vendredi 3 décembre 2021

An unscheduled correction of the ISS orbit was carried out


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Dec. 3, 2021

Specialists from the Moscow Region TsNIIMash Mission Control Center (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) on December 3, 2021, at 10:58 Moscow time, carried out an unscheduled correction of the orbital altitude of the International Space Station to avoid "space debris" - a stage fragment of the American Pegasus launch vehicle. launched from the United States in 1994.

International Space Station (ISS)

All operations were carried out routinely in full accordance with the calculations of the Russian specialists of the ballistic service. For this maneuver, the engines of the Progress MS-18 cargo vehicle were used, which operated for 160.9 seconds. The impulse was minus 0.3 m / s. After carrying out the corrective maneuver, the station's orbit altitude was preliminarily reduced by 310 meters.

According to the updated data from the ballistic and navigation support service of the Flight Control Center of TsNIIMash, the parameters of the ISS orbit after the evasion maneuver were:

- Circulation period: 92.91 minutes;

- Orbital inclination: 51.66 degrees;

- Minimum orbit altitude: 420.30 km;

- Maximum orbital altitude: 434.84 km;

- Mean orbit height: 419.65 km.

This correction did not affect the plans for launching from the Baikonur cosmodrome and docking with the ISS of the Soyuz MS-20 manned spacecraft on December 8, 2021.

According to the Central Information and Analytical Center of the Automated System for Warning of Dangerous Situations in Near-Earth Space TsNIIMash, the ISS would have approached a minimum distance of 3 km with a fragment of the destroyed stage at 13:33 Moscow time.

Related article:

Station Separates from Debris After Orbital Maneuver

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:



International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Station Separates from Debris After Orbital Maneuver


ISS - International Space Station emblem.

Dec. 3, 2021

At 1:58 a.m. CST, 2:58 a.m. EST this morning, the Russian Progress 79, attached to the space station, fired its thrusters for 2 minutes and 41 seconds to slightly lower the station’s orbit. This maneuver provided a healthy margin of separation from a fragment of Pegasus rocket debris (object 39915) that ballistics specialists have been tracking. The Expedition 66 crew aboard the station is not in any additional danger.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The Pre-determined Debris Avoidance Maneuver, or PDAM, was coordinated between NASA flight controllers, Russian ballistics officials, and the station’s other international partners.

The station’s orbit has been lowered by 3/10 of a mile at apogee and 4/10 of a mile at perigee. The current orbit is 262.6 x 258.8 statute miles.
Object 39915 was a piece of debris generated during the breakup of object 23106 (Pegasus R/B). The launch occurred on May 19, 1994, and the breakup of the rocket’s upper stage occurred on June 3, 1996. Locate more information about how NASA manages the risk of orbital debris at:

Related articles:

NASA Teams Delay Spacewalk After Debris Notification

Astronauts Ready for Tuesday’s Spacewalk

When debris disaster strikes

Space Debris and Human Spacecraft

Related link:

International Space Station (ISS):

NASA/Mark Garcia

Hubble Gazes at a Dazzling Spiral Galaxy


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec 3, 2021

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope features the spiral galaxy Mrk (Markarian) 1337, which is roughly 120 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 snapped Mrk 1337 at a wide range of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths, producing this richly detailed image. Mrk 1337 is a weakly barred spiral galaxy, which as the name suggests means that the spiral arms radiate from a central bar of gas and stars. Bars occur in roughly half of spiral galaxies, including our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

These observations are part of a campaign to improve our knowledge of how fast the universe is expanding. They were proposed by Adam Riess, who – along with Saul Perlmutter and Brian Schmidt – was awarded a 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for contributions to the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Riess et al. 

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This tiny iron-rich world is extraordinarily metal



NASA - Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) logo.

Dec. 3, 2021

The discovery of GJ 367b, which orbits its star in about 8 hours, demonstrates astronomers’ prowess at finding extreme planets.

Image above: During the day, the exoplanet GJ 367b (shown here in an artist’s rendering) is so hot, the iron it holds could almost begin to melt. Image Credits: SPP 1992 (Patricia Klein).

Astronomers have spotted the tiniest, most metal-based planet yet — an iron-rich world that is light years away from Earth and zips around its star once every eight hours.

The planet, known as GJ 367b, is three-quarters the size of Earth, but much denser. It’s more like Mercury, in that it is made mostly of iron and is superheated by blazing radiation from its star. GJ 367b is a searing 1,500 °C during the day — nearly hot enough for its iron to begin to melt.

GJ 367b is the smallest planet beyond the Solar System for which scientists have been able to determine the composition, says Kristine Lam, an astronomer who recently moved from Technical University Berlin to the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, Germany. She and her colleagues reported the finding on 2 December in Science (1).

Astronomers have discovered more than a dozen ‘ultrashort-period’ planets, which are so close to their stars that they make a complete orbit in less than a day, like GJ 367b. Its iron-rich nature makes it a sort of planetary laboratory for understanding the extreme conditions in which planets can form and evolve.

The discovery also “showcases our ability to measure the mass of tiny, sub-Earth planets”, says David Armstrong, an astronomer at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK. “Being able to observe such planets, despite them being many light years away from us, is fascinating and promises many Earth-like planet discoveries in the future.”

A ‘wild’ find

Lam’s team discovered GJ 367b in 2019 using data from NASA’s planet-hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which has spotted 172 of the 4,500 or so planets known to be orbiting stars other than the Sun. GJ 367b is more than 9 parsecs (31 light years) away from Earth, in the southern constellation Vela. The researchers used several ground-based telescopes to confirm the exoplanet’s existence and to gather data that revealed its size and mass in unprecedented detail — it is 0.72 times the size of Earth and 0.55 times the mass.

Those two precise pieces of information allowed the team to calculate the planet’s density as being more than 8 grams per cubic centimetre, which is close to the density of iron and much higher than Earth’s 5.5 grams per cubic centimetre. GJ 367b is probably made mostly of an iron core surrounded by a thin layer of rock, with perhaps some ice or gas enveloping it. “It’s pretty wild,” says Lisa Dang, an astronomer at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Other extremely dense planets have been found before, including one nearly as big as Neptune2. But finding a tiny version shows that astronomers can push the boundaries of finding extreme worlds, Lam says.

Formation mysteries

Theorists have several ideas about how heavy-metal planets could form. They could have started out as large planets with iron cores sheathed in vast layers of rock, before collisions with other space rocks stripped off their covering and left behind the nearly naked iron core. Or the searing radiation from the planets’ stars could have stripped off some material as the bodies were forming.

GJ 367b’s star is a red dwarf, smaller and cooler than the Sun. Lam’s team spotted hints of a second planet orbiting it, around once every 11 days, but have not yet been able to confirm the existence of any planets other than GJ 367b.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Animation Credit: NASA

GJ 367b probably isn’t a great place to look for extraterrestrial life, given its intense heat and radiation. “Of course it’s not pleasant to live on,” Lam says. But the planet could potentially have an atmosphere, which would be an interesting environment. If the planet’s surface is partially molten, then GJ 367b might have an atmosphere dominated by minerals that boiled off the planet’s surface, Dang says. Lam and her colleagues hope to search for an atmosphere using observatories such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch on 22 December.



1. Lam, K. W. F. et al. Science 374, 1271–1275 (2021).

2. Armstrong, D. J. et al. Nature 583, 39–42 (2020).

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Nature/Alexandra Witze.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of November 29, 2021


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec 3, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Nov. 29 that included testing antimicrobial surfaces, coordinating multiple autonomous robots, and improving recovery of water from waste. Crew members also prepared for and conducted a spacewalk during the week.

Image above: View of the International Space Station taken from the departing SpaceX Crew Dragon. 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:

Can’t touch this

Touching Surfaces, an ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, tests a variety of antimicrobial surfaces as a potential method for reducing microbial contamination aboard the space station. Previous research suggests that the relationship between humans and microbes can change in a crewed space habitat. Results from this investigation could help determine the best design for antimicrobial surfaces in future spacecraft and habitats as well as for terrestrial applications such as public transportation and clinical settings.

A swarm of (Astro)bees

The space station’s free-flying Astrobees demonstrate autonomous on-orbit robotic servicing such as assembly of structures and moving cargo for the ReSWARM investigation. The demonstration involves coordination among multiple robots, robots and cargo, and robots and the environment in which they operate. Robotic servicing has potential as a way to refuel and repair failing satellites, construct observatories and outposts on future missions, and assist astronauts during spacewalks. The accumulation of debris in low-Earth orbit poses a risk to satellites used on the ground for weather observation, navigation, and other important activities, and this investigation also could enable the repair of damaged satellites that might otherwise themselves become space debris. Space debris also poses a risk to spacecraft launches, and ReSWARM could help ensure safe launches for future missions. During the week, crew members conducted set-up and preparation for the investigation.

Recovering more water

Image above: The JEM Water Recovery system (JWRS), shown here installed in the Kibo module aboard the International Space Station, supports development of future Life Support Systems to provide basic needs for astronauts on the space station and missions farther into space. Image Credit: NASA.

The JEM Water Recovery System is an investigation from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) that tests a technology to increase the recovery of drinkable water from urine. Adequate water supply could be a limiting factor on future long-term missions, and future water recovery systems need to be smaller, recover more water, and use less power than those currently in use. This technology could be a vital part of the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) on spacecraft and provide water regeneration in dry regions or after disasters on Earth as well. Crew members conducted operations for this technology test during the week.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- InSPACE-4 studies magnetic assembly of structures from colloids, or particles suspended in a liquid in microgravity. 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.

- ESA’s Acoustic Diagnostics 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.

Image above: NASA astronaut Raja Chari participates in an ISS HAM radio event, talking with students at Colegio Pumahue Temuco in Temuco, Chile. Image Credit: NASA.

- ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, parents, and others the opportunity to communicate with astronauts using ham radio units. Before a scheduled call, students learn about the station, radio waves, and other topics, and prepare a list of questions on topics they have researched.

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

- Plant Habitat-04 involves tending plants and microbial analysis and crew assessment of flavor, texture, and nutrition of the first chile peppers grown in space.

Space to Ground: Home Improvement: 12/03/2021

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Touching Surfaces:



JEM Water Recovery System:

Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS):

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.

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Matthias launches into first month of space science


ESA - Cosmic Kiss Mission patch.

Dec. 3, 2021

Barely three weeks into space life, first-time flyer Matthias Maurer has operated a robotic arm, welcomed a docking module, slept in a brand-new bed and changed plans a few times due to space debris alerts. Even science has not been routine, as he ran a handful of experiments for the very first time in orbit.

Matthias Maurer in the Cupola

ESA’s current astronaut-in-residence arrived at the International Space Station on 12 November in a Crew Dragon spacecraft for his six-month Cosmic Kiss mission.

Matthias, who is the 600th human to fly to space, is now well-adjusted to his ‘space legs’.

Cosmic pearl

During November, he handled the Station’s 17-m-long robotic arm, Canadarm2, to release the Cygnus spacecraft and prepared to do so again on 2 December to assist spacewalkers from inside the Space Station. Piloting the arm requires mental gymnastics to understand the motion in weightlessness.

Space life also requires quality sleep. Matthias had his bed set-up by fellow ESA space traveller Thomas Pesquet, who made sure ventilation and noise levels were pleasant in Europe’s Columbus laboratory for him.

Sleeping crew quarters in Columbus

This new place for Matthias to sleep and relax is called CASA, short for Crew Alternate Sleep Accommodation, and the astronaut has already made himself at home.

Another quiet place in the space quarters is new module on the block, Prichal. The latest Russian node adds up to six more docking ports to the Station. And, because it has no active components, it is nice and calm inside.

A new space scientist

Matthias is supporting a wide range of European and international science experiments and technological research on the Station.

Touching surfaces experiment

Like on the ground, microbial contamination is a concern in space. The Touching Surfaces experiment exposes a series of five panels, made of different materials, to the indoor environment of the Space Station. Matthias and his fellow astronauts are encouraged to touch these panels frequently before they are returned to Earth for analysis. Scientists will then look at how microorganisms stick to these panels, and for how long. Results could aid development of novel antimicrobial surfaces for the health care sector and food industry.

Matthias’s body was also the subject of several science studies. While a thermal sensor strapped to his forehead monitored his core temperature and circadian rhythm for the Thermo-Mini experiment, the Retinal Diagnostics study captured images of his eyes to detect any vision pathologies common amongst astronauts.

Matthias Maurer and Metabolic Space

Matthias wore a breathing mask and two devices on his chest filled with sensors during a static bike ride. The wireless devices monitored his heart rate, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels for the Metabolic Space experiment, a technology demonstration to improve cardiopulmonary diagnostics and assess performance in space without restricting mobility.

Old friends

A familiar experiment on the Station that monitors muscle tone and stiffness during spaceflight, Myotones, joined forces with a new study to improve exercise outcomes. The EasyMotion experiment uses a wearable electro muscle stimulation (EMS) suit that activates the musculature and has the potential to optimise Matthias’s fitness routine in space. The combined inputs before, during and after flight of this research aim to understand the physiological strain for astronauts and could lead to new rehabilitation treatments on Earth.

Raja Chari and Grip

NASA crewmates Raja Chari and Kayla Barron also ran their first sessions with Grip and Grasp. These neuroscience experiments investigate how our brain takes microgravity into account when grabbing or manipulating an object. The studies help identify the workings of the vestibular system that helps us maintain balance.

One of the side effects of a long stay in space is the loss of bone density and muscle mass, so flight surgeons want to keep an eye on Matthias’s body changes.

Sampling Rendang

Even before enjoying his Thanksgiving dinner in space, Matthias began logging his meals to track his energy intake.

While the NutrISS experiment assessed his nutrition, he jumped on a peculiar space scale to measure his mass in zero-g.

Matthias Maurer on the space scale

“Measurement of mass in zero gravity requires other techniques than on the ground – a normal scale wouldn’t work here. This Russian hardware uses the resonant frequency change to calculate my mass,” he explained.   

Radiation is another well-known space hazard. Matthias dotted 21 Dosis 3D radiometers around the Station to get an overview of where radiation is most prominent. He placed 10 pouches inside the Columbus lab, and scattered a few others in other locations to build a three-dimensional map of the radiation environment.

Matthias Maurer, Dosis 3D and Thermo-Mini

On the topic of space radiation, the Lumina experiment is also underway and will run kms of fibre optic cables throughout the Station to see if they are a viable technology for monitoring ionising radiation in real-time. This technology would be useful in settings with limited habitable modules and power, like on a spaceflight to Mars.

But for now, we wish Matthias another productive month of science and operations in low-Earth orbit.

Related links:

Human and Robotic Exploration:

Cosmic Kiss mission:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA.

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SpaceX Starlink 32 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

Dec. 3, 2021

SpaceX Starlink 32 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 48 Starlink satellites (Starlink-32) and two BlackSky spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, on 2 December 2021, at 23:12 UTC (18:12 EST).

SpaceX Starlink 32 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 2 December 2021

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “A Shortfall of Gravitas” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1060) previously supported eight missions: Transporter-2, GPS-III Space Vehicle 03, Turksat 5A and five Starlink missions.

Related links:


Image, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 2 décembre 2021

NASA Selects Companies to Develop Commercial Destinations in Space


NASA logo.

Dec 2, 2021

NASA has signed agreements with three U.S. companies to develop designs of space stations and other commercial destinations in space. The agreements are part of the agency’s efforts to enable a robust, American-led commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.

The total estimated award amount for all three funded Space Act Agreements is $415.6 million. The companies that received awards are:

- Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, for $130 million

- Nanoracks LLC, of Houston for $160 million

- Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation of Dulles, Virginia, for $125.6 million

NASA seeks to maintain an uninterrupted U.S. presence in low-Earth orbit by transitioning from the International Space Station to other platforms. These awards will stimulate U.S. private sector development of commercial, independent space stations that will be available to both government and private-sector customers.

“Building on our successful initiatives to partner with private industry to deliver cargo, and now our NASA astronauts, to the International Space Station, NASA is once again leading the way to commercialize space activities,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “With commercial companies now providing transportation to low-Earth orbit in place, we are partnering with U.S. companies to develop the space destinations where people can visit, live, and work, enabling NASA to continue forging a path in space for the benefit of humanity while fostering commercial activity in space.”

Image above: The Blue Origin and Sierra Space Orbital Reef baseline configuration (second half of the 2020s): Core Module, Energy Mast, LIFE, Node, and Science Module. Payload operations commence with the second launch. Image Credit: Orbital Reef.

The awards are the first in a two-phase approach to ensure a seamless transition of activity from the International Space Station to commercial destinations. During this first phase, private industry, in coordination with NASA, will formulate and design commercial low-Earth orbit destination capabilities suitable for potential government and private sector needs. The first phase is expected to continue through 2025.

Blue Origin and Sierra Space have partnered to develop Orbital Reef, a commercially owned and operated space station to be built in low-Earth orbit, which will start operating in the second half of this decade. Orbital Reef teammates include Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering, and Arizona State University. Orbital Reef’s human-centered space architecture is designed to be a “mixed-use space business park” that provides essential infrastructure needed to support all types of human spaceflight activity in low-Earth orbit and can be scaled to serve new markets.

Image above: Starlab, from Nanoracks, Voyager Space, and Lockheed Martin, is a continuously crewed, free-flying, commercial space station dedicated to conducting advanced research, fostering commercial industrial activity, and ensuring continued U.S. presence and leadership in low-Earth Orbit. Image Credits: Nanoracks/Lockheed Martin/Voyager Space.

The station’s shared infrastructure will support the proprietary needs of diverse U.S. and international users, tenants, and visitors, including those representing research, industry, government, and the commercial sector. Features such as reusable space transportation and advanced automation can minimize cost and complexity to enable the widest range of users. Accommodations, vehicle docking ports, and utilities can all be scaled with growth in market demand.

Nanoracks’ commercial low-Earth orbit destination, in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin, is called “Starlab.” Starlab is targeted for launch in 2027 on a single flight as a continuously crewed, commercial space station dedicated to conducting advanced research, fostering commercial industrial activity, and ensuring continued U.S. presence and leadership in low-Earth orbit. Starlab is designed for four astronauts and will have power, volume, and a payload capability equivalent to the International Space Station.

Image above: Northrop Grumman’s free flyer commercial destination design leverages flight proven elements to provide the base module for extended capabilities including science, tourism, industrial experimentation, and building of infrastructure beyond initial design. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman.

Starlab will host the George Washington Carver Science Park featuring four main operational departments – a biology lab, plant habitation lab, physical science and materials research lab, and an open workbench area – to meet the needs of researchers and commercial customers for commercial space activities. The station will be built with flexible growth in mind, featuring interfaces both internal and external to the spacecraft to allow Nanoracks to expand the architecture as new demand sources are identified, and new markets emerge.

Northrop Grumman’s design for a modular, commercial destination in low-Earth orbit is built on decades of experience supporting NASA, defense, and commercial programs. The design leverages flight-proven elements, such as the Cygnus spacecraft that provides cargo delivery to the International Space Station, to provide a base module for extended capabilities including science, tourism, industrial experimentation, and the building of infrastructure beyond initial design.

Multiple docking ports will allow future expansion to support crew analog habitats, laboratories, crew airlocks, and facilities capable of artificial gravity, in support of multiple customers. This Space Act Agreement will enable Northrop Grumman to provide a detailed commercialization, operations, and capabilities plan, as well as space station requirements, mission success criteria, risk assessments, key technical and market analysis requirements, and preliminary design activities. Northrop Grumman’s team includes Dynetics, with other partners to be announced.

For the second phase of NASA’s approach to a transition toward commercial low-Earth orbit destinations, the agency intends to certify for NASA crew member use commercial low-Earth orbit destinations from these and potential other entrants, and ultimately, purchase services from destination providers for crew to use when available. This strategy will provide services the government needs at a lower cost, enabling NASA to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars while continuing to use low-Earth orbit as a training and proving ground.

NASA estimates the agency’s future needs in low-Earth orbit will require continuous accommodations and training for at least two crew members, as well as the ability to support a national orbiting laboratory and the performance of approximately 200 investigations annually to support human research, technology demonstrations, biological and physical science.

Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is part of NASA’s broader efforts to build a robust low-Earth orbit economy, including supporting commercial activity and enabling the first private astronaut mission to the space station. In addition to these new awards NASA selected Axiom Space in January 2020 to design and develop commercial modules to attach to the station. NASA and Axiom recently completed the preliminary design review of two modules as well as the critical design review of the module’s primary structure.

By transitioning to a model where commercial industry owns and operates the assets in low-Earth orbit and where NASA is one of many customers, the agency can save on costs to live and work in low-Earth orbit and focus on pushing innovation and exploration of the Moon and Mars through NASA’s Artemis missions.

Find more information about NASA’s efforts to bolster a low-Earth orbit economy at:

Related article:

NASA Selects Orbital Reef to Develop Space Station Replacement

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Robert Margetta/Stephanie Schierholz/JSC/Gary Jordan.


NASA Selects Orbital Reef to Develop Space Station Replacement


Orbital Reef logo.

Dec. 2, 2021

Orbital Reef, led by partners Blue Origin and Sierra Space, was selected today by NASA for a funded Space Act Agreement for collaboration to design a commercially owned and operated space station in low Earth orbit (LEO). NASA’s Commercial LEO Development program aims to shift NASA’s research and exploration activities in LEO to commercial space stations, helping stimulate a growing space economy before the International Space Station is retired. The Orbital Reef team includes Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering Solutions, and Arizona State University.

“We are pleased that NASA supports the development of Orbital Reef, a revolutionary approach to making Earth orbit more accessible to diverse customers and industries,” said Brent Sherwood, Senior Vice President of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin. “In addition to meeting the ISS partners’ needs, the Orbital Reef mixed-use space business park will offer reduced costs and complexity, turnkey services, and inspiring space architecture to support any business. No one knows how commercial LEO markets will develop, but we intend to find out.”

“Blue Origin and Sierra Space are proud to be awarded the NASA Commercial Destination Free Flyer program,” said Tom Vice, CEO of Sierra Space. “Blue Origin and Sierra Space are committed to the realization of our vision of enabling humanity to build civilizations in space while enhancing life here on Earth. The commercialization of low Earth orbit is an important first step in this journey. We look forward to working with NASA on this important program that will advance humanity’s settlement of space.”

“This award shows NASA’s foresight in prepping a commercial space station in the future that will be worthy of the legacy of the International Space Station,” said Boeing’s John Mulholland, VP and program manager of the International Space Station. “Orbital Reef will continue to expand access to space research capabilities to groups that have not been able to utilize the microgravity environment. We are excited about applying more than two decades’ worth of expertise in the ISS operations to make the Orbital Reef a landmark success in orbit.”

“NASA’s support for Orbital Reef represents a strong commitment by the Agency to leverage an innovative public private partnership ensuring that America and its international partners maintain a continuous human presence in LEO,” said Mike Gold, Redwire’s Executive Vice President of Civil Space and External Affairs. “At Redwire, we are excited to transform the dream of Orbital Reef into reality via our innovative technologies, such as Roll Out Solar Arrays, digital engineering, and internal outfitting for scientific and commercial activities. The trailblazing microgravity research, development, and next-generation manufacturing that we conduct on Orbital Reef will not only enable future exploration missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, but will also substantively improve life here on Earth.”

Announcing Orbital Reef - Your Address in Orbit

“Until now, excursions outside spacecraft have required the challenge, inconvenience, risk, and expense of spacesuits. Orbital Reef changes that with the Single Person Spacecraft, an efficient and tourist-safe alternative,” said Brand Griffin, Program Manager for Genesis Engineering Solutions.

“We’re grateful to receive NASA’s support for Orbital Reef’s shared mission. The University Advisory Group is ready to embark on this new challenge — to create guidelines for ethical research and manufacturing, to assemble experts in every field, and to create community connections to Orbital Reef that include science, engineering, art, history, philosophy and religion — all aspects of the human experience,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Vice President of ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative and Principal Investigator of the NASA Psyche mission.

The industry team brings together all the expertise to develop, integrate, and operate Orbital Reef’s transportation and destination systems and services:

- Blue Origin leads development of the station’s infrastructure, large-diameter metal modules, last-mile space tug, and reusable heavy-lift New Glenn launch system.

- Sierra Space leads development of the LIFE (Large Integrated Flexible Environment) and small-diameter metal node modules, and Dream Chaser spaceplane for crew and cargo transportation with runway landing anywhere in the world.
- Boeing leads development of the station’s operations and maintenance and science module, and Starliner crew capsule.

- Redwire Space leads microgravity research payload development and operations, large deployable structures, and the Orbital Reef digital twin.
- Genesis Engineering Solutions develops the Single Person Spacecraft for routine operations and tourist excursions.
- Arizona State University leads the University Advisory Group, a global consortium of universities for research advisory services and public outreach.

Orbital Reef’s vision is to provide an “address in orbit” for anyone. Early customers may include NASA, its traditional ISS partners, and non-traditional governments and agencies needing easier access to space. The station will grow as markets grow, including commercial industries such as research and manufacturing, media and entertainment, sports and gaming, and adventure travel and tourism.

For more information visit,

Related article:

Blue Origin and Sierra Space Developing Commercial Space Station

Related links:

Blue Origin:

Sierra Space:


Redwire Space:

Genesis Engineering Solutions:

Arizona State University:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Blue Origin/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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ESA’s Mars Express unravels mystery of martian moon using 'fake' flybys


ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

Dec. 2, 2021

By performing a series of real and 'fake' flybys, ESA’s Mars Express has revealed how Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, interacts with the solar wind of charged particles thrown out by the Sun – and spotted an elusive process that has only been seen at Phobos once before.

'Fake' flybys help solve Phobos mystery

The solar wind streams out from our star, filling the Solar System with energetic particles. Earth’s Moon reflects these particles continuously, and the same ‘backscattering’ is expected at Mars’ moon Phobos given the similarities between the two (both are rocky, lack a magnetic field and atmosphere, and orbit terrestrial planets in the inner Solar System). However, ESA’s Mars Express has only seen this backscattering once (in 2008), despite coming close to Phobos many times.

Researchers now report the second successful detection of reflected solar wind particles at Phobos, spotted during a flyby of the moon in January 2016.

“Phobos’ relationship with the solar wind has long been an enigma,” says Yoshifumi Futaana of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF), and lead author of the new paper on the 2016 flyby. “We know that Phobos must be interacting with these particles, but we’re not seeing them – why? Why is Phobos behaving so differently to the Moon when the two appear to be quite similar?

“For the first time in eight years of flybys, we’re excited to again see signs of these reflected particles at Mars’ largest moon.”

Infographic: 'Fake' flybys help solve Phobos mystery

However, as this backscattering is so intermittent and seldom seen at Phobos, scientists wondered if the phenomenon could have been caused by Mars Express itself reflecting solar wind particles. During the 2008 flyby, the spacecraft moved its solar array and shifted to point its instruments at Phobos – a manoeuvre that may have affected the behaviour of surrounding particles.

“The same criticism remained for the 2016 flyby: how do we know this detection is actually reflection from Phobos, and not from Mars Express itself?” adds Yoshifumi.

'Fake' flybys

To explore this possibility, the researchers performed three unprecedented special operations, dubbed 'fake' flybys, with the spacecraft in 2017. Using the exact same operation sequence, control manoeuvres and solar array adjustments, Mars Express flew in a patch of space filled with solar wind but without the presence of Phobos, essentially performing a flyby – only without its target.

Mars Express

“In essence, we were completing a kind of laboratory experiment at Mars,” says co-author Mats Holmström, also of IRF and Principal Investigator for Mars Express’ ASPERA-3 instrument, which observed the reflected particles. “The 'fake' flybys let us explore how Mars Express influences the solar wind in a more controlled environment, so we could search for signs of the spacecraft itself being the cause of the particle reflection.”

The 'fake' flybys revealed no such signs that Mars Express produced or scattered any incoming particles, suggesting that Phobos did indeed reflect the detected particles back into space during the 2008 and 2016 flybys.

Sporadic scattering

Despite this, backscattered particles have only been spotted in two of over a dozen Phobos flybys, and even then, signals are sporadic and intermittent. This is entirely different to what we see at the Moon, another body that lacks both an atmosphere and magnetic field, and so would be expected to behave similarly. Why this difference?

Yoshifumi and colleagues consider a number of possibilities, from processes perhaps taking place on different spatial or temporal scales than those captured by Mars Express, to possible magnetism on Phobos, to differences in the surface compositions of Phobos and the Moon – and more.

“Overall, the intermittent particles are likely being reflected from the Phobos’ surface, but we can’t rule out another mysterious origin,” adds Yoshifumi. “However, the 'fake' flybys helped us understand the situation significantly better, explicitly showing that Mars Express was not the source.

“To know more, we need more Mars Express flybys of Phobos in various configurations. Even if no reflected particles are seen during those flybys, even a lack of signal will provide valuable statistics.”

The solar wind behaving differently at Phobos and the Moon implies that the surfaces of each have evolved differently, raising intriguing questions about how the Mars system differs from our own.

Exploring Phobos

As one of only three moons in the inner Solar System, Phobos is of great interest for space exploration – past, present and future.

Phobos in colour, close-up

From the Soviet Phobos program of the 1980s through to future missions such as the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA)’s Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission planned for launch in the mid-2020s, there have been many dedicated efforts to explore the origin, environment, behaviour and evolution of Mars’ largest moon.

ESA is partnering with JAXA on the MMX mission, providing communications equipment, support in spacecraft tracking and control, and opportunities for scientists to join the mission’s science team. MMX will characterise both martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, deploy a rover to Phobos’ surface, and return a sample of Phobos to Earth for analysis. A key aim of MMX is to determine if the moons are asteroids captured by Mars’ gravity, or debris remaining in orbit after a giant impact on Mars.

Beyond our knowledge of Phobos – and other rocky or icy bodies exhibiting similar physics that ESA plans to explore, from Mercury to asteroids to the Galilean moons of Jupiter – understanding how charged particles behave in space is critical to space exploration.

For example, astronauts on the Moon are exposed to the solar wind, a key consideration for ESA’s forthcoming plans for human expeditions to space. Surface interactions on planets and moons are also a core component of surface chemistry, possibly including how bodies form and store water.

“This finding uses Mars Express in a truly unique way to solve an ongoing cosmic mystery – it shows wonderful ingenuity and highlights the flexibility and diverse capabilities of the mission,” says ESA’s Mars Express project scientist Dmitrij Titov.

“The study also shows the value of our operations colleagues and data archives in enabling new discovery and knowledge and making important work such as this possible. We must understand the space environment to explore it with either satellite or astronaut, and so revealing the dynamics at play in the martian system is an important step forward.”

Yoshifumi and colleagues accessed data from the 2016 Phobos flyby provided by the ESA Planetary Science Archive:!Table%20View/Mars%20Express=mission

Notes for editors:

Does Phobos reflect solar wind protons? Mars Express special flyby operations with and without the presence of Phobos by Y. Futaana et al. (2021) is published in JGR: Planets. DOI:

Related link:

Mars Express:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Spacecraft image credit: ESA/ATG medialab; Mars: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.


ISS - NASA Astronauts Replace Antenna System


EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

Dec. 2, 2021

NASA Astronauts Begin Spacewalk to Replace Antenna System

Image above: Spacewalkers (from left) Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron will spend about six-and-a-half hours replacing a faulty antenna system. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron are reviewing the procedures they will use during Thursday’s spacewalk. The duo will exit the International Space Station after setting their U.S. spacesuits to battery power at 6:15 a.m. EST signifying the start of their spacewalk. photographed the condition of electronics gear that supports commercial spaceflight operations. Maurer checked tested electrical hardware and switches inside the Columbus laboratory module.

Image above: NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron inside the Quest airlock at the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Astronauts Replace Antenna System Ending Spacewalk

NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron concluded the first Expedition 66 spacewalk at 12:47 p.m. EST, after 6 hours and 32 minutes.

Marshburn and Barron successfully installed an S-band Antenna Subassembly (SASA) on the Port-1 truss structure and stowed the failed antenna. Additionally, the pair completed get-ahead tasks on the Port-4 truss structure, including resetting the torque on a set of bolts.

Image above: NASA spacewalker Thomas Marshburn rides the Canadarm2 robotic arm to the worksite to replace a station antenna system. Image Credit: NASA TV.

This was the fifth spacewalk for Marshburn, the first for Barron, and the 13th spacewalk at the International Space Station this year. Marshburn has now spent a total of 31 hours and one minute spacewalking, and Barron’s spacewalking time is now 6 hours and 32 minutes. Space station crew members have now spent a total of 64 days, 12 hours, and 26 minutes working outside the station conducting 245 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory.

NASA Spacewalk to Replace Space Station Antenna

Earlier this month, the International Space Station surpassed its 21-year milestone of continuous human presence, providing opportunities for unique research and technological demonstrations that help prepare for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars and also improve life on Earth. During that time, 249 people from 19 countries have visited the orbiting laboratory, which has hosted nearly 3,000 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Columbus laboratory module:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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DeepMind’s AI helps untangle the mathematics of knots


DeepMind logo.

Dec. 2, 2021

The machine-learning techniques could benefit other areas of maths that involve large data sets.

Animation above: Knot theorists proved the validity of a mathematical formula about knots after using machine learning to guess what the formula should be. Animation Credit: DeepMind.

For the first time, machine learning has spotted mathematical connections that humans had missed. Researchers at artificial-intelligence powerhouse DeepMind, based in London, teamed up with mathematicians to tackle two separate problems — one in the theory of knots and the other in the study of symmetries. In both cases, AI techniques helped the researchers discover new patterns that could then be investigated using conventional methods.

“I was very struck at just how useful the machine-learning tools could be as a guide for intuition,” says Marc Lackenby at the University of Oxford, UK, one of the mathematicians who took part in the study. “I was not expecting to have some of my preconceptions turned on their head.”

Computer simulations and visualizations of knots and other objects have long helped mathematicians to look for patterns and develop their intuition, says Jeffrey Weeks, a mathematician based in Canton, New York, who has pioneered some of those techniques since the 1980s. But, he adds, “Getting the computer to seek out patterns takes the research process to a qualitatively different level.”

The authors say the approach, described in a paper in the 2 December issue of Nature (1), could benefit other areas of maths that involve large data sets.

Maths versus machine

DeepMind, a sister company of Google, has made headlines with breakthroughs such as cracking the game Go, but its long-term focus has been scientific applications such as predicting how proteins fold.

Related article:

Image above: The human mediator complex has long been one of the most challenging multi-protein systems for structural biologists to understand. Image Credit: Yuan He.

The idea for a maths collaboration was sparked by a casual conversation in 2019 between mathematician Geordie Williamson at the University of Sydney in Australia and DeepMind’s chief executive, neuroscientist Demis Hassabis. Lackenby and a colleague at Oxford, András Juhász, both knot theorists, soon joined the project.

Initially, the work focused on identifying mathematical problems that could be attacked using DeepMind’s technology. Machine learning enables computers to feed on large data sets and make guesses, such as matching a surveillance-camera image to a known face from a database of photographs. But its answers are inherently probabilistic, and mathematical proofs require certainty.

But the team reasoned that machine learning could help to detect patterns, such as the relationship between two types of object. Mathematicians could then try to work out the precise relationship by formulating what they call a conjecture, and then attempting to write a rigorous proof that turns that statement into a certainty.

Because machine learning requires lots of data to train on, one requirement was to be able to calculate properties for large numbers of objects: in the case of knots, the team calculated several properties, called invariants, for millions of different knots.

The researchers then moved on to working out which AI technique would be most helpful for finding a pattern that linked two properties. One technique in particular, called saliency maps, turned out to be especially helpful. It is often used in computer vision to identify which parts of an image carry the most-relevant information. Saliency maps pointed to knot properties that were likely to be linked to each other, and generated a formula that seemed to be correct in all cases that could be tested. Lackenby and Juhász then provided a rigorous proof that the formula applied to a very large class of knots (2).

“The fact that the authors have proven that these invariants are related, and in a remarkably direct way, shows us that there is something very fundamental that we in the field have yet to fully understand,” says Mark Brittenham, a knot theorist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln who frequently uses computational techniques. Brittenham adds that although machine learning has been used in knot theory before, the authors’ technique is novel in its ability to discover surprising connections.

Solving symmetries

Williamson focused on a separate problem, regarding symmetries. Symmetries that switch around finite sets of objects have an important role in several branches of maths, and mathematicians have long studied them using various tools, including graphs — large abstract networks linking thousands of nodes — and algebraic expressions called polynomials. For decades, researchers have suspected that it would be possible to calculate the polynomials from the networks, but guessing how to do it seemed like a hopeless task, Williamson says. “Very quickly, the graph becomes beyond human comprehension.”

With the computer’s help, he and the rest of the team noticed that it should be possible to break down the graph into smaller, more-manageable parts, one of which has the structure of a higher-dimensional cube. This gave Williamson a solid conjecture to work on for the first time.

“I was just blown away by how powerful this stuff is,” says Williamson. Once the algorithm zeroed in on a pattern, it was able to guess very precisely which graphs and polynomials came from the same symmetries. “How quickly the models were getting accuracy — that for me was just shocking,” he says. “I think I spent basically a year in the darkness just feeling the computers knew something that I didn’t.”

Whether Williamson’s conjecture will prove true is still an open question. Conjectures sometimes take a long time for the mathematical community to crack, but they can help to shape entire fields.

Wider applications

Throughout the project, the researchers had to tailor the AI techniques to the two different mathematical problems, says Alex Davies, a computer scientist at DeepMind. “We did not originally expect these to be the most useful techniques,” he says.

“Any area of mathematics where sufficiently large data sets can be generated could benefit from this approach,” says Juhász, adding that the techniques they demonstrated could also find applications in fields such as biology or economics.

Adam Zsolt Wagner, a mathematician at Tel Aviv University, Israel, who has used machine learning, says that the authors’ methods could prove valuable for certain kinds of problems. “Without this tool, the mathematician might waste weeks or months trying to prove a formula or theorem that would ultimately turn out to be false.” But he adds that it is unclear how broad its impact will be.

At a press conference, Davies told reporters that the project has given him a “real appreciation” for the nature of mathematical research. Learning maths at school is akin to playing scales on a piano, he added, whereas real mathematicians’ work is more like jazz improvisations.

Williamson agrees that the work highlights a more exciting aspect of maths than people normally see. “As mathematical researchers, we live in a world that is rich with intuition and imaginations,” he says. “Computers so far have served the dry side. The reason I love this work so much is that they are helping with the other side.”

“My personal guess is that computer-generated conjectures will become ever more useful in ‘filling in the details’, but will never replace human intuition and creativity,” says Weeks.



1. Davies, A. et al. Nature 600, 70–74 (2021).

2. Davies, A., Juhász, A., Lackenby, M. & Tomasev, N. Preprint at (2021).

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


mercredi 1 décembre 2021

Crew Preps for Thursday Spacewalk During Station Upkeep, Research


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec. 1, 2021

NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron are reviewing the procedures they will use during Thursday’s spacewalk. The duo will exit the International Space Station after setting their U.S. spacesuits to battery power at 7:10 a.m. EST signifying the start of their spacewalk.

Marshburn and Barron are getting ready to replace a faulty antenna system outside on the orbiting lab’s Port-1 truss structure. Live NASA TV coverage of the spacewalk begins Thursday at 5:30 a.m. on the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

Image above: The space station was pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during its departure on Nov. 8, 2021. Image Credit: NASA.

The pair were joined by fellow flight engineers Mark Vande Hei, Raja Chari and Matthias Maurer, including spacewalk specialists on the ground, for a spacewalk procedures conference on Wednesday. Vande Hei and Chari from NASA will help Marshburn and Barron in and out of their spacesuits as well as monitor the pair during the six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk. Maurer from ESA (European Space agency) will be commanding the Canadarm2 robotic arm maneuvering Marshburn and gear during the antenna swap work.

While the two spacewalkers gear up for Thursday’s excursion, the station’s other three astronauts and two cosmonauts still had time for electronics and communications servicing while conducting microgravity research.

Spacewalk. Animation Credit: NASA

Vande Hei replaced a failed global positioning system receiver as Chari photographed the condition of electronics gear that supports commercial spaceflight operations. Maurer checked tested electrical hardware and switches inside the Columbus laboratory module.

In the station’s Russian segment, Roscosmos Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov studied how stress during and after a space mission affects the immune system. Station Commander Anton Shkaplerov worked on Russian video equipment and began setting up additional crew quarters for an upcoming Soyuz crew ship mission.

Related links:


Expedition 66:

Port-1 truss structure:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Columbus laboratory module:

Immune system:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,