samedi 18 février 2023

SpaceX - Inmarsat-6 F2 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Inmarsat-6 F2 Mission patch.

Feb 18, 2023

Falcon 9 carrying Inmarsat-6 F2 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle launched the Inmarsat-6 F2 (I-6 F2) satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, on 18 February 2023, at 03:59 UTC (17 February, at 22:59 EST).

Inmarsat-6 F2 launch and Falcon 9 first stage landing

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship,  stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Inmarsat-6 F2 satellite

Falcon 9’s first stage (B1077) previously supported two missions: Crew-5 and GPS III SV06. Inmarsat-6 F2 is the second satellite in Inmarsat’s sixth series of communications satellites.

Related links:



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


Hubble Views a Merging Galactic Trio


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

Feb 18, 2023

A spectacular trio of merging galaxies in the constellation Boötes takes center stage in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. These three galaxies are set on a collision course and will eventually merge into a single larger galaxy, distorting one another’s spiral structure through mutual gravitational interaction in the process. An unrelated foreground galaxy appears to float serenely near this scene, and the smudged shapes of much more distant galaxies are visible in the background.

This colliding trio – known to astronomers as SDSSCGB 10189 – is a relatively rare combination of three large star-forming galaxies lying within only 50,000 light-years of one another. While that might sound like a safe distance, for galaxies this makes them extremely close neighbors. Our own galactic neighbors are much further away; Andromeda, the nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way, is more than 2.5 million light-years away from Earth.

This image comes from an observation designed to help astronomers understand the origin of the largest, most massive galaxies in the universe. These galactic behemoths are called Brightest Cluster Galaxies (BCGs) and – as the name suggests – are defined as the brightest galaxies in any given galaxy cluster. Astronomers suspect that BCGs form through the merger of large, gas-rich galaxies like the ones seen here. They turned to Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys to investigate this galactic trio in painstaking detail, hoping to shed light on the formation of the universe’s most massive galaxies.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Hubble instruments:

Wide Field Camera 3:

Advanced Camera for Surveys:

For more information about Hubble, visit:

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

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About the investigation with the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft (82P)



Feb 18, 2023

After undocking from the Russian small research module "Poisk" of the International Space Station, a survey of the outer surface of the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft was carried out. No visual damage was found.

Survey of the outer surface of the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft

The deorbiting of Progress MS-21 has been postponed.

The State Commission decide yesterday on the further flight program of the spacecraft. Two options are being considered: its docking to the Russian nodal module "Prichal" for further clarification of the cause of the depressurization of the ship's thermal control system, or deorbiting.

The ship Progress MS-21 deorbited on February 19

The main operational control group of the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia named after S.P. Korolev (part of the Roscosmos State Corporation) decided to deorbit the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft on February 19.

Survey of the outer surface of the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft

After the Progress MS-21 undocked from the International Space Station, a survey of its outer surface was carried out to determine the cause of the depressurization of the thermal control system.

Survey of the outer surface of the Progress MS-21 cargo spacecraft

The deorbiting of the ship, which was scheduled for yesterday at 07:03 Moscow time, was postponed to analyze the information received.

Progress MS-21 undocking and departure

The inclusion of the Progress MS-21 engine for deceleration to deorbit is scheduled for February 19 at 06:15 Moscow time. As a result, the ship will enter the atmosphere and collapse. According to the forecast of specialists from Roscosmos enterprises, the fall of unburned elements of its structure is expected at 06:57 Moscow time in the non-navigable area of the South Pacific Ocean.

Related articles:

Progress Resupply Undocks From Station, Ends Cargo Mission

Roscosmos Reviews Soyuz, Progress Vehicle; Science and Cargo Ops Keep Crew Busy

On inspection by the manipulator of the Progress MS-21 cargo ship on the ISS

Update on the work of the commission on the situation of the Progress MS-21 spacecraft on the ISS

International Space Station Operations Update of Progress 82, Crew Continues Normal Activities

Sergey Krikalev on the situation with the Progress MS-21 (82P) spacecraft on the ISS

ISS - Depressurization in the Progress MS-21 (82P) cargo spacecraft

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:

Progress MS-21:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Roscosmos State Corporation/Energia/NASA TV/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


vendredi 17 février 2023

Progress Resupply Undocks From Station, Ends Cargo Mission


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

Feb 17, 2023

Image above: Feb. 17, 2023: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are parked at the space station including the Cygnus space freighter, the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance, and Russia’s Soyuz MS-22 crew ship and the Progress 83 resupply ship. Image Credit: NASA.

