samedi 5 mars 2011

Cargo Transfers and Maintenance for Shuttle and Station Crews Today












NASA - STS-133 Mission patch.

Sat, 05 Mar 2011

The crews of space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station awoke at 3:24 a.m. EST to the song “(Ohio) Come Back to Texas” by Bowling for Soup for the entire crew from their families.

STS-133 & Expedition 26 crew posing

Today, the crew will spend much of its time offloading the Permanent Multipurpose Module and filling the H-II Transfer Vehicle with items no longer needed aboard the station. They also will perform maintenance on the Oxygen Generation Assembly and the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly.

 STS-133 Mission Specialist Michael Barratt works aboard the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA TV

During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crew members will take important spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4.

video
STS-133 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 9
 
Steve Bowen replaced Tim Kopra as Mission Specialist 2 following a bicycle injury on Jan. 15 that prohibited Kopra from supporting the launch window. Bowen last flew on Atlantis in May 2010 as part of the STS-132 crew. Flying on the STS-133 mission will make Bowen the first astronaut ever to fly on consecutive missions.

- STS-133 Crew: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts133/index.html

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / NASA TV / MCC.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

NASA Develops Light Microscope For International Space Station












ISS - International Space Station patch.

March 05, 2011

NASA began testing a new multi-capability microscope this week on the International Space Station. It will help scientists study the effects of the space environment on physics and biology aboard the orbiting laboratory. The microscope is isolated from vibrations on the station, allowing it to obtain clear, high-resolution images. Using high-resolution magnification, scientists can examine microorganisms and individual cells of plants and animals, including humans.

 LMM description

The microscope will allow real-time study of the effects of the space environment without the need to return samples to Earth. Any living specimens returned to Earth must endure the effects of re-entry through the atmosphere. The ability to use the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) on station will enable scientists to study data unaffected by re-entry.

"We really need to maximize life science investigations conducted on the International Space Station," said Jacob Cohen, principal investigator of the technology demonstration and a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "It's really amazing to be able to remotely manage, optimize and troubleshoot experiments observed with a microscope in space without the need to return the samples back to Earth. This microscope is helping fulfill the vision of a true laboratory in space."

Mouse tissue slide

The biological samples for the LMM launched on space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission on Feb. 24. They include eight fixed slides containing yeast; bacteria; a leaf; a fly; a butterfly wing; tissue sections and blood; six containers of live C. elegans worms, an organism biologists commonly study; a typed letter "r" and a piece of fluorescent plastic. The wing is from a previous study, Butterflies in Space, involving students from around the country, and flown on STS-129 in 2009. Some of the worms are descendants of those that survived the space shuttle Columbia (STS-107) accident; and others are modified to fluoresce. Scientists commonly attach green, yellow and red florescent proteins to study gene expression.

"Operating the LMM on the space station has been a goal of NASA's Life and Physical Sciences Program for many years," said Ron Sicker, LMM project manager at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "Scientists and engineers at Glenn modified the commercial microscope in the LMM with 23 micro motors and cameras to allow remote control operations."

video
C. Elegans (worms) on LMM microscope

Cohen and Sicker expect the LMM to perform the same as a microscope on Earth. In the future, the microscope could be used to assist in maintenance of station crew health, advance our knowledge of the effects of space on biology and contribute to the development of applications for space exploration and on Earth. This technology demonstration was developed by Ames and Glenn, which developed and manages the LMM. The Advanced Capabilities Division in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, funds the project.

"This is a facility to support research in both physical and life sciences by NASA-funded and National Laboratory users," said Julie Robinson, International Space Station Program scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It gives us a capability not available before that allows more types of research to be done."

For more information about the Light Microscopy Module, visit: http://issresearchproject.grc.nasa.gov/Investigations/LMM

To see samples of the slides, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/news/pressrel/2011/11-012_addm.html

For more information about the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station

For more information about NASA's Ames Research Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ames

For more information about NASA's Glenn Research Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/glenn

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / LMM / Ames / GRC.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

vendredi 4 mars 2011

NASA Astronaut Garrett Reisman Leaves Agency











NASA logo.

March 04, 2011

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman has left the agency to return to private industry. Reisman is a veteran of two spaceflight missions, including a long-duration mission on the International Space Station.

