samedi 12 février 2022

Volcanism on Mars


Moscow Planetarium logo.

Feb 12, 2022

The area of ​​the entire surface of Mars is approximately equal to the area of ​​the earth's land, and its mass is only 10% of the mass of the Earth. Volcanic activity has played a significant role in shaping the planet's topography. The age of Martian volcanoes varies from about 3.7 to 0.5 billion years.

Martian volcanism has formed the largest volcanic structures in the solar system. One of them is Olympus Mons, which is located in the province of Tharsis. The height of Olympus is 26 km, the diameter of the base is 600 km, the size of the volcanic caldera is 85 × 60 km.

Olympus Mons

Part of the western hemisphere of Mars is occupied by a giant volcanic complex - the Tarsis province, covering up to 30% of the planet's surface. Three huge volcanoes up to 18 km high lie in the northeast - southwest direction, these are: Mount Askriyskaya, Mount Pavlina, Mount Arsia. The volcanoes are located about 700 km apart and are on a northeast-southwest axis, which is an object of particular interest.

Mount Askriyskaya (Ascraeus Mons), Mount Peacock (Pavonis Mons), Mount Arsia (Arsia Mons)

The main difference between Martian volcanoes and Earth volcanoes is their size: Martian shield volcanoes are simply colossal. The volcano Olympus Mons on Mars is almost 100 times larger in volume than the largest shield volcano on Earth (Mauna Kea in Hawaii, a little over 10 km from the ocean floor).

According to geologists, one of the reasons for the gigantic size of volcanoes on Mars is the lack of plate tectonics. The Martian crust does not move along the upper mantle, as it does on Earth, so lava from a single vent can erupt onto the surface over a billion years, forming volcanic structures tens of kilometers high. On Earth, this process takes only a few million years.

An active volcanic eruption (or indirect signs of it) on the surface of Mars has not yet been recorded. In 2004, the Mars Express orbiter took pictures of lava flows that scientists believe appeared on the surface about two million years ago. The authors of the study believe that volcanic activity on Mars is possible at the present time.

Source: Moscow Planetarium.

Related articles:

Volcanism on Venus

Volcanism on Io

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Moscow Planetarium:



Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/Moscow Planetarium/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 11 février 2022

Station Crew Gets Ready for Russian and U.S. Cargo Missions


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Feb 11, 2022

The Expedition 66 crew is getting ready for a pair of cargo missions launching from Kazakhstan and the United States next week. The Progress and Cygnus resupply ships will be delivering several tons of food, fuel, and supplies to replenish the seven astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station.

Russia’s ISS Progress 80 cargo craft will roll out this weekend at Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome and begin counting down to its lift off on Feb. 14 at 11:25 p.m. EST. The Progress 80 will orbit the Earth for just over two days before automatically docking to the Poisk module on Feb. 17 at 2:06 a.m. with nearly three tons of cargo.

Image above: (From left) Russia’s Progress cargo craft and the U.S. Cygnus space freighter are pictured approaching the station during previous cargo missions. Image Credit: NASA.

Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov trained today on a computer for the Progress 80’s arrival. The duo from Roscosmos will be at the controls of the tele-operated robotic unit, or TORU, in the Zvezda service module monitoring the cargo craft’s approach and rendezvous. In the unlikely event the Progress 80 is unable to dock on its own, the cosmonauts will be able to use the TORU and manually guide the vehicle to a docking on Poisk.

The next cargo craft to visit the station will be Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter after it launches from Virginia on Feb. 19 at 12:40 p.m. The Cygnus will arrive at the station on Feb. 21 where it will be captured with the Canadarm2 robotic arm at 4:35 a.m. and installed to the Unity module a few hours later.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Kayla Barron joined each other Friday and reviewed robotics procedures necessary to capture Cygnus after it reaches a distance of about 10 meters from the station. Chari will be in the cupola commanding the Canadarm2 to reach out and grapple Cygnus while Barron backs him up and monitors vehicle systems. Ground controllers will take over afterward and remotely guide the robotic arm with Cygnus in its grip and install the U.S. cargo craft to Unity’s Earth-facing port where it will stay for three months.

Progress MS-19 ready for launch

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Poisk module:

Zvezda service module:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Unity module:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Views a Cosmic Interaction


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb 11, 2022

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope feels incredibly three-dimensional for a piece of deep-space imagery. The image shows Arp 282, an interacting galaxy pair composed of the Seyfert galaxy NGC 169 (bottom) and the galaxy IC 1559 (top). Interestingly, both galaxies have monumentally energetic cores known as active galactic nuclei (AGN), although that is difficult to tell from this image, which is fortunate. If the image revealed the full emission of both AGNs, their brilliance would obscure the beautifully detailed tidal interactions we see in this image. Tidal forces occur when an object’s gravity causes another object to distort or stretch. The direction of tidal forces is away from the lower-mass object and toward the higher mass object. When two galaxies tidally interact, gas, dust, and even entire star systems can move toward one galaxy and away from the other. The image reveals this process in action as delicate streams of matter visibly link the two galaxies.

Astronomers now accept that an important aspect of how galaxies evolve is the way they interact with one another. Galaxies can merge, collide, or brush past one another – each interaction significantly affecting their shapes and structures. As common as such interactions may be, it is rare to capture an image of two galaxies interacting in such a visibly dynamic way.

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, J. Dalcanton, Dark Energy Survey, Department of Energy (DOE), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory/NoirLab/National Science Foundation/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS); Acknowledgment: J. Schmidt.

Best regards,

NASA’s X-59 Calls on Texas for Key Testing


NASA - X-59 QueSST Mission patch.

Feb 11, 2022

It appears the road to enabling a future that includes convenient commercial supersonic air travel over land demands a substantial pit stop in Fort Worth, Texas.

Image above: NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology airplane undergoes structural stress tests at a Lockheed Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.

Who knew?

Aeronautical innovators at NASA and Lockheed Martin did. They have long planned for this milestone in assembling and testing the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) airplane.

Although the X-59 QueSST is being built by Lockheed Martin at their Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California, the airplane needed to be moved to another Lockheed facility in Texas for a series of important structural tests before returning it to the West Coast.

But let’s back up a bit.

NASA’s X-59 is a one-of-a-kind airplane designed to fly at supersonic speeds without making annoying, if not alarming, sonic booms below.

Instead, because of its unique shape, the X-59 is expected to produce quieter sonic “thumps” that can barely be heard on the ground – if at all.

Current rules prohibit aircraft from flying faster than the speed of sound over land. Those rules are based on speed, not noise. If the X-59 can publicly demonstrate that a plane can fly supersonic at an acceptable noise level, then those rules could be changed.

If that happens, NASA technology from the X-59 could be applied to new aircraft designs so commercial airlines might introduce faster-than-sound flights capable of speeding people coast-to-coast in half the time.

“That’s what we’re all working so hard to make possible,” said Walter Silva, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. He is also NASA’s structures lead for the X-59, so he is directly involved in the airplane’s Texas visit.

OK, so what’s happening in Texas?

Construction of the X-59 in California had made enough progress where all the major structural pieces – the wing, main body, tail, and nose – were assembled and power could be turned on to the vehicle for the first time.

The next major task was to make sure the airplane structure wouldn’t break apart in flight when exposed to stresses small and extreme.

Mike Buonanno, a Lockheed Martin aerospace engineer who is the company’s vehicle lead for the X-59, explained why wrapping up the X-59 and shipping it by truck to Texas in late December was the best way to prove that.

“Our Texas site has existing facilities to perform the kinds of tests needed. It would have been expensive and time consuming to design and build them from scratch in Palmdale. But in Fort Worth they’ve got the perfect facility with a full control room and all the support equipment needed to do those tests very efficiently,” Buonanno said.

The company’s Fort Worth facility is where the F-16 Fighting Falcon was built for many years. Test equipment still available needed some modifications to handle the X-59’s longer nose compared to the F-16, but those changes didn’t get in the way.

“Our folks in Fort Worth were able to hit the ground running from the moment the airplane arrived from Palmdale,” Buonanno said.

Feeling the Pressure

NASA has three goals for the X-59’s stay in Texas in terms of the structural proof tests.

“The first goal is to make sure that the airplane can handle the anticipated loads during flight,” Silva said.

Loads, in this case, mean anything that would put pressure or stress on the aircraft’s structure. Typically, these kinds of stresses come when the airplane experiences rough air, makes quick turns, and during landing – among others.

Since the airplane isn’t actually flying, tests are done with the aircraft sitting on hydraulic jacks that are connected directly with the structure. Arms that press down on areas of the airplane, such as the top of the wing, also are used.

Image above: This panoramic side view of NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology airplane shows the aircraft sitting on jacks at a Lockheed Martin test facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.

How much stress is too much? Buonanno explained the loads applied to the X-59 are 25 percent greater than any load the airplane was designed to ever see in actual flight.

Because the X-59 isn’t a prototype for a series of aircraft, none of the tests are designed to see how much stress a part could take before it breaks. This type of “test to destruct” is seen only in large production runs where one airplane can be pulled away and sacrificed.

“In any case, there are all sorts of safety features built into the testing so that if anything we don’t want happening is detected everything shuts off and the whole thing goes into a safe position,” Silva said.

The second goal is to calibrate the sensors built into the X-59 that are designed to tell the pilot how much stress is being measured at that point on the airplane. This is done by comparing what the sensors say with the known amount of stress being applied during a test.

“The third goal is to take the data and compare it with the computer models we used in designing the airplane in the first place and make sure what we thought was going to happen turned out to be accurate and the airplane is built as designed,” Silva said.

As of the last week of January about 80 percent of the structural tests were completed, and all is well.

“Everything is passing with flying colors, and nothing is bending in a way we didn’t expect,” Buonanno said.

Still Ahead

Once all the structural tests are complete, the team – which includes NASA and Lockheed Martin representatives from Palmdale – will turn their attention to performing fuel tank calibration tests.

The X-59’s gas tanks will be filled, and fuel-remaining sensors inside will be checked, not only with the airplane sitting level but with it pitched and rolled.

When that work is completed, the X-59 will be returned to Palmdale. The exact timing of that return remains unknown for now.

