vendredi 12 mai 2023

International Sea Level Satellite Spots Early Signs of El Niño


ESA / NASA - Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich logo.

May 12, 2023

Kelvin waves, a potential precursor of El Niño conditions in the ocean, are rolling across the equatorial Pacific toward the coast of South America.

Animation above: This animation shows a series of waves, called Kelvin waves, moving warm water across the equatorial Pacific Ocean from west to east during March and April. The signals can be an early sign of a developing El Niño, and were detected by the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich sea level satellite. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The most recent sea level data from the U.S.-European satellite Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich indicates early signs of a developing El Niño across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The data shows Kelvin waves – which are roughly 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) high at the ocean surface and hundreds of miles wide – moving from west to east along the equator toward the west coast of South America.

When they form at the equator, Kelvin waves bring warm water, which is associated with higher sea levels, from the western Pacific to the eastern Pacific. A series of Kelvin waves starting in spring is a well-known precursor to an El Niño, a periodic climate phenomenon that can affect weather patterns around the world. It is characterized by higher sea levels and warmer-than-average ocean temperatures along the western coasts of the Americas.

Water expands as it warms, so sea levels tend to be higher in places with warmer water. El Niño is also associated with a weakening of the trade winds. The condition can bring cooler, wetter conditions to the U.S. Southwest and drought to countries in the western Pacific, such as Indonesia and Australia.

Image above: Sea level data from the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite on April 24 shows relatively higher (shown in red and white) and warmer ocean water at the equator and the west coast of South America. Water expands as it warms, so sea levels tend to be higher in places with warmer water. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite data shown here covers the period between the beginning of March and the end of April 2023. By April 24, Kelvin waves had piled up warmer water and higher sea levels (shown in red and white) off the coasts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Satellites like Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich can detect Kelvin waves with a radar altimeter, which uses microwave signals to measure the height of the ocean’s surface. When an altimeter passes over areas that are warmer than others, the data will show higher sea levels.

“We’ll be watching this El Niño like a hawk,” said Josh Willis, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “If it’s a big one, the globe will see record warming, but here in the Southwest U.S. we could be looking at another wet winter, right on the heels of the soaking we got last winter.”

Both the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the World Meteorological Organization have recently reported increased chances that El Niño will develop by the end of the summer. Continued monitoring of ocean conditions in the Pacific by instruments and satellites such as Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich should help to clarify in the coming months how strong it could become.

“When we measure sea level from space using satellite altimeters, we know not only the shape and height of water, but also its movement, like Kelvin and other waves,” said Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, NASA program scientist and manager for Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich in Washington. “Ocean waves slosh heat around the planet, bringing heat and moisture to our coasts and changing our weather.”

More About the Mission

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, named after former NASA Earth Science Division Director Michael Freilich, is one of two satellites that compose the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich sea level satellite. Image Credit: NASA

Sentinel-6/Jason-CS was jointly developed by ESA (European Space Agency), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), NASA, and NOAA, with funding support from the European Commission and technical support on performance from the French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales). Spacecraft monitoring and control, as well as the processing of all the altimeter science data, is carried out by EUMETSAT on behalf of the European Union’s Copernicus programme, with the support of all partner agencies.

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, contributed three science instruments for each Sentinel-6 satellite: the Advanced Microwave Radiometer, the Global Navigation Satellite System - Radio Occultation, and the Laser Retroreflector Array. NASA also contributed launch services, ground systems supporting operation of the NASA science instruments, the science data processors for two of these instruments, and support for the U.S. members of the international Ocean Surface Topography Science Team.

To learn more about Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, visit:

Related links:

Sentinel-6 satellite science instruments:

Advanced Microwave Radiometer:

Global Navigation Satellite System - Radio Occultation:

Laser Retroreflector Array:

Related climate links:

El Niño:


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


The very first private space station will be launched in 2025


VAST Space logo.

May 12, 2023

The American startup Vast aims to put Haven-1 into orbit within two years. It will become the first representative of a new generation of private stations that will redefine humanity's relationship to space.

Image above: An illustration of the future Haven-1 space station. Image Credit: Vast Space.

In a press release spotted by, the American startup Vast has just announced that it intends to deploy its commercial space station Haven-1 in 2025. If it achieves its goal, it will be the very first private space station of the history of humanity - unless a competitor burns his politeness.

Haven-1 is above all a proof of concept intended to demonstrate the viability of the technologies that will be used on board the complete station. But this test module is still designed to be “fully independent”. This is an abuse of language, since such a structure will still need to be resupplied regularly. But it will already carry a functional life support system that will allow four astronauts to breathe and sustain themselves during a 30-day mission.

