samedi 6 mai 2023

Airbus presents a revolutionary space station with artificial gravity


Airbus Defence & Space logo.

May 6, 2023

Airbus presents its own plans for a revolutionary space station with artificial gravity.

Airbus LOOP

It's only a concept for the moment, but Airbus' Multi-Purpose Orbital Module (MPOP) promises a lot for space exploration: an autonomous, but modular mini-module, designed to better protect its inhabitants, and above all to keep them in good health.

Occupied by astronauts since November 2000, and fully operational since 2011, the International Space Station is slowly coming to the end of its life. The shutdown of its operation has been repeatedly postponed, but NASA and its partners finally decided to deorbit it in January 2031. Several projects are therefore in development to take over from this mythical station, including an orbital module project recently presented by the European aerospace giant, Airbus.

Image above: View of the Airbus LOOP coupled with the Spartan Space inflatable module and a visitor spacecraft. Image Credits: Airbus Defence and Space GmbH 2023.

The various components of the International Space Station were designed and manufactured for a period of 15 years; they are therefore slowly approaching their theoretical end of life (some of the first modules put into orbit have even exceeded it for a long time). NASA has nevertheless committed to keeping it in service until 2030, before sending it to crash in the Pacific Ocean, near Point Nemo – which serves as a cemetery for many spacecraft.

For years, the ISS has enabled major science experiments (and other entertaining activities). Its programmed disappearance has thus led to the development of various projects to replace it. China is already playing a leading role with its Tiangong space station, whose assembly was completed at the end of 2022. For its part, NASA has concluded several contracts with private companies for the design of commercial space stations. , including Orbital Reef and Starlab. India meanwhile announced in 2019 that it planned to have its own space station “within five to seven years”.

Three distinct levels, including a gravity simulator

It is now Airbus that announces the development of a versatile orbital module, called Airbus LOOP, designed to adapt to future space stations. The Airbus LOOP is designed to make long-term stays in space comfortable and enjoyable for its inhabitants, while supporting efficient and sustainable operations at the same time. The module is designed for a crew of four, but can temporarily accommodate up to eight astronauts at a time.

Image above: View of the three levels of the Airbus LOOP orbital module. Image Credit: Airbus Defence and Space GmbH 2023.

With a diameter of about eight meters, for a total volume of nearly 100 m3, the Airbus LOOP is made up of three levels. One of them houses the crew quarters: a common area with large windows, containing various equipment for exercise; another is dedicated to scientific experiments: with smaller portholes, it is equipped with several computer terminals and an airlock allowing the crew to carry out extra-vehicular activities.

Finally, the last level is a centrifuge that can recreate gravity conditions — thus reducing the stress of weightlessness on the human body. The simulated level of gravity was not specified by the manufacturer, but according to calculations by Universe Today, the centrifuge should have an angular speed of 3.86 m/s and perform 9.2 rotations per minute to simulate gravity Martian (which is 3,72 m/s2, or about 38% of that of Earth).

The three levels are connected by a central tunnel almost 2 meters in diameter, within which greenhouses will be installed - intended both for plant experiments and for the supply of vegetables to the crew. The outer shell, 20 centimeters thick, offers maximum protection against any external threat (radiation, impacts).

A versatile and easily adaptable module according to needs

This modular structure has the advantage of being easily adaptable according to customer needs, explains Airbus. They can choose to replace all or part of the three levels with other elements more suited to their objectives (entertainment or medical facilities, luxury housing, a factory in orbit, etc.).

They can also opt for a completely empty level (a "dry module"), a purely mechanical structure free of equipment, to be able to add their own elements. Note that it is also possible to combine several Airbus LOOP modules to have a larger station.

Airbus LOOP

Video above: Airbus LOOP - Multi-Purpose Orbital Module for Low-Earth or Lunar Orbit, or long-term Mars missions.

In addition, Airbus claims that its module has been designed in such a way that it can be put into orbit by the next generation of super-heavy launchers (which should be able to launch entire modules). It will thus be operational as soon as it is put into orbit. It is also compatible with all current and future crew and cargo transport vehicles.
 Deep Space Transport (DST). Image Credit: NASA
The Airbus LOOP should be integrated into the ISS in order to offer additional volume to the crew members – who will then also be able to benefit from the artificial gravity generated by the centrifuge. It could also be integrated into the future Lunar Gateway, the construction of which should start at the end of 2024, or even serve as a housing module for the Deep Space Transport (DST) – the future vessel which will be responsible for transporting crews from lunar orbit. to the planet Mars.

Related link:

Airbus LOOP:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: Airbus/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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Dragon Crew Ship Relocation to New Port


SpaceX - Dragon Crew-6 Mission patch.