“We will be in Fort Worth as long as we need to be there, until we think the data is good, and everything has been performed to everyone’s satisfaction.” Silva said.

Once back in Palmdale, the X-59 will see the rest of its major systems and subsystems installed – its GE engine, landing gear, cockpit displays, etc. – with the hope of having it ready for first flight late this year.

When that happens, the world’s focus will be on the California high desert where once again aviation history will be made.

Related links:

Low-Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD):


Supersonic Flight:


Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lillian Gipson/Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate/Jim Banke.


Photons received: Webb sees its first star – 18 times


NASA / ESA / CSA-ASC - James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) patch.

Feb 11, 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope is nearing completion of the first phase of the months-long process of aligning the observatory’s primary mirror using the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument.

Webb sees its first star - 18 times

The team’s challenge was twofold: confirm that NIRCam was ready to collect light from celestial objects, and then identify starlight from the same star in each of the 18 primary mirror segments. The result is an image mosaic of 18 randomly organised dots of starlight, the product of Webb’s unaligned mirror segments all reflecting light from the same star back at Webb’s secondary mirror and into NIRCam’s detectors.

What looks like a simple image of blurry starlight now becomes the foundation to align and focus the telescope in order for Webb to deliver unprecedented views of the universe this summer. Over the next month or so, the team will gradually adjust the mirror segments until the 18 images become a single star.

“The entire Webb team is ecstatic at how well the first steps of taking images and aligning the telescope are proceeding. We were so happy to see that light makes its way into NIRCam,” said Marcia Rieke, principal investigator for the NIRCam instrument and regents professor of astronomy, University of Arizona, USA.

Webb sees its first star - annotated

During the image capturing process that began on 2 February, Webb was repointed to 156 different positions around the predicted location of the star and generated 1560 images using NIRCam’s 10 detectors, amounting to 54 gigabytes of raw data. The entire process lasted nearly 25 hours, but notedly the observatory was able to locate the target star in each of its mirror segments within the first six hours and 16 exposures. These images were then stitched together to produce a single, large mosaic that captures the signature of each primary mirror segment in one frame. The images shown here are only a center portion of that larger mosaic, a huge image with over 2 billion pixels.

“This initial search covered an area about the size of the full Moon because the segment dots could potentially have been that spread out on the sky,” said Marshall Perrin, deputy telescope scientist for Webb and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, USA. “Taking so much data right on the first day required all of Webb’s science operations and data processing systems here on Earth working smoothly with the observatory in space right from the start. And we found light from all 18 segments very near the center early in that search! This is a great starting point for mirror alignment.”

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

Each unique dot visible in the image mosaic is the same star as imaged by each of Webb’s 18 primary mirror segments, a treasure trove of detail that optics experts and engineers will use to align the entire telescope. This activity determined the post-deployment alignment positions of every mirror segment, which is the critical first step in bringing the entire observatory into a functional alignment for scientific operations.

NIRCam is the observatory’s wavefront sensor and a key imager. It was intentionally selected to be used for Webb’s initial alignment steps because it has a wide field of view and the unique capability to safely operate at higher temperatures than the other instruments. It is also packed with customised components that were designed to specifically aid in the process. NIRCam will be used throughout nearly the entire alignment of the telescope’s mirrors. It is, however, important to note that NIRCam is operating far above its ideal temperature while capturing these initial engineering images, and visual artifacts can be seen in the mosaic. The impact of these artifacts will lessen significantly as Webb draws closer to its ideal cryogenic operating temperatures.

“Launching Webb to space was of course an exciting event, but for scientists and optical engineers, this is a pinnacle moment, when light from a star is successfully making its way through the system down onto a detector,” said Michael McElwain, Webb observatory project scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Webb primary mirror selfie

Moving forward, Webb’s images will only become clearer, more detail-laden, and more intricate as its other three instruments arrive at their intended cryogenic operating temperatures and begin capturing data. The first scientific images are expected to be delivered to the world in the summer. Though this is a big moment, confirming that Webb is a functional telescope, there is much ahead to be done in the coming months to prepare the observatory for full scientific operations using all four of its instruments.

This article was originally published on the NASA/ESA/CSA Webb blog.

Related links:


Space Science:

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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of February 7, 2022


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Feb 11, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Feb. 7 that included a study of how crew members use objects and places in the space station, using ultrasound to manipulate objects in microgravity, and testing technology that could lead to autonomous robots that perform a variety of tasks on future exploration missions.

Image above: Argentina’s Rio Negro, pictured from the International Space Station where it splits into the Neuquen and Limay Rivers at the city of Neuquen. Image Credit: NASA.

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:

A test dig on the space station

Image above: NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn poses with a ruler and color chart used for the SQuARES study, which looks at how crew members use different objects and spaces over time and could help improve design of future spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA.

SQuARE studies objects and built spaces and their symbolic and social meanings using an archaeology technique called the shovel test pit. On Earth, materials found in the layers of these one-meter-square test pits help archaeologists determine future excavation strategy. On the space station, crew members identify “test pits” or sample sites likely to see a lot of activity, then assess each area from an archaeological perspective, including how items in it are typically stowed and change position over time. This makes these crew members effectively the first archaeologists in space. By revealing how crew members use different objects and spaces over time, this investigation could contribute to better design for future spacecraft and habitats. The crew took photos of multiple experiment sites during the week.

Moved by the sound

Image above: NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer conduct operations for Ultrasonic Tweezers, an ESA project using sound to remotely manipulate materials using an ultrasound beam. Image Credit: NASA.

Ultrasonic Tweezers, an ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, demonstrates remote manipulation of materials in microgravity using an ultrasound beam to trap and move an object. Ultrasonic tweezers have been demonstrated on the ground but only for manipulating lightweight objects (such as polystyrene) in configurations where the tweezers work in a vertical position. Microgravity provides an environment to fully characterize and validate use of this tool before demonstrating its scientific and technological potential in space and on the ground. Potential applications include health care settings, such as removing kidney stones or targeted delivery of drugs. Crew members performed several experiment scenarios during the week to evaluate the possibility of trapping various single or multiple objects.

Autonomous astronaut assistants

Animation above: NASA astronaut Kayla Barron works with the space station’s Astrobees to perform operations for ISAAC. This investigation demonstrates processes that could enable autonomous robotic technology for a variety of functions on future missions. Animation Credit: NASA.

ISAAC demonstrates processes that could enable autonomous robotic technology to monitor the health of human exploration vehicles, transfer and unpack cargo, and respond to critical faults such as leaks and fires. The space station’s free-flying Astrobees act as stand-ins for future robots. Autonomous robots could perform a variety of tasks on future missions, lightening the load for crew members and providing maintenance of vehicles when astronauts are away for extended periods. The technology also could provide autonomous caretaking of industrial and research facilities on Earth where human presence is costly or dangerous. During the week, crew members made multiple passes with an Astrobee to obtain visual navigation images in an area of station.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- Plant Habitat-05 studies gene expression in certain cotton plant cells to better understand resistance to genetic engineering and possibly identify ways to create specific qualities such as drought resistance.

- Veggie PONDS uses a newly developed passive nutrient delivery system and the station’s Veggie plant growth facility to cultivate lettuce and mizuna greens. Results could improve our understanding of how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrate reliable vegetable production on orbit.

- 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.

- Behavioral Core Measures examines sources of stress during long-duration spaceflight and the effects on crew member behavioral health and performance. The data could provide insight into the capabilities of crew members after long-duration spaceflight and their ability to conduct duties after landing on the Moon or Mars.

- GRIP, an ESA investigation, studies the effects of spaceflight on a person’s ability to regulate grip force and upper limbs trajectories when manipulating objects. Results could help identify potential hazards as astronauts move between gravitational environments and may contribute to better design of interfaces used for control systems in challenging environments.

- 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.

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

Space to Ground: Awaiting New Arrivals: 02/11/2022

Related links:

Expedition 66:


Ultrasonic Tweezers:



ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

ESA’s Vega rocket marks ten years with countdown to more powerful successor


ESA - Vega logo.

Feb 11, 2022

Ten years ago this week, 13 February 2012, ESA opened a new era of independent access to space with the flawless inaugural flight of its small launcher Vega. Flying from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, Vega has gone on to earn a reputation for precision and versatility in anticipation of a more capable version, Vega-C.

Vega VV20

Placing medium-sized satellites into the low Earth polar orbits that are ideal for scientific and Earth observation missions – about 1430 kg to 700 km – is Vega’s trademark capability. But the vehicle has also delivered an ESA science mission to deep space – the gravitational wave detector demonstration mission, LISA Pathfinder – and followed the equatorial flight path needed for an experimental IXV ‘lifting body’ payload that paved the way for a European launchpad-to-runway space transportation service, with ESA’s uncrewed Space Rider vehicle.

Vega has also mastered ‘ride sharing’, to cost-effectively put multiple satellites into orbit on a single flight. This launch vehicle has set the stage for the imminent first flight of a bigger, more capable variant, Vega-C – delivering more payload and greater flexibility for the same cost.  And, with its industrial partners, ESA is developing a further evolution, Vega-E, to reduce programme costs while boosting performance.

IXV during fairing encapsulation

For Vega’s inaugural flight, VV01, the Italian space agency, ASI, supplied the principal payload, LARES (LAser RElativity Satellite).

VV01 capped more than a decade of work on a small vehicle to complement ESA’s heavy lifter, Ariane 5, and the upcoming Ariane 6. ESA and Arianespace partly filled that gap by bringing the medium-lift Soyuz rocket to French Guiana from 2011.

But the breakthrough was Vega which became an ESA programme in 2000. Seven Member States contributed: Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. ESA, with the technical support of the Italian and French space agencies, and about 40 industrial companies coordinated by the prime contractor Avio, made this enormous challenge a reality.

About 1000 individuals were involved in the Vega development. “Vega is above all a human adventure built on a great European team, built on competence and cooperation, relying on outstanding dedication and effort,’’ said Stefano Bianchi, Head of Flight Programmes. “For all the engineers and operators who worked so hard to prepare the launch, the 13 February 2012 is a day that will always remain deeply rooted in their memories, as it is in mine.’’

Vega ride share with 53 payloads

Vega combines three solid-fuel stages with a fourth, liquid-fuelled stage. Solid fuel motors cannot be throttled, stopped or restarted – after ignition they burn at full-power until the fuel runs out – but they provide exceptional liftoff thrust without the tanks, fuel pumps and fuel handling infrastructure needed for liquid propellants. These economical motors can be manufactured and fuelled in advance to be safely stored until needed for launch.
Vega ride share with 53 payloads
Vega ride share with 53 payloads

The liquid-fuelled fourth stage provides fine control of position thanks to its stop-start-throttle capabilities, so Vega can accurately deliver single or multiple payloads to different orbits on one launch. This flexibility was demonstrated on flight VV16 in September 2020, when Vega first carried its Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) dispenser for light satellites. The ride share mission orbited seven microsatellites and 46 cubesats.

Continuous development

Vega launch system development roadmap

Since 2012, Vega has played a fundamental role in the space transportation sector and its ongoing development and future evolutions, together with Ariane, will further increase competitiveness beyond 2025. This is a response to the rapid growth of worldwide competition and offers a family of configurations based on common building blocks.

While Vega team members will surely take a moment today to reflect on a memorable decade, their focus is on the future – and the inaugural flight of Vega-C.

“Vega-C is now in the last phase of its qualification – a crucial step towards its inaugural flight,’’ commented Renato Lafranconi, Vega Programmes Manager. “Its development is driven by the rapidly growing worldwide competition in the Space Transportation sector which requires the continuous improvement of the Vega launch system versatility and competitiveness to ensure its sustainability.’’

Like Vega, Vega-C features three solid-fuel stages and a liquid-fuelled fourth stage. But Vega-C brings two great improvements. One is an extra 800 kg payload capacity – an increase of more than a third, to about 2.2 tonnes – but for a similar launch cost.

Vega-C features a new, more powerful first stage, P120C, based on Vega’s P80. Atop that is a new second stage, Zefiro-40, and then the same Zefiro-9 third stage as used on Vega. The new AVUM+ fourth stage can remain operational in space for longer than Vega’s AVUM, to enable extended missions.

With its larger main stages and bigger fairing, Vega-C measures 34.8 m high, nearly 5 m taller than Vega.

Equally important is another Vega-C innovation. Its P120C first stage will do double service, with either two or four of these acting as strap-on boosters for Ariane 6. By coordinating Vega-C and Ariane 6 development, ESA and its partners are realising a strategy of continuous, agile development. Vega-E, for example, is being readied to add another 20% payload capability while reducing costs, from as soon as 2025.

Vega flight VV12 delivers Earth observation perfection with Aeolus

ESA’s Director of Space Transportation Daniel Neuenschwander observes, “Major ongoing development programmes with Ariane 6 and Vega-C will allow Europe to maintain its independent access to space, which is a strategic priority in a world where technology, business and politics move very quickly.”

“We have to keep pushing forward, to make sure Europe is ready for the future.”

Related links:



Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/J. Huart/S. Corvaja/M. Pedoussaut, 2015/CNES/Arianespace.


ESA selects payloads for Ariane 6 first flight


ESA - Ariane 6 patch.

Feb 11, 2022

ESA in close collaboration with ArianeGroup and Arianespace has selected payloads which best fit the profile of the first mission of its new generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

Artist's view of the configuration of Ariane 6 using four boosters (A64)

This selection follows ESA’s announcement of opportunity in November 2021, which offered a launch to low Earth orbit for experiments up to a total mass of 80 kg and release of payloads with a combined mass of up to 800 kg. They will be hosted on a ‘mass dummy’ featuring a large platform, inside the 14 m long version of the fairing on an Ariane 6 fitted with two strap-on boosters (A62 version).

This demonstration flight will contribute to the qualification of the Ariane 6 launch system as part of the transition from its highly reliable and successful predecessor, Ariane 5. This launch is an important step in the preparation for future institutional missions planned for Ariane 6, such as Galileo.

For this flight, ESA is responsible for operations from the launch campaign to the payload separation, and then disposal of the upper stage through burn-up during reentry.

“I’m glad that ESA can use the very first Ariane 6 flight as a platform for launching these fantastic payloads, some of which will enable European start-ups to validate their systems and provide future commercial services. The Ariane 6 inaugural launch is a key step towards full qualification of the Ariane 6 launch system,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation.

Experiments on board

Four experiments, ranging in mass from 0.15–12 kg, will be fixed to the platform on top of the mass dummy. These experiments will return valuable data up to the end of the mission when the upper stage reenters Earth’s atmosphere.

Ridesharing payloads

ESA has also selected the candidate payloads listed below as part of the baseline for this Ariane 6 flight. Negotiations can now start for the corresponding launch service.


Two deployers will be arranged on board and will accommodate CubeSats. The RAMI deployer is built by Spain’s UARX Space, and the ExoPOD is built by ExoLaunch in Germany.

With some spaces for CubeSats still available, ESA may add to this collection closer to launch.

Payload collection on Ariane 6 first flight

Ariane 6 is a modular launch vehicle using two or four P120C strap-on boosters to achieve the required performance. The reignitable Vinci engine powers the upper stage which allows Ariane 6 to reach a range of orbits to deliver more payloads on a single launch. The upper stage engine will typically burn one, two or more times to reach the required orbits. After payload separation a final burn deorbits the upper stage to mitigate space debris.

Ariane 6 at Europe's Spaceport

Ariane 6 is a project managed and funded by the European Space Agency. ArianeGroup is design authority and industrial prime contractor for the launcher system. The French space agency CNES is prime contractor for the development of the Ariane 6 launch base at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Arianespace is the launch service provider of Ariane 6.

Related links:

Ariane 6:

Europe’s Spaceport:

ESA’s announcement of opportunity:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros.

Best regards,

jeudi 10 février 2022

Human Research Exploring How Astronauts Adapt to Long-Term Spaceflight


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

Feb 10, 2022

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

A host of human research activities dominated Thursday’s research schedule aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 66 crew members explored how living in microgravity affects sense of orientation, visual function, and the spine.

At the beginning of the day, NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Kayla Barron gathered again in the Columbus laboratory module for the GRIP study. The duo took turns strapping themselves in a specialized seat for the second time this week gripping a control device in response to dynamic events to explore how microgravity affects an astronaut’s sense of motion and orientation. They will have one more session on Friday for the experiment that may inform the design of future spacecraft interfaces.

Image above: Astronaut Kayla Barron works on a space agriculture experiment that explores how to grow fresh food in space. Image Credit: NASA.

Chari later spent the afternoon on a series of spinal exams with Flight Engineer Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency). The astronauts swapped roles as crew medical officer marking their lower, or lumbar spinal section. Then with remote guidance from doctors on the ground, the duo took turns scanning each other’s lumbar spinal section with the Ultrasound 2 device for insights into how the skeletal system adapts to weightlessness.

Matthias first started the day with NASA Flight Engineer Thomas Marshburn conducting biology research inside the Kibo laboratory module. The duo performed operations using the Life Science Glovebox investigating how spaceflight affects visual function by examining changes in the vascular system of the retina and tissue remodeling.

Image above: The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft aboard, launches from Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on the company’s previous contracted cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA/Jamie Adkins.

Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei, who is on his way to breaking the NASA astronaut single spaceflight record, spent Thursday configuring hardware to support a pair of fire safety experiments. He was inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module setting up the Combustion Integrated Rack to support upcoming operations for the SoFIE, or Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction, studies.

Working in the orbiting lab’s Russian segment, Commander Anton Shkaplerov studied advanced ways to detect Earth landmarks for photography sessions. Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov worked throughout the day installing components and setting up crew cabins inside the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

Related articles:

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NASA Television to Cover Space Station Cargo Launch, Docking

Related links:

Expedition 66:

Columbus laboratory module:

GRIP study:

Ultrasound 2:

Kibo laboratory module:

Life Science Glovebox:

Visual function:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:

Combustion Integrated Rack:

SoFIE, or Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction:

Advanced ways to detect Earth landmarks:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA Telescope Spots Highest-Energy Light Ever Detected From Jupiter


NASA - Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) patch.

Feb 10, 2022

The planet’s auroras are known to produce low-energy X-ray light. A new study finally reveals higher-frequency X-rays and explains why they eluded another mission 30 years ago.


Image above: Jupiter’s southern hemisphere is shown in this image from NASA’s Juno mission. New observations by NASA’s NuSTAR reveal that auroras near both the planet’s poles emit high-energy X-rays, which are produced when accelerated particles collide with Jupiter’s atmosphere. Image Credits: Enhanced image by Kevin M. Gill (CC-BY) based on images provided courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS.

Scientists have been studying Jupiter up close since the 1970s, but the gas giant is still full of mysteries. New observations by NASA’s NuSTAR space observatory have revealed the highest-energy light ever detected from Jupiter. The light, in the form of X-rays that NuSTAR can detect, is also the highest-energy light ever detected from a solar system planet other than Earth. A paper in the journal Nature Astronomy reports the finding and solves a decades-old mystery: Why the Ulysses mission saw no X-rays when it flew past Jupiter in 1992.

X-rays are a form of light, but with much higher energies and shorter wavelengths than the visible light human eyes can see. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the ESA (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton observatory have both studied low-energy X-rays from Jupiter’s auroras – light shows near the planet’s north and south poles that are produced when volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io shower the planet with ions (atoms stripped of their electrons). Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field accelerates these particles and funnels them toward the planet’s poles, where they collide with its atmosphere and release energy in the form of light.

Electrons from Io are also accelerated by the planet’s magnetic field, according to observations by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which arrived at Jupiter in 2016. Researchers suspected that those particles should produce even higher-energy X-rays than what Chandra and XMM-Newton observed, and NuSTAR (short for Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) is the first observatory to confirm that hypothesis.


Image above: NuSTAR detected high-energy X-rays from the auroras near Jupiter’s north and south poles. NuSTAR cannot locate the source of the light with high precision, but can only find that the light is coming from somewhere in the purple-colored regions. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“It’s quite challenging for planets to generate X-rays in the range that NuSTAR detects,” said Kaya Mori, an astrophysicist at Columbia University and lead author of the new study. “But Jupiter has an enormous magnetic field, and it’s spinning very quickly. Those two characteristics mean that the planet’s magnetosphere acts like a giant particle accelerator, and that’s what makes these higher-energy emissions possible.”

Researchers faced multiple hurdles to make the NuSTAR detection: For example, the higher-energy emissions are significantly fainter than the lower-energy ones. But none of the challenges could explain the nondetection by Ulysses, a joint mission between NASA and ESA that was capable of sensing higher-energy X-rays than NuSTAR. The Ulysses spacecraft launched in 1990 and, after multiple mission extensions, operated until 2009.

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array or NuSTAR. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The solution to that puzzle, according to the new study, lies in the mechanism that produces the high-energy X-rays. The light comes from the energetic electrons that Juno can detect with its Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) and Jupiter Energetic-particle Detector Instrument (JEDI), but there are multiple mechanisms that can cause particles to produce light. Without a direct observation of the light that the particles emit, it’s almost impossible to know which mechanism is responsible.

In this case, the culprit is something called bremsstrahlung emission. When the fast-moving electrons encounter charged atoms in Jupiter’s atmosphere, they are attracted to the atoms like magnets. This causes the electrons to rapidly decelerate and lose energy in the form of high-energy X-rays. It’s like how a fast-moving car would transfer energy to its braking system to slow down; in fact, bremsstrahlung means “braking radiation” in German. (The ions that produce the lower-energy X-rays emit light through a process called atomic line emission.)

Each light-emission mechanism produces a slightly different light profile. Using established studies of bremsstrahlung light profiles, the researchers showed that the X-rays should get significantly fainter at higher energies, including in Ulysses’ detection range.

“If you did a simple extrapolation of the NuSTAR data, it would show you that Ulysses should have been able to detect X-rays at Jupiter,” said Shifra Mandel, a Ph.D. student in astrophysics at Columbia University and a co-author of the new study. “But we built a model that includes bremsstrahlung emission, and that model not only matches the NuSTAR observations, it shows us that at even higher energies, the X-rays would have been too faint for Ulysses to detect.”

The conclusions of the paper relied on simultaneous observations of Jupiter by NuSTAR, Juno, and XMM-Newton.

New Chapters

On Earth, scientists have detected X-rays in Earth’s auroras with even higher energies than what NuSTAR saw at Jupiter. But those emissions are extremely faint – much fainter than Jupiter’s – and can only be spotted by small satellites or high-altitude balloons that get extremely close to the locations in the atmosphere that generate those X-rays. Similarly, observing these emissions in Jupiter’s atmosphere would require an X-ray instrument close to the planet with greater sensitivity than those carried by Ulysses in the 1990s.

“The discovery of these emissions does not close the case; it’s opening a new chapter,” said William Dunn, a researcher at the University College London and a co-author of the paper. “We still have so many questions about these emissions and their sources. We know that rotating magnetic fields can accelerate particles, but we don’t fully understand how they reach such high speeds at Jupiter. What fundamental processes naturally produce such energetic particles?”

Scientists also hope that studying Jupiter’s X-ray emissions can help them understand even more extreme objects in our universe. NuSTAR typically studies objects outside our solar system, such as exploding stars and disks of hot gas accelerated by the gravity of massive black holes.

The new study is the first example of scientists being able to compare NuSTAR observations with data taken at the source of the X-rays (by Juno). This enabled researchers to directly test their ideas about what creates these high-energy X-rays. Jupiter also shares a number of physical similarities with other magnetic objects in the universe – magnetars, neutron stars, and white dwarfs – but researchers don’t fully understand how particles are accelerated in these objects’ magnetospheres and emit high-energy radiation. By studying Jupiter, researchers may unveil details of distant sources we cannot yet visit.

More About the Missions

NuSTAR launched on June 13, 2012. A Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, it was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The telescope optics were built by Columbia University; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and DTU. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at the University of California, Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror data archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information on NuSTAR, go to: and

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott J. Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built and operates the spacecraft.

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Naomi Hartono/JPL/Calla Cofield.


New planet detected around star closest to the Sun


ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

Feb 10, 2022

Artist’s impression of Proxima d (close-up)

A team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) in Chile have found evidence of another planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System. This candidate planet is the third detected in the system and the lightest yet discovered orbiting this star. At just a quarter of Earth’s mass, the planet is also one of the lightest exoplanets ever found.

“The discovery shows that our closest stellar neighbour seems to be packed with interesting new worlds, within reach of further study and future exploration,” explains João Faria, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Portugal and lead author of the study published today in Astronomy & Astrophysics. Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Sun, lying just over four light-years away.

Artist’s impression of Proxima d (wider view)

The newly discovered planet, named Proxima d, orbits Proxima Centauri at a distance of about four million kilometres, less than a tenth of Mercury’s distance from the Sun. It orbits between the star and the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water can exist at the surface of a planet — and takes just five days to complete one orbit around Proxima Centauri.

The star is already known to host two other planets: Proxima b, a planet with a mass comparable to that of Earth that orbits the star every 11 days and is within the habitable zone, and candidate Proxima c, which is on a longer five-year orbit around the star.

Proxima Centauri in the southern constellation of Centaurus

Proxima b was discovered a few years ago using the HARPS instrument on ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope. The discovery was confirmed in 2020 when scientists observed the Proxima system with a new instrument on ESO’s VLT that had greater precision, the Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO). It was during these more recent VLT observations that astronomers spotted the first hints of a signal corresponding to an object with a five-day orbit. As the signal was so weak, the team had to conduct follow-up observations with ESPRESSO to confirm that it was due to a planet, and not simply a result of changes in the star itself.

“After obtaining new observations, we were able to confirm this signal as a new planet candidate,” Faria says. “I was excited by the challenge of detecting such a small signal and, by doing so, discovering an exoplanet so close to Earth.”

At just a quarter of the mass of Earth, Proxima d is the lightest exoplanet ever measured using the radial velocity technique, surpassing a planet recently discovered in the L 98-59 planetary system. The technique works by picking up tiny wobbles in the motion of a star created by an orbiting planet’s gravitational pull. The effect of Proxima d’s gravity is so small that it only causes Proxima Centauri to move back and forth at around 40 centimetres per second (1.44 kilometres per hour).

The sky around Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri (annotated)

“This achievement is extremely important,” says Pedro Figueira, ESPRESSO instrument scientist at ESO in Chile. “It shows that the radial velocity technique has the potential to unveil a population of light planets, like our own, that are expected to be the most abundant in our galaxy and that can potentially host life as we know it.”

“This result clearly shows what ESPRESSO is capable of and makes me wonder about what it will be able to find in the future,” Faria adds.

ESPRESSO’s search for other worlds will be complemented by ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), currently under construction in the Atacama Desert, which will be crucial to discovering and studying many more planets around nearby stars.

Ultralight Planet Found Next Door (ESOcast 250 Light)

Video Credits: ESO
Directed by: Herbert Zodet and Martin Wallner.
Editing: Herbert Zodet.
Web and technical support: Gurvan Bazin and Raquel Yumi Shida.
Written by: Anita Chandran and Juliet Hannay.
Music: Stellardrone — The Divine Cosmos.
Footage and photos: ESO, L. Calçada, Nick Risinger (, F. Char and C. Malin (
Scientific consultants: Paola Amico and Mariya Lyubenova.

More information:

This research was presented in the paper “A candidate short-period sub-Earth orbiting Proxima Centauri” (doi: to appear in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team is composed of J. P. Faria (Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Universidade do Porto, Portugal [IA/UPorto], Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal [CAUP] and Departamento de Física e Astronomia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto, Portugal [FCUP]), A. Suárez Mascareño (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Tenerife, Spain [IAC], Departamento de Astrofísica, Universidad de La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain [IAC-ULL]), P. Figueira (European Southern Observatory, Santiago, Chile [ESO-Chile], IA-Porto), A. M. Silva (IA-Porto, FCUP) M. Damasso (Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino, Italy [INAF-Turin]), O. Demangeon (IA-Porto, FCUP), F. Pepe (Département d’astronomie de l’Université de Genève, Switzerland [UNIGE]), N. C. Santos (IA-Porto, FCUP), R. Rebolo (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, Spain [CSIC], IAC-ULL, IAC), S. Cristiani (INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Trieste, Italy [OATS]), V. Adibekyan (IA-Porto), Y. Alibert (Physics Institute of University of Bern, Switzerland), R. Allart (Department of Physics, and Institute for Research on Exoplanets, Université de Montréal,Canada, UNIGE), S. C. C. Barros (IA-Porto, FCUP), A. Cabral (Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal [IA-Lisboa], Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal [FCUL]), V. D’Odorico (OATS, Institute for Fundamental Physics of the Universe, Trieste, Italy [IFPU], Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, Italy) P. Di Marcantonio (OATS), X. Dumusque (UNIGE), D. Ehrenreich (UNIGE), J. I. González Hernández (IAC-ULL, IAC), N. Hara (UNIGE), J. Lillo-Box (Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, CSIC-INTA), Depto. de Astrofísica, Madrid, Spain), G. Lo Curto (European Southern Observatory, Garching bei München, Germany [ESO], ESO-Chile) C. Lovis (UNIGE), C. J. A. P. Martins (IA-Porto, Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal), D. Mégevand (UNIGE), A. Mehner (ESO-Chile), G. Micela (INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo, Italy), P. Molaro (OATS), IFPU), N. J. Nunes (IA-Lisboa), E. Pallé (IAC, IAC-ULL), E. Poretti (INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, Merate, Italy ), S. G. Sousa (IA-Porto, FCUP), A. Sozzetti (INAF-Turin), H. Tabernero (Centro de Astrobiología, Madrid, Spain [CSIC-INTA]), S. Udry (UNIGE), and M. R. Zapatero Osorio (CSIC-INTA).

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


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Images, Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESO/Bárbara Ferreira/Département d’astronomie de l’Université de Genève/Baptiste Lavie/Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias/Alejandro Suárez Mascareño/INAF – Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino/Mario Damasso/Instituto de Astrofisica e Ciências do Espaço, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto/Nuno Santos/João Faria/ESO and Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço/Pedro Figueira.

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