all the frost that was once present on the south-facing slopes of the crater are now gone, having sublimated and returned to the Martian atmosphere.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 

Related links:


Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.


mardi 29 décembre 2020

U.S. Cargo Ships Depart In January; Crew Exploring Biology and Physics


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 29, 2020

Two U.S. resupply ships are being readied for their departure next month from the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the Expedition 64 crew continued its intense schedule of space research with cardiac studies and radish harvesting today.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is due to be the first cargo craft to leave the station in 2021 on Jan. 6. Ground controllers will remotely command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus into Earth orbit after 93 days attached to the Unity module. Cygnus will separate to a safe distance away from the station and continue orbiting Earth for an extended mission of flight tests and science experiments.

Image above: Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins checks on young radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space. Image Credit: NASA.

Less than a week later, the SpaceX Cargo Dragon will undock from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. The upgraded version of the returnable space freighter will splash down the same day in the Atlantic Ocean loaded with space station hardware and science investigations for analysis.

Image above: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter approaches the International Space Station where the Canadarm2 robotic arm is poised to capture it for docking. Image Credit: NASA.

The station residents also focused Tuesday on a host of space studies exploring heart cells, semiconductors and botany. These studies and others being hosted on the station may benefit human health and improve products around the world and on future space missions.

Samples of engineered heart tissues were serviced aboard the orbiting lab today for the Cardinal Heart study that seeks to understand space-caused cell and tissue abnormalities. Hardware is being set up this week to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth to benefit Earth and space industries. Finally, radish plants are being harvested on the station this week helping botanists learn to manage food production in space and evaluate nutrition and taste in microgravity.

Related article:

NASA Television to Air Departure of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus from Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Unity module:

Harmony module:

Cardinal Heart:

Semiconductor crystal growth:

Radish plants:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Approves Heliophysics Missions to Explore Sun, Earth’s Aurora


NASA & JAXA - Solar-C_EUVST Mission logo.

Dec. 29, 2020

NASA has approved two heliophysics missions to explore the Sun and the system that drives space weather near Earth. Together, NASA’s contribution to the Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope Epsilon Mission, or EUVST, and the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer, or EZIE, will help us understand the Sun and Earth as an interconnected system.

Understanding the physics that drive the solar wind and solar explosions – including solar flares and coronal mass ejections – could one day help scientists predict these events, which can impact human technology and explorers in space.

Image above: From the International Space Station’s orbit 269 miles above the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia, this nighttime photograph captures the aurora australis, or "southern lights." Russia's Soyuz MS-12 crew ship is in the foreground and Progress 72 resupply ship in the background. Image Credit: NASA.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) leads the Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope (EUVST) Epsilon Mission (Solar-C EUVST Mission), along with other international partners. Targeted for launch in 2026, EUVST is a solar telescope that will study how the solar atmosphere releases solar wind and drives eruptions of solar material. These phenomena propagate out from the Sun and influence the space radiation environment throughout the solar system. NASA’s hardware contributions to the mission include an intensified UV detector and support electronics, spectrograph components, a guide telescope, software, and a slit-jaw imaging system to provide context for the spectrographic measurement. The budget for NASA contributions to EUVST is $55 million. The principal investigator for the NASA contribution to EUVST is Harry Warren at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

The Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer (EZIE) will study electric currents in Earth’s atmosphere linking aurora to the Earth’s magnetosphere – one piece of Earth’s complicated space weather system, which responds to solar activity and other factors. The Auroral Electrojet (AE) index is a common measure of geomagnetic activity levels, even though the details of the structure of these currents is not understood. EZIE will launch no earlier than June 2024. The total budget for the EZIE mission is $53.3 million. The principal investigator for the mission is Jeng-Hwa (Sam) Yee at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Aurora. Animation Credits: NASA/JSC/Hirai Mamoru

“We are very pleased to add these new missions to the growing fleet of satellites that are studying our Sun-Earth system using an amazing array of unprecedented observational tools,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In addition to my enthusiasm at selecting a pioneering multi-point observatory focused on the auroral electrojets, I am particularly excited to follow up the success of the Yohkoh and Hinode solar science missions with another international collaboration with JAXA and other European partners on EUVST.”

The EUVST mission addresses the recommendations of a July 2017 final report delivered by the multi-agency Next Generation Solar Physics Mission Science Objectives Team. EUVST will take comprehensive UV spectroscopy measurements of the solar atmosphere at the highest level of detail to date, which will allow scientists to tease out how different magnetic and plasma processes drive coronal heating and energy release.

