samedi 6 février 2021

NASA Remembers Millie Hughes-Fulford


NASA logo.

Feb 6, 2021

NASA is remembering Millie Hughes-Fulford, the first woman to fly as a NASA payload specialist, who died Thursday. Hughes-Fulford was selected as a payload specialist in January 1983 and flew in June 1991 aboard the space shuttle Columbia on the STS-40 Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS 1) mission, the first mission dedicated to biomedical studies. The mission flew more than 3.2 million miles, completing 146 orbits around Earth, and its crew completed more than 18 experiments during a nine-day period, bringing back more medical data than any previous NASA mission.

After her flight, Hughes-Fulford continued her research, overseeing several experiments that flew aboard the space shuttle and to the International Space Station. She was the principal investigator on a series of SpaceHab/Biorack experiments, which examined the regulation of bone cell growth. These experiments flew on space shuttle missions STS-76, STS-81 and STS-84 and contributed to studies examining the root causes of osteoporosis as it occurs in astronauts during spaceflight.

Hughes-Fulford examined changes in T-cell gene induction in spaceflight as part of a NASA/ESA (European Space Agency) experiment on which she collaboration, which flew to the space station in September 2006. That study examined the mechanism of action causing the decrease in T-cell activation in microgravity, a medical problem first discovered in Apollo astronauts upon their return to Earth. More recently, Hughes-Fulford and her team, along with their international colleagues, published a featured article in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology showing, for the first time, that microgravity itself is the root cause of T-cell dysfunction. In July 2013, NASA awarded her work as a top discovery on the International Space Station. In January 2015, her immunology experiment with the National Institutes of Health flew on a SpaceX mission to the space station.

Hughes-Fulford earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, in 1968. That year, she began graduate work studying plasma chemistry at Texas Woman's University in Denton as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow. She continued as an American Association of University Women fellow from 1971 to 1972. Upon completing her doctorate at Texas Women’s University in 1972, she joined the faculty of Southwestern Medical School, at the University of Texas in Dallas, as a postdoctoral fellow, where her research focused on regulation of cholesterol metabolism.

Video: Meet the Scientist: Dr. Millie Hughes-Fulford

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Brian Dunbar.


vendredi 5 février 2021

CLOUD at CERN reveals the role of iodine acids in atmospheric aerosol formation


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Feb. 5, 2021

The results suggest a new mechanism that could accelerate the loss of Arctic sea ice

Image above: Simulation of the marine atmosphere in the CLOUD chamber. Iodine emitted from the sea and ice is converted by ozone and sunlight into iodic acid and other compounds. These form new particles and increase clouds, warming the polar climate. Cosmic rays strongly enhance the particle formation rates. (Image: Helen Cawley).

In a paper published today in the journal Science, the CLOUD collaboration at CERN shows that aerosol particles made of iodic acid can form extremely rapidly in the marine boundary layer – the portion of the atmosphere that is in direct contact with the ocean. Aerosol particles in the atmosphere affect the climate, both directly and indirectly, but how new aerosol particles form and influence clouds and climate remains relatively poorly understood. This is particularly true of particles that form over the vast ocean.

“Iodic acid particles have been observed previously in certain coastal regions, but we did not know until now how important they may be globally,” says CLOUD spokesperson Jasper Kirkby. “Although most atmospheric particles form from sulfuric acid, our study shows that iodic acid may be the main driver in pristine marine regions.”

CLOUD is a one-of-a-kind experiment. It’s the world’s first laboratory experiment to achieve the technical performance required to measure the formation and growth of aerosol particles from a mixture of vapours under precisely controlled atmospheric conditions. In addition, the experiment is able to study how ions produced by high-energy particles called cosmic rays affect aerosol particle formation, using either the steady flux of natural cosmic rays that rains down on the CLOUD chamber or – to simulate higher altitudes – a beam of particles from the CERN Proton Synchrotron.

In its new study, the CLOUD team has investigated how aerosol particles form from vapours originating from molecular iodine under marine-boundary-layer conditions. They found that the particle formation and growth is driven by iodic acid (HIO3), and that iodous acid (HIO2) plays a key role in the initial steps of the formation of neutral particles – those with no electrical charge.

In addition, the researchers found that the iodic acid particles form extremely rapidly – even more rapidly than sulfuric acid-ammonia particles at similar acid concentrations. They also found that ions from cosmic rays originating from our galaxy accelerate the particle formation rate to the maximum possible, which is limited only by how frequently molecules collide.

“Iodic acid particle formation is likely to be particularly important in pristine marine regions where sulfuric acid and ammonia concentrations are extremely low,” says Kirkby. “Indeed, frequent new-particle formation over the pack ice in the High Arctic has recently been reported, driven by iodic acid with little contribution from sulfuric acid.”