Regarding the energy supply, this first version will be able to deliver around 1000W permanently. It is quite modest; for comparison, the ISS produces between 80 and 120 kW. But this figure will increase considerably as new solar panels are added with the arrival of new modules.

A versatile infrastructure with artificial gravity

The crew will spend most of their time working on research projects, and not just basic science. Vast says Haven-1 was designed to house a wide variety of manufacturing activities. Ultimately, the module could therefore serve as a basis for building real space garages, capable of maintaining or repairing other machines.


In the longer term, we can also imagine making it a real orbital factory in good and due form. This would make it possible to directly manufacture devices such as small cubesats directly in orbit to deploy them without having to launch a rocket.

Vast also mentions an artificial gravity system. Tiny thrusters, likely gas-powered, will be able to spin Haven-1 to generate centrifugal force. This will allow the crew to stand upright, unlike the ISS where astronauts float in microgravity. Again, if the deadlines are met, it will be a world first.

Residents will also be entitled to a communication system that complies with modern standards. It will provide access to the terrestrial Internet at all times through a standard Wi-Fi access point.

The race for private stations is accelerating

Haven-1 will be launched into orbit in August 2025 by a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. This mission will be quickly followed by a second launch of Falcon 9, this time surmounted by a Crew Dragon capsule with four astronauts on board. The vehicle will dock at the station for a month. If all goes according to plan, this will be the first-ever mission aboard a private commercial space station.

Illustation - SpaceX Dragon approaching Haven-1 to dock. Image Credit: Vast Space

But it is not excluded that a competitor takes Vast speed. Indeed, the startup is far from the only one working on its own station. It is even a major area of research in aerospace today. We are indeed in a period where more and more private actors are developing technologies to conquer this area long reserved for government space agencies.

The dawn of a new era

For the moment, most of them have mainly manifested themselves on the side of launchers and satellites. But private space stations are fast approaching to fill the void left by the ISS, which will retire in early 2030. NASA has already launched calls for tenders to prepare for this deadline.

Among the winners of these calls for tenders, we find in particular Blue Origin, the company of Jeff Bezos. The billionaire and his troops rely heavily on this concept. Ultimately, the firm aims to become a real space real estate agency. To achieve this, it is currently developing a program called Orbital Reef. This is a range of private space stations that can serve as a laboratory or even an orbital hotel for wealthy tourists.

Blue Origin Orbital Reef. Images Credit: Blue Origin

We can also mention Nanoracks with its Starlab station, expected in 2027. American defense titan Northrip Grumman is also working on a similar project. These three players have all received over $100 million from NASA to fund their private station projects.

It will therefore be necessary to remain attentive to the progress of the leaders of the sector, because the stakes are considerable. They go far beyond the framework of the ISS. Certainly, it is fundamental to ensure the succession of the venerable station. But it is also about laying the foundations for a new era, just that. The arrival of these stations will make it possible to democratize – all things considered – access to Earth orbit, with all that this implies for the rest of the space conquest. See you in a few years to witness the beginning of this great transformation.

Editor's note:

Another private project among others remains to be seen whether this will materialize or remain in the state of drawn plans. Without ever mentioning the problem of space debris, which in the case of the ISS, forces it to change altitude regularly to avoid collisions and that of micro-meteorites. And the problem of cosmic and solar radiation... In short, I hope that these future private astronauts will have good life insurance, if these projects become reality.

Related articles:

Airbus presents a revolutionary space station with artificial gravity

A start-up plans to open a luxury hotel in space in 2025

NASA Selects Orbital Reef to Develop Space Station Replacement

NASA Selects Companies to Develop Commercial Destinations in Space

Blue Origin and Sierra Space Developing Commercial Space Station

Voyager Station: The first space hotel (could never) see the light of day in 2027?

Related link:

Vast Space:

VAST Announces the Haven-1 and VAST-1 Missions:

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

Best regards,

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of May 8, 2023


ISS - Expedition 69 Mission patch.

May 12, 2023

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of May 8 that included monitoring how spaceflight affects immune function, testing a student-designed camera mount, and assessing a platform for automated analysis of cardiovascular health.