“We’re excited to work with our international partners to answer some of our fundamental questions about the Sun,” said Nicky Fox, Heliophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “EUVST’s observations will complement our current missions to give us new insight into our star.”

Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope (EUVST). Image Credits: JAXA

EZIE is an investigation comprising a trio of CubeSats that will study the source of and changes in the auroral electrojet, an electric current circling through Earth’s atmosphere around 60-90 miles above the surface and extending into the Earth’s magnetosphere. The interaction of the magnetosphere and the solar wind compresses the Sun-facing side of the magnetosphere and drags out the night-time side of the magnetosphere into what is called a “magnetotail.” Auroral electrojets are generated by changes in the structure of the magnetotail. The same space weather phenomena that power the beautiful aurora can cause interference with radio and communication signals and utility grids on Earth’s surface, and damage to spacecraft in orbit.

“With these new missions, we’re expanding how we study the Sun, space, and Earth as an interconnected system,” said Peg Luce, deputy director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “EZIE’s use of instrument technology proven on Earth science CubeSat missions is just one example of how science and technology development at NASA go hand in hand across disciplines.”

Funding for these missions of opportunity comes from the Heliophysics Explorers Program, managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

For more information about NASA’s Heliophysics Division, visit:

For more information about Heliophysics missions of opportunity, visit:

Related links:

Solar-C EUVST Mission:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Katherine Brown/Grey Hautaluoma/GSFC/Sarah Frazier.


Space Station Science Highlights: Weeks of December 21 and 28, 2020


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 29, 2020

The final two weeks of 2020, crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted dozens of scientific investigations, including studies of how plants grow in microgravity, tissue regeneration, time perception, changes in heart tissue gene expression, and a possible method for removing debris from space.

Image above: NASA astronaut Shannon Walker works on transferring cargo, including a number of new scientific investigations, from a Dragon cargo craft into the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Seven crew members currently inhabit the station, including four from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which increases crew time available for science on the orbiting lab. The space station has been continuously inhabited by humans for 20 years and has supported many scientific breakthroughs during that time. The station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space, experience that supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place:

Learning to grow fresh food in space

Image above: NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins tends to radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment, which evaluates plant growth as well as nutrition and taste of the plants. Image Credit: NASA.

On long-duration space exploration missions such as to the Moon and Mars, astronauts need to be able to grow nutritious foods to supplement what they can bring from Earth. Plant Habitat-02 examines how radish plants (Raphanus sativus) grow on the space station in different types of light and soils, part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space. This model plant is nutritious, has a short cultivation time, and is genetically similar to Arabidopsis, a plant frequently studied in microgravity. In addition to helping optimize plant growth in space, this research evaluates the nutrition and taste of the plants. Crew members collected leaf samples during these weeks for analysis and tasting.

Tissue regeneration and vision changes in microgravity

The space station’s Rodent Research Habitats currently are supporting the RR-10 and RR-23 investigations. Tissue degeneration and failure to regenerate normally in microgravity are potential concerns for long duration space missions. RR-10 examines the role of a particular gene in tissues affected by microgravity and could lead to the development of treatments to counter tissue degeneration in space. RR-23 looks at function of arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina before and after spaceflight in order to clarify whether these changes impair visual function. On long-duration spaceflights, at least 40 percent of astronauts experience vision impairment known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS). During these two weeks, crew members restocked habitats and conducted operations for both investigations.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Time Perception, an ESA (European Space Agency) experiment, aims to quantify the subjective changes in time perception that humans experience during and after long-duration spaceflight. Scientists suspect that astronauts underestimate time duration while on orbit due to the absence of gravitational reference. Crew members tend to have slower motions at the beginning of flight and increase speed of their motions as the flight progresses. In addition, it takes about twice as long to execute experimental procedures in orbit as it does on Earth. Time perception also may be affected by lack of sleep, disrupted daily or circadian rhythms, stress, and accounting for the variety of time zones (such as GMT, Houston, and Moscow time) relevant on the space station. Cognitive performance, good eye-hand coordination, spatial orientation, and time perception all are critical for high-level functions on space missions such as the control of vehicles. This investigation could help identify ways that astronauts can adapt to alterations in these functions in space, protecting crew safety and mission success. The crew set up hardware for and participated in a Time Perception session during this time period.

