vendredi 10 avril 2020

NASA Helicopter Ready to Hitch a Ride to the Red Planet

NASA - Mars 2020 Rover patch.

April 10, 2020

NASA’s Mars Helicopter will make history in about 10 months when it becomes the first aircraft to fly on another world.

Now it has its ride to the Red Planet.

Image above: NASA’s Mars Helicopter is installed on the agency’s Mars Perseverance rover inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on April 6, 2020. Photo credits: NASA/JPL.

On April 6, 2020, the helicopter was attached to the belly of the agency’s Mars Perseverance rover. The installation took place inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the rover has remained since its Feb. 9, 2020, arrival from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Image above: NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover, carrying the agency’s Mars Helicopter, will touch down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Photo credits: NASA/JPL.

The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter weighs less than 4 pounds; the total length of its rotors is about 4 feet, tip to tip. Its main purpose is a technology demonstration. After Perseverance safely lands on Mars, the helicopter will be released to perform the first in a series of flight tests that will take place during 30 Martian days (a day on Mars is about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth).

For history’s first flight experimental flight test in the thin Martian atmosphere (less than 1% the density of Earth’s), the helicopter is tasked with hovering in the air a few feet off the ground for 20 to 30 seconds before landing. It is designed to fly on its own, without human control, using minimal commands from Earth sent in advance.

With the helicopter safely tucked away and covered by a shield to protect it during descent and landing, Perseverance will touch down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Liftoff aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket is targeted between July 17 and Aug. 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

 Mars Helicopter and Mars 2020 Rover Perseverance. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch.

With the launch period of NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover opening in 14 weeks, final preparations of the spacecraft continue at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In the past week, the assembly, test and launch operations team completed important milestones, fueling the descent stage — also known as the sky crane — and attaching the Mars Helicopter, which will be the first aircraft in history to attempt power-controlled flight on another planet.

Over the weekend, 884 pounds (401 kilograms) of hydrazine monopropellant were loaded into the descent stage's four fuel tanks. As the aeroshell containing the descent stage and rover enter the Martian atmosphere on Feb. 18, 2021, the propellant will be pressure-fed through 120 feet (37 meters) of stainless steel and titanium tubing into eight Mars landing engines. The engines' job: to slow the spacecraft, which will be traveling at about 180 mph (80 meters per second) when it's 7,200 feet (2,200 meters) in altitude, to 1.7 mph (0.75 meters per second) by the time it's about 66 feet (20 meters) above the surface.

Maintaining this rate of descent, the stage will then perform the sky crane maneuver: Nylon cords spool out to lower the rover 25 feet (7.6 meters) below the descent stage; When the spacecraft senses touchdown at Jezero Crater, the connecting cords are severed and the descent stage flies off.

Animation above: NASA's Mars 2020 mission will have an autopilot that helps guide it to safer landings on the Red Planet. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"The last hundred days before any Mars launch is chock-full of significant milestones," said David Gruel, the Mars 2020 assembly, test and launch operations manager at JPL. "Fueling the descent stage is a big step. While we will continue to test and evaluate its performance as we move forward with launch preparations, it is now ready to fulfill its mission of placing Perseverance on the surface on Mars."

The Helicopter

After the descent stage fueling, the system that will deliver the Mars Helicopter to the surface of the Red Planet was integrated with Perseverance. The helicopter, which weighs 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) and features propellers 4 feet (1.2 meters) in diameter, is cocooned within the delivery system. In one of the first steps in the day-long process on April 6, technicians and engineers made 34 electrical connections between the rover, the helicopter and its delivery system on the rover's belly. After confirming data and commands could be sent and received, they attached the delivery system to the rover.

Finally, the team confirmed the helicopter could receive an electrical charge from the rover. Before being deployed onto the surface of Jezero Crater, the Mars Helicopter will rely on the rover for power. Afterward, it will generate its own electrical power through a solar panel located above its twin counter-rotating propellers.

 Mars Helicopter aerial reconnaissance. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The helicopter will remain encapsulated on the rover's belly for the next year and will be deployed around the beginning of May — roughly two-and-a-half months after Perseverance's landing. Once the rover drives about 330 feet (100 meters) away and the helicopter undergoes an extensive systems check, it will execute a flight-test campaign for up to 30 days.

The Perseverance rover is a robotic scientist weighing 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms). It will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. No matter what day Perseverance launches during its July 17-Aug. 5 launch period, it will land on Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

For more information about the mission, go to:

For more about NASA's Moon to Mars plans, visit:

Related links:

NASA’s Launch Services Program:

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station:

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC):

Animations (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Grey Hautaluoma/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle.


CERN laser technology used for telecommunications

CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

10 April, 2020

Image above: Example of a transverse cross-section of a beam produced by the structured laser beam. The central axis, which is very dense, is surrounded by several halos of light (Image: CERN/IPP).

An innovative technology used to align the components of accelerators is breaking through into the field of telecommunications. The structured laser beam system, developed by a team of CERN surveyors in collaboration with the Institute of Plasma Physics in Prague (IPP) will be used to improve mobile phone networks. CERN’s Knowledge Transfer group and Aircision, a Dutch start-up, have signed an agreement on the use of this new system in next-generation telecomminication links.

The structured laser beam system is capable of producing beams that are virtually non-diffractive over several hundred metres, whereas the systems currently available on the market produce such beams over a distance of only a few metres. Thanks to these properties, this technology is clearly of interest in many fields, in particular the high-speed transmission of data over long distances with high reliability.

Aircision will apply the technology to the transmission of data between mobile phone masts, particularly with a view to modernising the existing infrastructure for 5G and beyond. The Dutch start-up expects to finalise its prototype and deploy a pilot test later this year.

To find out more, see this article in Accelerating News and the press release published by Aircision:


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 links:

The structured laser beam system:

Plasma Physics in Prague (IPP):

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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Anaïs Schaeffer.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of April 6, 2020

ISS - Expedition 62 Mission patch.

April 10, 2020

Scientific investigations under way aboard the International Space Station the week of April 6 included studies of bone loss and medical software. On Tuesday, the SpaceX 20 Dragon cargo craft departed the station and brought samples, hardware and data from completed investigations back to Earth. Thursday, Russia’s Soyuz MS-16 crew ship blasted off from Kazakhstan carrying new crew members NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner to a 195-day mission on the space station.

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir gathers frozen research samples stowed in a space station science freezer before loading them into the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship to return to Earth for scientific analysis. 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:

Packed for return to Earth

Before Dragon’s departure on Tuesday, crew members finished packing scientific samples to return to the ground for further analysis and reporting of results. Returning samples included those from Microgravity Crystallization of Glycogen Synthase-Glycogenin (CASIS PCG 10), Generation of Cardiomyocytes From Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Cardiac Progenitors Expanded in Microgravity (MVP2 Cell-03) and Space Cells-01. CASIS PCG 10 grew crystals of two human glycogen synthase proteins in microgravity to support the discovery of treatments for obesity, rare glycogen storage disorders and potentially cancer. MVP2 Cell-03 examines whether microgravity increases the production of specialized heart cells called cardiomyocytes, which might make it possible to replenish cells damaged or lost due to cardiac disease. Space Cells-01, which examines genetic changes in hemp and coffee plant cells in microgravity, could help improve understanding of how plants manage the stress of space travel.

Image above: Hardware for the Flow Chemistry Platform for Synthetic Reactions on ISS, an investigation that studies the effects of microgravity on synthetic chemical reactions as a step toward on-demand production of chemicals and materials in space. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew also packed samples from OsteoOmics, an investigation into whether magnetic levitation accurately simulates microgravity by comparing genetic expression in bone cells levitated in a high-field superconducting magnet with cells that flew on the space station.

The electronic doctor will see you now

As missions venture farther from Earth, astronauts need to be able to diagnose and treat acute medical conditions on their own. The Autonomous Medical Officer Support Software Demonstration (AMOS Demonstration) tests a software tool that helps minimally trained or even untrained users conduct complicated medical procedures without assistance from Earth. The AMOS platform is part of a novel approach to training and skill management that uses the same product for all phases of missions and also could support operations in remote or austere environments on Earth. Examples include providing medical and military personnel with increased levels of autonomy and supporting engineering or maintenance operations in regions with poor or nonexistent communication, including disaster sites. During the week, the crew prepared for a session using ultrasound to image the urinary bladder and kidneys, a plausible medical scenario on a Mars mission.  

Want fries with that?

Food Acceptability examines the effect of repetitive consumption of the somewhat limited selection of foods available during spaceflight. “Menu fatigue” resulting from this limited choice may, over time, contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members. Menu fatigue has the potential to affect astronaut health, especially as mission length increases. This effect may become more severe as mission length increases, and this investigation can help improve the design of current food systems and those on future exploration missions. During the week, crew members completed questionnaires for the investigation.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

Image above: Plants in the Veggie PONDS unit, which uses a passive nutrient delivery system and the station’s Veggie plant growth facility to cultivate lettuce and mizuna greens for harvest on-orbit. Image Credit: NASA.

- Veggie PONDS (Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System) cultivates lettuce and mizuna greens that are harvested on-orbit for consumption and scientific analysis.

- Flow Chemistry Platform for Synthetic Reactions on ISS studies the effects of microgravity on synthetic chemical reactions as a step toward on-demand production of chemicals and materials in space and on Earth.

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 space station’s two Raspberry Pi computers, with either 'Life in Space' or 'Life on Earth' as themes for their experiments.

- The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Mouse Habitat Unit-5 (MHU-5) investigation examines the effects of partial gravity on gene expression in mice using the Centrifuge-equipped Biological Experiment Facility-L (CBEF-L) developed by JAXA.

- ActiWatch is a wrist device worn by crew members that contains an accelerometer to measure motion and a detector to monitor ambient lighting. The device analyzes circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity.

- 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: Departing Baikonur: 04/10/2020

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Expedition 63:


MVP2 Cell-03:

Space Cells-01:


AMOS Demonstration:

Food Acceptability:

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,

Rehearsal Time for NASA’s Asteroid Sampling Spacecraft

NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

April 10, 2020

In August, a robotic spacecraft will make NASA’s first-ever attempt to descend to the surface of an asteroid, collect a sample, and ultimately bring it safely back to Earth. In order to achieve this challenging feat, the OSIRIS-REx mission team devised new techniques to operate in asteroid Bennu’s microgravity environment – but they still need experience flying the spacecraft in close proximity to the asteroid in order to test them. So, before touching down at sample site Nightingale this summer, OSIRIS-REx will first rehearse the activities leading up to the event.

On Apr. 14, the mission will pursue its first practice run – officially known as “Checkpoint” rehearsal – which will also place the spacecraft the closest it’s ever been to Bennu. This rehearsal is a chance for the OSIRIS-REx team and spacecraft to test the first steps of the robotic sample collection event.

Image above: This artist’s concept shows the trajectory and configuration of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during Checkpoint rehearsal, which is the first time the mission will practice the initial steps for collecting a sample from asteroid Bennu. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

During the full touchdown sequence, the spacecraft uses three separate thruster firings to make its way to the asteroid’s surface. After an orbit departure burn, the spacecraft executes the Checkpoint maneuver at 410 ft (125 m) above Bennu, which adjusts the spacecraft’s position and speed down toward the point of the third burn. This third maneuver, called “Matchpoint," occurs at approximately 164 ft (50 m) from the asteroid’s surface and places the spacecraft on a trajectory that matches the rotation of Bennu as it further descends toward the targeted touchdown spot.

The Checkpoint rehearsal allows the team to practice navigating the spacecraft through both the orbit departure and Checkpoint maneuvers, and ensures that the spacecraft’s imaging, navigation and ranging systems operate as expected during the first part of the descent sequence. Checkpoint rehearsal also gives the team a chance to confirm that OSIRIS-REx’s Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) guidance system accurately updates the spacecraft’s position and velocity relative to Bennu as it descends towards the surface.

Checkpoint rehearsal, a four-hour event, begins with the spacecraft leaving its safe-home orbit, 0.6 miles (1 km) above the asteroid. The spacecraft then extends its robotic sampling arm – the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – from its folded, parked position out to the sample collection configuration. Immediately following, the spacecraft slews, or rotates, into position to begin collecting navigation images for NFT guidance. NFT allows the spacecraft to autonomously guide itself to Bennu’s surface by comparing an onboard image catalog with the real-time navigation images taken during descent. As the spacecraft descends to the surface, the NFT system updates the spacecraft’s predicted point of contact depending on OSIRIS-REx’s position in relation to Bennu’s landmarks.

Before reaching the 410-ft (125-m) Checkpoint altitude, the spacecraft’s solar arrays move into a “Y-wing” configuration that safely positions them away from the asteroid’s surface. This configuration also places the spacecraft’s center of gravity directly over the TAGSAM collector head, which is the only part of the spacecraft that will contact Bennu’s surface during the sample collection event.

In the midst of these activities, the spacecraft continues capturing images of Bennu’s surface for the NFT navigation system. The spacecraft will then perform the Checkpoint burn and descend toward Bennu’s surface for another nine minutes, placing the spacecraft around 243 ft (75 m) from the asteroid – the closest it has ever been.

Upon reaching this targeted point, the spacecraft will execute a back-away burn, then return its solar arrays to their original position and reconfigure the TAGSAM arm back to the parked position. Once the mission team determines that the spacecraft successfully completed the entire rehearsal sequence, they will command the spacecraft to return to its safe-home orbit around Bennu.

OSIRIS-REx collecting sample on Bennu. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL

Following the Checkpoint rehearsal, the team will verify the flight system’s performance during the descent, and that the Checkpoint burn accurately adjusted the descent trajectory for the subsequent Matchpoint burn.

The mission team has maximized remote work over the last month of preparations for the checkpoint rehearsal, as part of the COVID-19 response. On the day of rehearsal, a limited number of personnel will command the spacecraft from Lockheed Martin Space’s facility, taking appropriate safety precautions, while the rest of the team performs their roles remotely.

The mission is scheduled to perform a second rehearsal on Jun. 23, taking the spacecraft through the Matchpoint burn and down to an approximate altitude of 82 ft (25 m). OSIRIS-REx’s first sample collection attempt is scheduled for Aug. 25.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, visit: and

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/University of Arizona, by Brittany Enos.


In a First, NASA Measures Wind Speed on a Brown Dwarf

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch.

April 10, 2020

Not quite planets and not quite stars, brown dwarfs are cosmic in-betweeners. Learning about their atmospheres could help us understand giant planets around other stars.

Image above: This artist's concept shows a brown dwarf, an object that is at least 13 times the mass of Jupiter but not massive enough to begin nuclear fusion in its core, which is the defining characteristic of a star. Scientist using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope recently made the first ever direct measurement of wind on a brown dwarf. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

For the first time, scientists have directly measured wind speed on a brown dwarf, an object larger than Jupiter (the largest planet in our solar system) but not quite massive enough to become a star. To achieve the finding, they used a new method that could also be applied to learn about the atmospheres of gas-dominated planets outside our solar system.

Described in a paper in the journal Science, the work combines observations by a group of radio telescopes with data from NASA's recently retired infrared observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope, managed by the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Officially named 2MASS J10475385+2124234, the target of the new study was a brown dwarf located 32 light-years from Earth - a stone's throw away, cosmically speaking. The researchers detected winds moving around the planet at 1,425 mph (2,293 kph). For comparison, Neptune's atmosphere features the fastest winds in the solar system, which whip through at more than 1,200 mph (about 2,000 kph).

Measuring wind speed on Earth means clocking the motion of our gaseous atmosphere relative to the planet's solid surface. But brown dwarfs are composed almost entirely of gas, so "wind" refers to something slightly different. The upper layers of a brown dwarf are where portions of the gas can move independently. At a certain depth, the pressure becomes so intense that the gas behaves like a single, solid ball that is considered the object's interior. As the interior rotates, it pulls the upper layers - the atmosphere -along so that the two are almost in synch.

Image above: Brown dwarfs are more massive than planets but not quite as massive as stars. Generally speaking, they have between 13 and 80 times the mass of Jupiter. A brown dwarf becomes a star if its core pressure gets high enough to start nuclear fusion. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In their study, the researchers measured the slight difference in speed of the brown dwarf's atmosphere relative to its interior. With an atmospheric temperature of over 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (600 degrees Celsius), this particular brown dwarf radiates a substantial amount of infrared light. Coupled with its close proximity to Earth, this characteristic made it possible for Spitzer to detect features in the brown dwarf's atmosphere as they rotate in and out of view. The team used those features to clock the atmospheric rotation speed.

To determine the speed of the interior, they focused on the brown dwarf's magnetic field. A relatively recent discovery found that the interiors of brown dwarfs generate strong magnetic fields. As the brown dwarf rotates, the magnetic field accelerates charged particles that in turn produce radio waves, which the researchers detected with the radio telescopes in the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico.

Planetary Atmospheres

The new study is the first to demonstrate this comparative method for measuring wind speed on a brown dwarf. To gauge its accuracy, the group tested the technique using infrared and radio observations of Jupiter, which is also composed mostly of gas and has a physical structure similar to a small brown dwarf. The team compared the rotation rates of Jupiter's atmosphere and interior using data that was similar to what they were able to collect for the much more distant brown dwarf. They then confirmed their calculation for Jupiter's wind speed using more detailed data collected by probes that have studied Jupiter up close, thus demonstrating that their approach for the brown dwarf worked.

Scientists have previously used Spitzer to infer the presence of winds on exoplanets and brown dwarfs based on variations in the brightness of their atmospheres in infrared light. And data from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) - an instrument on the European Southern Observatory's La Silla telescope in Chile - has been used to make a direct measurement of wind speeds on a distant planet.

But the new paper represents the first time scientists have directly compared the atmospheric speed with the speed of a brown dwarf's interior. The method employed could be applied to other brown dwarfs or to large planets if the conditions are right, according to the authors.

"We think this technique could be really valuable to providing insight into the dynamics of exoplanet atmospheres," said lead author Katelyn Allers, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. "What's really exciting is being able to learn about how the chemistry, the atmospheric dynamics and the environment around an object are interconnected, and the prospect of getting a really comprehensive view into these worlds."

The Spitzer Space Telescope was decomissioned on Jan. 30, 2020, after more than 16 years in space. JPL managed Spitzer mission operations for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Spitzer science data continue to be analyzed by the science community via the Spitzer data archive located at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Science operations were conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at IPAC at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations were based at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit:

Images (mentioned9, Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Calla Cofield.


BepiColombo takes last snaps of Earth en route to Mercury

ESA & JAXA - BepiColombo patch.

April 10, 2020

The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission completed its first flyby on 10 April, as the spacecraft came less than 12 700 km from Earth’s surface at 06:25 CEST, steering its trajectory towards the final destination, Mercury. Images gathered just before closest approach portray our planet shining through darkness, during one of humankind’s most challenging times in recent history.

BepiColombo’s close-up of Earth during flyby

Launched in 2018, BepiColombo is on a seven-year journey to the smallest and innermost planet orbiting the Sun, which holds important clues about the formation and evolution of the entire Solar System.

Today’s operation is the first of nine flybys which, together with the onboard solar propulsion system, will help the spacecraft reach its target orbit around Mercury. The next two flybys will take place at Venus and further six at Mercury itself.

BepiColombo’s last close-up of Earth during flyby

Animation above: A sequence of images captured by one of the selfie cameras on BepiColombo shortly before the closest approach, as the distance to Earth diminished from 19 500 km to 17 300 km.

While the manoeuvre took advantage of Earth’s gravity to adjust the path of the spacecraft and did not require any active operations, such as firing thrusters, it included 34 critical minutes shortly after BepiColombo’s closest approach to our planet, when the spacecraft flew across the shadow of Earth.

“This eclipse phase was the most delicate part of the flyby, with the spacecraft passing through the shadow of our planet and not receiving any direct sunlight for the first time after launch,” said Elsa Montagnon, BepiColombo Spacecraft Operations Manager for ESA.

BepiColombo flight control team take flyby selfie

Image above: A few members of the BepiColombo flight control team monitoring the spacecraft's Earth flyby while maintaining strict social distancing.

To prepare for the scheduled eclipse, mission operators fully charged the spacecraft batteries and warmed up all components in advance, then closely monitored the temperature of all onboard systems during the period in darkness, between 07:01 and 07:35 CEST.

“It is always nerve-wracking to know a spacecraft’s solar panels are not bathed in sunlight. When we saw the solar cells had restarted to generate electrical current, we knew BepiColombo was finally out of Earth’s shadow and ready to proceed on its interplanetary journey,” added Elsa.

Space operations are never routine at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, but today’s flyby had one extra challenge. The manoeuvre, programmed long in advance and impossible to postpone, had to be prepared with limited on-site personnel, amid the social distancing measures adopted by the Agency in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic; but the restrictions had no impact on the operation’s success.

As BepiColombo swung by our planet, most scientific instruments on ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter – one of the two science spacecraft that make up the mission – were switched on. Several sensors were also active on the second component of the mission, JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, also known as Mio.

Image above: Sequence of operations that will happen around the BepiColombo Earth flyby on 9, 10 and 11 April 2020.

Scientists will use the data gathered during the flyby, which include images of the Moon and measurements of Earth’s magnetic field as the spacecraft zipped past, to calibrate the instruments that will, as of 2026, investigate Mercury to solve the mystery of how the scorched planet formed.

“Today was of course very different to what we could have imagined only a couple of months ago,” said Johannes Benkhoff, ESA’s BepiColombo Project Scientist, who followed the operation from his home in the Netherlands, along with the many scientists from the 16 instrument teams that comprise the mission, scattered between Europe and Japan.

“We are all pleased that the flyby went well and that we could operate several scientific instruments, and we are looking forward to receiving and analysing the data. These will also be useful to prepare for the next flyby, when BepiColombo will swing past Venus in October.”

“There is a great interest in Japan in the BepiColombo mission. Thus, after the successful flyby we are looking forward to the science at Venus and Mercury,” said Go Murakami, BepiColombo Project Scientist at JAXA.

Our home from space

Animation above: A sequence of images taken by the selfie cameras on BepiColombo as it neared Earth ahead of its flyby on 9 April 2020, less than a day before the closest approach. As BepiColombo approached the planet at a speed of more than 100 000 km/h, the distance to Earth diminished from 281 940 km to 128 000 km during the time the sequence was captured.

On 9 April, ahead of the flyby, and then again today, just before closing in, the BepiColombo monitoring cameras snapped a series of images of Earth from space, picturing our planet in these difficult times for humans across Europe and the world.

“These selfies from space are humbling, showing our planet, the common home that we share, in one of the most troubling and uncertain periods many of us have gone through,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Director of Science, who also followed the event remotely from home, in Spain.

“We are scientists who fly spacecraft to explore the Solar System and observe the Universe in search of our cosmic origins, but before that we are humans, caring for one another and coping with a planetary emergency together. When I look at these images, I am reminded of the strength and resilience of humankind, of the challenges we can overcome when we team up, and I wish they bring you the same sense of hope for our future.”

Join us on ESA Web TV on 10 April at 17:00 CEST for a live streamed conversation featuring ESA mission experts and scientists from some of the instrument teams, reflecting on the flyby and presenting data gathered by the different instruments:

BepiColombo en route to Mercury

About BepiColombo

BepiColombo is Europe's first mission to Mercury. Launched on 20 October 2018, it is on a seven-year journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System. The mission is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), carried out under ESA leadership.

BepiColombo comprises two scientific orbiters: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (Mio). After arrival at Mercury in late 2025, it will need more than 15 additional manoeuvres to place the two orbiters in their dedicated polar orbits around the planet. Starting science operations in early 2026, both orbiters will gather data during a one-year nominal mission, with a possible one-year extension. The mission is named after the Italian mathematician and engineer Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920–84).

Follow the mission via

The JAXA mission website is available in English here:

Animations, Images, Text, Credits: ESA/JAXA/Ninja Menning/ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ATG Medialab.

Best regards,

jeudi 9 avril 2020

Understanding Epigenetics Research in Space

ISS - International Space Station logo.

April 9, 2020

A growing body of research links the ways that organisms react to their environment at a cellular level to a surprising variety of behaviors and physical changes. The mechanism is genetic, but it involves adding extra information to DNA rather than changing it. Scientists call this mechanism epigenetics, and it plays a role in changes that humans and other living things experience in space. Now a hot field of study in the biosciences, epigenetics is generating research on many specific organisms aboard the International Space Station.

According to a paper from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, epigenetics includes any process that alters gene activity without changing the actual DNA sequence and that leads to modifications that can pass to offspring. Essentially, it involves information added to the DNA sequence of the four bases or building blocks of DNA: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T).

Image above: Advanced Plant EXperiments 03-2 (APEX-03-2) investigates epigenetic changes in Arabidopsis, or thale cress, in microgravity. Image Credits: Anna-Lisa Paul, University of Florida.

“The DNA sequence is the blueprint for any living thing, for who and what you are,” says Sarah Wallace, a microbiologist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Epigenetics refers to changes in an organism due to changes in genes being expressed, or turned on or off, without altering that blueprint. Think of it as not changing where a window is on the wall of a house, but adding a curtain over that window for shade.”

Various environmental cues can cause organisms to reveal new aspects of their genetic blueprint. Unlike a genetic change or mutation, an epigenetic change can reverse if an organism leaves the environment that caused it.

Any outside stimulus that the body can detect – from chemicals to trauma to exercise – has the potential to cause epigenetic changes. Many epigenetic changes are positive or even essential, but some cause major adverse health and behavioral effects, including cancer, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, and changes in cognitive function.

Image above: The MiniON DNA sequencer in use on the space station to demonstrate that DNA sequencing is feasible in an orbiting spacecraft to identify microbes, diagnose diseases and understand crew member health, and potentially help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system. Image Credit: NASA.

Epigenetics research in microgravity involves a variety of organisms. “We’ve seen from years of analysis that the spaceflight environment changes gene expression,” Wallace says. “In every organism and cell type we’ve sent to space and looked at, we’ve seen that it changes. What we don’t always know is how or why, and epigenetics could help tell us. Through the study of epigenetics, we may be able to delineate the pathway that cells use to adapt and survive in microgravity. When we understand the mechanics of how and why it happens, we can put the process together and learn to control positive changes or prevent negative ones.”

The landmark Twins Study from NASA’s Human Research Program brought together 10 research teams from around the country to observe changes to the human body after nearly a year-long exposure to spaceflight hazards. The study compared a wide range of samples and measurements collected over the length of the mission of astronaut Scott Kelly (now retired) to those of his identical twin brother who remained on Earth, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. One aspect researchers compared was the brothers’ epigenetic changes, finding that Scott experienced epigenetic changes inflight, but to a degree no greater than Mark’s on Earth. Furthermore, most of Scott’s epigenetic changes took place during the second six-months of the mission and may not have been observed in a shorter mission.

A study of bone loss that astronauts experience on extended missions relies on epigenetics. Researchers who evaluated the formation of bone cells in microgravity using human blood-derived stem cells (BDSCs) as a model reported specific epigenetic changes in the cells in space. The Italian Space Agency investigation is called Role of the Endocannabinoid System in Pluripotent Human Stem Cell Reprogramming under Microgravity Conditions (SERISM).

Animation above: NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson changes out of petri plates in the Light Microscopy Module for the APEX-04 experiment. Animation Credit: NASA.

APEX-03 and APEX-04 are studies of how plants grow in microgravity. These studies examined DNA methylation and gene expression in Arabidopsis thaliana plants grown from seeds aboard the space station. A member of the mustard family, this plant commonly serves as a model organism for cellular and genetic studies of flowering plants.

The Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division (SLPSRA) of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington sponsors the APEX investigations as part of its mission to conduct research that enables human spaceflight exploration.

In addition to widespread changes in patterns of gene expression, researchers found epigenetic changes in the space-grown plants.

“That answers the question of whether epigenetics has a role in a plant’s physiological adaptation to spaceflight,” says Robert J. Ferl, a researcher at the University of Florida. “Plants were using epigenetic processes to modify their genome in order to thrive in space. In APEX-04, we disrupted a plant’s ability to make those epigenetic changes to see if those plants suffer stress more in space, and the answer is yes. That not only tells us that it happens but also that it is important that it happens in space.”

When plants experience unusual environments, they change gene expression patterns. Using epigenetic processes to mark genes prepares the next generation for encountering the same environment. One type of epigenetic process that researchers can detect is methylation, or the addition or removal of a methyl group (CH3) in DNA, predominantly where C bases occur consecutively.

The International Space lab orbiting around the Earth (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

“A specific methylation pattern shows us which genes the plant thinks are important in order to live in space,” Ferl says. “Using that information, we could breed plants better enabled for space, just as we can breed plants better adapted for high salt environments on Earth.”

The next step, he added, is to ask whether those markers persist across generations. In fact, a hot area of study is whether epigenetics pass to subsequent generations – or, as Wallace puts it, whether mom having a curtain over the window passes on to her offspring.

“In an upcoming spaceflight experiment, we are testing whether the epigenetic changes induced by spaceflight in one generation of Arabidopsis are inherited in the next,” says University of Florida researcher Anna-Lisa Paul, co-investigator with Ferl. “The big question is whether an inherited epigenome confers an advantage to the next generation of space-grown plants. That’s what we hope to determine.”

Expect to see more research on epigenetics in space. “It is the kind of work that begs to be done,” Ferl says. “And now, we have capabilities to start doing more of this work, such as being able to sequence DNA in space.”

While changes at the level of DNA in organisms exposed to space have always been there, Wallace explains, we haven’t always been able to see them. “Most traditional DNA sequencers don’t provide that level of information without prior processing of the sample, but a tool on the space station called the MinION can. We can culture organisms onboard and see changes in methylation patterns, for example, without having to fix or freeze the sample, processes that could themselves alter things. We can get a real-time snapshot to help us define these changes as they are happening and potentially how they are passed down.”

Ultimately, epigenetics could help scientists put curtains over windows that need them and keep them off those that do not.

Related links:

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:

Twins Study:

Spaceflight hazards:

Epigenetic changes:






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/Melissa Gaskill.


Top Five Mercury mysteries that BepiColombo will solve

ESA - BepiColombo Mission patch / NASA - MESSENGER Mission patch.

April 9, 2020

Mercury is a desert world which scientists until recently considered quite uninteresting. NASA’s Mariner and MESSENGER missions, however, revealed that there is much more to the smallest and innermost planet of the Solar System than meets the eye. Despite temperatures on its surface rising up to 450°C, there seems to be water ice on Mercury. The planet also appears to have a way too large inner core for its size and a surprising chemical composition. Here are the top five Mercury mysteries that the European-Japanese BepiColombo mission might solve.

Messenger’s iridescent Mercury

1. Where did Mercury form?

Only a little larger than the Moon, Mercury zooms around the Sun on an elliptical orbit every 88 days. At its closest, the planet gets to only one third of the Earth-Sun distance. Has it always been in this place? Scientists are not so sure.

Data from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015, revealed that there is too much of the volatile chemical element potassium, as compared to the more stable radioactive thorium, in the material on the surface of Mercury.

“Potassium evaporates very quickly in a hot environment while thorium survives even in very high temperatures,” says Johannes Benkhoff, ESA BepiColombo Project Scientist. “Planets that formed closer to the Sun therefore usually have more thorium as compared to potassium. The ratio of these elements was measured on Earth, Mars, the Moon and Venus and it seems to be correlated with the temperature at which the bodies are believed to have formed. But on Mercury we see much more potassium than we would expect.”

In fact, the ratio of potassium to thorium on Mercury is comparable to that of Mars, which is much farther away from the Sun. Johannes admits that no existing planet formation model can properly explain this deviation. Scientists therefore started looking into the possibility that Mercury may have formed farther away from the Sun, about as far as Mars, and was thrust closer to the star by a collision with another large body. A powerful impact could also explain why Mercury has such an oversized internal core and a relatively thin outer mantel.

Mercury's inner core appears too big for such a small planet

Mercury's core, approximately 3600 km in diameter, sits inside the planet's diameter of less than 5000 km, making up over 40% of the planet’s volume. In comparison, Earth has a diameter of about 12 700 km, but its core is only 1200 km across.

“One theory is that this big impact in the past, in addition to possibly pushing Mercury to where it is today, also stripped away most of the crust material and left behind the dense core with only a thin outer layer,” says Johannes.

Some even suggest that the ancient Mercury may have been the mysterious body believed to have struck Earth some 4.5 billion years ago, a collision that, according to some theories, created a large amount of debris that led to the formation of the Moon.

How much light can BepiColombo shed on the mystery of Mercury’s formation? Johannes says that instruments such as the MERTIS Radiometer and Thermal Infrared Spectrometer, the MIXS Imaging X-ray Spectrometer and MGNS Gamma-ray and Neutron Spectrometer will provide a new level of insight into the mineralogical and elemental composition of Mercury’s surface. Orbiting closer to the planet than its predecessor MESSENGER, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), one of the two orbiters comprising the BepiColmbo mission, will image Mercury’s surface with higher resolution and also provide better coverage of the planet’s southern hemisphere compared to MESSENGER.

2. Is there really water on Mercury?

Image above: NASA's mission MESSENGER, which orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015, detected what appears to be water ice in craters around Mercury's poles.

With temperatures on its surface reaching up to 450°C, one wouldn’t expect to find water on Mercury, let alone ice. Surprisingly, when MESSENGER looked into some of the craters around the planet’s poles, it saw what appeared like light reflected from a mass of water ice.

“We have strong indications that there might be water ice in these craters, but it has not been detected directly,” says Johannes. “With the instruments that we have on MPO, we hope to be able not only to measure water content directly and confirm whether there really is water but also to attempt to find out how much of it is there.”

The notion of water ice on the scorched planet is not so absurd, Johannes adds. Mercury rotates around an axis that is perpendicular to its orbital plane. The planet is therefore not tilted like Earth. As a result, the sunrays, three times more intense than on Earth, never reach inside the polar craters, allowing them to remain constantly ice cold.

Johannes hopes that with the ability of MPO’s instruments to identify the precise elemental composition of the surface of Mercury, scientists might even get an idea of where this ice actually came from. Scientists think the ice probably doesn’t come from Mercury directly. Its origin, however, is another mystery. Comets are the likeliest source of water on Earth, but not many are believed to have struck Mercury in the past.

“Comets in this region are quite rare and usually end up in the Sun because of its strong gravity,” says Johannes. “The ice may have come from asteroids that have collided with Mercury throughout its evolution. Thanks to the cold temperatures in the shaded craters, the ice may have survived there for tens of millions of years.”

Although BepiColombo will not provide a definite answer, its thorough measurements of the polar areas can provide some hints about the origin of Mercury’s ice.

3. Is Mercury dead or alive?

Image above: Small dents, or hollows, in the Kertész crater of Mercury. These previously unknown geological features were discovered by NASA’s MESSENGER mission and their origin remains a mystery.

Unlikely to host life, with a parched, seemingly dead surface, Mercury has always been an underdog of Solar System exploration. When the MESSENGER spacecraft finally took a close look at the planet’s surface, however, it found that there might be more going on on Mercury than one would expect.

The mission found strange geological features, unknown from other planets, dotting the areas inside and around some of Mercury’s craters. These dents in the surface, or hollows, as the scientists call them, appear to be caused by the evaporation of material from inside Mercury.

“The interesting thing is that these hollows appear to be fairly recent,” says Johannes. “It appears that there is some volatile material coming up from the outer layer of Mercury and sublimating into the surrounding space, leaving behind these strange features.”

Since BepiColombo will commence its survey of Mercury ten years after the end of the MESSENGER mission, the scientists hope that they might find evidence of the hollows changing, either growing or shrinking. That would mean that Mercury is still an active, living planet, and not a dead world like the Moon.

“If we prove that these hollows are changing, that would be one of the most fantastic results we could get with BepiColombo,” says Johannes. “The process driving the creation of these hollows is totally unknown. It might be caused by the heat or by solar particles bombarding the surface of the planet. It’s something completely new and everyone is looking forward to getting more data.”

4. Why is Mercury so dark?
Planet Mercury

With its crater-ridden dusty surface, Mercury might seem quite similar to the Earth’s natural satellite, the Moon. At least at first glance. At closer inspection, and for reasons that scientists don’t yet understand, Mercury appears much darker. The planet reflects only about two-thirds as much light as material collected from the Moon.

The MERTIS thermal infrared spectrometer aboard the MPO will create a detailed map of the distribution of minerals on Mercury’s surface. By providing better accuracy and resolution of the elemental composition compared to the MESSENGER data, MERTIS and other MPO instruments will help answer the question why Mercury is so dark.

“There are various explanations as to why Mercury is as dark as it is,” says Johannes. “It’s possible that the material on its surface is similar to what we can see on other planets but the extreme heat on Mercury makes those materials appear darker. There is also a possibility that what we see on the surface is graphite, which is very dark as well. A graphite rich layer could have formed inside the planet as it was cooling down. Some of this material may have been brought to the surface during further evolution.”

5. How come Mercury has a magnetic field?

Not too many planets have a magnetic field. Among the rocky planets of the inner Solar System, only Mercury and Earth have one. Mars used to have a magnetic field in the past and lost it. Mercury appears too small to have one. Yet, it still does, even though it’s one hundred times weaker than the magnetic field of Earth. Scientists wonder what sustains this magnetic field despite the odds stacked against it.

Earth’s magnetic field is generated by the fast spinning of its liquid iron core. As for Mercury, scientists used to think that the core, due to the planet’s small size, must have cooled down and solidified since the planet’s formation. Is that really the case?

“Mercury’s core must be partially molten to explain this magnetism,” says Johannes. “We can also measure tides on the surface of Mercury, suggesting there must be liquid inside the planet. As Mercury orbits around the Sun and interacts with its gravity, we expect a bulge to form and change its size while moving around the Sun.”


At its largest, this bulge, according to some estimates, can be up to 14 metres high. Following Mercury throughout its journey around the Sun, which takes the planet from as close as 46 million kilometres to as far as 70 million kilometres away from the Sun, BepiColombo will be able to makes precise measurements of the changes in the bulge. The data will help scientists to better estimate the size of the inner liquid core.

Mercury’s magnetic field also appears shifted 400 kilometres to the north and not centred in the middle of the planet like that of Earth.


The two orbiters comprising the BepiColombo mission, ESA’s MPO and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (Mio) of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), will study Mercury’s magnetic field in greater detail than any spacecraft before and shed light on these perplexing questions. The two orbiters will travel through different areas of Mercury’s magnetosphere and on different timescales. They will measure simultaneously how the magnetic field changes over time and in space, and attempt to explain how the close proximity of the Sun and interaction with the powerful solar wind affect the magnetic field.

Understanding Mercury’s magnetic field in a greater detail will also help astronomers gain further insight into what is going on inside the mysterious planet.

Related links:

ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO):

BepiColmbo mission:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Inst. Washington.

Best regards,

New Crew Docks, Hatches Open, Enters Station, Begins 195-Day Mission

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-16 Mission patch.

April 9, 2020

Image above: The Soyuz MS-16 crew ship carrying the Exp 63 crew approaches its docking port on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner docked to the International Space Station at 10:13 a.m. EDT while both spacecraft were flying about 260 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

Soyuz MS-16 docking

Aboard the space station, NASA Flight Engineers Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir and Expedition 62 Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos will welcome the new crew members when the hatches between the two spacecraft are opened following standard pressurization and leak checks.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, along with Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of the Russian space agency Roscosmos joined Expedition 62 Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos and NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir aboard the International Space Station when the hatches between the Soyuz spacecraft and the orbiting laboratory officially opened at 12:28 p.m. EDT.

Soyuz MS-16 hatch opening

The arrival temporarily restores the station’s crew complement to six for the remainder of Expedition 62.

Cassidy, Morgan, and Meir are set to participate in a crew news conference at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, April 10. The teleconference will stream on NASA TV and the agency’s website. Recorded video of the crew working on the International Space Station will air at 10:30 a.m.

Image above: The new Expedition 63 crew joined the Expedition 62 crew today a board the International Space Station. (Front row from left) NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. (Back row from left) NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Skripochka, Morgan, and Meir will undock in their Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft to return to Earth April 17. At the time of undocking, Expedition 63 will begin with Cassidy as the commander for a mission of more than six months during which they will conduct about 160 science investigations in fields such as, biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development. Work on the unique microgravity laboratory advances scientific knowledge and demonstrates new technologies, making research breakthroughs that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration of the Moon and Mars.

The crew members of Expedition 63 are scheduled to be aboard the station to welcome the first commercial crew spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who will arrive on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test, currently targeted to launch in mid-to-late May.

It is the third spaceflight for Cassidy and Ivanishin and the first for Vagner.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Expedition 63:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


New Crew Reaches Orbit, Heads Toward Station

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-16 Mission patch.

April 9, 2020

Image above: The Soyuz MS-16 rocket ascends toward space with three Expedition 63 crewmembers heading to the space station today. Image Credit: NASA TV.

After a successful launch at 4:05 a.m. EDT of the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts safely reached orbit, beginning a four-orbit, six-hour flight to reach the International Space Station and join the Expedition 62 crew. At the time of launch, the station was flying about 259 miles over northeast Kazakhstan, south of the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan and 587 statute miles ahead of the Soyuz as it left the launch pad.

Soyuz-2.1a launches Soyuz MS-16

Cassidy, along with Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, will dock the Soyuz to the station’s Poisk service module at 10:15 a.m. Coverage of the docking will begin on NASA TV and the agency’s website at 9:30 a.m.

About two hours after docking, hatches between the Soyuz and the station will open, and they will join Expedition 62 Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos and NASA Flight Engineers Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir.

Image above: Expedition 63 crewmembers (from left) Chris Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner pose for pictures the day before launch. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

Skripochka, Morgan, and Meir will complete their station mission and return to Earth April 17 on the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft, which will land in Kazakhstan. Morgan launched July 20, 2019, for an extended duration mission. Meir and Skripochka launched to the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft on Sept. 25, 2019.

Related links:

Expedition 62:

Expedition 63:


International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

mercredi 8 avril 2020

NASA Finds Very Heavy Rainfall in Major Tropical Cyclone Harold

NASA & JAXA - Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) patch.

Apr. 08, 2020

Harold – Southern Pacific Ocean

On April 8, Tropical Cyclone Harold is a major hurricane, a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, as it exits Fiji and heads toward the island of Tonga. NASA used satellite data to calculate the rainfall generated by this powerful and destructive storm in the Southern Pacific Ocean.

IMERG Video of Harold on Apr. 8, 2020

This animation shows the heavy precipitation associated with Tropical Cyclone Harold as it progresses from the Solomon Islands (upper left) on April 2, 2020, explosively intensifies on April 3, reaches Vanuatu (center) as a Category 4 storm on April 5 before briefly attaining Category 5 status on April 6 and passing just south of Fiji (center right) on April 7 as a Category 4 storm. Periodically, Harold’s core region produced precipitation rates in excess of 30 millimeters per hour, which is equivalent to a 7-inch-deep rain accumulation if the core region were to remain over a given location for 6 hours. The precipitation estimates in this animation come from the IMERG multi-satellite algorithm developed by NASA and run in near real-time. Credit: NASA/JAXA, B. Jason West and Owen Kelley

Harold brought flooding rains and strong hurricane-force winds to the South Pacific island nation of Fiji on Wednesday, April 8. The Fiji Meteorological Service noted that Harold’s strength ranked in the highest category of five, when passed over Fiji’s south at about midday (local time). Earlier in the week, Harold caused damages and communications outages when it passed over Vanuatu on April 7, and killed dozens of people in the Solomon Islands.

Visualizing Harold’s Heavy Rainfall

At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the heavy rain generated from Harold from April 2 to 8 was calculated and mapped in an animation.

“This animation shows the heavy precipitation associated with Tropical Cyclone Harold as it progresses from the Solomon Islands on April 2, 2020, explosively intensifies on April 3, reaches Vanuatu as a Category 4 storm on April 5 before briefly attaining Category 5 status on April 6 and passing just south of Fiji on April 7 as a Category 4 storm,” said B. Jason West, Science Data Analyst for the Precipitation Processing System (PPS) at NASA Goddard.

Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM). Image Credits: NASA/JAXA

The data showed that periodically, Harold’s core region produced precipitation rates were in excess of 30 millimeters per hour (mm/h), which is equivalent to a 7-inch-deep rain accumulation if the core region were to remain over a given location for 6 hours. The precipitation estimates in this animation come from the IMERG multi-satellite algorithm developed by NASA and run in near real-time.

What is NASA’s IMERG?

NASA’s Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM or IMERG, is a NASA satellite rainfall product. The near-real time rain estimates come from the NASA’s IMERG, which combines observations from a fleet of satellites, in near-real time, to provide near-global estimates of precipitation every 30 minutes. By combining NASA precipitation estimates with other data sources, we can gain a greater understanding of major storms that affect our planet.

Instead, what the IMERG does is “morph” high-quality satellite observations along the direction of the steering winds to deliver information about rain at times and places where such satellite overflights did not occur. Information morphing is particularly important over the majority of the world’s surface that lacks ground-radar coverage. Basically, IMERG fills in the blanks between weather observation stations.

Harold’s Status on April 8, 2020

Image above: This IMERG image estimates rainfall from March 30 to April 7 just west of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The deeper red areas indicated rainfall totals up to almost 750 mm (30 inches) west and east of Vanuatu. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA, Steve Lang.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center or JTWC noted that Harold had maximum sustained winds near 120 knots (138 mph/222 kph) on April 8 at 10 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC). That makes it a Category 4 hurricane and a major storm. Harold was located near latitude 21.2 degrees south and longitude 176.9 degrees west, approximately 248 nautical miles southeast of Suva, Fiji, and has tracked east-southeastward at 23 knots (26 mph/43 kph).

What is Ahead for Harold

JTWC forecasters said what lies ahead for Harold is a hostile environment as vertical wind shear (winds that blow at different levels of the atmosphere that can tear a storm apart) will increase, and Harold will track through cooler waters (that will not help maintain thunderstorm development which a tropical cyclone needs to maintain structure and strength). On April 9, Harold is expected to begin interacting with the mid-latitude westerlies (winds) and start extratropical transition.

Tropical cyclones/hurricanes are the most powerful weather events on Earth. NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration using a fleet of satellites contributes to essential services provided to the American people by other federal agencies, such as hurricane weather forecasting.

For more information about NASA’s IMERG, visit:

Category 4 hurricane and a major storm:

For more information about GPM, visit: and

Video, Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Rob Gutro.