Thursday, August 16, 2018

Impact of a stellar intruder on our solar system

The solar system was formed from a protoplanetary disk consisting of gas and dust. Since the cumulative mass of all objects beyond Neptune is much smaller than expected and the bodies there have mostly inclined, eccentric orbits it is likely that some process restructured the outer solar system after its formation. Susanne Pfalzner from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and her colleagues present a study showing that a close fly-by of a neighbouring star can simultaneously lead to the observed lower mass density in the outer part of the solar system and excite the bodies there onto eccentric, inclined orbits. Their numerical simulations show that many additional bodies at high inclinations still await discovery, perhaps including a sometimes postulated Planet X. The findings are published in the present issue of "The Astrophysical Journal." A near catastrophe billions of years ago might have shaped the outer parts of the solar system, while leaving the inner regions basically untouched. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn and their collaborators found that a close fly-by of another star can explain many of the features observed in the outer solar system.


"Our group has been looking for years at what fly-bys can do to other planetary systems never considering that we actually might live right in such a system," says Susanne Pfalzner, the leading author of the project. "The beauty of this model lies in its simplicity."

The basic scenario of the formation of the solar system has long been known: our Sun was born from a collapsing cloud of gas and dust. In the process a flat disk was formed where not only large planets grew but also smaller objects like the asteroids, dwarf planets, etc. Due to the flatness of the disk one would expect that the planets orbit in a single plane unless something dramatic happened afterwards.

Looking at the solar system right to the orbit of Neptune everything seems fine: most planets move on fairly circular orbits and their orbital inclinations vary only slightly. However, beyond Neptune things become very messy. The biggest puzzle is the dwarf planet Sedna, which moves on an inclined, highly eccentric orbit and is so far outside, that it could not have been scattered by the planets there.

Just outside Neptune's orbit another strange thing happens. The cumulative mass of all the objects dramatically drops by almost three orders of magnitude. This happens at approximately the same distance where everything becomes messy. It might be coincidental, but such coincidences are rare in nature.

Susanne Pfalzner and her co-workers suggest that a star was approaching the Sun at an early stage, 'stealing' most of the outer material from the Sun's protoplanetary disk and throwing what was left over into inclined and eccentric orbits.

Performing thousands of computer simulations they checked what would happen when a star passes very close-by and perturbs the once larger disk. It turned out that the best fit for today's outer solar systems comes from a perturbing star which had the same mass as the Sun or somewhat lighter (0.5-1 solar mass) and flew past at approximately three times the distance of Neptune.

However, the most surprising thing for the researchers was that a fly-by does not only explain the strange orbits of the objects of the outer solar system, but also gives a natural explanation for several unexplained features of our solar system, including the mass ratio between Neptune and Uranus, and the existence of two distinct populations of Kuiper Belt objects.

"It is important to keep exploring all the possible avenues for explaining the structure of the outer solar system. The data are increasing but still too sparse, so theories have a lot of wiggle room to develop," says Pedro Lacerda from the Queen's University in Belfast, a co-author of the paper. "There is a certain danger that one theory crystallises as truth, not because it explains the data better but because of other pressures. Our paper shows that a lot of what we currently know can be explained by something as simple as a stellar fly-by."

The big question is the likelihood for such an event. Nowadays, fly-bys even hundreds of times more distant are luckily rare. However, stars like our Sun are typically born in large groups of stars which are much more densely packed. Therefore, close fly-bys were significantly more common in the distant past. Performing another type of simulation, the team found that there was a 20%-30% chance of experiencing a fly-by over the first billion years of the Sun's life.

This is no final proof that a stellar fly-by caused the messy features of the outer solar system, but it can reproduce many observational facts and seems relatively realistic. So far it is the simplest explanation and if simplicity is a sign for validity this model is the best candidate so far.

"In summary, our close fly-by scenario offers a realistic alternative to present models suggested to explain the unexpected features of the outer solar system," concludes Susanne Pfalzner. "It should be considered as an option for shaping the outer solar system. The strength of the fly-by hypothesis lies in the explanation of several outer solar system features by one single mechanism."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Iron and Titanium in the Atmosphere of an Exoplanet

Exoplanets, planets in other solar systems, can orbit very close to their host star. When, in addition to this, the host star is much hotter than our Sun, then the exoplanet becomes as hot as a star. The hottest "ultra-hot" planet was discovered last year by American astronomers. Today, an international team, led by researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), who joined forces with theoreticians from the University of Bern (UNIBE), Switzerland, discovered the presence of iron and titanium vapours in the atmosphere of this planet. The detection of these heavy metals was made possible by the surface temperature of this planet, which reaches more than 4,000 degrees [Celsius]. This discovery is published in the journal Nature [www.nature.com]. KELT-9 is a star located 650 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan). With a temperature of over 10,000 degrees [Celsius], it is almost twice as hot as the Sun. This star is orbited by a giant gas planet, KELT-9b, which is 30 times closer than the Earth's distance from the Sun. Because of this proximity, the planet circles its star in 36 hours and is heated to a temperature of over 4,000 degrees. It's not as hot as the Sun, but hotter than many stars. At present, we do not yet know what an atmosphere looks like and how it can evolve under such conditions.


That is why NCCR PlanetS researchers affiliated with the University of Bern recently performed a theoretical study on the atmosphere of the planet KELT-9b.

"The results of these simulations show that most of the molecules found there should be in atomic form, because the bonds that hold them together are broken by collisions between particles that occur at these extremely high temperatures," explains Kevin Heng, professor at the UNIBE. This is a direct consequence of the extreme temperature. Their study also predicts that it should be possible to observe gaseous atomic iron, in the planet's atmosphere using current telescopes.


Light Reveals the Chemical Components of the Atmosphere
The UNIGE FOUR ACES team, which is also part of the NCCR PlanetS at the Department of Astronomy of the Faculty of Science of the UNIGE, had observed this planet precisely as it was moving in front of its host star (i.e., during a transit). During transit, a tiny fraction of the light from the star filters through the planet's atmosphere, and analysis of this filtered light can reveal the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

This is achieved with a spectrograph, an instrument that spreads white light into its component colours, called a spectrum. If present among the components of the atmosphere, iron vapour would leave a well-recognisable fingerprint in the spectrum of the planet.

Using the HARPS-North spectrograph, built in Geneva and installed on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in La Palma, astronomers discovered a strong signal corresponding to iron vapour in the planet's spectrum. "With the theoretical predictions in hand, it was like following a treasure map," says Jens Hoeijmakers, a researcher at the Universities of Geneva and Bern and lead author of the study, "and when we dug deeper into the data, we found even more," he adds with a smile. Indeed, the team also detected the signature of another metal in vapour form: titanium.

This discovery reveals the atmospheric properties of a new class of so-called "ultra-hot Jupiter." However, scientists believe that many exoplanets have completely evaporated in environments similar to KELT-9b. Although this planet is probably massive enough to withstand total evaporation, this new study demonstrates the strong impact of stellar radiation on the composition of the atmosphere. Indeed, these observations confirm that the high temperatures reigning on this planet break apart most molecules, including those containing iron or titanium.

In cooler giant exoplanets, these atomic species are thought to be hidden within gaseous oxides or in the form of dust particles, making them hard to detect. This is not the case on KELT-9b. "This planet is a unique laboratory to analyze how atmospheres can evolve under intense stellar radiation," concludes David Ehrenreich, principal investigator with the UNIGE's FOUR ACES team.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

India's Second Moon Mission as "Complex" as NASA's Apollo Mission

The Indian Space Agency had planned the launch of its second moon mission for October this year, but scientists reviewing their preparedness suggested that more tests were needed before the launch. The mission is now likely to be preceded by Israel's moon mission, planned for December this year. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced the postponement of its much-awaited second lunar mission - Chandrayaan 2. The mission was expected to be launched in October this year but ISRO says it will now conduct it in the first quarter of 2019. "We are aiming to launch the mission on January 3 next year, but the window to land on the lunar surface is open until March 2019. Chandrayaan-2 mission is the most complex mission attempted by ISRO so far. The mission has three components - orbiter, lander, and rover. We set up a committee of eminent scientists from across the country which studied the project and suggested changes. It is nothing less than the Apollo mission," ISRO Chairman K. Sivan told reporters in Bengaluru. Apollo was the NASA program that resulted in American astronauts' making a total of 11 spaceflights and walking on the moon. The first moon landing took place in 1969. The last moon landing was in 1972.


