samedi 10 juillet 2021

Space Shuttle’s 40th Anniversary


NASA - STS-1 Mission patch.

July 10, 2021

On April 12, 1981, space shuttle Columbia launched for the first time with NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen aboard.
With 10 years of design and development, the shuttle was the first of its kind — a reusable vehicle for travel to low-Earth orbit.

Space Shuttle’s 40th Anniversary - 'Something Just Short of a Miracle'

The STS-1 Mission would demonstrate safe launch into orbit and safe return of the orbiter and crew and verify the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle - orbiter, solid rocket boosters and external tank. Commander John Young called the flight “something just short of a miracle.”
The success of the STS-1 Mission was the beginning of an era and over the course of three decades, the space shuttle program redefined what we know about living in a microgravity environment.

Retired Astronaut Bob Crippen on the 40th Anniversary of STS-1 and the Beginning of the Shuttle Program

The Space Shuttle Columbia began a new era of human spaceflight when STS-1 lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 12, 1981, for the inaugural flight of the nation’s Space Shuttle Program. To mark the occasion, NASA is providing historical b-roll footage of the launch and landing as well as recently recorded soundbites from retired astronaut Bob Crippen.

Aboard the spacecraft were commander John W. Young and pilot Crippen. The flight was a test mission and the first time a shuttle was flown to space. Columbia lifted off at 7 a.m. from Launch Pad 39A and was NASA's first crewed mission since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. The launch occurred 20 years to the day after the first human launch when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth in the Vostok 1 capsule on April 12, 1961. Columbia concluded STS-1 on April 14, 1981, with a touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a 54-hour mission.

Image above: These two astronauts are the prime crewmen for the first flight in the Space Transportation System (STS-1) program. Astronauts John W. Young, left, commander, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, manned the space shuttle orbiter 102 Columbia for the first orbital flight test on April 12, 1981. Image Credit: NASA.

The mission objective was to demonstrate the safe launch into orbit and safe return of the orbiter and crew. The mission also verified the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle, orbiter, solid rocket boosters, and external tank. Payloads included the Developmental Flight Instrumentation (DFI) and the Aerodynamic Coefficient Identifications Package (ACIP) pallet containing equipment for recording temperatures, pressures, and acceleration levels at various points on the spacecraft.

Between the first launch in 1981 and the final landing on July 21, 2011, NASA's space shuttle fleet – Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour – flew 135 missions, helped construct the International Space Station, and inspired generations.

Image above: The Space Shuttle Columbia began a new era of human spaceflight when STS-1 lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 12, 1981. Image Credit: NASA.

As humanity's first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle pushed the bounds of discovery ever farther, requiring not only advanced technologies but the tremendous effort of a vast workforce.

Crippen spoke via computer for a recent episode of NASA’s Rocket Ranch podcast. During the interview, Crippen discusses his experience as STS-1 pilot, the spacecraft’s historic launch and landing, the discovery of missing heat tiles during the mission, and the shuttle program legacy. Soundbites from that interview, along with historical photos and b-roll footage, can be found on NASA image site using the links below.

Add-on for Flight Simulator X (FSX):

Space Shuttle Columbia Tribute for FSX

Image above: Space Shuttle Columbia Tribute for FSX made by Aerospace / Roland Berga.
Available for free on

STS-1 footage:

Bob Crippen Interview:

Related links:

Space Shuttle:

Kennedy Space Center (KSC):

Images (mentioned), Videos, Text, Credits: NASA/Danielle Sempsrott/KSC/Patti Bielling/Laura Aguiar/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Hubble Glimpses a Galactic Duo


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

July 10, 2021

Two enormous galaxies capture your attention in this spectacular image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope using the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The galaxy on the left is a lenticular galaxy, named 2MASX J03193743+4137580. The side-on spiral galaxy on the right is more simply named UGC 2665. Both galaxies lie approximately 350 million light-years from Earth, and they both form part of the huge Perseus galaxy cluster.

Perseus is an important figure in Greek mythology, renowned for slaying Medusa the Gorgon – who is herself famous for the unhappy reason that she was cursed to have living snakes for hair. Given Perseus’s impressive credentials, it seems appropriate that the galaxy cluster is one of the biggest objects in the known universe, consisting of thousands of galaxies, only a few of which are visible in this image. The wonderful detail in the image is thanks to the WFC3’s powerful resolution and sensitivity to both visible and near-infrared light, the wavelengths captured in this image.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, W. Harris; Acknowledgment: L. Shatz.


NASA-Supported Plant Experiment Flies to Suborbital Space with Virgin Galactic


Virgin Galactic logo.

July 10, 2021

On Sunday, July 11, Virgin Galactic will attempt its first fully crewed spaceflight and the crew will have NASA-supported technology with them.

Image above: Three Kennedy Space Center Fixation Tubes (KFTs), like the one shown here, will contain Arabidopsis thaliana plants during the crewed Unity 22 flight to space. Virgin Galactic’s Sirisha Bandla will activate the tubes to release a preservative that will capture the plants’ biochemistry at specific points during transitions into and out of microgravity, and co-investigators from the University of Florida will conduct gene expression analyses on the plants in the weeks following the flight. Image Credit: University of Florida.

Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations at Virgin Galactic, will operate the experiment on the “Unity 22” flight on behalf of co-investigators Dr. Robert Ferl and Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Bandla will activate three plant-filled tubes to release a preservative at critical data-collection stages during the flight: at 1 g before the rocket boost, just before entering microgravity, and after the conclusion of microgravity.

SpaceShipTwo. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

While the university researchers have flown similar experiments supported by NASA's Flight Opportunities program on suborbital flights, data collected during the Unity 22 flight will provide a first look at human-tended payloads on SpaceShipTwo.

Related links:

NASA's Flight Opportunities:

NASA Headquarters:

Virgin Galactic:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laura Newton.


The mystery of what causes Jupiter’s X-ray auroras is solved


ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

July 10, 2021

The 40-year-old mystery of what causes Jupiter’s X-ray auroras has been solved. For the first time, astronomers have seen the entire mechanism at work – and it could be a process occurring in many other parts of the Universe too.

Planetary astronomers have studied Jupiter’s spectacular X-ray auroral emission for decades. The X-ray ‘colours’ of these auroras show that they are triggered by electrically charged particles called ions crashing into Jupiter’s atmosphere. But astronomers had no idea how the ions were able to get to the atmosphere in the first place.

Jupiter’s mysterious X-ray auroras explained

Now, for the first time, they have seen the ions ‘surfing’ electromagnetic waves in Jupiter’s magnetic field, down into the atmosphere.

The vital clues came from a new analysis of data from ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope and NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Situated in Earth’s orbit, XMM-Newton makes remote observations of Jupiter at X-ray wavelengths. Juno on the other hand circles the giant planet itself, taking in-situ readings from inside Jupiter’s magnetic field. But the question was: what should the team look for?

The clue came when Zhonghua Yao, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, and lead author of the new study, realised that something didn’t make sense about Jupiter’s X-ray auroras.

Jupiter’s mysterious X-ray auroras explained

On Earth, auroras are visible only in a belt surrounding the magnetic poles, between 65 and 80 degrees latitude. Beyond 80 degrees, auroral emission disappears because the magnetic field lines here leave Earth and connect to the magnetic field in the solar wind, which is the constant flux of electrically charged particles ejected by the Sun. These are called open field lines and in the traditional picture, Jupiter and Saturn’s high-latitude polar regions are not expected to emit substantial auroras.

However, Jupiter’s X-ray auroras are inconsistent with this picture. They exist poleward of the main auroral belt, pulsate regularly, and can sometimes be different at the north pole from the south pole. These are typical features of a ‘closed’ magnetic field, where the magnetic field line exits the planet at one pole and reconnects with the planet at the other.

Using computer simulations, Zhonghua and colleagues previously found that the pulsating X-ray auroras could be linked to closed magnetic fields that are generated inside Jupiter and then stretch out millions of kilometres into space before turning back.

On 16 and 17 July 2017, XMM-Newton observed Jupiter continuously for 26 hours and saw X-ray auroras pulsating every 27 minutes. Simultaneously, Juno had been travelling between 62 and 68 Jupiter radii above the planet’s pre-dawn areas. This was exactly the area that the team’s simulations suggested were important for triggering the pulsations. So, the team searched the Juno data for any magnetic processes that were occurring at the same rate.

They found that the pulsating X-ray auroras are caused by fluctuations of Jupiter’s magnetic field. As the planet rotates, it drags around its magnetic field. The magnetic field is struck directly by the particles of the solar wind and compressed. These compressions heat particles that are trapped in Jupiter’s magnetic field. This triggers a phenomenon called electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves, in which the particles are directed along the field lines.

The particles themselves are electrically charged atoms called ions. Guided by the field, the ions ‘surf’ the EMIC wave across millions of kilometres of space, eventually slamming into the planet’s atmosphere and triggering the X-ray aurora.

“What we see in the Juno data is this beautiful chain of events. We see the compression happen, we see the EMIC wave triggered, we see the ions, and then we see a pulse of ions traveling along the field line. And then a few minutes later, XMM sees a burst of X-rays,” says William Dunn, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, who co-led the research.

Now that the process responsible for Jupiter’s X-ray auroras has been identified for the first time, it opens up a wealth of possibilities for where it could be studied next. For example, at Jupiter, the magnetic field is filled with sulphur and oxygen ions that are spewed out by the volcanoes on the moon Io. At Saturn, the moon Enceladus jets water into space, filling Saturn’s magnetic field with water ions.

“This is a fundamental process that’s applicable to Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and probably exoplanets as well,” says Zhonghua.

It may be more widely applicable even than that because now that the process has been revealed, there is a striking similarity to the ion auroras that happen here on Earth. In the case of Earth, the ion responsible is a proton, which comes from a hydrogen atom, and the process is not energetic enough to create X-rays. Yet, the basic process is that same. So, Jupiter’s X-ray aurora is fundamentally an ion aurora, although at much higher energy than the proton aurora on Earth.

“It could be that EMIC waves play an important role in transferring energy from one place to another across the cosmos,” says William.

Exploring Jupiter

As for Jupiter itself, the study of its auroras will continue with ESA’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (Juice). Set to arrive by 2029, Juice will study the planet’s atmosphere, magnetosphere, and the effect that Jupiter’s four largest moons have on the auroras.

Notes for editors:

‘Revealing the source of Jupiter’s x-ray auroral flares’ by Z.H. Yao and W.R. Dunn et al. (2021) is published in Science Advances. DOI:

Related links:

ESA’s XMM-Newton:

ESA’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (Juice):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Jupiter: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols (University of Leicester); Ganymede: NASA/JPL; Io: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona; Callisto and Europa: NASA/JPL/DLR/Yao/Dunn/ESA/NASA.

Best regards,

A strong solar flare turned off radio communications on the Atlantic… and more to come


NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

July 10, 2021

The strength of a solar flare recorded on July 3 led to an interruption in short-wave radio communication over the Atlantic Ocean. The flare was the first to be identified as an X-ray pulse in the new solar cycle 25, affecting the upper end of the Earth's atmosphere.

X flares are the strongest type of solar flare. They are generally responsible for the deepest radio blackouts and the most intense geomagnetic storms. According to a NASA statement, at the time of registering the eruption the solar material reached a temperature of approximately 5 million and a half degrees Celsius.

Image above provided by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly / channel 94 Angstrom telescope, showing solar material at approximately 5.5 million degrees Celsius on July 3, during the eruption that led to solar flare X. Image Credits: NASA/SDO.

Generally speaking, a solar flare is an explosion on the Sun that occurs when stored energy is suddenly released. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to X-rays and gamma rays.

Such an extreme release of energy can be felt here on Earth, even though the Sun is more than 150 million kilometers away from our planet. To get an idea of the magnitude of the energy released, it can be taken into account that a solar flare X is equivalent to millions of 100 megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time.

Flares and solar cycles

Scientists have established a classification of solar flares according to the intensity measured in X-rays, in a wavelength range of 1 to 8 Angstroms. Within the three existing classifications, solar X flares are the strongest: they can trigger radio blackouts across the planet and long-lasting radiation storms.

The intensity of solar flares is related to solar cycles, since some have a greater quantity and strength in the eruptions. Likewise, within solar cycles there are periods of greater or lesser activity.

X-rays and ultraviolet radiation from the solar flare ionized the upper part of Earth's atmosphere, producing a short-wave radio blackout over the South Atlantic last year (2020), as can be seen in the following map (Credits: NASA/SDO):

To understand these cycles, it must be considered that the Sun, a huge sphere of hot gas with an electric charge, has an intense magnetic field generated by the movement of said gas. The solar magnetic field goes through different changes, which are evidenced every 11 years with the advent of a new solar cycle.

Solar cycles affect the activity on the surface of the Sun: these variations are observed in the form of sunspots. During the so-called solar minimum, which occurs at the beginning of each cycle, the sun king has less activity. But about half of each cycle, solar maximum is recorded, a period in which activity increases and a greater number of sunspots are seen.

What awaits us during solar cycle 25?

The quantity and magnitude of sunspots are some of the factors that determine the irruption of phenomena such as the last flare X. In a conventional solar cycle, around 150 flares can be expected to reach the strength of the flare recorded on July 3 . However, around 1,500 less intense flares can occur during the same period.

Sequence in x-rays of the solar flare of category M4.4. Animation Credits NASA/SDO

We are currently initiating solar cycle 25, but during the previous cycle the Sun generated 49 solar X flares, according to an article published by CNN. Estimates around solar cycle 25 indicate that a similar number of X flares can be expected as during the previous cycle.

Therefore, the Earth will have to prepare to withstand several dozen of these extreme events in the coming years, which can put global communications in jeopardy. Around the year 2025 we will reach the solar maximum of this cycle, therefore it is possible that a greater number of intense events will be recorded.

Related links:

NASA release:

Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO): and

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center at

Images, (mentioned), Anomation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/SDO/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 9 juillet 2021

CASC - Long March-6 launches Zhongzi-02 satellites


CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

July 9, 2021

Long March-6 launches Zhongzi-02 satellites

A Long March-6 launch vehicle launched the Zhongzi-02 satellite group from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, Shanxi Province, China, on 9 July 2021, at 11:59 UTC (19:59 local time).

Long March-6 launches Zhongzi-02 satellites

The satellites are part of the Zhongzi (钟子号), also known as Ningxia(宁夏), constellation of remote-sensing satellites developed by the Ningxia Jingui Information Technology Co., Ltd.

Zhongzi-02 satellites

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

Images, Video, Text, Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)/SciNews/Günter Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of July 5, 2021


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

Jul 9, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of July 5 that included studies of the effect of microgravity on human gripping and movement, protein crystal growth, and using capillary forces to water plants in space.

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:

Hold tight

Image above: JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide conducts a session for GRIP, which studies how spaceflight affects the grip force and movements that crew members use to manipulate objects. Image Credit: NASA.

The way humans grip and manipulate an object evolved in the presence of gravity, and we control these activities using various cues, including an object’s weight and concepts such as “up” and “down.” In microgravity, these forces and cues change. GRIP, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), studies how spaceflight affects the grip force and movements that crew members use to manipulate objects. Results could identify potential hazards astronauts may face when they move between environments with different levels of gravity, such as landing on Mars after a lengthy voyage in space. The study also could contribute to the design and control of touch-based interfaces such as remote controls used on future exploration of deep space or planets. Crew members conducted sessions for the investigation during the week.

Growing better protein crystals

Image above: JAXA Moderate Temp PCG hardware in the space station’s KIBO laboratory. This investigation grows high-quality protein crystals in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

Moderate Temp PCG, an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), grows high quality protein crystals at 20°C in microgravity and returns them to Earth for detailed analysis of the protein structures. Microgravity eliminates the phenomena of convection, which can deliver impurities to the crystal surface, thus enabling growth of higher-quality crystals. Detailed information on protein structures could contribute to the design of new drugs and the study of enzyme reactions to help treat diseases on Earth. Crystals have been growing since the experiment began in mid-June. During the week, crew members removed samples from cold stowage and packed them for return to the ground.

Watering the plants

Image above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei works on the Plant Water Management investigation, a demonstration of delivering water and nutrients to plant roots using capillary forces. Image Credit: NASA.

Providing plant roots with enough water and air to sustain them from germination through harvest is one of the challenges of growing plants in space. Plant Water Management demonstrates a hydroponic method that uses capillary fluidics to deliver water to single and multiple plant production chambers. Capillary forces, the interactions of a liquid with a solid surface that draw fluids up a narrow tube, continue to act in microgravity. Results could advance the ability to grow plants for food on future long-duration missions. This investigation also advances capillary-based liquid management techniques, which have many potential applications. In addition, improved understanding of water and nutrient use by plants in microgravity may help improve plant growth techniques on Earth, supporting better nutrition in water-sparse locations and improving farming methods worldwide. Crew members adjusted pump flow rates for the experiment and collected video recordings during the week.

Space to Ground: Healthy Eating: 07/09/2021

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- SoundSee tests monitoring the space station’s acoustic environment to detect anomalies in the sounds made by equipment such as life support infrastructure and exercise machines. This acoustic technique could provide autonomous monitoring of the functioning of such equipment.

- Functional Immune analyzes blood and saliva samples to determine the changes taking place in the immune systems of crew members during flight. Results could provide new insight into the possible health risks of long-duration space travel, including future missions to the Moon and Mars.

- InSPACE-4 studies using magnetic fields to assemble tiny structures from colloids, or particles suspended in a liquid. Results could provide insight into how to harness nanoparticles to fabricate and manufacture new materials.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

Related links:


Moderate Temp PCG:

Plant Water Management:

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, Northrop Grumman Finalize Moon Outpost Living Quarters Contract


NASA & ESA & CSA-ASC & JAXA - Gateway Lunar Outpost patch.

Jul 9, 2021

NASA and Northrop Grumman of Dulles, Virginia, have finalized a contract to develop the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) for Gateway, which will be a critical way station and outpost in orbit around the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

Image above: Illustration showing a close-up of the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), one of the elements of Gateway. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA and its commercial and international partners are building Gateway to support science investigations and enable surface landings at the Moon, which will help prepare astronauts for future missions to Mars.

The firm, fixed-price contract is valued at $935 million. Under the contract, Northrop Grumman will be responsible for attaching and testing the integrated HALO with the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), being built by Maxar Technologies. Northrop Grumman will also lead the integrated PPE and HALO spacecraft turnover and launch preparation with SpaceX, and support activation and checkout of HALO during the flight to lunar orbit. NASA is targeting November 2024 to launch the integrated spacecraft on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

“NASA is building the infrastructure to expand human exploration further out into the solar system than ever before, including Gateway, the lunar space station that will help us make inspirational scientific discoveries at and around the Moon. Just as importantly, these investments will help NASA carry out the United States’ horizon goal: to further develop and test the technology and science needed for a human trip to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The HALO is a critical component of Gateway, and this exciting announcement today brings us one step closer to landing American boots on both the Moon and Mars.”

HALO is where astronauts will live and conduct research while visiting the Gateway. The pressurized living quarters will provide command and control systems for the lunar outpost, and docking ports for visiting spacecraft, such as NASA’s Orion spacecraft, lunar landers, and logistics resupply craft. The HALO module will serve as the backbone for command and control and power distribution across Gateway and will perform other core functions, including hosting science investigations via internal and external payload accommodations and communicating with lunar surface expeditions. HALO also will enable the aggregation of additional habitable elements to expand Gateway capabilities. Immediately after launch, the Heliophysics Environmental and Radiation Measurement Experiment Suite, built by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will begin conducting research outside of the integrated spacecraft.

“This is a major step on the path for Artemis, not just for NASA, but for the combined team, including our commercial and international partners,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations. “Gateway will provide unprecedented access to the Moon and symbolizes the expansion of our partnerships into deep space.”

The integrated PPE and HALO will be the Gateway’s foundation, enabling humanity’s first permanent outpost in orbit around the Moon. Located tens of thousands of miles from the lunar surface at its farthest point and within easy range of lunar landers at its closest, the Gateway will be in a near-rectilinear halo orbit. This orbit will allow NASA and its international and commercial partners to conduct unprecedented deep space science and technology investigations, and conduct sustainable lunar exploration.

“This action puts in place the final contract component of a diverse, multi-faceted team –distributed across the country and within some international partner facilities – working together to create and implement the initial Gateway capability. We are excited to work with Northrop Grumman and all the partners to deliver the cornerstone of sustainable human exploration in cis-lunar space,” said Dr. Jon Olansen, NASA’s manager of the HALO project.

HALO leverages contributions from the Gateway international partners for robust capabilities. Batteries provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will power HALO until PPE solar arrays can be deployed and during eclipse periods. Robotic interfaces provided by the Canadian Space Agency will host payloads and provide base points for Canadarm3 robotic operations. ESA (European Space Agency) will provide a lunar communications system to enable high-data-rate communications between the lunar surface and Gateway. With three docking ports, HALO will be the hub for international Gateway expansion in the future, including an international habitat that ESA and JAXA will provide, and an ESA-provided refueling module. The docking ports also will host a human landing system for lunar surface expeditions and logistics resupply spacecraft. As the Gateway hub, HALO will provide power, data, airflow to each of these ports, as well as thermal conditioning to assist future elements and spacecraft in controlling the temperature of their equipment and habitable environment.

 Gateway Lunar Orbital Station. Animation Credit: ESA

“Leveraging our success with our Cygnus spacecraft, Northrop Grumman is perfectly positioned to deliver the HALO module, a critical piece for NASA’s Artemis program and our journey to the Moon and beyond,” said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager for tactical space systems at Northrop Grumman. “After recently completing a successful preliminary design review, we now look forward to completing the detailed design efforts and eventually bringing HALO to life in our Gilbert, Arizona, facility while also providing integration services for the final, combined vehicle before launch.”

HALO’s design is based on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, which has completed 15 resupply missions to the International Space Station to date. A previous contract for HALO, awarded in June 2020, funded work through preliminary design review, one of a series of checkpoints for the complex engineering project. The review process for the module, completed in May, assessed all of the spacecraft’s design to ensure the overall system is safe and reliable for flight and meets NASA’s mission requirements.

Explore more details about NASA’s Gateway program at:

Artemis Program:

Power and Propulsion Element (PPE):

Orion spacecraft:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text,Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Monica Witt/Kathryn Hambleton/JPL/Isidro Reyna.

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Seeing Some Cosmic X-Ray Emitters Might Be a Matter of Perspective


NASA - NuSTAR Mission patch.

Jul 9, 2021

Known as ultraluminous X-ray sources, the emitters are easy to spot when viewed straight on, but they might be hidden from view if they point even slightly away from Earth.

Image above: This illustration shows SS 433, a black hole or neutron star, as it pulls material away from its companion star. The stellar material forms a disk around SS 433, and some of the material is ejected into space in the form of two thin jets (pink) traveling in opposite directions away from SS 433. Image Credits: DESY/Science Communication Lab.

It’s hard to miss a flashlight beam pointed straight at you. But that beam viewed from the side appears significantly dimmer. The same holds true for some cosmic objects: Like a flashlight, they radiate primarily in one direction, and they look dramatically different depending on whether the beam points away from Earth (and nearby space telescopes) or straight at it.   

New data from NASA’s NuSTAR space observatory indicates that this phenomenon holds true for some of the most prominent X-ray emitters in the local universe: ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs. Most cosmic objects, including stars, radiate little X-ray light, particularly in the high-energy range seen by NuSTAR. ULXs, by contrast, are like X-ray lighthouses cutting through the darkness. To be considered a ULX, a source must have an X-ray luminosity that is about a million times brighter than the total light output of the Sun (at all wavelengths). ULXs are so bright, they can be seen millions of light-years away, in other galaxies.  

The new study shows that the object known as SS 433, located in the Milky Way galaxy and only about 20,000 light-years from Earth, is a ULX, even though it appears to be about 1,000 times dimmer than the minimum threshold to be considered one.

This faintness is a trick of perspective, according to the study: The high-energy X-rays from SS 433 are initially confined within two cones of gas extending outward from opposite sides of the central object. These cones are similar to a mirrored bowl that surrounds a flashlight bulb: They corral the X-ray light from SS 433 into a narrow beam, until it escapes and is detected by NuSTAR. But because the cones are not pointing directly at Earth, NuSTAR can’t see the object’s full brightness.

Animation above: This illustration shows SS 433, a black hole or neutron star, as it pulls material away from its companion star. The stellar material forms a disk around SS 433, and some of the material is ejected into space in the form of two thin jets (pink) traveling in opposite directions away from SS 433. Animation Credits: DESY/Science Communication Lab.

“We’ve long suspected that some ULXs emit light in narrow columns, rather than in every direction like a bare lightbulb,” said Matt Middleton, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and the study’s lead author. “In our study, we confirm this hypothesis by showing that SS 433 would qualify as a ULX to a face-on observer.”

If a ULX relatively close to Earth can hide its true brightness because of how it is oriented, then there are likely more ULXs – particularly in other galaxies – disguised in a similar way. That means the total ULX population should be far larger than scientists currently observe.

Cone of Darkness

About 500 ULXs have been found in other galaxies, and their distance from Earth means it’s often nearly impossible to tell what type of object generates the X-ray emission. The X-rays likely come from a large amount of gas being heated to extreme temperatures as it is pulled in by the gravity of a very dense object. That object could be either a neutron star (the remains of a collapsed star) or a small black hole, one that is no more than about 30 times the mass of our Sun. The gas forms a disk around the object, like water circling a drain. Friction in the disk drives up the temperature, causing it to radiate, sometimes growing so hot that the system erupts with X-rays. The faster the material falls onto the central object, the brighter the X-rays.

Astronomers suspect that the object at the heart of SS 433 is a black hole about 10 times the mass of our Sun. What’s known for sure is that it is cannibalizing a large nearby star, its gravity siphoning away material at a rapid rate: In a single year SS 433 steals the equivalent of about 30 times the mass of Earth from its neighbor, which makes it the greediest black hole or neutron star known in our galaxy.

“It’s been known for a long time that this thing is eating at a phenomenal rate,” said Middleton. “This is what sets ULXs apart from other objects, and it’s likely the root cause of the copious amounts of X-rays we see from them.”

The object in SS 433 has eyes bigger than its stomach: It’s stealing more material than it can consume. Some of the excess material gets blown off the disk and forms two hemispheres on opposite sides of the disk. Within each one is a cone-shaped void that opens up into space. These are the cones that corral the high-energy X-ray light into a beam. Anyone looking straight down one of the cones would see an obvious ULX. Though composed only of gas, the cones are so thick and massive that they act like lead paneling in an X-ray screening room and block X-rays from passing through them out to the side.

Image above: The cosmic object SS 433 contains a bright source of X-ray light surrounded by two hemispheres of hot gas. The gas corrals the light into beams pointing in opposite directions away from the source. SS 433 tilts periodically, causing one X-ray beam to point toward Earth. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Scientists have suspected that some ULXs might be hidden from view for this reason. SS 433 provided a unique chance to test this idea because, like a top, it wobbles on its axis – a process astronomers call precession.

Most of the time, both of SS 433’s cones point well away from Earth. But because of the way SS 433 precesses, one cone periodically tilts slightly toward Earth, so scientists can see a little bit of the X-ray light coming out of the top of the cone. In the new study, the scientists looked at how the X-rays seen by NuSTAR change as SS 433 moves. They show that if the cone continued to tilt toward Earth so that scientists could peer straight down it, they would see enough X-ray light to officially call SS 433 a ULX.

Black holes that feed at extreme rates have shaped the history of our universe. Supermassive black holes, which are millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun, can profoundly affect their host galaxy when they feed. Early in the universe’s history, some of these massive black holes may have fed as fast as SS 433, releasing huge amounts of radiation that reshaped local environments. Outflows (like the cones in SS 433) redistributed matter that could eventually form stars and other objects.

But because these quickly consuming behemoths reside in incredibly distant galaxies (the one at the heart of the Milky Way isn’t currently eating much), they remain difficult to study. With SS 433, scientists have found a miniature example of this process, much closer to home and much easier to study, and NuSTAR has provided new insights into the activity occurring there.

Image above: Illustration of the NuSTAR spacecraft, which has a 30-foot (10 meter) mast that separate the optics modules (right) from the detectors in the focal plane (left). This separation is necessary for the method used to detect X-rays. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“When we launched NuSTAR, I don’t think anyone expected that ULXs would be such a rich area of research for us,” said Fiona Harrison, principal investigator for NuSTAR and a professor of physics at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “But NuSTAR is unique in that it can see almost the whole range of X-ray wavelengths emitted by these objects, and that gives us insight into the extreme processes that must be driving them.”

More About the Mission

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia (now part of Northrop Grumman). NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at the University of California, Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive.

For more information about NuSTAR, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Naomi Hartono/JPL/Calla Cofield.


NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds Patches of Rock Record Erased, Revealing Clues


NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.

Jul 9, 2021

Today, Mars is a planet of extremes – it's bitterly cold, has high radiation, and is bone-dry. But billions of years ago, Mars was home to lake systems that could have sustained microbial life. As the planet's climate changed, one such lake – in Mars' Gale Crater – slowly dried out. Scientists have new evidence that super salty water, or brines, seeped deep through the cracks, between grains of soil in the parched lake bottom and altered the clay mineral-rich layers beneath.

Image above: A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity rover taken on June 15, 2018, during the 2,082nd Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars. A Martian dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility at the rover's location in Gale Crater. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The findings published in the July 9 edition of the journal Science and led by the team in charge of the Chemistry and Mineralogy, or CheMin, instrument – aboard NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover – help add to the understanding of where the rock record preserved or destroyed evidence of Mars' past and possible signs of ancient life.

"We used to think that once these layers of clay minerals formed at the bottom of the lake in Gale Crater, they stayed that way, preserving the moment in time they formed for billions of years," said Tom Bristow, CheMin principal investigator and lead author of the paper at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. "But later brines broke down these clay minerals in some places – essentially re-setting the rock record."

Mars: It Goes On Your Permanent Record

Mars has a treasure trove of incredibly ancient rocks and minerals compared with Earth. And with Gale Crater's undisturbed layers of rocks, scientists knew it would be an excellent site to search for evidence of the planet's history, and possibly life.

Image above: The network of cracks in this Martian rock slab called "Old Soaker" may have formed from the drying of a mud layer more than three billion years ago. The view spans about three feet (90 centimeters) left-to-right and combines three images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, camera on the arm of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Using CheMin, scientists compared samples taken from two areas about a quarter-mile apart from a layer of mudstone deposited billions of years ago at the bottom of the lake at Gale Crater. Surprisingly, in one area, about half the clay minerals they expected to find were missing. Instead, they found mudstones rich with iron oxides – minerals that give Mars its characteristic rusty red color.

Scientists knew the mudstones sampled were about the same age and started out the same – loaded with clays – in both areas studied. So why then, as Curiosity explored the sedimentary clay deposits along Gale Crater did patches of clay minerals – and the evidence they preserve – "disappear"?

Clays Hold Clues

Minerals are like a time capsule; they provide a record of what the environment was like at the time they formed. Clay minerals have water in their structure and are evidence that the soils and rocks that contain them came into contact with water at some point.

"Since the minerals we find on Mars also form in some locations on Earth, we can use what we know about how they form on Earth to tell us about how salty or acidic the waters on ancient Mars were," said Liz Rampe, CheMin deputy principal investigator and co-author at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Previous work revealed that, while Gale Crater's lakes were present and even after they dried out, groundwater moved below the surface, dissolving and transporting chemicals. After they were deposited and buried, some mudstone pockets experienced different conditions and processes due to interactions with these waters that changed the mineralogy. This process, known as "diagenesis," often complicates or erases the soil's previous history and writes a new one.

Diagenesis creates an underground environment that can support microbial life. In fact, some very unique habitats on Earth – in which microbes thrive – are known as "deep biospheres."

Image above: This evenly layered rock imaged in 2014 by the Mastcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a pattern typical of a lake-floor sedimentary deposit near where flowing water entered a lake. Shallow and deep parts of an ancient Martian lake left different clues in mudstone formed from lakebed deposits. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

"These are excellent places to look for evidence of ancient life and gauge habitability," said John Grotzinger, CheMin co-investigator and co-author at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "Even though diagenesis may erase the signs of life in the original lake, it creates the chemical gradients necessary to support subsurface life, so we are really excited to have discovered this."

By comparing the details of minerals from both samples, the team concluded that briny water filtering down through overlying sediment layers was responsible for the changes. Unlike the relatively freshwater lake present when the mudstones formed, the salty water is suspected to have come from later lakes that existed within an overall drier environment. Scientists believe these results offer further evidence of the impacts of Mars's climate change billions of years ago. They also provide more detailed information that is then used to guide the Curiosity rover’s investigations into the history of the Red Planet. This information also will be utilized by NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover team as they evaluate and select rock samples for eventual return to Earth.

"We've learned something very important: there are some parts of the Martian rock record that aren't so good at preserving evidence of the planet's past and possible life," said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity project scientist and co-author at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "The fortunate thing is we find both close together in Gale Crater, and can use mineralogy to tell which is which."

Image above: This Martian landscape includes the rocky landmark nicknamed "Knockfarril Hill" at center right and the edge of Vera Rubin Ridge, which runs along the top of the scene. The image was made from a mosaic captured by the Mast Camera aboard NASA's Curiosity Mars rover as it explored the "clay-bearing unit" on Feb. 3, 2019, during the 2,309th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Curiosity is in the initial phase of investigating the transition to a "sulfate-bearing unit," or rocks thought to have formed while Mars's climate dried out.

The mission is managed by JPL, a division of Caltech, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Colleagues in NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division at Johnson and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland also are authors on the paper, as well as other institutions working on Curiosity.

Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rachel Hoover.

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NASA’s AIRS Tracks Record-Breaking Heat Wave in Pacific Northwest


NASA - AIRS Mission patch.

Jul 09, 2021

The science instrument mapped the dome of high pressure that settled over the northwestern U.S. and western Canada in late June, sending temperatures into the triple digits.

Video above: The AIRS instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite collected temperature readings in the atmosphere and at the surface during an unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada that started around June 26. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

An unprecedented heat wave that started around June 26 smashed numerous all-time temperature records in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), aboard the Aqua satellite, captured the progression of this slow-moving heat dome across the region from June 21 to 30. An animation of some of the AIRS data show surface air temperature anomalies – values above or below long-term averages. Surface air temperature is something that people directly feel when they are outside.

In many cases, the highs exceeded previous temperature records by several degrees or more. On June 28, Quillayute, Washington, set an all-time high temperature record of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), shattering the old record of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Numerous weather stations broke records on consecutive days, showing the unprecedented nature of this extreme heat, which is also being blamed for a number of fatalities. In British Columbia, the village of Lytton set a new all-time record for Canada at 119 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) on June 29, only to break it the next day with a reading of 121 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius).

EOS Aqua satellite. Image Credits NASA/JPL

The AIRS instrument recorded similar temperature anomalies at an altitude of about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), showing that the extreme heat also affected mountainous regions. And temperature anomalies at roughly 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) demonstrated that the heat dome extended high into Earth’s troposphere, creating the conditions for intense heat at the planet’s surface that are normally found farther south.

AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), senses emitted infrared and microwave radiation from Earth to provide a three-dimensional look at the planet’s weather and climate. Working in tandem, the two instruments make simultaneous observations down to Earth’s surface. With more than 2,000 channels sensing different regions of the atmosphere, the system creates a global, three-dimensional map of atmospheric temperature and humidity, cloud amounts and heights, greenhouse gas concentrations and many other atmospheric phenomena. Launched into Earth orbit in 2002 aboard NASA’s Aqua spacecraft, the AIRS and AMSU instruments are managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, under contract to NASA. JPL is a division of Caltech.

More information about AIRS can be found at:

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Jane J. Lee/Ian J. O'Neill.


jeudi 8 juillet 2021

Cargo Dragon Departs Station, Returns to Earth Friday


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-22 Mission patch.

July 8, 2021

With NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough  monitoring aboard the International Space Station, a SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft undocked from the International Docking Adapter on the station’s space-facing port of the Harmony module at 10:45 a.m. EDT.

Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance from the space station during the next 36 hours. On Friday, July 9, Dragon will conduct a deorbit burn to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon is expected to splash down at approximately 11:29 p.m. in the Gulf of Mexico near Tallahassee, Florida. The splashdown will not be broadcast.

Image above: July 8, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are docked at the space station including the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Russia’s Soyuz MS-18 crew ship and ISS Progress 77 and 78 resupply ships. Image Credit: NASA.

Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers as soon as four to nine hours after splashdown. This shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects. The Dragon’s departure will be the second splashdown of a U.S. commercial cargo craft off the Florida coast. Previous cargo Dragon spacecraft returned to the Pacific Ocean, with quick-return science cargo processed at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, and delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

SpaceX CRS-22 Dragon undocking and departure

Dragon launched June 3 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy, arriving at the station a little less than 16 hours later. The spacecraft delivered more than 7,300 pounds of research investigations, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbiting outpost. Dragon’s external cargo “trunk” carried six new ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs), two of which Expedition 65 crew members Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet, an ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut, installed during three spacewalks June 16, 20, and 25.

Some of the scientific investigations Dragon will return to Earth include:

- Lyophilization-2 examines how gravity affects freeze-dried materials and could result in improved freeze-drying processes for pharmaceutical and other industries. Freeze-drying also has potential use for long-term storage of medications and other resources on future exploration missions.

- Molecular Muscle Experiment-2 tests a series of drugs to see whether they can improve health in space, possibly leading to new therapeutic targets for examination on Earth.

- Oral Biofilms in Space studies how gravity affects the structure, composition, and activity of oral bacteria in the presence of common oral care agents. Findings could support development of novel treatments to fight oral diseases such as cavities, gingivitis, and periodontitis.

Related article:

Freeze Drying, Oral Health Experiments Make Speedy Return from Space Station Aboard SpaceX Dragon

Related links:

ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/NASA TV/SciNews.

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Flight 9 Was a Nail-Biter, but Ingenuity Came Through With Flying Colors


NASA - Mars Helicopter Ingenuity logo.

July 8, 2021

Image above: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took this image overlooking the “Séítah” region using its navigation camera. The agency’s Ingenuity helicopter flew over this region during its ninth flight, on July 5. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

It has been a week of heightened apprehension on the Mars Helicopter team as we prepared a major flight challenge for Ingenuity. We uplinked instructions for the flight, which occurred Monday, July 5 at 2:03 am PT, and waited nervously for results to arrive from Mars later that morning. The mood in the ground control room was jubilant when we learned that Ingenuity was alive and well after completing a journey spanning 2,051 feet (625 meters) of challenging terrain.

Flight 9 was not like the flights that came before it. It broke our records for flight duration and cruise speed, and it nearly quadrupled the distance flown between two airfields. But what really set the flight apart was the terrain that Ingenuity had to negotiate during its 2 minutes and 46 seconds in the air – an area called “Séítah” that would be difficult to traverse with a ground vehicle like the Perseverance rover. This flight was also explicitly designed to have science value by providing the first close view of major science targets that the rover will not reach for quite some time.

Flying with our eyes open

In each of its previous flights, Ingenuity hopped from one airfield to another over largely flat terrain. In planning the flights, we even took care to avoid overflying a crater. We began by dipping into what looks like a heavily eroded crater, then continued to descend over sloped and undulating terrain before climbing again to emerge on a flat plain to the southwest.

Image above: This map shows the approximate flight path of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its ninth flight, on July 5. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

It may seem strange that the details of the terrain would matter as much as they do for a vehicle that travels through the air. The reason has to do with Ingenuity’s navigation system and what it was originally designed for: a brief technology demonstration at a carefully chosen experimental test site.

When we as human beings look at moving images of the ground, such as those taken by Ingenuity’s navigation camera, we instantly have a pretty good understanding of what we’re looking at. We see rocks and ripples, shadows and texture, and the ups and downs of the terrain are relatively obvious. Ingenuity, however, doesn’t have human perception and understanding of what it’s looking at. It sees the world in terms of individual, anonymous features – essentially dots that move around with time – and it tries to interpret the movement of those dots.

To make that job easier, we gave Ingenuity’s navigation algorithm some help: We told it that those features are all located on flat ground. That freed the algorithm from trying to work out variations in terrain height, and enabled it to concentrate on interpreting the movement of the features by the helicopter’s movements alone. But complications arise if we then try to fly over terrain that isn’t really flat.

Differences in terrain height will cause features to move across the field of view at different rates, and Ingenuity’s navigation algorithm still “assumes” the ground below is flat. It does its best to explain the movement of the features by changes in the helicopter’s movements, which can lead to errors. Most significantly, it can result in errors in the estimated heading, which will cause the helicopter to fly in a different direction than intended.

Getting ready for a bumpy flight

The assumption about the ground being flat is baked into the design of the algorithm, and there is nothing we can do about that when planning the flights. What we can do is to anticipate the issues that will arise due to this assumption and to mitigate them to the greatest possible extent in terms of how we plan the flights and the parameters we give the software.

We use simulation tools that allow us to study the likely outcome of the flight in detail prior to carrying it out. For Flight 9, a key adaptation of the flight plan was to reduce our speed at the crucial point when we dipped into the crater. Although it came at the cost of extending the flight time, it helped mitigate early heading errors that could grow into a large cross-track position error. We also adjusted some of the detailed parameters of the navigation algorithm that we have not had to touch so far in prior flights. And we carved out a much larger airfield than in prior flights, with a radius of 164 feet (50 meters). We ended up landing approximately 154 feet (47 meters) away from the center of that airfield.

Animation above: Raw Images: Mars Helicopter Tech Demo Cameras: Navigation Camera. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

In the week ahead, Ingenuity will send back color images that Perseverance’s scientists are looking forward to studying. Captured in those images are rock outcrops that show contacts between the major geologic units on Jezero Crater’s floor. They also include a system of fractures the Perseverance team calls “Raised Ridges,” which the rover’s scientists hope to visit in part to investigate whether an ancient subsurface habitat might be preserved there.

Finally, we’re hoping the color images will provide the closest look yet at “Pilot Pinnacle,” a location featuring outcrops that some team members think may record some of the deepest water environments in old Lake Jezero. Given the tight mission schedule, it’s possible that they will not be able to visit these rocks with the rover, so Ingenuity may offer the only opportunity to study these deposits in any detail.

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.

Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover & Mars Helicopter Ingenuity. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Written by Håvard F. Grip, Ingenuity Chief Pilot, and Ken Williford, Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist.


Meet the Open-Source Software Powering NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter


NASA - Jet Propulsion Laboratory logo.

July 8, 2021

Created at NASA’s JPL, the open-source flight software called F Prime isn’t just powering humanity’s first interplanetary helicopter; it’s also powering inspiration at multiple universities.

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Landing Sequence

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. Frame rate is 3.3 frames per second until Ingenuity began its final descent to the surface, at which point it collected a frame every two seconds. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

When NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter hovered above the Red Planet April 19 on its maiden voyage, the moment was hailed as the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet. Figuring out how to fly on Mars, where the air is thin but gravity is about a third of that on Earth, took years of work. Along with the challenge of developing a craft that was up to the task, the mission needed software to make the unprecedented flights possible.

So they turned to F Prime, a reusable, multi-mission flight software framework designed for CubeSats, small spacecraft, and instruments. The program was initially developed in 2013 by a team led by Tim Canham at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California with the aim of creating a low-cost, portable, pliable software architecture option that would allow components written for one application to be reused easily in other applications and run on a range of processors.

In 2017, the team pushed for F Prime to be released as open-source, meaning anyone could freely access the software’s source code, allowing external collaborators, universities, and the general public to use the framework on their own projects. It is one of hundreds of codes NASA makes available to the public for free, both as open-source or through its software catalog.

Image above: This illustration shows the Lunar Flashlight spacecraft, a six-unit CubeSat designed to search for ice on the Moon’s surface using special lasers. F Prime is scheduled to run on both this project and Near-Earth Asteroid Scout CubeSat. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“F Prime has enabled a lot of goals we’ve had at JPL to design a truly reusable multi-mission flight architecture with the added bonus of the open-source collaboration and visibility afforded by the Mars Helicopter project,” Canham said. “It’s kind of an open-source victory, because we’re flying an open-source operating system and an open-source flight software framework, and flying commercial parts that you can buy off the shelf, if you wanted to do this yourself someday.” (The helicopter carries a combination of custom-made and off-the-shelf components – many from the world of cell phone technology – including its two cameras.)

Before Ingenuity, F Prime (also written as F’) had already been put through its spacecraft paces, operating successfully aboard the ISS RapidScat scatterometer instrument on the International Space Station since 2014 and JPL’s ASTERIA CubeSat in 2017. Looking forward, F Prime is scheduled to run on projects including NASA’s Lunar Flashlight CubeSat, which will look for surface ice in the Moon’s craters; the agency’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout CubeSat, which will map an asteroid; and potentially JPL’s Ocean Worlds Life Surveyor instrument, which would help search for water-based life in our solar system.

Aadil Rizvi, flight software lead for Lunar Flashlight and NEA Scout at JPL, says F Prime provides an out-of-the-box solution for several flight software services, such as commanding, telemetry, parameters, and sequencing for the spacecraft. There’s also a sort of “auto-coding” tool that makes F Prime highly portable for use across missions.

“This makes it quite easy to drop in a software component from something like Mars Helicopter into another mission’s flight software such as Lunar Flashlight or make the component available for open-source use by anyone else using F Prime,” Rizvi said. “And it’s pretty cool that a significant portion of software used on the Mars Helicopter is identical to software on another spacecraft going to the Moon, or an asteroid, or sitting on a student’s desk.”

Universities See the Benefits of F Prime

Since its open-source debut, F Prime has gradually begun gaining traction as a useful flight software option for university and student projects.

At Georgia Tech, a team has incorporated F Prime in its GT1 CubeSat, aimed to serve as an education exercise that will carry an interactive and automatic amateur radio payload.

“We chose F Prime after evaluating a handful of flight software frameworks, including the option of writing our own from scratch,” said Sterling Peet, Georgia Tech research faculty member and software lead for GT1. “We don’t have the resources to build all this code from scratch, use, and test it to ensure the necessary levels of reliability in-house. But by using F Prime, we can leverage the legacy it has and also contribute our testing and related benefits back to the F Prime community and project.”

A Carnegie Mellon University student-led team chose F Prime to run its Iris Lunar Rover, a tiny robot designed to prove the feasibility of nano-rovers in planetary exploration. “It was a viable option with a direct link to the creators, so we decided to use it ourselves,” said Iris Deputy Program Manager Raewyn Duvall.

F Prime will control the rover while recording data and monitoring its health.

“The fact that it is open-source gave us a wide range of examples to base our own modules and let us use the forum to get quick answers without having to worry about potential support service charges just to get answers to questions we may have had,” Duvall said.

JPL Small Scale Flight Software Group Supervisor Jeff Levison sees university partnerships like the ones with Georgia Tech and Carnegie Mellon as a two-way street: JPL provides world-leading flight systems expertise to budding engineers, and then down the line, those future engineers could end up bringing their talents and a working understanding of F Prime to start a career at JPL.

“F Prime is not an easy architecture to pick up, so a student who manages to master it and create a solid working project clearly has amazing potential for an organization like JPL,” said Carnegie Mellon’s Duvall. “Many of our students working on Iris that learned F Prime have expressed interest in applying to JPL, which I believe proves F Prime’s worth as a recruitment tool.”

Related links:

Software catalog:

ISS RapidScat:


Lunar Flashlight:

Near-Earth Asteroid Scout:

Space Tech:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Andrew Good/Ian O’Neill.

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