May 6, 2023

The SpaceX Dragon, with Expedition 69 crew members Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg of NASA, UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev aboard, has undocked from the Harmony module on the space-facing side of the complex, and is on its way to redock to the forward port of the module.

Image above: The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the Harmony module’s forward port for a docking during its relocation maneuver above the United States. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The SpaceX Dragon, with Expedition 69 crew members Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg of NASA, UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev aboard, has successfully docked to the forward port of the Harmony module of the International Space Station at 8:01 a.m. EDT.

SpaceX Crew-6 Dragon relocation

This was the 27th spacecraft relocation in space station history. The move made room for the arrival of the uncrewed SpaceX Dragon carrying cargo to station as part of the company’s 28th commercial resupply services mission for NASA, targeted to launch in June.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 members are scheduled to return to Earth in August.

Related links:

Expedition 69:

Harmony module:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Running for re-election to the Asgardia Parliament


Parliament of Asgardia coat of arms. 

May 6, 2023

Hello fellow Asgardians,

Roland Berga AMP

My message to announce that I am running for re-election to the Parliament of Asgardia, #AsgardiaElections0007

My motivations and goals:

- In order to be able to continue to work with the various committees and working groups in which I am particularly involved.

- In order to continue to legislate with my parliamentary colleagues on the texts and acts which will regulate the life of Asgardians in the present and the future.

- And finally continue to carry these great Asgardian projects, ie the first baby born in space, the future space station and lunar base.

My proposals for the second Parliament:

For the next Parliament, I made several proposals in two working documents, to continue the development of the Asgardian Nation and to make the status of Asgardian Resident more attractive.

- Create an entity (Committee or Department) of space affairs, this entity will manage the future satellite Asgardia-2, and will manage the Corps of Asganauts (astronauts). The following tasks will be organized and managed by this entity, recruitment, training, participation in simulation missions and analog astronaut experiments.

- Create an employment office for Resident Asgardians, this office will offer vacant jobs in all professional sectors. Asgardians on temporary, fixed-term, indefinite contracts anywhere in the world will pay a fee to Asgardia. Labor tax will create social security for Asgardian workers.

Vote for me!

One Unity - One Humanity - Asgardia The Space Nation.

Roland Berga AMP.

Related articles:

Visions of the Future

Asgardia’s Parliament candidate

Related links:

Asgardia Members of Parliament (AMP) - First Asgardian Parliament

Registration of Candidates for Second Asgardian Parliament Has Commenced

Asgardia Parliamentary Elections - All candidates

Asgardia - The Space Nation

Image, Text, Credit: Roland Berga.

Best regards, Roland Berga.

vendredi 5 mai 2023

Dragon Crew Ship Changing Ports, Cosmonauts Cleanup After Spacewalk


ISS - Expedition 69 Mission patch.

May 5, 2023

Four Expedition 69 crew members are reviewing the procedures they will use when they move the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to a new port on Saturday morning. The rest of the crew aboard the International Space Station is cleaning up after completing a spacewalk earlier this week.

NASA Flight Engineers Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg will respectively command and pilot the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft when it undocks from the Harmony module’s space-facing port at 7:10 a.m. EDT on Saturday. The pair will be flanked by UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev during the planned 43-minute relocation maneuver. Endeavour, with the four crewmates inside, will automatically redock to Harmony’s forward port at 7:53 a.m. NASA TV begins it live relocation coverage at 7 a.m. on the agency’s app and website.

Image above: Four Expedition 69 flight engineers aboard the International Space Station pose for a portrait in the pressure suits they will wear when they relocate the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour crew ship. Image Credit: NASA.

The quartet began Friday morning simulating their spacecraft maneuvers in coordination with mission controllers on the ground. Afterward, the foursome held a space-to-ground conference with the controllers discussing training, procedures, and mission readiness.

Endeavour’s relocation will open up Harmony’s top port for the upcoming SpaceX CRS-28 cargo mission. This enables the Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and access the cargo inside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship’s trunk. Inside Dragon’s trunk will be a new set of roll-out solar arrays that the Canadarm2 will grapple and temporarily stow on the station’s starboard-side truss structure. Two astronauts on a future spacewalk will permanently install the roll-out solar arrays on the starboard truss augmenting the orbital outpost’s power generation system.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

Three cosmonauts reconfigured the Roscosmos segment of the space station following Wednesday’s spacewalk to move an experiment airlock. Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin deactivated and cleaned their spacesuits then stowed the tools they used during their seven-hour, 11-minute spacewalk. Fedyaev, who controlled the European robotic arm (ERA) during the spacewalk, spent Friday inside the Nauka science module removing cameras and powering down the ERA.

