samedi 2 octobre 2021

BepiColombo’s first views of Mercury


ESA - BepiColombo Mission patch.

Oct. 2, 2021

Mercury first impressions

The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission has captured its first views of its destination planet Mercury as it swooped past in a close gravity assist flyby last night.

Hello Mercury

The closest approach took place at 23:34 UTC on 1 October at an altitude of 199 km from the planet’s surface. Images from the spacecraft’s monitoring cameras, along with scientific data from a number of instruments, were collected during the encounter. The images were already downloaded over the course of Saturday morning, and a selection of first impressions are presented here.

A taste of Mercury geology

“The flyby was flawless from the spacecraft point of view, and it’s incredible to finally see our target planet,” says Elsa Montagnon, Spacecraft Operations Manager for the mission.

Sunrise on Mercury

The monitoring cameras provide black-and-white snapshots in 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution, and are positioned on the Mercury Transfer Module such that they also capture the spacecraft’s structural elements, including its antennas and the magnetometer boom.

BepiColombo meets Mercury

Images were acquired from about five minutes after the time of close approach and up to four hours later. Because BepiColombo arrived on the planet’s nightside, conditions were not ideal to take images directly at the closest approach, thus the closest image was captured from a distance of about 1000 km.

Sunrise on Mercury – annotated

In many of the images, it is possible to identify some large impact craters (click to expand captions for more details of individual images).

“It was an incredible feeling seeing these almost-live pictures of Mercury,” says Valetina Galluzzi, co-investigator of BepiColombo’s SIMBIO-SYS imaging system that will be used once in Mercury orbit. “It really made me happy meeting the planet I have been studying since the very first years of my research career, and I am eager to work on new Mercury images in the future.”

BepiColombo meets Mercury – annotated

“It was very exciting to see BepiColombo’s first images of Mercury, and to work out what we were seeing,” says David Rothery of the UK’s Open University who leads ESA’s Mercury Surface and Composition Working Group. “It has made me even more enthusiastic to study the top quality science data that we should get when we are in orbit around Mercury, because this is a planet that we really do not yet fully understand.”

Hello Mercury – annotated

Although the cratered surface looks rather like Earth’s Moon at first sight, Mercury has a much different history. Once its main science mission begins, BepiColombo’s two science orbiters – ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter – will study all aspects of mysterious Mercury from its core to surface processes, magnetic field and exosphere, to better understand the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star. For example, it will map the surface of Mercury and analyse its composition to learn more about its formation. One theory is that it may have begun as a larger body that was then stripped of most of its rock by a giant impact. This left it with a relatively large iron core, where its magnetic field is generated, and only a thin rocky outer shell.

A taste of Mercury geology – annotated

Mercury has no equivalent to the ancient bright lunar highlands: its surface is dark almost everywhere, and was formed by vast outpourings of lava billions of years ago. These lava flows bear the scars of craters formed by asteroids and comets crashing onto the surface at speeds of tens of kilometers per hour. The floors of some of the older and larger craters have been flooded by younger lava flows, and there are also more than a hundred sites where volcanic explosions have ruptured the surface from below.

BepiColombo will probe these themes to help us understand this mysterious planet more fully, building on the data collected by NASA’s Messenger mission. It will tackle questions such as: What are the volatile substances that turn violently into gas to power the volcanic explosions? How did Mercury retain these volatiles if most of its rock was stripped away? How long did volcanic activity persist? How quickly does Mercury’s magnetic field change?

BepiColombo’s first images of Mercury

“In addition to the images we obtained from the monitoring cameras we also operated several science instruments on the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter,” adds Johannes Benkhoff, ESA’s BepiColombo project scientist. “I’m really looking forward to seeing these results. It was a fantastic night shift with fabulous teamwork, and with many happy faces.”

BepiColombo’s main science mission will begin in early 2026. It is making use of nine planetary flybys in total: one at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury, together with the spacecraft’s solar electric propulsion system, to help steer into Mercury orbit. Its next Mercury flyby will take place 23 June 2022.

BepiColombo first Mercury flyby

All MCAM images will be publicly available in the Planetary Science Archive next week. Some first-look science impressions may also be available next week. Follow @bepicolombo for further updates.

Related articles:

Navigating a very close approach

Mercury ahead!

Related link:


Images, Text, Credits: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ATG Medialab/Video Credits: ESA/JAXA/BepiColombo/MTM/SciNews.

Best regards,

vendredi 1 octobre 2021

Russian Crew Ship Rolls Out; Station Keeps Up Science and Spaceship Tasks


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

October 1, 202

Soyuz MS-19 rollout to the launch-pad. Video Credit: ROSCOSMOS

Russia rolled out its Soyuz rocket in Kazakhstan early Friday morning that will launch three crewmates to the International Space Station next week. On the other side of the Earth, the SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle completed its mission Thursday night after splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

The next mission to the orbiting lab is due to blast off on Tuesday at 4:55 a.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will command the near three-and-a-half hour ride to the station’s Rassvet module aboard the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship. Sitting to either side of Shkaplerov during the short flight will be Russian spaceflight participants Klim Shipenko and Yulia Peresild.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-18 rocket is launched April 9, 2021 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA TV starts its live coverage of the Soyuz launch on Tuesday at 4:15 a.m. on the NASA app and the agency’s website. NASA TV will be back on the air at 7:30 a.m. broadcasting the docking set for 8:12 a.m. and again at 9:30 a.m. for the hatch opening planned for 10:05 a.m.