Image above: The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a relocation maneuver as the International Space Station orbits 265 miles above the U.S-Canadian border. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Inflight Immune Function Testing

Immunity Assay, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), uses a blood test to monitor how spaceflight affects immune function. Previously, this test could only be performed on Earth pre- and postflight, but a newly developed process makes it possible to execute inflight, which provides a clearer assessment of any immune changes. Results contribute to the understanding of immune system response to microgravity and how stress hormones may modulate this response, which could support development of countermeasures for immunological issues during long-duration spaceflight. The test also could be part of an approach to monitor immune performance in astronauts and people on Earth. Crew members collected and processed samples for the investigation during the week.

A Clamp for Cameras

Image above: NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen sets up for a test of the Hunch Ball Clamp Monopod, a mounting system for cameras used to track targets on the ground or to take images and video inside the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

Hunch Ball Clamp Monopod tests a mounting system for cameras used to track targets on the ground or to take images and video inside the space station. The device provides a temporary but stable platform for cameras, making operations easier and faster for the crew, and easily moves out of the way when not needed. The platform has potential applications in certain settings on Earth as well. NASA’s HUNCH mission provides students with the opportunity to participate in hands-on design and fabrication of products for NASA. Astronauts had requested a way to correctly position cameras and hold them stable. During the week, crew members used the clamp to take images and evaluated its functionality.

Heart Monitoring, Automated

Image above: Space Health collects a variety of data using the Bio-Monitor system to demonstrate how it could be used to autonomously monitor astronaut health on future space missions. Image Credit: CSA-ASC.

Space Health, an investigation from CSA (Canadian Space Agency), uses the wearable Bio-Monitor system to assess the effect of space travel on heart health. It also evaluates integrating the Bio-Monitor system with the Artemis automated analysis platform to provide cardiovascular monitoring on future space missions. Such automated systems are needed as future missions travel farther from medical support. Integrating other parameters into the platform could provide a more comprehensive health status assessment, which also could be useful in intensive care units on the ground. During the week, crew members wore the garment and headband for a 48-hour investigation run.

Other Investigations Involving the Crew:

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

- Ring Sheared Drop-IBP, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, studies the behavior of high-concentration protein fluids and tests computer models for predicting that behavior. More accurate models could enable production of next-generation medicines for treating cancers and other diseases.

- Airborne Particulate Monitor (APM) demonstrates an instrument to measure the concentration of particles in the space station’s air. Maintaining air quality in the space station is vital for crew member health, but no capability currently exists to verify that maximum allowable concentrations of particles are met.

- AstroPi, an investigation from ESA, uses two augmented Raspberry Pi computers to support an education program that encourages students to study scientific and technical disciplines and to understand the benefits, challenges, and importance of space for Europe.

- 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.

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.

The ISS Benefits for Humanity 2022:

Related links:

Expedition 69:

Immunity Assay:

Hunch Ball Clamp Monopod:


Space Health:

ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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


Hubble Captures a Light-Bending Galaxy Cluster


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

May 12, 2023

A vast galaxy cluster lurks in the center of this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Like a submerged sea monster causing waves on the surface, this cosmic leviathan can be identified by the distortions in spacetime around it. The cluster’s enormous mass curves spacetime, creating a gravitational lens that bends the light from distant galaxies beyond the cluster. The contorted streaks and arcs of light we see in this image are the result. A host of other galaxies surrounds the cluster, and a handful of foreground stars with tell-tale diffraction spikes are scattered throughout the image.

This particular galaxy cluster, called eMACS J1823.1+7822, lies almost nine billion light-years away in the constellation Draco. It is one of five exceptionally massive galaxy clusters Hubble explored with the aim of measuring the strengths of these gravitational lenses, which would provide insights into the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters. Strong gravitational lenses like eMACS J1823.1+7822 can help astronomers study distant galaxies by acting as vast natural telescopes which magnify objects that would otherwise be too faint or distant to resolve.

This multiwavelength image layers data from eight different filters and two different instruments: Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3. Both instruments can view astronomical objects in just a small slice of the electromagnetic spectrum using filters, which allow astronomers to image objects at precisely selected wavelengths. The combination of observations at different wavelengths lets astronomers develop a more complete picture of the structure, composition, and behavior of an object than visible light alone would reveal.

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, H. Ebeling.


Cosmonauts Deploy Radiator and Complete Spacewalk


Energia 'VKD' (EVA) spacewalkers patch.

May 12, 2023

Image above: Expedition 69 Commander Sergey Prokopyev (left) is conducting his sixth career spacewalk. Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin (right) is conducting his fourth spacewalk. Image Credits: NASA/Roscosmos.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin began a spacewalk at 11:47 a.m. EDT to deploy a radiator on the International Space Station’s Nauka science module.

