samedi 14 janvier 2023

SpaceX edges closer to first Starship orbital launch attempt


SpaceX - Starship Super Heavy patch.

Jan 14, 2023

SpaceX and its chief executive, Elon Musk, say the first orbital launch attempt of its Starship vehicle is approaching, but the company must first overcome both technical and regulatory obstacles.

SpaceX tweeted Jan. 12 that it was moving ahead with a final series of tests of its Starship vehicle and Super Heavy booster at its Starbase test site in Boca Chica, Texas. The company installed a Starship vehicle called Ship 24 on top of a Super Heavy booster designated Booster 7 on the launch pad there Jan. 9.

Image above: SpaceX says it's preparing for a final series of tests of its Starship vehicle before a first orbital launch attempt in the "coming weeks." Image Credit: SpaceX.

Those tests, the company said, include a “full stack” wet dress rehearsal of the combined vehicle. That would be followed by a static-fire test of all 33 Raptor engines on Booster 7, the first time all those engines have fired simultaneously.

Those tests would clear the way for an orbital launch attempt from a technical standpoint. SpaceX did not estimate when that launch could take place other than the “weeks ahead.”

Musk, though, has been more forthcoming. “We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely,” he tweeted Jan. 7, responding to a person who cited a South Texas publication that claimed the launch was planned for the end of January.

Starship Super Heavy

However, SpaceX has missed several past estimates, by both Musk and others, regarding the schedule for the first Starship orbital launch. At an event in February 2022, with a fully stacked Starship as a backdrop, Musk estimated the vehicle would be ready to fly in “a couple months.”

At an advisory committee meeting in late October, a NASA official said he expected Starship to be ready for launch as soon as early December, after completing a wet dress rehearsal of the full vehicle and a 33-engine static-fire test of the booster. NASA is closely following the progress of Starship as it plans to use a version of the vehicle as a lunar lander for Artemis missions. SpaceX has received two NASA awards with a combined value of more than $4 billion to develop those landers.

It’s not clear why SpaceX missed both Musk’s forecast in February or the more recent NASA estimate. The company did suffer one notable testing setback in July when propellants underneath a Super Heavy booster ignited during a test, damaging the booster.

Starship Super Heavy launch (Artist's view)

In addition to major technical milestones, SpaceX also needs a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration for an orbital Starship launch. The FAA completed an environmental review in June, allowing Starship orbital launches to proceed from Boca Chica but requiring the company to implement more than 75 measures to mitigate environmental effects.

Neither SpaceX nor the FAA have provided updates on the progress of implementing those mitigations or the status of a Starship launch license. However, the FAA, in statement to SpaceNews Jan. 12, said not all of the measures need to be completed before issuing a launch license.

“The timeframe for SpaceX to implement the more than 75 FAA required environmental mitigations for its Starship/Super Heavy program varies,” the agency said. “For example, some measures must be completed prior to launch while others are designed to occur during post-launch activities or following a mishap event. The FAA will ensure SpaceX complies with all required mitigations.”


Image (mentioned), Animations, Text, Credits: SpaceX/SpaceNews/Jeff Foust.


Hubble Finds Hungry Black Hole Twisting Captured Star Into Donut Shape


NASA / ESA - Hubble Space Telescope (HST) patch.

Jan 14, 2023

Black holes are gatherers, not hunters. They lie in wait until a hapless star wanders by. When the star gets close enough, the black hole's gravitational grasp violently rips it apart and sloppily devours its gasses while belching out intense radiation.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have recorded a star's final moments in detail as it gets gobbled up by a black hole.

Image above: This sequence of artist's illustrations shows how a black hole can devour a bypassing star. 1. A normal star passes near a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy. 2. The star's outer gasses are pulled into the black hole's gravitational field. 3. The star is shredded as tidal forces pull it apart. 4. The stellar remnants are pulled into a donut-shaped ring around the black hole, and will eventually fall into the black hole, unleashing a tremendous amount of light and high-energy radiation. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI).

These are termed "tidal disruption events." But the wording belies the complex, raw violence of a black hole encounter. There is a balance between the black hole's gravity pulling in star stuff, and radiation blowing material out. In other words, black holes are messy eaters. Astronomers are using Hubble to find out the details of what happens when a wayward star plunges into the gravitational abyss.

Hubble can't photograph the AT2022dsb tidal event's mayhem up close, since the munched-up star is nearly 300 million light-years away at the core of the galaxy ESO 583-G004. But astronomers used Hubble's powerful ultraviolet sensitivity to study the light from the shredded star, which include hydrogen, carbon, and more. The spectroscopy provides forensic clues to the black hole homicide.

About 100 tidal disruption events around black holes have been detected by astronomers using various telescopes. NASA recently reported that several of its high-energy space observatories spotted another black hole tidal disruption event on March 1, 2021, and it happened in another galaxy. Unlike Hubble observations, data was collected in X-ray light from an extremely hot corona around the black hole that formed after the star was already torn apart.

"However, there are still very few tidal events that are observed in ultraviolet light given the observing time. This is really unfortunate because there's a lot of information that you can get from the ultraviolet spectra," said Emily Engelthaler of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "We're excited because we can get these details about what the debris is doing. The tidal event can tell us a lot about a black hole." Changes in the doomed star's condition are taking place on the order of days or months.

For any given galaxy with a quiescent supermassive black hole at the center, it's estimated that the stellar shredding happens only a few times in every 100,000 years.

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

This AT2022dsb stellar snacking event was first caught on March 1, 2022 by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN or "Assassin"), a network of ground-based telescopes that surveys the extragalactic sky roughly once a week for violent, variable, and transient events that are shaping our universe. This energetic collision was close enough to Earth and bright enough for the Hubble astronomers to do ultraviolet spectroscopy over a longer than normal period of time.

"Typically, these events are hard to observe. You get maybe a few observations at the beginning of the disruption when it's really bright. Our program is different in that it is designed to look at a few tidal events over a year to see what happens," said Peter Maksym of the CfA. "We saw this early enough that we could observe it at these very intense black hole accretion stages. We saw the accretion rate drop as it turned to a trickle over time."

The Hubble spectroscopic data are interpreted as coming from a very bright, hot, donut-shaped area of gas that was once the star. This area, known as a torus, is the size of the solar system and is swirling around a black hole in the middle.

"We're looking somewhere on the edge of that donut. We're seeing a stellar wind from the black hole sweeping over the surface that's being projected towards us at speeds of 20 million miles per hour (three percent the speed of light)," said Maksym. "We really are still getting our heads around the event. You shred the star and then it's got this material that's making its way into the black hole. And so you've got models where you think you know what is going on, and then you've got what you actually see. This is an exciting place for scientists to be: right at the interface of the known and the unknown."

The results were reported at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington:

Hubble Finds Hungry Black Hole Twisting Captured Star Into Donut Shape

Video above: Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have recorded a star's final moments in detail as it gets gobbled up by a black hole. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Lead Producer: Paul Morris.

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

Related link:

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/GSFC/Claire Andreoli/STScI/Ann Jenkins and Ray Villard/Center for Astrophysics / Harvard & Smithsonian/Emily Engelthaler and W. Peter Maksym.

Best regards,

vendredi 13 janvier 2023

Spacewalk Preps Continue as Soyuz Seat Move Planned as Precaution


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Jan 13, 2023

Image above: Atlanta Shines at Night. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthplace, Atlanta, Georgia, is seen on January 20, 2013, in this image from the International Space Station as it flew approximately 240 miles above the city. Image Credit: NASA.

Spacewalk preparations continue onboard the International Space Station as the Expedition 68 crew begins it weekend. The orbital residents also worked on space botany and robotics while maintaining orbital lab operations on Friday.

Astronauts Nicole Mann of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) worked throughout Friday familiarizing themselves with an upcoming spacewalk. The pair was joined by NASA Flight Engineers Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio for computerized spacewalk training and a conference with specialists on the ground. Two astronauts are scheduled exit the station and mount hardware on the truss structure readying the orbital lab for its next roll-out solar array.

Image above: A photo of Expedition 68 Flight Engineer and NASA spacewalker Josh Cassada on Dec. 22, 2022, preparing a roll-out solar array for its deployment on the International Space Station's Port-4 truss segment as the orbiting lab flew 264 miles above the Indian Ocean off the coast of South Africa. Image Credit: NASA.

Cassada also continued tending to tomato plants growing for the Veg-05 space botany study and worked on cargo transfers inside the Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman. Rubio inspected emergency hardware than took a computerized robotics test to remain proficient when operating the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Wakata repaired components on a multipurpose small payload rack in the Kibo laboratory module that supports a wide variety of research and educational activities in space. Mann spent some time tightening screws on the advanced resistive exercise device located in the Tranquility module.

Image above: Astronauts Koichi Wakata and Nicole Mann are pictured inside the space station’s Destiny laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos worked on a variety of maintenance tasks inside the Zvezda service module on Friday. Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin transferred cargo from inside the ISS Progress 82 cargo craft and updated the station’s inventory management system. Flight Engineer Anna Kikina set up video equipment to record an exercise session then tested laptop computers inside the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

On Thursday, Jan. 12, the International Space Station mission management team polled “go” to move NASA astronaut Frank Rubio’s Soyuz seat liner from the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft to Dragon Endurance to provide lifeboat capabilities in the event Rubio would need to return to Earth because of an emergency evacuation from the space station. The seat liner move is scheduled to begin Tuesday, Jan. 17, with installation and configuration continuing through most of the day Wednesday, Jan. 18. The change allows for increased crew protection by reducing the heat load inside the MS-22 spacecraft for cosmonauts Prokopyev and Petelin in the event of an emergency return to Earth.

