samedi 22 août 2020

NASA-led Study Reveals the Causes of Sea Level Rise Since 1900

NASA & DLR - GRACE Follow-On patch.

August 22, 2020

Scientists have gained new insights into the processes that have driven ocean level variations for over a century, helping us prepare for the rising seas of the future.

Image above: This aerial photograph shows fast-moving meltwater rivers flowing across the Greenland Ice Sheet, a region that, combined with Antarctic meltwater and thermal expansion, accounts for two-thirds of observed global mean sea level rise. Image Credit: NASA.

To make better predictions about the future impacts of sea level rise, new techniques are being developed to fill gaps in the historic record of sea level measurements. We know the factors that play a role in sea level rise: Melting glaciers and ice sheets add water to the seas, and warmer temperatures cause water to expand. Other factors are known to slow the rise, such as dams impounding water on the land, stymying its flow into the sea.

When each factor is added together, this estimate should match the sea level that scientists observe. Until now, however, the sea level "budget" has fallen short of the observed sea level rise, leading scientists to question why the budget wouldn't balance.

A new study published on Aug.19 seeks to balance this budget. By gaining new insights to historic measurements, scientists can better forecast how each of these factors will affect sea level rise and how this rise will impact us in the future.

For example, in its recent flooding report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted a rapid increase in sea level rise-related flooding events along U.S. coasts over the last 20 years, and they are expected to grow in extent, frequency, and depth as sea levels continue to rise.

Factors Driving Our Rising Seas

On reexamining each of the known contributors to sea level rise from 1900 to 2018, the research, led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, uses improved estimates and applies satellite data to better understand historic measurements.

The researchers found that estimates of global sea level variations based on tide-gauge observations had slightly overestimated global sea levels before the 1970s. (Located at coastal stations scattered around the globe, tide gauges are used to measure sea level height.) They also found that mountain glacier meltwater was adding more water to the oceans than previously realized but that the relative contribution of glaciers to sea level rise is slowly decreasing. And they discovered that glacier and Greenland ice sheet mass loss explain the increased rate of sea level rise before 1940.

In addition, the new study found that during the 1970s, when dam construction was at its peak, sea level rise slowed to a crawl. Dams create reservoirs that can impound freshwater that would normally flow straight into the sea.

Image above: This infographic shows the rise in sea levels since 1900. Pre-1940, glaciers and Greenland meltwater dominated the rise; dam projects slowed the rise in the 1970s. Now, ice sheet and glacier melt, plus thermal expansion, dominate the rise. Tide-gauge data shown in blue and satellite data in orange. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"That was one of the biggest surprises for me," said lead researcher Thomas Frederikse, a postdoctoral fellow at JPL, referring to the peak in global dam projects at that time. "We impounded so much freshwater, humanity nearly brought sea level rise to a halt."

Since the 1990s, however, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet mass loss and thermal expansion have accelerated sea level rise, while freshwater impoundment has decreased. As our climate continues to warm, the majority of this thermal energy is absorbed by the oceans, causing the volume of the water to expand. In fact, ice sheet melt and thermal expansion now account for about two-thirds of observed global mean sea level rise. Mountain glacier meltwater currently contributes another 20%, while declining freshwater water storage on land adds the remaining 10%.

All told, sea levels have risen on average 1.6 millimeters (0.063 inches) per year between 1900 and 2018. In fact, sea levels are rising at a faster rate than at any time in the 20th century. But previous estimates of the mass of melting ice and thermal expansion of the ocean fell short of explaining this rate, particularly before the era of precise satellite observations of the world's oceans, creating a deficit in the historic sea level budget.

Finding a Balance

In simple terms, the sea level budget should balance if the known factors are accurately estimated and added together. It's a bit like balancing the transactions in your bank account: Added together, all the transactions in your statement should match the total. If they don't, you may have overlooked a transaction or two.

The same logic can be applied to the sea level budget: When each factor that affects sea level is added together, this estimate should match the sea level that scientists observe. Until now, however, the sea level budget has fallen short of the observed sea level rise.

"That was a problem," said Frederikse. "How could we trust projections of future sea level change without fully understanding what factors are driving the changes that we have seen in the past?"

Frederikse led an international team of scientists to develop a state-of-the-art framework that pulls together the advances in each area of study - from sea level models to satellite observations - to improve our understanding of the factors affecting sea level rise for the past 120 years.

The latest satellite observations came from the pair of NASA - German Aerospace Center (DLR) Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites that operated from 2002-2017, and their successor pair, the NASA - German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) GRACE Follow-On (launched in 2018). Additional data from the series of TOPEX/Jason satellites - a joint effort of NASA and the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales -that have operated continuously since 1992 were included in the analysis to enhance tide-gauge data.

"Tide-gauge data was the primary way to measure sea level before 1992, but sea level change isn't uniform around the globe, so there were uncertainties in the historic estimates," said Sönke Dangendorf, an assistant professor of oceanography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and a coauthor of the study. "Also, measuring each of the factors that contribute to global mean sea levels was very difficult, so it was hard to gain an accurate picture."

But over the past two decades, scientists have been "flooded" with satellite data, added Dangendorf, which has helped them precisely track the physical processes that affect sea levels.

GRACE Follow-On. Image Credit: NASA

For example, GRACE and GRACE-FO measurements have accurately tracked global water mass changes, melting glaciers, ice sheets, and how much water is stored on land. Other satellite observations have tracked how regional ocean salinity changes and thermal expansion affect some parts of the world more than others. Up-and-down movements of Earth's crust influence the regional and global levels of the oceans as well, so these aspects were included in the team's analysis.

"With the GRACE and GRACE-FO data we can effectively back-extrapolate the relationship between these observations and how much sea level rises at a particular place," said Felix Landerer, project scientist at JPL for GRACE-FO and a coauthor of the study. "All observations together give us a pretty accurate idea of what contributed to sea level change since 1900, and by how much."