Image above: Roscosmos spacewalkers Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin work outside the International Space Station’s Roscosmos segment. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Prokopyev is wearing an Orlan spacesuit with red stripes, while Petelin is wearing the suit with blue stripes. This is the sixth spacewalk in Prokopyev’s career, and the fourth for Petelin. It is the sixth spacewalk at the station in 2023 and the 263rd spacewalk for space station assembly, maintenance, and upgrades.

Image above: Spacewalkers Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin work outside the Nauka science module to deploy a radiator and install gap spanners on the European robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Prokopyev and Petelin completed their major objectives, which included deploying a radiator on the International Space Station’s Nauka science module, connecting electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic lines, and filling a pair of cooling loops with coolant.

Russian Spacewalk 58 Animation - May 12, 2023

Related article:

Cosmonauts Move Experiment Airlock and Complete Spacewalk

Related links:

Expedition 69:

Poisk airlock:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Massive Radio Array to Search for Extraterrestrial Signals from Other Civilizations


SETI Institute logo.

May 12, 2023

The SETI Institute, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Breakthrough Listen Initiative team up for COSMIC and SETI

Image Credits: VLA/NRAO

One of the world’s most powerful radio telescope arrays is joining the hunt for signals from other galactic civilizations. The National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), situated about 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, is collecting data that scientists will analyze for the type of emissions that only artificial transmitters make, signals that would betray the existence of a technically accomplished society.

“The VLA is the go-to instrument for radio astronomers, but this is the first time we are using it in a wide-ranging and continuous search for technosignatures,” said Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute.

The VLA is one of the most productive radio telescopes in the world and consists of 27 antennas spread over 23 miles of desert real estate. Since 2017, it has been engaged in a project known as VLASS (Very Large Array Sky Survey), a radio reconnaissance of 80 percent of the sky.  But while these observations are being undertaken, a tap on the signal distribution network will shunt a copy of the data into a special receiver sporting very narrow (approximately one hertz wide) channels. Researchers expect that any signals from a deliberately constructed transmitter will contain such narrow-band components, and their discovery would indicate that the signal is not produced by nature, but by an alien transmitter.

The new processing system for SETI is dubbed “COSMIC” – the Commensal Open-Source Multimode Interferometer Cluster – and is spearheaded by the SETI Institute, in collaboration with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Breakthrough Listen Initiative.

"COSMIC operates commensally, which means it works in the background using a copy of the data astronomers are taking for other scientific purposes,” said Paul Demorest, Scientist and Group Lead for VLA/VLBA Science Support at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.  “This is an ideal and very efficient way to get large amounts of telescope time to search for rare signals.

Unlike many previous SETI observations, a wide variety of transmissions, such as pulsed and transient signals, can be recognized by this new experiment. The range of frequencies to be monitored is unprecedented, and the tally of star systems examined will be approximately ten million.

Images above: SETI Institute Research Scientists, Dr Savin Varghese and Dr Chenoa Tremblay, on location at the Very Large Array and the COSMIC control room. Images Credits: Chenoa Tremblay.

Since the beginning of 2023, signals from the Voyager 1 spacecraft have been detected by the COSMIC system to verify the operation of the individual antennas in the array as well as combining their observations to produce a result that clearly shows the carrier and sidebands of the transmissions from the spacecraft. Voyager 1 is currently at a distance of about 15 billion miles and is the most distant human-made object.

“The detection of Voyager 1 is an exciting demonstration of the capabilities of the COSMIC system,” said Jack Hickish, Founder, Real-Time Radio Systems Ltd. “It is the culmination of an enormous amount of work from an international team of scientists and engineers. The COSMIC system is a fantastic example of using modern general-purpose compute hardware to augment the capabilities of an existing telescope and serves as a testbed for technosignatures research on upcoming radio telescopes such as NRAO's Next Generation VLA.”

Image above: The detection of the Voyager I spacecraft using the COSMIC instrument on the VLA. Launched in 1977, the Voyager I spacecraft is now the most distant piece of human technology ever sent into space, currently around 14.8 billion miles from Earth. Voyager’s faint radio transmitter is difficult to detect even with the largest telescopes, and represents an ideal human “technosignature” for testing the performance of SETI instruments. The detection of Voyager’s downlink gives the COSMIC team high confidence that the system can detect similar artificial transmitters potentially arising from distant extraterrestrial civilizations. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI/VLA/NRAO.

When combined with the exquisite sensitivity of the VLA, COSMIC will be approximately a thousand times more comprehensive than any previous SETI search. History shows that major improvements in the sensitivity and range of exploratory experiments are often rewarded with the detection of a signal. If so, this effort might see the uncovering of a radio whisper that would tell us that we’re not the only intelligent inhabitants of the Milky Way Galaxy.

“The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is proud to partner with the SETI Institute in this exciting initiative,” said Tony Beasley, Director of the NRAO. “Partnerships bringing together world-class research instruments, private research institutes, and members of the public personally committed to forefront science, can enable new important discoveries.”

About the SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity’s quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the Universe and to share that knowledge with the world. Its research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.

Related links:


SETI Institute:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: SETI Institute.


jeudi 11 mai 2023

Cosmonauts GO for Spacewalk, Astronauts Work on Science Gear


ISS - Expedition 69 Mission patch.

May 11, 2023

Station managers have given the go for a spacewalk on Friday to deploy and activate a radiator on the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the Expedition 69 crew is continuing its ongoing human research activities and science hardware maintenance.

Two cosmonauts will exit the Poisk airlock in their Orlan spacesuits at 11:55 a.m. EDT on Friday beginning a spacewalk to deploy and activate a radiator on the Nauka science module. Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin will spend up to seven hours in the vacuum of space configuring the same radiator they installed on Nauka during a spacewalk on April 19. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Andrey Fedyaev will remain inside the orbiting lab assisting the spacewalkers in and out of their Orlans and monitoring their excursion.

Image above: Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin install a radiator on the Nauka science module during a spacewalk on April 19, 2023. Image Credit: NASA.

The trio from Roscosmos spent Thursday morning completing their spacewalk preparations checking Orlan suit components, finalizing procedure reviews, and discussing their readiness with mission controllers. Prokopyev and Petelin then took the rest of the afternoon off, while Fedyaev collected radiation detectors and cleaned electronics and computer gear.

The four astronauts supporting the U.S. segment of the orbiting lab spent Thursday studying the effects of microgravity on humans and servicing an array of advanced science gear.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: ESA

NASA Flight Engineer Stephen Bowen spent all day Thursday helping doctors understand how the human body adapts to living long-term in weightlessness. He processed his blood and saliva samples during the morning then stowed them inside the Kubik incubator for 24 hours for the Immunity Assay investigation. After lunchtime, Bowen attached sensors and breathing gear to himself that recorded his aerobic capacity while he pedaled on the Destiny laboratory module’s exercise cycle.

Astronauts Frank Rubio and Woody Hoburg of NASA and Sultan Alneyadi of UAE (United Arab Emirates) focused their efforts on maintaining a variety of research hardware throughout the day. Rubio collected sound level readings aboard the station, installed an air quality monitor, and reconfigured a science education computer. Hoburg charged Actiwatches that monitor an astronaut’s heart activity and sleep cycle, replaced handles on the Human Research Facility, and finally cleaned and inspected U.S. module hatches. Alneyadi set up Bio-Monitor hardware and software that collects medical data from a headband and vest loaded with sensors that he is wearing for the Space Health study.

Related links:

Expedition 69:

Poisk airlock:

Nauka multipurpose laboratory module:


Immunity Assay:

Destiny laboratory module:

Exercise cycle:

Science education computer:


Human Research Facility:


Space Health:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

NASA Selects Five Teams to Study Lunar Science and Sample Analysis


NASA logo.

May 11, 2023

NASA has selected five new research teams to collaborate on lunar science and lunar sample analysis research to support future exploration of the Moon as part of the agency’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI).

Image above: Malapert massif (informal name) is thought to be a remnant of the Moon’s South Pole - Aitken basin rim, which formed more than 4 billion years ago. More recently, this peak (lower left) was selected as one of the Artemis III candidate landing regions. Image Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

“These new teams will collaborate with the existing SSERVI teams to maintain NASA’s leadership in lunar science in this new era of lunar exploration,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

SSERVI will support each of the new teams for five years at about $1.5 million per year, jointly funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. The focus for this call is on lunar science and sample analysis to enable the future human and robotic exploration of the Moon with NASA’s Artemis program and Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. The work will take place in cooperation with U.S and international partners. These teams join eight continuing SSERVI teams selected in 2019.

“Exploration and science are fundamentally intertwined, and SSERVI continues to strengthen these collaborations,” said Jacob Bleacher, Chief Exploration Scientist within NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. “These new teams bring a wealth of expertise that will help us better understand the lunar environment and prepare for human and robotic lunar exploration so we can maximize the science return of Artemis.”

The new SSERVI teams, selected via peer review from a pool of 14 competitive proposals, are:

- Lunar Structure, Composition, and Processes for Exploration (LunaSCOPE), led by Alexander Evans at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The team will investigate the evolution, fate, and consequences of the lunar magma ocean, as well as the origin, abundance, distribution, and isotopic composition of volatiles.
- Center for Lunar Origin and Evolution (CLOE), led by Bill Bottke of Southwest Research Institute’s Solar System Science and Exploration Division, which is located in Boulder, Colorado. The team will investigate important questions related to the understanding of solar system origin and the conditions of Earth-Moon formation.
- Research Activities Supporting Science and Lunar Exploration (RASSLE), led by Dana Hurley at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. The team will lay the science foundation for the future of lunar exploration in the fields of the evolution of volatiles in lunar polar regions, solar system chronology, and cryogenic sample handling.

- Center for Lunar Environment and Volatile Exploration Research (CLEVER), led by Thomas Orlando at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The team will characterize the lunar environment and volatile inventories required for near-term sustained human exploration of the Moon.

- Center for Advanced Sample Analysis of Astromaterials from the Moon and Beyond (CASA Moon), led by Charles (Chip) Shearer at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The team will decipher the origin, evolution, and chronology of the ancient lunar crust through lunar sample analysis.

"I'm incredibly excited to welcome our new SSERVI Teams," said Greg Schmidt, SSERVI’s director at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. “Their wide variety of experience in a broad range of lunar sciences will add to the great science we're already accomplishing and contribute immensely to Artemis and a new era of landed missions on the Moon as we progress toward a sustainable future on the Moon and eventually Mars."

Based and managed at NASA’s Ames Research Center, SSERVI was created in 2014 as an expansion of the NASA Lunar Science Institute. It supports scientific and human exploration research at potential future human exploration destinations under the guiding philosophy that exploration and science enable each other. SSERVI members include academic institutions, non-profit research institutes, commercial companies, NASA centers and other government laboratories.

For more information about SSERVI, visit:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tricia Talbert.


Images From NASA’s Perseverance May Show Record of Wild Martian River


NASA - Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover logo.

May 11, 2023

Evidence left in rocks is leading scientists to rethink what watery environments looked like on ancient Mars.

Image above: Scientists think that these bands of rocks may have been formed by a very fast, deep river – the first of its kind evidence has been found for on Mars. NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover captured this scene at a location nicknamed “Skrinkle Haven” using its Mastcam-Z camera between Feb. 28 and March 9, 2023. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

New images taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover may show signs of what was once a rollicking river on Mars, one that was deeper and faster-moving than scientists have ever seen evidence for in the past. The river was part of a network of waterways that flowed into Jezero Crater, the area the rover has been exploring since landing more than two years ago.

Understanding these watery environments could help scientists in their efforts to seek out signs of ancient microbial life that may have been preserved in Martian rock.

Perseverance is exploring the top of a fan-shaped pile of sedimentary rock that stands 820 feet (250 meters) tall and features curving layers suggestive of flowing water. One question scientists want to answer is whether that water flowed in relatively shallow streams – closer to what NASA’s Curiosity rover has found evidence of in Gale Crater – or a more powerful river system.

Stitched together from hundreds of images captured by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z instrument, two new mosaics suggest the latter, revealing important clues: coarse sediment grains and cobbles.

“Those indicate a high-energy river that’s truckin’ and carrying a lot of debris. The more powerful the flow of water, the more easily it’s able to move larger pieces of material,” said Libby Ives, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which operates the Perseverance rover. With a background in studying Earth-based rivers, Ives has spent the last six months analyzing images of the Red Planet’s surface. “It’s been a delight to look at rocks on another planet and see processes that are so familiar,” Ives said.

Following the Curves

Years ago, scientists noticed a series of curving bands of layered rock within Jezero Crater that they dubbed “the curvilinear unit.” They could see these layers from space but are finally able to see them up close, thanks to Perseverance.

One location within the curvilinear unit, nicknamed “Skrinkle Haven,” is captured in one of the new Mastcam-Z mosaics. Scientists are sure the curved layers here were formed by powerfully flowing water, but Mastcam-Z’s detailed shots have left them debating what kind: a river such as the Mississippi, which winds snakelike across the landscape, or a braided river like Nebraska’s Platte, which forms small islands of sediment called sandbars.