"I had the pleasure of working with Garrett in space during Expedition 16," said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "He is an incredibly accomplished professional and well-known for his great sense of humor. We wish him the best in this new phase of his career, but we will miss him greatly."

Astronaut Garrett Reisman

Reisman, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering, joined NASA in 1998. Before flying in space, he served in multiple technical roles including work supporting robotics and the advanced vehicles branch of the Astronaut Office.

Reisman's first spaceflight mission was as flight engineer during Expeditions 16 and 17 on the station in 2008. During his three months aboard, he performed a seven-hour spacewalk, conducted numerous robotics activities and participated in the installation of the Japanese Kibo laboratory and its logistics module.

Reisman visited the station again during his second spaceflight, STS-132 in May 2010. He conducted two additional spacewalks during the mission, logging 14 more hours outside.

For Reisman's biography, visit: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/reisman.html

Images, Text, Credit: NASA.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA'S Glory Satellite Fails To Reach Orbit












NASA - Glory Mission patch.

March 4, 2011

NASA's Glory spacecraft launched aboard a Taurus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Friday at 5:09:45 a.m. EST failed to reach orbit.

Taurus XL rocket, ready for launch

Telemetry indicated the fairing, the protective shell atop the Taurus XL rocket, did not separate as expected about three minutes after launch.


Image above: The Taurus XL rocket launches from Space Launch Complex 576-E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Image credit: NASA TV.

A press briefing to discuss the Glory launch failure is planned at Vandenberg for approximately 8:00 a.m. EST. NASA TV will carry the press conference live.

The new Earth-observing satellite was intended to improve our understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate.

video
Taurus XL Launch
 
Project management for Glory is the responsibility of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The launch management for the mission is the responsibility of NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is the launch service provider to Kennedy of the four-stage Taurus XL rocket and is also builder of the Glory satellite for Goddard.

NASA TV: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

Images, Video, Text, Credits: NASA / Goddard.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

The scars of impacts on Mars












ESA - Mars Express Mission patch.

4 March 2011

 Elongated crater on Mars

ESA’s Mars Express has returned new images of an elongated impact crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars. Located just south of the Huygens basin, it could have been carved out by a train of projectiles striking the planet at a shallow angle.

The large Huygens basin (not visible in the main image but seen in the wider contextual image) is about 450 km in diameter and lies in the heavily cratered southern highlands. In this area there are many impact scars but none perhaps are more intriguing than the ‘elongated craters’.

 Elongated crater, south of Huygens crater

One of these craters is seen in this new image, which covers an area of 133 x 53 km at 21°S / 55°E. The scene was captured on 4 August 2010 and the smallest objects distinguishable by the camera are about 15 m across.

This unnamed elongated crater sits just to the south of the much larger Huygens basin. It is about 78 km in length, opens from just under 10 km wide at one end to 25 km at the other, and reaches a depth of 2 km.

Features in the elongated crater

Impact craters are generally round because the projectiles that create them push into the ground before the shockwave of the impact can explode outwards. So why is this one elongated?

The clue comes from the surrounding blanket of material, thrown out in the initial impact. This ‘ejecta blanket’ is shaped like a butterfly’s wings, with two distinct lobes. This hints that two projectiles, possibly halves of a once-intact body, slammed into the surface here.

Elevation of the elongated crater

In the crater itself, there are three deeper areas that could be evidence for more than two projectiles. In addition, a second elongated crater lies to the north-northwest. It can be seen in the wider contextual image and is in line with the one seen here, reinforcing the notion that these structures were the result of a train of projectiles.

Elongated crater in high resolution

In the early 1980s, scientists proposed that elongated impact craters were formed by incoming chains of orbital debris following trajectories that decayed with time. As the debris spiralled downwards, it eventually struck the planet at shallow angles, gouging out the elongated craters.

Perspective view of elongated crater

This particular ejecta blanket contains many smaller craters, indicating that the original formed a relatively long time ago and then itself become a target.

Perspective view of elongated crater

In addition, there are several small channels on the blanket, suggesting that the strike took place into a surface rich in volatiles, perhaps even water, that were melted by the heat of impact and flowed away.

