samedi 20 novembre 2021

Cygnus Departs Station Ending Cargo Mission


Northrop Grumman - Cygnus NG-16 S.S. Ellison Onizuka patch.

Nov. 20, 2021

At 11:01 a.m. EST, flight controllers on the ground sent commands to release the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft from the Canadarm2 robotic arm after earlier detaching Cygnus from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module. At the time of release, the station was flying about 260 miles over the South Pacific Ocean.

The Cygnus spacecraft successfully departed the International Space Station more than three months after arriving at the space station to deliver about 8,000 pounds of  scientific investigations and supplies to the orbiting laboratory.

Image above: The Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter is in the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm moments before its release above the South Pacific Ocean. Image Credit: NASA TV.

After departure, the Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment (KREPE) stowed inside Cygnus will take measurements to demonstrate a thermal protection system for spacecraft and their contents during re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere, which can be difficult to replicate in ground simulations.

NG-16 S.S. Ellison Onizuka Cygnus departure

Cygnus will deorbit on Wednesday, Dec. 15, following a deorbit engine firing to set up a destructive re-entry in which the spacecraft, filled with waste the space station crew packed in the spacecraft, will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Cygnus reentry.  Animation Credit: NASA

Cygnus arrived at the space station Aug. 12, following a launch two days prior on Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. It was the company’s 16th commercial resupply services mission to the space station for NASA. Northrop Grumman named the spacecraft after NASA astronaut Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American astronaut.

Related links:

Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment (KREPE):

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Astra Rocket 3.3 reaches orbit on fourth attempt


ASTRA logo.

Nov. 20, 2021

Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3 launch vehicle (LV0007) was launched from Pad LP-3B, at the Pacific Spaceport Complex - Alaska (PSCA), Kodiak Island, on 20 November 2021, at 06:16 UTC (19 November, at 22:16 local time).

Astra Rocket 3.3 launch

Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3 successfully reached orbit on a Nov. 20 launch, the fourth orbital launch attempt by the small launch vehicle startup.

The Rocket 3.3 vehicle, with the serial number LV0007, lifted off at 1:16 a.m. Eastern from Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska on Kodiak Island. Astra scrubbed a launch attempt the previous day after more than two hours of delays.

The flight went as planned, with the first stage firing for about three minutes. The upper stage then separated and fired its single engine for approximately five and a half minutes, injecting the stage into an orbit nearly 500 kilometers high.

The launch carried a payload for the Space Test Program called STP-27AD2 through a contract arranged by the U.S. Space Force through the Defense Innovation Unit. The payload, designed to measure environmental conditions on the vehicle in flight, intentionally did not separate from the upper stage.

Astra Rocket 3.3 launch (LV0007)

This was the fourth attempt by Astra to reach orbit. The previous attempt, Aug. 28, failed when one of five first-stage engines shut down within a second of liftoff. The company blamed the failure on a quick-disconnect system for propellant lines that leaked fuel, which ignited in an enclosed space between the rocket and launch platform, severing the connection to electronics controlling the fuel pump for that engine.

Two other launch attempts last year also failed to reach orbit. The second of those, in December 2020, nearly reached orbit. The upper stage ran out of fuel seconds before its planned shutdown, leaving it about 0.5 kilometers per second short of orbital velocity.

“The team has worked hard on this for so many years, seeing iteration after iteration, failure after failure, lead to success,” Chris Kemp, chief executive and co-founder of Astra, on the launch webcast.

Astra executives reported in an Nov. 11 earnings call that they hoped to launch the next vehicle, LV0008, before the end of this year, pending the outcome of this launch. That vehicle was nearing completion at the time of the call, with LV0009 and LV0010 in production.


Image, Video, Text, Credits: Astra/SpaceNews/Jeff Foust/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

CASC - Long March-4B launches Gaofen-11 03


CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

Nov. 20, 2021

Long March-4B launches Gaofen-11 03

A Long March-4B launch vehicle launched the Gaofen-11 03 Earth-observation satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, Shanxi Province, northern China, on 20 November 2021, at 01:51 UTC (09:51 local time).

Long March-4B launches Gaofen-11 03

According to official sources, Gaofen-11 03 (高分十一号03) entered the planned orbit successfully and will form a network with Gaofen-11 01 and 02 to “greatly improve the efficiency of Earth observation and make greater contributions to national economic and social development in the fields of land survey, urban planning, land ownership, road network design, crop yield estimation and disaster prevention and mitigation.”

Gaofen-11 03 satellite

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

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


vendredi 19 novembre 2021

Crew Prioritizes Science, Training, and Exercise Before Cygnus Departure


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Nov. 19, 2021

The Expedition 66 crew focused on science, training, and exercise aboard the International Space Station on Friday and prepared for the Cygnus departure tomorrow.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Kayla Barron continued the GRIP experiment that they began earlier this week. The experiment studies how long-duration spaceflight affects crews’ ability to regulate grip force and upper limbs trajectories when manipulating objects during different movements. The pair set up hardware and completed GRIP science tasks in the supine position while donning noise-canceling headphones. Chari performed the GRIP science tasks in the seated position as well.

Additionally, NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Barron completed a robotics research session for the Behavioral Core Measures experiment. The study aims to accurately assess the risk of adverse cognitive or behavioral conditions during extended spaceflight. Marshburn and Barron set up the appropriate robotics hardware and performed the BCM testing. Crews are expected to complete the session at least once per month, starting two weeks after they arrive aboard the space station.

Cygnus departure. Animation Credit: ESA

For medical training, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos reviewed rescuer roles for a situation requiring cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Emergency medical equipment was deployed during the session. The trio practiced CPR positioning to ensure they could perform the procedure in space if necessary.

Focusing on fitness, crews also squeezed in a workout today. The astronauts completed cardio exercises on a stationary bicycle and treadmill fastened to the space station and resistive exercises using equipment that enables them to lift weights in weightlessness. Crews workout on average two hours per day in space. Routine exercise helps astronauts counter the bone and muscle loss that accompanies living and working in microgravity.

Image above: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter pictured arriving at the International Space Station on Aug. 12, 2021. Cygnus will depart from the space station on Nov. 20, 2021. Image Credit: NASA.

Meanwhile, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer transferred data from a fiber-optic monitor called Lumina. The device tracks radiation levels aboard the space station in real-time. Maurer completed the data transfer with an iPad-based application that gathers medical data from astronauts.

Looking ahead, Barron, Chari, Marshburn, and Vande Hei made final preparations to the Cygnus cargo ship, which is slated to depart from the space station on Saturday at 11 a.m. EST. Cygnus arrived at the space station in August carrying more than  8,200 pounds of cargo. Flight controllers will remotely decouple Cygnus from the space station by forwarding commands to the Canadarm2 robotic arm from Earth. Live coverage of the spacecraft’s departure will begin at 10:45 a.m. on NASA TV.

Related links:


Expedition 66:

GRIP experiment:

Behavioral Core Measures:

Bone and muscle loss:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Deepthi Cauligi.

Best regards,

Hubble Takes a Grand Tour of the Solar System


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

Nov. 19, 2021

Hubble Takes a Grand Tour of the Solar System

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has made its stunning yearly observations of the Solar System’s giant planets, to reveal atmospheric changes.

Pans of Hubble’s Grand Tour of the Solar System

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has completed its annual grand tour of the outer Solar System. This is the realm of the giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — extending as far as 30 times the distance between Earth and the Sun. Unlike the rocky terrestrial planets like Earth and Mars that huddle close to the Sun’s warmth, these far-flung worlds are mostly composed of chilly gaseous soups of hydrogen, helium, ammonia, methane, and other trace gases around a packed, intensely hot, compact core.

Though robotic spacecraft have sent back snapshots of their visits to these four monster planets over the past 50 years, their swirling, colourful atmospheres are constantly changing. Fulfilling the role of a weather forecaster, every time Hubble’s sharp cameras revisit these worlds there are new surprises, offering fresh insights into their wild weather, driven by still largely unknown dynamics taking place under the cloudtops.

Hubble Takes a Grand Tour of the Solar System

Hubble’s snapshots of the outer planets reveal both extreme and subtle changes rapidly taking place in these distant worlds. Hubble’s sharp view gleans insights into the fascinating, dynamic weather patterns and seasons on these gas giants and allows astronomers to investigate the very similar — and very different — variables that contribute to their changing atmospheres.


Hubble’s Observation of Jupiter in 2021

This year’s Hubble observations of Jupiter track the ever-changing landscape of its turbulent atmosphere, where several new storms are making their mark and the planet’s equator has changed colour yet again.

Hubble’s 4 September photo puts the giant planet’s tumultuous atmosphere on full display. The planet’s equatorial zone is now a deep orange hue, which researchers are calling unusual. While the equator has departed from its traditional white or beige appearance for a few years now, scientists were surprised to find a deeper orange in Hubble’s recent imaging, when they were expecting the zone to cloud up again.

Just above the equator, researchers note the appearance of several new storms, nicknamed “barges.” These elongated red cells can be defined as cyclonic vortices, which vary in appearance. Whilst some of the storms are sharply defined and clear, others are fuzzy and hazy. This difference in appearance is caused by the physical properties within the clouds of the vortices.

Researchers also note that a feature dubbed “Red Spot Jr.” (Oval BA), below the Great Red Spot where Hubble just discovered winds are speeding up, is still a darker beige colour, and is joined by several additional white, cyclonic storms to the south.

Hubble’s crisp views of Jupiter in 2020 was one of the most popular ESA/Hubble photo releases to date.


Hubble’s Observation of Saturn in 2021

Hubble’s new look at Saturn on 12 September 2021 shows rapid and extreme colour changes in the bands in the planet’s northern hemisphere, where it is now early autumn. The bands have varied throughout Hubble observations in both 2019 and 2020. Hubble’s Saturn image catches the planet following the southern hemisphere’s winter, evident in the lingering blue-ish hue of the south pole.


Hubble’s Observation of Uranus in 2021

Hubble’s 25 October view of Uranus puts the planet’s bright northern polar hood in the spotlight. It’s springtime in the northern hemisphere and the increase in ultraviolet radiation from the Sun seems to be causing the polar region to brighten. Researchers aren’t sure why. It could be a change in the opacity of atmospheric methane, or some variation in the aerosol particles. Curiously, even as the atmospheric hood gets brighter, the sharp southernmost boundary remains at the same latitude. This has been constant over the past several years of Hubble observations of the planet. Perhaps some sort of jetstream is setting up a barrier at that latitude of 43 degrees.


Hubble’s Observation of Neptune in 2021

In observations taken on 7 September 2021, researchers found that Neptune’s dark spot, which was recently found to have reversed course from moving towards the equator, is still visible in this image, along with a darkened northern hemisphere. There is also a notable dark, elongated circle encompassing Neptune’s south pole. The blue colour of both Neptune and Uranus is a result of the absorption of red light by the planets’ methane-rich atmospheres, combined with the same Rayleigh scattering effect that makes Earth's sky blue.


These new Hubble images form part of yearly maps of the entire planet taken under the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy programme, or OPAL. The programme provides yearly Hubble global views of the outer planets to look for changes in their storms, winds, and clouds.

More information

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


Space Sparks Episode 8: Hubble Takes a Grand Tour of the Solar System:


Images of Hubble:

Hubble’s Images of the Solar System:

Hubblesite release:

Hubblesite (ESA):

Images Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team/Videos Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team/Music written and performed by STAN DART/Text Credits: ESA/Hubble/Bethany Downer.

Best regards,

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of November 15, 2021


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Nov 19, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Nov. 15 that included assessment of changes in body composition during spaceflight, studying the process of a soldering technique in microgravity, and testing a wearable device for measuring cardiopulmonary function.

Image above: The seven-member Expedition 66 crew, from left, Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos; NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn; Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos; NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Mark Vande Hei and Kayla Barron; and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. Image Credit: NASA.

The space station has been continuously inhabited by humans for 21 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:

Assessing body composition and energy balance

Long-duration spaceflight can cause changes in the composition of the body, including bone and muscle loss. An investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), NutrISS periodically assesses body composition during spaceflight and measures changes in energy balance over time. Results could shed light on the mechanisms behind changes in body composition during long-term spaceflight and help lead to ways to improve physical performance and quality of life for astronauts during and after their flight. The investigation also could help improve quality of life on Earth by contributing to better clinical management of malnourished, obese, or immobilized patients. During the week, the crew performed a measurement session with the bioimpedance device, which uses resistance to a low intensity current passing through the body to assess changes in body composition.

Soldering on in space

Image above: This preflight image shows the microstructure of a composite Aluminum-Silicone molten alloy. SUBSA-BRAINS examines such microstructures from brazing alloys solidified in microgravity. This soldering technique has potential for constructing and repairing vehicles and habitats on future space missions. Image Credit: NASA.

Brazing is a soldering technique that has potential as a way to construct and repair vehicles and habitats on future space missions. Researchers first need to know how materials behave and interact during brazing in microgravity, and how to control the process. The SUBSA-BRAINS investigation seeks to provide that knowledge by examining differences in various reactions and processes during solidification of brazing alloys in microgravity. Crew members set up samples in the SUBSA hardware to be processed via ground commanding.

Every breath you take

Metabolic Space, another ESA investigation, demonstrates a wearable system to measure the cardiopulmonary function of astronauts during physical activities. A compact system worn on the upper torso, the device simultaneously measures functions such as heart rate, oxygen uptake, carbon dioxide output, and breath frequency and volume, creating a complete picture of the wearer’s exercise performance and metabolism. This type of comfortable wearable device could make it easier to monitor astronauts and other space travelers and enable early diagnosis of emerging health issues. Similar wearable technology could be useful for monitoring people in certain settings on Earth. Crew members performed an exercise session for the investigation during the week.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- MISSE-15 NASA is one of a series of investigations testing how the space environment affects the performance and durability of specific materials and components. These tests could provide insights to support development of better materials for future spacecraft, spacesuits, planetary structures, and other components needed for space exploration.

- DOSIS-3D, an ESA investigation, uses active and passive detectors to measure the radiation doses at various locations inside the space station. Scientists use the data to create a three-dimensional radiation map that could help improve measures to protect crew members on future spaceflights.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Raja Chari conducts a seated session for GRIP, an investigation from ESA that examines how changes in forces and cues in microgravity affect a person’s grip and the movements they use to manipulate objects. Animation Credit: NASA.

- GRIP, an investigation from ESA, studies how changes in 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.

- 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.

- ALTEA measures sources of radiation inside the space station. With the addition of a new detector called LIDAL, ALTEA’s measurements can be converted in real-time into radiation risk coefficients, effectively making ALTEA into a risk meter.