Image above: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover captured this mosaic of a hill nicknamed “Pinestand.” Scientists think the tall sedimentary layers stacked on top of one another here could have been formed by a deep, fast-moving river. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS.

When viewed from the ground, the curved layers appear arranged in rows that ripple out across the landscape. They could be the remnants of a river’s banks that shifted over time – or the remnants of sandbars that formed in the river. The layers were likely much taller in the past. Scientists suspect that after these piles of sediment turned to rock, they were sandblasted by wind over the eons and carved down to their present size.

“The wind has acted like a scalpel that has cut the tops off these deposits,” said Michael Lamb of Caltech, a river specialist and Perseverance science team collaborator. “We do see deposits like this on Earth, but they’re never as well exposed as they are here on Mars. Earth is covered in vegetation that hides these layers.”

A second mosaic captured by Perseverance shows a separate location that is part of the curvilinear unit and about a quarter mile (450 meters) from Skrinkle Haven. “Pinestand” is an isolated hill bearing sedimentary layers that curve skyward, some as high as 66 feet (20 meters). Scientists think these tall layers may also have been formed by a powerful river, although they’re exploring other explanations, as well.

“These layers are anomalously tall for rivers on Earth,” Ives said. “But at the same time, the most common way to create these kinds of landforms would be a river.”

The team is continuing to study Mastcam-Z’s images for additional clues. They’re also peering below the surface, using the ground-penetrating radar instrument on Perseverance called RIMFAX (short for Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment). What they learn from both instruments will contribute to an ever-expanding body of knowledge about Mars’ ancient, watery past.

“What’s exciting here is we’ve entered a new phase of Jezero’s history. And it’s the first time we’re seeing environments like this on Mars,” said Perseverance’s deputy project scientist, Katie Stack Morgan of JPL. “We’re thinking about rivers on a different scale than we have before.”

More About the Mission

Mars Perseverance Rover & Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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

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

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

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

For more about Perseverance: and

Mastcam-Z instrument:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/Karen Fox/Alana Johnson/JPL/Andrew Good.

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Mysterious Chinese spaceplane returns to Earth after 9 months in orbit


CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

May 11, 2023

This reusable machine could become one of the spearheads of Chinese space logistics.

Chinese Spaceplane Returns To Earth After Longest Flight So Far

In a (very) brief statement from the government news agency Xinhua, the Chinese space agency announced that its mysterious reusable space plane had finally returned to the fold. It thus completes its second consecutive orbital mission after having spent 276 days in orbit.

“The success of the experiment marks an important advance in Chinese research on reusable space vehicles, which will provide more practical and economical methods of using space peacefully,” explains the press release spotted by

The wording suggests that the craft has achieved all of its goals. But unfortunately, it is more or less impossible to determine what the purpose of this mission was. The agency never revealed exactly what kind of system it intended to test with this device. And she was just as discreet about her return.

Image above: China’s spaceplane launched from the Jiuquan Launch Center aboard a Long March 2F rocket in August 2022. Photo Credit: LIU HUAIYU (AP).

Paradoxically, this relative discretion generated a certain feverishness, particularly on the side of the United States. Uncle Sam closely follows China's every move in the context of their political and economic rivalry, and several American institutions have therefore tracked the device.

The army notably estimated that the one which vaguely resembles the Boeing X-37, was flying at an average altitude of 600 km. He took advantage of his stay to perform a lot of various and varied orbital maneuvers.

The US Army also observed that the craft had released an object of unknown nature into orbit on October 31. It could be a small cubesat serving a science program. But given that he remained close to the plane for most of the flight, it is more likely that he was involved in testing some main vehicle systems.

The embodiment of Chinese aerospace progress

Impossible to know more in the absence of official confirmation. The only point that seems clear is that it is a test vehicle that must contribute to the development of a new generation of reusable ships.

This is an eminently important point in modern aerospace. Indeed, this approach standardized by SpaceX makes it possible to achieve substantial savings in time, resources and money. Most major operators are in the process of conforming to this new paradigm, which is now essential to be part of the global elite of aerospace.

Until very recently, the American contingent exercised unchallenged domination at this level thanks to Elon Musk's firm. But at the moment, China is also progressing more and more rapidly in this segment.

Since the inaugural flight of the CQQHQ, the very first Chinese reusable launcher prototype which saw the light of day in 2020, Xi Jinping's country has notably acquired a new reusable version of its Long March 8 Y2 rocket. These efforts also concern the private sector. Lots of young Chinese shoots are actively contributing to this new space race. And that's probably just the beginning.

