vendredi 3 avril 2020

Mission to Mars

Cyprus Spacewalk Space Festival 2020 poster / Aerospace logo.

April 4, 2020

Anticipation article dedicated to the Cyprus Spacewalk Space Festival 2020, which unfortunately will not take place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earth moving away

2035, ten years after the return of man to the Moon, here we are from Earth's orbit in the direction of Mars. A trip of longer in automatic mode's of one year trip with the return.


Six months later, here we are at the Matian Gateway, ready to dock with the Mars orbital station. Our Antares spacecraft releases the Martian Ares lander. This will dock with the Matian Gateway. Then it's our turn.

Mission to Mars

Once these maneuvers have been carried out, we disembark and take our places in the orbital station. The crew is divided into two groups: the one who will remain in the station and those who will land on Mars, the roles have already been predefined since the start of the mission. The crew that remains on board the station is made up of a biologist / chemist and a specialist in planets and meteorologist as well as the pilot and engineer of Antares.

 Mars topography and locations

In the group that lands on Mars, there are two scientists and a mission specialist (pilot, engineer). The Ares lander is ready for departure from the orbital station, it unlocks, makes a remote maneuver and starts its main engine to start its descent on Mars.

Mars geology and locations

The Astronauts will live "seven minutes of terror" during the atmospheric entry phase, that of Mars is much less dense than that of Earth and is only 30 km thick. Lander landed on Mars, everything went well, the lander landed in the right place, at Solis Planum near East of Valles Marineris. It is a small step for a man, but a big step for humanity.

Mars, the Paradise of Geologists and Mineralogists!

Mars, the Paradise of Geologists and Mineralogists! How many rock formations to explore, analyze, work awaits us! Astronauts install the first Martian Base. They deploy the transmission instrument and devices. Set up the compact nuclear power plant, projectors and deploy the Rover.

Mission to Mars 2

Geologist and mineralogist take the Rover to take an exploration trip to the edge of the Valles Marineris canyon. The view is breathtaking! They take the opportunity to collect soil and rock samples. Once the samples are loaded in the Rover, return to the "home" (Mars Base).

At the edge of Valles Marineris canyon

A month has passed and it is time to return to the Martian orbital station. Lift off smoothly and here we are in orbit. Approach to Gateway, docking at the station and unloading of Martian samples and transfer to the Antares spacecraft. Dismantling of the station and departure for the return to Earth.

End of mission.

Editor & writer note:

Hoping that this article will have made you travel a bit in these difficult times of confinement, a big thank you to the whole festival team and to the readers and see you next year for the 2021 edition. Best regards, take care, Roland Berga.

Related links:


KITION PLANETARIUM & OBSERVATORY (CYPRUS) on Facebook: Aerospace on Facebook: Aerospace - YouTube: Space News: Space News, Daily: Aerospace - Add-on's for Orbiter Space Flight Simulator: Aerospace - Add-on's for Flight Simulator X (FSX) and IL-2 Sturmovik 1946:

Images, Animations, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA/JPLCaltech/ESA/HubbleWikimedia/ Aerospace/ Aerospace Studio/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

3D Printing, Biology Research Make the Journey Back to Earth aboard SpaceX’s Dragon

ISS - International Space Station logo.

April 3, 2020

On March 9, 2020, a Dragon cargo spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station carrying dozens of scientific experiments as a part of SpaceX’s 20th cargo resupply mission. Now, Dragon heads home. On April 7, it is scheduled to undock from station, bringing samples, hardware and data from completed investigations back to Earth on its return trip.

Here are details on some of the investigations returning to the ground for further analysis and reporting of results.

Generating a nutritional meal

Image above: These BioNutrients packets aboard the International Space Station demonstrate a technology that enables on-demand production of human nutrients during long-duration space missions. Image Credit: NASA.

Planning ways to supply food for a multi-year mission on the Moon or Mars while keeping astronauts healthy on the long trip may require making fresh food and nutrients in space. BioNutrients demonstrates a technology that enables on-demand production of nutrients needed for during long-duration space missions.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan works with packets for the BioNutrients investigation aboard the space station. Animation Credit: NASA.

The process uses microbes, such as baker’s yeast, expressly engineered to make fresh nutrients for human consumption starting from dry powdered media — food for the yeast — and water. The fresh nutrients can supplement potential vitamin losses from food that is stored for very long periods. Over the five-year period of the demonstration, astronauts intermittently activate specially designed packets containing the yeast — or other microorganisms, in the future — and their food. They warm the packets for two days to allow the yeast to do its job, growing and producing the desired nutrients, and then freeze them for return to Earth for analysis. These tests will allow scientists to check how long their specially engineered yeast can be stored on the shelf and still be able to churn out fresh nutrients that humans need to stay healthy in space. Some samples will be returning on this SpaceX Dragon capsule. Although designed for space, this system also could help provide nutrition for people in remote areas of our planet.