Seat liner from the Soyuz spacecraft. Image Credit: ROSCOSMOS

Once the replacement Soyuz MS-23 arrives at the space station on Feb. 22, Rubio’s seat liner will be transferred to the new Soyuz and the seat liners for Prokopyev and Petelin will be moved from MS-22 to MS-23 ahead of their return in the Soyuz.

Related article:

NASA to Provide Coverage of US Spacewalk, Preview News Conference

Related links:

Expedition 68:


Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Multipurpose small payload rack:

Kibo laboratory module:

Advanced resistive exercise device:

Tranquility module:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Artemis III: NASA’s First Human Mission to the Lunar South Pole


NASA - ARTEMIS Program logo.

Jan 13, 2023

Humans have always been drawn to explore, discover, and learn as much as we can about the world—and worlds—around us. This isn’t always easy, but it’s in our nature. For the benefit of all humanity, NASA and its partners will land the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon with Artemis.

Following two Artemis test missions, Artemis III, currently planned for 2025, will mark humanity’s first return to the lunar surface in more than 50 years. NASA will make history by sending the first humans to explore the region near the lunar South Pole.

On the way

Image above: NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Artemis I mission is the first integrated flight test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and ground systems. SLS and Orion launched at 1:47 a.m. EST, from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. Image Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft will be the crew’s ride to and from Earth and into and out of lunar orbit. Orion is the only spacecraft capable of returning crews to Earth at lunar reentry velocities. On the successful Artemis I mission, Orion’s uniquely designed heat shield was recently tested under these extreme reentry conditions. Four astronauts will depart from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop the Space Launch System (SLS), the only rocket powerful enough to send Orion, its crew, and their supplies to the Moon in a single launch. The crew will be selected from among the most diverse astronaut corps in history, each equipped with unique skills and intensively trained.

First the crew will launch to Earth orbit where they will perform systems checks and solar panel adjustments on Orion. Then, a powerful push from SLS’s interim cryogenic propulsion stage will help Orion perform a translunar injection maneuver, setting its course to the Moon.

For several days, the crew will travel toward the Moon and perform corrective engine burns to intercept the Moon’s gravitational field. At the right time and location, Orion will perform a series of two engine burns to place the spacecraft in a lunar Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO). From hundreds of potential orbits, NASA selected NRHO to achieve long-term Artemis goals. NRHO will provide near-constant communications with Earth and access to sites all over the Moon. Because it is gravitationally balanced between Earth and the Moon, this orbit will maximize fuel efficiency. On future missions, NASA and its partners will assemble the Gateway lunar space station in NRHO to serve as a hub for Artemis missions.

NASA has selected SpaceX to provide the human landing system that will transport Artemis III astronauts from Orion in lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon and back again. SpaceX plans to use a unique concept of operations to increase the overall efficiency of their lander. After a series of tests, SpaceX will fly at least one uncrewed demo mission that lands Starship on the lunar surface. When Starship has met all of NASA’s requirements and high standards for crew safety, it will be ready for its first Artemis mission.

Before the crew launch, SpaceX will launch a storage depot to Earth orbit. A series of reusable tankers will carry propellant to the storage depot to fuel the human landing system. The uncrewed Starship human landing system will then launch to Earth orbit and rendezvous with the storage depot to fill its tanks before executing a translunar injection engine burn and traveling approximately six days to NRHO where it will await the Artemis III crew.

When both spacecraft have arrived in NRHO, Orion will dock with the Starship human landing system in preparation for the first lunar surface expedition of the 21st century. Once the crew and their supplies are ready, two astronauts will board Starship and two will remain in Orion. Orion will undock and back away from Starship to remain in NRHO for roughly one orbit around the Moon, lasting about 6.5 days. This will match the length of the surface expedition, so as Orion completes its orbit, the two person surface crew will finish their work on the surface in time to launch back up to meet the spacecraft.

NASA has its sights set on locations around the South Pole for the Artemis era of human lunar exploration. Extreme, contrasting conditions make it a challenging location for Earthlings to land, live, and work, but the region’s unique characteristics hold promise for unprecedented deep space scientific discoveries. Using advanced technology including autonomous systems, the crew inside of Starship will land at a carefully selected site within a 100-meter radius.

On the Moon

Image above: Illustration of SpaceX Starship human landing system design. Image Credit: SpaceX.

After touchdown, the surface crew’s first task will be to ensure all systems are ready for their lunar surface stay. Then they will rest, eat, and recharge for the first full day of the expedition.

During their time on the Moon, the astronauts will do scientific work inside Starship and conduct a series of moonwalks, exiting Starship to explore the surface. The astronauts will don advanced spacesuits, exit through an airlock, and descend on Starship’s elevator. NASA has selected Axiom Space to provide the Artemis III surface suits and spacewalk systems. These suits will give the astronauts increased range of motion and flexibility to explore more of the landscape than on previous lunar missions.

SpaceX Starship Moon Landing

Video above: SpaceX Starship May Start Flying Moon Missions in 2024. SpaceX is eligible to bid on NASA's  Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (CLPS) to deliver equipment and rovers to the lunar surface for the artemis program. Video Credit: SpaceX.

During their moonwalks, the astronauts will take pictures and video, survey geology, retrieve samples, and collect other data to meet specific scientific objectives. The view from the lunar South Pole region will look very different from the photos taken on Apollo missions in the Moon’s equatorial region. The Sun will hover just above the horizon, casting long, dark shadows across the terrain, which the crew will explore using headlamps and navigational tools. The information and materials collected by Artemis III astronauts will increase our understanding of the mysterious South Pole region, the Moon, and our solar system.

Mission control teams on the ground will be in contact with the crew as they relay what they see, hear, and feel. Through mission coverage and the ability to send high quality images and video to the ground with advanced communication technology, they will be sharing a unique new human experience with the world.

On the journey home

Image above: On flight day 25 of the Artemis I mission, Orion captured this photo of the Earth from a camera mounted on one of its solar arrays. Image Credit: NASA.

When their surface expedition is complete, the two astronauts will lift off the surface of the Moon and head back to NRHO in Starship to reunite with their crewmates in Orion. After docking, the crew will spend up to five days in orbit, transferring samples between the vehicles and preparing for the journey back to Earth.

When they reach the optimal NRHO departure point, with all four astronauts back in Orion, they will undock and ignite Orion’s engines, slinging the spacecraft past the Moon, and allowing it to coast toward Earth. The crew will travel about 24,855 miles (about 40,000 kilometers) per hour during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Assisted by 11 parachutes, the spacecraft will splash down in the Pacific Ocean where it and the crew will be retrieved with support from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy.

Artemis III will be one of the most complex undertakings of engineering and human ingenuity in the history of deep space exploration to date. The astronauts' observations, samples, and data collected will expand our understanding of our solar system and home planet, while inspiring the next generation.

This mission will usher in a future in which humans consistently access the Moon, and human planetary exploration missions are within reach. Each Artemis mission will increase our knowledge, refine our operations, and prove our technology as we prepare for the first human mission to Mars.

Artemis III Mission Map

Image above: Artemis III will be humanity’s return to the lunar surface and NASA will make history by sending the first humans to the lunar South Pole region. Image Credit: NASA.

Why the Moon?

Video above: The Artemis missions will build a community on the Moon, driving a new lunar economy and inspiring a new generation. Narrator Drew Barrymore and NASA team members explain why returning to the Moon is the natural next step in human exploration, and how the lessons learned from Artemis will pave the way to Mars and beyond. As NASA prepares to launch the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket on the uncrewed Artemis I mission around the Moon, we’ve already begun to take the next step. Video Credit: NASA.

Related links:

Artemis Program:

Artemis I:

Space Launch System (SLS):

Orion spacecraft:


Moon to Mars:

Images (mentioned), Videos (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Darcy Elburn.


Hubble Visits Galactic Neighbors


NASA / ESA - Hubble Space Telescope (HST) patch.

Jan 13, 2023

This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope features the galaxy LEDA 48062 in the constellation Perseus. LEDA 48062 is the faint, sparse, amorphous galaxy on the right side of the image, and it is accompanied by a more sharply defined neighbor on the left – the large, disk-like lenticular galaxy UGC 8603. A smattering of more distant galaxies litter the background while a handful of foreground stars shine brightly throughout the image.

Hubble recently spent some time studying our galactic neighbors. LEDA 48062 is only around 30 million light-years from the Milky Way and was therefore included in the observing campaign Every Known Nearby Galaxy. The aim of this campaign was to observe every known galaxy within 10 megaparsecs (around 33 million light-years) of the Milky Way. By getting to know our galactic neighbors, astronomers can determine what types of stars reside in various galaxies and also map out the local structure of the universe.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Tully.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of January 9, 2023


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Jan 13, 2023

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Jan. 9 that included growing high-quality protein crystals, demonstrating the production of potable water from urine, and analyzing the benefits of growing tomatoes in space.

Image above: NASA astronaut Frank Rubio peers through one of the seven windows in the International Space Station’s cupola. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Crystal clear structures

Image above: JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata prepares Moderate Temperature PCG samples for return to Earth inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft. This investigation grows high quality protein crystals that scientists use for research and to develop new pharmaceuticals. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew members prepared samples from the Moderate Temperature PCG investigation during the week to return for analysis on the ground. This investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) grows protein crystals in microgravity to help scientists determine precise protein structures, which are used to develop pharmaceuticals and to explore specific functions in the body. Microgravity enables growth of higher quality crystals than is possible on the ground, and the space station serves as an important laboratory for obtaining such crystals.

Drink up

On future long-term space missions, an adequate supply of safe drinking water could represent a significant challenge. JEM Water Recovery System, an investigation from JAXA, generates potable water from urine that previously was collected and stored or vented overboard. Demonstrating the function of this water recovery system on orbit contributes to updating the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), which supports astronauts on the space station and future missions. The technology also could provide water regeneration in drought regions or in the wake of disasters on Earth. Crew members replaced valves on the system during the week.

Tomatoes in space

Image above: Tomato plants are shown growing in the Veggie facility for Veg-05, which examines the plants’ fruit production, microbial safety, nutritional value, taste acceptability by the crew, and overall behavioral health benefits. Image Credit: NASA.

The Pick-and-Eat Salad-Crop Productivity, Nutritional Value, and Acceptability to Supplement the ISS Food System is a phased research project that examines growing plants to provide fresh food and enhance the overall living experience for crew members on future long-duration missions. It includes Veg-05, an investigation that uses the station’s Veggie facility to grow dwarf tomatoes and examine fruit production, microbial food safety, nutritional value, taste acceptability by the crew, and overall behavioral health benefits. Hardware for the investigation, essentially a miniature greenhouse, could be adapted for horticultural therapy and to provide fresh produce for those without access to a yard on Earth. During the week, crew members tended to and monitored the plants

Other investigations involving the crew:

- Plant Habitat-03 assesses whether epigenetic adaptations in one generation of plants grown in space can transfer to the next generation. Results could provide insight into how to grow repeated generations of crops to provide food and other services on future space missions.

- Host Pathogen analyzes the relationship between the increased microbial virulence and reduced human immune function that can occur during spaceflight. Results could support the assessment of clinical risk to astronauts and the development of countermeasures to restore their immune function.

- ISS Medical Monitoring is an ongoing investigation that collects medical data from all crew members before, during, and after flight. By supporting overall crew health and safety, these data contribute to mission productivity and on-orbit operations.

- Confocal Microscope (also known as COSMIC) is a JAXA facility that provides fluorescence images of biological samples, providing data on the fundamental nature of cellular and tissue structure and functions in real-time.

- ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, parents, and others the opportunity to communicate with astronauts using amateur radio units. Before a scheduled call, students learn about the station, radio waves, and other topics, and prepare a list of questions based on the topics they have researched.

Image above: Josh Cassada swaps samples for PFMI-Ascent, which demonstrates a passive cooling system for electronic devices in microgravity using a micro-structured surface. Image Credit: NASA.

- PFMI-ASCENT, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, demonstrates a passive cooling system for electronic devices in microgravity. Such a system could reduce the use of space and electrical power needed and support future scientific investigations on the space station.

Space to Ground: The Work Continues: 01/13/2023

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:

Moderate Temperature PCG:

JEM Water Recovery System:


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.

Best regards,

XMM-Newton spies black holes eating the same stars again and again


ESA - XMM-Newton Mission patch.

Jan 13, 2023

Two teams of astronomers using ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope have observed repeated outbursts of light from inactive black holes that partially destroy stars again and again. This discovery is unexpected, since outbursts of black holes usually appear only once when a black hole consumes a star.

What is a black hole?

Supermassive black holes lie at the centres of most galaxies. Their masses range from hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of our Sun. Despite this, black holes are elusive, trapping light and remaining hard to detect.

A hidden supermassive black hole can be uncovered when a star veers on a close approach to it. The star gets ripped apart by strong tidal forces, forming a disk of stellar debris on which the black hole is feeding. Energetic X-rays, UV, optical and radio light can be detected during this process known as a tidal disruption event.

Not totally destroyed

Typical tidal disruption events exhibit a bright outburst of light, known as a flare, which lasts a few months during which the black hole consumes the star. However, two new flares with peculiar behaviour have been observed by XMM-Newton. These flares repeatedly shine bright in X-ray and UV light after the first outburst, suggesting that the stars have not been totally destroyed during the initial encounter with the black holes.

The studies led by astronomers Thomas Wevers from the European Southern Observatory, and Zhu Liu from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Germany, reveal that part of the stars may have survived their first attack from the black holes. The X-ray and UV data suggest that parts of the stars are not entirely eaten up, continue their orbit and encounter the disruptive black hole again, leading to recurring flares. This activity is called a partial tidal disruption event.

A black hole eating a star again and again

The astronomers found repeated flares from two separate galaxies hosting supermassive black holes. These galaxies lie well beyond the outskirts of the Milky Way at distances of almost 900 million light-years and 1 billion light-years.

One of the re-brightening events, called eRASSt J045650.3−203750, was discovered by the X-ray telescope eROSITA on board the Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma mission. XMM-Newton observations in 2021 and 2022 by a team led by Zhu found that the original flare was followed by repeated outbursts roughly every 223 days.

Zhu explains: “The results from our first XMM-Newton observation were surprising. The black hole showed an unusually drastic dimming of X-ray light, compared to when it had been discovered two weeks previously by the eROSITA telescope. Follow-up observations with XMM-Newton and other instruments confirmed our speculations that this behaviour was being caused by a partial tidal disruption event.”

The other tidal disruption event, called AT2018fyk, was discovered by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae. It shone bright in UV and X-rays for at least 500 days, followed by a sudden dimming. In May 2022, Thomas and colleagues used XMM-Newton to study the dramatic increase in X-ray and UV brightness 1200 days after it first appeared.

Back to the drawing board

“At first, we were absolutely puzzled by what the rebrightening could mean. We had to go back to the drawing board to assess all the possible options to explain the observed behaviour. It was a very exciting moment when we realised that the model for a repeating tidal disruption event could reproduce the observed data,” adds Thomas.

A black hole repeatedly destroying a star

Video above: A video animation of the partial tidal disruption event AT2018fyk depicts the model: A black hole repeatedly destroying a star.

In total, over five days of XMM-Newton observations were used to monitor the change of X-ray light coming from these sources. The extremely sensitive European Photon Imaging Camera on board XMM-Newton helped to study the hot material surrounding the black holes in great detail.

William Alston, ESA Research Fellow, explains the significance of the results. “These new observations are incredibly interesting for studying the influence of supermassive black holes. In typical tidal disruption events, we don’t expect to see a second flare for a few thousand years. With the flares recurring so quickly, the orbit of the disrupted star must have been bound close to the supermassive black hole. These new studies suggest that the disrupted star is pulled into a close orbit after it is ripped away from a binary star system by the central supermassive black hole.”

Artist's impression of XMM-Newton

The teams making the new discovery extend worldwide – in addition to XMM-Newton and eROSITA, the studies involve other missions including NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, The Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) and the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer Mission payload on the International Space Station. Collaborations allowed for these unprecedented cosmic events to be observed, modelled, and understood in maximum detail.

Usually dark and quiet

Some galaxies are constantly active, emitting flares as the supermassive black hole continually pulls gaseous matter into its orbit. The two new events observed by XMM-Newton, however, come from black holes which usually lie dark and quiet, until a star approaches. These events are the first time that repeated outbursts of light have been detected from inactive galaxies. The results of these studies are published in two papers in Astronomy & Astrophysics and The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Since their discovery in the 1990s, almost 100 tidal disruption events have been observed. XMM-Newton observations of tidal disruption events are vital to understand more about the otherwise hard to observe supermassive black holes which lie at the centre of large galaxies such as our own.

Both partial tidal disruption events will be monitored closely during the predicted periods of future re-brightening episodes to confirm the findings and make further discoveries. Observers may be met with silence, indicating that the star has been swallowed whole in the previous flaring episode. Turbulent times lie ahead for these events – and the hunt begins to find similar partial tidal disruption events.

Notes to Editor

‘Live to die another day: the rebrightening of AT2018fyk as a repeating partial tidal disruption event’ by T. Wevers et al. is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Preprint:

‘Deciphering the extreme X-ray variability of the nuclear transient eRASSt J045650.3−203750 : A likely repeating partial tidal disruption event’ by Z. Liu et al. is accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team’s results will be presented at a press conference of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) on Thursday 12 January 2023.

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ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope:

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ESA/D. Ducros.

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2022 was a record year for space launches


Rocket Launch.

Jan 13, 2023

180 rockets lifted off successfully, with SpaceX driving the pace.

Image above: NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket, carrying the Orion capsule, lifts off on 16 November 2022 as part of the Artemis I mission. Image Credits: Steve Nesius/Reuters.

2022 was a record year for space with 180 successful rocket launches to orbit — the most ever, and 44 more than in 2021. The launches were dominated by rockets from US company SpaceX and from the Chinese government and businesses.

“Space traffic is shooting up, pun intended,” says Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who maintains space-flight databases and this month published his analysis of launches in 2022.

SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, California, sent one of its Falcon rockets into orbit once every six days, on average, throughout the year. Its total of 61 successful launches is tied with a 1980 record, for Soviet R-7 rockets.

Most of the SpaceX launches carried commercial payloads, including the company’s own network of Starlink communications satellites. There are now more than 3,300 operational Starlinks, by far the largest satellite constellation ever (see ‘Orbital traffic’). The growing congestion in space means that, between late 2020 and late 2022, SpaceX has had to move its Starlinks out of the way more than 26,000 times to prevent collisions with other objects in space.

Graphic Credits: Nature/Data from Jonathan McDowell

In addition to SpaceX, other US rocket providers accomplished 17 launches in 2022, according to McDowell’s analysis. They included the November launch of NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, which is meant to ferry astronauts to the Moon in the coming years.

Growing space presence

China conducted 62 successful launches, 9 more than in 2021 (see ‘Space race’). Many were government launches, but a quickly growing fraction belongs to commercial rocket providers. Overall, China’s launch rate in 2022 was almost triple that of Russia. “China is replacing Russia as the number-two space power,” McDowell says.

In October, China launched its solar observatory, nicknamed Kuafu-1. It also sent up the third and final major module of its orbiting space station, Tiangong, which is now complete.

Other scientific launches of the year included NASA’s water-mapping Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite, a private lunar lander from the Japanese company ispace and South Korea’s first Moon mission.

Graphic Credits: Nature/Data from Jonathan McDowell

Europe’s launch total plummeted from 15 successful launches in 2021 to only 5 last year. The European Space Agency stopped launching Russian-made Soyuz rockets after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

New Zealand, by contrast, saw a record-setting nine launches in 2022. The US company Rocket Lab sends commercial payloads into orbit from Mahia, New Zealand.

The coming year could break more records than the last. SpaceX has said it hopes to launch 100 times in 2023 — missions will include the first orbital flight of its enormous Starship vehicle, which is meant to eventually carry humans to the Moon and Mars.


Related article:

The quest to conquer Earth’s space junk problem

Animation Credit: ESA

Zombie satellites, rocket shards and collision debris are creating major traffic risks in orbits around the planet. Researchers are working to reduce the threats posed by more than 20,000 objects in space.

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Center for Astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge paper:

Image (mentioned), Graphics (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: Nature/Alexandra Witze.


Crew Splits Day on Spacesuits and Space Science


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Jan 13, 2023

The seven Expedition 68 crew members split their day between spacesuits and space science. A spacewalk to upgrade the International Space Station’s power system is planned soon as advanced microgravity research is ongoing aboard the orbital lab.

Astronauts Nicole Mann of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) partnered together inside the Quest airlock readying a pair of Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs), or spacesuits, for an upcoming spacewalk. The pair were joined by NASA Flight Engineers Frank Rubio and Josh Cassada checking EMU components and preparing Quest ahead of the next spacewalk to prepare the station for its next roll-out solar array.

Image above: Astronaut Nicole Mann poses with an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), also known as a spacesuit, aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Meanwhile, space research is continuously taking place aboard the space station whether the experiments are operated manually by the astronauts, remotely by scientists on Earth, or autonomously with little to no inputs from crew members or payload specialists.

Wakata started his day in the Kibo laboratory module working on video components and cables to support research observation activities. Mann swapped a hard drive and installed new software on a laptop computer providing scientific data and command capabilities for an EXPRESS rack.

ISS flying over Earth at rising Sun. Animation Credit: NASA

Cassada worked on a pair of research facilities on Thursday swapping fuel bottles inside the Combustion Integrated Rack then watering tomato plants growing inside the Veggie space botany system. Rubio serviced the Confocal space microscope that provides fluorescence imagery of biological samples providing fundamental insights into cellular and tissue characteristics.

Commander Sergey Prokopyev set up Earth observation hardware on Thursday morning before activating a 3-D printer and printing test samples. Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin studied the physics of fluids exposed to magnetic and electric fields in microgravity. Flight Engineer Anna Kikina spent her day on electronics maintenance charging equipment and checking cable connections.

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Expedition 68:

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Confocal space microscope:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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CASC - Long March-2D launches Yaogan-37 and Shiyan-22A/B


CASC - CZ-2D Y13 / Long March-2D / Yaogan-37 and Shiyan-22A/B patch.

Jan 13, 2023

Long March-2D carrying Yaogan-37 and Shiyan-22A/B liftoff

A Long March-2D launch vehicle launched the Yaogan-37 and Shiyan-22A/B satellites from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu Province, China, on 13 January 2023, at 07:00 UTC (15:00 local time).

Long March-2D launches Yaogan-37 and Shiyan-22A/B

According to official sources, the satellites entered the planned orbits successfully. The remote sensing satellite Yaogan-37 (遥感三十七) will be “mainly used for new technologies, such as space environment monitoring and in-orbit verification experiments”. Shiyan-22A (试验二十二号A) will be “mainly used for land survey, urban planning and disaster prevention and mitigation”, while Shiyan-22B (试验二十二号B) will be “mainly used for smog detection, water pollution monitoring, crop growth monitoring and land resources census and other fields”.

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


CASC - Long March-2C launches APStar-6E


CASC - CZ-2C XSLC / Long March-2C / APStar-6E Mission patch.

Jan 13, 2023

Long March-2C carrying APStar-6E liftoff

A Long March-2C launch vehicle launched the APStar-6E (亚太6E, Asia-Pacific-6E) satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province, China, on 12 January 2023, at 18:10 UTC (13 January, at 02:10 local time).

Long March-2C launches APStar-6E

According to official sources, the satellite entered the planned orbit successfully and will “provide high-throughput telecommunication services for the Southeast Asia region”. Satellite fleet operator APT Satellite Holdings of Hong Kong and China Great Wall.

High-throughput telecommunication services for the Southeast Asia region

APStar-6E satellite

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

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jeudi 12 janvier 2023

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight Team Assessing Spacecraft’s Propulsion System


NASA - Lunar Flashlight Mission patch.

Jan 12, 2023

The mission is characterizing its new “green” propulsion system and developing a modified plan for the briefcase-size satellite’s journey to the Moon.

Image above: This illustration shows NASA’s Lunar Flashlight carrying out a trajectory correction maneuver with the Moon and Earth in the background. Powered by the small satellite’s four thrusters, the maneuver is needed to reach lunar orbit. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight mission successfully launched on Dec. 11, 2022, to begin its four-month journey to the Moon, where the small satellite, or SmallSat, will test several new technologies with a goal of looking for hidden surface ice at the lunar South Pole. While the SmallSat is largely healthy and communicating with NASA’s Deep Space Network, the mission operations team has discovered that three of its four thrusters are underperforming.

The mission team, which first observed the reduced thrust three days after launch, is working to analyze the issue and provide possible solutions. During its cruise, Lunar Flashlight’s propulsion system has operated for short-duration pulses of up to a couple seconds at a time. Based on ground testing, the team thinks that the underperformance might be caused by obstructions in the fuel lines that may be limiting the propellant flow to the thrusters.

The team plans to soon operate the thrusters for much longer durations, hoping to clear out any potential thruster fuel line obstructions while carrying out trajectory correction maneuvers that will keep the SmallSat on course to reach its planned orbit around the Moon. In case the propulsion system can’t be restored to full performance, the mission team is drawing up alternative plans to accomplish those maneuvers using the propulsion system with its current reduced-thrust capability. Lunar Flashlight will need to perform daily trajectory correction maneuvers starting in early February to reach lunar orbit about four months from now.

Swooping low over the Moon’s surface, the briefcase-size SmallSat will use a new laser reflectometer built with four near-infrared lasers to shine a light into the permanently shadowed craters at the lunar South Pole to detect surface ice. To achieve this goal with the limited amount of propellent it’s built to carry, Lunar Flashlight will employ an energy-efficient near-rectilinear halo orbit, taking it within 9 miles (15 kilometers) of the lunar South Pole and 43,000 miles (70,000 kilometers) away at its farthest point.

Only one other spacecraft has employed this type of orbit: NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission, which launched in June 2022 to a different near-rectilinear halo orbit, the same one that is planned for Gateway. CAPSTONE also experienced difficulties during its journey to the Moon, and some of the NASA teams who helped the SmallSat reach its planned orbit are lending their expertise to help resolve Lunar Flashlight’s thruster issues.

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Lunar Flashlight is the first interplanetary spacecraft to use a new kind of “green” propellant, called Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT), that is safer to transport and store than the commonly used propellants such as hydrazine. One of the mission’s primary goals is to demonstrate this technology for future use. The propellant was successfully tested with a previous NASA technology demonstration mission in Earth orbit.

Other systems on Lunar Flashlight are performing well, including the never-before-flown Sphinx flight computer, developed by JPL as a low-power, radiation-tolerant option for SmallSats. Also performing as designed, Lunar Flashlight’s upgraded Iris radio – which is used to communicate with the Deep Space Network – features a new precision navigation capability that future small spacecraft will use to rendezvous and land on other solar system bodies. Additional new and groundbreaking systems, such as the mission’s laser reflectometer, will be tested in the coming weeks before the mission enters lunar orbit.

More About the Mission

Lunar Flashlight is managed for NASA by JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California. The SmallSat is operated by Georgia Tech, including graduate and undergraduate students. The Lunar Flashlight science team is led by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and includes team members from multiple institutions, including the University of California, Los Angeles; Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; and the University of Colorado.

The SmallSat’s propulsion system was developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, with development and integration support from Georgia Tech. NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program funded component development from small businesses including Plasma Processes Inc. (Rubicon) for thruster development, Flight Works for pump development, and Beehive Industries (formerly Volunteer Aerospace) for specific 3D-printed components. The Air Force Research Laboratory also contributed financially to the development of Lunar Flashlight’s propulsion system. Lunar Flashlight is funded by the Small Spacecraft Technology program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Read more about the Lunar Flashlight mission here:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Sarah Frazier/JPL/Ian J. O’Neill.