vendredi 24 février 2023

Soyuz Spacecraft Flies to Station as SpaceX Crew Dragon Nears Launch


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Feb 24, 2023

One spacecraft is soaring toward the International Space Station as another spaceship targets its launch to the orbiting lab early next week. Meanwhile, the seven Expedition 68 members living in space are gearing up for the new spaceship arrivals and preparing for the departure of four crewmates, all while continuing a host of microgravity research.

An unoccupied Soyuz MS-23 crew ship from Roscosmos is orbiting Earth today following its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:24 p.m. EST on Thursday. It will approach the space station and automatically dock to the Poisk module at 8:01 p.m. on Saturday, Station Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin, both cosmonauts from Roscosmos, will be on-duty during the crew’s sleep shift monitoring the Soyuz MS-23’s arrival.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

The MS-23 launched passengerless and is carrying crew provisions to replenish the inhabitants aboard the orbital outpost. However, the MS-23 will return Prokopyev, Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio back to Earth later this year. The Soyuz MS-22 crew ship that carried the trio to the space station on Sept. 21, 2022, experienced a coolant leak on Dec. 14, and will depart for Earth uncrewed in late March.

Back on Earth, the Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX with the Crew Dragon Endeavour atop counts down to its lift off at 1:45 a.m. EST on Monday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Endeavour will be led by SpaceX Crew-6 Commander Stephen Bowen and piloted by Warren “Woody” Hoburg, both astronauts from NASA. The NASA duo will be flanked by Mission Specialists Sultan Alneyadi from UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Andrey Fedyaev from Roscosmos. Bowen, a veteran of three previous spaceflights, will lead the trio of first-time space flyers to an automated docking on the Harmony module’s space-facing port at 2:38 a.m. on Tuesday.

Image above: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon Endeavour atop stands at the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 23, 2023. Image Credits: SpaceX/NASA.

In the meantime, four space station crew members are getting ready to end their mission several days after their SpaceX Crew-6 replacements arrive. NASA Flight Engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada joined astronaut Koichi Wakata of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and cosmonaut Anna Kikina of Roscosmos to check out their Crew Dragon pressure suits on Friday. The quartet lifted off toward the station aboard the Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft on Oct. 5 as the Crew-5 mission and docked on Oct. 6.

A variety of scientific and technical activities continued onboard the station as the crew explored space biology and robotics on Friday. Cassada wore a headset filled with sensors recording his brain activity for the Cerebral Autoregulation study. Kikina and Petelin tested the lower body negative pressure suit that offsets microgravity-caused head and eye pressure. Rubio practiced on a computer the skills necessary to operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Related article:

Uncrewed Replacement Soyuz Launches to the Space Station

Related links:

Expedition 68:

Poisk module:

Harmony module:

Cerebral Autoregulation:

Lower body negative pressure suit:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Cosmic contortions


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

Feb 24, 2023

Image above description: A cluster of large galaxies, surrounded by various stars and smaller galaxies on a dark background. The central cluster is mostly made of bright elliptical galaxies that are surrounded by a warm glow. Nearby the cluster is the stretched, distorted arc of a galaxy, gravitationally lensed by the cluster.

A massive galaxy cluster in the constellation Cetus dominates the centre of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This image is populated with a serene collection of elliptical and spiral galaxies, but galaxies surrounding the central cluster — which is named SPT-CL J0019-2026 — appear stretched into bright arcs, as if distorted by a gargantuan magnifying glass. This cosmic contortion is called gravitational lensing, and it occurs when a massive object like a galaxy cluster has a sufficiently powerful gravitational field to distort and magnify the light from background objects. Gravitational lenses magnify light from objects that would usually be too distant and faint to observe, and so these lenses can extend Hubble’s view even deeper into the Universe.

This observation is part of an ongoing project to fill short gaps in Hubble’s observing schedule by systematically exploring the most massive galaxy clusters in the distant Universe, in the hopes of identifying promising targets for further study with both Hubble and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. This particular galaxy cluster lies at a vast distance of 4.6 billion light years from Earth.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Each year, the Space Telescope Science Institute is inundated with observing proposals for Hubble, in which astronomers suggest targets for observation. Even after selecting only the very best proposals, scheduling observations of all of Hubble’s targets for a year is a formidable task. There is sometimes a small fraction of observing time left unused in Hubble’s schedule, so in its ‘spare time’ the telescope has a collection of objects to explore — including the lensing galaxy cluster shown in this image.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, H. Ebeling; CC BY 4.0.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Feb. 20, 2023


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Feb 24, 2023

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Feb. 20 that included evaluating the benefits of growing plants on the space station, demonstrating robotic hopping maneuvers, and testing an instrument to measure air particles.

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

Plant Psychology

Image above: Dwarf tomato plants growing on the International Space Station. For the HRF Veg investigation, crew members provide feedback on the behavioral health benefits of having live plants and fresh food in space and rate qualities of produce available from other plant investigations. Image Credit: NASA.

A NASA phased research project called the Pick-and-Eat Salad-Crop Productivity, Nutritional Value, and Acceptability to Supplement the ISS Food System studies growing plants to provide fresh food and enhance the overall living experience for crew members on future long-duration missions. One of the projects, HRF Veg, examines the behavioral health benefits of having live plants and fresh food in space. Crew members complete surveys on their mood after interacting with live plants and they rate the flavor, texture, and other qualities of produce from different plant investigations when it is available. During the week, crew members completed questionnaires for the investigation.

Hop on Over

Astrobatics demonstrates a way for a robot to execute a hopping or self-toss maneuver for propulsion using the station’s free-flying Astrobees. Hopping between locations rather than traversing a surface could enable robots to move faster and use less propellant. This capability could expand the mobility of robotic vehicles for missions such as assisting crews, servicing equipment and structures, removing orbital debris, conducting on-orbit assembly, and exploring surfaces on the Moon or Mars. The technique could advance applications for terrestrial robotics as well. Crew members set up and performed a session for the investigation during the week.

Monitoring Air Quality

Image above: This blue box is an inlet for the Airborne Particulate Monitor investigation, which measures and quantifies the concentration of particles in the station’s air. The data could support better design for environmental monitoring of future space vehicles and habitats. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew members aboard the space station need clean air to breathe. Requirements limit the allowable concentrations of particulate matter in the cabin air, but no measurement exists to verify whether these requirements are met. Airborne Particulate Monitor demonstrates an instrument to measure and quantify the concentration of both small and large particles in the station’s air. The data could shed light on the sources of particles and determine the efficiency of current filtration systems, supporting better design for environmental monitoring of future space vehicles and habitats. Such monitoring becomes more important as mission duration increases. The technology has applications in environmental monitoring and air pollution studies on Earth as well. During the week, crew members checked on the monitor.

Other Investigations Involving the Crew:

- Myotones, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), monitors changes in the properties of muscles during spaceflight. Results could support development of better countermeasures for future space missions as well as alternative rehabilitation treatments for those experiencing the effects of aging and restricted mobility on Earth.

Animation above: NASA astronaut Josh Cassada works on Sphere Camera-1, an investigation to evaluate the performance of an ultra-high-resolution camera in microgravity. Animation Credit: NASA.

- 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.

- Mochii demonstrates a miniature scanning electron microscope to measure tiny particles on the space station that can cause vehicle and equipment malfunctions. Rapid, onboard identification of these particles can help keep crews and vehicles safe, a critical capability for future missions where samples cannot be sent back to Earth.

- Cerebral Autoregulation, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) investigation, tests whether this ability improves in microgravity. A better understanding of how blood flow changes in space could lead to improved treatments and possible countermeasures for space-related lightheadedness.

- 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.

- PK-4, a collaboration between ESA and State Space Corporation Roscosmos, studies complex plasmas, low-temperature mixtures of ionized gas, neutral gas, and micron-sized particles. Results could shed light on plasma phenomena in space and lead to new research methods and improvement in spacecraft designs and industries that use plasmas on Earth.

Space to Ground: 4 for 6: Feb. 24, 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:

HRF Veg:



Airborne Particulate Monitor:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Dynamic NASA-Built Weather Sensors Enlisted to Track Tropical Cyclones


NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) logos.

Feb. 23, 2023

Known as COWVR and TEMPEST, the duo is demonstrating that smaller, less expensive science instruments can play an important role in weather forecasting.

Image above: COWVR, at center, and TEMPEST, not shown, were installed aboard the International Space Station in late 2021 and since then have provided valuable weather data to forecasters tracking tropical cyclones. The two instruments are part of the U.S. Space Force STP-H8 demonstration mission. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA recently built two weather instruments to test the potential of small, low-cost sensors to do some of the work of bulkier, pricier satellites. Both instruments have exceeded expectations as trial runs, and they are already delivering useful forecast information for the most devastating of storms, tropical cyclones.

Launched in late 2021 to the International Space Station, COWVR (short for Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer) measures the speed and direction of wind at the ocean surface, and TEMPEST (Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems) provides atmospheric water vapor measurements. Both instruments are part of Space Test Program-Houston 8 (STP-H8), a three-year demonstration mission funded by the U.S. Space Force, which also funded the construction of COWVR. TEMPEST was built by NASA as a flight spare for a prior mission, and Space Force repurposed it for STP-H8.

Imagery created from their data is being used by the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center to track the location and intensity of tropical cyclones in the Indian and Pacific oceans. In fact, COWVR and TEMPEST images were among the sources used by a forecaster at the typhoon center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to pin down the location of Tropical Cyclone Mandous, which roiled the Bay of Bengal off southern India in December 2022.

