vendredi 11 mars 2022

Spacewalk Preps Continue as Crew Studies Combustion, Biology


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

March 11, 2022

Two astronauts spent the day getting their spacesuits and tools ready for a spacewalk set to begin on Tuesday at the International Space Station. The rest of the Expedition 66 crew focused on a variety of combustion and space biology research on Friday.

Flight Engineers Kayla Barron and Raja Chari worked throughout Friday preparing for a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk scheduled for 8:05 a.m. EDT on Tuesday. Barron and Chari checked out spacesuit emergency jet packs and other suit components including lights, cameras, and data recorders. They also configured a host of tools inside the U.S. Quest airlock they will use during their external maintenance job. The pair on Tuesday will install modification kits on the Starboard-4 truss structure that will ready the space station for its third roll-out solar array. NASA TV begins its live spacewalk broadcast on Tuesday at 6:30 a.m.

Image above: NASA astronaut Kayla Barron works inside the Life Science Glovebox conducting botany research for the Plant Habitat-05 investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

Astronauts Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) took turns installing combustion science hardware in the Kibo laboratory module at the end of the week. Vande Hei later serviced samples for the Space Biofilms study that seeks to prevent molds from growing and  impacting spacecraft systems and crew health. NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn worked in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module servicing gear supporting a fire safety study that could inform future spacecraft designs.

Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov continued evaluating the lower body negative pressure suit that expands veins and tissues in the lower body possibly preventing vision changes and head pressure in microgravity. Shkaplerov then attached sensors to himself and jogged on the Zvezda service module’s treadmill for a Russian exercise study. Dubrov collected microbe samples from station surfaces and photographed them for analysis.

 International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Related links:

Expedition 66:

U.S. Quest airlock:

Starboard-4 truss structure:

Kibo laboratory module:

Space Biofilms:

U.S. Destiny laboratory module:

Lower body negative pressure suit:

Zvezda service module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Views an Infant Star’s Outburst


NASA & ESA - Hubble Space Telescope (HST) patch.

March 11, 2022

An energetic outburst from an infant star streaks across this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This stellar tantrum – produced by an extremely young star in the earliest phase of formation – consists of an incandescent jet of gas travelling at supersonic speeds. As the jet collides with material surrounding the still-forming star, the shock heats this material and causes it to glow. The result is the colorfully wispy structures, which astronomers refer to as Herbig–Haro objects, billowing across the lower right of this image.

Herbig–Haro objects are seen to evolve and change significantly over just a few years. This particular object, called HH34, was previously captured by Hubble between 1994 and 2007, and again in glorious detail in 2015. HH34 resides approximately 1,250 light-years from Earth in the Orion Nebula, a large region of star formation visible to the unaided eye. The Orion Nebula is one of the closest sites of widespread star formation to Earth, and as such has been pored over by astronomers in search of insights into how stars and planetary systems are born.

The data in this image are from a set of Hubble observations of four nearby bright jets with the Wide Field Camera 3 taken to help pave the way for future science with the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. Webb – which will observe at predominantly infrared wavelengths – will be able to peer into the dusty envelopes surrounding still-forming protostars, revolutionizing the study of jets from these young stars. Hubble’s high-resolution images of HH34 and other jets will help astronomers interpret future observations with Webb.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Wide Field Camera 3:

Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, B. Nisini.

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Space Station Science Highlights: Week of March 7, 2022


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

March 11, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of March 7 that included testing of an artificial intelligence assistant, a device for imaging the retinas of crew members, and antimicrobial materials for high-touch surfaces on spacecraft.

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:

An AI hand

Image above: Composite image of ESA’s Cimon on the space station. The robotic assistant could facilitate and improve efficiency of crew activities and maintenance tasks on future space missions. Image Credits: DLR/T. Bourry/ESA.

Cimon, an investigation sponsored by ESA (European Space Agency) and developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), demonstrates an artificial intelligence (AI) crew assistant and studies its effects on the crew. A robotic free flyer that navigates autonomously and interacts with crew members, Cimon could facilitate crew activities and maintenance tasks, providing voice-controlled access to documents and media and enabling a crew member to work on a task with both hands rather than having to interact with a tablet to review procedures. The technology also can document scientific procedures with video and images for either live or retrospective analysis. As mission length expands and activities become more complex, crew members face increased workload and stress. An AI assistant could help the crew carry out more tasks, providing more time for relaxation and reducing stress. This technology has potential applications in education, industry, and health care on Earth as well.