ISRO has increased the weight of Chandrayaan-2 by 600 kg as the space scientists had noticed during experiments that after the moon lander was ejected, the satellite would shake. So they decided that design modification was required for landing and the mass had to be increased.

The total estimated cost of the mission is about INR 8 billion ($124 million), which includes INR 2 billion ($31 million) at the cost of launching and INR 6 billion ($93 million) for the satellite.

ISRO has pointed out that the success rate of lunar landing missions is less than 50% as 27 had failed out of 47 lunar landings.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

NASA postpones for 24 hours launch of historic spaceship to Sun

NASA postponed until Sunday the launch of the first ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun on a mission to plunge into our star's sizzling atmosphere and unlock its mysteries. The reason for the delay was not immediately clear, but was called for after a gaseous helium alarm was sounded in the last moments before liftoff, officials said. Engineers are taking utmost caution with the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, which Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science mission directorate, described as one of the agency's most "strategically important missions." The next launch window opens at 3:31 am (0731 GMT) on Sunday, when weather conditions are 60 percent favorable for launch, NASA said. By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun. Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid. These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.


- 'Full of mysteries' -

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick.

The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The sun is full of mysteries," said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

- 91-year-old namesake -

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.

Parker, now 91, recalled that at first some people did not believe in his theory.

But then, the launch of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 -- becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter -- proved them wrong.

"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind," Parker said earlier this week.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine."

According to Zurbuchen, Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community."

"Life is all about these big arcs. Sometimes you just see, like how over a lifetime, things just come together and create these amazing stories, these leaps going forward."

Friday, August 10, 2018

Satellite measurements of the Earth's magnetosphere promise better space weather forecasts

Earth is constantly being hammered by charged particles emitted by the Sun that have enough power to make life on Earth almost impossible. We survive because Earth's magnetic field traps and deflects these particles, preventing the vast majority of them from ever reaching the planet's surface. The trapped particles bounce back and forth between the North and South poles in complex, ever-changing patterns that are also influenced by equally intricate and shifting electric fields. We get to enjoy the sight of those particles when the bands they move in (the Van Allen radiation belts) dip into our atmosphere near the poles creating the Northern (and Southern) lights. However, bursts of these particles can damage satellites and sensitive equipment on the ground. It is therefore vital to understand the intricacies of the radiation belts. So far, NASA have launched twin satellites to study the Van Allen belts--however, their orbits only allow them to explore the equatorial regions. This limits our ability to understand flow of particles and prevents us from predicting their effects on all satellites. To also explore regions further from the equator, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, a division of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, launched the Arase satellite in 2016.


A Japan-based research team centered at Kanazawa University equipped the Arase satellite with multiple different sensors (termed the Plasma Wave Experiment) to probe the electric field and plasma waves in the Earth's inner magnetosphere. Now, they have collected their first set of data from their sensors, which they recently published in the Springer journal Earth, Planets and Space.

The Arase consists primarily of electric and magnetic field detectors covering a wide frequency range; it can also measure plasma/particles in a wide energy range. To improve efficiency, an on-board computer studies the correlations between the fields and the particles before sending only the most important information back to Earth.

"The Plasma Wave Experiment equipment has passed initial checks and has successfully acquired high quality data. Huge amount of burst waveform data has been taken, and we should soon know a lot more about mechanisms of wave-particle interaction occurring in the inner magnetosphere than before.

Another strength of our project is that we can also compare the satellite data with data collected simultaneously on the ground. We expect those comparisons will greatly broaden our understanding of this area of science," first author Yoshiya Kasahara says.

Understanding how electrons and other particles are hurled out of the magnetosphere onto our planet could be key to predicting such bursts and protecting against them.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Arianespace to launch Spire small satellites on Vega SSMS POC flight

The multi-launch contract with Spire - a company providing weather, maritime, and aviation data to public and private customers - will cover a significant number of CubeSats to be launched on Vega as part of the Small Spacecraft Mission Service Proof Of Concept (POC) flight in 2019, as well as options on subsequent Vega flights. With more than 80 satellites placed in orbit during the past four years, Spire has quickly become an important leader in the New Space community. Built in-house by Spire using its LEMUR2 CubeSat platform, the nanosatellites will weigh approximately 5 kg. at launch and are designed to have a nominal service life of two to three years once positioned in a Sun-synchronous orbit at 500 km. Each satellite carries multiple sensors, making them capable of performing data collection for all of Spire's data products. The Vega Proof of Concept (POC) flight is the first of the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) - a program initiated by the European Space Agency in 2016, with the contribution of the European Commission. For all the European partners involved, its purpose is to perfectly address the promising microsatellite market for both institutional and commercial needs with a new rideshare concept on the Vega light-lift launcher.


Vega is part of the Arianespace launcher family, alongside the heavy-lift Ariane 5 and the medium-lift Soyuz, all of which are operated from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. Avio, based in Colleferro Italy, is Vega's industrial prime contractor.

Following the signature of this contract, which is the launch services company's first with Spire, Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel said: "We are thrilled to have Spire on board the POC flight of Vega's Small Spacecraft Mission Service dispenser, which shows Arianespace's continuous commitment to increased access to space for the growing small satellite market. The Vega launch vehicle offers a flexible solution for this burgeoning segment of the industry."

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

New launch unit standards announced for smallsats

The Aerospace Corporation (Aerospace) announced details of a new small satellite (smallsat) standard called a Launch Unit (Launch-U) during a briefing at the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah. This standard provides major benefits to the smallsat industry-manufacturers, launch providers, and satellite users-by increasing access to space and decreasing launch costs. It also enables the space community to come together to work innovative solutions for sharing costs, adopting new business models, and adapting to regulatory or statutory changes. "We are proud to partner with industry, government, and academia to develop the first official Launch Unit standard," said Steve Isakowitz, Aerospace president and CEO. "The Launch-U team's efforts will help reduce the complexities on the satellite and launch vehicle sides. It will also lead to shorter integration timelines and increased access to space." The space community was in search of a standard to make launching small satellites more flexible. Given Aerospace's role as an objective technical advisor, the community identified the corporation as the ideal partner to work across all elements of the space enterprise, from satellite and launch manufacturers to service providers and government officials.


"The Launch-U concept was born out of the industry's continuous requests for help, said Dr. Randy Villahermosa, general manager of Aerospace's Innovation Initiatives. "The goal was to create a standard that industry would view as enabling rather than an impediment to growth. Aerospace was a key broker in making this a reality."

Carrie O'Quinn, senior project engineer for Aerospace's Research and Development Department and the Launch-U lead, emphasized that currently there are no industry standards for satellites between the size of a CubeSat (approximately the size of a toaster) and an EELV Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA) class satellite, which is about the size of a large dorm refrigerator.

"The Launch-U standard seeks to change this through our volume recommendation of 45 cm x 45 cm x 60 cm, said O'Quinn. "That's roughly the size of two carry-on bags strapped together. We also address a mass range, fundamental frequency, and loads in the recommendations."

The space access industry is altering in an exceedingly rapid pace and is driven by smallsat and small launch vehicle development, the increasing popularity of multi-manifest missions, and a widespread interest in reducing launch cost and timelines while deploying even more spacecraft. Currently, industry experts estimate that 6,000 to 20,000 smallsats could be launched over the next 10 years.