Image above: Data from the COWVR and TEMPEST instruments aboard the ISS was used to create this image of Tropical Cyclone Mandous, which forecasters used to understand the December 2022 storm's intensity and predict its path toward southern India. Image Credits: U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center/U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

For several months, images based on COWVR and TEMPEST data have been delivered to the center by the Monterey, California-based Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), which has been working with NASA to calibrate the instruments and validate their data. Storm forecasters have been trying out the imagery – evaluating how it affects predictions and comparing it with other data sources – said Brian Strahl, the center’s director.

Reliable, frequently updated information on storm structure and location, wind speed, and humidity is crucial to the center’s mission to track tropical cyclones between Africa’s east coast and the west coast of the Americas, an area that includes vast expanses of open ocean.

“It’s challenging outside of the continental U.S. – where you don’t have weather aircraft routinely flying – to give a really good ground-truth of where these storms are, so we’re reliant on satellites,” Strahl said. “Any new additions of good quality data, which we believe these are, can be very useful.”

Smaller, Less Costly

COWVR and TEMPEST both measure microwave emissions from Earth’s atmosphere and surface. Data from microwave readings have an advantage over those from infrared or visible light: They can give forecasters a look at the internal structure of a tropical cyclone and help them locate the eye, even if it’s obscured by clouds.

The idea for the mission emerged a decade ago as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) started considering the next generation of instruments that could replace sensors such as WindSat, a DoD weather radiometer that operated until 2020.

COWVR incorporates technology and designs developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the agency’s Jason series of ocean-observing satellites. With Jason, engineers had to correct for the presence of atmospheric water vapor when measuring sea surface height. With COWVR, the water vapor and how it moves are the focus.

COWVR and TEMPEST instruments description. Image Credit: ESA

Larger weather radiometers are often built with spinning dishes to enable broader coverage than that provided by an instrument that points straight down. COWVR also uses a rotating dish, but JPL engineers managed to simplify the instrument’s design, making it more power-efficient without compromising its capabilities.

Around the size of a minifridge, the instrument weighs about 130 pounds (60 kilograms) and requires about 47 watts to run – approximately the same power demand as an actual minifridge. WindSat, by comparison, weighed 990 pounds (450 kilograms) and used 350 watts. COWVR’s design and construction budget was $24 million, roughly one-fifth the cost of WindSat.

TEMPEST was a flight spare left over from NASA’s 2018 TEMPEST-D mission. About the size of a cereal box, it weighs roughly 8 pounds (4 kilograms), draws 6.5 watts of power, and had a budget of less than $2 million. TEMPEST-D was a CubeSat demonstration led by researchers from Colorado State University, JPL, and Blue Canyon Technologies.

“NASA developed these instruments to be compact and simple, without many moving parts, and using technology that has matured over the decades,” said Shannon Brown, principal investigator for COWVR at JPL. “We are now seeing that instruments like that can perform as well as the more expensive operational sensors.”

Separate from STP-H8, NASA also is exploring the use of data from COWVR and TEMPEST, as well as small satellites like them, for its own weather-related missions.

What’s Next

The Naval Research Laboratory has sent data from COWVR and TEMPEST to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, where forecasters have started to evaluate it. And the Joint Typhoon Warning Center intends to take a closer look at COWVR’s surface wind speed and direction data – not just the imagery – to see if it improves tropical cyclone forecasts.

The Naval Research Laboratory also continues to evaluate raw data from COWVR and TEMPEST for use in the U.S. Navy’s global numerical weather models.

“These are critical behind-the-scenes efforts that enable us to feel confident using measurements from these new instruments,” said Steve Swadley, NRL’s lead for calibration and validation of data from spaceborne microwave sensors. “So far, it looks really, really good, so that’s exciting.”

Related links:

U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center:

TEMPEST-D mission:

Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer (COWVR):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Andrew Wang/Jane J. Lee.


jeudi 23 février 2023

Uncrewed Replacement Soyuz Launches to the Space Station


ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-23 Uncrewed Mission patch.

Feb 23, 2023

The uncrewed Soyuz spacecraft is safely in orbit headed for the International Space Station following launch at 7:24 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 23, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:24 p.m. EST. Image Credits: Roscosmos/NASA TV/ Aerospace.

After a two-day journey, the unpiloted spacecraft will dock automatically to the Poisk module’s space-facing port at 8:01 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25. NASA coverage of rendezvous and docking will begin at 7:15 p.m. on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

Soyuz MS-23 launch

This new Soyuz will replace the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft following a radiator coolant leak Dec. 14, 2022. The Soyuz MS-22 transported NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin to the space station last September. The three crew members will return to Earth on the new Soyuz MS-23 later this year.

The damaged Soyuz MS-22 is scheduled to undock from the station in late March and return to Earth for an uncrewed parachute-assisted landing in Kazakhstan, and post-flight analysis by Roscosmos.