Back on orbit, the seven-member Expedition 65 crew juggled a variety of science activities and maintenance tasks. The orbital residents also worked on U.S. crew ship inspections and Russian cargo transfers.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-18 crew ship is pictured docked to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. Image Credits: NASA/ROSCOSMOS.

NASA Flight Engineers Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough swapped roles as crew medical officer on Friday morning. The duo took turns scanning each other’s neck, shoulder, and leg veins with the Ultrasound 2 device. In the afternoon, Kimbrough took charge again and examined the eyes and retinas of NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei using near infrared imaging gear. Doctors on the ground assisted the astronauts in real time during the vein scans and eye checks.

Kimbrough and McArthur also partnered up during the afternoon inspecting life support systems inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour. The pair along with astronauts Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) are due to return to Earth aboard Endeavour in November.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy is packing up and gathering items, getting ready for his return to Earth on Oct. 18 inside the Soyuz MS-18 crew ship. Novitskiy will be parachuting to a landing in Kazakhstan with the two spaceflight participants Shipenko and Peresild. Vande Hei and Roscosmos Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov, who launched to space with Novitskiy in April, will stay on the station for another five months.

Dubrov, meanwhile, worked on cargo transfers inside the ISS Progress 78 resupply ship today. The first-time space flyer also joined Novitskiy before lunchtime testing a specialized suit, the lower body negative suit, that counteracts the space-caused pooling of fluids toward the human head.

Related articles:

SpaceX Cargo Dragon Undocked From Station

NASA TV Coverage Set for Russian Film Production Launch

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Rassvet module:


Ultrasound 2:

Soyuz MS-18:

ISS Progress 78:

Lower body negative suit:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Readies for Future Artemis Moon Missions with Rocket Engine Test Series


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.


Oct. 1, 2021

NASA marked a significant milestone Sept. 30 in its plans for future missions to the Moon and, eventually, Mars with completion of an RS-25 single-engine Retrofit-2 test series at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

A full-duration hot fire of RS-25 developmental engine No. 0528 on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis culminated a seven-test series to support development and production of new engines for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on future missions.

“This successful test series for the Space Launch System RS-25 engine puts us one step closer to manufacturing the first new set of engines for future Artemis missions to the Moon,” said Johnny Heflin, manager of the SLS liquid engines office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in  Huntsville, Alabama. “We are testing engine parts made with advanced manufacturing techniques that can reduce the cost of each engine by more than 30 percent yet still maintain the RS-25 engine’s reliability and high performance.”

Image above: RS-25 Hot Fire Test cutline: NASA conducts a full-duration RS-25 hot fire test on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center on Sept. 30. The hot fire of more than 8 minutes marked the final test of a Retrofit-2 series to support development and production of new engines for the agency’s Space Launch System. Image Credits: NASA/SSC.

During the Sept. 30 hot fire, operators fired RS-25 developmental engine No. 0528, used for each of the seven tests in the series, for more than eight minutes (500 seconds), the same time required during an actual launch.

The test series provided valuable information to Aerojet Rocketdyne, lead contractor for the SLS engines, as it produces engines for use after the Artemis IV mission to the Moon. Operators collected hot fire data to demonstrate and verify various engine capabilities, and to evaluate new engine components manufactured with cutting-edge and cost-saving technologies and reduce operational risk.

Tested components included a 3D-printed pogo accumulator to dampen pressure oscillations that can cause flight instability and a main combustion chamber fabricated using a hot isostatic pressure (HIP) bonding technique. These components are significant early milestones in NASA’s and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s effort to maximize state-of-the-art manufacturing methods to significantly reduce the cost and time needed to build new RS-25 engines.

RS-25 engine infographic. Image Credit: NASA

The Sept. 30 test was delayed from its original date due to impacts from Hurricane Ida, which struck the Gulf Coast region on Aug. 29. The storm initially impacted propellant deliveries to the center, necessitating a delay as suppliers recovered full capabilities.

“I am proud to see how the test team and our propellant suppliers overcame the impacts of Hurricane Ida to get us back to testing the RS-25,” Stennis RS-25 Project Manager Chip Ellis said. “With each test we learn more and more about the RS-25 engine and how it operates. And it is exciting to know that what we are doing contributes to the safety of the astronauts that will fly on SLS.”

Four RS-25 engines, along with a pair of solid rocket boosters, will help power SLS at launch. Firing simultaneously, the engines will generate a combined 1.6 million pounds of thrust at liftoff and 2 million pounds during ascent.