The study, titled "The Causes of Sea Level Rise Since 1900," was published Aug. 19 in Nature. In addition to scientists from JPL and Old Dominion University, the project involved researchers from Caltech, Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, University of Siegen in Germany, the National Oceanography Centre in the United Kingdom, Courant Institute in New York, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

JPL managed the GRACE mission and manages the GRACE-FO mission for NASA's Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Based on Pasadena, California, Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Related links:

Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE):

GRACE Follow-On:

Flooding report of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Ian J. O'Neill/Jane J. Lee.


vendredi 21 août 2020

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of August 17, 2020

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

Aug. 21, 2020

Studies on muscle properties and radiation exposure in space were two of the scientific investigations conducted during the week of August 17 aboard the International Space Station. Crew members also completed packing and preparation for the H-II Transfer Vehicle 9 (HTV-9) departure, which occurred on Tuesday, Aug. 18.

Image above: The Canadarm2 robotic arm moves away from the JAXA H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) resupply ship after releasing it for departure from the space station on Tuesday, Aug. 18. 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:

Muscles, toned

The ESA (European Space Agency) Muscle Tone in Space (Myotones) investigation observes the effects of long-term spaceflight on the biochemical properties of muscles, such as tone, stiffness, and elasticity. Results could lead to new strategies for alternative rehabilitation treatments for people on future space missions and for those with muscle dysfunction on Earth. Crew members performed Myotones sessions during the week.

Radiation risk defined

Image above: One of the radiation detectors for the Radi-N2 experiment floats in the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Neutrons make up a significant part of the radiation exposure in low-Earth orbit, but have not been well characterized. Radi-N2, a Canadian Space Agency investigation, uses bubble detectors to better characterize the neutron environment on the space station, helping to define the risk it poses to crew members. It continues a previous investigation, Radi-N1, and repeats measurements in the same or equivalent locations aboard the space station. Measuring the average dose in different segments of the space station supports development of a radiation protection plan for future missions. During the week, crew members retrieved detectors for collection of dose measurements.

These are the trees you are looking for

Image above: The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) hardware mounted on the Japanese Experiment Module - Exposed Facility (JEM-EF). GEDI’s high quality observations of the Earth’s forests and topography advance the understanding of important carbon and water cycling processes, biodiversity, and habitat. Image Credit: NASA.

A number of investigations aboard the space station rely on automation and require little or no crew involvement, increasing the amount of science that can be conducted on the orbiting lab. One such investigation operating during this past week, the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), uses a light detection and ranging (lidar) system to measure the canopy profile of Earth’s forests. GEDI is mounted on the Japanese Experiment Module's Exposed Facility (JEM-EF) and provides high-resolution observations of forest vertical structure at a global scale. These observations quantify carbon stored above ground in vegetation, changes that result from vegetation disturbance and recovery, the potential for forests to sequester carbon, and habitat structure and its influence on habitat quality and biodiversity. Data are processed by the GEDI Science Team and made available to the public.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- The Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Water Recovery System (JWRS) demonstrates a way to generate drinkable water from urine. It is an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

- Astrobee tests three self-contained, free-flying robots designed to assist astronauts with routine chores, give ground controllers additional eyes and ears, and perform crew monitoring, sampling, and logistics management.

- ISS Ham Radio gives students an opportunity to talk directly with crew members via ham radio when the space station passes over their schools. This interaction engages and educates students, teachers, parents and other members of the community in science, technology, engineering, and math.

- 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.

Space to Ground: Final Flight: 08/21/2020

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GEDI Science Team data:

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Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

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Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Jack Griffin/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist  Expedition 63.

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Hubble Hooks a Supernova Host Galaxy

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 21, 2020

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope features the spectacular galaxy NGC 2442, nicknamed the Meathook galaxy owing to its extremely asymmetrical and irregular shape.

This galaxy was host to a supernova explosion spotted in March 2015, known as SN 2015F, that was created by a white dwarf star. The white dwarf was part of a binary star system and siphoned mass from its companion, eventually becoming too greedy and taking on more than it could handle. This unbalanced the star and triggered runaway nuclear fusion that eventually led to an intensely violent supernova explosion. The supernova shone brightly for quite some time and was easily visible from Earth through even a small telescope until months later.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

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Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Rob Garner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Smartt et al.

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Unveiling Rogue Planets With NASA’s Roman Space Telescope

NASA - Roman Space Telescope (WFIRST) patch.

Aug. 21, 2020

New simulations show that NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will be able to reveal myriad rogue planets – freely floating bodies that drift through our galaxy untethered to a star. Studying these island worlds will help us understand more about how planetary systems form, evolve, and break apart.

Astronomers discovered planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets, in the 1990s. We quickly went from knowing of only our own planetary system to realizing that planets likely outnumber the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. Now, a team of scientists is finding ways to improve our understanding of planet demographics by searching for rogue worlds.

Image above: High-resolution illustration of the Roman spacecraft against a starry background. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

“As our view of the universe has expanded, we’ve realized that our solar system may be unusual,” said Samson Johnson, a graduate student at Ohio State University in Columbus who led the research effort. “Roman will help us learn more about how we fit in the cosmic scheme of things by studying rogue planets.”

The findings, published in the Astronomical Journal, center on the Roman Space Telescope’s ability to locate and characterize isolated planets. Astronomers have only tentatively discovered a few of these nomad worlds so far because they are so difficult to detect.

Finding galactic nomads

Roman will find rogue planets by conducting a large microlensing survey. Gravitational lensing is an observational effect that occurs because the presence of mass warps the fabric of space-time. The effect is extreme around very massive objects, like black holes and entire galaxies. Even solitary planets cause a detectable degree of warping, called microlensing.

How Gravitational Microlensing Reveals Rogue Planets

Video above: This animation shows how gravitational microlensing can reveal island worlds. When an unseen rogue planet passes in front of a more distant star from our vantage point, light from the star bends as it passes through the warped space-time around the planet. The planet acts as a cosmic magnifying glass, amplifying the brightness of the background star. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab.

If a rogue planet aligns closely with a more distant star from our vantage point, the star’s light will bend as it travels through the curved space-time around the planet. The result is that the planet acts like a natural magnifying glass, amplifying light from the background star. Astronomers see the effect as a spike in the star’s brightness as the star and planet come into alignment. Measuring how the spike changes over time reveals clues to the rogue planet’s mass.

“The microlensing signal from a rogue planet only lasts between a few hours and a couple of days and then is gone forever,” said co-author Matthew Penny, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “This makes them difficult to observe from Earth, even with multiple telescopes. Roman is a game-changer for rogue planet searches.”

Microlensing offers the best way to systematically search for rogue planets – especially those with low masses. They don’t shine like stars and are often very cool objects, emitting too little heat for infrared telescopes to see. These vagabond worlds are essentially invisible, but Roman will discover them indirectly thanks to their gravitational effects on the light of more distant stars.

Lessons from cosmic castaways

Johnson and co-authors showed that Roman will be able to detect rogue planets with masses as small as Mars. Studying these planets will help narrow down competing models of planetary formation.

The planet-building process can be chaotic, since smaller objects collide with one another and sometimes stick together to form larger bodies. It’s similar to using a piece of playdough to pick up other pieces. But occasionally collisions and close encounters can be so violent that they fling a planet out of the gravitational grip of its parent star. Unless it manages to drag a moon along with it, the newly orphaned world is doomed to wander the galaxy alone.

Rogue Planet (Animation)

Video above: This illustration shows a rogue planet drifting through the galaxy alone. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (Caltech-IPAC).

Rogue planets may also form in isolation from clouds of gas and dust, similar to how stars grow. A small cloud of gas and dust could collapse to form a central planet instead of a star, with moons instead of planets surrounding it.

Roman will test planetary formation and evolution models that predict different numbers of these isolated worlds. Determining the abundance and masses of rogue planets will offer insight into the physics that drives their formation. The research team found that the mission will provide a rogue planet count that is at least 10 times more precise than current estimates, which range from tens of billions to trillions in our galaxy. These estimates mainly come from observations by ground-based telescopes.

Since Roman will observe above the atmosphere, nearly a million miles away from Earth in the direction opposite the Sun, it will yield far superior microlensing results. In addition to providing a sharper view, Roman’s perspective will allow it to stare at the same patch of sky continuously for months at a time. Johnson and his colleagues showed that Roman’s microlensing survey will detect hundreds of rogue planets, even though it will search only a relatively narrow strip of the galaxy.

Part of the study involved determining how to analyze the mission’s future data to obtain a more accurate census. Scientists will be able to extrapolate from Roman’s rogue planet count to estimate how common these objects are throughout the entire galaxy.

“The universe could be teeming with rogue planets and we wouldn’t even know it,” said Scott Gaudi, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University and a co-author of the paper. “We would never find out without undertaking a thorough, space-based microlensing survey like Roman is going to do.”

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

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Follow NASA's Perseverance Rover in Real Time on Its Way to Mars

NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover patch.

Aug. 21, 2020

Image above: The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 30. NASA's Eyes on the Solar System tool lets you track the spacecraft in real time as it makes its way to Mars for a Feb. 18, 2021, landing. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A crisply rendered web application can show you where the agency's Mars 2020 mission is right now as it makes its way to the Red Planet for a Feb. 18, 2021, landing.

The last time we saw NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission was on July 30, 2020, as it disappeared into the black of deep space on a trajectory for Mars. But with NASA's Eyes on the Solar System, you can follow in real time as humanity's most sophisticated rover – and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter traveling with it – treks millions of miles over the next six months to Jezero Crater.

"Eyes on the Solar System visualizes the same trajectory data that the navigation team uses to plot Perseverance's course to Mars," said Fernando Abilleira, the Mars 2020 mission design and navigation manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "If you want to follow along with us on our journey, that's the place to be."

Give the Mars 2020 Perseverance spacecraft a spin. Fully interactive, Eyes on the Solar System. doesn't just let you track it in real time as it travels to the Red Planet. Dozens of controls on pop-up menus allow you to customize not just what you see – from faraway to right "on board."

Eyes on the Solar System:

Eyes doesn't just let you see the distance between the Red Planet and the spacecraft at this very moment. You can also fly formation with Mars 2020 or check the relative velocity between Mars and Earth or, say, the dwarf planet Pluto.

"With all our orbital assets circling Mars as well as Curiosity and InSight on its surface, there is new data and imagery coming in all the time about the Red Planet," said Jon Nelson, visualization technology and applications development supervisor at JPL. "Essentially, if you haven't seen Mars lately through Eyes on the Solar System, you haven't seen Mars."

Perseverance Rover on Its Way to Mars. Animation Credit: NASA

Dozens of controls on pop-up menus allow you to customize not just what you see – from faraway to right "on board" a spacecraft – but also how you see it: Choose the 3D mode, and all you need is a pair of red-cyan anaglyph glasses for a more immersive experience.

You don't have to stop at Mars, either. You can travel throughout the solar system and even through time. The website not only uses real-time data and imagery from NASA's fleet of spacecraft, it's also populated with NASA data going back to 1950 and projected to 2050. Location, motion, and appearance are based on predicted and reconstructed mission data.

While you're exploring, take a deeper dive into our home planet with Eyes on the Earth and travel to distant worlds with Eyes on ExoPlanets.

Eyes on the Earth:

Eyes on ExoPlanets:

More About the Mission

Managed for NASA by JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

For more information about the mission, go to:

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

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Alana Johnson/Grey Hautaluoma/JPL/DC Agle/Andrew Good.


Pristine Space Rock Offers NASA Scientists Peek at Evolution of Life’s Building Blocks

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

Aug. 21, 2020

During a 2012 expedition to Antarctica, a team of Japanese and Belgian researchers picked up a small rock that appeared coal black against the snow white. Now known as meteorite Asuka 12236, it was roughly the size of a golf ball.

Despite its modest size, this rock from space was a colossal find. As it turns out, Asuka 12236 is one of the best-preserved meteorites of its kind ever discovered. And now, NASA scientists have shown that it contains microscopic clues that could help them solve a universal mystery: How did the building blocks of life flourish on Earth?

