samedi 22 janvier 2022

Dragon Departure Waits One More Day Due to Adverse Weather


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-24 Mission patch.

Jan 22, 2022

As a result of adverse weather conditions at the targeted splashdown zone off the coast of Florida, SpaceX has waived off today’s planned departure of an upgraded SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft.

Image above: The International Space Station configuration shows the SpaceX Cargo Dragon docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing port. Image Credit: NASA.

SpaceX and NASA are now targeting 10:40 a.m. EST on Sunday, Jan. 23 for undocking from the International Space Station of a SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft filled with more than 4,900 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo.

NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast its departure live beginning at 10:15 a.m. EST.

Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the experiments to NASA’s Space Station Processing Facility at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, allowing researchers to collect data with minimal sample exposure to Earth’s gravity.

Related article:

Scientific Hardware, Experiments Return to Earth on SpaceX CRS-24 Dragon

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NASA Television:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


vendredi 21 janvier 2022

Dragon Go for Saturday Departure; Post-Spacewalk Cleanup Continues


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Jan 21, 2022

The five astronauts representing the Expedition 66 crew had an off-duty day on Friday while the two cosmonauts continued their post-spacewalk activities. A U.S. resupply ship is also on track to depart the International Space Station on Saturday.

SpaceX Dragon Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) departure from ISS. Animation Credit: NASA

Mission controllers have given the go for the Cargo Dragon, packed with science experiments and station hardware, to undock from the Harmony module’s space-facing port at 10:40 a.m. EST on Saturday. Dragon will then parachute to a splashdown off the coast of Florida early Monday morning for retrieval by SpaceX recovery personnel. NASA TV will cover only the undocking and departure activities live on the NASA app and the agency’s website beginning Saturday at 10:15 a.m.

The four U.S. astronauts and one European astronaut aboard the orbiting lab relaxed today ahead of final cargo packing operations inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon vehicle on Saturday. NASA astronaut Kayla Barron along with ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer will begin Saturday loading frozen research samples into Dragon. Following that, NASA Flight Engineers Thomas Marshburn and Raja Chari will ensure all the Dragon cargo has been secured for a safe return to Earth before finally closing the hatch.

Image above: A faint aurora and the Earth’s atmospheric glow are pictured above the city lights of Ireland and Great Britain from the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will uninstall protein crystal samples, grown on the station and studied for the Advanced Nano Step experiment, then stow them inside the Cargo Dragon. Scientists on the ground will analyze the samples to learn how to develop new materials and drugs in space and the impacts of weightlessness on biochemistry.

Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov serviced their Orlan spacesuits today following Wednesday’s seven-hour and 11-minute spacewalk. Vande Hei joined the pair for a couple of hours in the afternoon disconnecting and stowing spacesuit components. During the excursion, the Russian spacewalkers activated the new Prichal docking module successfully integrating it with the orbiting lab’s Russian segment.

Related links:


Expedition 66:

Harmony module:

Advanced Nano Step:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Should we go to Sedna in 2029?


Russian Academy of Sciences logo.

Jan 21, 2022

Researchers from the Department of Space Dynamics and Mathematical Information Processing of the Institute for Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences have calculated a scenario for a mission to distant Sedna, a dwarf planet in the solar system whose orbit is beyond the orbit of Neptune.

In 2075, Sedna must pass its perihelion - the point of the orbit closest to the Sun. And it seems that today's humanity has a rare opportunity to send a spacecraft to this body and wait for the result. The next time the planet will come so close to the Sun only after 10 thousand years. "Meeting with Sedna" can give us truly unique information about the substance from which our solar system was built billions of years ago.

A team of researchers led by Vladislav Zubko and Alexander Sukhanov simulated a scenario for a space mission to study Sedna that could be sent into space in 2029-2037. An article analyzing possible flight trajectories was published in the journal Advances in Space Research and is available in the electronic preprint archive

Image above: Orbit of Sedna at perihelion. Blue represents the orbit of Neptune. Orbit of Sedna at perihelion.

Sedna, a dwarf planet in the solar system, lies in the so-called scattered disk region between the Kuiper belt and the inner edge of the Oort cloud. It was discovered in 2003, when the planet was at a distance of about 80 astronomical units from the Sun (one astronomical unit, AU, is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, a little less than 150 million kilometers).

The diameter of Sedna is estimated at about 1000 km (this is about half that of Pluto). A feature of Sedna is an exceptionally elongated orbit, a complete revolution in which takes more than 10 thousand years. At aphelion, the farthest point of its orbit from the Sun, Sedna leaves it at a distance of about 1000 AU, and at perihelion approaches "only" 76 AU. For comparison, Pluto has the same parameters at 49.3 AU. and 29.5 a.u.

Sedna is now approaching perihelion. And although the distance to it remains huge, nevertheless, humanity is already able to send a spacecraft there, and not only the descendants of its developers can wait for the results of such a mission. Researchers from IKI RAS took the launch of the mission in the period 2029-2037 as a starting point and estimated how long it might take to reach Sedna.

Sedna will still be within reach from Earth for quite some time, so theoretically you can go on an expedition in any year. In order to reach the planet "directly", it is required either to gain tremendous speed - beyond the existing possibilities, or to fly for a very long time - more than a hundred years.

In interplanetary flights, so-called gravity maneuvers are often used to solve the problem of gaining the desired speed. Passing near the large planets, the spacecraft, as it were, "borrows" part of their orbital energy and changes its speed and direction of flight as the creators need. As a result of the gravitational maneuver, it is possible to gain the required speed, consuming very little fuel. However, such schemes impose strong restrictions on the launch time - the planets must be in the "correct" configuration.

Image above: One of the mission scenarios. The launch of the device is on October 29, 2029, arrival to Sedna on October 25, 2059. Gravity maneuvers are provided for Venus, Earth, Jupiter, as well as one inclusion of engines to change the orbit during movement.

Studying the mission scenario, Vladislav Zubko, Alexander Sukhanov and their colleagues set limits on the speed that the device needs to develop, as well as on the total flight time - it should not take more than 50 years. They considered several schemes for gravity maneuvers using Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. For each scenario, an increase in the speed that the device can receive during the flights, and the time during which it will reach the final goal - Sedna, was estimated.

It turned out that 2029 is the most “favorable” for the launch: with reasonable restrictions on the total fuel costs and flybys of Venus, Earth and Jupiter, the flight time to Sedna can be less than 18 years. With the same restrictions and the start of the mission in 2031 and 2034, the shortest flight time to Sedna will be 26 and 23 years, respectively. Launching in 2034 presents another possibility: in addition to flybys of Venus, Earth and Jupiter, a close flyby of Neptune could be used. However, this will lead to a decrease in the total fuel costs only with a flight duration of at least 27 years. Launches in 2033, 2036 and 2037 turned out to be energetically less profitable.

A possible mission scenario is determined not only by speed and fuel costs, but many other factors have to be taken into account. For example, when flying near Jupiter, its powerful radiation belts can damage the onboard electronics, so it is necessary either to provide the device with additional radiation protection, or to ensure the flight of Jupiter at a sufficiently large distance.

Artist's visualization of Sedna. Sedna has a reddish hue

The mission scenario does not provide for entering orbit around Sedna - this would require unacceptably large amounts of fuel. The device will fly near the dwarf planet, similar to the New Horizons probe that flew past Pluto in 2015 and explored this planet from a flyby trajectory. By the way, in a similar way, Halley's comet was studied from a flyby trajectory in 1986, including by the Soviet Vega spacecraft.

On its way to Sedna, the spacecraft could also approach some Main Belt asteroids and explore them along the way. Among the candidates for approach were such large asteroids as (20) Massalia (145.5 km in diameter) and (16) Psyche (253.2 km), their passage is possible when launched, respectively, in 2029 and 2034.

Dwarf planets and other objects outside the orbit of Neptune are distant, cold and practically unknown to us worlds. A flight to such celestial bodies can bring a lot of valuable information about the past of the solar system, since such objects are supposed to contain the "original" substance from which it was formed. And Sedna, as one of the largest trans-Neptunian objects known today, is of particular interest to scientists. The next visit of Sedna to the area accessible for observations from the Earth will have to wait more than 10 thousand years.

Source: IKI RAS.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:


Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/IKI RAS/Wikimedia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Spektr-RG discovered the X-ray emission of the brightest "cow" in the sky


ROSCOSMOS / DLR - Spektr-RG (Spectrum-RG) patch.

Jan 21, 2022

AT2020mrf could have remained one of many hundreds of ordinary optical transients that are regularly detected by the ATLAS meteor warning system. However, at the same place and at about the same time, the eROSITA telescope of the Russian orbital observatory Spektr-RG discovered an unusual new X-ray source SRGe J154754.2+443907. After that, it became clear that scientists had discovered a unique space object.

We probably witnessed the birth of a new magnetar - a neutron star with a superstrong magnetic field (~1014 Gauss) or a black hole in a distant galaxy. What does "cow" mean here?

Image above: Artistic illustration of the two most likely models of a compact object in cow-type supernovae: a black hole accreting matter in a supercritical regime to form relativistic jets (left) and a rapidly rotating neutron star with a superstrong magnetic field (right).

During the second all-sky survey in July 2020, the eROSITA telescope discovered a new source in a place where X-rays have not yet been detected. An analysis of databases of optical transients (transients are objects that suddenly appear in the sky in an “empty” place) showed that about 40 days earlier, in the same place, the American ground installations ZTF (Zwicky Transient Facility) and ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) registered at first glance the most ordinary optical transient, which was called AT2020mrf. Initially, AT2020mrf was classified as an ordinary collapsar supernova - the so-called type II supernova, formed when a massive star collapses at the end of its life. The discovery of X-rays and the shape of the source's optical light curve fundamentally changed this idea. It became clear that astrophysicists encountered an interesting object.

There is a class of optical transients associated with supernova explosions, which are characterized by "fast" light curves and a blue excess in the continuum - the so-called FBOT (Fast Optical Blue Transient). It is difficult to study them because their brilliance falls off quickly. However, among them there is the most mysterious and extremely rare subclass, the so-called objects of the AT2018cow type. The names of optical transients detected by the ATLAS facility (hence the letters "AT" in the name) are given according to the year of detection (in this case 2018), followed by a random combination of several letters generated by a computer. In the case of the AT2018cow event, these letters formed the English word cow ("cow"), which gave such an unusual name to this class - objects of the "cow" type.

Image above: X-ray images of a section of the sky measuring 3x3 arcmin. around the position of AT2020mrf /SRGe J154754.2+443907 obtained by the SRG/eROSITA telescope during four successive sky surveys in 2020-2021. (Click on the image for enlarge).

Flashes of "cows" are characterized by a record luminosity, which at the peak can reach 1043 erg / s, which is about 1000 times brighter than ordinary supernovae-collapsars. Such luminosity cannot be explained by the decay of radioactive nickel-56 and requires alternative energy sources. Prior to the discovery of SRGe J154754.2+443907, only four such objects were known; the eROSITA source became the fifth.

“SRGe J154754.2+443907 was discovered by the team of the eROSITA telescope at IKI RAS during the search for tidal destruction of stars by supermassive black holes, it soon became clear that we were not dealing with a tidal destruction event,” says one of the participants in this study, Head of the Laboratory of Experimental Astrophysics of the IKI RAS, Professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Sazonov.

“A wide international campaign to study a new source at many wavelengths: from radio to X-ray, in which astrophysicists from the IKI RAS took an active part, confirmed that SRGe J154754.2+443907 is the fifth cow-type object. The multiwavelength observations of SRGe J154754.2+443907 involved the 10-meter Keck optical telescope in Hawaii, the largest VLA and GMRT radio telescopes, the Chandra and Swift and XMM-Newton space X-ray observatories. The program was coordinated by a PhD student from the California Institute of Technology, Yuhan Yao,” says Rashid Sunyaev, scientific director of the Russian Spektr-RG observatory.

“The eROSITA telescope observed this object shortly after the peak of the light curve. These observations showed that AT2020mrf /SRGe J154754.2+443907 is the brightest known core, with a luminosity of over ~2×1043 erg/s. Such a luminosity could be explained by a young rapidly rotating (with a period of the order of 10 milliseconds) neutron star with a superstrong magnetic field (of the order of 1014 Gauss) - the so-called magnetar, or a newly born black hole accreting the matter of the exploded progenitor star in the supercritical regime. In any case, there is no doubt that we have witnessed the birth of a relativistic compact object as a result of the explosion of a massive star,” says Marat Gilfanov, Chief Researcher at IKI RAS, RAS Corresponding Member.

 Spektr-RG (Spectrum-RG)

An article about this discovery was sent to the international astrophysical journal The Astrophysical Journal and posted on the preprint site

AT2020mrf /SRGe J154754.2+443907 has already died out, and many questions remain unanswered. To clarify the nature of such sources and understand the physical mechanisms that determine their behavior, it is necessary to find and study in detail new objects of this class in a timely manner. An important role in this work is played by the ongoing survey of the entire sky by the eROSITA telescope. The group for the study of extragalactic transients according to the data of the eROSITA telescope at the IKI RAS, which includes RAS Corresponding Member Marat Gilfanov, RAS Professor Sergei Sazonov, Academician Rashid Sunyaev, young Ph.D. x-ray sky.

Source: IKI RAS.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:



Images, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/IKI RAS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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ULA - Atlas V launches GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6


ULA - Atlas V / USSF-8 Mission poster.

Jan 21, 2022

Atlas V carrying GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6 liftoff

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 511 rocket launched the USSF-8 mission, two identical Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites - GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6 - for the U.S. Space Force, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on 21 January 2022, at 19:00 UTC (14:00 EST).

Atlas V launches GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6

This is the 102nd mission for an Atlas V launch vehicle and the first and only planned flight of the Atlas V 511 configuration, the two-stage rocket with a single solid rocket booster.

Mission Overview

A ULA Atlas V 511 rocket launches the U.S. Space Force (USSF) - 8 mission for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC). USSF-8 launches two identical Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites—GSSAP-5 and GSSAP-6—directly to a near-geosynchronous orbit approximately 22,300 miles (36,000 km) above the equator. Liftoff occured from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla.

GSSAP satellites are a space-based capability operating in a near-geosynchronous orbit supporting the U.S. Space Command space surveillance operations as a dedicated Space Surveillance network (SSN) sensor. These satellites provide neighborhood watch services in the Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) improving flight safety for all spacefaring nations operating in that orbit. Enhanced position knowledge of satellites at that distance improves the ability to warn a spacecraft owner/operator if there is another object anticipated to approach too closely and create a hazardous situation.  

Data from the GSSAP will uniquely contribute to timely and accurate orbital predictions, enhancing our knowledge of the GEO environment and further enabling space flight safety including satellite collision avoidance.

Unique to this mission is the first and only planned flight of the Atlas V 511 configuration. The 511 is the only unflown configuration in the Atlas family.

Launch Vehicle

Payload Fairing (PLF)

The spacecraft is encapsulated in a 17-ft (5-m) diameter short payload fairing. The 5-m PLF is a sandwich composite structure made with a vented aluminum-honeycomb core and graphite-epoxy face sheets. The bisector (two-piece shell) PLF encapsulates both the Centaur and the satellite. The vehicle’s height with the 5-meter short PLF is approximately 196 ft (59.7 m).


The Centaur second stage is 10 ft (3 m) in diameter and 41.5 ft (12.6 m) in length. Its propellant tanks are pressure-stabilized and constructed of corrosion-resistant stainless steel. Centaur is a cryogenic vehicle, fueled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, powered by an RL10C-1 engine producing 22,900 lbs (101.8 kilo-Newtons) of thrust. The cryogenic tanks are insulated with a combination of helium-purged blankets, radiation shields and spray-on foam insulation (SOFI). The Centaur forward adapter (CFA) provides structural mountings for the fault-tolerant avionics system and structural and electrical interfaces with the spacecraft.


The booster is 12.5 ft (3.8 m) in diameter and 106.5 ft (32.5 m) in length. The booster’s tanks are structurally rigid and constructed of isogrid aluminum barrels, spun-formed aluminum domes and intertank skirts. Booster propulsion is provided by the RD-180 engine system (a single engine with two thrust chambers). The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lbs (3.83 mega-Newtons) of thrust at sea level. One solid rocket booster (SRB) generates the additional power required at liftoff, providing 371,550 lbs (1.6 mega-Newtons) of thrust. The Centaur avionics system, provides guidance, flight control and vehicle sequencing functions during the booster and Centaur phases of flight.
Flight Profile

United Launch Alliance (ULA):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Illustrations, photos and video footage Courtesy of United Launch Alliance/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of January 17, 2022


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Jan 21, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Jan. 17 that included testing a fiber optic radiation dosimeter, monitoring microbes in a plant growth system, and examining whether specific bacterial strains can protect DNA through the stresses of space travel. Crew members also packed scientific samples for return on the SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel, which is scheduled to undock from the space station on Sat., Jan. 22, with splashdown the next afternoon off the coast of Florida.

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.

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

Real-time radiation monitoring

Image above: The Lumina hardware installed on the space station. This ESA investigation demonstrates a real-time radiation dosimeter using optical fibers that darken when exposed to radiation. Image Credit: NASA.

Lumina demonstrates a dosimeter using optical fibers that darken when exposed to radiation to monitor in real time the radiation dose received by crew members. This ESA (European Space Agency) investigation examines measuring radiation under realistic space conditions and behavior of the fibers when exposed to a low radiation dose rate for extended periods of time in space. Monitoring ionizing radiation is a key challenge for future longer-term space exploration, and a fiber-based dosimeter that provides real-time measurements could make it possible to anticipate potentially dangerous radiation flares and react to them properly. A fiber-based dosimeter also has promising applications in the medical and nuclear industries on Earth. During the week, crew members transferred data from the device and input settings to a tablet app that is synchronized with computers on the ground.

Keeping the veggies clean

Veggie Monitoring collects microbial samples from the surface of the station’s Veggie plant production system as part of quarterly Environmental Health System (EHS) sample collections. This continual monitoring supports crew safety and contributes to a data set used for evaluating spacecraft environmental microbial limits. Growing plants could be a key part of longer exploration missions, and this investigation could help establish requirements to protect these systems as well as the plants and crew from contamination. The Veggie system is open to the cabin environment, so identifying which microbes are present and how they may affect the system is important. Producing safe, nutritious food in the challenging conditions in space may contribute to improved food production in harsh and remote environments on Earth as well. Crew members took photos of sample collection for Veggie Monitoring during the week.

Image above: NASA astronaut Kayla Barron conducts operations for the MVP-Plant-01 investigation, which profiles and monitors shoot and root development in plants in microgravity to help scientists understand the molecular mechanisms and regulatory networks behind how plants sense and adapt to changes in their environment. Image Credit: NASA.

Space-faring microbes

DNA components are integral to synthetic biology studies and bioengineering of organisms for a variety of applications, including producing pharmaceuticals and consumer products. Rhodium Synthetic Cryptobiology tests using specific bacterial strains to protect and preserve DNA during the stresses of launch, on-orbit stowage, and return to Earth. Results could provide an improved process for preparing and transferring scientific samples, executing experimental procedures, and preserving results in space and extreme environments on Earth. During this week, crew members packed the investigation for return on the departing SpaceX CRS-24 Dragon cargo ship.

Image above: An image of Europe at night taken from the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- Turbine SCM tests a commercial in-space manufacturing device that thermally processes superalloy parts in microgravity for future use in turbine engines on Earth. Results could contribute to the ongoing commercialization of space and improve the performance of turbine engines in industries such as aerospace and power generation.

- CIMON, an ESA investigation, observes the efficiency and crew acceptance of artificial intelligence (AI) support using an interactive robotic free flyer that navigates autonomously. Spaceflight missions involve substantial stress and workload, and AI assistance with tasks could reduce that stress.

- Dreams, an ESA investigation, tests using a headband to monitor astronaut sleep quality during long-duration spaceflight. Sleep plays a major role in human health and well-being, but devices currently available do not provide effective monitoring of sleep quality.

- The harsh conditions in space can corrode the paint and coatings that protect spacecraft exteriors and optical markings used for robotic and human navigation. STP-H5 ICE tests how new spacecraft coatings hold up during exposure to space.

- ESA’s Touching Surfaces tests laser-structured antimicrobial surfaces on the space station. Results could help determine the most suitable materials for future spacecraft and habitations as well as for terrestrial applications such as public transportation and clinical settings.

- Advanced Nano Step from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) monitors, records, and analyzes how specific impurities affect the quality of protein crystals grown in space. Results could advance capabilities for research on and production of materials and drugs in space and may prove useful for crystallization trials conducted on Earth.

- Flame Design, part of the ACME series of payloads, 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.

- Vascular Aging, an investigation by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), analyzes changes in the arteries of crew members. Results could point to mechanisms for reducing cardiovascular risk and help identify and detect blood biomarkers that predict early signs of cardiovascular aging.

- MVP Plant-01 examines shoot and root development in plants and the molecular mechanisms behind how plants sense and adapt to changes in their environment. Results could contribute to the design of plants better able to withstand adverse environmental conditions, including long-duration spaceflight.

Space to Ground: Outfitting Prichal: 01/21/2022

Related links:

Expedition 66:


Veggie Monitoring:


Rhodium Synthetic Cryptobiology:

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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Hubble Sights a Sail of Stars


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan 21, 2022

The spiral arms of the galaxy NGC 3318 are lazily draped across this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This spiral galaxy lies in the constellation Vela and is roughly 115 million light-years away from Earth. Vela was originally part of a far larger constellation, known as Argo Navis after the fabled ship Argo from Greek mythology, but this unwieldy constellation proved to be impractically large. Argo Navis was split into three separate parts called Carina, Puppis, and Vela – each named after part of the Argo. As befits a galaxy in a nautically inspired constellation, the outer edges of NGC 3318 almost resemble a ship’s sails billowing in a gentle breeze.

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, European Southern Observatory (ESO), R. J. Foley; Acknowledgment: R. Colombari.


NASA, Boeing Prepare to Replace Starliner Service Modules Ahead of Upcoming Orbital Flight Test-2


Boeing & NASA - Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) patch.

Jan 21. 2022

NASA and Boeing continue making progress toward the agency’s upcoming Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Teams recently completed offloading fuel from the OFT-2 spacecraft inside Starliner’s production factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for separating and replacing the current service module (SM2) from the crew module.

“The Starliner team and successful completion of the spacecraft’s development phase are critical to sustaining International Space Station operations through 2030,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program. “The team’s dedication to developing effective remedies and corrective action after our first OFT-2 launch attempt demonstrates their continued commitment to safely flying NASA crews for years to come.”

Image above: Starliner technicians work on the Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft in the high bay of Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 13, 2022. Image Credit: NASA.

In December, Boeing decided to move up service modules currently in production for its upcoming uncrewed and crewed flight tests. The service module originally planned for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) is now being used for OFT-2, and the service module originally planned for Starliner’s first post-certification mission, Starliner-1, now will  be used for CFT.

With fuel offload complete, the spacecraft was moved out of the hazardous processing area and into the production factory high bay.

“Because this is not an operation that we normally perform, our team took the time to fully coordinate and assess the proper spacecraft and ground support equipment configurations, and then execute to plan to ensure the safety of our team,” said John Vollmer, vice president and program manager, Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.

Once separated in the coming weeks from the OFT-2 crew module, SM2 will be sent to NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico for additional testing related to the issue affecting the spacecraft’s oxidizer isolation valves.

The investigation into the valve issue continues to substantiate that the most probable cause is interaction of moisture with nitrogen tetroxide that permeates through the Teflon seal in the valve, leading to corrosion. Testing continues to fully understand how this occurrence affects the valves in various environments.

Tests include environmental seal evaluation and exposing valves, in a controlled setting, to temperatures and conditions similar to those the spacecraft experienced prior to the planned launch of OFT-2. The results of these tests will help in the ongoing development of remediation efforts to prevent similar issues on future service modules.

For example, the team designed a purging system that will be integrated into the spacecraft to protect the valves from potential exposure to moisture at the factory, launch complex, and launch pad.

CST-100 Starliner on the way to ISS. Animation Credit: Boeing

Progress also continues with production of the new service module (SM4) that will go onto the OFT-2 crew module. That service module was recently moved from the low bay production area to the factory’s hazardous processing area for high pressure leak testing. Remaining tasks before mating this service module with the OFT-2 crew module include acceptance testing, final wire harness mating, installation of solar array panels, and final closeouts.

NASA and Boeing continue to work toward an opening in United Launch Alliance’s launch window availability in May for OFT-2. An actual launch date will be determined closer to spacecraft readiness, and with consideration of Eastern Range and International Space Station availability. Potential launch windows for CFT are under review and will be determined after a safe and successful OFT-2.

Related articles:

NASA, Boeing to Move Starliner to Production Facility for Propulsion System Evaluation

NASA, Boeing Continue to Work Toward Understanding Starliner Service Module Valve Performance Issue

Related links:

CST-100 Starliner:

Commercial Crew Program:

Kennedy Space Center (KSC):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Linda Herridge.

Best regards,

jeudi 20 janvier 2022

Dragon Departure Delayed as Cosmonauts Cleanup after Spacewalk


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Jan 20, 2022

A U.S. resupply ship will wait at least one extra day to undock from the International Space Station while being packed with critical research samples for return to Earth. Meanwhile, two Expedition 66 cosmonauts are cleaning up following a spacewalk to activate a Russian docking module.

Image above: Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov (bottom left to right) work outside the Nauka and Prichal modules during a seven-hour, 11-minute spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA TV.

A forecast of inclement weather has caused a postponement of the departure of the SpaceX Cargo Dragon from the Harmony module‘s space-facing port from Friday to Saturday. Undocking is now targeted for Saturday, Jan. 22 at 10:40 a.m. EST. NASA TV coverage, on the NASA app and the agency’s website, will begin Saturday at 10:15 a.m.

The next weather briefing by SpaceX is planned for 12 p.m. Friday. If undocking occurs on Saturday, splashdown would be scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 23 around 4 p.m. The final splashdown site will be selected closer to deorbit and splashdown time.

Meanwhile, NASA Flight Engineers Kayla Barron and Thomas Marshburn spent Thursday morning loading biology samples inside the Cargo Dragon for return and analysis on Earth. Barron also joined ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer transferring science freezers filled with more research samples into the U.S. resupply ship.

Dragon Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) departure. Animation Credit: NASA

Life science moved right along throughout Thursday as Maurer and NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei continued studying how a long-term space mission affects an astronaut’s visual function. NASA astronaut Raja Chari collected his blood and urine samples for stowage in a science freezer and later analysis. Chari later worked on the Food Physiology human research study that is exploring how diet and nutrition affect a crew member’s health in space.

Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov called down to Russian mission controllers in the morning for a post-spacewalk conference. The duo activated the new Prichal docking module successfully integrating it with the orbiting lab’s Russian segment during Thursday’s seven-hour and 11-minute spacewalk. Vande Hei, who assisted the spacewalkers on Thursday, also joined the pair on Friday helping remove U.S. lights and cameras installed on the Orlan spacesuits.

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


Hubble Finds a Black Hole Igniting Star Formation in a Dwarf Galaxy


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Jan 20, 2022

Often portrayed as destructive monsters that hold light captive, black holes take on a less villainous role in the latest research from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. A black hole at the heart of the dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10 is creating stars rather than gobbling them up. The black hole is apparently contributing to the firestorm of new star formation taking place in the galaxy. The dwarf galaxy lies 30 million light-years away, in the southern constellation Pyxis.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Zachary Schutte (XGI), Amy Reines (XGI); Image Processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI).

A decade ago this small galaxy set off debate among astronomers as to whether dwarf galaxies were home to black holes proportional to the supermassive behemoths found in the hearts of larger galaxies. This new discovery has little Henize 2-10, containing only one-tenth the number of stars found in our Milky Way, poised to play a big part in solving the mystery of where supermassive black holes came from in the first place.

"Ten years ago, as a graduate student thinking I would spend my career on star formation, I looked at the data from Henize 2-10 and everything changed," said Amy Reines, who published the first evidence for a black hole in the galaxy in 2011 and is the principal investigator on the new Hubble observations, published in the January 19 issue of Nature.

"From the beginning I knew something unusual and special was happening in Henize 2-10, and now Hubble has provided a very clear picture of the connection between the black hole and a neighboring star forming region located 230 light-years from the black hole," Reines said.

That connection is an outflow of gas stretching across space like an umbilical cord to a bright stellar nursery. The region was already home to a dense cocoon of gas when the low-velocity outflow arrived. Hubble spectroscopy shows the outflow was moving about 1 million miles per hour, slamming into the dense gas like a garden hose hitting a pile of dirt and spreading out. Newborn star clusters dot the path of the outflow's spread, their ages also calculated by Hubble.

This is the opposite effect of what's seen in larger galaxies, where material falling toward the black hole is whisked away by surrounding magnetic fields, forming blazing jets of plasma moving at close to the speed of light. Gas clouds caught in the jets' path would be heated far beyond their ability to cool back down and form stars. But with the less-massive black hole in Henize 2-10, and its gentler outflow, gas was compressed just enough to precipitate new star formation.

Image above: A pullout of the central region of dwarf starburst galaxy Henize 2-10 traces an outflow, or bridge of hot gas 230 light-years long, connecting the galaxy's massive black hole and a star-forming region. Hubble data on the velocity of the outflow from the black hole, as well as the age of the young stars, indicates a causal relationship between the two. A few million years ago, the outflow of hot gas slammed into the dense cloud of a stellar nursery and spread out, like water from a hose impacting a mound of dirt. Now clusters of young stars are aligned perpendicular to the outflow, revealing the path of its spread. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, Zachary Schutte (XGI), Amy Reines (XGI); Image Processing: Alysa Pagan (STScI).

"At only 30 million light-years away, Henize 2-10 is close enough that Hubble was able to capture both images and spectroscopic evidence of a black hole outflow very clearly. The additional surprise was that, rather than suppressing star formation, the outflow was triggering the birth of new stars," said Zachary Schutte, Reines' graduate student and lead author of the new study.

Ever since her first discovery of distinctive radio and X-ray emissions in Henize 2-10, Reines has thought they likely came from a massive black hole, but not as supermassive as those seen in larger galaxies. Other astronomers, however, thought that the radiation was more likely being emitted by a supernova remnant, which would be a familiar occurrence in a galaxy that is rapidly pumping out massive stars that quickly explode.

"Hubble's amazing resolution clearly shows a corkscrew-like pattern in the velocities of the gas, which we can fit to the model of a precessing, or wobbling, outflow from a black hole. A supernova remnant would not have that pattern, and so it is effectively our smoking-gun proof that this is a black hole," Reines said.

Reines expects that even more research will be directed at dwarf galaxy black holes in the future, with the aim of using them as clues to the mystery of how supermassive black holes came to be in the early universe. It's a persistent puzzle for astronomers. The relationship between the mass of the galaxy and its black hole can provide clues. The black hole in Henize 2-10 is around 1 million solar masses. In larger galaxies, black holes can be more than 1 billion times our Sun's mass. The more massive the host galaxy, the more massive the central black hole.

Current theories on the origin of supermassive black holes break down into three categories: 1) they formed just like smaller stellar-mass black holes, from the implosion of stars, and somehow gathered enough material to grow supermassive, 2) special conditions in the early universe allowed for the formation of supermassive stars, which collapsed to form massive black hole "seeds" right off the bat, or 3) the seeds of future supermassive black holes were born in dense star clusters, where the cluster's overall mass would have been enough to somehow create them from gravitational collapse.

So far, none of these black hole seeding theories has taken the lead. Dwarf galaxies like Henize 2-10 offer promising potential clues, because they have remained small over cosmic time, rather than undergoing the growth and mergers of large galaxies like the Milky Way. Astronomers think that dwarf galaxy black holes could serve as an analog for black holes in the early universe, when they were just beginning to form and grow.

"The era of the first black holes is not something that we have been able to see, so it really has become the big question: where did they come from? Dwarf galaxies may retain some memory of the black hole seeding scenario that has otherwise been lost to time and space," Reines said.

Hubble finds a Black Hole Igniting Star Formation in a Dwarf Galaxy

Video above: Hubble imaging and spectroscopy of the dwarf starburst galaxy Henize 2-10 clearly show a gas outflow stretching from the black hole to a bright star birth region like an umbilical cord, triggering the already dense cloud into forming clusters of stars. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center; Lead Producer: Paul Morris.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

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Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/GSFC/Claire Andreoli/STSI/Leah Ramsay/Ray Villard/eXtreme Gravity Institute, Montana State University/Amy Reines.

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Scientific Hardware, Experiments Return to Earth on SpaceX CRS-24 Dragon


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-24 Mission patch.

Jan 20, 2022

A retired microscope and samples from studies on colloids and cellular signaling are among the cargo returning from the International Space Station aboard the 24th SpaceX commercial resupply services mission. The Dragon craft, which arrived at the station Dec. 22, 2021, is scheduled to undock Jan. 22 with splashdown the next afternoon off the coast of Florida.

SpaceX Dragon CRS-24. Image Credit: NASA

These quick return flights allow scientists to make additional observations and analyses of their experiments at Kennedy Space Center, minimizing the effects of gravity on samples. Investigators then can conduct more in-depth analyses back at their home labs.

Read more about some of the equipment and experiment samples making the journey back to Earth:

Last light for LMM

A state-of-the-art light imaging microscope, the Light Microscopy Module (LMM), launched to station in 2009 and returns to Earth aboard Dragon for a well-earned retirement. Sponsored by NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences division, this powerful diagnostic tool enabled novel research of microscopic phenomena in microgravity, providing the capability to remotely acquire and download images and videos at many levels of magnification.

LMM made it possible to observe and record the way matter is organized and moves on the microscopic level. Scientists employed this tool for microgravity research on colloids, tiny particles suspended in a liquid, that contributed to advances in formulations and the shelf life of consumer products such as toothpaste and shampoo, 3D printing, and technology for detecting shifting sands on Mars. The LMM also contributed to studies of plants in microgravity, including the CARA investigation, and supported thermophysics research, including CVB and CVB-2, studies on heat transfer systems in microgravity.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei uninstalls the Light Microscopy Module from the station. The instrument returns to Earth after more than a decade of supporting scientific investigations. Animation Credit: NASA.

Tiny structures, assemble

InSPACE-4 studies assembly of tiny structures from colloids, or particles suspended in a liquid, using magnetic fields. Colloidal structures change the properties of the assembled material, such as its mechanical response to or interaction with light and heat. Microgravity offers a unique opportunity to observe assembly in ways and over time scales not possible on Earth.

Results could provide insight into how to harness nanoparticles to fabricate and manufacture new materials and lead to more advanced materials for space applications, including thermal shields, protection from micrometeorites, energy production, energy-transfer, and actuators and sensors for robotic and human missions. Other potential applications include advancing the manufacturing of materials on Earth for applications such as thermal shields, sound damping devices, camouflage, and medical diagnostics. The technology also could support larger-scale applications such as building foundation stabilizers for areas prone to earthquakes.

Investigators monitored the experiment via video downlink and vials containing the colloidal structures are returning to Earth for additional analysis.

Image above: Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) conducts a session for the InSPACE-4 physics study, which could provide insight into how to harness nanoparticles to fabricate and manufacture new materials for Earth and space applications. Image Credit: NASA.

Cell signaling in microgravity

Scientists continue to study how microgravity affects mammalian cells. Cytoskeleton, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), examines whether microgravity affects the function of cellular signaling molecules known as RhoGTPases. These molecules function as "molecular switches" and are involved in the control of cell proliferation, programmed cell death, gene expression, and organization of the cytoskeleton (the network of protein filaments and tubules that give cells their shape).

This investigation contributes to our understanding of how the human body responds to microgravity and could support development of countermeasures to help crew members maintain optimum health on future missions. The work also may expand knowledge about cellular function on Earth and contribute to future medical research here on the ground. Cell cultures are returning to the ground for analysis.

Animation above: ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer sets up for the Cytoskeleton investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

Editor's Note:

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon undock date was updated to Saturday, Jan. 22.

Live coverage of the departure begins on Saturday, Jan. 22. at 10:15 a.m. EST on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

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How the Tonga eruption is helping space scientists understand Mars


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Jan 20, 2022

NASA researchers are studying the unusual explosion of submarine volcano Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai to shed light on landforms on the red planet.

Image above: The Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcanic island as it appeared prior to the massive eruption on 15 January. Image Credits: Planet Labs PBC/EYEPRESS/Shutterstock.

NASA scientists say that the eruption of a submarine volcano in Tonga is helping them to understand how features formed on the surfaces of Mars and Venus.

The unusual explosion — which has been calculated at more than 500 times the force of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 — is offering researchers a rare chance to study how water and lava interact.

Studying the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano and its evolution in recent weeks is “important for planetary science”, says Petr Brož, a planetary volcanologist at the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague.

The knowledge “might help us to reveal results of water–lava interactions on the red planet and elsewhere across the Solar System”, he says.

Front-row seat

The volcanic island, which began to form from ash and lava expelled from an undersea volcano in early 2015, piqued the interest of researchers including James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, because of its similarity to structures on Mars and possibly also Venus. “We don’t normally get to see islands form,” explains Garvin, but this one offered “a front-row seat”.

Volcanic islands typically last for just months before being eroded away. But Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai survived for years, allowing Garvin’s team to use satellite observations and seafloor surveys to study how such islands form, erode and persist (1). The researchers wanted to use that knowledge to understand how small conical volcanoes found on Mars may have formed in the presence of water billions of years ago.

Image above: Small conical volcanoes on Mars, such as this one coloured to represent relative elevation, might have formed in shallow water. Image Credits: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.

Submarine eruptions differ significantly from those that occur on land, and can produce different landforms, says Brož. The presence of large quantities of sea water can make the explosions more violent, while also rapidly cooling the lava and restricting the amount of gas emitted from it.

Many volcanoes on Mars are thought to have erupted with steady flows of lava, but some could have been explosive, like Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai, says Joseph Michalski, a planetary scientist at the University of Hong Kong.

The marine environment also mimics some aspects of the low-gravity settings on small planets such as Mars and “can shed unique light on Martian features that formed in lower gravity”, he adds.

Little left of island

Last weekend’s violent explosion was preceded by a series of small eruptions starting in December, which increased the size of the island. That excited Garvin’s team. The researchers were in the process of submitting a paper describing the island’s slow erosion and a theoretical model for what makes it so stable — but “then BOOM. We had to hit reset,” says Garvin.

Teams around the world are now monitoring the island using optical, radar and laser satellites to measure what is left. The International Space Station’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation instrument has also collected data, says Garvin.

Image above: Following the recent eruption very little of the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai island is left, as seen in this satellite image taken on 17 January. Image Credit: Maxar Technologies.

The vast majority of the island is now gone, says Daniel Slayback, a geographer at the Goddard Space Flight Center, who has visited Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai. “It’s kind of shocking to see,” he says. “It’s pretty dramatic.”

Garvin is hopeful that the giant chamber of magma deep under Earth’s crust that formed Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai will eventually create another island for researchers to study. If that happens, “we’ll measure it, and describe it and build a story about it”.


Related articles:

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai Erupts

Tonga eruption heard in New Zealand, pressure waves picked up in Europe


1. Garvin, J. B. et al. Geophysical Research Letters 45, 3445–3452 (2018).

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Nature/Smriti Mallapaty.

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