O'Quinn explained that the group's vision for the Launch-U standard is the solution the industry is looking for. "This is not envisioned to be a requirement levied on spacecraft developers, but rather a standard that is embraced by all as a game-changer."

For industry, the next step is to develop hardware and other technical solutions needed to support the Launch-U. O'Quinn emphasized that each stakeholder plays a specific role in implementing the Launch-U.

"Launch vehicle providers, integrators, and aggregators can begin considering how Launch-U satellites will affect their business models once implemented," said O'Quinn. "For example, these companies might publish information on Launch-U launch costs, as Spaceflight Industries and other commercial entities currently do for CubeSat launch costs."

Satellite manufacturers could also build to the Launch-U standard and make it available to the community at large.

Monday, August 6, 2018

7,000 small satellites to be launched over coming decade

According to Euroconsult's latest report, Prospects for the Small Satellite Market, a significant expansion is underway in the smallsat market, both in terms of demand and systems' capabilities. About 7,000 smallsats are due to be launched over the next ten years, i.e. a six-fold increase from the 1,200 units launched over the past decade. About 50 constellations, two of which are mega constellations, account for over 80% of the smallsat count. "By 2022, an average of 580 smallsats will be launched every year as a result of initial constellation deployment. This compares to an annual average of 190 satellites launched over the past five years. The average will then jump to 850 satellites per year on subsequent years up to 2027 because of the deployment of one mega constellation," said Maxime Puteaux, Senior Consultant at Euroconsult and editor of the report. "Smallsat demand for constellations is cyclical as it is driven by deployment in batches whereas demand for single satellite missions is more stable. Performance improvements and continuous miniaturization reshape the smallsat market as customers have the choice between lighter satellites with the same capabilities or larger but more capable satellites. In the heaviest mass category, smallsats are now able to perform missions that were only achievable in the past by satellites heavier that 500 kg."


Smallsat applications are multiple. In the past, "technology development" was the dominant application to test future technologies and payloads or for educational purposes. In future years, three applications will dominate the smallsat market:

Broadband Communication is by far the largest application with close to 3,500 satellites expected from 2018 to 2027 (of which 92% for two mega constellations);

Earth Observation will almost triple, from 540 satellites in the past to 1,400 anticipated from 2018 to 2027. Three constellations alone plan to launch more than 800 satellites during this period, of which two are cubesat-based;

Information for data collection and narrowband communications for AIS, ADS-B, Internet of Things, and Machine to Machine communication. It is a growing market with 850 satellites to be launched by 14 constellations that are currently raising funds or launching demonstrators.

The 7,000 smallsats that are due to be launched over 2018-2027 are valued at $38 billion for satellite manufacturing and launch, almost a quintupling decade-to-decade. The smaller growth in market value relative to that in smallsats count reflects the growing penetration of low-cost smallsats for 1) cubesats and nanosats below 50 kg of launch mass and 2) for large scale constellations with satellite unit cost of $1-$1.5 million.

Cubesats alone represent a mere 4% of future total market value. A significant part of that market is already contracted or captive via domestic providers as vertical integration (i.e. in-house manufacturing and/or launch) is more common for smallsats than for larger satellites.

The launch services of smallsats are expected to generate $16 billion in the next ten years i.e. strong growth over that of the past decade. Growth in launch revenues is stronger than that of satellite manufacturing with more diversity in launch services and various quality of services.

Smallsat operators currently launch with medium to heavy launchers that are contracted directly or through launch brokers. Several dedicated smallsat launchers are in development, the most advanced being on the edge to perform maiden flights, in order to be more responsive to market needs (on time, on orbit) but at the expense of a premium in specific price (price per kg into orbit).

Ready for Its Day in the Sun: The SWEAP Investigation

When NASA's Parker Solar Probe launches into space from the Kennedy Space Center, it will begin its journey to the Sun, our nearest star. The Parker Solar Probe will travel almost 90 million miles and eventually enter through the Sun's outer atmosphere to encounter a dangerous environment of intense heat and solar radiation. During this harrowing journey, it will fly closer to the Sun than any other human-made object. To revolutionize our understanding of our most important and life-sustaining star, scientists and engineers have built a suite of instruments aboard the Parker Solar Probe to conduct different experiments. Some of these instruments will be protected by a thick carbon-composite heat shield. However, others will be more exposed. The Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) investigation is the set of instruments that will directly measure the hot ionized gas in the solar atmosphere during the solar encounters. A key instrument on SWEAP called the Solar Probe Cup (SPC) was built at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Mass. The SPC is a small metal device that will peer around the protective heat shield of the spacecraft directly at the Sun. It will face some of the most extreme conditions ever encountered by a scientific instrument, and allow a sample of the Sun's atmosphere to be swept up for the first time.


The SPC uses high voltages to determine what type of particles can enter, which is a way of measuring the energy of the particle. This is crucial information for probing the wind of hot ionized gas that is constantly produced by the Sun. As the spacecraft flies towards the Sun for an encounter, the wind is directed straight into the cup.

Without the SPC, Parker Solar Probe would miss most of what is in between Earth and the Sun. This unique probe of the solar wind is important for scientists to better understand space weather, which is responsible for effects that range from endangering astronauts on space walks to impacting the electronics in communications satellites.

The Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel towards the Sun's atmosphere at speeds of about 430,000 mph (700,000 km/hr), becoming the fastest human-made object.

Eventually, Parker Solar Probe will enter an orbit that approaches to within only 4 million miles from the star's surface. (For context, the Earth averages a distance of about 93 million miles from the Sun during its elliptical orbit.

Or, to put it another way, the spacecraft will travel about 96% of the way from the Earth to the Sun.) Parker Solar Probe, which will be carried into space by a Delta-IV Heavy rocket, is currently scheduled to launch on August 11, 2018.

The SWEAP Team is led by Justin Kasper currently at the University of Michigan (and currently an SAO Research Associate). On the SWEAP Investigation, SAO partners with team members from University of California, Berkeley, Space Sciences Laboratory, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the University of Alabama, Huntsville, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. SAO built the SPC (Instrument Scientist: Tony Case), leads the Science Operations

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Russia Plans to Send Capsule With Microorganisms to Mars

Russian scientists plan to send a capsule containing microorganisms to Mars' natural satellite Phobos and then get it back to Earth in order to study the possible mutations during the space flight, Natalya Novikova, the head of the microbiology laboratory at the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Sputnik. The project will be carried out as part of the Bumerang mission, which reproduces Russia's attempted Fobos-Grunt mission. "Now as part of the Bumerang project - a repetition of the Fobos-Grunt mission - it is planned to do a new experiment with sending to Mars and returning back a capsule with microorganisms," Novikova said. In November 2011, Russia attempted to launch Fobos-Grunt mission to Mars, however, after moving into the orbit the spacecraft did not manage to start its engines.


Two months later, it reentered Earth's atmosphere and fell into the Pacific Ocean. The Fobos-Grunt project also provided for sending a capsule with microorganisms to Mars, with the experiment dubbed Biofobos.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Astronomers Uncover New Clues to the Star That Wouldn't Die

What happens when a star behaves like it exploded, but it's still there? About 170 years ago, astronomers witnessed a major outburst by Eta Carinae, one of the brightest known stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The blast unleashed almost as much energy as a standard supernova explosion. Yet Eta Carinae survived. An explanation for the eruption has eluded astrophysicists. They can't take a time machine back to the mid-1800s to observe the outburst with modern technology. However, astronomers can use nature's own "time machine," courtesy of the fact that light travels at a finite speed through space. Rather than heading straight toward Earth, some of the light from the outburst rebounded or "echoed" off of interstellar dust, and is just now arriving at Earth. This effect is called a light echo. The light is behaving like a postcard that got lost in the mail and is only arriving 170 years later. By performing modern astronomical forensics of the delayed light with ground-based telescopes, astronomers uncovered a surprise. The new measurements of the 19th-century eruption reveal material expanding with record-breaking speeds up to 20 times faster than astronomers expected. The observed velocities are more like the fastest material ejected by the blast wave in a supernova explosion, rather than the relatively slow and gentle winds expected from massive stars before they die.