Perspective view of elongated crater

Below the eastern crater rim are two well-formed and relatively deep craters. They have punched through the ejecta blanket and so must have appeared after the formation of the large crater. Despite their sizes of 4 km and 5 km, these smaller craters show no indication of the presence of water.

Perspective view of elongated crater

To the north there is another crater that must be older because the butterfly-ejecta blanket has partially flowed into it.

Several landslides have modified the steep crater rim. This can be most clearly seen on the two smaller craters on the rim, which are only partially preserved, parts of them having fallen away.

The formation of these elongated features is not over: the martian moon Phobos will plough into the planet in a few tens of millions of years, breaking up in the process, and likely creating new chains across the surface.

Elongated crater in 3D

Related links:

High Resolution Stereo Camera: http://berlinadmin.dlr.de/Missions/express/indexeng.shtml

Behind the lens: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars_Express/SEMSXE1PGQD_0.html

Frequently asked questions: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars_Express/SEM76D9OY2F_0.html

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / NASA MGS MOLA Science Team.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

jeudi 3 mars 2011

Spitzer Captures Infrared Rays From a Sunflower






NASA - SPITZER Space Telescope logo.

03.03.11

The various spiral arm segments of the Sunflower galaxy, also known as Messier 63, show up vividly in this image taken in infrared light by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Infrared light is sensitive to the dust lanes in spiral galaxies, which appear dark in visible-light images. Spitzer's view reveals complex structures that trace the galaxy's spiral arm pattern.


 This view of the Sunflower galaxy highlights a variety of infrared wavelengths captured by Spitzer. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Messier 63 lies 37 million-light years away -- not far from the well-known Whirlpool galaxy and the associated Messier 51 group of galaxies.

The dust, glowing red in this image, can be traced all the way down into the galaxy's nucleus, forming a ring around the densest region of stars at its center.


This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows infrared light from the Sunflower galaxy, otherwise known as Messier 63. Spitzer's view highlights the galaxy's dusty spiral arms. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

The short, diagonal line seen on the lower right side of the galaxy's disk is actually a much more distant galaxy, oriented with its edge facing toward us.

Blue shows infrared light with wavelengths of 3.6 microns, green represents 4.5-micron light, and red, 8.0-micron light. The contribution from starlight measured at 3.6 microns has been subtracted from the 8.0-micron image to enhance the visibility of the dust features.

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA / Whitney Clavin, JPL.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

STS-133 Mission, second spacewalk accomplished












NASA - STS-133 Mission patch.

03.03.2011

Discovery astronauts wrapped up a six-hour, 14-minute spacewalk Wednesday, draining ammonia from an 800-pound pump module, working with the Canadian robotic device Dextre and completing a variety of other tasks.


Image above: Mission Specialist Steve Bowen works outside the International Space Station during the second STS-133 spacewalk. Image credit: NASA TV.

The spacewalkers, Mission Specialists Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew, spent most of their time outside working separately. The start of the spacewalk, which began when the crew members switched their spacesuits to battery power at 9:42 a.m. CST, had been delayed 24 minutes to replace an O-ring on the lithium hydroxide canister of Bowen’s suit to fix a minor leak.

Bowen began by setting up the station’s Canadarm2, operated by Mission Specialist Michael Barratt and station Commander Scott Kelly. He moved on to retrieve a lightweight adapter plate assembly, an experiment holder, from the outer end of the Columbus module and installed it in Discovery’s cargo bay for return to Earth.


Image above: Spacewalkers Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew worked outside for more than six hours on Wednesday, performing maintenance on the International Space Station, including venting ammonia from a failed pump module.

Drew started with the relocated pump module for the station’s external ammonia cooling system, using a device he had installed on Monday’s spacewalk to vent the remaining coolant from the pump. He subsequently removed the device for return to the airlock.

Coaching the spacewalkers was Mission Specialist Nicole Stott inside the station. Astronaut Tim Kopra, who had been scheduled to be one of the spacewalkers but was hurt in a bicycle accident weeks before launch, also helped advise the crew from the station flight control room.

