samedi 15 février 2020

Budding astronauts dive under the ice

EPFL - Space@yourService patch.

Feb. 15, 2020

Six apprentice astronauts undergo training at EPFL in Crans-Montana (VS) simulating the conditions of a space mission.

Aspiring astronauts train until Sunday in Crans-Montana (VS). The EPFL Space @ yourservice association has concocted training for them reproducing the conditions of a space mission, including night dives under the ice.

Coming from several countries, these six apprentice astronauts - three girls, three boys - took up residence on Thursday in the Haut-Plateau. The goal of the camp is to get into difficult situations that could happen in space.

"The goal is to get around the discomfort", explains Chloé Carrière, president of Space @ yourservice, interviewed by Keystone-ATS. "In particular, we are working on group cohesion, as if we no longer have contact with the Earth," she notes.

The main activity of the camp nevertheless remains diving under the ice of Lake Moubra, under the guidance of Frenchman Alban Michon, a polar explorer. “The most difficult thing is not the cold but the management of stress. You cannot go out anywhere and you must not be claustrophobic, ”says Christian Cardinaux, one of the participants.

Selected by Claude Nicollier

About fifteen people participate in this training camp, including the six astronauts called "analogues" and two reservists. Aged 20 to 31, they come from Switzerland, France, Great Britain and Chile. They were selected from around 200 candidates from around the world, thanks in particular to the assistance of Claude Nicollier.

Mission Asclepios logo

Coming from EPFL students, the Space @ yourservice association wishes to popularize space sciences (astronomy, astrophysics, space engineering) with the general public and students. Among her activities, she launched the Asclepios project, which includes the Crans-Montana training camp.

Related links:



Images, Text, Credits: ATS/EPFL/Space@yourService/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


U.S. Cygnus Cargo Ship Blasts Off to Station for Tuesday Delivery

Northrop Grumman - Cygnus NG-13 Mission patch.

February 15, 2020

Image above: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply spacecraft launches on time atop the Antares rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply spacecraft is on its way to the station with approximately 7,500 pounds of science investigations and cargo after launching at 3:21 p.m. EST Saturday, Feb. 15 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. At the time of liftoff, the International Space Station was flying 258 statute miles over the western Pacific, northeast of the Northern Mariana Island.

The spacecraft launched on an Antares rocket from the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A at Wallops. Automated command to initiate solar array deploy will begin at 4:40 p.m., about one hour and 19 minutes after launch. Solar array deployment will take about 30 minutes. Confirmation of solar deployment will be shared on the launch blog and social media at @NASA_Wallops and @space_station.

NG-13: Antares 230+ launches S.S. Robert H. Lawrence Cygnus

Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the orbiting laboratory around 4:05 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18. Coverage of the spacecraft’s approach and arrival will begin at 2:30 a.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website. NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Cygnus, while NASA’s Jessica Meir monitors telemetry. The spacecraft is scheduled to stay at the space station until May.

The spacecraft’s arrival brings more than 7,500 pounds of research and supplies to space station. Here are some of the scientific investigations:

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.


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.

Examining Bone Loss in Microgravity

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.

Fighting Bacteria with Phages

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.

Northrop Grumman named the NG CRS-13 Cygnus spacecraft after former astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. Major Lawrence was selected in honor of his prominent place in history as the first African American astronaut.

This is Northrop Grumman’s 13th cargo flight to the space station and will support dozens of new and existing investigations.

Related article:

U.S. Cygnus Cargo Craft Launch Scrubbed

Related links:

NASA Television:

Mobile SpaceLab:



Phage Evolution:

The Spacecraft Fire Experiment-IV (Saffire-IV):

Robert Henry Lawrence Jr.:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

vendredi 14 février 2020

ESO Telescope Sees Surface of Dim Betelgeuse

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

14 February 2020

SPHERE’s view of Betelgeuse in December 2019

Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have captured the unprecedented dimming of Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star in the constellation of Orion. The stunning new images of the star’s surface show not only the fading red supergiant but also how its apparent shape is changing.

SPHERE’s view of Betelgeuse in January 2019

Betelgeuse has been a beacon in the night sky for stellar observers but it began to dim late last year. At the time of writing Betelgeuse is at about 36% of its normal brightness, a change noticeable even to the naked eye. Astronomy enthusiasts and scientists alike were excitedly hoping to find out more about this unprecedented dimming.

Betelgeuse before and after dimming

A team led by Miguel Montargès, an astronomer at KU Leuven in Belgium, has been observing the star with ESO's Very Large Telescope since December, aiming to understand why it’s becoming fainter. Among the first observations to come out of their campaign is a stunning new image of Betelgeuse’s surface, taken late last year with the SPHERE instrument.

Betelgeuse’s dust plumes seen by VISIR image

The team also happened to observe the star with SPHERE in January 2019, before it began to dim, giving us a before-and-after picture of Betelgeuse. Taken in visible light, the images highlight the changes occurring to the star both in brightness and in apparent shape.

A plume on Betelgeuse (artist’s impression with annotations)

Many astronomy enthusiasts wondered if Betelgeuse’s dimming meant it was about to explode. Like all red supergiants, Betelgeuse will one day go supernova, but astronomers don’t think this is happening now. They have other hypotheses to explain what exactly is causing the shift in shape and brightness seen in the SPHERE images. “The two scenarios we are working on are a cooling of the surface due to exceptional stellar activity or dust ejection towards us,” says Montargès [1]. “Of course, our knowledge of red supergiants remains incomplete, and this is still a work in progress, so a surprise can still happen.”

The star Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion

Montargès and his team needed the VLT at Cerro Paranal in Chile to study the star, which is over 700 light-years away, and gather clues on its dimming. “ESO's Paranal Observatory is one of few facilities capable of imaging the surface of Betelgeuse,” he says. Instruments on ESO’s VLT allow observations from the visible to the mid-infrared, meaning astronomers can see both the surface of Betelgeuse and the material around it. “This is the only way we can understand what is happening to the star.”

Zooming in on Betelgeuse

Another new image, obtained with the VISIR instrument on the VLT, shows the infrared light being emitted by the dust surrounding Betelgeuse in December 2019. These observations were made by a team led by Pierre Kervella from the Observatory of Paris in France who explained that the wavelength of the image is similar to that detected by heat cameras. The clouds of dust, which resemble flames in the VISIR image, are formed when the star sheds its material back into space.

Betelgeuse before and after dimming (animated)

“The phrase ‘we are all made of stardust’ is one we hear a lot in popular astronomy, but where exactly does this dust come from?” says Emily Cannon, a PhD student at KU Leuven working with SPHERE images of red supergiants. “Over their lifetimes, red supergiants like Betelgeuse create and eject vast amounts of material even before they explode as supernovae. Modern technology has enabled us to study these objects, hundreds of light-years away, in unprecedented detail giving us the opportunity to unravel the mystery of what triggers their mass loss.”

From Betelgeuse’s surroundings to its surface


[1] Betelgeuse's irregular surface is made up of giant convective cells that move, shrink and swell. The star also pulsates, like a beating heart, periodically changing in brightness. These convection and pulsation changes in Betelgeuse are referred to as stellar activity.

More information:

The team is composed of Miguel Montargès (Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Emily Cannon (Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Pierre Kervella (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris - PSL, France), Eric Lagadec (Laboratoire Lagrange, Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, France), Faustine Cantalloube (Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), Joel Sánchez Bermúdez (Instituto de Astronomía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico and Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), Andrea Dupree (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, USA), Elsa Huby (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris - PSL, France), Ryan Norris (Georgia State University, USA), Benjamin Tessore (IPAG, France), Andrea Chiavassa (Laboratoire Lagrange, Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, France), Claudia Paladini (ESO, Chile), Agnès Lèbre (Université de Montpellier, France), Leen Decin (Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Markus Wittkowski (ESO, Germany), Gioia Rau (NASA/GSFC, USA), Arturo López Ariste (IRAP, France), Stephen Ridgway (NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, USA), Guy Perrin (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris - PSL, France), Alex de Koter (Astronomical Institute Anton Pannekoek, Amsterdam University, The Netherlands & Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven, Belgium), Xavier Haubois (ESO, Chile), Eric Pantin (CEA, France), Ralf Siebenmorgen (ESO, Germany).

The VISIR image was obtained as part of the NEAR science demonstration observations. NEAR (Near Earths in the AlphaCen Region) is an upgrade of VISIR, which was implemented as a time-limited experiment.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.


ESOcast 217 Light: ESO Telescope Sees Surface of Dim Betelgeuse

Photos of the VLT:

ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT):

SPHERE instrument:

VISIR instrument:

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/Bárbara Ferreira/LESIA, Observatoire de Paris - PSL/Pierre Kervella/Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven/Emily Cannon/FWO [PEGASUS]² Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow / Institute of Astronomy, KU Leuven/Miguel Montargès/ESO/M. Montargès et al./ESO/P. Kervella/M. Montargès et al., Acknowledgement: Eric Pantin/ESO/L. Calçada/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Videos: ESO/P. Kervella/M. Montargès et al., Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Eric Pantin, N. Risinger ( Music: Johan B. Monell (

Best regards,

Solar Orbiter braves challenging early days

ESA / NASA - Solar Orbiter patch.