Based on this data, researchers suggest that the 1840s eruption may have been triggered by a prolonged stellar brawl among three rowdy sibling stars, which destroyed one star and left the other two in a binary system. This tussle may have culminated with a violent explosion when Eta Carinae devoured one of its two companions, rocketing more than 10 times the mass of our Sun into space. The ejected mass created gigantic bipolar lobes resembling the dumbbell shape seen in present-day images.

The results are reported in a pair of papers by a team led by Nathan Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and Armin Rest of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

The light echoes were detected in visible-light images obtained since 2003 with moderate-sized telescopes at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Using larger telescopes at the Magellan Observatory and the Gemini South Observatory, both also located in Chile, the team then used spectroscopy to dissect the light, allowing them to measure the ejecta's expansion speeds. They clocked material zipping along at more than 20 million miles per hour (fast enough to travel from Earth to Pluto in a few days).

The observations offer new clues to the mystery surrounding the titanic convulsion that, at the time, made Eta Carinae the second-brightest nighttime star seen in the sky from Earth between 1837 and 1858. The data hint at how it may have come to be the most luminous and massive star in the Milky Way galaxy.

"We see these really high velocities in a star that seems to have had a powerful explosion, but somehow the star survived," Smith explained. "The easiest way to do this is with a shock wave that exits the star and accelerates material to very high speeds."

Massive stars normally meet their final demise in shock-driven events when their cores collapse to make a neutron star or black hole. Astronomers see this phenomenon in supernova explosions where the star is obliterated. So how do you have a star explode with a shock-driven event, but it isn't enough to completely blow itself apart? Some violent event must have dumped just the right amount of energy onto the star, causing it to eject its outer layers. But the energy wasn't enough to completely annihilate the star.

One possibility for just such an event is a merger between two stars, but it has been hard to find a scenario that could work and match all the data on Eta Carinae.

The researchers suggest that the most straightforward way to explain a wide range of observed facts surrounding the eruption is with an interaction of three stars, where the objects exchange mass.

If that's the case, then the present-day remnant binary system must have started out as a triple system. "The reason why we suggest that members of a crazy triple system interact with each other is because this is the best explanation for how the present-day companion quickly lost its outer layers before its more massive sibling," Smith said.

In the team's proposed scenario, two hefty stars are orbiting closely and a third companion is orbiting farther away. When the most massive of the close binary stars nears the end of its life, it begins to expand and dumps most of its material onto its slightly smaller sibling.

The sibling has now bulked up to about 100 times the mass of our Sun and is extremely bright. The donor star, now only about 30 solar masses, has been stripped of its hydrogen layers, exposing its hot helium core.

Hot helium core stars are known to represent an advanced stage of evolution in the lives of massive stars. "From stellar evolution, there's a pretty firm understanding that more massive stars live their lives more quickly and less massive stars have longer lifetimes," Rest explained. "So the hot companion star seems to be further along in its evolution, even though it is now a much less massive star than the one it is orbiting. That doesn't make sense without a transfer of mass."

The mass transfer alters the gravitational balance of the system, and the helium-core star moves farther away from its monster sibling. The star travels so far away that it gravitationally interacts with the outermost third star, kicking it inward. After making a few close passes, the star merges with its heavyweight partner, producing an outflow of material.

In the merger's initial stages, the ejecta is dense and expanding relatively slowly as the two stars spiral closer and closer. Later, an explosive event occurs when the two inner stars finally join together, blasting off material moving 100 times faster. This material eventually catches up with the slow ejecta and rams into it like a snowplow, heating the material and making it glow. This glowing material is the light source of the main historical eruption seen by astronomers a century and a half ago.

Meanwhile, the smaller helium-core star settles into an elliptical orbit, passing through the giant star's outer layers every 5.5 years. This interaction generates X-ray emitting shock waves.

A better understanding of the physics of Eta Carinae's eruption may help to shed light on the complicated interactions of binary and multiple stars, which are critical for understanding the evolution and death of massive stars.

The Eta Carinae system resides 7,500 light-years away inside the Carina nebula, a vast star-forming region seen in the southern sky.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Flight Tests to Prove Commercial Systems Fit for Human Spaceflight

The first test flights for new spacecraft designed by commercial companies in collaboration with NASA to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station from the United States are known as Demo-1 for SpaceX and Orbital Flight Test for Boeing. NASA's goal in collaborating with Boeing and SpaceX is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from station on the companies' spacecraft. Both companies have matured their designs, are making significant progress through their extensive testing campaigns, and are headed toward flight tests to validate their systems. An uncrewed flight test was not a NASA requirement for certifying these systems for human spaceflight. Boeing and SpaceX volunteered to perform these tests to demonstrate their systems are safe for crew. "This was above and beyond the NASA requirement in the contract," said Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager at NASA Kennedy. "Both partners said they really wanted to have an uncrewed flight test to make sure the integrated rockets, spacecraft and re-entry systems are all working as designed to be able to ensure the integrated system is functioning." Each test flight will provide data on the performance of the rockets, spacecraft, ground systems, and operations to ensure the systems are safe to fly astronauts. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.


"Tomorrow we will meet the astronauts who will be the first to fly the CST-100 Starliner. Our commitment has always been to provide NASA and those crews the highest level of mission assurance," said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for Boeing's Commercial Crew effort.

"We believe the earliest time we can confidently do that will be in mid-2019 after flying an uncrewed flight test late this year or early next year. I'm incredibly proud of the progress our team has made, and it has been inspiring to watch them work through challenges quickly, while developing a brand new human-rated spacecraft that Boeing, NASA and the nation can be proud of."

SpaceX designed its Crew Dragon spacecraft to launch atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Safely and reliably flying commercial crew missions for NASA remains the highest priority for SpaceX," said Benji Reed, Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX.

"We look forward to launching Crew Dragon-designed to be one of the safest, most-advanced human spaceflight systems ever built-and returning human-spaceflight capabilities to the United States for the first time since the Space Shuttle Program retired in 2011. SpaceX is targeting November 2018 for Crew Dragon's first demonstration mission and April 2019 for Crew Dragon's second demonstration mission, which will carry two NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station."

NASA is making crew assignments now for the Boeing Crew Flight Test and SpaceX Demo-2 to support flight training as we return to launching our astronauts from American soil. As a partner approaches its target readiness date, NASA will work with the company and the Eastern Range to identify launch dates within the busy International Space Station schedule to ensure science investigations, as well as logistics activities and critical operations continue while these new spacecraft are tested.

Many of the team members leading the unique public-private partnership believe the agency is on the cusp of something life changing with its Commercial Crew Program.

"I'm excited to be part of the future of space travel," said Jon Cowart, acting deputy manager for the Commercial Crew Program's Mission Management and Integration office at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "When we get to this point the companies will have tested every piece of the spacecraft individually, but there is so much more learning that occurs when the spacecraft is actually operated in space. The systems will be operated in the actual environment to test it and ensure it's ready for crew."

The hardware for these uncrewed missions is being prepared for launch. Boeing's Starliner spacecraft is being outfitted at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility on the Kennedy and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V dual engine Centaur that will launch Starliner will be shipped to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in August to prepare for the upcoming flight.

Separately, SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft for Demo-1 arrived to the Cape in July for final processing. Falcon 9's first and second stages for the Demo-1 mission are targeted to ship from SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California to the company's rocket testing facility in McGregor, Texas for additional testing in August.

Once the uncrewed flight tests are complete and the data reviews have validated the spacecraft systems, NASA astronauts will have their first opportunity to fly in the spacecraft. Crew for Boeing's Crew Flight Test and SpaceX's Demo-2 flights will each include at least a flight commander and pilot aboard to test out the systems.