The results have important ramifications. The ocean surface, sea ice and exposed seaweed are major sources of atmospheric iodine, and global iodine emissions at high latitudes have increased threefold during the past seven decades and are likely to continue to increase in the future as sea ice becomes thinner.

“In polar regions, aerosols and clouds have a warming effect because they absorb infrared radiation otherwise lost to space and then radiate it back down to the surface. Increased iodic acid aerosol and cloud-seed formation could therefore provide a previously unaccounted positive feedback that accelerates the loss of sea ice in the Arctic,” explains Kirkby.

CLOUD experiment (Image: CERN)

CLOUD Collaboration

Aerodyne Research Inc., California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, CERN, The Cyprus Institute, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Goethe Univ. Frankfurt, Helsinki Institute of Physics, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Lebedev Physical Institute, Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry - Mainz, Paul Scherrer Institute, Univ. Beira Interior, Univ. Colorado Boulder, Univ. Eastern Finland, Univ. Helsinki, Univ. Innsbruck, Univ. Leeds, Univ. Lisbon, Univ. Stockholm, Univ. Tartu, Univ. Vienna.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 23 Member States.

Related links:



Proton Synchrotron:

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

Images (mentioned), Video (CERN), Text, Credit: European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

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Space Station Science Highlights: Week of February 1, 2021


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Feb 5, 2021

Scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station the week of Feb. 1 included testing new life-support technology, studying plant growth, and comparing flammability of different materials in space. On Wed., NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins conducted their second spacewalk in as many weeks, finishing long-term battery upgrades for the station.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The seven crew members currently inhabiting the station include four from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, providing increased crew time 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:

Simpler life support systems

Water recovery and air purification systems are the most important elements of a crewed spacecraft, but also among the heaviest and most complex structures. Future crewed missions traveling deeper into space require lightweight, simple technology. Current life-support systems on the space station separate liquids and gases using equipment that includes rotating or moving parts that could cause contamination should they break or fail. Capillary Structures tests a new separation method that uses capillary structures with specific shapes to passively separate fluids and gases. The investigation also studies water recycling and carbon dioxide removal, supporting efforts to design lightweight, more reliable life support systems for future space missions. The crew performed a fluid flow demonstration through four parallel open capillary conduits, completing the last session of this experiment and ending a five year study.

Space gardening

Image above: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, and Kate Rubins, right, harvest one of the plants growing aboard the space station for the Veg-03 investigation, which cultivates a variety of plants in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

The Veg-03 investigation cultivates various plants using plant pillows, low-mass modules that require little energy and maintenance. The investigation continues efforts to understand how plants respond to microgravity so crews can eventually grow them for food on long-duration missions. Recently, crew members successfully transplanted extra sprouts from some thriving plant pillows into two that were not growing well, a first for the Veggie facility. During this week, the crew harvested some plants and stowed them for science return and harvested others to taste and eat.

Figuring out flammability

FLARE, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) investigation, explores the flammability of materials in microgravity. Various solid fuels are burned under different conditions and observed inside a flow tunnel. Low-speed external flow of oxygen, only possible in microgravity, makes materials more flammable. Current tests that screen materials for crewed space missions do not consider this and other effects of gravity on flammability. The investigation demonstrates a new way to predict flammability in microgravity that could significantly improve fire safety aboard spacecraft on future exploration missions. Crew members set up hardware for runs of this investigation during the week.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- For The ISS Experience, crew members capture footage used to create an immersive virtual reality series documenting life and research aboard the space station. The first episode of Space Explorers: The ISS Experience premiered in fall 2020 on multiple platforms.

- Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion tests an antimicrobial coating on materials used to represent typical surfaces on the space station, which could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms for long-duration spaceflight.

- Antimicrobial Coatings tests a coating to control microbial growth on several different materials that represent high-touch surfaces. Some microbes change characteristics in microgravity, which could create new risks to crew health and spacecraft.

Image above: Samples collected for the 3D Microbial Monitoring investigation, which uses DNA sequencing and other analyses to construct a map of bacteria and bacterial products to help identify risks to human health and environmental systems around the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

- 3D Microbial Monitoring uses DNA sequencing and other analyses to construct a three dimensional map of bacteria and bacterial products throughout the station to help identify risks to human health and environmental systems.

- Food Physiology characterizes how an enhanced spaceflight diet affects immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutritional status. Results could help define targeted, efficient dietary interventions to maintain crew health and performance.

- APM measures and quantifies the concentration of both small and large particles in cabin air as part of efforts to maintain air quality in the occupied environment on station, vital for the crew’s health.

- 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.

Space to Ground: Upgraded Power: 02/05/2021

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Commercial Crew Program:

Capillary Structures:



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.

