samedi 19 décembre 2020

SpaceX - Falcon 9 launches NROL-108


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / NROL-108 Mission patch.

Dec. 19, 2020

Falcon 9 launches NROL-108

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the NROL-108 mission from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on 19 December 2020, at 14:00 UTC (09:00 EST). Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Falcon 9 launches NROL-108 and Falcon 9 first stage landing

The first stage booster (Block 5 B1059) previously supported launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, a Starlink mission, and the SAOCOM 1B mission. The NROL-108 satellite was launched for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and it was SpaceX’s second mission for the NRO.


Image, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Chang’e-5 lunar samples extracted from the capsule


CLEP - China Lunar Exploration Program logo.

Dec. 19, 2020

Chang’e-5 lunar samples extracted from the capsule

The return capsule of the Chang’e-5 lunar mission was opened on 19 December 2020, in Beijing, China. Scientists extracted the lunar sample container and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) handed over the lunar samples to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) for research.

Chang’e-5 lunar samples extracted from the capsule

According to Lin Yangting (professor, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences), a joint team will be formed with European researchers to study the samples, part of the cooperation with the European Space Agency.

Related articles:

Chang’e-5 landing and capsule recovery

Chang’e-5 landed in Inner Mongolia

Ready for Chang’e-5 landing

Chang’e-5 on the way to Earth

Chang’e-5 completes first trans-Earth injection maneuver

Chang’e-5 orbiter-sample return vehicle separates from ascender

Chang’e-5 - Rendezvous and docking explained

Chang’e-5 ascends to lunar orbit

Chang’e-5 collecting lunar samples

Chang’e-5 lands on the Moon

Chang’e-5 ready for Moon landing

Chang’e-5 enters lunar orbit

Chang’e-5 completes first orbital correction

CASC - Long March-5 Y5 launches Chang’e-5 lunar mission

ESA tracks Chang'e-5 Moon mission

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit:

Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Astra Space Rocket 3.2 launch


Astra Space logo.

Dec. 19, 2020

Astra Space Rocket 3.2 launch

Astra Space’s Rocket 3.2 rocket was launched from Pad LP-3B, at the Pacific Spaceport Complex - Alaska (PSCA), Kodiak Island, on 15 December 2020,  at 20:55 UTC (12:55 local time).

Astra Space Rocket 3.2 launch

According to  Astra Space: “Rocket 3.2 precisely achieved its target altitude of 380 kilometers at 7.2 km/sec… just short of orbital velocity of 7.68 km/sec.”

Astra Space:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Astra Space/John Kraus/Music: Alaska Sky by Patrick Patrikios courtesy of YouTube Audio Library/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 18 décembre 2020

Human Research, Technology Science as Spacesuit Work Wraps Up


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 18, 2020

The Expedition 64 continued its human research studies today while also focusing on space manufacturing and technology investigations. Spacesuit maintenance has also wrapped up for the week aboard the International Space Station.

The lack of gravity in space is not the only factor affecting the human body. Solar radiation is also a concern as NASA plans crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. The station astronauts have been wearing the new AstroRad Vest this week testing for more than just radiation protection, but also comfort and fit. The vest design expands upon protective gear designed for emergency personnel responding to radiation exposure incidents on Earth.

Image above: Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Victor Glover works on U.S. spacesuits in the Quest airlock. Image Credit: NASA.

Muscle measurements and ultrasound scans were back on the schedule today for the long-running Myotones experiments. Blood samples are also taken to help doctors understand and treat muscle atrophy that occurs during spaceflight. Daily exercise offsets this loss, but insights from the investigation may provide alternate therapies for space crews, as well as more Earthbound muscle conditions.

Microgravity provides an ideal environment for producing high quality optic fibers superior to those created on Earth. Samples of optic fibers produced in the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox were swapped out today for the ongoing Fiber Optic Production manufacturing study that may help commercialize space exploration.

Another study looking at optical communications today is testing the high-speed, high-capacity downlink of data from the orbiting lab. A unique, tiny pointing mechanism was installed for operations from Japan’s Kibo laboratory module for the SOLISS technology demonstration. The experiment uses lasers and could advance space communications and the transmission of data to and from remote locations on Earth.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

The crew cleaned up the U.S. Quest airlock today after a weeklong series of spacesuit maintenance tasks inside the spacewalk staging module. U.S. spacesuit components were upgraded, swapped and cleaned throughout the week as station managers begin planning spacewalks for 2021. Another spacesuit was packed inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship for return to Earth in January.

The new NanoRacks Bishop airlock, delivered Dec. 7 in the SpaceX Cargo Dragon’s unpressurized trunk, will be installed to the Tranquility module this weekend using the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Bishop will increase the capacity for commercial research, enable the release of larger satellites, and expand equipment transfers in and out of the station.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

AstroRad Vest:


Microgravity Science Glovebox:

Fiber Optic Production:


U.S. Quest airlock:

NanoRacks Bishop airlock:

Tranquility module:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Norah Moran.