These flight tests will have similar configurations to the uncrewed tests, but the crew will have the ability to interface with spacecraft displays, communicate with mission control, and practice manual controls during flight. Starliner and Crew Dragon will dock and undock autonomously to the space station before returning the crew safely home.

"The crew right now is actually working on integrated crew simulations on the flight systems," said Lueders. "They are providing input to the partners to help ensure the interior of the cabin is appropriately located and set up so crew can function and conduct key activities. They're verifying crew layout, doing simulations where they're actually practicing their maneuvers, and also checking out the software and the display systems, and everything else for the crew to be functioning safely in the spacecraft."

After successful completion of the flight tests with crew, NASA will review flight data to verify the systems meet the agency's safety and performance certification requirements and are ready to begin regular servicing missions to the space station.

"I see parallels between commercial crew and the early aviation industry, when government nurtured that commercial innovation," said Cowart. "In similar fashion, NASA is empowering private industry to gain solid footing in low-Earth orbit, which will allow NASA to explore new frontiers in deep space."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Exoplanets where life could develop as on Earth

Scientists have identified a group of planets outside our solar system where the same chemical conditions that may have led to life on Earth exist. The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB), found that the chances for life to develop on the surface of a rocky planet like Earth are connected to the type and strength of light given off by its host star. Their study, published in the journal Science Advances, proposes that stars which give off sufficient ultraviolet (UV) light could kick-start life on their orbiting planets in the same way it likely developed on Earth, where the UV light powers a series of chemical reactions that produce the building blocks of life. The researchers have identified a range of planets where the UV light from their host star is sufficient to allow these chemical reactions to take place, and that lie within the habitable range where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. "This work allows us to narrow down the best places to search for life," said Dr. Paul Rimmer, a postdoctoral researcher with a joint affiliation at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory and the MRC LMB, and the paper's first author. "It brings us just a little bit closer to addressing the question of whether we are alone in the universe."


The new paper is the result of an ongoing collaboration between the Cavendish Laboratory and the MRC LMB, bringing together organic chemistry and exoplanet research. It builds on the work of Professor John Sutherland, a co-author on the current paper, who studies the chemical origin of life on Earth.

In a paper published in 2015, Professor Sutherland's group at the MRC LMB proposed that cyanide, although a deadly poison, was in fact a key ingredient in the primordial soup from which all life on Earth originated.

In this hypothesis, carbon from meteorites that slammed into the young Earth interacted with nitrogen in the atmosphere to form hydrogen cyanide. The hydrogen cyanide rained to the surface, where it interacted with other elements in various ways, powered by the UV light from the Sun. The chemicals produced from these interactions generated the building blocks of RNA, the close relative of DNA which most biologists believe was the first molecule of life to carry information.

In the laboratory, Sutherland's group recreated these chemical reactions under UV lamps, and generated the precursors to lipids, amino acids and nucleotides, all of which are essential components of living cells.

"I came across these earlier experiments, and as an astronomer, my first question is always what kind of light are you using, which as chemists they hadn't really thought about," said Rimmer. "I started out measuring the number of photons emitted by their lamps, and then realised that comparing this light to the light of different stars was a straightforward next step."

The two groups performed a series of laboratory experiments to measure how quickly the building blocks of life can be formed from hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulphite ions in water when exposed to UV light. They then performed the same experiment in the absence of light.

"There is chemistry that happens in the dark: it's slower than the chemistry that happens in the light, but it's there," said senior author Professor Didier Queloz, also from the Cavendish Laboratory. "We wanted to see how much light it would take for the light chemistry to win out over the dark chemistry."

The same experiment run in the dark with the hydrogen cyanide and the hydrogen sulphite resulted in an inert compound which could not be used to form the building blocks of life, while the experiment performed under the lights did result in the necessary building blocks.

The researchers then compared the light chemistry to the dark chemistry against the UV light of different stars. They plotted the amount of UV light available to planets in orbit around these stars to determine where the chemistry could be activated.

They found that stars around the same temperature as our Sun emitted enough light for the building blocks of life to have formed on the surfaces of their planets. Cool stars, on the other hand, do not produce enough light for these building blocks to be formed, except if they have frequent powerful solar flares to jolt the chemistry forward step by step. Planets that both receive enough light to activate the chemistry and could have liquid water on their surfaces reside in what the researchers have called the abiogenesis zone.

Among the known exoplanets which reside in the abiogenesis zone are several planets detected by the Kepler telescope, including Kepler 452b, a planet that has been nicknamed Earth's 'cousin,' although it is too far away to probe with current technology. Next-generation telescopes, such as NASA's TESS and James Webb telescopes, will hopefully be able to identify and potentially characterise many more planets that lie within the abiogenesis zone.

Of course, it is also possible that if there is life on other planets, that it has or will develop in a totally different way than it did on Earth.

"I'm not sure how contingent life is, but given that we only have one example so far, it makes sense to look for places that are most like us," said Rimmer. "There's an important distinction between what is necessary and what is sufficient. The building blocks are necessary, but they may not be sufficient: it's possible you could mix them for billions of years and nothing happens. But you want to at least look at the places where the necessary things exist."

According to recent estimates, there are as many as 700 million trillion terrestrial planets in the observable universe. "Getting some idea of what fraction have been, or might be, primed for life fascinates me," said Sutherland. "Of course, being primed for life is not everything and we still don't know how likely the origin of life is, even given favourable circumstances - if it's really unlikely then we might be alone, but if not, we may have company."

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Thales and SSL form consortium to further design and develop Telesat's LEO constellation

Thales Alenia Space, a Joint Venture between Thales (67 %) and Leonardo (33 %), and SSL, a Maxar Technologies company (NYSE: MAXR; TSX: MAXR), have signed a consortium agreement to pursue the development and manufacture of Telesat's highly advanced global LEO satellite constellation and end-to-end system. In addition the consortium, led by Thales Alenia Space, announced reports that they have been awarded a contract by Telesat for a System Design and Risk Management Project for the Telesat LEO constellation. Following a highly rigorous process involving leading satellite manufacturing companies, Telesat selected the Thales Alenia Space / Maxar consortium for its LEO design phase based on the consortium's compelling proposal for the end-to-end system, the maturity of the required technologies, and the competitiveness of its solution. The three companies will work together on the design of the end-to-end system, including satellites, gateways, user terminals, operations centers, and ground network. Telesat will provide funding during this phase and anticipates selecting a prime contractor, either the Thales Alenia Space / Maxar consortium or an alternate team, in mid-2019 for Telesat's LEO program - space segment, ground segment and system integration.


Telesat's LEO constellation will transform global communications by offering an unsurpassed combination of capacity, speed, security, resiliency and low cost with latency performance that is as good or better than the most advanced terrestrial networks.

These capabilities will be available globally and will enable Telesat LEO to become a core component in satisfying many of the world's most challenging communications requirements.

Telesat LEO will accelerate 5G expansion, end the digital divide with fiber-like high speed services into rural and remote communities, and establish new levels of performance for commercial and government broadband on land, sea and in the air.

The Thales Alenia Space / Maxar consortium brings proven experience, industrial capability and a strong supplier base for fully integrated communications satellite systems, including payload antenna design, on-board processing and LEO satellite production. The companies have formed fully integrated teams across multiple work streams located in France, the U.S. and Canada in order to apply the consortium's very best talent to every task.

The Thales Alenia Space / Maxar solution will enable Telesat's LEO constellation to deliver for its customers multi-Terabits of highly secure, low latency communications around the globe at the most competitive cost.

"This consortium is the occasion for Thales Alenia Space, leader in the constellations market, to prove once again its unique expertise in this area. The Thales Alenia Space and Maxar team is very proud to go forward with Telesat for this ambitious and thrilling project - Telesat LEO will be a game changer for the satellite industry", declared Martin Van Schaik, Senior VP Sales and Marketing Thales Alenia Space.

"For Maxar Technologies, a global leader of advanced space technology solutions, participation in the consortium with Thales Alenia Space demonstrates the value of our SSL and MDA businesses working together to bring integrated solutions that drive competitive advantages for satellite operators such as Telesat", said Dario Zamarian, Group President, SSL.

Monday, July 30, 2018

NASA's TESS spacecraft starts science operations

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has started its search for planets around nearby stars, officially beginning science operations on July 25, 2018. TESS is expected to transmit its first series of science data back to Earth in August, and thereafter periodically every 13.5 days, once per orbit, as the spacecraft makes it closest approach to Earth. The TESS Science Team will begin searching the data for new planets immediately after the first series arrives. "I'm thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system's neighborhood for new worlds," said Paul Hertz, NASA Astrophysics division director at Headquarters, Washington. "Now that we know there are more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we're bound to discover." TESS is NASA's latest satellite to search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The mission will spend the next two years monitoring the nearest and brightest stars for periodic dips in their light.


These events, called transits, suggest that a planet may be passing in front of its star. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets using this method, some of which could potentially support life.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Space Station experiment reaches ultracold milestone

The International Space Station is officially home to the coolest experiment in space. NASA's Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) was installed in the station's U.S. science lab in late May and is now producing clouds of ultracold atoms known as Bose-Einstein condensates. These "BECs" reach temperatures just above absolute zero, the point at which atoms should theoretically stop moving entirely. This is the first time BECs have ever been produced in orbit. CAL is a multiuser facility dedicated to the study of fundamental laws of nature using ultracold quantum gases in microgravity. Cold atoms are long-lived, precisely controlled quantum particles that provide an ideal platform for the study of quantum phenomena and potential applications of quantum technologies.This NASA facility is the first of its kind in space. It is designed to advance scientists' ability to make precision measurements of gravity, probing long-standing problems in quantum physics (the study of the universe at the very smallest scales), and exploring the wavelike nature of matter. "Having a BEC experiment operating on the space station is a dream come true," said Robert Thompson, CAL project scientist and a physicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It's been a long, hard road to get here, but completely worth the struggle, because there's so much we're going to be able to do with this facility."


CAL scientists confirmed last week that the facility has produced BECs from atoms of rubidium, with temperatures as low as 100 nanoKelvin, or one ten-millionth of one Kelvin above absolute zero. (Absolute zero, or zero Kelvin, is equal to minu 459 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 273 degrees Celsius).

That's colder than the average temperature of space, which is about 3 Kelvin (minus 454 degrees Fahrenheit/minus 270 degrees Celsius). But the CAL scientists have their sights set even lower, and expect to reach temperatures colder than what any BEC experiments have achieved on Earth.

At these ultracold temperatures, the atoms in a BEC begin to behave unlike anything else on Earth. In fact, BECs are characterized as a fifth state of matter, distinct from gases, liquids, solids and plasma. In a BEC, atoms act more like waves than particles.

The wave nature of atoms is typically only observable at microscopic scales, but BECs make this phenomenon macroscopic, and thus much easier to study. The ultracold atoms all assume their lowest energy state, and take on the same wave identity, becoming indistinguishable from one another. Together, the atom clouds are like a single "super atom," instead of individual atoms.

Not a simple instrument

"CAL is an extremely complicated instrument," said Robert Shotwell, chief engineer of JPL's astronomy and physics directorate, who has overseen the challenging project since February 2017.

"Typically, BEC experiments involve enough equipment to fill a room and require near-constant monitoring by scientists, whereas CAL is about the size of a small refrigerator and can be operated remotely from Earth. It was a struggle and required significant effort to overcome all the hurdles necessary to produce the sophisticated facility that's operating on the space station today."

The first laboratory BECs were produced in 1995, but the phenomenon was first predicted 71 years earlier by physicists Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein. Eric Cornell, Carl Wienman and Wolfgang Ketterle shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics for being the first to create and characterize BECs in the lab. Five science groups, including groups led by Cornell and Ketterle, will conduct experiments with CAL during its first year.

Hundreds of BEC experiments have been operated on Earth since the mid-1990s, and a few BEC experiments have even made brief trips to space aboard sounding rockets. But CAL is the first facility of its kind on the space station, where scientists can conduct daily studies of BECs over long periods.

BECs are created in atom traps, or frictionless containers made out of magnetic fields or focused lasers. On Earth, when these traps are shut off, gravity pulls on the ultracold atoms and they can only be studied for fractions of a second.

The persistent microgravity of the space station allows scientists to observe individual BECs for five to 10 seconds at a time, with the ability to repeat these measurements for up to six hours per day. As the atom cloud decompresses inside the atom trap, its temperature naturally drops, and the longer the cloud stays in the trap, the colder it gets.

This natural phenomenon (that a drop in pressure also means a drop in temperature) is also the reason that a can of spray paint gets cold when the paint is sprayed out: the can's internal pressure is dropping. In microgravity, the BECs can decompress to colder temperatures than any earthbound instrument. Day-to-day operations of CAL require no intervention from the astronauts aboard the station.

In addition to the BECs made from rubidium atoms, the CAL team is working toward making BECs using two different isotopes of potassium atoms.

CAL is currently in a commissioning phase, in which the operations team conducts a long series of tests to fully understand how the CAL facility operates in microgravity.

"There is a globe-spanning team of scientists ready and excited to use this facility," said Kamal Oudrhiri, JPL's mission manager for CAL. "The diverse range of experiments they plan to perform means there are many techniques for manipulating and cooling the atoms that we need to adapt for microgravity, before we turn the instrument over to the principal investigators to begin science operations." The science phase is expected to begin in early September and will last three years.

The Cold Atom Laboratory launched to the space station on May 21, 2018, aboard a Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) Cygnus spacecraft from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Designed and built at JPL, CAL is sponsored by the International Space Station Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications (SLPSRA) Division of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Kleos Space signs contract with GomSpace for the supply of nanosatellites

Luxembourg-based Kleos Space S.A., state-of-the-art space technology operator, is proud to announce the signature of a contract for the supply of a multi- nanosatellite system with GomSpace A/S - a subsidiary of GomSpace Group AB. The signature follows the announcement of an authorisation to proceed with GomSpace in March 2018. The contract value (includes R and D, test equipment and launcher integration support) is approx. 2,42 million EUR and the delivery of the multi-nanosatellite system is expected to take place in Q2 2019. Kleos Space aims to guard borders, protect assets and save lives by delivering global activity based intelligence and geolocation as a service. The first Kleos Space satellite system, known as Kleos Scouting Mission (KSM), will perform technology demonstration that will be the keystone for a later global high capacity constellation. The Scouting Mission will deliver targeted daily services with the full constellation delivering near-real-time global observation. "GomSpace is a critical partner for Kleos to deliver our goal of providing global RF geolocation intelligence as a service. We continue to be impressed with the quality, value, responsiveness and capability of the GomSpace team who have shown themselves to be able to work truly synergistically with the Kleos team", says Andy Bowyer, CEO at Kleos Space.


"Kleos is a fantastic example of the revolution that is taking place in New Space. We are happy to see the perfect match between our technology roadmap and the services that Kleos will provide and we are confident that this collaboration will be a success", says Niels Buus, CEO at GomSpace.

Kleos Space's accessible and commercial solutions respond to the world's countries concerns with regards to surveillance, intelligence gathering and defence issues.

Kleos Space S.A. is a Space enabled, Maritime Activity Based Intelligence - Data as a Service company based in Luxembourg. The company is also developing In-Space Manufacturing technology for near and long term commercial applications. It was recently announced that the company, a spin out of a UK Space Engineering company; Magna Parva plans to IPO on the ASX in July 2018.