So, when astrobiologists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, got their (carefully gloved) hands on a teeny sliver of this primitive meteorite, they quickly took to decoding the information inside. Under the glare of the fluorescent lights and accompanied by the whir of analytical tools running in the background, the NASA Goddard team first crushed a 50-milligram pinch of Asuka 12236 in their lab with a mortar and pestle. Then they suspended the amino acids from the ancient dust in a water solution and sent the liquid through a powerful analytical machine that separated the molecules inside by mass and identified each kind.

Animation above: Animation inspired by the bright, burning glow of meteors as they enter Earth's atmosphere. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Declan McKenna.

The Goddard researchers found that an abundance of amino acids was locked up inside Asuka 12236, double the concentration seen in a space rock called Paris, which was previously thought to be the best-preserved meteorite of the same class. These primordial molecules included aspartic and glutamic acids, which are among the 20 amino acids that form themselves into countless arrangements, making up millions of proteins. Proteins then go on to power the chemical gears of life on Earth, including essential bodily functions in animals.

Led by Goddard astrobiologist Daniel P. Glavin, the team also found that Asuka 12236 had more left-handed versions of some amino acids. There’s a right-handed and left-handed mirror-image version of each amino acid, like your hands are mirror images of each other. All known life uses only left-handed amino acids to build proteins. Increasingly, Glavin and his colleagues are finding that meteorites are chock-full of these left-handed chemical precursors to life.

“The meteorites are telling us that there was an inherent bias toward left-handed amino acids before life even started,” Glavin said. “The big mystery is why?”

To get to the bottom of what makes left-handedness so special, Glavin and his team probe hundreds of meteorites. The greater variety of origins, chemistries, and ages, the better. Differences in the types and amounts of amino acids preserved in these rocks allow scientists to build a record of how these molecules evolved through time and circumstances, including exposure to water and heat inside their parent asteroids.

Image above: NASA Goddard astrobiologist Daniel Glavin poses in 2002 next to a meteorite he had just found during an expedition in Antarctica. Image Credits: Antarctic Search for Meteorites/Daniel Glavin.

On the timeline of the solar system, Asuka 12236 fits in toward the very beginning – in fact, some scientists think that tiny pieces of the meteorite predate the solar system. Several lines of evidence suggest that Asuka 12236’s original chemical makeup is the best preserved in a category of carbon-rich meteorites known as CM chondrites. These are among the most interesting rocks to study for scientists who focus on the origin of life since many contain a highly complex mixture of organic compounds associated with living things.

Scientists have determined the interior of Asuka 12236 is so well-preserved because the rock was exposed to very little liquid water or heat, both when it was still a part of an asteroid and later, when it sat in Antarctica waiting to be discovered. They can tell based on the types of minerals found inside. A dearth of clay minerals is one clue, given that these types of minerals are formed by water. Another clue is that Asuka 12236 has lots of iron metal in it that hasn’t rusted, an indication that the meteorite hasn’t been exposed to the oxygen in water. The rock also contains an abundance of silicate grains with unusual chemical compositions that indicate they formed in ancient stars that died before the Sun began to form. Since these silicate minerals are typically easily destroyed by water, scientists don’t find them in meteorites less pristine than Asuka 12236.

“It's fun to think about how these things fall to Earth and happen to be full of all this different information about how the solar system formed, what it formed from, and how the elements built up in the galaxy,” said Conel M. O'D. Alexander, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., who collaborated with Glavin’s team on the Asuka 12236 analysis, which was published on August 20 in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

Meteorites like Asuka 12236 are pieces of much larger asteroids. These fragments were flung into the solar system during asteroid collisions more than 4.5 billion years ago and ultimately made their way to Earth’s surface after surviving a fiery descent through our atmosphere. For Alexander and Glavin, these rocks are like history books that fall from the sky and deliver chemical information about the early solar system. Space rocks are the only source of this information, because erosion and plate tectonics on Earth have wiped away the chemical history of our planet.

Image above: This is an image of a polished thin section of Asuka 12236, made with a scanning electron microscope. The section is about a third of an inch, or about 1 centimeter, across. Most of the bright grains in the image are iron-nickel-metal and/or iron-sulfide. The grey is mostly silicate, with the darker grey areas more magnesium-rich, while the lighter grey areas are more iron-rich. The roundish objects, and some fragments of them, that tend to contain most of the small, bright metal grains are called “chondrules,” which formed as molten droplets. They are set in a very fine-grained matrix, which is where the organic compounds and presolar grains are found. Image Credits: Carnegie Institution for Science/Conel M. O'D. Alexander.

With Asuka 12236, scientists are getting a peek at the very first amino acids produced in the solar system and the conditions that led to the variety and complexity of these molecules. “Asuka 12236 is showing us that there’s this ‘Goldilocks’ thing going on,” Glavin said.

Glavin and his team are learning that the key for amino acids, when it comes to forming and multiplying, is exposure to the perfect conditions inside asteroids. “You need some liquid water and heat to produce a variety of amino acids,” he said. “But if you have too much, you can destroy them all.”

The water would have been produced inside the asteroid that Asuka 12236 came from, as heat from the radioactive decay of certain chemical elements melted the ice that condensed with rock when the asteroid first formed. Given that Asuka 12236 is so well-preserved, it could have come from a cooler outer layer of the asteroid where it would have come in contact with little heat, and thus, water. Though that’s just conjecture for now, Glavin said: “There’s still a lot we don’t know about this meteorite.”

Animation above: Animation inspired by the natural processes, such as water alteration, that happen inside asteroids, including the one that Asuka 12236 came from. Animation Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Declan McKenna.

The one factor that doesn’t jibe with that explanation is this: Glavin’s team found more left-handed molecules than right-handed ones in some protein-building amino acids in Asuka 12236. These left-handed molecules would have needed to be processed in a lot more water than this ancient rock seems to have been exposed to. “It is pretty unusual to have these large left-handed excesses in primitive meteorites,” Glavin said. “How they formed is a mystery. That’s why it’s good to look at a variety of meteorites, so we can build a timeline of how these organics evolve over time and the different alteration scenarios.”

