samedi 19 novembre 2022

LightSail 2 completes mission with atmospheric reentry


The Planetary Society - LightSail 2 Mission patch.

Nov 19, 2022

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft has reentered Earth’s atmosphere, successfully completing its mission to demonstrate flight by light for small spacecraft. LightSail 2 reentered sometime on Nov. 17, according to orbital predictions.

The reentry completes a mission of nearly three-and-a-half years, during which LightSail 2 showed that it could change its orbit using the gentle push of sunlight, a technique known as solar sailing. LightSail 2 demonstrated that small spacecraft can carry, deploy, and utilize relatively large solar sails for propulsion.

“LightSail 2 is gone after more than three glorious years in the sky, blazing a trail of lift with light, and proving that we could defy gravity by tacking a sail in space,” said Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society. “The mission was funded by tens of thousands of Planetary Society members and backers, who want to advance space technology. And, take a look at these pictures! With this small spacecraft, we provided citizens of Earth with awe-inspiring overviews of our home world.”

Image above: LightSail 2's Final Image. This image taken by The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft on October 24, 2022 was the final image returned from the spacecraft before atmospheric reentry. It shows the central portion of South America centered approximately on Bolivia including the large, white Uyuni Salt Flats. North is approximately at top. This image has been color-adjusted and some distortion from the camera’s 180-degree fisheye lens has been removed. Image Credit: The Planetary Society.

LightSail 2 hitched a ride to space in June 2019 aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. It began operations at an altitude of about 720 kilometers (450 miles), where Earth’s atmosphere is still thick enough to create drag and slow down a spacecraft. For reference, the International Space Station orbits at an altitude of roughly 400 kilometers (250 miles).

As atmospheric drag slowly pulled LightSail 2 back towards Earth, the spacecraft successfully used solar sailing to lower its decay rate and on occasion overcome drag completely. After 18,000 orbits and 8 million kilometers (5 million miles) traveled, drag finally won out, bringing the mission to a close.

“During its extended mission LightSail 2 continued to teach us more about solar sailing and achieved its most effective solar sailing, but that was followed by an increase in atmospheric drag in part from increasing solar activity,” said Bruce Betts, LightSail program manager and chief scientist for The Planetary Society. “The spacecraft is gone, but data analyses and sharing of results will continue.”

LightSail 2 launched as a shoebox-sized spacecraft with its sails tucked together like origami. Using four tape measure-like booms, the spacecraft unfurled a four-section Mylar sail with an area of 32 square meters (244 square feet) – about the size of a boxing ring.

Light has no mass, but it has momentum that can be transferred to a reflective solar sail. The resulting push is small but continuous, allowing a spacecraft like LightSail 2 to change its orbit.

Thank You LightSail

Video above: LightSail 2's views of Earth. A compilation of images taken by The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft from orbit. It shows the solar sails' deployment as well as many views of Earth. Video Credit: The Planetary Society.

The LightSail mission team will continue to analyze data collected during the mission, publishing peer-reviewed journal articles, making conference presentations, and conducting public outreach. Images from the mission can be viewed online:

Results will continue to be shared with other upcoming solar sail missions such as NASA’s NEA Scout and ACS3. In a fitting bookend to the LightSail 2 mission, NEA Scout launched on Nov. 16 aboard NASA’s Artemis I mission to the Moon. The Planetary Society shares data with the NEA Scout team through a Space Act Agreement.

NEA Scout will use an 86-square-meter (926-square-feet) solar sail to leave lunar orbit and perform a slow flyby of asteroid 2020 GE, which measures just 18 meters (60 feet) across. The images NEA Scout captures will be the first up-close pictures of such a small world.

Graphic above: LightSail 2's altitude with time. LightSail 2’s average altitude with time is shown in black. Its apogee, the highest point in its orbit around the Earth, as shown in blue. Its perigee, the lowest point in its orbit around the Earth, as shown in orange. The right side of the graph shows the rapid descent occurring as it gets lower in the atmosphere. This plot shows data as of Nov. 16, 2022. Image Credit: The Planetary Society.

LightSail 2 was an entirely crowdfunded mission that aimed to help democratize space exploration. More 50,000 Planetary Society members, Kickstarter backers, private citizens, foundations, and corporate partners funded the mission. A miniature DVD attached to the spacecraft contained selfies from space fans and the names of Planetary Society members and supporters.

The Smithsonian Institution displayed two models of LightSail 2 in 2021 and 2022. The mission was named one of TIME’s 100 Best Inventions of 2019, and won a Popular Science Best of What’s New award for 2019.

The LightSail program’s roots date back to the mid-1970s, when Planetary Society co-founder Louis Friedman developed a NASA concept for a solar sail that would have visited Halley’s Comet. Society co-founder Carl Sagan showed off a model of the spacecraft on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Graphic above: LightSail 2’s average daily change in altitude with time. LightSail 2’s average daily change in altitude with time is shown in green. The last several weeks show the spacecraft dropping faster and faster due to increasing atmospheric density as it gets lower. This plot shows data as of Nov. 16, 2022. Image Credit: The Planetary Society.

The Planetary Society’s member-funded Cosmos 1 solar sail failed to reach orbit in 2005. LightSail 1, a technology demonstration nearly identical to LightSail 2, completed a successful sail deployment test in 2015.

While LightSail 2 operations have come to an end, the mission will live on as a new era of solar sailing begins.

“We have braved the harbor of Earth and found that a small craft can sail and steer,” said Betts. “Best wishes to those who sail similar craft into the vast ocean of space – we look forward to an exciting future of exploration, proud that we have played a role. Sail on!”

Related links:

LightSail 2:

The Planetary Society:

Image (mentioned), Graphics (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: The Planetary Society/Jason Davis.


vendredi 18 novembre 2022

Station Awaits One Dragon, Five Spacewalks Before End of Year


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Nov. 18, 2022

The International Space Station is due to welcome a U.S. cargo craft after it launches from Florida next week. In the meantime, the Expedition 68 crew is staying focused on completing five more spacewalks for assembly and installation work before the end of the year.

Image above: Astronaut Nicole Mann (center) assists astronauts Josh Cassada (left) and Frank Rubio (right), suited up in their Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU), or spacesuits, before starting a spacewalk on Nov. 15, 2022. Image Credit: NASA.

The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is due to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 3:54 p.m. EST on Tuesday and take a daylong trip to the orbiting lab. It will automatically dock to the forward port on the station’s Harmony module at 5:57 a.m. on Wednesday. Dragon is delivering new space agriculture and biotechnology studies, as well as the next pair of rollout solar arrays to augment the station’s power generation system. NASA TV, on the agency’s app and website, begins its launch coverage at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday and docking coverage at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

After Dragon completes is delivery mission to the space station, robotics controllers on the ground will command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to extract two rollout solar arrays from inside the U.S. space freighter’s trunk. The remotely controlled Canadarm2 will then stage the rollout solar arrays on truss segment attachment points to be retrieved on a pair of spacewalks planned for Nov. 29 and Dec. 3. Two yet-to-be-named Expedition 68 astronauts will remove the rollout solar arrays from their attachment points then install them at the base of the two main solar arrays on both the port and starboard truss segments.

NASA Flight Engineers Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann trained Friday on a computer for Dragon’s automated arrival on Monday. The duo studied approach and docking procedures and reviewed the upcoming cargo unpacking activities. The astronauts were joined at the end of the day by Flight Engineers Frank Rubio of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency for a conference with NASA and SpaceX mission controllers.

Russian Cosmonauts spacewalk VKD-55. Image Credit: Roscosmos

Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin completed the first of four planned Russian spacewalks this year at 4:07 p.m. EST Thursday. The two Roscosmos cosmonauts spent six hours and 25 minutes in their Orlan spacesuits preparing a radiator for its relocation from the Rassvet module to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module where it will be installed on an upcoming spacewalk.

The duo has three more spacewalks to complete before the end of the year with the next excursion set for Friday, Nov. 25. The Roscosmos spacewalkers, with assistance from the European Robotic Arm (ERA) controlled by Flight Engineer Anna Kikina, will move the radiator from Rassvet to Nauka and make electrical and hydraulic connections. The next two Russian spacewalks, on Dec. 6 and 21, will see Rassvet’s airlock transferred and installed to Nauka using the ERA, then the deployment of the newly relocated radiator attached to Nauka.

Related article:

NASA, SpaceX Target New Launch Date for Next Commercial Cargo Mission

Related links:

Expedition 68:

Harmony module:

Space agriculture:


Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Rassvet module:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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NASA, SpaceX Target New Launch Date for Next Commercial Cargo Mission


SpaceX - Dragon CRS-26 Mission patch.

Nov. 18, 2022

Image above: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the company’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA/Kennedy Space Center.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than 3:54 p.m. EST Tuesday, Nov. 22, for the launch of the agency’s CRS-26 mission to the International Space Station with a backup opportunity on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 2:20 p.m. EST. The cargo ship will automatically dock to the forward port on the station’s Harmony module at 5:57 a.m. on Wednesday.

Dragon is delivering new space agriculture and biotechnology studies, as well as the next pair of rollout solar arrays to augment the station’s power generation system. NASA TV, on the agency’s app and website, begins its launch coverage at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday and docking coverage at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Related article:

NASA, SpaceX Adjust Cargo Dragon Launch Date

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

Related links:


SpaceX Commercial Resupply:

Commercial Resupply:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Linda Herridge.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of November 14, 2022


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Nov 18, 2022

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Nov.14 that included testing nanoparticles as a way to protect neuronal cells from oxidative stress, examining ways to identify beneficial microbes, and evaluating the composition of mudflows created by post-wildfire rains.

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

Neuron protection from nanoparticles

Image above: Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) removes experiment containers for the Antioxidant Protection investigation from the Kubik temperature-controlled incubator. The ESA experiment explores a way to protect neuronal cells involved in cognitive and motor functions from oxidative stress. Image Credit: NASA.

Long-term exposure to microgravity and cosmic radiation induces oxidative stress, an overproduction of certain reactive chemicals in the body that plays a role in the onset of some diseases. Antioxidants are substances that lessen the effects of these reactive chemicals. Oxidative stress can impair both cognitive and motor function in astronauts and the ESA (European Space Agency) Antioxidant Protection investigation tests using certain antioxidants to protect neurons involved in these functions. Results from this investigation could help protect function for crews on long-term space missions and patients on the ground. The crew removed Antioxidant Protection experiment containers from the Kubik incubator and transferred them to cold stowage during the week.

Mighty microbes in microgravity

Bioprospecting is the process of identifying plants and animals that may contain substances with potential as drugs, biochemicals, and other commercially valuable materials. Previous studies found that the unique stressors of space can cause genetic and physiological changes that could result in microbes yielding such materials. Rhodium Microgravity Bioprospecting-1 studies a way to search for these microbes. Results could expedite the discovery of substances in plants and animals that could have a variety of uses on Earth, including in medicine and industry. Crew members transferred the experiment into an incubator to initiate the investigation during the week.

Understanding mudflows

Image above: This water droplet on hydrophobic sand stands up and has a more rounded shape compared to normal hydrophilic sand. The Catastrophic Post-Wildfire Mudflows investigation studies the formation and stability of bubble-sand structures in microgravity to help improve the understanding and modeling of mudflows and to support development of ways to prevent catastrophic post-fire events. Image Credits: UCSD Geo-Micromechanics Research Group.

When a wildfire burns plants, combusted chemicals create a thin layer of soil that repels rainwater. Rain then erodes the soil and can turn into catastrophic mudflows that carry heavy boulders and debris downhill, causing significant damage to infrastructure, watersheds, and human life. Catastrophic Post-Wildfire Mudflows, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, evaluates the composition of these mudflows, which include sand, water, and trapped air. Conducting the research in microgravity removes complicating forces and could provide insight into the structure and behavior of such mixtures. Climate change and global warming are increasing the occurrence of wildfires, and results could help develop models that predict the spread and velocity of debris flows and their effect on infrastructure and natural obstacles. During the week, crew members swapped out elements for the investigation.

Other investigations involving the crew:

Image above: This image shows bovine ovary cells for OVOSPACE, an investigation coordinated by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) that studies how microgravity influences the maturation and development ovarian cells in mammals. Image Credits: Professor Mariano Bizzarri, Department of Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome.

- Sponsored by NASA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and coordinated by ASI, OVOSPACE examines the effect of microgravity on bovine ovary cell cultures. This research could improve fertility treatments on Earth and help prepare for future human settlement in space.

- BIRDS-5 is a constellation of CubeSats, including the first satellites developed by Uganda and Zimbabwe and a satellite from Japan, that perform multispectral observations of Earth. The data collected could help distinguish bare ground from forest and farmland, an indicator of agricultural growth, and help improve the livelihood of citizens of Uganda and Zimbabwe.

- Cellbox-3 contains two experiments that investigate cell behavior in microgravity, where 3D structures form that closely resemble the growth and behavior of cells inside the body. These structures can be used for drug and toxicity screening and serve as models for development and maintenance of healthy tissues in a living organism.

- SVGS demonstrates a vision-based technology for guidance, navigation, and control of a small spacecraft using the station’s free-flying robot, Astrobee. Small size, low-power consumption, and relatively simple deployment makes the technology appealing for small satellite operations and human exploration missions where crewed vehicles must dock with a variety of platforms.

Space to Ground: Dual Excursions: 11/18/2022

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 68:

Antioxidant Protection:


Rhodium Microgravity Bioprospecting-1:

Catastrophic Post-Wildfire Mudflows:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 68.


CERN - ATLAS measures Higgs boson’s mass width


CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

Nov. 18, 2022

The mass width determines the particle’s lifetime and if found to deviate from its predicted value would indicate the presence of new physics

Image above: ATLAS candidate event for a Higgs boson decaying into two Z bosons that in turn decay into two muons and two electrons. (Image: CERN).

Since discovering the Higgs boson 10 years ago, the ATLAS and CMS collaborations have been carrying out precision measurements of its properties and its interactions with other particles, which have been  consistent with predictions from the Standard Model. The Higgs boson’s mass, for instance, has been measured to be 125 billion electronvolts (GeV), with a precision of 0.1%. However, one property that remains inaccessible via direct measurements is the particle’s “width”, which determines its lifetime and, if found to deviate from its predicted value, would indicate the presence of new physics. At the recent Higgs 2022 conference and at a CERN seminar this week, the ATLAS  collaboration presented the results of its latest study of this property.

Width is a fundamental parameter of any unstable particle with a finite lifetime – the shorter the lifetime, the broader the width. The Higgs boson's width, which represents the range of possible masses around the particle’s nominal mass of 125 GeV, is predicted to be 4.1 MeV – too small to be directly measured. However, its value can be determined by comparing the rate of Higgs boson production at the particle’s nominal mass (“on-shell” production) with that at much larger masses (“off-shell” production). This relies on the fact that the on-shell Higgs boson production rate depends not only on the Higgs boson’s interactions with other particles, but also on its width. By contrast, the off-shell rate is independent of the width.

In its new study, the ATLAS collaboration looked for off-shell Higgs boson production using proton–proton collision data collected during Run 2 of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) from 2015 to 2018. In particular, ATLAS physicists searched for collision events where the Higgs boson transforms, or “decays”, into two Z bosons, which in turn decay into four charged leptons or two charged leptons plus two neutrinos, as thesedecay channels provided the highest sensitivity to the off-shell signal.

After isolating these events from those of background processes that resemble them but do not involve the Higgs boson, the researchers combined the results from both channels to measure the ratio of the off-shell Higgs boson production rate to its Standard-Model prediction. The data were found to be consistent with Standard Model predictions, rejecting the background-only hypothesis, which assumes no off-shell Higgs boson production, with an observed (expected) statistical significance of 3.2 (2.4) standard deviations. This result provides experimental evidence of off-shell Higgs boson production.

By combining these results with their previous on-shell Higgs boson measurements, the ATLAS researchers obtained a Higgs boson width of 4.6 ± 2.6 MeV, which is in agreement with the Standard Model expectation and corresponds to a particle lifetime of 180 yoctoseconds (1 yoctosecond is 10-24 seconds).

The results are compatible with those from a recent study by the CMS collaboration, which also found evidence of off-shell Higgs boson production and measured the particle’s width. With the increased collision energy and greater accumulated data expected from Run 3 of the LHC, more precise measurements of both the production process and the particle’s width are anticipated.

Read more on the ATLAS website:


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 23 Member States.

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

ATLAS collaboration study:

CMS collaboration study:

ATLAS experiment:

Standard Model:

Higgs boson:

Z bosons:

Higgs 2022 conference:

CERN seminar:

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit:

Image (mentioned), Animation, Text, Credits: CERN/By ATLAS collaboration.

Best regards,

How Webb's NIRSpec instrument opened up 200 windows to our origins


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

Nov. 18, 2022

Astronomy is driven by big questions, and they don’t come much bigger than wondering how the first stars and galaxies began to form – eventually giving rise to our own existence.

The answers lie buried in the far distant Universe, so distant that the light traveled billions of years to reach us, carrying the images of the first galaxies forming. This early period, just 200 million years after the Big Bang, lies beyond the already impressive reach of previous telescopes. Thanks to the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope it is now coming into view.

But even the greatest space telescope is only as good as the instruments attached to it, and that is where the NIRSpec instrument comes in, one of the European contributions to the Webb mission.

“At the beginning of any instrument design is the ambition of the scientists. Exploring the formation of the first stars and galaxies really shaped NIRSpec,” says Pierre Ferruit, former Webb Project Scientist for ESA.

NIRSpec is Webb’s Near-InfraRed Spectrograph. Its job is to split the infrared light collected by Webb into its constituent wavelengths to form a spectrum. By measuring how the brightness varies across different wavelengths for an object in space, astronomers can extract a wealth of information about its physical characteristics and chemical composition. Before Webb and NIRSpec, it was impossible to do this for these most distant galaxies.

Webb’s workhorse: NIRSpec

“Now that we can do this, a huge avenue is opening for us. We can now study far-away galaxies in the same way that we study closer objects,” says ESA astronomer Giovanna Giardino.

The data will allow astronomers to chart how galaxies evolved from the very early stages of the cosmos into the objects we see around us today.

NIRSpec was developed under ESA leadership with Airbus Defence and Space Germany as the prime contractor. Airbus assembled a team of seventy people across its sites in Ottobrunn and Friedrichshafen, Germany, and Toulouse, France. In addition, they were supported by NASA and 17 European subcontractors.

Early on, the team decided that the best way to achieve success was to not over complicate anything. “When you look at the design of NIRSpec, it’s pretty simple,” says Ralf Ehrenwinkler, Head of the NIRSpec Programme at Airbus.

Webb NIRSpec multi-object spectrograph

Keeping things simple in the way that light is routed through the instrument allowed the team to concentrate on the revolutionary aspects of the instrument. Chief among these was the need to efficiently record spectra from many objects at the same time – something that had never been done in space before.

This unique capability was directly necessitated by the desire to study the distant Universe, where the galaxies are so faint. We would need to observe thousands of them to assemble a comprehensive picture of our early origins.

Our first glimpses of this realm came in 1995 with the historic Hubble Deep Field. Taking advantage of its undisturbed view of the cosmos, Hubble peered at a single patch of sky for ten consecutive days, starting on 18 December. The selected patch was little more than a tiny speck, about one 24-millionth of the whole sky. Yet Hubble revealed around 3000 previously unknown objects, most of them young galaxies billions of light-years away.

Thanks to Webb’s large 6.5-metre mirror, similar deep field images can now be taken in hours rather than days, and NIRSpec can record their spectra. But there are so many galaxies to be recorded that it would be completely impractical if NIRSpec could only take one spectrum at a time. So the team had to find a way to do it for many objects simultaneously.

They succeeded spectacularly.

Webb spectrum showcases galaxy’s composition

“We’re able to collect spectra for up to 200 objects at a time, it’s a game changer,” says Maurice Te Plate, NIRSpec Systems Engineer for ESA.

To achieve this remarkable feat of multi-tasking, NIRSpec uses a ground-breaking device called a micro-shutter array. Manufactured and supplied by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA, it consists of around a quarter of a million tiny autonomous shutters. Each one is just 80 by 180 micrometres in size. They can be individually controlled to open or close as needed.

This solves one of the biggest problems of getting spectra from the distant Universe: the spectra of closer objects, stars and less distant galaxies for example, get in the way of the fainter ones if they are not masked.

“We only leave open the ones that are over interesting objects, and the others are all closed. As such, only the light coming from the selected targets gets into the spectrograph optics to be analysed,” says Maurice.

Exoplanet WASP-39 b – NIRSpec transmission spectrum

As well as the distant Universe, NIRSpec is designed to look at celestial objects much closer to home: exoplanets. The atmospheres of these worlds absorb some of their parent star’s infrared light that passes through them. By collecting the star’s light and splitting it into a spectrum, NIRSpec allows astronomers to look for the tiny amounts of light that are missing at specific wavelengths. They can then identify which chemicals are present in the planet’s atmosphere as well as extract other information on physical conditions.

“We can now see the signatures of many crucial molecules in the atmosphere of exoplanets that are not possible to see from the ground, or with space instrumentation that existed before NIRSpec,” says Giovanna.

Tarantula Nebula – NIRSpec IFU

NIRSpec offers astronomers more capabilities. Most notably, it can divide larger objects like galaxies and nebulae into 30 slices and observe a spectrum for each slice, all in one shot. The resulting maps of physical conditions and chemistry are key to understanding the birth and death of stars and the workings of galaxies.

Webb NIRSpec integral field units principle animation

To work in the near infrared, NIRSpec, and most of the rest of Webb, must operate at just 40 Kelvin (–233°C), kept cold by Webb’s iconic sun shield. This presents a great challenge when making precise scientific instruments. Different materials shrink at different rates when cooled down, and this produces slight distortions in the instrument that affect its accuracy.

“This was the most challenging thing and it is why Airbus decided to make this instrument mainly in silicon carbide. The base plate, most of the structures and the mirrors are all made out of silicon carbide,” says Ralf.

Silicon carbide is a ceramic material that, although difficult to work with, is extremely stable at low temperatures. By making most of the instrument out of it, thermal distortions could be all but eliminated. But it meant being completely certain of the design before manufacture started.

NIRSpec began as a block of silicon carbide in the so-called green-state, where the material is soft and can be worked. NIRSpec was then machined into shape in the same way as an artist works stone into a sculpture. All the holes and channels were drilled and once everything was ready, it was placed into a furnace to be ‘sintered’. This hardens the material, making it extremely hard to machine. So the team had to be completely certain of the design before they began manufacture.

“Working in silicon carbide was definitely a challenge, and I'm very proud that we succeeded in building it,” says Maurice. Partly as a result of their success, working with the material has now become something of a European specialty.

Webb's first images - highlights

The success of NIRSpec was brought into sharp focus for the team when the first images and data started to flow back to Earth. “I’m not a scientist, I’m an engineer. So, I’m very happy to see that all the telemetry is green and NIRSpec is working. But I will share that I was in Baltimore with about 200 other people when the first images were released. We all had tears in our eyes,” says Ralf.

And now that data is rolling in continuously, there are a lot of others feeling the same.

“I am quite amazed at the quality of the spectra that we are getting. I can see that the observers are very happy also with the data. And for me, that’s what we built NIRSpec for. I think the whole team feel this. Now that NIRSpec is delivering, it feels great,” says Pierre.

Once the painstaking data analyses are completed, we will have new answers to those extraordinary questions so important to understanding our own existence: how the first galaxies and stars formed in our Universe, and how frequently planets orbiting other stars offer conditions that would allow life as we know it to exist.

It is what NIRSpec was built to do: open many windows to look at big questions.

More information

Webb is the largest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space. Under an international collaboration agreement, ESA provided the telescope’s launch service, using the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. Working with partners, ESA was responsible for the development and qualification of Ariane 5 adaptations for the Webb mission and for the procurement of the launch service by Arianespace. ESA also provided the workhorse spectrograph NIRSpec and 50% of the mid-infrared instrument MIRI, which was designed and built by a consortium of nationally funded European Institutes (The MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona. Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Related links:

NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope:

NIRSpec instrument:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI/ATG medialab/NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI). Science: The JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team.


Hubble Views a Billowing Cosmic Cloud


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Nov 18, 2022

A small, dense cloud of gas and dust called CB 130-3 blots out the center of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. CB 130-3 is an object known as a dense core, a compact agglomeration of gas and dust. This particular dense core is in the constellation Serpens and seems to billow across a field of background stars.

Dense cores like CB 130-3 are the birthplaces of stars and are of particular interest to astronomers. During the collapse of these cores enough mass can accumulate in one place to reach the temperatures and densities required to ignite hydrogen fusion, marking the birth of a new star. While it may not be obvious from this image, a compact object teetering on the brink of becoming a star is embedded deep within CB 130-3.

Astronomers used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to better understand the environment surrounding this fledgling star. As this image shows, the density of CB 130-3 isn’t constant; the outer edges of the cloud consist of only tenuous wisps, whereas at its core CB 130-3 blots out background light entirely. The gas and dust making up CB 130-3 affect not only the brightness but also the apparent color of background stars, with stars toward the cloud’s center appearing redder than their counterparts at the outskirts of this image. Astronomers used Hubble to measure this reddening effect and chart out the density of CB 130-3, providing insights into the inner structure of this stellar nursery.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble, NASA & STScI, C. Britt, T. Huard, A. Pagan.

Best regards,

Skyroot Aerospace PRARAMBH mission - VIKRAM-S launch







Skyroot Aerospace - PRARAMBH Mission - VIKRAM-S launch patch.

Nov. 18, 2022

The first launch of the VIKRAM-S suborbital rocket

The VIKRAM-S suborbital launch vehicle was launched for the first time from the Sounding Rocket Complex, Sriharikota, India, on 18 November 2022, at 06:00 UTC (11:30 local time).

VIKRAM-S launch

Named PRARAMBH, the mission is the first private space launch from India. VIKRAM-S is a suborbital rocket developed by Skyroot Aerospace as the first in the planned VIKRAM series of orbital launch vehicles.

Related links:

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO):

Skyroot Aerospace:

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)/Skyroot Aerospace/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


jeudi 17 novembre 2022

Cosmonauts Finish Spacewalk for Work on Science Module


EVA - Extra Vehicular Activities patch.

Nov. 17, 2022

Expedition 68 Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin, both of Roscosmos, began a spacewalk at 9:39 a.m. EST to prepare hardware on the Rassvet module for installation on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module by opening the hatch of the Poisk docking compartment airlock.

Image above: Spacewalkers Prokopyev and Petelin opened the hatch of the Poisk airlock at 9:39 a.m. EST today, beginning their spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Expedition 68 Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin, both of Roscosmos, concluded their spacewalk at 4:07 p.m. EST after 6 hours and 25 minutes.

Prokopyev is wearing a Russian spacesuit with red stripes, while Petelin is wearing a Russian suit with blue stripes. This is the third spacewalk in Prokopyev’s career, and the first for Petelin. It is the tenth spacewalk at the station in 2022 and the 255th spacewalk for space station assembly, maintenance, and upgrades.

Image above: Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin work on the outside of the Rassvet module on Nov. 17, 2022, during the first of four Russian maintenance spacewalks planned before the end of the year. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Prokopyev and Petelin completed their major objective, preparing a radiator on the Rassvet module for installation on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

This was the third spacewalk in Prokopyev’s career, and the first for Petelin. It was the tenth spacewalk at the station in 2022 and the 255th spacewalk for space station assembly, maintenance, and upgrades.

Related links:

Expedition 68:

Rassvet module:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Poisk docking compartment:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


NASA’s Perseverance Rover Investigates Intriguing Martian Bedrock


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Nov 17, 2022

Exploring a sediment-rich location in this Mars delta offers tantalizing opportunities for the six-wheeler’s science team.

Image above: This image of “Yori Pass” was taken by a Hazcam imager aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on Nov. 5, 2022. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has begun exploring an area the science team calls “Yori Pass” near the base of Jezero Crater’s ancient river delta. They’ve been eager to explore the region for several months after spotting a rock similar to one Perseverance collected samples from in July.

The feature is so tantalizing to the scientists because it is sandstone, which is composed of fine grains that have been carried from elsewhere by water before settling and forming stone. Perseverance’s samples are central to the first step in the NASA-ESA (European Space Agency) Mars Sample Return campaign, which began when the rover cached its first cored rock in September 2021.

Mars Sample Return: Bringing Mars Rock Samples Back to Earth

Video above: This short animation features key moments of NASA and ESA’s Mars Sample Return campaign, from landing on Mars and securing the sample tubes to launching them off the surface and ferrying them back to Earth. Video Credits: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/MSFC.

“We often prioritize study of fine-grained sedimentary rocks like this one in our search for organics and potential biosignatures,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “What’s especially interesting about the Yori Pass outcrop is that it is laterally equivalent with ‘Hogwallow Flats,’ where we found very fine-grained sedimentary rocks. That means that the rock bed is located at the same elevation as Hogwallow, and has a large, traceable footprint visible on the surface.”

The hunt at Jezero Crater for biosignatures (any characteristic, element, molecule, substance, or feature that can serve as evidence for ancient life) is one of the Perseverance rover’s four science objectives. Along with its 14 rock-core samples, the rover has collected one atmospheric sample and three witness tubes, all of which are stored in the rover’s belly.

After it collects a sample from Yori Pass, Perseverance will drive 745 feet (227 meters) southeast to a mega sand ripple. Located in the middle of a small dune field, the ripple – called “Observation Mountain” by the science team – will be where the rover collects its first samples of regolith, or crushed rock and dust.

More About the Mission

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

Perseverance Rover

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

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

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

Related link:

Mars Sample Return (MSR):

For more about Perseverance: and

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

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NASA Study: Massive Volcanism May Have Altered Ancient Venus’ Climate


NASA Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

Nov 17, 2022

Volcanic activity lasting hundreds to thousands of centuries and erupting massive amounts of material may have helped transform Venus from a temperate and wet world to the acidic hothouse it is today, a NASA paper suggests.

The paper also discusses these “large igneous provinces” in Earth’s history which caused several mass extinctions on our own planet millions of years ago.

Image above: Maat Mons is displayed in this computer-generated, three-dimensional perspective of the surface of Venus. The viewpoint is located 634 kilometers (393 miles) north of Maat Mons at an elevation of 3 kilometers (2 miles) above the terrain. Lava flows extend for hundreds of kilometers across the fractured plains shown in the foreground, to the base of Maat Mons. NASA Magellan mission synthetic aperture radar data is combined with radar altimetry to develop a three-dimensional map of the surface. The vertical scale in this perspective has been exaggerated 10 times. Image Credits: NASA/JPL.

“By understanding the record of large igneous provinces on Earth and Venus, we can determine if these events may have caused Venus’ present condition,” said Dr. Michael J. Way, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. Way is lead author on the paper, published April 22 in the Planetary Science Journal.

Large igneous provinces are the products of periods of large-scale volcanism lasting tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. They can deposit more than 100,000 cubic miles of volcanic rock onto the surface. At the upper end, this could be enough molten rock to bury the entire state of Texas half a mile deep.

Venus without atmosphere animation

Venus today boasts surface temperatures of around 864 F on average, and an atmosphere 90 times the surface pressure of Earth’s. According to the study, these massive volcanic outpourings may have initiated these conditions sometime in Venus’ ancient history. In particular, the occurrence of several such eruptions in a short span of geologic time (within a million years) could have led to a runaway greenhouse effect which kicked off the planet’s transition from wet and temperate to hot and dry.

Large fields of solidified volcanic rock cover 80% of Venus’ surface in total, Way said. “While we’re not yet sure how often the events which created these fields occurred, we should be able to narrow it down by studying Earth’s own history.”

Life on Earth has endured at least five major mass extinction events since the origin of multicellular life about 540 million years ago, each of which wiped out more than 50% of animal life across the planet. According to this study and others before it, the majority of these extinction events were caused or exacerbated by the kinds of eruptions that produce large igneous provinces. In Earth’s case, the climate disruptions from these events were not sufficient to cause a runaway greenhouse effect as they were on Venus, for reasons that Way and other scientists are still working to determine.

Venus animation

NASA’s next missions to Venus, scheduled for launch in the late 2020s – the Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI) mission and the Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy (VERITAS) mission – aim to study the origin, history, and present state of Venus in unprecedented detail.

“A primary goal of DAVINCI is to narrow down the history of water on Venus and when it may have disappeared, providing more insight into how Venus’ climate has changed over time,” Way said.

The DAVINCI mission will precede VERITAS, an orbiter designed to investigate the surface and interior of Venus from high above, to better understand its volcanic and volatile history and thus Venus’ path to its current state. The data from both missions could help scientists to narrow down the exact record of how Venus may have transitioned from wet and temperate to dry and sweltering. It may also help us to better understand how volcanism here on Earth has affected life in the past, and how it may continue to do so in the future.

This study was supported by Goddard Space Flight Center’s Sellers Exoplanet Environments Collaboration (SEEC) and was part of NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) RCN.

Related links:

Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI):

Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy (VERITAS):

Planetary Science Journal:


Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

Image (mentioned), Animations, Text, Credits: NASA/Bill Steigerwald/GSFC/By: Nick Oakes/Hubble.


Webb Draws Back Curtain On Universe’s Early Galaxies


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

Nov. 17, 2022

Telescope’s Infrared Vision Explores The Final Frontier

Webb Finds Distant Galaxies Seen Behind Pandora’s Cluster

The powerful NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope has found an unexpectedly rich ‘undiscovered country’ of early galaxies that has been largely hidden until now.

A few days after officially starting science operations, the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope propelled astronomers into a realm of early galaxies, previously hidden beyond the grasp of all other telescopes. Webb is now unveiling a very rich Universe where the first forming galaxies look remarkably different from the mature galaxies seen around us today. Researchers have found two exceptionally bright galaxies that existed approximately 300 and 400 million years after the Big Bang. Their extreme brightness is puzzling to astronomers. The young galaxies are transforming gas into stars as fast as they can and they appear compacted into spherical or disc shapes that are much smaller than our Milky Way galaxy. The onset of stellar birth may have been just 100 million years after the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago.

“Everything we see is new. Webb is showing us that there’s a very rich Universe beyond what we imagined,” said Tommaso Treu of the University of California at Los Angeles, a co-investigator on one of the Webb programmes. “Once again the Universe has surprised us. These early galaxies are very unusual in many ways.”

The results are from Webb’s GLASS-JWST Early Release Science Program (Grism Lens-Amplified Survey from Space), and Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS). Two research papers, led by Marco Castellano of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome, Italy, and Rohan Naidu of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts have been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Pandora’s Cluster, Abell 2744 - NIRCam (Annotated)

In just four days of analysis, researchers found two exceptionally bright galaxies in the GLASS-JWST images. These galaxies existed approximately 450 and 350 million years after the Big Bang (with redshifts of approximately 10.5 and 12.5, respectively), which future spectroscopic measurements with Webb will help confirm.

“With Webb, we were amazed to find the most distant starlight that anyone had ever seen, just days after Webb released its first data,” said Rohan Naidu of the more distant GLASS galaxy, referred to as GLASS-z12, which is believed to date back to 350 million years after big bang. The previous record holder is galaxy GN-z11, which existed 400 million years after the big bang (redshift 11.1), and identified in 2016 by Hubble and Keck Observatory in deep-sky programmes.

“Based on all the predictions, we thought we had to search a much bigger volume of space to find such galaxies,” said Castellano.

Pandora’s Cluster, Abell 2744 - NIRCam (Clean)

“These observations just make your head explode. This is a whole new chapter in astronomy. It’s like an archaeological dig, when suddenly you find a lost city or something you didn’t know about. It’s just staggering,” added Paola Santini, fourth author of the Castellano et al. GLASS-JWST paper.

“While the distances of these early sources still need to be confirmed with spectroscopy, their extreme brightnesses are a real puzzle, challenging our understanding of galaxy formation,” noted Pascal Oesch of the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

The Webb observations nudge astronomers toward a consensus that an unusual number of galaxies in the early Universe were much brighter than expected. This will make it easier for Webb to find even more early galaxies in subsequent deep sky surveys, say researchers.

“We’ve nailed something that is incredibly fascinating. These galaxies would have had to have started coming together maybe just 100 million years after the Big Bang. Nobody expected that the dark ages would have ended so early,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California at Santa Cruz. “The primal Universe would have been just one hundredth of its current age. It’s a sliver of time in the 13.8-billion-year-old evolving cosmos.”

Naidu/Oesch team member Erica Nelson of the University of Colorado noted that “our team was struck by being able to measure the shapes of these first galaxies; their calm, orderly discs question our understanding of how the first galaxies formed in the crowded, chaotic early Universe.” This remarkable discovery of compact discs at such early times was only possible because Webb’s images are so much sharper, in infrared light, than Hubble’s.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

“These galaxies are very different from the Milky Way or other big galaxies we see around us today,” said Treu.

Illingworth emphasised that the two bright galaxies found by these teams have a lot of light. He said one option is that they could have been very massive, with lots of low-mass stars, like later galaxies. Alternatively, they could be much less massive, consisting of far fewer extraordinarily bright stars, known as Population III stars. Long theorised, they would be the first stars ever born, blazing at blistering temperatures and made up of only primordial hydrogen and helium; only later would stars cook up heavier elements in their nuclear fusion furnaces. No such extremely hot, primordial stars are seen in the local Universe.

“Indeed, the most distant source is very compact, and its colours seem to indicate that its stellar population is particularly devoid of heavy elements and could even contain some Population III stars. Only Webb spectra will tell,” said Adriano Fontana, second author of the Castellano et al. paper and a member of the GLASS-JWST team.

Present Webb distance estimates to these two galaxies are based on measuring their infrared colours. Eventually, follow-up spectroscopy measurements showing how light has been stretched in the expanding Universe will provide independent verification of these cosmic yardstick measurements.

More information

Webb is the largest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space. Under an international collaboration agreement, ESA provided the telescope’s launch service, using the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. Working with partners, ESA was responsible for the development and qualification of Ariane 5 adaptations for the Webb mission and for the procurement of the launch service by Arianespace. ESA also provided the workhorse spectrograph NIRSpec and 50% of the mid-infrared instrument MIRI, which was designed and built by a consortium of nationally funded European Institutes (The MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona.

Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).


The James Webb Space Telescope’s Science Goals: ESA/Webb Space Sparks Episode 1:

ESA Webb Seeing Farther Interactive Brochure:

Spectroscopy with Webb:

GLASS Early Release Science Program:

Interview with Tommaso Treu:

Release on STScI website:

Release on ESA website:

Release on NASA website:

ESA Webbsite:

Images, Animation Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, T. Treu (UCLA)/Text Credits: ESA/Webb/Bethany Downer/Ninja Menning.

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