Broadcasting to you from space

Image above: This image shows the set-up for Space Studio Kibo, a broadcasting studio from JAXA used to livestream activities, interactive entertainment, and communications from the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

During the week of Dec. 28, crew members set up hardware and conducted sessions for Space Studio KIBO, a broadcasting studio from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The Studio livestreams activities, interactive entertainment, and communication from the space station to the ground and also can receive video and audio from a ground studio. The program connects people from all over the world, even those in remote locations, and allows them to communicate and interact with crew members in space. Broadcasts about space can be used in educational and other settings to inform and inspire people about science and space exploration, many for the first time.

Don’t be still my heart

Microgravity causes changes in the human heart that look much the same as those seen in age-related diseases on Earth. These changes affect the tissues of the heart that perform work, causing molecular and structural abnormalities that can lead to disease. Cardinal Heart studies changes seen in the human heart after spending time in microgravity, using three-dimensional engineered heart tissues (EHTs) to analyze changes in gene expression in three heart cell types. Results may help establish screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk in humans prior to spaceflight, as well as help identify new treatments for people with heart disease on Earth. Crew members performed periodic exchange of cell culture media for the investigation during these two weeks.

Cleaning up Earth’s orbit

Image above: A view of the Astrobee cube named Bumble and its docking station. The REGGAE investigation places adhesive material onto two of these free-flying satellites aboard the space station to test a potential method for capturing dangerous space debris. Image Credit: NASA.

Space debris – human-made objects still in orbit but no longer serving a useful purpose, including derelict satellites and spent launch vehicle stages – represents a threat to the safe and sustained use of Earth’s orbit. REGGAE, an investigation from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), tests a method of capturing and removing space debris that mimics microscopic structures in the feet of geckos that allow them to adhere to almost any surface. Researchers place these micro-patterned adhesives on one of the Astrobee free-flying satellites aboard the space station and use it to attempt to capture specific targets at different speeds and angles. Results could show that small and cost-efficient CubeSats would be able to capture and remove space debris. During the week of Dec. 28, crew members prepared for REGGAE checkout and operations.

Editor note:

REGGAE investigation has absolutely nothing to do with the musical style (I couldn't help but make the joke, too tempting). Roland Berga.

Space to Ground: The Year That Was: 12/23/2020

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- SoundSee tests a way to monitor the space station’s acoustic environment in order to detect anomalies in the sounds made by equipment such as life support infrastructure and exercise machines. This autonomous monitoring can provide early indication of equipment failure, helping to improve crew health and safety by keeping equipment in good working order and reducing crew workload aboard the space station and other spacecraft.

- Micro-14A  expands on previous studies to define the mechanisms by which cells of the yeast Candida albicans adapt to space.

- Myotones, an ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, observes the biochemical properties of muscles during long-term exposure to spaceflight.

- JAXA’s Confocal Space Microscopy facility provides fluorescence images of biological samples on-orbit, which can provide data on the fundamental nature of cellular and tissue structure and function in real-time.

- Genes in Space-7, winner of Genes in Space, a nation-wide contest that challenges students to design DNA analysis experiments, examines changes in gene expression in the nervous system of fruit flies.

- AstroPi, a project of the ESA, uses two augmented Raspberry Pi computers to measure the environment inside the space station, detect how the station moves through space, and pick up the Earth’s magnetic field. Related activities encourage and strengthen the teaching of computing and coding and stimulate student interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

- Monoclonal Antibodies PCG assesses the differences in crystallization of various therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, which are lab-created immune system proteins designed to interact with specific targets such as cancer cells.

- HemoCue tests using a commercially available device to provide quick and accurate counts of total and individual WBCs in microgravity. Being able to perform autonomous blood analysis in space is an important step toward meeting the health care needs of crew members on long duration missions.

- Thermal Amine Scrubber tests a system to remove carbon dioxide from the space station’s cabin air. The system also reduces loss of water vapor and recovers carbon dioxide, which can be used to produce oxygen through a process called electrolysis.

- SUBSA-BRAINS examines differences in capillary flow, interface reactions, and bubble formation during solidification of brazing alloys in microgravity. Researchers plan to perform the same capillary flow tests on Earth and in microgravity in order to better understand the physics of the flow of molten metals.

- The Vascular series from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) includes Vascular Aging and Vascular Echo, investigations that examine how time in microgravity affects the carotid arteries, which carry blood to the head.