Bowen spent about an hour working on Dextre, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, installing a camera light pan and tilt assembly and removing some insulation. Meanwhile, Drew removed and jettisoned insulation and repositioned a slipped sunshade on a nearby camera. He then installed a light on one of the small handcars, a crew and equipment translation aid. The astronauts use the carts, mounted on the station’s truss rails, to move objects.

After doing some cleanup, Bowen installed a camera lens cover on the arm’s elbow and relocated a foot restraint and a Russian cargo arm adapter. Drew moved on to the port truss to repair insulation on a radiator beam valve module. He also secured a grapple fixture stowage beam.

Flight day 7 highlights

Near the end of the spacewalk, Drew’s helmet light set came loose from his suit. Attempts by Bowen to reinstall it were unsuccessful so they attached a tether to take it back to the airlock.

This was the final STS-133 spacewalk, the 244th by U.S. astronauts. It was the seventh for Bowen totaling 47 hours, 18 minutes, and places him sixth on the all-time list of most time spent by U.S. spacewalking astronauts. It was the second spacewalk for Drew, who now has a total of 12 hours, 48 minutes. It was the 155th spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance, totaling 973 hours, 53 minutes, which is the equivalent of 40 full days of spacewalking.

Additional STS-133 Resources:

- Discovery's Career in Photos: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/flyout/multimedia/discovery/gallery-index.html

- Discovery Retrospective: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/flyout/multimedia/discovery/gallery-index.html

Images, Text, Video, Credit: NASA / NASA TV on Youtube.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

mercredi 2 mars 2011

Russia Moves Beyond Near-Earth Orbit












ROSCOSMOS logo.

03.03.2011

In time for the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic first flight to space, Russian space scientists have prepared three programs to explore our solar system for the period until 2050.

Although differing in scale and costs, all of the proposed scenarios reach beyond the near-Earth orbit to the far cosmos. Chief of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency Anatoly Perminov unveils some details:

"The programs envisage flights to the Moon in the middle of the 2020s, the creation of Moon-based research laboratories in the 30s and first exploratory missions to Mars by the beginning of the 40s. The proposals are now being scrutinized. The ultimate choice will, of course, be determined by the government’s financial abilities. In my opinion, most of those projects could be implemented in cooperation with other countries. Take the Moon, for example. Lunar research and the creation of human settlements on the Moon could involve countries that are currently working on the International Space Station. This would minimize our expenses and would also make it possible to take rocket and space hardware from countries which are the best at making them, for instance, heavy carrier rockets from the Americans and manned spacecraft and descent modules from Russia."

Human settlements on the Moon

Russia is looking into the possibility of creating a nuclear-powered transport and energy module having no analogues in the world and offering certain advantages in terms of space exploration. Anatoly Perminov:

"We have teamed up with [the state nuclear energy corporation] Rosatom to design and build such transport and energy units for an interplanetary flight, for the far space, for the exploration of such planets as Mars. The existing engines propelled by solid or liquid fuel will make an interplanetary flight too long, which is not safe for man. Here, flight duration could be shortened by dozens of times. Yet it does pose another challenge – we will need a radiation shield. We are going through all those issues."

Artist's concept of nuclear powered spacraft

The latter project is deemed as highly promising and has riveted the attention of other countries. Anatoly Perminov said that it too could be brought to life through international efforts. Russia is in turn ready to join space hotel construction planned by the United States. Russian specialists would be glad to provide the necessary assistance to make those seemingly incredible projects more reliable.

A large group of NASA officials under the U.S. space agency’s Administrator Charles Bolden will come to Moscow in the middle of April with the joint exploration of the solar system expected to be high on the agenda. As Anatoly Perminov said, both sides have something to offer each other.

Images Credit: NASA, Text, Credit: Roscosmos PAO.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

NASA-Sponsored Research Explains Missing Sunspots












NASA - ESA SOHO Mission patch.

March 02, 2011

NASA-sponsored research has resulted in the first computer model that explains the recent period of decreased solar activity during the sun's 11-year cycle.

This recent solar minimum, a period characterized by a lower frequency of sunspots and solar storms, was the deepest observed in almost 100 years. The solar minimum has repercussions on the safety of space travel and the amount of orbital debris our planet accumulates.


Image above: In this artistic cutaway view of the sun, the Great Conveyor Belt appears as a set of black loops connecting the stellar surface to the interior. Credit: Andrés Muñoz-Jaramillo of the Harvard CfA.

Solar scientists around the world were puzzled by the extended disappearance of sunspots in 2008-2009. Results published in Thursday's edition of Nature indicate the mystery may be solved.

"Plasma currents deep inside the sun interfered with the formation of sunspots and prolonged the solar minimum," says lead author Dibyendu Nandi of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata.

During this deep solar minimum, the sun's magnetic field weakened, allowing cosmic rays to penetrate the solar system in record numbers, making space a more dangerous place to travel. At the same time, the decrease in ultraviolet radiation caused Earth's upper atmosphere to cool and collapse.


Image above: Sunspot cycles over the last century. The blue curve shows the cyclic variation in the number of sunspots. Red bars show the cumulative number of sunspot-less days. The minimum of sunspot cycle 23 was the longest in the space age with the largest number of spotless days. Credit: Dibyendu Nandi et al.

As a consequence space debris stopped decaying and started accumulating in Earth orbit due to increased atmospheric drag. These effects demonstrate the importance of understanding the entire solar cycle, during both minimum and maximum.

Observations from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will eventually provide measurements that could validate the current model and provide the basis for future solar cycle prediction.


Image above: Three years ago on March 2, 2008, the face of the sun was featureless--no sunspots. Credit: SOHO / MDI.

"This research demonstrates how observations from Heliophysics System Observatory missions stimulate new theories and advance modeling techniques," said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

This research was funded by NASA's Living With a Star Program and the Department of Science and Technology of the government of India.

For more information about the research, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/sunearth 

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/home/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

ESO - The Dusty Disc of NGC 247












ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

2 March 2011

Wide Field Imager view of the spiral galaxy NGC 247

This image of NGC 247, taken by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, reveals the fine details of this highly inclined spiral galaxy and its rich backdrop. Astronomers say this highly tilted orientation, when viewed from Earth, explains why the distance to this prominent galaxy was previously overestimated.

The spiral galaxy NGC 247 is one of the closest spiral galaxies of the southern sky. In this new view from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope in Chile large numbers of the galaxy’s component stars are clearly resolved and many glowing pink clouds of hydrogen, marking regions of active star formation, can be made out in the loose and ragged spiral arms.

NGC 247 in the constellation of Cetus

NGC 247 is part of the Sculptor Group, a collection of galaxies associated with the Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253, also shown in eso0902 and eso1025). This is the nearest group of galaxies to our Local Group, which includes the Milky Way, but putting a precise value on such celestial distances is inherently difficult.

To measure the distance from the Earth to a nearby galaxy, astronomers have to rely on a type of variable star called a Cepheid to act as a distance marker. Cepheids are very luminous stars, whose brightness varies at regular intervals. The time taken for the star to brighten and fade can be plugged into a simple mathematical relation that gives its intrinsic brightness. When compared with the measured brightness this gives the distance. However, this method isn’t foolproof, as astronomers think this period–luminosity relationship depends on the composition of the Cepheid.

Wide-field view of the sky around NGC 247

Another problem arises from the fact that some of the light from a Cepheid may be absorbed by dust en route to Earth, making it appear fainter, and therefore further away than it really is. This is a particular problem for NGC 247 with its highly inclined orientation, as the line of sight to the Cepheids passes through the galaxy’s dusty disc.

However, a team of astronomers is currently looking into the factors that influence these celestial distance markers in a study called the Araucaria Project [1]. The team has already reported that NGC 247 is more than a million light-years closer to the Milky Way than was previously thought, bringing its distance down to just over 11 million light-years.

video
ESO - Zooming in on the spiral galaxy NGC 247

Apart from the main galaxy itself, this view also reveals numerous galaxies shining far beyond NGC 247. In the upper right of the picture three prominent spirals form a line and still further out, far behind them, many more galaxies can be seen, some shining right through the disc of NGC 247.

video
ESO - Panning across the spiral galaxy NGC 247
 
This colour image was created from a large number of monochrome exposures taken through blue, yellow/green and red filters taken over many years. In addition exposures through a filter that isolates the glow from hydrogen gas have also been included and coloured red. The total exposure times per filter were 20 hours, 19 hours, 25 minutes and 35 minutes, respectively.

Notes:

[1] The Araucaria Project is a collaboration between astronomers from institutions in Chile, the United States and Europe. ESO’s Very Large Telescope provided data for the project.
More information

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and VISTA, the world’s largest survey telescope. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Links:

    * Araucaria Project: https://sites.google.com/site/araucariaproject/

    * Research paper: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2009ApJ...700.1141G

Images, Text, Credits: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope / Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin / Videos: ESO / A. Fujii / Digitized Sky Survey 2. Music: John Dyson (from the album Moonwind).

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

EGNOS navigation system begins serving Europe’s aircraft









ESA - EGNOS logo labeled.

2 March 2011

Today, the EGNOS Safety-of-Life signal was formally declared available to aviation. For the first time, space-based navigation signals have become officially usable for the critical task of vertically guiding aircraft during landing approaches.

By using three satellites and a 40-strong network of ground stations, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System (EGNOS) sharpens the accuracy of GPS satnav signals across Europe.

The signals are guaranteed to the extremely high reliability set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation standard, adapted for Europe by Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation.

EGNOS-guided aircraft on approach

The EGNOS Open Service was launched in October 2009, for navigation applications where the safety of human life is not at stake, such as personal navigation, goods tracking and precision farming.

Today, following an arduous certification and verification process, the EGNOS Safety-of-Life Service has been declared operational, and suitable for use by European aviation.

“We are very proud of the large effort ESA put into EGNOS, and very pleased that it can now be used for the purpose it was initially designed for,” said Philippe Michel, head of ESA’s EGNOS project team.

“Through EGNOS, satellite navigation guidance is being made available for the first time in the vertical as well as horizontal domain,” explained Francisco Salabert of Eurocontrol.

EGNOS sharpens GPS accuracy over Europe

“EGNOS offers the aviation industry the means to provide accurate and safe vertically guided approaches to smaller airports where a conventional precision landing system is not today economically viable.

“Its introduction will reduce delays, diversions and cancellations of flights into and out of these airfields while improving passenger safety.”

In order to use EGNOS for approaches, Air Navigation Service Providers must publish runway procedures and aircraft and operators have to be equipped with certified receivers and be approved for operations.

EGNOS-equipped aircraft cockpit

“Eurocontrol is coordinating EGNOS’s operational introduction across Europe,” Mr Salabert added. “Runway procedures have already been designed for various airports and heliports, with more on the way.

“On the airline side, we are encouraging early adaptors – called EGNOS pioneers.”

After six years in operation, the ‘WAAS’ US equivalent to EGNOS, is being used by more than 40 000 aircraft and more than 2000 procedures have been published.

Some 15 years in the making, EGNOS is the result of a tripartite agreement between ESA, the European Commission (EC) and Eurocontrol.

As initial EGNOS programme manager, ESA designed, qualified and procured the system from a consortium led by Thales Alenia Space France. Overall programme management passed to the EC in 2009. The system's day-to-day running is overseen by the Toulouse-based European Satellite Service Provider (ESSP).

Meeting the aviation industry’s demanding safety requirements, set by Eurocontrol, posed the real challenge for EGNOS’s Safety-of-Life service.

ESA produced much of the technical documentation needed for formal safety certification, while Eurocontrol performed independent monitoring of EGNOS performance.

The final system comes with an extremely high degree of integrity built in. The EGNOS signal is guaranteed to maintain a minimum level of accuracy, with just a one in 10 million chance of error.

If this reliability falls below this level then EGNOS users are alerted within six seconds.

ESA is now acting as the design and procurement agent on behalf of the EC for all major EGNOS system changes throughout its operational lifetime, as well as preparing for the next-generation EGNOS, expected around 2020.

Related links:

Eurocontrol: http://www.eurocontrol.int/

European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP): http://www.essp-sas.eu/

EGNOS: http://www.esa.int/esaNA/egnos.html

Images, Text, Credits: ESA / Eurocontrol.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

mardi 1 mars 2011

STS-133 flight day 5 highlights, first spacewalk












NASA - STS-133 Mission patch.