The better to see

Retinal Diagnostics demonstrates capturing images of the human retina using a commercially available lens that attaches to a mobile device. The videos and images are downlinked and used to test and train models for detecting retinal problems that can occur in spaceflight, known as Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome or SANS. The device is smaller, lighter, and less invasive than current eye diagnostic devices, advantages important on future longer missions. Results from this ESA investigation also could support eye care in remote or developing regions on Earth where patients may not otherwise have access to an ophthalmology or neurology specialist.

Image above: Orlando, Florida, pictured from the International Space Station as it orbited 260 miles above the Atlantic Ocean. Image Credit: NASA.

Can touch this

Spaceflight may alter the relationship between humans and microbes. Protecting crew members from potentially harmful microbes is critical for continued long-term human presence in space. Touching Surfaces, an ESA investigation, tests specially designed antimicrobial surfaces to help determine those most on future spacecraft and in habitats as well as for terrestrial applications such as public transportation and clinical settings.

Other investigations involving the crew:

Image above: Kayla Barron sets up hardware for the UNIGLO investigation, which tests how microgravity affects processing of various types of complex glasses. Results may provide insights into manufacturing systems for Earth and space including communications, aerospace, and medical diagnostics. Image Credit: NASA.

- UNIGLO tests how microgravity affects a module for processing various types of complex glasses. This investigation could help establish additional manufacturing capabilities in space and lead to development of novel fibers for optical communication and lasers in a variety of applications in space and on Earth.

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

- Acoustic Diagnostics, an investigation from ESA, tests the hearing of crew members before, during, and after flight to assess the possible adverse effects of noise on the space station and the microgravity environment on human hearing.

- SQuARE studies objects and built spaces and how crew members use them over time. Results could contribute to better design for future spacecraft and habitats.
- Food Physiology examines the effects of an enhanced spaceflight diet on immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutritional status indicators to document how dietary improvements may enhance adaptation to spaceflight.

- 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: Monitoring Earth's Water: 03/11/2022

Related links:

Expedition 66:


Retinal Diagnostics:

Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS):

Touching Surfaces:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


The making of the European Service Modules


NASA / ESA - Orion Crew Vehicle patch.

March 11, 2022

In brief

In 2013 NASA and ESA announced that Europe would supply the service modules for humankind’s next astronaut Moon missions. From design to review, building and testing, many people, companies and hours were put into making the next generation hardware that will keep astronauts alive and well on their voyage to the Moon.

Orion and European Service Module


ESA’s team for the European Service Module is based at the Agency’s technical heart ESTEC in The Netherlands. From here around 60 people oversaw the design and reviewed it together with NASA and industrial partners to ensure everything would meet specifications.

Packed for the Moon

“We had a lot of experience and know-how working on the Automated Transfer Vehicles that shipped fuel and cargo to the International Space Station, but the European Service Modules are completely new, and much more complex,” says ESA’s Orion engineering team leader Antonio Preden. “Getting the design ready, checked and reviewed and taking into account how everything would be built up was an interesting time.”

Design and review

Over 20 companies around Europe contributed to building the spacecraft module, with most of the hardware sent to Bremen, Germany, to be assembled by prime contractor Airbus.

Made in Europe

“In many ways the design and review process was more intense than the actual building process,” adds ESA’s Assembly Integration and Verification Engineer Dominique Siruguet. “Once we had our solid plan and all partners and industry agreed on the design and implementation process, the next step was to put it all together.”

The structure itself, the backbone of Orion, starts at Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy. Once they deliver the bare structure to the Airbus integration hall, the tireless work begins installing 20 000 parts, 11 km of cables, 33 engines, and 11 tanks for fuel, water and air.

Third European Service Module structure

Many parts for the European Service Module are made-to-measure for Orion and as marvels of engineering, they can take many months to prepare. These so-called long-lead items are ordered years in advance, sometimes before the contracts or even the design reviews have been signed off.

Integration and shipment

In Bremen parts started streaming in from 10 countries in Europe as well as USA, and technicians had the daunting but satisfying task of putting them all together.