While it’s possible that scientists are seeing these life-related molecules because of earthly contamination, Glavin’s team is confident for a variety of reasons that Asuka 12236 is untainted. One sign is that a high concentration of amino acids in Goddard’s sample were free-floating; if scientists had been looking at Earth life, the amino acids would have been bound up in proteins, Glavin said. Still, scientists can’t be 100% sure they’re not looking at contamination when dealing with rocks that fall to Earth’s surface.

For this reason, Glavin and his team are looking forward to analyzing a decidedly pristine sample from a primitive asteroid unexposed to Earth biology. They will get their chance after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft delivers a sealed cache of dirt and rocks from the asteroid Bennu in 2023. OSIRIS-REx will collect the sample of Bennu on October 20, 2020.

“Understanding the kinds of molecules, and their handedness, that were present in the earliest days of the solar system puts us closer to knowing how the planets and life formed,” said Jason P. Dworkin, a Goddard astrobiologist who helped analyze Asuka 12236 and serves as project scientist for the OSIRIS-REx mission.

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Hubble Snaps Close-Up of Comet NEOWISE

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

21 August 2020

Hubble Captures Comet NEOWISE

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the closest images yet of the sky’s latest visitor to make the headlines, comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, after it passed by the Sun. The new images of the comet were taken on 8 August and feature the visitor’s coma, the fine shell that surrounds its nucleus, and its dusty output.

Comet NEOWISE is the brightest comet visible from the Northern Hemisphere since 1997’s Hale-Bopp comet. It’s estimated to be travelling at over 60 kilometres per second. The comet’s closest approach to the Sun was on 3 July and it’s now heading back to the outer reaches of the Solar System, not to pass through our neighbourhood again for another 7000 years.

Hubble’s observation of NEOWISE is the first time a comet of this brightness has been photographed at such high resolution after its pass by the Sun. Earlier attempts to photograph other bright comets (such as comet ATLAS) proved unsuccessful as they disintegrated in the searing heat.

Comet NEOWISE Pullout in Ground-Based Image

Comets often break apart due to thermal and gravitational stresses at such close encounters, but Hubble's view suggests that NEOWISE's solid nucleus stayed intact. This heart of the comet is too small to be seen directly by Hubble. The ball of ice may be no more than 4.8 kilometres across. But the Hubble image does captures a portion of the vast cloud of gas and dust enveloping the nucleus, which measures about 18 000 kilometres across in this image.

Hubble's observation also resolves a pair of jets from the nucleus shooting out in opposite directions. They emerge from the comet's core as cones of dust and gas, and then are curved into broader fan-like structures by the rotation of the nucleus. Jets are the result of ice sublimating beneath the surface with the resulting dust/gas being squeezed out at high velocity.

The Hubble photos may also help reveal the colour of the comet’s dust and how that colour changes as the comet moves away from the Sun. This, in turn, may explain how solar heat affects the contents and structure of that dust and the comet’s coma. The ultimate goal here would be to determine the original properties of the dust. Researchers who used Hubble to observe the comet are currently delving further into the data to see what they’re able to find.

The Jets of Comet NEOWISE

Hubble has captured other well-known comet visitors throughout the past year. This includes snapping images of the breakup of comet ATLAS in April 2020 and impressive images of the interstellar comet 2I BORISOV in October 2019 and December 2019.
More information

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


Images of Hubble:

Hubblesite release:

Images, Text Credits: NASA, ESA, Q. Zhang (California Institute of Technology), A. Pagan (STScI) and M. Kornmesser/Bethany Downer (ESA/Hubble)/Video Credits: NASA, ESA, Q. Zhang (California Institute of Technology), A. Pagan (STScI), and M. Kornmesser.


jeudi 20 août 2020

Crew Spending Weekend in Station’s Russian Segment

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

August 20, 2020

The three Expedition 63 crew members living aboard the International Space Station will spend the weekend inside the orbiting lab’s Russian segment. Commander Chris Cassidy and his crewmates Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin will stay in the Zvezda service module from Friday night into Monday morning.

Image above: The Expedition 63 crew will spend the weekend in the Russian segment’s Zvezda service module during a cabin air leak test.Image Credit: NASA.

The station’s atmosphere is maintained at pressure comfortable for the crew members, and a tiny bit of that air leaks over time, requiring routine repressurization from nitrogen tanks delivered on cargo resupply missions. In September 2019, NASA and its international partners first saw indications of a slight increase above the standard cabin air leak rate. Because of routine station operations like spacewalks and spacecraft arrivals and departures, it took time to gather enough data to characterize those measurements. That rate has slightly increased, so the teams are working a plan to isolate, identify, and potentially repair the source. The leak is still within segment specifications and presents no immediate danger to the crew or the space station.

External view by Earthcam of International Space Station (ISS). Animation: ISS HD Live Now

All the space station hatches will be closed this weekend so mission controllers can carefully monitor the air pressure in each module. The test presents no safety concern for the crew. The test should determine which module is experiencing a higher-than-normal leak rate. The U.S. and Russian specialists expect preliminary results should be available for review by the end of next week.

The three station residents will have plenty of room in Zvezda this weekend. The module provides the living quarters that enabled permanent human habitation to begin nearly 20 years ago when the Expedition 1 crew arrived at the station Nov. 2, 2000. Cassidy, Vagner, and Ivanishin also will have access to the Poisk mini-research module and their Soyuz MS-16 crew ship for the duration of their stay.

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Zvezda service module:

Poisk mini-research module:

Soyuz MS-16:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

New Ground Station Brings Laser Communications Closer To Reality

NASA - Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) patch.

Aug. 20, 2020

Optical communications, transmitting data using infrared lasers, has the potential to help NASA return more data to Earth than ever. The benefits of this technology to exploration and Earth science missions are huge. In support of a mission to demonstrate this technology, NASA recently completed installing its newest optical ground station in Haleakala, Hawaii.

The state-of-the-art ground station, called Optical Ground Station 2 (OGS-2), is the second of two optical ground stations to be built that will collect data transmitted to Earth by NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). Launching in early 2021, this trailblazing mission will be the linchpin in NASA’s first operational optical communications relay system. While other NASA efforts have used optical communications, this will be NASA’s first relay system using optical entirely, giving NASA the opportunity to test this method of communications and learn valuable lessons from its implementation. Relay satellites create critical communications links between science and exploration missions and Earth, enabling these missions to transmit important data to scientists and mission managers back home.

Image above: OGS-2 optical telescope dome. Image Credit: NASA.

While optical communications provides missions with many advantages, it can be disrupted by atmospheric interference such as clouds. OGS-2 was chosen to be located in Hawaii because of its clear skies, but bad weather can still happen. On a cloudy day, LCRD would have to wait before transmitting data. In order to avoid delays, services may be transferred to another ground station developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; OGS-1, located in Table Mountain, California. To monitor cloud coverage and determine if OGS-1 is needed, commercial partner Northrop Grumman provided an atmospheric monitoring station that observes weather conditions at the site. This monitoring station runs nearly autonomously 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

LCRD and OGS-2 will demonstrate the numerous capabilities of optical, or laser, communications for use as a communications relay. Optical communications provides significant benefits for missions, including data rate increases of 10 to 100 times more than comparable radio frequency communications systems. This increase means higher resolution data for missions, giving scientists a much more detailed look at our planet and solar system. Benefits also include decreased power needs, size and weight, meaning longer battery life, more room for additional instruments on spacecraft and potential cost savings at launch due to lighter payloads.

“LCRD and its ground stations will demonstrate optical communications as a relay, which means missions will be able to transmit data from points in their orbit without direct line of sight of the ground stations,” said Dave Israel, LCRD principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “In 2013, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration set a space communications bandwidth record from the Moon using optical communications with a system requiring direct line of sight.”

Image above: Illustration of the LCRD payload transmitting an optical signal to OGS-2 in Haleakala, Hawaii. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA’s Space Network manages OGS-2’s integration, test and operations and will eventually operate LCRD. The Space Network oversees a constellation of NASA communications satellites, known as Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, and their associated ground stations, which includes the White Sands Complex in White Sands, New Mexico. The network provides continuous communications services to missions in low-Earth orbit through radio frequency. While radio frequency will continue to have utility in space communications well into the future, the growing communications needs of many missions necessitates greater data rates.

OGS-2’s installation was a collaborative effort between government, commercial and academic institutions. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory provided the test and diagnostics terminal, which consists of three parts: an optical subsystem, digital subsystem and controller electronics. The three components send, receive and process optical signals to and from LCRD.

Laser Communications. Animation Credit: NASA

Optical communications, through the development of LCRD and its two ground terminals, could have far-reaching impacts for future knowledge of Earth and our solar system. Spacecraft equipped with optical communications systems will effectively allow enhanced data, such as high-resolution video, to be brought back down to Earth faster, thanks to increased data rates. With this data, scientists will get a closer look at our universe with the potential to uncover exciting new discoveries.

The Space Network and LCRD are both managed out of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Programmatic oversight for the Space Network is provided by the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program within NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. LCRD is funded by SCaN and the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Technology Demonstration Missions program based at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Related links:

Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration:

Tracking and Data Relay Satellites:

Technology Demonstration Missions:

NASA’s Space Network:

SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/GSFC/By Matthew D. Peters.

Best regards,

NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission Nears Completion

NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission logo.

Aug. 20, 2020

NASA just validated a new type of propellant, or fuel, for spacecraft of all sizes. Instead of toxic hydrazine, space missions can use a less toxic, "green" propellant and the compatible technologies designed to go along with it. In a little over a year since launch, NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) successfully proved a never-before-used propellant and propulsion system work as intended, demonstrating both are practical options for future missions.

GPIM set out to test a monopropellant – a chemical propellant that can burn by itself without a separate oxidizer – called Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT). Formerly known as AF-M315E, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory invented the propellant at Edwards Air Force Base in California. It is an alternative to the monopropellant hydrazine.

“This is the first time in 50 years NASA tested a new, high-performing monopropellant in space,” said Tim Smith, GPIM mission manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “It has the potential to supplement or even replace hydrazine, which spacecraft have used since the 1960s.” Based at Marshall, NASA’s Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM) program manages the mission.

Image above: An Aerojet Rocketdyne researcher examines a container of the Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT) monopropellant during preparation for flight testing. Image Credit: Aerojet.

GPIM’s effective demonstration of the propellant paved the way for NASA’s acceptance of ASCENT in new missions. The next NASA mission to use ASCENT will be Lunar Flashlight. The small spacecraft, which aims to provide clear-cut information about the presence of water deposits inside craters, will launch as a secondary payload on Artemis I, the first integrated flight test of NASA's Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Despite being pink in color, ASCENT is considered “green” for its significantly reduced toxicity compared to hydrazine, which requires protective suits and rigorous propellant loading processing procedures. It is safer to store and use, requiring minimal personal protective equipment such as lab coats, goggles, and gloves. Besides being easier and less expensive to handle here on Earth, when loading a spacecraft with propellant, for example, ASCENT will allow spacecraft to travel farther or operate longer with less propellant in their tank, given its higher performance.

NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM). Image Credit: NASA

But to test the propellant on a small spacecraft, the GPIM team had to develop hardware and systems compatible with the liquid. Aerojet Rocketdyne of Redmond, Washington, designed and built the five thrusters onboard GPIM. Aerojet Rocketdyne and Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Colorado, co-designed the other elements of the propulsion system.

While in orbit, GPIM tested the propellant and propulsion system, including the thrusters, tanks, and valves, by conducting a planned series of orbital maneuvers. Attitude control maneuvers, the process of maintaining stable control of a satellite, and orbit lowering demonstrated the propellant’s pre-mission projected performance, showing a 50% increase in gas mileage for the spacecraft compared to hydrazine.

With the technology demonstration objectives almost complete, the mission proved ASCENT and the compatible propulsion system are a viable, effective alternative for NASA and the commercial spaceflight industry, Smith said.

Image above: NASA’s Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) inside the Falcon Heavy rocket. Image Credit: SpaceX.

“We can attribute GPIM’s success to a strong partnership,” Smith added. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected Ball Aerospace to lead the mission in 2012. In addition to building the mini-refrigerator-sized spacecraft, the company integrated and tested the payloads and propulsion system before launch and provides flight operations support.

“We are excited to announce flight operations have been very smooth, with the new propulsion subsystem operating as we anticipated,” said Christopher McLean, GPIM principal investigator for Ball Aerospace. “We greatly appreciate the partnership and continuous support throughout this mission from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and program management office at Marshall.”

GPIM approaches mission completion, and the spacecraft has started a series of deorbit burns. Approximately seven burns will lower the orbit to about 110 miles (180 kilometers) and deplete the propellant tank. The small spacecraft will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere upon reentry, anticipated in late September 2020.

Related links:

To learn more about GPIM, visit:

Technology Demonstration Mission (TDM):

Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Jennifer Harbaugh/Marshall Space Flight Center/Lance Davis.


Blue Origin-Led National Team  Delivers  Lunar Lander Engineering Mockup to  NASA

Blue Origin logo.

August 20, 2020

Today, the Blue Origin-led Human Landing System (HLS) National Team – comprised of Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper – delivered an engineering mockup of a crew lander vehicle that could take American astronauts to the Moon. The lander is set up in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF), NASA Johnson Space Center's (JSC) iconic Building 9. 

Image above: The National Team’s engineering mockup of the crew lander vehicle at NASA Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) iconic Building  9. 

The full-scale engineering mockup showcases two elements of the National Team’s multi-element architecture – the Ascent Element (AE) and Descent Element (DE). Standing at more than 40 feet, it is the Blue Origin National Team's update to Apollo’s Lunar Module (LM) and will be used to validate the National Team’s approaches for getting crew, equipment, supplies, and samples off and on the vehicle. The team will collaborate with NASA organizations including JSC’s Astronaut Office to  perform  engineering and crew operations tests  with astronauts aiming to fly the final system within several years. 

“Testing this engineering mockup for crew interaction is  a step toward making this historic mission real,” said Brent Sherwood, vice president of Advanced Development Programs, Blue Origin. “The learning we get from full-scale mockups can’t be done any other way. Benefitting from NASA’s expertise and feedback at this early stage allows us to develop a safe commercial system that meets the agency’s needs.” 

The National Team HLS design leverages significant prior work, flight heritage, and a modular solution. Modular solutions help to enable faster progress due to the independent development and testing of each element, which permits ongoing improvements and evolution without impacting the full system. This also provides flexibility in the use of different launch vehicles and different concepts of operations.

The Descent Element is based on Blue Origin’s Blue Moon cargo lander and BE-7 LOX/hydrogen engine, both in development for more than three years. The Ascent Element incorporates avionics, software, life support hardware, crew interfaces, and mission operations from Lockheed Martin’s human-rated, deep-space Orion vehicle that will fly on the Artemis I and II missions. A consistent cockpit experience and training from Orion to the AE makes the end-to-end mission safer for Artemis. The Transfer Element, a propulsive stage that starts the lander on its descent trajectory from lunar orbit, is based on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus vehicle that provides logistics resupply to the International Space Station; and Draper provides descent guidance and avionics to the National Team.

“Each partner brings its own outstanding legacy to the National Team. These include developing, integrating, and operating human-rated spacecraft, launch systems and planetary landers. Together we form an excellent team to send our next astronauts to the Moon in 2024,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space. “Augmenting state of the art tools with physically being able to see, interact, and evaluate a full-up lander in person is critical. It will inform our design and requirements earlier in the program allowing us to accelerate our development and meet the 2024 lunar landing goal.”

The mockup will remain at JSC through early 2021 for a series of tests and simulations. Over the coming months, the National Team will continue to build and increase mockup fidelity. NASA’s Human Landing System Program is managed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Blue Origin-Led HLS National Team Mockup

Video above: Hear more from the National Team about the engineering mockup of the crew lander vehicle.

About the National Team

The Blue Origin-led National Team, which is comprised of Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper, is working to offer a Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis program to return Americans to the lunar surface – this time to stay. Blue Origin, as prime contractor, leads program management, systems engineering, safety and mission assurance, and mission engineering and operations; and develops the Descent Element. Lockheed Martin develops the reusable Ascent Element vehicle and leads crewed flight operations and training. Northrop Grumman develops the Transfer Element vehicle that delivers the landing system into low lunar orbit for final descent. Draper leads descent guidance and provides flight avionics.

Related link:

Blue Origin:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Blue Origin.


NASA's ECOSTRESS Monitors California's Record-Breaking Heat Wave

ISS - ECOSTRESS Mission logo.

August 20, 2020

From cities to deserts, the intense heat gripping California is being closely monitored by an Earth-observing mission aboard the International Space Station. 

Image above: This ECOSTRESS temperature map shows the land surface temperatures throughout Los Angeles County on Aug. 14, 2020, during a heat wave.Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

As record temperatures and large wildfires scorch California, NASA's Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) has been tracking the heat wave from low Earth orbit. While ECOSTRESS's primary mission is to measure the temperature of plants heating up as they run out of water, it can also measure and track heat-related phenomena like heat waves, wildfires, and volcanoes.

At 3:56 p.m. PDT (6:56 p.m. EDT) on Aug. 14, as the space station passed over Los Angeles, ECOSTRESS was able to take a snapshot of the soaring land surface temperatures across the county, home to more than 10 million people. (Land surface temperature is the temperature of the ground rather than the air above it.) In the first image, ECOSTRESS measured a temperature range of about 70-125 degrees Fahrenheit (21-52 degrees Celsius), with the coolest being at the coasts and mountains. The highest surface temperatures, in dark red, were found northwest of downtown Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. (The instrument also captured the Ranch fire, seen in the center of the image, as it burned.) Land surface temperatures there reached over 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius), with a peak of 128.3 degrees Fahrenheit (53.5 degrees Celsius) between the cities of Van Nuys and Encino.

Image above: This ECOSTRESS temperature map shows the land surface temperatures around Death Valley in California's Mojave Desert on Aug. 16, 2020. during a heat wave. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Those afternoon peaks were within range of morning surface temperatures ECOSTRESS gauged two days later in Death Valley, part of California's Mojave Desert. As shown in the second image, from Aug. 16 at 8:50 a.m. PDT (11:50 a.m. EDT), ECOSTRESS recorded a maximum temperature of 122.52 degrees Fahrenheit (50.29 degrees Celsius) near Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park.

ECOSTRESS observations have a spatial resolution of about 77 by 77 yards (70 by 70 meters), which enables researchers to study surface-temperature conditions down to the size of a football field. Due to the space station's unique orbit, the mission can acquire images of the same regions at different times of day, as opposed to crossing over each area at the same time of day like satellites in other orbits do. This is advantageous when monitoring plant stress in the same area throughout the day, for example.

ECOSTRESS on ISS. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL

The ECOSTRESS mission launched to the space station on June 29, 2018. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages the mission for the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

More information about ECOSTRESS is available here:

For information on Earth science activities aboard the International Space Station, visit:

For more information about International Space Station (ISS), visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Ian J. O'Neill/Jane J. Lee.


Successful re-entry of H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI9” (HTV9)

JAXA - H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI9” (HTV9) patch.

August 20, 2020

The H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI9” (HTV9) successfully re-entered the atmosphere after the third de-orbit maneuver at 3:40 p.m. on August 20, 2020 (Japanese Standard Time, JST).

Illustration  of H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI” atmospheric re-entry

The “KOUNOTORI9” has successfully accomplished its main objective to ship cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

The estimated date/time of “KOUNOTORI9” re-entry and splashdown are as follows (Japanese Standard Time, JST):

Estimated re-entry*1:     August 20, 2020 / 4:07 p.m.
Estimated splashdown:     August 20, 2020 / 4:19 p.m. ~ 4:57 p.m.

*1: Altitude at 120 km

Related article:

Japanese Cargo Craft Completes Station Mission

Reference link:

For more details, please refer to the following website:

Address of Dr. YAMAKAWA Hiroshi, President of JAXA, on the H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI9” Mission Completion

Today, on August 20, 2020, the 9th H-II Transfer Vehicle "KOUNOTORI9" ("HTV9") left the orbit and reentered Earth’s atmosphere as scheduled. Launched from the Tanegashima Space Center on May 21, 2020, “KOUNOTORI9” successfully docked to the International Space Station (ISS) and transferred onboard resupply items and utilization cargoes to it. Then, loaded with trash materials from the ISS, “KOUNOTORI9” departed from the ISS and completed Today’s reentry into the atmosphere to finish its mission.

The nine “KOUNOTORI” transfer vehicles have been transporting not only Japanese cargo but also those of the ISS international partners since its first launch in 2009, and have played an important and indispensable role for operations and utilization of the ISS as the only spacecraft capable of transporting large-sized experiment racks to the ISS. In particular, we believe that we were able to make a significant contribution to the future stable operation of the ISS by continuously transporting the ISS’s new batteries from “KOUNOTORI6” to “KOUNOTORI9” which replaced the old ones that had been used beyond their design life.

JAXA has acquired various new technologies and knowledge through the development, launch and operations of “KOUNOTORI”. In order to meet the strict safety standards imposed on spacecraft flying and approaching manned space facilities, JAXA developed the rendezvous and capture technology and applied it to “KONOTORI”. This new technology has also been adopted by the U.S. resupply vehicle, and we believe it has become and international standard. Moreover, we have also achieved many results that might lead to progress of future manned space activities through technical demonstrations making use of opportunities of “KONOTORI” operation, such as demonstration of the Small Re-entry Capsule (HSRC) on “KOUNOTORI7” and Wireless LAN Demonstration (WLD) on “KOUNOTORI9”.

JAXA is currently developing a new resupply vehicle, the HTV-X, as a successor to the KOUNOTORI. Based on our accumulated technologies and knowledge, we will steadily develop the HTV-X as a new resupply vehicle with improved transport capability and operability, as well as a spacecraft that can be used for cargo resupply to the manned cislunar station, Gateway.

Finally, we would like to express here our heartfelt gratitude to many officials from domestic and international organizations and many individuals who provided us with precious support and assistance to “KOUNOTORI” missions. We would like to ask you for continued attention and support to us.

August 20, 2020
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

Related link:
International Space Station (ISS) /Japanese Experiment Module (Kibo):

Image, Text, Credit: JAXA.

Best regards,

mercredi 19 août 2020

Space Traffic Clear at Station Until October

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

August 19, 2020

The Expedition 63 crew has turned its attention toward space science and lab maintenance after releasing a Japanese cargo craft from the International Space Station on Tuesday. More cargo and crew missions to replenish the orbiting lab are planned for October.

Commander Chris Cassidy switched off communications gear today used to send commands to Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) after its departure on Tuesday. The HTV-9 will orbit Earth until Thursday morning when it descends into the atmosphere for a fiery, but safe demise over the South Pacific.

Image above: Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy applies a mission sticker inside the space station to signify the departure of Japan’s HTV-9 resupply ship from the U.S. Harmony module. Image Credit: NASA.

The NASA commander spent the rest of the day working on orbital plumbing and life support gear. Cassidy removed and replaced the Waste and Hygiene Compartment’s recycle tank located in the Tranquility module. He also inspected out gear that analyzes organic compounds in the station’s air.

Veteran station cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin focused on battery work as he installed current converters throughout the lab’s Russian segment. First-time cosmonaut Ivan Vagner spent Wednesday morning working on more orbital plumbing before exploring ways to improve Earth photography techniques and determine how mission events impact the orbiting lab.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Space traffic will be clear at the space station for the rest of August and into September. The mission pace will pick back up in October with a U.S. Cygnus cargo ship from Northrop Grumman, the Expedition 64 crew and the SpaceX Crew-1 mission all to set to arrive within a period of three weeks.

Related articles:

Japanese Cargo Craft Completes Station Mission

Crew Dragon Returns as SpaceX, Russia Prep Future Crew Missions

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Expedition 64:

Tranquility module:

Earth photography techniques:

Mission events impact the orbiting lab:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,