- Fiber Optic Production produces fiber optic cable in space from a blend of elements called ZBLAN. Previous research suggests optical fibers produced in microgravity should exhibit superior qualities to those produced on Earth.

- BRE focuses on fire prevention in spacecraft, examining burning conditions and the flammability of materials in microgravity. BRE is part of ACME, a set of six independent studies of gaseous flames intended to advance fuel efficiency and reduce pollutant production in practical combustion on Earth, and to improve spacecraft fire prevention.

- MVP Cell-06 studies the effects of spaceflight on musculoskeletal disease. Astronauts experience exercise-related injuries in space and on Earth, and loss of cartilage and bone due to joint injury can lead to arthritis. This investigation could help identify drugs to protect both astronauts and people on Earth.

- Standard Measures collects a set of consistent measurements from U.S. crew members to help characterize the effects of living and working in space on the human body.

- AstroRad Vest tests a wearable vest designed to protect astronauts from radiation caused by unpredictable solar particle events. Astronauts provide input on how easy the garment is to put on, how it fits and feels, and the range of motion it allows.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Plant Habitat-02:



Time Perception:

 Space Studio KIBO:

Cardinal Heart:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 64.

Best regards,

Flight VS25: Arianespace orbits the CSO-2 military observation satellite for France


Arianespace - Soyuz Flight VS25 Mission poster.

Dec. 29, 2020

Soyuz launches CSO-2 satellite. Image Credit: Arianespace/ Aerospace

For its 10th and final launch of the year, Arianespace used a Soyuz rocket to orbit the CSO-2 defense and security observation satellite for the French CNES space agency (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) and DGA defense procurement agency (Direction générale de l’armement), on behalf of the French armed forces.

With this launch, Arianespace has once again demonstrated its ability to ensure independent access to space for France and Europe.

Soyuz ST-A launches CSO

The latest success from the Guiana Space Center confirms the flexibility of Soyuz, occurring just 10 days after the medium-lift vehicle’s first commercial launch operated by Arianespace and its Starsem affiliate from Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Image Credit: Arianespace

On Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at 1:42 p.m. local time, Arianespace successfully launched an Earth observation satellite for defense and security purposes from the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana (South America), using a medium-lift Soyuz launcher.

This payload, CSO-2, is the second dedicated military observation satellite in France’s Optical Space Component (CSO – Composante Spatiale Optique), a program conducted by CNES and DGA for operation by the French Armed Forces and the country’s Space Command.

CSO-2 military observation satellite. Image Credit: CNES

“I want to thank the Arianespace teams for their unwavering commitment throughout this exceptional year, as well as CNES and the French Ministry of the Armed Forces for their renewed confidence on the occasion of this second launch of a satellite in the Optical Space Component. Many thanks to all the employees of the Space Center and to CNES, also, for mobilizing with us for this last mission of the year, which closes the global launches 2020. And congratulations to our Russian partners and our legendary Soyuz rocket for this third success in less than a month,” declared Stéphane Israël, the Arianespace Chief Executive Officer, several minutes after the launch. “We’re all the more proud of this success knowing that the Optical Space Component satellites will provide invaluable support in accomplishing the missions of women and men who are engaged daily in theaters of operations.”

The Optical Space Component comprises three identical satellites placed in polar orbits at different altitudes, with two assigned missions: reconnaissance for CSO-1 and CSO-3; identification for CSO-2. As a successor to the Helios 1 and 2 systems, the CSO system meets France’s operational requirements for global intelligence and strategic surveillance, providing up-to-date information about the geographic environment and in the support of operations. The CSO program is developed in a national framework within the program MUSIS (Multinational Space-based Imaging System).

CSO-2 deployment

The CSO-2 satellite will acquire very-high-resolution images in the visible and infrared wavelengths – day or night and in fair weather – using a variety of imaging modes to meet a broad range of operational needs.

CSO-2 is the 45th satellite launched by Arianespace for CNES and DGA. The CSO 1 spacecraft also was orbited by a Soyuz from the Guiana Space Center, with its launch performed on December 19, 2018.

Arianespace’s order book backlog now includes 10 more missions for French institutions (CNES/DGA): CSO-3; Syracuse 4A and 4B; three satellites for the CERES system; and four satellites for the CO3D system (in partnership with Airbus Defence and Space).

