vendredi 12 août 2022

Astronauts Pack Dragon for Return; Cosmonauts Practice Spacewalk


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

August 12, 2022

Skin healing processes and spacewalk preparations filled the work schedule aboard the International Space Station on Friday. The Expedition 67 crew members are also readying a U.S. space freighter for its return to Earth next week.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship (at top) is pictured docked to the Harmony module’s forward port on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Four astronauts aboard the orbiting lab practiced surgical techniques to heal wounds in microgravity on Friday in the Kibo laboratory module. The quartet split up in groups of two with NASA astronaut Bob Hines joining ESA (European Space Agency) Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti for the first practice session during the morning. In the afternoon, NASA Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren and Jessica Watkins began their session studying how to take biopsies and suture wounds inside the Life Science Glovebox.

During the middle of the day, the foursome had time set aside time for gathering frozen research samples inside science freezers and preparing them for departure back to Earth inside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship. Dragon is due to leave the station on Aug. 18 loaded with over 4,000 pounds of station supplies and science experiments after 33 days docked to the Harmony module’s forward port. The commercial cargo craft will parachute to a splashdown off the coast of Florida the next day for retrieval by NASA and SpaceX personnel.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Watkins and Cristoforetti started the day collecting blood samples for spinning in a centrifuge then stowing them in a science freezer. Lindgren  evaluated the effectiveness of the Butterfly IQ Ultrasound device that uses mobile-computing technology to promote crew autonomy. Hines wrapped up his day with light orbital plumbing tasks and spacewalk tether inspections.

Two cosmonauts are gearing up for a spacewalk on Aug. 17 to continue configuring the European robotic arm (ERA) for operations on the station’s Russian segment. Commander Oleg Artemyev and Flight Engineer Denis Matveev tried on their Orlan spacesuits, tested communications gear, checked for leaks, and practiced maneuvers planned for next week’s six-and-half-hour excursion. Flight Engineer Sergey Korsakov assisted the duo during the spacewalking dry run and will be on duty monitoring his two crewmates when they exit the Poisk module’s airlock next week for the ongoing ERA work.

Related links:

Expedition 67:

Heal wounds in microgravity:

Kibo laboratory module:

Life Science Glovebox:

Harmony module:

Butterfly IQ Ultrasound:

Poisk module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Hubble Peers at Celestial Cloudscape


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug 12, 2022

This celestial cloudscape from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures the colorful region in the Orion Nebula surrounding the Herbig-Haro object HH 505. Herbig-Haro objects are luminous regions surrounding newborn stars that form when stellar winds or jets of gas spew from these infant stars creating shockwaves that collide with nearby gas and dust at high speeds. In the case of HH 505, these outflows originate from the star IX Ori, which lies on the outskirts of the Orion Nebula around 1,000 light-years from Earth. The outflows themselves are visible as gracefully curving structures at the top and bottom of this image. Their interaction with the large-scale flow of gas and dust from the core of the nebula distorts them into sinuous curves.

Captured with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) by astronomers studying the properties of outflows and protoplanetary disks, the image reveals bright shockwaves formed by the outflows as well as slower moving currents of stellar material. The Orion Nebula is awash in intense ultraviolet radiation from bright young stars. Hubble’s sensitivity to ultraviolet light allows astronomers to directly observe these high-energy outflows and learn more about their structures.

The Orion Nebula is a dynamic region of dust and gas where thousands of stars are forming. It is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth, making it one of the most scrutinized areas of the night sky and often a target for Hubble. This observation was also part of a spellbinding Hubble mosaic of the Orion Nebula, which combined 520 ACS images in five different colors to create the sharpest view ever taken of the region.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS):

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Bally; Acknowledgment: M. H. Özsaraç.

Best regards,

NASA Seeks Student Ideas for Extracting, Forging Metal on the Moon


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.

Aug 12, 2022

NASA’s 2023 annual Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge asks university students to design a metal production pipeline on the Moon - from extracting metal from lunar minerals to creating structures and tools. The ability to extract metal and build needed infrastructure on the Moon advances the Artemis Program goal of a sustained human presence on the lunar surface.

Image above: NASA’s 2023 annual Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge asks university students to design a metal production pipeline on the Moon - from extracting metal from lunar minerals to creating structures and tools. Image Credits: NASA/Advanced Concepts Lab.

Its strength and resistance to corrosion make metal key to building structures, pipes, cables and more, but the metal materials for infrastructure are heavy, making them very expensive to transport. Student teams participating in the BIG Idea Challenge, a university-level competition sponsored by NASA and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), will develop innovative ways to extract and convert metals from minerals found on the Moon, such as ilmenite and anorthite, to enable metal manufacturing on the Moon.