European Service Module 2 assembly

“Building Europe’s first human-rated hardware for a crew vehicle is like a huge puzzle – with the added complication of ensuring timely delivery,” says ESA’s project coordination manager for the European Service Modules Philippe Berthe. “International cooperation and commitments are key to the success, with each company providing their expertise and components to get everything delivered on time.”

Orion integration on top of Moon launcher

Working around the clock over the last five years, technicians built and verified the European Service Module test article as well as separate flight models – often simultaneously. The first complete European Service Module was shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in 2018 and is now atop the rocket that will launch it around the Moon for Artemis I.

The second European Service Module was delivered last year, and steady progress is being made on the third module.

International collaboration

The cooperation with NASA on Orion was a unique challenge says Max Bottacini, ESA’s chief engineer for the European Service Module.

“Each system has interfaces carefully designed and verified by both space agencies and their prime contractors.

We are going

“In spite of some difficulties the result is now tangible: a fully qualified and delivered first European Service Module ready for Orion’s first mission around the Moon this year. This is the result of good technical work and high spirit of cooperation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Many thanks to the technical teams of the agencies and industries for this achievement!”

Orion service module – from components to shipping

Over the next few weeks in the run-up to the first Artemis launch, ESA’s Orion blog will look at the hardware and service contributions to the European Service Module by country.

Related links:

Orion (spacecraft):

Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV):

ESA’s Orion blog:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/S. Corvaja/ATG Medialab/NASA/Rad Sinyak/Isaac Watson/Airbus.

Best regards,

jeudi 10 mars 2022

Crew Preps for Spacewalk, Scans Veins and Evaluates Artificial Gravity Suit


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

March 10, 2022

Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA) or spacewalk. Animation Credit: NASA TV

The Expedition 66 crew continued preparing today for the first of two spacewalks set to begin next week to continue upgrading the International Space Station’s power system. Vein scans were also on Thursday’s schedule helping scientists understand how living in space affects the human body.

NASA Flight Engineers Kayla Barron and Raja Chari are set to switch their U.S. spacesuits to battery power at 8:05 a.m. EST on Tuesday and spend six-and-a-half hours installing a modification kit on the space station’s Starboard-3 truss structure. The new hardware will enable the upcoming installation of a third roll-out solar array increasing the station’s power output and augmenting the existing solar arrays.

Image above: Astronaut Kayla Barron points the camera at herself for an out-of-this-world “space-selfie” during a spacewalk that took place on Dec. 2, 2021. Image Credit: NASA.

The duo was joined by fellow station astronauts Tom Marshburn of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) for a spacewalk procedures review and conference with specialists on the ground. Marshburn and Maurer will assist the spacewalkers in and out of their spacesuits, operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm, and monitor their external activities. Mission managers will talk about the spacewalk, as well as a second one planned for March 23, live on the NASA TV app and the website on Monday at 2 p.m. NASA TV begins its live spacewalk broadcast on Tuesday at 6:30 a.m.

The four astronauts also took turns scanning each other’s neck, shoulder and leg veins using the Ultrasound 2 device. Chari and Maurer took turns as the crew medical officer on Thursday afternoon imaging Marshburn’s and Barron’s veins. Doctors on the ground monitored the biomedical activities and will examine downlinked imagery as part of periodic crew health assessments.

Image above: NASA spacewalker Kayla Barron is pictured during a six-hour and 32 minute spacewalk on Dec. 2, 2021, to replace a failed antenna system on the International Space Station's Port-1 truss structure. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei worked throughout the day on maintenance activities servicing research gear and communications hardware. He started the day in the Kibo laboratory module placing combustion science components inside a payload rack then installed a wireless system in the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

In the station’s Russian segment, Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov evaluated an artificial gravity suit that counteracts the pooling of fluids in a crew member’s upper body. The lower body negative pressure suit expands veins and tissues in the lower body possibly preventing vision changes and head pressure in microgravity.

Related article:

NASA to Air Briefing, Spacewalks to Upgrade Space Station

Related links:


Expedition 66:

Starboard-3 truss structure:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Ultrasound 2:

Kibo laboratory module:

Lower body negative pressure suit:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Backbone of Hera asteroid mission


ESA - Hera Mission patch.

March 10, 2022

In a Swiss cleanroom, this historic object has been taking shape. Made of carbon fibre reinforced polymer, this is the central core of ESA’s Hera asteroid mission for planetary defence.

Backbone of Hera asteroid mission

NASA’s DART spacecraft is currently on its way to the Didymos asteroid pair in deep space, to test the kinetic impact technique of asteroid deflection on the smaller of the two bodies on 26 September this year.

Hera will fly to the same asteroid system in the aftermath of the impact to perform a close-up ‘crime scene investigation’, including close-up mapping of DART’s crater and assessing the asteroid’s make-up and internal structure.

The stiff, strong core serves as a backbone to the spacecraft, built for ESA by a team from RUAG Space in Switzerland and OHB in the Czech Republic. Once current ‘static load’ testing confirms its performance, the core will be shipped to OHB in Germany to assemble the spacecraft’s primary structure around it.

It will then be passed on to Avio in Italy to integrate its propulsion module. The bottom aluminum cone includes the Launcher Interface Ring, providing all necessary connections with the launcher.

NASA DART impact on Didymos asteroid

Hera is scheduled for launch in October 2024, due to reach the Didymos asteroids in December 2026.

Related links:


RUAG Space:



Image, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/RUAG Space.


Three Space Station Studies Helping Scientists Understand the Early Universe


ISS - International Space Station emblem.

March 10, 2022

Research conducted aboard the International Space Station is helping scientists answer questions about the formation of the universe and origins of life on Earth.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

During its 21 years of operation, the orbiting lab has hosted more than 3,000 scientific experiments aimed at helping improve life back on Earth and enabling exploration farther into the solar system. Thousands of scientific papers have been published from this work. Several recent publications shed light on early formation of planets, expand our understanding of black holes, and demonstrate that early forms of life could have survived space travel.

Learn more about these studies and why they matter:

Zapping dust particles to study early planet formation

What we learned: Electrostatic forces affect how particles aggregate or clump together in microgravity.

Why it matters: These observations provide insights into the early stages of how stardust became intermediate-sized particles that eventually aggregated into planets, moons, and other objects in our solar system.

Image above: ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Alexander Gerst with Nanoracks modules for EXCISS and two other investigations, ARISE and PAPELL. Image Credit: NASA.

Details: Chondrules are tiny, sphere-like particles found in meteorites and asteroids. One theory for how they formed is that in the early nebula or interstellar cloud that eventually became our solar system, lightning agitated dust particles and provided the energy needed for them to clump into chondrules. EXCISS, sponsored by the ISS U.S. National Lab, simulated the electrical and environmental conditions of the early solar system to test this theory. Researchers exposed aggregations of free-floating particles to electric fields and low- and high-energy electric discharges. A published paper reports that nearly all the particles formed compact aggregates during increased electric field strengths. Electric fields also led to reduced porosity or fewer open spaces in the aggregates, an important process in the evolution of the precursors to planet formation.

Taking the measure of a black hole

What we learned: Models for determining the spin and mass of black holes underestimated spin and overestimated mass for an observed black hole.

Why it matters:  Black holes are a critical part of the formation and evolution of galaxies and learning about them helps researchers better understand our universe.

Animation above: In this animation of MAXI J1820+070, the black hole pulls material from a neighboring star and into an accretion disk. Above the disk is a region of subatomic particles called the corona. Animation Credits: Aurore Simonnet and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Details: Neutron stars, the glowing cinders left behind when massive stars explode as supernovas, emit X-ray radiation that scientists can use to examine their structure, dynamics, and energetics. However, these X-rays do not penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. NASA’s NICER is a telescope mounted on the outside of the space station to capture X-ray radiation and provide new insights into the nature and behavior of neutron stars. Scientists used data from NICER to chart the environment around a black hole, MAXI J1820+070, first observed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) MAXI telescope on the space station in 2018. Their paper uses these data to determine the black hole’s radius and spin and explains the data in context of the Relativistic Precession Model (RPM). The RPM is used for determining spin and mass for a black hole and may need refining based on these findings.

The earliest space travelers

What we learned: Complex amino acid precursors of life can withstand the harsh conditions of space.

Why it matters: This finding supports panspermia, a theory that life originated on Earth when microorganisms or chemical precursors of life hitched interplanetary rides here on dust particles or micrometeorites.

Image above: This preflight image of the Tanpopo exposure panel shows the 20 units, which contain radiation resistant microbes, cyanobacteria, rice seeds, and dead cells of mosses and tree samples. Image Credit: Tanpopo-3 Team.

Details: Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins, the building blocks of life. Complex amino acids have been discovered in molecular clouds, nearby young stars, and inside meteorites and cosmic dust, which supports the panspermia theory. But the theory only holds if these life forms could survive in space long enough to reach Earth. The Tanpopo study from JAXA exposed several types of amino acids to space on the outside of station to see how they handled the harsh environment.

According to a paper published by the researchers, complex amino acid precursors may have been more robust than simple precursors and could have survived a space trip to primitive Earth. JAXA followed up with Tanpopo 2, which exposed additional microbes and organic compounds to the space environment and captured microparticles from space. Results from that investigation have yet to be published.

Related links:


Published paper:


Published paper:


Tanpopo 2:

Published paper:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

mercredi 9 mars 2022

Crew Studies Exercise, Physics and Preps for Tuesday Spacewalk


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

March 9, 2022

Space exercise and space physics were the main research topics aboard the International Space Station on Wednesday. The Expedition 66 crew also juggled spacewalk preparations and crew departure training throughout the day.

Two investigations conducted on Wednesday are exploring how to exercise effectively in microgravity and keep astronauts and cosmonauts healthy and fit in weightlessness. The lack of gravity contributes to muscle and bone loss requiring station crew members to exercise daily for two hours using a cycle, the COLBERT and Russian treadmills, and the advanced resistive exercise device.

Image above: Astronaut Tom Marshburn wraps up a biology experiment that studied why microgravity accelerates skin aging in astronauts. Image Credit: NASA.

ESA (European Space Agency) Flight Engineer Matthias Maurer has been wearing the EasyMotion suit that stimulates muscles during workout sessions. Researchers are studying the specialized suit’s ability to maximize the impact and lessen the duration of space exercise. Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos attached sensors to himself during the morning and jogged on the Zvezda service module’s treadmill. The sensors measured the cosmonaut’s heart and breathing rate providing more insight into a crew member’s physiology during physical exertion in microgravity.

Kayla Barron of NASA spent the afternoon training for spacewalk emergency scenarios. She wore virtual reality goggles and digitally practiced maneuvering using the spacesuit’s jetpack, also known as the SAFER, in the unlikely event she became untethered from the station. Barron also trained on the suit’s enhanced caution and warning system then reviewed a safety checklist she will attach to her suit’s cuff. Barron and fellow NASA Flight Engineer Raja Chari are scheduled to perform a six-and-half hour spacewalk on Tuesday live on NASA TV to continue augmenting the space station’s power system.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Chari partnered with NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn and practiced on a computer the procedures they will use when they return to Earth next month inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance. Chari will command the mission and Marshburn will pilot the vehicle when they depart the orbiting lab near the end of April with Barron and Maurer ending the SpaceX Crew-3 mission.

Marshburn also photographed station science racks and work areas for a space archeological study that may improve the design of future spacecraft and habitats. NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei set up components for a space fire safety study then serviced probes for the Intelligent Glass Optics experiment. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov assisted with Shkaplerov’s exercise research, studied how international crews and mission controllers operate, then wrapped up Russian module inspection work.

Related links:

Expedition 66:


Advanced resistive exercise device:


Zvezda service module:

Space archeological study:

Space fire safety study:

Intelligent Glass Optics:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Thawing Permafrost Could Leach Microbes, Chemicals Into Environment


NASA - Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) logo.

Mar 9, 2022

Scientists are turning to a combination of data collected from the air, land, and space to get a more complete picture of how climate change is affecting the planet’s frozen regions.

Image above: Thawing permafrost can result in the loss of terrain, as seen in this image where part of the coastal bluff along Drew Point, Alaska, has collapsed into the ocean. Image Credits: Benjamin Jones, USGS.

Trapped within Earth’s permafrost – ground that remains frozen for a minimum of two years – are untold quantities of greenhouse gases, microbes, and chemicals, including the now-banned pesticide DDT. As the planet warms, permafrost is thawing at an increasing rate, and scientists face a host of uncertainties when trying to determine the potential effects of the thaw.

A paper published earlier this year in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment looked at the current state of permafrost research. Along with highlighting conclusions about permafrost thaw, the paper focuses on how researchers are seeking to address the questions surrounding it.

Infrastructure is already affected: Thawing permafrost has led to giant sinkholes, slumping telephone poles, damaged roads and runways, and toppled trees. More difficult to see is what has been trapped in permafrost’s mix of soil, ice, and dead organic matter. Research has looked at how chemicals like DDT and microbes – some of which have been frozen for thousands, if not millions, of years – could be released from thawing permafrost.

Then there is thawing permafrost’s effect on the planet’s carbon: Arctic permafrost alone holds an estimated 1,700 billion metric tons of carbon, including methane and carbon dioxide. That’s roughly 51 times the amount of carbon the world released as fossil fuel emissions in 2019. Plant matter frozen in permafrost doesn’t decay, but when permafrost thaws, microbes within the dead plant material start to break the matter down, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.   

“Current models predict that we’ll see a pulse of carbon released from the permafrost to the atmosphere within the next hundred years, potentially sooner,” said Kimberley Miner, a climate researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and lead author of the paper. But key details – such as the quantity, specific source, and duration of the carbon release – remain unclear.

The worst-case scenario is if all the carbon dioxide and methane were released within a very short time, like a couple of years. Another scenario involves the gradual release of carbon. With more information, scientists hope to better understand the likelihood of either scenario.

While the review paper found that Earth’s polar regions are warming the fastest, it was less conclusive on how increased carbon emissions could drive drier or wetter conditions in the Arctic. What is more certain is that changes in the Arctic and Antarctic will cascade to lower latitudes. Earth’s polar regions help stabilize the planet’s climate. They help drive the transfer of heat from the equator toward higher latitudes, resulting in atmospheric circulation that powers the jet stream and other currents. A warmer, permafrost-free Arctic could have untold consequences for Earth’s weather and climate.

An Integrated Approach

To understand the effects of the thaw scientists are increasingly turning to integrated Earth observations from the ground, the air, and space – techniques outlined in the paper. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages.

Ground measurements, for example, provide precise monitoring of changes in a localized area, while airborne and space-based measurements can cover vast areas. Ground and airborne measurements focus on the specific time they were collected, whereas satellites constantly monitor Earth – although they can be limited by things such as cloud cover, the time of day, or the eventual end of a satellite mission.

The hope is that using measurements from a combination of platforms will help scientists create a fuller picture of changes at the poles, where permafrost is thawing the fastest.

Miner is working with colleagues on the ground to characterize the microbes frozen in permafrost, while others are using airborne instruments to measure emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane. In addition, airborne and satellite missions can help to pinpoint emissions hotspots in permafrost regions.

There are also satellite missions in the pipeline that will provide carbon emissions data with greater resolution. The ESA (European Space Agency) Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission will map changes in land cover and help monitor soil properties and water quality. NASA’s Surface Biology and Geology (SBG) mission will also use satellite-based imaging spectroscopy to collect data on research areas including plants and their health; changes to the land related to events like landslides and volcanic eruptions; and snow and ice accumulation, melt, and brightness (which is related to how much heat is reflected back into space).

SBG is the focus area of one of several future Earth science missions that make up NASA’s Earth System Observatory. Together, these satellites will provide a 3D, holistic view of Earth, from its surface through the atmosphere. They will provide information on subjects including climate change, natural hazards, extreme storms, water availability, and agriculture.

“Everyone is racing as fast as they can to understand what’s going on at the poles,” said Miner. “The more we understand, the better prepared we will be for the future.”

Related links:

Nature Reviews Earth & Environment:

Earth observations from the ground:

NASA’s Surface Biology and Geology (SBG):


Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Naomi Hartono/JPL/Jane J. Lee/Andrew Wang.


Team chosen to make first oxygen on the Moon


ESA - European Space Agency emblem.

March 9, 2022

European Large Logistics lander landing

Following a competition, ESA has selected the industrial team that will design and build the first experimental payload to extract oxygen from the surface of the Moon. The winning consortium, led by Thales Alenia Space in the UK, has been tasked with producing a small piece of equipment that will evaluate the prospect of building larger lunar plants to extract propellant for spacecraft and breathable air for astronauts – as well as metallic raw materials for equipment.

The compact payload will need to extract 50-100 grams of oxygen from lunar regolith – targeting 70% extraction of all available oxygen within the sample – while delivering precision measurements of performance and gas concentations. And it will have to do all this in a hurry, within a 10 day period – running on the solar power available within a single fortnight-long lunar day, before the coming of the pitch-black, freezing lunar night.

Lunar sample collection for ISRU test

ESA’s Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration selected the Thales-led team made up of AVS, Metalysis, Open University and Redwire Space Europe following a detailed study last year, evaluating three rival designs. The process followed a new approach to selecting system concepts.

“Employing a challenge approach let us evaluate the competing payload concepts on a precise, side-by-side basis,” comments David Binns, Systems Engineer from ESA’s state-of-the-art Concurrent Design Facility (CDF). “Now we’re looking forward to working with the winning consortium to make their design a practical reality.

In-Situ Resource Utilisation test process

“The payload needs to be compact, low power and able to fly on a range of potential lunar landers, including ESA’s own European Large Logistics Lander, EL3. Being able to extract oxygen from moonrock, along with useable metals, will be a game changer for lunar exploration, allowing the international explorers set to return to the Moon to ‘live off the land’ without being dependent on long and expensive terrestrial supply lines.”

Giorgio Magistrati, Studies and Technologies Team Leader at ESA's ExPeRT (Exploration Preparation, Research and Technology) initiative adds: “The time is right to begin work on realising this In-Situ Resource Utilisation demonstrator, the first step in our larger ISRU implementation strategy. Once the technology is proven using this initial payload, our approach will culminate in a full-scale ISRU plant in place on the Moon in the early part of the following decade.”

Oxygen and metal from lunar regolith

The underlying concept has already been proven. Samples returned from the lunar surface confirm that lunar regolith is made up of 40–45% percent oxygen by weight, its single most abundant element. The difficulty is that this oxygen is bound up chemically as oxides in the form of minerals or glass, so is unavailable for immediate use.

Making oxygen out of moondust

However a prototype oxygen plant has been set up in ESTEC’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory. This plant employs an electrolysis-based process to separate simulated lunar regolith into metals and oxygen, key basic resources for long-term sustainable space missions.

Related article:

Moon and Mars superoxides for oxygen farming

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Images, Text, Credits: ESA/A. Conigili/ATG-Medialab/Beth Lomax - University of Glasgow.

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SpaceX Starlink 40 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

March 9, 2022

SpaceX Starlink 40 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 48 Starlink satellites (Starlink-40) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, on 9 March 2022, at 13:45 UTC (08:45 EST).

SpaceX Starlink 40 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 9 March 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 (B1052) previously supported two Falcon Heavy missions, Arabsat-6A and STP-2, and launched CSG-2.

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


Filling the GOCE data gap unearths South Pole’s geological past


ESA - GOCE Mission logo.


 March 9, 2022

It’s very difficult to know what lies beneath a blanket of kilometres-thick ice, so it is hardly surprising that scientists have long contested the shape and geology of the ancient supercontinent from which East Antarctica formed over a billion years ago. An ESA-funded study can now lay some of this conjecture to rest. Using sensors on aircraft to measure changes in the gravity and magnetic signatures of the different rocks under the ice, scientists have discovered a huge bay the size of the UK formed part of the edge of East Antarctica.


Satellites orbiting Earth from pole to pole don’t actually fly directly above the North and South Poles. This leaves two small circular gaps in the global data. To fill in these missing measurements for ESA’s GOCE gravity satellite mission over the South Pole, an international team of scientists joined forces to take a multitude of measurements from aircraft as part of an ESA campaign called PolarGAP.

The GOCE mission mapped Earth's gravity with unrivalled precision and provided the most accurate model of the ‘geoid’ ever produced to further our understanding of how Earth works.

The geoid is the surface of equal gravitational potential defined by the gravity field – crucial for deriving accurate measurements of ocean circulation and sea-level change, both of which are affected by climate change.

New GOCE geoid

It was therefore important to fill in the measurements that GOCE could not take at the poles owing to its orbit.

As well as supplying these missing data for GOCE, the PolarGAP team has yielded new insights into the hidden geology at South Pole, shedding new light on the extent and shape of the edge of East Antarctica.

A paper, published this week in Nature Communications Earth & Environment, describes how the team flew over East Antarctica and used airborne sensors to measure changes in the magnetic and gravity signatures produced by the different rocks hidden beneath the ice.

The map below on the right shows the extent of the PolarGAP flights.

The data they gathered along these flight paths enabled the team to determine key characteristics of the rocks, which provided tantalising new clues about how the edge of East Antarctica evolved.

This is important because East Antarctica is the least known region of Earth. Today, Antarctica is isolated from the rest of the world. But a billion years ago, before the ancient Pacific Ocean formed, East Antarctica may have been much closer to other huge landmasses, including North America – an idea that is hotly debated by geologists.

PolarGAP flight paths

To the team’s surprise, the new data showed that an area of ancient rocks the size of the UK, which was thought to also make up part of East Antarctica’s coast, is entirely missing.

In its place, they found an embayment made up of younger rocks than expected. This newly discovered embayment is referred to as the Pensacola Embayment.

This means that less of East Antarctica than was previously assumed formed part of the ancient Mawson Continent, which included part of East Antarctica and Australia, and which is inferred in some reconstructions to have been close to North America.

The consequences of this finding will form the basis for a wide range of Antarctic research. It will help researchers build global reconstructions of Earth’s ancient supercontinents and lead to a better understanding of how the ancient geology of East Antarctica influences the flow and stability of the modern ice sheet.

The image below shows the newly revealed patterns of highly magnetic rocks (shades of red), and areas where these rocks appear to be missing.

Patterns of magnetic rocks and embayment under the ice in East Antarctica

Dr Tom Jordan, lead author and geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey, said, “It’s as if a huge bite has been taken out of East Antarctica. This probably happened during a major rifting event, likely linked to the opening of the ancient Pacific Ocean about 650 million years ago.

“The embayment in the South Pole region subsequently influenced how mountain ranges and volcanoes developed in the area, and the scars at the edge of where the embayment formed continue to guide the flow of the present-day ice sheet.”

Dr Fausto Ferraccioli, from the National Institute of Oceanography and Applied Geophysics and PolarGAP principal investigator, added, “Finding out where the edge of the East Antarctic craton lies helps constrain the extent of East Antarctica in ancient supercontinents.

“And, what interests me most for current ESA research –  edges of cratons also exert a key influence on geothermal heat flux. Lower values are typically found on the craton side compared to younger embayments. The new data will help determine if this is also the case at the South Pole, with cascading implications for understanding how this affects the water that flows beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.”

Survey aircraft at the South Pole

The international collaborative ESA PolarGAP campaign made this study possible.

The main aim of the campaign was to augment the GOCE satellite gravity field in the polar gap region around South Pole, where satellite measurements were missing. But thanks to careful survey design and planning for PolarGAP, a broad spectrum of science results has emerged in this previously largely unexplored frontier in East Antarctica.

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Images, Text, Credits: ESA/HPF/DLR/BAS.


mardi 8 mars 2022

Eye Research, Treadmill Servicing Keeps Crew Busy Tuesday


ISS - Expedition 66 Mission patch.

March 8, 2022

A full day of eye research and treadmill maintenance kept the Expedition 66 crew members busy on Tuesday. Two crew mates also had a light duty day aboard the International Space Station ahead of their return to Earth at the end of the month.

Three astronauts worked throughout the day continuing to research how living in space affects eye structure and visual function. NASA Flight Engineers Raja Chari and Kayla Barron were assisted by ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer in the Kibo laboratory module to help doctors understand why some astronauts have reported vision issues in microgravity and after returning to Earth. Results may help doctors develop treatments for eye conditions experienced by astronauts and Earthlings.

Image above: NASA astronaut Raja Chari works on a biotechnology study that may advance technologies for use in space and in extreme environments on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn spent Tuesday working in the Tranquility module servicing the COLBERT treadmill. He started with a visual inspection before aligning components on the exercise device to ensure it remained centered inside Tranquility. COLBERT was delivered to the orbital lab over 12 years ago aboard space shuttle Discovery.

Two crew members had minimal duties on Tuesday as they near the end of their 355-day mission. NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei and Roscosmos Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov are due to return to Earth on March 30 just 10 days short of a one-year stay on the space station. Vande Hei set up a camera for an ongoing archaeological experiment aboard the station while Dubrov conducted inspections in the Russian segment. The duo will ride alongside Commander Anton Shkaplerov, who has been aboard the station since October, inside the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Shkaplerov will be completing his fourth space station mission, while Vande Hei will land with the NASA single spaceflight record surpassing astronaut Scott Kelly’s record of 340 days set back in 2016. Dubrov will be completing his first spaceflight.

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

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