samedi 12 novembre 2022

SpaceX - Falcon 9 launches Intelsat G-31/G-32


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Intelsat G-31/G-32 Mission patch.

Nov. 12, 2022

Falcon 9 carrying Intelsat G-31/G-32 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the Intelsat Galaxy 31 and Galaxy 32 (G-31/G-32) geosynchronous communications satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, on 12 November 2022, at 16:06 UTC (11:06 EST).

Falcon 9 launches Intelsat G-31/G-32

Falcon 9’s first stage (B1051) previously supported thirteen missions: SXM-7, RADARSAT Constellation Mission, Demo-1 (Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission) and ten Starlink missions. Due to mission requirements, Falcon 9’s first stage was not planned to be recovered on this mission.

Intelsat Galaxy 31 and Galaxy 32

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


CASC - Long March-6A launches Yunhai-3


CASC - CZ-6A Y2 / Long March-6A / Yunhai-3 Mission patch.

Nov. 12, 2022

Long March-6A carrying Yunhai-3 liftoff

A Long March-6A launch vehicle launched the Yunhai-3 satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, Shanxi Province, northern China, on 11 November 2022, at 22:52 UTC (12 November, at 06:52 local time).

Long March-6A launches Yunhai-3

According to official sources, Yunhai-3 (云海三号卫星) “has entered the preset orbit and will be used for atmospheric and marine environment surveys, space environment surveys, disaster prevention and reduction, and scientific experiments”.

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

Image, Video, Text, Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Long March-7 Y6 launches Tianzhou-5 & Tianzhou-5 docking


CMS - Long March-7 Y6 / Tianzhou-5 Mission patch.

Nov. 12, 2022

Long March-7 Y6 carrying Tianzhou-5 liftoff

The Tianzhou-5 (天舟五号) cargo spacecraft was launched by the Long March-7 Y6 (长征七号遥六) launch vehicle from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, Hainan Province, China, on 12 November 2022, at 02:03 UTC (10:03 China Standard Time).

Tianzhou-5 launch

Tianzhou-5 is the fourth cargo mission to the China Space Station, scheduled to autonomously dock to the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱), the first and main component of the China Space Station (中国空间站).

Tianzhou-5 docking

The Tianzhou-5 (天舟五号) cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱) on 12 November 2022, at 04:10 UTC (12:10 China Standard Time), just 127 minutes after being launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, Hainan Province, China, on 12 November 2022, at 02:03 UTC (10:03 China Standard Time).

Tianzhou-5 docking

Tianzhou-5 is the fourth cargo mission to the China Space Station (中国空间站).

Tianzhou-5 - The Fastest Spacecraft to the China Space Station

The Tianzhou-5 (天舟五号) cargo spacecraft was launched by the Long March-7 Y6 (长征七号遥六) launch vehicle from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, Hainan Province, China, on 12 November 2022, at 02:03 UTC (10:03 China Standard Time). Just 2 hours and 7 minutes after being launched, the Tianzhou-5 (天舟五号) cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱) on 12 November 2022, at 04:10 UTC (12:10 China Standard Time).

Related articles & link:

China Space Station (CSS) seen from Tianzhou-4

CSS - Tianzhou-4 undocking & Long March-7 Y6 ready to launch Tianzhou-5

China Space Station (CSS) - Mengtian relocation & Shenzhou-14 astronauts enter Mengtian

China Space Station (CSS) - Mengtian Laboratory Module docking

China Space Station (CSS) - Mengtian Laboratory Module launch

For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit:
Images, Videos, Text, Credits: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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vendredi 11 novembre 2022

China Space Station (CSS) seen from Tianzhou-4


CMS - China Manned Space logo.

Nov 11, 2022

China Space Station (CSS) seen from Tianzhou-4

The Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft (天舟四号) undocked from the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱), the first and main component of the China Space Station (中国空间站), on 9 November 2022, at 06:55 UTC (14:55 China Standard Time).

China Space Station seen from Tianzhou-4

During the departure, Tianzhou-4’s onboard camera captured the China Space Station in the T-shape configuration of the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱), the Wentian Laboratory Module (问天实验舱) and the Mengtian Laboratory Module (梦天实验舱).

Related articles & link:

CSS - Tianzhou-4 undocking & Long March-7 Y6 ready to launch Tianzhou-5

China Space Station (CSS) - Mengtian relocation & Shenzhou-14 astronauts enter Mengtian

China Space Station (CSS) - Mengtian Laboratory Module docking

China Space Station (CSS) - Mengtian Laboratory Module launch

For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit:
Image, Video, Text, Credits: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Central Television (CCTV)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


NASA’s IXPE Finds Powerful Magnetic Fields and Solid Crust at Neutron Star


NASA - Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) patch.

Nov 11, 2022

Less than a year after launching, NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer’s (IXPE) observations of a neutron star have led to confirmation of what scientists have only previously theorized: magnetars have ultra-strong magnetic fields and are highly polarized.

Image above: This photo shows the position of magnetar 4U 0142+61 in the universe. The magnetar is a neutron star located in the Cassiopeia constellation, about 13,000 light-years away from Earth. Image Credit: Roberto Taverna.

Scientists used IXPE to observe the magnetar 4U 0142+61, a neutron star located in the Cassiopeia constellation, about 13,000 light-years away from Earth. This is the first-ever observation X-ray polarization from a magnetar, a neutron star with the most powerful magnetic fields in the universe.

Astronomers found that the neutron star likely has a solid surface and no atmosphere. This is the first time that scientists have been able to reliably conclude that a neutron star has a bare solid crust, a finding enabled by IXPE’s X-ray polarization measurements.

Polarization is a property of light that tells us about the interconnected electric and magnetic fields that make up all wavelengths of light. These fields oscillate, or vibrate, at right angles relative to the light’s path of travel. When its electric fields vibrate in a single, unified direction, we say the light is polarized.

Astronomers also found that polarization angle depends on the energy of particles of light, with high energy light at a polarization angle of 90 degrees compared to low energy light.

“We found that the angle of polarization swings by exactly 90 degrees, following what theoretical models would predict if the star had a solid crust surrounded by an external magnetosphere filled with electric currents,” said Roberto Taverna of the University of Padova, lead author of the new study in the journal Science.

Scientists were surprised to learn energy levels can affect polarization.

“Based on current theories for the magnetars, we expected to detect polarization, but no one predicted polarization would depend on energy, as we are seeing in this magnetar,” said Martin Weisskopf, a NASA emeritus scientist who led the IXPE team from the mission’s inception until spring 2022.

NASA’s IXPE Finds Powerful Magnetic Fields and Solid Crust at Neutron Star

Video above: This video shows the position of magnetar 4U 0142+61 in the universe. The magnetar is a neutron star located in the Cassiopeia constellation, about 13,000 light-years away from Earth. Video Credits: Roberto Taverna.

Additionally, the polarization at low energies indicates that the magnetic field is so unimaginably powerful that it could have turned the atmosphere around the neutron star into a solid or a liquid.

“This is a phenomenon known as magnetic condensation,” said chairman of the IXPE’s magnetar topical working group, Roberto Turolla, with the University of Padova and University College London.

It is still a subject of debate whether magnetars and other neutron stars have atmospheres.

Thanks to X-ray polarization measurements, astrophysicists are now able to check for the degree of polarization and its position angle when testing the parameters of X-ray emission models. The findings from IXPE’s observations will help X-ray astronomers to better understand the physics of extreme objects like magnetars and black holes.

Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE). Image Credit: NASA

“Beyond the magnetar 4U 0142+61, IXPE is being used to study a wide range of extreme X-ray sources, and lots of exciting results are coming in,” said Fabio Muleri, IXPE Italian Project Scientist from the INAF-Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome.

For Weisskopf, it’s clear that IXPE’s observations have been critical.

“In my mind, there can be no question that IXPE has shown that X-ray polarimetry is important and relevant to furthering our understanding of how these fascinating X-ray systems work,” he said. “Future missions will have to be cognizant of this fact.”

IXPE builds on the discoveries of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other space telescopes by measuring the polarization of X-ray light.

Part of NASA’s Small Explorer mission series, IXPE launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in December 2021. It now orbits 370 miles, or roughly 595 kilometers, above Earth’s equator. The mission is a partnership between NASA and the Italian Space Agency, with partners and science collaborators in 13 countries. Ball Aerospace, headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado, manages spacecraft operations.

Related links:

NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE):

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Beth Ridgeway/Elizabeth Landau/Marshall Space Flight Center/Molly Porter/By Hannah Maginot, NASA’S Marshall Space Flight Center.


Pioneering Astronaut Bob Behnken Retires from NASA


NASA logo.

November 11, 2022

NASA astronaut and former U.S. Air Force Col. Bob Behnken is retiring from NASA after 22 years of service. His last day with the agency is Friday, Nov. 11 (today).

NASA astronaut Robert Behnken. Image Credits: SpaceX

“Bob Behnken is a distinguished and talented astronaut, and an effective ambassador for our never-ending mission to explore the cosmos,” said Administrator Bill Nelson. “Bob and fellow NASA astronaut Doug Hurley launched into history with their impeccable command of NASA and SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, and played a pivotal role in helping a new era of commercial space take flight. Along with the entire NASA family, I appreciate Bob’s service to our country and wish him all the best in his next endeavor.”   

Behnken’s career highlights included 93 days in space on two space shuttle Endeavour flights and the first crewed flight of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

Behnken was pilot and joint operations commander for the first crewed flight test of the SpaceX Dragon. Known as Demo-2, that flight launched Behnken and former NASA astronaut Doug Hurley to the International Space Station May 30, 2020, and safely returned them to Earth Aug. 2, 2020.

The Demo-2 flight inaugurated a new era of human spaceflight, which continues today with reliable crew launches to the space station from American soil on commercially built and owned spacecraft. As a space station crew member for 62 days, Behnken performed four spacewalks with former NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and contributed more than 100 hours to the orbiting laboratory’s scientific investigations.

“Bob served and led the astronaut office with calm hands and exceptional expertise,” said Reid Weisman, chief of the astronaut office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “There are few as experienced and trusted in this industry. We will miss him, and we wish him well in his next endeavor.”

Behnken joined NASA at Johnson in July 2000 as an astronaut candidate. On his first spaceflight, in 2008, Behnken was a space shuttle Endeavour mission specialist for the STS-123 delivery of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency’s Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (Dextre) to the space station. Behnken performed three spacewalks, and operated station’s robotic arm both with and without Dextre attached. He flew again in 2010, as a mission specialist for STS‐130, which delivered the station’s Tranquility module and its cupola, the station’s seven‑window Earth-facing observation post. He served as the mission’s lead spacewalker, performing three additional spacewalks to install the newly arrived module. Behnken completed 10 spacewalks across his three missions, spending more than 61 hours working in the vacuum of space.

“Bob served the agency in a vital role as an astronaut and contributed greatly to some of NASA’s most important and groundbreaking endeavors,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for space operations at NASA Headquarters. “During his career, he flew missions to help build a world class science laboratory in space, flew the first commercial crew spacecraft to orbit, and left his mark in the astronaut corp. All of these contributions to human spaceflight will continue to benefit all of us as we continue to push new boundaries.”

Behnken also supported NASA astronauts on Earth in a variety of roles. Following the completion of two years of training and evaluation, he was assigned technical duties in the astronaut office, supporting space shuttle launch and landing activities. Behnken trained as an International Space Station crew member following the loss of space shuttle Columbia in 2003 and as a mission specialist for STS-400, the launch-on-need rescue flight for the last Hubble servicing mission. He served as NASA’s chief astronaut from 2012 to 2015, and deputy of NASA’s Flight Operations Directorate from September 2021 to April 2022.

“I am humbled to have had the opportunity to represent our nation as a NASA astronaut, and thankful to have been a part of the team that returned human spaceflight to the United States back in 2020,” said Behnken. “I am so looking forward to seeing and being amazed by what people of this great agency will accomplish next.”

Behnken grew up in St. Ann, Missouri, and graduated from Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights, Missouri. He earned dual Bachelor of Science degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis in 1992, a Master of Science in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in 1993, and a Doctorate in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1997. Behnken was commissioned via the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Before retiring from active military service in February 2022, Behnken had achieved the rank of colonel and flown more than 2,000 flight hours in more than 25 different types of aircraft.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Joshua Finch/JSC/Dan Huot.

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jeudi 10 novembre 2022

NASA, SpaceX Adjust Cargo Dragon Launch Date


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-26 Mission patch.

Nov. 10, 2022

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft launches atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 14, 2022. Image Credit: SpaceX.

NASA and SpaceX now are targeting no earlier than Monday, Nov. 21, pending range approval, for launch of the company’s 26th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for the agency. The date adjustment is due to the arrival of Hurricane Nicole near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mission teams will continue to monitor any additional potential impacts as the storm progresses.

Related article:

Cutting-edge Experiments Ride SpaceX’s 26th CRS Mission to Space Station

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

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Crew Unpacking Science Gear, Spacewalk Hardware Shipped in Cygnus


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Nov. 10, 2022

A U.S. cargo craft has been installed on the International Space Station and the Expedition 68 crew members are beginning to unpack several tons of food, fuel, and supplies. Meanwhile, two astronauts and two cosmonauts continue preparing for upcoming spacewalks.

The Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman is open for business after its successful robotic capture and installation to the Unity module’s Earth-facing port on Wednesday morning. NASA Flight Engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada were the first to open Cygnus’ hatch and enter the cargo craft several hours after leak and pressure checks with the vehicle. On Thursday, the duo retrieved science freezers containing research samples from inside Cygnus and installed them on EXPRESS racks inside the space station.

Image above: The Cygnus space freighter is pictured in the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm as ground controllers remotely install the cargo craft to the space station’s Unity module. Image Credit: NASA.

Flight Engineers Frank Rubio of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) helped offload new cargo from pallets delivered aboard Cygnus throughout the day on Thursday. Both astronauts are also unpacking research samples for stowage on the station in anticipation of new science experiments planned to take place inside the station’s Destiny, Kibo, and Columbus laboratory modules. Cygnus delivered a wide variety of science gear and research samples to explore biology, botany, and physics to improve knowledge and benefit health on and off the Earth.

Cygnus also delivered hardware soon to be installed on the outside of the space station by two spacewalkers. Cassada and Rubio will take the new gear, or power augmentation modification kits, outside in the vacuum of space on Nov. 15 and attach it to the starboard truss segment where half of the station’s main solar arrays are located. The new mod kits work will enable the installation of new rollout solar arrays during a pair of spacewalks planned for Nov. 28 and Dec. 1, augmenting the orbiting lab’s power generation system.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Two cosmonauts are also preparing for another series of spacewalks this year to assemble and install a radiator and airlock on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. The cosmonauts from Roscosmos, Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin, checked their Orlan spacesuit life support and communication systems today ahead of the assembly spacewalks planned before the end of the year.

Roscosmos Flight Engineer Anna Kikina spent Thursday inspecting and testing laptop computers, She also downloaded research data from a micrometeoroid study to a science computer then cleaned smoke detectors inside the Poisk module.

Related links:

Expedition 68:

Unity module:

EXPRESS racks:

Destiny laboratory module:

Kibo laboratory module:

Columbus laboratory module:

Truss segment:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Poisk module:

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


ESO images a wondrous star factory to mark 60 years of collaboration


ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

Nov. 10, 2022

ESO’s 60th anniversary image: the Cone Nebula as seen by the VLT

For the past 60 years the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has been enabling scientists worldwide to discover the secrets of the Universe. We mark this milestone by bringing you a spectacular new image of a star factory, the Cone Nebula, taken with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

On 5 October 1962 five countries signed the convention to create ESO. Now, six decades later and supported by 16 Member States and strategic partners, ESO brings together scientists and engineers from across the globe to develop and operate advanced ground-based observatories in Chile that enable breakthrough astronomical discoveries.​

On the occasion of ESO’s 60th anniversary we are releasing this remarkable new image of the Cone Nebula, captured earlier this year with one of ESO’s telescopes and selected by ESO staff. This is part of a campaign marking ESO's 60th anniversary and taking place in late 2022, both on social media under the #ESO60years hashtag, and with local events in the ESO Member States and other countries.

Location of the Cone Nebula in the constellation of Monoceros

In this new image, we see centre-stage the seven-light-year-long pillar of the Cone Nebula, which is part of the larger star-forming region NGC 2264 and was discovered in the late 18th century by astronomer William Herschel. In the sky, we find this horn-shaped nebula in the constellation Monoceros (The Unicorn), a surprisingly fitting name.

Located less than 2500 light-years away, the Cone Nebula is relatively close to Earth, making it a well-studied object. But this view is more dramatic than any obtained before, as it showcases the nebula’s dark and impenetrable cloudy appearance in a way that makes it resemble a mythological creature.

The Cone Nebula is a perfect example of the pillar-like shapes that develop in the giant clouds of cold molecular gas and dust, known for creating new stars. This type of pillar arises when massive, newly formed bright blue stars give off stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation that blow away the material from their vicinity. As this material is pushed away, the gas and dust further away from the young stars gets compressed into dense, dark and tall pillar-like shapes. This process helps create the dark Cone Nebula, pointing away from the brilliant stars in NGC 2264.

Wide-field view of the Cone Nebula region of the sky

In this image, obtained with the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) on ESO’s VLT in Chile, hydrogen gas is represented in blue and sulphur gas in red. The use of these filters makes the otherwise bright blue stars, that indicate the recent star formation, appear almost golden, contrasting with the dark cone like sparklers.

This image is just one example of the many stunning and awe-inspiring observations ESO telescopes have made in the past 60 years. While this one was obtained for outreach purposes, the overwhelming majority of ESO’s telescope time is dedicated to scientific observations that have allowed us to capture the first image of an exoplanet, study the black hole at the centre of our home galaxy, and find proof that the expansion of our Universe is accelerating.

Building on our 60 years of experience ​in astronomy development, discovery and cooperation, ​ESO continues to chart new territory for astronomy, technology and international collaboration. With our current facilities and ESO’s upcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), we will keep on addressing humanity’s biggest questions about the Universe ​and enabling unimaginable discoveries.​

Zooming in on the Cone Nebula

More information

The image in this release was created as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes, for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. All data collected may also be suitable for scientific purposes, and are made available to astronomers through ESO’s science archive.

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

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Photos of the VLT:

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FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2):

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Images Credits: ESO/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin/Video Credits: ESO/L.Calçada, ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: D. De Martin. Music: Azul Cobalto/Text Credits: ESO Media Officer/Juan Carlos Muñoz Mateos.

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Mars Express sets data relay record


ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

Nov. 10, 2022

In brief

ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft recently conducted tests in which it relayed data gathered by NASA’s Perseverance rover back to Earth. The 19-year-old spacecraft has now relayed data for seven different Mars surface missions – a unique, new record!

Mars Express


Landers and rovers on Mars gather data that help scientists answer fundamental questions about the geology, atmosphere, surface environment, history of water and potential for life on the Red Planet.

To get these insights to Earth, they first transmit the data up to spacecraft in orbit around Mars. These orbiters then use their much larger, more powerful transmitters to ‘relay’ the data across space to large deep-space antennas on Earth.

“Data relay is an essential part of Mars exploration,” says James Godfrey, Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESA’s ESOC mission control centre. “We are proud that Mars Express has played a role in the interagency Mars data relay network over many years and has supported so many surface assets. This network will be vital to support future missions to the Red Planet, such as those of the Mars Sample Return campaign.”

The tests with Perseverance coincide with the orbiter’s 10th martian anniversary. Mars Express arrived at Mars on 25 December 2003, almost 19 Earth years ago. As one martian year is equal to approximately 687 Earth days, the spacecraft celebrated 10 martian years in orbit on 16 October 2022.

Take a trip through martian history.

Team Spirit

In 2004, just two months after arriving at Mars, Mars Express flew over NASA’s Spirit rover.

NASA's Spirit rover

The ESA orbiter sent commands down to the rover, which then sent its data up to the orbiter in the first-ever demonstration of an interagency communications network around another planet.

The commands for the rover first had to be transferred from the Spirit Operations Team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), USA, to ESOC in Germany. Here they were translated into commands for Mars Express, then uplinked to the orbiter and sent down to the rover.

Opportunity knocks

'Endurance Crater' scene, relayed by Mars Express

Seven further communication tests were carried out between Mars Express and NASA’s Opportunity rover in early 2008. Building on the tests with Spirit, they helped optimise ESA-NASA communication at Mars.

The landing of Phoenix

Mars Phoenix Lander

On 25 May 2008, Mars Express tracked the descent of the Phoenix lander and relayed the data to NASA to help confirm the data from their own orbiters. In the weeks after landing, Mars Express once again demonstrated its ability to reliably relay data from the martian surface to Earth.

Curiosity rocks

In 2012, Mars Express was trusted to relay crucial science data from NASA’s Curiosity rover back to Earth. It was a small but significant next step for interplanetary cooperation between space agencies.

Rocknest3 relayed by Mars Express

Early on the morning of 6 October, the ESA orbiter lined up its lander communication antenna to point at Curiosity far below on the surface.

For 15 minutes, the NASA rover transmitted scientific data up to the ESA satellite, before Mars Express turned to point its more powerful high-gain antenna toward Earth and began downlinking the precious information.

The data included this image of a rock acquired by Curiosity during the first soil analyses made using its mobile laboratory. Mars Express downlinked the image to ESOC in Germany via ESA’s 35 m-diameter deep-space antenna in New Norcia, Australia. All the relayed data were then immediately made available to JPL in California for processing and analysis.

Closer cooperation InSight

InSight lander on Mars

It was Mars Express’s younger sibling, ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter, that took the next step and established the first-ever routine interplanetary data relay support between agencies when it began supporting NASA’s InSight lander. But Mars Express continued its important work acting as contingency support for yet another new lander.

Zhurong calling

ESA Mars Express relays data from CNSA Zhurong rover

Over the last year, Mars Express has conducted tests with the CNSA Zhurong rover to assess radio system compatibility and the possibility of supporting data relay with the rover.

Perseverance pays off

The recent successful data relay tests with NASA Perseverance bring the total Mars surface missions supported by Mars Express up to a record-breaking seven.

Perseverance rover with sample tubes

Mars Express has been an important part of Europe’s key role in the Mars data relay network and continues to deliver important science and services while remaining one of ESA’s lowest-cost missions to fly.

In the last couple of years, the veteran orbiter has helped monitor conditions at the Perseverance landing site, teamed up with ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter to carry out 18 years’ worth of radio science in two months, and received a major software upgrade that is breathing new life into an instrument designed on Earth more than 20 years ago.

Find out more about the other new scientific and operational achievements Mars Express has enabled on the Mars Express blog:

Related links:

ESA’s Mars Express:

ESOC mission control centre:

Mars Sample Return (MSR):

ESA’s 35 m-diameter deep-space antenna:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/D. Ducros/NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/CNSA.


Liftoff of the JPSS-2 Satellite Mission, LOFTID Tech Demo


ULA - Atlas V / JPSS-2 & LOFTID Missions poster.

Nov. 10, 2022

JPSS-2 and LOFTID Launch!

Atlas 5 launches weather satellite, reentry tech demo mission. Image Credit: NASA TV

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) satellite, with NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) technology demonstration along for the ride, lifted off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California this morning, Nov. 10! Powered by 860,000 pounds of thrust from the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket’s RD-180 engine, launch occurred at 1:49 a.m. PST.

Atlas V launches JPSS-2 and LOFTID

JPSS-2 is 100th Primary Mission for NASA’s Launch Services Program

On Oct. 1, 1998, NASA consolidated expendable launch vehicle services shared by Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and created the Expendable Launch Vehicle Program, renamed Launch Services Program in 2000 and based out of Kennedy. On Oct. 24, 1998, Deep Space I launched on a Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex-17 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, followed by 99 more primary missions for the program over the past 34 years.

Today’s successful launch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) and NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) technology demonstration marks the program’s 100th primary mission and joins a legacy that includes historic missions such as Pluto New Horizons, the Parker Solar Probe, the Mars rovers, DART, and scores of Earth satellites and science probes.

JPSS-2 Satellite Separates From Second Stage, Traveling on Its Own

The United Launch Alliance Centaur upper stage achieved the desired sun-synchronous, polar low-Earth orbit for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite System-2 satellite just over 28 minutes into flight.

JPSS-2 deployment

Now in low-Earth orbit, the Centaur will perform a deorbit burn, jettison the primary payload adapter, and put Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) on a reentry trajectory enabling it to demonstrate the inflatable aeroshell’s ability to slow down and survive re-entry.

Signal Acquired

The team has received signal from the JPSS-2 satellite. NOAA’s newest satellite will support essential forecasts for extreme weather events, feed daily weather models and monitor climate change.

JPSS-2 In Safe and Stable Configuration

Mission managers for NOAA’s JPSS-2 confirm the satellite has acquired signal and is receiving and responding to commands. The satellite is currently power positive (getting electricity) and in a safe and stable configuration while teams assess the status of the solar array.

Update on JPSS-2 Solar Array Status

JPSS-2 Satellite. Image Credits: NOAA/NASA

Mission managers for NOAA’s JPSS-2 are working to deploy the satellite’s solar array. The satellite has adequate power to operate while teams work to deploy the array. This indicates that one of the four solar panels is currently exposed to the Sun.

NASA’s LOFTID Technology Demonstration Begins

United Launch Alliance’s Centaur upper stage has successfully powered on the LOFTID re-entry vehicle, kicking off the LOFTID mission sequence. About two minutes after power on, Centaur released the payload adapter that had connected JPSS-2 to the rocket’s upper stage.

Limited data will be received real-time during the technology demonstration. Other milestones are notional given the mission timeline and sequence.

LOFTID’S Aeroshell Inflates

Aeroshell inflation has started. Once the aeroshell reaches four pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure, Centaur will begin positioning LOFTID for re-entry.

LOFTID Separates From Centaur Upper Stage

After orienting LOFTID to an acceptable separation angle, Centaur spun up and released the re-entry vehicle. Spinning at three rotations per minute keeps the LOFTID vehicle stable and pointed in the right throughout re-entry.

LOFTID deployment

LOFTID Aeroshell Fully Inflated; Re-entry in 25 Minutes

At this time, the aeroshell should have reached a full inflation pressure of 19 psi. LOFTID is only sending limited real-time data during the demonstration. Full data, including confirmation of the final inflation pressure, will be confirmed after landing and recovery.

LOFTID is now coasting toward the atmosphere and re-entry is expected to start in approximately 25 minutes.

LOFTID Re-entry Begins

Image above: LOFTID is fully inflated as it begins it re-entry. Image Credits: ULA/NASA TV

The team was able to visually confirm full inflation of the re-entry vehicle. LOFTID is now estimated to be at about 78 miles in altitude, the point the LOFTID team considers the start of atmospheric re-entry.

LOFTID Reaches Maximum Re-entry Heating

Over the past few minutes, LOFTID’s thermal protection system should have reached maximum re-entry heating, and the inflatable structure should have reached maximum re-entry pressure load.

LOFTID is only sending limited real-time data during the demonstration. Full data, including the maximum heating and pressure load experienced, will be confirmed after landing and recovery.

LOFTID’s Parachutes Have Deployed

Teams confirmed the ejectable data recorder jettisoned and have received GPS data on its location.  LOFTID’s parachutes are expected to have deployed, preparing LOFTID for splashdown in less than 10 minutes.

Splashdown! LOFTID Set for Retrieval in the Pacific

LOFTID splashdown

LOFTID has splashed down in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles off the coast of Hawaii. Once the aeroshell’s location is determined, the recovery boat will head towards the aeroshell for attempted retrieval. Following retrieval, the team will recover the ejectable data recorder.

Additional updates will be provided over the next few days, as available.

LOFTID Team Retrieves Backup Data Recorder

The LOFTID team successfully retrieved the mission’s ejectable data module from the Pacific Ocean on Thursday morning. The data module resembles a large lemon and holds a backup copy of the data recorded during LOFTID’s demonstration. Another copy of the data is stored aboard the heat shield itself, which was already recovered by the team.  

The recovery vessel will now make its way back to port. The LOFTID team will analyze the recorded data and inspect the heat shield to assess how the technology performed. Additional updates will be provided as available.

Image above: The LOFTID heat shield sits on the deck of the recovery vessel. After the heat shield was recovered, the team retrieved the small backup data recorder from the water. Image Credit: ULA.

LOFTID Heat Shield Recovered, Aboard Boat

Image above: The LOFTID heat shield is lifted out of the water onto the deck of the recovery vessel. Image Credit: ULA.

Team members successfully retrieved the LOFTID heat shield from the Pacific Ocean on Thursday morning. With the heat shield on board, the recovery vessel will next head to retrieve LOFTID’s ejectable data module, which contains a backup of the demonstration data that is also stored on the heat shield.

End of LOFTID Technology Demonstration

According to the team’s predictions, LOFTID should have slowed down to Mach 0.7 — from a maximum speed of Mach 29 — marking the end of the demonstration and data collection. As LOFTID approaches splashdown in approximately 16 minutes, the ejectable data module will jettison and the parachute will deploy.

Related links:

Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2):

Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID):

Images (mentioned), Videos, Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Karen Fox/Jason Costa/NASA TV/SciNews.

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NASA laser reflector for ESA satnav on Lunar Pathfinder


ESA - Moonlight Mission patch.

Nov. 10, 2022

NASA has delivered a retroreflector array to ESA that will allow the Lunar Pathfinder mission to be pinpointed by laser ranging stations back on Earth as it orbits the Moon. Such centimetre level laser measurements will serve as an independent check on the spacecraft as it fixes its position using Galleo and GPS signals from an unprecedented 400 000 km away from Earth – proving the concept of lunar satnav while also relaying telecommunications ahead of ESA’s dedicated Moonlight initiative.

Laser Retroreflector Array

Safeguarded within multiple layers of packaging with ‘shock watches’ in three dimensions within the shipping case, to detect any rough treatment, NASA’s Laser Retroreflector Array, LRA, was successfully delivered to Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, SSTL, in Guildford, UK.

After unpacking and following the established procedures, a visual inspection of the LRA was jointly performed by ESA, NASA and SSTL, confirming there are no scratches and nicks in the optics. As a result, the instrument was formally accepted by ESA on 4 November 2022 and was passed to SSTL for integration aboard their washing-machine-sized spacecraft, which is due to be launched in 2025.

Lunar Pathfinder

SSTL’s Lunar Pathfinder will serve as a telecommunications relay satellite for future missions to the Moon, with ESA as a core customer, while NASA will also make use of its services in exchange of delivering Lunar Pathfinder to lunar orbit through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

“Today’s delivery is an additional element of this unique ESA-NASA collaboration, which includes an in-orbit test campaign to demonstrate the use of satellite navigation signals in lunar orbit and laser ranging to authenticate these pioneering satnav positioning fixes,” explains Javier Ventura-Traveset, leading ESA’s Galileo Navigation Science Office and coordinating ESA lunar navigation activities.

Team overseeing delivery

Today, tracking a spacecraft in lunar orbit requires multiple ground stations to perform radio ranging. Lunar Pathfinder will employ a standard X-band transponder for this purpose, but in addition will carry ESA's NaviMoon Global Navigation Satellite System receiver.

Achieving position fixes from Galileo and GPS so far out in space requires clever engineering and signal processing techniques, because the signals extending out to lunar orbit are millions of times weaker than those we receive using our smartphones or cars. But success would mean future Moon missions could effectively steer themselves – fixing their position automatically using GNSS better than 100m, an order of magnitude improvement over current radio ranging – while foregoing the use of costly ground infrastructure.

ESA's NaviMoon will fix Galileo and GPS signals from lunar orbit

Javier adds: “Both ESA and NASA are highly interested in exploiting the LRA data with our NaviMoon satnav receiver, which will enable the cross-checking of positioning fixes across cislunar distance and open up new possibilities in lunar geodesy. These tests will also provide a very valuable technological learning for ESA’s Moonlight initiative, which will provide before the end of this decade an autonomous network of communications and navigation satellites supporting lunar exploration.”

Laser retroreflectors are well-established space technology, normally used to precisely determine the orbit of satellites around the Earth. By measuring the time of flight for the laser pulses to travel from Earth to the satellite and back, its precise distance can be calculated – along the same lines as radio-based ranging, but achieving much higher accuracy because of the short wavelength of light.

Corner cubes making up Retroreflector Array

In approach they resemble the mirrored ‘cat’s eyes’ embedded in motorways to reflect light precisely back to its source, thanks to an intricate internal reflection setup – a total of 48 ‘corner cubes’ in the case of the LRA, which were individually and rigorously inspected and measured in the laboratory. The optical performance of the array was accurately measured at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

About the size of a laptop, the LRA was produced for NASA by KBR, based on a previous LRA already flying on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Stephen Merkowitz, NASA's Space Geodesy Project Manager, states: "This LRA is larger and will return more than 12 times the laser light than the one on LRO since it has 48 corner cubes at 4 cm in diameter, compared to LRO’s 12 reflector cubes at 3 cm in diameter. This opportunity is then rather unique.”

Laser ranging from Tenerife

Lunar Pathfinder will orbit in a highly elliptical ‘Lunar Frozen Orbit’, designed to optimise coverage over the Moon’s South Pole, the primary focus of future exploration efforts. For this demonstration, the Lunar Pathfinder satellite will be reoriented in orbit, typically during a continuous five-day experimental window, so that the LRA, the NaviMoon receiver antenna and the X-Band transponder ranging, all located on the same panel of the satellite, together point towards Earth. This will maximise the attainable performances and the joint visibility of these three geodetic techniques, which will be used simultaneously for the first time ever in lunar orbit.

The International Laser Ranging Service currently has four stations capable of laser ranging out to lunar distance, three based in Europe (Grasse, Wetzel, and Matera) and one in the US (Apache Point). In addition, ESA is considering the use of its own Tenerife-based Laser Ranging Station, which is currently being upgraded.

Lunar Pathfinder will relay communications from orbital and surface missions

As a next step, the LRA will undergo final inspection at SSTL before being integrated onto Lunar Pathfinder – having to be precisely fitted and aligned to maximise positioning accuracy.

Lily Forward, SSTL Lunar Pathfinder Systems Engineer, states: “This is SSTL’s first piece of flight hardware for the Lunar Pathfinder and is the result of an excellent collaboration between ESA, NASA and SSTL. We are all eager to put this ranging experiment to the test once SSTL’s Lunar Pathfinder has launched.”

What is ESA’s Moonlight initiative?

Then, in the decade to come, dedicated Moonlight satellites and eventually additional hardware on the lunar surface will establish a common communications and navigation infrastructure for all lunar missions, effectively bringing the Moon closer to Earth in practical terms, rendering it our planet’s eighth continent.

Moonlight is being presented to Europe’s space ministers for approval at ESA’s Council at Ministerial Level in Paris on 22-23 November.

Related links:

Moonlight initiative:

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL):

Lunar Pathfinder:

Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS):

ESA's NaviMoon Global Navigation Satellite System receiver:

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):


NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):

The International Laser Ranging Service:

Moonlight satellites:

ESA’s Council at Ministerial Level:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/SSTL.