samedi 27 novembre 2021

55th anniversary of the first launch of the Soyuz rocket carrier


CCCP - Soyuz Rocket patch.

Nov. 27, 2021

55 years ago, on November 28, 1966, the first launch of the Soyuz carrier rocket with the unmanned Soyuz spacecraft was performed from the Baikonur cosmodrome. The Soyuz launch vehicle became the basis for its numerous modifications: Soyuz-U, Soyuz-FG, Soyuz-2. Rockets of this family have become a reliable support for Russian astronautics.

Soyuz FG first launch

The Soyuz is undoubtedly the most famous Russian launch vehicle. It is easily recognizable by the four conical side blocks of the first stage, the characteristic head fairing with four rectangles of lattice fins and the graceful "turret" of the emergency rescue system (on manned launches).

After successful launches of Vostok carrier rockets in 1963, Chief Designer of OKB-1 (now the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) Sergey Korolev began developing a new direction in manned astronautics. Considered not only simple flights with passive rendezvous of ships in orbit, but also long-term group flights with active rendezvous and docking, the transition of astronauts from ship to ship. To support these tasks, OKB-1 created a spacecraft with new engines and a control system, more comfortable flight conditions for cosmonauts (a utility compartment was introduced into the design) and, accordingly, having a large mass.

Soyuz rocket family

The most powerful rocket at that time was the Voskhod rocket. Nevertheless, its power-to-weight ratio was not enough for the implementation of new space programs. In parallel with the creation of a new spacecraft at OKB-1 by its branch No. 3 in Kuibyshev (now the Progress Rocket and Space Center, part of Roscosmos), work was underway to create a new generation of automatic spacecraft of the Zenit-4MT type, which also required an increase in energy carrier. In addition, there was an acute issue of equipping a manned spacecraft with an active emergency rescue system. So the need arose to develop a new modification of the launch vehicle. She received the name "Union".

By the mid-1960s, all design documentation for the R-7 and R-7A missiles was transferred from the Podlipki near Moscow to Kuibyshev by order of Sergei Korolev. Therefore, in accordance with the Decree of the Government of December 3, 1963, a new three-stage medium-class launch vehicle began to be developed by specialists of branch No. 3 of OKB-1 under the leadership of Dmitry Kozlov. The launch vehicle "Voskhod" with the spacecraft "Voskhod-1" and the world's first crew of three cosmonauts has not yet been launched. Aleksey Leonov had not yet made a spacewalk from the Voskhod-2 spacecraft, and the Kuibyshev designers had already developed a new launch vehicle, which awaited a long and happy fate of the main rocket of the domestic manned cosmonautics.

Soyuz FG

The Soyuz launch vehicle was created on the basis of the Voskhod rocket. The modernization of the three stages was carried out by branch No. 3 of OKB-1. Outwardly, the rocket stages remained practically unchanged, but in terms of their characteristics it was a completely different rocket. As a result of the measures taken, the specific thrust of the first stage engines was increased, the control system of the third stage was modernized and the on-board cable network was significantly lightened. In addition, a new type of emergency rescue system has been developed. She provided the rescue of the crew in the event of a launch vehicle accident both at the launch pad and at any stage of the flight. The structural and layout scheme of the SAS became the base for all modifications of launch vehicles and spacecraft of the Soyuz series, and has survived to this day, although it has been modernized several times over the course of many years of operation.

Soyuz FG

On October 26, 1968, the first manned launch of the Soyuz carrier rocket took place from the Baikonur cosmodrome. The Soyuz-3 spacecraft with cosmonaut Georgy Beregov was launched into orbit. More than half a century has passed, but even now Russian spacecraft are sent into space on the most reliable rocket in the world, which bears the name "Soyuz" (Union).

Soyuz FG roll-out

At present, preparations for the next manned launch are underway at the Baikonur cosmodrome. The launch of the Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket with the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft is scheduled for December 8, 2021 at 10:38 Moscow time. The flight to the International Space Station will last 12 days under a contract with Space Adventures. The commander of the prime crew is Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, while Yusaku Maezawa, president of the Start Today corporation, and Yozo Hirano, Yusaku Maezawa's personal assistant, are appointed to the prime crew.

Soyuz FG 3D printing

Order your Soyuz FG scale model (1/100) online (you can also specify a smaller or larger model) via Orbiter 3D Printing:

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

RSC Energia:

RCC Progress:

Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/RSC Energia/ Aerospace/Orbiter 3D/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Potentially dangerous asteroid


Moscow Planetarium logo.

Nov. 27, 2021

There is a huge number of asteroids in the solar system, the bulk of which (more than 98%) is concentrated in the main belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Sometimes, under the influence of gravity of larger objects, they leave their usual orbits, flying towards the Earth. Asteroids over 150 meters in diameter, which can approach the Earth at a distance of less than 7.5 million km, are considered potentially hazardous objects.

Image above: Asteroid Bennu. The photo is composed of 12 images taken on December 2, 2018 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of 24 km. Photo Credit: NASA.

Such objects include the asteroid Bennu (101955 Bennu). It was discovered in 2013 at the Socorro Observatory as part of the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program to find asteroids. The asteroid was named after the Bennu bird from ancient Egyptian mythology, which was always reborn after death.

In 2016, Bennu became the target of the automatic interplanetary station OSIRIS-REx, designed to deliver soil samples from an asteroid. In 2018, the station reached this facility, and in October 2020, soil sampling took place. The planned return to Earth of the module with samples is September 2023.

The diameter of the asteroid is about 500 meters. It belongs to the spectral class B. It is a relatively rare class that belongs to the group of carbonaceous asteroids that predominate in the outer part of the main belt. Bennu is an active asteroid, periodically throwing out jets of dust and stones up to 10 cm in size. Spectroscopic data showed that its surface consists of a carbonaceous chondrite material, in which the mineral magnetite is present.

Image above: A snapshot of the surface of the asteroid Bennu, taken by OSIRIS-REx after landing (2020). The round head of the robotic arm has a diameter of 30 cm. Photo Credit: NASA.

According to scientists, the likelihood of a possible collision of an asteroid with the Earth between 2178 and 2290 is negligible. Bennu's orbit is dynamically unstable, as are the orbits of all objects approaching the Earth. Therefore, some scientists believe that Bennu has more chances to fly away towards the Sun.

Source: Moscow Planetarium.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Moscow Planetarium:


Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/Moscow Planetarium/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 26 novembre 2021

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of November 22, 2021


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Nov 26, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Nov. 22 that included testing thermal protection for re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere and a device for detecting eye changes during spaceflight, and studying magnetically assembled colloidal structures. On Saturday, Nov. 20, Northrop Grumman’s uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft departed the space station more than three months after it delivered supplies and scientific investigations.

Image above: Cygnus undocking from the space station. The cargo craft carried capsules for KREPE, an experiment demonstrating a thermal protection system for spacecraft and their contents during re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. 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:

Coming in hot

KREPE, an experiment using the departing Cygnus craft, demonstrates a thermal protection system for spacecraft and their contents during re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. Capsules stowed inside Cygnus carry sensors that begin collecting temperature data during re-entry and transmit it to the ground until splashdown. These measurements can be difficult to replicate in ground simulations and KREPE provides an inexpensive platform for atmospheric re-entry experiments. Researchers plan to analyze the data and use it to verify numerical models. Results also could help improve heat shielding materials for applications on Earth, such as in fire disasters.

Keeping an eye on the eyes

Image above: NASA astronaut Raja Chari (standing, left) and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer (seated, in black) are shown in preflight training for the Retinal Diagnostics investigation, which tests taking images of astronauts’ eyes with a handheld device. Image Credit: ESA.

An ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, Retinal Diagnostics tests using an ophthalmology lens approved for clinical use on Earth to capture images of the human retina in space for detection of vision changes common among astronauts, known as Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS). The images are used to test and train machine learning models to detect SANS. Results could show that that a lightweight, mobile, and non-invasive device and a machine learning model can help detect and document the progression of SANS. The technology ultimately could improve space-based medical data collection in support of future long-duration spaceflight missions. On Earth, this technology could enable diagnoses of patients in remote or developing regions that may not otherwise have access to ophthalmology or neurology services. Crew members set up the hardware and performed image collection for the experiment during the week.

Assembling advanced materials

InSPACE-4 studies using magnetic fields to assemble tiny structures from colloids, or particles suspended in a liquid. Colloidal structures have unique properties, such as mechanical response to or interaction with light and heat. Microgravity makes it possible to observe colloidal assembly in ways and over time scales not possible on Earth. Results could lead to more advanced materials for space applications, including thermal shields, protection from micrometeorites, energy production, and sensors for robotic and human missions. This work also could advance the manufacturing of materials on Earth for applications such as sound damping devices, camouflage, medical diagnostics, and building foundation stabilizers for areas prone to earthquakes. During the week, crew members gathered and set up experiment materials in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG).

Image above: This image from the space station shows Patagonia, a region in Chile and Argentina at the tip of the South American continent. Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- JEM Water Recovery System, an investigation from Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), tests a technology to increase the recovery of drinkable water from urine, which could become a vital part of the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) for future space travel and also provide water regeneration in dry regions or post-disaster on Earth.

- The SUBSA-BRAINS investigation examines the process of a soldering technique known as brazing in microgravity. Brazing could be used to construct and repair vehicles and habitats on future space missions.

Image above: Two of the space station’s free-flying Astrobee robots perform operations for Astrobatics, which demonstrates a hopping or self-toss maneuver that could serve as a means of robotic propulsion that uses very little propellant or fuel. Image Credit: NASA.

- Astrobatics demonstrates a hopping or self-toss maneuver with the Astrobee robotic vehicles, which could serve as a means of propulsion using very little propellant. Such maneuvers could be incorporated into future robotic missions and advanced terrestrial robotic applications.

- Acoustic Diagnostics, an ESA investigation, tests the hearing of crew members before, during, and after flight to assess possible adverse effects of noise and the microgravity environment on human hearing.

- Metabolic Space, an ESA investigation, demonstrates a wearable system to measure the cardiopulmonary function of astronauts during physical activities. The system could make it easier to monitor astronauts and other space travelers and enable early diagnosis of emerging health issues.

- 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.

- 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: Giving Thanks: 11/26/2021

Related links:

Expedition 66:


Retinal Diagnostics:


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 66.

Best regards,

CASC - Long March-3B launches ZhongXing-1D (ChinaSat-1D)


CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation  logo.

Nov. 26, 2021

Long March-3B carrying ZhongXing-1D liftoff

A Long March-3B rocket launched the ZhongXing-1D satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province, southwest China, on 26 November 2021, at 16:40 UTC (27 November, at 00:40 local time).

Long March-3B launches ZhongXing-1D (ChinaSat-1D)

ZhongXing-1D (中星1D, also known as ChinaSat-1D) is a communications satellite designed to “provide users with high-quality voice, data, radio and television transmission services”.

ZhongXing-1D (ChinaSat-1D) 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/Gunter's Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Scientists Fling Model Stars at a Virtual Black Hole to See Who Survives


NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) logo.

Nov 26, 2021

Image above: From left to right, this illustration shows four snapshots of a virtual Sun-like star as it approaches a black hole with 1 million times the Sun's mass. The star stretches, looses some mass, and then begins to regain its shape as it moves away from the black hole. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Taeho Ryu (MPA).

Watch as eight stars skirt a black hole 1 million times the mass of the Sun in these supercomputer simulations. As they approach, all are stretched and deformed by the black hole’s gravity. Some are completely pulled apart into a long stream of gas, a cataclysmic phenomenon called a tidal disruption event. Others are only partially disrupted, retaining some of their mass and returning to their normal shapes after their horrific encounters.

Supercomputer Simulations Test Star-destroying Black Holes

Video above: Watch eight model stars stretch and deform as they approach a virtual black hole 1 million times the mass of the Sun. The black hole rips some stars apart into a stream of gas, a phenomenon called a tidal disruption event. Others manage to withstand their close encounters. These simulations show that destruction and survival depend on the stars’ initial densities. Yellow represents the greatest densities, blue the least dense. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Taeho Ryu (MPA).

These simulations, led by Taeho Ryu, a fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, are the first to combine the physical effects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity with realistic stellar density models. The virtual stars range from about one-tenth to 10 times the Sun’s mass.

The division between stars that fully disrupt and those that endure isn’t simply related to mass. Instead, survival depends more on the star’s density.

Ryu and his team also investigated how other characteristics, such as different black hole masses and stellar close approaches, affect tidal disruption events. The results will help astronomers estimate how often full tidal disruptions occur in the universe and will aid them in building more accurate pictures of these calamitous cosmic occurrences.

Related links:

Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics:

Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Black Holes:

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Jeanette Kazmierczak/GSFC/Claire Andreoli.


Russia’s New Docking Module Arrives at Station


ROSCOSMOS - Prichal Port Module patch.


Nov. 26, 2021

The five-ton Prichal docking module arrived at the International Space Station at 10:19 a.m. EST, propelled by a modified Russian Progress propulsion compartment. They docked to the Nauka module on the Earth-facing side of the Russian segment two days after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 8:06 a.m. EST (6:06 p.m. Baikonur time). The spacecraft were flying about 260 miles over Ukraine at the time of docking.

Image above: Russia’s new Prichal docking module arrives at the station providing additional docking ports and fuel transfer capabilities. Image Credit: NASA TV.

To make room for Prichal, the uncrewed Progress 78 cargo craft undocked from Nauka at 6:23 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 25, and burned up upon reentry in the Earth’s atmosphere later that morning.

Prichal, named for the Russian word for pier, has five available docking ports to accommodate multiple Russian spacecraft and provide fuel transfer capability to the Nauka module. Named for the Russian word for “science,” Nauka launched to the space station in July.

Prichal docking to the International Space Station

The modified Progress transport spacecraft that guided Prichal to the station will remain in place until late December.

Related article:

Russian Port Module is Safely in Orbit Headed for Station

Related links:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

jeudi 25 novembre 2021

Progress MS-17 completed its flight


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Nov. 25, 2021

Today, November 25, 2021, at 14:23 Moscow time, the Progress MS-17 cargo vehicle undocked from the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module of the International Space Station. After 4 hours, it was deorbited, and the unburned parts were flooded in the non-navigable part of the Pacific Ocean.

Progress cargo spacecraft atmospheric reentry

At 17:34:51 Moscow time, the main engine was turned on for braking, having worked for almost 4 minutes, he reported to the "truck" a braking impulse of 118 meters per second. After that "Progress MS-17" left the near-earth orbit and ceased to exist. Unburned in dense layers of the atmosphere, fragments of the ship fell at 18:17:12 Moscow time at the "cemetery of spaceships" in the non-navigable region of the South Pacific Ocean, 1.8 thousand km from the city of Wellington and 7.7 thousand km from the city of Santiago.

The Progress MS-17 spacecraft undocked from the pressurized adapter of the Nauka module together with the transition spacer, which ensured the docking of the Soyuz MS and Progress MS transport vehicles. Now the multipurpose laboratory module is ready for the docking of the Progress M-UM cargo module, which is scheduled for November 26 at 18:26 Moscow time.

Progress MS-17 undocking and departure

As a reminder, the Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle successfully launched the Progress MS-17 spacecraft into its target orbit on June 30, 2021. Two days later, it docked in the normal mode to the small research module "Poisk" of the Russian segment of the ISS. During its flight, the elements of a one-turn rendezvous scheme with the International Space Station were worked out. A month ago, the ship was re-docked: on October 21, it undocked from the "Search" and spent 29 hours in an autonomous flight. During this time, he made several maneuvers and moved away from the ISS by 185 kilometers. The next day Progress MS-17 spacecraft successfully docked to Nauka in automatic mode.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:



RSC Energia:

Progress MS-17:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image, Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/MCC/TsNIIMash/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz-2.1b launches Kosmos-2552



Nov. 25, 2021

Soyuz-2.1b carrying Kosmos-2552 liftoff

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket launched the Kosmos-2552 satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia, on 25 November 2021, at 01:09 UTC (04:09 local time).

Soyuz-2.1b launches Kosmos-2552

According to official sources, the satellite was placed into the desired orbit and is functioning normally. Kosmos-2552, also known as Tundra 15L or EKS-5, is part of the EKS system (Единая Космическая система).

Tundra (EKS, 14F142). Image Credit: Gunter's Space Page

This satellite joins four other Tundra/EMK satellites currently in orbit around the earth, the first of which was launched in 2015.

These satellites are designed and operated to provide the Russian military with an early warning capability to detect the launches of any potential ballistic missiles towards Russia. In addition, it has been reported that the Tundra/EMK satellites also have secure communication capabilities in the case of a nuclear war.


Images, Video, Text, Credits: Roscosmos/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


ESA's riskiest flyby


ESA / NASA - Solar Orbiter Mission patch.

Nov. 25, 2021

In brief

The chance that ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft will encounter space debris during its upcoming Earth flyby is very, very low. However, the risk is not zero and is greater than any other flyby ESA has performed. That there is this risk at all highlights the mess we’ve made of space – and why we need to take action to clean up after ourselves.

Solar Orbiter Earth flyby


On 27 November, after a year and eight months flying through the inner Solar System, Solar Orbiter will swing by home to ‘drop off’ some extra energy. This will line the spacecraft up for its next six flybys of Venus. These final gravity assists will hone and tilt Solar Orbiter’s orbit, enabling the heat-protected probe to capture the first-ever direct images of our star’s poles, and much more.

Solar Orbiter’s riskiest flyby

During the upcoming flyby, Solar Orbiter is estimated to pass just 460 km from Earth’s surface at its closest approach – about 30 kilometres above the path of the International Space Station. It will travel twice through the Geostationary ring at 36 000 kilometres from Earth’s surface and even through low-Earth orbit, below 2000 kilometres – two regions littered with space junk.

How risky? It’s all relative

Before we worry too much, let’s start by pointing out that the chance of Solar Orbiter being struck by debris is very, very, very small. Earth observation missions spend their entire life in low-Earth orbit – the most debris-filled region of space, and while they perform ‘collision avoidance manoeuvres’ a few times per year, Solar Orbiter will spend only a few minutes here as it heads towards closest approach and then leaves again, onward to Venus.

Image above: The Cupola window onboard the International Space Station developed a 7-mm chip, thought to be caused by a striking object no more than a few thousandths of a millimetre across.

However small the risk, collisions with debris at low-Earth altitudes do happen. In 2016, a solar panel on ESA’s Sentinel-1A spacecraft was struck by a particle thought to be less than five millimetres in size. Despite its size, its high relative speed meant it still damaged an area 40-cm across, leading to a small reduction in onboard power and slight changes to the orientation and orbit of the satellite. Hundreds of millions of debris particles this size are currently in orbit.

Hubble, the NASA/ESA Space Telescope, has spent 31 years in Earth orbit at an altitude of around 547 kilometres. In that time, it has witnessed the skies fill with satellites and debris and felt the impact, as its own solar panels have been bombarded and degraded by small debris particles.

Animation above: In April 2020, BepiColombo flew by Earth with a close approach of 12 500 kilometres. ESA’s Space Debris Office also performed a collision risk analysis for this flyby as the spacecraft passed through Geostationary orbit, although it flew well above the debris-filled low-Earth orbit.

While the risk to Solar Orbiter during its upcoming Earth flyby is small, it’s still “non-zero”. It didn’t face this risk as it swung by Venus, nor did ESA’s Space Debris Office have to perform collision risk analysis as BepiColombo recently zipped by Mercury, or when Cassini–Huygens flew by Jupiter.

Past Earth flybys, for example, when Cassini/Huygens flew by Earth in 1999, as Rosetta returned three times in 2005, 2007 and 2009, and Juno swung by in 2013, there were fewer satellites, fewer debris and no ‘mega constellations’ in orbit. A flyby of Earth today, while still safe, is riskier than it used to be.

Interplanetary collision avoidance

ESA’s Space Debris Office recently began risk assessments based on Solar Orbiter’s trajectory and the expected position of catalogued objects in orbit around Earth, providing a collision probability for any specific close approaches.

Collision avoidance: what's the cost?

In these cases, uncertainty begins high but narrows as the orbits of objects evolve. As the moment of close approach gets nearer, our observational data improves, reducing the uncertainties in the location of objects involved. As is nearly always the case, the more we know about the position of two objects, the surer we are that they will safely pass each other.

Sometimes, however, as time passes and a close approach beckons, the chance of collision increases. For each of the Sentinel missions in Earth orbit, a collision avoidance manoeuvre is performed about once every five to six months when the ‘miss distance’ with another object is considered too risky.

For Solar Orbiter, in the unlikely scenario that a manoeuvre is required to get it out the way of a potential impact, the decision would be made on Thursday 25 November, two days before close approach. It would be performed on Friday 26 November, about six hours before close approach.

ESA‘s riskiest flyby – Solar Orbiter faces Earth debris (audio podcast):

All clear?

Once Solar Orbiter comes up from low-Earth orbit and passes above geostationary orbit it is out of the risk zone. This should be about one hour after its minimum distance to Earth.

As the mission zooms off, flying with ever-so-slightly less energy than it arrived with, it and its mission teams will never have to consider space debris again. For missions still in orbit, and for those yet to be launched, the situation in space is becoming ever more worrisome.

Time to Act

After decades of launches, with little thought of what would be done with satellites at the end of their lives, our space environment has become littered with space debris. While Solar Orbiter zips by, passing just momentarily through Earth’s orbital highways, it’s an important reminder that the space debris problem is unique to Earth, of our own making, and ours to clean up.

Find out how ESA is working to prevent further debris from being created and clean up what is already out there.

Related article:

Solar Orbiter returns to Earth before starting its main science mission

Related links:

Space Debris:

Safety & Security:

Clean Space:

SSA - Space Situational Awareness:

Solar Orbiter:

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

Best regards,

CASIC - Kuaizhou-1A launches Shiyan-11


CASIC -  China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation logo.

Nov. 25, 2021

Kuaizhou-1A carrying Shiyan-11 liftoff

A Kuaizhou-1A (KZ-1A) launch vehicle launched the Shiyan-11 satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu Province, northwest China, on 24 November 2021, at 23:41 UTC (25 November, at 07:41 local time).

Kuaizhou-1A launches Shiyan-11

According to official sources, Shiyan-11 (试验十一) successfully entered the predetermined orbit and will be “mainly used in the fields of land survey, urban planning, crop yield estimation, disaster prevention and reduction”.

Shiyan-11 satellite

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC)/China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Rocket Lab, MISSION SUCCES - Welcome to space, BlackSky


Rocket Lab - BlackSky  / Love At First Insight Mission patch.

Nov. 25, 2021

Satellite separation

With this latest lift-off from the pad at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1,  Electron has carried its 107th satellite to space and successfully deployed the mission's two BlackSky payloads to their low Earth orbit.

Following lift-off on 18 November, 1:38 am UTC, Electron flawlessly cleared Max Q, first and second stage separation and second stage engine start, transfer of the Kick Stage and payloads to an elliptical first pass around Earth, successful Curie engine burn on the Kick Stage to move into a circular orbit, and then double payload deployment a few moments later to complete the mission within the hour after lift-off (not to mention a perigee-lowering burn from the Kick Stage after payload deployment to bring the Kick Stage closer to Earth and de-orbit faster!)

BlackSky's Gen-2 Earth-imaging satellites join the rest of their satellites in the company's LEO constellation to provide high-resolution images that are combined with artificial intelligence to provide insights to BlackSky's customers around the world.

Congratulations on mission success, BlackSky! We're thrilled to have been your launch partner once again, and look forward to our next mission with you in a few weeks time.

Electron liftoff

Catch of the day

Love At First Insight also marked a major achievement in our efforts to make Electron the world's first reusable, orbital-class commercial small rocket: the successful introduction of helicopter operations to a recovery mission for the first time.

Image above: Electron's first stage brought onboard the recovery vessel by Rocket Lab's ORCA (Ocean Recovery and Capture Apparatus) and secured to the deck for transport.

With this mission, we've once again conducted a controlled splashdown and retrieval of Electron’s first stage from the ocean after it returned from space under a parachute. While stationed 200 nautical miles offshore, Rocket Lab’s recovery helicopter successfully tracked the booster’s return to Earth as it travelled at nearly 10,000 km per hour all while maintaining communications with Rocket Lab’s Mission Control and recovery vessel stationed at sea. Electron’s first stage has now been returned to Rocket Lab’s Production Complex in Auckland, New Zealand, and is undergoing analysis and inspection to inform future recovery operations.

With the success of this mission and our operations, we're excited to confirm we're now moving to a helicopter capture attempt for our first recovery mission in 2022.

Image above: Electron's first stage brought onboard the recovery vessel by Rocket Lab's ORCA (Ocean Recovery and Capture Apparatus) and secured to the deck for transport.

Rocket Lab’s recovery helicopter will include auxiliary fuel tanks for extended flight time during the capture attempt. While Rocket Lab’s engineers and recovery vessel will also be stationed at sea, Rocket Lab’s primary objective will be to return Electron’s booster to the mainland while attached to the helicopter. Improvements to the launch vehicle for this next recovery attempt will include a thermal protection system applied to the entire stage and its nine Rutherford engines to help it endure heat of up to 2,400 degrees Celsius during re-entry, and modifications to the parachute system including an engagement line for the recovery helicopter to capture and secure the booster.

Image above: The Electron booster undergoing production with a full-stage Thermal Protection System in preparation for Rocket Lab's first helictoper capture recovery mission.

As one of only two launch companies to repeatedly recover orbital-class boosters from space, we’re ready to take the final step and begin collecting them mid-air with a helicopter to race us closer to launch, catch, repeat with the world’s first reusable, orbital-class commercial small rocket.  

Next on the pad

With all that we've achieved, we're still not done for the year. We've got another Electron lined up and ready to launch from the pad at Launch Complex 1 in December for our 23rd Electron launch!

'A Data With Destiny’ is the latest in a multi-launch agreement for BlackSky between Rocket Lab and Spaceflight Inc., which is providing integration and mission management services for BlackSky. This mission will deploy the 10th and 11th satellites of BlackSky’s low Earth orbit constellation and the two Gen-2 satellites on this mission, along with those previously launched by Rocket Lab for BlackSky, represent the largest number of satellites BlackSky has dedicated to a single launch provider to date.

'A Data With Destiny' is scheduled to launch from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula during a 14-day launch window that opens in December. The mission will be Rocket Lab’s 23rd Electron launch overall and sixth mission of 2021.

Related article & link:

Rocket Lab - Electron launches “Love At First Insight”

Rocket Lab:

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: Rocket Lab/ Aerospace.

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mercredi 24 novembre 2021

Experts continue to monitor the rapprochement of a fragment of a Falcon 9 rocket with the ISS



Nov. 24, 2021

Employees of the Main Information and Analytical Center of the Automated System for Warning of Hazardous Situations in Near-Earth Space TsNIIMash (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) continue to monitor the situation with the approach of November 25, 2021 at 07:18 Moscow time, a fragment of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle from the International space station (ISS).

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

According to Russian experts, the minimum distance between the ISS and this object will be over 5.3 km. The situation is under control.

The station and the crew of the 66th long-term expedition are working as usual. As of November 24, 2021, this fragment does not pose a threat to the ISS; an evasive maneuver is not required.

Related article:

Fragment of Falcon 9 rocket will approach the ISS at a distance of 5.5 km

Related links:

Roscomos Press Release:



International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/TsNIIMash/MCC/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


New Module Heads to Station During Spacewalk Preps and Science Today


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Nov. 24, 2021

Russia’s newest docking port, the Prichal module, launched today and will arrive on Friday at the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the seven-member Expedition 66 crew is continuing spacewalk preparations while keeping up with ongoing advanced space research.

A Russian Progress spacecraft launched from Kazakhstan at 8:06 a.m. EST (6:06 p.m. Baikonur time) today carrying the five-ton Prichal docking module into Earth orbit. The new module, controlled by the Progress vehicle, will automatically dock to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module on Friday at 10:26 a.m. Once attached Prichal will provide five additional docking ports and fuel transfer capability to the orbiting lab.

Image above: A Russian Progress spacecraft launched from Kazakhstan at 8:06 a.m. EST (6:06 p.m. Baikonur time) today carrying the Prichal docking module into Earth orbit. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov will be on duty Friday monitoring Prichal’s arrival. Friday’s approach and docking will be covered live on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Two NASA astronauts have begun focusing on an upcoming spacewalk planned for Nov. 30. Flight Engineers Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron checked out spacewalking tools and emergency jetpacks today they would use in the unlikely event they became untethered from the station. The duo is timelined to spend about six-and-a-half hours replacing a faulty antenna system on the Port-1 truss segment.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

Flight Engineers Raja Chari of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) focused on human research strapping sensors to themselves for a pair of exercise studies. Chari performed a fitness test on an exercise cycle to measure his aerobic capacity in space. Maurer then took his turn on the exercise bike wearing a mask and a heart monitor to demonstrate cardio-pulmonary diagnosis aboard the orbiting lab. NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei serviced the COLBERT treadmill inspecting and cleaning its components.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 5:06 a.m. EST for launch of the company’s 24th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Dragon will bring food, supplies, and scientific investigations to the orbiting crew, including a protein crystal growth study that could improve the delivery of cancer treatment drugs and a handheld bioprinter that could one day be used to print tissue directly onto wounds to faster healing.

Related article:

Russian Port Module is Safely in Orbit Headed for Station

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:


Port-1 truss segment:

Exercise cycle:

Aerobic capacity:

Cardio-pulmonary diagnosis:

COLBERT treadmill:

Protein crystal growth study:

Handheld bioprinter:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Gaia reveals that most Milky Way companion galaxies are newcomers to our corner of space


ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

Nov. 24, 2021

Data from ESA’s Gaia mission is re-writing the history of our galaxy, the Milky Way. What had traditionally been thought of as satellite galaxies to the Milky Way are now revealed to be mostly newcomers to our galactic environment.

A dwarf galaxy is a collection of between thousand and several billion stars. For decades it has been widely believed that the dwarf galaxies that surround the Milky Way are satellites, meaning that they are caught in orbit around our galaxy, and have been our constant companions for many billions of years. Now the motions of these dwarf galaxies have been computed with unprecedented precision thanks to data from Gaia’s early third data release and the results are surprising.

François Hammer, Observatoire de Paris - Université Paris Sciences et Lettres, France, and colleagues from across Europe and China, used the Gaia data to calculate the movements of 40 dwarf galaxies around the Milky Way. They did this by computing a set of quantities known as the three-dimensional velocities for each galaxy, and then using those to calculate the galaxy’s orbital energy and the angular (rotational) momentum.

They found that these galaxies are moving much faster than the giant stars and star clusters that are known to be orbiting the Milky Way. So fast, that they couldn’t be in orbit yet around the Milky Way, where interactions with our galaxy and its contents would have sapped their orbital energy and angular momentum.

Dwarf galaxies around the Milky Way (Click on the image for enlarge)

Our galaxy has cannibalised a number of dwarf galaxies in its past. For example, 8-10 billion years ago, a dwarf galaxy called Gaia-Enceladus was absorbed by the Milky Way. Its stars can be identified in Gaia data because of the eccentric orbits and range of energies they possess.

More recently, 4-5 billion years ago, the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy was captured by the Milky Way and is currently in the process of being pulled to pieces and assimilated. The energy of its stars is higher than those of Gaia-Enceladus, indicating the shorter time that they have been subject to the Milky Way’s influence.

In the case of the dwarf galaxies in the new study, which represents the majority of the dwarf galaxies around the Milky Way, their energies are higher still. This strongly suggests that they have only arrived in our vicinity in the last few billion years.

The discovery mirrors one made about the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a larger dwarf galaxy so close to the Milky Way that it is visible as a smudge of light in the night sky from the southern hemisphere. The LMC was also thought to be a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way until the 2000s, when astronomers measured its velocity and found that it was travelling too fast to be gravitationally bound. Instead of a companion, LMC is visiting for the first time. Now we know that the same is true for most of the dwarf galaxies too.

So will these newcomers settle into orbit or simply pass us by? “Some of them will be captured by the Milky Way and will become satellites,” says François.

But saying exactly which ones is difficult because it depends on the exact mass of the Milky Way, and that is a quantity that is difficult for astronomers to calculate with any real accuracy. Estimates vary by a factor of two.


The discovery of the dwarf galaxy energies is significant because it forces us to re-evaluate the nature of the dwarf galaxies themselves.

As a dwarf galaxy orbits, the Milky Way’s gravitational pull will try to wrench it apart. In physics this is known as a tidal force. “The Milky Way is a big galaxy, so its tidal force is simply gigantic and it's very easy to destroy a dwarf galaxy after maybe one or two passages,” says François.

In other words, becoming a companion to the Milky Way is a death sentence for dwarf galaxies. The only thing that could resist our galaxy’s destructive grip is if the dwarf had a significant quantity of dark matter. Dark matter is the mysterious substance that astronomers think exists in the universe to provide the extra gravity to hold individual galaxies together.

And so, in the traditional view that the Milky Way’s dwarfs were satellite galaxies that had been in orbit for many billions of years, it was assumed that they must be dominated by dark matter to balance the Milky Way’s tidal force and keep them intact. The fact that Gaia has revealed that most of the dwarf galaxies are circling the Milky Way for the first time means that they do not necessarily need to include any dark matter at all, and we must re-assess whether these systems are in balance or rather in the process of destruction.

“Thanks in large part to Gaia, it is now obvious that the history of the Milky Way is far more storied than astronomers had previously understood. By investigating these tantalising clues, we hope to further tease out the fascinating chapters in our galaxy’s past,” says Timo Prusti, Gaia Project Scientist, ESA.

Notes for editors

“Gaia EDR3 proper motions of Milky Way Dwarfs. II: Velocities, Total Energy and Angular Momentum” by Francois Hammer et al. will be published online by The Astrophysical Journal on 24 November 2021. DOI:

This study was performed with the Gaia Early Data Release 3, which was released on 3 December 2020. The full third data release is planned for the second quarter of 2022.

Related links:

ESA’s Gaia mission:

Gaia’s early third data release:

Gaia’s new data takes us to the Milky Way’s anticentre and beyond

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.