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Crew Looks to U.S. Space Record and Super Bowl Flyover


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Feb. 5, 2021

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Most of the Expedition 64 crew started a three-day weekend today following a busy start to 2020 that saw two U.S. cargo ship departures and two spacewalks. The orbital residents aboard the International Space Station will fly over the Super Bowl on Sunday, and four of them will also break a U.S. space record from the ’70s.

Four SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts living aboard the International Space Station will surpass the U.S. record on Sunday for most days in space by a crew launched aboard a U.S. spacecraft. They will surpass the record of 84 days set by the Skylab 4 crew on Feb. 8, 1974.

Image above: The moon is pictured below the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft as the space station was orbited 263 miles above Atlanta, Georgia. Image Credit: NASA.

Expedition 64 flight engineers Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi, docked the “Resilience” SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to the Harmony module’s international docking adapter on Nov. 16, 2020. The Skylab 4 crew, with NASA astronauts Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue,  docked their Apollo crew ship to the Skylab space station 47 years to the day when the crew of “Resilience” docked to the orbiting lab.

On the same day, the space station’s orbital path will take it over Tampa, Florida, at 7:15 p.m. EST, home of Super Bowl LV. The orbital flyover will be at the same time two NFL football teams will be competing to win the big game at Raymond James Stadium.

Image above: Funball and orbital interception! Is the Astronaut going to attempt a field goal between the Station's solar panels? (Joke, photo-montage).

Four NASA astronauts and one JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut are relaxing today beginning a three-day weekend. The quintet were busy packing Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter and the SpaceX Cargo Dragon in January and monitoring their departures. Then they redirected their attention to a pair of spacewalks by Hopkins and Glover to upgrade communications and power systems. During that period microgravity research was running full speed ahead exploring everything from life science to space physics to advanced technology demonstrations.

Meanwhile in the Russian segment of the station, Commander Sergey Ryzhikov serviced exercise equipment and video communications gear. Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov set up and activated Earth observation hardware and assisted Ryzhikov with the upkeep of the Zvezda service module’s treadmill.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Skylab 4:

Harmony module:

Microgravity research:

Zvezda service module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Hubble Sees a Stellar Furnace


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb 5, 2021

An orange glow radiates from the center of NGC 1792, the heart of this stellar furnace. Captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, this intimate view of NGC 1792 gives us some insight into this galactic powerhouse. The vast swathes of tell-tale blue seen throughout the galaxy indicate areas that are full of young, hot stars, and it is in the shades of orange, seen nearer the center, that the older, cooler stars reside.

Nestled in the constellation of Columba (The Dove), NGC 1792 is both a spiral galaxy and a starburst galaxy. Within starburst galaxies, stars are forming at comparatively exorbitant rates. The rate of star formation can be more than 10 times faster in a starburst galaxy than in our galaxy, the Milky Way. When galaxies have a large reservoir of gas, like NGC 1792, these short-lived starburst phases can be sparked by galactic events such as mergers and tidal interactions. One might think that these starburst galaxies would easily consume all of their gas in a large forming event. However, supernova explosions and intense stellar winds produced in these powerful starbursts can inject energy into the gas and disperse it. This halts the star formation before it can completely deplete the galaxy of all its fuel. Scientists are actively working to understand this complex interplay between the dynamics that drive and quench these fierce bursts of star formation.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Lee; Acknowledgement: Leo Shatz.


Taken Under the 'Wing' of the Small Magellanic Cloud


Astronomy logo.

Feb 5, 2021

The tip of the "wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is dazzling in this 2013 view from NASA's Great Observatories. The Small Magellanic Cloud, or SMC, is a small galaxy about 200,000 light-years way that orbits our own Milky Way spiral galaxy.

The colors represent wavelengths of light across a broad spectrum. X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory are shown in purple; visible-light from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is colored red, green and blue; and infrared observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope are also represented in red.

The spiral galaxy seen in the lower corner is actually behind this nebula. Other distant galaxies located hundreds of millions of light-years or more away can be seen sprinkled around the edge of the image.

The SMC is one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbors. Even though it is a small, or so-called dwarf galaxy, the SMC is so bright that it is visible to the unaided eye from the Southern Hemisphere and near the equator. Many navigators, including Ferdinand Magellan who lends his name to the SMC, used it to help find their way across the oceans.

Modern astronomers are also interested in studying the SMC (and its cousin, the Large Magellanic Cloud), but for very different reasons. Because the SMC is so close and bright, it offers an opportunity to study phenomena that are difficult to examine in more distant galaxies. New Chandra data of the SMC have provided one such discovery: the first detection of X-ray emission from young stars, with masses similar to our sun, outside our Milky Way galaxy.