SLS RS-25 Engine Test, 30 September 2021

Previous RS-25 testing at Stennis began Jan. 9, 2015, and concluded April 4, 2019. During this period, NASA completed acceptance testing of former space shuttle main engines that will help power the first four SLS missions, conducted developmental and flightworthiness testing for all 16 new controllers (plus one spare) to be used on the heritage RS-25 engines, and demonstrated the ability of RS-25 engines to perform at the higher power level required to launch the super-heavy SLS rocket.

The first hot fire of the most current series was conducted on Jan. 28, 2021. Over the course of the seven-part test series, which coincided with Green Run testing of the SLS core stage at Stennis, developmental engine No. 0528 underwent 3,650 seconds of hot fire. The schedule included six full-duration, hot fire tests of more than eight minutes (500 seconds) and one hot fire of just under 11 minutes (650 seconds). A full-duration test refers to the time the engine must fire during an actual launch in order to power SLS towards orbit. Longer duration hot fires are conducted to test the limits of engine performance.

The Retrofit-2 test series followed major maintenance and upgrade projects on the A-1 Test Stand, including installation of a new NASA-designed-and-manufactured thrust vector control system on the structure that allows operators to “gimbal” test RS-25 engines, moving them on a tight circular axis. Gimbaling is a critical capability that ensures SLS can maintain a proper flight trajectory.

RS-25 engine. Image Credit: NASA

Operators are scheduled to begin a follow-up Retrofit-3 test series, using RS-25 developmental engine No. 0525, on the A-1 Test Stand later this fall. The new series will continue to collect data for new engine production.

NASA is building SLS as the world’s most powerful rocket. With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. SLS and the Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. The agency is working towards the launch of the Artemis I uncrewed flight test in upcoming months, which will pave the way for future missions.

RS-25 tests at Stennis are conducted by a combined team of NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Syncom Space Services operators. Syncom Space Services is the prime contractor for Stennis facilities and operations.

For information about Stennis Space Center, visit:

Related links:

Space Launch System (SLS):


Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/LaToya Dean/Stennis Space Center/C. Lacy Thompson/SciNews.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of September 27, 2021


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

Oct 1, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Sept. 27 that included testing augmented reality assistance with maintenance, wrapping up a student robotic challenge, and analyzing the microbiome of diabetic foot ulcers. Crew members also spent time packing the SpaceX Cargo Dragon, which undocked from the space station on Thursday and returned scientific samples to the ground.

Image above: The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is visible before its departure, lower left in this image taken as the International Space Station orbited 264 miles above northern France. The long-exposure photograph reveals Earth's atmospheric glow and stars above the horizon. 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:

Lending a virtual hand

Image above: JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi reviews procedures through the T2AR augmented reality goggles as he prepares to conduct routine maintenance on the station’s treadmill (green panels in the bottom of the image). Image Credit: NASA.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) help crew members on the space station in a variety of ways on the space station. The T2AR investigation uses AR to help crew members inspect and maintain the station’s treadmill, COLBERT. The ability to conduct such tasks without assistance from the ground supports future long-term space missions, which will experience significant communication delays. AR and VR also can reduce the amount of time that crew members spend training for and completing tasks. Crew members conducted sessions with the AR headset during the week.

Students remotely control robots

Students learn about space robot technology and gain hands-on experience creating software and observing how it works with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Robo-Pro Challenge. Participants create software to control one of the space station’s Astrobee free-flying robot and receive a score based on how their programs complete each task. The experience helps build critical problem-solving skills needed on Earth and inspires students to pursue careers in the space industry or related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. During the week, crew members conducted the final round of Challenge 2.

Putting a better foot forward

Image above: Pre-flight image of the Project Maleth Biocube, which carried SpaceOMIX, the first investigation from Malta, to the space station. The investigation studies treatment-resistant diabetic foot ulcers using genetic analysis. Image Credits: DOI: Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs, Malta.

Ice Cubes #9-Project Maleth, or SpaceOMIX, examines adaptation to space by the skin microbiome, or community of bacteria, in patients with diabetic foot ulcers that are resistant to treatment. The investigation, sponsored by ESA (European Space Agency), represents the first-ever mission to space from Malta. Scientists use a special type of genetic sequencing to analyze cultures and identify the bacteria present. This information could help determine specific bacteria that could predict resistant ulcers and those that may contribute to treatment resistance. The data will be added to the NASA GeneLab database. During the week, the crew processed the investigation in the ICE Cubes facility.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- NICER is mounted on the exterior of the space station to study the physics of neutron stars, the glowing cinders left behind when massive stars explode as supernovas. The investigation includes SEXTANT, a demonstration for a GPS-like system for future spacecraft navigation using these stars, also known as pulsars, as natural beacons.

- For Eklosion, a crew member grows a Marigold plant and takes photographs to document the flower’s growth each week. This ESA investigation gathers data on plant growth and the psychological benefits of tending the plant for the crew member.

- Lumina is an ESA investigation demonstrating real-time monitoring of radiation dose received by crew members using a dosimeter with optical fibers that darken when exposed to radiation. Monitoring ionizing radiation is a key challenge for future space exploration, and this dosimeter could help anticipate radiation flares and guide reaction to them.

- Ring Sheared Drop uses a device to create shear flow, or a difference in velocity between adjacent liquid layers. Previous research shows shear flow 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.

- 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.

- Plant Habitat-04 grows New Mexico Hatch Green Chili peppers in the Advanced Plant Habitat and conducts microbial analysis to improve understanding of plant-microbe interactions in space, assessment of flavor and texture, and nutritional analysis.

- HRF Veg focuses on the overall health benefits to crew members of having various plants and fresh food available. The investigation uses psychological surveys and crew evaluations of the flavor and appeal of plants that are grown on the space station for other investigations.

- 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.

Space to Ground: A Short Trip: 10/01/2021

Related links:

Expedition 65:



Robo-Pro Challenge:




NASA GeneLab:

ICE Cubes:

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.

Best regards,

Navigating a very close approach


ESA & JAXA - BepiColombo Mission logo.

Oct. 1, 2021

Tonight, BepiColombo will perform the first of six Mercury flybys, each honing the spacecrafts’ trajectory with the ultimate goal of shedding enough energy – after its two years ‘falling’ towards the Sun – to be caught by the innermost planet’s gravity and remain in Mercurial orbit.

BepiColombo first Mercury flyby

This first Mercury flyby will alter the spacecraft's velocity by 2.1 km/s with respect to the Sun, with the spacecraft passing just 198 km from the planet’s surface – half the altitude of the International Space Station – at 01:34 CEST on the morning of 2 October.

For all of this to happen, BepiColombo must approach the planet from precisely the right position, and this has taken months of meticulous planning from the Flight Dynamics experts at ESA's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

Ultra-precise navigation

BepiColombo’s journey to Mercury

Gravitational flybys require extremely precise deep-space navigation work, ensuring the spacecraft is on the correct approach trajectory. For this flyby, the requirement is for BepiColombo to fly just 200 kilometres from Mercury at its closest point, and here every kilometre makes a difference.

To make things difficult, BepiColombo is more than 100 million kilometres away from Earth, travelling at a velocity of 54 km/s with respect to the Sun, with signals taking 350 seconds (about six minutes) to travel from us to the mission, at the speed of light.

Cebreros station

“Because of the remarkable precision of measurements from our network of ground stations and antennas all over the globe and the continuous efforts of the Flight Dynamics Navigation Team, our current knowledge of BepiColombo’s position is accurate to about 500 metres, and we know its velocity to the nearest millimetre per second,” explains Frank Budnik, Flight Dynamics Manager of BepiColombo at ESA’s ESOC Operations Centre.

A very close approach

One week after BepiColombo’s latest flyby of Venus on 10 August, a correction manoeuvre was performed to nudge the craft a little for this first flyby of Mercury.

BepiColombo’s first Mercury flyby – key moments

At the moment, BepiColombo is on track to pass Mercury at an altitude of 198 km. Given the cosmic scales involved, being on target to within just two kilometres is no easy feat. But because precision matters, that difference of 2 kilometres can be corrected using the spacecraft’s electric propulsion system after the flyby.

Manoeuvre slots are always built into the scheduling to allow teams on the ground frequent windows to keep spacecraft on track. Because the initial burn after Venus was so accurate, the third flyby of nine in BepiColombo’s long journey, no further corrections were needed on route to Mercury.

Space on Earth

Since 2005, when ESA’s second deep space antenna in Cebreros came into operation, the Agency has used an extremely precise navigation technique called ‘delta-DOR’. The bat-sonar-like method tells us where spacecraft are, how fast they’re travelling and in what direction, accurate to within a few hundred metres, even at a distance of 100 000 000 km.

How not to lose a spacecraft deep in space

One deep space station can tell you the distance to your spacecraft and how quickly it is moving along the line-of-sight, but it needed two stations for a complete picture of interplanetary motion, using the slightly different view from each ground station to get the spacecraft’s ‘perpendicular’ motion.

Now, ESA is preparing to build its fourth deep space station in New Norcia, Australia, increasing the ability of the Estrack network to be there for missions in flight now and in the future.

Follow the flyby

Follow @Esaoperations and @bepicolombo together with @ESA_Bepi, @ESA_MTM and @JAXA_MMO for updates:

The first image is expected to be released early in the morning of Saturday 2 October (provisionally 08:00 CEST); subsequent images may be released later in the day on Saturday and/or Monday 4 October. Additional science commentary may also be available in the week following the flyby. Timings subject to change depending on actual spacecraft events and image availability.

Related article:

Mercury ahead!

Related links:


ESA's mission control:


Estrack network:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab/ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Best regards,

Trading spaces: ESA bolsters European business


ESA - OPS-SAT Mission patch.

Oct. 1, 2021

Yesterday, ESA’s orbiting laboratory, OPS-SAT, hosted the first-ever stock trade in space. The successful experiment required developers at Europe’s leading online broker flatexDEGIRO to think far outside of the box and adapt their software to the technical demands and constrained bandwidth found on an orbiting platform at 500 km altitude.

OPS-SAT in orbit

The experiment provided a unique opportunity to test how to improve the reliability, storage efficiency, communication and security of financial transactions, some of the fundamental requirements for any trading business aiming to compete on a global stage.