Toward printing human organs in space

Biological printing of the tiny, complex structures found inside human organs, such as capillaries, has proven difficult in Earth’s gravity. Under Earth’s gravity, an initial scaffolding, or support structure, is necessary to form the desired shape of the tissue. The BioFabrication Facility (BFF) attempts to take the first steps toward printing human organs and tissues in microgravity using ultra-fine layers of bioink that may be several times smaller than the width of a human hair. This research is part of a long-term plan to manufacture entire human organs in space using refined biological 3D printing techniques.

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch handles media bags for the BioFabrication Facility (BFF), a 3D biological printer that could become a part of a larger system capable of manufacturing fully functioning human organs in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

Launched to station in July 2019 on the 18th SpaceX cargo resupply flight, the facility now comes back to Earth. According to Techshot President and CEO John Vellinger, the facility has proven basic functionality. The team is bringing the facility back to Earth to make upgrades that will enable high throughput use when it returns to the space station.

Helping the heart

The Engineered Heart Tissues study looks at how human heart tissue functions in space. It uses unique 3D tissues made from heart cells 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.

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir works on a media change for the Engineered Heart Tissues investigation inside the Life Sciences Glovebox. Image Credit: NASA.

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. The hardware developed for the experiment also has created advanced, more efficient and more cost-effective technology for use on Earth. Researchers are bringing some EHTs back to Earth to see whether they recover from changes thought to occur in microgravity.

Biofilm festival

Animation above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch conducts operations for Space Biofilms. This investigation examines microbial species and their formation of biofilms, communities of microorganisms that attach to each other and to different surfaces. Animation Credit: NASA.

Samples from the Space Biofilms investigation, which examines microbial species and their formation of biofilms, are returning on Dragon. Biofilms are collections of one or more types of microorganisms – including bacteria, fungi and protists – that grow on wet surfaces. In spacecraft, biofilm formation can cause equipment malfunction and human illness, and it could pose a serious problem on future long-term human space missions. Better control of biofilms may help maintain crewed spacecraft and protect the health and safety of crew members as well as help prevent the introduction of Earth-based microbes to planetary bodies on which humans land.

Examining amyloid formation in microgravity

Image above: NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague are pictured inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module. Hague was setting up the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox to begin operations for the Ring-Sheared Drop experiment
to understand how fluids flow in the human body and other materials. Image Credit: NASA.

The Ring Sheared Drop investigation takes advantage of the fact that fluids float in microgravity, allowing researchers to examine formation of amyloid fibrils in liquids held together by surface tension rather than by a container. Amyloids are abnormal fibrous deposits found in organs and tissues and are associated with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. These proteins can denature -- or lose characteristic properties -- and precipitate, or come out of solution. As they accumulate over time, they may disrupt the healthy function of tissues and organs. Results from this experiment could contribute to a better understanding of and treatments for these neurodegenerative diseases. Data on the flow of liquids without the complications associated with solid walls also could contribute to development of advanced materials. Samples from this experiment are returning on Dragon.

Related links:


BioFabrication Facility (BFF):

Engineered Heart Tissues:

Space Biofilms:

Ring Sheared Drop:

ISS National Lab:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Hubble Captures a Cannibal Galaxy

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

April 3, 2020

This remarkable spiral galaxy, known as NGC 4651, may look serene and peaceful as it swirls in the vast, silent emptiness of space, but don’t be fooled — it keeps a violent secret. It is believed that this galaxy consumed another smaller galaxy to become the large and beautiful spiral that we observe today.

Although only a telescope like the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, which captured this image, could give us a picture this clear, NGC 4651 can also be observed with an amateur telescope — so if you have a telescope at home and a star-gazing eye, look out for this glittering carnivorous spiral.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of March 30, 2020

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

April 3, 2020

The week of March 30, scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station included studies of plant growth and a foam pellet manufacturing process in space.

Image above: NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan works on packing operations in preparation for the departure of SpaceX’s Dragon resupply craft, scheduled for Monday, April 6. Morgan is wearing a “penguin suit” used to provide body compression for a few weeks before crew members leave the space station. Morgan and fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir are scheduled to return to Earth on April 17 aboard the Soyuz MS-15 crew ship. 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.

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

How does your microgravity garden grow?

Future long-duration space missions likely will need to grow their own food, but organisms, including plants, grow differently in space. Understanding how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrating their reliable growth on orbit are important steps toward that goal. Veggie PONDS (Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System) uses a passive nutrient delivery system and the station’s Veggie plant growth facility to cultivate lettuce and mizuna greens that are harvested on-orbit. The crew consumes some of the harvest and returns samples to Earth for analysis. During the week, crew members refilled the water reservoirs for the Veggie PONDS modules.

Students send code into space

Image above: The visual and infrared cameras on the AstroPi computers, shown in the Columbus European Laboratory of the space station. The project supports computing and coding curricula by allowing young people to write computer programs for space experiments with 'Life in Space' or 'Life on Earth' as themes. Image Credit: ESA.

This week, crew members upgraded system software on the space station’s AstroPi computers. These two augmented Raspberry Pi computers are equipped with hardware that measures the environment inside the space station, detects how the station moves through space, and picks up the Earth’s magnetic field. One has an infrared camera and the other a standard visible spectrum camera. The ESA (European Space Agency) AstroPi Challenge offers students and other young people the opportunity to conduct scientific investigations in space by writing computer programs or code for the AstroPis, with either 'Life in Space' or 'Life on Earth' as themes for their experiments.

A study with sole

BOOST Orbital Operations on Spheroid Tessellation (adidas BOOST™) examines the process of particle foam mold filling using different types of pellets. On Earth, adidas makes performance shoe midsoles from thousands of individual foam pellets blown into a mold and fused together. Using only one type of pellet creates uniform foam and shoe sole properties. Including multiple pellet types can give engineers the ability to change mechanical properties and optimize performance and comfort for athletes. Several factors influence the final position of pellets in the mold with multiple pellet types, however, and removing gravity from the equation allows engineers to focus on factors that they can change in the manufacturing process on Earth. During the week, the crew performed operations for the pellet distribution system with new procedures intended to increase the flow.

Determining the effects of long-term space travel

The crew performed routine maintenance for the continuing JAXA Mouse Habitat Unit-5 (MHU-5), which examines the effects of partial gravity on mice using the Centrifuge-equipped Biological Experiment Facility-L (CBEF-L) developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Stress caused by partial gravity may alter gene expression in cells of the body. This investigation analyzes any such alterations and their possible effects on development of germ cells, which carry genetic information and expression to subsequent generations.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- 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 Probiotics investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) studies whether beneficial bacteria or probiotics can improve the intestinal microbiota and immune function and help protect astronaut health on long-duration space missions.

- The Fluid Shifts investigation measures how much fluid moves from the lower to the upper body and in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the effect on fluid pressure in the head, vision and eye structures.

- Bartolomeo is an external payload hosting facility from the ESA (European Space Agency) and Airbus 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.

Image above: The Canadarm2 robotic arm and Dextre, the fine-tuned robotic hand, extract Bartolomeo from the pressurized trunk of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship. Bartolomeo is an ESA (European Space Agency) platform to enable external science experiments conducted and controlled outside of the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

- 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.

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.

Space to Ground: Bartolomeo: 04/03/2020

Related links:

Expedition 62:


Veggie PONDS:


Adidas BOOST™:



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 Expedition 62.

Best regards,

Smart surfaces for space hygiene

ESA - Proxima Mission patch.

April 3, 2020

Matiss-2 experiment on the Space Station

While efforts continue to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus on Earth, a space-based experiment called Matiss has been investigating how ‘smart surfaces’ on the International Space Station could stop pathogens in their tracks.

The experiment examines the performance of five advanced materials in preventing illness-causing microorganisms from settling and growing in microgravity. Matiss (Microbial Aerosol Tethering on Innovative Surfaces in the international Space Station) is driven by the French space agency (CNES) and was commissioned in 2016 during ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet’s Proxima mission.

Thomas Pesquet on the International Space Station

Materials sent to the Space Station were selected for their ability to respond to a given stimulus by repelling microorganisms, preventing their growth, or creating their own biofilms to provide a protective shield. They included a mix of advanced technology, from self-assembly monolayers and green polymers, to ceramic polymers and water-repellent hybrid silica.

Understanding the effectiveness and potential use of these materials will be essential to the design of future spacecraft, but could also lead to development and greater use of antimicrobial surfaces on elevator buttons and door handles, in bars, on public transport and in other high-traffic areas.

Reducing the risk

The confined environment of the International Space Station, where air and water are constantly recycled and waste is stored onboard, is the ideal environment for testing such surfaces.

Saturday cleaning day on Space Station

Astronauts already undertake a strict period of quarantine prior to launch and carry out regular, thorough cleaning once on Station to reduce the risk of illness and infection. However, surfaces that respond protectively to airborne bacteria would be easier to clean and more hygienic.

Evolution of an experiment

The first set of the Matiss experiment, known as Matiss-1, provided some baseline data points for researchers. Four sample holders – each containing the five materials to be tested plus a glass control surface – were set up in three different locations within the European Columbus laboratory, where they remained for six months. 

Once these samples were returned to Earth, researchers characterised the deposits formed on each surface and used the control material to establish a reference for the level and type of contamination expected over half a year.

Clean house

A continuation of the experiment, known as Matiss-2, saw four identical sample holders containing three different types of material installed in a single location in Columbus. This study aimed to better understand how contamination spreads across the hydrophobic and control surfaces.

Sample holders from Matiss-2 were returned to Earth on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in August 2019. At that time, NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan also installed a further set of two sample holders in Columbus, which aim to test new patterned hydrophobic (liquid-repelling) surfaces.

Related links:


Human and Robotic Exploration:

Science & Exploration:

International Space Station (ISS):

European Space Agency (ESA):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/CNES/Emmanuel Grimault, 2016.

Best regards,

Choosing rocks on Mars to bring to Earth

NASA - Perseverance Mars Rover logo.

April 3, 2020

If you could bring something back from Mars to Earth, what would you choose? This question is becoming reality, as ESA opens a call for scientists to join a NASA team working to determine which martian samples should be collected and stored by the Perseverance rover set to launch this Summer.

Mars landscape

Perseverance is a standalone mission seeking signs of habitable conditions on our neighbour planet, but it is also part of the international Mars Sample Return campaign that ESA Member States agreed to finance last year during Space19+.

Perseverance rover

Traveling over 53 million km to Mars, landing, collecting samples and launching a vehicle to return to Earth is unprecedented. This campaign will span a decade and involve four launches, including three from Earth and the first launch from another planet.

Mars Sample Return overview infographic

Interplanetary geo-caching
Sample Fetch Rover for Mars Sample Return campaign

When Perseverance lands on Mars it will scout the area for over a year. One of its main tasks will be to collect samples in cigar-sized metal cylinders that it will leave on the surface for pickup at a later date.  As part of this international collaboration, ESA plans to provide a sophisticated Sample Fetch Rover to be operated during NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander mission in the middle of this decade.

Earth Return Orbiter catching Mars sample capsule

The ESA rover will collect the samples that the Perseverance rover gathered and bring them to the lander, where they will be carefully stored in a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). The MAV will launch the sample container from the martian surface, placing it in orbit around Mars.

Earth Return Orbiter leaving Mars orbit

Another important ESA contribution will be the biggest and most robust spacecraft flying to Mars – the Earth Return Orbiter that will rendezvous with the sample and bring it to Earth.

Packing for a return to Earth
Earth Return Orbiter releasing Mars sample capsule

Although the full campaign is in its early project phase, scientific experts must be selected now so they can begin training and operate alongside the Perseverance science team to enhance the value of the samples that will be collected. The selected scientists will also have to anticipate the needs of future investigators who may analyse these samples for a very diverse range of studies on Earth.

Martian soil

“We encourage applications from experts outside of the space field,” says ESA’s interim Mars Sample Return Programme Scientist Dr. Gerhard Kminek. “We need field geologists and laboratory experts who know how to pick the right samples based on information from the instruments that Perseverance has on-board.”

Mars Sample Return Earth Return Orbiter elements

ESA’s human spaceflight team leader adds, “experts selected through this call will receive training to form part of the international team of martian-geologists-at-a-distance. These are exciting times and we are looking forward to receiving the best proposals Europe has to offer.”

Uncovering the secrets of our Solar System

Studying Mars samples on Earth will allow scientists to use instruments more powerful than anything that could be flown on robotic missions.  The chance to learn and share resources, including sending samples to the best laboratories around the world, offers incredible opportunities for new discoveries.

Mars Express view of Terra Sabaea and Arabia Terra

Samples may be analysed again and again, enabling new information to be extracted – much like with lunar samples brought to Earth in the 1960s and 1970s, which continue to reveal new discoveries to this day.

Gerhard concludes, “There are many reasons to study Mars, but one of the most pressing is that, while life arose and evolved on Earth, we still don’t know if life had a chance on Mars. Planetary scientists can study rocks, sediments and soils for clues to uncover the geological and potential biological history of Mars. Then, by comparing those findings with Earth we also learn more about our own planet.”

Apply for this opportunity to contribute to ground-breaking science through ESA’s Announcement of Opportunity page for Human and Robotic Exploration research:

Related links:


Mars Sample Return campaign:

Mars Express:

Human and Robotic Exploration:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/ATG medialab.


jeudi 2 avril 2020

NASA Outlines Lunar Surface Sustainability Concept

NASA - Artemis Program logo.

April 2, 2020

When NASA sends astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024, it will be the first time outside of watching historical footage most people witness humans walking on another planetary body. Building on these footsteps, future robotic and human explorers will put in place infrastructure for a long-term sustainable presence on the Moon.

Image above: Infographic showing the evolution of lunar activities on the surface and in orbit. Image Credit: NASA. 

NASA recently proposed a plan to go from limited, short-term Apollo-era exploration of the 1960s, to a 21st Century plan in a report to the National Space Council. With the Artemis program, we will explore more of the Moon than ever before to make the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

“After 20 years of continuously living in low-Earth orbit, we’re now ready for the next great challenge of space exploration – the development of a sustained presence on and around the Moon,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “For years to come, Artemis will serve as our North Star as we continue to work toward even greater exploration of the Moon, where we will demonstrate key elements needed for the first human mission to Mars.”

On the surface, the core elements for a sustained presence would include an emphasis on mobility to allow astronauts to explore more of the Moon and conduct more science:

- A lunar terrain vehicle or LTV, would transport crew around the landing zone

Image above: Concept image showing the view of a crew Lunar Terrain Vehicle. Image Credit: NASA.

- The habitable mobility platform would enable crews to take trips across the Moon lasting up to 45 days

- A lunar foundation surface habitat would house as many as four crew members on shorter surface stays

Astronauts working on the lunar surface also could test advanced robotics, as well as a wide set of new technologies identified in the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative, focusing on tech development in the areas such as of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and power systems. Rovers will carry a variety of instruments including ISRU experiments that will generate information on the availability and extraction of usable resources (e.g., oxygen and water). Advancing these technologies could enable the production of fuel, water, and/or oxygen from local materials, enabling sustainable surface operations with decreasing supply needs from Earth.

Another key difference from Apollo and Artemis will be use of the Gateway in lunar orbit, built with commercial and international partners. The lunar outpost will serve as a command and control module for surface expeditions and an office and home for astronauts away from Earth. Operating autonomously when crew is not present, it also will be a platform for new science and technology demonstrations around the Moon.

Over time, NASA and its partners will enhance the lunar Gateway’s habitation capabilities and related life support systems. Adding a large-volume deep space habitation element would allow astronauts to test capabilities around the Moon for long-duration deep space missions.

While the goal of Apollo was to land the first humans on the Moon, the Artemis program will use the Moon as a testbed for crewed exploration farther into the solar system, beginning with Mars. This is America’s Moon to Mars space exploration approach. A proposed multi-month split-crew operation at the Gateway and on the lunar surface would test the agency’s concept for a human mission to the Red Planet.

For such a mission, NASA envisions a four-person crew traveling to the Gateway and living aboard the outpost for a multi-month stay to simulate the outbound trip to Mars. Later, two crew members would travel to the lunar surface and explore with the habitable mobility platform, while the remaining two astronauts stay aboard Gateway. The four crew members are later reunited aboard the lunar outpost for another multi-month stay, simulating the return trip to Earth. This mission would be the longest duration human deep space mission in history and would be the first operational test of the readiness of our deep-space systems.

The report also highlights a robotic return to the surface beginning next year for scientific discovery. The Moon is a natural laboratory to study planetary processes and evolution, and a platform from which to observe the universe. NASA will send dozens of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon with its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. Some of these robotic precursors, including the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover or VIPER, will study the terrain, and metal and ice resources at the lunar South Pole.

Image above: An artist's concept of NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER. VIPER is a mobile robot that will roam around the Moon’s south pole looking for water ice. The VIPER mission will give us surface-level detail of where the water is and how much is available for us to use. This will bring us a significant step closer towards NASA’s ultimate goal of a sustainable, long-term presence on the Moon – making it possible to eventually explore Mars and beyond. Image Credits: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter.

The Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, human landing systems and modern spacesuits will round out the agency’s deep space systems. As part of the Artemis III mission, the first human expedition back on the Moon will last approximately seven days. NASA plans to send Artemis Generation astronauts on increasingly longer missions about once per year thereafter.

With strong support in NASA, America and its partners will test new technologies and reduce exploration costs over time. Supporting infrastructure including power, radiation shielding, a landing pad, as well as waste disposal and storage could be built up in the coming decades, too.

“The U.S. is still the only nation to have successfully landed humans on the Moon and spacecraft on the surface of Mars,” the report states. “As other nations increasingly move out into space, American leadership is now called for to lead the next phase of humanity’s quest to open up the future to endless discovery and growth.”

Read the full report (PDF):

NASA's Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development

Related links:

Lunar terrain vehicle (LTV):

Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative:


Moon to Mars:

Commercial Lunar Payload Services:



Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Cheryl Warner.

Best regards,

Science Expands on Station, Dragon Departs on Monday

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

April 2, 2020

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The International Space Station expanded its research capabilities overnight after robotics controllers installed a new external science platform. Meanwhile, the Expedition 62 crew is packing cargo for return to Earth while getting ready for its own departure.

Europe’s latest contribution to the orbiting lab, Bartolomeo, was attached to the outside of the Columbus laboratory module early Thursday morning. Robotic engineers remotely commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm and the Dextre robotic hand and completed the fine-tuned installation work over two days. Bartolomeo, delivered last month aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft, gives private and institutional researchers the ability to command and control science payloads outside the space station.

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir strikes a superhero pose in the weightless environment of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Oleg Skripochka with NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan are preparing to end their mission in space on April 17. They checked their Sokol launch and entry suits they will wear when they parachute to Earth inside the Soyuz MS-15 crew ship for leaks today. The crew is also gathering personal items for stowage inside the Soyuz spaceship.

Before they leave, the SpaceX Dragon space freighter will return to Earth after being released from the Canadarm2 on Monday at 9:52 a.m. EDT. Meir and Morgan will finish loading over 4,000 pounds of station hardware and research samples, including live mice and plant cells, late Sunday. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of Dragon’s departure on Monday at 9:30 a.m.

Image above: SpaceX's Dragon resupply ship slowly approaches the orbiting lab as both spacecraft were orbiting 258 miles above the Mediterranean Sea Dec. 9, 2019. Filled with more than 4,000 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo, Dragon is now set to leave the International Space Station Monday, April 6. Image Credit: NASA.

The station boosted its orbit again today raising it to the correct altitude enabling the new Expedition 63 crew to launch and dock on April 9 inside the Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will take a six-hour ride to their new home in space and begin a 195-day mission aboard the orbital lab.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Expedition 63:


Columbus laboratory module:



Live mice:

Plant cells:

NASA TV live coverage:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

New NASA Radar Looks to Monitor Volcanoes and Earthquakes from Space

NASA - ISRO SAR Mission logo.

April 2, 2020

Instead of looking up to the sky for bright bursts of fiery color, a research team spent Fourth of July 2018 peering down at fiery globs of molten lava from a sky-diving airplane. Bolted to their plane was a new NASA instrument designed to detect each time the volcano took a breath, as its caldera swelled and deflated.

The team flew multiple flights above the Kīlauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from July 3 to 5, 2018, to demonstrate how a new instrument could pave the way for a future constellation of small satellites dedicated to monitoring impacts from volcanic activity, earthquakes and changes in land surfaces, said Lauren Wye, the principal investigator who led and recently concluded the instrument’s development at SRI International in Menlo Park, California.

A global map detailing land elevation changes over time can help scientists pinpoint ground motion before, during and following earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and help identify impacts from floods and groundwater pumping. “The CubeSat Imaging Radar for Earth Sciences, or CIRES, can help decision-makers and emergency managers obtain observations sooner after a hazardous event so that they are better prepared to deal with disaster relief,” Wye said.

Image above: The ash plume from the Kilauea volcano on the big island of Hawaii was pictured May 12, 2018, from the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Although Kīlauea’s eruption impacted over 50 square miles of land, ground deformation, or a change in land elevation, is not always perceptible to the human eye. Highly specialized technology like Wye’s new instrument can pinpoint and record these changes.

CIRES is equipped with an S-band Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR). The S-band radar is able to penetrate through vegetation and reach the ground. CIRES takes two radar images of a specific area from approximately the same position in space at two different times and then processes the two images to determine the difference between them.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s 2017 Decadal Survey, “Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observations from Space,” recommends that NASA use InSAR measurements to help address the dynamics of earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, glaciers, groundwater and Earth’s interior.

A constellation of small InSAR satellites could work in tandem with the NASA-ISRO SAR Mission (NISAR), which is NASA’s first dedicated InSAR satellite currently in development. Multiple small satellites could collect frequent data over rapidly evolving processes, like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides, adding to NISAR’s systematic global data.

Once upon a radar

Traditionally, researchers monitor ground deformation with on-the-ground sensors and the Global Positioning System (GPS). InSAR measurements are complementary to ground measurements and can often guide how ground sensors are installed. “InSAR data have revolutionized how we look at earthquakes and volcanoes,” Kyle Anderson, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said.

In orbit, a series of small InSAR satellites could peer down and record changes in ground deformation. “Volcanoes will often inflate with magma before they erupt,” Anderson said. Anderson worked with the CIRES team at Kīlauea. “Although it’s difficult to predict how big or how long the eruption will be, we can say, this volcano started inflating and there’s a higher probability of it erupting.”

The CIRES project began in January 2015 at SRI International with funding from NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office to develop the instrument’s radar electronics hardware over two years. It then received an additional three years of funding to prepare the radar for space, demonstrate the imaging capabilities via aircraft, including both on-board and remotely piloted aircraft, and advance a space-deployable antenna to complete the instrument.

“InSAR has been particularly useful for better understanding volcanoes in remote areas,” Anderson said. For example, the technology helped scientists notice deformation near the Three Sisters cluster of volcanoes in central Oregon from 1997 to 2001. InSAR pinpointed deformation in an area that last saw an eruption 1,500 years ago. Because of the observed changes, the USGS installed seismometers, GPS stations and gas-monitoring equipment to check for other signs of activity. In 2004, those instruments detected a swarm of 300 small earthquakes.

Image above: Three Sisters Volcano in Central Oregon. Image Credit: USGS.

“InSAR allows you to get wide areas of coverage and see how one part of the volcano’s caldera is changing relative to another part,” Patrick Rennich, the CIRES signal processing and experiment design lead, said. Typically, researchers place a limited number of GPS sensors on specific parts of the volcano to monitor any movement. “CIRES should be able to cover the entire caldera,” Rennich said.

Steps to space

During development, “the team ran into a lot of hiccups,” Wye said. However, with each hiccup, like a delayed test flight, the team got innovative. “It led to a lot of fun exercises,” Wye said.

One of those exercises saw the team strapping the instrument to a moving car. They drove the car, which they dubbed “CarSAR,” along elevated roads in the Bay Area of Northern California in early 2018 to see how CIRES would pick up information in a valley below. “But we really needed to get higher to test our data,” Wye said.

When the Kīlauea Volcano started erupting in May 2018, they saw their opportunity. On July 4, 2018, lava was flowing and the volcano’s caldera was collapsing. CIRES successfully obtained SAR, or snapshot imagery, but wasn’t able to obtain InSAR, or comparison images, over Kīlauea, in part because, “It was difficult to fly on the exact same path every day,” Rennich said.

The flights over Kīlauea, among other field tests, helped the team learn what worked and didn’t work as they developed the instrument. They were able to optimize CIRES to improve its power management, size, sensor capabilities and ability to withstand heat.

In December 2019, the team again strapped CIRES, with updated hardware and software, to an airplane usually reserved for commercial skydiving and flew 10,000 feet above an army training facility in Indiana. “It turns out that skydiving operators are very comfortable flying with an open door,” Rennich said.

The team flew CIRES above a simulated flooded village at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center to better understand radar signatures in a flooded urban environment. The flight also produced data that could improve algorithms that quantify the extent of flooding and related damage. NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office and Disasters Program helped fund the flights and analysis of the CIRES data.