The uncrewed Roscosmos Progress 82 cargo spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station’s Poisk module at 9:26 p.m. EST on Fri., Feb. 17.

Progress MS-21 undocking and departure

Following undocking, Expedition 68 cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin sent commands from the station’s Roscosmos segment to rotate the Progress for additional visual inspections of the general area where a coolant loop leak occurred on Feb. 11. 

Image above: Progress MS-21 (82P) in free flight after undocking from ISS. Image Credits: ROSCOSMOS/NASA TV/Screen capture: Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Loaded with trash, Progress is being deorbited by Roscosmos flight controllers over the Pacific Ocean after spending four months at the station.

Related articles:

Roscosmos Reviews Soyuz, Progress Vehicle; Science and Cargo Ops Keep Crew Busy

On inspection by the manipulator of the Progress MS-21 cargo ship on the ISS

Update on the work of the commission on the situation of the Progress MS-21 spacecraft on the ISS

International Space Station Operations Update of Progress 82, Crew Continues Normal Activities

Sergey Krikalev on the situation with the Progress MS-21 (82P) spacecraft on the ISS

ISS - Depressurization in the Progress MS-21 (82P) cargo spacecraft

Related links:

Progress MS-21 (82P):

Poisk module:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/ROSCOSMOS/NASA TV/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Cargo Craft Ops and Human Research Wrap Up Crew Week


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Feb 17, 2023

The uncrewed Roscosmos Progress 82 cargo spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station’s Poisk module at 9:26 p.m. EST Friday, Feb. 17.

Following undocking, Expedition 68 cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin will send commands from the station’s Roscosmos segment to rotate the Progress for additional visual inspections and documentation of the general area where a coolant leak was discovered on Feb. 11. Loaded with trash, Progress will be deorbited by Roscosmos flight controllers over the Pacific Ocean after spending four months at the space station.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Meanwhile, the crew members continued a space adaptation study today while conducting a multitude of maintenance tasks aboard the orbital outpost today. The station residents also worked on more human research, watered plants, and cargo transfers.

Due to the lack of an up-and-down reference in weightlessness researchers are investigating how an astronaut’s eye-hand coordination reacts to audible and visual stimuli. Flight Engineers Josh Cassada of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) once again subjected themselves to the human research investigation taking place inside the Columbus laboratory module. The pair took turns strapping themselves in a specialized chair, wearing a virtual reality headset, and performing computerized tasks to test their reach and grasp functions. Observations may help doctors understand how the brain adjusts to microgravity and treat balance disorders on Earth.

Image above: Astronaut Josh Cassada is seated in a specialized chair for an experiment that investigates how astronauts grip and move their arms when manipulating objects in microgravity. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Frank Rubio focused their day mainly on lab maintenance and exercise activities. Mann began her day with orbital plumbing duties in Tranquility module, before watering tomato plants in Veggie space botany facility, and finally reorganizing cargo space in the Harmony module. Rubio cleaned windows in the cupola, the station’s “window to the world,” then checked out portable breathing gear that measures an astronaut’s aerobic capacity when pedaling on the station’s exercise cycle.

Cosmonauts Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Anna Kikina trained to use the lower body negative pressure suit and tested its ability to offset the effects of microgravity on the human body. The Roscosmos duo also worked on water transfers and cargo operations inside the ISS Progress 83 resupply ship. Petelin replaced life support components inside the Zvezda service module then studied on a computer how future pilots might control a spacecraft or a robot on planetary missions.

Related article (NASA):

NASA Sets Coverage for Agency’s SpaceX Crew-6 Events, Launch

Related links:

Expedition 68:

Columbus laboratory module:

Grasp functions:

Tranquility module:


Harmony module:


Exercise cycle:

Lower body negative pressure suit:

Zvezda service module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Set to Begin Third Year at Jezero Crater


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

Feb 17, 2023

After completing the first sample depot on another world, the rover continues its hunt for Mars rocks worthy of study on Earth.

Image above: This image of the floor of Jezero Crater was taken by one of the Navcam imagers aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on Feb. 5, the 698th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Perseverance rover will celebrate its second anniversary on the surface of Mars Saturday, Feb. 18. Since arriving at Jezero Crater in 2021, the six-wheeled, nuclear-powered rover has been examining geologic features and collecting samples of the Red Planet that are central to the first step of the NASA-ESA (European Space Agency) Mars Sample Return campaign. Scientists want to study Martian samples with powerful lab equipment on Earth to search for signs of ancient microbial life and to better understand the processes that have shaped the surface of Mars.

