samedi 29 mai 2021

Long March-7 Y3 launches Tianzhou-2 & Tianzhou-2 docking to the Tianhe Core Module


China Space Station - Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱) patch.


May 29, 2021

Long March-7 Y3 launches Tianzhou-2

The Long March-7 Y3 launch vehicle launched the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, Hainan Province, China, on 29 May 2021, at 12:55 UTC (20:55 China Standard Time).

Tianzhou-2 launch

Tianzhou-2 (天舟二号) will autonomously dock to the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱), the first and main component of the China Space Station (中国空间站).

Tianzhou-2 docking to the Tianhe Core Module

The Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the Tianhe Core Module on 29 May 2021, at 21:01 UTC (30 May, at 05:01 China Standard Time).

Tianzhou-2 docking to the Tianhe Core Module

Tianzhou-2 (天舟二号) is the first spacecraft to dock to the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱), the first and main component of the China Space Station (中国空间站).

China Space Station

Tianzhou-2 delivered supplies for astronauts, extravehicular activity (EVA) space suits, space station equipment and propellant.

Related articles:

Tianhe completes in-orbit checks & Long March-7 Y3 ready to launch Tianzhou-2

China Space Station

CASC - Long March-5B Y2 launches the Tianhe Core Module

Related links:

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

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

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

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vendredi 28 mai 2021

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of May 24, 2021


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

May 28, 2021

During the week of May 24, scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station included studies of plant water management, immune system function, and remote operation of robots and space vehicles. Crew members also began preparations for the arrival of more scientific research and technology demonstrations aboard the 22nd SpaceX cargo resupply mission, launching no earlier than June 3.

Image above: Early morning hues color an orbital sunrise pictured from the International Space Station as it passes 264 miles above the China-Russia border in far eastern Asia, near the Sea of Japan. Image Credit: NASA.

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.

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

Watering the space garden

Image above: This image shows Plant Water Management, a demonstration of passive measures to control fluid delivery and uptake in plant growth systems using physical properties such as surface tension, wetting, and system geometry to replace the role of gravity. Image Credit: NASA.

A growing body of research looks at growing plants in microgravity with the aim of developing ways to produce fresh food on future long-duration missions. One challenge is providing adequate fluid and nutrition for plant growth in space. Plant Water Management is a series of investigations to test using concepts of capillary fluidics – such as surface tension, wetting, and geometry – to deliver adequate water and nutrients to plants. The crew assembled kits and conducted operations for the investigation, then stowed the cameras and lights.  

Analyzing immune response

Image above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei works on Celestial Immunity, an investigation of how gravity affects immune response, potentially supporting development of new vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat existing and emerging human diseases. Image Credit: NASA.

Celestial Immunity evaluates the effects of gravity on functional immune response and the role of age in regulating immune pathways, using cells from elderly and younger adult donors. It builds on earlier space station studies that evaluated the function of white blood cells, extending the observation period from hours to days and expanding the analysis to an array of activated immune pathways. Gravity, convection, and buoyancy interfere with cell behavior in laboratory-based studies on Earth, but microgravity eliminates these factors. Results could support development of new vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat existing and emerging human diseases. During the week, crew members processed samples for the investigation.

Testing remote virtual operations

Image above: Simulation of ESA’s Pilote experiment on the ground prior to launch. Pilote tests the effectiveness of remote operation of robotic arms and space vehicles using virtual reality and haptics, or simulated touch and motion. Image Credits: CNES/Emmanuel Grimault.

The crew set up and conducted operations for Pilote, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), during the week. Pilote tests the effectiveness of remote operation of robotic arms and space vehicles using virtual reality and haptics, or simulated touch and motion. The ergonomics for controlling robotic arms and spacecraft must be tested in microgravity because principles used in Earth-based testing do not fit conditions on a spacecraft. Pilote compares existing and new technologies, including those used to pilot the Canadarm2 and Soyuz spacecraft and others recently developed for teleoperation. The investigation also compares astronaut performance on the ground and during long-duration space missions. Results could help optimize the ergonomics of facilities on the space station and future space vehicles for missions to the Moon and Mars. ESA is launching a next-generation VR headset for this investigation on the SpaceX 22 cargo resupply mission.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Myotones, an investigation from ESA, observes the biochemical properties of muscles during long-term spaceflight using specific biomarkers.

- MHU-6, an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), studies the molecular mechanism behind aging-like symptoms such as bone loss and muscle atrophy that appear rapidly in space.

- 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.

- Metals solidifying during casting or additive manufacturing form tiny crystals called dendrites that play a role in the strength of the resulting metal. DFM examines the effects of cooling and heating on the shape of these crystals in microgravity using the SUBSA facility.

- Vascular Aging, an investigation by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), analyzes changes in the arteries of crew members. Results could point to mechanisms for reducing cardiovascular risk and help identify and detect blood biomarkers that predict early signs of cardiovascular aging.

- Antimicrobial Coatings tests a coating to control microbial growth on different materials that represent high-touch surfaces on the space station. 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.

Space to Ground: Preparing for Nauka: 05/28/2021

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Plant Water Management:

Celestial Immunity:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Shining Clouds on Mars


NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) "Curiosity" patch.

May 28, 2021

The science team is studying the clouds, which arrived earlier and formed higher than expected, to learn more about the Red Planet.

Image above: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured these clouds just after sunset on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission. The image is made up of 21 individual images stitched together and color corrected so that the scene appears as it would to the human eye. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Cloudy days are rare in the thin, dry atmosphere of Mars. Clouds are typically found at the planet’s equator in the coldest time of year, when Mars is the farthest from the Sun in its oval-shaped orbit. But one full Martian year ago – two Earth years – scientists noticed clouds forming over NASA’s Curiosity rover earlier than expected.

This year, they were ready to start documenting these “early” clouds from the moment they first appeared in late January. What resulted are images of wispy puffs filled with ice crystals that scattered light from the setting Sun, some of them shimmering with color. More than just spectacular displays, such images help scientists understand how clouds form on Mars and why these recent ones are different.

Animation above: This GIF shows clouds drifting over Mount Sharp on Mars, as viewed by NASA’s Curiosity rover on March 19, 2021, the 3,063rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Each frame of the scene was stitched together from six individual images. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

In fact, Curiosity’s team has already made one new discovery: The early-arrival clouds are actually at higher altitudes than is typical. Most Martian clouds hover no more than about 37 miles (60 kilometers) in the sky and are composed of water ice. But the clouds Curiosity has imaged are at a higher altitude, where it’s very cold, indicating that they are likely made of frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice. Scientists look for subtle clues to establish a cloud’s altitude, and it will take more analysis to say for sure which of Curiosity’s recent images show water-ice clouds and which show dry-ice ones.

Animation above: Using the navigation cameras on its mast, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took these images of clouds just after sunset on March 31, 2021, the 3,075th sol, or Martian day, of the mission. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The fine, rippling structures of these clouds are easier to see with images from Curiosity’s black-and-white navigation cameras. But it’s the color images from the rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, that really shine – literally. Viewed just after sunset, their ice crystals catch the fading light, causing them to appear to glow against the darkening sky. These twilight clouds, also known as “noctilucent” (Latin for “night shining”) clouds, grow brighter as they fill with crystals, then darken after the Sun’s position in the sky drops below their altitude. This is just one useful clue scientists use to determine how high they are.

Animation above: Using the navigation cameras on its mast, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took these images of clouds just after sunset on March 28, 2021, the 3,072nd sol, or Martian day, of the mission. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Even more stunning are iridescent, or “mother of pearl” clouds. “If you see a cloud with a shimmery pastel set of colors in it, that’s because the cloud particles are all nearly identical in size,” said Mark Lemmon, an atmospheric scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “That’s usually happening just after the clouds have formed and have all grown at the same rate.”

Image above: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover spotted these iridescent, or “mother of pearl,” clouds on March 5, 2021, the 3,048th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Seen here are five frames stitched together from a much wider panorama taken by the rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

These clouds are among the more colorful things on the Red Planet, he added. If you were skygazing next to Curiosity, you could see the colors with the naked eye, although they’d be faint.

“I always marvel at the colors that show up: reds and greens and blues and purples,” Lemmon said. “It’s really cool to see something shining with lots of color on Mars.”

For more about Curiosity, visit:

For more about NASA’s Mars program, visit:

Animations (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/Andrew Good.


Hubble Captures a Captivating Spiral


ESA / NASA - Hubble Space Teleasope patch.

May 28, 2021

This image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 5037, in the constellation of Virgo. First documented by William Herschel in 1785, the galaxy lies about 150 million light-years away from Earth. Despite this distance, we can see the delicate structures of gas and dust within the galaxy in extraordinary detail. This detail is possible using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), whose combined exposures created this image.

WFC3 is a very versatile camera, as it can collect ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light, thereby providing a wealth of information about the objects it observes. WFC3 was installed on Hubble by astronauts in 2009, during Servicing Mission 4 (SM4). SM4 was Hubble’s final Space Shuttle servicing mission, expected to prolong Hubble’s life for at least another five years. Twelve years later, both Hubble and WFC3 remain very active and scientifically productive.

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, D. Rosario; Acknowledgment: L. Shatz.

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A successful launch of the Soyuz-2 rocket carrying OneWeb took place on Vostochny


ARIANESPACE / ROSCOSMOS - OneWeb Mission poster.

May 28, 2021

Soyuz-2 rocket carrying OneWeb liftoff from Vostochny (Archive image)

Today, May 28, 2021, at 20:38:39 Moscow time, the launch crews of the subsidiaries of the State Corporation Roscosmos at the Vostochny cosmodrome launched the Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket with the Fregat upper stage and 36 new spacecraft of the company OneWeb as part of mission 47. At 20:48 Moscow time, the upper stage separated from the third stage of the carrier on a suborbital trajectory.

A successful launch of the Soyuz-2 rocket took place on Vostochny

According to the received telemetry information, the launch, separation of the stages and the orbital block were carried out in the normal mode. After that, the Fregat upper stage continued to launch 36 vehicles into a target circular orbit with an altitude of 450 kilometers. Over the next 3 hours and 40 minutes, OneWeb satellites, in accordance with the flight sequence, will be sequentially separated (in groups of four satellites) from the Russian "accelerator" produced by the S.A. Lavochkin (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation).

Image above: This cut-away image shows the 36 OneWeb satellites on their dispenser system, which is mated to Soyuz’ Fregat upper stage.

This launch was the fourth fully commercial from the Vostochny cosmodrome, implemented under contracts between Glavkosmos (part of Roscosmos) with the European launch services provider Arianespace (operator of OneWeb spacecraft launches using the Soyuz-2 launch vehicle) and Starsem for the operator innovative satellite constellation OneWeb from the Russian cosmodrome. 

36 OneWeb satellites on their dispenser system orbiting before their release

The Soyuz-2 launch vehicle was developed on the basis of the Soyuz-U serial rocket. Its lead developer is the Progress Rocket and Space Center (Samara, part of Roscosmos). Upgraded propulsion systems and modern control and measurement systems are used on the Soyuz-2 launch vehicles, which significantly increases their technical and operational characteristics. Structurally "Soyuz-2", like all missiles of the "Soyuz" family, is made according to the scheme of longitudinal-transverse division of rocket stages. In combination with the Fregat upper stage, it is intended for launching spacecraft into low-earth orbits of various heights and inclinations, including geo-transfer and geostationary orbits, as well as departure trajectories.

OneWeb satellite

Liquid-propellant rocket engines RD-107A and RD-108A are used at the first and second stages of the launch vehicle, and at the third stage, the four-chamber RD-0124. With the help of RD-107 and RD-108 developments of the Scientific and Production Association "Energomash" named after academician V.P. Glushko (Khimki, part of Roskosmos) reliably ensures the implementation of the domestic program of manned flights and spacecraft launch. To date, work has been carried out to modernize the basic RD-107 engines for the first stage and RD-108 engines for the second stage - 18 modifications for various programs.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

RCC Progress:



OneWeb website:

OneWeb Satellites website:

Airbus Space website:

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


ESA's Space Environment Report 2021


ESA - European Space Agency logo.

May 28, 2021

Imagine driving down a road which has more broken cars, bikes and vans lining the street than functioning vehicles. This is the scene our satellites face in Earth orbit. In fact, since the start of the space age there has been more debris, “space junk”, in orbit than operational satellites.

So how do we clean up this mess?

The scales of the space debris problem

In 2002, a major step was taken to create some rules for our space highways. The Inter-Agency Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) published the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, which have since served as the baseline for space policy, national legislation, and technical standards.

The mitigation measures described in the guidelines set out how ‘space actors’ should design, fly, and vitally dispose of their missions in order to prevent the creation of further debris. They include ‘passivation’; ensuring no explosive fuel is left on-board at the end of a mission's life, performing ‘collision avoidance manoeuvres’ to prevent in-space crashes, and the requirement to remove spacecraft from low-Earth orbit within 25 years of the end of their lives, among others.

So how well is the international community doing? Every year, ESA publishes its Space Environment Report to give a transparent overview of global space activities, estimate the impact of these activities on the environment and determine how well international debris reduction measures are improving the long-term sustainability of spaceflight.

In summary

- Our current behaviour in space is unsustainable. If we continue as we are, the number of objects in orbit will make it hard to safely operate in space at all.

- The amount of objects in space; including their combined mass and their combined area, is steadily increasing.

- Improved surveillance technologies in the last decades mean smaller debris objects can be reliably tracked and catalogued. While we know of significant amounts of debris, we cannot necessarily trace back to the events that created them.

- The kind of objects launched to low-Earth orbit are changing: on average, satellites are getting smaller and are often launched into large constellations of thousands of satellites.

- On average over the last two decades, 12.5 non-deliberate, debris-creating events have occurred every year.

- The vast majority of rocket bodies and missions at high altitudes, in ‘geostationary orbit’, are being sustainably disposed of.

- Behaviours in low-Earth orbit are not changing fast enough: more than half of operators flying at this important altitude make no attempt to sustainably dispose of their missions.

We're launching more than ever

By every measure, the amount of debris in orbit is increasing, from the number of objects launched to their overall mass and the area they take up. A number of unidentified objects “UI” has also appeared in recent years. These objects are not necessarily new to space, but we are only recently able to observe them. Because of the time elapsed between their creation and our observation of them, it is difficult to trace their origins to a specific “fragmentation event”.

The increasing number of space objects by type

Image above: [PL = Payload (the “cargo”: usually one or many satellites that a rocket launches to space); PF = Payload Fragmentation Debris; PD = Payload Debris; PM = Payload Mission Related Object; RB = Rocket Body; RF = Rocket Fragmentation Debris; RD = Rocket Debris; RM = Rocket Mission Related Object; UI = Unidentified.]

Commercial satellites sky-rocket in low-Earth orbit

In the last two years, there has been an enormous increase in the number of commercial satellites launched to near-Earth space.

 Commercial satellites sky-rocket in low-Earth orbit

Many of these satellites are being launched into large constellations in order to provide communication services around the globe. While they bring great benefits, they pose a challenge to long term sustainability.

The changing shape of space missions

The first decades of spaceflight saw large missions launched into near-Earth orbit, with more than half weighing upwards of 1000 kg.

Less is more: the changing mass of objects launched to low-Earth orbit
Today, such objects are a tiny fraction of the missions launched to space, with the vast majority being smaller satellites weighing between 100 - 1000 kg.

Space operators nearby are not doing enough

In low-Earth orbit, some “naturally compliant” objects safely burn up in the atmosphere without intervention. However, many others needs to be manoeuvred to safety from the ground.

The gradual improvement of satellite disposal in low-Earth orbit is not enough

More than half of space actors operating the latter 'non-compliant' missions make no attempt to sustainably dispose of their missions. The numbers are gradually improving, but it is not fast enough.

Rockets are now doing their job responsibly

One of the most positive stories in debris mitigation has played out in the last 20 years, as rocket bodies – the largest objects we send to space – are now nearly all disposed of sustainably compared to less than 20% at the turn of the millennium.

Rocket bodies are being disposed of more and more responsibly

This is because more rockets now perform a “controlled reentry” into Earth’s atmosphere.

Far away, satellites are being disposed of responsibly

At high altitudes – in the geostationary orbit, mostly used for communication satellites – almost all space actors attempt to sustainably clear their missions from orbit, and the vast majority do so successfully.

At 'geostationary altitudes' almost all satellites are being disposed of responsibly

This region has become highly commercialised, meaning there are clear financial incentives to keep this important region clear of debris and safe for current and future missions.

Our past is explosive

The millions of fragments of debris in orbit today are the direct result of 'fragmentation events' in the past. Of the roughly 550 events known to date, those caused by propulsion have created the greatest amount of space debris.

Our past is explosive

Energy left undisposed of on-board a satellite or rocket body can lead to explosions. For this reason, the international space debris mitigation guidelines require that satellites are 'passivated' at the end of their mission - for example by emptying fuel tanks and disconnecting batteries.

Over the last two decades the average number of fragmentation events has remained stable at roughly 12.5 per year. Depending on which type of event is counted, this number can be as low as 0.3 events per year; if the lifetime of debris created is taken into account, and if unexplained and 'systematic' events and are excluded (where the cause of the problem was known, and could have been avoided). This suggests that many debris-creating events with a large environmental impact are still taking place partly due to re-use of a design with known issues. With appropriate action, the number of events each year could be dramatically reduced.

Our future could be smashing

This plot shows debris objects large enough to be tracked from the ground that a hypothetical mission would encounter at various altitudes, and where they came from. A large proportion of debris objects in orbit today are leftover from just a couple “fragmentation events”, namely the infamous collision between satellites Cosmos-2251 and Iridium 33 in 2009 which created a huge cloud of debris, as well as various rocket related debris and the intentional explosion of Fengyun 1C in 2007. At lower altitudes, our fictional satellite would frequently encounter smaller satellites and constellations which need to be coordinated.

Our future could be smashing

One vital solution is to ensure functional satellites are able to avoid collision with the debris that crosses their path. The process of ‘swerving’ a satellite out of the way of debris is time consuming but vital, and ESA is working on an automated system that will ensure collision avoidance remains practical as the number of satellites in orbit continues to rapidly increase.

Click on the link to read the report in full:

Time to act

Time to Act

Related articles:

Space Debris and Human Spacecraft

Russian assets record up to 10 dangerous encounters with Russian satellites per day

Related links:

Space Debris:

Inter-Agency Debris Coordination Committee (IADC):

Space Environment Report:

Safety & Security:

Image, Graphics, Video, Text, Credit: European Space Agency (ESA).


Hope Mars Mission - First scientific observations


UAESA - Hope Mars Probe Mission (مسبار الأمل) patch.

May 28, 2021

First scientific observations

The UAE Space Agency’s Hope Mars Mission successfully entered on an orbit around Mars on 9 February 2021, at 15:30 UTC. In April 2021, the Hope Probe (مسبار الأمل) transitioned into the desired science orbit and began the science phase of the mission on 14 April 2021.

Hope Mars Mission - First scientific observations

Related articles & link:

Hope Mars Mission Orbit Insertion

Mars: for the first time in history 3 different missions (and one Tesla car) reach the red planet in less than 10 days

Hope Mars Mission on way to Mars

Emirates Mars Mission:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: UAE Space Agency(UAESA)/Emirates Mars Mission (EMM)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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SpaceX Starlink 29 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

May 28, 2021

SpaceX Starlink 29 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 60 Starlink satellites (Starlink-29) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, on 26 May 2021, at 18:59 UTC (14:59 EDT).

SpaceX Starlink 29 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 26 May 2021

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1063) previously supported the Sentinel-6A mission.

Related links:


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


Biology on Station Ahead of Spacewalk, Cargo Dragon Mission


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

May 27, 2021 (Published May 28 due to Blogger outage)

Human research and space botany kept the Expedition 65 crew busy today. The International Space Station residents also stayed focused on next week’s spacewalk and packed a U.S. cargo craft.

Flight Engineers Megan McArthur and Thomas Pesquet worked throughout Thursday scanning their leg, foot, arm, neck and lower back muscles with an ultrasound device. The duo performed the scans before and after working out on the advanced resistive exercise device. The long-running Myotones experiment, ongoing since 2011, measures how space affects muscle tone, stiffness and elasticity.

Image above: Expedition 65 astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Akihiko Hoshide perform maintenance on a pair of U.S. spacesuits. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Akihiko Hoshide installed an incubator inside Japan’s Kibo laboratory module for upcoming research for the Kidney Cell-02 study. The biology study could lead to improved treatments for kidney stones and osteoporosis for humans living on and off the Earth. The three-time station visitor then joined NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Mark Vande Hei packing the U.S. Cygnus space freighter ahead of its departure at the end of June.

Vande Hei and Kimbrough also took turns during the day contributing to a space agriculture study that started in October of last year. The Plant Water Management explores hydroponics in microgravity and may also improve watering systems on Earth.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Roscosmos Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov partnered together Thursday morning pedaling on an exercise bike to evaluate their cardiovascular function. The duo then spent the rest of the day configuring Orlan spacesuits for a spacewalk scheduled on June 2 to service Russian hardware and install science experiments.

The very next day SpaceX will launch its upgraded Cargo Dragon vehicle from Kennedy Space Center to the station at 1:29 p.m. EDT. It will automatically dock on June 5 at 5 a.m. to the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter carrying about 7,300 pounds of science, supplies and hardware. Dragon is also carrying the first set of new solar arrays that will be installed on upcoming spacewalk to augment the orbital lab’s power system.

Related article:

NASA Schedules Live Coverage of Russian Spacewalk

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Advanced resistive exercise device:

Myotones experiment:

Kibo laboratory module:

Kidney Cell-02 study:

Plant Water Management:

Harmony module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Surviving an In-Flight Anomaly: What Happened on Ingenuity’s Sixth Flight


NASA - Ingenuity Mars Helicopter logo.

May 27, 2021 (Published May 28 due to Blogger outage)

On the 91st Martian day, or sol, of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter performed its sixth flight. The flight was designed to expand the flight envelope and demonstrate aerial-imaging capabilities by taking stereo images of a region of interest to the west. Ingenuity was commanded to climb to an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) before translating 492 feet (150 meters) to the southwest at a ground speed of 9 mph (4 meters per second). At that point, it was to translate 49 feet (15 meters) to the south while taking images toward the west, then fly another 164 feet (50 meters) northeast and land.

Image above: This image of Mars was taken from the height of 33 feet (10 meters) by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter during its sixth flight on May 22, 2021. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Telemetry from Flight Six shows that the first 150-meter leg of the flight went off without a hitch. But toward the end of that leg, something happened: Ingenuity began adjusting its velocity and tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern. This behavior persisted throughout the rest of the flight. Prior to landing safely, onboard sensors indicated the rotorcraft encountered roll and pitch excursions of more than 20 degrees, large control inputs, and spikes in power consumption.

Ingenuity Flight Six Navcam Image

Video above: This sequence of images – taken on May 22, 2021, by the navigation camera aboard NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter – depicts the last 29 seconds of the rotorcraft’s sixth flight. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

How Ingenuity estimates motion

While airborne, Ingenuity keeps track of its motion using an onboard inertial measurement unit (IMU). The IMU measures Ingenuity’s accelerations and rotational rates. By integrating this information over time, it is possible to estimate the helicopter’s position, velocity, and attitude (where it is, how fast it is moving, and how it is oriented in space). The onboard control system reacts to the estimated motions by adjusting control inputs rapidly (at a rate of 500 times per second).

If the navigation system relied on the IMU alone, it would not be very accurate in the long run: Errors would quickly accumulate, and the helicopter would eventually lose its way. To maintain better accuracy over time, the IMU-based estimates are nominally corrected on a regular basis, and this is where Ingenuity’s navigation camera comes in. For the majority of time airborne, the downward-looking navcams takes 30 pictures a second of the Martian surface and immediately feeds them into the helicopter’s navigation system.  Each time an image arrives, the navigation system’s algorithm performs a series of actions: First, it examines the timestamp that it receives together with the image in order to determine when the image was taken. Then, the algorithm makes a prediction about what the camera should have been seeing at that particular point in time, in terms of surface features that it can recognize from previous images taken moments before (typically due to color variations and protuberances like rocks and sand ripples). Finally, the algorithm looks at where those features actually appear in the image. The navigation algorithm uses the difference between the predicted and actual locations of these features to correct its estimates of position, velocity, and attitude.

Flight Six anomaly

Image above: This image of Ingenuity was taken on May 23, 2021 – the day after its sixth flight – by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard the Perseverance Mars rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

Approximately 54 seconds into the flight, a glitch occurred in the pipeline of images being delivered by the navigation camera. This glitch caused a single image to be lost, but more importantly, it resulted in all later navigation images being delivered with inaccurate timestamps. From this point on, each time the navigation algorithm performed a correction based on a navigation image, it was operating on the basis of incorrect information about when the image was taken. The resulting inconsistencies significantly degraded the information used to fly the helicopter, leading to estimates being constantly “corrected” to account for phantom errors. Large oscillations ensued.

Surviving the anomaly

Despite encountering this anomaly, Ingenuity was able to maintain flight and land safely on the surface within approximately 16 feet (5 meters) of the intended landing location. One reason it was able to do so is the considerable effort that has gone into ensuring that the helicopter’s flight control system has ample “stability margin”: We designed Ingenuity to tolerate significant errors without becoming unstable, including errors in timing. This built-in margin was not fully needed in Ingenuity’s previous flights, because the vehicle’s behavior was in-family with our expectations, but this margin came to the rescue in Flight Six.

Another design decision also played a role in helping Ingenuity land safely. As I’ve written about before, we stop using navigation camera images during the final phase of the descent to landing to ensure smooth and continuous estimates of the helicopter motion during this critical phase. That design decision also paid off during Flight Six: Ingenuity ignored the camera images in the final moments of flight, stopped oscillating, leveled its attitude, and touched down at the speed as designed.

Artist's view of Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Looking at the bigger picture, Flight Six ended with Ingenuity safely on the ground because a number of subsystems – the rotor system, the actuators, and the power system – responded to increased demands to keep the helicopter flying. In a very real sense, Ingenuity muscled through the situation, and while the flight uncovered a timing vulnerability that will now have to be addressed, it also confirmed the robustness of the system in multiple ways.

While we did not intentionally plan such a stressful flight, NASA now has flight data probing the outer reaches of the helicopter’s performance envelope. That data will be carefully analyzed in the time ahead, expanding our reservoir of knowledge about flying helicopters on Mars.

More About Ingenuity

JPL, which built Ingenuity, also manages the technology demonstration project for NASA. It is supported by NASA’s Science, Aeronautics, and Space Technology mission directorates. The agency’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development.

Dave Lavery is the program executive for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, MiMi Aung is the project manager, and Bob Balaram is chief engineer.

For more information about Ingenuity: and

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Written by Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

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Magnetized Threads Weave Spectacular Galactic Tapestry


NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

May 27, 2021 (Published May 28 due to Blogger outage)

Threads of superheated gas and magnetic fields are weaving a tapestry of energy at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. A new image of this new cosmic masterpiece was made using a giant mosaic of data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa.

The new panorama of the Galactic Center builds on previous surveys from Chandra and other telescopes. This latest version expands Chandra's high-energy view farther above and below the plane of the Galaxy — that is, the disk where most of the Galaxy's stars reside — than previous imaging campaigns. In the image featured in our main graphic, X-rays from Chandra are orange, green, blue and purple, showing different X-ray energies, and the radio data from MeerKAT are shown in lilac and gray. The main features in the image are shown in a labeled version.

One thread is particularly intriguing because it has X-ray and radio emission intertwined. It points perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy and is about 20 light years long but only one-hundredth that size in width.

The center of the Milky Way seen by Chandra

A new study of the X-ray and radio properties of this thread by Q. Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst suggests these features are bound together by thin strips of magnetic fields. This is similar to what was observed in a previously studied thread. (Both threads are labeled with red rectangles in the image. The newly studied one in the lower left, G0.17-0.41, is much farther away from the plane of the Galaxy.) Such strips may have formed when magnetic fields aligned in different directions, collided, and became twisted around each other in a process called magnetic reconnection. This is similar to the phenomenon that drives energetic particles away from the Sun and is responsible for the space weather that sometimes affects Earth.

A detailed study of these threads teaches us more about the Galactic space weather astronomers have witnessed throughout the region. This weather is driven by volatile phenomena such as supernova explosions, close-quartered stars blowing off hot gas, and outbursts of matter from regions near Sagittarius A*, our Galaxy's supermassive black hole.

Also labeled in the main image are X-rays reflected from dust around bright X-ray sources (green circles), Sagittarius A*, and, in purple circles and ellipses, the Arches and Quintuplet Clusters, DB00-58 and DB00-6, 1E 1743.1-28.43, the Cold Gas Cloud and Sagittarius C.

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Animation Credits: NASA/CXC

In addition to the threads, the new panorama reveals other wonders in the Galactic Center. For example, Wang's paper reports large plumes of hot gas, which extend for about 700 light years above and below the plane of the galaxy, seen here in greater detail than ever before. (They are much smaller than the Fermi Bubbles which extend for about 25,000 light years above and below the plane of the galaxy.) These plumes may represent galactic-scale outflows, analogous to the particles driven away from the Sun. The gas is likely heated by supernova explosions and many recent magnetic reconnections occurring near the center of the galaxy. Such reconnection events in the Galaxy are normally not sufficiently energetic to be detected in X-rays, except for the most energetic ones at the center of the Galaxy, where the interstellar magnetic field is much stronger.

Magnetic reconnection events may play a major role in heating the gas existing between stars (the interstellar medium). This process may also be responsible for accelerating particles to produce cosmic rays like those observed on Earth and driving turbulence in the interstellar medium that triggers new generations of star birth.

The image shows that the magnetic threads tend to occur at the outer boundaries of the large plumes of hot gas. This suggests that the gas in the plumes is driving magnetic fields that collide to create the threads.

The paper by Wang describing these results appears in the June issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and a preprint is available online. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center controls science from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.

Labeled version:

Read more from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory:

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society:

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

Image, Animation, Video, Text Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UMass/Q.D. Wang; Radio: NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT)/NASA/Lee Mohon/SciNews.


Hubble Inspects a Contorted Spiral Galaxy


NASA / ESA - Hubble Space Telescope (HST) patch.

May 27, 2021 (Published May 28 due to Blogger outage)

Hubble Captures NGC 2276

This spectacular image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the trailing arms of NGC 2276, a spiral galaxy 120 million light-years away in the constellation of Cepheus. At first glance, the delicate tracery of bright spiral arms and dark dust lanes resembles countless other spiral galaxies. A closer look reveals a strangely lopsided galaxy shaped by gravitational interaction and intense star formation.

This striking image showcases the unusually contorted appearance of NGC 2276, an appearance caused by two different astrophysical interactions — one with the superheated gas pervading galaxy clusters, and one with a nearby galactic neighbour.

Wide-Field View of NGC 2276

The interaction of NGC 2276 with the intracluster medium — the superheated gas lying between the galaxies in galaxy clusters — has ignited a burst of star formation along one edge of the galaxy. This wave of star formation is visible as the bright, blue-tinged glow of newly formed massive stars towards the left side of this image, and gives the galaxy a strangely lopsided appearance. NGC 2276’s recent burst of star formation is also related to the appearance of more exotic inhabitants — black holes and neutron stars in binary systems.

Zoom Into NGC 2276

On the other side of the galaxy from this burst of new stars, the gravitational attraction of a smaller companion is pulling the outer edges of NGC 2276 out of shape. This interaction with the small lens-shaped galaxy NGC 2300 has distorted the outermost spiral arms of NGC 2276, giving the false impression that the larger galaxy is orientated face-on to Earth [1]. NGC 2276 and its disruptive companion NGC 2300 can both be seen in the accompanying image, which shows a wider view of the interacting galaxies.

Pan of NGC 2276

NGC 2276 is by no means the only galaxy with a strange appearance. The Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies — a catalogue of unusual galaxies published in 1966 — contains a menagerie of weird and wonderful galaxies, including spectacular galaxy mergers, ring-shaped galaxies, and other galactic oddities. As befits an unusually contorted galaxy, NGC 2276 has the distinction of being listed in the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies twice — once for its lopsided spiral arms and once for its interaction with its smaller neighbour NGC 2300.


[1] The actual alignment of NGC 2276 can be inferred from the position of its brightly glowing galactic core, which is offset from the distorted spiral arms.

More information:

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

This image was taken as part of the HST observation program #15615 (PI: P. Sell), a collaboration between the University of Florida (USA), the University of Crete/FORTH (Greece), INAF-Brera (Italy), and the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (USA).


Images of Hubble:

Hubblesite release:


Image, Text Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, P. Sell/Acknowledgement: L. Shatz/Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona/Videos: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Digitized Sky Survey 2, A. Block/Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona, E. Slawik, N. Risinger ( Zoom: tonelabs ( & NASA, P. Sell/Acknowledgment: L. Shatz/Music: Stellardrone – The Edge of Forever.

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