Feb. 14, 2020

At 16:00 CET on Thursday, 13 February, the critical first 83 hours of Solar Orbiter’s unique mission to study our star came to an end.

Solar Orbiter boom and antenna deployments

“This early phase is like the birth of a child,” says Operations Director Andrea Accomazzo. “Engineers want to be sure that it can survive on its own in its new environment.”

“In the case of a spacecraft, they need it to be powered by its solar arrays, able to communicate with Earth, and able to control its orientation in space.”

After a thunderous launch at 05:03 CET on Monday, Solar Orbiter headed south east from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, flying over the South Atlantic before being released far above the shores of Western Australia. In Darmstadt, ESA’s mission control team soon took control of the spacecraft and began several days of round-the-clock flight control activities.

 “We planned for years and trained for months for this and I’m proud of all the teams that worked through this critical period,” says Andrea. “The first stage of Solar Orbiter’s mission was a success, but it certainly threw us a few challenging moments!”

Solar Orbiter liftoff

Confirmation of Solar Orbiter’s separation from the final stage of its Atlas V launcher came at 05:56 CET, but it wasn’t flying solo for very long. ESA’s tracking station network, Estrack, had moved an antenna at its New Norcia ground station in Western Australia into position well ahead of time.

Signals received at this antenna confirmed the establishment of communication with Solar Orbiter (Acquisition of Signal) at 06:01 CET.

The mission control team could now begin to assess the spacecraft’s surroundings. Were the critical systems working correctly after the rigours of launch? Had the craft ended up where ESA’s Flight Dynamics team had expected it to?

Answers to these questions flooded in with the initial rush of telemetry. The mission control team quickly set about analysing the data and beginning the first critical procedures.

Sunny side up

The solar arrays were deployed at 06:24 CET and unfolded from the spacecraft’s body like wings. They soon began to supply power to the craft, relieving the burden on the batteries.

With communication established and the necessary tests carried out, the first command was sent to the craft and the mission officially began.

Until then, Solar Orbiter had still been in its strobing phase – rotating to maximise the chance of pointing one of its two communication antennas at ground stations on Earth. With this command, the spacecraft fired its thrusters and stabilised its orientation.

Solar Orbiter solar array deployment

Rise and shine

The mission control team then began to wake up vital parts of the craft. They switched on the ‘reaction wheels’ – used to more precisely control the orientation of the spacecraft than can be achieved with thrusters – and the ‘Mass Memory’ to store the science data collected by Solar Orbiter’s science instruments.

“Following successful tests, Solar Orbiter was brought into its Nominal Control Mode,” says Andrea.

“Then came the window for the deployment of the ‘Radio and Plasma Waves’ (RPW) antennas, the instrument boom, and the high-gain antenna. The antennas and the boom are used to move sensors away from the spacecraft body to prevent disturbances to their measurements, while the high-gain antenna is used to communicate with the spacecraft across astronomical distances.”

Cool under pressure

Before each antenna or boom could be deployed, Solar Orbiter was tilted to point it towards the Sun and warm it up. After the deployment of the first RPW antenna, the instrument boom was due next.

But as the team tilted the craft to warm up the instrument boom, they noticed something unexpected.

“We saw that the pins that hold the doors of the remote observation instruments safely in place during launch were cooling down more rapidly than expected as we tilted them away from the Sun,” says Andrea.

ESA Mission Control Darmstadt

“If their temperature had fallen to below -40°C, they could have undergone ‘cold welding’, sticking them in place and preventing the doors of the remote sensing instruments from opening.”

“The pins had already gotten too cold to move, and were in danger of sticking. To prevent this, we sent the command for Solar Orbiter to enter its ‘safe mode’, resetting its orientation and pointing the pins back towards the Sun.”

“Every launch comes with a unique set of challenges. But our teams train for events like this and were able to quickly respond to this situation and ensure a safe start to Solar Orbiter’s mission.”

Out with the boom

Once warm enough, the pins were safely moved (it had now proven necessary to move them at an earlier stage than originally planned) and the team continued with the deployment of the boom.

Following the deployment of the second and third RPW antennas and the high-gain antenna, operations began to wind down as the radio communication link between Solar Orbiter and ESA’s ground stations was switched to the more powerful high-gain antenna.

Solar Orbiter instruments

“We were thrilled to see that the instrument boom and all three electric antennas were correctly deployed,” says Yannis Zouganelis, ESA’s deputy project scientist for the Solar Orbiter mission.

“These appendages will enable us to probe the solar wind and, together with the remote-sensing instruments, reveal our Sun and its behaviour in unprecedented detail. We can’t wait to start taking our measurements.”