Prokopyev and Petelin have one more spacewalk to conduct this month when they exit the Poisk airlock on May 12 to deploy a radiator that was attached to Nauka during a previous spacewalk on April 19. Fedyaev will be inside the station monitoring the spacewalkers who will also fill the radiator with coolant and perform maintenance on the ERA.

Related article:

Cosmonauts Move Experiment Airlock and Complete Spacewalk

Related links:


Expedition 69:

Canadarm2 robotic arm:

Truss structure:

Poisk airlock:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Hubble Views a Beautiful Luminous Galaxy


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

May 5, 2023

The lenticular galaxy NGC 5283 is the subject of this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image. NGC 5283 contains an active galactic nucleus, or AGN. An AGN is an extremely bright region at the heart of a galaxy where a supermassive black hole exists. When dust and gas fall into the black hole, the matter heats up and emits light across the electromagnetic spectrum.

NGC 5283 is a Seyfert galaxy. About 10 percent of all galaxies are Seyfert galaxies, and they differ from other galaxies that contain AGNs because the galaxy itself is clearly visible. Other AGNs emit so much radiation that they outshine or make it impossible to observe the structure of their host galaxy!

Hubble observed this galaxy as part of a survey for a dataset about nearby AGNs, which will serve as a resource for astronomers investigating AGN physics, black holes, host galaxy structure, and more.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image Credits: NASA, ESA, A. Barth (University of California - Irvine), and M. Revalski (STScI); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)/Animation Credits: NASA/ESA/Text Credits: NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of May 1, 2023


ISS - Expedition 69 Mission patch.

May 5, 2023

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of May 1 that included examining the use of vibration as a method to organize particles in fluids in microgravity, studying material flammability in space, and testing a system to produce on-demand nutrients.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

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

Good Particle Vibes

Particle Vibration, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), studies using vibration to organize particles in fluids. Fluids containing dispersed solid particles are used in a variety of industrial applications, including cooling systems, solar energy collectors, electronics, and production of materials for marine and aerospace engineering as well as composites, alloys, electrical conductors, and magnetic substances. The performance of such materials is linked to their microscopic structures, including the formation of solid and liquid patterns. Results could improve basic understanding of these patterns and their use in applications such as cooling systems and solar energy in space and on Earth. The investigation might even shed light on the formation of asteroids and planets, which involved mixtures of gas and solid matter in primordial nebulae. During the week, crew members downlinked experiment run images to the ground.

Measuring Material Flammability

Image above: A view inside the hardware for SoFIE-GEL, a study that measures heating in a fuel sample to determine how fuel temperature affects material flammability. Image Credit: NASA.

SoFIE-GEL, part of a series of studies that examines burning in microgravity, measures heating in a fuel sample to determine how fuel temperature affects material flammability. Results could improve crew safety on future missions by informing selection of fire-resistant spacecraft cabin materials, validating flammability models, and supporting development of fire suppression techniques. Studying flames in space without the complications of buoyancy also helps improve computer models of combustion for terrestrial applications. Crew members replaced experiment samples during the week.

Image above: NASA astronaut Frank Rubio sets up for SoFIE-GEL, a study that measures heating in a fuel sample to determine how fuel temperature affects material flammability. Image Credit: NASA.

Nutrients On Demand

Image above: Kefir sample bags ready for incubation for BioNutrients-2, which tests a system to produce key nutrients from this fermented milk product as well as yogurt and a yeast-based beverage. Image Credit: NASA.

BioNutrients-2 tests a system to produce specific quantities of key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage. Many foods and supplements degrade over time, and supplying adequate nutrition to crew members is one of the challenges facing future long-duration space missions to the Moon and Mars. The ability to produce nutrients during flight could help address this problem and reduce launch mass and volume as well. On Earth, producing vitamins and other biomolecules on-demand could help support human health in remote areas and those with limited supply of critical compounds that have a short shelf life. During the week, crew members prepared samples and placed them into incubation.

Other Investigations Involving the Crew:

- Actiwatch, a device worn on the wrist, detects body movement and light intensity to evaluate individual daily sleep-wake cycles. Understanding the effects of spaceflight on these cycles could support development of measures to improve sleep and contribute to better health and productivity among crew members on future missions and people with sleep issues on Earth.

- Veg-05 grows dwarf tomatoes and examines the effect of light quality and fertilizer on fruit production, microbial food safety, nutritional value, taste, 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.

- JEM Water Recovery System from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), demonstrates technology to generate potable water from urine. The system could contribute to life support systems on the space station and future exploration missions.

- Lumina, an investigation from ESA, demonstrates a dosimeter using optical fibers to monitor the radiation dose received by crew members in real time. Monitoring radiation exposure is key to crew safety, and this technology has potential applications in the medical and nuclear industries on Earth.

- Standard Measures uses cognition tests, sleep questionnaires, blood samples, and a variety of other data to examine how crew members adapt to living and working in space. Results also help monitor the effectiveness of countermeasures to maintain crew health and well-being, supporting future long-duration missions.

Space to Ground: On The Move: May 5, 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 69:

Particle Vibration:



ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Carrie Gilder/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 69.

Best regards,

Hubble Views Striking Starry Tendrils


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

May 5, 2023

The jellyfish galaxy, JO175, appears to hang suspended in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This galaxy lies over 650 million light-years from Earth in the appropriately named constellation Telescopium and was captured in crystal-clear detail by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. A handful of more distant galaxies are lurking throughout the scene, and a bright four-pointed star lies to the lower right side.

Jellyfish galaxies get their unusual name from the tendrils of star-forming gas and dust that trail behind them, just like the tentacles of a jellyfish. These bright tendrils contain clumps of star formation and give jellyfish galaxies a particularly striking appearance. Unlike their ocean-dwelling namesakes, jellyfish galaxies make their homes in galaxy clusters, and the pressure of the tenuous superheated plasma that permeates these galaxy clusters is what draws out the jellyfish galaxies’ distinctive tendrils.

Hubble recently completed a deep dive into jellyfish clusters, specifically the star-forming clumps of gas and dust that stud their tendrils. By studying the origins and fate of the stars in these clumps, astronomers hoped to better understand the processes underpinning star formation elsewhere in the universe. Interestingly, their research suggests that star formation in the disks of galaxies is similar to star formation in the extreme conditions found in the tendrils of jellyfish galaxies.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Andrea Gianopoulos/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Gullieuszik and the GASP team.


China Space Station (CSS) - Tianzhou-5 undocking


CMS - Tianzhou-5 Mission patch.

May 5, 2023

Tianzhou-5 undocking

According to the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the Tianzhou-5 (天舟五号) cargo spacecraft was undocked from the Tianhe Core Module (天和核心舱) on 5 May 2023, at 07:26 UTC (15:26 China Standard Time), and started an “independent flight stage”.

Tianzhou-5 undocking

Tianzhou-5 will be re-docked to the China Space Station(中国空间站), on the front port of the Tianhe Core Module, after the departure of the Shenzhou-15  (神舟十五) crew spacecraft.

Related article:

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

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

Best regards,

jeudi 4 mai 2023

'H' is for Hot and Huge in Chandra Image


NASA - Chandra X-ray Observatory patch.

May 4, 2023

With a single letter seemingly etched in the X-ray glow around it, a giant black hole at the center of a massive elliptical galaxy is making a mark on its surroundings.

This “H”-shaped structure is found in a detailed new X-ray map of the multimillion-degree gas around the galaxy Messier 84 (M84).

Images above: Galaxy Messier 84 (M84). Images Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Princeton Univ/C. Bambic et al.; Optical: SDSS; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA/ESO; Image processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/N.Wolk.

As gas is captured by the gravitational force of the black hole, some of it will fall into the abyss, never to be seen again. Some of the gas, however, avoids this fate and instead gets blasted away from the black hole in the form of jets of particles. These jets can push out cavities, in the hot gas surrounding the black hole. Given the orientation of the jets to Earth and the profile of the hot gas, the cavities in M84 form what appears to resemble the letter “H.” The H-shaped structure in the gas is an example of pareidolia, which is when people see familiar shapes or patterns in random data. Pareidolia can occur in all kinds of data from clouds to rocks and astronomical images.

Images Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Princeton Univ/C. Bambic et al.; Optical: SDSS; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA/ESO; Image processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/N.Wolk.

Astronomers used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make a map of the hot gas (pink) in and around M84, reaching to within only about 100 light-years away from the black hole in the center of the galaxy. This gas radiates at temperatures in the tens of millions of degrees, making it primarily observable in X-rays. The huge letter “H” is about 40,000 light-years tall — about half the width of the Milky Way. The radio image from the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) (blue) reveals the jets streaking away from the black hole. Optical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (white) shows M84 and neighboring galaxies. The letter H and the position of the black hole are labeled. An additional graphic shows a close-up of the region marked with a square, and separate labels for the galaxy and the jets in the optical and radio images respectively.

Researchers studying M84 with Chandra and the VLA found that the jets may influence the flow of the hot gas towards the black hole even more than the gravitational pull from the black hole. For example, the team estimates matter is falling towards the black hole from the north — along the direction of the jet seen in radio waves — at about 500 times the mass of the Earth every year, a rate that is only a quarter of that from directions where the jet is not pointing, to the east and west. One possibility is that gas is lifted along the direction of the jet by the cavities, slowing the rate at which gas falls onto the black hole.

The authors tested a model called Bondi accretion, where all of the matter within a certain distance from a black hole — effectively inside a sphere — is close enough to be affected by a black hole’s gravity and start falling inwards at the same rate from all directions. (The dashed circle in the close-up image is centered on the black hole and shows the approximate distance from the black hole where gas should start falling inwards.) This effect is named after the scientist Hermann Bondi, and “accretion” refers to matter falling toward the black hole. The new results show that Bondi accretion is not occurring in M84 because matter is not falling towards the black hole evenly from all directions.

M84 is a cousin of Messier 87 (M87), the galaxy containing the first black hole imaged with the global Event Horizon Telescope network, and, like M87, is also a member of the Virgo Cluster. The supermassive black hole in M84, along with those in our galaxy, M87, NGC 3115, and NGC 1600, are the only ones close enough to Earth, or massive enough, for astronomers to see details in Chandra images which are so near the black hole that gas should be falling inwards. Like the black hole in M87, the one in M84 is producing a jet of particles; however, the point source of X-rays from material even closer to the black hole is over ten times fainter for M84. This allows more detailed study of gas falling towards the black hole in M84 that is farther out, preventing the faint X-rays produced by this gas from being overwhelmed by the X-ray glare from the point source.

A paper describing these results appears in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and a preprint is available below. The study was led by Christopher Bambic, a graduate student at Princeton University. Other authors include Helen Russell (University of Nottingham, United Kingdom), Christopher Reynolds (Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, UK; University of Maryland, College Park), Andy Fabian (Institute of Astronomy), Brian McNamara (University of Waterloo, Canada; Waterloo Centre for Astrophysics, Canada), and Paul Nulsen (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian).

Chandra X-ray Observatory. Animation Credits: NASA/CXC

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Center controls science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon/Marshall Space Flight Center/Molly Porter/Chandra X-ray Center/Megan Watzke.

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New Study of Uranus’ Large Moons Shows 4 May Hold Water


NASA - Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) logo.

May 4, 2023

The work is based on new modeling and explores how oceans could exist in unlikely places in our solar system.

Image above: Uranus is surrounded by its four major rings and 10 of its 27 known moons in this color-added view that uses data taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1998. A study featuring new modeling shows that four of Uranus’ large moons likely contain internal oceans. Image Credits: NASA/JPL/STScI.

Re-analysis of data from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, along with new computer modeling, has led NASA scientists to conclude that four of Uranus’ largest moons likely contain an ocean layer between their cores and icy crusts. Their study is the first to detail the evolution of the interior makeup and structure of all five large moons: Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, Oberon, and Miranda. The work suggests four of the moons hold oceans that could be dozens of miles deep.

In all, at least 27 moons circle Uranus, with the four largest ranging from Ariel, at 720 miles (1,160 kilometers) across, to Titania, which is 980 miles (1,580 kilometers) across. Scientists have long thought that Titania, given its size, would be most likely to retain internal heat, caused by radioactive decay. The other moons had previously been widely considered too small to retain the heat necessary to keep an internal ocean from freezing, especially because heating created by the gravitational pull of Uranus is only a minor source of heat.

The National Academies’ 2023 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey prioritized exploring Uranus. In preparation for such a mission, planetary scientists are focusing on the ice giant to bolster their knowledge about the mysterious Uranus system. Published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, the new work could inform how a future mission might investigate the moons, but the paper also has implications that go beyond Uranus, said lead author Julie Castillo-Rogez of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“When it comes to small bodies – dwarf planets and moons – planetary scientists previously have found evidence of oceans in several unlikely places, including the dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto, and Saturn’s moon Mimas,” she said. “So there are mechanisms at play that we don’t fully understand. This paper investigates what those could be and how they are relevant to the many bodies in the solar system that could be rich in water but have limited internal heat.”

The study revisited findings from NASA’s Voyager 2 flybys of Uranus in the 1980s and from ground-based observations. The authors built computer models infused with additional findings from NASA’s Galileo, Cassini, Dawn, and New Horizons (each of which discovered ocean worlds), including insights into the chemistry and the geology of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Pluto and its moon Charon, and Ceres – all icy bodies around the same size as the Uranian moons.

Image above: New modeling shows that there likely is an ocean layer in four of Uranus’ major moons: Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon. Salty – or briny – oceans lie under the ice and atop layers of water-rich rock and dry rock. Miranda is too small to retain enough heat for an ocean layer. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

What Lies Above and Beneath

The researchers used that modeling to gauge how porous the Uranian moons’ surfaces are, finding that they’re likely insulated enough to retain the internal heat that would be needed to host an ocean. In addition, they found what could be a potential heat source in the moons’ rocky mantles, which release hot liquid, and would help an ocean maintain a warm environment – a scenario that is especially likely for Titania and Oberon, where the oceans may even be warm enough to potentially support habitability.

By investigating the composition of the oceans, scientists can learn about materials that might be found on the moons’ icy surfaces as well, depending on whether substances underneath were pushed up from below by geological activity. There is evidence from telescopes that at least one of the moons, Ariel, has material that flowed onto its surface, perhaps from icy volcanoes, relatively recently.

In fact, Miranda, the innermost and fifth largest moon, also hosts surface features that appear to be of recent origin, suggesting it may have held enough heat to maintain an ocean at some point. The recent thermal modeling found that Miranda is unlikely to have hosted water for long: It loses heat too quickly and is probably frozen now.

But internal heat wouldn’t be the only factor contributing to a moon’s subsurface ocean. A key finding in the study suggests that chlorides, as well as ammonia, are likely abundant in the oceans of the icy giant’s largest moons. Ammonia has been long known to act as antifreeze. In addition, the modeling suggests that salts likely present in the water would be another source of antifreeze, maintaining the bodies’ internal oceans.

Of course, there still are a lot of questions about the large moons of Uranus, Castillo-Rogez said, adding that there is plenty more work to be done: “We need to develop new models for different assumptions on the origin of the moons in order to guide planning for future observations.”

Digging into what lies beneath and on the surfaces of these moons will help scientists and engineers choose the best science instruments to survey them. For instance, determining that ammonia and chlorides may be present means that spectrometers, which detect compounds by their reflected light, would need to use a wavelength range that covers both kinds of compounds.

Likewise, they can use that knowledge to design instruments that can probe the deep interior for liquid. Searching for electrical currents that contribute to a moon’s magnetic field is generally the best way to find a deep ocean, as Galileo mission scientists did at Jupiter’s moon Europa. However, the cold water in the interior oceans of moons such as Ariel and Umbriel could make the oceans less able to carry these electrical currents and would present a new kind of challenge for scientists working to figure out what lies beneath.

Related links:

Journal of Geophysical Research:


Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/Gretchen McCartney.

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A rocket explodes with 120 funeral urns on board


Celestis Inc. logo.

May 4, 2023

A small private rocket carrying human remains bound for space encountered a "fatal anomaly" shortly after liftoff. According to the start-up offering these “space funeral services”, the ashes could be recovered.

Image above: The rocket, chartered by UP Aerospace, exploded seconds after launching from the New Mexico desert on May 1.

Texas start-up Celestis offers the possibility of sending human ashes into space for a “space funeral service”. But the last service was not a success: on May 1, the “little rocket”, chartered by the private company UP Aerospace and carrying 120 funeral urns, exploded a few seconds after its launch from the desert of New Mexico, reports Gizmodo. She was to make a short flight into space and then return to Earth. A video relayed by the local channel KVIA, shows the takeoff of the rocket:

Spaceport America rocket explodes moments after liftoff

In the aftermath of the explosion, fears immediately turned to the condition of the "capsules" containing the human remains. In a first article, Gizmodo had suggested that the latter had been destroyed, while specifying that Celestis had “intelligently” foreseen this scenario by only taking on board a “symbolic portion of the ashes and just a sample of DNA”.

Subsequently, the start-up produced a denial, published on its Twitter account. "You may have read in different media that your loved one's capsules had 'exploded'. But it is not so.” If the rocket was indeed destroyed, Celestis maintains that the “professionalism” of the company UP Aerospace made it possible to recover the payload intact. The ballot boxes will therefore be offered a free flight in the next mission, as soon as light is shed on the circumstances of this failed launch.

Celestiis. Inc. on Twitter

“Our space funeral service missions (Earth Rise) are designed to maximize the chances of recovery if the rocket does not reach space or return as planned,” she adds. Celestis offers different services ranging from round trip in space to orbiting the ballot boxes around the Earth – offered from 5,000 dollars.

The mission notably carried the ashes of a former NASA scientist, Philip K. Chapman, who died in April 2021 and was involved in the preparation of the lunar missions of the 1960s and 1970s. The man had never been able to go himself in space, pushing his relatives to offer him this symbolic journey. Also included were those of chemist Louise Ann O'Deen.

In addition, “the rocket had embarked thirteen payloads from NASA’s TechRise Student Challenge, containing experiments prepared by students from sixth to final year”, indicates the site specializing in new technologies. These could not be recovered.

Related links:

Celestis Inc. - Memorial Spaceflights:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Celestis Inc./KVIA ABC-7/Courrier international/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Hubble follows shadow play around planet-forming disc


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

May 4, 2023

The young star TW Hydrae is playing ‘shadow puppets’ with scientists

Concentric gas and dust discs around the star TW Hydrae

In 2017 astronomers reported discovering a shadow sweeping across the face of a vast pancake-shaped disc of gas and dust surrounding the red dwarf star TW Hydrae. The shadow isn’t from a planet, but from an inner disc slightly inclined relative to the much larger outer disc — causing it to cast a shadow. One explanation is that an unseen planet’s gravity is pulling dust and gas into its inclined orbit. Now, a second shadow — playing a game of peek-a-boo — has emerged in just a few years between observations stored in the MAST archive of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This could be from yet another disc nestled inside the system. The two discs are likely evidence of a pair of planets under construction.

TW Hydrae is less than 10 million years old and resides about 200 light-years away. In its infancy, some 4.6 billion years ago, our Solar System may have resembled the TW Hydrae system. Because the TW Hydrae system is tilted nearly face-on as seen from Earth, it is an optimum target for getting a bird’s-eye view of a planetary construction yard.

The second shadow was discovered in observations obtained on 6 June 2021, as part of a multi-year programme designed to track the shadows in circumstellar discs. John Debes of AURA/STScI for the European Space Agency at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, compared these latest observations of the TW Hydrae disc to Hubble observations made several years ago.

“We found out that the shadow had done something completely different,” said Debes, who is principal investigator and lead author of the study published in The Astrophysical Journal. “When I first looked at the data, I thought something had gone wrong with the observation because it wasn’t what I was expecting. I was flummoxed at first, and all my collaborators were like: what is going on? We really had to scratch our heads and it took us a while to actually figure out an explanation.”

Hubble images TW Hydrae Disc Shadows (annotated)

“We hatched a theory of what might be causing the changing shadows,” added Rebecca Nealon, a member of the science team at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. “But to test this we had to run sophisticated models where we varied the number of discs and their orientations to try to reproduce Hubble’s observations.”

The best solution the team came up with is that there are two misaligned discs casting shadows. They were so close to each other in the earlier observation they were missed. Over time they’ve now separated and split into two shadows. “We’ve never really seen this before on a protoplanetary disc. It makes the system much more complex than we originally thought,” said Debes.

The simplest explanation is that the misaligned discs are likely caused by the gravitational pull of two planets in slightly different orbital planes. Hubble is piecing together a holistic view of the architecture of the system.

The discs may be proxies for planets that are lapping each other as they whirl around the star. It’s sort of like spinning two vinyl records at slightly different speeds. Sometimes the labels will match up but then one gets ahead of the other.

“It does suggest that the two planets have to be fairly close to each other. If one was moving much faster than the other, this would have been noticed in earlier observations. It’s like two racing cars that are close to each other, but one slowly overtakes and laps the other,” said Debes.

Hubble images TW Hydrae Disc Shadows (clean)

The suspected planets are located in a region roughly the distance of Jupiter from our Sun. And the shadows complete one rotation around the star about every 15 years — the orbital period that would be expected at that distance from the star.

Also, these two inner discs are inclined by about five to seven degrees relative to the plane of the outer disc. This is comparable to the range of orbital inclinations inside our Solar System. “This is right in line with typical Solar System-style architecture,” said Debes.

The outer disc that the shadows are falling on may extend as far as several times the radius of our Solar System’s Kuiper belt. This larger disc has a curious gap at twice Pluto’s average distance from the Sun. This might be evidence for a third planet in the system.

Any inner planets would be difficult to detect because their light would be lost in the glare of the star. Also, dust in the system would dim their reflected light. ESA’s Gaia space observatory may be able to measure a wobble in the star if Jupiter-mass planets are tugging on it, but this would take years given the long orbital periods.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

The TW Hydrae data are from Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope’s infrared vision may also be able to show the shadows in more detail.

More information

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


Images of Hubble:

Release on STScI website:

Science paper:

ESA Hubblesite:

Images, Animation Credits: NASA. ESA, L. Hustak, J. Debes (STScI)/Text Credits: ESA/Hubble/Bethany Downer/AURA/STScI for the European Space Agency/John Debes.

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SpaceX Starlink 81 launch


SpaceX - Falcon 9 / Starlink Mission patch.

May 4, 2023

Falcon 9 carrying Starlink 81

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle launched 56 Starlink satellites (Starlink-81 / Starlink 5-6) to low-Earth orbit, from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, on 4 May 2023, at 07:31 UTC (00:31 EDT).

SpaceX Starlink 81 launch and Falcon 9 first stage landing, 4 May 2023

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage landed on the “A Shortfall of Gravitas” droneship,  stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s first stage (B1069) previously supported six missions: CRS-24, Eutelsat HOTBIRD 13F, OneWeb 15, SES-18/SES-19 and two Starlink missions.

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


ESA oversees in-orbit cybersecurity demonstration


ESA - OPS-SAT Mission patch.

May 4, 2023

In brief

Under ESA’s supervision, a team of experts from Thales Alenia Space recently performed a cybersecurity demonstration. They demonstrated that they could covertly access parts of ESA’s OPS-SAT spacecraft that are usually off limits.

OPS-SAT is a flying laboratory which ESA offers to teams from across Europe to test innovative new software that is too risky to load on to normal operational satellites.

Once the Thales team successfully accessed the control layer of the satellite, they were able to demonstrate how they could tamper with images taken with the satellite’s camera and rotate the spacecraft away from its normal pointing.

OPS-SAT - open for innovation


What happened?

The demonstration was devised by cybersecurity company CYSEC, ESA and Thales. The Thales team then set to work devising a way to upload software to OPS-SAT that looked ‘harmless’ but it actually introduced a vulnerability that they would later exploit. By exploiting this vulnerability at a later time, they successfully accessed the control layer of the software, which is usually off limits for the experimenters.

The software and procedures were first tested on an identical copy of the satellite kept at ESA’s ESOC mission control centre. This ensured that it could not do any irrecoverable damage to the satellite before it was installed on board.

Once they gained access to the control layer, the team was then able to replace an image taken with OPS-SAT’s camera and rotate the spacecraft away from the direction it was supposed to be pointing (they changed the satellite’s ‘attitude’).

ESOC control room

“The ESA team then recovered the satellite and successfully reverted its software to a previous, safe and secure state,” says Simon Plum, Head of ESA Mission Operations.

“This was a well-controlled experiment, in which ESA knew in advance what was going to happen, supervised the tests and retained control throughout the demonstration. The test was done in full isolation from ESA’s operational missions and enabled us to learn even more about possible cyber threats. Thanks to OPS-SAT, our teams across ESA and to the activity’s participants and organisers, such as CYSEC and Thales, we can now further enhance the security of operations at ESOC.”

What was the purpose of the demonstration?

Every activity that humankind carries out using computers and other digital systems is exposed to cybersecurity threats. As satellites have become essential for so much of our daily lives, we must ensure they are as secure as possible.

“Spacecraft designers and operators need to understand how potential cyber attackers think. Only then can they build the best possible defence,” says David Evans, OPS-SAT project manager.

Learning how potential attackers think is important for improving cybersecurity

 “Activities like the one carried out by ESA and Thales are often referred to as ‘ethical hacking’ and they are a very effective way for spacecraft engineers to get this knowledge. Watching these attackers work and understanding their methodology was very valuable for us.”

This controlled experiment was an educational exercise and demonstrated the value in having cybersecurity experts with an offensive mindset involved in the development of satellite systems.

The OPS-SAT team learned a lot from the experiment and, together with the Thales team and ESA’s Security Office, have used the results of the demonstration to update the security system at OPS-SAT’s SMILE control centre.

The method of tampering with the spacecraft highlighted by the Thales team is no longer possible – one less potential path of attack for a real threat.

Are other satellites at risk?

OPS-SAT is unique. Its role as a platform for experimentation and innovation means teams external to ESA are allowed to execute software on board the spacecraft. No other ESA satellite operates in this way.

The Thales team also had advanced access to information about OPS-SAT’s inner workings and were allowed to carry out tests on OPS-SAT’s flat sat as part of the cooperation.

OPS-SAT’s ground-based IT systems are isolated from those of any other ESA satellite, so the Thales team and other OPS-SAT experimenters cannot gain access to any other satellite systems.

Was OPS-SAT damaged?

OPS-SAT is designed to ensure it can always be reset to a safe state – in case even a well-meaning experiment causes any unexpected and potentially harmful effects. It also has an in-built system to monitor the satellite’s health and prevent it from becoming irrecoverable.

OPS-SAT – the flying laboratory

This cybersecurity experiment was performed entirely within OPS-SAT’s ‘random access memory’ (RAM). This computer memory was completely reset after the demonstration ensuring that any compromised software was removed, and the satellite returned to a known state.

No damage was done to OPS-SAT.

OPS-SAT at Europe’s largest cybersecurity conference for the space sector

ESA and the Thales team presented the results of the cybersecurity demonstration at the CYSAT 2023 conference. The yearly event, organised by CYSEC, brings together the European space community to raise awareness of cybersecurity threats to space assets and how we can safeguard the important services they provide.

Related articles:

Innovation by the dozen: ESA funds 12 new OPS-SAT experiments

Trading spaces: ESA bolsters European business

First test of Europe’s new space brain

Interplanetary internet & cameras in space: ESA’s OPS-SAT first results

Related links:



Thales Alenia Space:

ESA’s ESOC mission control centre:

SMILE control centre:

CYSAT 2023 conference:

Images, Animations, Text, Credits: ESA/J. Mai, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.