02.28.11

Discovery spacewalkers wrapped up a six-hour, 34-minute spacewalk Monday, moving a failed 800-pound ammonia pump module, installing an extension cable and extending the rail track along the station’s main truss.

Mission Specialists Steve Bowen and Al Drew also moved a pump module vent tool, installed a camera wedge, relocated a tool stanchion and worked with a Japanese project to bring a bit of space back to Earth.

A Good Day for a Spacewalk

After the spacewalk, spacecraft communicator Stanley Love radioed the joint crew that mission managers have approved an extra day for the shuttle mission to set up the new Permanent Multipurpose Module that will be installed on the Unity module’s Earth-facing port tomorrow. The International Space Station mission management team is expected to make a decision Tuesday about a proposed Soyuz fly-about later in the mission.

Mission Specialist Nicole Stott helped coach the spacewalkers from inside the station, while Mission Specialist Michael Barratt and station Commander Scott Kelly operated the station’s Canadarm2 for the spacewalk. Astronaut Tim Kopra, who had been scheduled to be one of the spacewalkers himself before being hurt in a bicycle accident weeks before launch, joined Love on console in the station flight control room.

The excursion began at 9:46 a.m. CST when the spacewalkers switched their suits to battery power. The first task was to install the extension cable between the Unity and Tranquility nodes. That included work in an area that will be inaccessible after the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module is in place.


Video above: The first EVA of STS-133 was completed on Flight Day 5 by astronauts Steve Bowen and Al Drew. The two installed equipment on numerous positions outside the International Space Station.

Drew then retrieved a tool to be used on Wednesday’s spacewalk to remove ammonia from the failed pump. Bowen installed a foot restraint on the station arm to get ready for the module’s move from the arm’s mobile base to a more permanent position on an external stowage platform near the airlock. The work was delayed slightly by a problem with the robotic arm controls in the cupola, but Barratt and Kelly moved to a duplicate control center in the Destiny Laboratory to complete their work with Canadarm2.

The astronauts then removed tether and cart stoppers along the railway of the mobile transporter, and lengthened the track with an extension on each rail.

Near the end of the spacewalk both astronauts worked with the Japanese “Message in a Bottle.” They opened a metal canister, autographed by astronauts, to capture a bit of the vacuum of space, then sealed it. The canister will return on Discovery for display.

The spacewalk was the sixth for Bowen and the first for Drew. On leaving the airlock, Drew became the 200th human to walk in space.

Inside the shuttle and station, transfer of equipment continued between the docked spacecraft. The extra day will allow more time to transfer supplies and leave the station in the best possible posture.

Eventually, Robonaut 2 will be able to perform EVAs (spacewalks)

With the one-day extension in place, the winners of the "Top 40 Song Contest" now are set to be played early next week. On Monday, March 7, the "Theme from Star Trek," which finished second in the contest, will serve as a wake-up song for the shuttle crew. On Tuesday, March 8, "Blue Sky" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters will be played as the most requested song to wake up shuttle Discovery's crew.

For the planned wakeup times, reference the mission television schedule: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttletv

For daily STS-133 mission recap videos, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/video


Images, Video, Text, Credit: NASA / MCC / NASA TV on Youtube.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Greetings from Mars!









ESA / ROSCOSMOS Mars500 Mission patch.

1 March 2011

Now that the Mars500 crew has been united, when the Marswalkers, 'returned' from the surface of the Red Planet to join the 'orbital' trio, Diego has again had time to send his thoughts. This diary was written on 21 February, before the last egress to the simulated martian surface.

The last few weeks have been truly exciting. As you probably know, Wang, Aleksandr and I, transferred to the landing module, have been living in further isolation, in a reduced room (about 50 cubic metres) for a couple of weeks, in order to represent the landing on Mars.

In spite of it not being the real Red Planet, it did mean so much in our 'microcosmos' that I think that even if it wasn't exactly the same emotion someone would feel on Mars, it did come quite close, at least for me.

Diego Urbina used during the 'Marswalk' tools that were designed originally for the Russian manned Lunar missions in 1960's and 1970's

After transferring, we initiated the operations that a crew would need to do on Mars. We used a software called 'Virtu' that simulates several environments and situations. One of the scenarios was this: imagine a pressurized rover that we had to drive from our base to the (purposely hidden and difficult to reach) landing place of a probe that had been sent to Mars before the manned mission. It was quite tricky, especially when coming back to the base, when a sandstorm and drained batteries made our road tougher.

The same software allowed us to play a marsonaut, stranded on Mars, who suddenly faced a meteorite shower that obliged him to seek refuge in a cave. I am not 100% sure you will need to run frequently from meteorites on Mars to save your life, but caves are certainly excellent places to escape from the more common threat of a peak in solar activity, from which the Martian atmosphere and lack of magnetic field do not shield you as well as on Earth! For this task we wore a virtual reality helmet, to make it more realistic.

Screen capture from 'Virtu' simulation software

We also drove two different rovers in this sort of 'advanced' video game. With the rovers, we obtained samples from the ground and got them to the base, often accompanied by several duties at the same time (listening to the radio signal, classifying information, etc) that challenged our multi-tasking capabilities. We often wore, as usual, a bunch of electrodes that recorded our bodies’ reaction to these all these simulations.

The 'games' were cool, yes, but obviously what everyone was looking forward to, was the REAL Extravehicular Activity (EVA) – or a Marswalk.

EVAs on orbit can be incredibly challenging, you are packed in a spacesuit that is pressurized, so it doesn't allow you to move easily. Here the EVAs were on the ground, where to that difficulty you can add gravity, that is, having to carry this rather heavy suit on you. Astronauts on the moon moved somewhat more easily, because the gravity there is very low. On Mars it is about 38% that of the Earth, and that is still quite a bit for our current suit technology.

Ready for the first 'Marswalk'!

The engineers at the Russian suit manufacturer removed some of the weight of these spacesuits, that can weigh about 100 kilos, and they ended up weighing 35 kilos. This would be their weight if astronauts wear on them on Mars.

The spacesuits were fantastic, after 8 months of not having used them, we could still remember how to work with them. Like riding a bike!

In the first EVA, Sasha (Aleksandr) and I, went out and used a set of tools that were made for the (sadly ill-fated) Soviet Lunar programme. I am talking here about the real tools! It was such an honour.

Following 'Marswalk' in 'orbit'

When Wang said "you are GO for EVA", that was the moment I had been anticipating for months. We picked samples of soil and stones from the ground , helped by Wang on the radio. Of course, not before having planted the ESA, Russian and Chinese flags. Whether you lived it or saw this scene from the outside, you couldn't avoid thinking of the first steps on the Moon, and this time there was in the environment some sort of cosmic projection of the moment, into the future. It felt very inspiring. I could say, beyond a simple simulation.

Besides the ample space of that room (keep in mind we had been living in small modules for several months) what also had an impact on me was the loneliness of the place. It was only us in there, working with, and listening to the only 2 people in the Universe that could communicate live with us. This contrasted a lot with the pictures and videos we got later of lots of people witnessing the EVAs in huge screens at the Mir station control Room in Mission Control Centre in Moscow.

It's not a picnic table!

After this first EVA that impressed so much our senses, came the second EVA, when Sasha and Wang ventured as well into this very big room that represented the surface of the Gusev Crater on Mars. I was on the radio, helping them out when they needed. Communication over the radio is not easy either in such a multicultural crew.

I came to realize it is not rare for us to rely on hand language and facial expressions to fill some of our 'linguistic differences', which is of course impossible or very difficult with a spacesuit. Therefore I am very proud that in the end we managed to communicate almost flawlessly during all the EVAs thanks to the hard work pre-EVA: we spent long nights before each EVA to make sure the 'choreography' would be well executed, we discussed the best order of the tasks among ourselves and with the ground, key words we all needed to know, and other matters as well in order to make it very efficient and as realistic as we could. The orbital crew also watched our runs, and especially Romain took careful note of absolutely every step in the EVAs and then made suggestions for the next ones.

- Diego

Related links:

Mars500: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars500/index.html

Mars500 quick facts: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars500/SEMGX9U889G_0.html

Mars500 crew: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars500/SEMO4BU889G_0.html

Credits: ESA / Diego Urbina / Roscosmos.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch