Sunday, September 30, 2018

Astrophysicists measure precise rotation pattern of Sun-like stars for the first time

Sun-like stars rotate up to two and a half times faster at the equator than at higher latitudes, a finding by researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi that challenges current science on how stars rotate. Until now, little was known about the precise rotational patterns of Sun-like stars, only that the equator spins faster than at higher latitudes, similar to the Sun. Scientists at the NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Space Science used observations from NASA's Kepler mission and asteroseismology - the study of sound waves traveling inside stars - to determine with precision how Sun-like stars rotate, which no other scientific method has been able to achieve. Their study found that Sun-like stars, characterized as being like the Sun in mass and age, do indeed rotate in a similar manner as the Sun in that their equatorial regions rotate more rapidly than at mid- to high latitudes. But there's a key difference.The equator of the Sun rotates about 10 percent faster than its mid latitudes, while equators of Sun-like stars spin up to two and a half times faster than their mid latitudes. "This is very unexpected, and challenges current numerical simulations, which suggest that stars like these should not be able to sustain differential rotation of this magnitude," said Othman Benomar, research associate at the NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Space Science and lead author of the study published in Science.

"Understanding differential rotation - how fast one part of a star spins compared to the rest - is not only important for a complete understanding of how a star works, it will help us gain deeper insights about their magnetic fields," explained Katepalli Sreenivasan, principal investigator of the NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Space Science.

Magnetic fields on the Sun have been known to cause enormous solar storms that frequently disrupt orbiting space satellites and have knocked out power grids on Earth.

Scientists agree that the rotation of the Sun plays a crucial role in the generation of the solar magnetic field, but the exact details still remain a mystery, despite the Sun having been observed and studied in great detail.

Sreenivasan added, "learning more about how stars rotate and generate their own magnetic fields could help us gain further insight into the solar dynamo, the physical process that generates the Sun's magnetic field."

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Both halves of NASA's Webb Telescope successfully communicate

For the first time, the two halves of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope - the spacecraft and the telescope--were connected together using temporary ground wiring that enabled them to "speak" to each other like they will in flight. Although it was a significant step forward for the program, this test was an optional "risk reduction" test that took advantage of an opportunity to connect the two halves of the observatory together electrically months earlier than planned. If any issues had been found, it would have given engineers more time to fix them and without causing further delays. As a bonus, it also provided a jumpstart for the separate spacecraft and telescope test teams to begin working jointly as they will when the whole observatory is put together in one piece next year. The James Webb telescope is both an exceedingly complex and rewarding undertaking for NASA and its international partners. Scientists anticipate its findings to rewrite textbooks on astronomy by providing revolutionary observations of the cosmos, while engineers and involved technicians forecast that its challenging design will enable and influence future spacecraft architecture for years to come.Each piece of Webb has undergone rigorous testing throughout various historic and state of the art facilities across the United States. This ensures the entire observatory is prepared to survive the inherent harshness of a rocket launch to space, and years of continuous exposure to the extremes encountered on a mission nearly a million miles away from Earth.

In February, Webb made an important, and symbolic step forward in its path to completion when all primary flight components of the observatory came to reside under the same roof at Northrop Grumman in Los Angeles, California. This is where all flight hardware is undergoing final assembly and testing until cleared to launch from the Guiana Space Centre near Kourou in French Guiana.

"What we did now was make electrical connections between the flight telescope and flight spacecraft to understand all the nuances of the electrical interface. Specifically in this test, the spacecraft commanded mirror motion on the telescope, and the telescope replied back with telemetry confirming it.

Even though we have tested each half with a simulator of the other half during their parallel construction, there is nothing exactly like connecting the real thing to the real thing. While the sunshield was being reassembled to get back into its environmental testing, we took advantage of the time and did a flight-to-flight electrical dry run right now to reduce schedule risk later," said Mike Menzel, Webb's Mission System Engineer.

"The full complement of electrical and software tests will be run next year when the observatory is finally fully assembled for flight."

The James Webb Space Telescope will be a giant leap forward in our quest to understand the universe and where humans fit in the great cosmic expanse. Webb will examine every phase of cosmic history: from the first luminous glows after the big bang to the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets to the evolution of our own solar system.

Allowing for unprecedented scientific observation and discovery worldwide. Webb will broaden and enrich the discoveries achieved by the great space observatories Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra.

"This test also afforded us an early chance to ensure that the two teams, who had been working separately over the years building and testing the two separate halves of Webb respectively, were able to operate as a single observatory test team.

"We are enthused that the early communications and commanding risk reduction test has been successfully executed. The procedure was designed and executed by an integrated set of team members from Goddard Space Flight Center, Northrop Grumman, and Ball Aerospace," said Jeff Kirk, Test Operations Lead.

Friday, September 28, 2018

NASA Unveils Sustainable Campaign to Return to Moon, on to Mars

In December of 2017, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive-1, in which the president directed NASA "to lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities." In answer to that bold call, and consistent with the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, NASA recently submitted to Congress a plan to revitalize and add direction to NASA's enduring purpose. The National Space Exploration Campaign calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos. The Exploration Campaign builds on 18 continuous years of Americans and our international partners living and working together on the International Space Station. It leverages advances in the commercial space sector, robotics and other technologies, and accelerates in the next few years with the launch of NASA's Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

The Exploration Campaign has five strategic goals:

1. Transition U.S. human spaceflight activities in low-Earth orbit to commercial operations that support NASA and the needs of an emerging private sector market.
2. Lead the emplacement of capabilities that support lunar surface operations and facilitate missions beyond cislunar space.
3. Foster scientific discovery and characterization of lunar resources through a series of robotic missions.
4. Return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the Moon for a sustained campaign of exploration and use.
5. Demonstrate the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.

Transition Low-Earth Orbit Activities
NASA intends to transition from the current model of human space activities in low-Earth orbit to a model where the government is only one customer for commercial services.

Based on inputs from current partners, commercial and other stakeholders, NASA will shape the plan for the transition of low-Earth orbit activities from direct government funding to commercial services and partnerships, with new, independent commercial platforms or a non-NASA operating model for some form or elements of the International Space Station by 2025. In addition, NASA will expand public-private partnerships to develop and demonstrate technologies and capabilities to enable new commercial space products and services.

The International Space Station will continue to serve as a core long-duration human spaceflight platform through at least 2024, which will mark almost 25 years of continuous human occupancy and successful international cooperation in space.

NASA leverages the space station to learn how to keep crews healthy and productive on deep space missions, and as a testbed to develop technologies to support those missions. It is an experiential testing ground that enables discovery and development of advanced robotics, communications, medicine, agriculture and environmental science.

The space station also can help enable the transition to commercial activities in low-Earth orbit. NASA recently awarded 12 contracts to industry to investigate the best way to use the space station to engage the U.S. commercial industry to take a lead role in low-Earth orbit. The portfolio of selected studies will include specific industry concepts detailing business plans and the viability of habitable platforms, using the space station or separate free-flying structures.

To the Moon

The Moon is a fundamental part of Earth's past and future - an off-world continent that may hold valuable resources to support space activity and scientific treasures that may tell us more about our own planet. Although Americans first walked on its surface almost 50 years ago, our explorers left footprints at only six sites, during a total of 16 days on the surface. The next wave of lunar exploration will be fundamentally different.

NASA is building a plan for Americans to orbit the Moon starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s. This will be the first chance for the majority of people alive today to witness a Moon landing - a moment when, in awe and wonder, the world holds its breath. However, America will not stop there.

A key component of establishing the first permanent American presence and infrastructure on and around the Moon is the Gateway, a lunar orbiting platform to host astronauts farther from Earth than ever before.

On the Gateway, America and its partners will prepare to transit deep space, testing new technologies and systems as we build the infrastructure to support missions to the surface of the Moon and prepare for the epochal mission to Mars. NASA also will study the effects of the deep space environment of the Gateway, learning how living organisms react to the radiation and microgravity of a deep space environment over long periods.

The Gateway also will be assessed as a platform for the assembly of payloads and systems; a reusable command module for lunar vicinity and surface exploration; and a way station for the development of refueling depots, servicing platforms, and a sample return facility.

Some elements of the Gateway already are under construction at NASA centers across the United States, including facilities in Ohio, Texas and Alabama, and at commercial partner facilities. The Gateway will be assembled in space, incrementally, using the Orion spacecraft and SLS, as well as commercial launch vehicles. The first element, providing power and propulsion, will launch from Florida in 2022.