Related links:

Chandra X-ray Observatory:

Hubble Space Telescope:

Spitzer Space Telescope:

Image, Text,  Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith/CXC/JPL-Caltech/STScI.

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CASC - Long March-3B launches TJSW-6


CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

Feb. 5, 2021

Long March-3B launches TJSW-6

A Long March-3B launch vehicle launched the Communication Technology Test Satellite 6 (TJSW-6) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province, southwest China, on 4 February 2021, at 15:36 UTC (23:36 local time). According to official sources, the satellite has successfully entered the preset orbit. 

Long March-3B launches TJSW-6

Originally, it was reported the launch would orbit a satellite on the Tianhui series and carrying a Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, antenna to geosynchronous orbit. But a few hours before the launch, reports changed to indicate that the cargo onboard would be another experimental communications system on the TJSW series.

Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing (TJSW) satellite

TJSW-6 (通信技术试验卫星六号) will be used in communication, radio, television and data transmission, as well as high-throughput technology test.

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):
Images, Text, Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews/Gunter's Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 4 février 2021

Robotics, Emergency Training and Cargo Mission Preps on Station


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Feb. 4, 2021

Free-flying robotics and fluid physics dominated the research schedule aboard the International Space Station today. The Expedition 64 crew also trained for an emergency while also preparing for upcoming U.S. and Russian cargo missions.

The Astrobee experimental robotic assistants were flying around inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module on Thursday. The cube-shaped, toaster-sized robots are being tested for their ability to autonomously navigate and maneuver inside the orbiting lab. NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins set up the robotic free flyers and live streamed their activities to ground specialists during the afternoon.

Image above: Clockwise from bottom right are, Expedition 64 Flight Engineers and SpaceX Crew-1 members Soichi Noguchi, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover during spacewalk preparations inside the U.S. Quest airlock. Image Credit: NASA.

Rubins also set up a fluid physics experiment in the morning that NASA Flight Engineer Shannon Walker would work on the rest of the day. Walker was studying simpler, more advanced ways to manage fluid and gas mixtures inside spacecraft life support systems.

Walker would also join her flight engineer crewmates Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of JAXA for Crew Dragon emergency training. The quartet reviewed the procedures they would use in case the Crew Dragon encountered a chemical leak, depressurization or a fire.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Commander Sergey Ryzhikov is readying the station’s Russian segment for upcoming resupply ship missions. The commander is packing the Progress 76 cargo craft with trash and discarded gear ahead of its Feb. 9 undocking. Ryzhikov also tested video communications gear that will be used when the Progress 77 space freighter approaches the station for a docking on Feb. 17.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship is due to arrive at the station on Feb. 22 carrying over 8,000 pounds of crew supplies, science experiments and station hardware. NASA will host a media teleconference on Feb. 11 to discuss the new research and technology demonstrations Cygnus is delivering.

Related links:

Expedition 64:


Kibo laboratory module:

Fluid and gas mixtures:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


NASA Selects Firefly Aerospace for Artemis Commercial Moon Delivery in 2023


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.

Feb 4, 2021

NASA has awarded Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas, approximately $93.3 million to deliver a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023. The delivery, planned for Mare Crisium, a low-lying basin on the Moon’s near side, will investigate a variety of lunar surface conditions and resources. Such investigations will help prepare for human missions to the lunar surface.

Image above: Illustration of of Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost lander on the lunar surface. The lander will carry a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023 as part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Image Credit: Firefly Aerospace.

The award is part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, in which NASA is securing the service of commercial partners to quickly land science and technology payloads on the lunar surface. The initiative is a key part of NASA’s Artemis program. Firefly Aerospace will be responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon, and mission operations. This is the sixth award for lunar surface delivery under the CLPS initiative.

“We’re excited another CLPS provider has won its first task order award. With this initiative, we seek to develop ways for new science and technology development utilizing a service-based model,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This allows U.S. vendors to not only demonstrate their ability to safely deliver payloads to our celestial neighbor, but also expand this capability for others who want to take advantage of this cutting edge approach to explore the Moon.”

This is the first delivery awarded to Firefly Aerospace, which will provide the lunar delivery service using its Blue Ghost lander, which the company designed and developed at its Cedar Park facility. This facility also will house the integration of NASA and any non-NASA payloads, and also will serve as the company’s mission operations center for the 2023 delivery.

“The payloads we’re sending as part of this delivery service span across multiple areas, from investigating the lunar soil and testing a sample capture technology, to giving us information about the Moon’s thermal properties and magnetic field,” said Chris Culbert, manager of the CLPS initiative at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Mare Crisium, where Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost will land, is a more than 300-mile-wide basin where instruments will gather data to provide insight into the Moon’s regolith – loose, fragmented rock and soil – properties, geophysical characteristics, and the interaction of solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field.

The payloads, collectively expected to total 207 pounds (94 kg) in mass, include:

- The Regolith Adherence Characterization (RAC), which will determine how lunar regolith sticks to a range of materials exposed to the Moon's environment during landing and lander operations. Components will be derived from the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) facility currently on the International Space Station.

- The Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR), which will serve as a target for lasers on Earth to precisely measure the distance between Earth and the Moon. The retroreflector that will fly on this mission also will provide data that could be used to understand various aspects of the lunar interior and address fundamental physics questions.

- The Lunar Environment Heliospheric X-ray Imager (LEXI), which will capture images of the interaction of Earth's magnetosphere with the flow of charged particles from the Sun, called the solar wind.

- The Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System (RadPC), which aims to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computing technology. Due to the Moon's lack of atmosphere and magnetic field, radiation from the Sun will be a challenge for electronics. This investigation also will characterize the radiation effects on the lunar surface.

- The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder (LMS), which is designed to characterize the structure and composition of the Moon’s mantle by studying electric and magnetic fields. The investigation will make use of a flight-spare magnetometer, a device that measures magnetic fields, originally made for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft currently orbiting Mars.

- The Lunar Instrumentation for Subsurface Thermal Exploration with Rapidity (LISTER), which is designed to measure heat flow from the interior of the Moon. The probe will attempt to drill 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) into the lunar regolith to investigate the Moon's thermal properties at different depths.

- The Lunar PlanetVac (LPV), which is designed to acquire lunar regolith from the surface and transfer it to other instruments that would analyze the material or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth.

- Stereo CAmeras for Lunar Plume Surface Studies (SCALPSS 1.1), which will capture video and still images of the area under the lander from when the engine plume first disturbs the lunar surface through engine shutdown. Long-focal-length cameras will determine the pre-landing surface topography. Photogrammetry will be used to reconstruct the changing surface during landing. Understanding the physics of rocket exhaust on the regolith, and the displacement of dust, gravel, and rocks is critical to understanding how to best avoid kicking up surface materials during the terminal phase of flight/landing on the Moon and other celestial bodies.

- The Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS), which will generate a non-uniform electric field using varying high voltage on multiple electrodes. This traveling field, in turn, carries away the particles and has potential applications in thermal radiators, spacesuit fabrics, visors, camera lenses, solar panels, and many other technologies.

- The Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), which is based on GPS. LuGRE will continue to extend the reach of GPS signals and, if successful, be the first to discern GPS signals at lunar distances.

The CLPS initiative is a key part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration efforts. The science and technology payloads sent to the Moon’s surface as part of the initiative will help lay the foundation for human missions and a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface.

For more information about CLPS, visit:

Related article:

Lunar Traffic to Pick Up as NASA Readies for Robotic Commercial Moon Deliveries

Related links:


Commercial Space:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Grey Hautaluoma/Josh Handal/JSC/Nilufar Ramji/Rachel Kraft.

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NASA, Industry Partner Up to Power Up


NASA logo.

Feb 4, 2021

NASA envisions a future where supersonic airliners and highly efficient aircraft all fly in the same ultra-safe skies. And the agency is already sprinting toward that end goal by developing the X-59 QueSST and exploring alternative aircraft propulsion systems that can reduce costs, noise, and emissions.

“Our program develops technologies that help NASA and industry change the paradigm of aviation by opening the way to everyday supersonic flight, environmentally sustainable transport-class aircraft, and widespread advanced air mobility vehicles,” said James Kenyon, NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program (AAVP) director.

Image above: An artist’s rendering of NASA’s truss-braced wing concept aircraft called the Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research, or SUGAR. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA can’t change the future of flight alone, so the agency has teamed up with two industry partners to transform its approach to aircraft propulsion. These agreements are aimed at designing more efficient aircraft engines, while also addressing several technical challenges: weight, power extraction and storage, and thermal management.

The power extraction challenge is especially important for future hybrid-electric aircraft concepts where the energy requirement becomes even greater, as extra power is needed to drive electric fans used for additional inflight thrust.

STARC-ABL Animation

Video above: Animation of NASA’s concept aircraft, STARC-ABL, which utilizes advanced propulsion technologies to decrease fuel usage, emissions and noise. Video Credit: NASA.

Through its Hybrid Thermally Efficient Core (HyTEC) project, NASA is aggressively pursuing next generation aircraft engines that use less fuel and produce more power, by increasing the bypass ratio. This means making the fan – the one on the front of the engine – bigger, thereby increasing airflow, while shrinking the engine’s core which reduces fuel consumption.

“The question becomes how do we shrink the core of the engine, while maintaining performance and increasing the electric power available?” said Tony Nerone, HyTEC project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “As aircraft become more electric, we’ll need to address the traditional power needs – running subsystems like flight controls, air conditioning, and so on – but we also need to tap more power for the newer electric systems that we’ll be adding to the aircraft. Current state-of-the-art engines can extract about 5% of power and we’ll need to jump up to 10% to 20% in the future.”

Through a Space Act Agreement with Honeywell, NASA engineers will work with a team from Honeywell, to perform technology development and testing on an advanced low-pressure turbine. The data from the test will allow the combined engineering team to establish a turbofan power extraction baseline while also developing computational prediction tools. Ultimately, this test will provide essential data for the HyTEC project and advance Honeywell’s technology development of higher efficiency turbines that could impact its future gas turbine product line.

Image above: The NASA Electric Aircraft Testbed at NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio, is a world-class, reconfigurable facility that can accommodate power systems for large passenger airplanes with megawatts of power. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA has also entered into a contract with GE to demonstrate and assess turbofan power extraction and integrating electric machines like motors and generators. The goal is to significantly increase power extraction at relevant commercial engine operating conditions from a thrust, weight, efficiency, operability, and durability for future electric propulsion systems.

These efforts aim to introduce cleaner, more efficient and cost-effective aircraft in the near future. Core power systems technology development and testing are just the start. NASA will need to demonstrate the benefits in flight before eventual commercial aircraft integration.

“Once HyTEC and its partners demonstrate power extraction, these new engines can be combined with other megawatt-class components we’re developing for electrified aircraft propulsion,” said Barbara Esker, AAVP’s deputy program director. “Together with advances in high-rate composite aircraft manufacturing and innovative configurations like the transonic truss-based wing, NASA can transform the long-term sustainability of commercial aircraft.”

Related links:

X-59 QueSST:

Hybrid Thermally Efficient Core (HyTEC):

Green Aviation:


NASA’s Glenn Research Center:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kelly Sands/Glenn Research Center/Jimi Russell.


Inside a martian canyon


ESA & ROSCOSMOS - ExoMars Mission logo.

Feb. 4, 2021

The Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission returned this image of an area in Melas Chasma, part of the vast Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars. Valles Marineris stretches for more than 4000 km across the planet’s surface, and plunges more than 7 km deep in places.

The section seen here is about 5 x 6 km in size. It is a colour infrared image (combining the NIR, PAN and BLU filters of CaSSIS), and emphasizes the spectral diversity of landforms and sediments on the surface. It shows details of a blocky deposit on the floor of Melas Chasma that is consistent with an eroded and exposed landslide deposit. Windblown ripples are abundant and interspersed between the blocks.

Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)

The CRISM spectrometer on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed a variety of minerals and phases that correlate with the light-toned blocks seen here (for example: nontronite, jarosite, aluminium-rich clays, hydrated silica, and/or an acid-leached clay). The tan-coloured ripples likely contain ferric iron oxides that gives rise to this distinctive colour. There is also evidence of the past presence of water in this region. The bright-white layered materials imply the presence of a hydrated calcium sulphate (possibly gypsum), which is thought to have formed through the ponding and subsequent evaporation of water that may have once occupied portions of the Chasma floor.

The image was taken on 19 October 2020 and featured on the February 2021 cover of Nature Geoscience.

The ExoMars programme is a joint endeavour between ESA and Roscosmos.


Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, , CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

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Aeolus shines a light on polar vortex


ESA - Aeolus Mission logo.

Feb. 4, 2021

As this winter’s polar vortex currently sends extreme icy blasts of Arctic weather to some parts of the northern hemisphere such as the northeast of the US, scientists are using wind information from ESA’s Aeolus satellite to shed more light on this complex phenomenon.

The polar vortex is a huge mass of frigid air high above the North Pole in the polar stratosphere. It is surrounded by a strong jet of air swirling counter-clockwise along the vortex’s boundary. The vortex tends to be much stronger in the winter, keeping bitter cold air locked in around the Arctic.

However, sometimes the vortex can weaken, become distorted or even split into two and meander further south, affecting the weather and jetstream further down in the troposphere, potentially bringing unusually cold weather and snow to lower latitudes.

Polar vortex 1 December 2020 to 1 February 2021

One meteorological event that can disturb the polar vortex is known as a ‘sudden stratospheric warming’, which is what has been happening over the last couple of months. Sudden stratospheric warmings happen to some extent every year, but the current event has been categorised as major, and is less common.

Such dramatic events cause the strong wind around the edge of the polar vortex to weaken or reverse, leading the temperature of the polar stratosphere to rise rapidly by tens of degrees Celsius.

Since these events can trigger extreme weather in Europe and North America, they are of scientific and practical interest. However, the processes involved are not fully understood, and until recently there have been major technical challenges in measuring wind from space, which is needed to measure and monitor such a large-scale event.

Polar vortex change

Fortunately, scientists now have ESA’s Aeolus satellite at hand to help understand more about why and how the polar vortex is pushed off balance.

Aeolus is the first satellite in orbit to profile directly Earth’s winds from space.

It works by emitting short, powerful pulses of ultraviolet light from a laser and measures the Doppler shift from the very small amount of light that is scattered back to the instrument from molecules and particles to deliver profiles of the horizontal speed of the world’s winds mostly in the east-west direction in the lowermost 26 km of the atmosphere.


Although Aeolus only measures wind in the lower part of the atmosphere, the lower part of the current stratospheric polar vortex jet leaves a signature in the satellite’s data.

Corwin Wright, Royal Society research fellow at the University of Bath in the UK, said, “Changes in the wind structure in a sudden stratospheric warming event have never been observed directly at a global scale before. So far, our understanding of these changes has been developed using point measurements, measurements along localised aircraft flight tracks, through the use of temperature observations, and, primarily, computer models and assimilative analyses.

Profiling the world's winds

“However, we can now exploit novel measurements from Aeolus, the first satellite capable of observing winds directly in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, to study this process observationally during this current major event.”

Anne Grete Straume, ESA’s Aeolus mission scientist, commented, “We are currently observing a polar vortex event where we see it split into two, with one spinning mass of air over the North Atlantic and one over the North Pacific.

“The split leads to changes in the tropospheric circulation allowing cold air masses from the poles to more easily escape down to lower latitudes. At the moment, parts of North America seem to be experiencing colder weather than Europe, although we have seen events of cold air reaching quite far south in Europe over the past few weeks causing, for example, heavy snowfall in Spain.

Snow near Great Lakes

“What scientists would also like to understand is whether sudden stratospheric warming events might become more frequent owing to climate change. Also for this, Aeolus wind data will be very important to better understand the mechanisms triggering these weather events.

“It is early days yet to draw any scientific conclusions from our Aeolus data, but work is certainly underway to shed new light on why this seasonal phenomenon can sometimes be extreme – watch this space.”

Related links:

Observing the Earth:


Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/University of Bath/C. Wright/ATG medialab/Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

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SpaceX Starlink 18 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

Feb. 4, 2021

SpaceX Starlink 18 launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 60 Starlink satellites (Starlink-18) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on 4 February 2021, at 06:19 UTC (01:19​ EST).

SpaceX Starlink 18 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 4 February 2021

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage (B1060) landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Falcon 9 first stage landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the 19th batch of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network, a mission designated Starlink V1.0-L18.

Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported four launches: GPS III Space Vehicle 03, Turksat 5A and two Starlink missions.


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


mercredi 3 février 2021

Science Gear Work and Spacesuit Cleaning Follow Harvest


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Feb. 3, 2021

The Expedition 64 crew turned its attention to science hardware today following Tuesday’s harvest aboard the International Space Station. The orbital residents also cleaned up following two spacewalks to upgrade communications and power systems.

NASA Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins prepared the NanoRacks Bishop airlock on Wednesday for its upcoming pressurization. The experienced astronaut then finished the day inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship recharging computer tablets and updating orbital software.

Image above: Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Shannon Walker collects leaf samples from plants growing inside the European Columbus laboratory. Image Credit: NASA.

The day before, Hopkins picked a variety of edible plants growing in the station’s Columbus laboratory module including pak choi, wasabi mustard, kale, and red romaine. He snacked on the leaves with his crewmates for a taste test and stowed samples for later analysis as part of the Veg-3 botany study. Space agriculture is key to the success and sustainability of future human missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover split their day servicing hardware for a long-running suite of experiments known as ACME, or Advanced Combustion in Microgravity Experiments. The duo replaced a variety of components inside the device that hosts the fuel efficiency, pollution and fire safety investigations.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Glover started the day with fellow NASA astronaut Shannon Walker tearing down old video equipment that he and Hopkins uninstalled from Columbus during Monday’s spacewalk. Walker then joined JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi for post-spacewalk maintenance on the U.S. spacesuits Hopkins and Glover wore on Monday.

In the Russian segment of the station, Commander Sergey Ryzhikov worked on Zarya module upkeep and science photography tasks. Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov assisted Ryzhikov with the science photography then moved on to communications and life support work.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

NanoRacks Bishop airlock:

Columbus laboratory module:

Veg-3 botany study:

Advanced Combustion in Microgravity Experiments (ACME):

Zarya module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Russia launches 2021 launch campaign



Feb. 3, 2021

Soyuz 2 1b launches Kosmos 2549

On Tuesday, February 2, 2021, at 11:45 pm Moscow time, a combat crew of the Space Forces of the Aerospace Forces successfully launched a launch vehicle from launcher No. 4 of site No. 43 of the State Test Cosmodrome of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (Plesetsk Cosmodrome).

Soyuz 2 1b launches Kosmos 2549

Soyuz-2.1b "(manufactured by the Progress rocket and space center, part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) with a spacecraft in the interests of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Kosmos 2549 (Lotos-S1) satellite

All prelaunch operations and the launch of the Soyuz-2.1B space rocket took place in the normal mode. The ground-based automated control complex for spacecraft of the Russian orbital group monitored the launch and flight of the ILV.

Soyuz 2 1b on the launch-pad in Plesetsk Cosmodrome

This is the first launch of the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle in 2021 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The previous launch of Soyuz-2 from the northern cosmodrome was successfully completed on December 3, 2020.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/Gunter's Space Page/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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NASA, International Partners Assess Mission to Map Ice on Mars, Guide Science Priorities


NASA logo.

Feb 3, 2021

NASA and three international partners have signed a statement of intent to advance a possible robotic Mars ice mapping mission, which could help identify abundant, accessible ice for future candidate landing sites on the Red Planet. The agencies have agreed to establish a joint concept team to assess mission potential, as well as partnership opportunities.

Image above: This artist illustration depicts four orbiters as part of the International Mars Ice Mapper (I-MIM) mission concept. Low and to the left, an orbiter passes above the Martian surface, detecting buried water ice through a radar instrument and large reflector antenna. Circling Mars at a higher altitude are three telecommunications orbiters with one shown relaying data back to Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Under the statement, NASA, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced their intention to develop a mission plan and define their potential roles and responsibilities. If the concept moves forward, the mission could be ready to launch as early as 2026.

The international Mars Ice Mapper mission would detect the location, depth, spatial extent, and abundance of near-surface ice deposits, which would enable the science community to interpret a more detailed volatile history of Mars. The radar-carrying orbiter would also help identify properties of the dust, loose rocky material – known as regolith – and rock layers that might impact the ability to access ice.

The ice-mapping mission could help the agency identify potential science objectives for initial human missions to Mars, which are expected to be designed for about 30 days of exploration on the surface. For example, identifying and characterizing accessible water ice could lead to human-tended science, such as ice coring to support the search for life. Mars Ice Mapper also could provide a map of water-ice resources for later human missions with longer surface expeditions, as well as help meet exploration engineering constraints, such as avoidance of rock and terrain hazards. Mapping shallow water ice could also support supplemental high-value science objectives related to Martian climatology and geology.
“This innovative partnership model for Mars Ice Mapper combines our global experience and allows for cost sharing across the board to make this mission more feasible for all interested parties,” said Jim Watzin, NASA’s senior advisor for agency architectures and mission alignment. “Human and robotic exploration go hand in hand, with the latter helping pave the way for smarter, safer human missions farther into the solar system. Together, we can help prepare humanity for our next giant leap – the first human mission to Mars.”

As the mission concept evolves, there may be opportunities for other space agency and commercial partners to join the mission.
Beyond promoting scientific observations while the orbiter completes its reconnaissance work, the agency partners will explore mission-enabling rideshare opportunities as part of their next phase of study. All science data from the mission would be made available to the international science community for both planetary science and Mars reconnaissance.    

This approach is similar to what NASA is doing at the Moon under the Artemis program – sending astronauts to lunar South Pole, where ice is trapped in the permanently shadowed regions of the pole.
Access to water ice would also be central to scientific investigations on the surface of Mars that are led by future human explorers. Such explorers may one day core, sample, and analyze the ice to better understand the record of climatic and geologic change on Mars and its astrobiological potential, which could be revealed through signs of preserved ancient microbial life or even the possibility of living organisms, if Mars ever harbored life.

Ice is also a critical natural resource that could eventually supply hydrogen and oxygen for fuel. These elements could also provide resources for backup life support, civil engineering, mining, manufacturing, and, eventually, agriculture on Mars. Transporting water from Earth to deep space is extremely costly, so a local resource is essential to sustainable surface exploration.
“In addition to supporting plans for future human missions to Mars, learning more about subsurface ice will bring significant opportunities for scientific discovery,” said Eric Ianson, NASA Planetary Science Division Deputy Director and Mars Exploration Program Director. “Mapping near-surface water ice would reveal an as-yet hidden part of the Martian hydrosphere and the layering above it, which can help uncover the history of environmental change on Mars and lead to our ability to answer fundamental questions about whether Mars was ever home to microbial life or still might be today.”  
The Red Planet is providing great research return for robotic exploration and the search for ancient life in our solar system. This latest news comes ahead of the agency’s Perseverance rover landing on Mars, which is scheduled to take place on February 18, following a seven-month journey in space. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) also recently announced they are moving forward with the Mars Sample Return mission.
Learn more about NASA’s Mars Exploration at:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert/Grey Hautaluoma/Alana Johnson.