Asteroid experts catch final glimpse of Solar Orbiter

Solar Orbiter will now spend approximately three months in its commissioning phase, during which the mission control teams will conduct a test manoeuvre and check that the spacecraft and its 10 scientific instruments are working as intended to achieve the mission’s ambitious goals.

In roughly two years, Solar Orbiter will reach its primary science orbit where it will study our star’s polar regions like no spacecraft has before.

Related links:


Enabling & Support:

Solar Orbiter:

Images, Animations, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/S. Corvaja/J. Mai/ATG medialab.


jeudi 13 février 2020

NASA Selects Four Possible Missions to Study the Secrets of the Solar System

NASA logo.

Feb. 13, 2020

NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they’re not official missions yet and some ultimately may not be chosen to move forward, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA’s active missions or recent selections. Final selections will be made next year.

Artist concept of the solar system

NASA’s Discovery Program invites scientists and engineers to assemble a team to design exciting planetary science missions that deepen what we know about the solar system and our place in it. These missions will provide frequent flight opportunities for focused planetary science investigations. The goal of the program is to address pressing questions in planetary science and increase our understanding of our solar system.

“These selected missions have the potential to transform our understanding of some of the solar system’s most active and complex worlds,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. “Exploring any one of these celestial bodies will help unlock the secrets of how it, and others like it, came to be in the cosmos.”

Each of the four nine-month studies will receive $3 million to develop and mature concepts and will conclude with a Concept Study Report. After evaluating the concept studies, NASA will continue development of up to two missions towards flight. 

The proposals were chosen based on their potential science value and feasibility of development plans following a competitive peer-review process.

The selected proposals are:

DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus)

Artist's concept of DAVINCI probe descent stages

DAVINCI+ will analyze Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed, evolved and determine whether Venus ever had an ocean. DAVINCI+ plunges through Venus’ inhospitable atmosphere to precisely measure its composition down to the surface. The instruments are encapsulated within a purpose-built descent sphere to protect them from the intense environment of Venus. The “+” in DAVINCI+ refers to the imaging component of the mission, which includes cameras on the descent sphere and orbiter designed to map surface rock-type. The last U.S.-led, in-situ mission to Venus was in 1978. The results from DAVINCI+ have the potential to reshape our understanding of terrestrial planet formation in our solar system and beyond. James Garvin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator. Goddard would provide project management.

Io Volcano Observer (IVO)

Artist's view of The Gish Bar Times: Io Volcano Observer

IVO would explore Jupiter’s moon, Io, to learn how tidal forces shape planetary bodies. Io is heated by the constant crush of Jupiter’s gravity and is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Little is known about Io’s specific characteristics, such as whether a magma ocean exists in its interior. Using close-in flybys, IVO would assess how magma is generated and erupted on Io. The mission’s results could revolutionize our understanding of the formation and evolution of rocky, terrestrial bodies, as well as icy ocean worlds in our solar system, and extrasolar planets across the universe. Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in Tucson is the principal investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland would provide project management.


Artist's view of TRIDENT probe arrival at Triton

Trident would explore Triton, a unique and highly active icy moon of Neptune, to understand pathways to habitable worlds at tremendous distances from the Sun. NASA’s Voyager 2 mission showed that Triton has active resurfacing—generating the second youngest surface in the solar system—with the potential for erupting plumes and an atmosphere. Coupled with an ionosphere that can create organic snow and the potential for an interior ocean, Triton is an exciting exploration target to understand how habitable worlds may develop in our solar system and others. Using a single fly-by, Trident would map Triton, characterize active processes, and determine whether the predicted subsurface ocean exists. Louise Prockter of the Lunar and Planetary Institute/Universities Space Research Association in Houston is the principal investigator. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, would provide project management

VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy)

Artist's view of VERITAS probe orbiting Venus

VERITAS would map Venus’ surface to determine the planet’s geologic history and understand why Venus developed so differently than the Earth. Orbiting Venus with a synthetic aperture radar, VERITAS charts surface elevations over nearly the entire planet to create three-dimensional reconstructions of topography and confirm whether processes, such as plate tectonics and volcanism, are still active on Venus. VERITAS would also map infrared emissions from the surface to map Venus’ geology, which is largely unknown. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, is the principal investigator. JPL would provide project management.

The concepts were chosen from proposals submitted in 2019 under NASA Announcement of Opportunity *(AO) NNH19ZDA010O, Discovery Program. The selected investigations will be managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as part of the Discovery Program. The Discovery Program conducts space science investigations in the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, guided by NASA’s agency priorities and the Decadal Survey process of the National Academy of Sciences.

Established in 1992, NASA’s Discovery Program has supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments. These selections are part of the ninth Discovery Program competition.

For more information about NASA’s planetary science, visit:

NASA’s Discovery Program:

*(AO) NNH19ZDA010O:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Katherine Brown/Grey Hautaluoma/Joshua Handal.


Astronauts Relaxing Ahead of U.S. Cargo Mission

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

February 13, 2020

Two NASA astronauts are relaxing for the next couple of days as a U.S. space delivery nears its launch to the International Space Station. The Expedition 62 Commander is staying busy with the research and the upkeep of Russian orbital lab systems.

Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan are taking it easy Thursday and Friday as they look ahead to the arrival of the Cygnus cargo craft from Northrop Grumman. Cygnus launches Friday at 3:43 p.m. EST and will reach the station less than two days later. Morgan will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and grapple Cygnus on Sunday at about 4 a.m. Meir will assist and monitor the space freighter’s approach and rendezvous.

Image above: Noctilucent clouds, or night shining clouds, the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere, are pictured from the International Space Station orbiting 269 miles above the South Pacific. Image Credit: NASA.

Mission controllers will take over and remotely guide the Cygnus in the grips of Canadarm2 and install it to the Unity module. The two NASA astronauts will open Cygnus’ hatch Sunday afternoon and begin unloading about 7,500 pounds of new science, crew supplies and station hardware. NASA TV will cover all the launch, capture and installation activities live.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Roscosmos Commander Oleg Skripochka started his day jogging on a treadmill for an exercise study. Afterward, the veteran cosmonaut worked on orbital plumbing tasks and housecleaning tasks in the station’s Russian segment.

Related links:

Expedition 62:


Exercise study:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

New Horizons Team Uncovers a Critical Piece of the Planetary Formation Puzzle

NASA - New Horizons Mission patch.

Feb. 13, 2020

Data from NASA’s New Horizons mission are providing new insights into how planets and planetesimals – the building blocks of the planets – were formed.

The New Horizons spacecraft flew past the ancient Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth (2014 MU69) on Jan. 1, 2019, providing humankind’s first close-up look at one of the icy remnants of solar system formation in the vast region beyond the orbit of Neptune. Using detailed data on the object’s shape, geology, color and composition – gathered during a record-setting flyby that occurred more than four billion miles from Earth – researchers have apparently answered a longstanding question about planetesimal origins, and therefore made a major advance in understanding how the planets themselves formed.

The team reports those findings in a set of three papers in the journal Science, and at a media briefing Feb. 13 at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle.

“Arrokoth is the most distant, most primitive and most pristine object ever explored by spacecraft, so we knew it would have a unique story to tell,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s teaching us how planetesimals formed, and we believe the result marks a significant advance in understanding overall planetesimal and planet formation.”

The first post-flyby images transmitted from New Horizons last year showed that Arrokoth had two connected lobes, a smooth surface and a uniform composition, indicating it was likely pristine and would provide decisive information on how bodies like it formed. These first results were published in Science last May.

Image above: The uniform color and composition of Arrokoth’s surface shows the Kuiper Belt object formed from a small, uniform, cloud of material in the solar nebula, rather than a mishmash of matter from more separated parts of the nebula. The former supports the idea that Arrokoth formed in a local collapse of a cloud in the solar nebula. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko.

“This is truly an exciting find for what is already a very successful and history-making mission” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. “The continued discoveries of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft astound as it reshapes our knowledge and understanding of how planetary bodies form in solar systems across the universe.”

Over the following months, working with more and higher-resolution data as well as sophisticated computer simulations, the mission team assembled a picture of how Arrokoth must have formed. Their analysis indicates that the lobes of this “contact binary” object were once separate bodies that formed close together and at low velocity, orbited each other, and then gently merged to create the 22-mile long object New Horizons observed.

This indicates Arrokoth formed during the gravity-driven collapse of a cloud of solid particles in the primordial solar nebula, rather than by the competing theory of planetesimal formation called hierarchical accretion. Unlike the high-speed collisions between planetesimals in hierarchical accretion, in particle-cloud collapse, particles merge gently, slowly growing larger.

“Just as fossils tell us how species evolved on Earth, planetesimals tell us how planets formed in space,” said William McKinnon, a New Horizons co-investigator from Washington University in St. Louis, and lead author of an Arrokoth formation paper in Science this week. “Arrokoth looks the way it does not because it formed through violent collisions, but in more of an intricate dance, in which its component objects slowly orbited each other before coming together.”

Image above: New Horizons during Arrokoth’s flyby (formerly known as Ultima Thule). Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL.

Two other important pieces of evidence support this conclusion. The uniform color and composition of Arrokoth’s surface shows the KBO formed from nearby material, as local cloud collapse models predict, rather than a mishmash of matter from more separated parts of the nebula, as hierarchical models might predict.

The flattened shapes of each of Arrokoth’s lobes, as well as the remarkably close alignment of their poles and equators, also point to a more orderly merger from a collapse cloud. Further still, Arrokoth’s smooth, lightly cratered surface indicates its face has remained well preserved since the end of the planet formation era.

“Arrokoth has the physical features of a body that came together slowly, with ‘local’ materials in the solar nebula,” said Will Grundy, New Horizons composition theme team lead from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the lead author of a second Science paper. “An object like Arrokoth wouldn’t have formed, or look the way it does, in a more chaotic accretion environment.”

The latest Arrokoth reports significantly expand on the May 2019 Science paper, led by Stern. The three new papers are based on 10 times as much data as the first report, and together provide a far more complete picture of Arrokoth’s origin.

“All of the evidence we’ve found points to particle-cloud collapse models, and all but rule out hierarchical accretion for the formation mode of Arrokoth, and by inference, other planetesimals,” Stern said.

New Horizons Arrokoth Axes Animation

Video above: Scientists have used all available New Horizons images of Arrokoth, taken from many angles, to determine its 3D shape, as shown in this animation. The shape provides additional insight into Arrokoth’s origins. The flattened shapes of each of Arrokoth’s lobes, as well as the remarkably close alignment of their poles and equators, point to an orderly, gentle merger of two objects formed from the same collapsing cloud of particles. Arrokoth has the physical features of a body that came together slowly, with ‘locally-sourced’ materials from a small part of the solar nebula. An object like Arrokoth wouldn’t have formed, or look the way it does, in a more chaotic accretion environment. Video Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/James Tuttle Keane.

New Horizons continues to carry out new observations of additional Kuiper Belt objects it passes in the distance. New Horizons also continues to map the charged-particle radiation and dust environment in the Kuiper Belt. The new KBOs being observed now are too far away to reveal discoveries like those on Arrokoth, but the team can measure aspects such as each object's surface properties and shape. This summer the mission team will begin using large groundbased telescopes to search for new KBOs to study in this way, and even for another flyby target if fuel allows.

The New Horizons spacecraft is now 4.4 billion miles (7.1 billion kilometers) from Earth, operating normally and speeding deeper into the Kuiper Belt at nearly 31,300 miles (50,400 kilometers) per hour.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Marshall Space Flight Center Planetary Management Office provides the NASA oversight for the New Horizons. Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, directs the mission via Principal Investigator Stern, and leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Related links:

Science, May 2019:

New Horizons:

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert.


Two halves of a whole

ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

Feb. 13, 2020

Fragmented terrain on Mars

Mars is very much a world of two halves, as this new image from ESA’s Mars Express highlights, showing where these dramatically different regions come together as one.

The morphology and characteristics of the martian surface differ significantly depending on location. The northern hemisphere of Mars is flat, smooth and, in places, sits a few kilometres lower than the southern. The southern hemisphere, meanwhile, is heavily cratered, and peppered with pockets of past volcanic activity.

The topography of Nilosyrtis Mensae

A transition zone known as ‘dichotomy boundary’ separates the northern lowlands and southern highlands. Large parts of this region are filled with something scientists call fretted terrain: blocky, broken-up, fragmented swathes of terrain where the rough, pockmarked martian south gives way to the smoother north.

This new image from the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) shows exactly that: a region of fretted terrain named Nilosyrtis Mensae.

Nilosyrtis Mensae in 3D

Nilosyrtis Mensae has a labyrinthian appearance, with numerous channels and valleys carving through the terrain. Water, wind and ice been strongly affecting this region, dissecting and eroding the terrain, along with changes in martian geology: valleys have formed over time and sliced across the region, and once-defined impact craters have slowly degraded, their walls and features gradually wearing away.

The large crater to the right of the frame is an example of this degradation: it has a smooth, rounded appearance, with gently sloping walls, softened edges, and a flat bottom that has been widened and filled by sedimentary material over time. This worn-away morphology reflects both the crater’s advanced age, and the levels of erosion it has undergone since it formed.

Perspective view of Nilosyrtis Mensae

Such erosion processes also created rounded hills and isolated flat-topped hills, or ‘mesas’, that are visible within the crater and across the region more widely. These stand apart from their surroundings as isolated features, and contribute to the blocky, fractured appearance of fretted terrain.

Scientists are interested in Nilosyrtis Mensae not only for its location in this intriguing transition zone between north and south, but also for the secrets it could hold about the history of water on Mars.

Nilosyrtis Mensae in context

Observations of this region by missions such as Mars Express have revealed ridges, grooves and other surface textures indicative of flowing material – most likely ice.

The climate and atmosphere of ancient Mars allowed ice and snow to accumulate and move around across the planet’s surface.

Ice is thought to have flowed through the various valleys and across the plateaus in this region, in the form of slow-moving glaciers that swept up debris as they travelled. Such features would be similar to rock glaciers here on Earth: either icy flows covered in layers of mud and sediment, or flowing mixtures of ice, mud, snow and rock interspersed with larger rocks and boulders.

Mars Express

Studying and characterising the various processes at play across the surface of Mars is a key aim of Mars Express. Launched in 2003, the spacecraft has now been orbiting the Red Planet for over a decade and a half. Meanwhile, the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) joined in 2016, soon to be joined by the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover and its accompanying surface science platform, scheduled for launch in July.

Related links:

Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC):

Mars Express:

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO):

ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA MGS MOLA Science Team.

Best regards,

mercredi 12 février 2020

Station Crew Demos Wi-Fi Power, Sets Up For Rodent Research

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

February 12, 2020

A science demonstration for students and space research to improve life kept the Expedition 62 crew busy on Wednesday. The International Space Station residents also worked on a host of orbital plumbing and housecleaning tasks.

Radio waves generate energy that can be harnessed for a variety of applications including wirelessly powering devices or possibly beaming solar energy down to Earth. NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir filmed how a flashlight powered by Wi-Fi gets brighter and darker as it moves closer or farther away from a Wi-Fi device aboard the station. The video will be sent down to students to demonstrate the technology developed by the Naval Research Laboratory.

Image above: The three-member Expedition 62 crew, sporting their mission patch on t-shirts, will be living aboard the station until April. In the center, is Roscosmos Commander Oleg Skripochka flanked by NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan. Image Credit: NASA.

Biology research also takes place aboard the orbiting lab and the crew will soon continue exploring how microgravity affects rodents. NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan worked in Japan’s Kibo lab module setting up the Life Science Glovebox that will house the rodents to be delivered on an upcoming cargo mission. Mice physiology is similar to humans so researchers observe how their bodies react to weightlessness as well as countermeasures to the long-term effects.

Meir and Morgan also split their on life support maintenance and space plumbing. Meir set up acoustic monitors to measure station sound levels before checking on safety masks and charging spacesuit batteries. Morgan printed out housecleaning to-do lists then worked on the U.S. bathroom, also known as the Waste and Hygiene Compartment.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos serviced Russian Orlan spacesuit water loops and checked for leaks. After checking on water tanks in the Progress 74 cargo craft, he set up exercise research gear then photographed the after effects of catastrophes on Earth.

The Cygnus cargo craft from Northrop Grumman is counting down to a launch from Virginia on Friday at 3:43 p.m. EST. The U.S. space freighter, loaded with 7,300 pounds of science, supplies and hardware, will arrive Sunday for a robotic capture with the Canadarm2 at 4 a.m. NASA TV will cover all the launch, capture and installation activities live.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Wirelessly powering devices:

Kibo lab module:

Life Science Glovebox:

Progress 74:

Exercise research gear:



Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

’Pale Blue Dot’ Revisited

NASA - Voyager 1 & 2 Mission patch.

Feb. 12, 2020

For the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic views from the Voyager mission, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is publishing a new version of the image known as the "Pale Blue Dot."

Image above: This updated version of the iconic "Pale Blue Dot" image taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft uses modern image-processing software and techniques to revisit the well-known Voyager view while attempting to respect the original data and intent of those who planned the images. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The updated image uses modern image-processing software and techniques while respecting the intent of those who planned the image. Like the original, the new color view shows Planet Earth as a single, bright blue pixel in the vastness of space. Rays of sunlight scattered within the camera optics stretch across the scene, one of which happens to have intersected dramatically with Earth.

The view was obtained on Feb. 14, 1990, just minutes before Voyager 1's cameras were intentionally powered off to conserve power and because the probe — along with its sibling, Voyager 2 — would not make close flybys of any other objects during their lifetimes. Shutting down instruments and other systems on the two Voyager spacecraft has been a gradual and ongoing process that has helped enable their longevity.

Images above: This simulated view, made using NASA's Eyes on the Solar System app, approximates Voyager 1's perspective when it took its final series of images known as the "Family Portrait of the Solar System," including the "Pale Blue Dot" image. Imaages Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This celebrated Voyager 1 view was part of a series of 60 images designed to produce what the mission called the "Family Portrait of the Solar System." This sequence of camera-pointing commands returned images of six of the solar system's planets, as well as the Sun. The Pale Blue Dot view was created using the color images Voyager took of Earth.

The popular name of this view is traced to the title of the 1994 book by Voyager imaging scientist Carl Sagan, who originated the idea of using Voyager's cameras to image the distant Earth and played a critical role in enabling the family portrait images to be taken.

Additional information about the Pale Blue Dot image is available at:

The original Pale Blue Dot and Family Portrait images are available at:

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:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Randal Jackson/JPL/Calla Cofield​.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of February 3, 2020

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch / ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

Feb. 12, 2020

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted a number of scientific studies the week of Feb. 3, including research on artificial intelligence assistance, wearable health monitors and the immune system. NASA astronaut Christina Koch, Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and Alexander Skvortsov of ROSCOSMOS departed the station late on Feb. 5, landing in Kazakhstan a few hours later. Koch logged the second longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut and the longest by a woman – 328 days. Former astronaut Scott Kelly lived aboard the station for 340 continuous days.

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir in front of the closed hatch of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter. Attached to the hatch is the SlingShot small satellite deployer loaded with eight CubeSats, deployed into Earth orbit for communications and atmospheric research several hours after Cygnus departed the space station on Jan. 31, 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

Now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, the space station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space. Experience gained on the orbiting lab supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch outside the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft after she, Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and Alexander Skvortsov of ROSCOSMOS landed in Kazakhstan on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Koch returned to Earth after logging 328 days in space – the longest spaceflight in history by a woman – as a member of Expeditions 59-60-61. Skvortsov and Parmitano returned after 201 days in space where they served as members of Expedition 60-61. Image Credit: NASA.

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

With a little help from AI

The crew updated software and performed activation and checkout steps for the Pilot Study with the Crew Interactive MObile companioN (CIMON), an investigation sponsored by the ESA (European Space Agency). This technology demonstration project and observational study examines how support by an artificial intelligence (AI) affects crew members in terms of efficiency and acceptance during long-term missions in space. Spaceflight missions put crew members under a substantial amount of stress and workload, and AI could provide operational support to lighten that load.

Vital signs

The crew performed 48-hour sessions with the Bio-Monitor garment and data collection unit. The space station is equipped with health and life sciences research tools, but lacks the capability for continuous and simultaneous recording of several types of physiological data. In addition, the medical devices in use often are bulky and invasive and using them can be disruptive and time-consuming. The Canadian Space Agency’s Bio-Monitor Commissioning activity tests a garment capable of up to 48 hours of non-invasive and non-intrusive monitoring. The garment monitors pulse and electrical activity of the heart, blood pressure, breathing rate and volume, skin temperature, blood oxygen saturation and physical activity levels.

Keeping an eye on the immune system

Functional Immune analyzes blood and saliva samples to determine the changes taking place in the immune systems of crew members during flight. These changes are compared with information reported by the same crew members about stress, sleep disruption and other factors known to affect the immune system. Results could provide new insight into the possible health risks of long-duration space travel and help protect humans on future missions such as to the Moon and Mars. Crew members collected saliva samples and completed questionnaires for the investigation during the week.

Image above: The Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman departing the vicinity of the International Space Station after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Cygnus had completed an 88-day stay attached to the Unity module after delivering nearly 8,200 pounds of research materials and supplies to space station on Nov. 4, 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- The Confined Combustion investigation studies flame spread in confined spaces, specifically the interactions between spreading flames and surrounding walls. Flame spread in spaces such as buildings and vehicles may pose a more serious hazard than it does in open spaces.

- Probiotics are live microorganisms that aid digestion and improve overall health. The Probiotics investigation from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) studies whether these beneficial bacteria improve the human intestinal microbiota and immune function.

- JAXA PCG grows high quality protein crystals in microgravity so scientists on Earth can determine their protein structures in detail. These structures can be used to develop pharmaceuticals and catalysts for a variety of industries.

- Food Acceptability examines the effect of repetitive consumption of the food currently available during spaceflight. “Menu fatigue” resulting from a limited choice of foods over time may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases.

- Standard Measures captures an ongoing, optimized set of measures from crew members to characterize how their bodies adapt to living in space. Researchers use these measures to create a data repository for high-level monitoring of the effectiveness of countermeasures and better interpretation of health and performance outcomes.

- Actiwatch, a sleep-wake monitor worn by a crew member, analyzes circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity. The data are used in a number of studies on sleep and biological rhythms.

Space to Ground: Record Breaking: 02/07/2020

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Expedition 62:

Crew Interactive MObile companioN (CIMON):

Bio-Monitor :

Functional Immune:


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, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 61 & 62.

Best regards,