vendredi 29 avril 2022

Expedition 67 Crew Wraps Up Week After Crew Arrival and Spacewalk


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

April 29, 2022

Two Roscosmos cosmonauts went on a spacewalk to activate the new European robotic arm (ERA) less than a day after the SpaceX Crew-4 mission arrived at the International Space Station. The next mission event taking place will occur next week when four Expedition 67 astronauts complete their stay aboard the orbiting lab.

Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev exited the station in their Orlan spacesuits at 10:58 a.m. EDT on Thursday beginning the fifth spacewalk of the year. Fellow cosmonaut Sergey Korsakov assisted the spacewalkers from inside the station’s Russian segment as they released the ERA from its launch restraints on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module and monitored the new robotic arm’s first motion.

Image above: Cosmonauts (from left) Denis Matveev and Oleg Artemyev worked outside the station’s Russian segment during the first spacewalk to outfit Nauka and configure the European robotic arm on April 18, 2022. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The day before, the SpaceX Dragon Freedom crew ship, carrying four Crew-4 astronauts, docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing port at 7:37 p.m. EDT. Less than two hours later, NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Jessica Watkins with ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, entered the station beginning a four-and-a-half month research mission aboard the space station. The 11-person crew will live and work together until next week when the SpaceX Crew-3 mission ends.

How do Astronauts Communicate Nonverbally in Space

Station Commander Tom Marshburn along with Flight Engineers Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron, all NASA astronauts, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, are packing up to end their stay on the orbiting lab. The four astronauts representing the Commercial Crew Program are finalizing a six-month science mission on the space lab. NASA and SpaceX mission managers are planning for the quartet to enter the Dragon Endurance crew ship and undock from Harmony’s forward port for a splashdown off the coast of Florida next week.

Related links:

Expedition 67:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Harmony module:

Commercial Crew Program:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Heidi Lavelle.

Best regards,

Hubble Views a Galactic Oddity


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

April 29, 2022

The ultra-diffuse galaxy GAMA 526784 appears as a tenuous patch of light in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This wispy object resides in the constellation Hydra, roughly four billion light-years from Earth. Ultra-diffuse galaxies such as GAMA 526784 have a number of peculiarities. For example, they can have either very low or high amounts of dark matter, the invisible substance thought to make up the majority of matter in the universe. Observations of ultra-diffuse galaxies found some with an almost complete lack of dark matter, whereas others consist of almost nothing but dark matter. Another oddity of this class of galaxies is their unusual abundance of bright globular clusters, something not observed in other types of galaxies.

Hubble captured GAMA 526784 with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), which was installed in 2002 by astronauts during Hubble Servicing Mission 3B. Since then, the instrument has played a pivotal role in some of Hubble’s most impressive scientific results, including capturing the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The ACS has also photographed Pluto in advance of the New Horizon mission, observed gargantuan gravitational lenses, and found fully formed galaxies in the early universe.

This image comes from a set of Hubble observations designed to shed light on the properties of ultra-diffuse galaxies. Hubble’s keen vision allowed astronomers to study GAMA 526784 in high resolution at ultraviolet wavelengths, helping to gauge the sizes and ages of the compact star-forming regions studding the galaxy.

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, R. van der Burg; Acknowledgment: L. Shatz.


Black holes


ESA - European Space Agency emblem.

April 29, 2022

What are black holes? How do they form and evolve? What effect do they have on their surroundings and the rest of the Universe – and why should we care about them?

Black hole (artist's impression)

ESA is working on answering these questions and many more using a suite of unique but complementary space missions.

Even light cannot escape

A black hole is an extremely dense object whose gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape it.

Black hole in a strong magnetic field

Every object in space has an 'escape velocity': the minimum speed at which something must move to escape the object's gravitational field. On the surface of Earth, the escape velocity is about 11 kilometres per second, meaning that anything leaving our planet must travel faster than this to break free of Earth's gravitational pull.

This may sound fast, but Earth’s escape velocity pales in comparison to that of a typical black hole. A black hole’s gravitational field is so strong that its escape velocity is greater than the speed of light. This means that even light cannot escape (rendering them ‘invisible’, hence the name ‘black’ hole).

What is a black hole?

Supermassive black holes

We call the end product of the life of a massive star a ‘stellar mass black hole’. Once a star becomes a black hole, everything, including light, collapses into the centre. The gravitational attraction is so large that surrounding objects will also be sucked inwards.

But we know that much bigger ‘supermassive black holes’ lurk at the centres of most galaxies, including the Milky Way. The gravity of these supermassive black holes causes nearby stars and gas to swirl around them, getting closer and closer… this ‘accretion’ of matter onto the black hole powers some of the most energetic objects in the Universe, including quasars and blazars.

Artist’s impression of a rapidly rotating supermassive black hole

Observing black holes

Because light cannot escape a black hole, these objects can only be spied indirectly; as a result, they are difficult to study and therefore have remained somewhat mysterious. But thanks to state-of-the-art space missions developed by ESA and other science agencies, we are gradually uncovering the secrets behind how black holes form, evolve and behave.

Black holes were predicted by Einstein through his general theory of relativity in 1915. However, they remained a theoretical curiosity for decades until space telescopes could finally probe the highly energetic X-ray emission from the stars and gas in the vicinity of these extreme objects.

Pair of coalescing black holes

Einstein also predicted gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of space-time emitted during the most powerful events in the Universe, such as pairs of black holes coming together and merging. A black hole merger was first detected in 2015 by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which measured the gravitational waves created by the giant collision.

As for the first direct image of a black hole, in 2019 the Event Horizon Telescope captured a black hole’s dark silhouette cast against light from matter in its immediate surroundings. Then in 2021, ESA’s XMM-Newton saw X-ray light from behind a black hole, enabling them to study the processes taking place on its far side.

ESA’s black hole missions

ESA currently operates two high-energy space observatories: XMM-Newton and Integral. Together, these telescopes probe the highly energetic emission from matter in the vicinity of black holes.

Since its launch in 1999, the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory has helped scientists to investigate some of the most violent and mysterious cosmic phenomena, including the interaction of black holes with their surroundings. XMM-Newton has also explored the origin of powerful explosions known as gamma-ray bursts, which are thought to be caused by black holes.


Integral – or the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory – is the first space observatory that can simultaneously observe objects in gamma rays, X-rays, and visible light. Its principal targets include gamma-ray bursts and regions in the Universe thought to contain black holes. Integral is helping us understand the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, as well as those at the centres of other galaxies.

Looking to the future, ESA’s LISA and Athena missions will work both individually and together to address fundamental questions in modern astrophysics. Together, the duo could reveal much about distant and merging black holes, bright quasars in active galaxies, rapid jets around spinning black holes, the cosmic distance scale, and the speed of gravity.


By combining a large X-ray telescope with state-of-the-art scientific instruments, Athena will address key questions in astrophysics, such as how black holes grow and shape their galaxies. Athena will observe hundreds of thousands of black holes, from relatively near to far away, and map the million-degree-hot matter in their surroundings. This includes black holes that formed in the first few hundred million years of the Universe’s long history.

LISA will be the first space-based observatory dedicated to studying gravitational waves, some of which can only be detected using a space observatory that spans millions of kilometres. Using these waves, LISA will be the first mission to probe the entire history of the Universe. Formed of three spacecraft flying in a triangular formation, LISA will help us explore the fundamental nature of gravity and black holes.

Although XMM-Newton, Integral, Athena and Lisa are ESA’s most dedicated black hole missions, other missions are also contributing in big ways. For example, the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope will help answer the question ‘did black holes form immediately after the Big Bang?’, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has found black holes three billion times as massive as our Sun at the centre of some galaxies, and ESA’s Euclid mission, which will probe the dark Universe in greater detail than ever before, could help identify primordial black holes as dark matter candidates.

Related links:


Event Horizon Telescope:



NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope:

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope:

ESA’s Euclid:

Space Science:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: European Space Agency (ESA) - Illustration by Ducros, NASA and Felix Mirabel (the French Atomic Energy Commission & the Institute for Astronomy and Space Physics/Conicet of Argentina)/NASA/C. Henze/JPL-Caltech.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of April 25, 2022


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

April 29, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of April 25 that included testing radiation dose detectors and wearable cardiopulmonary monitors and examining the effects of diet on immune function during spaceflight. The Space-X Crew-4 mission, carrying NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Jessica Watkins and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, arrived at the space station on Wed., April 27, along with new microgravity science payloads.

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:

Mapping radiation

Image above: The DOSIS-3D investigation takes measurements at specific locations inside the space station to create a three-dimensional map pinpointing the distribution and levels of radiation throughout the orbiting lab. In this image, ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer relocates a passive radiation monitor. Image Credit: NASA.

Spaceflight exposes crew members to varying levels of radiation, which can be harmful to their health. DOSIS-3D, an investigation from ESA, measures the radiation doses at specific locations inside the space station using several active and passive detectors. The goal is a three-dimensional map of the levels and distribution of radiation throughout the orbiting lab. A comprehensive understanding of the space radiation environment could help scientists make recommendations for how to protect crews on future missions. On Earth, airline crews and nuclear plant workers experience greater-than-average exposure to radiation. Results from this investigation could provide direction for combining different devices to monitor dosage and collect real-time data to help protect them as well. Crew members de-installed specific detectors during the week.

Wearable monitors

Image above: During a static bike ride, ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer wears a breathing mask and sensors on his chest that monitor heart rate, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels for Metabolic Space. This investigation demonstrates wearable devices to improve cardiopulmonary diagnostics and assess performance without restricting mobility. Image Credit: ESA.

Metabolic Space from ESA demonstrates a wearable device to measure cardiopulmonary function during physical activity. The primary objective of this experiment is validating that the device works in microgravity and that users can manage it. The secondary objective is to provide experience with the device that can enhance the system for future space applications, such as medical monitoring for space tourists. This technology could reduce the effort required to diagnose cardiopulmonary issues in space and may have applications for making it easier to make such diagnoses on the ground. During the week, crew members used the Metabolic Space hardware and protocol during an exercise session.

Eat this, not that

Image above: This image shows food on the table for a meal on the space station. The Food Physiology investigation examines the effects of diet on immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutritional status. Results could help improve food systems to maintain crew health and performance on future long-duration missions. Image Credit: NASA.

Research has documented that spaceflight affects human physiology, including causing changes in the immune system. Immune function is linked to diet and the gut microbiome, and diet is a factor that can be easily and meaningfully altered on Earth and during flight. Food Physiology characterizes the effects of an enhanced spaceflight diet on immune function and the gut microbiome. Results could help define targeted, efficient dietary interventions and requirements for a food system to maintain crew health and performance on future long-duration missions. The study also could have scientific and medical applications for people on Earth.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) is a processing facility to levitate, melt, and solidify materials without solid containers, which reduces imperfections and makes it possible to examine the behavior of the materials. Results could improve the manufacture and use of oxide melts on Earth.

- XROOTS uses hydroponic (liquid-based) and aeroponic (air-based) techniques to grow plants without soil or other traditional growth media. Current space-based plant systems do not scale up well in space, and hydroponic and aeroponic techniques could enable production of crops on a larger scale for future space exploration.

- Transparent Alloys - METCOMP, an investigation from ESA, studies the formation of layered structures during solidification of an alloy, or mixture of different metals, using specific organic materials that solidify like a metal yet remain transparent. Alloys are used in a wide variety of applications from smartphones to aircraft, and lighter, stronger versions could benefit consumers and industry.

- For ESA’s CalliopEO, German school children write software to run experiments on a Calliope mini-computer aboard the space station. The experience helps motivate students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields and become the next generation of explorers.

- Rhodium Crystal Preservation studies using crystal formation to preserve biological material for research. These crystal matrices do not require special conditions and could provide a way to maintain biological materials for research on future space missions.

- Actiwatch is a wearable monitor that continuously collects data on a crew member’s circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity during flight, beginning as soon as possible after arrival aboard the station.

Space to Ground: Fantastic Four: 04/29/2022

Related links:

Expedition 67:


Metabolic Space:

Food Physiology:

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 67.

Best regards,

CASC - Long March-2C launches Siwei-01 and Siwei-02


CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

April 29, 2022

Long March-2C carrying Siwei-01 and Siwei-02 liftoff

A Long March-2C launch vehicle launched the Siwei-01 and Siwei-02 satellites from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu Province, northwest China, 29 April 2022, at 04:11 UTC (12:11 local time).

Long March-2C launches Siwei-01 and Siwei-02

According to official sources, the satellites have entered the planned orbits and will “provide commercial remote sensing data services for industries including surveying and mapping, environmental protection, as well as urban security and digital rural development.”

Siwei Gaojing 1-01, 02 (SuperView Neo 1-01, 02) satellite

Siwei-01 and Siwei-02 (四维01/02), also known as SuperView Neo 1-01 and 02, are “two commercial earth observation satellites of 0.5m resolution” designed and developed by China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)/SciNews/Gunter's Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 28 avril 2022

Cosmonauts Set Up Robotic Arm’s First Motion, Wrap Up Spacewalk


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Cosmonaut patch.

April 28, 2022

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev of Roscosmos concluded their spacewalk outside of the International Space Station at  6:40 p.m. EDT after 7 hours and 42 minutes.

Image above: Spacewalkers Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev monitor the station’s new European robotic arm as it moves on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Artemyev and Matveev completed their major objectives during the spacewalk, which included monitoring the first commanded movements of the robotic arm from its grapple fixtures after removing thermal blankets and launch locks. The duo monitored the robotic arm as its end effectors translated one at a time to a new base points. The crew also installed more handrails on Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

This was the fifth spacewalk in Artemyev’s career, and the second for Matveev. It will be the fifth spacewalk at the station in 2022 and the 250th spacewalk for space station assembly, maintenance, and upgrades.

Additional spacewalks are planned to continue outfitting the European robotic arm and to activate Nauka’s airlock for future spacewalks.

Related article:

Spacewalkers Exit Station to Activate New Robotic Arm

Related link:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Scientists with NASA’s MMS Mission Crack 60-Year Mystery of Fast Magnetic Explosions


NASA - Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) patch.

April 28, 2022

In just minutes, a flare on the Sun can release enough energy to power the whole world for 20,000 years. An explosive process called magnetic reconnection triggers these solar flares and scientists have spent the last half-century trying to understand how the process happens.

Solar flare. Image Credit: NASA

It’s not just a scientific curiosity: A fuller understanding of magnetic reconnection could enable insights into nuclear fusion and provide better predictions of particle storms from the Sun that can affect Earth-orbiting technology.

Now, scientists with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, or MMS, think they’ve figured it out. The scientists have developed a theory that explains how the most explosive type of magnetic reconnection – called fast reconnection – occurs and why it happens at a consistent speed. The new theory uses a common magnetic effect that’s used in household devices, such as sensors that time vehicle anti-lock braking systems and know when a cell phone flip cover is closed.

“We finally understand what makes this type of magnetic reconnection so fast,” said lead author on the new study Yi-Hsin Liu, a physics professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and the deputy-lead of MMS’ theory and modeling team. “We now have a theory to explain it fully.”

Magnetic reconnection is a process that occurs in plasma, sometimes called the fourth state of matter. Plasma forms when a gas has been energized enough to break apart its atoms, leaving a motley of negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions existing side-by-side. This energetic, fluid-like material is exquisitely sensitive to magnetic fields.

From flares on the Sun, to near-Earth space, to black holes, plasmas throughout the universe undergo magnetic reconnection, which rapidly converts magnetic energy into heat and acceleration. While there are several types of magnetic reconnection, one particularly puzzling variant is known as fast reconnection, which occurs at a predictable rate.

Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS). Image Credit: NASA

“We have known for a while that fast reconnection happens at a certain rate that seems to be pretty constant,” said Barbara Giles, project scientist for MMS and research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But what really drives that rate has been a mystery, until now.”

The new research, published in a paper in Nature’s Communications Physics journal and funded in part by the National Science Foundation, explains how fast reconnection occurs specifically in collisionless plasmas – a type of plasma whose particles are spread out enough that the individual particles don’t collide with one another. Where reconnection happens in space, most plasma is in this collisionless state, including the plasma in solar flares and the space around Earth.

The new theory shows how and why fast reconnection is likely sped up by the Hall effect, which describes the interaction between magnetic fields and electric currents. The Hall effect is a common magnetic phenomenon that’s used in everyday technology, like vehicle wheel speed sensors and 3D printers, where sensors measure speed, proximity, positioning, or electrical currents.

During fast magnetic reconnection, charged particles in a plasma – namely ions and electrons – stop moving as a group. As the ions and electrons begin moving separately, they give rise to the Hall effect, creating an unstable energy vacuum where reconnection happens. Pressure from the magnetic fields around the energy vacuum causes the vacuum to implode, which quickly releases immense amounts of energy at a predictable rate.

Animation above: This visualization shows the Hall effect, which occurs when the motion of the heavier ions (blue) decouple from the lighter electrons (red) as they enter the region with strong electric currents (golden region). Animation Credits: Tom Bridgman/NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio.

The new theory will be tested in the coming years with MMS, which uses four spacecraft flown around Earth in a pyramid formation to study magnetic reconnection in collisionless plasmas. In this unique space laboratory, MMS can study magnetic reconnection at a higher resolution than would be possible on Earth.

“Ultimately, if we can understand how magnetic reconnection operates, then we can better predict events that can impact us at Earth, like geomagnetic storms and solar flares,” Giles said. “And if we can understand how reconnection is initiated, it will also help energy research because researchers could better control magnetic fields in fusion devices.”

Related Links

NASA Spacecraft Discovers New Magnetic Process in Turbulent Space:

Learn more about MMS:

Nature’s Communications Physics:

The Hall effect:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Abbey Interrante/GSFC/By Mara Johnson-Groh.


Mars - Tantalising tectonics


ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

April 28, 2022

This network of long grooves and scratches forms part of a giant fault system on Mars known as Tantalus Fossae, and is shown here as seen by ESA’s Mars Express.

Tantalus Fossae on Mars

At first glance, these features look as if someone has raked their fingernails across the surface of the Red Planet, gouging out lengthy trenches as they did so.

While not quite so dramatic in its formation, Tantalus Fossae (‘fossae’ meaning a hollow or depression) is a noticeable feature on Mars. This system of troughs flanks a sprawling, low-relief martian volcano named Alba Mons, running along the volcano’s eastern side.

Tantalus Fossae in context

The fossae were created as the summit of Alba Mons rose in elevation, causing the surrounding surface to become warped, extended and broken. The Tantalus Fossae faults are a great example of a surface feature known as grabens; each trench formed as two parallel faults opened up, causing the rock between to drop down into the resulting void.

Perspective view of Tantalus Fossae

The same features can be found on the western side of Alba Mons, forming an incomplete ring around the volcano. Overall, this volcano’s associated grabens stretch out for up to 1000 km in length, up to 10 km in width, and are up to 350 m deep.

A complex history

Throughout this Mars Express image, numerous grabens can be seen running roughly northeast (bottom-right) to southwest (top-left).

These structures are thought to have formed not at the same time but one after the other, providing scientists the opportunity to reconstruct a past timeline and picture of what created this dramatic landscape.

The large impact crater at the centre of the image, for example, is crosscut by grabens, indicating that it was already present before the volcano was uplifted to create the Tantalus Fossae faults. The second-largest impact crater (far smaller and to the bottom-left of the central crater) appears to superpose the faults, and is therefore likely to be younger.

Second perspective view of Tantalus Fossae

Upon closer look, many small, branching valleys can be seen across this region. These valleys appear to cut directly through the grabens, and so are assumed to be older.

As shown most clearly in the associated topographic view, the northern (right) part contains far lower terrain than the southern (left) part – in places, as much as three kilometres lower in altitude. We would expect any small, branching valleys to run along the slopes of Alba Mons and merge where the ground is lowest, but this is not seen here, implying that the valleys must originate from more ancient times – before Alba Mons rose to sculpt this terrain into what we see today.

Topography of Tantalus Fossae

This area is named after Tantalus, a son of Zeus and Plouto who, according to Greek legend, betrayed the gods and was forced by Hades to stand in water beneath a fruit tree. When he tried to drink the water retreated, and when he tried to eat the branches moved beyond his reach – a punishment known as the torments of Tantalus.

Exploring Mars

Mars Express has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2003, imaging Mars’ surface, mapping its minerals, identifying the composition and circulation of its tenuous atmosphere, probing beneath its crust, and exploring how various phenomena interact in the martian environment.

Tantalus Fossae in 3D

The mission’s High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), responsible for these new images, has revealed much about Mars’ diverse surface features, with recent images showing everything from wind-sculpted ridges and grooves to volcanoes, impact craters, tectonic faults, river channels and ancient lava pools.

Mars Express

Related link:

Mars Express:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA/MGS/MOLA Science Team.

