samedi 25 décembre 2021

Webb liftoff on Ariane 5 to unlock secrets of the Universe


Arianespace - Ariane 5 / Flight VA-256 / JWST poster.

Dec 25, 2021

The James Webb Space Telescope lifted off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, at 13:20 CET on 25 December on its exciting mission to unlock the secrets of the Universe.

Webb liftoff on Ariane 5

Following launch and separation from the rocket, Webb’s mission operations centre in Baltimore, USA confirmed Webb deployed its solar array and is in good condition, marking the launch a success.

In the coming month, Webb, an international partnership between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), will travel to its destination: the second Lagrange point (L2), where it will study the Universe in infrared.

Webb’s journey to L2

“Launching Webb is a huge celebration of the international collaboration that made this next-generation mission possible. I want to thank everyone involved with the design, construction, and launch of this ambitious telescope, for making this day a reality. We are close to receiving Webb’s new view of the Universe and the exciting scientific discoveries that it will make,” says Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General.

Liftoff replay - Webb on Ariane 5

“The James Webb Space Telescope represents the ambition that NASA and our partners maintain to propel us forward into the future,” says NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “The promise of Webb is not what we know we will discover; it’s what we don’t yet understand or can’t yet fathom about our Universe. I can’t wait to see what it uncovers!”

“CSA is proud to have contributed critical instruments to this large‑scale international partnership as part of a global effort to spur the next great scientific leap. Canadian astronomers are excited to use Webb’s data and benefit from the tremendous science opportunities offered by this one-of-a-kind observatory,” says CSA President Lisa Campbell.

Webb mission trailer

Webb’s journey to space

The Webb observatory had to be carefully folded into the specially adapted Ariane 5 fairing for launch, which jettisoned away about three minutes after liftoff. Ariane 5 then began a special roll manoeuvre to protect Webb from the Sun’s radiation. After 27 minutes the telescope was released and the upper stage boosted away.

“I am very happy and proud that the versatility and reliability of Ariane 5 have enabled the launch of such a ground-breaking mission. This is a tribute to the skill and dedication of all the teams involved,” says Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation.

Webb and Ariane 5: a fit made perfect

ESA’s ESTRACK network of ground stations played a key role in tracking Ariane 5 and Webb following liftoff until separation.

Now in space and on its way to L2, Webb will undergo a complex unfolding sequence. In the months after, the instruments will be turned on and their capabilities tested. After half a year in space, Webb will start its routine science observations.

JWST – A new view of the Universe

Seeing farther

Webb will see farther into our origins: from the Universe's first galaxies, to the birth of stars and planets, to exoplanets with the potential for life, and our own Solar System.

“The idea for Webb started with the dream of astronomers to observe the birth of the first galaxies in the early Universe, but the telescope will be able to do so much more than everyone had hoped for,” says Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.

Webb science

ESA contributed to two of the four scientific instruments on board Webb: NIRSpec and MIRI. “It is down to the excellence of the European industry and scientific community that the development of these complex instruments was made possible,” Günther adds.

“We are now looking forward to the beautiful images and spectra that Webb will obtain. The European astronomical community is excited to see the results of the 33% available observing time they competitively won for Webb's first year,” says Antonella Nota, ESA Webb Project Scientist.

Impression of Webb’s journey to space

For the entire duration of the Webb mission, 15 ESA astronomers will be working on telescope operations.

More about Webb:

Webb news updates:

ESA launch kit (available in 6 languages):

ESA interactive brochure (available in 6 languages):


Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA/CNES/Arianespace.

Best regards, Happy Christmas, (Roland Berga)

vendredi 24 décembre 2021

Correction of the ISS orbit altitude


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Dec 24, 2021

The orbital altitude of the International Space Station was adjusted in order to form the initial ballistic conditions before the launch of the Soyuz MS-21 manned spacecraft into orbit and the landing of the Soyuz MS-19 descent vehicle in 2022. According to preliminary data, after the maneuver, the ISS orbital altitude decreased by 1.89 km.

International Space Station (ISS)

On Friday, December 24, 2021, at 04:18 Moscow time, a command was issued and the engines of the Progress MS-18 cargo vehicle docked to the Russian segment of the ISS were turned on. They worked for 544 seconds, and the impulse value was 1.02 m / s. 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: 92.86 minutes;

- Orbital inclination: 51.66 degrees;

- Minimum orbital altitude: 415.63 km;

- Maximum orbital altitude: 433.15 km.

Earlier, the station's orbital altitude was adjusted on December 3 in order to evade "space debris" - a stage fragment of the American Pegasus launch vehicle launched from the US in 1994.

The launch of the Soyuz MS-21 manned transport vehicle with the crew of the 67th long-term expedition is scheduled for March 18, 2022. For the first time, the transport vehicle should dock to the Prichal nodal module, which in November 2021 became part of the Russian segment of the ISS. The landing of the Soyuz MS-19 descent vehicle with Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Peter Dubrov, as well as NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, is scheduled for late March.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:


RSC Energia:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


jeudi 23 décembre 2021

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of December 20, 2021


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec 23, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Dec. 20 that included examining formation of amyloid fibrils, analyzing the effect of impurities in protein crystals, and studying adaptation of muscle tissues. The 24th SpaceX cargo resupply services mission arrived at the space station on Dec. 22 delivering new scientific research and technology demonstrations.

24th SpaceX cargo resupply services mission arrive at the space station. Image Credit: ROSCOSMOS

The space station, continuously inhabited by humans for 21 years, has supported many scientific breakthroughs. A robust microgravity laboratory with dozens of research facilities and tools, the station supports investigations spanning every major scientific discipline, conveying benefits to future space exploration and advancing basic and applied research on Earth. The orbiting lab also provides a platform for a growing commercial presence in low-Earth orbit that includes research, satellite services, and in-space manufacturing.

Image above: Dec. 22, 2021: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are parked at the space station including the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon vehicles, and Russia’s Soyuz MS-19 crew ship and Progress 79 resupply ship. Image Credit: NASA.

Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place:

Look Ma, no container

Gravity forces and interactions between liquids and the containers that hold them can affect some scientific research. For NASA’s Ring Sheared Drop investigation, which studies protein aggregations called amyloid fibrils, scientists created a device that uses surface tension rather than a solid container to hold liquids. Amyloid fibrils form a waxy plaque in the brain and are believed to be involved in development of some neurological diseases. Results may contribute to a better understanding of these diseases and development of potential treatments. This ability to process materials without containers in microgravity could benefit other experiments, including those that grow protein crystals and microorganisms and research on pharmaceuticals. During the week, crew members set up and conducted operations for the experiment.

Impacts of impurities

Image above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is shown installing the Advanced Nano Step cartridge in the station’s Solution Crystallization Observation Facility (SCOF). This JAXA investigation monitors how the incorporation of specific impurity molecules affect the development and quality of protein crystals. Image Credit: NASA.

The crew exchanged specimen cells for the Advanced Nano Step experiment during the week. This investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) monitors and records how specific impurity molecules affect the development and quality of protein crystals grown aboard the station. The research aims to improve the success rate for growing protein crystals and to shorten the sample preparation period. Results could advance capabilities for research on and production of materials and drugs in space and may be useful in crystallization trials conducted on Earth.

What we have here is a failure to contract

Image above: Samantha Jones at the Institute of Life Course and Medical Sciences, University of Liverpool, assembles the experimental unit for MicroAge. This ESA investigation helps identify the mechanisms behind loss of skeletal muscle mass in microgravity and could lead to better exercise regimens and nutritional or pharmacological interventions. Image Credits: University of Liverpool.

MicroAge, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), examines adaptation of muscles in microgravity, and whether this adaptation is similar to that seen in elderly subjects on Earth. A failure of muscles to adapt their contractile activity may be the cause of loss of muscle mass from aging or space exposure. The investigation uses 3D engineered skeletal muscle tissues that are exposed to electrical stimulation to induce repeated contractions. The tissues are returned to Earth for analysis. Results could help identify the mechanisms behind loss of muscle mass in space and in aging populations on Earth and support development of appropriate prevention measures. Crew members installed the experiment containers and initiated the investigation during the week.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- EasyMotion from ESA tests a suit worn during pre- and postflight exercise that provides Electro-Myo-Stimulation (EMS). It could save crew time and improve outcomes of inflight exercise on future space missions and in otherwise healthy populations on Earth.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Raja Chari works on the Combustion Integration Rack, which hosts Flame Design, a study of the production and control of soot in oxygen-enriched combustion and the design of soot-free flames. Animation Credit: NASA.

- Flame Design studies the production and control of soot in oxygen-enriched combustion and the design of soot-free flames. This research may lead to cleaner and more efficient burner designs for combustion applications on Earth and aid the development of future space-based combustion devices for tasks such as solid waste processing or to improve spacecraft fire safety.

- NutrISS, an investigation from ESA, periodically assesses body composition and measures long-term energy balance modification over time. Results may improve understanding of the mechanisms behind body composition changes during spaceflight and help lead to ways to mitigate any negative effects of those changes.

- 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.

- 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.

- 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.

Season’s Greetings from NASA

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Ring Sheared Drop:

Advanced Nano Step:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Carrie Gilder/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 66.

Best regards, Happy Holidays, (Roland Berga)

mercredi 22 décembre 2021

Instrument and assembly compartment "Progress M-UM" undocked from the ISS


ROSCOSMOS - Prichal Port Module patch.

Dec 22, 2021

Today, December 23, 2021, at 02:03 Moscow time, the instrument-assembly compartment of the Progress M-UM cargo module undocked from the Prichal module of the International Space Station in the normal mode. Thus, he freed the airlock for subsequent docking of Russian manned and cargo ships.

Photo: Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov

The Progress M-UM module ship is an assembly of the Pryhal nodal module with an instrument-assembly compartment by means of a newly developed transition compartment. The instrument-assembly compartment by design corresponds to the instrument-assembly compartment of the base ship "Progress M" with modifications to increase its rigidity and strength in connection with the mass of the ship increased to 8,180 kg.

At 02:03 Moscow time, the specialists of the TsNIIMash Mission Control Center (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) issued a command to undock the instrument-assembly compartment from the ISS, after which they undocked from the station and sent to "free voyage". After it was withdrawn for safe removal, Russian specialists began a controlled descent of the instrument-assembly compartment from near-earth orbit.

Photo: Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov

The flight pattern of the instrument-assembly compartment after separation from the Prichal module is similar to the flight pattern of this compartment of the Progress M-CO1 and Progress M-MIM2 module ships. It is expected that the propulsion system will be engaged in braking at 06:45 Moscow time and will operate for about 13 minutes. After that, the instrument-aggregate compartment will begin to de-orbit and in about 24 minutes will enter the dense layers of the Earth's atmosphere. The main part of the ship will burn up in the atmosphere, and the non-combustible elements will be flooded in the non-navigable region of the Pacific Ocean: 2,460 km from the city of Wellington and 7,030 km from the city of Santiago.

The state corporation Roscosmos has completed all the procedures to establish this area as temporarily dangerous for navigation by sea and aircraft.

Photo: Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov

The instrument-and-assembly compartment of the Progress M-UM cargo vehicle-module has fully fulfilled its task of delivering the new Russian module to the International Space Station. With the help of Progress M-UM, on November 24, 2021, the Pryhal nodal module was launched. Docking with the Russian segment of the ISS took place on November 26 in automatic mode.

The "Prichal" nodal module is designed to increase the technical and operational capabilities of the ISS Russian segment. Further development of the Russian segment of the station is ensured by connecting to the nodal module of transport systems, including promising ones. The developer of the nodal module is the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia named after S.P. Queen (included in Roscosmos).

Progress M-UM undocking and departure

The "Prichal" nodal module is a spherical sealed compartment with components located inside and outside it, ensuring the performance of its tasks. It includes a body and a complex of on-board systems, including a control system for equipment, radio equipment, a system for ensuring a thermal regime, means for providing gas composition, means for controlling movement and navigation, transit lines for refueling, an active hybrid docking system, a passive hybrid docking system, means redocking.

Related articles:

Russia’s New Docking Module Arrives at Station

Russian Port Module is Safely in Orbit Headed for Station

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Progress M-UM:

RSC Energia:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/RSC Energia/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

Crew Unpacks Cargo Dragon and Sets up New Space Research


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec 22, 2021

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon arrived just in time to deliver holiday treats, crew supplies and new science experiments to the Expedition 66 crew today. NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn were on duty Wednesday morning monitoring Dragon’s automated approach and docking to the Harmony module’s space-facing port that occurred at 3:41 a.m. EST.

Less than two hours later, Dragon’s hatch was opened as Chari and NASA Flight Engineer Kayla Barron entered the vehicle and began unloading critical research hardware and samples. Marshburn offloaded and transferred rodents into new habitats that will soon be observed for the Mouse Habitat Unit-7 musculoskeletal system study.

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

Astronauts Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) also joined in the cargo activities beginning to unpack crew supplies, spacewalk gear, station hardware, and computer equipment to replenish the orbiting lab. Vande Hei also started setting up a new cancer study, delivered aboard Dragon, that could improve drug delivery methods as well as manufacturing processes. Dragon will stay at the station for one month before returning to Earth loaded with station hardware and completed microgravity research for analysis by engineers and scientists.

Over in the station’s Russian segment, the Progress propulsion module that delivered the Prichal docking port and attached it to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module on Nov. 26 is due to leave today. It will undock from Prichal at 6:03 p.m. and reenter the Earth’s atmosphere several hours later for a fiery, but safe destruction above the south Pacific Ocean. Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov will be observing the Progress when it undocks and photographing its departure from the station. NASA TV will not provide live coverage of Progress’ departure.


The space station blog is taking a short break until Monday, Dec. 27, as the station’s five astronauts and two cosmonauts spend the holidays orbiting above Earth.

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Harmony module:

Mouse Habitat Unit-7:

New cancer study:

Prichal docking port:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Mitsubishi Heavy Industries - Inmarsat-6 F1 launch


Mitsubishi Heavy Industries logo.

Dec 22, 2021

H-IIA Launch Vehicle carrying Inmarsat-6 F1 liftoff

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’s H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 45 (H-IIA F45) launched the Inmarsat-6 F1 satellite from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex, at JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, on 22 December 2021, at 15:32 UTC (23 December, at 00:32 JST).

Inmarsat-6 F1 launch

Inmarsat-6 F1 is the first satellite in Inmarsat’s sixth series of communications satellites.

What does cutting-edge space technology, next-generation innovation and a dual ELERA and Global Xpress payload mean for our global mobility, government and IoT customers?

I-6 F1 - the first of two Inmarsat-6 (I-6) satellites - launched from the JAXA Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on 22 December 2021 onboard its H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 45 (HIIA F45).

Inmarsat-6 F1 satellite

The I-6 satellites are not only the most technologically advanced and largest commercial communications satellites ever launched, they are also Inmarsat’s first hybrid satellites, featuring both L-band (ELERA) and Ka-band (Global Xpress) communications payloads.

Related links:


Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI):

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Inmarsat/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries/SciNews/Gunter's Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


With Its Single “Eye,” NASA’s DART Returns First Images from Space


NASA - DART Mission logo.

Dec 22, 2021

Just two weeks after launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft has opened its “eye” and returned its first images from space — a major operational milestone for the spacecraft and DART team.

Image above: On Dec. 7, after opening the circular door to its telescopic imager, NASA’s DART captured this image of about a dozen stars near where the constellations Perseus, Aries and Taurus intersect. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL.

After the violent vibrations of launch and the extreme temperature shift to minus 80 degrees C in space, scientists and engineers at the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, held their breath in anticipation. Because components of the spacecraft’s telescopic instrument are sensitive to movements as small as 5 millionths of a meter, even a tiny shift of something in the instrument could be very serious.

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, the spacecraft popped open the circular door covering the aperture of its DRACO telescopic camera and, to everyone’s glee, streamed back the first image of its surrounding environment. Taken about 2 million miles (11 light seconds) from Earth — very close, astronomically speaking —the image shows about a dozen stars, crystal-clear and sharp against the black backdrop of space, near where the constellations Perseus, Aries and Taurus intersect.

Image above: On Dec. 10, DART’s DRACO camera captured and returned this image of the stars in Messier 38, or the Starfish Cluster, which lies some 4,200 light years away. Image Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL.

The DART navigation team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California used the stars in the image to determine precisely how DRACO was oriented, providing the first measurements of how the camera is pointed relative to the spacecraft. With those measurements in hand, the DART team could accurately move the spacecraft to point DRACO at objects of interest, such as Messier 38 (M38), also known as the Starfish Cluster, that DART captured in another image on Dec. 10. Located in the constellation Auriga, the cluster of stars lies some 4,200 light years from Earth. Intentionally capturing images with many stars like M38 helps the team characterize optical imperfections in the images as well as calibrate how absolutely bright an object is — all important details for accurate measurements when DRACO starts imaging the spacecraft’s destination, the binary asteroid system Didymos.

DRACO (short for Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation) is a high-resolution camera inspired by the imager on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft that returned the first close-up images of the Pluto system and of a Kuiper Belt object, Arrokoth. As DART’s only instrument, DRACO will capture images of the asteroid Didymos and its moonlet asteroid Dimorphos, as well as support the spacecraft’s autonomous guidance system to direct DART to its final kinetic impact.

NASA's DART impacting asteroid Dimorphos. Animation Credit: ESA

DART was developed and is managed by Johns Hopkins APL for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. DART is the world's first planetary defense test mission, intentionally executing a kinetic impact into Dimorphos to slightly change its motion in space. While neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth, the DART mission will demonstrate that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a kinetic impact on a relatively small target asteroid, and that this is a viable technique to deflect a genuinely dangerous asteroid, if one is ever discovered. DART will reach its target on Sept. 26, 2022.

Related articles:

NASA Goddard Helps Ensure Asteroid Deflector Hits Target, Predicts and Will Observe Impact Results

NASA, SpaceX Launch DART: First Test Mission to Defend Planet Earth

For more information about the DART mission, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert/Josh Handal/Alana Johnson/JHAPL/Justyna Surowiec/Michael Buckley.

Best regards,

Cargo Dragon Docks to Station with Brand New Science


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-24 Mission patch.

Dec 22, 2021

Image above: The space station is viewed from the SpaceX Cargo Dragon during its automated approach before docking. Image Credit: NASA TV.

While the International Space Station was traveling more than 260 miles over the South Pacific Ocean, a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the space-facing side of the orbiting laboratory’s Harmony module at 3:41 a.m. EST, Wednesday, Dec. 22. NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn were monitoring docking operations for Dragon.

SpaceX CRS-24 Dragon docking

The Dragon launched on SpaceX’s 24th contracted commercial resupply mission at 5:07 a.m. EST, Tuesday, Dec. 21 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After Dragon spends about one month attached to the space station, the spacecraft will return to Earth with cargo and research.

Among the science experiments Dragon is delivering to the space station are:

Bioprinting bandages

Bioprinting uses viable cells and biological molecules to print tissue structures. The German Aerospace Center study Bioprint FirstAid demonstrates a portable, handheld bioprinter that uses a patient’s own skin cells to create a tissue-forming patch to cover a wound and accelerate the healing process. On future missions to the Moon and Mars, bioprinting such customized patches could help address changes in wound healing that can occur in space and complicate treatment. Personalized healing patches also have potential benefits on Earth, providing safer and more flexible treatment anywhere needed.

Improving delivery of cancer drugs

Monoclonal antibodies, used to treat a wide range of human diseases, do not dissolve easily in liquid and so typically must be given intravenously in a clinical setting. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space Protein Crystal Growth 20 (CASIS  PCG 20) experiment continues work on crystallizing a monoclonal antibody, pembrolizumab, that Merck Research Labs developed. It is the active ingredient in Keytruda, a drug that targets multiple cancers. Scientists analyze these crystals to learn more about the structure and behavior of the component to create drug formulations that can be administered at a doctor’s office or even at home.

Assessing infection risk

Scientists have observed that spaceflight sometimes increases the virulence of potentially harmful microbes and reduces human immune function, increasing the risk for infectious disease. Host-Pathogen assesses space-induced changes in immune status by culturing cells collected from crew members before, during, and after spaceflight with both “normal” bacteria and bacteria grown under simulated spaceflight conditions. Results could help assess the potential risk infectious microbes may pose and may support development of countermeasures. This could improve care for those with compromised immune systems on Earth.

Roots, shoots, and leaves

Multi Variable Platform (MVP) Plant-01 profiles and monitors the development of the shoots and roots of plants in microgravity. Plants could serve as a vital part of human life support systems for long-duration spaceflight and habitation of the Moon and Mars. However, space-grown plants experience stress from various factors and recent studies indicate changes in plant gene expression in response to those stressors. Improved understanding of these changes could enable the design of plants that are better suited for growth in spaceflight environments.

Toward lunar laundromats

Astronauts on the space station wear items of clothing several times, then replace them with new clothes delivered on resupply missions. Limited cargo capacity makes this a challenge, and resupply is not an option for longer missions, such as those to the Moon and Mars. In a collaboration with NASA, Procter & Gamble has developed Tide Infinity, a fully degradable detergent specifically designed for use in space, and the P&G Telescience Investigation of Detergent Experiments (PGTIDE) study the performance of its stain removal ingredients and the formulation’s stability in microgravity. Once proven in space, Tide plans to use the new cleaning methods and detergent to advance sustainable, low-resource-use laundry solutions on Earth.

Parts made in space

Turbine Superalloy Casting Module (SCM) tests a commercial manufacturing device that processes heat-resistant alloy parts in microgravity. Alloys are materials made up of at least two different chemical elements, one of which is a metal. Researchers expect more uniform microstructures and improved mechanical properties in superalloy parts processed in microgravity compared to those processed on Earth. These superior materials could improve the performance of turbine engines in industries such as aerospace and power generation on Earth.

Students and citizens as space scientists

Students enrolled in institutions of higher learning can design and build microgravity experiments as part of NASA’s Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS). As part of their experiments, selected teams include students in kindergarten through 12th grade as citizen scientists. Citizen science allows individuals who are not professional scientists to contribute to real-world research. The NASA STEM on Station project is funding experiments flying on this SpaceX resupply mission, including a study on antibiotic resistance in microgravity from Columbia University in New York and one on how microgravity affects bacteria-resistant polymers from the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon and long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.

Related article:

Detergent, Skin Bioprinter Launch on NASA’s SpaceX Resupply Mission

Related links:

Bioprint FirstAid:



MVP Plant-01:


Turbine Superalloy Casting Module (SCM):


NASA STEM on Station:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


ESO telescopes help uncover largest group of rogue planets yet


ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

Dec 22, 2021

Artist’s impression of a rogue planet in Rho Ophiuchi

Rogue planets are elusive cosmic objects that have masses comparable to those of the planets in our Solar System but do not orbit a star, instead roaming freely on their own. Not many were known until now, but a team of astronomers, using data from several European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes and other facilities, have just discovered at least 70 new rogue planets in our galaxy. This is the largest group of rogue planets ever discovered, an important step towards understanding the origins and features of these mysterious galactic nomads.

The faint red glow of a rogue planet

“We did not know how many to expect and are excited to have found so many,” says Núria Miret-Roig, an astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux, France and the University of Vienna, Austria, and the first author of the new study published today in Nature Astronomy.

Locations of the rogue planets found

Rogue planets, lurking far away from any star illuminating them, would normally be impossible to image. However, Miret-Roig and her team took advantage of the fact that, in the few million years after their formation, these planets are still hot enough to glow, making them directly detectable by sensitive cameras on large telescopes. They found at least 70 new rogue planets with masses comparable to Jupiter’s in a star-forming region close to our Sun, located within the Scorpius and Ophiuchus constellations [1].

To spot so many rogue planets, the team used data spanning about 20 years from a number of telescopes on the ground and in space. “We measured the tiny motions, the colours and luminosities of tens of millions of sources in a large area of the sky,” explains Miret-Roig. “These measurements allowed us to securely identify the faintest objects in this region, the rogue planets.”

Artist’s animation of a rogue planet in Rho Ophiuchi

The team used observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) and the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope located in Chile, along with other facilities. “The vast majority of our data come from ESO observatories, which were absolutely critical for this study. Their wide field of view and unique sensitivity were keys to our success,” explains Hervé Bouy, an astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux, France, and project leader of the new research. “We used tens of thousands of wide-field images from ESO facilities, corresponding to hundreds of hours of observations, and literally tens of terabytes of data.”

The team also used data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, marking a huge success for the collaboration of ground- and space-based telescopes in the exploration and understanding of our Universe.

The study suggests there could be many more of these elusive, starless planets that we have yet to discover. “There could be several billions of these free-floating giant planets roaming freely in the Milky Way without a host star,” Bouy explains.

Zooming into a rogue planet

By studying the newly found rogue planets, astronomers may find clues to how these mysterious objects form. Some scientists believe rogue planets can form from the collapse of a gas cloud that is too small to lead to the formation of a star, or that they could have been kicked out from their parent system. But which mechanism is more likely remains unknown.

Further advances in technology will be key to unlocking the mystery of these nomadic planets. The team hopes to continue to study them in greater detail with ESO’s forthcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), currently under construction in the Chilean Atacama Desert and due to start observations later this decade. “These objects are extremely faint and little can be done to study them with current facilities,” says Bouy. “The ELT will be absolutely crucial to gathering more information about most of the rogue planets we have found.”


[1] The exact number of rogue planets found by the team is hard to pin down because the observations don’t allow the researchers to measure the masses of the probed objects. Objects with masses higher than about 13 times the mass of Jupiter are most likely not planets, so they cannot be included in the count. However, since the team didn’t have values for the mass, they had to rely on studying the planets’ brightness to provide an upper limit to the number of rogue planets observed. The brightness is, in turn, related to the age of the planets themselves, as the older the planet, the longer it has been cooling down and reducing in brightness. If the studied region is old, then the brightest objects in the sample are likely above 13 Jupiter masses, and below if the region is on the younger side. Given the uncertainty in the age of the study region, this method gives a rogue planet count of between 70 and 170.

More information:

This research was presented in the paper “A rich population of free-floating planets in the Upper Scorpius young stellar association” to appear in Nature Astronomy (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01513-x). It has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 682903, P.I. H. Bouy), and from the French State in the framework of the ”Investments for the Future” Program, IdEx Bordeaux, reference ANR-10-IDEX-03-02.

The team is composed of Núria Miret-Roig (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux, Univ. Bordeaux, CNRS, France [LAB]; University of Vienna, Department of Astrophysics, Austria), Hervé Bouy (LAB), Sean N. Raymond (LAB), Motohide Tamura (Department of Astronomy, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo, Japan; Astrobiology Center, National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Tokyo, Japan [ABC-NINS]), Emmanuel Bertin (CNRS, UMR 7095, Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris,France [IAP]; Sorbonne Université, IAP, France) David Barrado (Centro de Astrobiología [CSIC-INTA], Depto. de Astrofísica, ESAC Campus, Spain), Javier Olivares (LAB), Phillip Galli (LAB), Jean-Charles Cuillandre (AIM, CEA, CNRS, Université Paris-Saclay, Université de Paris, France), Luis Manuel Sarro (Depto. de Inteligencia Artificial, UNED, Spain) Angel Berihuete (Depto. Estadística e Investigación Operativa, Universidad de Cádiz, Spain) & Nuria Huélamo (CSIC-INTA).

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) enables scientists worldwide to discover the secrets of the Universe for the benefit of all. We design, build and operate world-class observatories on the ground — which astronomers use to tackle exciting questions and spread the fascination of astronomy — and promote international collaboration in astronomy. Established as an intergovernmental organisation in 1962, today ESO is supported by 16 Member States (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO’s headquarters and its visitor centre and planetarium, the ESO Supernova, are located close to Munich in Germany, while the Chilean Atacama Desert, a marvellous place with unique conditions to observe the sky, hosts our telescopes. ESO operates three observing sites: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its Very Large Telescope Interferometer, as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. Together with international partners, ESO operates APEX and ALMA on Chajnantor, two facilities that observe the skies in the millimetre and submillimetre range. At Cerro Armazones, near Paranal, we are building “the world’s biggest eye on the sky” — ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope. From our offices in Santiago, Chile we support our operations in the country and engage with Chilean partners and society.


Rogue planets uncovered (ESOcast 249 Light):

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Images Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser/Miret-Roig et al./N. Risinger ( Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser/ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger ( et al./M. Kornmesser. Music: Johan B Monell - Coctail Alle/Text Credits: ESO/Bárbara Ferreira/Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Bordeaux, Université de Bordeaux/Hervé Bouy/Department of Astrophysics, University of Vienna/Núria Miret-Roig.

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European research for interplanetary isolation


SIRIUS-21 Mission patch.

Dec 22, 2021

Isolation affects people in different ways. Studies on how humans cope with stress in a secluded environment and with little social interaction are useful to learn about ourselves in challenging times – and to test whether our species is fit for long journeys to other planets.

SIRIUS habitation modules

An international crew began a 240-day journey of voluntary seclusion in November at the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow, Russia. The SIRIUS-21 mission simulates a lunar expedition, including a Moon landing and a spacewalk, without ever leaving four locked chambers on Earth.

For eight months, volunteers are deprived of natural daylight and fresh air, and can only communicate with ground control and family via audio contact or email from a mockup spacecraft.

SIRIUS iIsolation crew quarters

“Almost everybody can relate to prolonged periods of isolation nowadays. This is a great opportunity for European researchers to better understand human behaviour, health and performance,” says Angelique Van Ombergen, ESA coordinator for the research.

The crew of five is taking part in dozens of research studies on neuroscience, psychology, and immunology. Four European experiments are collecting scientific data on decision-making, performance and changes in the brain.

Stress, performance and teamwork

Long confinement has an impact on team dynamics, performance and health. The ATHLETE experiment is looking at the physical and psychosocial changes taking place during and after the mission.

Fit for isolation

The science team is collecting saliva samples, video logs and questionnaires to track how variations in oxytocin and self-perception fluctuate during the different phases of the simulated mission, among other things.

Results will help refine mission training, so that astronauts can cope with the demanding space environment and have a smooth adaptation back to their lives in society.

Altered brain

Our brain experiences changes under prolonged isolation and confinement. Alterations in how humans perceive the space around them, relate to others, and react to critical situations are at the heart of the BRAIVE experiment.

Brain changes during isolation

The study investigates a whole range of parameters on the structure and function of the brain using resonance imaging (MRI scans), cognitive tests and blood and saliva samples. Results will help identify the detrimental effects and the underlying mechanisms in an effort to mitigate risks during exploration missions.

Isolation resolutions

Spending eight months cut off from the world can also have an impact on decision-making. The PArADiGM study follows the crew’s decisions through computer tests, questionnaires and biomarkers on circadian rhythms regulation, sleep and stress.

Big scientific brother

Results of the experiment will help ease the decision-making processes and come up with coping strategies to overcome difficulties.

Piloting performance

Astronauts on space missions need to pilot their spacecraft and conduct complex operations months or even years after their training on Earth. A virtual reality setup of a spacecraft cockpit combined with eye and hand-tracking technologies is putting the crew’s piloting performance to the test.

Piloting performance

SIRIUS participants will dock a Russian spacecraft to a module orbiting the Moon in different flight scenarios using a high-fidelity spacecraft simulator.

The SIMSKILL-VRexperiment analyses the piloting skills of each participant throughout the mission. Scientists expect a decrease in performance due to the degradation of both cognitive and motor skills based on previous studies ran in Antarctica.

The results will contribute to find solutions for flight safety, such as refresher courses for critical tasks and extra pilot training.

Related article:

The international experiment SIRIUS-21 starts

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Images, Text, Credits: ESA/IBMP/NASA.


mardi 21 décembre 2021

NASA TV Broadcasts Cargo Dragon Arrival on Wednesday


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Dec 21, 2021

The SpaceX Dragon is on track to arrive at the International Space Station tomorrow morning, Wednesday, Dec. 22 with an expected docking of the cargo spacecraft about 4:30 a.m. EST. NASA Television coverage will begin at 3 a.m. Watch live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

Image above: The SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle approaches the International Space Station on Aug. 30, 2021. Image Credit: NASA.  

When it arrives to the space station, Dragon will automatically dock to the space-facing side (zenith) of the station’s Harmony module as NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn monitor operations. Dragon lifted off on Tuesday, Dec. 21, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The cargo spacecraft with more than 6,500 pounds of research, hardware, and supplies will support dozens of investigations, just a few of the hundreds the Expedition 66 crew will conduct in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science during their six months aboard the orbiting laboratory. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon and long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.

Dragon will join four other spacecraft currently at the space station.

Related article:

Detergent, Skin Bioprinter Launch on NASA’s SpaceX Resupply Mission

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

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How NASA’s Psyche Mission Will Explore an Unexplored World


NASA - Psyche Mission patch.

Dec 21, 2021

Launching in August 2022 and arriving at the asteroid belt in 2026, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft will orbit a world we can barely pinpoint from Earth and have never visited.

Image above: This illustration, updated as of March 2021, depicts NASA's Psyche spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU.

The target of NASA’s Psyche mission – a metal-rich asteroid, also called Psyche, in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter – is an uncharted world in outer space. From Earth- and space-based telescopes, the asteroid appears as a fuzzy blur. What scientists do know, from radar data, is that it’s shaped somewhat like a potato and that it spins on its side.

By analyzing light reflected off the asteroid, scientists hypothesize that asteroid Psyche is unusually rich in metal. One possible explanation is that it formed early in our solar system, either as a core of a planetesimal – a piece of a planet – or as primordial material that never melted. This mission aims to find out, and in the process of doing so, they expect to help answer fundamental questions about the formation of our solar system.

“If it turns out to be part of a metal core, it would be part of the very first generation of early cores in our solar system,” said Arizona State University’s Lindy Elkins-Tanton, who as principal investigator leads the Psyche mission. “But we don’t really know, and we won’t know anything for sure until we get there. We wanted to ask primary questions about the material that built planets. We’re filled with questions and not a lot of answers. This is real exploration.”

Elkins-Tanton led the group that proposed Psyche as a NASA Discovery-class mission; it was selected in 2017. A huge challenge, she said, was choosing the mission’s science instruments: How do you make sure you’ll get the data you need when you’re not sure of what, specifically, you’ll be measuring?

Image above: This illustration shows how NASA's Psyche spacecraft will explore asteroid Psyche, starting with a high-altitude Orbit A and gradually lowering into Orbit D as it conducts its science investigation. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

For example, to determine what exactly the asteroid is made of and whether it’s part of a planetesimal core, scientists needed instruments that could account for a range of possibilities: nickel, iron, different kinds of rock, or rock and metal mixed together.

They selected a payload suite that includes a magnetometer to measure any magnetic field; imagers to photograph and map the surface; and spectrometers to indicate what the surface is made of by measuring the gamma rays and neutrons emitted from it. Scientists continue to hypothesize about what Psyche is made of, but “no one’s been able to come up with a Psyche that we can’t handle with the science instruments we have,” Elkins-Tanton said.

How to Tour an Unknown World

But before scientists can put those instruments to work, they’ll need to reach the asteroid and get into orbit. After launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in August 2022, Psyche will sail past Mars nine months later, using the planet’s gravitational force to slingshot itself toward the asteroid. It’s a total journey of about 1.5 billion miles (2.4 billion kilometers).

The spacecraft will begin its final approach to the asteroid in late 2025. As the spacecraft gets closer to its target, the mission team will turn its cameras on, and the visual of asteroid Psyche will morph from the fuzzy blob we know now into high-definition, revealing surface features of this strange world for the first time. The imagery also will help engineers get their bearings as they prepare to slip into orbit in January 2026. The spacecraft’s initial orbit is designed to be at a high, safe altitude – about 435 miles (700 kilometers) above the asteroid’s surface.

During this first orbit, Psyche’s mission design and navigation team will be laser-focused on measuring the asteroid’s gravity field, the force that will keep the spacecraft in orbit. With an understanding of the gravity field, the team can then safely navigate the spacecraft closer and closer to the surface as the science mission is carried out in just under two years.

Image above: This illustration depicts the 140-mile-wide (226-kilometer-wide) asteroid Psyche, the target of NASA’s mission of the same name. Based on data obtained from Earth, scientists believe the asteroid is a mixture of metal and rock. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU.

Psyche appears to be lumpy, wider across (173 miles, or 280 kilometers, at its widest point) than it is from top to bottom, with an uneven distribution of mass. Some parts may be less dense, like a sponge, and some may be more tightly packed and more massive. The parts of Psyche with more mass will have higher gravity, exerting a stronger pull on the spacecraft.

To solve the gravity-field mystery, the mission team will use the spacecraft’s telecommunications system. By measuring subtle changes in the X-band radio waves bouncing back and forth between the spacecraft and the large Deep Space Network antennas around Earth, engineers can precisely determine the asteroid’s mass, gravity field, rotation, orientation, and wobble.

The team has been working up scenarios and have devised thousands of “possible Psyches” – simulating variations in the asteroid’s density and mass, and orientation of its spin axis – to lay the groundwork for the orbital plan. They can test their models in computer simulations, but there’s no way to know for sure until the spacecraft actually gets there.

Over the following 20 months, the spacecraft will use its gentle electric propulsion system to dip into lower and lower orbits. Measurements of the gravity field will grow more precise as the spacecraft gets closer, and images of the surface will become higher resolution, allowing the team to improve their understanding of the body. Eventually, the spacecraft will establish a final orbit about 53 miles (85 kilometers) above the surface.

It’s all in an effort to solve the riddles of this unique asteroid: Where did Psyche come from, what is it made of, and what does it tell us about the formation of our solar system?

“Humans have always been explorers,” Elkins-Tanton said. “We’ve always set out from where we are to find out what is over that hill. We always want to go farther; we always want to imagine. It’s inherent in us. We don’t know what we’re going to find, and I’m expecting us to be entirely surprised.”

More About the Mission

ASU leads the Psyche mission. JPL is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, and mission operations. The mission phase – known as assembly, test and launch operations – is currently underway at JPL.

JPL also is providing a technology demonstration instrument called Deep Space Optical Communications that will fly on Psyche in order to test high-data-rate laser communications that could be used by future NASA missions.

Psyche is the 14th mission selected as part of NASA’s Discovery Program:

For more information about NASA’s Psyche mission go to: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration/Karin Valentine/JPL/Gretchen McCartney.