vendredi 31 janvier 2020

Hubble Spies Bar, Baby Stars

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 31, 2020

The galaxy depicted in this image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is a barred spiral known as NGC 7541, in the constellation of Pisces (the Fishes).

A barred spiral is a galaxy with whirling, pinwheeling, spiral arms, and a bright center that is intersected by a bar of gas and stars. This bar cuts directly through the galaxy’s central region, and is thought to invigorate the region somewhat, sparking activity and fueling myriad processes that may otherwise have never occurred or have previously ground to a halt (star formation and active galactic nuclei being key examples). We think bars exist in up to two-thirds of all spiral galaxies, including our own home, the Milky Way.

NGC 7541 is actually observed to have a higher-than-usual star formation rate, adding weight to the theory that spiral bars act as stellar nurseries, corralling and funneling inward the material and fuel needed to create and nurture new baby stars. This galaxy and its nearby companion NGC 7537 make up a pair of galaxies located about 110 million light-years away from us.

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, A. Riess et al.

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U.S. Cygnus Space Freighter Departs Station After 88 Days

Northrop Grumman - NG-12 / S.S. Alan Bean Cygnus patch.

January 31, 2020

Northrup Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft departed the International Space Station’s at 9:36 a.m. EST after Expedition 61 Flight Engineers Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir of NASA commanded its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. At the time of release, the station was flying about 250 miles over the South Pacific just off the West Coast of Chile.

For this mission, Cygnus demonstrated a new release position for departure operations and incorporated the first ground-controlled release. The new orientation allowed for easier drift away from the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm.

NG-12: S.S. Alan Bean Cygnus departure

Within 24 hours, Cygnus will begin its secondary mission deploying a series of payloads. The departing spacecraft will move a safe distance away from the space station before deploying a series of CubeSats: HuskySat-1 (University of Washington), SwampSat II (University of Florida), EdgeCube (Sonoma State University), and CIRis (Utah State University).

Northrop Grumman flight controllers in Dulles, Virginia, will initiate its deorbit and execute a safe, destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere at the end of February.

Image above: The U.S. Cygnus space freighter is pictured moments after the Canadarm2 robotic arm released the 12th resupply ship from Northrop Grumman on January 31, 2020. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The next Cygnus is set to launch to station on Feb. 9 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia carrying another batch of research.

The spacecraft arrived on station November 2 delivering cargo under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

Related article:

New Research Launching to Station Aboard Northrop Grumman’s 13th Resupply Mission

Related links:

Cygnus space freighter:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope Ends Mission of Astronomical Discovery

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

January 31, 2020

Image above: NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has concluded after more than 16 years of exploring the universe in infrared light. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

After more than 16 years studying the universe in infrared light, revealing new wonders in our solar system, our galaxy, and beyond, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope's mission has come to an end.

Mission engineers confirmed at 2:30 p.m. PST (5:30 p.m. EST) Thursday the spacecraft was placed in safe mode, ceasing all science operations. After the decommissioning was confirmed, Spitzer Project Manager Joseph Hunt declared the mission had officially ended.

Launched in 2003, Spitzer was one of NASA's four Great Observatories, along with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. The Great Observatories program demonstrated the power of using different wavelengths of light to create a fuller picture of the universe.

"Spitzer has taught us about entirely new aspects of the cosmos and taken us many steps further in understanding how the universe works, addressing questions about our origins, and whether or not are we alone," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This Great Observatory has also identified some important and new questions and tantalizing objects for further study, mapping a path for future investigations to follow. Its immense impact on science certainly will last well beyond the end of its mission."

Among its many scientific contributions, Spitzer studied comets and asteroids in our own solar system and found a previously unidentified ring around Saturn. It studied star and planet formation, the evolution of galaxies from the ancient universe to today, and the composition of interstellar dust. It also proved to be a powerful tool for detecting exoplanets and characterizing their atmospheres. Spitzer's best-known work may be detecting the seven Earth-size planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system – the largest number of terrestrial planets ever found orbiting a single star – and determining their masses and densities.

In 2016, following a review of operating astrophysics missions, NASA made a decision to close out the Spitzer mission in 2018 in anticipation of the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which also will observe the universe in infrared light. When Webb's launch was postponed, Spitzer was granted an extension to continue operations until this year. This gave Spitzer additional time to continue producing transformative science, including insights that will pave the way for Webb, which is scheduled to launch in 2021.

"Everyone who has worked on this mission should be extremely proud today," Hunt said. "There are literally hundreds of people who contributed directly to Spitzer's success, and thousands who used its scientific capabilities to explore the universe. We leave behind a powerful scientific and technological legacy."

Image above: Spitzer Project Scientist Joseph Hunt stands in Mission Control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 30, 2020, declaring the spacecraft decommissioned and the Spitzer mission concluded. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Keeping Cool

Though it was not NASA's first space-based infrared telescope, Spitzer was the most sensitive infrared telescope in history when it launched, and it delivered a deeper and more far-reaching view of the infrared cosmos than its predecessors. Above Earth's atmosphere, Spitzer could detect some wavelengths that cannot be observed from the ground. The spacecraft's Earth-trailing orbit placed it far away from our planet's infrared emissions, which also gave Spitzer better sensitivity than was possible for larger telescopes on Earth.

Spitzer's prime mission came to an end in 2009, when the telescope exhausted its supply of the liquid helium coolant necessary for operating two of its three instruments – the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) and Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS). The mission was deemed a success, having achieved all of its primary science objectives and more. But Spitzer's story wasn't over. Engineers and scientists were able to keep the mission going using only two out of four wavelength channels on the third instrument, the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC). Despite increasing engineering and operations challenges, Spitzer continued to produce transformational science for another 10 1/2 years – far longer than mission planners anticipated.

During its extended mission, Spitzer continued to make significant scientific discoveries. In 2014, it detected evidence of asteroid collisions in a newly formed planetary system, providing evidence that such smash-ups might be common in early solar systems and crucial to the formation of some planets. In 2016, Spitzer worked with Hubble to image the most distant galaxy ever detected. From 2016 onward, Spitzer studied the TRAPPIST-1 system for more than 1,000 hours. All of Spitzer's data are free and available to the public in the Spitzer data archive. Mission scientists say they expect researchers to continue making discoveries with Spitzer long after the spacecraft’s decommissioning.

"I think that Spitzer is an example of the very best that people can achieve," said Spitzer Project Scientist Michael Werner. "I feel very fortunate to have worked on this mission, and to have seen the ingenuity, doggedness and brilliance that people on the team showed. When you tap into those things and empower people to use them, then truly incredible things will happen."

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, conducts mission operations and manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, California, built the Spitzer spacecraft, and during development served as lead for systems and engineering, and integration and testing. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado provided the optics, cryogenics and thermal shells and shields for Spitzer.

Ball developed the IRS instrument, with science leadership based at Cornell University, and the MIPS instrument, with science leadership based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, developed the IRAC instrument, with science leadership based at the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

View some of the amazing images showcasing some of Spitzer's greatest discoveries at:

Related articles:

NASA Celebrates the Legacy of the Spitzer Space Telescope

NASA Says Goodbye to One of Agency's Great Observatories

Sixteen Images for Spitzer's Sweet 16

How NASA's Spitzer Has Stayed Alive for So Long

Related links:

Spitzer data archive:

Spitzer Space Telescope:

Images (mentioned), Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/Grey Hautaluoma/Elizabeth Landau/JPL/Calla Cofield.


One step closer to prospecting the Moon

ESA - European Space Agency patch.

Jan. 31, 2020

The Moon

The first European device to land on the Moon this decade will be a drill and sample analysis package, and the teams behind it are one step closer to flight as part of Russia’s Luna-27 mission.

The main goal of the Luna-27 lander is to study the composition of the soil near the lunar south pole. Water is a key target: there may be concentrations of frozen water at or below the surface.

A major European contribution to the mission is Prospect, a robotic drill and a miniature laboratory with a suite of scientific instruments designed to penetrate the Moon’s soil to depths of up to one metre, acquire lunar samples, and deliver them to the mini labs hosted by the lander.

Water under the surface of the Moon

There are vast unexplored regions on the Moon. “Prospect will allow scientists to better understand the terrain and prepare missions in which lunar soil can be used to create oxygen or fuel for example,” said ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker.

Answering questions such as how much water is present and how accessible it is will help plan future missions involving the use of local resources.

“Prospect is part of a pioneering new wave of lunar science and exploration,” says Richard Fisackerly, Prospect project manager, after completion of the preliminary design phase.

David Parker signs contract with European industry

His confidence was reaffirmed yesterday following the signature of a €31.5 million contract with European industry that paves the way for ESA to start working on the detailed design, further tests and final integration of the drill and instrument package that will fly to the Moon on the Russian spacecraft.

“This signature opens up the path to the delivery of the drill to Russia and operations on the lunar surface,” adds Richard. The signing took place yesterday at the Leonardo premises in Milan, Italy.

Luna-27 will land on the Moon using a European system called Pilot to support its main navigation system for high accuracy landing and hazard avoidance.

Lunar milestones on Earth

Extracting oxygen directly from lunar rocks and soil could be an efficient and sustainable way to support human life or spacecraft propulsion.

All the tests were conducted at very low temperatures, similar to those expected in the Moon’s subsurface –approximately -150 °C, under low pressure and with lunar simulant.

The drill has been put to the test in the past few months to collect samples and transfer them to the ProSPA lab and Russian robotic arm. The tests were conducted at very low temperatures, similar to those expected in the Moon’s subsurface – approximately -150 °C, under low pressure and with lunar simulant, both at the Leonardo laboratories in Nerviano, and at CISAS premises within University of Padova.

Lunar drill in action

“The drill proved to be powerful enough to dig deep into hard material and collect very fine dust. We are very happy to move on to the next phase and work on accommodating Prospect on the lander,” explained Igor Mitrofanov, Luna-27 mission scientist from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI).

Whereas the drill tests have crushed rocks – from gravel to fine dust – frozen with varying water ice content for the drill tests, the ProSPA lab has been put through its paces using real meteorites as dummy samples.

ProSPA is a very powerful and flexible scientific tool that contains equipment similar to what one would find in a laboratory on Earth specialising in studying lunar samples or meteorites. “The difference is that the lab is taken to the sample, not the other way around,” explains Simeon Barber, ProSPA project lead at The Open University in the UK.

ProSPA: a space lab for the Moon

“We have taken state of-the-art analytical techniques, and crammed them into an automated miniaturised laboratory to provide scientists and engineers with an amazing tool they can use to study fresh lunar samples collected by the drill,” he adds. 

This space lab measures the nature and abundance of lunar volatile material, water ice for example, to better understand its history and the potential of those volatiles as resources.

Next stop: the Moon

Mission success depends not only on the scientific instruments, but also on the landing site. Some areas of the lunar south pole are illuminated by the Sun for about four weeks.

Science teams will now start the process of selecting a shaded and scientifically attractive landing site for Luna-27. “From an engineering and scientific point of view, the inputs from the Prospect team are very valuable to us,” says Igor Mitrofanov.

Prospecting the Moon

Related links:


Human and Robotic Exploration:

Science & Exploration:

ESA - European Space Agency:

Images, Animation, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/JAXA/NHK/Data from Paige et al., Science, 330, 6003, pp. 479- (2010)/Leonardo/ESA/Leonardo Space/The Open University.


Rocket Lab - Electron “Birds of a Feather” launch success

Rocket Lab - Birds of a Feather Mission patch.

Jan. 31, 2020

Electron “Birds of a Feather” launch

Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle launched the “Birds of a Feather” mission from Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, on 31 January 2020, at 02:56 UTC (15:56 NZDT).

Electron “Birds of a Feather” launch

“Birds of a Feather” is a dedicated mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and Electron’s 11th mission.

NROL-151 (Illustration)

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket launched on its 11th flight from a facility on the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island. The Electron rocket and its Curie upper stage will place an undisclosed payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government spy satellite agency. The mission is officially designated NROL-151, and Rocket Lab has nicknamed the launch “Birds of a Feather.”

Rocket Lab:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Images and video courtesy of Rocket Lab/SciNews/ Aeropsace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 30 janvier 2020

Cardiology, Combustion and CubeSats Before Cargo Ship Leaves

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

January 30, 2020

Cardiology, combustion and CubeSats filled Thursday’s research schedule as three Expedition 61 crewmates are one week away from returning to Earth. The Cygnus space freighter is also poised to depart the International Space Station on Friday and complete one more mission.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch is nearing the end of her 328-day mission aboard the orbiting lab. She will land in Kazakhstan Feb. 6 aboard the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship with Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos and Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency). Koch blasted off to join the station crew on March 14 while Skvortsov and Parmitano began their mission on July 20.

Image above: Astronauts (from left) Christina Koch, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan pose for a portrait inside the cupola. The trio were on robotics duty monitoring the arrival and capture of the Cygnus space freighter on Nov. 4, 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

When Koch lands, her mission-stay will be the second longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut behind former astronaut Scott Kelly. He lived aboard the station for 340 continuous days.

NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan juggled a pair of experiments this morning. He ran the Hourglass study observing how simulated planetary materials behave during different gravity conditions. Next, he cleaned a furnace that exposes materials to high temperatures and levitates them to research their thermophysical properties.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-13 crew spacecraft is seen as it approached the International Space Station for docking on the 50th anniversary of NASA landing humans on the Moon for the first time. The Soyuz will return Expedition 61 crew members NASA astronaut Christina Koch, station Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency), and Soyuz commander Alexander Skvortsov of Roscosmos to Earth Feb. 6. Image Credit: NASA.

Parmitano started his day on cardiology research before switching to fire safety studies. The station commander first scanned portions of his body with an ultrasound device. The biomedical study is helping doctors understand what happens to the heart and blood vessels in space. He then moved on and burned a variety of fabric and acrylic samples. Scientists are using the data to model how flames spread in space to improve fire safety procedures and products in space and on Earth.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The Cygnus space freighter is packed, closed and ready for one more mission after its robotic release from the Canadarm2 Friday at 9:35 a.m. EST. It will deploy eight CubeSats for communications and atmospheric research several hours after departing the orbiting lab. Flight Engineer Jessica Meir installed the CubeSats, packed inside the SlingShot small satellite deployer, on Cygnus’ hatch Thursday afternoon.

Related article:

NASA TV to Air Landing of Record-Setting Astronaut Christina Koch, Crewmates

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Soyuz MS-13 crew ship:


Heart and blood vessels:

How flames spread in space:

Cygnus space freighter:



Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Space Station 20th: Expedition 1 Crew Named

ISS - International Space Station 20th Anniversary patch / ISS - Expedition 1 Mission patch.

Jan. 30, 2020

International Space Station (ISS) 20th banner

During a Jan. 30, 1996, press conference in Washington, DC, US Vice President Albert A. “Al” Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin announced the assignment of American astronaut William M. Shepherd and Russian cosmonaut Sergei K. Krikalev to the first team of crewmembers to occupy the International Space Station (ISS). Shepherd had completed three Space Shuttle missions and Krikalev had flown two long-duration missions aboard the Mir space station as well as on STS-60, becoming the first Russian cosmonaut to fly aboard the Space Shuttle. At the time of the announcement, Shepherd and Krikalev planned to launch to ISS in May 1998 with a third crewmember, another Russian cosmonaut. Initially, the Russians designated Anatoli Y. Solovyev, a veteran of several missions to Mir, as that third crewmember but they ultimately replaced him with Yuri P. Gidzenko, also a Mir veteran. The partners later announced a backup crew composed of veteran Shuttle commander Kenneth D. Bowersox, Mir veteran Vladimir N. Dezhurov, and space rookie Mikhail V. Tyurin.

The primary tasks expected of the Expedition 1 crew included activating various systems on board the station, unpacking equipment that had been delivered, and hosting three visiting Space Shuttle crews and two unmanned Russian Progress resupply vehicles. The Shuttles planned to deliver new components to ISS including the first set of US solar arrays and the US Laboratory Module. Although the crewmembers would remain busy with the high-priority commissioning tasks, time would be set aside to conduct the first research experiments aboard ISS.

Prime Crew

  Astronaut William M. “Shep” Shepherd
  Expedition 1 Commander
  Birthdate: July 26, 1949
  Birthplace: Oak Ridge, Tennessee
  Selected: May 1984
  Spaceflight experience: STS-27, STS-41, STS-52
  Time in space: 18 days, 8 hours, 12 minutes
  No. of EVAs/EVA time: None

  Cosmonaut Sergey K. Krikalyov
  Expedition 1 Flight Engineer
  Birthdate: August 27, 1958
  Birthplace: Leningrad (now St. Petersburg)
  Selected: September 1985
  Spaceflight experience: Mir-4, Mir-9/10, STS-60 (flew on STS-88 between his selection   and   Expedition 1)
  Time in space: 472 days, 1 hour, 20 minutes (not including STS-88)
  No. of EVAs/EVA time: 7/36 hours, 10 minutes

  Cosmonaut Yuri P. Gidzenko
  Expedition 1 Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander
  Birthdate: March 26, 1962
  Birthplace: Yelanets (now in Ukraine)
  Selected: March 1987
  Spaceflight experience: Mir-20
  Time in space: 179 days, 1 hour, 42 minutes
  No. of EVAs/EVA time: 2/3 hours, 35 minutes

Backup Crew

  Astronaut Kenneth D. Bowersox
  Expedition 1 Backup Commander
  Birthdate: November 14, 1956
  Birthplace: Portsmouth, Virginia
  Selected: June 1987
  Spaceflight experience: STS-50, STS-61, STS-73
  Time in space: 40 days, 15 hours, 11 minutes
  No. of EVAs/EVA time: None

  Cosmonaut Vladimir N. Dezhurov
  Expedition 1 Backup Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander
  Birthdate: July 30, 1962
  Birthplace: Yavas (now in Moldova)
  Selected: March 1987
  Spaceflight experience: Mir-18
  Time in space: 115 days, 8 hour, 43 minutes
  No. of EVAs/EVA time: 5/18 hours, 57 minutes

  Cosmonaut Mikhail V. Tyurin
  Expedition 1 Backup Flight Engineer
  Birthdate: March 2, 1960
  Birthplace: Kolomna
  Selected: April 1994
  Spaceflight experience: None
  Time in space: None
  No. of EVAs/EVA time: None

After delays in the launch of the Zvezda Service Module that included living quarters, Shepherd, Krikalev, and Gidzenko launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 31, 2000. Two days later they docked with ISS, then composed of the Zarya, Unity, and Zvezda modules, to begin their 136-day stay aboard the station. With a permanent crew of three on board, assembly truly began in earnest to develop the station’s capabilities. The Z1 truss segment added to the top of Node 1 added a communications capability while the P6 truss segment brought the first set of US solar arrays to significantly increase the available power. With the additional power, the US Destiny laboratory module came next along with the first research racks. The first of many crew rotations replaced the Expedition 1 crew with a new crew, a scenario repeated many times in the life of ISS.

Left: Official photo of the ISS Expedition 1 crew (left to right)
Krikalev, Shepherd, and Gidzenko.

Today, ISS is the largest space vehicle ever built and a unique microgravity laboratory for conducting research in a wide variety of scientific disciplines. Including its solar arrays, it is as large as a football field. The habitable volume in its various international modules is larger than a six-bedroom house. Since November 2000, more than 230 individuals from 19 countries have visited ISS. As a laboratory, ISS has hosted more than 2,700 scientific investigations from more than 100 countries.

Top: ISS as it appeared when the Expedition 1 crew took up residence.
Down: Expedition 1 crew (left to right) Gidzenko, Shepherd, and Krikalev aboard ISS.

Related article:

NASA Counts Down to Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence on International Space Station

20 memorable moments from the International Space Station

Related links:

NASA History:

Historic Missions:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Kelli Mars/JSC/John Uri.


mercredi 29 janvier 2020

Crew Works Human Research, CubeSats and Gears Up for Spaceship Departures

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

January 29, 2020

The Expedition 61 crew’s schedule was packed today as they researched space biology and packed a pair of spaceships for departure. Wednesday morning also saw the deployment of an experimental satellite outside the International Space Station.

Blood draws and eye checks are part of the crew’s regimen of biomedical activities to help doctors keep astronauts healthy during long-term space missions. Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) collected his blood samples this morning before spinning them in a centrifuge and stowing them in a science freezer for later analysis. NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir had her eyes scanned in the afternoon by fellow NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan using optical coherence tomography gear.

Image above: The Cygnus space freighter with its prominent cymbal-shaped solar arrays is pictured attached to the Unity module. Behind Cygnus is one of the space station’s basketball court-sized solar arrays. Image Credit: NASA.

Meir and Morgan started the day finishing up packing the Cygnus space freighter with trash and discarded gear before it leaves at the end of the week. Cygnus will be detached from the Unity module with the Canadarm2 robotic arm and released into Earth orbit on Friday at 9:35 a.m. EST. NASA TV will cover the release and departure live as mission controllers on the ground remotely command all the robotics work.

Cygnus has another mission to deploy eight CubeSats for communications and atmospheric research once it reaches a safe distance away from the orbiting lab. The space station also saw the deployment early this morning of a Department of Defense CubeSat that is testing space weather and satellite sensor technology. That satellite was deployed outside of the Kibo laboratory module using the specialized Cyclops deployer.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Christina Koch of NASA is returning to Earth next week after 328 days in space on her first mission. She will land in Kazakhstan with Parmitano and cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov. The trio will board the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship, undock from the Poisk module and parachute to a landing Friday, Feb. 6, at 4:13 a.m. (3:13 p.m. Kazakh time).

Koch will be second only to former astronaut Scott Kelly who lived in space 340 days for the single longest spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Cygnus space freighter:

Unity module:

Department of Defense CubeSat:

Kibo laboratory module:


Soyuz MS-13 crew ship:

Poisk module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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New Research Launching to Station Aboard Northrop Grumman’s 13th Resupply Mission

Northrop Grumman - NG CRS-13 Cygnus Mission patch.

Jan. 29, 2020

Investigations studying tissue culturing, bone loss and phage therapy will be launching, along with more scientific experiments and supplies, to the International Space Station on a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft. The vehicle launches no earlier than Feb. 9 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Image above: The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with a Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Saturday, November 2, 2019, in Virginia. Image Credit: NASA.

This is the second mission under Northrop’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA. These resupply missions help NASA deliver critical research to the orbiting lab and increase its ability to conduct new investigations.

Here are details on some of the scientific investigations Northrop Grumman’s 13th commercial resupply services mission (NG CRS-13) is delivering to the space station:

Better tissue and cell culturing in space

Mobile SpaceLab, a tissue and cell culturing facility, offers investigators a quick-turnaround platform to perform sophisticated microgravity biology experiments. Such experiments are critical for determining how microgravity affects human physiology and identifying ways to mitigate negative effects. The platform can work in multiple configurations, allowing investigators to tailor the facility to their needs.

Mobile SpaceLab launches and returns on resupply spacecraft. It performs experiments autonomously with ground monitoring. The crew is responsible for moving the payload from the resupply vehicle to a designated ISS EXPRESS Rack and back to a vehicle for return to ground. This process allows investigators to get their research in orbit quickly and gather sophisticated data using the automated capabilities. Experiments can run for up to one month.

Image above: NASA astronaut Tim Kopra commanded the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the Cygnus spacecraft on June 14, 2016. After Cygnus was a safe distance away, ground controllers at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio initiated the sequence for Saffire-1, the first in a series of fire experiments. Saffire-IV will launch on NG-13. Image Credit: NASA.

A close-up view

The Mochii investigation provides an initial demonstration of a new miniature scanning electron microscope (SEM) with spectroscopy. Mochii will demonstrate real-time, on-site imaging and measurements of micro- and nanostructures aboard the space station. This capability could accelerate answers to many scientific inquiries and mission decisions and serve the public as a powerful and unique microgravity research platform.

The ability to identify small particles is needed for crewed flight and deep space exploration beyond low-Earth Orbit (LEO) since samples cannot be sent back to Earth. Rapid identification of these particles can help keep crews and vehicles safe.

Examining bone loss in microgravity

Image above: Commander Peggy Whitson works on the OsteoOmics bone cell study that uses the Microgravity Science Glovebox inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory in May 2017. OsteoOmics investigates the molecular mechanisms that dictate bone loss in microgravity by examining osteoblasts, which form bone, and osteoclasts, which dissolve bone. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew members experience bone loss in orbit, stemming from the lack of gravity acting on their bones. OsteoOmics investigates the molecular mechanisms that dictate this bone loss by examining osteoblasts, cells in the body that form bone, and osteoclasts, which dissolve bone. A better understanding of these mechanisms could lead to more effective prevention of astronaut bone loss during space missions.

Understanding the cellular mechanisms of bone loss associated with microgravity also helps researchers better understand bone loss associated with a wide range of disorders. This insight could help identify better preventative care and therapeutic treatments for people who experience bone loss due to diseases such as osteopenia and osteoporosis or from prolonged bed rest.

Fighting viruses with phages

Bacteriophages, or phages, are viruses that specifically invade and destroy bacteria. Discovered in 1915, phages have been used to fight infectious diseases, most notably in Eastern Europe.

With increasing types of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, phage therapy offers a possible alternative to traditional antibiotics. In addition, phages can eliminate harmful bacteria without causing large-scale damage to the body’s beneficial bacterial population or microbiome. Scientists also can evolve phages in the laboratory to remain potent even if phage-resistant bacteria develop.

Phage Evolution examines the effects of microgravity and radiation exposure on phage and bacterial host interactions, including phage specificity for a bacterial host and host resistance to specific phages. A better understanding of the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation on bacteriophages and hosts could result in significant developments for phage technology, ultimately helping protect the health of astronauts on future missions.

(Do not) light my fire

The Spacecraft Fire Experiment-IV (Saffire-IV) investigation examines fire development and growth in different materials and environmental conditions, fire detection and monitoring, and post-fire cleanup capabilities. It is part of a series of fire investigations conducted in the Cygnus resupply vehicle after its departure from space station, eliminating exposure of humans or occupied spacecraft to fire danger.

Saffire-IV contributes to fire safety efforts in similar environments on Earth, from submarines to mines, and helps improve general understanding and modeling of fire phenomena.

Related links:

Northrop Grumman Cygnus:

NG CRS-13:

Mobile SpaceLab:



Phage Evolution:


Space Station Research and Technology:

Commercial Resupply:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Voyager 2 Engineers Working to Restore Normal Operations

NASA & JPL - Voyager 1 & 2 Mission patch.

Jan. 29, 2020

Engineers for NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft are working to return the mission to normal operating conditions after one of the spacecraft's autonomous fault protection routines was triggered. Multiple fault protection routines were programmed into both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in order to allow the spacecraft to automatically take actions to protect themselves if potentially harmful circumstances arise. At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers are still communicating with the spacecraft and receiving telemetry.

Image above: This artist's concept depicts one of NASA's Voyager spacecraft entering interstellar space, or the space between stars. Interstellar space is dominated by the plasma, or ionized gas, that was ejected by the death of nearby giant stars millions of years ago. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are both in interstellar space, making them the most distant human-made objects in the solar system. On Saturday, Jan. 25, Voyager 2 didn't execute a scheduled maneuver in which the spacecraft rotates 360 degrees in order to calibrate its onboard magnetic field instrument. Analysis of the telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that an unexplained delay in the onboard execution of the maneuver commands inadvertently left two systems that consume relatively high levels of power operating at the same time. This caused the spacecraft to overdraw its available power supply.

The fault protection software routine was designed to automatically manage such an event, and by design, it appears to have turned off Voyager 2's science instruments to make up for the power deficit. As of Jan. 28, Voyager engineers have successfully turned off one of the high-power systems and turned the science instruments back on but have not yet resumed taking data. The team is now reviewing the status of the rest of the spacecraft and working on returning it to normal operations.

Voyager's power supply comes from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which turns heat from the decay of a radioactive material into electricity to power the spacecraft. Due to the natural decay of the material inside the RTG, Voyager 2's power budget goes down by about 4 watts per year. Last year, engineers turned off the primary heater for the Voyager 2 cosmic ray subsystem instrument in order to compensate for this power loss, and the instrument continues to operate.

