samedi 22 mai 2021

Virgin Galactic completes first spaceflight in over two years


Virgin Galactic logo.

May 22, 2021

Virgin Galactic VSS Unity Test Flight. Image Credit: Virgin Galatic

- Virgin Galactic took a step closer to completing development of its space tourism system on Saturday.

- The company successfully conducted its first spaceflight in more than two years.

- Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft Unity is designed to hold up to six passengers along with the two pilots.

Virgin Galactic took a step closer to completing development of its space tourism system on Saturday, successfully flying its first spaceflight in more than two years.

The company’s spacecraft, named VSS Unity, was carried up to an altitude of about 44,000 feet by a carrier aircraft called VMS Eve. The aircraft then released the spacecraft, which fired its rocket engine and accelerated to more than three times the speed of sound.

After performing a slow backflip in microgravity at the edge of space, Unity returned through the atmosphere in a glide, landing back at the runway of Spaceport America in New Mexico that it took off from earlier.

“Now in space,” the company tweeted during the flight. Image Credit: Twitter

Pilots C.J. Sturckow and Dave Mackay flew Unity. The pair have previously flown to space, as well as fellow Virgin Galactic pilots Michael “Sooch” Masucci and Mark Stucky and chief astronaut trainer Beth Moses, who have each been given astronaut wings after the company’s first two spaceflights.

The U.S. officially consider pilots who have flown above 80 kilometers to be astronauts.

Image above: Virgin Galactic pilots walk to the company’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft, attached to the jet carrier aircraft Eve. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft Unity is designed to hold up to six passengers along with the two pilots. The company has about 600 reservations for tickets on future flights, sold at prices between $200,000 and $250,000 each.

The spaceflight is the company’s first since February 2019, and its third to date. Virgin Galactic flew two spaceflight tests from its development facility in California’s Mojave Desert, before moving to its operational base in New Mexico. The company expected to clear some or all of its remaining Federal Aviation Administration milestones with this flight, setting it up to receive a key license needed to conduct regular spaceflights.

Virgin Galactic VSS Unity Test Flight

Unity also carried NASA-funded payloads on this mission, under the agency’s Flight Opportunities program.

Shares of Virgin Galactic climbed 22% over the past two days of trading after the company announced plans for the spaceflight test, avoiding a possible maintenance issue that threatened to delay the flight.

The spaceflight is one of four remaining for Virgin Galactic to finish development of its SpaceShipTwo rocket system. The second spaceflight test will carry four passengers to test the spacecraft’s cabin, while the third test is planned to fly founder Sir Richard Branson.

The company’s test flight program has been delayed substantially over the past few months. Saturday’s spaceflight was a redo of a December attempt that was cut short by an an electromagnetic interference issue, and the company’s promised beginning of commercial service has been pushed back from mid-2020 to early 2022.

Virgin Galactic:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: Virgin Galactic/CNBC/Michael Sheetz.


Zhurong is roving on Mars!


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

May 22, 2021

Zhurong is roving on Mars!

Zhurong, the Tianwen-1 mission’s rover, has descended from the landing platform to the surface of Mars, in the Utopia Planitia region, on 22 May 2021, at 02:40 UTC (10:40 China Standard Time). Tianwen-1 (天问一号) is China’s first Mars exploration mission with an orbiter, a lander and a rover. Zhurong (祝融), named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology, has a mass of 240 kg and an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days.

Zhurong (祝融) rover and landing platform (Artist's view)

Chinese rover Zhurong begins exploration of red planet

Chinese rover Zhurong left its Mars landing pad a week after arriving on Saturday to begin exploring the surface of the Red Planet, the official China New Agency reported. The sending of this robot to Mars is a first for the Asian country, which has become the second in the world to succeed in such an operation after the United States.

Zhurong front obstacle avoidance camera B view

China had launched in July 2020 from Earth its uninhabited Tianwen-1 mission, named after the probe sent into space and composed of an orbiter (which revolves around Mars) and a lander with Zhurong on board which landed last Saturday in an area of the red planet called Utopia Planitia, a vast plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars.

Zhurong rear obstacle avoidance camera A view

First images sent

At around 240 kg, Zhurong (祝融) - named after the fire god in Chinese mythology - sent his first photos on Wednesday. He must also conduct analyzes of the soil, the atmosphere and map the red planet. Zhurong is equipped with solar panels for its power supply and is supposed to be operational for three months.

First images of Zhurong on Mars

The rover is also equipped with cameras, radar and lasers which will allow it, among other things, to study its environment and analyze the composition of Martian rocks. The mission to Mars must also look for possible signs of past life.

Zhurong (祝融) rover (Artist's view)

By successfully landing its robot on Mars, China, which is investing billions of euros in its space program to catch up with Europe, Russia and the United States, is demonstrating its growing space ambitions. It sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and launches satellites for itself or on behalf of other countries. In 2019, she landed a rover on the far side of the moon - a world first. Last year, samples were brought back to Earth.

Related articles:

Why the China Mars rover’s landing site has geologists excited & Zhurong’s first images from Mars

Tianwen-1 orbiter relays Zhurong rover’s data and images

Zhurong landed on Mars! The Tianwen-1 rover is on Utopia Planitia (Videos)

China succeeds in landing its rover on 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/AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

vendredi 21 mai 2021

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of May 17, 2021


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

May 21, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of May 17 that included studies of how microgravity affects human arteries, time perception, and sleep.  

The space station has been continuously inhabited by humans for 20 years, supporting many scientific breakthroughs. The orbiting lab 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.

Image above: ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is pictured inside the space station cupola. Behind him, outside the space station, is the Cygnus space freighter with one of its cymbal-shaped UltraFlex solar arrays (right), and just to his left, the Soyuz MS-17 crew ship. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Analyzing aging in arteries

When astronauts return to Earth, their carotid arteries often appear to have aged beyond the time spent on orbit. This “accelerated aging” could represent significant cardiovascular risk in the long term and daily sessions of exercise may be insufficient to counteract it. Vascular Aging, an investigation by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), analyzes these changes in crew members using artery ultrasounds, blood samples, oral glucose tolerance testing, and wearable sensors. Results could point to mechanisms for reducing this risk and also may identify and detect blood biomarkers that predict early signs of cardiovascular aging. During the week, crew members conducted various data gathering activities for the investigation.

Keeping track of time

Scientists know that a person’s perception of the space around them is altered during spaceflight – for example, astronauts may under-estimate distances. Their perception of time also may change: crew members take about 50% more time to execute an experiment procedure in orbit as they did on Earth. While on the space station, crew members also experience lack of sleep, disrupted circadian rhythms, and stress, potentially affecting their time perception. Finally, the crew deals with a number of different time zones, including Greenwich Mean, Houston and Moscow times. But time perception is fundamental to motion perception, sound localization, speech, and fine motor coordination, and altered perception could affect safety and performance. An investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), Time Perception, quantifies the subjective changes in time perception in humans during and after long-duration exposure to microgravity. Crew members conducted sessions for the investigation during the week.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Sweet dreams

Sleep plays a major role in human health and well-being and sleep disruption can impair performance of tasks and increase the risk of developing medical conditions such as cardiovascular diseases. Dreams from ESA demonstrates a technology, the Dry-EEG Headband, to monitor astronaut sleep quality during long duration spaceflight. A crew member wears the headband while sleeping and the next morning, the device imports data to a dedicated iPad app. The headband can monitor sleep anywhere and wearers can number of awakenings. All raw data are available to research teams for analysis. During the week, crew members set up the headband and wore it for recording periods during sleep.

Ten-year search for dark matter

As of May 19, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02) on the exterior of the space station marked 10 years of contributing to the search to understand dark matter. Many researchers theorize stars, planets, and the molecules of which they are made represent less than five percent of the mass-energy content of the universe and the rest is either dark matter or dark energy, which cannot be directly detected but only inferred. AMS-02 records the number (175-billion-plus to date) and type of cosmic particles that pass through its detectors along with characteristics such as particle mass, velocity, charge, and direction of travel. Originally designed for a three-year mission, AMS was repaired and upgraded via a series of spacewalks in 2019 and 2020. It extended life allows scientists to collect data over a complete solar cycle of 11 years, providing more information about the potential radiation exposure for astronauts headed to Mars.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

Image above: NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough sets up for a SUBSA investigation that examines the mechanisms behind solidification of brazing alloys in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

- SUBSA-BRAINS examines the mechanisms behind solidification of brazing alloys in microgravity, a technique that could provide a tool for constructing human space habitats and manufactured systems and for repairing space vehicles and habitats.

- ESA’s AstroPi uses two computers equipped with a variety of sensors and cameras to support an education program for schools across Europe to compete on a number of thematic software and hardware challenges.

- An investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Probiotics studies the effects of beneficial bacteria on immune function and the intestinal microbiota of crew members.

- Celestial Immunity evaluates the effects of gravity on functional immune response and the role of age in regulating immune pathways. Results could support development of new vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat existing and emerging human diseases.

- 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.

- 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.

- Food Physiology examines the effects of an enhanced spaceflight diet on immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutritional status indicators, with the aim of documenting how dietary improvements may enhance adaptation to spaceflight.

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

- ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, parents, and others the opportunity to communicate with astronauts using HAM radio units. Before a scheduled call, students learn about the station, radio waves, and other topics, and prepare a list of questions on topics they have researched.

Image above: This image taken from the space station cupola shows part of the island nation of New Zealand. Crew member photographs for the CEO investigation record how the planet is changing over time and provide data to help researchers understand these changes. Image Credit: NASA.

- For the CEO investigation, crew members take photographs of Earth each week, recording human-caused changes and natural events such as hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions. CEO imagery provides researchers on Earth with key data to better understand the planet.

Space to Ground: Crew Call: 05/21/2021

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Vascular Aging:

Time Perception:


Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02):

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 65.


First launch of Soyuz-FG - 20 years



May 21, 2021

20 years ago, on May 21, 2001, the first launch of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle took place. It was developed on the basis of the most massive Soyuz-U launch vehicle to support the launches of new Soyuz-TMA manned spacecraft and Progress M cargo spacecraft as part of the Russian International Space Station program.

The three-stage medium-class Soyuz-FG launch vehicle was part of the Soyuz series of launch vehicles developed on the basis of the R-7 launch vehicle with the addition of a third stage unit and operated since 1963. The launch vehicle underwent significant modernization in 1973, receiving the name "Soyuz-U", the modification of 1982 was called "Soyuz-U2". A further modification of the Soyuz-U launch vehicle is the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle (2001).

For the first time, the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle was launched on May 21, 2001. Then she launched the Progress M1-6 cargo ship into space. Later, these missiles were used to launch Progress, piloted by Soyuz, and for launches on commercial orders. For the first time, the Soyuz-FG rocket was used to launch a manned spacecraft on October 30, 2002. Then, with the help of it, the first Russian transport manned spacecraft of a new modification, Soyuz TMA-1, was launched to the International Space Station. Prior to that, Soyuz-U launch vehicles were used to send manned spacecraft to the ISS.

In the process of modernization, the blocks of stages I and II were modified: the RD-108 and RD-107 engines were replaced by the RD-107A and RD-108A propulsion engines with increased energy characteristics and an increased margin of stability of the working process in the chambers. This was achieved by improving the nozzle heads of the engines. To work together with the RD-107A and RD-108A engines, modernized steering units were used, in which the mass ratio of the fuel components was increased to increase the specific thrust impulse. Also, "Soyuz-FG" has proven itself excellently when launching satellites in commercial projects.

Structurally, the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle, like all missiles of the Soyuz family, is made according to the scheme of longitudinal-transverse division of rocket blocks. The rocket blocks forming the first and second stages are connected according to the "package" scheme: four side blocks are installed around the elongated central block. The third stage is connected in series with the central unit.


At the first stage of the flight, the engines of the four side and central blocks operate, at the second - after the separation of the side blocks - only the engine of the central block. In the tail compartment of each side unit, there is an autonomous four-chamber liquid-propellant rocket engine of a single start RD-107A, equipped with two steering nozzles.

The central block of the second stage uses a four-chamber RD-108A engine with four steering nozzles. The launch of the liquid-propellant engine of the central and lateral blocks is carried out on the ground, which makes it possible to control the operation of the engines in the transient mode and, in the event of malfunctions during the launch, cancel the launch of the rocket. This significantly increases the safety of spacecraft launches to the International Space Station.

At the third stage, the RD-0110 propulsion system is used, consisting of a four-chamber single-turn engine and four rotary steering nozzles (used to control the flight along three axes). After the engine of the third stage is switched off and the space warhead is separated, the third stage performs a withdrawal maneuver.

As part of the Soyuz-FG rocket, head fairings of diameters were used: 2.7 meters; 3.0 meters; 3.3 meters; 3.715 meters. The upper stage is not used for launches of manned and cargo spacecraft.

The Soyuz-FG launch vehicle is considered one of the most reliable in the world, with a confirmed operational reliability indicator of 0.9855. From 2011 to 2019, the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle was the only vehicle for delivering crews to the International Space Station. Soyuz-FG has been in operation for 18 years. The last 70th launch took place on September 25, 2019 from the Baikonur cosmodrome.

Since 2020, manned spacecraft have been launched on the new Soyuz-2.1a missiles. This launch vehicle is distinguished not only by the fact that instead of analog equipment, modern digital systems are installed on it, but also by the fact that all rocket equipment is completely manufactured in Russia.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

RCC Progress:

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Water Processor Assembly Restored, Spacewalk Preps, Immunity Research Round “Magical” Day on Station


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

May 21, 2021

The station’s Water Processing Assembly (WPA), located in the Tranquility module, was reactivated today and is operating at full functionality after crew members successfully completed repair work throughout the week. The WPA was powered off last week due to a suspected leak.

This hardware is used to recycle water from multiple sources into clean, drinkable water for crew members aboard the International Space Station. The space station serves a vital role in testing and maturing life support technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon and Mars. Repairs provide invaluable data to engineers refining these systems for use in future spacecraft and missions.

Image above: NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough sets up hardware for the SUBSA physics investigation inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Image Credit: NASA.

The Expedition 65 crew wrapped up its workweek continuing to research the immune system and preparing for next month’s spacewalk. There was also a bit of magic on the orbital lab today to illustrate the challenges of living in space.

NASA Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Megan McArthur were back on the Celestial Immunity study during Friday afternoon. The duo took turns working in the Life Sciences Glovebox where the experiment takes place. The experiment may help scientists understand how weightlessness affects donor cell samples compared to cell cultures harvested on Earth. Observations may lead to new insights possibly improving vaccines and disease treatments on the ground.

McArthur started her day inside BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, stowing cargo and servicing sensors. She was assisted throughout Friday morning inside the five-year-old module by fellow flight engineers Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).

Image above: From the left to the right: Progress cargo, Soyuz MS, Cygnus freighter, seen from ISS Cupola. Image Credit: NASA.

Kimbrough spent the first part of the afternoon packing trash for disposal aboard the U.S. Cygnus space freighter. He wrapped up his day in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module swapping samples for a physics study exploring ways to improve the production of semiconductor crystals.

Pesquet spent most of his morning in the Columbus laboratory module videotaping himself performing magic tracks for the Illusion educational study. The experiment sponsored by ESA illustrates how visual perception and the central nervous system is impacted in microgravity.

The next spacewalk at the orbital lab is planned for June 2. The two Roscosmos flight engineers, Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, will work outside in the vacuum of space for external maintenance and science experiment installations for about six-and-a-half hours. The duo spent most of Friday getting their spacewalking tools and Orlan spacesuits ready for their first career excursions.

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Tranquility module:

Celestial Immunity:

Life Sciences Glovebox:

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM):

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:

Production of semiconductor crystals:

Columbus laboratory module:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

ESA advances its plan for satellites around the Moon


ESA - Moonlight Mission logo.

May 21, 2021

A bold proposal to create a commercially viable constellation of lunar satellites has taken a step closer.

Two consortia of companies will be supported by ESA to devise detailed definitions of how to provide telecommunications and navigation services for missions to the Moon, under the agency’s Moonlight initiative.

A constellation of satellites around the Moon

Such a lasting lunar link will enable sustainable space exploration.

ESA is going to the Moon together with its international partners including NASA.

Dozens of international, institutional and commercial teams are sending missions to the Moon that envisage a permanent lunar presence. These will become regular trips to Earth’s natural satellite rather than one-off expeditions

Many of these initiatives come from the main space institutions in China, India, Japan and Russia, alongside other spacefaring nations, as well as private entities across the globe.

A reliable and dedicated lunar communications and navigation service would allow missions to land wherever they wanted. Radio astronomers could set up observatories on the far side of the Moon. Rovers could trundle over the lunar surface more speedily. It could even enable the teleoperation of rovers and other equipment from Earth.

Moonlight: connecting Earth with the Moon

Using a shared telecommunications and navigation service would reduce the design complexity of future individual missions and make them lighter, freeing space for more scientific instruments or other cargo, making each individual mission more cost-efficient.

Lowering the ticket price to lunar exploration could empower a wider group of ESA member states to launch their own national lunar missions. Even on a relatively low budget, an emerging space nation would be able to send a scientific CubeSat mission to the Moon, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Commercial bodies could use innovative technologies developed for the Moon to create new services and products on Earth, which would create new jobs and boost prosperity. They could also identify new Moon-enabled services and products such as virtual reality games in which players manipulate lunar robots or see through the eyes of lunar astronauts.

ESA is providing several service modules for NASA’s Artemis programme to return humans to the Moon by 2024, including the ESPRIT communications module for the lunar Gateway’s living quarters for astronauts. With its European industrial partner, ESA is helping to build the Lunar Pathfinder, showcasing lunar communications service provision by providing initial services to early lunar missions, including a complete lunar navigation in-orbit demonstration.

The Moonlight initiative builds on both the ESPRIT communications module and the Lunar Pathfinder.

The two consortia will articulate exactly how to achieve a lasting link with the Moon.

Infographic Moonlight - Navigation for the Moon

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited will lead the first consortium, both in the service prime capacity through its lunar services brand SSTL Lunar and as the satellite manufacturer. The consortium also includes: satellite manufacturer Airbus; satellite network providers SES, based in Luxembourg, and Kongsberg Satellite Services, based in Norway; the Goonhilly Earth Station in the UK; and British satellite navigation company GMV-NSL.

The second consortium will be spearheaded by Telespazio, working with: satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space; satellite operator Inmarsat, based in the UK; Canadian space technology company MDA; Telespazio’s subsidiary in Germany and OHB Systems; Spanish satellite operator Hispasat; and the Italian Aerospace Logistics Technology Engineering Company (ALTEC), aerospace engineering company Argotec, Nanoracks Europe, the Politecnico Milano and the Università commerciale Luigi Bocconi.

The contracts were signed on behalf of ESA by Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, in the presence of David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, and Paul Verhoef, ESA’s Director of Navigation.

Elodie Viau said: “A lasting link with the Moon enables sustainable space exploration for all our international partners, including commercial space companies. By using an ESA-backed telecommunications and navigation service for the Moon, explorers will be able to navigate smoothly and to relay to Earth all the knowledge gained from these lunar missions.

Moonlight bringing connectivity to the Moon

“A robust, reliable and efficient telecommunications and navigation system will make the dozens of individual missions planned for the Moon more cost-efficient and enable smaller countries to become space-faring nations, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Image, Infographic, Videos, Text, Credits: European Space Agency (ESA).


RIP tardigrades on the Moon


SpaceIL - Google Lunar XPrize Mission patch.

May 21, 2021

Sad news for the tardigrades that were on board the Israel’s Beresheet mission, which crash-landed on the Moon in 2019. Researchers have learnt that the microscopic animals, which can survive the vacuum of space and heavy-duty doses of radiation, wouldn't have lived through the crash. Scientists put tardigrades into nylon bullets and fired them at various speeds (the tardigrades were in deep hibernation). The creatures survived impacts at speeds of up to 825 metres per second. “Above (those speeds), they just mush,” says astrochemist Alejandra Traspas.

Hardy water bears survive bullet impacts—up to a point

They can survive temperatures close to absolute zero. They can withstand heat beyond the boiling point of water. They can shrug off the vacuum of space and doses of radiation that would be lethal to humans. Now, researchers have subjected tardigrades, microscopic creatures affectionately known as water bears, to impacts as fast as a flying bullet. And the animals survive them, too—but only up to a point. The test places new limits on their ability to survive impacts in space—and potentially seed life on other planets.

The research was inspired by a 2019 Israeli mission called Beresheet, which attempted to land on the Moon. The probe infamously included tardigrades on board that mission managers had not disclosed to the public, and the lander crashed with its passengers in tow, raising concerns about contamination. “I was very curious,” says Alejandra Traspas, a Ph.D. student at Queen Mary University of London who led the study. “I wanted to know if they were alive.”

Image above: Above a speed limit, microscopic tardigrades shot from a gun turn to “mush.” Image Credits: Eye of Science/Science Source.

Traspas and her supervisor, Mark Burchell, a planetary scientist at the University of Kent, wanted to find out whether tardigrades could survive such an impact—and they wanted to conduct their experiment ethically. So after feeding about 20 tardigrades moss and mineral water, they put them into hibernation, a so-called “tun” state in which their metabolism decreases to 0.1% of their normal activity, by freezing them for 48 hours.

They then placed two to four at a time in a hollow nylon bullet and fired them at increasing speeds using a two-stage light gas gun, a tool in physics experiments that can achieve muzzle velocities far higher than any conventional gun. When shooting the bullets into a sand target several meters away, the researchers found the creatures could survive impacts up to about 900 meters per second (or about 3000 kilometers per hour), and momentary shock pressures up to a limit of 1.14 gigapascals (GPa), they report this month in Astrobiology. “Above [those speeds], they just mush,” Traspas says.

The results suggest the tardigrades on Beresheet were unlikely to survive. Although the lander is thought to have crashed at a few hundred meters per second, the shock pressure its metal frame generated hitting the surface would have been “well above” 1.14 GPa, Traspas says. “We can confirm they didn’t survive.”

The research also places new limits on a theory known as panspermia, which suggests some forms of life could move between worlds, as stowaways on meteorites kicked up after an asteroid strikes a planet or moon. Eventually, the meteorite could impact another planet—along with its living cargo.

Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in the study, says the research shows how unlikely panspermia is. “What this paper is showing is that complex multicellular animals cannot be easily transferred,” he says. “In other words, Earth is a biogeographical island with respect to animals. They’re trapped, like a flightless bird on an island.”

Image above: An artist's illustration of the Beresheet moon lander, built by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries. Image Credits: SpaceIL/IAI.

Traspas, however, says it shows panspermia “is hard,” but not impossible. Meteorite impacts on Earth typically arrive at speeds of more than 11 kilometers per second. On Mars, they collide at least at 8 kilometers per second. These speeds are well above the threshold for tardigrades to survive. However, some parts of a meteorite impacting Earth or Mars would experience lower shock pressures that a tardigrade could live through, Traspas says.

Objects strike the Moon at still lower speeds. When impacts on Earth send bits of rock and debris hurtling toward the Moon, about 40% of that material could travel at speeds low enough for any tardigrades to survive, Traspas and Burchell say, theoretically allowing them to jump from our planet to the Moon. A similar passage, they add, could take place from Mars to its moon, Phobos. And other life might have an even better chance of surviving; compared with water bears, some microbes can survive even faster impacts of up to 5000 meters per second, according to previous research.

The new experiment also has implications for our ability to detect life on icy moons in the outer Solar System. Saturn’s moon Enceladus, for example, ejects plumes of water into space from a subsurface ocean that could support life, as might Jupiter’s moon Europa. If the findings of the new study apply to potential life trapped in the plumes, a spacecraft orbiting Enceladus—at relatively low speeds of hundreds of meters per second—might sample and detect existing life without killing it.

No such orbiting mission is currently planned for Enceladus or Europa—upcoming NASA and European flyby missions will swoosh by the latter at high speeds of several kilometers per second. But perhaps one day far in the future an orbiter might be in the cards, with an ability to detect life at gentler speeds. “If you collect it and it died on impact, how do you know whether it’s been dead for millions of years?” asks Anna Butterworth, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied plume impacts on spacecraft. “If you collect microscopic life and it’s moving around, you can say it’s alive.”

Related articles:

Beresheet Impact Site Spotted

Israel's Beresheet Spacecraft Crashes Into Moon During Landing Attempt

Related links:

Google Lunar X Prize:

SpaceIL: and

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: SpaceIL/Science/By Jonathan O'Callaghan.

Best regards,

Arctic sea ice succumbs to Atlantification


ESA - CRYOSAT Mission logo / ESA - SMOS Mission logo.

May 21, 2021

With alarm bells ringing about the rapid demise of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, satellite data have revealed how the intrusion of warmer Atlantic waters is reducing ice regrowth in the winter. In addition, with seasonal ice more unpredictable than ever, ESA’s SMOS and CryoSat satellites are being used to improve sea-ice forecasts, which are critical for shipping, fisheries and indigenous communities, for example.

CryoSat key to measuring sea-ice thickness

The amount of sea ice floating in the Arctic Ocean varies enormously as it grows and shrinks with the seasons. Although some of the older thicker ice remains throughout, there is an undeniable trend of declining ice as climate change tightens its grip on this fragile polar region.

Arctic sea ice reaches a maximum around March after the cold winter months and then shrinks to a minimum around September after the summer melt. However, these seasonal swings are not only linked to the changing seasons – it transpires that along with our warming climate, the temperature of adjacent ocean seawater is now also adding to the ice’s vulnerability.

Arctic sea-ice volume 2010–19

Previous research suggested that sea ice can partly recover in the winter following a strong summer melt because thin ice grows faster than thick ice. However, new findings indicate that heat from the ocean is overpowering this stabilising effect – reducing the volume of sea ice that can regrow in the winter. This means that sea ice is more vulnerable during warmer summers and winter storms.

The research published recently in the Journal of Climate describes how scientists used satellite data from ESA’s Climate Change Initiative to calculate changes in the volume of Arctic sea ice between 2002 and 2019.

Winter arctic sea ice volume from CryoSat/SMOS

Robert Ricker, from the AWI Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, and colleagues mapped regional changes in sea-ice volume owing to drift and calculated how much ice grows because of freezing each month. They also used model simulations to explore the causes of change, which corroborated their findings.

Dr Ricker said, “Over the last decades we observed the tendency that the less ice you have at the beginning of the freezing season, the more it grows in the winter season.

“However, what we’ve found now is that in the Barents Sea and Kara Sea regions, this stabilising effect is being overpowered by ocean heat and warmer temperatures that are reducing the ice growth in winter.”

This new process is called Atlantification, meaning that heat from the Atlantic Ocean carried to higher latitudes is causing the edge of the sea ice to retreat.

Sea-ice thickness April 2021 compared to April 2011–20 average

“Importantly, this also means that if you have a warm summer or strong winds, the sea ice is less resilient,” added Dr Ricker.

The researchers believe that the stabilising mechanism in other regions of the Arctic could also be overpowered in the future.

While it is clearly essential to continue monitoring Arctic sea ice for evidence to support climate policies, satellite observations are put to practical use such as sea-ice forecasting.

Ice-thickness data from the CryoSat mission played an important contribution to the Atlantification findings, but the mission’s data combined with data from the SMOS satellite are also key to improving forecasts of the thinner more fragile thin sea ice.

The Alfred Wegner Institute (AWI) in Germany merge weekly CryoSat data with daily SMOS data to generate a weekly-averaged product every day.

As well as being used for forecasts, these combined data show that the volume of sea ice in the 2020-21 winter season was at its lowest since these sea-ice data products began in 2010.

Stefan Hendricks from AWI said, “The driver of this low volume of sea ice is the region north of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, where the thickest ice usually resides. Last winter, thick sea ice was almost absent. The rest of the Arctic sea ice is a mix of above and below average.”

SMOS in orbit

The information can also potentially improve forecasts of the weather and climate.

Many seasonal forecasting centres provide dynamic predictions of sea ice. While assimilating sea-ice concentration is common, constraining initial conditions of sea-ice thickness is in its early stages. However, first assimilation studies at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) indicate a significant improvement in the seasonal forecast system.

Beena Balan Sarojini from ECMWF said, “Our results demonstrate the usefulness of new sea-ice observational products in both data assimilation and forecasting systems, and they strongly suggest that better initial sea-ice thickness information is crucial for improving sub-seasonal to seasonal sea-ice forecasts.”

Related links:

Journal of Climate:



Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/AWI/geoGraphics/AOES Medialab.


Russia sells Soyuz space capsule and make movie in ISS



May 21, 2021

The No. 738 descent module of the MS-08 mission, which landed in 2018, went on sale Wednesday by the Russian space agency. Its price remains secret.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-08 descent module, put on sale Wednesday by the Russian space agency, brought two American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut back to Earth on October 4, 2018.

Russian space agency Roscosmos has announced that it is offering one of its Soyuz capsules for the first time, as the sector suffers from budgetary problems and international competition.

"The body of the No. 738 descent vehicle from the Soyuz MS-08 mission" was put up for sale by Glavcosmos, the space agency's promotional subsidiary, said a statement released overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday.

“The descent module will be an ideal work for any public or private exhibition with a space theme,” continued Glavcosmos, who did not say how much the agency intends to raise in this way. "The question of the price of the capsule is a trade secret," says his spokesman Yevgeny Kolomiev.

Soyuz MS-08 launch from Baikonur

This spacecraft had taken Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemiev and NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Richard Arnold to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 21, 2018, taking off from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They had returned to Earth aboard the same capsule on October 4.

The Roscosmos agency did not wish to explain the reasons for this sale, a first for them. But the space sector - which has announced many very ambitious projects - is underfunded, suffering both from recent budget cuts of 150 billion rubles ($ 18 915 686 110.88) and international competition in the areas of manned flights and satellite launches.

Glavcosmos director Dmitry Loskoutov, quoted by the Ria Novosti agency, has not ruled out putting "other capsules" on sale in the future.

A fictional film to be filmed on board the ISS and resumption of space tourism

This is a first in the history of cinema: a film will be shot in space by the Russians. The Roscosmos space agency has announced that it will send a film crew aboard the International Space Station. The goal of the Moscow authorities is also to show the whole world Russia's ability to innovate in space.

Image above: Actors and actresses of the future film "Challenge" (first row) in front of the Roscosmos medical commission.

Dmitry Rogozin, General Manager of Roscosmos, explains how the film crew will prepare:

"The intensive training of the technical team begins on June 1. It includes flight training, parachute jumping, ground work and practice of emergency situations because there could be a thousand of them."

Movie poster "Challenge"

Russia has announced several major projects in recent months to revive its space industry. It will send a film crew to shoot a fictional film aboard the ISS in October, before putting Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano into orbit in December.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa

The cost of the first project has not been revealed, nor the price the wealthy space tourist will pay for two Soyuz tickets. (According to some sources around $ 20 million one "ticket").

The Americans for their part also announce the production of a film in ISS with filmmaker Doug Liman and actor Tom Cruise:

"Doug Liman To Direct Tom Cruise In Outer Space-Shot Movie Collaboration With Elon Musk & NASA"

Roscosmos has also shown its willingness to build its own space station by 2030 and to build a lunar station with China.

Editor's Note:

Everyone should be reminded that the International Space Station (ISS) is an orbital scientific research laboratory and not a movie studio or a space hotel for billionaires.

Moreover, since this station was built by government space agencies with taxpayer money from the nations they represent. Russia's financial problems and the rivalry with the United States (USA) must not turn this scientific tool into an amusement park.

The last exemplary of the Buran space shuttle at Baikonur

Selling some of their spaceships (out of use) at auction to museums or private collectors is a much better idea, they could also sell the last exemplary of the Buran space shuttle with it completely destroyed by the weather or the collapse of abandoned structures.

Related articles from ROSCOSMOS (In Russian):

The preparation of artists for a flight into space will begin at the CPC next week

The film "Challenge": the results of the medical commission

Two space tourists from Japan will fly to the ISS on the Soyuz MS-20

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/AFP/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 20 mai 2021

Station Lifts Orbit as Crew Works Biology and Spacewalk Preps


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

May 20, 2021

The International Space Station raised its orbit today to get ready for an upcoming Russian resupply mission due to launch at the end of June. Meanwhile, the Expedition 65 crew continued its biology studies, spacewalk preparations and orbital lab maintenance on Thursday.

The ISS Progress 77 cargo craft, docked to the Pirs docking compartment, fired its thrusters shortly after 1 p.m. EDT today slightly lifting the station’s orbit. The half-mile orbital boost readies the orbiting lab for the ISS Progress 78 resupply ship due to launch on June 30 from Kazakhstan and dock to the Poisk module two days later.

Image above: The forward portion of the space station, with the Canadarm2 robotic arm prominent in the foreground and the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour at center top, is pictured as it orbited above the East China Sea. Image Credit: NASA.

Immune system research has been underway all week with NASA Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Megan McArthur collaborating on the Celestial Immunity experiment. Vande Hei once again started his day retrieving donor cells from a science freezer, thawing them and spinning the samples in a centrifuge. McArthur followed that work treating the samples to document differences from sample cultures harvested on Earth. Results could lead to improved vaccines and treatments for diseases on Earth, as well as advance the commercialization of space.

Commander Akihiko Hoshide set up the Confocal Microscope today to get ready for the Cell Gravisensing study that seeks to understand how individual animal cells detect gravity. The three-time station visitor also collected and stowed his saliva samples for the Standard Measures study then checked his blood pressure for the Vascular Aging investigation.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

NASA Flight Engineer Shane Kimbrough continued his orbital plumbing duties today with more troubleshooting in the Tranquility module’s Water Processing Assembly (WPA). Astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency assisted Kimbrough with the WPA work and also serviced computers and cables throughout the day.

The year’s sixth spacewalk is set for June 2 for external maintenance and science experiment installations on the station’s Russian segment. Cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, who spent Thursday morning inspecting their Orlan spacesuits, will spend about six-and-a-hours outside the lab during their first career excursions. The duo split up in the afternoon and worked on a variety of life support and ventilation systems.

Related article:

Planned correction of the ISS orbit has been carried out

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Pirs docking compartment:

Poisk module:

Celestial Immunity:

Confocal Microscope:

Cell Gravisensing:

Standard Measures:

Vascular Aging:

Tranquility module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,