Perseverance Rover’s Descent and Touchdown on Mars (Official NASA Video)

Video above: NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance mission captured thrilling footage of its rover landing in Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The real footage in this video was captured by several cameras that are part of the rover's entry, descent, and landing suite. The views include a camera looking down from the spacecraft's descent stage (a kind of rocket-powered jet pack that helps fly the rover to its landing site), a camera on the rover looking up at the descent stage, a camera on the top of the aeroshell (a capsule protecting the rover) looking up at that parachute, and a camera on the bottom of the rover looking down at the Martian surface. The audio embedded in the video comes from the mission control call-outs during entry, descent, and landing. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“Anniversaries are a time of reflection and celebration, and the Perseverance team is doing a lot of both,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley of Caltech in Pasadena. “Perseverance has inspected and performed data collection on hundreds of intriguing geologic features, collected 15 rock cores, and created the first sample depot on another world. With the start of the next science campaign, known as ‘Upper Fan,’ on Feb. 15, we expect to be adding to that tally very soon.”

In addition to the rock cores, Perseverance has collected two regolith samples and one atmospheric sample, and it has sealed three “witness” tubes.

Perseverance Rover collecting samples. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Numbers play a big role in the life of a Mars rover mission, not just because the team includes an impressive quantity of scientists (who don’t usually mind numbers) and engineers (who love them), but because statistics provide the best and most efficient glimpse of vehicle trends and performance.

For instance, the mission can tell you not only that the rover has driven 9.3 miles (14.97 kilometers), but also that as of Feb. 14, its left front wheel has performed 9,423 revolutions. They can tell you not only that the MOXIE (short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) technology demonstration has produced 3.25 ounces (92.11 grams) of oxygen, but also that the Gas Dust Removal Tool (gDRT) – the little gas-puffing device on the robotic arm – has puffed 62 times to clear residual dust and particles from rock-abrading activities.

“We deal with a lot of numbers,” said Perseverance deputy project manager Steve Lee from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We collect them, evaluate them, compare them, and more times than we want to admit, bore our loved ones with them during a family dinner.”

With that, here are some the most up-to-date statistics regarding Perseverance’s first two Earth years of Jezero surface operations. Some will seem obscure, while others are more immediate, but they all underscore how productive the mission has been.

Perseverance Science Statistics

The rover carries seven science instruments, and they’ve been busy.

- Laser shots fired by the SuperCam science instrument: 230,554

- Soundings performed by the RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment) ground-penetrating radar to study underground rock layers: 676,828

- Mars audio recordings taken by SuperCam’s microphone: 662

- Hours of Mars weather data recorded by MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer): 15,769.1

- Hours the X-ray filament on the PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) instrument has operated: 298.2

- Laser shots by the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument: 4,337,010

- SHERLOC spectroscopy observations: 33

Perseverance Mobility and Operational Statistics

Along with the massive drill-toting robotic arm, the rover has a small sample handling arm inside its belly.

- Times the rover’s main robotic arm has been unstowed and stowed: 64

- Times the drill on that arm has touched Mars: 39

- Times drill bits have been exchanged: 48

- Abrasions performed by the drill: 17

- Distance the rover’s sample handling arm’s z-stage has traveled up and down: 676.1 feet (206.1 meters)

Perseverance’s Camera Statistics

Perseverance packs seven science cameras along with nine engineering cameras. Together, those cameras have taken more than 166,000 images. Here are the image tallies for several of them.

- Mastcam-Z: 86,660

- Navigation Cameras: 21,571

- Front Hazard-Avoidance Cameras: 3,909

- Rear Hazard-Avoidance Cameras: 474

- Sampling and Caching System Camera:1,321

- SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager: 2,825


- SHERLOC Context Imager: 2,260

- MEDA SkyCam: 1,831

- PIXL Micro-Context Camera: 1,012

- Entry, Descent, and Landing Cameras: 33,279

Image above: The descent stage holding NASAs Perseverance rover can be seen falling thorough the Martian atmosphere in this image taken on Feb. 18, 2021, by the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. An ellipse indicates where Perseverance touched down. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

“Behind each number is a lot of thought and effort from a very talented group of women and men on the Perseverance team,” said Art Thompson, Perseverance project manager at JPL. “We have come a long way together, and I can’t think of a better group to work with as we go even farther.”

In fact, when Perseverance marks its second landing anniversary, Mars will be 97 million miles (156 million kilometers) from Earth. The weather at Jezero Crater is expected to be sunny with a high of about 7 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 14 degrees Celsius). The rover has instructions to perform remote science and take images of a place in Jezero Crater called “Jenkins Gap.” And people on the mission team are expected to take at least one moment to recall where they were and how they felt two years ago, when Perseverance landed on Mars.

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.

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.

Where Is Perseverance right now?:

More highlights of Perseverance’s first two years on Mars:

For more about Perseverance: and

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


Sun Releases Strong Solar Flare


NASA - Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) patch.

Feb 17, 2023

The Sun emitted a strong solar flare, peaking at 3:16 p.m. ET on Feb. 17, 2023. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the Sun constantly, captured an image of the event.

Image above: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare – as seen in the bright flash in the upper left – on Feb. 17, 2023. The image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the extremely hot material in flares and which is colorized in teal. Image Credits: NASA/SDO.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of energy. Flares and solar eruptions can impact radio communications, electric power grids, navigation signals, and pose risks to spacecraft and astronauts.

This flare is classified as an X2.2 flare. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength.

Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Animation Credit: NASA

To see how such space weather may affect Earth, please visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, watches, warnings, and alerts. NASA works as a research arm of the nation’s space weather effort. NASA observes the Sun and our space environment constantly with a fleet of spacecraft that study everything from the Sun’s activity to the solar atmosphere, and to the particles and magnetic fields in the space surrounding Earth.

Related links:

NASA's space weather:

Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Abbey Interrante.

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SpaceX Starlink 73 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

Feb 17, 2023

Falcon 9 carrying Starlink 73 liftoff

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle launched 51 Starlink satellites (Starlink-73 / Starlink 2-5) to low-Earth orbit, from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, on 17 February 2023, at 19:12 UTC (11:12 PST).

SpaceX Starlink 73 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 17 February 2023

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship,  stationed in the Pacific Ocean.  Falcon 9’s first stage (B1063) previously supported eight missions: Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, DART, and six Starlink missions.

Related links:


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


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Feb. 13, 2023


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Feb 17, 2023

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Feb. 13 that included testing an autonomous sound monitor, evaluating a high-resolution camera, and demonstrating a carbon dioxide removal technology.

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

Sounding good

Image above: JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata in front of the space station’s Astrobee robots. These free flyers are used for SoundSee, which tests a method to monitor the station’s acoustic environment. Anomalies in the sounds made by machines can provide early indication of equipment failure and this monitoring could help keep equipment in good working order and protect crew health and safety. Image Credit: NASA.

SoundSee Mission tests using an audio sensor on a free-flying Astrobee robot to monitor the station acoustic environment. Microphones collect acoustic information and the Astrobee pinpoints the sensor’s position. This monitoring method can detect anomalies in the sounds made by machines and provide early indication of equipment failure. Keeping equipment in good working order helps protect crew health and safety and could reduce crew workload aboard the space station and other spacecraft. On Earth, autonomous audio monitoring of machinery has potential applications in manufacturing, home settings, health care, and infrastructure development. Crew members set up the Astrobee and collected data for the investigation during the week.

Earth, ready for its close-up

Sphere Camera-1, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, evaluates the performance of an ultra-high-resolution camera in microgravity. Results could support development of cameras with greater resolution, detail, and sharpness for imaging needs on future exploration missions, including to the Moon and Mars. These cameras also could remotely identify damage to space structures, reducing the need for inspections via potentially risky human spacewalks. Madison Square Garden Entertainment, the investigation developer, plans to display footage captured by the camera to people on Earth. During the week, crew members captured images using the camera.

Image above: Snow covers mountains on the southeast coast of Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula in this image taken as the International Space Station orbits 265 miles above the Pacific Ocean. Image Credit: NASA.

Scrubbing out carbon dioxide

Four Bed CO2 Scrubber demonstrates a technology for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a spacecraft. The technology is based on the current system in use on the space station with mechanical upgrades and an improved absorbent. A goal for next-generation systems is continuous operation of a scrubber for 20,000 hours, and this technology is a step toward that goal. This scrubber could improve the reliability and performance of carbon dioxide removal systems in future spacecraft, helping to maintain the health of crews and ensure mission success. It also has potential applications on Earth in environments that require removal of carbon dioxide to protect workers and equipment. During the week, crew members performed upgrades on the equipment.

Other investigations involving the crew:

Animation above: GRIP, an ESA investigation, studies how long-duration spaceflight affects a person’s ability to regulate the force of their grip and trajectory of upper limbs when manipulating objects. Here, NASA astronaut Josh Cassada conducts a session for the investigation. Animation Credit: NASA.

- GRIP, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), studies how long-duration spaceflight affects a person’s ability to regulate the force of their grip and trajectory of upper limbs when manipulating objects. Results could help identify potential hazards for astronauts as they move between gravitational environments and contribute to the design of interfaces for equipment used in these challenging conditions.

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

- SoFIE-GEL studies how fuel temperature affects material flammability in microgravity. Results could improve understanding of early fire growth behavior, inform selection of fire-resistant spacecraft cabin materials, and help to determine optimal fire suppression techniques on future missions.

- CARDIOBREATH, an investigation from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), studies the combined effect of cardiovascular and respiratory changes on blood pressure regulation during spaceflight. Results could support development of ways to deal with these risks.

Image above: NASA astronaut Josh Cassada waters dwarf tomato plants growing for the Veg-05 investigation, which examines the effect of light quality and fertilizer on fruit production, microbial food safety, nutritional value, taste acceptability by the crew, and overall behavioral health benefits of the plants. Image Credit: NASA.

- Veg-05 uses the station’s Veggie facility to grow dwarf tomatoes and examine the effect of light quality and fertilizer on fruit production, microbial food safety, nutritional value, taste acceptability by the crew, and overall behavioral health benefits. Growing plants to provide fresh food and enhance the overall living experience for crew members supports future long-duration missions.

- Particle Vibration, an investigation from ESA, examines the mechanisms of self-organization of particles in fluids. Results could improve our understanding of fluids with dispersed solid particles, which are used in cooling systems for heat exchangers and solar energy collectors in space and in nuclear reactors and electronics on Earth.

- ISS Ham Radio provides students, teachers, 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.

Space to Ground: A Grip on the Future: Feb. 17, 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.

ISS Benefits for Humanity 2022:

Related links:

Expedition 68:

SoundSee Mission:


Sphere Camera-1:

Four Bed CO2 Scrubber:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


High-altitude balloons: a scientists’ guide to what’s up there and why


High-altitude balloons.

Feb 17, 2023

The US has shot down four flying objects over fears of spy balloons. But what else are high-altitude balloons used for?

Image above: High-altitude balloons are used for science, for example to get a clear view of space, or to test instruments. Image Credits: NG Images/Alamy.

When the US government shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast on 4 February, it ramped up geopolitical tensions with China and prompted officials to tighten their radar search for other high-flying unidentified objects. Since then, the United States has shot down three more objects — which it now seems were probably not spy balloons. How many balloons are in the skies, what are they used for, and what will the recent incidents mean for balloon users?

The suspected spy balloon was 60 meters tall, carrying a payload weighing around one tonne. The US state department says the payload carried devices to intercept sensitive communications; China says that it was a civilian research airship gone astray.

Image above: In this photo just before its destruction by a missile (fired by the F-22 in the image), a Chinese large balloon drifts above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet F-22 and its contrail seen below it, on Saturday, Feb. 4. Image Credit: Associated Press (AP).

The other objects have been smaller and less well-described by officials: an object “about the size of a small car” over Alaska; a small cylinder over the Yukon in Canada; and an octagonal structure with strings over Lake Huron in Michigan. All flew in commercial airspace at an altitude of around 6–12 kilometers. The US government now says the “leading explanation” is that they “could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose”.

The United States has recently started taking ‘unidentified anomalous phenomena’ (UAPs) — including flying objects — more seriously. Last year, NASA established a team of scientists, technology, flight and space experts to investigate UAPs, citing both national security and air safety. And in January, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence revealed a dramatic uptick in UAP reporting. For the 17 years before March 2021, the agency catalogued 263 UAP reports; since that date, there have been 247 in less than 2 years. Out of 366 reports analysed, 163 were characterized as balloons, 26 as uncrewed aircraft and 6 as clutter.

Do look up

Balloons are a valuable tool for getting a good view downwards or upwards, from an altitude higher than drones or planes can reach and at a lower cost than satellites.

By far the majority are weather balloons: these are launched twice a day simultaneously from almost 900 locations worldwide, according to the US National Weather Service. They transmit data about temperature, humidity, pressure and location, and are disposable. The thin balloons — typically made of biodegradable latex — expand at altitude to about 6 meters in diameter. Flights are designed to go straight up to about 30 kilometers, and last for only a few hours.

Some scientists use much larger, longer-lasting balloons, for example to get a clear view of space, or to test instruments destined for high altitudes. NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages the launch of about 10–15 scientific balloons each year worldwide. These can carry around 3,000 kilograms, expand to be larger than a football stadium and fly to an altitude of 37 kilometers.

High-altitude balloon and it's instruments & solar panels. Image Credit: Aerospace

Other balloon users include science students, companies and amateur enthusiasts. Jason Krueger says his company StratoStar in Fishers, Indiana, has helped students and companies to launch more than 1,000 high-altitude balloon missions since 2006. Student projects have included investigating whether Post-it notes are still sticky after a flight to near-space and the impacts of high-altitude radiation on blood samples.

Corporate uses of balloons include providing Wi-Fi in remote regions, and some amateur enthusiasts launch picoballoons. These silver-coloured, plastic Mylar balloons typically measure less than 1 meter in size and are harmless, says Krueger, carrying amateur radios and payloads of just a few grams. But these shiny balloons would “light up radar like nobody’s business”, says Krueger, and their typical flight altitude is around 12 kilometers.

Blame game

Many balloons can be discounted from the list of those shot down: weather balloons make short flights and don’t drift at 12-kilometre altitudes, for example. But that still leaves plenty unaccounted for worldwide. “There are flights every day of research, corporate and hobbyist balloons,” says Robert Rohde, a scientist at the environmental non-profit organization Berkeley Earth, who lives in Zurich, Switzerland. “I suspect that what they shot down are related to one of those categories.”

The US Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t require tracking devices for payloads under 5.4 kilograms, or for launches or flight paths for such loads to be declared. But even small packages can use large balloons. If such objects start to attract military attention, perhaps they, too, should be tracked, says Rohde. “I don’t feel like it’s necessary from a safety point of view, but if there’s a legitimate concern about small balloons from other states, we should probably make sure these things are identified.”

Krueger doesn’t think that’s needed. Instead, he says, the US government should “get better at assessing what is a threat”.


Related links & articles:

NASA established a team of scientists:

National Intelligence revealed a dramatic uptick in UAP reporting:

US National Weather Service:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Nature/Nicola Jones/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

NASA’s Planetary Radar Captures Detailed View of Oblong Asteroid


Asteroid Watch logo.

Feb 17, 2023

One of the most elongated asteroids ever imaged by planetary radar was closely tracked by the agency’s Deep Space Network.

Image above: This collage shows six planetary radar observations of 2011 AG5 a day after the asteroid made its close approach to Earth on Feb. 3. With dimensions comparable to the Empire State Building, 2011 AG5 is one of the most elongated asteroids to be observed by planetary radar to date. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

On Feb. 3, an asteroid more than three times as long as it is wide safely flew past Earth at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers, or a little under five times the distance between the Moon and Earth). While there was no risk of the asteroid – called 2011 AG5 – impacting our planet, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California closely tracked the object, making invaluable observations to help determine its size, rotation, surface details, and, most notably, shape.

This close approach provided the first opportunity to take a detailed look at the asteroid since it was discovered in 2011, revealing an object about 1,600 feet (500 meters) long and about 500 feet (150 meters) wide – dimensions comparable to the Empire State Building. The powerful 230-foot (70-meter) Goldstone Solar System Radar antenna dish at the Deep Space Network’s facility near Barstow, California, revealed the dimensions of this extremely elongated asteroid.

“Of the 1,040 near-Earth objects observed by planetary radar to date, this is one of the most elongated we’ve seen,” said Lance Benner, principal scientist at JPL who helped lead the observations.

The Goldstone radar observations took place from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, capturing several other details: Along with a large, broad concavity in one of the asteroid’s two hemispheres, 2011 AG5 has subtle dark and lighter regions that may indicate small-scale surface features a few dozen meters across. And if the asteroid were viewed by the human eye, it would appear as dark as charcoal. The observations also confirmed 2011 AG5 has a slow rotation rate, taking nine hours to fully rotate.

Eyes on Asteroids screen capture. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Beyond contributing to a better understanding of what this object looks like up close, the Goldstone radar observations provide a key measurement of the asteroid’s orbit around the Sun. Radar provides precise distance measurements that can help scientists at NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) refine the asteroid’s orbital path. Asteroid 2011 AG5 orbits the Sun once every 621 days and won’t have a very close encounter with Earth until 2040, when it will safely pass our planet at a distance of about 670,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers, or nearly three times the Earth-Moon distance).

“Interestingly, shortly after its discovery, 2011 AG5 became a poster-child asteroid when our analysis showed it had a small chance of a future impact,” said Paul Chodas, the director for CNEOS at JPL. “Continued observations of this object ruled out any chance of impact, and these new ranging measurements by the planetary radar team will further refine exactly where it will be far into the future.”

Both the Goldstone Solar System Radar Group and CNEOS are supported by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program within the Planetary Defense Coordination Office at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. CNEOS calculates every known near-Earth asteroid orbit to provide assessments of potential impact hazards.

More information about planetary radar, CNEOS, and near-Earth objects can be found at:

Related links:

Eyes on Asteroids:

NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS):

Planetary Defense Coordination Office:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Karen Fox/Josh Handal/Alana Johnson/JPL/Ian J. O’Neill.


JAXA - Japan aborts H3 launch moments before liftoff


JAXA - Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency logo.

Feb 17, 2023

Japan’s space agency JAXA aborted the long-awaited first launch of H3 rocket Feb. 16, when the rocket’s side boosters failed to ignite after main engine start.

Image above: H3 rocket stands on the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Center, Feb. 16, in this image taken from YouTube. Image Credit: JAXA.

It was the latest in a series of setbacks for Japan’s years-long efforts to develop a more capable and cost-effective alternative to the nation’s current workhorse, H-2A.

Live footage showed the 63-meter expendable rocket, decorated with Japan’s national flag on the core stage with two strap-on side boosters attached, standing idle at the seafront launch pad of Tanegashima Space Center when the countdown was over.

Aborted launch of the H3 Launch Vehicle (H3TF1)

“The main engine was ignited, but side boosters were not,” said the range control center, shortly after the rocket’s pre-announced launch window of 8:37-8:44 p.m. Eastern. “It is expected that it would probably take longer to examine the situation. The status of launch vehicle Test Flight No.1 will be announced to all launch operators as soon as it will be confirmed.”

JAXA also left a short notice on its website: “Further information will be updated on the JAXA website.” The agency didn’t elaborate on what happened. It’s also not known yet how the agency will examine the issue — after rolling back the rocket to the hangar or at the launch pad.

The planned launch was initially targeted for Feb. 14, but bad weather caused a two-day delay.

Aboard the rocket was Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3 (ALOS-3), a 3-ton optical imaging satellite, built by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, which will follow in the footsteps of the original Advanced Land Observation Satellite (ALOS). ALOS was launched in 2006 onboard an H2A and declared dead in orbit in April 2011. ALOS-2 is still operating after being launched in May 2014.

Japan’s journey to develop H3 was long and winding. JAXA began developing H3 in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) in 2014. It is meant to replace H-2A that has been operational since August 2001 with a new one with “high flexibility, high reliability, and high cost-performance.”

The rocket’s inaugural launch was originally scheduled for March 2021, but was pushed back by around two years due to issues with the newly developed LE-9 first-stage engine.

The problems were first uncovered during qualifications testing in May 2020, which included cracked turbine blades in the LE-9’s turbopump assembly and a hole seared into its combustion chamber wall. To fix these, JAXA and MHI had to redesign the engine’s fuel turbopump and apply those same changes to the engine’s oxygen turbopump.

H3’s four variants

There are four variants of the H3 rocket, each in a unique configuration of LE-9 engines and side-mounted solid rocket boosters. The rocket can fly with zero, two, or four strap-on boosters and either two or three LE-9 first-stage engines in order to carry a wider range of payloads to a wider range of orbits. Depending on the version of the rocket, it can place a payload of at least 4 tons into a sun synchronous orbit (SSO), with a maximum capacity of 6.5 tons into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). It’s a significant improvement from H-2A’s capacity of 3.8 tons to SSO and 4 tons to GTO. Future upgrades could make it possible for the rocket to deliver cargo to the moon, including the planned lunar Gateway that NASA is pursuing in cooperation with JAXA, the European Space Agency and others.

Image above: Japan’s new H3 rocket is designed to fly with zero, two, or four strap-on boosters and either two or three LE-9 first-stage engines in order to carry a wider range of payloads to a wider range of orbits. Image Credit: JAXA.

The H3 rocket’s LE-9 is not only a more powerful engine than H-2A’s LE-7. It also employs a novel design, called an expander bleed cycle, that Mitsubishi was the first to introduce with its LE-5A upper stage engine. In addition, the H3 stands to be the first rocket to use an expander bleed cycle engine for its first stage, a design choice meant to yield higher engine thrust at the expense of efficiency.

On the price front, the launch cost of the H3 is reportedly around $50 million, half that of the H-2A.

Meanwhile, Japan has launched one orbital mission so far this year: a H-2A successfully delivered Japan’s IGS Radar 7 surveillance satellite to orbit on Jan. 25.

Related links:

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI):

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits:JAXA/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries/SpaceNews/Park Si-soo/SciNews.

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Glimpse beneath iconic glacier reveals how it’s adding to sea-level rise


Global Warming.

Feb 17, 2023

Data-gathering instruments under the melting Thwaites Glacier are helping researchers to figure out how the ice will change in future.

Image above: Previous studies have shown that the Thwaites Glacier is rapidly retreating. Image Credit: Cover Images via ZUMA Press.

Researchers have dropped a submersible vehicle down a hole in Antarctic ice to get their closest-ever look at the underside of Thwaites Glacier — a massive and increasingly unstable body of ice that has become an icon of climate change — and the first-ever glimpse at the spot where the ice meets the land.

Image above: The Icefin submersible under the sea ice near McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Image Credits: Rob Robbins, USAP Driver.

The observations, published in two papers in Nature on 15 February (1,2), could help to pin down one of the biggest uncertainties in current projections of rising global sea levels. The studies imply that models of how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and glacier flow respond to climate change are missing some important details. Incorporating these insights should clarify how and why the ice will change in the future.

For now, the work brings “neither good news nor bad news” in terms of sea-level rise, says co-author Peter Davis, a physical oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK. “The glacier is still moving as quickly as it ever has been.”

Reducing uncertainty

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that sea levels will probably rise by between 38 and 77 centimetres by 2100, but the collapse or melting of ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic could theoretically contribute an additional metre. “All of this is to beat down those uncertainties,” says Britney Schmidt, an Earth scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who is a co-author of both papers.

Thwaites Glacier is a fast-moving block of ice, the size of Florida, in the West Antarctic. Satellite studies have shown that its ‘grounding line’ — where ice attached to bedrock transitions to ice floating in the sea — has shifted 14 kilometres inland since the late 1990s, and some parts of it are retreating as fast as 1.2 kilometres per year.

‘Grounding-line retreat’ is what makes Thwaites responsible for about 4% of today’s global sea-level rise (see ‘Retreating glacier’). As the grounding line moves inland, it levers up more, ever-thicker ice to float on the sea. This, in turn, raises the sea level and makes the glacier move faster. The process can lead to accelerating collapse, as the erosion of the coastal ice allows kilometres of ice behind it to flow ever more rapidly out to sea.

Researchers think that grounding-line retreat is driven by warm ocean water melting the underside of the ice. Climate change has shifted wind patterns in the region, allowing a patch of warm water to flow towards the West Antarctic.

Drilling for data

To investigate this process, Davis, Schmidt and their colleagues decided to drill down into the glacier and have a look at the grounding line.

They drilled a hole roughly 30 centimetres wide through nearly 600 metres of ice, using hot water, and lowered down instruments and a remotely operated vehicle called Icefin. This allowed them to observe the underside of the ice, and the grounding line, more closely than ever before. Over five days in January 2020, they took images and videos of the underside of the glacier and collected data about water temperature, salinity and more. Some instruments left on site have now been taking data for more than a year.

The researchers found that melt rates on the underside of the ice were just 2–5.4 metres per year, much lower than the 14–32 metres predicted by models (1). “That was very surprising,” says Davis.

Image above: Researchers lower the Icefin underwater robot into a hole that was drilled through the ice. Image Credits: Icefin/ITGC/Dichek.

The water was about 1.5 °C above the freezing point. However, they found that a thin layer of cold, fresh melt water was coating the underside of the ice — and, because the water was very still, this prevented heat from being transferred to the ice. “There’s more than enough heat, actually, to drive really rapid melting, but you need to get that heat through the protective layer,” says Davis.

The melt rate was highest in areas under the ice where there were cracks and steep, staircase-like features (2). These divert the cold, protective melt water, allowing the heat to reach the ice, and melt it to widen crevasses.

Sensitive ice

Both papers might help to clarify what’s missing from simple models of Antarctic ice that don’t seem to capture large changes thought to have happened during warmer periods of Earth’s history, says Eric Steig, a glaciologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. The results highlight ways in which the ice can be quite sensitive to specific factors: glacial retreat can be rapid despite low rates of melting from underneath; and the most pronounced melting is helping to carve out crevasses from below, which might encourage large bits of ice to break off. “Maybe you don’t need as much melt to affect the structural integrity,” Steig says.

“These types of hard-fought observations are absolutely critical to refining the treatment of these processes in the models we use to predict the ice sheet’s future,” says Robert DeConto, a geophysicist and ice modeller at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “We need more of them.”

When this information does get built into models, it should tighten predictions of what will happen to Antarctic ice and global sea levels. It’s unknown whether this will paint a more frightening picture or a more reassuring one. “I really couldn’t speculate,” says Schmidt.



1. Davis, P. E. D. et al. Nature (2023).

2. Schmidt, B. E. et al. Nature (2023).

Related links:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK (BAS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: Nature/Nicola Jones.