It will therefore be interesting to observe the evolution of this still mysterious machine. Within a few years, it will likely play a significant role in China's orbital logistics. It could, for example, facilitate the deployment of satellite constellations or the sending of equipment to Tiangong, its brand new space station.

Tiangong, the Chinese space station. Image Credit: CNSA

On a larger scale, it will also be necessary to remain attentive to the fallout from this space showdown between superpowers. Knowing the strategic, political and economic stakes of this industry, it seems obvious today that this theme will condition an increasingly important part of international relations. Let us therefore hope that Europe will also be able to put forward its arguments, even if the Old Continent is currently lagging considerably behind.

China’s spaceplane conducted proximity and capture maneuvers with subsatellite, data suggests

China’s secretive spaceplane may have performed multiple recaptures of an object it released into orbit during its recently completed second flight as part of on-orbit testing.

Private firm Leolabs, which provides space situational awareness data through its global network of radars for tracking objects in low Earth orbit, said its analysis found evidence of what appeared to be at least two and possibly three capture/docking operations with a co-orbiting object.

Image above: Maneuvers of China's spaceplane and companion subsatellite in November 2022, tracked by Leolabs. Image Credit: Leolabs.

U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron tracking data revealed an object in a closely-matching orbit to the spaceplane Oct. 31, 2022 (NORAD ID 54218 (2022-093J COSPAR ID)).

This companion subsatellite was then used in a series of rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) with the spacecraft, according to Leolabs.

“Analyzing data from our global radar network, we’ve determined that the Test Spacecraft2 has propulsive capability and engaged in proximity operations with Object J, including what appeared to be at least two and possibly three capture/docking operations,” a Leolabs statement said.

Leolabs’ assessment of on-orbit activities highlights three periods of RPO. One period, between Nov. 25 and Dec. 24 last year, shows that the two spacecraft were either docked or spaced very closely, with a possible docking performed on Nov. 25 or 26. A second docking was noted as taking place Jan. 10, 2023, in a second phase of operations.

A later phase, between Feb. 20 and March 29, was similar to the previous and “featured what appeared to be apparent forced separation, followed by rendezvous and formation flying. 54218 [companion satellite] was once again observed to maneuver independently of the parent craft.”

Leolabs notes that, on a minimum of five occasions, the companion satellite demonstrated what appeared to be independent propulsive capabilities.

Leolabs on Twitter

The spaceplane’s operations will likely gain attention outside of China, particularly with regards to docking and capture operations and the possible uses of such capabilities.

“Based on what we do know, it seems like the Chinese and American spaceplane programs are being used in very similar fashions – primarily as testbeds for new technologies and capability demonstrations. It’s hard to tell for sure what technologies or capabilities exactly, as both governments are pretty secretive about the details,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, told SpaceNews via email.

“What I find fascinating is the perceptions surrounding each program. When the X-37B started flying, it generated a lot of concern from the Chinese about the potential for it to be used as a weapon, a concern they’ve mentioned in recent multilateral discussions on space security.

“Likewise, I expect that these latest reports on the Chinese spaceplane are likely to cause a lot of concern in the US, despite it being pretty similar to capabilities the U.S. is also developing.”

A statement from the spaceplane’s maker, CASC, released after the May 10 landing claimed that the project “will provide a more convenient and inexpensive way to access space for the peaceful use of space in the future.”

“We know the X-37B has also deployed several subsatellites on previous missions, but there isn’t the public tracking data to be able to tell if it did RPOs or not,” Weeden wrote.

The spacecraft landed at Lop Nur military base in Xinjiang  May 8. Leolabs states that their observation data indicated the landing window to be likely between 0018 and 0020 UTC.

CASC’s reusable spaceplane project last year acquired national level funding from the Natural Science Foundation of China.

Leolabs previously highlighted that the spaceplane made a large change to its orbit in April, likely in preparation for the spacecraft to land. The mission was used by the company to test its capabilities.

“This event tested LeoLabs object tracking and maneuver detection and characterization capabilities, proving that we can provide critical intelligence on the behaviors and activities of HIOs thanks to our continuous, real-time operations,” Leolabs said in a statement.

Related articles:

China’s mystery spaceplane releases object into orbit

China makes progress in reusability with secretive third flight of spaceplane

2nd launch of China Reusable Experimental Spacecraft

China’s Reusable Experimental Spacecraft

Related links:

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC):

Natural Science Foundation of China:


Images, Text, Credits: CASC/AP/Leolabs/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.