samedi 3 décembre 2016

Europe allocates € 1.4 billion to the ISS








ESA - International Crew patch.

Dec. 3, 2016

The European Space Agency will spend € 400 million on its plan to explore Mars

Europe will allocate a further € 1.4 billion to the continued operation of the ISS and to the ExoMars 2020 mission, its plan to explore the red planet, announced Friday in Lucerne ( Switzerland) the European Space Agency (ESA).


Image above: ISS photographed by an STS-130 crew member. Image Credits: NASA/STS-130.

For these two emblematic projects, the International Space Station (ISS) and the exploration of Mars, "this makes a budget of about 1.444 billion" euros, said, at a press conference broadcast online Jan Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency.

ESA will allocate more than 400 million euros to ExoMars 2020 and will spend about 1 billion to extend the operation of the ISS.

Conference in Lucerne

This announcement was made at the end of the ESA Ministerial Conference, which brought together on Thursday and Friday the heads of space affairs of the 22 Member States.


Image above: ESA Council meeting at Ministerial Level, Lucerne, on 1 December 2016. Image Credits: ESA/Stephane Corvaja.

The ExoMars 2020 mission involves sending a mobile robot to the red planet, with the burden of drilling the Martian soil in search of traces of past life.

It was preceded by the ExoMars 2016 mission, which resulted in the successful launch of the TGO probe on 19 October, as well as the crash caused by a navigation software problem of the Schiaparelli test lander On the surface of Mars.

Extended use

The ministers also decided Friday to continue the operation of the international space station, a laboratory the size of a soccer field where the French astronaut Thomas Pesquet has just taken his quarters for the next six months.


Image above: Flying over Chile & Argentina, latitude: 67.55°/longitude: 60.35°, altitude: 418,66 Km/Speed: 27'564 Km/h. Image captured (by me) with Earth Cam from ISS - International Space Station (via ISS HD Live application) on December 3, 2016 at 15:28 (GMT + 1). Image Credits: ISS/Earth Cam/Roland Berga.

Europe thus joins the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada, which had already decided to extend the use of the station until 2024.

"Europe is giving itself the means to be really at the forefront (...) for the years that come when new competitors emerge and uncertainties," commented AFP Thierry Mandon, French State in charge of Higher Education and Research.

Related links:

European Ministers ready ESA for a united space in Europe in the era of space 4.0
http://www.esa.int/About_Us/Ministerial_Council_2016/European_ministers_ready_ESA_for_a_United_Space_in_Europe_in_the_era_of_Space_4.0

Ministerial Council 2016 in images: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/content/search?SearchText=cm16&img=1&SearchButton=Go

Media briefing replay: http://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Videos/2016/12/Ministerial_Council_media_briefing

Resolutions and main decisions: http://esamultimedia.esa.int/docs/corporate/For_Public_Release_CM-16_Resolutions_and_Decisions.pdf

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: AFP/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

vendredi 2 décembre 2016

Hubble Spotlight on Irregular Galaxy IC 3583












NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Dec. 2, 2016


This delicate blue group of stars — actually an irregular galaxy named IC 3583 — sits some 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin).

It may seem to have no discernable structure, but IC 3583 has been found to have a bar of stars running through its center. These structures are common throughout the Universe, and are found within the majority of spiral, many irregular, and some lenticular galaxies. Two of our closest cosmic neighbors, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, are barred, indicating that they may have once been barred spiral galaxies that were disrupted or torn apart by the gravitational pull of the Milky Way.

Researchers at the University of Leicester, England note there are two types of irregular galaxy. Type I's are usually single galaxies of peculiar appearance. They contain a large fraction of young stars, and show the luminous nebulae that are also visible in spiral galaxies. Type II irregulars include the group known as interacting or disrupting galaxies, in which the strange appearance is due to two or more galaxies colliding, merging or otherwise interacting gravitationally.

video
Hubble orbiting Earth

Something similar might be happening with IC 3583. This small galaxy is thought to be gravitationally interacting with one of its neighbors, the spiral Messier 90. Together, the duo form a pairing known as Arp 76. It’s still unclear whether these flirtations are the cause of IC 3583’s irregular appearance — but whatever the cause, the galaxy makes for a strikingly delicate sight in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, glimmering in the blackness of space.

For images and more information about Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/
http://www.nasa.gov/hubble
http://www.spacetelescope.org/

Image, Video, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA/Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/Karl Hille.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Space Gardener Shane Kimbrough Enjoys First of Multiple Harvests








NASA - Veggie Mission patch.

Dec. 2, 2016

For a mid-afternoon snack, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough cut some of the "Outredgeous" Red Romaine lettuce leaves he nurtured during the past month aboard the International Space Station as part of a gardening harvest technique termed “cut-and-come-again.”

Kimbrough initiated the most recent round of the Veggie experiment on Oct. 25, and for the first time in space, all six lettuce plants are growing simultaneously. Kimbrough has taken on the part-time role of on-orbit gardener, working virtually autonomously to cultivate the crops, although gardeners on the ground at Kennedy Space Center provided help in the beginning.


Image above: Charles Spern, a Veggie project engineer with the Engineering Services Contract, relays messages from the Kennedy Space Center Veggie team to assist the crew during the harvest. Image Credit: NASA.

“During their first week of life, the small seedlings were getting too much water,” said Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour. “This put the plants’ growth a bit behind schedule, but they recovered nicely after we instructed Kimbrough to use a fan to dry up some of the moisture.”

Cut-and-come-again is a repetitive harvest technique in which a selection of leaves can be harvested for a bit of fresh lettuce and possibly science samples. The remaining leaves and the core of the plant are left intact and will continue to grow and produce more leaves for subsequent harvests approximately every 10 days. The goal is to increase the on-orbit crop yield, as well as allow for more opportunities to supplement astronaut diets with fresh, nutritious food.

“Testing this method on-orbit, after using it on the ground, is very exciting for us,” said Dufour. “A repetitive harvest allows us to provide more food for both the crew and for science, so it’s a win-win. We are looking forward to hearing how Shane enjoys his first harvest!”


Image above: Six lettuce plants grow aboard the International Space Station as part of the Veg-03 experiment. At the rear of the chamber, a triangle plaque that crew members mounted this summer is visible. The plaque honors the memory and contributions of Thora Halstead and Ken Souza — both giants in the field of Space Biology, and reads: "Dedicated to the memory of space biology pioneers Thora Halstead and Ken Souza, for all they did to plant and nurture the seeds of biological research in space." Halstead conceived of and implemented the NASA Small Payload Program for Life Science through her innovative use of the mid-deck lockers in the space shuttle. She nurtured the program through its early years in the ‘80s and was a founding member of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), America’s premier society for space research in the life and physical sciences. Souza was also a founding member of ASGSR, and made numerous contributions to the field of Space Biology during his nearly 50 years with NASA. He was the principal investigator in the first demonstration of successful reproduction of a vertebrate animal (frogs) in space. Souza also had numerous programmatic contributions to the field of Space Biology during his tenure at both Ames Research Center and NASA Headquarters. Both Halstead’s and Souza’s early stewardship of a new science that became the discipline of space biology will continue to benefit future explorers on the journey to Mars. Image Credit: NASA.

Today’s harvest will be solely for crew consumption, and the plan is to have four harvests in total, with the final harvest targeted for the first of the new year. The yields from these harvests will be split between samples for science return and crew consumption.

This experiment also is an important demonstration of how NASA applies science across disciplines — in this case Space Biology to grow a healthy crop and Human Research to ensure astronauts remain healthy — to enable human space exploration. NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications division integrates and funds such research.

Related links:

Veggie experiment: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1294.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Anna Heiney.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

NASA’s AIM Observes Early Noctilucent Ice Clouds Over Antarctica










NASA - AIM Mission patch.

Dec. 2, 2016

Data from NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica is glowing electric blue due to the start of noctilucent, or night-shining, cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere – and an early one at that. Noctilucent clouds are Earth’s highest clouds, sandwiched between Earth and space 50 miles above the ground in a layer of the atmosphere called the mesosphere. Seeded by fine debris from disintegrating meteors, these clouds of ice crystals glow a bright, shocking blue when they reflect sunlight.


Animation above: Data from NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica is glowing electric blue due to the start of noctilucent, or night-shining, cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere. This data was collected from Nov. 17-28, 2016. Video Credits: NASA/HU/VT/CU-LASP/AIM/Joy Ng, producer.

AIM studies noctilucent clouds in order to better understand the mesosphere, and its connections to other parts of the atmosphere, weather and climate. We observe them seasonally, during summer in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. This is when the mesosphere is most humid, with water vapor wafting up from lower altitudes. Additionally, this is also when the mesosphere is the coldest place on Earth – dropping as low as minus 210 degrees Fahrenheit – due to seasonal air flow patterns.

This year, AIM saw the start of noctilucent cloud season on Nov. 17, 2016 – tying with the earliest start yet in the AIM record of the Southern Hemisphere. Scientists say this corresponds to an earlier seasonal change at lower altitudes. Winter to summer changes in the Antarctic lower atmosphere sparked a complex series of responses throughout the atmosphere – one of which is an earlier noctilucent cloud season. In the Southern Hemisphere, AIM has observed seasons beginning anywhere from Nov. 17 to Dec. 16.


Image above: An artist's rendition of the AIM spacecraft in orbit above Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Since its 2007 launch, AIM data has shown us that changes in one region of the atmosphere can effect responses in another distinct, and sometimes distant, region. Scientists call these relationships atmospheric teleconnections. Now, due to natural precession, the spacecraft’s orbit is evolving, allowing the measurement of atmospheric gravity waves that could be contributing to the teleconnections.

AIM is a NASA-funded mission managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and led by the AIM principal investigator from the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.

Related Links:

Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) Mission Overview: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/aim/overview/index.html

Edge of Space: The Science of AIM: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/aim/edge_of_space.html

Noctilucent Clouds Get an Early Start: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/aim/news/early-nlcs-2013.html

Animation (mentioned), Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lina Tran/Rob Garner.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Tangled threads weave through cosmic oddity












ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

2 December 2016

Dusty filaments in NGC 4696

New observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have revealed the intricate structure of the galaxy NGC 4696 in greater detail than ever before. The elliptical galaxy is a beautiful cosmic oddity with a bright core wrapped in system of dark, swirling, thread-like filaments.

NGC 4696 is a member of the Centaurus galaxy cluster, a swarm of hundreds of galaxies all sitting together, bound together by gravity, about 150 million light-years from Earth and located in the constellation of Centaurus.

Despite the cluster’s size, NGC 4696 still manages to stand out from its companions — it is the cluster’s brightest member, known for obvious reasons as the Brightest Cluster Galaxy . This puts it in the same category as some of the biggest and brightest galaxies known in the Universe.

Wide-field image of NGC 4696 (ground-based image)

Even if NGC 4696 keeps impressive company, it has a further distinction: the galaxy’s unique structure. Previous observations have revealed curling filaments that stretch out from its main body and carve out a cosmic question mark in the sky (heic1013), the dark tendrils encircling a brightly glowing centre.

An international team of scientists, led by astronomers from the University of Cambridge, UK, have now used new observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to explore this thread-like structure in more detail. They found that each of the dusty filaments has a width of about 200 light-years, and a density some 10 times greater than the surrounding gas. These filaments knit together and spiral inwards towards the centre of NGC 4696, connecting the galaxy’s constituent gas to its core.

video
Zoom in on NGC 4696

In fact, it seems that the galaxy’s core is actually responsible for the shape and positioning of the filaments themselves. At the centre of NGC 4696 lurks an active supermassive black hole. This floods the galaxy’s inner regions with energy, heating the gas there and sending streams of heated material outwards.

It appears that these hot streams of gas bubble outwards, dragging the filamentary material with them as they go. The galaxy’s magnetic field is also swept out with this bubbling motion, constraining and sculpting the material within the filaments.

At the very centre of the galaxy, the filaments loop and curl inwards in an intriguing spiral shape, swirling around the supermassive black hole at such a distance that they are dragged into and eventually consumed by the black hole itself.

video
Pan across NGC 4696

Understanding more about filamentary galaxies such as NGC 4696 may help us to better understand why so many massive galaxies near to us in the Universe appear to be dead; rather than forming newborn stars from their vast reserves of gas and dust, they instead sit quietly, and are mostly populated with old and aging stars. This is the case with NGC 4696. It may be that the magnetic structure flowing throughout the galaxy stops the gas from creating new stars.

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

Links:

heic1013: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1013/

Images of Hubble: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/category/spacecraft/

For images and more information about Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/
http://www.nasa.gov/hubble
http://www.spacetelescope.org/

Images, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, Andy Fabian/ESA, Mathias Jäger/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Videos: ESA/Hubble, NASA, ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2 and S. Brunier. Music: John Dyson (from the album "Moonwind"). Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin/ESO/L. Calçada/Music Credit: Konstantino Polizois.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

jeudi 1 décembre 2016

Russian Resupply Ship Experiences Anomaly; International Space Station Crew is Fine











ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.


Dec. 1, 2016

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed a Progress cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the International Space Station has been lost. The spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Thursday on a Soyuz rocket, but experienced an anomaly around six and a half minutes into its flight.

Six crew members living aboard the space station are safe and have been informed of the mission’s status. Both the Russian and U.S. segments of the station continue to operate normally with onboard supplies at good levels.

The ISS Progress 65 cargo spacecraft launched on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time). The first few minutes of flight were normal, but Russian flight controllers reported telemetry data indicating a problem during third stage operation. The Russians have formed a State Commission and are the source for details on the specific failure cause.

ISS - International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

The spacecraft was not carrying any supplies critical for the United States Operating Segment (USOS) of the station. The next mission scheduled to deliver cargo to the station is an H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)-6 from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Friday, Dec. 9.

Cargo packed inside the Progress 65 included more than 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the space station crew, including approximately 1,400 pounds of propellant, 112 pounds of oxygen, 925 pounds of water, and 2,750 pounds of spare parts, supplies and scientific experiment hardware. Among the U.S. supplies on board were spare parts for the station’s environmental control and life support system, research hardware, crew supplies and crew clothing, all of which are replaceable.

As teams continue to monitor the situation, additional updates and more information about the International Space Station will be available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/station

Related article:

Anomaly During Third Stage Operation in Russian Cargo Craft
http://orbiterchspacenews.blogspot.ch/2016/12/anomaly-during-third-stage-operation-in.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Cheryl Warner/Allard Beutel/JSC/Dan Huot.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA's Sun-Observing IRIS Mission










NASA - IRIS Mission patch.

Dec. 1, 2016

While it seems static from our vantage point on Earth 93 million miles away, the sun is constantly changing. Under the influence of complex magnetic forces, material moves throughout the solar atmosphere and can burst forth in massive eruptions.

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, which will continue its study of the sun thanks to a recent mission extension, watches what is known as the interface region, the lower levels of the sun’s atmosphere. The solar observatory was launched in 2013 for a prime mission of two years. The mission has been extended through September 2018, with further extensions possible.

Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

IRIS collects data on the temperature and movement of solar material throughout this region to determine how it helps drive the constant changes we see on our sun. This data is crucial for answering outstanding questions about our sun, such as why its million-degree upper atmosphere, the corona, is several hundred times hotter than the fiery surface below. The interface region feeds solar material into the corona and the solar wind, the constant stream of charged particles flowing from the sun. This particular region is also responsible for generating most of the ultraviolet emission that reaches Earth. Our space weather and environment are continuously influenced by both these emissions and the solar wind.

ScienceCasts: The Mystery of Coronal Heating

Video above: This video from NASA’s ScienceCast explores the mystery of coronal heating – why the sun’s million-degree upper atmosphere, the corona, is several hundred times hotter than the surface below – and how scientists are using IRIS to address it. Video Credit: NASA.

Watch the video to learn more about the mystery of coronal heating, one that has fascinated and perplexed scientists for decades, and how scientists are using IRIS to address it. One major question has been whether the corona is heated everywhere at once, or in distinct, bomb-like events. Recent studies have found evidence for the latter – the result of magnetic reconnection, in which magnetic fields in the corona clash and explosively realign. Two more years of observation is a valuable opportunity for IRIS to collect more data and increase our understanding of the sun.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorer Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, built and operates the IRIS spacecraft for NASA.

Related Links

- NASA’s IRIS Helps Explain Mysterious Heating of the Solar Atmosphere: http://orbiterchspacenews.blogspot.ch/2014/10/nasas-iris-helps-explain-mysterious.html

- IRIS mission overview: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/iris/overview/index.html

- NASA’s ScienceCasts: https://admin.science.nasa.gov/science-news/sciencecasts/

- IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/iris/index.html

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lina Tran/Rob Garner.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Scientists Probe Mystery of Pluto’s Icy Heart












NASA - New Horizons Mission logo.

Dec. 1, 2016

Was Pluto’s frozen heart formed in an ancient impact basin and was it once closer to the north pole? And does the icy heart conceal a subsurface ocean?


Image above: This high-resolution image captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows the bright expanse of the western lobe of Pluto’s “heart,” or Sputnik Planitia, which is rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Scientists are offering several new scenarios to explain the formation of Pluto’s frozen heart-shaped feature, first spotted by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. Researchers have focused on the heart’s western lobe, informally named Sputnik Planitia, a deep basin containing three kinds of ices—frozen nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide—and appearing opposite Charon, Pluto’s large, tidally locked moon. While many scientists suspect that the western half of Pluto’s heart formed within a basin created long ago by the impact of a large Kuiper Belt object onto Pluto, at least one new scenario requires no impact.

Research by University of Maryland astronomy professor Douglas Hamilton and New Horizons colleagues, published this week in the journal Nature, shows that this nitrogen ice cap could have formed early on, when Pluto was still spinning quickly, and did not necessarily require an impact basin. “Once the ice cap forms, it provides a slight asymmetry that either locks toward or away from Charon when Pluto’s spin slows to match the orbital motion of the moon,” Hamilton said. 

Using computer models, Hamilton and coauthors found that Sputnik Planitia’s initial location could be explained by Pluto’s complex climate, itself forced by the 120 degree tilt of Pluto’s spin axis. (For comparison, Earth's tilt is 23.5 degrees.) Modeling Pluto’s temperatures showed that when averaged over Pluto’s 248-year orbit, the latitudes near 30 degrees north and south emerged as the coldest places, far colder than either pole. Ice would have naturally formed around these latitudes, including at the center of Sputnik Planitia, which is located at 25 degrees north latitude.


Image above: Pluto’s ice-covered “heart” is clearly visible in this false-color image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. The left, roughly oval lobe is the basin informally named Sputnik Planitia, which appears directly opposite Pluto's largest moon, Charon, pictured at top left. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Hamilton’s model also showed that a small ice deposit naturally attracts more ices by reflecting solar light and heat. As a result, temperatures there remain low, which attracts more ice, and the cycle repeats. Called the runaway albedo effect, this phenomenon would eventually lead to a single dominating ice cap, like the one observed on Pluto’s heart. Under Hamilton’s scenario, the ice cap may have been heavy enough to sink a few miles or kilometers into Pluto’s crust, which could explain why Sputnik Planitia is lower than the surrounding terrain.

Other models – also presented in the Dec. 1 issue of Nature – support the impact basin scenario and hint at the presence of a subsurface ocean on Pluto.  One of those papers, by lead author Francis Nimmo of the University of California Santa Cruz, and New Horizons colleagues, modeled how Sputnik Planitia could have formed if its basin was produced by an impact, such as the one that created Charon. In this scenario the basin formed and migrated to its present location after Pluto slowed its rotation. “The migration happens because of extra mass beneath Sputnik Planitia,” Nimmo said. “An impact will excavate ice at the surface, letting any water underneath it approach closer to the surface. Because water is denser than ice, it provides a source of extra mass to help drive Sputnik’s migration.”

An ocean beneath the surface can survive for billions of years because of heat produced by radioactive decay in Pluto’s rocky interior, he said, adding that the slow refreezing of an ocean can also explain the network of fractures seen on Pluto’s surface.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. Image Credits: NASA/JHUAPL

“Sputnik Planitia is one of Pluto’s crown jewels, and understanding its origin is a puzzle,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “These new papers take us a step closer to unraveling this mystery. Whatever caused Sputnik to form, nothing like it exists anywhere else in the solar system. Work to understand it will continue, but whatever that origin is, one thing is for certain—the exploration of Pluto has created new puzzles for 21st century planetary science.”

For more information about New Horizons, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, week of Nov. 21, 2016











ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

Dec. 1, 2016

(Highlights: Week of Nov. 21, 2016) - With the recent arrival of Peggy Whitson of NASA, Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesque of ESA – doubling the number of crew members -- new science ramped up on the the International Space Station, including a new study that may help predict volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough set-up equipment for the Simulation of Geophysical Fluid Flow under Microgravity-2 (Geoflow-2) investigation, studying heat and fluid flow currents within Earth’s mantle. It consists of a special device that examines the flow of a fluid between two rotating spheres where the smaller sphere sits inside the larger one. This experimental design will help show how fluids flow in a configuration similar to the one found in the liquid nuclei of planets. Understanding the fluid flow in this experiment could not only enhance computer models in predicting earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but also could be useful in a variety of engineering applications, such as improving spherical gyroscopes and bearings, and centrifugal pumps.


Image above: One of four devices placed around the Columbus module on the International Space Station in support of the MATISS investigation. The study examines advanced materials that could stop bacteria from settling and growing on the station’s interior surfaces, effectively making them easier to clean and more hygienic for crew members. Image Credit: NASA.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and new space station crew member Thomas Pesquet worked on a pair of investigations searching for bacteria in the air and water on the orbiting laboratory.

Pesquet took water from the station’s potable water dispenser, added it to a new cotton-based petri dish and left it alone for a few days before testing it for microbial contamination using the new Aquapad. The water astronauts drink on the station is recycled by up to 80 percent from their sweat, urine, and other reclaimed wastewater sources. Recycling water reduces the number of supply missions needed to run the station, and building a self-sufficient spacecraft is necessary for future missions traveling farther from our planet. Using a device that consists of a simple absorbent cotton -- injected with 1 milliliter of water -- and a tablet computer application, ESA’s Aquapad aims to improve the speed and efficiency of water tests in orbit. This quick and simple analysis of water could also help test drinking water on Earth in countries where access to safe water to drink is a constant problem. Aquapad could also be used to diagnose the state of the water after natural disasters.


Image above: A series of innovative petri dishes will help space station crew members test and analyze the recycled water on the space station for microbial contamination. This new process may be used on Earth to quickly assess water in remote areas where clean drinking water is difficult to find. Image Credit: NASA.

Pesquet also deployed four MATISS experimental cassettes, testing for bacteria build-up in the constantly recycled atmosphere on the space station. The MATISS experiment investigates the antibacterial properties of materials in space to see if future spacecraft could be made easier to clean. Scientists will monitor how bacteria form biofilms that protect them from cleaning agents and help them adhere to surfaces in microgravity and on Earth. The first objective is to simplify decontamination operations to save crew time. The second relates to space exploration -- validating innovative materials to build future spacecraft, especially important for longer missions farther from Earth.


Image above: ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet accesses the Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) to store blood samples for the Marrow investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

The MATISS experiment consists of four identical plaques that Pesquet placed in ESA’s Columbus laboratory on the station. The plaques will be exposed to the elements for at least three months. Five advanced materials that could stop bacteria from settling and growing on the surface were selected. A sixth element, made of glass, is used as control material. The smart materials should stop bacteria from sticking to the surface and growing, effectively making them easier to clean and more hygienic. The units are open on the sides to let air flow naturally through and collect any bacteria floating past.

video
Welcome Aboard! New Arrivals Make Six Expedition 50 Crew Members

Video above: The International Space Station welcomed three additional crew members on Nov. 19. Video Credit: NASA-TV.

Crew members conducted human research investigations this week, including Biochem Profile, ESA-Active-Dosimeters, Fine Motor Skills, Fluid Shifts, Marrow, Dose Tracker and Space Headaches.

Progress* also was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including Veg-03, Meteor, ISS Ham, Story Time From Space, ACE-T-1, DOSIS-3D, MSL Batch 2b, EVERYWEAR, Water Monitoring Suite, CBEF, CIR/MDCA, and the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System.

Related article:

*Anomaly During Third Stage Operation in Russian Cargo Craft
http://orbiterchspacenews.blogspot.ch/2016/12/anomaly-during-third-stage-operation-in.html

Related links:

Microgravity-2 (Geoflow-2) investigation: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/659.html

Aquapad: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2357.html

MATISS experimental cassettes: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2368.html

Biochem Profile: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1008.html

ESA-Active-Dosimeters: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2132.html

Fine Motor Skills: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1767.html

Fluid Shifts: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1257.html

Marrow: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1931.html

Dose Tracker: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1933.html

Space Headaches: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/181.html

Veg-03: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1294.html

Meteor: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1323.html

ISS Ham: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/346.html

Story Time From Space: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1287.html

ACE-T-1: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2033.html

DOSIS-3D: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/184.html

MSL Batch 2b: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1978.html

EVERYWEAR: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2308.html

Water Monitoring Suite: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2109.html

CBEF: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/CBEF.html

CIR/MDCA: https://spaceflightsystems.grc.nasa.gov/sopo/ihho/psrp/fcf/cir/
https://spaceflightsystems.grc.nasa.gov/sopo/ihho/psrp/fcf/fcf-investigations/mdca/

Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System: http://blogs.esa.int/iriss/2015/09/07/the-mares-machine/

ESA (European Space Agency): http://www.esa.int/ESA

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/John Love, Acting Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 49 & 50.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Anomaly During Third Stage Operation in Russian Cargo Craft











ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

December 1, 2016


Image above: The Progress 65 cargo spaceship launched on time Thursday morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Launch of the ISS Progress 65 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan occurred at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time). An anomaly occurred sometime during the third stage operation. As we get updates from Roscosmos, we will provide them.

- The Expedition 50 crew was informed of the Progress 65 mission’s status: http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/files/12-01-16_EXP50_Crew-is-informed-of-Progress-65-Loss.wav

- Read the statement from Roscosmos: http://en.roscosmos.ru/20663/

The Expedition 50 crew is safe aboard the station. Consumables aboard the station are at good levels.

An H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)-6 from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is scheduled to launch to the space station on Friday, Dec. 9.

video
Russian Cargo Ship Launched to the International Space Station

To join the online conversation about the International Space Station and Progress 65 on Twitter, follow @Space_Station. To learn more about all the ways to connect and collaborate with NASA, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/connect.

Russian Cargo Craft Launches, Controllers Wait for Status


Image above: he Progress 65 spacecraft is pictured at its launch pad Nov. 29 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: RSC Energia.

Launch of the ISS Progress 65 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan occurred at 9:51 a.m. EST (8:51 p.m. Baikonur time). Flight controllers are monitoring the spacecraft at this time and we are standing by for additional updates on Progress 65.

The Russian Progress spacecraft is carrying more than 2.6 tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station.

Related links:

Expedition 50 crew: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition50/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

mercredi 30 novembre 2016

GPM Sees Deadly Tornadic Storms Moving Through U.S. Southeast













NASA & JAXA - Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) patch.

Nov. 30, 2016

The Global Precipitation Measurement mission or GPM core satellite gathered rainfall data on the severe storms that impacted the southeastern U.S. over two days. From Tuesday evening, Nov. 29 through Wednesday morning, Nov. 30, 2016 tornadoes formed along a squall line in advance of a cold front that moved through the Southeast. Over three dozen tornadoes were reported with sightings occurring in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.


Image above: The GPM core observatory satellite viewed a western portion of a line of violent weather when it flew over on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 11:16 p.m. EST. The areas covered by GPM's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) instruments are shown in lighter shades. Red symbols show the approximate locations where tornadoes were reported. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce.

Tornadoes caused the deaths of at least five people in northern Alabama. Storms also took the lives of two people in Tennessee. This rainfall may provide some relief to drought ridden eastern Tennessee where destructive wildfires have been occurring. Some storms were accompanied with hail, strong winds and intense showers. Golf ball sized hail was reported in a storm that passed through Louisiana Tuesday evening.

video
GPM Sees Deadly Tornadic Storms Moving Through U.S. Southeast

Video above: The GPM core observatory satellite viewed a western portion of a line of violent weather when it flew over on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 11:16 p.m. EST. The areas covered by GPM's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) instruments are shown in lighter shades. Red symbols show the approximate locations where tornadoes were reported. Video Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce.

The GPM core observatory satellite viewed a western portion of a line of violent weather when it flew over on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 11:16 p.m. EST (November 30, 2016 0416 UTC). GPM found that rain was falling at a rate of over 5.7 inches (144.8 mm) per hour in a heavy downpours over southwestern Louisiana.

At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, GPM's Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) data was used to produce a 3-D view of the precipitation within storms that were moving over Louisiana. Storm tops were measured by GPM's radar (Ka and Ku band) reaching heights above 8 miles (13 km).


Image above: Visualization of the GPM Core Observatory and Partner Satellites. Image Credits: NASA & JAXA.

On Nov. 30, NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center (SPC) noted "Storms will be capable of producing damaging winds, hail, heavy downpours, and a few tornadoes. Heavy rainfall could lead to localized flooding of low lying and poor drainage areas. Additional heavy rainfall will also be possible from the Appalachians to the Middle Atlantic Region." For updated information from the SPC, visit: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/.

GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GPM/main/index.html and http://global.jaxa.jp/projects/sat/gpm/

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Hal Pierce/Rob Gutro/Lynn Jenner.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

This Week in NASA History: First Hubble-servicing Mission Launches - Dec. 2, 1993












NASA - STS-61 Mission patch.

Nov. 30, 2016


This week in 1993, space shuttle Endeavour launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center for the first servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope, STS-61. Here, astronauts berth Hubble in Endeavour’s cargo bay following its capture for repair. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has been involved in development of many of the agency’s optical instruments. Notably, Marshall played a significant role in NASA’s Great Observatories, managing the development of Hubble and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Burst and Transient Source Experiment for the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Marshall also manages Chandra's flight, current operations and guest science observer program and has played a significant role in the testing of Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. Scheduled to launch in October 2018, the Webb telescope will observe the most distant objects in the universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars. The NASA History Program is responsible for generating, disseminating, and preserving NASA’s remarkable history and providing a comprehensive understanding of the institutional, cultural, social, political, economic, technological, and scientific aspects of NASA’s activities in aeronautics and space. For more pictures like this one and to connect to NASA’s history, visit the History Program’s webpage: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/history/index.html

For images and more information about Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/
http://www.nasa.gov/hubble
http://www.spacetelescope.org/

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Year-End Cargo Shipments Prepped Amidst Space Research











ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

November 30, 2016


Image above: Astronauts Thomas Pesquet and Shane Kimbrough pause for a portrait inside the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

The Expedition 50 crew is getting ready to receive a shipment of space supplies Saturday after Russia launches the Progress 65 cargo craft Thursday morning. The final space delivery of the year will be Dec. 13 when the Kounotori HTV-6 resupply ship arrives four days after its launch from Tanegashima, Japan.

Inside the International Space Station, Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson installed aerosol samplers to collect airborne particles for analysis on Earth. Scientists will study the samples using specialized techniques with powerful microscopes.


Image above: As of Nov. 21, 2016, there are three spacecraft are docked at the station including the Soyuz MS-02 and MS-03 crew vehicles and the Progress 64 resupply ship. Two more spaceships will arrive in December. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Shane Kimbrough is setting up science gear inside Japan’s Kibo lab module to study the fundamental physics of surface tension where liquid and gas meet. The experiment known as Marangoni Ultrasonic Velocity Profiler-2 may improve industrial processes and products on Earth and in space.

New astronaut Thomas Pesquet, from the European Space Agency, strapped himself into the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System chair for a study of his calf muscle and Achilles tendon. On Earth, that area carries loads from the entire human body. He conducted a series of ankle exercises while attached to sensors to monitor any changes in that area caused by living in space.

Related links:

Progress 65 cargo craft: http://www.energia.ru/en/iss/iss50/progress_ms-04/photo_11-29.html

Kounotori HTV-6: http://iss.jaxa.jp/en/htv/mission/htv-6/

Aerosol samplers: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2300.html

Marangoni Ultrasonic Velocity Profiler-2: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/144.html

Study of his calf muscle and Achilles tendon: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/738.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

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

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

First Signs of Weird Quantum Property of Empty Space?












ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

30 November 2016

VLT observations of neutron star may confirm 80-year-old prediction about the vacuum

By studying the light emitted from an extraordinarily dense and strongly magnetised neutron star using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers may have found the first observational indications of a strange quantum effect, first predicted in the 1930s. The polarisation of the observed light suggests that the empty space around the neutron star is subject to a quantum effect known as vacuum birefringence.

The polarisation of light emitted by a neutron star

A team led by Roberto Mignani from INAF Milan (Italy) and from the University of Zielona Gora (Poland), used ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile to observe the neutron star RX J1856.5-3754, about 400 light-years from Earth [1].

Despite being amongst the closest neutron stars, its extreme dimness meant the astronomers could only observe the star with visible light using the FORS2 instrument on the VLT, at the limits of current telescope technology.

Neutron stars are the very dense remnant cores of massive stars — at least 10 times more massive than our Sun — that have exploded as supernovae at the ends of their lives. They also have extreme magnetic fields, billions of times stronger than that of the Sun, that permeate their outer surface and surroundings.

Wide field view of the sky around the very faint neutron star RX J1856.5-3754

These fields are so strong that they even affect the properties of the empty space around the star. Normally a vacuum is thought of as completely empty, and light can travel through it without being changed. But in quantum electrodynamics (QED), the quantum theory describing the interaction between photons and charged particles such as electrons, space is full of virtual particles that appear and vanish all the time. Very strong magnetic fields can modify this space so that it affects the polarisation of light passing through it.

Mignani explains: “According to QED, a highly magnetised vacuum behaves as a prism for the propagation of light, an effect known as vacuum birefringence.”

Among the many predictions of QED, however, vacuum birefringence so far lacked a direct experimental demonstration. Attempts to detect it in the laboratory have not yet succeeded in the 80 years since it was predicted in a paper by Werner Heisenberg (of uncertainty principle fame) and Hans Heinrich Euler.

"This effect can be detected only in the presence of enormously strong magnetic fields, such as those around neutron stars. This shows, once more, that neutron stars are invaluable laboratories in which to study the fundamental laws of nature." says Roberto Turolla (University of Padua, Italy).

VLT image of the area around the very faint neutron star RX J1856.5-3754

After careful analysis of the VLT data, Mignani and his team detected linear polarisation — at a significant degree of around 16% — that they say is likely due to the boosting effect of vacuum birefringence occurring in the area of empty space surrounding RX J1856.5-3754 [2].

Vincenzo Testa (INAF, Rome, Italy) comments: "This is the faintest object for which polarisation has ever been measured. It required one of the largest and most efficient telescopes in the world, the VLT, and accurate data analysis techniques to enhance the signal from such a faint star."

"The high linear polarisation that we measured with the VLT can’t be easily explained by our models unless the vacuum birefringence effects predicted by QED are included," adds Mignani.

video
The polarisation of light emitted by a neutron star

"This VLT study is the very first observational support for predictions of these kinds of QED effects arising in extremely strong magnetic fields," remarks Silvia Zane  (UCL/MSSL, UK).

Mignani is excited about further improvements to this area of study that could come about with more advanced telescopes: “Polarisation measurements with the next generation of telescopes, such as ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope, could play a crucial role in testing QED predictions of vacuum birefringence effects around many more neutron stars.”

video
Zooming in on the very faint neutron star RX J1856.5-3754

"This measurement, made for the first time now in visible light, also paves the way to similar measurements to be carried out at X-ray wavelengths," adds Kinwah Wu (UCL/MSSL, UK).

Notes:

[1] This object is part of the group of neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven. They are known as isolated neutron stars (INS), which have no stellar companions, do not emit radio waves (like pulsars), and are not surrounded by progenitor supernova material.

[2] There are other processes that can polarise starlight as it travels through space. The team carefully reviewed other possibilities — for example polarisation created by scattering off dust grains — but consider it unlikely that they produced the polarisation signal observed.

More information:

This research was presented in the paper entitled “Evidence for vacuum birefringence from the first optical polarimetry measurement of the isolated neutron star RX J1856.5−3754”, by R. Mignani et al., to appear in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The team is composed of R.P. Mignani (INAF - Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica Milano, Milano, Italy; Janusz Gil Institute of Astronomy, University of Zielona Góra, Zielona Góra, Poland), V. Testa (INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma, Monteporzio, Italy), D. González Caniulef (Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, UK), R. Taverna (Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia, Università di Padova, Padova, Italy), R. Turolla (Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia, Università di Padova, Padova, Italy; Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, UK), S. Zane (Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, UK) and K. Wu (Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, UK).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. 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 two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Links:

Research paper: http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1641/eso1641a.pdf

Photos of the VLT: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/category/paranal/

ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope: http://eso.org/e-elt

FORS2 instrument: http://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/vlt/vlt-instr/fors/

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT): http://eso.org/vlt

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/L. Calçada/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Videos: ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org)/Digitized Sky Survey 2.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA Radio on Europe's New Mars Orbiter Aces Relay Test















NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo / NASA - Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-B) patch.

November 30, 2016

Data from each of the two rovers active on Mars reached Earth last week in the successful first relay test of a NASA radio aboard Europe's new Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).

The transmissions from NASA rovers Opportunity and Curiosity, received by one of the twin Electra radios on the orbiter on Nov. 22, mark a strengthening of the international telecommunications network supporting Mars exploration. The orbiter's main radio for communications with Earth subsequently relayed onward to Earth the data received by Electra.

The European Space Agency's (ESA's) ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter reached Mars on Oct. 19, 2016. As planned, its initial orbit shape is highly elliptical, ranging from as far as 60,000 miles (98,000 kilometers) above the surface to less than 200 miles (less than 310 kilometers). Each loop takes 4.2 days to complete.


Image above: A NASA radio on Europe's Trace Gas Orbiter, which reached Mars in October 2016, has succeeded in its first test of receiving data from NASA Mars rovers, both Opportunity and Curiosity. This graphic depicts the geometry of the relay from Opportunity to the orbiter, which then sent the data to Earth. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA.

Frequent use of TGO's relay capability to support Mars rover operations is planned to begin more than a year from now. That's after the orbiter finishes adjusting its orbit to a near-circular path about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Mars' surface. Meanwhile, four other active Mars orbiters also carry radios that can provide relay service for missions on the surface of Mars. The two active rovers routinely send data homeward via NASA orbiters Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

"The arrival of ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars, with its NASA-provided Electra relay payload on board, represents a significant step forward in our Mars relay capabilities," said Chad Edwards, manager of the Mars Relay Network Office within the Mars Exploration Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "In concert with our three existing NASA orbiters and ESA's earlier Mars Express orbiter, we now have a truly international Mars relay network that will greatly increase the amount of data that future Mars landers and rovers can return from the surface of the Red Planet."

NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars that will include sending humans to the Red Planet. Current and future robotic spacecraft are leading the way and will prepare an infrastructure in advance for human missions.


Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). Image Credit: ESA


The JPL-designed Electra radios include special features for relaying data from a rover or stationary lander to an orbiter passing overhead. Relay of information from Mars-surface craft to Mars orbiters, then from the Mars orbiters to Earth, enables receiving much more data from the surface missions than would be possible with a direct-to-Earth radio link from the rovers or landers.

"We already have almost 13 years' experience using ESA's Mars Express as an on-call backup for data relay from active Mars rovers, and TGO will greatly expand this to routine science-data relay," said Michel Denis, TGO flight director at ESA's European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany. "In 2020, TGO will extend this relay support to ESA's ExoMars rover and the Russian Surface Platform, an important capability together with its science mission that enhances the international data network at Mars."

As an example of Electra capabilities, during a relay session between an Electra on the surface and one on an orbiter, the radios can maximize data volume by actively adjusting the data rate to be slower when the orbiter is near the horizon from the surface robot's perspective, faster when it is overhead.


Image above: The European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, launched on March 14, 2016, carries two Electra UHF relay radios provided by NASA. This image shows a step in installation and testing of one of those radios, inside a clean room at Thales Alenia Space, in Cannes, France, in June 2014. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/TAS.

Curiosity and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter already use Electra technology to relay data. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, in orbit since 2014, also carries an Electra radio.

Due to improvements in the newest Electra radios and reduced interference levels, TGO's relay radios are expected to offer relay performance about double that of MRO's Electra.

TGO's main X-band radio uses a dish antenna 87 inches (2.2 meters) in diameter to communicate with Earth-based antenna networks operated by ESA, NASA and Russia.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Curiosity, Opportunity, MRO and Odyssey missions, and NASA's role in the ESA ExoMars program for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more about ESA's ExoMars program, including TGO, visit: http://exploration.esa.int/mars/

For more information about NASA's journey to Mars, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/journeytomars

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/JPL/Guy Webster.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch