vendredi 4 février 2022

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of January 31, 2022


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Feb 4, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Jan. 31 that included testing a technology for on-demand production of nutrients, examining the process of concrete hardening in microgravity, and launching a CubeSat to observe high-altitude gamma ray bursts.

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:

Make your vitamins

Animation above: A crew member conducts hydration for BioNutrients, which tests technology for on-demand production of nutrients to supplement crew diets on future long-duration space missions. Animation Credit: NASA.

Future long-duration missions, such as to Mars, need to address the issue that nutrients in stored foods and supplements degrade over time. BioNutrients demonstrates a technology for on-demand production of nutrients using growth packages that store a dehydrated medium and engineered yeast to generate carotenoids, which are beneficial to eye health. The investigation could identify compounds that degrade most quickly and support development of ways to produce vitamins and other nutrients during flight. Results also may provide insights into on-demand production of other precious biomolecules, such as therapeutics, and development of microorganisms that can withstand long periods of inactivity for a range of future space applications. The approach could benefit on-demand production of vitamins and other biomolecules in remote areas and in situations on Earth that experience restrictions on supply of critical compounds with short shelf-life. Crew members activated packets for the investigation during the week.

Watching concrete dry

Image above: This preflight image shows hardware for the ESA Concrete Hardening investigation. The syringe contains water and the concrete mixer on the right contains a dry cement-sand mixture. When the two are mixed, the resulting concrete is left to harden for at least 28 days. Image Credit: NASA.

Concrete Hardening investigates how microgravity affects the hardening process and resulting properties of concrete. The ESA (European Space Agency) investigation creates different mixtures of cement, water, sand, simulated lunar regolith, and other additives and allows them to harden in microgravity. Researchers plan to analyze material strength, bubble and pore distribution, and crystal structures and compare them with ground samples. This effort could support the development of materials for construction of habitat structures for future space missions. By using materials available on site, such as Moon regolith or dust, future missions would need to bring fewer raw materials, reducing launch mass. The investigation also could provide a better theoretical understanding of the hardening process and lead to better concrete mixtures and preparation processes on Earth as well. With annual world production of cement at roughly 4 billion tons, even a small improvement in efficiency would be significant on a global scale. During the week, crew members conducted several runs of the experiment.

Gaining on gamma rays

Animation above: NASA astronaut Kayla Barron works on the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer-20 (J-SSOD-20) to install Light-1 CubeSat for deployment. The JAXA investigation tests a system for detecting Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs) in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Animation Credit: NASA.

Light-1 CubeSat, an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), tests a system for detecting bursts of gamma rays, known as Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs), in Earth’s upper atmosphere. TGFs are absorbed by the atmosphere and difficult to detect from the ground, so most detections have been from satellites orbiting roughly 300 miles above Earth. Light-1 CubeSat collects data from much closer since the space station orbits an average of 240 miles from Earth. Scientists plan to combine the data with ground-based observations, climatic maps of lightning and thunderstorms, and existing data from gamma-ray satellites developed by ESA and NASA. TGFs can expose aircraft, aircraft electronics, and passengers to excessive radiation and improving our understanding of their sources could help provide better protection. During the week, crew members installed the Light-1 CubeSat on the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) and deployed it.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- ASIM, an ESA investigation, studies severe thunderstorms and upper-atmospheric lightning and their role in Earth’s atmosphere and climate. According to findings recently published in Nature, ASIM observations also are contributing to our understanding of flares from magnetars, or strongly magnetized isolated neutron stars.

- An investigation from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), VECTION looks at changes in an astronaut’s ability to judge body motion and orientation and estimate distances. Results could help address issues these changes create for astronauts.

- 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.

- Metabolic Space, an investigation from ESA, demonstrates a wearable system to measure cardiopulmonary function during physical activities. This type of wearable device could make it easier to monitor astronauts and other space travelers and enable early diagnosis of potential health issues and has applications in certain settings on Earth.

- ESA’s Retinal Diagnostics tests a commercially available lens that attaches to a mobile device to capture images of astronauts’ retinas. Such a lightweight, non-invasive imaging device could provide a way to detect Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) and help protect astronauts from its effects and also could be a useful telemedicine tool in space exploration and remote areas on Earth.

Image above: One of the space station’s free-flying Astrobee robots during operations for ROAM, which demonstrates using such robotic craft to rendezvous with tumbling debris in space as a possible way to capture satellites for repair or removal from orbit. Image Credit: NASA.

- ROAM demonstrates using robotic craft to rendezvous with tumbling debris in space, which could provide a way to capture satellites for repair or removal from orbit. The investigation uses the space station’s Astrobee robots.

- MVP Cell-01 studies cartilage and bone tissue cultures subjected to mechanical injury and treated with a pharmaceutical. The work could lead to treatments for a disease called Post-traumatic Osteoarthritis, where a traumatic joint injury leads to arthritis.

- 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.

Space to Ground: Flying Robots in Space: 02/04/2022

Related links:


Expedition 66:


Concrete Hardening:

Light-1 CubeSat:

JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD):

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 66.

Best regards,

Puffy Planets Lose Atmospheres, Become Super Earths


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb 4, 2022

Exoplanets come in shapes and sizes that are not found in our solar system. These include small gaseous planets called mini-Neptunes and rocky planets several times Earth's mass called super-Earths.