First trade in orbit

On 30 September, flatexDEGIRO used ESA’s OPS-SAT satellite to trade 100 of their own shares, which sold for about €200.00. The transaction, miniscule in comparison to the billions of euros traded every day through computers, networks and connections on Earth, was the first of its kind to happen in orbit.

The trade execution was monitored by a team at ESA’s ESOC mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, although the flexibility of the open-platform OPS-SAT laboratory meant that it could have been done from anywhere.

Image above: A successful first stock trade in space, celebrated by ESA's Rolf Densing and CEO of flatexDEGIRO, Frank Niehage.

“An online brokerage and its technical infrastructure are designed to make transactions simple and easy for customers, but they are exposed to daily attacks from hackers, latency issues and other technical challenges,” said Frank Niehage, CEO of flatexDEGIRO.

“For our technical teams, working with ESA’s OPS-SAT platform allowed us to fly an experiment that helps expand our knowledge and expertise and increase flatexDEGIRO’s competitive edge to the benefit of our customers.”

“We also aimed to gain insights into the feasibility of any future satellite-supported trading system in a practical test of securities trading.”

Surprising new use for ESA’s open platform

ESA’s free-to-use OPS-SAT is specifically designed to trial and test innovative new software from European companies and other entities, including universities, research institutes and government agencies – who often find it a challenge to gain flight heritage for their newly developed applications and tools.

OPS-SAT: ESA’s flying lab, open to all

OPS-SAT, launched in December 2019, is a cubesat just 30 cm tall but it features powerful onboard systems and can host a range of experiments, spanning artificial intelligence, advanced communication protocols and compression techniques, software-defined radio, optical communication, advanced autonomous planning, web services in space and much else.

To date, over 200 experimenters – most submitted by start-ups and small-to-medium enterprises – have flown their software in orbit.

SMILE! ESA's mini-mission control facilities now open to the public

“Having a trading platform come on board OPS-SAT was a bit unexpected. But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense,” says ESA’s David Evans, OPS-SAT Mission Manager.

“Executing stock trades and flying a satellite present many similar challenges, like the high cost of making a mistake, how to keep systems running around the clock and protection from cyberattack while remaining open to the Internet. Bringing these two worlds together is a unique and fruitful exchange.”

What are space agencies for?

As space now underpins an enormous slice of Europe’s economy, while also becoming more accessible than ever before, initiatives like OPS-SAT illustrate ESA’s role – and the changing role of space agencies more generally – to enable the development of innovative new technologies, support businesses and lead the way to foster the commercialisation of space.

First OPS-SAT photos capture frosty fjord

Agencies’ abilities to enable businesses to experiment and take risks shows what is possible in space, while also supporting new economic models and setting standards for responsible and sustainable spaceflight.

Related links:



Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Martin Joppen/ESOC/André Løfaldli.


jeudi 30 septembre 2021

Dragon Heads Home, Crew Ship Nears Launch as Research Continues


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

September 30, 2021

Image above: The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle is pictured approaching the station on Aug. 30 for an autonomous docking to the Harmony module’s forward international docking adapter. Image Credit: NASA.

A U.S. resupply ship departed the International Space Station on Thursday morning and will return to Earth in the evening. A Russian rocket is scheduled to roll out on Friday to prepare for next week’s launch with the crew members to the orbiting lab.

NASA Flight Engineer Shane Kimbrough was on duty monitoring the SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle during its automated undocking from the Harmony module’s forward international docking adapter today at 9:12 a.m. EDT. It will orbit Earth for several more hours before parachuting to a splashdown off the coast of Florida later tonight. NASA and SpaceX personnel will be on support boats ready to retrieve the cargo craft containing station hardware and completed science experiments for analysis.

Dragon cargo splashdown off the coast of Florida. Animation Credits: SpaceX/NASA TV

The next mission to the orbiting lab will blast off on Tuesday at 4:55 a.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz MS-19 crew ship will carry veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov leading spaceflight participants Klim Shipenko and Yulia Peresild. The Russian trio will dock to the station’s Rassvet module less than three-and-a-half hours after launch.

Meanwhile, microgravity science activities are ongoing aboard the space station today. Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) swapped samples inside the Fluids Science Laboratory to study the dynamics of granular materials in weightlessness. Commander Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration installed a deployer loaded with small satellites inside the Kibo laboratory module’s airlock.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA Flight Engineers Megan McArthur and Mark Vande Hei spent their day on botany and biology studies. McArthur cleaned up debris and took photographs of Hatch chile plants growing inside the Plant Habitat. Vande Hei started his morning processing blood samples in a centrifuge then spent the afternoon stowing biological samples in a science freezer for the Food Physiology experiment.

Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy monitored his blood pressure while wearing the lower body negative pressure suit that counteracts the effect of microgravity pulling fluids toward the human head. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov photographed microbe samples swabbed from station surfaces to understand the risk to spacecraft and future human missions.

Related article:

SpaceX Cargo Dragon Undocked From Station

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Harmony module:

Rassvet module:

Fluids Science Laboratory:

Dynamics of granular materials:

Kibo laboratory module:

Hatch chile plants :

Plant Habitat:

Food Physiology:

Microbe samples:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


The spectrum of gravitational waves


ESA - European Space Agency logo.