Related links:



Poisk module:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Station Preparing for Two Crew Ships Nearing Launch


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Feb 23, 2023

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Two rockets on opposites side of the world stand ready to launch to the International Space Station as four Expedition 68 crew members prepare to return to Earth. Meanwhile, some of the orbital residents are relaxing today as others continue their critical microgravity research operations ahead of the upcoming spacecraft arrivals.

The Soyuz MS-23 crew ship will launch passengerless toward the station at 7:24 p.m. EST today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It will take a two-day orbital trek before docking to the Poisk module at 8:01 p.m. on Saturday. While the Soyuz spacecraft will arrive unoccupied, it is delivering crew provisions to replenish the seven orbital residents. However, the main purpose of the MS-23 is to return Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio back to Earth later this year. The space station trio arrived at the orbiting lab on the Soyuz MS-22 crew vehicle on Sept. 21, 2022, joining the Expedition 67 crew.

The uncrewed Soyuz MS-23 on the launch-pad at Baikonur. Image Credit: Roscosmos

The space station’s three cosmonauts are relaxing today ahead of this weekend’s MS-23 docking activities. Prokopyev and Petelin will be on duty during the crew’s sleep shift on Saturday monitoring the MS-23 as it automatically approaches and docks to the orbital lab. Flight Engineer Anna Kikina will also be up overnight assisting her crewmates.

The rest of the crew aboard the orbiting lab today worked on a variety of science hardware ensuring ongoing research operations in low-Earth orbit. Four crew members are also familiarizing themselves with the procedures they will use when they return to Earth in early March.

Rubio connected cables and attached a camera to an ultra-high temperature furnace to record scientific operations. Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) activated an Astrobee robotic helper and tested its ability to maneuver inside the station without propellant using a specialized hopping technique. At the end of the day, the duo joined NASA Flight Engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada and practiced the steps on a computer the steps they would use when departing the station and returning to Earth inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance next month.

Image above: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon Endeavour atop stands at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad counting down to a lift off at 1:45 a.m. EST on Monday. Image Credits: SpaceX/NASA.

Back on Earth, there are three astronauts and one cosmonaut at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida counting down to the launch of their SpaceX Crew-6 mission. The Crew-6 foursome are Commander Stephen Bowen and Pilot Warren “Woody” Hoburg, both from NASA, and Mission Specialists Sultan Alneyadi of UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Andrey Fedyaev of Roscosmos. They will lift off at 1:45 a.m. on Monday from Kennedy soaring toward the station’s space-facing port on the Harmony module for a docking at 2:38 a.m. on Tuesday. The quartet will live and work aboard the orbital outpost for six months conducting advanced space research.

Related links:


Expedition 67:

Expedition 68:

SpaceX Crew-6:

Poisk module:

Ultra-high temperature furnace:


Specialized hopping technique:

Harmony module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Study Finds Venus’ ‘Squishy’ Outer Shell May Be Resurfacing the Planet




NASA - Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy (VERITAS) logo.

Feb 23, 2023

The research uses archival NASA data to show that Venus may be losing heat from geologic activity in regions called coronae, possibly like early tectonic activity on Earth.

Image above: This illustration of the large Quetzalpetlatl Corona located in Venus’ southern hemisphere depicts active volcanism and a subduction zone, where the foreground crust plunges into the planet’s interior. A new study suggests coronae reveal locations where active geology is shaping Venus’ surface. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Peter Rubin.

Earth and Venus are rocky planets of about the same size and rock chemistry, so they should be losing their internal heat to space at about the same rate. How Earth loses its heat is well known, but Venus’ heat flow mechanism has been a mystery. A study that uses three-decade-old data from NASA’s Magellan mission has taken a new look at how Venus cools and found that thin regions of the planet’s uppermost layer may provide an answer.

Our planet has a hot core that heats the surrounding mantle, which carries that heat up to Earth’s rigid outer rocky layer, or lithosphere. The heat is then lost to space, cooling the uppermost region of the mantle. This mantle convection drives tectonic processes on the surface, keeping a patchwork of mobile plates in motion. Venus doesn’t have tectonic plates, so how the planet loses its heat and what processes shape its surface have been long-running questions in planetary science.

The study looks at the mystery using observations the Magellan spacecraft made in the early 1990s of quasi-circular geological features on Venus called coronae. Making new measurements of coronae visible in the Magellan images, the researchers concluded that coronae tend to be located where the planet’s lithosphere is at its thinnest and most active.

Image above: This composite radar image of Quetzalpetlatl Corona was created by overlaying data from about 70 orbits of NASA’s Magellan mission into an image obtained by the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The rim of the corona indicates possible tectonic activity. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“For so long we’ve been locked into this idea that Venus’ lithosphere is stagnant and thick, but our view is now evolving,” said Suzanne Smrekar, senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who led the study published in Nature Geoscience.

Just as a thin bedsheet releases more body heat than a thick comforter, a thin lithosphere allows more heat to escape from the planet’s interior via buoyant plumes of molten rock rising to the outer layer. Typically, where there’s enhanced heat flow, there’s increased volcanic activity below the surface. So coronae likely reveal locations where active geology is shaping Venus’ surface today.

The researchers focused on 65 previously unstudied coronae that are up to a few hundred miles across. To calculate the thickness of the lithosphere surrounding them, they measured the depth of the trenches and ridges around each corona. What they found is that ridges are spaced more closely together in areas where the lithosphere is more flexible, or elastic. By applying a computer model of how an elastic lithosphere bends, they determined that, on average, the lithosphere around each corona is about 7 miles (11 kilometers) thick – much thinner than previous studies suggest. These regions have an estimated heat flow that is greater than Earth’s average, suggesting that coronae are geologically active.

“While Venus doesn’t have Earth-style tectonics, these regions of thin lithosphere appear to be allowing significant amounts of heat to escape, similar to areas where new tectonic plates form on Earth’s seafloor,” said Smrekar.

Image above: This radar image from NASA’s Magellan mission shows circular fracture patterns surrounding the “Aine” corona, located in Venus’ southern hemisphere. The corona is about 124 miles (200 kilometers) across and shows various features that may be associated with volcanic activity. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A Window Into Earth’s Past

To calculate how old a celestial body’s surface material is, planetary scientists count the number of visible impact craters. For a tectonically active planet like Earth, impact craters are erased by the subduction of continental plates and covered by molten rock from volcanoes. If Venus lacks tectonic activity and the regular churn of Earth-like geology, it should be covered in old craters. But by counting the number of Venusian craters, scientists estimate that the surface is relatively young.

Recent studies suggest the youthful appearance of Venus’ surface is likely due to volcanic activity, which drives regional resurfacing today. This finding is supported by the new research indicating higher heat flow in coronae regions – a state that Earth’s lithosphere may have resembled in the past.

Image above: Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy (VERITAS) spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA.

“What’s interesting is that Venus provides a window into the past to help us better understand how Earth may have looked over 2.5 billion years ago. It’s in a state that is predicted to occur before a planet forms tectonic plates,” said Smrekar, who is also the principal investigator of NASA’s forthcoming Venus Emissivity, Radio science, InSAR, Topography, And Spectroscopy (VERITAS) mission.

VERITAS will pick up where Magellan left off, improving upon that mission’s data, which is low resolution and comes with large margins of error. Targeting launch within a decade, the mission will use a state-of-the-art synthetic aperture radar to create 3D global maps and a near-infrared spectrometer to figure out what the surface is made of. VERITAS will also measure the planet’s gravitational field to determine the structure of Venus’ interior. The instruments will together fill in the story of the planet’s past and present geologic processes.

“VERITAS will be an orbiting geologist, able to pinpoint where these active areas are, and better resolve local variations in lithospheric thickness. We’ll be even be able to catch the lithosphere in the act of deforming,” said Smrekar. “We’ll determine if volcanism really is making the lithosphere ‘squishy’ enough to lose as much heat as Earth, or if Venus has more mysteries in store.”

Related links:

NASA’s Magellan mission:

Nature Geoscience:

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

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

Best regards,

CASC - Long March-3B launches ChinaSat-26 (ZhongXing-26)


CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

Feb 23, 2023

Long March-3B carrying ChinaSat-26 liftoff

A Long March-3B rocket launched the ChinaSat-26 satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province, China, on 23 February 2023, at 11:49 UTC (19:49 local time).

Long March-3B launches ChinaSat-26 (ZhongXing-26)

According to official sources, ChinaSat-26 (中星26, also known as ZhongXing-26) is “China’s first high-throughput satellite with a capacity of more than 100 Gbps”.

Military Network-China Star / ChinaSat Communication Satellite

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


Eyes on Hera: Asteroid mission’s cameras ready


ESA - Hera Mission patch.

Feb 23, 2023

ESA’s Hera asteroid mission for planetary defence is about to gain its sight. Two complete and fully tested Asteroid Framing Cameras have reached OHB in Germany for integration aboard Hera’s payload module. This instrument will provide the very first star-like view of Hera’s target for the mission to steer towards the Dimorphos asteroid, which last year had its orbit altered by an impact with NASA’s DART mission.

Hera, her CubeSats, and their rocky target destination

“It is a huge milestone to have the very first Hera payload ready for integration onto the spacecraft,” comments Hannah Goldberg, Hera system engineer. “And the Asteroid Framing Camera, AFC, is not only our first payload, but also the most important, since by itself it can obtain all the mission’s core goals. Hera payloads are arranged with core and opportunity objectives in mind – based firstly on the data we have to acquire, then the secondary results we seek to obtain whenever possible.  

“Our October 2024 launch date is creeping ever closer, but the mission subsystems are beginning to come together as planned. So the next time we’ll see these cameras will be aboard the complete Hera flight model when overall spacecraft testing begins this autumn.”

Asteroid Framing Camera

Hera is Europe’s contribution to an international planetary defence experiment. Following the DART mission’s impact with the Dimorphos asteroid last year – modifying its orbit and sending a plume of debris thousands of kilometres out into space – Hera will return to Dimorphos to perform a close-up survey of the crater left by DART. The mission will also measure Dimorphos’ mass and make-up, along with that of the larger Didymos asteroid that Dimorphos orbits around.

Operated on a redundant basis – meaning one unit will be kept in reserve in case of failure – the AFC will play a pivotal role in Hera’s mission. As well as acquiring detailed views of the surface of Dimorphos for scientific analysis, including the crater left by the DART impact, the AFC will also be used for guidance, navigation and control.

Post-impact ejecta extending into space

The AFC will home in on Dimorphos when it is still a single point of light in the sky – seen in conjunction with the larger asteroid Didymos. The AFC will then transition to close-up navigation, utilising edge detection to keep the asteroid centered in its field of view while tracking surface features to derive Hera’s exact position from the asteroid in a similar manner to self-driving car software.

Around the same size and shape as a household vase, the 1.3 kg AFC has been designed, manufactured and tested by Jena-Optronik in Germany. The compact design with its long baffle to protect the camera’s optics from sunglare shares heritage with the startracker units that Jena-Optronik specialises in – utilised to map the stars around a spacecraft in order to pinpoint its position in space.

Hera scans DART’s impact crater

Steffen Schwarz, Head of Marketing & Sales at Jena-Optronik, comments: “Hera is a prestigious mission and we at Jena-Optronik are looking forward to make a decisive contribution to its success through our camera.”

Possessing a 5.5 degree field of view, the monochromatic AFC acquires images using complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor active pixel sensor (CMOS APS) technology – an advanced, rad-hardened version of the imaging used in modern smartphone cameras – the FaintStar2 detector chip marketed by Caeleste in Belgium, initially designed for startrackers through a project in ESA's General Support Technology Programme.

Didymos and Dimorphos seen by DART

“The images we will see from the AFC will resemble those returned by DART before its impact,” adds Hannah. “For example, the picture we saw of the two asteroids together in DART’s field of view, and then later on the boulder-strewn surface of Dimorphos as DART was about to collide.

“The AFC’s images will be complemented by colour images from other instruments, including Hera’s HyperScout instrument which will see in 25 different colours and the ASPECT hyperspectral imager aboard the Milani CubeSat, whose vision will extend beyond visible light into the infrared.”

DART's moment of impact

Other Hera subsystems are currently being finalised: Hera’s laser-based PALT (Planetary Altimeter) coming from Portugal; the HyperScout2 imager from the Netherlands; the Milani CubeSat from Italy and the Juventas CubeSat from Luxembourg; and the TIRI thermal imager contributed by Japan.

Related links:

ESA's General Support Technology Programme:

HyperScout instrument:

ASPECT hyperspectral imager aboard the Milani CubeSat:




Hera mission:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Science Office/ASI/NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Jena-Optronik.


Google’s quantum computer hits key milestone by reducing errors


Google AI Quantum computer logo.

Feb 23, 2023

Researchers demonstrate for the first time that using more qubits can lower error rate of quantum calculations.

Image above: Google has set a quantum-computing road map for itself with six major milestones. image Credit: Google Quantum AI.

Physicists at Google have reached what they describe as their second milestone along the path to a useful quantum computer. At a laboratory in Santa Barbara, California, they have demonstrated that they can lower the error rate of calculations by making their quantum code bigger.

The feat, reported in Nature on 22 February (1), follows up on a celebrated 2019 experiment in which a Google quantum computer achieved ‘quantum advantage’ — by performing a calculation that would have taken thousands of years on an ordinary computer.

Error correction is an inescapable requirement if quantum computers are to fulfil their promise of solving problems that are beyond the reach of classical machines — such as factoring large whole numbers into primes, or understanding the detailed behaviour of chemical catalysts.

“The Google achievement is impressive, since it is very hard to get better performance with large code size,” says Barbara Terhal, a theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum error correction at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The improvement is still small, the Google researchers admit, and the error rate needs to drop much more. “It came down by a little; we need it to come down a lot,” said Hartmut Neven — who oversees the quantum-computing division at Google’s headquarters Mountain View, California — during a press briefing.

Correcting mistakes

All computers are subject to errors. An ordinary computer chip stores information in bits (which can represent 0 or 1) and copies some of the information into redundant ‘error correction’ bits. When an error occurs — as a result of stray electrons crossing an imperfectly insulating barrier, say, or a cosmic-ray particle disturbing the circuit — the chip can automatically spot the problem and fix it.

“In quantum information we can’t do that,” said Julian Kelly, Google’s director of quantum hardware, at the press briefing. Quantum computers are based on quantum states called qubits, which can exist in a mixture of ‘0’ and ‘1’ states. A qubit cannot be read out without its full quantum state being irretrievably lost, which means that its information cannot be simply copied onto redundant qubits.

But theoreticians have developed elaborate ‘quantum error correction’ schemes to address this problem. These typically rely on encoding a qubit of information — called a logical qubit — in a collection of physical qubits rather than a single one. The machine can then use some of the physical qubits to check on the health of the logical qubit and correct any errors. The more physical qubits there are, the better they can suppress an error. “The advantage of using multiple qubits for quantum error correction is that it scales,” says Terhal.

But adding more physical qubits also increases the chances that two of them will be affected by an error simultaneously. To address this issue, the Google researchers performed two versions of a quantum error-correction procedure. One, using 17 qubits, was able to recover from one error at a time. A larger version used 49 qubits and could recover from two simultaneous errors, and with slightly better performance than the smaller version could achieve. “The improvement currently is very small, and it is no guarantee yet that using even larger codes will give even better performance,” says Terhal.

Joe Fitzsimons, a physicist at Horizon Quantum in Singapore, says that various laboratories have made big steps towards effective error correction, and that Google’s latest result has many of the required features. But qubits also need to store information for sufficient time for the computer to carry out calculations, and Google’s team has yet to achieve that feat. “For a convincing demonstration of scalable error correction, we would want to see improvement in lifetimes”, as the system scales up, says Fitzsimons.

Google has set a quantum-computing road map for itself with six key milestones. Quantum advantage was the first, and the latest result was the second. Milestone six is a machine made of one million physical qubits, encoding 1,000 logical qubits. “At that stage, we can confidently promise commercial value,” says Neven.

Superconducting qubits are only one of several approaches to building a quantum computer, and Google still thinks it has the best chance of succeeding, says Neven. “We would pivot in a heartbeat if it becomes very clear that another approach will get us to a useful quantum computer quicker.”



1. Google Quantum AI Nature 614, 676–680 (2023).

Related link:

Google AI Quantum:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: Nature/Davide Castelvecchi.

Best regards,

mercredi 22 février 2023

Roscosmos, SpaceX Crew Ships Near Launch as Station Prepares


ISS - Expedition 68 Mission patch.

Feb 22, 2023

Four Expedition 68 crew members are preparing for their return to Earth next month while also working on space physics and household maintenance tasks. Meanwhile, a two crew ships, one from Roscosmos and one from SpaceX, are nearing their launch to the International Space Station.

NASA Flight Engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada reviewed their upcoming departure procedures today ahead of next month’s planned return to Earth inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance. The duo were joined by Flight Engineers Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Anna Kikina of Roscosmos as they looked over the steps they will take during their homebound flight.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The quartet trained on a computer to undock Endurance from the Harmony module, reenter Earth’s atmosphere, and parachute to a safe splashdown in the waters off the coast of Florida. Mann will command Crew Dragon Endurance with Cassada piloting the vehicle as Wakata and Kikina remain seated to either side of the astronauts. The quartet launched to the station on the SpaceX Crew-5 mission on Oct. 5, 2022.

Their replacements will arrive as the Crew-6 mission after it launches on Monday at 1:45 a.m. EST from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg will be the respective commander and pilot of Crew Dragon Endeavour. They will be flanked inside the vehicle by astronaut Sultan Alneyadi of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev of Roscosmos. The foursome will dock to the space-facing port of Harmony module at 2:29 a.m. on Tuesday and live and work aboard the orbital outpost for six months conducting critical space research.

Image above: The four SpaceX Crew-6 members pose for a portrait after arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From left are, Andrey Fedyaev, Sultan Alneyadi, Warren “Woody” Hoburg, and Stephen Bowen. Image Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

NASA TV, on the agency’s app and website, will begin its live Crew-6 launch broadcast on Sunday at 9 p.m. Once the launch broadcast is over, live mission audio will stream until NASA TV resumes with its docking coverage set to begin at 12:45 a.m. on Tuesday.

A passengerless Soyuz MS-23 crew ship is also being readied for lift off at 7:24 p.m. from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a two-day trek to the space station. Besides delivering provisions for the crew, the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft will return NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin back to Earth later this year.

Image above: The Soyuz MS-22 crew ship is pictured in the foreground docked to the Rassvet module as the International Space Station orbited 264 miles above Europe. In the background, is the Prichal docking module attached to the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. Image Credit: NASA.

The orbital residents also have been continuing their science and lab upkeep tasks during the busy visiting vehicle preparations. Rubio, with support from Wakata, installed an ultra-high temperature furnace inside the Kibo laboratory module. The specialized furnace enables safe observations of thermophysical properties of super-heated samples. Mann and Cassada took turns cleaning crew quarters in the overhead and deck portions of the Harmony module.

Prokopyev worked in the Roscosmos segment of the station checking the performance of a 3-D printer. Petelin worked on a pair of different experiments including a fluid physics study and space biology investigation. Kikina wrapped up operations for an Earth observation study and a carbon dioxide monitoring session.

Related article (NASA):

NASA Sets TV Coverage for Launch, Docking of Replacement Soyuz

Related links:


Commercial Crew:

Expedition 68:

Harmony module:

Ultra-high temperature furnace:

Kibo laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA’s Crew-6 Heads to Space Station to Conduct Scientific Studies


SpaceX - Dragon Crew-6 Mission patch.

Feb 22, 2023

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station as soon as February 27 from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, along with UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, head to the orbiting laboratory for a six-month mission to conduct scientific research.

Here are details on some of the investigations the crew is scheduled to work on during their mission:

Answering Burning Questions

Image above: This image shows a flame from acrylic burning in microgravity for the first test of SoFIE-GEL on Jan. 13, 2023, which looked at how fuel temperature affects material flammability. Image Credit: NASA.

The Crew-6 mission continues combustion research using the Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE) hardware insert for the station’s Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR). A previous investigation, SoFIE-GEL, looked at how fuel temperature affects material flammability. Now, SoFIE- MIST examines thermally-assisted burning in microgravity, changing parameters including air flow, oxygen concentration, pressure, and external radiation level. Results could help scientists assess the flammability of materials used in future space missions, a critical factor in spacecraft and facility design. The investigation also could contribute to crew safety by helping to determine the best equipment and procedures to detect and suppress a fire in space and to clean up afterwards. Results may help scientists refine combustion models that could be used in terrestrial settings as well.

Testing a New Tool for Immune Monitoring

Image above: ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor conduct a blood sample draw for Functional Immune, an investigation that analyzed the changes taking place in crew members’ immune systems during flight. Future analyses may use a new test developed for Immune Assay, which monitors how spaceflight affects immune function. Image Credit: NASA.

Immunity Assay, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), uses a functional immune test to monitor how spaceflight stressors affect cellular immune functions. Until now, this test could only be accomplished on Earth and was conducted pre- and postflight. A newly developed assay tube makes it possible to execute the test inflight, which could provide a clearer assessment of the immune changes that happen in flight and help inform development of countermeasures. The body’s ability to defend against infections shows clear changes in response to simulated microgravity or confinement on Earth that appear to be associated with stress. Along with blood samples and saliva collections, the new test could be used to monitor stress-related immune performance during space missions and in settings on Earth.

Tissue Chip Investigations, Round 2

Tissue Chips in Space, a collaboration between the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the ISS National Lab, is a series of investigations testing tissue chips aboard the space station. Tissue chips are small devices that mimic functions of human organs. Using them for studies in microgravity allows scientists to model changes that may take months or years to happen on Earth.

Investigations that were awarded funding under the Tissue Chips in Space initiative used their first flights to the orbiting laboratory to develop and test their systems. Some investigations have had second flights that dove deeper into the technology and tested therapies. While on station, Crew-6 crew members are set to work on the second flight for these last two investigations of the initiative.

Image above: Preflight image of a BioCell, developed by BioServe Space Technologies, that contains 162 beating cardiac spheroids to be incubated in space as part of Cardinal Heart 2.0, an investigation that tests drugs to protect heart cell function. Image Credits: Joseph Wu, Dilip Thomas, and Xu Cao, Stanford Cardiovascular Institute.

Cardinal Heart 2.0 tests whether clinically approved drugs can help prevent changes in heart cell function and gene expression that occur during spaceflight. Results could guide drug development strategies on Earth to treat patients with diseases such as heart failure more effectively.

Engineered Heart Tissues-2 tests therapies to prevent space-induced changes in heart tissue that could lead to cardiac disease. This research could support the development of countermeasures to protect future space explorers and help patients at risk of developing heart disease on Earth. Further development of organoid research also could make it possible to monitor systemic changes in people with heart disease.

Life Out There

Image above: In the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at Johnson Space Center, NASA astronaut Victor Glover tests collection methods for ISS External Microorganisms, which examines microbes released from the space station to help limit contamination on future exploration missions. Image Credit: NASA.

ISS External Microorganisms collects samples from outside the space station during spacewalks, focusing on sites near life support system vents, to examine whether the spacecraft releases microorganisms, how many, and how far they may travel. This research could help determine whether changes are needed to crewed spacecraft, including spacesuits, to limit the spread of contamination from Earth on future exploration missions. Making any such changes while plans for those missions are still in the conceptual design phase should minimize cost and effort. Extremophiles, or microorganisms that can survive harsh environments like space, have potential uses on Earth as well.

Related links:

Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE):

Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR):



Immunity Assay:

Tissue chips:

Cardinal Heart 2.0:

Engineered Heart Tissues-2:

ISS External Microorganisms:

ISS National Lab:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/JSC/International Space Station Program Research Office/Melissa Gaskill.