vendredi 27 mars 2020

NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Gateway Logistics Services

International - Lunar Orbital Gateway patch.

March 27, 2020

NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, as the first U.S. commercial provider under the Gateway Logistics Services contract to deliver cargo, experiments and other supplies to the agency’s Gateway in lunar orbit. The award is a significant step forward for NASA’s Artemis program that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 and build a sustainable human lunar presence.

Image above: Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy's second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. Image Credit: SpaceX.

At the Moon, NASA and its partners will gain the experience necessary to mount a historic human mission to Mars.

SpaceX will deliver critical pressurized and unpressurized cargo, science experiments and supplies to the Gateway, such as sample collection materials and other items the crew may need on the Gateway and during their expeditions on the lunar surface.

“This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars.”

NASA is planning multiple supply missions in which the cargo spacecraft will stay at the Gateway for six to 12 months at a time. These firm-fixed price, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts for logistics services guarantee two missions per logistics services provider with a maximum total value of $7 billion across all contracts as additional missions are needed.

“Returning to the Moon and supporting future space exploration requires affordable delivery of significant amounts of cargo,” said SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell. “Through our partnership with NASA, SpaceX has been delivering scientific research and critical supplies to the International Space Station since 2012, and we are honored to continue the work beyond Earth’s orbit and carry Artemis cargo to Gateway.”

The Gateway Logistics Services contract enables NASA to order missions for as long as 12 years with a 15-year performance period and provides the ability to add new competitive providers. These missions will support NASA’s plans for sustainable exploration with both international and commercial partners, while developing the experience and capabilities necessary to send humans to Mars.

Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Animation Credit: ESA

“This is an exciting new chapter for human exploration,” said Mark Wiese, Deep Space Logistics manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We are bringing the innovative thinking of commercial industry into our supply chain and helping ensure we’re able to support crews preparing for lunar surface expeditions by delivering the supplies they need ahead of time.”

Charged with returning to the Moon in the next four years, NASA’s Artemis program  will reveal new knowledge about the Moon, Earth and our origins in the solar system. The Gateway is a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and human landing system that will send astronauts the Moon. One standard logistics service mission is anticipated for each Artemis SLS/Orion crewed mission to the Gateway. Gaining new experiences on and around the Moon will prepare NASA to send the first humans to Mars in the coming years, and the Gateway will play a vital role in this process.

“We’re making significant progress moving from our concept of the Gateway to reality,” said Dan Hartman, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Bringing a logistics provider onboard ensures we can transport all the critical supplies we need for the Gateway and on the lunar surface to do research and technology demonstrations in space that we can’t do anywhere else. We also anticipate performing a variety of research on and within the logistics module.”

Related articles:

NASA Selects First Science Instruments to Send to Gateway

European Gateway experiment will monitor radiation in deep space

Lunar Gateway: Earth’s guard post against asteroids?

Angelic halo orbit chosen for humankind’s first lunar outpost

NASA to Partner with American Industry to Supply Artemis Moon Missions

NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Lunar Gateway Power, Propulsion

Gateway to the Moon

NASA Secures First International Partnership for Moon to Mars Lunar Gateway

Related links:


Moon to Mars:

Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway:

Commercial Space:


Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Gina Anderson/JSC/Isidro Reyna/KSC/Amanda Griffin.


Space Biology on Station Ahead of Cargo and Crew Ship Activities

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 27, 2020

The Expedition 62 crew wrapped up the workweek with more space biology research to understand what living in space does to the human body. The International Space Station is also getting ready to send off a U.S. cargo craft and swap crews.

A 3D bioprinter inside the station’s Columbus laboratory module is being deactivated and stowed today after a week of test runs without using human cells. NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir packed up the device that seeks to demonstrate manufacturing human organs to help patients on Earth. The Bio-Fabrication Facility may even lead to future crews printing their own food and medicines on missions farther away from Earth.

Image above: NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan are pictured in front of the hatch to the Space Dragon resupply ship shortly after it was attached to the Harmony module on March 9. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan checked out hardware for an experiment exploring how to create heart cells on the orbiting lab. The investigation may lead to advanced treatments for cardiac conditions on Earth and in space.

Morgan and Meir are also getting the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship ready for its departure on April 6. The duo gathered U.S. spacesuit components and packed them inside Dragon for engineering analysis on the ground.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

During the morning, Commander Oleg Skripochka continued servicing a variety of laptop computers in the station’s Russian segment. After lunchtime, the veteran cosmonaut serviced hardware for a pair of experiments, one looking at the Earth’s upper atmosphere and the other to understand the degradation of station gear.

Back on Earth at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, three new Expedition 63 crewmembers are in final preparations for their April 9 launch to the station. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner stepped out of the Cosmonaut Hotel today for pre-launch activities celebrating spaceflight heroes such as Yuri Gagarin.

Related links:

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Expedition 63:

Columbus laboratory module:

Bio-Fabrication Facility:

How to create heart cells:

SpaceX Dragon:

Upper atmosphere:

Degradation of station gear:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Last stop before launch: Orion passes tests and returns to Kennedy Space Center

NASA - Orion Crew Vehicle patch.

March 27, 2020

The Orion spacecraft that will fly on the Artemis 1 mission around the Moon has returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, after finishing space environment tests. The spacecraft, including ESA’s European Service Module, is now at its final destination before launch.

Preparing Orion for thermal vacuum testing

Orion spent four months at NASA’s Plum Brook station where it was subjected to the vacuum and temperatures of –175°C to 75°C it will experience on its flight to the Moon. After proving its space-worthiness, the electronics ­– including the thousands of parameters and functions of the European Service Module that control the engines, electrical power and steering the solar panels to face the Sun – were checked for electromagnetic interference.

Orion encaged

ESA’s Dominique Siruguet from the European Service Module integration and verification team says “The tests were successful and the behaviour of the vehicle was good, passing all requirements.”

Super Guppy leaves Ohio with Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft

Plum Brook station was chosen for the tests because thermal vacuum and electromagnetic compatibility could be performed in the same facility. This avoided additional transport of Orion, which is the size of a two-story house.

 Orion spacecraft

Having passed its trials, the spacecraft was wrapped and moved by truck to an airport in Ohio for its return flight on NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft.

Adding wings to Orion

The tests are not completely over for Orion, at Kennedy Space Center the crew module will be further prepared and more leak tests conducted. The European Service Module has tanks for fuel, oxygen and water that are critical for the astronauts. The gas tanks are pressurised and are connected to many pipes and valves, so it vital to make sure there are no leaks.

Orion spacecraft exploded view

The solar wings that generate power during its mission will be installed, as well as protective covers called the Spacecraft Adapter Jettisoned fairings for the intense moments of launch on the world’s most powerful rocket.

Orion: The journey

Later this year ESA will formally transfer ownership of the European Service Module to NASA and the spacecraft will move into the ground system phase where it will be united with the SLS rocket for a lift-off to the Moon.

Orion service module – from components to shipping

Orion is a key component of Artemis 1 – an uncrewed test flight around the Moon that paves the way for the Artemis 3 mission, which will land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024. ESA is designing and supplying the European Service Module for the Orion spacecraft. This provides electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen. It also keeps the spacecraft at the right temperature and on course, propelling it to the Moon and back once it has separated from the launcher.

Related article:

Welcome Home, Orion: Spacecraft Ready for Final Artemis I Launch Preparations

Related links:


Human and Robotic Exploration:

Science & Exploration:

European Space Agency (ESA):

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/S. Corvaja/NASA/Nicole Smith/Videos: Directed by Stéphane Corvaja/ESA ; Edited by Manuel Pédoussaut/Zetapress.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of March 23, 2020

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 27, 2020

The three crew members aboard the International Space Station during the week of March 23 continued to carry out scientific investigations, including studies of the human gut microbiome and cardiovascular changes seen in space.

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.

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

Tiny inhabitants of the human gut

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan places samples in cold stowage in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). Image Credit: NASA.

Genomics Investigation of Human Gut Microbiome to Determine Effects of Microgravity Exposures (Rhodium Space Microbiome) examines the effects of spaceflight on the human gut microbiome, the complex communities of bacterial species living in our gastrointestinal systems. The gut microbiome plays a role in overall human health and well-being, and studies show a connection between changes in its structure and function and multiple chronic and acute diseases. Understanding how these changes affect human health and performance could help protect people on future missions. During the week, the crew placed several samples into incubation and removed others for cold stowage in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI).

Potential relief for stiff arteries

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir conducts an ultrasound for the CSA’s Vascular Echo investigation. It examines changes in blood vessels and the heart while crew members are in space and follows their recovery after return to Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

As humans get older on Earth, arteries stiffen, causing an increase in blood pressure (hypertension) and elevating the risk for cardiovascular disease. Recently, some crew members returning from space have had much stiffer arteries than before their flight. Cardiac and Vessel Structure and Function with Long-Duration Space Flight and Recovery (Vascular Echo), sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), examines changes in blood vessels and the heart while crew members are in space and follows their recovery on return to Earth. The results could provide insight into potential countermeasures to help maintain the health of crew members on future missions and improve quality of life for people on Earth. The crew conducted a variety of measurements for the investigation during the week, including monitoring blood pressure and performing ultrasounds.

A new exterior space station facility

The crew unpacked Bartolomeo from the SpaceX Dragon capsule during the week in preparation for its installation on the outside of the European Columbus module. This external payload hosting facility from the ESA (European Space Agency) and Airbus is designed to serve commercial and institutional users, hosting payloads as small as 3 Units (3U) and offering an unobstructed view both toward Earth and into space. Airbus provides comprehensive mission services including technical support in preparing the payload, launch and installation, operations and data transfer and optional return to Earth. Potential applications include but are not limited to Earth observation, robotics, material science and astrophysics.

Airbus, in collaboration with the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, offers UN Member States the opportunity to fly a payload on Bartolomeo. Developing countries are particularly encouraged to participate, and the mission is devoted to addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Bartolomeo was the name of the younger brother of Christopher Columbus.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

Image above: Engineered Heart Tissues looks at how adult human heart tissue functions in space using a unique three-dimensional culture of adult human cardiac muscle tissue embedded with tiny magnetic posts and an external magnet-based sensor to provide real-time measurement of muscle contractions. NASA astronaut Jessica Meir conducts operations for the investigation in the Life Sciences Glovebox. Image Credit: NASA.

- Engineered Heart Tissues looks at how adult human heart tissue functions in space using a unique three-dimensional culture of adult human cardiac muscle tissue embedded with tiny magnetic posts and an external magnet-based sensor to provide real-time measurement of muscle contractions.

- The STaARS BioScience-9 investigation examines the rates of production of isobutene from a genetically modified Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. Isobutene is a widely used biofuel, and producing it from cultures aboard spacecraft could enhance the sustainability of future long-duration missions.

- BioFabrication Facility (BFF) tests the printing of organ-like tissues in microgravity, a first step toward manufacturing entire human organs in space using refined biological 3D printing techniques.

Animation above: NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan share dinner aboard the space station. A current investigation examines whether “menu fatigue” resulting from a limited choice of foods over time may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members. Animation Credit: NASA.

- 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.

- Radi-N2, a Canadian Space Agency investigation, uses bubble detectors to better characterize the neutron environment on the space station, which could help define the risk this radiation source poses to crew members and provide data necessary to develop advanced protective measures for future spaceflight.

Space to Ground: Embracing Self Isolation: 03/27/2020

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Rhodium Space Microbiome:


Vascular Echo:


UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Jack Griffin/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 62.

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A demonstrator magnet produces a record magnet field

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

27 March, 2020

The eRMC demonstrator, consisting of two flat niobium-tin coils, has produced a peak magnetic field of 16.5 tesla, a promising result in the context of the FCC (Future Circular Collider) study 

The eRMC demonstrator before its insertion into a cryostat for testing (Image: CERN)

One of the keys to pushing the energy limits of accelerators is being able to reach higher magnetic fields. CERN and several other laboratories around the world have launched R&D programmes aimed at improving existing magnet technology. In February, a demonstrator magnet using superconducting niobium-tin, cooled to 1.9 kelvins, achieved a peak magnetic field of 16.5 tesla on the conductor, exceeding the previous record of 16.2 tesla in 2015.

The demonstrator, known as an enhanced Racetrack Model Coil (eRMC) magnet, consists of two superimposed flat coils in the shape of a racetrack, hence its name. The coils are produced using a cable composed of multifilament composite wire made of niobium-tin, a superconductor that can reach higher magnetic fields than the niobium-titanium superconductor currently used for the magnets of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The dipole magnets in the LHC operate at a nominal field of 8.3 tesla.

Niobium-tin is the material being used for some of the new magnets in the High-Luminosity LHC, the successor to the LHC, which will make use of dipole and quadrupole magnets generating a magnetic field of around 12 tesla. This increase is already significant in comparison with what can be achieved with niobium-titanium, but niobium-tin will allow even higher magnetic fields to be produced. This potential is now being explored further, notably as part of the Future Circular Collider (FCC) study. To reach a collision energy of 100 TeV using a ring with a circumference of 100 km, dipole magnets generating magnetic fields of 16 tesla are needed.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Animation Credit: CERN

Even though the eRMC demonstrator isn’t an accelerator magnet, its configuration allows the performance of niobium-tin conductors to be tested. During the tests, the eRMC magnet, cooled to 1.9 kelvins (the LHC’s operating temperature), reached a peak magnetic field on the conductor of 16.5 tesla. At 4.5 kelvins, this field peaked at 16.3 tesla, which corresponds to 98% of the maximum estimated performance of the superconducting cable.

“These results and recent advances with niobium-tin magnets demonstrate the potential of this technology for a next-generation hadron collider,” emphasises Luca Bottura, leader of the Magnets, Superconductors and Cryostats (TE-MSC) group at CERN. This record is just one of many promising advances at several laboratories. Another magnet, FRESCA2, which has a 100 mm aperture, reached a magnetic field of 14.6 tesla in 2018 at CERN. FRESCA2 was developed for integration into a test station for superconducting cables. Last year, Fermilab in the United States tested an accelerator-type short model dipole magnet, with a 60 mm aperture, which reached a field of 14.1 tesla at 4.5 kelvins.

The CERN teams will continue their work to develop an accelerator magnet configuration. The eRMC demonstrator will therefore be dismantled and reassembled with a third coil on the median plane to create a 50 mm cavity.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 23 Member States.

Related articles:

International collaboration publishes concept design for a post-LHC future circular collider at CERN

CERN prepares four times larger LHC

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

High-Luminosity LHC:

Future Circular Collider (FCC) study:

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

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Corinne Pralavorio.

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Hubble Hooks a One-Arm Galaxy

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

March 27, 2020

NGC 4618 was discovered on April 9, 1787, by the German-British astronomer William Herschel, who also discovered Uranus in 1781. Only a year before discovering NGC 4618, Herschel theorized that the “foggy” objects astronomers were seeing in the night sky were likely to be large star clusters located much farther away than the individual stars he could easily discern.