Friday, July 27, 2018

SpaceX launches, lands rocket in challenging conditions

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carried 10 Iridium satellites into orbit on Wednesday. The Iridium-7 mission marked SpaceX's 14th launch of the year and the seventh mission for Iridium Communications, which aims to launch 75 satellites into orbit. After Wednesday's mission, Iridium now has 65 satellites in operation. The rocket blasted-off early Wednesday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. "All 10 satellites have deployed into an on-target orbit," Spaceflight Now's Stephen Clark reported at 8:53 a.m. ET. As usual, SpaceX safely landed the rocket's reusable first stage. The rocket stage landed on the spaceport drone ship "Just Read the Instructions." Though SpaceX's rocket reusability has become routine, Wednesday's weather conditions made the feat more difficult. "Despite challenging weather conditions, Falcon 9 first stage booster landed on Just Read the Instructions," SpaceX wrote on Twitter. Foggy conditions made visibility a problem. At the outset of the live streaming broadcast, the Falcon 9 rocket was nearly invisible, only coming into clear view after liftoff. Choppy seas added to the challenge of landing the first stage back on Earth.




The 10 Iridium satellites will join the dozens of Iridium satellites already in space. The constellation of communication satellites -- now featuring 75 satellites and scheduled to get 10 more later this summer -- is designed to support the Internet of Things, the technology behind smart devices.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mars Express Detects Liquid Water Hidden Under Planet's South Pole

Evidence for the Red Planet's watery past is prevalent across its surface in the form of vast dried-out river valley networks and gigantic outflow channels clearly imaged by orbiting spacecraft. Orbiters, together with landers and rovers exploring the Martian surface, also discovered minerals that can only form in the presence of liquid water. But the climate has changed significantly over the course of the planet's 4.6-billion-year history and liquid water cannot exist on the surface today, so scientists are looking underground. Early results from the 15-year-old Mars Express spacecraft already found that water ice exists at the planet's poles and is also buried in layers interspersed with dust. The presence of liquid water at the base of the polar ice caps has long been suspected; after all, from studies on Earth, it is well known that the melting point of water decreases under the pressure of an overlying glacier. Moreover, the presence of salts on Mars could further reduce the melting point of water and keep the water liquid even at below-freezing temperatures. But until now evidence from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, MARSIS, the first radar sounder ever to orbit another planet, remained inconclusive. It has taken the persistence of scientists working with this subsurface-probing instrument to develop new techniques in order to collect as much high-resolution data as possible to confirm their exciting conclusion.


Ground-penetrating radar uses the method of sending radar pulses towards the surface and timing how long it takes for them to be reflected back to the spacecraft, and with what strength. The properties of the material that lies between influences the returned signal, which can be used to map the subsurface topography.

The radar investigation shows that south polar region of Mars is made of many layers of ice and dust down to a depth of about 1.5 km in the 200-km-wide area analyzed in this study. A particularly bright radar reflection underneath the layered deposits is identified within a 20-km-wide zone.

Analyzing the properties of the reflected radar signals and considering the composition of the layered deposits and expected temperature profile below the surface, the scientists interpret the bright feature as an interface between the ice and a stable body of liquid water, which could be laden with salty, saturated sediments. For MARSIS to be able to detect such a patch of water, it would need to be at least several tens of centimeters thick.

"This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments," says Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment and lead author of the paper published in the journal Science.

"This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered."

"We'd seen hints of interesting subsurface features for years but we couldn't reproduce the result from orbit to orbit, because the sampling rates and resolution of our data was previously too low," adds Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS operations manager and a co-author on the new paper.

"We had to come up with a new operating mode to bypass some onboard processing and trigger a higher sampling rate and thus improve the resolution of the footprint of our dataset: now we see things that simply were not possible before."

The finding is somewhat reminiscent of Lake Vostok, discovered some 4 km below the ice in Antarctica on Earth. Some forms of microbial life are known to thrive in Earth's subglacial environments, but could underground pockets of salty, sediment-rich liquid water on Mars also provide a suitable habitat, either now or in the past? Whether life has ever existed on Mars remains an open question, and is one that Mars missions, including the current European-Russian ExoMars orbiter and future rover, will continue to explore.

"The long duration of Mars Express, and the exhausting effort made by the radar team to overcome many analytical challenges, enabled this much-awaited result, demonstrating that the mission and its payload still have a great science potential," says Dmitri Titov, ESA's Mars Express project scientist.

"This thrilling discovery is a highlight for planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbor planet and its habitability."

Mars Express launched 2 June 2003 and celebrates 15 years in orbit on 25 December this year.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Preparing to fly the wind mission Aeolus

The launch of Aeolus - ESA's mission to map Earth's wind in real-time - is getting tantalisingly close, with the satellite due for lift-off on 21 August from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. With the wind in their sails, mission teams are busily preparing this unique satellite for its upcoming journey. Aeolus will carry a sophisticated atmospheric laser Doppler instrument, dubbed Aladin. Combining two powerful lasers, a large telescope and extremely sensitive receivers, it is one of the most advanced instruments ever put into orbit. The spacecraft has already been tested to handle the rigours of space, and recently made a 12-day crossing of the Atlantic from France to Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Lift-off is set for 21 August at 21:20 GMT (23:20 CEST) on a Vega rocket. "Aeolus' arrival at the launch site marks the end of 16 years of intensive planning, testing and construction, by literally generations of engineers and scientists" says Juan Pineiro, Spacecraft Operations Manager for Aeolus. "We now look forward to seeing the skill and dedication of these countless individuals come to fruition, as Aeolus takes flight and we begin receiving evidence that the satellite can fulfil its very ambitious mission objectives."


The complex world of winds

Currently one of the biggest challenges in making accurate weather predictions is gathering enough information about Earth's wind. Aeolus will be the first-ever satellite to directly measure winds from space, at all altitudes, from Earth's surface through the troposphere and up 30 km to the stratosphere - providing information that will significantly improve the quality of weather forecasts.

Paolo Ferri, Head of Mission Operations at ESA adds, "The Aeolus mission will be a wonderful addition to our fleet of satellites that continually observe Earth bringing us incredible insights into our planet, in particular into the complex world of atmospheric dynamics and climate processes - systems that not only affect our everyday lives but also have huge consequences for our future."

Aeolus will orbit continuously from pole to pole in a so-called 'Sun-synchronous' orbit - passing over any given point on Earth's surface at the same local time each revolution, always maintaining the same orientation in relation to the Sun.

Specifically, Aeolus will follow a 'dawn/dusk' orbit, appearing to follow the borderline between sun and shade, day and night on Earth, meaning its solar panels will always receive the same amount of
light from the Sun.

Simulating every eventuality

In preparation for this unique mission, teams at ESA's European Space Operations Centre have spent months practising to handle any possible scenarios in a series of launch simulations in the centre's Main Control Room.

Once a satellite has been launched into space, it goes through the critical and complex 'launch and early orbit phase', during which control systems and, later, instruments, are progressively switched on and their health and proper functioning assessed.

This is a risky time when the satellite is unusually vulnerable - not yet fully functional but still exposed to the hazards of space.

Pier Paolo Emanuelli, Flight Director for Aeolus, describes this unique period:

"Every satellite has its own unique objectives, orbit and quirks, and Aeolus is no exception. Teams of highly trained engineers, flight dynamics specialists and experts in control systems and ground stations have been practising exactly what Aeolus needs to do, when, and how they will instruct it to do so."

"It's a challenging but very exciting time!"

Monday, July 23, 2018

The True Colors of Pluto and Charon

Three years after NASA's New Horizons spacecraft gave humankind our first close-up views of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, scientists are still revealing the wonders of these incredible worlds in the outer solar system. Marking the anniversary of New Horizons' historic flight through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, mission scientists have released the most accurate natural color images of Pluto and Charon. These natural-color images result from refined calibrations of data gathered by New Horizons' Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). "That processing creates images that would approximate the colors that the human eye would perceive - bringing them closer to 'true color' than the images released near the encounter," said Alex Parker, a New Horizons science team co-investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. Because MVIC's color filters don't closely match the wavelengths sensed by human vision, mission scientists applied special processing to translate the raw MVIC data into an estimate of the colors that the eye would see. The colors are more subdued than those constructed from the raw MVIC color data, because of the narrower wavelength range sensed by the human eye.


Both images were taken as New Horizons zipped toward closest approach to Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015; Charon was taken from a range of 46,091 miles (74,176 kilometers) and Pluto from 22,025 miles (35,445 kilometers).

Each is a single color MVIC scan, with no data from other New Horizons imagers or instruments added. The striking features on each are clearly visible, from Charon's reddish north-polar region known as Mordor Macula, to the bright expanse of Pluto's, nitrogen-and-methane-ice rich "heart," named Sputnik Planitia.

Preparations are well underway for New Horizons' next encounter, a flyby of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, on Jan. 1, 2019 - a billion miles beyond Pluto. Currently about 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion kilometers) from Earth - more than 40 times farther from the Sun than Earth - the spacecraft is operating normally and will begin making long-distance observations and measurements of Ultima in late August.

Added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute: "Even as we celebrate the third anniversary of the historic exploration of the Pluto system - the most distant worlds ever explored - we're looking forward to the far more distant and record-shattering exploration of Ultima Thule, just five months from now!"

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Martian Atmosphere Behaves as One

Understanding the Martian atmosphere is a key topic in planetary science, from its current status to its past history. Mars's atmosphere continuously leaks out to space and is a crucial factor in the planet's past, present, and future habitability - or lack of it. The planet has lost the majority of its once much denser and wetter atmosphere, causing it to evolve into the dry, arid world we see today. However, the tenuous atmosphere Mars has retained remains complex, and scientists are working to understand if and how the processes within it are connected over space and time. A new study based on 10 years of data from the radar instrument on Mars Express now offers clear evidence of a sought-after link between the upper and lower atmospheres of the planet. While best known for probing the interior of Mars via radar sounding, the instrument has also gathered observations of the Martian ionosphere since it began operating in 2005. "The lower and middle levels of Mars's atmosphere appear to be coupled to the upper levels: there's a clear link between them throughout the Martian year," says lead author Beatriz Sanchez-Cano of the University of Leicester, UK.


"We found this link by tracking the amount of electrons in the upper atmosphere - a property that has been measured by the MARSIS radar for over a decade across different seasons, areas of Mars, times of day, and more - and correlating it with the atmospheric parameters measured by other instruments on Mars Express."

The amount of charged particles in Mars's upper atmosphere - at altitudes of between 100 and 200 km - is known to change with season and local time, driven by changes in solar illumination and activity, and, crucially for this study, the varying composition and density of the atmosphere itself. But the scientists found more changes than they were expecting.

"We discovered a surprising and significant increase in the amount of charged particles in the upper atmosphere during springtime in the Northern hemisphere, which is when the mass in the lower atmosphere is growing as ice sublimates from the northern polar cap," adds Beatriz.

Mars's polar caps are made up of a mix of water ice and frozen carbon dioxide. Each winter, up to a third of the mass in Mars's atmosphere condenses to form an icy layer at each of the planet's poles. Every spring, some of the mass within these caps sublimates to rejoin the atmosphere, and the caps visibly shrink as a result.

"This sublimation process was thought to mostly only affect the lower atmosphere - we didn't expect to see its effects clearly propagating upwards to higher levels," says co-author Olivier Witasse of the European Space Agency, and former ESA Project Scientist for Mars Express.

"It's very interesting to find a connection like this."

The finding suggests that the atmosphere of Mars behaves as a single system.

This could potentially help scientists to understand how Mars's atmosphere evolves over time - not only with respect to external disturbances such as space weather and the activity of the Sun, but also with respect to Mars's own strong internal variability and surface processes.

Understanding the complex atmosphere of Mars is one of the key objectives of ESA's Mars Express mission, which has been operating in orbit around the Red Planet since 2003.

"Mars Express is still going strong, with one of its current key objectives being to explore exactly how the Martian atmosphere behaves, and how different layers of it are connected to one another," says ESA Mars Express Project Scientist Dmitri Titov.

"Having a long baseline of data is fundamental to our study of Mars - there's now over a decade of observations to work with. These data don't just cover a long time period, but also the entirety of Mars and its atmosphere.

"This wealth of comprehensive and complementary observations by different instruments on Mars Express makes studies like this one possible and, together with ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter and NASA's MAVEN mission, is helping us to unravel the secrets of the Martian atmosphere."

Friday, July 20, 2018

Technicians Ensure James Webb Space Telescope's Sunshield Survives Stresses Experienced During Liftoff

The sound associated with a rocket launch creates extreme vibrations that can adversely affect any satellite or observatory, so engineers put spacecraft through simulations to ensure they will remain operational. In this photo, technicians delicately inspect stowed sunshield membranes of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope on the forward side of the spacecraft. Acoustic testing exposes the spacecraft to similar forces and stress experienced during liftoff, allowing engineers to better prepare it for the rigors of spaceflight. The sunshield separates the observatory into a hot, sun-facing side (reaching temperatures close to 230 degrees Fahrenheit), and a cold side (approximately minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit) where the sunlight is blocked from interfering with the sensitive telescope instruments. The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world's premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries of our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.


Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sustained hypersonic flight-enabling technology patent granted to Advanced Rockets Corporation

Advanced Rockets Corporation has been granted a patent for the Advanced Rockets Vehicle (ARV) system design. The main technological breakthrough highlighted in this patent is the ability to operate within the atmosphere for prolonged periods of time and at very high Mach numbers; Sustained Hypersonic Flight. Othniel Mbamalu, President of Advanced Rockets Corporation, has stated, "the implications of this achievement are enormous across all of aerospace, enabling previously impossible applications and operational flight profiles." He continued with, "One of the biggest problems associated with flying at high speeds within the atmosphere is the associated extreme drag and aerodynamic heating. Our patent solves these problems and expands the possibilities of sustained atmospheric hypersonic flight." A major goal of launch systems and most aerospace programs is improving performance and reducing the cost of access. The technologies featured in this patent achieves this. The ARV patent offers a novel mix of unique processes, techniques and architecture.


The Advanced Rockets Vehicle (ARV) is designed to take advantage of the entire complement of the solutions identified in the patent in a single vehicle platform, although elements from the ARV design could also be applied to other operational launch vehicles and high-velocity projectiles.

Benefits unique to technologies in ARV Patents: + Sustained Hypersonic Flight

+ Full Reusability

+ Extremely Rapid Turnaround

+ High System Growth Potential

+ Easily Achieved Man-Rating

ARV's operational performance is aided by its design architecture that permits very low drag, ultra-high temperature and high mechanical stress tolerance, in a mix that will greatly improve a system's total fuel efficiency. ARV is designed for slightly over 400 flights per vehicle. Current reusable launch vehicles has a reuse rate per vehicle of about 10, so the cost savings implications of the ARV are enormous.
Mr. Mbamalu also added, "The ARV is highly mission specific configurable, considering factors such as orbital altitude, inclination and payload mass to orbit, eliminating "wasted capacity" and maximizing reusability."

ARC's business approach includes licensing its IP to interested companies, although it is open to pursue other avenues. The impact of ARV's patent is enhanced by ARC's patent pending novel propulsion solutions.

The ARV Engine (ARVE) is a standalone propulsion system capable of operating in sustained hypersonic flight environments within the atmosphere. A possible combination of the ARVE with the ARV is a match made in "launch system heaven" and represents potential for decades of market advantage.

Advanced Rockets Corporation was founded with the objective of researching and conceptualizing, protecting and commercializing launch systems and flight technologies. ARC's Othniel Mbamalu has a background in Mechanical Engineering and is the sole Inventor of all Advanced Rockets Corporation's technology patents. Mr. Mbamalu has led ARC from its inception, overseeing all key technological, financial, administrative and strategic decisions thus far.