Image Credits: Adam Makarenko (Keck Observatory)

Now, astronomers have identified two different cases of "mini-Neptune" planets that are losing their puffy atmospheres and likely transforming into super-Earths. Radiation from the planets' stars is stripping away their atmospheres, driving the hot gas to escape like steam from a pot of boiling water. The new findings help paint a picture of how exotic worlds like these form and evolve, and help explain a curious gap in the size distribution of planets found around other stars.

Mini-Neptunes are smaller, denser versions of the planet Neptune in our solar system, and are thought to consist of large rocky cores surrounded by thick blankets of gas. In the new studies, a team of astronomers used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to look at two mini-Neptunes orbiting HD 63433, a star located 73 light-years away. And they used the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to study one of two mini-Neptune planets in the star system called TOI 560, located 103 light-years away.

Their results show that atmospheric gas is escaping from the innermost mini-Neptune in TOI 560, called TOI 560.01 (also known as HD 73583b), and from the outermost mini-Neptune in HD 63433, called HD 63433c. This suggests that they could be turning into super-Earths.

"Most astronomers suspected that young, mini-Neptunes must have evaporating atmospheres," said Michael Zhang, lead author of both studies and a graduate student at Caltech. "But nobody had ever caught one in the process of doing so until now."

The study also found, surprisingly, that the gas around TOI 560.01 was escaping predominantly toward the star.

"This was unexpected, as most models predict that the gas should flow away from the star," said professor of planetary science Heather Knutson of Caltech, Zhang's advisor and a co-author of the study. "We still have a lot to learn about how these outflows work in practice."

New Clues to Missing Link in Planetary Types

Since the first exoplanets orbiting sun-like stars were discovered in the mid-1990s, thousands of other exoplanets have been found. Many of these orbit close to their stars, and the smaller, rocky ones generally fall into two groups: the mini-Neptunes and super-Earths. The super-Earths are as large as 1.6 times the size of Earth (and occasionally as large as 1.75 times the size of Earth), while the mini-Neptunes are between 2 and 4 times the size of Earth. Planets of these types are not found in our solar system. In fact, few planets with sizes between these two ranges have been detected around other stars.

One possible explanation for this size-gap is that the mini-Neptunes are transforming into the super-Earths. The mini-Neptunes are theorized to be cocooned by primordial atmospheres made of hydrogen and helium. The hydrogen and helium are left over from the formation of the central star, which is born out of clouds of gas. If a mini-Neptune is small enough and close enough to its star, stellar X-rays and ultraviolet radiation can strip away its primordial atmosphere over a period of hundreds of millions of years, scientists theorize. This would then leave behind a rocky super-Earth with a substantially smaller diameter (which could, in theory, still retain a relatively thin atmosphere similar to that surrounding our planet Earth).

"A planet in the size-gap would have enough atmosphere to puff up its radius, making it intercept more stellar radiation and thereby enabling fast mass loss," said Zhang. "But the atmosphere is thin enough that it gets lost quickly. This is why a planet wouldn't stay in the gap for long."

Other scenarios could explain the size-gap, according to the astronomers. For instance, the smaller rocky planets might have never gathered gas envelopes in the first place, and mini-Neptunes could be water worlds and not enveloped in hydrogen gas. This latest discovery of two mini-Neptunes with escaping atmospheres represents the first direct evidence to support the theory that mini-Neptunes are indeed turning into super-Earths.

Signatures in the Sunlight

The astronomers were able to detect the escaping atmospheres by watching the mini-Neptunes cross in front of, or transit, their host stars. The planets cannot be seen directly but when they pass in front of their stars as seen from our point of view on Earth, telescopes can look for absorption of starlight by atoms in the planets' atmospheres. In the case of the mini-Neptune TOI 560.01, the researchers found signatures of helium. For the star system HD 63433, the team found signatures of hydrogen in the outermost planet they studied, called HD 63433c, but not the inner planet, HD 63433b.

"The inner planet may have already lost its atmosphere," explained Zhang.

"The speed of the gases provides the evidence that the atmospheres are escaping. The observed helium around TOI 560.01 is moving as fast as 20 kilometers per second, while the hydrogen around HD 63433c is moving as fast as 50 kilometers per second. The gravity of these mini-Neptunes is not strong enough to hold on to such fast-moving gas. The extent of the outflows around the planets also indicates escaping atmospheres; the cocoon of gas around TOI 560.01 is at least 3.5 times as large as the radius of the planet, and the cocoon around HD 63433c is at least 12 times the radius of the planet."

The observations also revealed that the gas lost from TOI 560.01 was flowing toward the star. Future observations of other mini-Neptunes should reveal if TOI 560.01 is an anomaly or whether an inward-moving atmospheric outflow is more common.

"As exoplanet scientists, we've learned to expect the unexpected," Knutson said. "These exotic worlds are constantly surprising us with new physics that goes beyond what we observe in our solar system."

The findings are being published in two separate papers in The Astronomical Journal:

Mini-Neptune TOI 560.01 Animation

Video above: In this artistic animation, the mini-Neptune TOI 560.01 is shown transforming into a super-Earth. The planet is about 2.8 times the size of Earth and has a puffy atmosphere, made up of mostly hydrogen and helium. Observations with the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii revealed that helium is escaping from the planet. Scientists say that the planet could lose the vast majority of its atmosphere after several hundred million years, leaving behind a type of large rocky planet called a super-Earth. Video Credits: Adam Makarenko (Keck Observatory).

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

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.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Release, Text, Animation, Credits: NASA, ESA, STScI, Caltech, Keck Observatory/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/California Institute of Technology/Michael Zhang/Heather A. Knutson/Whitney Clavin/W. M. Keck Observatory/Mari-Ela Chock/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard.


NASA, SpaceX Provide Update on Crewed Space Station Mission


SpaceX - Dragon Crew-4 Mission patch.

Feb 4, 2022

NASA and SpaceX provided an update Feb. 4 on the status of preparations on the agency’s Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station. As part of the news conference, NASA and SpaceX answered media questions on Crew Dragon’s parachutes and work ahead of its next crew launch with NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Jessica Watkins, as well as with ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Image above: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer onboard, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission is the third crew rotation mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Chari, Marshburn, Barron, Maurer launched at 9:03 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center to begin a six month mission onboard the orbital outpost. Photo Credits: (NASA/Joel Kowsky).

Listen to a full replay of the news conference, and read the agency’s statement below:

Crew safety remains a top priority for NASA. The agency and SpaceX carefully and methodically monitor the operational parachute performance on all crew and cargo flights to increase safety and reliability.

During the return of the SpaceX CRS-24 mission, teams observed a single main parachute that lagged during inflation like the return of the Crew-2 mission. The vertical descent rate of both flights was within the system design margins at splashdown, and all four main parachutes fully opened prior to splashdown on both missions.

Image above: NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts participate in a training session at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. From left: NASA astronaut and SpaceX Crew-4 mission specialist Jessica Watkins, NASA astronaut and SpaceX Crew-4 pilot Robert Hines, NASA astronaut and SpaceX Crew-4 commander Kjell Lindgren, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and Crew-4 mission specialist Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy. Image Credit: NASA.

With the commonality between Dragon spacecraft, the mission teams prioritize parachute imagery during return and recovery of the parachutes following splashdown. As partners, NASA and SpaceX jointly review the imagery data and perform physical inspection of the drogue and main parachutes after flight. The inflation model also continues to be updated to better characterize and understand margins and splashdown conditions. This review of flight data and parachute performance models will be completed prior to the launch of the Crew-4 mission and the return of Crew-3 astronauts from the International Space Station.

NASA and SpaceX are completing the parachute analysis as part of the standard postflight reviews conducted at the end of each mission. The results of the data reviews are discussed as part of joint engineering and program control boards and findings presented at the agency’s flight readiness review in advance of the next crew mission. NASA and SpaceX still are targeting launch of the Crew-4 mission Friday, April 15, to the International Space Station.

Related links:

Media Briefing: NASA, SpaceX to Provide Update on Crew-4 Space Station Mission:

Commercial Crew:

Commercial Space:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Patti Bielling.

Best regards,

SpaceX Starlink 36 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

Feb 4, 2022

SpaceX Starlink 36 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 49 Starlink satellites (Starlink-36) from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on 3 February 2022, at 18:13 UTC (13:13 EST).

SpaceX Starlink 36 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 3 February 2022

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “A Shortfall of Gravitas” droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1061) previously supported five missions: Crew-1, Crew-2, SXM-8, CRS-23 and IXPE.

Related links:


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


LHC experiments are stepping up their data processing game


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Feb 4, 2022

While data processing demand is rocketing for LHC’s Run 3, the four large experiments are increasing their use of GPUs to improve their computing infrastructure

Image above: A candidate HLT node for Run 3, equipped with two AMD Milan 64-core CPUs and two NVIDIA Tesla T4 GPUs. (Image: CERN).

Analysing as many as one billion proton collisions per second or tens of thousands of very complex lead collisions is not an easy job for a traditional computer farm. With the latest upgrades of the LHC experiments due to come into action next year, their demand for data processing potential has significantly increased. As their new computational challenges might not be met using traditional central processing units (CPUs), the four large experiments are adopting graphics processing units (GPUs).

GPUs are highly efficient processors, specialised in image processing, and were originally designed to accelerate the rendering of three-dimensional computer graphics. Their use has been studied in the past couple of years by the LHC experiments, the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG) and CERN openlab. Increasing the use of GPUs in high-energy physics will improve not only the quality and size of the computing infrastructure, but also the overall energy efficiency.

“The LHC’s ambitious upgrade programme poses a range of exciting computing challenges; GPUs can play an important role in supporting machine-learning approaches to tackling many of these,” says Enrica Porcari, Head of the CERN IT department. “Since 2020, the CERN IT department has provided access to GPU platforms in the data centre, which have proven popular for a range of applications. On top of this, CERN openlab is carrying out important investigations into the use of GPUs for machine learning through collaborative R&D projects with industry and the Scientific Computing Collaborations group is working to help port – and optimise – key code from the experiments.”

ALICE has pioneered the use of GPUs in its high-level trigger online computer farm (HLT) since 2010 and is the only experiment using them to such a large extent to date. The newly upgraded ALICE detector has more than 12 billion electronic sensor elements that are read out continuously, creating a data stream of more than 3.5 terabytes per second. After first-level data processing, there remains a stream of up to 600 gigabytes per second. These data are analysed online on a high-performance computer farm, implementing 250 nodes, each equipped with eight GPUs and two 32-core CPUs. Most of the software that assembles individual particle detector signals into particle trajectories (event reconstruction) has been adapted to work on GPUs.

Image above: Visualisation of a 2 ms time frame of Pb-Pb collisions at a 50 kHz interaction rate in the ALICE TPC. Tracks from different primary collisions are shown in different colours. (Image: ALICE/CERN).

In particular, the GPU-based online reconstruction and compression of the data from the Time Projection Chamber, which is the largest contributor to the data size, allows ALICE to further reduce the rate to a maximum of 100 gigabytes per second before writing the data to the disk. Without GPUs, about eight times as many servers of the same type and other resources would be required to handle the online processing of lead collision data at a 50 kHz interaction rate.

ALICE successfully employed online reconstruction on GPUs during the LHC pilot beam data taking at the end of October 2021. When there is no beam in the LHC, the online computer farm is used for offline reconstruction. In order to leverage the full potential of the GPUs, the full ALICE reconstruction software has been implemented with GPU support, and more than 80% of the reconstruction workload will be able to run on the GPUs.

From 2013 onwards, LHCb researchers carried out R&D work into the use of parallel computing architectures, most notably GPUs, to replace parts of the processing that would traditionally happen on CPUs. This work culminated in the Allen project, a complete first-level real-time processing implemented entirely on GPUs, which is able to deal with LHCb’s data rate using only around 200 GPU cards. Allen allows LHCb to find charged particle trajectories from the very beginning of the real-time processing, which are used to reduce the data rate by a factor of 30–60 before the detector is aligned and calibrated and a more complete CPU-based full detector reconstruction is executed. Such a compact system also leads to substantial energy efficiency savings.

Starting in 2022, the LHCb experiment will process 4 terabytes of data per second in real time, selecting 10 gigabytes of the most interesting LHC collisions each second for physics analysis. LHCb’s unique approach is that instead of offloading work, it will analyse the full 30 million particle-bunch crossings per second on GPUs.

Together with improvements to its CPU processing, LHCb has also gained almost a factor of 20 in the energy efficiency of its detector reconstruction since 2018. LHCb researchers are now looking forward to commissioning this new system with the first data of 2022, and building on it to enable the full physics potential of the upgraded LHCb detector to be realised.

CMS reconstructed LHC collision data with GPUs for the first time during the LHC pilot beams in October last year. During the first two runs of the LHC, the CMS HLT ran on a traditional computer farm comprising over 30 000 CPU cores. However, as the studies for the Phase 2 upgrade of CMS have shown, the use of GPUs will be instrumental in keeping the cost, size and power consumption of the HLT farm under control at higher LHC luminosity. And in order to gain experience with a heterogeneous farm and the use of GPUs in a production environment, CMS will equip the whole HLT with GPUs from the start of Run 3: the new farm will be comprised of a total of 25 600 CPU cores and 400 GPUs.

The additional computing power provided by these GPUs will allow CMS not only to improve the quality of the online reconstruction but also to extend its physics programme, running the online data scouting analysis at a much higher rate than before. Today about 30% of the HLT processing can be offloaded to GPUs: the calorimeters local reconstruction, the pixel tracker local reconstruction, the pixel-only track and vertex reconstruction. The number of algorithms that can run on GPUs will grow during Run 3, as other components are already under development.

ATLAS is engaged in a variety of R&D projects towards the use of GPUs both in the online trigger system and more broadly in the experiment. GPUs are already used in many analyses; they are particularly useful for machine learning applications where training can be done much more quickly. Outside of machine learning, ATLAS R&D efforts have focused on improving the software infrastructure in order to be able to make use of GPUs or other more exotic processors that might become available in a few years. A few complete applications, including a fast calorimeter simulation, also now run on GPUs, which will provide the key examples with which to test the infrastructure improvements.

“All these developments are occurring against a backdrop of unprecedented evolution and diversification of computing hardware. The skills and techniques developed by CERN researchers while learning how to best utilise GPUs are the perfect platform from which to master the architectures of tomorrow and use them to maximise the physics potential of current and future experiments,” says Vladimir Gligorov, who leads LHCb’s Real Time Analysis project.


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

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

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

Related links:

Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG):

CERN openlab:

Allen project:

Studies for the Phase 2 upgrade of CMS:

Online data scouting analysis:

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

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Best regards,

Hubble Revisits a Galactic Oddball


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb 4, 2022

The dwarf galaxy NGC 1705 featured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope lies in the southern constellation Pictor, approximately 17 million light-years from Earth. NGC 1705 is a cosmic oddball – it is small, irregularly shaped, and has recently undergone a spate of star formation known as a starburst.

Despite these eccentricities, NGC 1705 and other dwarf irregular galaxies like it can provide valuable insights into the overall evolution of galaxies. Dwarf irregular galaxies tend to contain few elements other than hydrogen or helium and are thought to be similar to the earliest galaxies that populated the universe.

The data shown in this image come from a series of observations designed to unveil the interplay between stars, star clusters, and ionized gas in nearby star-forming galaxies. By observing a specific wavelength of light known as H-alpha with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, astronomers aimed to discover thousands of emission nebulae – regions created when hot, young stars bathe the clouds of gas surrounding them in ultraviolet light, causing them to glow.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

This is not the first time that Hubble has imaged NGC 1705. Astronomers peered into the heart of the galaxy in 1999 using Hubble’s workhorse camera at the time, the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. This instrument was replaced with the Wide Field Camera 3 during the fifth and final Space Shuttle mission to Hubble in 2009, and the newer instrument has provided a richer and far more detailed portrait of NGC 1705 than the 1999 observation.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Chandar.


Fired Up: Engines and Motors Put Artemis Mission in Motion


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.

Feb 4, 2022

On Earth, many cars on the road are powered by engines that convert fuel into energy to produce motion. Although rocket science is a little more complex, the same basic principle applies to the engines and motors that will help power a journey to the Moon. On upcoming Artemis missions, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft will be equipped with several different types of engines and motors. From liftoff to splashdown, these engines and motors will send the first SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis I mission, out beyond the Moon and farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever ventured. Missions at the Moon will be a steppingstone to prepare for human exploration of Mars.

On the first Artemis mission, a combined total of 55 engines and motors between the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will propel Orion from the launch pad, around the Moon, and back to Earth. A motor is generally defined as a device that produces motion, and an engine is considered a type of motor that produces motion with the use of moving parts. In rocket science, these terms are typically used to differentiate between rocket motors with solid fuel, that do not employ moving parts to generate thrust, and engines that use moving parts such as pumps and valves to direct liquid fuel through the system. Solid rocket motors may still include moving parts to steer and direct the thrust.

The initial configuration of the SLS rocket, called Block 1, will be used on the first three Artemis missions and stands 322 feet tall, which is taller than the Statue of Liberty. It weighs 5.75 million pounds and produces 8.8 million pounds of thrust during launch and ascent with the power of four RS-25 engines and two solid rocket motors, commonly called boosters. Each booster is equipped with an ignition motor that ignites the solid propellant. About two minutes into flight, the boosters will separate from the rocket and the RS-25 engines on the core stage will continue propelling Orion to orbit. Next, the fairings will be released to expose the service module, and the jettison motor will fire to separate the launch abort system from the spacecraft. The launch abort system is no longer needed at this point, as Orion can safely abort using the engines on the European Service Module, provided by ESA (European Space Agency).

About eight minutes after launch, the RS-25 engines will shut down and the core stage will separate from Orion and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). The RS-25’s smaller sibling, the RL10 engine, will take over on the ICPS. The RL10 engine will fire for less than one minute to position Orion ahead of a longer burn that will accelerate the spacecraft fast enough to break away from the pull of Earth’s gravity and set a course with a precise trajectory to the Moon. After the RL10 engine has completed the burn to send Orion to the Moon, the ICPS will separate from Orion and the service module will use a combined total of 33 engines to propel and position the spacecraft during the mission until it is time for Orion to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The service module’s propulsion system can fire for less than a second for spacecraft maneuvering or, in certain emergency situations, the main engine can fire for more than 10 minutes to perform potential abort scenarios.

Just before re-entry, the service module will separate from Orion. As Orion prepares to splashdown into the Pacific Ocean, the 12 reaction control system engines on the crew module will ensure the spacecraft is properly oriented, with its heat shield pointed downward for entry through Earth’s atmosphere, and stable during descent.

Fast Facts

Below are the basic facts about each of the engines and motors that will propel Artemis missions. While most people typically think of fueling a car with gas for propulsion in automobiles, fuel is only one part of the combustion equation for propulsion. Combustion occurs when a fuel is combined with oxygen to produce energy to propel a vehicle. In automobiles, oxygen from the atmosphere combines with gasoline and an ignition source to run a combustion engine. In rocket science, propellants may include both fuel and a chemical oxidizer that releases oxygen. When the fuel and oxidizer combine, they ignite through a chemical reaction, and the hot, rapidly expanding gases look for a way out and move the rocket or spacecraft in the opposite direction.

SLS Rocket: From Launch to Lunar Orbit

Propulsion System for the Space Launch System (SLS)

2 x Solid Rocket Boosters, built by Northrop Grumman

Location: On either side of the SLS rocket core stage
Propellants: Solid fuel – polybutadiene acrylonitrile (PBAN), oxidizer – ammonium perchlorate
Burn Duration: About 2 minutes
Function: Together the twin boosters provide more than 75% of the total thrust at liftoff. Each booster generates a maximum thrust of 3.6 million pounds and will burn 6 tons of solid propellant every second before separating from the core stage.
Additional Info: Each booster is taller than the Statue of Liberty at 17 stories tall and weighs over 1.6 million pounds. The solid propellant used in each of the five segments of the booster is the consistency of a pencil eraser.

Solid Rocket Booster Infographic

Solid Rocket Booster Fact Sheet:

2 x Booster Ignition Motors, built by Northrop Grumman

Located: At the top of the stack of five solid propellant segments on each booster
Propellants: Solid fuel – polybutadiene acrylonitrile (PBAN), oxidizer – ammonium perchlorate
Burn Duration: Less than a second
Function: These motors ignite the solid propellant in each solid rocket booster at liftoff.

4 x RS-25 Engines, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne

Location: On the bottom of core stage of the SLS rocket
Propellants: Liquid fuel – liquid hydrogen, oxidizer- liquid oxygen
Burn Duration: About 8 minutes
Function: Together, the set of four-engines generates more than 2 million pounds of thrust for the climb to overcome the pull of Earth’s gravity. The engines will burn more than 90,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen every minute before the core stage separates from the ICPS and Orion.
Additional Info: The four engines on the first Artemis mission were previously flown on the space shuttle and contributed to 21 successful shuttle flights. The engines have been updated and provide more thrust to meet SLS performance requirements. Just one turbine blade the size of a quarter on the RS-25’s high pressure fuel turbopump generates more horsepower than a Corvette engine.

What Is The RS-25 Engine? Infographic

RS-25 Core Stage Engine Fact Sheet:

SLS RS-25 Engine Test- 15 December 2021

1 x RL10 Engine, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne

Location: On the bottom of the ICPS
Propellants: Liquid fuel – liquid hydrogen, oxidizer- liquid oxygen
Burn Duration: Ranges from less than 1 minute to about 20 minutes
Function: The single RL10 engine on the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) performs two burns. The first burn raises the Orion spacecraft after core stage separation to put the ship in a stable orbit around the Earth. The second burn will generate 24,750 pounds of thrust to propel the Orion spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit to set it on its precise trajectory to the Moon. The RL10 will boost Orion for 7,700 miles before separating from the spacecraft.
Additional Info: Future configurations of SLS will use a total of four RL10 engines for the powerful exploration upper stage that will enable NASA to send Orion along with hardware or supplies, or other large cargo missions.

What Is the Exploration Upper Stage? Infographic

Orion: Around the Moon and Back to Earth

Propulsion System for the Orion Spacecraft

1 x Launch Abort System (LAS) Jettison motor, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne

Location: On the Launch Abort System tower between the abort motor and the attitude control motor
Propellants: Solid fuel – hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB), oxidizer – Ammonium Perchlorate
Burn Duration: About 1.5 seconds
Function: The motor fires during a normal launch sequence to separate the launch abort system from Orion when it is no longer needed or following an abort to allow Orion to deploy parachutes for a safe splashdown in the ocean. In the unlikely event of an emergency during launch or ascent, the jettison motor will provide approximately 40,000 pounds of thrust to separate the LAS from the crew module during an abort.
Additional Info: The jettison motor is the only motor on the launch abort system that fires during every mission. The abort motor and attitude control motors will not be active on the Artemis I mission.

Launch Abort System Fact Sheet:

1 x Orbital Maneuvering System Engine (OMS-E), built by Aerojet Rocketdyne

Location: On the bottom of the service module
Propellants: Liquid fuel – monomethyl hydrazine (MMH), oxidizer – oxides of nitrogen (MON)
Burn Duration: Ranges from less than one minute to more than 16 minutes
Function: This is the main engine on the European Service Module that will provide the primary propulsion for Orion’s major in-space maneuvers as it travels around the Moon. The engine provides 6,000 pounds of thrust and is equipped to steer the spacecraft. It can also be used in some abort cases to safely return Orion to Earth.
Additional Info: The main engine on the first mission is a repurposed Space Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System engine that has flown in space before. The engine flying on Artemis 1 flew on 19 space shuttle flights, beginning with STS-41G in October 1984 and ending with STS-112 in October 2002.

8 x R-4D-11 Auxiliary Engines, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne

Location: On the bottom of the service module in four sets of two
Propellants: Liquid fuel – monomethyl hydrazine (MMH), oxidizer – oxides of nitrogen (MON)
Burn Duration: Ranges from less than one minute to up to 45 minutes
Function: These are fixed at the bottom of the service module to provide trajectory corrections and as a backup to the main engine. Each provide about 100 pounds of thrust. The auxiliary engines can provide steering during burns by pulsing on and off.

24 x Reaction Control System Engines, built by ArianeGroup

Location: On the sides of the service module in six sets of four
Propellants: Liquid fuel – monomethyl hydrazine (MMH), oxidizer – oxides of nitrogen (MON)
Burn Duration: Ranges from milliseconds up to one hour
Function: These engines are in fixed positions and can be fired individually as needed to move the spacecraft in different directions or rotate it into any position. Each engine provides about 50 pounds of thrust.

12 x MR-104G Reaction Control System Engines, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne

Location: On the backshell of Orion in six sets of two
Propellants: Liquid fuel – hydrazine
Burn Duration: Ranges from less than one second up to 50 seconds
Function: The reaction control system will guide the Orion crew module after it separates from its service module in preparation for re-entering Earth's atmosphere and splashdown into the ocean. Capable of 160 pounds of thrust for each engine, the system will ensure the spacecraft is properly oriented for re-entry, with its heat shield pointed forward, and stable during descent under parachutes.
Additional Info: These are monopropellant engines that produces hot gas and thrust when the fuel decomposes as it passes across a catalyst material without separate oxidizer.

Other Orion Motors

The launch abort system contains two additional motors that will not be active on the uncrewed first flight of SLS and Orion. The Ascent Abort-2 test of the launch abort system in July 2019 has prepared this capability for the first flight with crew on Artemis II.

1 x Launch Abort System Abort Motor, built by Northrop Grumman

Location: On the launch abort system tower, between the crew module and the jettison motor
Propellants: Solid fuel – hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB), oxidizer – Ammonium Perchlorate
Burn Duration: About 3 seconds
Function: In the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent, the abort motor fires, producing about 400,000 pounds of thrust, to quickly pull the crew capsule away from danger.

1 x Launch Abort System Attitude Control Motor, built by Northrop Grumman

Location: At the very top of the launch abort system tower
Propellants: Solid fuel – carboxyl-terminated polybutadiene (CTPB), oxidizer – Ammonium Perchlorate
Burn Duration: About 30 seconds
Function: As the abort motor pulls Orion away from the rocket during an emergency on the pad or during launch, the LAS attitude control motor fires and provides variable thrust as needed to stabilize the crew capsule and steer it in any direction to re-orient it before the LAS is jettisoned in preparation for parachute deployment and splashdown. The motor can exert up to 7,000 pounds of steering force in any direction.
Additional Info: The attitude control motor consists of a solid propellant gas generator with eight valves equally spaced around the outside of the three-foot diameter motor.

Though not part of the overall system that will propel the rocket or spacecraft during the mission, several other specially designed motors, thrusters, springs and pyrotechnic bolts will play a role to separate hardware through different phases of the mission, such as separating the core stage, boosters, fairings, service module or parachute cover when they are no longer needed. All the elements throughout the complex system will work together in a precisely timed choreography to put the first Artemis mission in motion.

Space Launch System (SLS)

With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, along with the human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s foundation for deep space exploration.

Related article:

Artemis I Update

Related links:


Artemis I:

Artemis II:

Orion Spacecraft:

European Service Module:

Space Launch System (SLS):

Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS):

Moon to Mars:

Images, Animations, Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Jennifer Harbaugh/Kathryn Hambleton/Marshall Space Flight Center/Tracy McMahan/Ray Osorio/NASA TV/SciNews.

Best regards,

jeudi 3 février 2022

Astronaut Hits 300 Days in Space, On Way to Break NASA Record


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Feb 3, 2022

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei has lived in space continuously for 300 days since launching and docking to the orbiting lab on April 9, 2021. He is on his way to surpassing Christina Koch’s 328-day mission on March 3 and Scott Kelly’s 340 days on March 15. Vande Hei will return to Earth on March 30 with a NASA astronaut record-breaking 355 consecutive days in Earth orbit.

CAPCOM Woody Hobaugh from Mission Control in Houston congratulated both Vande Hei and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov on reaching their 300-day milestone today. Listen to the audio downlink.

Image above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei studies cotton genetics for the Plant Habitat-5 space agriculture experiment. Image Credit: NASA.

Vande Hei arrived at the station aboard the Soyuz MS-18 crew ship with Dubrov and Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy. Novitskiy returned to Earth on Oct. 17, 2021, with spaceflight participants Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko. Dubrov will remain onboard the station with Vande Hei and parachute to a landing with station Commander Anton Shkaplerov in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship at the end of March.

Meanwhile, aboard the International Space Station today the Expedition 66 crew continued its space biology and human research activities. Scientists will use the data to learn how to improve health in space and Earth.

Flight Engineers Raja Chari of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) joined each other Wednesday afternoon for a visual function study inside the Kibo laboratory module. The investigation explores how microgravity affects the vascular function and tissue remodeling in the eye. NASA Flight Engineer Kayla Barron participated in another vision study exploring how an astronaut visually interprets motion, orientation, and distance in space.

ISS flying above the Earth. Animation Credit: NASA

Chari then examined the eyes of NASA Flight Engineer Thomas Marshburn using medical imaging gear, or optical coherence tomography. Maurer assisted the pair in the afternoon, but started his day setting up virtual reality gear for a training session in the Columbus laboratory module.

Shkaplerov spent Thursday servicing video gear, transferring cargo from inside the Prichal docking module, and setting up Earth observation hardware. Dubrov and Vande Hei partnered together and installed internal wireless gear in the station’s Russian segment during the afternoon.

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Kibo laboratory module:

Vascular function and tissue remodeling:

Visually interprets motion, orientation, and distance in space:

Columbus laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Northrop Grumman’s 17th Resupply Mission Carries Science Experiments, Technology Demonstrations to Space Station


Northrop Grumman - Cygnus NG-17 Mission patch.

Feb 3, 2022

Scientific investigations on skin aging and tumor cells, along with tests of technology for oxygen production, batteries, and growing plants, all travel on the 17th Northrop Grumman commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled for liftoff no earlier than Saturday, Feb. 19, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

Here are details on some of the scientific investigations traveling to the space station on this mission:

Protecting our skin

Animation above: Preparation of tissue culture plates for Colgate Skin Aging, which evaluates changes in skin cells in microgravity and could help provide a model for assessing products for protecting skin from the effects of aging. Animation Credits: Colgate-Palmolive.

Deterioration of skin tissue, a normal part of aging, occurs over decades. Microgravity leads to changes in the body that are similar to aging but happen much more quickly in space where it can be more easily studied than on Earth. The Colgate Skin Aging experiment evaluates cellular and molecular changes in engineered human skin cells in microgravity. Aging-related skin changes are not simply cosmetic. As the body’s largest organ, skin performs multiple functions, including protection from infection, regulation of body temperature, and sensory input. Loss of functional or structural stability in skin therefore can be a potential source of other health problems. Results from this experiment could show that these engineered cells may serve as a model to rapidly assess products aimed at protecting skin from the aging process back on Earth.

Testing tumor drugs

Image above: This image shows immunofluorescence of breast cancer cells treated with a MicroQuin therapeutic. Staining shows a normal nucleus (blue) and the therapeutic (green) localized to the cell’s endoplasmic reticulum (red). The drug forces the cytoskeleton (yellow) to collapse, inducing cell death. Image Credits: Scott Robinson, MicroQuin.

MicroQuin 3D Tumor examines the effects of a drug on breast and prostate cancer cells in space. In microgravity, these cells can grow in a more natural three-dimensional model, which makes it easier to characterize their structure, gene expression, cell signaling, and response to the drug. Results could provide new insight into the cell protein targeted by the drug and help advance development of other drugs that target cancerous cells.

“Our 3D tumor modelling investigation on the space station provides a phenomenal opportunity to study cancer more naturally, allowing us to better assess drug penetration, tumor response, cell-to-cell signaling, disease progression, and even how drug resistance can emerge,” says Scott Robinson, MicroQuin principal investigator. “Cancerous cells ignore signals to stop growing, stop dividing, or even to die. In microgravity, these signals change considerably and can either benefit or hinder cancer growth. Knowing what signaling pathways are affected and how, allows us to focus research efforts on defining new therapeutic interventions that are more effective, less toxic, and have better patient outcomes.”

Improving hydrogen sensors

Image above: Hardware for the OGA H2 Sensor Demo shown in preparation for flight. This technology demonstration tests new sensors for detecting hydrogen in oxygen generating systems on spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

The OGA H2 Sensor Demo tests new sensors for the space station’s oxygen generation system (OGS). The OGS produces breathable oxygen via electrolysis, or separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is either vented overboard or sent to a post-processing system where it is recombined with waste carbon dioxide to form water. Current sensors ensure that none of the hydrogen enters the oxygen stream into the cabin, but are sensitive to moisture, nitrogen, drift in calibration, and other issues that can cause problems. They must therefore be swapped out after every 201 days of use.

This technology could provide more durable sensors for situations where replacement is not practical every 201 days, reducing the number of spares needed on longer space missions such as to the Moon or Mars. Improved technology for monitoring oxygen generation systems also has potential applications in contained environments on Earth, such as underwater facilities and those in remote and dangerous locations.

Better batteries

Image above: The Space As-Lib hardware is shown undergoing thermal vacuum testing prior to launch. Image Credit: JAXA.

An investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Space As-Lib demonstrates operation of a lithium-ion secondary battery capable of safe, stable operation under extreme temperatures and in a vacuum environment. The battery uses solid, inorganic, and flame-retardant materials and does not leak liquid, making it safer and more reliable. Results could demonstrate the battery’s performance for a variety of potential uses in space and other planetary environments. Solid-state batteries also have potential applications in harsh environments and in the automotive and aerospace industries on the Earth.

Plants in space

Image above: Green onion plants grown using aeroponics are held to display their roots. The XROOTS study tests hydroponic (water-based) and aeroponic (air-based) techniques to grow plants in space. Image Credit: Sierra Space.

Current systems for growing plants in space use soil or a growth medium. These systems are small and do not scale well in a space environment due to mass and containment, maintenance, and sanitation issues. XROOTS tests using hydroponic (water-based) and aeroponic (air-based) techniques instead, which could reduce overall system mass. The investigation takes video and still images of root zone and crops for evaluation of the plant life cycle from seed germination through maturity in multiple independent growth chambers.

“The investigation incorporates unique Root Modules designed to provide delivery and recovery of nutrient solution to the plants so they can be grown without the additional mass of any soil media,” explains principal investigator John Wetzel of Sierra Nevada Corporation. “This approach is much more mass efficient for future large-scale plant growth systems in space.”

Results could provide insight into the development of larger scale systems to grow food crops for future space exploration and habitats. Components of the system developed for this investigation also could enhance cultivation of plants in terrestrial settings such as greenhouses and contribute to better food security for people on Earth.

Improving fire safety

The Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE) facility enables studies of flammability of materials and ignition of fires in realistic atmospheric conditions. It uses the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR), which enables testing at different oxygen concentrations and pressures representative of current and planned space exploration missions. Gravity influences flames on Earth; but in microgravity aboard the space station, fire acts differently and can behave in unexpected ways. Some evidence suggests that fires may be more hazardous in reduced gravity, a safety concern for future space missions.

Results may improve understanding of how fires start and grow in reduced gravity, helping to validate methods for testing and models for predicting the flammability of spaceflight materials and models. This insight could help ensure crew safety by improving design of extravehicular activity suits, informing selection of safer cabin materials, and helping to determine the best techniques for suppressing fires in space. Project data also could provide better understanding of fire safety and improve methods for testing material for homes, offices, aircraft, and other uses on Earth.

Science Launching on Northrop Grumman CRS-17 Mission to the Space Station

Related links:

Colgate Skin Aging:

MicroQuin 3D Tumor:

OGA H2 Sensor Demo:

Space As-Lib:


Wallops Flight Facility:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/JSC/International Space Station Program Research Office/Melissa Gaskill.

Best regards,