The BIG Idea Challenge, now in its eighth year, invites university students to tackle some of the most critical needs facing space exploration and help create the mission capabilities that could make new discoveries possible. The challenge provides undergraduate and graduate students working with faculty advisors the opportunity to design, develop, and demonstrate their technology in a project-based program over the course of a year and a half. This NASA-funded challenge provides development awards of up to $180,000 to up to eight selected teams to build and demonstrate their concept designs and share the results of their research and testing at the culminating forum in November 2023.

The availability of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) derived metals on the Moon would allow infrastructure needed for a lunar base – including pipes, power cables, landing pads, transport rails, and pressure vessels to contain volatiles like fuel – to be made locally using additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.

"Here at home, forging metal has long been a key part of building our homes and infrastructure, and the same holds true as we work towards a sustained presence on the Moon," said Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “This challenge gives students the opportunity to help develop the future technology that will help us find, process, and manufacture with metal on the lunar surface."

Teams are invited to submit proposals for technologies needed along any point in the lunar metal product pipeline, including, but not limited to:

- Metal detecting
- Metal refining
- Forming materials for additive manufacturing
- Testing and qualifying 3D printed infrastructure for use on the Moon

Drilling, excavation, and transportation of mined materials are excluded from this challenge.

A non-binding notice of intent is due Sept. 30, 2022. Written proposal and video submissions are due on Jan. 24, 2023, in which teams must include a specific, compelling use case that describes how their portion of the metal product production pipeline fits into infrastructure development on the Moon. Teams should also identify what systems they assume will be in place to support their proposed concept, as well as consider incorporating mechanisms to enable efficient operation on the Moon, including lunar dust mitigation, thermal management, and realistic power considerations.

Teams of at least five and no more than 25 must be composed of students and faculty at U.S.-based colleges and universities affiliated with their state’s Space Grant Consortium. Non-Space Grant affiliated colleges and universities may partner with a Space Grant-affiliated institution. Minority Serving Institutions are encouraged to apply. Multi-university and multi-disciplinary teams are encouraged.

“NASA is already thinking about supporting longer-term missions to the Moon. This BIG Idea Challenge theme links university teams to the push toward sustained human presence on the Moon and on other planets,” said Tomas Gonzalez-Torres, Space Grant project manager in NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement. “This theme goes beyond initial Artemis missions and starts tackling the mission planning needs once we’ve returned humans to the Moon. We are excited to see what these teams develop.”

The 2022 BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA through a collaboration between STMD’s Game Changing Development program and the Office of STEM Engagement’s Space Grant project.

NASA’s BIG Idea Challenge is one of several Artemis student challenges. The BIG Idea Challenge is managed by the National Institute of Aerospace. For more information and to participate in the challenge, visit:

Related links:


Artemis student challenges:

National Institute of Aerospace:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristyn Damadeo.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of August 8, 2022


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

Aug 12, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Aug 8 that included launching three small satellite-based investigations, a ham radio session with students in New York, and a demonstration of wireless technology for monitoring crew health.

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

Student satellites deployed

Image above: This image shows the station’s JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) prior to launching three CubeSat investigations sponsored by JAXA. Image Credit: NASA

The station’s JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) provides launch capability for CubeSats. These small satellites support scientific investigations and technology demonstrations and have humanitarian, environmental, and commercial applications. During the week, crew members installed J-SSOD-22 hardware and deployed three small satellites carrying investigations sponsored by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

Image above: Flight model of FUTABA at Kyushu Institute of Technology. This JSSOD-22 CubeSat project observes whisker formation in lead-free solder. Image Credit: Yuto Tome.

- FUTABA, a program crowdfunded by undergraduate students at the Kyushu Institute of Technology, observes whisker formation in lead-free solder. These tiny filaments produced during soldering can pose a threat to electronic circuits. The investigation could improve future consumer products and also inspires future engineers and scientists.

- HSU-SAT1 demonstrates using infrared light emitted from a ground station as a command transmission link for satellites and evaluates new technologies for electrical power supply, on board computing, and other satellite components. New methods of communicating between vehicles and satellites in space could support future exploration missions. Results from this investigation also could improve functioning of small satellites in support of functions on Earth such as cell phones and GPS.

- TUMnanoSAT, developed by The Technical University of Moldova, seeks to improve the quality of engineering studies in the Republic of Moldova and provide students with opportunities to develop and strengthen skills in scientific research and space exploration. This CubeSat tests structural components and communications networks that could be used for development and operation of future satellites deployed by the country.

TUMnanoSAT - Moldova’s first satellite

Video above: TUMnanoSAT is the first satellite from the Republic of Moldova, developed by the Technical University of Moldova. On 12 August 2022, TUMnanoSAT was deployed into low Earth orbit (LEO) from the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” of the International Space Station. Video Credits: Technical University of Moldova/JAXA/UNOOSA/SciNews.

Making contact

Image above: NASA astronaut Bob Hines answers questions from students on the ground during an ISS Ham session. This ham radio program inspires interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. Image Credit: NASA.

During the week, crew members conducted an ISS Ham Radio session with Kopernik Observatory & Science Center in New York. Before these events, students learn about radio waves, electricity, and space and prepare questions to ask the crew. While only a few students are able to ask questions due to the limited time available, hundreds of people typically listen to the event from classrooms or auditoriums or via livestream. By engaging students, teachers, parents, and other members of the community in direct communication with astronauts via ground-based ham radio units, this program helps inspire interest in science, technology, engineering, and math. Ham radio sessions, conducted since Expedition 1, now have provided a direct link to space between more than 250,000 participants on the ground and over 100 crew members.

A shirt with heart

Wireless Compose-2, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), demonstrates an infrastructure for wireless transmission of data and includes the Ballistocardiography for Extraterrestrial Applications and long-Term missions (BEAT), which measures forces generated by the heart as it moves blood. The investigation uses SmartTex, a shirt with built-in sensors, to take these measurements. This technology could be used to help monitor the health of astronauts on future missions and this investigation also could improve the technology for use on the ground. During the week, crew members conducted a BEAT session with the shirt and filled out a questionnaire to provide feedback to researchers.

Other investigations involving the crew:

- For Astrobee Zero Robotics, students write software to control one of the space station’s Astrobee free-flying robots. The experience inspires the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers and promotes teamwork, computer literacy, and awareness of opportunities for space-related careers.

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

Image above: NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins processes samples inside the Life Science Glovebox for the Immunosenescence investigation, which studies how microgravity affects immune function. Image Credit: NASA.

- Immunosenescence studies how microgravity affects immune function during flight and whether immune cells recover post-flight. Results could support development of treatments to protect astronauts during future long-duration spaceflight, and lead to development of more effective treatments for immune system aging on Earth.

- The JAXA Kibo Robot Programming Challenge (Kibo-RPC) provides students an opportunity to write software to control one of the space station’s Astrobee free-flying robots. The experience helps inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers in Japan.

- Plasma Kristall-4 (PK-4), a collaboration between ESA and the Russian State Space Agency (Roscosmos), studies how plasma crystals form in microgravity. Results could shed light on these common phenomena in space and possibly lead to new research methods, better spacecraft designs, and improvements in industries that use plasmas on Earth.

- Butterfly IQ Ultrasound demonstrates a portable ultrasound device for use in space. This technology could provide critical medical capabilities to crews on long duration missions where immediate ground support is not an option. The device also has potential applications for medical care in remote and isolated settings on Earth.

- Ring Sheared Drop examines formation of amyloid fibrils, which create a waxy plaque in the brain and may be involved in development of some neurological diseases. Investigation results may contribute to a better understanding of these diseases and development of potential treatments.

Space to Ground: Space Gardening: 08/12/2022. Video Credit: NASA

The space station, a robust microgravity laboratory with a multitude of specialized research facilities and tools, has supported many scientific breakthroughs from investigations spanning every major scientific discipline. The ISS Benefits for Humanity 2022 publication details the expanding universe of results realized from more than 20 years of experiments conducted on the station.

Related links:

Expedition 67:

JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD):

ISS Ham Radio:

Wireless Compose-2:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

SpaceX Starlink 55 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

Aug 12, 2022

Falcon 9 carrying Starlink 55 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle launched 46 Starlink satellites (Starlink-55) from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, on 12 August 2022, at 21:40 UTC (14:40 PDT).

SpaceX Starlink 55 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 12 August 2022

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, stationed in the Pacific Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1061) previously supported nine missions: Crew-1, Crew-2, SXM-8, CRS-23, IXPE, Transporter-4, Transporter-5, Globalstar-2 FM15 and one Starlink mission.

Related links:



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


jeudi 11 août 2022

Crew Studies Life Science, Botany and Prepares for Spacewalk


ISS - Expedition 67 Mission patch.

August 11, 2022

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply spacecraft, on its 25th Commercial Resupply Services mission, approaches the International Space Station on July 16 to deliver over 5,800 pounds of new science experiments and crew supplies. Image Credit: NASA.

Healing wounds in space and growing crops in low-Earth orbit and beyond were the main research topics aboard the International Space Station on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Expedition 67 crew is also packing a U.S. cargo craft and preparing for a Russian spacewalk next week.

Two-time space station resident Kjell Lindgren of NASA set up hardware during the morning inside the Life Science Glovebox for a biology experiment studying how skin heals in weightlessness. He was joined in the afternoon by fellow astronauts Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins, both from NASA, and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) for an experiment procedures review and a conference with the payload developer on the ground. Observations may provide insights improving wound healing techniques for astronauts and Earthlings.

Hines and Watkins began their day drawing their blood samples, spinning them in a centrifuge, then stowing them in a science freezer for later analysis. Hines then inspected seeds and recirculated fluids for the XROOTS botany study growing mizuna greens and radishes to explore agricultural techniques in space. Watkins later worked on orbital plumbing duties inside the Unity module.

Image above: Cosmonauts (from left) Denis Matveev and Oleg Artemyev configure the European robotic arm on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module during a spacewalk on April 18, 2022. Image Credit: NASA.

Cristoforetti began her day servicing research gear as she downloaded Acoustic Monitor data to a laptop computer then swapped components on a fluorescence imaging microscope. At the end of the day, she continued stowing cargo inside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship readying it for its return to Earth later this month.

Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev are gearing up for another spacewalk on Aug. 17 to prepare the European robotic arm (ERA) for operations on the station’s Russian segment. The duo has been readying their Russian Orlan spacesuits, spacewalking tools, and the Poisk module’s airlock for next week’s planned six-and-half-hour spacewalk. Flight Engineer Sergey Korsakov, who will assist the spacewalkers next week, is also configuring the ERA for the upcoming excursion, which would be this year’s seventh spacewalk.

Related article:

NASA TV to Cover SpaceX Cargo Dragon Departure from Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 67:

Life Science Glovebox:

How skin heals in weightlessness:


Unity module:

Fluorescence imaging microscope:

Poisk module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Hubble Sees Red Supergiant Star Betelgeuse Slowly Recovering After Blowing Its Top


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug 11, 2022

Analyzing data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and several other observatories, astronomers have concluded that the bright red supergiant star Betelgeuse quite literally blew its top in 2019, losing a substantial part of its visible surface and producing a gigantic Surface Mass Ejection (SME). This is something never before seen in a normal star's behavior.

Illustration Credits: NASA, ESA, Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI)

Our Sun routinely blows off parts of its tenuous outer atmosphere, the corona, in an event known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). But the Betelgeuse SME blasted off 400 billion times as much mass as a typical CME!

The monster star is still slowly recovering from this catastrophic upheaval. "Betelgeuse continues doing some very unusual things right now; the interior is sort of bouncing," said Andrea Dupree of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

These new observations yield clues as to how red stars lose mass late in their lives as their nuclear fusion furnaces burn out, before exploding as supernovae. The amount of mass loss significantly affects their fate. However, Betelgeuse's surprisingly petulant behavior is not evidence the star is about to blow up anytime soon. So the mass loss event is not necessarily the signal of an imminent explosion.

Dupree is now pulling together all the puzzle pieces of the star's petulant behavior before, after, and during the eruption into a coherent story of a never-before-seen titanic convulsion in an aging star.

Image above: This illustration plots changes in the brightness of the red supergiant star Betelgeuse, following the titanic mass ejection of a large piece of its visible surface. The escaping material cooled to form a cloud of dust that temporarily made the star look dimmer, as seen from Earth. This unprecedented stellar convulsion disrupted the monster star’s 400-day-long oscillation period that astronomers had measured for more than 200 years. The interior may now be jiggling like a plate of gelatin dessert. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI).

This includes new spectroscopic and imaging data from the STELLA robotic observatory, the Fred L. Whipple Observatory's Tillinghast Reflector Echelle Spectrograph (TRES), NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory spacecraft (STEREO-A), NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). Dupree emphasizes that the Hubble data was pivotal to helping sort out the mystery.

"We've never before seen a huge mass ejection of the surface of a star. We are left with something going on that we don't completely understand. It's a totally new phenomenon that we can observe directly and resolve surface details with Hubble. We're watching stellar evolution in real time."

The titanic outburst in 2019 was possibly caused by a convective plume, more than a million miles across, bubbling up from deep inside the star. It produced shocks and pulsations that blasted off the chunk of the photosphere leaving the star with a large cool surface area under the dust cloud that was produced by the cooling piece of photosphere. Betelgeuse is now struggling to recover from this injury.

Weighing roughly several times as much as our Moon, the fractured piece of photosphere sped off into space and cooled to form a dust cloud that blocked light from the star as seen by Earth observers. The dimming, which began in late 2019 and lasted for a few months, was easily noticeable even by backyard observers watching the star change brightness. One of the brightest stars in the sky, Betelgeuse is easily found in the right shoulder of the constellation Orion.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

Even more fantastic, the supergiant's 400-day pulsation rate is now gone, perhaps at least temporarily. For almost 200 years astronomers have measured this rhythm as evident in changes in Betelgeuse's brightness variations and surface motions. Its disruption attests to the ferocity of the blowout.

The star's interior convection cells, which drive the regular pulsation may be sloshing around like an imbalanced washing machine tub, Dupree suggests. TRES and Hubble spectra imply that the outer layers may be back to normal, but the surface is still bouncing like a plate of gelatin dessert as the photosphere rebuilds itself.

Though our Sun has coronal mass ejections that blow off small pieces of the outer atmosphere, astronomers have never witnessed such a large amount of a star's visible surface get blasted into space. Therefore, surface mass ejections and coronal mass ejections may be different events.

Betelgeuse is now so huge now that if it replaced the Sun at the center of our solar system, its outer surface would extend past the orbit of Jupiter. Dupree used Hubble to resolve hot spots on the star's surface in 1996. This was the first direct image of a star other than the Sun.

NASA's Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect the ejected material in infrared light as it continues moving away from the star.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington, D.C.

Related links:

STELLA robotic observatory:

Fred L. Whipple Observatory's Tillinghast Reflector Echelle Spectrograph (TRES):

NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory spacecraft (STEREO-A):

American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO):

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/STScI/Ray Villard/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/Andrea Dupree.

Best regards,

What’s Next: The Future of NASA’s Laser Communications


NASA - Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) patch.

Aug 11, 2022

NASA uses lasers to send information to and from Earth, employing invisible beams to traverse the skies, sending terabytes of data – pictures and videos – to increase our knowledge of the universe. This capability is known as laser, or optical, communications, even though these eye-safe, infrared beams can’t be seen by human eyes.

Laser communication in the near future. Animation Credit: NASA

“We are thrilled by the promise laser communications will offer in the coming years,” says Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator and program manager for Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These missions and demonstrations usher in NASA's new Decade of Light in which NASA will work with other government agencies and the commercial sector to dramatically expand future communications capabilities for space exploration and enable vibrant and robust economic opportunities.”

Laser communications systems provide missions with increased data rates, meaning they can send and receive more information in a single transmission compared to traditional radio waves. Additionally, the systems are lighter, more flexible, and more secure. Laser communications can supplement radio frequency communications, which most NASA missions use today.

Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD)

Image above: Illustration of LCRD relaying data from ILLUMA-T on the International Space Station to a ground station on Earth. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Dave Ryan.

On Dec. 7, 2021, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) launched into orbit, about 22,000 miles from Earth to test the capabilities of laser communications. LCRD is the agency’s first technology demonstration of a two-way laser relay system. Now that LCRD is in orbit, NASA’s laser communications advancements continue.

LCRD Experimenters Program

In May 2022, NASA certified that LCRD is ready to conduct experiments. These experiments are testing and refining laser systems — the mission’s overall goal. Experiments provided by NASA, other government agencies, academia, and industry are measuring the long-term effects of the atmosphere on laser communications signals; assessing the technology’s applicability for future missions; and testing on-orbit laser relay capabilities.

“We will start receiving some experiment results almost immediately, while others are long-term and will take time for trends to emerge during LCRD’s two-year experiment period,” said Rick Butler, project lead for the LCRD experimenters program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “LCRD will answer the aerospace industry’s questions about laser communications as an operational option for high bandwidth applications.”

“The program is still looking for new experiments, and anyone who is interested should reach out,” said Butler. “We are tapping into the laser communications community and these experiments will show how optical will work for international organizations, industry, and academia.”

NASA is continuing to accept proposals for new experiments to help refine optical technologies, increase knowledge, and identify future applications.

LCRD will even relay data submitted by the public shortly after its launch in the form of New Year's resolutions shared with NASA social media accounts. These resolutions will be transmitted from a ground station in California and relayed through LCRD to another ground station located in Hawaii as yet another demonstration of LCRD’s capabilities.

TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD)

Image above: Illustration of TBIRD downlinking data over lasers links to Optical Ground Station 1 in California. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Dave Ryan.

Recently following LCRD, the TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD) payload launched on May 25, 2022, as part of the Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator 3 (PTD-3) mission, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on SpaceX’s Transporter-5 rideshare mission. TBIRD will showcase 200-gigabit-per-second data downlinks – the highest optical rate ever achieved by NASA.

TBIRD is continuing NASA’s optical communications infusion by demonstrating the benefits lasers communications could have for near-Earth science missions that capture important data and large detailed images. TBIRD is sending back terabytes of data in a single pass, demonstrating the benefits of higher bandwidth, and giving NASA more insight into the capabilities of laser communications on small satellites. TBIRD is the size of a tissue box!

“In the past, we’ve designed our instruments and spacecraft around the constraint of how much data we can get down or back from space to Earth,” said TBIRD Project Manager Beth Keer. “With optical communications, we’re blowing that out of the water as far as the amount of data we can bring back. It is truly a game-changing capability.”

Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T)

Image above: Illustration of ILLUMA-T communicating science and exploration data from the International Space Station to LCRD. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Dave Ryan.

Launching in early 2023 in the Dragon trunk of SpaceX’s 27th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station, the Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T) will bring laser communications to the orbiting laboratory and empower astronauts living and working there with enhanced data capabilities.

ILLUMA-T will gather information from experiments aboard the station and send the data to LCRD at 1.2 gigabits per second. At this rate, a feature-length movie could be downloaded in under a minute. LCRD will then relay this information down to ground stations in Hawaii or California.

“ILLUMA-T and LCRD will work together to become the first laser system to demonstrate low-Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit to ground communications links,” said Chetan Sayal, project manager for ILLUMA-T at NASA Goddard.

Orion Artemis II Optical Communications System (O2O)

Image above: Illustration of NASA's O2O laser communications terminal sending high-resolution data from the Artemis II mission. Image Credit: NASA.

The Orion Artemis II Optical Communications System (O2O) will bring laser communications to the Moon aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft during the Artemis II mission. O2O will be capable of transmitting high-resolution images and video when astronauts return to the lunar region for the first time in over 50 years. Artemis II will be the first crewed lunar flight to demonstrate laser communications technologies, sending data to Earth with a downlink rate of up to 260 megabits per second.

“By infusing new laser communications technologies into the Artemis missions, we’re empowering our astronauts with more access to data than ever before,” said O2O Project Manager Steve Horowitz. “The higher the data rates, the more information our instruments can send home to Earth, and the more science our lunar explorers can perform.”

NASA’s laser communications endeavors extend into deep space as well. Currently, NASA is working on a future terminal that could test laser communications against extreme distances and challenging pointing constraints.

Image above: NASA's laser communications mission timeline. Image Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Dave Ryan.

Whether bringing laser communications to near-Earth missions, the Moon, or deep space, the infusion of optical systems will be integral for future NASA missions. Laser communications’ higher data rates will enable exploration and science missions to send more data back to Earth and discover more about the universe. NASA will be able to use information from images, video, and experiments to explore not just the near-Earth region, but to also prepare for future missions to Mars and beyond.

Related links:

Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD):

TeraByte InfraRed Delivery (TBIRD):

Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T):

International Space Station (ISS):

Orion Artemis II Optical Communications System (O2O):

Artemis II mission:

SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation):

Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Katherine Schauer/GSFC/By Kendall Murphy.

Best regards,

Artemis I to Launch First-of-a-Kind Deep Space Biology Mission


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.

Aug 11, 2022

Poised to launch on Artemis I from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida,  BioSentinel – a shoebox-sized CubeSat – will perform the first long-duration biology experiment in deep space. Artemis missions at the Moon will prepare humans to travel on increasingly farther and longer-duration missions to destinations like Mars, and BioSentinel will carry microorganisms, in the form of yeast, to fill critical gaps in knowledge about the health risks in deep space posed by space radiation.

Why NASA is Sending Yeast to Deep Space

Video above: NASA’s BioSentinel mission will go beyond the Moon to perform the first long-duration deep space biology experiment. Set to launch with the first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, Artemis I, the spacecraft will study the effects of space radiation on yeast cells. The results could inspire solutions to keep future astronauts healthy during deep space exploration. Video Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center.

Space radiation is like a demolition derby – on the nano scale. High-energy galactic cosmic rays and bursts of solar particles permeate deep space. These types of radiation can wreak havoc on electronics and living cells alike.

BioSentinel’s main job is to monitor the vital signs of yeast to see how they fare when exposed to deep space radiation. Because yeast cells have similar biological mechanisms to human cells, including DNA damage and repair, scrutinizing yeast in space will help us better understand the risks of space radiation to humans and other biological organisms and help us plan crewed exploration missions to the Moon and beyond. Specifically, BioSentinel will study yeast cell growth and metabolic activity after exposure to a high-radiation environment beyond low-Earth orbit.

Image above: Illustration of BioSentinel’s spacecraft flying past the Moon. Image Credits: NASA/Daniel Rutter.

BioSentinel is one of 10 secondary payloads – all of which are six-unit CubeSats – that have the rare opportunity to hitch a ride to deep space on Artemis I. These satellites are mounted within the Orion stage adapter aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Once ejected into space, they will carry out science and technology investigations. Among this select group, BioSentinel is the only CubeSat to carry a life science experiment.

“BioSentinel is the first of its kind,” said Matthew Napoli, BioSentinel project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “It will carry living organisms farther into space than ever before. That’s really cool!”

Far Out

So far, the Apollo 17 mission to the Moon holds the record for the longest duration human deep space flight; the 1972 mission lasted 12.5 days, far shorter than future Mars missions that will take years to complete. Apollo-17 also carried NASA’s most recent experiments to study terrestrial life in space beyond low-Earth orbit. No space biology experiment – nor astronaut – has traveled beyond the Earth-Moon system, BioSentinel’s destination.

Within hours of launch, SLS will deploy BioSentinel in space. A few days later, the CubeSat will swing past the Moon and fly the rest of its six- to nine-month mission orbiting around the Sun. Once there, BioSentinel’s team will periodically trigger week-long yeast studies. BioSentinel will beam the data to Earth via NASA’s Deep Space Network using a radio developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Image above: Top view of CubeSats as they underwent final processing and were secured inside the Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The ring-shaped stage adapter will be connected to the Space Launch System (SLS) Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, and the Orion spacecraft will be secured on top. All CubeSats will be deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon. Image Credits: NASA/Cory Huston.

A novel biosensor instrument is a key component of BioSentinel’s mission. The biosensor is a miniature biotechnology laboratory designed to measure how living yeast cells respond to long-term exposure to space radiation. At its core is a set of microfluidics cards – custom hardware that allows for the controlled flow of extremely small volumes of liquids. These cards provide a habitat for yeast and a way for scientists to observe them in real time.

BioSentinel’s biosensor technology is based on microfluidics systems developed for prior CubeSat missions. The most recent precursor was NASA’s E. coli Anti-Microbial Satellite, or EcAMSat, mission that flew in 2017. The satellite was deployed into low-Earth orbit from the International Space Station to study the genetic basis for how effectively antibiotics can combat bacteria in spaceflight.

A physical radiation detector instrument developed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston runs alongside BioSentinel’s biosensor. It characterizes and measures radiation, and its results will be compared to the biosensor’s biological response. Data from identical sets of BioSentinel’s instruments aboard the space station and in a lab at Ames will be used to check and compare the yeasts' responses in different gravity and radiation environments.

SmallSat Subsystems Get Smaller

In 2013, Ames launched a small satellite mission to the Moon, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. Although LADEE didn’t perform life science research, it helped pave BioSentinel’s path forward. Much of BioSentinel’s team worked on LADEE. They benefited with experience gained developing and operating a spacecraft mission near the Moon.

“The team wanted to have as much room for science payloads as possible aboard BioSentinel and the engineers delivered,” said Napoli. “LADEE had more room for avionics. A big challenge was miniaturization.”

Image above: A BioSentinel payload engineer works on assembling a BioSensor payload, connecting thermal and optical units to a microfluidic card that contains yeast cells in a lab at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Image Credits: NASA/Dominic Hart.

LADEE was larger than a household refrigerator. BioSentinel’s engineers crammed a lot of subsystems in a small volume. Its avionics are roughly the size and shape of a half-gallon carton of milk.

“Now we have a CubeSat bus ­– the subsystems that run the spacecraft – small enough to leave two-thirds of the volume inside the spacecraft for science payloads. This was definitely a big deal,” said Napoli.

BioSentinel builds on Ames’ history, combining the center’s strengths in space biology research and small satellite technology. Ames has decades of experience studying life in space, including research aboard the space shuttle, the space station, and free-flying satellites. BioSentinel is funded by NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, and more than 100 engineers and scientists worked on the project. Their contributions will help advance NASA’s goal of protecting astronaut health and performance during future deep space exploration missions.

Learn more:

- NASA story: What is BioSentinel?

- NASA featured image: Orion Stage Adapter Readied for Ride on Artemis I

For researchers:

- NASA technical webpage: Why Space Radiation Matters

- NASA technical webpage: Space Radiation Miniseries

Related links:

Artemis I:



Deep Space Network (DSN):

E. coli Anti-Microbial Satellite:

International Space Station (ISS):

Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE):


Ames Research Center:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Author: Gianine Figliozzi, NASA's Ames Research Center.


Gaia reveals the past and future of the Sun


ESA - Gaia Mission patch.

Aug 11, 2022

We all wish that we could sometimes see into the future. Now, thanks to the very latest data from ESA’s star mapping Gaia mission, astronomers can do just that for the Sun. By accurately identifying stars of similar mass and composition, they can see how our Sun is going to evolve in the future. And this work extends far beyond a little astrophysical clairvoyance.

Gaia’s third major data release (DR3) was made public on 13 June 2022. One of the major products to come out of this release was a database of the intrinsic properties of hundreds of millions of stars. These parameters include how hot they are, how big they are, and what masses they contain.

Gaia takes exceptionally accurate readings of a star’s apparent brightness, as seen from Earth, and its colour. Turning those basic observational characteristics into the intrinsic properties of a star is painstaking work.

Stellar evolution

Orlagh Creevey, Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, France, and collaborators from Gaia’s Coordination Unit 8, are responsible for extracting such astrophysical parameters from Gaia’s observations. In doing this, the team are building on the pioneering work of astronomers working at Harvard College Observatory, Massachusetts, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

At that time, astronomers’ efforts were centred on classifying the appearance of ‘spectral lines’. These are dark lines that appear in the rainbow of colours produced when a star’s light is split with a prism. Annie Jump Cannon devised a sequence of spectral classification that ordered the stars according to the strength of these spectral lines. This order was subsequently found to be directly related to the temperature of the stars. Antonia Maury made a separate classification based upon the width of certain spectral lines. It was later discovered that this related to the luminosity and age of a star.

Spectral lines can reveal lots about the characteristics of a star

Correlating these two properties allows every star in the Universe to be plotted on a single diagram. Known as the Hertzsprung-Russell (HR) diagram, it has become one of the cornerstones of astrophysics. Devised independently in 1911 by Ejnar Hertzsprung and in 1913 by Henry Norris Russell,a HR diagram plots a star’s intrinsic luminosity against its effective surface temperature. In doing so, it reveals how stars evolve throughout their long life cycles.

While the mass of the star changes relatively little during its lifetime, the star’s temperature and size varies greatly as it ages. These changes are driven by the type of nuclear fusion reactions that are taking place inside the star at the time.

With an age of around 4.57 billion years, our Sun is currently in its comfortable middle age, fusing hydrogen into helium and generally being rather stable; staid even. That will not always be the case. As the hydrogen fuel runs out in its core, and changes begin in the fusion process, we expect it to swell into a red giant star, lowering its surface temperature in the process. Exactly how this happens depends on how much mass a star contains and its chemical composition. This is where DR3 comes in.

A HR diagram made using data from Gaia DR2

Orlagh and colleagues combed the data looking for the most accurate stellar observations that the spacecraft could offer. “We wanted to have a really pure sample of stars with high precision measurements,” says Orlagh.

They concentrated their efforts on stars that have surface temperatures of between 3000K and 10 000K because these are the longest-lived stars in the Galaxy and hence can reveal the history of the Milky Way. They are also promising candidates for finding exoplanets because they are broadly similar to the Sun, which has a surface temperature of 6000K.

Next, Orlagh and colleagues filtered the sample to only show those stars that had the same mass and chemical composition as the Sun. Since they allowed the age to be different, the stars they selected ended up tracing out a line across the H-R diagram that represents the evolution of our Sun from its past into its future. It revealed the way our star will vary its temperature and luminosity as it ages.

The life of a star

From this work, it becomes clear that our Sun will reach a maximum temperature at approximately 8 billion years of age, then it will cool down and increase in size, becoming a red giant star around 10–11 billion years of age. The Sun will reach the end of its life after this phase, when it eventually becomes a dim white dwarf.

Finding stars similar to the Sun is essential for understanding how we fit into the wider Universe. "If we don't understand our own Sun – and there are many things we don't know about it – how can we expect to understand all of the other stars that make up our wonderful galaxy,” says Orlagh.

It is a source of some irony that the Sun is our nearest, most studied star yet its proximity forces us to study it with completely different telescopes and instruments from those that we use to look at the rest of the stars. This is because the Sun is so much brighter than the other stars. By identifying similar stars to the Sun, but this time with similar ages, we can bridge this observational gap.

To identify these ‘solar analogues’ in the Gaia data, Orlagh and colleagues looked for stars with temperatures, surface gravities, compositions, masses and radii that are all similar to the present-day Sun. They found 5863 stars that matched their criteria.

The Sun's future

Now that Gaia has produced the target list, others can begin to investigate them in earnest. Some of the questions they want answers to include: do all solar analogues have planetary systems similar to ours? Do all solar analogues rotate at a similar rate to the Sun?

With data release 3, Gaia’s supremely accurate instrumentation has allowed the stellar parameters of more stars to be determined more precisely than ever before. And that accuracy will ripple out to many other studies, For example, knowing stars more accurately can help when studying galaxies, whose light is the amalgamation of billions of individual stars.

“The Gaia mission has touched everywhere in astrophysics,” says Orlagh.

So, almost certainly, it will not only be the Sun’s past and future that this work helps illuminate.

For more details see How Big, Warm, Old, … Are the stars? Gaia’s stellar parameters:

Related links:

Gaia’s third major data release (DR3):


Images, Animation, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI)/ESA/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

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mercredi 10 août 2022

The ISS is preparing for the arrival of a new crew


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Aug 10, 2022

On Wednesday, August 10, 2022, the orbit of the International Space Station was adjusted to form ballistic conditions before the launch of the Soyuz MS-22 manned spacecraft and the landing of the Soyuz MS-21.

The engines of the Progress MS-20 cargo spacecraft docked to the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS Russian Segment were turned on at 10:16 Moscow time. They worked for 164.6 seconds and gave an impulse of 0.3 m/s.

According to preliminary data, after the maneuver, the average height of the station's orbit increased by 0.53 km and amounted to 416.17 km.

ISS reboost by Progress cargo spacecraft

For the entire duration of the ISS flight, 323 corrections of its orbital altitude were carried out, including 172 with the help of Progress cargo spacecraft engines.

The launch of the Soyuz MS-22 (Tsiolkovsky) manned spacecraft by the Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome is scheduled for September 21, 2022. Its crew includes members of the 68th long-term expedition to the ISS - Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, as well as NASA astronaut Francisco Rubio.

Landing of the descent vehicle of the Soyuz MS-21 manned spacecraft in Kazakhstan is expected on September 29, 2022. Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemiev, Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov will return to Earth from the ISS.

Currently, the crew of the 67th long-term expedition is working on board the ISS, which, in addition to Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, includes NASA astronauts Chell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

ISS Expedition 67:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image, Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/NASA/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.