Best regards,

Recently Discovered Comet Seen During 2020 Total Solar Eclipse


NASA & ESA - SOHO Mission patch.

Dec. 18, 2020

As Chile and Argentina witnessed the total solar eclipse on Dec. 14, 2020, unbeknownst to skywatchers, a little tiny speck was flying past the Sun — a recently discovered comet.

Image above: (left) The LASCO C2 camera on the ESA/NASA SOHO observatory shows comet C/2020 X3 (SOHO) in the bottom left-hand corner. (right) A composite image of the total solar eclipse on Dec. 14, 2020, based on 65 frames taken by Andreas Möller (Arbeitskreis Meteore e.V.) in Piedras del Aguila, Argentina, and processed by Jay Pasachoff and Roman Vanur. Images Credits: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Andreas Möller (Arbeitskreis Meteore e.V.)/processed by Jay Pasachoff and Roman Vanur/Joy Ng. Eclipse image used with permission.

This comet was first spotted in satellite data by Thai amateur astronomer Worachate Boonplod on the NASA-funded Sungrazer Project — a citizen science project that invites anyone to search for and discover new comets in images from the joint European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO.

Boonplod discovered the comet on Dec. 13, the day before the eclipse. He knew the eclipse was coming, and was eager to see whether his new comet discovery might appear in the Sun’s outer atmosphere as a small speck in eclipse photographs.

Animation above: The recently discovered comet C/2020 X3 (SOHO) seen in the LASCO C2 camera on the ESA/NASA SOHO observatory. Animation Credits: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Karl Battams.

The comet, named C/2020 X3 (SOHO) by the Minor Planet Center, is a “Kreutz” sungrazer. This family of comets originated from a large parent comet that broke up into smaller fragments well over a thousand years ago and continues to orbit around the Sun today. Kreutz sungrazing comets are most commonly found in SOHO images. SOHO’s camera works by mimicking total solar eclipses: A solid occulting disk blocks out the otherwise blinding light of the Sun, revealing dimmer features in its outer atmosphere and other celestial objects like comets. To date, 4,108 comets have been discovered in SOHO images, with this comet being the 3,524th Kreutz sungrazer spotted.

SOHO spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/ESA

Around the time the eclipse image was taken, the comet was traveling at roughly 450,000 miles per hour, about 2.7 million miles from the Sun’s surface. The comet was around 50 feet in diameter — about the length of a semitruck. It then disintegrated to dust particles due to intense solar radiation, a few hours before reaching its closest point to the Sun.

Related links:

Sungrazer Project:

Citizen science project:

Minor Planet Center:

SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lina Tran/GSFC/By Joy Ng.


Hubble Sees a ‘Molten Ring’


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 18, 2020

The narrow galaxy elegantly curving around its spherical companion in this image is a fantastic example of a truly strange and very rare phenomenon. This image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, depicts GAL-CLUS-022058s, located in the southern hemisphere constellation of Fornax (the Furnace). GAL-CLUS-022058s is the largest and one of the most complete Einstein rings ever discovered in our universe. The object has been nicknamed by astronomers studying this Einstein ring as the "Molten Ring," which alludes to its appearance and host constellation.

First theorized to exist by Einstein in his general theory of relativity, this object’s unusual shape can be explained by a process called gravitational lensing, which causes light shining from far away to be bent and pulled by the gravity of an object between its source and the observer. In this case, the light from the background galaxy has been distorted into the curve we see by the gravity of the galaxy cluster sitting in front of it. The near exact alignment of the background galaxy with the central elliptical galaxy of the cluster, seen in the middle of this image, has warped and magnified the image of the background galaxy into an almost perfect ring. The gravity from other galaxies in the cluster causes additional distortions.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Objects like these are the ideal laboratories in which to study galaxies that are often too faint and distant to otherwise see without gravitational lensing.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Jha; Acknowledgment: L. Shatz.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of December 14, 2020


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 18, 2020

Scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station the week of Dec. 14 included crystallizing antibodies in microgravity and studies of changes in the gene expression of fruit flies and how microbes adapt to space.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Seven crew members currently inhabit the station, including four from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which increases crew time available for science on the orbiting lab. The space station has been continuously inhabited by humans for 20 years and has supported many scientific breakthroughs during that time. The station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space, experience that 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:

Making better antibodies

Image above: NASA astronaut Victor Glover reviews procedures for the Monoclonal Antibodies PCG experiment, which crystallizes therapeutic monoclonal antibodies in microgravity, where it is possible to achieve higher quality crystals than on Earth. The investigation could accelerate the development of advanced therapies that target cancer cells. Image Credit: NASA.