- Phospho-aging, an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), examines the molecular mechanism behind aging-like symptoms, such as bone and muscle loss, that can occur more rapidly in microgravity. Results could lead to development of more effective countermeasures.

- Touching Surfaces tests laser-structured antimicrobial surfaces as a method for reducing microbial contamination aboard the space station. Results from this ESA investigation could help determine the most suitable design for antimicrobial surfaces for spacecraft and habitats as well as for terrestrial applications such as public transportation and clinical settings.

- 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.

Space to Ground: Lab at Work 11/19/2021

Related links:

Expedition 66:



Metabolic Space:

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 66.


Is there life at Alpha Centauri?


Breakthrough Initiatives logo.

Nov. 19, 2021

Is there life at Alpha Centauri? New space telescope to seek out habitable planets around sun's neighboring star

The new TOLIMAN space telescope could launch in the mid-2020s.

A new space telescope mission unveiled today (Nov. 16) will look for habitable planets in the Alpha Centauri system, our sun's closest stellar neighbors.

The new mission, called TOLIMAN after an ancient Arabic-derived name for Alpha Centauri, will carry a novel telescope fitted with a so-called diffractive pupil lens that spreads starlight into a flowerlike pattern. This unique lens will make it easier for astronomers using the scope to detect tiny irregularities in a stars' movements that are usually caused by the gravitational influence of orbiting planets, according to a statement by Breakthrough Initiatives, which is backing the mission.

"Even for the very nearest bright stars in the night sky, finding planets is a huge technological challenge," Eduardo Bendek, an optical engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a collaborator on the mission, said in the statement.

"Our TOLIMAN mission will launch a custom-designed space telescope that makes extremely fine measurements of the position of the star in the sky. If there is a planet orbiting the star, it will tug on the star betraying a tiny, but measurable, wobble," Bendek said.

Image above: This image simulates a view of Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to the sun, as it could be seen by the new planet-hunting space telescope TOLIMAN. (Image credit: Breakthrough Initiatives).

Alpha Centauri is the closest solar system to Earth and it has three stars, two of which are like our sun. The third star is a red dwarf called Proxima Centauri, a cool but long-lived type of a star that is the most common in the universe.

This red dwarf is known to have at least two exoplanets, one of which appears to be fairly similar to Earth.

But so far, this intriguing star system, just four light-years away from us, has avoided detailed scientific scrutiny, despite the fact that the planets around these stars could present the most convenient destination for humankind outside of our own solar system.

While, for now, a human mission to Alpha Centauri remains in the realm of science fiction, the TOLIMAN telescope will at least attempt to answer some of the most fundamental and pressing questions about its planets. Most importantly, scientists hope to use the new scope to investigate whether these far-off worlds might indeed harbor life, or perhaps provide the right conditions for its survival.

"Our nearest stellar neighbors — the Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri systems — are turning out to be extraordinarily interesting," Pete Worden, executive director of the Breakthrough Initiatives, said in the statement. "The TOLIMAN mission will be a huge step toward finding out if planets capable of supporting life exist there."

Image above: The proposed Toliman space telescope to seek out habitable planets around Alpha Centauri. (Image credit: Breakthrough Initiatives).

The mission will focus on the habitable zone around the system's three stars, a region of space in the star's vicinity where liquid water could exist.

"These nearby planets are where humanity will take our first steps into interstellar space using high-speed, futuristic, robotic probes," Pete Klupar, chief engineer of Breakthrough Watch, a branch of Breakthrough Initiatives, said in the statement. "If we consider the nearest few dozen stars, we expect a handful of rocky planets like Earth orbiting at the right distance for liquid surface water to be possible."

Professor Peter Tuthill of the Sydney Institute for Astronomy, who leads the development of the mission, added that TOLIMAN will begin answering the questions about the nature of these intriguing worlds.

"Getting to know our planetary neighbors is hugely important," Professor Tuthill said. "These next-door planets are the ones where we have the best prospects for finding and analyzing atmospheres, surface chemistry and possibly even the fingerprints of a biosphere — the tentative signals of life."

Image above: This wide-field view of the sky Alpha Centauri star system and its surroundings was created from photographic images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. Image released Oct. 17, 2012. (Image credits: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2).

The team, which also includes experts from Australian space-tech firm Saber Astronautics, began working on the mission in April this year, according to the statement.

The mission received $788,000 ($576,000) from the Australian government and is expected to be ready for science in the mid-2020s.

"Our plan is for an agile low-cost mission that delivers results by about the middle of the decade," Tuthill said.

About the Breakthrough Initiatives

The Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of space science programs – Listen, Starshot and Watch - investigating the fundamental questions of life in the Universe.

In July 2015, together with Stephen Hawking, Yuri Milner announced the launch of the $100 million astronomical program Breakthrough Listen, to reinvigorate the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe. In April 2016, they launched Breakthrough Starshot, a $100 million research and engineering program seeking to develop a new technology for uncrewed interstellar travel. Breakthrough Watch, launched in January 2016, is an astronomical program to develop Earth- and space-based technologies that can find evidence of primitive life on Earth-like planets in our cosmic neighborhood.

