vendredi 17 juillet 2020

Spacewalk Preps and 45 Years of U.S.-Russian Space Cooperation Today

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

July 17, 2020

It was 45 years ago today when American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts shook hands for the first time in Earth orbit. The Apollo crew ship commanded by NASA astronaut Tom Stafford docked to the Soyuz crew ship led by Alexei Leonov on July 17, 1975, signifying the beginning of international cooperation in space.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project Crew's. Image Credit: NASA

Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy and Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner commemorated the event today with a call from U.S. and Russian dignitaries. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project would lay the groundwork for the Shuttle-Mir project and the International Space Station program.

Watch the event on YouTube:

Cassidy later joined his NASA crewmates Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to prepare for Tuesday’s spacewalk to wrap up battery swaps on the orbiting lab. Behnken and Cassidy will install the last lithium-ion battery on the station’s truss structure completing the 3.5 year-long power upgrade job. This follows Thursday’s six-hour spacewalk when the duo installed three lithium-ion batteries.

Image above: Astronaut Chris Cassidy works during a spacewalk on July 16 to install lithium-ion batteries on the station. The orbiting lab was flying into an orbital sunrise at the time this photograph was taken. Image Credit: NASA.

Before they go back inside the Quest airlock next week, the veteran spacewalkers will have one more job. The duo will get the Tranquility module ready for a new airlock built by NASA commercial partner NanoRacks. The airlock will enable public and private research on the outside of the station after its delivery on an upcoming SpaceX Dragon cargo mission.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Meanwhile, critical space science to benefit humans on and off the Earth continues aboard the station. Ivanishin explored how microgravity impacts blood circulation and pain sensitivity. Vagner collected radiation measurements then studied how crews may pilot spaceships and robots on future space missions.

NASA Announces Crew Dragon Splashdown Date

Image above: NASA astronauts (from left) Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, are pictured inside the orbiting lab shortly after arriving aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on May 31. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine today announced August 2 as the target splashdown date for DM-2 crew members Behnken and Hurley, with additional details on the return of this historic mission to come.

Related articles:

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project: An Orbital Partnership Is Born

NASA Astronauts Conclude Today’s Spacewalk

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Commercial Crew Program:

Tranquility module:

Blood circulation:

Pain sensitivity:

Pilot spaceships and robots:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of July 13, 2020

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

July 17, 2020

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted research during the week of July 13 that included studies on imaging and measuring particles on the space station and improving diet and immune function. The crew also set up hardware for taking student-selected images of Earth.

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. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, once again launching astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil, increases the crew time available for science on the orbiting lab.

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

Students take their shots

Image above: This Sally Ride EarthKAM image, one of the first from the July 2020 mission, shows Lake Disappointment in Western Australia. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew switched lenses for a Sally Ride Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle Schools (EarthKAM) operation. Students control a special digital camera to take photographs of Earth’s features so they can examine them from the perspective of space. Hundreds of thousands of students have photographed coastlines, mountain ranges, and other geographic features, and the EarthKAM team posts these photographs on the Internet for viewing by the public and classrooms around the world. The first photos for EarthKAM mission 70 were posted online this week.

Patrolling for particles

Image above: View of the ESA Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) installed on the exterior of the space station. ASIM studies severe thunderstorms and their role in Earth’s atmosphere and climate. Image Credit: NASA.

During the week, the crew performed troubleshooting operations for the Mochii Microscope. Mochii is a miniature scanning electron microscope that conducts real-time imaging and measures the composition of particles on the space station. Particles can cause vehicle and equipment malfunctions and threaten crew health. Without the use of Mochii, samples must be returned to Earth for analysis. Not only does this requirement leave the crew and station at risk while waiting for results, but future deep space exploration missions will not have the option of sending samples back. In addition, Mochii provides a platform to support science and engineering applications, including planetary science on crewed and robotic missions.

A better diet for better health

Image above: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy processes biological samples for the Food Physiology experiment, which examines the effects of an enhanced spaceflight diet on immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutrition. Image Credit: NASA.

The many effects of spaceflight on human physiology include changes to the immune system. Immune function is linked to diet, and the latter can be easily and meaningfully altered to improve the former. The Integrated Impact of Diet on Human Immune Response, the Gut Microbiota, and Nutritional Status During Adaptation to Spaceflight (Food Physiology) investigation documents the effects of dietary improvements on immune function and the gut microbiome and the ability of those improvements to support adaptation to spaceflight. With improved understanding of food’s effects on physiology, scientists can continue to improve the spaceflight diet and crew health. Crew members conducted briefings for the investigation during the week.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- An ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, Acoustic Upgraded Diagnostics In-Orbit (Acoustic Diagnostics) assesses the possible adverse effects of noise and the microgravity environment by testing the hearing of crew members before, during, and after flight.

- The ESA (European Space Agency) Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) is an Earth observation facility studying severe thunderstorms and their role in Earth’s atmosphere and climate. Upper-atmospheric lightning phenomena occur well above the altitudes of normal lightning and storm clouds, and the space station’s low-Earth orbit provides an ideal platform for measuring them.

- Demonstration of JEM Water Recovery System (JWRS) from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency demonstrates a system for generating potable water from urine. Water could become a limiting factor on long-term space missions and this water recovery system contributes to updating the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS).

Space to Ground: Outside The Hatch: 07/17/2020

Related links:

Expedition 63:

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program:


Food Physiology:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Vdeo (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 63.

Best regards,

Hubble Spies Sparkling Galaxy

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 17, 2020

As beautiful as the surrounding space may be, the sparkling galaxy in the foreground of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope undeniably steals the show.

This spotlight-hogging galaxy, seen set against a backdrop of more distant galaxies of all shapes and sizes, is known as PGC 29388. Although it dominates in this image, this galaxy is a small player on the cosmic stage and is known as a dwarf elliptical galaxy. As the “dwarf” moniker suggests, the galaxy is on the smaller side, and boasts a “mere” 100 million to a few billion stars — a very small number indeed when compared to the Milky Way's population of around 250 billion to 400 billion stellar residents.

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, T. Armandroff.


NASA Scientist Over the Moon With Homegrown Radish Research

ISS - Veggie Mission - Space Plant Biology patch.

July 17,2020

How two video meetings, two online purchases, and a kitchen counter led to what could be "one small step" for future astronauts to grow food on the Moon.

While others have perfected sourdough starter or whipped up chocolate chip cookies during the pandemic, NASA scientist Max Coleman has been toiling in his kitchen over containers of baby radishes - all in the name of science.

Animation above: Time-lapse video taken with and iPhone (Sunday, June 14, 10 a.m. to Thursday, June 18, 8:45 a.m.) shows radishes sprouting on the kitchen counter in Max Coleman's Pasadena home. Action begins in the container on the right, but keep an eye on the activity starting in the container on the left. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Why radishes?

"They have been used before in space, and they germinate very, very fast," Coleman says.

Previously, other researchers had sent radishes to the International Space Station, and now, Coleman and his colleagues hope to help the quest for astronauts to eventually grow their own food on the lunar surface.

Image above: Coleman's makeshift kitchen "lab." Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The team of 13 is trying to simulate - physically and chemically - lunar surface soil, or regolith, here on Earth, including such details as how quickly water is absorbed between lunar soil grains, how big the particles are, and what proportions of minerals are ideal.

Video Meetings Plant the Seed

Coleman and team spent over a year doing their research at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and were about to start hands-on tests of sensors that might eventually be used on the Moon. Mandatory telework in response to the coronavirus interrupted those plans.

Then, one day in April during a video team meeting from home, an idea sprouted in Coleman's head for a homemade radish lab. They were discussing how they could, hypothetically, try growing some radishes with no nutrients and some with a small amount of nutrients.

"Let's not theorize about this; why don't we just do it!" was Coleman's battle cry. And before the virtual meeting had ended, he had bought a batch of radish seeds online to be delivered to his home. A subsequent video meeting prompted another impulse buy. "Video chats clearly stimulate me," Coleman jokes. This time, it was desert sand, which is often sold to be used as a top layer to make indoor potted plants look pretty.

Image above: Radishes in the section with the least water germinated first and best.Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Armed with the radish seeds and desert sand, Coleman was ready for serious business.

"We're trying to show astronauts can use horticulture to grow their own food on the Moon," he explains. "We want to do one tiny step in that direction, to show that lunar soil contains stuff which can be extracted from it as nutrients for plants. This includes getting the right chemical elements to allow plants to make chlorophyll and grow cell walls."

Because the Moon always faces Earth as it orbits our planet every month, it is essentially turning on its axis once a month. The lunar timeline (one Moon day equals 28 Earth days, 14 days of daylight) makes quick-sprouting radishes a good bet for relatively rapid experiment results. It will be possible to complete the experiment in one lunar day, starting just after dawn.

Research in the Home Kitchen

Coleman started his first radish experiment by cutting paper towels into small squares, adding water, stuffing them into a container, then tucking in three radish seeds at a depth of half an inch. Only one sprouted - apparently the one that somehow got enough oxygen to germinate. Once the sand arrived, Coleman ditched the paper towels and started using it in a four-compartment deli container.

He put varying amounts of water in the four sections. The result: Radishes in the section with the least water germinated first and best, which was interesting because, he says, "we want to see how little water we can get away with." Coleman adds, "This immediately had an impact on how we would do the experiment with water and lunar soil if we get it to the Moon." He considers this an example of serendipity in research.

Coleman also raided the kitchen for chopsticks to make holes in the soil surface for each seed. And at one point, he added kitchen-counter "electrodes" to measure moisture levels and track evaporation in the desert sand: He folded aluminum foil four or five times to make a strip, then used his battery tester to measure electrical resistance from the water.

The team's research is aimed at biological in-situ resource utilization - tackling such challenges as where to get food as opposed to how to get water and oxygen. Coleman explains that, for future astronauts, "the more you can use what's already there, the more efficient you can be because you don't have to carry that much with you." Their specific work is to develop a small payload on a commercial spacecraft going to the Moon, which, if selected, would be delivered to the lunar surface through the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. The team planned to develop the experiment as a suitable payload for a CLPS spacecraft in terms of size, mass, power requirement, and communication needs.

By going to the Moon, the radish experiment would complement plant predecessors tested under microgravity conditions on the space station. For example, the currently flying Vegetable Production System, or Veggie, features plants growing in specially prepared soil, with the goal of eventually providing food for space station astronauts.

"We can't properly test here on Earth with perfect lunar soil, but we're doing as much here as we can. Then we want to show that it actually does work on the Moon," Coleman says.

Principal Investigator Pamela E. Clark leads the JPL radish research team, which includes John Elliott, who started the project, and Gerald Voecks, who works with Coleman on measurements. Together, they're designing the potential Moon experiment and a payload that would put lunar soil in a chamber, where water and air would be added in an attempt to raise radishes. JPL's Human/Robotic and Emerging Capabilities Office is funding the current work.

Growing Young Minds

Coleman has been documenting the sprouting radish experiment with his smartphone and sharing the progress with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Lillibette, in England. He even ordered a second radish-seed purchase for her. Her response to her grandfather? "I could plant them and eat radishes, or I could plant them and do what you're doing."

Image above: JPL Senior Research Scientist Max Coleman in his kitchen.Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Coleman says that if the lunar payload concept were to fly someday, Lillibette and other children might be able to follow the mission. The team plans to include a small, simple camera, and make images and other data available so that, as he envisions it, "kids of Earth can watch radishes grow on the Moon."

Related links:


NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS):

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Matthew Segal, written by Jane Platt.


The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project: An Orbital Partnership Is Born

NASA -  Apollo-Soyuz Test Project patch / Soviet Union "CCCP" (actually ROSCOSMOS) Apollo-Soyuz Test Project patch.

July 17, 2020

On July 17, 1975, something momentous happened: two Cold War rivals met in space. When their respective spacecraft rendezvoused and docked, a new era of cooperative ventures in space began.

For more than two decades, American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts have been regularly living and working together in Earth orbit, first in the Shuttle-Mir program, and now on the International Space Station. But, before the two Cold War-rivals first met in orbit in 1975, such a partnership seemed unlikely. Since Sputnik bleeped into orbit in 1957, there had been a Space Race, with the U.S. and then-Soviet Union driven more by competition than cooperation. When President John F. Kennedy called for a crewed Moon landing in 1961, he spoke of "battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny" and referred to the "head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines."

But by the mid-1970s things had changed. The U.S. had "won" the race to the Moon, with six Apollo landings between 1969 and 1972. Both nations had launched space stations, the Russian Salyut and American Skylab. With the space shuttle still a few years off and the diplomatic chill thawing, the time was right for a joint mission.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Image Credit: NASA

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project would send NASA astronauts Tom Stafford, Donald K. "Deke" Slayton and Vance Brand in an Apollo Command and Service Module to meet Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Leonov and Valeriy Kubasov in a Soyuz capsule. A jointly designed, U.S.-built docking module fulfilled the main technical goal of the mission, demonstrating that two dissimilar craft could dock in orbit. But the human side of the mission went far beyond that.

Related links:


Apollo-Soyuz Test Project:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits:  Credit: NASA/Editor: NASA Administrator.

Best regards,

COVID-19 pandemic ends Jumbo Jet's reign in passenger transportation?

Boeing logo.

July 17, 2020

British Airways removes legendary Jumbo Jet from fleet

Boeing 747 "Jumbo Jet" British Airways

The 31 Boeing 747 "Jumbo Jet" will no longer fly under the colors of the British airline. This is because of the economic measures dictated by the coronavirus crisis. As for the Airbus A380.

The British airline British Airways announced Friday the withdrawal of the Boeing 747 "Jumbo Jet" from its fleet after the coronavirus epidemic which has shaken the air transport sector, forced to carry out a drastic austerity course.

"It is with great sadness that we can confirm that we are proposing to withdraw our entire 747 fleet with immediate effect," the company said in a statement. "Our magnificent" Queen of Heaven "is unlikely to be exploited again by British Airways given the reduced travel caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic," she added.

The company with the most 747

Launched in 1970 by the American manufacturer Boeing, the “Jumbo Jet” revolutionized the air transport market and became in the decades that followed a legendary aircraft capable of carrying 400 passengers on board. With 31 "Jumbos" in its fleet, British Airways said in its statement that it was the airline that continued to operate the most with this aircraft.

Boeing 747 "Jumbo Jet"

The entire aviation sector was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought an abrupt halt to activity due to containment measures taken by many countries to try to curb the spread of the virus.

The companies expect traffic to pick up slowly this summer and be depressed for several years, leading to drastic austerity treatments. British Airways, part of the IAG group, has announced its decision to cut 12,000 jobs, more than a quarter of its workforce.

Related articles:

Coronavirus kills A380

Planes have disappeared from the European sky

Images, Text, Credits: AFP/Boeing/British Airways/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Emirati probe to Mars launch again postponed

Emirates Mars Mission "Al-Amal" (Hope) patch.

July 17, 2020

The take-off of the "Al-Amal" probe was postponed twice this week due to unstable weather in Japan.

Image above: The take-off of the "Al-Amal" probe, initially scheduled for Wednesday, should take place Monday Sunday evening around midnight in Switzerland.

The UAE spacecraft "Hope", the first Arab mission to the planet Mars, will be sent to space on July 20 after several reports due to bad weather, announced the Japanese launch company on Friday.

A rich Gulf country, the United Arab Emirates is expected to be the first Arab country to send a probe to Mars. The launch was postponed twice this week due to unstable weather in Japan.

Emirates Mars Mission "Al-Amal" (Hope) probe

The take-off of the "Al-Amal" probe ("Hope" in English or "Espoir" in French), initially scheduled for Wednesday, should take place Monday 6:58 a.m. local time (11:58 p.m. GMT in Switzerland Sunday) from the Tanegashima space center , in southern Japan, said Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The Emirates space agency and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, which oversee the project, confirmed Friday the postponement of the launch of the probe to July 20 at 1:58 am, UAE time. "This date may change depending on weather conditions on the island of Tanegashima," added the two institutions on Twitter.

Twit from MBR Space Centre

"Hope" is expected to begin orbiting Mars by February 2021, marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of the seven principalities that make up the United Arab Emirates. Once there, the probe will circle the planet for an entire Martian year of 687 Earth days. The goal is to provide a complete picture of the dynamics of time in the atmosphere of the red planet.

The UAE program is one of three ongoing projects towards the red planet, alongside the Tianwen-1 from China and March 2020 from the United States, which take advantage of the period when Earth and Mars are closest: to barely 55 million km apart, compared to an average of around 76 million km.

Emirates Mars Mission:

Images, Text, Credits: AFP/Twitter/MBR Space Centre/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 16 juillet 2020

Runaway Star Might Explain Black Hole's Disappearing Act

NASA - Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) patch.

July 16, 2020

The telltale sign that the black hole was feeding vanished, perhaps when a star interrupted the feast. The event could lend new insight into these mysterious objects.

Images above: This illustration shows a black hole surrounded by a disk of gas. In the left panel, a streak of debris falls toward the disk. In the right panel, the debris has dispersed some of the gas, causing the corona (the ball of white light above the black hole) to disappear. Images Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

At the center of a far-off galaxy, a black hole is slowly consuming a disk of gas that swirls around it like water circling a drain. As a steady trickle of gas is pulled into the gaping maw, ultrahot particles gather close to the black hole, above and below the disk, generating a brilliant X-ray glow that can be seen 300 million light-years away on Earth. These collections of ultrahot gas, called black hole coronas, have been known to exhibit noticeable changes in their luminosity, brightening or dimming by up to 100 times as a black hole feeds.

But two years ago, astronomers watched in awe as X-rays from the black hole corona in a galaxy known as 1ES 1927+654 disappeared completely, fading by a factor of 10,000 in about 40 days. Almost immediately it began to rebound, and about 100 days later had become almost 20 times brighter than before the event.

The X-ray light from a black hole corona is a direct byproduct of the black hole's feeding, so the disappearance of that light from 1ES 1927+654 likely means that its food supply had been cut off. In a new study in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists hypothesize that a runaway star might have come too close to the black hole and been torn apart. If this was the case, fast-moving debris from the star could have crashed through part of the disk, briefly dispersing the gas.

"We just don't normally see variations like this in accreting black holes," said Claudio Ricci, an assistant professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, Chile, and lead author of the study. "It was so strange that at first we thought maybe there was something wrong with the data. When we saw it was real, it was very exciting. But we also had no idea what we were dealing with; no one we talked to had seen anything like this."

Nearly every galaxy in the universe may host a supermassive black hole at its center, like the one in 1ES 1927+654, with masses millions or billions of times greater than our Sun. They grow by consuming the gas encircling them, otherwise known as an accretion disk. Because black holes don't emit or reflect light, they can't be seen directly, but the light from their coronas and accretion disks offers a way to learn about these dark objects.

The authors' star hypothesis is also supported by the fact that a few months before the X-ray signal disappeared, observatories on Earth saw the disk brighten considerably in visible-light wavelengths (those that can be seen by the human eye). This might have resulted from the initial collision of the stellar debris with the disk.

Digging Deeper

The disappearing event in 1ES 1927+654 is unique not only because of the dramatic change in brightness, but also because of how thoroughly astronomers were able to study it. The visible-light flare prompted Ricci and his colleagues to request follow-up monitoring of the black hole using NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), an X-ray telescope aboard the International Space Station. In total, NICER observed the system 265 times over 15 months. Additional X-ray monitoring was obtained with NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory – which also observed the system in ultraviolet light – as well as NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the ESA (the European Space Agency) XMM-Newton observatory (which has NASA involvement).

When the X-ray light from the corona disappeared, NICER and Swift observed lower-energy X-rays from the system so that, collectively, these observatories provided a continuous stream of information throughout the event.

Although a wayward star seems the most likely culprit, the authors note that there could be other explanations for the unprecedented event. One remarkable feature of the observations is that the overall drop in brightness wasn't a smooth transition: Day to day, the low-energy X-rays NICER detected showed dramatic variation, sometimes changing in brightness by a factor of 100 in as little as eight hours. In extreme cases, black hole coronas have been known to become 100 times brighter or dimmer, but on much longer timescales. Such rapid changes occurring continuously for months was extraordinary.

"This dataset has a lot of puzzles in it," said Erin Kara, an assistant professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a coauthor of the new study. "But that's exciting, because it means we're learning something new about the universe. We think the star hypothesis is a good one, but I also think we're going to be analyzing this event for a long time."

It's possible that this kind of extreme variability is more common in black hole accretion disks than astronomers realize. Many operating and upcoming observatories are designed to search for short-term changes in cosmic phenomena, a practice known as "time domain astronomy," which could reveal more events like this one.

"This new study is a great example of how flexibility in observation scheduling allows NASA and ESA missions to study objects that evolve relatively quickly and look for longer-term changes in their average behavior," said Michael Loewenstein, a coauthor of the study and an astrophysicist for the NICER mission at the University of Maryland College Park and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Will this feeding black hole return to the state it was in before the disruption event? Or has the system been fundamentally changed? We're continuing our observations to find out."

More About the Missions

NICER is an Astrophysics Mission of Opportunity within NASA's Explorer program, which provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas.

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). Image Credit: NASA

NuSTAR recently celebrated eight years in space, having launched on June 13, 2012. A Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR's mission operations center is at the University of California, Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA's High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center at GSFC. ASI provides the mission's ground station and a mirror data archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

ESA's XMM-Newton observatory was launched in December 1999 from Kourou, French Guiana. NASA funded elements of the XMM-Newton instrument package and provides the NASA Guest Observer Facility at GSFC, which supports use of the observatory by U.S. astronomers.

GSFC manages the Swift mission in collaboration with Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems in Dulles, Virginia. Other partners include the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Science Laboratory of the University College London in the United Kingdom, Brera Observatory in Italy, and the Italian Space Agency.

For more information on NuSTAR, visit:

For more information on NICER, visit:

For more information on Swift, visit:

For more information on XMM-Newton, visit:

Images /mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius.


NASA Astronauts Conclude Today’s Spacewalk

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch / EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

July 16, 2020

NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Robert Behnken concluded their spacewalk at 1:10 p.m. EDT, after six hours. The two NASA astronauts completed all the work to replace batteries that provide power for the station’s solar arrays on the starboard truss of the complex. The new batteries provide an improved and more efficient power capacity for operations.

The spacewalkers removed six aging nickel-hydrogen batteries for the second of two power channels for the starboard 6 (S6) truss, installed three new lithium-ion batteries, and installed the three associated adapter plates that are used to complete the power circuit to the new batteries. Mission control reports that all three new batteries are working.

Image above: NASA astronaut pictured tethered on the space station’s truss structure during a spacewalk to swap batteries and route cables. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The work nearly completes a 3.5-year effort to upgrade the International Space Station’s power system. At completion, 24 new lithium-ion batteries and adapter plates will replace 48 aging nickel-hydrogen batteries. In April 2019, one of the newly installed lithium-ion batteries on the near port truss blew a fuse, so two nickel-hydrogen batteries were re-installed to take its place. A new replacement lithium-ion battery arrived to the space station in January 2020 aboard the SpaceX Dragon on its 19th commercial resupply services mission and is stowed on the station’s truss until it can be installed during a future spacewalk later this year.

Screen capture from ISS HD Live Now application, taken by OA/Roland Berga

Behnken and Cassidy are scheduled to conduct one more spacewalk Tuesday, July 21, during which they will remove two lifting fixtures used for ground processing of the station’s solar arrays prior to their launch. They’ll also begin preparing the Tranquility module for the installation of a commercial airlock provided by NanoRacks and scheduled to arrive on a SpaceX cargo flight later this year. The airlock will be used to deploy commercial and government-sponsored experiments into space.

Screen capture from ISS HD Live Now application, taken by OA/Roland Berga

This was the ninth spacewalk for each astronaut. Behnken has now spent a total of 55 hours and 41 minutes spacewalking. Cassidy now has spent a total of 49 hours and 22 minutes spacewalking.

Space station crew members have conducted 230 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 60 days, 6 hours, and 34 minutes working outside the station.

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Commercial Crew Program:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

NASA/Norah Moran/NASA TV/ISS HD Live Now/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Solar Orbiter’s first images reveal ‘campfires’ on the Sun

ESA & NASA - Solar Orbiter Mission patch.

July 16, 2020

The first images from Solar Orbiter, a new Sun-observing mission by ESA and NASA, have revealed omnipresent miniature solar flares, dubbed ‘campfires’, near the surface of our closest star.

Solar orbiter first images revealed

According to the scientists behind the mission, seeing phenomena that were not observable in detail before hints at the enormous potential of Solar Orbiter, which has only just finished its early phase of technical verification known as commissioning.

“These are only the first images and we can already see interesting new phenomena,” says Daniel Müller, ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist. “We didn’t really expect such great results right from the start. We can also see how our ten scientific instruments complement each other, providing a holistic picture of the Sun and the surrounding environment.”

 Solar Orbiter’s first view of the Sun

Solar Orbiter, launched on 10 February 2020, carries six remote-sensing instruments, or telescopes, that image the Sun and its surroundings, and four in situ instruments that monitor the environment around the spacecraft. By comparing the data from both sets of instruments, scientists will get insights into the generation of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles from the Sun that influences the entire Solar System.

The unique aspect of the Solar Orbiter mission is that no other spacecraft has been able to take images of the Sun’s surface from a closer distance.

Closest images of the Sun reveal new phenomena

Images above: First views of the Sun obtained with Solar Orbiter's EUI on 30 May 2020, revealing the omnipresent miniature eruptions dubbed 'campfires'.

The campfires shown in the first image set were captured by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) from Solar Orbiter’s first perihelion, the point in its elliptical orbit closest to the Sun. At that time, the spacecraft was only 77 million km away from the Sun, about half the distance between Earth and the star.

“The campfires are little relatives of the solar flares that we can observe from Earth, million or billion times smaller,” says David Berghmans of the Royal Observatory of Belgium (ROB), Principal Investigator of the EUI instrument, which takes high-resolution images of the lower layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the solar corona. “The Sun might look quiet at the first glance, but when we look in detail, we can see those miniature flares everywhere we look.”

The scientists do not know yet whether the campfires are just tiny versions of big flares, or whether they are driven by different mechanisms. There are, however, already theories that these miniature flares could be contributing to one of the most mysterious phenomena on the Sun, the coronal heating.

Unravelling the Sun’s mysteries

Image above: One of the newly found campfires in an image from Solar Orbiter's EUI. The circle in the lower left corner indicates the size of Earth for scale.

“These campfires are totally insignificant each by themselves, but summing up their effect all over the Sun, they might be the dominant contribution to the heating of the solar corona,” says Frédéric Auchère, of the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS), France, Co-Principal Investigator of EUI.

The solar corona is the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere that extends millions of kilometres into outer space. Its temperature is more than a million degrees Celsius, which is orders of magnitude hotter than the surface of the Sun, a ‘cool’ 5500 °C. After many decades of studies, the physical mechanisms that heat the corona are still not fully understood, but identifying them is considered the ‘holy grail’ of solar physics.

“It’s obviously way too early to tell but we hope that by connecting these observations with measurements from our other instruments that ‘feel’ the solar wind as it passes the spacecraft, we will eventually be able to answer some of these mysteries,” says Yannis Zouganelis, Solar Orbiter Deputy Project Scientist at ESA.

Seeing the far side of the Sun

Closer than ever: Solar Orbiter’s first views of the Sun

Video above: Complementary views of the Sun and its outer atmosphere, or corona, based on the EUI, PHI, Metis and SoloHi instruments on Solar Orbiter.

The Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager (PHI) is another cutting-edge instrument aboard Solar Orbiter. It makes high-resolution measurements of the magnetic field lines on the surface of the Sun. It is designed to monitor active regions on the Sun, areas with especially strong magnetic fields, which can give birth to solar flares.

During solar flares, the Sun releases bursts of energetic particles that enhance the solar wind that constantly emanates from the star into the surrounding space. When these particles interact with Earth’s magnetosphere, they can cause magnetic storms that can disrupt telecommunication networks and power grids on the ground.

“Right now, we are in the part of the 11-year solar cycle when the Sun is very quiet,” says Sami Solanki, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, and PHI Principal Investigator. “But because Solar Orbiter is at a different angle to the Sun than Earth, we could actually see one active region that wasn’t observable from Earth. That is a first. We have never been able to measure the magnetic field at the back of the Sun.”

The Sun and its magnetic properties

The magnetograms, showing how the strength of the solar magnetic field varies across the Sun’s surface, could be then compared with the measurements from the in situ instruments.

“The PHI instrument is measuring the magnetic field on the surface, we see structures in the Sun’s corona with EUI, but we also try to infer the magnetic field lines going out into the interplanetary medium, where Solar Orbiter is,” says Jose Carlos del Toro Iniesta, PHI Co-Principal Investigator, of Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain.

Catching the solar wind

Image above: Combining remote-sensing observations from SPICE with in situ measurements from SWA.

The four in situ instruments on Solar Orbiter then characterise the magnetic field lines and solar wind as it passes the spacecraft.

Christopher Owen, of University College London Mullard Space Science Laboratory and Principal Investigator of the in situ Solar Wind Analyser, adds, “Using this information, we can estimate where on the Sun that particular part of the solar wind was emitted, and then use the full instrument set of the mission to reveal and understand the physical processes operating in the different regions on the Sun which lead to solar wind formation.”

“We are all really excited about these first images – but this is just the beginning,” adds Daniel. “Solar Orbiter has started a grand tour of the inner Solar System, and will get much closer to the Sun within less than two years. Ultimately, it will get as close as 42 million km, which is almost a quarter of the distance from Sun to Earth.”

“The first data are already demonstrating the power behind a successful collaboration between space agencies and the usefulness of a diverse set of images in unravelling some of the Sun’s mysteries,” comments Holly Gilbert, Director of the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Solar Orbiter Project Scientist at NASA.

Image above: A 'family portrait' of the first images and data from Solar Orbiter's ten instruments.

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Nineteen ESA Member States (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), as well as NASA, contributed to the science payload and/or the spacecraft. The satellite was built by prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space in the UK.

The Solar Orbiter First Images photo gallery is available here:

Solar Orbiter:

Images, Animation, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Ninja Menning/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ ESA & NASA; CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD/WRC, ROB, UCL/MSSL/Solar Orbiter/PHI Team/ESA & NASA.

Best regards,

Data-relay satellite beams at light speed

EDRS - European Data Relay System logo.

July 16, 2020

The most sophisticated laser communication network ever designed has gained its second satellite.

The European Data Relay System (EDRS) was built to accelerate the flow of information from Earth-observation satellites to people on the ground.

The second satellite in the network, EDRS-C, has now passed its user commissioning review and entered into full service.

Launched on 6 August 2019, EDRS-C is in geostationary orbit some 36 000 kilometres above Earth.


This geostationary position enables the communication satellite to maintain an almost constant connection with Earth-observation satellites that are closer to the planet’s surface and circle the Earth every 90 minutes or so.

The EDRS satellites use lasers to communicate with Earth-observation satellites and beam their data back to Europe in almost real time. Without them, there would be delays of up to 90 minutes.

EDRS-C has joined its sister satellite, EDRS-A, and can now be used by its customers to relay information from all four Sentinel satellites that watch over Earth, capturing day-and-night radar images and multispectral high-resolution images of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas – as well as information for emergency services.

The Sentinel satellites form part of the EU’s Copernicus programme.

EDRS is a new, independent European satellite system, and is a Partnership Project between ESA and operator Airbus as part of ESA’s efforts to federate industry around large-scale programmes, stimulating technology developments to achieve economic benefits.

What is the European Data Relay System?

The EDRS-C satellite platform was built by OHB System in Germany and the laser terminals were developed by Tesat-Spacecom and the DLR German Space Administration.

Related links:

European Data Relay System (EDRS):

Telecommunications & Integrated Applications:

Image, Video, Text, Credit: European Space Agency (ESA).


mercredi 15 juillet 2020

55 Years Ago: Mariner 4 First to Explore Mars

NASA - Mariner-4 Mission patch.

July 15, 2020

On the night of July 14-15, 1965, the Mariner 4 spacecraft made history when it completed the first flyby reconnaissance of Mars after a 228-day journey from Earth. Programmatically, Mariner 4’s journey began in November 1962, when NASA approved the Mariner Mars 1964 Project to send two spacecraft to fly by Mars to take photographs and make other measurements during the encounter. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, managed the project, building on its experience from the successful Mariner 2 encounter with Venus in December 1962.

Above: Diagram by Schiaparelli showing his observations of canali. Below: The best
Earth-based telescopic image of Mars prior to Mariner 4’s mission, from the
favorable 1956 opposition. Image Credits: Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Compared with our deeper yet still incomplete understanding of the Red Planet today, scientists in the 1960s knew relatively little about Mars. In the late 19th century, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli claimed to have observed linear patterns on the surface of the planet that he called canali, which unfortunately were mis-translated into English as canals, leading some to believe they were built by intelligent beings on Mars. Although that idea fell out of favor among scientists by the early 20th century, it did permeate into science fiction as well as popular culture. Notions of a planet with a global climate relatively similar to Earth’s, including the possibility that it harbored some form of extraterrestrial life, remained popular even among scientists into the 1960s. The best Earth-based telescopic images of Mars revealed little surface detail but did show areas that changed size, shape and color with the Martian seasons, indicative to some observers of at least some form of simple plant-like life forms.

Above: Photograph of the Mariner 3 and 4 spacecraft. Below: Schematic of
the Mariner 4 spacecraft indicating the science instruments. Images Credit: NASA.

To carry out their observations during their transit from Earth and during their flybys of Mars, each of the 575-pound Mariner Mars 1964 spacecraft carried seven science instruments:

- The television imaging system enabled topographic reconnaissance of the Martian surface.

- The Helium Magnetometer measured magnetic field strength around the planet.

- The Ionization Chamber and particle flux detector measured the omnidirectional flux of particle radiation near Mars and in interplanetary space.

- The Cosmic Dust Detector measured dust particle momentum and mass distribution.

- The Cosmic Ray Telescope measured charged particles.

- The Trapped Radiation Detector consisted of three Geiger-Muller detectors to measure any charged particles that may be trapped by a Martian magnetic field.

- The Solar Plasma Probe measured the density, velocity, temperature, and direction of movement of protons streaming from the Sun.

Each spacecraft generated 310 watts of electrical power at Mars from photovoltaic cells mounted on four solar panels mounted in a windmill-like arrangement around the probe’s octagonal frame. Mounted on the end of each solar panel were steerable pressure vanes to use the solar wind to control the spacecraft’s orientation. The experimental pressure vanes supplemented a set of nitrogen gas thrusters for attitude control. The spacecraft converted the analog signal from the camera to digital format, and following the flyby transmitted the photographs back to Earth at a rate of 8 1/3 bits per second, seemingly glacial today but, as the first digital imaging system used beyond Earth, considered state of the art for the mid-1960s. Each photograph took 10 hours to relay to Earth.

Above: Launch of Mariner 4. Below: Trajectory of Mariner 4 to Mars. Images Credit: NASA.

The first of the two spacecraft, Mariner 3, launched from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Florida, on Nov. 5, 1964, atop an Atlas-Agena D rocket. Due to the failure of the spacecraft’s payload shroud to jettison, its solar panels could not deploy and Mariner 3 sailed on into solar orbit as an inert spacecraft. Beneath a hastily redesigned payload shroud, the second spacecraft, Mariner 4, successfully launched on Nov. 28, just two days before the close of the launch window. During the eight-month cruise phase to Mars, the spacecraft took measurements on the conditions of interplanetary space and relayed the data to Earth. On July 14, 1965, Mariner 4 passed within 6,118 miles of Mars, snapping 22 photographs of the planet and taking scientific measurements. The spacecraft passed behind the planet as seen from Earth, allowing a radio occultation study to estimate the density of the Martian atmosphere. Playback of the flyby imagery began soon after Mariner 4 emerged from behind Mars and continued until Aug. 3.

Schematic representation of Mariner 4’s flyby of Mars. Image Credit: NASA.

At JPL, a "real-time data translator" machine converted the Mariner 4 digital image data into numbers printed on strips of paper. Too anxious to wait for the official processed image, employees from the Telecommunications Section attached these strips side by side to a display panel and hand colored the numbers like a paint-by-numbers picture. The completed image was framed and presented to JPL director William H. Pickering.

A hand-rendered picture from data transmitted by Mariner 4, made by
eager engineers who didn’t want to wait for the official image. Image Credit: NASA.

The radio occultation results indicated a very low surface atmospheric pressure, about 1% that at Earth’s sea level. Scientists estimated the surface temperature at about -100o C and the spacecraft detected no magnetic field or trapped radiation belts around the planet. The photographs revealed a cratered surface resembling the Moon, although the photographs covered less than 1% of the Martian surface and did not represent Mars as we know it today.  By sheer chance, Mariner 4 imaged some of the oldest and most heavily cratered terrain on Mars, missing some of the more diverse and geologically more recent features. All in all, these findings dashed many scientists’ expectations of Mars as a place hospitable to life.

Above: Global image of Mars indicating the areas imaged by Mariner 4.
Below: The highest resolution of the Mariner 4 photographs taken from
a distance of 7,830 miles showing a cratered surface. Images Credit: NASA.

Although the images and data that Mariner 4 returned may have the dashed the hopes of some scientists that Mars harbored some form of life, its results should be placed in proper perspective. The imagery covered about 1% of the planet’s surface and the best resolution achieved was just under a mile per pixel, with significantly less on many of the images. When compared with imagery acquired later by spacecraft with more sophisticated imaging systems, it’s clear that as ground-breaking as Mariner 4 was, it missed a great deal. The photographs below of the same area (southern Amazonia Planitia) on Mars show the progressive improvement in resolution achieved as newer technology became available, beginning with the Mariner 4 photograph, followed by the Viking 1 Orbiter in 1980, the Mars Express orbiter in 2012 and finally the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2017 (the yellow rectangle in the preceding three photos), with a resolution of 50 centimeters per pixel.

Photographs of the same area in the southern Amazonia Planitia region on Mars as viewed by spacecraft over the years
(above to below) Mariner 4 in 1965, Viking 1 Orbiter in 1980, Mars Express in 2012 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2017. Images Credits: University of Arizona.

Having completed the first scientific reconnaissance of Mars, Mariner 4 sailed on in solar orbit, conducting engineering tests of its imaging and propulsion systems, showing no degradation after years in space. In late 1965, the spacecraft passed on the other side of the Sun as viewed from Earth and set a communications distance record of 190 million miles. In October 1967, engineers conducted tests with Mariner 4’s attitude control system to support the Mariner 5 spacecraft then approaching Venus. Finally, after running out of attitude control gas, Mariner 4 could no longer point its solar arrays toward the Sun and contact with the spacecraft was lost on December 21, 1967.

Related links:


Mariner 2:

Mariner 4:

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