vendredi 26 mars 2021

Station Ends Week with Biology; New Crew Arrives at Launch Site


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

March 26, 2021

The seven residents aboard the International Space Station are wrapping up an intense week of biology investigations in low-Earth orbit. Three new crew members are also two weeks away from launching to the orbiting lab and joining the Expedition 64 crew.

The station astronauts have been focusing their research efforts this week on microgravity’s long-term impacts on the human body and other biological processes. NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins examined space-grown protein crystals in a microscope on Friday morning for insights into pharmaceutical production beyond Earth’s gravity. She later peered at microscopic worms wriggling in unique sample slides, set up by NASA Flight Engineer Shannon Walker, to understand how weightlessness affects genetic expression in muscles.

 International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Flight Engineers Victor Glover and Soichi Noguchi partnered together in the ongoing Time Perception study inside Europe’s Columbus laboratory module. The astronauts wear virtual reality googles and click a trackball while performing a series of exercises to understand how their spatial orientation and cognitive performance changes in microgravity.

Lab maintenance is also critical to ensure station systems such as life support and computing remain in tip-top shape. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins worked preventative maintenance in the Tranquility module’s Water Recycling System. He also replaced electrical components inside the Human Research Facility-2 rack.

The two cosmonauts, Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, kept up with their contingent of space research in the station’s Russian segment. Ryzhikov finalized this week’s plasma physics study closing out the experiment and stowing the advanced science gear. Kud-Sverchkov explored how the human circulatory system adapts to long-term spaceflight.

Image above: (From left) Expedition 65 crew members Mark Vande Hei, Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, arrive for final launch preparations at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: ROSCOSMOS.

Three new Expedition 65 crew members have arrived at their launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today. Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos with Soyuz MS-18 Commander Oleg Novitskiy are in final training for their April 9 launch to the space station.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Space-grown protein crystals:

Genetic expression in muscles:

Time Perception study:

Columbus laboratory module:

Tranquility module:

Human Research Facility-2:

Plasma physics study:

Human circulatory system:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

CERN approves two new experiments to transport antimatter


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

March 26, 2021

The experiments are compact enough to be transported in a small truck or van

Image above: A bird's-eye view of the BASE experiment. (Image: CERN).

CERN’s Antimatter Factory is the only place in the world where low-energy antiprotons – the antimatter counterparts of protons – are produced. But in the not-so-distant future it could also be the first place to dispatch trapped antiprotons to another location. On 17 March 2021, the CERN Research Board approved the development of two new experiments to carry antiprotons from the Antimatter Factory to other facilities, for antimatter and nuclear-physics studies. BASE-STEP and PUMA, as the experiments are called, are compact enough to be transported in a small truck or van.

BASE-STEP is based on the BASE experiment – a set-up of traps to store and study in detail antiprotons produced at the Antimatter Factory. Using this set-up, the BASE team measures the properties of the antiproton and compares them with those of the proton to see if there are differences between the two – if found, such differences could shed light on the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe. BASE has been performing ever more precise antiproton measurements, but the precision of these measurements is limited by disturbances to the set-up’s magnetic field caused by the magnetic environment of the Antimatter Factory.

BASE-STEP is a variant of the BASE set-up that has been designed to be carried to a facility at CERN or elsewhere, one that has a calmer magnetic environment and thus allows higher-precision measurements to be made. The device will feature a first trap to receive and release the antiprotons produced at the Antimatter Factory and a second trap to store the antiprotons.

PUMA is based on a different transportable antiproton trap system and has a different scientific goal. It will transport antiprotons from the Antimatter Factory to CERN’s nuclear-physics facility, ISOLDE, for investigation of exotic nuclear-physics phenomena. It will consist of a first trapping zone to stop antiprotons, and a second trapping zone to host collisions between the antiprotons and radioactive atomic nuclei that are routinely produced at ISOLDE but decay too rapidly to be transported anywhere themselves.

Analysis of the outcome of these collisions, which will be detected by a particle detector surrounding the collision zone, will help researchers determine the relative densities of protons and neutrons at the surface of nuclei. These densities could reveal whether the nuclei have exotic properties such as thick neutron “skins” or extended halos of protons or neutrons around their core. Such knowledge could shed light on the interior of neutron stars.

PUMA and BASE-STEP are expected to be operational in 2023.


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.

Find out more about BASE-STEP and PUMA:

Related links:


BASE experiment:


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

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/By Ana Lopes.


New images of Mars from Tianwen-1


CNSA - Tianwen-1 (天問-1) Mission to Mars logo.


March 26, 2021

The southern hemisphere of Mars was captured by Tianwen-1 from about 11200 km

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released two new images of Mars captured by the Tianwen-1 orbiter.

New images of Mars from Tianwen-1

The southern hemisphere of Mars was captured by Tianwen-1 from about 11200 km. The northern hemisphere of Mars was captured by Tianwen-1 from about 11500 km. Liu Jianjun (chief designer, ground application system, Tianwen-1) considers there is still work to be done regarding the mapping of the pre-selected landing area on Mars.

Tianwen-1 mapping the landing area

Tianwen-1 (天问一号) is China’s first Mars exploration mission with an orbiter, a lander and a rover. Called "Tianwen" ("Questions in heaven"), the Chinese mission has three objectives: to place a probe in Martian orbit, to make it land on the red planet, then to remote-control a robot on the surface to conduct analyzes.

Related articles:

Tianwen-1 captures Mars in high-resolution images

Tianwen-1 enters parking orbit around Mars

Tianwen-1 Mars Orbit Insertion

China in turn (after UAE) begins its journey to Mars

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

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


An important step in astronautics was made 60 years ago


Soviet commemorative stamp of the flight of Zvezdochka.

March 26, 2021

3KA Vostok spacecraft

60 years ago, on March 25, 1961, a three-stage Vostok launch vehicle with the second flight prototype of the 3KA Vostok spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The automatic mission of the apparatus with the dog Zvezdochka on board became the final check of the spacecraft before the first manned flight into space.

The development of a domestic manned spacecraft began in the Moscow Region OKB-1 (now the SP Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia) under the leadership of Chief Designer Sergei Korolev in accordance with the government decree of May 22, 1959. The preparatory stage of the program provided for the implementation during 1960 of a series of experimental flights of automatic spacecraft 1K for testing onboard equipment and controls, checking the operability of the life support system and studying the effect of space factors on living organisms. Based on the results of successful flight testing of the spacecraft and the launch vehicle, OKB-1 specialists began preparations for the first ever manned space flight.

Test dummy

For the safety of the cosmonaut, Sergei Korolev made a decision to carry out a manned launch only after two successive successful launches of spacecraft with biological objects. At the beginning of March 1961, the satellite-ship 3KA No. 1 with the dog Chernushka made a successful flight. The second test mission 3KA No. 2 with a similar flight program took place on March 25, 1961. This time in the pressurized cabin of the spacecraft there was an experimental dog Zvezdochka, mobilized from the squad of four-legged cosmonauts of the Institute of Space Medicine (modern Institute of Biomedical Problems). Also in the descent vehicle was installed an ejection seat with an anthropometric simulator of the cosmonaut MA-1 "Ivan Ivanovich" dressed in a spacesuit. As in the previous flight, containers with mice, guinea pigs and other biological objects were kept inside the dummy to study the effects of space radiation.

Zvezdochka dog

According to telemetry and trajectory radio measurements, spacecraft 3KA No. 2 passed the active phase of launching and completed a single-orbit flight in full accordance with the assigned program. After the calculated information from the orbit, "Ivan Ivanovich" ejected from the descent vehicle and performed a parachute landing, and the descent vehicle itself with Zvezdochka landed safely on the territory of the Perm region, 50 km northeast of the city of Sarapul. The astronaut dog, in excellent physical shape, was promptly found and evacuated the next day by the arrived search and rescue group. Based on the results of the flight of product 3KA No. 2, the reliability of the entire complex of on-board systems of the spacecraft, necessary for the safe performance of the upcoming manned space flight, was re-confirmed.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/CCCP Space Program/Wikipedia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of March 22, 2021


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Mar 26, 2021

The week of March 22, crew members aboard the International Space Station tested a blood cell count device, examined time perception in space, and videotaped activities to promote awareness of space station research. The crew also began preparations for the arrival of Expedition 65 crew members, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, scheduled for April 9.

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

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

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

Counting blood cells

The crew analyzed samples for HemoCue, which tests the ability of a commercially available device to provide quick and accurate blood cell counts in microgravity. Physicians routinely use blood cell counts to diagnose different diseases and monitor a variety of health conditions on Earth. On future exploration missions, this capability could allow crews to identify certain medical conditions, diagnose illnesses, monitor conditions such as infections or radiation exposure, track treatment response, and assess the severity of an illness.

Time flies when you’re in space

Spaceflight alters our perception of space and time. Crew members routinely under-estimate distances during and shortly after flight, move more slowly at the beginning of a flight, and report that time seems to move faster in space. Accurate perception of objects in the environment and of the passage of time is fundamental to reliable performance of motor tasks during a mission. An experiment from ESA (European Space Agency), Time Perception quantifies subjective changes in this perception during and after long-duration exposure to microgravity. During the week, crew members conducted sessions for the experiment.

Science, camera, action

Image above: This image taken by JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi from the space station cupola shows the islands of Japan. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew members recorded various experiment activities for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) EPO 7 project during the week. JAXA EPO7 demonstrates educational events and artistic activities aboard the space station to enlighten the general public about microgravity research and human space flight. The demonstrations are downlinked, edited, and used to support cultural resources for the general public. The program introduces the next generation of explorers to the environment of space and helps contribute to developing a global citizenry, expanding the future of mankind through space exploration.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

Image above: The ISS Experience is creating an immersive virtual reality (VR) series documenting life and research aboard the space station using customized 360-degree cameras, including this one shown on the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

- The ISS Experience uses footage captured by crew members to create an immersive virtual reality series documenting life and research aboard the space station. The first episode premiered in fall 2020 on multiple platforms and episode 2, “Advance,” releases on March 29.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins fills sample wells for the RTPCG-2 investigation into new methods for producing high-quality protein crystals in microgravity. Animation Credit: NASA.

- RTPCG-2 demonstrates new methods for producing high-quality protein crystals in microgravity for analysis on Earth to identify possible targets for drugs to treat disease.

- An investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Asian Herb in Space studies several fast-growing plants used for traditional medicine and flavoring food, examining differences in their aroma that may result from microgravity-related cellular changes. Results could benefit future plant growth efforts in space.

- Ribosome Profiling, an investigation from JAXA, aims to provide insight into how gravity affects gene expression, with a special focus on translation regulation, using a state-of-art technique. The work could help researchers understand why aging-related changes often occur in space and may lead to better treatments for those changes.

- Standard Measures collects a set of core measurements from astronauts before, during, and after long-duration missions to create a data repository to monitor and interpret how humans adapt to living in space.

- Loss of muscle mass and strength represent a major challenge for astronauts on future long space voyages. Micro-16 uses a model organism, the C. elegans worm, to test whether decreased expression of muscle proteins is associated with decreased strength.

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

- 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.

Space to Ground: Soyuz Shuffle: 03/26/2021

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Commercial Crew Program:


Time Perception:

EPO 7:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Apophis impact ruled out for the first time


Asteroid Watch logo.

March 26, 2021

New observations of asteroid Apophis – thought to pose a slight risk of impacting Earth in 2068 – rule out any chance of impact for at least a century. After 17 years of observations and orbit analysis, ESA is removing the enormous asteroid from its Risk List.

Estimated at about 350 m across – equivalent to the length of three football fields – Apophis has been in and out of the headlines for years as astronomers have tried to pinpoint its precise orbit and the possibility of any future impact.

Soon after its detection in 2004, astronomers predicted two impact possibilities in 2029 and 2036, but additional observations of the near-Earth object (NEO) thankfully ruled these out. Until now, a small but concerning chance of impact in 2068 remained.

Recent radar measurements rule out impact

New radar observations of Apophis were taken in early March by NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California and the Green Bank Observatory, West Virginia. They have provided enough data on the orbit of the infamous asteroid to finally rule out, with certainty, any Earth impact for at least 100 years.

New radar observations of Apophis rule out future impact

These latest observations were possible as the asteroid made a not-so-close approach on 6 March, passing by Earth at a distance of roughly 17 million km (44 times the distance to the Moon). Although the asteroid was still reasonably far away, astronomers could precisely measure its distance and refine its orbit before its next, very close approach in 2029.

Apophis through the keyhole

We know the position and orbit of the planets with quite some precision, but for smaller objects like asteroids there is always some uncertainty in their trajectories. To make things more complicated, as asteroids pass by massive objects with huge gravitational forces, their path is altered and this uncertainty in their trajectory is amplified.

Before the latest radar measurements of Apophis were taken, its orbit was understood with enough accuracy to predict a series of safe close approaches over the coming decades.

Apophis orbit diverted by Earth's gravity

The next and closest of these swing-bys will take place on Friday, 13 April 2029, when Apophis will pass less than 35 000 km from Earth and be visible to the naked eye. At ten times closer than the Moon, Apophis will be closer than satellites orbiting in the Geostationary ring.

At this distance, Earth’s gravity will have a notable impact on the passing space rock, altering its path and amplifying the uncertainty in its orbit and in possible future impacts.

What was not known previously is whether the 2029 flyby would alter Apophis’ orbit in just the ‘right’ way that it would collide with Earth in a future orbit around the Sun. To do this, Apophis would pass through what’s called a ‘gravitational keyhole’, leading to a potential (but still very unlikely) impact in 2068.

Earth's gravity will alter Apophis' orbit during 2029 flyby

“With the support of recent optical observations and radar observations, the uncertainty in Apophis’ orbit has collapsed from hundreds of kilometres to just a handful of kilometres when projected to 2029,” explains Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).

Fortunately, these latest radar observations have reduced the uncertainty in Apophis’ trajectory to such an extent that even with the orbit-altering effects of the upcoming 2029 flyby, any chance of impact in 2068 or long after has been ruled out.

Apophis is removed from the Risk List

ESA’s asteroid Risk List is a catalogue of all near-Earth objects that have a ‘non-zero’ chance of impacting Earth. This means however unlikely an object’s chance of impact, anything greater than zero remains on the list.

Apophis no longer appears in ESA's Risk List

Asteroid experts at the Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC) then spend a lot of time getting to know these objects – obtaining new follow-up observations and using data from observatories around the globe to better understand their orbit and calculate their impact probability over the next 100 years.

More observations lead to better understanding and certainty of an asteroid’s movements. When the team is certain an asteroid poses no threat to Earth, they remove it from the list.

Apophis has been a special case, remaining stubbornly on the Risk List for almost 17 years. Because of its large size, it has understandably drawn much attention and at points in its history, concern.

"The discovery of Apophis and early work done to track and understand its orbit, occurred when today's Planetary Defence activities were still in their infancy,” explains Juan Luis Cano from ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre.

“That this happened at such an early period in the discipline served as strong motivation to improve our capabilities to accurately predict the motion of these interesting and potentially dangerous objects. With today's removal of Apophis from the Risk List, we are closing a very enlightening chapter in the history of Planetary Defence".

Related articles:

Asteroid Apophis Pays Earth a Visit This Weekend

Asteroid Apophis 2029 It's Coming Very Close to the Earth

Scientists Planning Now for Asteroid Flyby a Decade Away

Herschel Intercepts Asteroid Apophis

NASA Rules Out Earth Impact in 2036 for Asteroid Apophis

NASA Releases Workshop Data and Findings on Asteroid 2011 AG5

Asteroids - The trajectory of the disaster

Related links:

ESA's Asteroid Risk List:

NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex:

Green Bank Observatory:

NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS):

Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC):

Planetary Defence:

Image, Animations, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech and NSF/AUI/GBO.


Intriguing new result from the LHCb experiment at CERN


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

March 26, 2021

The LHCb results strengthen hints of a violation of lepton flavour universality

Image above: Very rare decay of a beauty meson involving an electron and positron observed at LHCb (Image: CERN).

Today the LHCb experiment at CERN announced new results which, if confirmed, would suggest hints of a violation of the Standard Model of particle physics. The results focus on the potential violation of lepton flavour universality and were announced at the Moriond conference on electroweak interactions and unified theories, as well as at a seminar held online at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The measurement made by the LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty) collaboration, compares two types of decays of beauty quarks. The first decay involves the electron and the second the muon, another elementary particle similar to the electron but approximately 200 times heavier. The electron and the muon, together with a third particle called the tau, are types of leptons and the difference between them is referred to as “flavours”. The Standard Model of particle physics predicts that decays involving different flavours of leptons, such as the one in the LHCb study, should occur with the same probability, a feature known as lepton flavour universality that is usually measured by the ratio between the decay probabilities. In the Standard Model of particle physics, the ratio should be very close to one.

Caption: “The LHCb experiment is one of the four large experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, situated underground on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.”

The new result indicates hints of a deviation from one: the statistical significance of the result is 3.1 standard deviations, which implies a probability of around 0.1% that the data is compatible with the Standard Model predictions. “If a violation of lepton flavour universality were to be confirmed, it would require a new physical process, such as the existence of new fundamental particles or interactions,” says LHCb spokesperson Professor Chris Parkes from the University of Manchester and CERN. “More studies on related processes are under way using the existing LHCb data. We will be excited to see if they strengthen the intriguing hints in the current results.”

The deviation presented today is consistent with a pattern of anomalies measured in similar processes by LHCb and other experiments worldwide over the past decade. The new results determine the ratio between the decay probabilities with greater precision than previous measurements and use all the data collected by the LHCb detector so far for the first time.

The LHCb experiment is one of the four large experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, situated underground on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. The experiment is designed to study decays of particles containing a beauty quark, a fundamental particle that has roughly four times the mass of the proton. The results presented today focus on lepton flavour universality, but the LHCb experiment also studies matter-antimatter differences.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

Looking towards the future, the LHCb experiment is well placed to clarify the potential existence of new physics effects hinted at in the decays presented today. The LHCb experiment is expected to start collecting new data next year following an upgrade to the detector.


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:

Standard Model:

Moriond conference:

Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb):

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

LHCb paper :

LHCb article :

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

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Best regards,

Raspberry Pi-powered cybersecurity for future missions, tested on Space Station


ISS - International Space Station logo.

March 26, 2021

One of the cheapest experiments ever flown in orbit has finished operating after 22 months on the International Space Station. Running on a Raspberry Pi Zero costing just a few Euros, ESA’s CryptIC payload was exploring cryptography techniques running on off-the-shelf hardware, to ensure cybersecurity for future low-cost space missions.

Satellites might be physically far from Earth, but they are still vulnerable to being hacked. The solution is the same kind of encryption-based secure communication that has become commonplace on our planet – but operating in space makes that difficult to do.

Cryptography ICE Cube experiment

“The standard method is that both sides of the communication share the same encryption key,” explains ESA software product assurance engineer Emmanuel Lesser. “But space is riddled with charged particles that can randomly ‘bit-flip’ computer memories – disrupting the communication link because the keys down on Earth and in space no longer match.

“Traditional full-size spacecraft get around this problem by using ‘rad-hard’ components, but typically this is not an option for smaller missions. Such rad-hardened parts can cost as much as a CubeSat in their own right, and might take a year to procure – at a point when development cycles for small missions are shrinking down to 18 months or less.

Image above: The International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin separation.

“So our CryptIC payload looked into alternative options, using commercial off the shelf parts, to demonstrate a cheap but reliable cybersecurity method for this class of missions.”

The ‘Cryptography ICE Cube’ was a low-cost development, developed in-house by ESA’s Software Product Assurance section using a basic Raspberry Pi Zero. Covered with a plastic ‘conformal’ coating for safety purposes but otherwise unchanged, it was flown on the ISS through the International Commercial Experiments service – ICE Cubes for short. ICE Cubes offer fast, simple and affordable access for research and technology experiments in microgravity using compact cubes. CryptIC measures just 10x10x10 cm.

Space radiation affects satellites

CryptIC evaluated dual approaches to non-rad-hard encryption. The first was to automatically re-exchange the key if it gets corrupted, to minimise interruptions to communications. The second was to rely on redundant copies of the encryption key, stored within multiple ‘tiles’ within reconfigurable, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) rather than fixed computer chips. If one fails then another copy can take its place while the faulty section of FPGA repairs itself.

“We experienced radiation events practically every orbit, but encryption-disrupting events took place only every three months or so,” adds Emmanuel.

South Atlantic Anomaly

“We planned for a minimum of six months’ operation, but ended up with 22 months, a very good return on investment – thanks partly to COVID-19-related delays on deliveries to the ISS, but also because our hardware and software held up well,” says Emmanuel.

“Control of CryptIC was routed through Space Applications Services in Brussels, the company providing the ICE Cubes service. We had some sporadic service interruptions, but overall operations went well. The payload could be overseen from anywhere, nearly anytime, using a laptop with a VPN.”

ICE Cube facility modules

The CryptIC hardware will remain aboard Columbus: because its performance remains stable, SAS plan to adopt it as a diagnostic tool, to evaluate the performance of their ICE Cube Facility.

Raspberry Pi in orbit

AstroPis running on the Space Station

This is not the first time a Rasbperry Pi flew to the International Space Station. ESA and the Raspberry Pi Foundation run yearly educational challenges for children to get their code running on two 'Astro Pi's'.

Related links:

ESA’s Software Product Assurance section:

ICE Cubes:

European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN):

ESA’s On-Board Computer and Data Handling section:


Space Applications Services:

Astro Pi's:

Space Engineering & Technology:

Inernational Space Station (ISS):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/SSA/DTU Space.

Best regards,

Direct Observations Confirm that Humans are Throwing Earth’s Energy Budget off Balance


NASA / JPL - AIRS Mission patch.

Mar 26, 2021

Earth is on a budget – an energy budget. Our planet is constantly trying to balance the flow of energy in and out of Earth’s system. But human activities are throwing that off balance, causing our planet to warm in response.

Image above: A NASA supercomputer model shows how greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) – a key driver of global warming – fluctuate in Earth’s atmosphere throughout the year. Higher concentrations are shown in red. Image Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

Radiative energy enters Earth’s system from the sunlight that shines on our planet. Some of this energy reflects off of Earth’s surface or atmosphere back into space. The rest gets absorbed, heats the planet, and is then emitted as thermal radiative energy the same way that black asphalt gets hot and radiates heat on a sunny day. Eventually this energy also heads toward space, but some of it gets re-absorbed by clouds and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The absorbed energy may also be emitted back toward Earth, where it will warm the surface even more.

Adding more components that absorb radiation – like greenhouse gases – or removing those that reflect it – like aerosols – throws off Earth’s energy balance, and causes more energy to be absorbed by Earth instead of escaping into space. This is called a radiative forcing, and it’s the dominant way human activities are affecting the climate.

Animation above: A simplified animation of Earth's planetary energy balance: A planet’s energy budget is balanced between incoming (yellow) and outgoing radiation (red). On Earth, natural and human-caused processes affect the amount of energy received as well as emitted back to space. This study filters out variations in Earth’s energy budget due to feedback processes, revealing the energy changes caused by aerosols and greenhouse gas emissions. Animation Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab.

Climate modelling predicts that human activities are causing the release of greenhouse gases and aerosols that are affecting Earth’s energy budget. Now, a NASA study has confirmed these predictions with direct observations for the first time: radiative forcings are increasing due to human actions, affecting the planet’s energy balance and ultimately causing climate change. The paper was published online March 25, 2021, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“This is the first calculation of the total radiative forcing of Earth using global observations, accounting for the effects of aerosols and greenhouse gases,” said Ryan Kramer, first author on the paper and a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “It’s direct evidence that human activities are causing changes to Earth’s energy budget.”

NASA’s Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) project studies the flow of radiation at the top of Earth’s atmosphere. A series of CERES instruments have continuously flown on satellites since 1997. Each measures how much energy enters Earth’s system and how much leaves, giving the overall net change in radiation. That data, in combination with other data sources such as ocean heat measurements, shows that there’s an energy imbalance on our planet.

“But it doesn’t tell us what factors are causing changes in the energy balance,” said Kramer.

Image above: NASA’s CERES instruments monitor the energy balance of Earth. This image shows how the difference between incoming and reflected shortwave energy - absorbed solar energy - can be compared to emitted longwave radiation to determine Earth’s net change in energy. Image Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.

This study used a new technique to parse out how much of the total energy change is caused by humans. The researchers calculated how much of the imbalance was caused by fluctuations in factors that are often naturally occurring, such as water vapor, clouds, temperature and surface albedo (essentially the brightness or reflectivity of Earth’s surface). For example, the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite measures water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere. Water vapor absorbs energy in the form of heat, so changes in water vapor will affect how much energy ultimately leaves Earth’s system. The researchers calculated the energy change caused by each of these natural factors, then subtracted the values from the total. The portion leftover is the radiative forcing.

EOS Aqua satellite. Image Credits: NASA/JPL

The team found that human activities have caused the radiative forcing on Earth to increase by about 0.5 Watts per square meter from 2003 to 2018. The increase is mostly from greenhouse gases emissions from things like power generation, transport and industrial manufacturing. Reduced reflective aerosols are also contributing to the imbalance.

The new technique is computationally faster than previous model-based methods, allowing researchers to monitor radiative forcing in almost real time. The method could be used to track how human emissions are affecting the climate, monitor how well various mitigation efforts are working, and evaluate models to predict future changes to the climate.

“Creating a direct record of radiative forcing calculated from observations will allow us to evaluate how well climate models can simulate these forcings,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York City. “This will allow us to make more confident projections about how the climate will change in the future.”

Related links:

Geophysical Research Letters:

Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES):

Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS):

Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS):

Aqua Satellite:


Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Earth Science News Team/By Sofie Bates.


Hubble Spots a Galaxy with a Peculiar Arm


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Mar 26, 2021

This image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope features NGC 7678 – a galaxy with one particularly prominent arm, located approximately 164 million light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus (the Winged Horse). With a diameter of around 115,000 light-years, this bright spiral galaxy is a similar size to our own galaxy (the Milky Way) and was discovered in 1784 by the German-British astronomer William Herschel.

The Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies is a catalog which was produced in 1966 by the American astronomer Halton Arp. NGC 7678 is among the 338 galaxies presented in this catalog, which organizes peculiar galaxies according to their unusual features. Cataloged here as Arp 28, this galaxy is listed together with six others in the group “spiral galaxies with one heavy arm.”

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, A. Riess et al.


jeudi 25 mars 2021

Vein, Eye Scans on Station as Next Crew Nears Launch


ISS - Expedition 64 Mission patch.

Mar. 25, 2021

The Expedition 64 crew continued researching how microgravity affects biology aboard the International Space Station today. The orbital residents also conducted vein and eye checks and prepared for three new crew members due in early April.

NASA Flight Engineer Shannon Walker joined Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov for vein and eye scans on Thursday. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi led the effort scanning veins in the trio’s neck, clavicle and shoulder areas using the Ultrasound 2 device in the morning. In the afternoon, Noguchi examined Walker’s eyes using the orbiting lab’s optical coherence tomography gear.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Walker also assisted fellow Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA setting up samples of tiny worms for viewing in a microscope. Rubins captured video of the microscopic worms wriggling around to learn how microgravity affects genetic expression and muscle function. Insights from the Micro-16 study may benefit human health on and off the Earth.

Astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover focused on station maintenance throughout Thursday. Hopkins set up alternate sleep accommodations ahead of the Expedition 65 crew launch and docking set for April 9 when 10 people will be on the station until April 17. Glover serviced Water Recycling System components checking for leaks and tightening fittings on the rack located inside the Tranquility module.

Ryzhikov continued observing plasma dust crystals for the ongoing space physics study taking place in the station’s Russian segment. Kud-Sverchkov wiped down equipment inside the Zarya module then explored how pilots may operate spacecraft on future planetary missions.

Image above: (From left) Expedition 65 crew members Pyotr Dubrov, Oleg Novitskiy and Mark Vande Hei, pose for a photo during Soyuz qualification exams in Moscow. Image Credit: ROSCOSMOS.

Back on Earth in Moscow, three Expedition 65 crew members are getting ready to head to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where their Soyuz MS-18 rocket is being processed for its April 9 launch. Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos will flank Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy during their three-and-a-half-hour ride to their new home in space.

Just over a week later, Rubins will return to Earth with her Expedition 64 crewmates Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov. They will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan inside the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship after 185 days aboard the station.

Related links:

Expedition 64:

Ultrasound 2 device:

Micro-16 study:

Tranquility module:

Plasma dust crystals:

Zarya module:

How pilots may operate spacecraft:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA Engineers Analyze Navigation Needs of Artemis Moon Missions


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.

Mar 25, 2021

Space communications and navigation engineers at NASA are evaluating the navigation needs for the Artemis program, including identifying the precision navigation capabilities needed to establish the first sustained presence on the lunar surface.

Image above: Illustration of NASA's lunar-orbiting Gateway and a human landing system in orbit around the Moon. Image Credit: NASA.

“Artemis engages us to apply creative navigation solutions, choosing the right combination of capabilities for each mission,” said Cheryl Gramling, associate chief for technology in the Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis Division at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “NASA has a multitude of navigation tools at its disposal, and Goddard has a half-century of experience navigating space exploration missions in lunar orbit.”

Alongside proven navigation capabilities, NASA will use innovative navigation technologies during the upcoming Artemis missions.

"Lunar missions provide the opportunity to test and refine novel space navigation techniques," said Ben Ashman, a navigation engineer at Goddard. "The Moon is a fascinating place to explore and can serve as a proving ground that expands our navigation toolkit for more distant destinations like Mars."

Ultimately, exploration missions need a robust combination of capabilities to provide the availability, resiliency, and integrity required from an in-situ navigation system. Some of the navigation techniques being analyzed for Artemis include:

Radiometrics, Optimetrics and Laser Altimetry

Radiometrics, optimetrics, and laser altimetry measure distances and velocity using the properties of electromagnetic transmissions. Engineers measure the time it takes for a transmission to reach a spacecraft and divide by the transmission's rate of travel — the speed of light.

Image above: The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) sends laser pulses down to the surface of the Moon from the orbiting spacecraft. These pulses bounce off of the Moon and return to LRO, providing scientists with measurements of the distance from the spacecraft to the lunar surface. As LRO orbits the Moon, LOLA measures the shape of the lunar surface, which includes information about the Moon's surface elevations and slopes. This image shows the slopes found near the South Pole of the Moon. Image Credits: NASA/LRO.

These accurate measurements have been the foundation of space navigation since the launch of the first satellite, giving an accurate and reliable measurement of the distance between the transmitter and spacecraft’s receiver. Simultaneously, the rate of change in the spacecraft’s velocity between the transmitter and spacecraft can be observed due to the Doppler effect.

Radiometrics and optimetrics measure the distances and velocity between a spacecraft and ground antennas or other spacecraft using their radio links and infrared optical communications links, respectively. In laser altimetry and space laser ranging, a spacecraft or ground telescope reflects lasers off the surface of a celestial body or a specially designated reflector to judge distances.

Optical Navigation

Optical navigation techniques rely on images from cameras on a spacecraft. There are three main branches of optical navigation.

- Star-based optical navigation uses bright celestial objects such as stars, moons, and planets for navigation. Instruments use these objects to determine a spacecrafts’ orientation and can define their distance from the objects using the angles between them.

- As a spacecraft approaches a celestial body, the object begins to fill the field of view of the camera. Navigation engineers then derive a spacecraft’s distance from the body using its limb — the apparent edge of the body — and centroid, or geometric center.

- At a spacecraft’s closest approach, Terrain Relative Navigation uses camera images and computer processing to identify known surface features and calculate a spacecraft’s course based on the location of those features in reference models or images.

Weak-Signal GPS and GNSS

Illustration of of Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost lander on the lunar surface
Illustration 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.
Credits: Firefly Aerospace

NASA is developing capabilities that will allow missions at the Moon to leverage signals from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) constellations like the U.S. GPS. These signals — already used on many Earth-orbiting spacecraft — will improve timing, enhance positioning accuracy, and assist autonomous navigation systems in cislunar and lunar space.

Image above: Illustration 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.

In 2023, the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), developed in partnership with the Italian Space Agency, will demonstrate and refine this capability on the Moon’s Mare Crisium basin. LuGRE will fly on a Commercial Lunar Payload Services mission delivered by Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas. NASA will use data gathered from LuGRE to refine operational lunar GNSS systems for future missions.

Autonomous Navigation

Autonomous navigation software leverages measurements like radiometrics, celestial navigation, altimetry, terrain-relative navigation, and GNSS to perform navigation onboard without contact with operators or assets on Earth, enabling spacecraft to maneuver independently of terrestrial mission controllers. This level of autonomy enables responsiveness to the dynamic space environment.

Autonomous navigation can be particularly useful for deep space exploration, where the communications delay can hamper in-situ navigation. For example, missions at Mars must wait eight to 48 minutes for round trip communications with Earth depending on orbital dynamics. During critical maneuvers, spacecraft need the immediate decision-making that autonomous software can provide.

LunaNet Navigation Services

LunaNet is a unique communications and navigation architecture developed by NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. LunaNet’s common standards, protocols, and interface requirements will extend internetworking to the Moon, offering unprecedented flexibility and access to data.

Image above: Artist's conceptualization of Artemis astronauts using LunaNet services on the Moon. a unique approach to lunar communications and navigation. The LunaNet communications and navigation architecture will enable the precision navigation required for crewed missions to the Moon and place our astronauts closer to scientifically significant lunar sites, enhancing the our missions’ scientific output. Image Credits: NASA/Resse Patillo.

For navigation, the LunaNet approach offers operational independence and increased precision by combining many of the methods above into a seamless architecture. LunaNet will provide missions with access to key measurements for precision navigation in lunar space.

Learn more about NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation program here:

Related links:


Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE):

Commercial Lunar Payload Services:


Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Daniel Baird/GSFC/By Danny Baird.


Frosty Sand Dunes of Mars


NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) logo.

Mar 25, 2021

A field of sand dunes occupies this frosty 5-kilometer diameter crater in the high-latitudes of the northern plains of Mars. Some dunes have separated from the main field and appear to be climbing up the crater slope along a gully-like form.

The surface of the main dune field is characterized by a series of dark-toned polygonal patterns. These may be the result of seasonal frost processes. Several of the steeper dune slopes, pointing in the downwind direction, host narrow furrows suggesting the start of gully formation.

The crater floor contains a variety of textures, including lobate and striped patterns that indicate seasonal thaw caused by sublimating ice. Broad downslope movement of materials on the crater slopes opposite the dune field superficially resemble gullies, except that they are generally not defined by distinctive alcoves, incised channels, or sediment aprons. These are the hallmarks of gullies elsewhere on the planet.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

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