Since Herschel proposed his theory, astronomers have come to understand that what he was seeing was a galaxy. NGC 4618, classified as a barred spiral galaxy, has the special distinction among other spiral galaxies of only having one arm rotating around the center of the galaxy.

Located about 21 million light-years from our galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici, NGC 4618 has a diameter of about one-third that of the Milky Way. Together with its neighbor, NGC 4625, it forms an interacting galaxy pair, which means that the two galaxies are close enough to influence each other gravitationally. These interactions may result in the two (or more) galaxies merging together to form a new formation, such as a ring galaxy.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

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Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Rob Garner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, I. Karachentsev.

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jeudi 26 mars 2020

ULA - Atlas V launches AEHF-6

ULA - Atlas V / AEHF-6 Mission poster.

March 26, 2020

Atlas V launches AEHF-6

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 551 launch vehicle launched the AEHF-6 satellite from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 26 March 2020, at 20:18 UTC (16:18 EDT). Built by Lockheed Martin, Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites provide highly-secure, jam-proof connectivity for the U.S. Air Force. The mission was the 83rd for an Atlas V launch vehicle and the 11th in the 551 configuration. The Atlas V 551 rocket is the most powerful in the Atlas V fleet.

Atlas V launches AEHF-6

Atlas V is enhancing the AEHF-6 satellite's trip to space by using all of the vehicle's performance to deliver the payload with a much higher perigee, or low point of the transfer orbit, and substantially reducing inclination relative to the equator. Those actions by the launch vehicle will benefit the satellite and conserve its onboard fuel supply by getting AEHF-5 closer to geosynchronous orbit.

AEHF-6 satellite

United Launch Alliance used an Atlas V 551 rocket to launch the sixth and final spacecraft in the Lockheed Martin-built Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) series for the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. AEHF satellites provide global, survivable, protected communications capabilities for strategic command and tactical warfighters operating on ground, sea and air platforms. Atlas V rockets successfully launched the first five AEHF satellites between 2010 and 2019.

For more information about United Launch Alliance (ULA), visit:

Images, illustrations and video footage Credits: courtesy of United Launch Alliance (ULA)/Music: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart courtesy of YouTube Audio Library/SciNews/Text, Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Heart, Eye Studies in Space as Next Crew Nears Launch

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 26, 2020

Cardiac research and 3D bioprinting aboard the International Space Station today are helping NASA improve health for humans in space and on Earth. The three Expedition 62 crewmembers also participated in eye exams and radiation checks.

Three new Expedition 63 crewmembers are in Kazakhstan just two weeks away from beginning a 195-day mission on the station. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy joined Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner for a traditional flag-raising ceremony today outside the Cosmonaut Hotel at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The trio is due to liftoff April 9 at 4:05 a.m. EDT and arrive at their new home in space about six-and-a-half hours later.

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan retrieves gut microbe samples from a science freezer for an experiment to understand how microgravity affects microbes that impact astronaut health. Image Credit: NASA.

Back aboard the orbiting lab, the station crew spent the afternoon on eye checks. NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir started the optometry work and scanned her crewmates’ eyes using the Human Research Facility’s ultrasound device.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan then took over and imaged the eyes of Commander Oleg Skripochka using optical tomography (OCT) gear. The OCT uses lightwaves for non-invasive mapping and measurement of a subject’s retina.

Morgan started the day with ongoing tests of a 3D bioprinter without using human cells. The device, also known as the Bio-Fabrication Facility, seeks to manufacture human organs in space due to the detrimental effects of Earth’s gravity. Patients on the ground would benefits and future astronauts on planetary missions could print their own food or medicines.

ISS orbital laboratory flying over Earth at night. Animation Credit: NASA

Meir checked samples of cultured cardiac muscle tissue for the Engineered Heart Tissues experiment in the morning. The investigation is exploring cardiac function in weightlessness that may provide new drug developments for astronauts and Earthlings.

In the station’s Russian segment, Skripochka collected radiation measurements then serviced atmospheric purification gear. The commander also spent a few moments working on a specialized research furnace that levitates and observes metallic alloys at high temperatures.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Expedition 63:

Microbes that impact astronaut health:

Bio-Fabrication Facility:

Engineered Heart Tissues:

Specialized research furnace:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Welcome Home, Orion: Spacecraft Ready for Final Artemis I Launch Preparations

NASA - Orion Crew Vehicle patch.

March 26, 2020

NASA’s Orion spacecraft for Artemis I returned to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 25 after engineers put it through the rigors of environmental testing at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. At Kennedy, the spacecraft will undergo final processing and preparations prior to launching on the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon that will ultimately lead to the exploration of Mars.

The spacecraft – comprised of the crew module and service module – arrived in Ohio during the fall of 2019, where two phases of testing occurred inside the world’s largest space simulation vacuum chamber. First, the spacecraft demonstrated it could handle the extreme temperatures of space during thermal vacuum testing, simulating sunlight and shadow Orion will encounter during flight. During this test, the spacecraft was exposed to temperatures ranging from -250 to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, an electromagnetic interference and compatibility test verified all of Orion’s electronics work correctly when operating simultaneously and in the electromagnetic environments it will encounter during its mission.

Image above: The Orion spacecraft, secured atop a transporter in its shipping container, is carried to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 25, 2020. The spacecraft was transported to Kennedy in NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft from the agency’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. Sent to Ohio in fall 2019 for environmental testing, Orion is now ready to undergo final testing and assembly, after which it will be integrated with the Space Launch System rocket. Orion will fly on the agency’s Artemis I mission – the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon that will ultimately lead to the exploration of Mars. Image Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

“The test went exceptionally well, especially considering we were doing all of this for the first time,” said Nicole Smith, testing project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “We found a lot of efficiencies throughout the thermal vacuum phase, and overcame a few facility equipment challenges early during electromagnetic interference testing, but our combined NASA, Lockheed Martin, ESA (European Space Agency) and Airbus team was able to complete the testing ahead of schedule.”

Arriving at Kennedy in the agency’s Super Guppy aircraft, Orion is now ready to undergo its next phase of processing. Before it can be integrated with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion spacecraft will go through a final round of testing and assembly, including end-to-end performance verification of the vehicle’s subsystems, checking for leaks in the spacecraft’s propulsion systems, installing its solar array wings, performing spacecraft closeouts and pressurizing a subset of its tanks in preparation for flight.

Orion spacecraft. Animation Credit: ESA

Orion will then begin its ground processing journey with Exploration Ground Systems. The first stop on the journey will be at Kennedy’s Multi-Payload Processing Facility for fueling and pressurizing of its remaining tanks, and after this, to the Launch Abort System Facility for integration with the spacecraft’s launch abort system (LAS). After installation of the LAS, engineers will transport Orion to the Vehicle Assembly Building, where they will stack the spacecraft atop SLS when the rocket arrives to Kennedy. Once integrated with SLS, a team of technicians and engineers will perform additional tests and checkouts to verify Orion and SLS operate as expected together.

“The Artemis program is the future of human space exploration, and to be a part of the design, assembly and testing of NASA’s newest spacecraft is an incredible, once-in-a-career opportunity,” said Amy Marasia, spacecraft assembly operations lead in Orion production operations at Kennedy. “Witnessing the daily transformation of numerous individual flight hardware components and parts into a fully equipped and operational spacecraft is one of my favorite parts of this job.”

NASA’s Super Guppy transport was assisted by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), who provide specialized equipment and services to load and offload the spacecraft from the Super Guppy, and the Ohio Air National Guard, who provided supplemental air cargo transport services for support equipment and overnight hangar storage for the spacecraft prior to the Super Guppy airlift. NASA, DoD and the Ohio Air National Guard made the decision to continue with the transport operation after a full assessment determined that the risks to personnel due to COVID-19 would be low and could be reduced by steps taken during the operation.

Image above: After four months of rigorous testing in the world’s premier space environments simulation facility at NASA’s Plum Brook Station, the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission is certified and another step toward being ready for flight. Image Credits: NASA/Marvin Smith.

“NASA sincerely thanks the DoD personnel from the United States Air Force’s Air Mobility Command who helped us accomplish this mission essential operation during these trying times,” said Mark Kirasich, manager for the Orion Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Specifically, we’d like to thank the 437th Aerial Port Squadron from Joint Base Charleston and the 305th Aerial Port Squadron/87th Logistics Readiness Squadron from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst of the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command, the 45th Logistics Readiness Squadron from Patrick Air Force Base of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, and the 179th Airlift Wing from Mansfield-Lahm of the Ohio Air National Guard.”

Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. Through the Gateway – an outpost in lunar orbit – the agency will develop a sustainable presence in deep space, taking what crew members learn on the lunar surface and applying that to the journey on to Mars. As the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion, Artemis I is critical to providing the foundation for human deep-space exploration.

“With Orion back at Kennedy, we’re ready,” said Scott Wilson, NASA Orion production operations manager. “Ready to finalize the vehicle and send it to be integrated for its voyage to deep space, tackling the next era of human space exploration.”

Related links:

Orion spacecraft:

Artemis I:

Space Launch System (SLS):

Exploration Ground Systems: https://c/Users/bmostert/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/Content.Outlook/8UD7L80F/

Vehicle Assembly Building:

Artemis program:


Glenn Research Center:

Kennedy Space Center:

Images (mentioned) Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/KSC/Danielle Sempsrott.


mercredi 25 mars 2020

The largest hole ever seen above the North Pole

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

March 25, 2020

The largest hole in the ozone layer ever observed above the North Pole has recently emerged.

Hole in the ozone layer from 1979 to 2013

A hole has formed in the ozone layer above the North Pole. This phenomenon, which only occurred in 1997 and 2011, has also produced this time the largest hole ever observed above the North Pole, announced Tuesday the Royal Belgian Meteorological Institute (RMI).

The presence of the hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole is an annual phenomenon, starting in August and disappearing in November. However, the presence of such a hole above the North Pole is on the other hand quite rare, since it seems to occur only approximately once per decade (the previous ones date back to 1997 and 2011).

While the hole observed in 2019 above the South Pole had been one of the smallest in 30 years, the hole that formed above the North Pole seems to be the widest of the three ever observed. "Although these two phenomena are not linked, they develop via the same process", explained the IRM relayed by the Belga press agency.

Holes in the ozone layer are caused by chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, emitted into the atmosphere for decades through the use of aerosols, refrigerants, pesticides and other solvents, now prohibited by the Montreal Protocol, adopted in 1987.

Exceptionally strong vortex

These CFCs have reached the stratosphere, a layer of the atmosphere, which extends between 10 and 50 km above the Earth's surface. But these gases have a very long lifespan (more than 100 years for some) and continue to affect the ozone layer, our "sun protection", which retains most of the solar UV radiation, dangerous for humans.

For the time being, the temperatures observed above the North Pole, at an altitude of around 20 km, are reaching record minimum values ​​and the polar vortex is exceptionally strong.

With very low temperatures, CFCs form, with the rare traces of water present in the stratosphere (in the form of ice or vapor), pearly clouds, explains the IRM. When sunlight reaches these clouds, the CFCs present break the ozone molecules very actively.

Currently, “although the spring light of the Sun is back over the North Pole, pearly clouds are still observed at the level of the polar vortex. This exceptional situation causes the presence of a hole in the ozone layer, ”continues the MRI.

In the coming weeks, the sunlight will warm the stratosphere above the North Pole, which will make the pearly clouds disappear and leave the hole in the ozone layer to disappear by itself.

Related links:

Royal Belgian Meteorological Institute (RMI):




Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio - Licence : CC BY-NC/AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Robotics Work, Space Biology Keep Station Humming

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

March 25, 2020

Robotic controllers unloaded new research hardware off a U.S. cargo craft today for installation outside the International Space Station. Inside the orbital lab, the Expedition 62 crew continued exploring microgravity’s impact on a variety of life forms.

The reusable SpaceX Dragon resupply ship today offered the Bartolomeo science payload system for installation on Europe’s Columbus laboratory module. Robotics engineers on the ground commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to extract Bartolomeo from Dragon’s unpressurized trunk and stage it for installation later. The European research device will enable numerous external science experiments to be conducted and controlled outside the space station.

Image above: The Canadarm2 robotic arm is pictured as the International Space Station flew into an orbital sunrise above the Pacific Ocean. Image Credit: NASA.

Botany, biology and physics were the focus of today’s research aboard the orbiting lab. The space science work is helping NASA keep astronauts safe and healthy as it plans missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Flight Engineer Jessica Meir of NASA spent a couple of hours on botany research learning how to cultivate vegetables and fruits in space. She also continued the Vascular Echo study attaching a sensor to her leg that monitored her arteries during a light exercise session.

Afterward, she joined fellow NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan servicing and photographing samples of gut microbes. The study seeks to understand how microgravity enriches and depletes the microbes that affect crew health.

International Space Station(ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The duo also unpacked samples that were exposed to the harsh environment of space outside of the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. Scientists want to understand what happens to materials such as paint, metals and other substances that could make up future spacecraft and habitats experiencing long-term space radiation and differing gravity environments.

Commander Oleg Skripochka updated the station’s inventory system today after unloading and organizing cargo inside the Russian Progress 74 space freighter. The veteran cosmonaut also worked on computers and communications gear before some research on crew dynamics.

The next to crew to launch to the station, Expedition 63, is in Kazakhstan today getting fitted in their Sokol launch and entry and Soyuz MS-16 crew ship seats. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will lift off April 9 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to begin a 195-day mission on the orbiting lab.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Expedition 63:

SpaceX Dragon:


Columbus laboratory module:


Cultivate vegetables and fruits in space:

Vascular Echo:

Kibo laboratory module:


Progress 74:

Crew dynamics:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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New 3D View of Methane Tracks Sources and Movement around the Globe

NASA logo.

March 25, 2020

NASA’s new 3-dimensional portrait of methane concentrations shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming, the diversity of sources on the ground, and the behavior of the gas as it moves through the atmosphere. Combining multiple data sets from emissions inventories, including fossil fuel, agricultural, biomass burning and biofuels, and simulations of wetland sources into a high-resolution computer model, researchers now have an additional tool for understanding this complex gas and its role in Earth’s carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, and climate system.

Image above: Tracking Methane Sources and Movement Around the Globe. Image Credits: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio.

Since the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled. After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most influential greenhouse gas, responsible for 20 to 30% of Earth’s rising temperatures to date.

“There’s an urgency in understanding where the sources are coming from so that we can be better prepared to mitigate methane emissions where there are opportunities to do so,” said research scientist Ben Poulter at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA Models Methane Sources, Movement Around Globe

Video above: NASA’s new 3-dimensional portrait of methane shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming as it travels through the atmosphere. Combining multiple data sets from emissions inventories and simulations of wetlands into a high-resolution computer model, researchers now have an additional tool for understanding this complex gas and its role in Earth’s carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, and climate system. The new data visualization builds a fuller picture of the diversity of methane sources on the ground as well as the behavior of the gas as it moves through the atmosphere. Video Credits: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio.

A single molecule of methane is more efficient at trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide, but because the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere is shorter and carbon dioxide concentrations are much higher, carbon dioxide still remains the main contributor to climate change. Methane also has many more sources than carbon dioxide, these include the energy and agricultural sectors, as well as natural sources from various types of wetlands and water bodies.

“Methane is a gas that’s produced under anaerobic conditions, so that means when there’s no oxygen available, you’ll likely find methane being produced,” said Poulter. In addition to fossil fuel activities, primarily from the coal, oil and gas sectors, sources of methane also include the ocean, flooded soils in vegetated wetlands along rivers and lakes, agriculture, such as rice cultivation, and the stomachs of ruminant livestock, including cattle.

“It is estimated that up to 60% of the current methane flux from land to the atmosphere is the result of human activities,” said Abhishek Chatterjee, a carbon cycle scientist with Universities Space Research Association based at Goddard. “Similar to carbon dioxide, human activity over long time periods is increasing atmospheric methane concentrations faster than the removal from natural ‘sinks’ can offset it. As human populations continue to grow, changes in energy use, agriculture and rice cultivation, livestock raising will influence methane emissions. However, it’s difficult to predict future trends due to both lack of measurements and incomplete understanding of the carbon-climate feedbacks.”

Researchers are using computer models to try to build a more complete picture of methane, said research meteorologist Lesley Ott with the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at Goddard. “We have pieces that tell us about the emissions, we have pieces that tell us something about the atmospheric concentrations, and the models are basically the missing piece tying all that together and helping us understand where the methane is coming from and where it’s going.”

To create a global picture of methane, Ott, Chatterjee, Poulter and their colleagues used methane data from emissions inventories reported by countries, NASA field campaigns, like the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) and observations from the Japanese Space Agency’s Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT Ibuki)  and the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite. They combined the data sets with a computer model that estimates methane emissions based on known processes for certain land-cover types, such as wetlands. The model also simulates the atmospheric chemistry that breaks down methane and removes it from the air. Then they used a weather model to see how methane traveled and behaved over time while in the atmosphere.

The data visualization of their results shows methane’s ethereal movements and illuminates its complexities both in space over various landscapes and with the seasons. Once methane emissions are lofted up into the atmosphere, high-altitude winds can transport it far beyond their sources.

When they first saw the data visualized, several locations stood out.

Animation above: In South America, the Amazon River basin and its adjacent wetlands flood seasonally, creating an oxygen-deprived environment that is a significant source of methane. Animation Credits: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio.

In South America, the Amazon River basin and its adjacent wetlands flood seasonally, creating an oxygen-deprived environment that is a significant source of methane. Globally, about 60% of methane emissions come from the tropics, so it’s important to understand the various human and natural sources, said Poulter.

Animation above: European methane sources are influenced by the human population and the exploration and transport of oil, gas and coal from the energy sector. Animation Credits: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio.

Over Europe, the methane signal is not as strong as over the Amazon. European methane sources are influenced by the human population and the exploration and transport of oil, gas and coal from the energy sector.

Animation above: In India, rice cultivation and livestock are the two driving sources of methane. Animation Credits: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio.

In India, rice cultivation and livestock are the two driving sources of methane. “Agriculture is responsible for about 20% of global methane emissions and includes enteric fermentation, which is the processing of food in the guts of cattle, mainly, but also includes how we manage the waste products that come from livestock and other agricultural activities,” said Poulter.

Animation above: China’s economic expansion and large population drive the high demand for oil, gas and coal exploration for industry as well as agriculture production, which are its underlying sources of methane. Animation Credits: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio.

China’s economic expansion and large population drive the high demand for oil, gas and coal exploration for industry as well as agriculture production, which are its underlying sources of methane.

Animation above: The Arctic and high-latitude regions are responsible for about 20% of global methane emissions. Animation Credits: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio.

The Arctic and high-latitude regions are responsible for about 20% of global methane emissions. “What happens in the Arctic, doesn’t always stay in the Arctic,” Ott said. “There’s a massive amount of carbon that’s stored in the northern high latitudes. One of the things scientists are really concerned about is whether or not, as the soils warm, more of that carbon could be released to the atmosphere. Right now, what you’re seeing in this visualization is not very strong pulses of methane, but we’re watching that very closely because we know that’s a place that is changing rapidly and that could change dramatically over time.”

“One of the challenges with understanding the global methane budget has been to reconcile the atmospheric perspective on where we think methane is being produced versus the bottom-up perspective, or how we use country-level reporting or land surface models to estimate methane emissions,” said Poulter. “The visualization that we have here can help us understand this top-down and bottom-up discrepancy and help us also reduce the uncertainties in our understanding of the global methane budget by giving us visual cues and a qualitative understanding of how methane moves around the atmosphere and where it’s produced.”

The model data of methane sources and transport will also help in the planning of both future field and satellite missions. Currently, NASA has a planned satellite called GeoCarb that will launch around 2023 to provide geostationary space-based observations of methane in the atmosphere over much of the western hemisphere.

Related links:




Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sara Blumberg/Earth Science News Team, by Ellen Gray.


Astronaut Conducts Heart Research on Station with Former Colleague

ISS - International Space Station logo.

March 25, 2020

When NASA astronaut Jessica Meir recently slipped her hands into the Life Sciences Glovebox on the International Space Station to conduct a new investigation on heart tissues, she brought a lengthy scientific collaboration full circle.

Before Meir became an astronaut in 2013 and flew to the space station in July 2019, she had extensive experience with biological research. In 1999, during her final undergraduate year at Brown University, she connected with PhD student Peter Lee. Meir and Lee worked in the same lab, and Lee selected Meir for a team that studied suturing in microgravity as part of what was NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities, now Microgravity University. A graduate of the master’s program at the then relatively new International Space University in France, he encouraged Meir to attend as well; she earned a master’s there before completing a doctorate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (UCSD).

Animation above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir sets up the Engineered Heart Tissues investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

Now, Meir is working with Lee once again, this time from space. Currently an assistant professor of surgery in the cardiac division at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Lee is a coinvestigator on the Engineered Heart Tissues experiment that Meir conducted in the glovebox aboard station.

“Peter was instrumental in fostering my dream of becoming an astronaut,” Meir says. “He opened my eyes to and facilitated involvement in space-related opportunities that may otherwise have completely passed me by. Carrying out this experiment on the space station is extremely rewarding, not only because I’m contributing to top-notch science, but also because I feel as if I’m giving something back to Peter.”

The investigation looks at how human heart tissue functions in space. It uses unique 3D tissues made from heart cells called cardiomyocytes derived from human induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (hiPSCs), essentially adult stem cells. The engineered heart tissues, or EHTs, are complex 3D structures, each about the size of a few grains of rice. These structures are more similar to tissues in the body than flat cell cultures in a petri dish or those floating in a flask of liquid.

Researchers expect significant differences in function, structure, and gene expression between EHTs in microgravity and those on the ground. Understanding these differences could help them find ways to prevent or mitigate problematic changes on future long-duration missions.

“We know that microgravity and spaceflight in general have impacts on pretty much every system in the body, and the cardiovascular system is no exception,” Lee says. “We don’t know what happens at the tissue level, though, and it is hard to keep cells in culture long enough to do long-term studies. The engineered tissue allows us to study long-duration effects.”

This investigation employs a new type of sensor that uses magnets to easily record muscle contractions and measures the rate and amount of force the muscle tissues generate in real time. Traditionally, taking such measurements has been difficult, Lee says.

Image above: In this official portrait from 2018, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir wears an Extravehicular Mobility Unit or spacesuit. Since arriving at the space station in July 2019, Meir has conducted three spacewalks, including the first all-female spacewalk with former crew member Christina Koch. Image Credit: NASA.

“The traditional way is with a force transducer, a mechanical device that measures the force when you push or pull on it, like when you stand on a scale.” The EHTs in this investigation form around flexible posts with tiny magnets on one of their ends. When the muscle tissue contracts, the posts move, changing the magnetic field between the posts and the external magnet. Based on that change, the sensor calculates the post’s movement and the force generated by the muscle.

“Another benefit of the investigation is that we had to miniaturize and automate the technology as much as possible to send it to space,” Lee says. “Now we have a really advanced, more efficient and more cost-effective technology for use on Earth.”

Before proteins are made, cells make RNA, which acts as a messenger to carry instructions from DNA for controlling the process of making proteins. During the investigation, crew members are preserving some of the EHTs so researchers can measure the RNA they synthesize.

“We can analyze and look at the amount of RNA made for thousands of genes at that moment in time, which tells us which genes are turned on or off and at what levels they are expressed,” Lee explains. Researchers also will bring some EHTs back to Earth to see whether they recover from changes observed in microgravity.

Principal investigator on the study is Deok-Ho Kim at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and the project includes other co-investigators from the University of Washington. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded this research as part of the Tissue Chips in Space initiative, and it is one of nine initiative projects in the ISS U.S. National Laboratory portfolio. EHT builds on previous ISS National Lab research by Joseph Wu, Lee, and Arun Sharma.

By helping scientists understand the mechanisms of how 3D heart cells react to microgravity, this research could assist patients with heart disease on Earth and possibly offer clues for how to protect astronauts on their journey to Mars and back.

“From a personal perspective, it highlights the value of collaboration and mentorship,” Meir says. “It is so wonderful to bring things full circle from the two of us working together over 20 years ago with the shared dream of flying in space to working together on Peter’s experiment on the space station. When you reach out and give what you can to encourage someone and foster their dreams, your efforts may be exactly what it takes to turn those dreams into reality.”

Related links:

Microgravity University:

Engineered Heart Tissues:

Tissue Chips in Space:

ISS U.S. National Laboratory:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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