Related links:

Breakthrough Initiatives:

Saber Astronautics:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Breakthrough Initiatives/ Tereza Pultarova.

Best regards,

jeudi 18 novembre 2021

Crew Packs Cargo Ship for Departure and Preps for Spacewalk


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Nov. 18, 2021

The Expedition 66 crew is turning its attention to the U.S. Cygnus space freighter as it nears departure this weekend after 100 days berthed to the station’s Unity module. The astronauts are also preparing for a spacewalk to replace a faulty antenna system on the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Mark Vande Hei spent Wednesday afternoon packing Cygnus with trash and obsolete gear. ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer continued the cargo loading on Thursday. He will be at the robotics workstation monitoring its departure on Saturday at 11 a.m. EST. Robotics controllers remotely operating the Canadarm2 robotic arm from Earth will command Cygnus’ release live on NASA TV starting at 10:45 a.m.

Image above: A pair of U.S. spacesuits that will be worn by NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron are pictured in the station’s Quest airlock. Image Credit: NASA.

Cygnus will have one more mission as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery, but safe destruction above the Pacific Ocean. The Kentucky Re-entry Probe Experiment will deploy three capsules from Cygnus to collect and transmit thermal data from sensors embedded in heat shields. The data may help validate thermal protection systems in space and heat shield materials on Earth.

Meanwhile, Marshburn and NASA Flight Engineer Kayla Barron are due to exit the U.S. Quest airlock soon to swap the S-Band Antenna System with a spare already attached outside the station. Maurer will be at the controls of the Canadarm2 assisting the duo during the planned six-and-a-half hour spacewalk.

Image above: NASA will air the departure of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply spacecraft from the International Space Station on Saturday, Nov. 20. Image Credit: NASA.

Marshburn and Barron were joined by NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Mark Vande Hei inside Quest on Thursday as they tried on their U.S. spacesuits for a fit check. Chari and Vande Hei will be on duty monitoring the two astronauts during the spacewalk and helping them in and out of their spacesuits. A news conference to discuss the spacewalk activities has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 29.

Science was back on track Thursday with the crew exploring human research, botany, and space physics. Chari and Barron tested how astronauts perceive up and down movements and grip and manipulate objects In microgravity. Vande Hei cleaned up debris around chile peppers growing inside the Advanced Plant Habitat. Finally, station Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos swapped samples inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox for a physics study seeking to improve the production of higher quality semiconductor crystals.

Related articles:

NASA to Air Northrop Grumman Cygnus Departure from Space Station

Spot the Station: Space Station Sighting Opportunities:

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Unity module:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:


Kentucky Re-entry Probe Experiment:

U.S. Quest airlock:

Grip and manipulate objects:

Chile peppers:

Advanced Plant Habitat:

Microgravity Science Glovebox:

Production of higher quality semiconductor crystals:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Norah Moran.


NASA’s Perseverance Captures Challenging Flight by Mars Helicopter


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Nov 18, 2021

Recently downlinked imagery of a September flight has allowed the rover imaging team to put together a video of rotorcraft performing to near-perfection.

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s Flight 13: Zoomed-In View From Perseverance

Video above: Video from the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover captures a closeup view of the 13th flight of the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, on Sept. 4, 2021. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

Video footage from NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s 13th flight on Sept. 4 provides the most detailed look yet of the rotorcraft in action.

Ingenuity is currently prepping for its 16th flight, scheduled to take place no earlier than Saturday, Nov. 20, but the 160.5-second Flight 13 stands out as one of Ingenuity’s most complicated. It involved flying into varied terrain within the “Séítah” geological feature and taking images of an outcrop from multiple angles for the rover team. Acquired from an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters), the images complement those collected during Flight 12, providing valuable insight for Perseverance scientists and rover drivers.

Captured by the rover’s two-camera Mastcam-Z, one video clip of Flight 13 shows a majority of the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft’s flight profile. The other provides a closeup of takeoff and landing, which was acquired as part of a science observation intended to measure the dust plumes generated by the helicopter.

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

“The value of Mastcam-Z really shines through with these video clips,” said Justin Maki, deputy principal investigator for the Mastcam-Z instrument at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Even at 300 meters [328 yards] away, we get a magnificent closeup of takeoff and landing through Mastcam-Z’s ‘right eye.’ And while the helicopter is little more than a speck in the wide view taken through the ‘left eye,’ it gives viewers a good feel for the size of the environment that Ingenuity is exploring.”

During takeoff, Ingenuity kicks up a small plume of dust that the right camera, or “eye,” captures moving to the right of the helicopter during ascent. After its initial climb to planned maximum altitude of 26 feet (8 meters), the helicopter performs a small pirouette to line up its color camera for scouting. Then Ingenuity pitches over, allowing the rotors’ thrust to begin moving it horizontally through the thin Martian air before moving offscreen. Later, the rotorcraft returns and lands in the vicinity of where it took off. The team targeted a different landing spot – about 39 feet (12 meters) from takeoff – to avoid a ripple of sand it landed on at the completion of Flight 12.

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s 13th Flight: Wide-Angle Video From Perseverance (Annotated)

Video above: Video footage from the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover provides a big-picture perspective of the 13th flight of the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, on Sept. 4, 2021. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

Though the view from Mastcam-Z’s left eye shows less of the helicopter and more of Mars than the right, the wide angle provides a glimpse of the unique way that the Ingenuity team programmed the flight to ensure success.

“We took off from the crater floor and flew over an elevated ridgeline before dipping into Séítah,” said Ingenuity Chief Pilot Håvard Grip of JPL. “Since the helicopter’s navigation filter prefers flat terrain, we programmed in a waypoint near the ridgeline, where the helicopter slows down and hovers for a moment. Our flight simulations indicated that this little ‘breather’ would help the helicopter keep track of its heading in spite of the significant terrain variations. It does the same on the way back. It’s awesome to actually get to see this occur, and it reinforces the accuracy of our modeling and our understanding of how to best operate Ingenuity.”

The wide-angle view also shows how Ingenuity maintains altitude during the flight. After an initial ascent to 26 feet (8 meters) altitude, the helicopter’s laser altimeter notes a change in elevation of the terrain below as it heads northeast toward the ridgeline. Ingenuity automatically adjusts, climbing slightly as it approaches the ridge and then descending to remain 26 feet (8 meters) above the undulating surface. Once it flies to the right, out of view, Ingenuity collects 10 images of the rocky outcrop with its color camera before heading back into frame and returning to land in the targeted location.

After Flight 13, Ingenuity went quiet in October, along with NASA’s other Mars spacecraft during Mars solar conjunction, when the Red Planet and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, precluding most communications. Following conjunction, Ingenuity performed a short experimental flight test before undertaking Flight 15, which began the multi-flight journey back to the vicinity of “Wright Brothers Field,” its starting point back in April.

More About Ingenuity

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the operations demonstration activity during its extended mission for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science, Aeronautics Research, and Space Technology mission directorates. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Martin Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter:

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.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return 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: and


Image (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle.

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Planetary defenders: after NASA’s DART comes ESA’s Hera


ESA - Hera Mission patch.

Nov. 18, 2021

The world will be watching the milestone launch of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, DART, spacecraft on Wednesday, 24 November, intended to alter one small part of the Solar System forever.

NASA's DART impacting asteroid

DART will collide with the small moon of an asteroid in order to shift its orbit around its parent body – to test the concept of diverting threatening objects away from Earth.

ESA will provide crucial ground station support to DART as it departs for deep space, helping relay signals from the ambitious mission immediately following launch.

Hera scans impact crater left by DART

Furthermore, one group of Europeans is following DART’s launch campaign particularly closely: the team developing ESA’s Hera spacecraft, designed to undertake a close-up survey of the consequences of DART’s collision.

“It has taken a lot of hard work to reach the point of launching this first planetary defence mission  – we’re wishing our US counterparts a great and well-deserved success,” comments Ian Carnelli, overseeing ESA’s Hera mission.

NASA's DART spacecraft

“DART and Hera were originally conceived on a coordinated double-spacecraft basis, with one mission to perform the deflection and the other to perform precision measurements of the result.”

Planetary defenders: NASA DART & ESA Hera missions – infographic

“Over the years, the implementation of the two missions was separated but international collaboration was maintained through the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment, or AIDA, scientific consortium. And while the pair are designed to function separately, their overall science return will be boosted greatly by being able to combine their results.”

DART will collide with the smaller body of the Didymos binary asteroid system in September 2022, striking at a speed of around 6.6 km per second. While the Didymos asteroid system will maintain its motion around the Sun unperturbed, the collision is expected to shift the orbit of the 160-metre-diameter Dimorphos around its 780-metre-diameter parent Didymos in a small but distinct way – just a fraction of one per cent – sufficient to be measured with Earth-based telescopes and radar.

Dimorphos asteroid to scale with Rome's Colosseum

But observing from across space will still leave multiple unknowns, such as the precise mass of Dimorphos, its makeup and its internal structure – as well as the size and shape of the crater left by DART. So, in November 2024 Hera will head towards the Didymos system, commencing its detailed ‘crime scene investigation’ of the two asteroids in late 2026.

By gathering data close-up, Hera will help turn DART’s grand scale impact experiment into a well-understood and repeatable deflection technique – ready to be deployed if an asteroid should ever be spotted heading Earthward.

Hera, her CubeSats, and their rocky target destination

The main Hera spacecraft will also deploy a pair of shoebox sized CubeSats to perform supporting observations: Milani will make spectral surface observations, while Juventas will undertake the first-ever radar soundings within an asteroid.

The Hera spacecraft is being built by OHB in Germany while other mission elements take shape across Europe. For instance, the engineering model of Hera’s precision guidance, navigation and control system – essential to guide the desk-sized spacecraft to and around its twin-asteroid destination – is being put together by GMV in Spain, while the Juventas radar prototype is currently undergoing testing at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.

Testing of Hera's Juventas CubeSat radar

The distant end point of all this activity will soon become much more tangible, notes Patrick Michel, CNRS Director of Research of France’s Côte d'Azur Observatory and Hera’s Principal Investigator. “Either directly or through its accompanying Italian-made LICIACube ‘selfie-sat’, DART next year should give us our first brief close-up of the Didymos system.

“An international community of people are anticipating that initial glimpse, then the more detailed survey that will follow from Hera. In all there are hundreds of researchers from dozens of institutions located across Europe, the US and other countries as far afield as Japan and Uruguay involved in the two missions, their work coordinated through the AIDA collaboration, with a wide cross-participation between DART and Hera scientists.

Didymos asteroids

“International cooperation is an essential element in planetary defence endeavours.”

ESA support for DART departure

ESA’s deep space ground station at New Norcia in Western Australia will be supporting NASA’s Deep Space Network during DART’s launch.

Antenna down under

The station’s agile, 4.5m antenna, which is specifically designed for initial acquisition of a spacecraft following launch, will capture the first signal from DART after it separates from its Falcon 9 launcher and help maintain contact as the spacecraft heads into interplanetary space.

The Incredible Adventures of the Hera mission – Episode 2

Later, additional ESA stations will support other phases of the mission.

Related links:








France’s Côte d'Azur Observatory:



Images, Animations, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/P. de Maagt/Science Office/NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman.


Bismuth isotopes also alternate from spheres to rugby balls


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Nov. 18, 2021

The unusual nuclear physics phenomenon, first discovered at CERN’s ISOLDE facility 50 years ago, had until now been seen only in mercury isotopes

Image above: The ultrasensitive set-up used by the ISOLDE team to study bismuth isotopes. (Image: CERN).

Alternating from spheres to rugby balls is no longer the sole preserve of mercury isotopes, an international team at CERN’s ISOLDE facility reports in a paper published in Physical Review Letters.

Isotopes are forms of a chemical element that have the same number of protons in their atomic nuclei but a different number of neutrons.

Atomic nuclei are usually spherical or nearly spherical. For a given element, though, when the number of neutrons changes, a gradual change in nuclear shape, or even a sudden one, can occur. However, 50 years ago, an experiment at ISOLDE revealed that the nuclei of mercury isotopes actually alternate dramatically in shape, from a sphere to a pronounced rugby ball, as single neutrons are removed from, or added to, the nucleus.

The finding remains one of the most remarkable discoveries in nuclear physics in the past five decades, and scientists have wondered ever since whether elements other than mercury also display this unusual ‘shape-staggering’ phenomenon.

The new study conducted at ISOLDE, the very same facility at which the phenomenon was discovered, has now delivered an answer to this question. By using ISOLDE’s ultrasensitive Resonance Ionisation Laser Ion Source, the team behind the study has now shown that bismuth isotopes also display shape staggering.

Specifically, examining bismuth nuclei produced at a challenging low rate of less than one atom per second, the team found that the nucleus of bismuth-188, which has 83 protons and 105 neutrons, has a much larger radius than those of its closest nuclear neighbours, bismuth-189, with one more neutron, and bismuth-187, with one fewer neutron. Interestingly, such a sharp increase in radius, which reveals a change from a sphere to a pronounced rugby ball, occurs at the same number of neutrons, 105, as that at which shape staggering starts in the mercury isotopes.

“We had no indication from theory or experiment that bismuth nuclei would also exhibit shape staggering,” says Bruce Marsh of CERN and co-author of the study. “Such light bismuth nuclei are remarkably difficult to make and study, and our best nuclear physics theories lack the power to predict the shape of these and other complex nuclei.”

If this experimental result wasn’t enough, the team gathered a unique collaboration of a dozen atomic-theory groups from five continents to extract nuclear properties from the ISOLDE measurements. At the same time, the researchers performed state-of-the-art nuclear theoretical calculations, paving the way to understanding the shape-staggering phenomenon.

“We can’t tell whether or not we’ll find another instance of shape staggering, but one thing is clear, this behaviour is no longer unique to mercury isotopes,” concludes Marsh.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 23 Member States.

Related links:

Physical Review Letters:


For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/By Ana Lopes.

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Solar Orbiter returns to Earth before starting its main science mission


ESA / NASA - Solar Orbiter Mission patch.

Nov. 18, 2021

Solar Orbiter is returning to Earth for a flyby before starting its main science mission to explore the Sun and its connection to ‘space weather’. During the flyby Solar Orbiter must pass through the clouds of space debris that surround our planet, making this manoeuvre the riskiest flyby yet for a science mission.

Solar Orbiter's Earth flyby

Navigating risk

Solar Orbiter’s Earth flyby takes place on 27 November. At 04:30 GMT (05:30 CET) on that day, the spacecraft will be at its closest approach, just 460 km above North Africa and the Canary Islands. This is almost as close as the orbit of the International Space Station.

The manoeuvre is essential to decrease the energy of the spacecraft and line it up for its next close pass of the Sun but it comes with a risk. The spacecraft must pass through two orbital regions, each of which is populated with space debris.

Solar Orbiter’s riskiest flyby (Click on the image for enlarge)

The first is the geostationary ring of satellites at 36 000 km, and the second is the collection of low Earth orbits at around 400 km. As a result, there is a small risk of a collision. Solar Orbiter’s operations team are monitoring the situation very closely and will alter the spacecraft’s trajectory if it appears to be in any danger.

Earth science opportunity

On the plus side, the flyby offers a unique opportunity to study the Earth’s magnetic field. This is a subject of intense interest because the magnetic field is our atmosphere’s interface with the solar wind, the constant ‘wind’ of particles given off by the Sun. Not only can particles from the solar wind penetrate the magnetic field and spark the aurora in our skies, but atoms from our atmosphere can also be lost into space.

The details of these interactions are being studied by two ESA missions: Cluster’s four satellites at 60 000 km in altitude and Swarm’s three spacecraft at 400 km. Multiple spacecraft are needed to break the so-called space-time ambiguity. This is the name given to the uncertainty over whether a change has taken place because a spacecraft has flown into a different region with different conditions (a change in space) or is flying through a region that changes its conditions (a change in time).

Solar Orbiter’s Earth flyby

Solar Orbiter’s flyby offers a unique opportunity to take even more data. It will sweep into the Earth’s magnetic field from out beyond Clusters orbit, approach Swarm’s orbit at closest approach and then fly back out again. This will provide even more data points from which to reconstruct the condition and behaviour of Earth’s magnetic field during the flyby.

“This flyby is exciting: seeing what Solar Orbiter sees in our part of space, and how that compares to what we are seeing, and if there are surprises, what are they?” says Anja Strømme, Swarm Mission Manager.

Cruise phase complete

The flyby marks a major milestone for Solar Orbiter. From its launch in February 2020 to July of that year, the spacecraft was in its commissioning phase, during which the scientists and engineers tested out the spacecraft and its instruments. From July 2020 to now, Solar Orbiter has been in the cruise phase. During this time, the in-situ instruments have been taking measurements of the solar wind and other conditions around the spacecraft, while the remote sensing instruments designed to look at the Sun have been in their extended calibration and characterisation mode.

Despite Solar Orbiter not yet being in full science mode, a lot of science has been produced.

“Scientifically, this exceeded our expectations by a large margin,” says Daniel Müller, Solar Orbiter Project Scientist. He explains that an upgrade to the ESA Ground Station Network allowed Solar Orbiter to send more data than expected back to Earth, and the mission’s scientists have been quick to take advantage. More than fifty papers detailing Solar Orbiter’s cruise phase science results are to be published in December by the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Closer to the Sun

Now, however, it is time to start operating the two sets of instruments together as the mission shifts into the main science phase, and the anticipation is palpable. In March, Solar Orbiter will make a close pass to the Sun, called perihelion. Its first perihelion took place in June 2020, with the spacecraft closing to 77 million kilometres. This time, Solar Orbiter will draw to within 50 million kilometres – providing a significant boost to the science that can be done.

“This will be at a third of the distance between the Sun and Earth. So compared to all the interesting high resolution images that we've already gotten everything now will be zoomed in by about a factor of two,” says Daniel.

This includes new views of the enigmatic ‘campfires’ that Solar Orbiter saw at the first perihelion. The campfires could hold clues about how the Sun’s outer atmosphere has a temperature of millions of degrees, while the surface has a temperature of thousands – which seemingly defies physics because heat should not be able to flow from a colder to a hotter object.

Solar Orbiter returns to Earth

And while Solar Orbiter is not going as close to the Sun as NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, this is by design because it allows Solar Orbiter to not only measure what is happening in the solar wind, but to also carry telescopes that can look at the Sun without being destroyed by the heat. The two data sets can then be compared to link activity on the Sun’s surface to the space weather around the spacecraft.

“This linkage science is what I find most exciting,” says Yannis Zouganelis, Solar Orbiter Deputy Project Scientist.

Observing challenge

But before any of this takes place, Solar Orbiter must complete its flyby of Earth. And this presents an opportunity for eagle-eyed sky watchers to bid a final farewell to the spacecraft before it heads forever into deep space.

In the moments leading up to closest approach, skywatchers in the Canaries and North Africa could catch a brief glimpse of the spacecraft speeding through the sky. It will be travelling at about 0.3 degrees per second, which is just over half the apparent diameter of the Moon every second. For most observers it will be too faint to spot with the unaided eye, and too fast for telescopes to track, so binoculars should provide the best chance of catching a glimpse.

Solar Orbiter: Answering the big questions (Click on the image for enlarge)

When Solar Orbiter re-emerges from the Earth’s shadow it will be on course for its rendezvous with the Sun and the never-before-seen solar polar regions. The science phase of this ambition mission will have begun.

Related link:

Solar Orbiter:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab.