vendredi 27 mai 2022

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of May 23, 2022


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

May 27, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of May 23 that included a program running student-designed software to control robots, examining how alloys solidify in microgravity, and a study of quantum gas bubbles.

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

Astrobee, point!

Image above: ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti monitors a pair of Astrobee robots as they perform autonomous programmed maneuvers. For JAXA’s Robo-Pro Challenge 3, students create software programs to direct the free-flyers to find and identify a target. Image Credit: NASA.

Robo-Pro Challenge 3 is an educational program from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) that challenges students to direct the free-flying Astrobee robots to move through a series of locations to find a target. The students create software and use an image processing algorithm, Astrobee’s onboard camera and laser pointer to accomplish their mission. Robo-Pro Challenge 3 aims to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and leaders and encourage pursuit of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. During the week, crew members set up Astrobees for the program and stowed them after its completion.

Boiling and solidifying

Animation above: NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins sets up hardware for DECLIC DSI-R, which studies how alloys solidify in microgravity. Results could shed light on the formation of solid materials and help improve manufacturing processes that make products by melting and solidifying materials. Animation Credit: NASA.

DECLIC (Device for the Study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization), a multi-user facility developed by the French Space Agency (CNES), supports fluid physics and materials science experiments. DECLIC DSI-R uses succinonitrile, an organic substance that is transparent in its liquid state, to study how alloys solidify in microgravity. Results could shed light on the physics that control formation of solid materials by providing real-time views of the crystal structures that form in the liquid. This research may help improve manufacturing processes that melt and solidify materials to make products on the ground. Crew members prepared the hardware for experiment runs during the week.

Now that’s cold

Image above: The station’s Cold Atom Lab (CAL), shown here, creates ultracold clouds of atoms, rendering them nearly immobile so that scientists can examine them closely. CAL - Bose-Einstein Condensate Bubble Dynamics creates a quantum gas known as a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC) to gain insight into its behavior for next-generation research and design. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory calls CAL “the coolest experiment in the Universe.” Image Credit: NASA.

Cold Atom Lab - Bose-Einstein Condensate Bubble Dynamics creates a quantum gas known as a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC) confined in a spherical structure or bubble and examines the behavior of these bubbles. The space station’s CAL facility makes it possible to study BEC physics in ways not possible in Earth’s gravity. This investigation could provide insight into fundamental quantum mechanics, supporting future research and development and design of next-generation quantum sensors and simulators. Operations take place during the crew sleep period to minimize disturbances to the hardware. Researchers monitor science operations and crew members conduct a quick check of data each day to ensure performance.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- Standard Measures collects data on behavioral and physical health and performance. Scientists use these data to characterize how crew members adapt to living and working in space, monitor countermeasure effectiveness, and support future research on planetary missions.

- XROOTS uses hydroponic (liquid-based) and aeroponic (air-based) techniques to grow plants without traditional growth media, potentially enabling production of crops on a larger scale for future space exploration.

- Cerebral Autoregulation, an investigation from JAXA, tests how microgravity affects the brain’s ability to self-regulate blood flow. After returning to Earth, many astronauts experience lightheadedness, which could affect safety and performance on future missions that land on the Moon or other planets.

- Vascular Aging, a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) investigation, collects data on vascular changes in astronauts, which could pose health risks on future long-duration space missions. Results could support development of ways to reduce the potential risks to astronauts and guide prevention measures and treatments for similar effects of aging on Earth.

- Students across Europe use two augmented Raspberry Pi computers aboard the space station for AstroPi, an education program coordinated by ESA. The program helps motivate students to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Space to Ground: Starliner: 05/27/2022

Related links:

Expedition 67:

Robo-Pro Challenge 3:


DECLIC (Device for the Study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization):


Cold Atom Lab - Bose-Einstein Condensate Bubble Dynamics:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 67.

Best regards,

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Captures Video of Record Flight


NASA - Ingenuity Mars Helicopter logo.

May 27, 2022

Imagery has come down from Mars capturing a recent flight in which the rotorcraft flew farther and faster than ever before.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Captures Record Flight

Video above: Video from the navigation camera aboard NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter shows its record-breaking 25th flight on April 8, 2022. Covering 2,310 feet (704 meters) at a maximum speed of 12 mph (5.5 meters per second), it was the rotorcraft’s longest and fastest flight to date. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s black-and-white navigation camera has provided dramatic video of its record-breaking 25th flight, which took place on April 8. Covering a distance of 2,310 feet (704 meters) at a speed of 12 mph (5.5 meters per second), it was the Red Planet rotorcraft’s longest and fastest flight to date. (Ingenuity is currently preparing for its 29th flight.)

“For our record-breaking flight, Ingenuity’s downward-looking navigation camera provided us with a breathtaking sense of what it would feel like gliding 33 feet above the surface of Mars at 12 miles per hour,” said Ingenuity team lead Teddy Tzanetos of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

The first frame of the video clip begins about one second into the flight. After reaching an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters), the helicopter heads southwest, accelerating to its maximum speed in less than three seconds. The rotorcraft first flies over a group of sand ripples then, about halfway through the video, several rock fields. Finally, relatively flat and featureless terrain appears below, providing a good landing spot. The video of the 161.3-second flight was speeded up approximately five times, reducing it to less than 35 seconds.

The navigation camera has been programmed to deactivate whenever the rotorcraft is within 3 feet (1 meter) of the surface. This helps ensure any dust kicked up during takeoff and landing won’t interfere with the navigation system as it tracks features on the ground.

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ingenuity’s flights are autonomous. “Pilots” at JPL plan them and send commands to the Perseverance Mars rover, which then relays those commands to the helicopter. During a flight, onboard sensors – the navigation camera, an inertial measurement unit, and a laser range finder – provide real-time data to Ingenuity’s navigation processor and main flight computer, which guide the helicopter in flight. This enables Ingenuity to react to the landscape while carrying out its commands.

Mission controllers recently lost communication with Ingenuity after the helicopter entered a low-power state. Now that the rotorcraft is back in contact and getting adequate energy from its solar array to charge its six lithium-ion batteries, the team is looking forward to its next flight on Mars.

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.

For more information about Ingenuity:

Related links:

Mars Sample Return Lander:

Mars Sample Return program:

Mars Helicopter Delivery System:

Video (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Naomi Hartono/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/DC Agle.


Hubble Captures Pair of Star-Forming Spirals


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

May 27, 2022

This new image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope looks at two spiral galaxies, collectively known as Arp 303. The pair, individually called IC 563 (bottom right) and IC 564 (top left), are 275 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Sextans.

The image holds data from two separate Hubble observations of Arp 303. The first used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to study the pair’s clumpy star-forming regions in infrared light. Galaxies like IC 563 and IC 564 are very bright at infrared wavelengths and host many bright star-forming regions.

The second used Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) to take quick looks at bright, interesting galaxies across the sky. The observations filled gaps in Hubble’s archive and looked for promising candidates that Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, and other telescopes could study further.

The colors red, orange, and green represent infrared wavelengths taken with WFC3, and the color blue represents ACS visible light data.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation Credits: NASA, ESA, K. Larson (STScI), and J. Dalcanton (University of Washington); Image Processing: G. Kober (NASA Goddard/Catholic University of America)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos.

Best regards,

Sustainable connectivity in space


ESA - European Space Agency emblem.

May 27, 2022

The world’s first mission to remove several small telecommunications satellites from orbit once they reach the end of their operational service is about to start building and testing its prototype spacecraft.

Artists impression of a OneWeb satellite to be deorbited at the end of its active lifetime

British-based in-orbit servicing company Astroscale – working in an ESA Partnership Project with satellite operator OneWeb – will begin manufacturing the first commercial “servicer” prototype designed to capture multiple satellites in low Earth orbit under the ESA Sunrise Programme.

Companies such as OneWeb are launching constellations comprised of hundreds of communications satellites to connect people in the hardest-to-reach locations through global satellite internet broadband services.

OneWeb currently has 428 satellites orbiting approximately 1200 km above the Earth; its completed constellation will number almost 650 satellites.

Removing these telecommunications satellites from their orbits once they are at the end of their lives is essential to ensure that today’s interconnected digital world is not compromised by collisions that damage active satellites in space – and to protect the low Earth orbit environment as a natural and shared resource.  

There are currently two options for removing end-of-life OneWeb satellites from their orbits at the end of their predicted five to six years of service.

Each has been allocated enough fuel to be able to actively deorbit at the end of its useful lifetime. But, in case of failure, each has also been built with either a magnetic or a grappling fixture, so that a servicer spacecraft could collect and actively deorbit the satellite.

The servicer spacecraft that Astroscale will build and test is called “ELSA-M” and is planned for launch in 2024. The servicer spacecraft will be the first “space sweeper” capable of removing multiple defunct satellites from their orbits in a single mission.

Following this demonstration, Astroscale will offer a commercial service for clients that operate satellite constellations in low Earth orbit, providing the technology and capability to make in-orbit servicing part of routine satellite operations by 2030.

ESA fosters innovation in the European space industry through its Partnership Projects, which seek to de-risk the investments of its industrial partners to meet market needs.

UK Science Minister George Freeman said: “With thousands of satellites already in orbit and thousands more being launched every year, addressing the issue of space debris and finding new ways to remove defunct spacecraft and other types of space junk is of ever-increasing importance – to both reduce the cost of debris damage for satellite operators and ensure space is safe and sustainable.

 “That is why the UK government has made space sustainability a key theme of our National Space Strategy and it is fantastic to see leading roles for UK companies Astroscale and OneWeb in this ESA project, helping us continue to show UK technology leadership in this important area.”

Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Space debris threatens the satellites we depend on every day for vital services, such as navigation, banking and communications.

“That’s why the UK is taking action, by funding new commercial technologies to remove debris from space and working with international partners to lead efforts to promote sustainability. This latest phase of the Sunrise programme partnership between Astroscale and OneWeb will deliver an innovative spacecraft servicer to remove multiple defunct satellites, putting the UK at the forefront of efforts to clear up space.”

Massimiliano Ladovaz, Chief Technology Officer at OneWeb, said: “Responsible space is central to our mission at OneWeb and we are committed to sustainable practices in all the environments in which we operate. The development of the ELSA-M servicer prototype is another significant milestone towards a responsible approach to space, ensuring that our satellites can be de-orbited and that the low Earth orbit environment is protected as a natural and shared resource.”

John Auburn, Managing Director of Astroscale, said: “Phase 3 of the Sunrise programme is a major step forward for ELSA-M towards an in-orbit demonstration and the start of a commercial debris removal service, capable of removing multiple defunct satellites in a single mission. The ELSA-M in-orbit demonstration, planned for late 2024, will build on lessons learned from the ELSA-d mission and demonstrate our innovative rendezvous, capture and de-orbit capabilities with a full-size constellation client.”

Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, said: “It is vital to ensure the responsible use of space to protect today’s interconnected world, because our digital economy and society rely on the ability to communicate. I am proud of ESA’s track record in fostering innovation in the space industry in Europe, bringing to fruition new ways of ensuring the sustainable use of space, and of the role that ESA’s Partnership Projects play as a trusted partner for investors, operators and industry.”

The ESA Sunrise programme is supported by the UK Space Agency and involves not only OneWeb and Astroscale, but also British start-up companies SatixFy and Celestia UK, as well as the University of Surrey.

Related links:

Servicer spacecraft:

ESA Sunrise Programme:


Telecommunications & Integrated Applications:

Image, Text, Credits: ESA/OneWeb.


jeudi 26 mai 2022

Crew Returns to Space Science Day after Starliner Lands


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

May 26, 2022

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The seven Expedition 67 crew members are resuming their normal schedule of science and maintenance activities following Wednesday’s departure of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The orbital residents focused on vein scans, robotics, and a host of other space research onboard the International Space Station today.

NASA and Boeing completed its Orbital Flight Test-2 mission on Wednesday. NASA Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines monitored the crew ship’s arrival last week, conducted cargo and test operations inside the vehicle, then closed the hatch on Tuesday before finally seeing Starliner undock from the Harmony module’s forward port at 2:36 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.

Lindgren started Thursday with a hearing assessment for the Acoustic Diagnostics experiment then setup the Astrobee robotic free-flyers for the Kibo Robot Programming Challenge 3. Hines set up hardware that will measure blood flow in the brain for the Cerebral Autoregulation investigation.

Astrobee. Animation Credit: NASA

Both astronauts later joined astronauts Jessica Watkins of NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) for vein scans on Thursday. The quartet used the Ultrasound 2 device to scan each other’s neck, shoulder and leg veins. Doctors on the ground monitored the downlinked biomedical scans in real time to gain insight into how the astronaut’s bodies are adapting to microgravity.

Watkins and Cristoforetti began their day collecting their blood and urine samples, spinning them in a centrifuge, and stowing the samples in a science freezer for future analysis. The duo then joined Lindgren in checking out the U.S. spacesuits.

The station’s three cosmonauts from Roscosmos also contributed to the array of space research taking place today on the orbiting lab. The trio, including Commander Oleg Artemyev, with Flight Engineers Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, took turns exploring ultrasound techniques to improve locating landmarks on Earth for photography. Artemyev also completed a session that monitored his cardiac activity for 24 hours. Matveev assisted Korsakov, attached to a variety of sensors, as he worked out on an exercise cycle for a fitness evaluation.

Related article:

NASA, Boeing Complete Starliner Uncrewed Flight Test to Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 67:

Acoustic Diagnostics:


Kibo Robot Programming Challenge 3:

Cerebral Autoregulation:

Ultrasound 2 device:

Exercise cycle:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Geology from 50 Light-Years: Webb Gets Ready to Study Rocky Worlds


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

May 26, 2022

With its mirror segments beautifully aligned and its scientific instruments undergoing calibration, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is just weeks away from full operation. Soon after the first observations are revealed this summer, Webb’s in-depth science will begin.

Among the investigations planned for the first year are studies of two hot exoplanets classified as “super-Earths” for their size and rocky composition: the lava-covered 55 Cancri e and the airless LHS 3844 b. Researchers will train Webb’s high-precision spectrographs on these planets with a view to understanding the geologic diversity of planets across the galaxy, and the evolution of rocky planets like Earth.

Super-Hot Super-Earth 55 Cancri e

55 Cancri e orbits less than 1.5 million miles from its Sun-like star (one twenty-fifth of the distance between Mercury and the Sun), completing one circuit in less than 18 hours. With surface temperatures far above the melting point of typical rock-forming minerals, the day side of the planet is thought to be covered in oceans of lava.

Image above: Illustration showing what exoplanet 55 Cancri e could look like, based on current understanding of the planet. 55 Cancri e is a rocky planet with a diameter almost twice that of Earth orbiting just 0.015 astronomical units from its Sun-like star. Because of its tight orbit, the planet is extremely hot, with dayside temperatures reaching 4,400 degrees Fahrenheit (about 2,400 degrees Celsius). Artwork  Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, Dani Player (STScI).

Planets that orbit this close to their star are assumed to be tidally locked, with one side facing the star at all times. As a result, the hottest spot on the planet should be the one that faces the star most directly, and the amount of heat coming from the day side should not change much over time.

But this doesn’t seem to be the case. Observations of 55 Cancri e from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that the hottest region is offset from the part that faces the star most directly, while the total amount of heat detected from the day side does vary.

Does 55 Cancri e Have a Thick Atmosphere?

One explanation for these observations is that the planet has a dynamic atmosphere that moves heat around. “55 Cancri e could have a thick atmosphere dominated by oxygen or nitrogen,” explained Renyu Hu of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who leads a team that will use Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) to capture the thermal emission spectrum of the day side of the planet. “If it has an atmosphere, [Webb] has the sensitivity and wavelength range to detect it and determine what it is made of,” Hu added.

Or Is It Raining Lava in the Evening on 55 Cancri e?

Another intriguing possibility, however, is that 55 Cancri e is not tidally locked. Instead, it may be like Mercury, rotating three times for every two orbits (what’s known as a 3:2 resonance). As a result, the planet would have a day-night cycle.

“That could explain why the hottest part of the planet is shifted,” explained Alexis Brandeker, a researcher from Stockholm University who leads another team studying the planet. “Just like on Earth, it would take time for the surface to heat up. The hottest time of the day would be in the afternoon, not right at noon.”

Brandeker’s team plans to test this hypothesis using NIRCam to measure the heat emitted from the lit side of 55 Cancri e during four different orbits. If the planet has a 3:2 resonance, they will observe each hemisphere twice and should be able to detect any difference between the hemispheres.

In this scenario, the surface would heat up, melt, and even vaporize during the day, forming a very thin atmosphere that Webb could detect. In the evening, the vapor would cool and condense to form droplets of lava that would rain back to the surface, turning solid again as night falls.

Image above: Illustration comparing rocky exoplanets LHS 3844 b and 55 Cancri e to Earth and Neptune. Both 55 Cancri e and LHS 3844 b are between Earth and Neptune in terms of size and mass, but they are more similar to Earth in terms of composition. The planets are arranged from left to right in order of increasing radius. Image Credits: ILLUSTRATION: NASA, ESA, CSA, Dani Player (STScI).

Somewhat Cooler Super-Earth LHS 3844 b

While 55 Cancri e will provide insight into the exotic geology of a world covered in lava, LHS 3844 b affords a unique opportunity to analyze the solid rock on an exoplanet surface.

Like 55 Cancri e, LHS 3844 b orbits extremely close to its star, completing one revolution in 11 hours. However, because its star is relatively small and cool, the planet is not hot enough for the surface to be molten. Additionally, Spitzer observations indicate that the planet is very unlikely to have a substantial atmosphere.

What Is the Surface of LHS 3844 b Made of?

While we won’t be able to image the surface of LHS 3844 b directly with Webb, the lack of an obscuring atmosphere makes it possible to study the surface with spectroscopy.

“It turns out that different types of rock have different spectra,” explained Laura Kreidberg at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. “You can see with your eyes that granite is lighter in color than basalt. There are similar differences in the infrared light that rocks give off.”

Kreidberg’s team will use MIRI to capture the thermal emission spectrum of the day side of LHS 3844 b, and then compare it to spectra of known rocks, like basalt and granite, to determine its composition. If the planet is volcanically active, the spectrum could also reveal the presence of trace amounts of volcanic gases.

The importance of these observations goes far beyond just two of the more than 5,000 confirmed exoplanets in the galaxy. “They will give us fantastic new perspectives on Earth-like planets in general, helping us learn what the early Earth might have been like when it was hot like these planets are today,” said Kreidberg.

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

These observations of 55 Cancri e and LHS 3844 b will be conducted as part of Webb’s Cycle 1 General Observers program. General Observers programs were competitively selected using a dual-anonymous review system, the same system used to allocate time on Hubble.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world's premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Related links:

Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam):

Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI):

Webb’s Cycle 1 General Observers program:

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Jamie Adkins/Space Telescope Science Institute/Margaret W. Carruthers.


Upper Stage Propulsion System for Future Artemis Mission Reaches Major Milestone


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.

May 26, 2022

While the Artemis I team prepares for its upcoming mission, NASA and contractor teams are already building rockets to support future Artemis Moon missions. In United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) factory in Decatur, Alabama, major components have been completed for the Artemis III interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) that will provide the power to send astronauts to the Moon. The ICPS, which is built by ULA under a collaborative partnership with Boeing, provides in-space propulsion for the Orion spacecraft after the solid rocket boosters and core stage put SLS into an Earth orbit, and before the spacecraft is flying on its own. The liquid hydrogen tank (above) is built, and soon it will be mated to the intertank (below) that connects it with the liquid oxygen tank. The intertank is comprised of composite-material truss structures in an X design. The eight bottles around the perimeter of the trusses store helium used to pressurize the stage's propellant tanks. The liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks provide propellant for a single RL10 engine built by Aerojet Rocketdyne in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Artemis III ICPS will provide the big push needed to propel Orion toward the Moon and send the crew on the first mission where humans once again will land on the lunar surface.

Related links:

Space Launch System (SLS):


Moon to Mars:

United Launch Alliance’s (ULA):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/United Launch Alliance’s (ULA).

Best regards,

Taking climate monitoring into the future with quantum


ESA - European Space Agency emblem.

May 26, 2022

Over the last decades, satellites measuring the many aspects of Earth have certainly demonstrated their worth with the information they yield to understand and monitor our environment and, importantly, to provide undeniable evidence of climate change for policymaking. While Europe is currently firmly placed as a world leader in Earth observation, it’s critical to stay ahead of the game by examining how even more sophisticated space technologies can be developed to return even more precise information in the future. Today, at ESA’s Living Planet Symposium, being held in Bonn, scientists dug deep into the potential of spaceborne quantum gravity sensors to do just this.

Cold atom interferometry experiment

Most of us probably wouldn’t normally associate Earth’s gravity field with climate – we would think of it as the fundamental force of nature that keeps our planet in orbit around the Sun and what holds our world together. However, the strength of our gravity field varies from place to place, and some of these tiny variations are actually linked to aspects of our planet that are connected to climate change.

Variations in the gravity field are due to a number of factors such as the rotation of Earth, the position of mountains and ocean trenches and variations in the density of Earth's interior. But smaller variations in time and location are due to other factors such as fluctuations in underground water reservoirs and changes in ice mass. So having a really precise model of the gravity field and being able to show change over time is important for understanding issues such as the dwindling freshwater resources, the loss of ice mass from ice sheets and glaciers and sea-level change, which are symptomatic of the climate crisis.

Between 2009 and 2013, ESA’s GOCE satellite mission mapped the gravity field in detail. This resulted in a unique model of the geoid, which is the surface of equal gravitational potential defined by the gravity field. The model has been the foundation of many published research papers on the complexities of Earth’s interior. But the GOCE geoid has also been key in accessing sea-level change and ocean circulation patterns, for example.

GOCE geoid

In 2002, the US–German GRACE tandem satellite mission was launched to measure the local pull of gravity as water shifts around Earth owing to changing seasons, weather and climate processes. It was also used to monitor the loss of ice mass from the ice sheets and offered insights into groundwater resources. In 2018, the GRACE Follow-On mission was launched to extend these measurements.

These three missions have undoubtedly revolutionised our understanding of the gravity field and dynamic processes related to mass transport and their coupling mechanisms.

Turning back to the biggest environmental challenge society is facing – climate change - all signs are that the climate crisis is worsening, and even if we manage to achieve the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, the detrimental effects from it will be long lasting.

Satellites in orbit today and those planned for the future are critical to providing global data to understand how Earth works and how it is been affected by climate change, and to assess if climate policies are being effective. With so much at stake, it is equally critical to develop completely new space technologies for further down the line – for satellite missions that could be launched within the next decade.

Emerging cold atom technologies that exploit the wave nature of matter are showing real potential for improving the way measurements are made from space – particularly for measuring gravity, which was the subject of in-depth sessions today at ESA’s Living Planet Symposium.

Quantum gravimeter during an ESA airborne campaign over Iceland

Moreover, exploiting the ‘quantum revolution’ with quantum missions for climate is one of the key components of ESA’s Accelerator: Space for a Green Future, which pushes for advanced data, science, technology, applications and services for a sustainable life on Earth. The Accelerator will provide European decision-makers, industry and society with the support they need to help achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The idea is that future quantum sensors would combine the principles of current gravimetry measurements with ‘cold atom interferometry’.

This involves using lasers to freeze the atoms within the instrument to near absolute zero, which is −273.15 °C. The lasers are then switched off so that the atoms are free to move in response to the strength of the gravity field. Measuring the phase difference through interferometry as the atoms ‘fall’ according to the pull of gravity will provide measurements of the gravity field as the satellite orbits around Earth.

Similar to an atomic clock providing an absolute measurement of time, cold atom interferometry would provide an absolute measurement of the variations of the gravitational forces sensed by the satellites, particularly that from Earth’s gravity field.

Compact vacuum chamber for cold atom interferometry gravity gradiometer

Oliver Carraz, a quantum physicist who works at ESA said, “The theory has already been proven over the last few decades in laboratories and there has also been a big push to test the concept outside the laboratory. ESA has conducted an airborne gravity campaign in Iceland and there have been experiments over France that have reached state-of-the-art of airborne gravimetry. Also there are now some commercial ground-based quantum gravimeters. In addition, NASA has had a cold-atom laboratory on the International Space Station for a few years now. This laboratory, which has been coined as the ‘coldest place in the Universe’, is returning some very encouraging results.”

Prof. Jürgen Kusche, from the University of Bonn, said, “The theory of using quantum gravity sensors in space to measure gravity is actually relatively simple. However, the challenge is developing the robust satellite technology that provides the mission lifetime and high-resolution coverage we need.

“While we are still some years off the technology being sufficiently advanced for ESA and partners to build a dedicated satellite mission that uses cold atom technology to measure gravity, scientists are working hard to make this a reality in the future. The Living Planet Symposium has been a brilliant opportunity to share the latest developments with the scientific community, politicians, commercial entities, and more.”

ESA’s Ilias Daras, noted, “In the shorter term, as part of its FutureEO programme, ESA along with NASA are also now working on realising the MAGIC gravity constellation, which will measure mass transport processes with increased accuracy, at much higher spatial and temporal resolution, than current state-of-the-art missions.

“MAGIC will improve mass change observations of groundwater storage, ocean circulation, sea-level, ice sheets and glaciers using current technology to answer the current need for more and improved gravity measurements.

“However, it is also important to look further into the future, so developing quantum cold-atom sensors for climate is a hot topic and one which we look forward to being a reality in 15 years or so.”

Related links:

ESA’s Accelerator: Space for a Green Future:


Observing the Earth:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/LP2N/HPF/DLR/ONERA/RAL Space.


mercredi 25 mai 2022

NASA, Boeing Complete Starliner Uncrewed Flight Test to Space Station


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

May 26, 2022

NASA and Boeing safely landed the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft Wednesday in the desert of the western United States, completing the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) to the International Space Station to help prove the system is ready to fly astronauts.

Image above: Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands at White Sands Missile Range’s Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico. Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) is Starliner’s second uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. OFT-2 serves as an end-to-end test of the system's capabilities. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

About four hours after departing the space station, Starliner touched down onto its airbags at 4:49 p.m. MDT, wrapping up the six-day flight, which tested the end-to-end capabilities of the crew-capable spacecraft. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 4:05 p.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.

OFT-2 Starliner landing

“NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and our industry partner, Boeing, today took a major and successful step on the journey to enabling more human spaceflight missions to the International Space Station on American spacecraft from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The OFT-2 mission represents the power of collaboration, which allows us to innovate for the benefit of humanity and inspire the world through discovery. This golden era of spaceflight wouldn’t be possible without the thousands of individuals who persevered and poured their passion into this great achievement.”

As part of the flight test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing accomplished planned test objectives, including:

- Starliner launch and normal trajectory to orbital insertion
- Launch of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V and dual-engine Centaur second stage
- Ascent abort emergency detection system validation
- Starliner separation from the Atlas V rocket
- Approach, rendezvous, and docking with International Space Station
- Starliner hatch opening and closing, astronaut ingress, and quiescent mode
- Crew habitability and internal interface evaluation
- Starliner undocking and departure from space station
- Starliner deorbit, and crew module separation from service module
- Starliner descent and atmospheric entry with aero-deceleration system
- Precision targeted landing and recovery

“I am incredibly proud of the dedication and perseverance shown by the NASA, Boeing and ULA team culminating in the successful completion of Starliner’s second Orbital Flight Test from start to finish,” said Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “Throughout this process, Starliner has provided a tremendous amount of valuable data, which we’re continuing to assess in our effort to bring the spacecraft online and fully operational for crew flights to the space station as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The flight test began Thursday, May 19, when Starliner launched on the ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Following liftoff, Starliner successfully entered Earth’s orbit, performed a series of demonstrations of its capabilities, and docked with the orbital outpost 26 hours after launch. The Expedition 67 crew aboard the station opened hatches and entered the capsule for the first time, inspecting the spacecraft and verifying integration with power and communications station systems for longer stays in the future. The station crew also unloaded 500 pounds of cargo delivered by Starliner and sent 600 pounds of cargo back to Earth.

OFT-2 Starliner recovery operations and hatch opening

“Congratulations to the NASA and Boeing teams,” said Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA’s International Space Station Program. “I am excited to see the completion of a critical step in bringing another system online to transport long-duration crew members to and from the International Space Station. Soon, we hope to see crews arrive to the space station on Starliner to continue the important microgravity scientific research and discovery made possible by the orbiting laboratory.”

A critical step in validating the performance of Boeing’s systems, OFT-2 brings the nation a significant step closer to having two unique human transportation systems to carry astronauts to and from the space station from U.S. soil.

“We have had an excellent flight test of a complex system that we expected to learn from along the way and we have,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Crew Program. “With the completion of OFT-2, we will incorporate lessons learned and continue working to prepare for the crewed flight test and NASA certification. Thank you to the NASA and Boeing teammates who have put so much of themselves into Starliner.”

Starliner carried a “passenger” on this flight test – a lifelike test device named Rosie.

During OFT-1, Rosie was outfitted with 15 sensors to collect data on what astronauts will experience during flights on Starliner. For OFT-2, spacecraft data capture ports previously connected to Rosie’s 15 sensors were used to collect data from sensors placed along the seat pallet, which is the infrastructure that holds all the crew seats in place. Among the cargo returned were three Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System reusable tanks that provide breathable air to station crew members. The tanks will be refurbished on Earth and sent back to station on a future flight.

Boeing retrieved the spacecraft from the desert and will transport it back to the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for processing.

After NASA and Boeing review processes data from this test flight, teams will continue plans for Starliner and its next mission, the Crew Flight Test to the space station.

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew program at:

Related articles:

Starliner Undocks from Station, Heads Toward Earth

Station Crew Opens Boeing Starliner Hatch, Enters Spacecraft

Boeing’s Starliner Docks to Station for Cargo and Test Ops

Liftoff! Atlas V Clears the Launch Pad with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft

Related links:

Commercial Space:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Videos, Text, Credits: NASA/Sean Potter/Josh Finch/KSC/Brittney Thorpe/Jennifer Wolfinger/JSC/Dan Huot/Sandra Jones/NASA TV/SciNews.


Starliner Undocks from Station, Heads Toward Earth


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

May 25, 2022

Image above: Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 2:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 25. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 2:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 25, completing about 5-days attached to the microgravity laboratory as part of its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2. At undocking, Starliner and the space station were flying over Earth south of Bangkok, Thailand.

Starliner hatch closure

Starliner will execute a deorbit burn at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, to begin the final phase of its return to Earth, headed for a parachute-assisted landing about 6:49 p.m. at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Live coverage for the deorbit burn and landing will begin 5:45 p.m. on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

Starliner undocking and departure

Starliner Nearing Return to Earth

NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website are providing live coverage of the return to Earth for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. The uncrewed Starliner is expected to land at 6:49 p.m. EDT White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

Image above: This view from a window on the SpaceX Dragon Freedom crew ship shows Boeing’s Starliner crew ship moments away from docking to the station on May 20, 2022. Image Credit: NASA.

If all conditions are “go” for Starliner’s return, the deorbit burn will be conducted at 6:05 p.m. Within minutes, the service module will separate from the crew module to prepare for landing at 6:49 p.m.

Starliner Fires Engines, Returning to Earth for Landing

At 6:05 p.m. EDT, the spacecraft began its deorbit burn that puts Starliner on the right path to land at 6:49 p.m. White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. The service module has successfully separated from the crew module containing Rosie the rocketeer, an anthropometric test device who will help maintain Starliner’s center of gravity from ascent through landing. During OFT-1, Rosie was outfitted with 15 sensors to collect data on what astronauts will experience during flights on Starliner.

Image above: Boeing’s Starliner crew ship approaches the space station on the company’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission on May 20, 2022. Image Credit: NASA.

At 6:44 p.m. the drogue parachute will be released, pulling out the spacecraft’s three main parachutes at 6:45 p.m. that will slow the capsule to a safe landing on Earth.

Image above: Rosie the Rocketeer is pictured in Boeing's Starliner crew ship. Image Credit: NASA.

Related articles:

Station Crew Opens Boeing Starliner Hatch, Enters Spacecraft

Boeing’s Starliner Docks to Station for Cargo and Test Ops

Liftoff! Atlas V Clears the Launch Pad with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft

Related links:

NASA Television:

Commercial Crew:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

SpaceX Transporter-5 launch


SpaceX - TRANSPORTER Mission patch.

May 25, 2022

SpaceX Transporter-5 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Transporter-5, SpaceX’s fifth dedicated SmallSat Rideshare Program mission with 59 small spacecraft, from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on 25 May 2022, at 18:35 UTC (14:35 EDT).

SpaceX Transporter-5 launch and Falcon 9 first stage landing

Falcon 9’s first stage landed on Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1061) previously supported seven missions: Crew-1, Crew-2, SXM-8, CRS-23, IXPE, Transporter-4 and one Starlink mission.

SmallSat Rideshare Program


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


mardi 24 mai 2022

Starliner’s Hatch Closed, Preps for Wednesday Departure


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

May 24, 2022

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Image Credit: Boeing

NASA astronauts living aboard the International Space Station closed the hatch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft at 3 p.m. EDT Tuesday, May 25. The uncrewed spacecraft is scheduled to autonomously undock from the space station to begin the journey home at 2:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 25. NASA and Boeing are targeting 6:49 p.m. for the landing and conclusion of Orbital Flight Test-2, wrapping up a six-day mission testing the end-to-end capabilities of the Starliner system.

Teams are targeting White Sands Space Harbor at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico as the primary landing site, with a backup White Sands opportunity Friday, May 27. The spacecraft will return with more than 600 pounds of cargo, including Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System reusable tanks that provide breathable air to station crew members. The tanks will be refurbished on Earth and sent back to station on a future flight.

Image above: Astronauts (from left) Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and Samantha Cristoforetti wave following Starliner farewell remarks from NASA leadership on Tuesday. Image Credit: NASA TV.

NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website will continue provide live coverage of the upcoming return activities for OFT-2 Wednesday, Thursday, May 25, as Starliner prepares to undock and return to Earth. Return coverage on NASA TV is as follows and all times are subject to change based on mission operations (all times are Eastern):

Wednesday, May 25

2 p.m. – TV coverage begins for the 2:36 p.m. undocking. NASA will break coverage after the spacecraft exits joint operations with the space station.

5:45 p.m. – Coverage begins for 6:05 p.m. deorbit burn and 6:49 p.m. landing in the western United States.

9 p.m. – Return to Earth news conference on NASA TV from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston:

    Steve Stich, manager, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
    Joel Montalbano, manager, NASA’s International Space Station Program
    Suni Williams, NASA astronaut
    Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager, Boeing

Related articles:

Station Crew Opens Boeing Starliner Hatch, Enters Spacecraft

Boeing’s Starliner Docks to Station for Cargo and Test Ops

Liftoff! Atlas V Clears the Launch Pad with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft

Related links:

NASA Television:

Expedition 67:

Commercial Crew program:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

InSight's Final Selfie


NASA - InSight Mars Lander Mission patch.

May 23, 2022

NASA's InSight Mars lander took this final selfie on April 24, 2022, the 1,211th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The lander is covered with far more dust than it was in its first selfie, taken in December 2018, not long after landing – or in its second selfie, composed of images taken in March and April 2019.

InSight's First Selfie. Image Credits:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

The arm needs to move several times in order to capture a full selfie. Because InSight's dusty solar panels are producing less power, the team will soon put the lander's robotic arm in its resting position (called the "retirement pose") for the last time in May of 2022.

JPL manages InSight for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

InSight's Final Selfie. Image Credits:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

A number of European partners, including France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain's Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

InSight Mars Lander & Mission logo. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Related article:

NASA’s InSight Still Hunting Marsquakes as Power Levels Diminish

Related links:

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS):

Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3):

InSight Mars Lander:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Yvette Smith/JPL/Andrew Good.