Sep. 30, 2021

Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime produced by the acceleration of very massive objects, such as black holes coming together and merging. Different objects in space produce gravitational waves of different timescales, ranging from milliseconds to billions of years. Some of these waves can only be observed from space.

This is the goal of ESA’s future mission LISA, which will be the first space-based gravitational wave observatory.

LISA will study gravitational waves that are produced by merging stellar mass black holes, supermassive black holes and white dwarfs. It will also pick up the waves produced by compact objects, like neutron stars or small black holes, that fall into a supermassive black hole.

Related links:

European Space Agency (ESA):

LISA: and

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

Best regards,

SpaceX Cargo Dragon Undocked From Station


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-23 Mission patch.

September 30, 2021

With NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough monitoring aboard the International Space Station, a SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft undocked from the station’s forward port of the Harmony module at 9:12 a.m. EDT.

Image above: Sept. 30, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are parked at the space station including Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter; the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle; and Russia’s Soyuz MS-18 crew ship and ISS Progress 78 resupply ship. Image Credit: NASA.

Cargo Dragon will fire its thrusters to move a safe distance away from the station prior to a deorbit burn later in the day that will begin its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft will make parachute-assisted splashdown around 11 p.m. off the coast of Florida. NASA Television will not broadcast the splashdown live, but will provide updates on the Space News blog.

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 hours after splashdown. This shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects.

SpaceX CRS-23 Dragon undocking and departure

Dragon launched Aug. 29 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy, arriving at the station the following day. The spacecraft delivered more than 4,800 pounds of research investigations, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbiting outpost.

Related article:

SpaceX CRS-23 Dragon Returns Experiments on Brain, Muscles, Liver to Earth

Related links:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

This is what a solid made of electrons looks like


Physics logo.

Sep. 30, 2021

Physicists have imaged elusive ‘Wigner crystals’ for the first time.

Image above: This scanning tunneling microscope image of a graphene sheet reveals that a ‘Wigner crystal’ — a honeycomb arrangement of electrons — has formed inside a layered structure underneath. Image Credits: H. Li et al./Nature.

If the conditions are just right, some of the electrons inside a material will arrange themselves into a tidy honeycomb pattern — like a solid within a solid. Physicists have now directly imaged these ‘Wigner crystals’, named after the Hungarian-born theorist Eugene Wigner, who first imagined them almost 90 years ago.

Researchers had convincingly created Wigner crystals and measured their properties before, but this is the first time that anyone has actually taken a snapshot of the patterns, says study co-author Feng Wang, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. “If you say you have an electron crystal, show me the crystal,” he says. The results were published on 29 September in Nature (1).

To create the Wigner crystals, Wang’s team built a device containing atom-thin layers of two similar semiconductors: tungsten disulfide and tungsten diselenide. The team then used an electric field to tune the density of the electrons that moved freely along the interface between the two layers.

In ordinary materials, electrons zoom around too quickly to be significantly affected by the repulsion between their negative charges. But Wigner predicted that if electrons travelled slowly enough, that repulsion would begin to dominate their behaviour. The electrons would then find arrangements that minimize their total energy, such as a honeycomb pattern. So Wang and his colleagues slowed the electrons in their device by cooling it to just a few degrees above absolute zero.

A mismatch between the two layers in the device also helped the electrons to form Wigner crystals. The atoms in each of the two semiconductor layers are slightly different distances apart, so pairing them together creates a honeycomb ‘moiré pattern’, similar to that seen when overlaying two grids. That repeating pattern created regions of slightly lower energy, which helped the electrons settle down.

Graphene trick

The team used a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) to see this Wigner crystal. In an STM, a metal tip hovers above the surface of a sample, and a voltage causes electrons to jump down from the tip, creating an electric current. As the tip moves across the surface, the changing intensity of the current reveals the location of electrons in the sample.

Initial attempts to image the Wigner crystal by applying the STM directly on the double-layer device were unsuccessful, Wang says, because the current destroyed the fragile Wigner arrangements. So the team added a layer of graphene, a single-atom sheet of carbon, on top. The presence of the Wigner crystal slightly changed the electron structure of the graphene directly above, which was then picked up by the STM. The images clearly show the neat arrangement of the underlying Wigner electrons. As expected, consecutive electrons in the Wigner crystal are nearly 100 times farther apart than are the atoms in the semiconductor device’s actual crystals.

“I think that’s a great advancement, being able to perform STM on this system,” says Carmen Rubio Verdú, a physicist at Columbia University in New York City. She adds that the same graphene-based method will enable STM studies of a number of other interesting physical phenomena beyond Wigner crystals. Kin Fai Mak, a physicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, agrees. “The technique is non-invasive to the state you want to probe. To me, it is a very clever idea.”



1. Li, H. et al. Nature 597, 650–654 (2021).

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: Nature/Davide Castelvecchi.


mercredi 29 septembre 2021

Crew Packs Dragon for Departure; Studies Robotics and Life Science


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

September 29, 2021

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon is due to wrap up its month-long resupply mission to the International Space Station on Thursday morning. Amidst today’s cargo transfers, the Expedition 65 crew pursued a host of microgravity research on the orbital lab including robotics and biology.

Cargo Dragon’s automated undocking from the Harmony module’s forward international docking adapter is set for Thursday at 9:05 a.m. EDT. The station’s astronauts will continue loading Dragon with hardware and science experiments until about two hours before its departure. Just over half-a-day later the U.S. cargo craft will parachute to a nighttime splashdown off the coast of Florida. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of the spacecraft’s undocking at 8:45 a.m. on the NASA app and the agency’s website. NASA TV will not broadcast the Cargo Dragon’s return to Earth.

Image above: NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough are pictured inside the Kibo laboratory module answering questions from U.S. journalists on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineers Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough took turns on Wednesday carefully packing and safely attaching cargo inside the U.S. space freighter. Commander Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) joined ESA (European Space Agency) Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet installing science freezers containing research samples inside the Cargo Dragon for analysis back on Earth.

Hoshide, a three-time station veteran, began his day setting up the Astrobee robotic helpers inside the Kibo laboratory module. The toaster-sized robotic free-flyers then performed maneuvers using programs written by Japanese and American students competing in a robotics challenge. The event is designed to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to improve space-based and Earth-bound technologies.

Europe night timelapse

Pesquet and NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei partnered up for a space exercise study inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module on Wednesday morning. The duo each spent about an hour on Destiny’s exercise cycle wearing sensors and breathing equipment to measure how working out affects pulmonary function in weightlessness.

Roscosmos Flight Engineer Oleg Novitskiy started his morning servicing a variety of Russian life support gear and electronics hardware before an hourlong cardiac study. Pyotr Dubrov, a first time space-flyer from Roscosmos, joined Novitskiy for the cardiac study that measured their heart function during a rest period with electrocardiogram sensors. Dubrov then spent the day removing camera gear from the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft and downloading imagery captured during Tuesday’s relocation maneuver.

Related article:

Soyuz Crew Ship Docks to New Science Module Port

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Harmony module:



Kibo laboratory module:

Robotics challenge:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:

Exercise cycle:

Soyuz MS-18:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Captures a Cluster in the Heart of the Milky Way


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Sep 29, 2021

This sparkling starfield, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys, contains the globular cluster ESO 520-21 (also known as Palomar 6). A densely packed, roughly spherical collection of stars, it lies close to the center of the Milky Way, where interstellar gas and dust absorb starlight and make observations more challenging.

Interstellar absorption affects some wavelengths of light more than others, changing the colors of astronomical objects by causing them to appear redder than they actually are. Astronomers call this process “reddening,” and it makes determining the properties of globular clusters close to the galactic center – such as ESO 520-21 – particularly difficult.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

ESO 520-21 lies in the constellation Ophiuchus, near the celestial equator. Ophiuchus was one of the 48 constellations included in the writings of the second-century Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy, all of which are among the 88 constellations officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union today.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble and NASA, R. Cohen.


NASA Selects Crew for Simulated Trip to a Mars Moon


NASA - HERA Campaign 6 Mission XXII (C6M1) patch.

Sep 29, 2021

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to head deep into space, all the way to Mars? Through a simulated journey, four volunteer research subjects will soon have a chance to find out.

Image above: The new crew for the upcoming mission of NASA's Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA, stands in front of the habitat that will be their home for 45 days.
From left to right: Lauren Cornell, Monique Garcia, Christopher Roberts, and Madelyne Willis. Image Credit: NASA.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, four people will live and work for 45 days inside a unique, ground-based habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Designed to serve as an analog for isolation, confinement, and remote conditions in exploration scenarios, this small habitat is called the Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA.

NASA's Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA configuration

HERA will house crew members who will simulate the long trek to Mars’ moon Phobos. Similar to other HERA missions, once the habitat’s doors close, the crew will need to stay inside for 45 days until the mission ends on Nov. 15.

As the simulated journey takes crew members closer to Phobos, those inside will experience increasing delays in communicating with the outside world. When the simulation successfully brings the crew to Phobos, this delay will last up to five minutes each way. Such delays will force the crew — and those coordinating their journey — to practice communicating in ways that minimize impacts to mission operations, and allow the crew sufficient autonomy to accomplish the mission.

Image above: The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) is a modular structure consisting of a central core laboratory segment with an adjoining second and third story devoted to living quarters. HRP investigators use the HERA as an analog for future exploration-class missions. Image Credit: NASA.

The upcoming mission signals the start of HERA’s Campaign 6. Three additional missions will follow as part of the campaign, with the final egress set for Sept. 12, 2022.

NASA’s Human Research Program will perform 15 total studies throughout the missions, with seven returning and eight new investigations. The data collected as part of these missions will continue to help prepare humans for Artemis exploration missions to the Moon, trips to the planned lunar Gateway, and long-duration missions to Mars.

Four of the candidates below will form the primary crew of HERA Campaign 6, Mission 1, with the other two as backups. Learn more about each crew member:

Primary Crew

Lauren Cornell

Dr. Lauren Cornell is a graduate of Texas A&M University, University of Texas at San Antonio, and University of Texas at Austin. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Genetics, and a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. Her PhD focused on translational science, which is the process of turning research insights into public interventions.

As a research scientist, Cornell has studied the genetics of human evolution, investigated the use of carbon nanotubes for guided neuronal growth, and used magnetic nanoparticles to regenerate ocular tissue resulting from battlefield injuries. She conducted the latter research at the Sensory Trauma Department of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Surgical Research.

Cornell is also the co-founder of NovoThelium, a company focused on improving women’s health care, with a specific focus on modernizing nipple reconstruction post-mastectomy. She has served as a fellow at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration and advocated to U.S. Congress for increased scientific funding for the National Institutes of Health, all while mentoring early-career scientists and entrepreneurs.

Currently, Cornell is a researcher for the U.S. Air Force, in San Antonio, Texas, contributing to the military branch’s mission to research, develop, and evaluate innovative technologies that impact the advancement of precision, regenerative, and diagnostic medicine for improving clinical outcomes for troops.

Monique Garcia

Monique Garcia works as a human factors engineer and systems administrator for The MITRE Corporation, tasked with developing a user interface for a telescope system that will be used in NASA’s Deep Space Network. She also assists with developing task automation systems on satellites for the U.S. Space Force.

Garcia has accumulated more than 12 years of military service with the Air National Guard. During her service, she primarily provided support to overseas operations using Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or RPA, as well as domestic RPA operation for wildfire support and disaster recovery.

Garcia earned her Master of Science in Kinesiology from California Baptist University, and is currently working toward a Master of Science in Human Factors Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She maintains credentials as a certified personal trainer, with specializations in cognitive and behavioral techniques for health and performance. She aims to contribute and develop meaningful, long-duration human spaceflight research focused on human factors and behavioral performance for mission crews. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Trevor, their son, Jameson, and dog, Ted. In her free time, she enjoys reading, weightlifting and strength conditioning, spending time in nature, and meditating.

Christopher Roberts

Chris Roberts is from Houston, Texas, and works as a project engineer with NASA’s Cold Stowage team in support of the International Space Station program. In this role, he is responsible for end-to-end integration and on-orbit operations for a fleet of hardware on both the space station and visiting vehicle missions.

Roberts and his team are 2021 recipients of NASA’s Spaceflight Awareness Award, an accolade given to employees for their dedication and contributions to flight safety and mission success. Previously, he was a cargo operations flight controller for the space shuttle and for assembly missions to the space station.

Born in Minnesota, Roberts attended Saint John’s University in Collegeville, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics. He then attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he obtained a master’s degree in engineering physics and focused his research on laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. In his free time, Roberts is an avid cyclist and enjoys hiking, camping, woodworking, and restoring vintage motorcycles.

Madelyne Willis

Madelyne Willis is a microbial ecologist from Atlanta, Georgia. She has extensive field experience, including multiple deployments to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Willis is working on her PhD in Ecology and Environmental Science at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. Her primary research is focused on polar ecology, understanding how microorganisms survive in frozen environments, and how microbial activity may alter the geochemistry of glacier ice. Willis is also actively involved in projects to develop new spectroscopy instrumentation for Earth and planetary exploration.

Backup Crew

Justin Lawrence

Justin Lawrence is a planetary science Ph.D. candidate, and a fellow with the Future Investigator in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology program, also known as FINESST. He’s earning his doctorate at Georgia Tech’s Planetary Habitability and Technology Lab.

Lawrence’s research interests intersect at astrobiology, analog fieldwork, climate science, and robotics. Currently, he works primarily with the underwater vehicle Icefin, merging robotic exploration with microbiology to study habitability and ocean-ice interactions below Antarctic ice shelves. His work aims to help develop technologies that will aid future robotic exploration of other ocean worlds, like Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Since 2012, Lawrence has spent more than 1.5 years conducting research in Antarctica. He has also sailed 6,500 nautical miles across the globe, aboard research vessels with Sea Education Association. When not in the field, Lawrence enjoys cycling, sailing, photography, gardening, and scuba diving.

Pu Wang

Dr. Pu Wang is an engineering team manager in The Boeing Company. At Boeing, he earned special accolades for leadership and knowledge depth, including being named a Boeing Associate Technical Fellow and a Designated Expert.

Wang has worked in the aviation and aerospace industry in more than 10 commercial and military programs. Wang specializes in multiple disciplines, such as structural analysis, fatigue and fracture mechanics, aircraft design, propulsion, plasma physics, and electromagnetic fields.

Before joining Boeing, Wang worked for General Electric and United Technologies to develop aircraft engines. His first venture into space programs involved research on 3D immersed finite element methods and particle-in-cell simulations of plasma-lunar surface interactions. Wang received a PhD in aerospace engineering from Virginia Tech. He also earned a master’s degree in solid mechanics and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

Related links:

Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA:

HERA’s Campaign 6:

Human Research Program:

Humans in Space:

Moon to Mars:

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Kelli Mars.