Airbus Defence and Space France built the CSO-2 satellite as prime contractor, with Thales Alenia Space France supplying the optical instrument. CSO-2 was the 130th satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space to be launched by Arianespace.

Including today’s mission, Arianespace has now launched 75 defense and security satellites: 53 for France and its European partners, along with 22 for export. These spacecraft were designed for applications in secure telecommunications, as well as for Earth observation.

Today’s launch, the 25th with Soyuz mission since its introduction at the Guiana Space Center in 2011, was Arianespace’s 10th and final launch of 2020. The year’s five Soyuz flights were conducted from three different spaceports: the Guiana Space Center; Baikonur Cosmodrome; and Vostochny Cosmodrome – providing exceptional flexibility for Arianespace’s launch services offering.

About Arianespace

Arianespace uses space to make life better on Earth by providing launch services for all types of satellites into all orbits. It has orbited more than 650 satellites since 1980, using its family of three launchers, Ariane, Soyuz and Vega, from launch sites in French Guiana (South America) and Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Arianespace is headquartered in Evry, near Paris, and has a technical facility at the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, plus local offices in Washington, D.C., Tokyo and Singapore. Arianespace is a subsidiary of ArianeGroup, which holds 74% of its share capital, with the balance held by 15 other shareholders from the European launcher industry.


Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: Arianespace/SciNews.


Best Space Station Science Pictures of 2020


ISS - International Space Station logo.

Dec. 29, 2020

It has been a busy year of research aboard the International Space Station. In November, we celebrated the 20th year of continuous human presence aboard the space station, which so far has hosted 242 people and more than 3,000 science experiments. During the past year, research has ranged from growing radishes in microgravity to capturing 360-degree footage of life aboard station to monitoring our planet. The crew aboard station increased to a record number of seven concurrent long-duration crew members thanks to the Commercial Crew Program. This increase creates more time for conducting research which benefits people on Earth while helping prepare us to explore farther into space.

Look at some of the breakthrough investigations crew members worked on in 2020:

A 360 view of space station life

The crews aboard the space station this past year have been both the videographers for and subjects of a virtual reality production known as The ISS Experience. The ISS Experience has captured life aboard the orbiting laboratory to create a cinematic virtual reality experience. NASA astronaut Jessica Meir can be seen in the background swapping media that nourishes bone samples inside the Life Science Glovebox.

Buzzing around station

The astronauts and cosmonauts are not the only busy bees on the orbiting laboratory. The space station also is abuzz with robotic assistants – Astrobees. Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy powered up two of three free-flying robots to perform readiness tests for the Kibo Robot Programming Challenge. The challenge gives students the chance to try out their own computer code on these autonomous robots. The Astrobees are equipped with cameras and sensors to help with on-orbit operations such as monitoring, sampling, and other routine tasks to free up more crew time for critical science.

Peeking out the window

Meir and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan take photos of Earth through the space station’s WORF window. WORF provides a facility for remote sensing instruments that study our planet as well as hand-held astronaut photography.

A tool for testing

This image shows the deployment of the STPSat-4 satellite. The satellite includes space weather sensors, solar panels, an antenna array, and devices for tracking the location of satellites and their astronomic surroundings. This project demonstrates how nanosatellite platforms can integrate a range of new technologies.

Turned around

Cassidy prepares the VECTION investigation, a study examining how lack of gravity disrupts a person’s ability to visually interpret motion, orientation, and distance. A better understanding of the vestibular system of astronauts and its involvement in sensory perception – learning when and how to trust their eyes, touch, and other senses – could help humans in a range of environments.

Keeping it cool

One of the final experiments NASA astronaut Christina Koch worked on before returning to Earth on her record breaking mission, the Cold Atom Lab enables research into the quantum effects of gases chilled to nearly absolute zero. This study can provide insight into fundamental laws of quantum mechanics and support the development of technologies such as ultraprecise sensing and timekeeping.

Bubbles that could improve medicine delivery

While many experiments on the space station can be conducted without astronaut monitoring, others require crew members to swap out pieces throughout the process. Cassidy, alongside Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, worked on numerous sample switch outs for the Electrolysis Measurement experiment, which looks at bubbles created using electrolysis. Bubbles may seem simple, but using this method to better understand how they grow could improve devices like medicine delivery skin patches.

Get a GRIP

Only a few days after arriving on the space station, NASA astronaut Victor Glover performs the ESA (European Space Agency) GRIP experiment. The investigation studies effects of long-duration spaceflight on astronauts’ ability to regulate grip force and the paths of their upper limbs when manipulating objects. Data from the GRIP experiments may be used to identify potential hazards for astronauts as they move between gravitational environments.

Have a heart

Meir and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins both worked on heart research during their time on station. Meir conducted the Engineered Heart Tissues experiment, which could be an effective tool for better understanding cardiac function and may prove useful for drug development and other applications related to cardiac dysfunction on Earth. Rubins conducted the Cardinal Heart study, which seeks to help scientists understand the aging and weakening of heart muscles in order to provide new treatments for humans on Earth and astronauts in space.

Picturing our planet

Crew Earth Observations uses photos taken by astronauts to record how the planet changes over time from human-caused changes, such as urban growth and reservoir construction, to natural dynamic events. Images like this can also assist with disaster response back on Earth. The top image taken by Morgan shows the Dead Sea from the perspective of the space station. The bottom image taken by Cassidy shows Hurricane Laura off the coast of the Texas-Louisiana border.

Creating droplets in microgravity

Behnken conducts the Droplet Formation study inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox. This experiment evaluates water droplet formation and water flow from Delta Faucet’s H2Okinetic showerhead. Research in microgravity could help improve the technology, creating better performance and improved user experience while conserving water and energy.

A rad(ish) harvest

Over the course of 27 days, Rubins tended to and harvested a crop of radishes as a part of the Plant Habitat-02 experiment. The study could help optimize plant growth in the unique environment of space as well as evaluation of nutrition and taste of the plants. Radishes were selected because they are a model plant that is nutritious and edible, has a short cultivation time, and is genetically similar to Arabidopsis, a plant frequently studied in microgravity.

Safe robotic storage

Launched aboard the 19th SpaceX commercial resupply mission, RiTS serves as a protective storage unit for critical robotic tools. Cassidy worked alongside Behken and Hurley to prepare RiTS for installation during a spacewalk. RiTS’s first residents are two Robotic External Leak Locators (RELL).  A RELL is a “sniffer” designed to help mission operators detect the location of external ammonia leaks on space station and rapidly confirm a successful repair. RELL is a result of a successful technology demonstration aboard station. The technology proved fully capable, so a second RELL was also launched to be stored in RiTS.

Future space travel

Roscosmos cosmonauts Ivan Vagner (foreground) and Anatoly Ivanishin are pictured inside the Zvezda service module. Vagner is wearing Neurolab hardware for the Russian Pilot-T experiment that explores how space travelers may pilot future spacecraft on planetary missions.

Putting materials to the test

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi reviews procedures for external experiment hardware for the MISSE Flight Facility from inside the Kibo laboratory module's airlock. The platform provides the ability to test materials, coatings, and components or other larger experiments in the harsh environment of space,

Decoding DNA

NASA astronaut and Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy works inside the Harmony module servicing microbial DNA samples for sequencing and identification. Rubins first sequenced DNA aboard the space station in 2016. Work by Cassidy and Rubins this year built on that research.

A new Dragon arrives

SpaceX’s upgraded Dragon cargo capsule made its inaugural trip to the space station in December, carrying numerous new science experiments to microgravity. This 21st SpaceX cargo resupply mission carried a new airlock and studies of heart tissue, brain organoids, biomining in space, and more. The upgraded capsule enables an increase in the research that can be carried to and returned from station.

Scientific samples

Cassidy shows off the blood, saliva, urine, and fecal samples he collected as a part of the Food Physiology experiment. This investigation aims to document the effect of dietary improvements on human physiology and the ability of those improvements to enhance adaptation to spaceflight.

Echo echo echo

The walls of some blood vessels may become thicker and stiffer in space. To better understand the effects of spaceflight on this process, Meir used an ultrasound to monitor her blood vessels as a part of the Vascular Echo experiment.

2020 Space Station Science Photos

Related links:

The ISS Experience:

Life Science Glovebox:


Kibo Robot Programming Challenge:




Cold Atom Lab:

Electrolysis Measurement:


Engineered Heart Tissues:

Cardinal Heart:

Crew Earth Observations:

Droplet Formation:

Plant Habitat-02:


Robotic External Leak Locators (RELL):


MISSE Flight Facility:

DNA samples sequencing:

Food Physiology:

Vascular Echo:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Research Office/Erin Winick.

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