Best regards,

NASA, Partner Decide to Conclude SOFIA Mission




NASA & DLR - Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) patch.

April 28, 2022

NASA and its partners at the German Space Agency at the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) will conclude the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) mission, after a successful eight years of science. SOFIA will end operations no later than Sept. 30, 2022, at the conclusion of its current mission extension.

Image above: The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Image Credits: NASA/Jim Ross.

SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP airplane modified to carry a reflecting telescope. SOFIA completed its five-year prime mission in 2019 and currently is completing a three-year mission extension.

As part of its review of the current state of astronomical research, the National Academies’ Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 evaluated SOFIA. The report, which provides peer-reviewed recommendations to NASA for the future of U.S. astrophysics, concluded SOFIA’s science productivity does not justify its operating costs. The report also found SOFIA’s capabilities do not significantly overlap with the science priorities the Decadal Survey has identified for the next decade and beyond.

The Decadal Survey therefore recommended NASA end the SOFIA mission after its current mission extension. NASA and DLR have accepted this recommendation. SOFIA will finish out its scheduled operations for the 2022 fiscal year, followed by an orderly shutdown.

Hundreds of individuals in the United States and Germany have contributed to the SOFIA mission over its lifetime. It began development in 1996, saw first light in 2010, and achieved full operational capability in 2014. In the eight years since, SOFIA’s observations of the Moon, planets, stars, star-forming regions, and nearby galaxies included the discovery of water on the sunlit surface of the Moon in 2020.

Moving forward, SOFIA’s data will be available in NASA’s public archives for astronomers worldwide to use. NASA will continue to advance the future of scientific discovery in infrared astrophysics, starting with the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope, as well as further opportunities recommended by the Decadal Survey.

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter.


NASA’s Webb In Full Focus, Ready for Instrument Commissioning


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

April 28, 2022

Alignment of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is now complete. After full review, the observatory has been confirmed to be capable of capturing crisp, well-focused images with each of its four powerful onboard science instruments. Upon completing the seventh and final stage of telescope alignment, the team held a set of key decision meetings and unanimously agreed that Webb is ready to move forward into its next and final series of preparations, known as science instrument commissioning. This process will take about two months before scientific operations begin in the summer.

Image Credits: NASA/STScI

The alignment of the telescope across all of Webb’s instruments can be seen in a series of images that captures the observatory’s full field of view.

“These remarkable test images from a successfully aligned telescope demonstrate what people across countries and continents can achieve when there is a bold scientific vision to explore the universe,” said Lee Feinberg, Webb optical telescope element manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Animation Credit: NASA

The optical performance of the telescope continues to be better than the engineering team’s most optimistic predictions. Webb’s mirrors are now directing fully focused light collected from space down into each instrument, and each instrument is successfully capturing images with the light being delivered to them. The image quality delivered to all instruments is “diffraction-limited,” meaning that the fineness of detail that can be seen is as good as physically possible given the size of the telescope. From this point forward the only changes to the mirrors will be very small, periodic adjustments to the primary mirror segments.

“With the completion of telescope alignment and half a lifetime’s worth of effort, my role on the James Webb Space Telescope mission has come to an end,” said Scott Acton, Webb wavefront sensing and controls scientist, Ball Aerospace. “These images have profoundly changed the way I see the universe. We are surrounded by a symphony of creation; there are galaxies everywhere! It is my hope that everyone in the world can see them.”

Image above: Engineering images of sharply focused stars in the field of view of each instrument demonstrate that the telescope is fully aligned and in focus. For this test, Webb pointed at part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, providing a dense field of hundreds of thousands of stars across all the observatory’s sensors. The sizes and positions of the images shown here depict the relative arrangement of each of Webb’s instruments in the telescope’s focal plane, each pointing at a slightly offset part of the sky relative to one another. Webb’s three imaging instruments are NIRCam (images shown here at a wavelength of 2 microns), NIRISS (image shown here at 1.5 microns), and MIRI (shown at 7.7 microns, a longer wavelength revealing emission from interstellar clouds as well as starlight). NIRSpec is a spectrograph rather than imager but can take images, such as the 1.1 micron image shown here, for calibrations and target acquisition. The dark regions visible in parts of the NIRSpec data are due to structures of its microshutter array, which has several hundred thousand controllable shutters that can be opened or shut to select which light is sent into the spectrograph. Lastly, Webb’s Fine Guidance Sensor tracks guide stars to point the observatory accurately and precisely; its two sensors are not generally used for scientific imaging but can take calibration images such as those shown here. This image data is used not just to assess image sharpness but also to precisely measure and calibrate subtle image distortions and alignments between sensors as part of Webb’s overall instrument calibration process. Image Credits: NASA/STScI.

Now, the Webb team will turn its attention to science instrument commissioning. Each instrument is a highly sophisticated set of detectors equipped with unique lenses, masks, filters, and customized equipment that helps it perform the science it was designed to achieve. The specialized characteristics of these instruments will be configured and operated in various combinations during the instrument commissioning phase to fully confirm their readiness for science. With the formal conclusion of telescope alignment, key personnel involved with the commissioning of each instrument have arrived at the Mission Operations Center at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and some personnel involved with telescope alignment have concluded their duties.

The Webb Telescope Completes Alignment Phase

Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Though telescope alignment is complete, some telescope calibration activities remain: As part of scientific instrument commissioning, the telescope will be commanded to point to different areas in the sky where the total amount of solar radiation hitting the observatory will vary to confirm thermal stability when changing targets. Furthermore, ongoing maintenance observations every two days will monitor the mirror alignment and, when needed, apply corrections to keep the mirrors in their aligned locations.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: By Thaddeus Cesari, NASA Goddard.


NASA’s Mars Helicopter Spots Gear That Helped Perseverance Rover Land


NASA - Ingenuity Mars Helicopter logo.

April 28, 2022

Eyeing some of the components that enabled the rover to get safely to the Martian surface could provide valuable insights for future missions.

Image above: This image of Perseverance's backshell and supersonic parachute was captured by NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 26th flight on Mars on April 19, 2022. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter recently surveyed both the parachute that helped the agency’s Perseverance rover land on Mars and the cone-shaped backshell that protected the rover in deep space and during its fiery descent toward the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021. Engineers with the Mars Sample Return program asked whether Ingenuity could provide this perspective. What resulted were 10 aerial color images taken April 19 during Ingenuity’s Flight 26.

“NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return’s reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars.”

Image above: Rover Landing Gear Seen From the Air by Mars Helicopter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Eyeing some of the components that enabled the rover to get safely to the Martian surface could provide valuable insights for future missions.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter recently surveyed both the parachute that

Entry, descent, and landing on Mars is fast-paced and stressful, not only for the engineers back on Earth, but also for the vehicle enduring the gravitational forces, high temperatures, and other extremes that come with entering Mars’ atmosphere at nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph). The parachute and backshell were previously imaged from a distance by the Perseverance rover.

Image above: Perseverance's backshell, supersonic parachute, and associated debris field is seen strewn across the Martian surface in this image captured by NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 26th flight on April 19, 2022. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

But those collected by the rotorcraft (from an aerial perspective and closer) provide more detail. The images have the potential to help ensure safer landings for future spacecraft such as the Mars Sample Return Lander, which is part of a multimission campaign that would bring Perseverance’s samples of Martian rocks, atmosphere, and sediment back to Earth for detailed analysis.

“Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,” said JPL’s Ian Clark, former Perseverance systems engineer and now Mars Sample Return ascent phase lead. “But Ingenuity’s images offer a different vantage point. If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring.”

NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Landing Animations

In the images of the upright backshell and the debris field that resulted from it impacting the surface at about 78 mph (126 kph), the backshell’s protective coating appears to have remained intact during Mars atmospheric entry. Many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute are visible and also appear intact. Spread out and covered in dust, only about a third of the orange-and-white parachute – at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide, it was the biggest ever deployed on Mars – can be seen, but the canopy shows no signs of damage from the supersonic airflow during inflation. Several weeks of analysis will be needed for a more final verdict.

Flight 26 Maneuvers

Ingenuity’s 159-second flight began at 11:37 a.m. local Mars time April 19, on the one-year anniversary of its first flight. Flying 26 feet (8 meters) above ground level, Ingenuity traveled 630 feet (192 meters) to the southeast and took its first picture. The rotorcraft next headed southwest and then northwest, taking images at pre-planned locations along the route. Once it collected 10 images in its flash memory, Ingenuity headed west 246 feet (75 meters) and landed. Total distance covered: 1,181 feet (360 meters). With the completion of Flight 26, the rotorcraft has logged over 49 minutes aloft and traveled 3.9 miles (6.2 kilometers).

“To get the shots we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvering, but we were confident because there was complicated maneuvering on flights 10, 12, and 13,” said Håvard Grip, chief pilot of Ingenuity at JPL. “Our landing spot set us up nicely to image an area of interest for the Perseverance science team on Flight 27, near ‘Séítah’ ridge.”

Perseverance Rover & Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The new area of operations in Jezero Crater’s dry river delta marks a dramatic departure from the modest, relatively flat terrain Ingenuity had been flying over since its first flight. Several miles wide, the fan-shaped delta formed where an ancient river spilled into the lake that once filled Jezero Crater. Rising more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the crater floor and filled with jagged cliffs, angled surfaces, projecting boulders, and sand-filled pockets, the delta promises to hold numerous geologic revelations – perhaps even proof that microscopic life existed on Mars billions of years ago.

Upon reaching the delta, Ingenuity’s first orders may be to help determine which of two dry river channels Perseverance should climb to reach the top of the delta. Along with route-planning assistance, data provided by the helicopter will help the Perseverance team assess potential science targets. Ingenuity may even be called upon to image geologic features too far afield for the rover to reach or to scout landing zones and sites on the surface where sample caches could be deposited for the Mars Sample Return program.

More About Ingenuity

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the project for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

At NASA Headquarters, Dave Lavery is the program executive for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.

More About Perseverance

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more information about Ingenuity:

Related links:

Mars Sample Return Lander:

Mars Sample Return program:

Mars Helicopter Delivery System:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle.

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Spacewalkers Exit Station to Activate New Robotic Arm


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Cosmonaut patch.

April 28, 2022

Expedition 67 Flight Engineers Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev of Roscosmos began Russian spacewalk 53 at 10:58 a.m. EDT to continue to activating the new European robotic arm – a 37-foot-long manipulator system mounted to the recently arrived Nauka module.

Image above: Roscosmos cosmonauts (from left) Denis Matveev and Oleg Artemyev are pictured during a spacewalk on April 18, 2022, to configure the European robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Coverage of the spacewalk continues on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website:

During the spacewalk, the duo will monitor the first commanded movements of the robotic arm from its grapple fixtures after removing thermal blankets and launch locks. The arm’s end effectors will translate one at a time to a new base points. The crew also will install more handrails on Nauka.

Image above: Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev waves to the camera during a spacewalk on April 18, 2022, to configure the European robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Artemyev is wearing a Russian Orlan spacesuit with red stripes. Matveev will wear a spacesuit with blue stripes. This is the fifth spacewalk in Artemyev’s career, and the second for Matveev. It is the fifth spacewalk at the station in 2022 and the 250th spacewalk for space station assembly, maintenance, and upgrades.

Related link:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Crew-4 Now Aboard the Space Station


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

April 27, 2022

NASA astronauts Mission Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines, and Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins, and Mission Specialist Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) now are aboard the International Space Station following Crew Dragon’s hatch opening about 9:15 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, April 27.

Image above: Crew-4 NASA astronauts Mission Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines, and Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins, and Mission Specialist Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) were greeted by Crew-3 as they arrived to the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Crew-4 joins Expedition 67 crew of Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, all of NASA, Matthias Maurer of ESA, and cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Korsakov, and Denis Matveev of Roscosmos.

NASA TV coverage will conclude shortly after hatch opening and return for live coverage of the welcoming ceremony at 2:40 a.m. Thursday, April 28.

Samantha Cristoforetti and the rest of Crew-4 arrives at the International Space Station

Crew-4 astronauts launched to International Space Station at 3:52 a.m. Wednesday, April 27, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The international crew of four will spend several months on the orbital complex on a science expedition mission.

Related articles:

The Crew-4 Astronauts Dock to the Space Station

Crew-4: NASA TV Coverage Continues, Dragon Ahead of Schedule for Docking

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 Astronauts Launch to International Space Station

Crew-4 Astronauts Head to Space Station to Conduct Microgravity Science

Related links:


Expedition 67:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Heidi Lavelle/NASA TV/ESA.

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