samedi 11 septembre 2021

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of September 6, 2021


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

Sep 11, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Sept. 6 that included examining microgravity-induced stress in plants, studying changes in how humans grip and manipulate objects in space, and demonstrating a new technology for removing carbon dioxide from spacecraft. Astronauts Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) prepared for a spacewalk, scheduled to start Sunday at 8:30 a.m., to ready a truss structure for installation of Roll-Out Solar Arrays. The arrays are due to arrive on a SpaceX Cargo Dragon mission early next year.

Image above: NASA Remembers Sept. 11, 2001. Visible from space, a smoke plume rises from the Manhattan area after two planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center. This photo was taken of metropolitan New York City (and other parts of New York as well as New Jersey) the morning of September 11, 2001. 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:

Plants with less stress

Animation above: NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough sets up the Advanced Plant Habitat facility for operations of APEX-08, an investigation that examines the mechanisms plants use to respond to the stress of microgravity. Animation Credit: NASA.

Plants grown under microgravity conditions typically display evidence of stress. APEX-08 examines the role of compounds known as polyamines in responses of Arabidopsis thaliana or thale cress plants to microgravity. Because expression of the genes involved in polyamine metabolism remain the same in space as on the ground, plants do not appear to use polyamines to respond to stress in microgravity. APEX-08 attempts to engineer a way for them to do so. Results could provide insights into the mechanisms plants use to modulate the stress of microgravity and help identify key targets for genetic engineering of plants more suited to microgravity. During the week, crew members harvested samples of the cress for analysis.

Gripping without gravity

Humans evolved in the presence of gravity, and the way we grip and manipulate objects is based on various cues, including the weight of the object and concepts such as “up” and “down.” The ESA investigation studies how changes in these forces and cues in microgravity affect the force of a person’s grip and the movements used 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. This work also could benefit design and control of touch-based interfaces such as those used for remote control on future exploration of deep space or planets. During the week, crew members executed GRIP sessions from seated and reclining positions.

Breathing better in space

Image above: The Four Bed CO2 Scrubber is checked out by Kathi Lange, a Bastion Technologies contractor, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center prior to launch to the space station on Aug. 1, 2021. This investigation demonstrates a technology to remove carbon dioxide from a spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/MSFC.

Four Bed CO2 Scrubber demonstrates a technology to remove carbon dioxide from a spacecraft, one of three demonstrations for the space station’s Exploration Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS). It includes mechanical upgrades and an improved, longer-lasting absorbent material that reduces erosion and dust formation. Absorption beds remove water vapor and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, returning water vapor to the cabin and venting carbon dioxide overboard or diverting it to a system that converts it into water. This technology could improve the reliability and performance of carbon dioxide removal systems in future spacecraft, key to helping to maintain the health of crews and ensure mission success. It also has potential applications on Earth in environments requiring carbon dioxide removal to protect workers and equipment. Crew members connected power to the Scrubber to initiate operations during the week.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- RFID Recon tests using radio frequency identification tags to identify and locate cargo on the space station using the space station’s free-flying Astrobee robots. The technology could help crew members find items more quickly and efficiently and enable more efficient packing, reducing launch mass and stowage volume.

- Changes in the liver enzymes that metabolize medicines may cause some to be less effective in space. Genes in Space-8 tests a technology to monitor the expression of the genes that control these enzymes, which could provide a better understanding of changes and help support development of new medicines to address them.

- Eklosion grows a Marigold plant in a specially designed vase that contains messages and scents from Earth. This ESA investigation gathers data on plant growth and the psychological benefits of tending the plant for the crew member.

- The ESA GRASP investigation examines how the central nervous system integrates information from the senses to coordinate hand movement and visual input, in part to determine whether gravity is a frame of reference for control of this movement.

Image above: Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) works on the Ring-Sheared Drop experiment, a fluid physics study that could contribute to a better understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well as support the development of advanced materials. Image Credit: NASA.

- Ring Sheared Drop uses a device to create shear flow, or a difference in velocity between adjacent liquid layers, which previous research shows plays a role in the formation of protein aggregations in the brain called amyloid fibrils. Amyloids may be involved in development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and results could contribute to a better understanding of those diseases.

- Plant Habitat-04 uses the Advanced Plant Habitat to grow New Mexico Hatch Green Chili peppers. Peppers have not been grown in space before because they take a long time to germinate, grow, and develop fruit. The investigation includes microbial analysis to improve understanding of plant-microbe interactions in space, assessment of flavor and texture, and nutritional analysis.

- Cool Flames Investigation with Gases, part of the ACME series of studies, observes chemical reactions of cool flames, which burn at lower temperatures. Nearly impossible to create in Earth’s gravity, cool flames are easily created in microgravity and studying them may improve understanding of combustion and fires on Earth.

- The ISS Experience is a virtual reality film series documenting life and research aboard the space station. Filmed over multiple months, it includes crew activities ranging from conducting science experiments to preparing for a spacewalk

Space to Ground: September Spacewalks: 09/10/2021

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Roll-Out Solar Arrays:


Four Bed CO2 Scrubber:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

vendredi 10 septembre 2021

Station Busy with Sunday Spacewalk Preps and Biology, Botany Research


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

September 10, 2021

Two Expedition 65 astronauts are getting ready for a Sunday spacewalk to modify the International Space Station’s power system. Meanwhile, the orbiting lab is hosting a variety of biology and botany research today as two cosmonauts clean up following Thursday’s spacewalk.

International astronauts Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) are preparing for a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk on Sunday. They will set their U.S. spacesuits to battery power at 8:30 a.m. EDT, exit the station’s U.S. Quest airlock, then translate to the Port-4 (P4) truss structure to install a modification kit. This will ready the P4 for a new Roll-Out Solar Array set to be delivered on a SpaceX Cargo Dragon mission next year. NASA TV will begin its live spacewalk coverage at 7 a.m. on the NASA app and the agency’s website.

Image above: ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet is pictured during a spacewalk in January 2017 when he was an Expedition 50 flight engineer. Image Credit: NASA.

Hoshide and Pesquet still had plenty of time for microgravity research today as they gear up for Sunday’s excursion. The JAXA astronaut, who is on his third space mission, serviced mouse embryo samples in the Kibo laboratory module to learn how the space environment affects key phases of reproduction. ESA Flight Engineer Pesquet set up the Columbus laboratory module and explored how the human central nervous system adapts to weightlessness.

NASA Flight Engineers Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur worked on two different space botany experiments today helping mission planners and doctors learn to sustain crews on longer space missions farther away from Earth. Kimbrough harvested plants growing on petri plates for the APEX-08 genetic expression study. McArthur cleaned up debris in the Kibo lab’s Plant Habitat that is growing Hatch Green chiles for the Plant Habitat-04 space crop experiment.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei replaced components inside the Combustion Integrated Rack then relocated a detection device that studies the radiation spectrum onboard the station. Vande Hei also partnered with Hoshide and Pesquet assisting the duo with their spacewalk preparations.

Cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov slept in Friday morning following their seven-hour and 25-minute spacewalk on Thursday to connect data and communication cables to Russia’s Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. The duo from Roscosmos then began disconnecting components on their Orlan spacesuits and stowing spacewalk gear in the orbiting lab’s Russian segment.

Related links:

Expedition 65:

U.S. Quest airlock:

Port-4 (P4) truss structure:


Mouse embryo samples:

Kibo laboratory module:

Columbus laboratory module:

Human central nervous system:


Plant Habitat:

Plant Habitat-04:

Combustion Integrated Rack:

Detection device:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

NASA/Mark Garcia.

Next Generation of Orion Spacecraft in Production for Future Artemis Missions


NASA - Orion Crew Vehicle patch.

Sep 10, 2021

Over the next decade, NASA’s Orion spacecraft will carry astronauts during Artemis missions to the Moon to help prepare for human missions to Mars. Work on the spacecraft for Artemis I is nearly complete, Artemis II is well underway, and NASA is making progress on vehicles for the missions beyond.

The agency recently completed welding on the Artemis III Orion pressure vessel, the underlying frame of the air-tight capsule for astronauts called the crew module. This structure is the first major piece of hardware in Orion’s production phase with lead contractor Lockheed Martin.

Image above: Now complete, the crew module pressure vessel for Artemis III will be shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the team will start integrating the spacecraft’s systems and subsystems. Photo taken August 27, 2021. Image Credits: NASA/Eric Bordelon.

“NASA is shifting its focus from the development phase to the production phase for the Orion spacecraft to enable a long-term presence on and around the Moon,” said Cathy Koerner, Orion program manager.

The development phase — called design, development, test, and evaluation (DDT&E) — is when Orion’s requirements are defined, the design undergoes review and refinement, and the spacecraft and its systems go through rigorous testing.

“All of the intensive testing we’ve done has proven out the design of Orion’s structure,” said Stu McClung, chief of staff for Orion program, planning, and control. “A structure that’s well understood and defined gives us high confidence to move forward into the production phase.”  

Each component of Orion has undergone thorough testing since the beginning of DDT&E to prepare Orion for this transition. This includes Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion’s first flight test in 2014 that demonstrated its space-worthiness in a high-Earth orbit, and tested the spacecraft’s heat shield during entry into Earth’s atmosphere and the capsule’s recovery systems.

NASA has also completed successful testing of Orion’s parachute system, as well as the launch abort system with two flight tests known as Pad Abort-1 and Ascent Abort-2. Simulated in-space environments testing also verified that Orion’s systems will perform as expected during Artemis missions, among countless other tests of the spacecraft.

The DDT&E phase will officially conclude with the Artemis II mission, the first test flight with crew. Although no structural changes on the vehicle are expected to come from Artemis I and II, the mission outcomes may drive minor changes or upgrades into subsequent builds.

Image above: ESA (European Space Agency) has signed a follow-on contract with Airbus for the construction of three additional Orion European Service Modules beyond Artemis III. The Artemis III service module is currently being integrated in Bremen, Germany, with components and hardware built and supplied by companies from 10 countries in Europe as well as the United States. Image Credit: AirbusSpace.

“As we fly, we will learn and adapt the spacecraft to the missions as needed,” said Assistant Orion Program Manager Paul Marshall. This could include modifying crew systems or crew interfaces to help astronauts perform future missions as smoothly as possible.

In the production phase, engineers will apply refinements to Orion’s design to ensure that manufacturing and assembly are as efficient as possible. One of many improvements was reducing the number of welded pieces that make up Orion’s pressure vessel. The pressure vessel’s original design had 33 welded pieces, which was streamlined to seven for Artemis I and up, to improve manufacturability and save more than 700 pounds of excess weight.

With these seven welds recently completed on the Artemis III pressure vessel at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans — and structural design changes and testing complete — a more efficient and streamlined production line for spacecraft begins. Under the Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) awarded to Lockheed Martin, NASA committed to ordering a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 Orion spacecraft. The agency ordered three Orion spacecraft in 2019 for Artemis missions III through V, and plans to order three additional Orion capsules in fiscal year 2022 for Artemis missions VI through VIII.

“Our strategy to go from design and development to production focuses on optimization by making changes in several different areas to emerge with a more efficient flow,” said Kelly DeFazio, program director for production operations at Lockheed Martin.

Some examples of optimizing Orion production include:

- Changing the organizational structure of employees from a large, integrated product team structure centered on design, development, and qualification, to smaller multifunctional work teams focused on production throughput and quality of product.

- Incorporating systems to identify and address constraints in production flow, and the use of smart tools like augmented reality on the production floor.

- The opening of Lockheed Martin’s Spacecraft, Test, Assembly and Resource (STAR) Center in Titusville, Florida, earlier this summer to streamline manufacturing capacity.

- Reusing Orion crew modules and high-value systems, combined with the ability to bulk buy material and components, which contribute to considerable cost reductions compared to spacecraft produced under DDT&E.

“Our production plan activates unique manufacturing efficiencies that ensure we achieve the desired mission cadence while driving cost reductions,” said Marshall.

Those savings give NASA more resources to invest in developing the elements needed to pursue the lunar exploration campaign in the coming years, he added.

“The transition into production provides the opportunity to shift the focus of the Orion workforce to defining, implementing, and executing the exploration missions that Orion is built to fly,” said Marshall.

Learn more about NASA’s Orion spacecraft at:

Related links:


Moon to Mars:

NASA/Kristyn Damadeo.

NASA Innovations Will Help U.S. Meet Sustainable Aviation Goals


NASA logo.

Sep 10, 2021

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson joined federal government and industry leaders Thursday at a White House event highlighting sustainable aviation and the administration’s focus on medium- and long-term goals to combat climate change.

Image above: NASA will demonstrate high-risk, high-reward technology advancements critical for U.S. aerospace manufacturers to bring to market innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable products and services demanded by airlines and customers. Image Credits: Vehicle image created by Scott Anders, Rich Wahls and Lillian Gipson; Forest Imagery franckreporter, E+, GettyImages.

The event highlighted a plan to reduce aviation carbon emissions through production of more than three billion gallons of sustainable fuel by 2030. Officials from the Departments of Transportation, Energy and Agriculture announced a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge (SAFGC) to meet this goal, in partnership with industry and other federal agencies. SAFGC aims to reduce costs, enhance the sustainability of aviation, as well as expand the production and use of sustainable aviation fuel to meet 100% of U.S. demand by 2050.

Nelson delivered remarks underscoring NASA’s origins as an aeronautics research organization and history of improving aviation efficiency and safety. NASA innovations have made aircraft quieter and more fuel efficient while reducing their harmful emissions, he said, making aviation more sustainable environmentally and economically.

“Our aeronautics researchers are developing and testing new green technologies for next generation aircraft, new automation tools for greener and safer airspace operations, and sustainable energy options for aircraft propulsion,” Nelson said.

NASA is investing in cost-sharing partnerships with U.S. companies to research and demonstrate high-risk, high-reward technology for next-generation, single-aisle aircraft that are at least 25% more fuel efficient. These aircraft could see service by the early 2030s. Single-aisle aircraft generate the largest share of aviation carbon emissions of all aircraft class sizes.

“We’re working to keep U.S. companies economically competitive by helping them bring to market the next generation of environmentally-sustainable commercial transport aircraft,” said Bob Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “The fiercely competitive single-aisle market is an important path to economic recovery for aircraft manufacturers and airlines after COVID, and foreign governments are investing heavily in these technologies.”

Under its recently launched Sustainable Flight National Partnership, NASA will collaborate with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry partners to accelerate the maturation of aircraft and engine technologies to enable a significant reduction in fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. The partnership’s efforts include demonstrating new technology, such as the first-ever high-power, hybrid-electric propulsion systems for large transport aircraft, long and slender ultra-high efficiency wings, and advanced composite materials. NASA will also demonstrate advanced engine technologies based on its breakthrough innovations.

In collaboration with the Department of Energy, NASA will develop battery technologies that can provide the power required for electric aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing capability, as well as for short-range consumer aircraft. In the long term, these battery technologies could potentially achieve the energy density needed for longer-range electric aircraft as well.

A memorandum of understanding signed at the White House event calls for the development of a government-wide strategic plan to meet these goals. The SAFGC Roadmap will take a multi-generational approach, setting U.S. milestones at 2030, 2040, and 2050.

NASA will contribute to the nation’s commitment to sustainable aviation embodied in the SAFGC. Building on its ground and flight campaigns of the past decade, NASA researchers will continue sampling and characterizing the makeup of sustainable aviation fuel emissions to verify performance, and to ensure compatibility of sustainable aviation fuels with existing and future aircraft.

For information on the administration’s Sustainable Aviation Fuels efforts, see this new fact sheet:

For more information about NASA, visit:

Related links:

Sustainable Flight National Partnership:


Future Aircraft:

Green Aviation:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Robert Margetta/J.D. Harrington.

Best regards,

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Collects Puzzle Pieces of Mars’ History


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Sep 10, 2021

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover successfully collected its first pair of rock samples, and scientists already are gaining new insights into the region. After collecting its first sample, named “Montdenier,” Sept. 6, the team collected a second, “Montagnac,” from the same rock Sept. 8.

Analysis of the rocks from which the Montdenier and Montagnac samples were taken and from the rover’s previous sampling attempt may help the science team piece together the timeline of the area’s past, which was marked by volcanic activity and periods of persistent water.

“It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” said Ken Farley of Caltech, project scientist for the mission, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “It’s a big deal that the water was there a long time.”

Image above: Two holes are visible in the rock, nicknamed “Rochette,” from which NASA’s Perseverance rover obtained its first core samples. The rover drilled the hole on the left, called “Montagnac,” Sept. 7, and the hole on the right, known as “Montdenier,” Sept. 1. Below it is a round spot the rover abraded. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The rock that provided the mission’s first core samples is basaltic in composition and may be the product of lava flows. The presence of crystalline minerals in volcanic rocks is especially helpful in radiometric dating. The volcanic origin of the rock could help scientists accurately date when it formed. Each sample can serve as part of a larger chronological puzzle; put them in the right order, and scientists have a timeline of the most important events in the crater’s history. Some of those events include the formation of Jezero Crater, the emergence and disappearance of Jezero’s lake, and changes to the planet’s climate in the ancient past.

What’s more, salts have been spied within these rocks. These salts may have formed when groundwater flowed through and altered the original minerals in the rock, or more likely when liquid water evaporated, leaving the salts. The salt minerals in these first two rock cores may also have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water. If present, they could serve as microscopic time capsules, offering clues about the ancient climate and habitability of Mars. Salt minerals are also well-known on Earth for their ability to preserve signs of ancient life.

The Perseverance science team already knew a lake once filled the crater; for how long has been more uncertain. The scientists couldn’t dismiss the possibility that Jezero’s lake was a “flash in the pan”: floodwaters could have rapidly filled the impact crater and dried up in the space of 50 years, for example.

But the level of alteration that scientists see in the rock that provided the core samples – as well as in the rock the team targeted on their first sample-acquisition attempt – suggests that groundwater was present for a long time.

This groundwater could have been related to the lake that was once in Jezero, or it could have traveled through the rocks long after the lake had dried up. Though scientists still can’t say whether any of the water that altered these rocks was present for tens of thousands or for millions of years, they feel more certain that it was there for long enough to make the area more welcoming to microscopic life in the past.

Perseverance Rover Sampling Operation. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“These samples have high value for future laboratory analysis back on Earth,” said Mitch Schulte of NASA Headquarters, the mission’s program scientist. “One day, we may be able to work out the sequence and timing of the environmental conditions that this rock’s minerals represent. This will help answer the big-picture science question of the history and stability of liquid water on Mars.”

Next Stop, ‘South Séítah’

Perseverance is currently searching the crater floor for samples that can be brought back to Earth to answer profound questions about Mars’ history. Promising samples are sealed in titanium tubes the rover carries in its chassis, where they’ll be stored until Perseverance drops them to be retrieved by a future mission. Perseverance will likely create multiple “depots” later in the mission, where it will drop off samples for a future mission to bring to Earth. Having one or more depots increases the likelihood that especially valuable samples will be accessible for retrieval to Earth.

Perseverance’s next likely sample site is just 656 feet (200 meters) away in “South Séítah,” a series of ridges covered by sand dunes, boulders, and rock shards that Farley likens to “broken dinner plates.”

The rover’s recent drill sample represents what is likely one of the youngest rock layers that can be found on Jezero Crater’s floor. South Séítah, on the other hand, is likely older, and will provide the science team a better timeline to understand events that shaped the crater floor, including its lake.

By the start of October, all Mars missions will be standing down from commanding their spacecraft for several weeks, a protective measure during a period called Mars solar conjunction. Perseverance isn’t likely to drill in South Séítah until sometime after that period.

Related articles:

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Collects First Mars Rock Sample

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Successfully Cores Its First Rock

More About Perseverance

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith --broken rock and dust.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and bring them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Robert Margetta/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/Andrew Good.


Cassini’s wake: how might a spacecraft disturb its own measurements?


NASA & ESA - Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn & Titan patch.

Sep. 10, 2021

Cassini grand finale

Simply by moving through the heavens, spacecraft change the space about them. Such interactions are invisible to the naked eye, but can endanger mission performance and safety. A new ESA Resarch Fellow study simulated the Cassini spacecraft in the vicinity of Saturn, checking the findings against actual space measurements. It reveals Cassini cast an ‘ion wake’ up to 6 m behind it, a void of plasma particles like a trail of a boat.

Cassini between Saturn and the rings

Space might be a vacuum but it is far from empty, awash with charged particles and electromagnetic fields. This study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, employed ESA-funded software called the Spacecraft Plasma Interaction System (SPIS), used to model the interaction between spacecraft and these surrounding environments.

“This study marks the first time that these simulations have been compared to and confirmed with actual spacecraft measurements from a planet beyond Earth,” explains ESA Research Fellow Mika Holmberg, who spent three years at ESA’s Space Environments and Effects section at the ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.

Saturn's magnetic field

The study focused on the NASA-ESA-ASI Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, which left Earth in 1997 for a nearly two-decade odyssey to explore Saturn and its major moons. The gas giant’s magnetic field is the second largest of any planet’s – populated by charged particles originating from both Saturn itself and its 82 moons.

Mika comments: “Cassini’s suite of instruments included a Langmuir probe, an electrode extending out from the spacecraft body. Think of it as a ‘space weather station’, to measure the density, temperature and velocity of the charged particles surrounding the spacecraft. This instrument provided the solid data to confirm the accuracy of our SPIS simulation.”

Plumes from Enceladus

These kind of simulations are useful in principle for any spacecraft or instrumentation placed in space, but especially for scientific missions focused on studying the space environments of the planets, including Earth.

Mika adds: “They are important for accurate analyses of particle and field measurements from planetary missions, including the direct characterisation of space environments such as magnetospheres, the solar wind, the ionospheres of planets and moons – even possible plumes arising from them. Cassini gave us an exciting example of the latter when it passed through a plume originating from the icy moon Enceladus, revealing evidence of liquid water beneath its frozen surface.

Electrostatic discharge damage

“But, crucially, results from in-situ instruments may also be interpreted wrongly if local interactions are not properly accounted for, such as the wakes formed by the spacecraft.”

SPIS is also commonly employed to model the occurence of surface charging across various spacecraft surfaces, which can give rise to ‘electrostatic discharge’ – essentially a kind of space lightning that risks severe damage to subsystems or may even threaten mission loss. This charging of the spacecraft is driven in turn by the particles and radiation surrounding it.

Modelling the ion density around Cassini

Even sustained sunlight liberates electrons from spacecraft surfaces, a factor which needs accounting for within the modelling.

Mika notes: “These insights are important for future planetary missions as well, such as NASA’s Europa Clipper and ESA’s Jupiter mission Juice. We ran a large number of simulations for Juice which actually resulted in the changing of some surface materials, since the simulations showed the mission might be in danger with the original selection.”

Cassini's Langmuir probe

SPIS is an open source software initiated back in 2001 by ESA with the support of French space agency CNES in collaboration with the French aerospace laboratory ONERA and the Artenum company.

“Having a chance to work at ESA with the experts who were actually involved in developing the software was a golden opportunity,” adds Mika.

Juice’s Jovian odyssey

ESA space environment and effects specialist Fabricie Cipriani oversaw Mika’s work at ESTEC: “The complexity and sensitivity of scientific instruments for planetary explorations continue to grow. So simulation tools of this kind are essential both to identify potential issues during early development phases, and to ensure the accurate interpretation of results once an instrument is flying – if, as in Cassini’s case, the spacecraft’s interaction with its environment is significant.

“And in addition to her work on Cassini, Mika also performed challenging modelling work to quantify surface charging levels of the Juice spacecraft during its exploration of  Jupiter’s Galilean moons. We now have a full model that will be very useful for later assessment, then ‐ once at Jupiter ‐ actual mission data exploitation.”

Related links:

Journal of Geophysical Research - Space Physics:

Spacecraft Plasma Interaction System (SPIS):

ESA Research Fellow:

ESA’s Space Environments and Effects section:

NASA-ESA-ASI Cassini-Huygens spacecraft:

ESA’s Jupiter mission Juice:

French space agency CNES:



Animation, Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

Best regards,

jeudi 9 septembre 2021

Dates set for Space Station change of command as Franco-German relations awarded Media prize


ESA - Alpha Mission (animated) patch.

Sep 9, 2021

The dates have been set for ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet’s upcoming command of the International Space Station, as ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer prepares to join him on board.

Cupola during Cygnus docking

Thomas, who is currently serving in his second space mission ‘Alpha’, will take over the role of International Space Station commander from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide on 4 October, four weeks before Matthias is expected to arrive for his first mission ‘Cosmic Kiss’.

Aki and Thomas in cupola

It is the first time an astronaut from France will serve as commander of the International Space Station and the first time an ESA astronaut will be in command while two European astronauts are in orbit.

Space for two

“Being in command of the International Space Station involves making sure that every crew member understands their role and contributes to the best of their abilities so they can deliver optimal performance as a team,” says Frank De Winne, ESA’s first commander of the International Space Station and head of the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.

Thomas and Matthias training at SpaceX headquarters

“To have two ESA astronauts on the Space Station at the same time is special, and having one of these astronauts in a commanding role marks a real milestone in the history of European spaceflight,” he adds.

Thomas is expected to return to Earth on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft in early-to-mid November. Matthias will live and work on Station for a further six months, continuing to support essential science and research in space.

Prize-worthy communications 


Cooperation between the two astronauts is also being celebrated in Berlin, Germany today, where Matthias will accept the prestigious Franco-German Media Prize on behalf of himself and his colleague in space.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher will accompany Matthias to accept the prize and describes it as “an honour that recognises ESA’s ongoing commitment to collaborative communications across all 22 ESA member states.”

The Franco-German Media Prize is awarded by a jury of representatives from French and German media to a personality or organisation that has rendered outstanding services to Franco-German and European unification.

Spacesuit check Matthias

 “As a publicly-funded organisation, we owe it to the people in all our member and associate states to share what it is that their space agency is doing in orbit for the benefit of Earth and the future of exploration,” says Josef Aschbacher.

“Thomas, Matthias, and the whole ESA astronaut team are well-known around the world due to the commitment they have to communicate about their space voyages, the work they do and the passion they share for science, technology and exploration.

“I look forward to the next phase of communication as Thomas takes on the commander role and Matthias flies to space” he adds.

Columbus module | Space Station 360 (in French with English subtitles available)

Related links:

Human and Robotic Exploration:


International Space Station (ISS):

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/T. Pesquet/NASA/J. Blair/SpaceX.


ESO captures best images yet of peculiar “dog-bone” asteroid


ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

9 September 2021

Asteroid Kleopatra from different angles

Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), a team of astronomers have obtained the sharpest and most detailed images yet of the asteroid Kleopatra. The observations have allowed the team to constrain the 3D shape and mass of this peculiar asteroid, which resembles a dog bone, to a higher accuracy than ever before. Their research provides clues as to how this asteroid and the two moons that orbit it formed.

Asteroid Kleopatra from different angles (annotated)

“Kleopatra is truly a unique body in our Solar System,” says Franck Marchis, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, USA and at the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, France, who led a study on the asteroid — which has moons and an unusual shape — published today in Astronomy & Astrophysics. “Science makes a lot of progress thanks to the study of weird outliers. I think Kleopatra is one of those and understanding this complex, multiple asteroid system can help us learn more about our Solar System.”

Size comparison of asteroid Kleopatra with northern Italy

Kleopatra orbits the Sun in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers have called it a “dog-bone asteroid” ever since radar observations around 20 years ago revealed it has two lobes connected by a thick “neck”. In 2008, Marchis and his colleagues discovered that Kleopatra is orbited by two moons, named AlexHelios and CleoSelene, after the Egyptian queen’s children.

Size comparison of asteroid Kleopatra with Chile

To find out more about Kleopatra, Marchis and his team used snapshots of the asteroid taken at different times between 2017 and 2019 with the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument on ESO’s VLT. As the asteroid was rotating, they were able to view it from different angles and to create the most accurate 3D models of its shape to date. They constrained the asteroid’s dog-bone shape and its volume, finding one of the lobes to be larger than the other, and determined the length of the asteroid to be about 270 kilometres or about half the length of the English Channel.

Processed SPHERE image showing the moons of Kleopatra

In a second study, also published in Astronomy & Astrophysics and led by Miroslav Brož of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, the team reported how they used the SPHERE observations to find the correct orbits of Kleopatra’s two moons. Previous studies had estimated the orbits, but the new observations with ESO’s VLT showed that the moons were not where the older data predicted them to be.

“This had to be resolved,” says Brož. “Because if the moons’ orbits were wrong, everything was wrong, including the mass of Kleopatra.” Thanks to the new observations and sophisticated modelling, the team managed to precisely describe how Kleopatra’s gravity influences the moons’ movements and to determine the complex orbits of AlexHelios and CleoSelene. This allowed them to calculate the asteroid’s mass, finding it to be 35% lower than previous estimates.

Combining the new estimates for volume and mass, astronomers were able to calculate a new value for the density of the asteroid, which, at less than half the density of iron, turned out to be lower than previously thought [1]. The low density of Kleopatra, which is believed to have a metallic composition, suggests that it has a porous structure and could be little more than a “pile of rubble”. This means it likely formed when material reaccumulated following a giant impact.

Location of Kleopatra in the Solar System

Kleopatra’s rubble-pile structure and the way it rotates also give indications as to how its two moons could have formed. The asteroid rotates almost at a critical speed, the speed above which it would start to fall apart, and even small impacts may lift pebbles off its surface. Marchis and his team believe that those pebbles could subsequently have formed AlexHelios and CleoSelene, meaning that Kleopatra has truly birthed its own moons.

The new images of Kleopatra and the insights they provide are only possible thanks to one of the advanced adaptive optics systems in use on ESO’s VLT, which is located in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Adaptive optics help to correct for distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere which cause objects to appear blurred — the same effect that causes stars viewed from Earth to twinkle. Thanks to such corrections, SPHERE was able to image Kleopatra — located 200 million kilometres away from Earth at its closest — even though its apparent size on the sky is equivalent to that of a golf ball about 40 kilometres away.

ESO’s upcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), with its advanced adaptive optics systems, will be ideal for imaging distant asteroids such as Kleopatra. “I can’t wait to point the ELT at Kleopatra, to see if there are more moons and refine their orbits to detect small changes,” adds Marchis.


[1] The newly calculated density is 3.4 grams per cubic centimetre, while previously Kleopatra was believed to have a mean density of about 4.5 grams per cubic centimetre.

More information

This research, based on observations with SPHERE on ESO’s VLT (Principal Investigator: Pierre Vernazza), was presented in two papers to appear in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team of the paper entitled “(216) Kleopatra, a low density critically rotating M-type asteroid” ( is composed of F. Marchis (SETI Institute, Carl Sagan Center, Mountain View, USA and Aix Marseille University, CNRS, Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, France [LAM]), L. Jorda (LAM), P. Vernazza (LAM), M. Brož (Institute of Astronomy, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic [CU]), J. Hanuš (CU), M. Ferrais (LAM), F. Vachier (Institut de mécanique céleste et de calcul des éphémérides, Observatoire de Paris, PSL Research University, CNRS, Sorbonne Universités, UPMC University Paris 06 and Université de Lille, France [IMCCE]), N. Rambaux (IMCCE), M. Marsset (Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, MIT, Cambridge, USA [MIT]), M. Viikinkoski (Mathematics & Statistics, Tampere University, Finland [TAU]), E. Jehin (Space sciences, Technologies and Astrophysics Research Institute, Université de Liège, Belgium [STAR]), S. Benseguane (LAM), E. Podlewska-Gaca (Faculty of Physics, Astronomical Observatory Institute, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland [UAM]), B. Carry (Université Côte d’Azur, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, CNRS, Laboratoire Lagrange, France [OCA]), A. Drouard (LAM), S. Fauvaud (Observatoire du Bois de Bardon, Taponnat, France [OBB]), M. Birlan (IMCCE and Astronomical Institute of Romanian Academy, Bucharest, Romania [AIRA]), J. Berthier (IMCCE), P. Bartczak (UAM), C. Dumas (Thirty Meter Telescope, Pasadena, USA [TMT]), G. Dudziński (UAM), J. Ďurech (CU), J. Castillo-Rogez (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena,USA [JPL]), F. Cipriani (European Space Agency, ESTEC - Scientific Support Office, Noordwijk, The Netherlands [ESTEC]​​), F. Colas (IMCCE), R. Fetick (LAM), T. Fusco (LAM and The French Aerospace Lab BP72, Chatillon Cedex, France [ONERA]​​), J. Grice (OCA and School of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK [OU]), A. Kryszczynska (UAM), P. Lamy (Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux et Observations Spatiales, CNRS [CRNS] and Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Guyancourt, France [UVSQ]), A. Marciniak (UAM), T. Michalowski (UAM), P. Michel (OCA), M. Pajuelo (IMCCE and Sección Física, Departamento de Ciencias, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Lima, Perú [PUCP]), T. Santana-Ros (Departamento de Física, Ingeniería de Sistemas y Teoría de la Señal, Universidad de Alicante, Spain [UA] and Institut de Ciéncies del Cosmos, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain [UB]), P. Tanga (OCA), A. Vigan (LAM), O. Witasse (ESTEC), and B. Yang (European Southern Observatory, Santiago, Chile [ESO]).

The team of the paper entitled “An advanced multipole model for (216) Kleopatra triple system” ( is composed of M. Brož (CU), F. Marchis (SETI and LAM), L. Jorda (LAM), J. Hanuš (CU), P. Vernazza (LAM), M. Ferrais (LAM), F. Vachier (IMCCE), N. Rambaux (IMCCE), M. Marsset (MIT), M. Viikinkoski (TAU), E. Jehin (STAR), S. Benseguane (LAM), E. Podlewska-Gaca (UAM), B. Carry (OCA), A. Drouard (LAM), S. Fauvaud (OBB), M. Birlan (IMCCE and AIRA), J. Berthier (IMCCE), P. Bartczak (UAM), C. Dumas (TMT), G. Dudziński (UAM), J. Ďurech (CU), J. Castillo-Rogez (JPL), F. Cipriani (ESTEC​​), F. Colas (IMCCE), R. Fetick (LAM), T. Fusco (LAM and ONERA), J. Grice (OCA and OU), A. Kryszczynska (UAM), P. Lamy (CNRS and UVSQ), A. Marciniak (UAM), T. Michalowski (UAM), P. Michel (OCA), M. Pajuelo (IMCCE and PUCP), T. Santana-Ros (UA and UB), P. Tanga (OCA), A. Vigan (LAM), O. Witasse (ESTEC), and B. Yang (ESO).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

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Text Credits: ESO/Bárbara Ferreira/Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille/Pierre Vernazza/Charles University/Miroslav Brož/SETI Institute and Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille/Franck Marchis/Images: ESO/Vernazza, Marchis et al./MISTRAL algorithm (ONERA/CNRS)/ESO/M. Kornmesser/Marchis et al./Video: ESO/

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Cosmonauts Start Spacewalk to Work on Science Module


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Cosmonauts patch.

September 9, 2021

Expedition 65 Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos began a spacewalk to prepare the new Nauka multipurpose laboratory module for operations in space when they opened the hatch of the Poisk docking compartment airlock of the International Space Station at 10:51 a.m. EDT.

Novitskiy, designated extravehicular crew member 1 (EV1), is wearing a Russian Orlan spacesuit with red stripes, and Dubrov is wearing a spacesuit with blue stripes as extravehicular crew member 2 (EV2).

Image above: Russian spacewalker Pyotr Dubrov is pictured on Sept. 3 outfitting the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module with ethernet cables, power cables and handrails. Image Credits: NASA TV/Roscosmos.

Coverage of the spacewalk continues on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. Views from a camera on Novitskiy’s helmet are designated with the number 22, and Dubrov’s is labeled with the number 20.

The duo’s primary tasks for today’s spacewalk are to continue connecting an ethernet cable and television and rendezvous system cables to the new module, install handrails to enable spacewalkers to maneuver more easily, and to install a biology experiment on the Poisk module.

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


mercredi 8 septembre 2021

Crew Readies for Thursday, Sunday Spacewalks as Science Rolls On


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

September 8, 2021

Two Expedition 65 cosmonauts are ready for their second spacewalk to continue outfitting Russia’s new science module on Thursday. Meanwhile, another spacewalk is due to take place on Sunday to modify the International Space Station’s power system.

Cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov wrapped up their spacewalk reviews and Orlan spacesuit checks just before lunchtime on Wednesday. The Russian duo is ready to begin Thursday’s spacewalk set to begin at 11 a.m. EDT when they open the hatch on the Poisk airlock to the vacuum of space. NASA TV will begin its live spacewalk coverage at 10:30 a.m. on the NASA app and the agency’s website.

Image above: Russian spacewalkers (from left) Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov are pictured on Sept. 3 outfitting the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module with cables and handrails. Image Credits: NASA TV/Roscosmos.

They will spend about six-and-a-half hours continuing power and ethernet cable connections and installing handrails on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. The three-time spacewalkers will also complete tasks deferred from the Sept. 3 spacewalk including more ethernet cable connections, cable jettisoning and biology experiment installations.

Another spacewalk is scheduled to start Sunday at 8:30 a.m. to install a modification kit on the station’s Port-4 (P4) truss structure. Astronauts Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet are preparing for that spacewalk to ready the P4 for the orbiting lab’s third Roll-Out Solar Array due to arrive on a SpaceX Cargo Dragon mission early next year. NASA TV will begin its live coverage at 7 a.m. as the experienced astronauts prepare to exit the U.S. Quest airlock in their U.S. spacesuits for a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Meanwhile, science and maintenance continued on the orbiting lab with the crew finding time to work on human research, biology, and combustion. Pesquet from ESA (European Space Agency) studied how astronauts grip objects and move their limbs in microgravity while NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough fed rodents and cleaned their habitats during the morning.

Hoshide and NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei worked on a pair of different combustion studies today. Hoshide, the commander from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), removed combustion research hardware from the Kibo laboratory module‘s multipurpose small payload rack. Vande Hei replaced an igniter inside the Combustion Integrated Rack for the ACME series of space combustion studies.

NASA Flight Engineer Megan McArthur focused on orbital plumbing tasks and dismantling air resupply tanks during the morning. After lunch, she turned her attention to unpacking the Cargo Dragon vehicle then joining Vande Hei for a procedures review conference with Sunday’s spacewalkers Hoshide and Pesquet.

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

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NASA, SpaceX Continue Planning for Next Crew Rotation Missions to International Space Station


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September 8, 2021

NASA and SpaceX are continuing plans to launch Crew-3 astronauts to the International Space Station as early as Sunday Oct. 31, and targeting the return home of Crew-2 astronauts in the early-to-mid November timeframe.

Crew-3 will be the third crew rotation mission with astronauts on an American rocket and spacecraft from the United States to the space station, and the fourth flight with astronauts, including the Demo-2 test flight in 2020, Crew-1 mission in 2020-21, and the ongoing Crew-2 flight as part of the Expedition 65 crew.

Image above: With a view of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at left, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars upward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 23, 2021, carrying a crew of four on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission. Launch time was at 5:49 a.m. EDT. Photo credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky.

The Crew-3 mission will launch NASA astronauts Raja Chari, mission commander, Tom Marshburn, pilot, and Kayla Barron, mission specialist, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer, also a mission specialist, aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew is scheduled for a long-duration stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, living and working as part of what is expected to be a seven-member crew.

Crew-3 astronauts plan to arrive at the station to overlap with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who flew to the station as part of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission in April 2021.

Missions teams also are targeting no earlier than April 15, 2022, for the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the space station for a six-month science mission aboard the microgravity laboratory.

SpaceX Crew Dragon. Image Credit: SpaceX

Crew-4 will be commanded by Kjell Lindgren with Bob Hines as pilot, both NASA astronauts. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will be a mission specialist and command the ISS Expedition 68 crew, while the remaining crew member has yet to be named. Crew-3 astronauts are set to return to Earth in late April 2022 following a similar handover with Crew-4.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with industry through a public-private partnership to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station, which will allow for additional research time and will increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration. The space station remains the springboard to space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and Mars.

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Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Danielle Sempsrott.


Targeted launch date for Webb: 18 December 2021


NASA / ESA / CSA-ASC - James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) patch.

Sep 8, 2021

ESA, NASA and Arianespace have jointly defined 18 December 2021 as the target launch date for Ariane 5 flight VA256. This third Ariane 5 launch of 2021 will fly the James Webb Space Telescope to space from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

Artist's view of Webb on an Ariane 5 rocket

Important milestones of the launch programme for Webb have already been passed or are approaching, such as the final mission analysis review for its launch, the shipment of the Ariane 5 launch vehicle elements from continental Europe to French Guiana, and the scheduled shipment of Webb to French Guiana by the end of September 2021.

Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). As part of the international collaboration agreement, ESA is providing the telescope’s launch service using the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. Working with partners, ESA was responsible for the development and qualification of Ariane 5 adaptations for the Webb mission and for the procurement of the launch service. Besides that, ESA is contributing the NIRSpec instrument and a 50% share of the MIRI instrument, as well as personnel to support mission operations.

“ESA is proud that Webb will launch from Europe’s Spaceport on an Ariane 5 rocket specially adapted for this mission. We are on track, the spaceport is busy preparing for the arrival of this extraordinary payload, and the Ariane 5 elements for this launch are coming together. We are fully committed, with all Webb partners, to the success of this once-in-a-generation mission,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation.

“We now know the day that thousands of people have been working towards for many years, and that millions around the world are looking forward to. Webb and its Ariane 5 launch vehicle are ready, thanks to the excellent work across all mission partners. We are looking forward to seeing the final preparations for launch at Europe’s Spaceport,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.

Webb and Ariane 5: a fit made perfect

Ariane 5 will deliver the telescope directly into a precision transfer orbit towards its destination, the second Lagrange point (L2). After separation from the Ariane 5, Webb will continue its four-week long journey to L2 alone. L2 is four times farther away than the Moon, 1.5 million km from Earth in the direction away from the Sun.

Webb’s journey to L2

Webb will observe the Universe at wavelengths longer than visible light, namely in the near-infrared and mid-infrared. To do so, it carries a suite of state-of-the-art cameras, spectrographs and coronagraphs. Webb will cover longer wavelengths of light than the Hubble Space telescope and has a 100 times improved sensitivity, which opens up a new window to the Universe. The longer wavelengths enable Webb to uncover hidden parts of our Solar System, peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming, reveal the composition of exoplanets' atmospheres in more detail, and look farther back in time to see the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe.

Webb science

With its unique abilities, Webb is a key mission among ESA’s fleet of space science missions that unlock the secrets of the Universe. Its discoveries will complement those of ESA’s current and upcoming exoplanet missions: Cheops, Plato, and Ariel. Webb will also follow up on detections from Euclid, ESA’s upcoming spacecraft to understand the fabric of our cosmos. Furthermore, Webb’s discoveries will help set the stage for ESA’s future X-ray mission Athena and gravitational wave detector LISA.

About Ariane 5

Ariane 5 is an ESA programme. The launch vehicle is manufactured by ArianeGroup. Arianespace is responsible for operating Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on the northeastern coast of South America. The French space agency CNES maintains and develops the launch range infrastructures and also provides essential support for launch vehicle and satellite preparation. ESA owns the launch infrastructure and is the launch vehicle design authority.

Related announcement:

Targeted Ariane 5 launch date for James Webb Space Telescope

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Images, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros.

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