Monoclonal Antibodies PCG assesses the differences in how various therapeutic monoclonal antibodies crystallize. Monoclonal antibodies are lab-created immune system proteins designed to interact with specific targets such as cancer cells. It is possible to produce higher quality crystals in microgravity, and this capability could support development of drugs with reduced cost, improved stability, and greater ease of administration. During the week, the crew performed set-up of the protein crystal growth (PCG) plates, which are kept in a temperature-controlled location on the space station for crystallization.

The genes behind daily rhythms

Image above: Genes in Space-7, an investigation designed by Finsam Samson (left) and Yujie Wang (right) while at Troy High School in Troy, Michigan, studies how microgravity influences nervous system function. Image Credit: Genes in Space.

Genes in Space-7 is a student-designed experiment that flew to the space station after winning a Genes in Space competition, a nation-wide contest that challenges students to design DNA analysis experiments. The study establishes a process for examining changes in gene expression in fruit flies, targeting those in the nervous system related to circadian or daily rhythm. This system of daily rhythms for bodily processes is regulated by light cues, which space travel disrupts. This study could improve our understanding of how spaceflight affects brain function, helping scientists keep astronauts healthy as they prepare for long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond. Crew members amplify DNA from the samples using the onboard miniPCR, a procedure validated on-orbit as part of a previous Genes in Space investigation.

Microbes on microgravity

During the week, the crew collected Micro-14A samples and inserted them into the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) for preservation. This investigation expands on previous studies to define the mechanisms by which cells of the yeast Candida albicans adapt to space. This opportunistic pathogen can cause serious illness in immunocompromised hosts, but the specific mechanism by which it converts from benign organism into pathogen are not fully understood. Astronauts often experience changes in immune response during flight and so could be at risk for infection from this and other opportunistic pathogens that may become more virulent in microgravity. A better understanding of microbial adaption to environmental stresses contributes to protecting crew member health during long-duration spaceflight.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Myotones, an ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, observes the biochemical properties of muscles during long-term exposure to spaceflight.

- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Confocal Space Microscopy facility provides fluorescence images of biological samples on-orbit, which can provide data on the fundamental nature of cellular and tissue structure and function in real-time.

- The Vascular series from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) includes Vascular Aging and Vascular Echo, investigations that examine how microgravity affects the carotid arteries, which carry blood to the head.

Animation above: A microscope image of engineered heart tissue from the Cardinal Heart investigation, which analyzes changes in gene expression in heart tissues that occur in microgravity. Animation Credit: NASA.

- Cardinal Heart studies changes seen in the human heart after spending time in microgravity, using engineered heart tissues (EHTs) to analyze changes in gene expression in three heart cell types.

Image above: NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins conducts activities for Fiber Optic Production, an experiment that creates optical fibers in microgravity. Such fibers should exhibit far superior qualities to those produced on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

- Fiber Optic Production produces fiber optic cable in space from a blend of elements called ZBLAN. Previous research suggests optical fibers produced in microgravity should exhibit superior qualities to those produced on Earth.

- BRE focuses on fire prevention in spacecraft, examining burning conditions and the flammability of materials in microgravity. BRE is part of ACME, a set of six independent studies of gaseous flames intended to advance fuel efficiency and reduce pollutant production in practical combustion on Earth, and to improve spacecraft fire prevention.

- MVP Cell-06 studies the effects of spaceflight on musculoskeletal disease. Astronauts experience exercise-related injuries in space and on Earth, and loss of cartilage and bone due to joint injury can lead to arthritis. This investigation could help identify medication to protect both astronauts and people on Earth.

- Standard Measures collects a set of consistent measurements from U.S. crew members to help characterize the effects of living and working in space on the human body.

- Space Organogenesis, an investigation from JAXA demonstrates the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells in order to analyze changes in gene expression.

- The ISS Experience is creating an immersive virtual reality (VR) series documenting life and research aboard the space station.

- Rotifer B2, an ESA experiment, explores the cumulative effect of microgravity and space radiation on living organisms.

- Plant Habitat-02 cultivates radish plants (Raphanus sativus) to determine the effects of microgravity on their growth. This model plant is nutritious, has a short cultivation time, and is genetically similar to Arabidopsis, a plant frequently studied in microgravity.

- AstroRad Vest tests a wearable vest designed to protect astronauts from radiation caused by unpredictable solar particle events. Astronauts provide input on how easy the garment is to put on, how it fits and feels, and the range of motion it allows.

- Food Acceptability looks at how the appeal of food changes during long-duration missions. Whether crew members like and actually eat foods directly affects caloric intake and associated nutritional benefits.

- ISS Ham gives groups of students an opportunity to ask questions of crew members as the space station passes over their school, camp, museum, or other facility. 

Space to Ground - Cardinal Heart Study 12-18-2020

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Commercial Crew Program:

Monoclonal Antibodies PCG:

Genes in Space-7:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 64.

Best regards,

The Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle launches OneWeb 4 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome


Arianespace & Roscosmos - OneWeb 4 / Flight ST29 Mission poster.

Dec. 18, 2020

Soyuz-2.1b carrying OneWeb launch

Today, December 18, 2020, at 15:26:26 Moscow time, the launching calculations of the subsidiaries of the State Corporation Roscosmos from the Vostochny cosmodrome launched the Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle with the Fregat upper stage and 36 new OneWeb spacecraft on board. According to telemetry data, the start and separation of the upper stage from the third stage of the carrier took place in the normal mode.

Soyuz-2.1b launches OneWeb 4

Video above: For Arianespace’s ST29 mission, a Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle launched 36 OneWeb satellites from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia, on 18 December 2020, at 12:26:26 UTC (21:26:26 local time). ST29 is Arianespace’s first commercial mission from Vostochny Cosmodrome and the fourth launch for the OneWeb constellation.

OneWeb satellites carrier

After the successful separation of the warhead, the Fregat upper stage continued to launch the vehicles into the assigned orbit. Over the next 3 hours and 40 minutes, OneWeb satellites will sequentially separate (in groups of four satellites) from the upper stage in accordance with the flight sequence.

OneWeb Mission Diagram (In Russian)

The Soyuz-2.1b launch vehicle was created at the Progress Rocket and Space Center (Samara, part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) and is a modification of Soyuz-2. In comparison with variant "1a" it has an engine with increased energy characteristics at the 3rd stage. The Soyuz-2.1b has higher launch accuracy, stability and controllability than the previous version, and an increased payload mass.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:



Images, Video, Text, Credits: Arianespace/OneWeb/Roscosmos/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Loss of Vega flight VV17: Independent Enquiry Commission announces conclusions


ARIANESPACE - Vega Flight VV17 Mission poster.

Dec. 18, 2020

On Tuesday, November 17, Arianespace announced the loss of the Vega VV17 mission, which was carrying two payloads, SEOSAT-Ingenio, an Earth-science observation satellite for the European Space Agency (ESA), on behalf of Spain's Center for Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI), and TARANIS for France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES). The first three stages functioned nominally until the ignition of the AVUM upper stage, eight minutes after liftoff. At that time, a degraded trajectory was detected, followed by a loss of control of the vehicle and the subsequent loss of the mission.

Initial investigations, conducted right after the launch with the available data, identified a problem related to the integration of the fourth-stage AVUM Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system as being the most likely cause of the loss of control of the launcher.

Arianespace (the launch service provider) and the European Space Agency (ESA - the launch system development authority) immediately set up an Independent Enquiry Commission (IEC). The Commission provided the detailed report and conclusions confirming initially identified root causes to the failure, comprehensively explaining what went wrong in the integration process and why the error was not detected before flight. According to its findings, the Commission has accordingly formulated a road map for a robust Vega return to flight.

Vega upper stage

More precisely, the IEC concludes that the VV17 cause of failure is not attributable to a flaw in the qualification of the design but to the wrong routing and connection of the control lanes of the electro-mechanical actuators of the AVUM upper stage Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system, inverting steering commands and causing trajectory degradation leading to the loss of the vehicle. The detailed series of causes are described as (i) a misleading integration procedure causing (ii) an inversion of electrical connections, not detected through (iii) the different control steps and tests executed between the integration of the AVUM upper stage and the final acceptance of the launcher due to some inconsistencies between specific requirements and prescribed controls.

A comprehensive set of both immediate and permanent recommendations has been presented by the IEC to ensure safe and prompt return to flight, as well as to ensure launch vehicles reliability on the long term. The first set of recommendations include additional inspections and tests on the next two Vega launchers, whose hardware is already totally or partially produced, and workmanship. Permanent recommendations have been proposed to further mitigate the identified root causes, regarding the manufacturing, integration and acceptance processes on Vega assembly lines in Italy and its final acceptance in French Guiana.

Starting this week, a task force steered by ESA and Arianespace has started implementing the roadmap proposed by the IEC and will thoroughly follow its implementation. A set of actions will be implemented by Vega’s prime contractor Avio, under the supervision of Arianespace, as launch service provider, and ESA, as launch system development authority, in order to make possible the next Vega launch, VV18, still scheduled by Q1 2021 from French Guiana, and the following ones.

Vega miss launch of SEOSAT-Ingenio and TARANIS

“Thanks to their hard work in less than one month, the members of the Commission have confirmed the cause initially identified after the loss of control of the mission VV17,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “The clarity of the conclusions presented by the Independent commission opens the way to immediate implementation  by Avio, Vega’s prime contractor, of the recommendations on their integration line, with the support from Arianespace and ESA. It may allow a return to flight by end Q1 2021, in full confidence to Vega’s quality and competitiveness on the market.”

Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation, said: "In the past few weeks, members of the Independent Inquiry Commission have done an exceptional work, with the support of the prime contractor Avio. The Commission has drawn a set of recommendations that once implemented should enable robust, reliable and even swift return to flight of Vega, contributing to secure Europe’s autonomy of access to space."

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovenia and Latvia are Associate Members.

ESA has established formal cooperation with six Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes as well as with Eumetsat for the development of meteorological missions.

Related article:

Vega Flight VV17: Source of anomaly identified; Inquiry Commission established

Learn more about ESA at

Image, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Ninja Menning/Arianespace/SciNews.


Interplanetary internet & cameras in space: ESA’s OPS-SAT first results


ESA - OPS-SAT Mission patch & ESA logo.

Dec. 18, 2020

OPS-SAT is the world’s first open, in-orbit testbed for new spacecraft software and applications. By conducting low-cost, low-risk experiments with OPS-SAT, teams from across Europe are ushering in a new era for European spaceflight innovation and commercial opportunity.


- OPS-SAT’s commissioning phase ended in September and the first experiments are now being carried out in orbit

- Innovative new technologies are being tested on OPS-SAT in areas such as artificial intelligence, data compression, and space-based web services

- Initial experimental results have exceeded expectations

- Results from many more experiments expected soon

Visionary software

One company in Spain, DAPCOM, is testing image-compression software using OPS-SAT’s camera system to greatly improve the image quality and scientific return of small Earth observation satellites.

Larger satellites, such as the Sentinels of the European Copernicus programme, use specialised hardware to ‘compress’ image data, reducing the data volume that is transmitted to Earth while maintaining a high image quality. But this hardware requires physical space on board and is not an option for tiny cubesats or nanosats, which can be as small as just a few centimetres in size.

OPS-SAT captures our home in space

“The initial results from DAPCOM are incredible,” says ESA’s David Evans, OPS-SAT Project Manager. “We never expected to produce such fantastic images with OPS-SAT’s camera and DAPCOM’s innovation helps us to download many times more of them.”

DAPCOM’s software has now been made available to other OPS-SAT experimenters.

First OPS-SAT photos capture frosty fjord

This is one of OPS-SAT’s greatest strengths,” says Evans. “Successful technologies can be immediately incorporated into OPS-SAT’s operational toolbox and made available to others for their own experiments.”

Interplanetary internet from the home office

Another key feature of OPS-SAT is that ESA allows experimenters from across the European spaceflight community – industry, academia, start-ups, other agencies, clubs/schools – to remotely test-fly their software.

Dresden, Germany, start-up D3TN became the first to successfully operate their OPS-SAT experiment from home over the internet.

“As well as being the first time that OPS-SAT was controlled over the internet from an experimenter's home office, the D3TN experiment successfully tested a new communications technology called the ‘Ring Road’,” says Evans.

“This technology could allow for a type of interplanetary internet that links extremely low-cost, large-scale satellite networks spanning from Earth to the Moon, or even to Mars.”

The company’s OPS-SAT experiment marks the first time the ‘Ring Road’ has been tested in space.

Boosting European industry

Tanagra Space, founded by OPS-SAT flight control member Georges Labrèche, is a European based start-up focussed on developing accessible artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for the space industry.

Artist's impression of Ops-Sat

During OPS-SAT’s commissioning phase, Labrèche faced challenges with the inconsistent pointing of OPS-SAT's camera system. He set out to save valuable communication bandwidth by ‘training’ a smart camera application powered by artificial intelligence to recognise poor or overexposed images and filter them out, preventing them from being transmitted back to Earth.

Almost 5000 images taken by OPS-SAT were used to train the system. The accuracy of its predictions proved so good that the software was soon left to work without ground team supervision.

"The software is so successful at distinguishing the good images from the bad, that it is now available to other OPS-SAT experimenters," says Evans. "They can easily improve on it by adding their own improvements to identify any images containing specific features they are looking for."

More results coming soon

In addition to DAPCOM and D3TN, many more experiments are currently taking place on board OPS-SAT, with results expected in the coming weeks and months:

- The French space agency, CNES, (France), are testing automatic spacecraft manoeuvre planning and collision prediction in space.

- Airbus (Germany) are using OPS-SAT to test a complete new on-board software system in the space environment.

- STAR-Dundee (UK) are testing a next-gen high-speed communication protocol called SpaceFibre using OPS-SAT’s powerful reconfigurable hardware.

- IRT Saint Exupéry (France) are using a form of artificial intelligence called ‘deep learning’ to recognise patterns such as cloud formations or fires on Earth.

- TU Graz (Austria) are attempting to monitor signals emitted by devices in the ‘Internet of Things’ from space using OPS-SAT’s software-defined radio and will also test optical communications using their laser ground station.

- VisionSpace (Germany) and the Artificial Intelligence and Operations Innovation team at ESA’s ESOC mission control centre are testing the use of artificial intelligence to allow a spacecraft to analyse images on board and schedule and plan activities autonomously.

- CGI (Estonia) and another team at ESOC are testing a new way of interfacing on-board and ground mission-scheduling processes (this will be a world first).

OPS-SAT: ESA’s flying lab, open to all

There are dozens more OPS-SAT missions in the pipeline. New mission proposals are welcome!

If you have an innovative idea for the future of spaceflight, contact David Evans:

OPS-SAT’s development and launch were covered by ESA’s General Support Technology Programme (GSTP). The spacecraft is operated by ESA’s ESOC mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Related links:




Tanagra Space:




IRT Saint Exupéry:

TU Graz:



Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Stijn Laagland.

Best regards,

jeudi 17 décembre 2020

NASA Moves Forward with Campaign to Return Mars Samples to Earth


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Dec. 17, 2020

NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are moving to the next phase in a campaign to deepen understanding of whether life ever existed on Mars and, in turn, better understand the origins of life on Earth.

NASA has approved the Mars Sample Return (MSR) multi-mission effort to advance to Phase A, preparing to bring the first pristine samples from Mars back to Earth. During this phase, the program will mature critical technologies and make critical design decisions, as well as assess industry partnerships.

Image above: In this illustration, NASA's Mars 2020 rover uses its drill to core a rock sample on Mars. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The first endeavor of this campaign is in progress. NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launched in July and is set to land on the Red Planet Feb. 18, 2021. The car-size rover will search for signs of ancient microbial life. Using a coring drill at the end of its robotic arm, Perseverance has the capability to gather samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust), and hermetically seal them in collection tubes. Perseverance can deposit these samples at designated locations on the Martian surface or store them internally.

In the next steps of the MSR campaign, NASA and ESA will provide respective components for a Sample Retrieval Lander mission and an Earth Return Orbiter mission, with launches planned in the latter half of this decade. The Sample Retrieval Lander mission will deliver a Sample Fetch Rover and Mars Ascent Vehicle to the surface of Mars. The rover will retrieve the samples and transport them to the lander. The Perseverance rover also provides a potential capability for delivery of collection tubes to the lander. A robotic arm on the lander will transfer the samples into a container embedded in the nose of the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

Once sealed, the system will prepare for the first launch from another planet. In Mars orbit, the Earth Return Orbiter will rendezvous with and capture the sealed sample container, and then place the samples in an additional high-reliability containment capsule for return to Earth in the early 2030s.

"Returning samples of Mars to Earth has been a goal of planetary scientists since the early days of the space age, and the successful completion of this MSR key decision point is an important next step in transforming this goal into reality," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "MSR is a complex campaign, and it encapsulates the very essence of pioneering space exploration – pushing the boundaries of what's capable and, in so doing, furthering our understanding of our place in the universe."

Bringing Mars samples back to Earth will allow scientists across the world to examine the specimens using sophisticated instruments too large and too complex to send to Mars, and will allow future generations to study them using technology not yet available. Curating the samples on Earth will allow the science community to test new theories and models as they are developed, much as the Apollo samples returned from the Moon have done for decades.

Animation above: NASA's Mars 2020 rover uses its drill to core a rock sample on Mars. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The MSR campaign also advances NASA's efforts to send humans to the Red Planet. It will involve landing heavier spacecraft on the Martian surface than ever before. It would also involve launch from and rendezvous operations around another planet for the first time. With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface in 2024 to prepare for humanity's next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

"MSR will foster significant engineering advances for humanity and advance technologies needed to successfully realize the first round-trip mission to another planet," said Jeff Gramling, Mars Sample Return program director at NASA Headquarters. “The scientific advances offered by pristine Martian samples through MSR are unprecedented, and this mission will contribute to NASA’s eventual goal of sending humans to Mars."

NASA established a Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board earlier this year to evaluate its early concepts for partnership with ESA to return the first samples from another planet. The board’s report with NASA’s responses released in October found the agency is now ready to undertake its Mars sample return campaign. NASA convened a second group of independent experts, the MSR Standing Review Board (SRB), to provide ongoing assessment of the MSR program. The SRB also recommended the program move into Phase A.

"Beginning the formulation work of Phase A is a momentous step for our team, albeit one of several to come," said Bobby Braun, Mars Sample Return program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads development for NASA’s MSR effort. "These reviews strengthened our plan forward and this milestone signals creation of a tangible approach for MSR built upon the extraordinary capabilities of the NASA centers, our ESA partners, and industry."

ESA is providing the Earth Return Orbiter, Sample Fetch Rover, and the lander's robotic arm to the partnership. NASA is providing the Sample Retrieval Lander, Mars Ascent Vehicle, and the Capture/Containment and Return System payload on the Earth Return Orbiter. Multiple NASA Centers are involved in this effort, contributing in their areas of strength.

For more information about the agency’s activities on Mars, visit:

Mars Perseverance Rover:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Grey Hautaluoma/Alana Johnson/Joshua Handal.


Cancer, Heart Research Today Ahead of Science Airlock Installation


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Dec. 17, 2020

The Expedition 64 crew is busy this week with a full slate of life science to promote healthier humans on and off the Earth. Cancer and heart research took precedence today alongside muscle and rodent studies for unique therapeutic insights on the International Space Station.

The microgravity environment on the station enables the production of high-quality protein crystals that are imaged using a microscope for the purpose of improving drug development. The Monoclonal Antibodies study taking place today will use the observations to improve medical cancer treatments and the space manufacturing process.

Image above: A U.S. Cygnus and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft are pictured docked to the station as it orbited above the Pacific Ocean. Image Credit: NASA.

Engineered heart tissue samples are being observed this week for the Cardinal Heart investigation. NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is leading that experiment to understand why weightlessness seems to induce cell and tissue abnormalities similar to heart conditions on Earth. Results may help doctors understand and predict cardiovascular risks for Earthlings and astronauts.

More muscle work was on the research schedule today as the crew continued with measurements and ultrasound scans today. The Myotones investigation monitors how microgravity changes muscles and tendons in an astronaut’s body to provide countermeasures for crews in space and therapies for patients on Earth.

 International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Rodents are also being studied this month for insights into tissue and bone loss as well as eye changes caused by living in space. One study will study explore how genetic modifications affect bone and tissue regeneration. The second will look at new treatments for space-caused and Earthbound eye problems.

Robotics controllers are preparing to remove a new science airlock delivered to the station last week inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. Using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, the NanoRacks Bishop airlock will be attached to the Tranquility module this weekend ramping up commercial research opportunities in space.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Monoclonal Antibodies:

Cardinal Heart:


Bone and tissue regeneration:

Eye problems:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

NanoRacks Bishop airlock:

Tranquility module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

ISRO - PSLV-XL launches the CMS-01satellite


ISRO - Indian Space Research Organisation logo.

Dec. 17, 2020

PSLV-XL launches the CMS-01satellite

For ISRO’s PSLV-C50 mission, a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in “XL” configuration launched the CMS-01 satellite from the Second Launch Pad (FLP) of Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota, on 17 December 2020, at 10:11 UTC (15:41 IST).

PSLV-XL launches the CMS-01satellite

CMS-01 is a communication satellite, providing services in Extended-C Band of the frequency spectrum, the 42nd Communication Satellite of India.

CMS 1 communications satellite

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), designated PSLV-C50, was launched the CMS 1 communications satellite. CMS 1 was formerly known as GSAT 12R, and is designed to replace the GSAT 12 communications satellite launched in 2011. The mission will use the PSLV-XL version of the PSLV with six strap-on solid rocket boosters. Delayed from Dec. 7 and Dec. 14.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


A pair of lonely planet-like objects born like stars


University of Bern logo.

Dec. 17, 2020

An international research team led by the University of Bern has discovered an exotic binary system composed of two young planet-like objects, orbiting around each other from a very large distance. Although these objects look like giant exoplanets, they formed in the same way as stars, proving that the mechanisms driving star formation can produce rogue worlds in unusual systems deprived of a Sun.

Brown dwarfs. Image Credits: University of Bern/Thibaut Roger.

tar-forming processes sometimes create mysterious astronomical objects called brown dwarfs, which are smaller and colder than stars, and can have masses and temperatures down to those of exoplanets in the most extreme cases. Just like stars, brown dwarfs often wander alone through space, but can also be seen in binary systems, where two brown dwarfs orbit one another and travel together in the galaxy.

Researchers led by Clémence Fontanive from the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) and the NCCR PlanetS discovered a curious starless binary system of brown dwarfs. The system CFHTWIR-Oph 98 (or Oph 98 for short) consists of the two very low-mass objects Oph 98 A and Oph 98 B. It is located 450 light years away from Earth in the stellar association Ophiuchus. The researchers were surprised by the fact that Oph 98 A and B are orbiting each other from a strikingly large distance, about 5 times the distance between Pluto and the Sun, which corresponds to 200 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The study has just been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Extremely low masses and a very large separation

The pair is a rare example of two objects similar in many aspects to extra-solar giant planets, orbiting around each other with no parent star. The more massive component, Oph 98 A, is a young brown dwarf with a mass of 15 times that of Jupiter, which is almost exactly on the boundary separating brown dwarfs from planets. Its companion, Oph 98 B, is only 8 times heavier than Jupiter.

Brown Dwarf Animation. Video Credit: Caltech

Components of binary systems are tied by an invisible link called gravitational binding energy, and this bond gets stronger when objects are more massive or closer to one another. With extremely low masses and a very large separation, Oph 98 has the weakest binding energy of any binary system known to date.

Discovery thanks to data from Hubble

Clémence Fontanive and her colleagues discovered the companion to Oph 98 A using images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Fontanive says: “Low-mass brown dwarfs are very cold and emit very little light, only through infrared thermal radiation. This heat glow is extremely faint and red, and brown dwarfs are hence only visible in infrared light.” Furthermore, the stellar association in which the binary is located, Ophiuchus, is embedded in a dense, dusty cloud which scatters visible light. “Infrared observations are the only way to see through this dust”, explains the lead researcher. “Detecting a system like Oph 98 also requires a camera with a very high resolution, as the angle separating Oph 98 A and B is a thousand times smaller than the size of the moon in the sky,” she adds. The Hubble Space Telescope is among the few telescopes capable of observing objects as faint as these brown dwarfs, and able to resolve such tight angles.

Clémence Fontanive. Image Credit: University of Bern

Because brown dwarfs are cold enough, water vapor forms in their atmospheres, creating prominent features in the infrared that are commonly used to identify brown dwarfs. However, these water signatures cannot be easily detected from the surface of the Earth. Located above the atmosphere in the vacuum of space, Hubble allows to probe the existence of water vapor in astronomical objects. Fontanive explains: “Both objects looked very red and showed clear signs of water molecules. This immediately confirmed that the faint source we saw next to Oph 98 A was very likely to also be a cold brown dwarf, rather than a random star that happened to be aligned with the brown dwarf in the sky.”

The team also found images in which the binary was visible, collected 14 years ago with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) in Hawaii. “We observed the system again this summer from another Hawaiian observatory, the United Kingdom Infra-Red Telescope. Using these data, we were able to confirm that Oph 98 A and B are moving together across the sky over time, relative to other stars located behind them, which is evidence that they are bound to each other in a binary pair”, explains Fontanive.

An atypical result of star formation

The Oph 98 binary system formed only 3 million years ago in the nearby Ophiuchus stellar nursery, making it a newborn on astronomical timescales. The age of the system is much shorter than the typical time needed to build planets. Brown dwarfs like Oph 98 A are formed by the same mechanisms as stars. Despite Oph 98 B being the right size for a planet, the host Oph 98 A is too small to have a sufficiently large reservoir of material to build a planet that big. “This tells us that Oph 98 B, like its host, must have formed through the same mechanisms that produce stars and shows that the processes that create binary stars operate on scale-down versions all the way down to these planetary masses”, comments Clémence Fontanive.

With the discovery of two planet-like worlds – already uncommon products of star formation – bound to each other in such an extreme configuration, “we are really witnessing an incredibly rare output of stellar formation processes”, as Fontanive describes.

Related links:

The Astrophysical Journal Letters:

University of Bern:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credit: University of Bern.

Best regards,

Chang’e-5 landing and capsule recovery


CLEP - China Lunar Exploration Program logo.

Dec. 17, 2020

Chang’e-5 capsule recovery

The Chang’e-5 capsule reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and successfully landed under a parachute in Siziwang Banner, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, on 16 December 2020, at 17:59 UTC (17 December, 01:59 local time).

Chang’e-5 landing and capsule recovery

A fox was the first at the scene, but the rabbit Yutu was not onboard. The Chang’e-5 capsule was loaded onto a truck, then transported by helicopter and airplane to Beijing.

According to Lin Yangting (professor, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences), a joint team will be formed with European researchers to study the samples, part of the cooperation with the European Space Agency.

Related articles:

Chang’e-5 landed in Inner Mongolia

Ready for Chang’e-5 landing

Chang’e-5 on the way to Earth

Chang’e-5 completes first trans-Earth injection maneuver

Chang’e-5 orbiter-sample return vehicle separates from ascender

Chang’e-5 - Rendezvous and docking explained

Chang’e-5 ascends to lunar orbit

Chang’e-5 collecting lunar samples

Chang’e-5 lands on the Moon

Chang’e-5 ready for Moon landing

Chang’e-5 enters lunar orbit

Chang’e-5 completes first orbital correction

CASC - Long March-5 Y5 launches Chang’e-5 lunar mission

ESA tracks Chang'e-5 Moon mission

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.