Image above: The CubeSat Imaging Radar for Earth Sciences (CIRES) is loaded on an aircraft before validation tests in Indiana in December 2019. Image Credit: Michael Huff.

“By mounting CIRES on an airplane, we could fly at different angles and see how different building orientations affect how they appear in radar images due to flooding,” Sang-Ho Yun, a geophysicist and coinvestigator of this project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said. “Flooding is like a ghost,” Yun said; its ephemeral nature makes it difficult to assess the accuracy of flood mapping techniques.

The team also performed an experiment where they controlled motion on the ground to test CIRES. During the Indiana flight, “One of our colleagues on the ground would raise silvery metal reflectors by half a centimeter to a centimeter to show that we can detect that level of change,” Rennich said. This helped prove that CIRES collected accurate InSAR data.

The flights were successful in part because the team was able to fly CIRES along the same path multiple times in a row, which they weren’t able to do in Hawaii. “We implemented a better pilot navigation system,” Rennich said, which allowed the team to fly within a few feet of where they had flown the previous day. In Hawaii, the they flew approximately 500 feet from the previous day’s course.

“When you’re in space, trajectory is much more repeatable,” Rennich said, because each satellite is on a predictable, traceable course.

For the team to make CIRES, or a CIRES-like instrument work in space, they would need to significantly extend its antenna, from two feet across to 10 feet across, Rennich said. “Everything else pretty much stays the same,” he said.

“Small satellites, similar in scope to CIRES, can be a dream system from a rapid disaster response point of view,” Yun said. Although small satellites, like CIRES, won’t be able to obtain the same accuracy as larger systems, they could obtain data more frequently when a disaster hits. “With small satellites, we can cost effectively achieve that goal,” Yun said.

For more information about NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), visit:

NISAR (NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sara Blumberg/Earth Science Technology Office/Elizabeth Goldbaum.

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Rosette Nebula Gives Birth to Stars

ESA & NASA - Herschel Mission patch.

April 2, 2020

This 2010 image from the Herschel Space Observatory shows dust clouds associated with the Rosette Nebula, a stellar nursery about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the Monoceros, or Unicorn, constellation. Herschel collected the infrared light given out by dust. The bright smudges are dusty cocoons containing massive embryonic stars, which will grow up to 10 times the mass of our Sun. The small spots near the center of the image are lower mass stellar embryos. The nebula itself is located to the right of the picture, along with its massive cluster of stars.

 Herschel Space Observatory

Editor note:

The Herschel space observatory operated between 2009 and 2013.

Related links:

NASA's Herschel Space Observatory:

ESA's Herschel Space Observatory:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA and the PACS, SPIRE & HSC consortia, F. Motte (AIM Saclay,CEA/IRFU - CNRS/INSU - U.ParisDidedrot) for the HOBYS key programme/NASA/Yvette Smith.


WFIRST Will Use Warped Space-time to Help Find Exoplanets

NASA - Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) patch.

April 2, 2020

The NASA mission will identify planets with large orbits, similar to our solar system's far-flung giants, Uranus and Neptune.

Image above: WFIRST will make its microlensing observations in the direction of the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The higher density of stars will yield more exoplanet detections. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab.

NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will search for planets outside our solar system toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy, where most stars are. Studying the properties of exoplanet worlds will help us understand what planetary systems throughout the galaxy are like and how planets form and evolve.

Combining WFIRST's findings with results from NASA's Kepler and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) missions will complete the first planet census that is sensitive to a wide range of planet masses and orbits, bringing us a step closer to discovering habitable Earth-like worlds beyond our own.

To date, astronomers have found most planets when they pass in front of their host star in events called transits, which temporarily dim the star's light. WFIRST data can spot transits, too, but the mission will primarily watch for the opposite effect - little surges of radiance produced by a light-bending phenomenon called microlensing. These events are much less common than transits because they rely on the chance alignment of two widely separated and unrelated stars drifting through space.

"Microlensing signals from small planets are rare and brief, but they're stronger than the signals from other methods," said David Bennett, who leads the gravitational microlensing group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Since it's a one-in-a-million event, the key to WFIRST finding low-mass planets is to search hundreds of millions of stars."

In addition, microlensing is better at finding planets in and beyond the habitable zone - the orbital distances where planets might have liquid water on their surfaces.

Microlensing 101

This effect occurs when light passes near a massive object. Anything with mass warps the fabric of space-time, sort of like the dent a bowling ball makes when set on a trampoline. Light travels in a straight line, but if space-time is bent - which happens near something massive, like a star - light follows the curve.

Any time two stars align closely from our vantage point, light from the more distant star curves as it travels through the warped space-time of the nearer star. This phenomenon, one of the predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity, was famously confirmed by British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington during a total solar eclipse in 1919. If the alignment is especially close, the nearer star acts like a natural cosmic lens, focusing and intensifying light from the background star.

Planets orbiting the foreground star may also modify the lensed light, acting as their own tiny lenses. The distortion they create allows astronomers to measure the planet's mass and distance from its host star. This is how WFIRST will use microlensing to discover new worlds.

Familiar and Exotic Worlds

"Trying to interpret planet populations today is like trying to interpret a picture with half of it covered," said Matthew Penny, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge who led a study to predict WFIRST's microlensing survey capabilities. "To fully understand how planetary systems form we need to find planets of all masses at all distances. No one technique can do this, but WFIRST's microlensing survey, combined with the results from Kepler and TESS, will reveal far more of the picture."

More than 4,000 confirmed exoplanets have been discovered so far, but only 86 were found via microlensing. The techniques commonly used to find other worlds are biased toward planets that tend to be very different from those in our solar system. The transit method, for example, is best at finding sub-Neptune-like planets that have orbits much smaller than Mercury's. For a solar system like our own, transit studies could miss every planet.

Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope or WFIRST. Animation Credit: NASA

WFIRST's microlensing survey will help us find analogs to every planet in our solar system except Mercury, whose small orbit and low mass combine to put it beyond the mission's reach. WFIRST will find planets that are the mass of Earth and even smaller - perhaps even large moons, like Jupiter's moon Ganymede.

WFIRST will find planets in other poorly studied categories, too. Microlensing is best suited to finding worlds from the habitable zone of their star and farther out. This includes ice giants, like Uranus and Neptune in our solar system, and even rogue planets - worlds freely roaming the galaxy unbound to any stars.

While ice giants are a minority in our solar system, a 2016 study indicated that they may be the most common kind of planet throughout the galaxy. WFIRST will put that theory to the test and help us get a better understanding of which planetary characteristics are most prevalent.

Hidden Gems in the Galactic Core

WFIRST will explore regions of the galaxy that haven't yet been systematically scoured for exoplanets due to the different goals of previous missions. Kepler, for example, searched a modest-sized region of about 100 square degrees with 100,000 stars at typical distances of around a thousand light-years. TESS scans the entire sky and tracks 200,000 stars; however their typical distances are around 100 light-years. WFIRST will search roughly 3 square degrees, but will follow 200 million stars at distances of around 10,000 light-years.

Since WFIRST is an infrared telescope, it will see right through the clouds of dust that block other telescopes from studying planets in the crowded central region of our galaxy. Most ground-based microlensing observations to date have been in visible light, making the center of the galaxy largely uncharted exoplanet territory. A microlensing survey conducted since 2015 using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii is smoothing the way for WFIRST's exoplanet census by mapping the region.

The UKIRT survey is providing the first measurements of the rate of microlensing events toward the galaxy's core, where stars are most densely concentrated. The results will help astronomers select the final observing strategy for WFIRST's microlensing effort.

WFIRST telescope operation description. Animation Credit: NASA

The UKIRT team's most recent goal is detecting microlensing events using machine learning, which will be vital for WFIRST. The mission will produce such a vast amount of data that combing through it solely by eye will be impractical. Streamlining the search will require automated processes.

Additional UKIRT results point to an observing strategy that will reveal the most microlensing events possible while avoiding the thickest dust clouds that can block even infrared light.

"Our current survey with UKIRT is laying the groundwork so that WFIRST can implement the first space-based dedicated microlensing survey," said Savannah Jacklin, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who has led several UKIRT studies. "Previous exoplanet missions expanded our knowledge of planetary systems, and WFIRST will move us a giant step closer to truly understanding how planets - particularly those within the habitable zones of their host stars - form and evolve."

From Brown Dwarfs to Black Holes

The same microlensing survey that will reveal thousands of planets will also detect hundreds of other bizarre and interesting cosmic objects. Scientists will be able to study free-floating bodies with masses ranging from that of Mars to 100 times the Sun's.

The low end of the mass range includes planets that were ejected from their host stars and now roam the galaxy as rogue planets. Next are brown dwarfs, which are too massive to be characterized as planets but not quite massive enough to ignite as stars. Brown dwarfs don't shine visibly like stars, but WFIRST will be able to study them in infrared light through the heat left over from their formation.

Objects at the higher end include stellar corpses - neutron stars and black holes - left behind when massive stars exhaust their fuel. Studying them and measuring their masses will help scientists understand more about stars' death throes while providing a census of stellar-mass black holes.

"WFIRST's microlensing survey will not only advance our understanding of planetary systems," said Penny, "it will also enable a whole host of other studies of the variability of 200 million stars, the structure and formation of the inner Milky Way, and the population of black holes and other dark, compact objects that are hard or impossible to study in any other way."

The FY2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act funds the WFIRST program through September 2020. The FY2021 budget request proposes to terminate funding for the WFIRST mission and focus on the completion of the James Webb Space Telescope, now planned for launch in March 2021. The Administration is not ready to proceed with another multi-billion-dollar telescope until Webb has been successfully launched and deployed.

WFIRST is managed at Goddard, with participation by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and a science team comprising scientists from research institutions across the United States.

Related links:

2016 study:

United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT):

Microlensing survey:

For more information about WFIRST, visit:

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Calla Cofield/Goddard Space Flight Center/Claire Andreoli/Written by Ashley Balzer.