Animation above: This animation depicts one of NASA's Voyager spacecraft entering interstellar space, or the space between stars. Interstellar space is dominated by the plasma, or ionized gas, that was ejected by the death of nearby giant stars millions of years ago. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In addition to managing each Voyager's power supply, mission operators must also manage the temperature of certain systems on the spacecraft. If, for example, the spacecraft fuel lines were to freeze and break, Voyager would no longer be able to point its antenna back at Earth to send data and receive commands. The temperature of the spacecraft is maintained either through the use of heaters or by taking advantage of excess heat from other onboard instruments and systems.

It has taken the team several days to assess the current situation primarily because of Voyager 2's distance from Earth — about 11.5 billion miles (18.5 billion kilometers). Communications traveling at the speed of light take about 17 hours to reach the spacecraft, and it takes another 17 hours for a response from the spacecraft to return to Earth. As a result, mission engineers have to wait about 34 hours to find out if their commands have had the desired effect on the spacecraft.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit:

Radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG):

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


SpaceX - Starlink 3 launch success

SpaceX - Starlink Mission patch.

Jan, 29, 2020

SpaceX Starlink launch by Falcon 9 rocket

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites (Starlink-3) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 29 January 2020, at 14:06 UTC (09:06 EST).

SpaceX Starlink launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 29 January 2020

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage (Block 5 B1051) landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage for this mission previously launched Crew Dragon on its first demonstration mission in March 2019 and the RADARSAT Constellation Mission in June 2019.

SpaceX Starlink Satellite Constellation

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the fourth batch of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network, a mission designated Starlink 3.

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For more information about SpaceX, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


CHEOPS telescope cover is open

CHEOPS - CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite logo.

Jan. 29, 2020

The opening of the lid for the space telescope went smoothly on Wednesday morning, said the universities of Bern and Geneva.

Illustration of CHEOPS by the European Space Agency (ESA)

A decisive moment for the CHEOPS space telescope: the opening of its cover took place as planned on Wednesday at 07:38. The first images can now be taken and the accuracy of CHEOPS verified in the coming weeks.

The order to open the CHEOPS cover was issued from the Mission Operation Center (MOC) at the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aerospacial (INTA) near Madrid in Spain, said the universities of Bern and Geneva in a statement. Wednesday. "Thanks to the sensor measurements, we knew in a few minutes that everything had gone as planned," explained Bernese scientist Willy Benz.

Images published within one to two weeks

With the successful opening of the lid, a new series of activities begins. "Over the next two months, many stars with and without planets will be targeted to control the accuracy of CHEOPS measurements under different conditions," said Willy Benz.

These images will not seem spectacular to an inexperienced eye. "Cheops was not designed to take beautiful pictures, but to measure the light intensity of stars with the greatest precision," said the Bernese to Keystone-ATS. The goal of the mission is to characterize the properties of exoplanets.

Tweet from University of  Bern

So by comparing with measurements made of other celestial bodies, researchers can determine the density and therefore the type of exoplanet, that is to say if it is a planet made of rock, gas , ice or ocean.

"The raw CHEOPS data is processed in what is called the data reduction pipeline," says David Ehrenreich, mission scientist at the University of Geneva. CHEOPS has already delivered hundreds of images which were completely black since the cover was still closed, but which made it possible to calibrate the instrument.

David Ehrenreich explains: “It will take time to fully exploit the capabilities of CHEOPS and ground segmentation. However, we expect to be able to analyze and publish the first images within one to two weeks. ”

100 billion planets

CHEOPS (abbreviation of CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) is a project of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Switzerland, the universities of Bern and Geneva in mind. CHEOPS will compose "a family photo of exoplanets" while observing about 500.

CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite or CHEOPS

Today, it is estimated that there are at least as many planets as stars in the galaxy, or about 100 billion. More than 4000 exoplanets - orbiting a star other than the Sun - had been detected since the discovery of the first, 51 Pegasi b, 24 years ago by the 2019 Nobel Prize winners Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva.

Related article:

The opening of the CHEOPS lid postponed

Related links:

CHEOPS Mission Home Page:


Image (mentioned), Animation, Text, Credits: ATS/ESA/UNIBE/Twitter/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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