The lunar surface will serve as a crucial training ground and technology demonstration test site where we will prepare for future human missions to Mars and other destinations. Through an innovative combination of missions involving commercial and international partners, robotic lunar surface missions will begin as early as 2020, focus on scientific exploration of lunar resources, and prepare the lunar surface for a sustained human presence.

By the late 2020s, a lunar lander capable of transporting crews and cargo will begin trips to the surface of the Moon. The sustainable, long-term lunar surface activities enabled by these efforts, in tandem with the Gateway, will expand and diversify over time, taking advantage of the Moon and near space for scientific exploration in the broadest sense.

On to Mars

The first human landing on Mars - audacious in its complexity - will be an achievement recalled with awe far into humanity's future. Key components of the Exploration Campaign already are underway and include long-duration human spaceflight on the space station, development of advanced life support systems, and continuing to lead and advance the world in deep space science missions.

Overall, the Exploration Campaign focuses on a transformative approach that includes the development of technologies and systems that enable a series of human and robotic lunar missions that are extensible to Mars.

NASA continues to maintain leadership in robotic exploration on and around Mars. The agency's InSight mission now is on its way to Mars and will land in November to study the interior of the Red Planet. Development of NASA's next rover to Mars continues to make excellent progress and is scheduled to launch in July 2020.

The Mars 2020 rover will aid our search for past life and demonstrate the production of fuel and other resources that enable human exploration. We also will use this mission as a building block for a subsequent roundtrip robotic mission with the historic first rocket launch off another planet and a sample return. That mission will serve as a critical precursor to an eventual series of crewed missions to Mars planned to start in the 2030's and culminating in a surface landing, which will be supported by the work we'll do on the Moon in the coming years.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Vector Awarded Patent for Enhanced Liquid Oxygen-Propylene Rocket Engine

Vector a microsatellite launch company comprised of New Space and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Sea Launch and VMware, has announced that the company received a U.S. patent for its enhanced liquid oxygen-propylene rocket engine. Vector is the first and only launch provider to utilize propylene fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) in an operational launch system. This engine patent validates the innovative nature of Vector's approach and further protects the company's fundamental technology as it prepares to deliver customer payloads to orbit. Vector's decision to pursue liquid oxygen and propylene as an alternative propellant technology is a strategic one. The unique properties of propylene as rocket fuel, including its density when chilled to near-cryogenic temperatures and energetic capabilities compared to that of other hydrocarbon fuels like RP-1 or Methane, enables Vector to deliver higher engine performance with smaller fuel tanks and avoid turbo-pumps traditionally used for other hydrocarbon fuels. By utilizing oxygen and propylene as propellants and propriety engine technology, Vector is effectively reducing the complexity and cost of its rockets, which are smaller, more reliable and unique to the launch vehicle market.

"Vector is the only launch company committed to propylene as a propellant and the first to use it in an operational vehicle, so this patent is not just an important validation but also serves as intellectual property protection," said John Garvey, President of Launch Services, Vector.

"We've been incrementally testing this critical technology for several years in a series of flight test projects and are happy to see the patent awarded. This signals another important milestone for Vector as we work towards orbital launch capability."

Development of Vector's enhanced liquid oxygen-propylene rocket engine first began at Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, with early research sponsored by NASA and the U.S. Air Force. Vector's acquisition of Garvey Spacecraft in 2016, and the subsequent development of the Vector-R rocket, is a continuation of that technological lineage.

Poised to reshape the multi-billion-dollar launch market by dramatically increasing access and speed to orbit, Vector has borrowed best practices from the automotive industry to revolutionize the rocket production process.

In just the last two and a half years Vector has built its Vector-R launch vehicle, and opened production facilities in Tucson to immediately ramp up rocket manufacturing and fly satellites into orbit.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Opportunity Emerges in a Dusty Picture

NASA still hasn't heard from the Opportunity rover, but at least we can see it again. A new image produced by HiRISE, a high-resolution camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), shows a small object on the slopes of the Red Planet's Perseverance Valley. That object is Opportunity, which was descending into the Martian valley when a dust storm swept over the region a little more than 100 days ago. The storm was one of several that stirred up enough dust to enshroud most of the Red Planet and block sunlight from reaching the surface. The lack of sunlight caused the solar-powered Opportunity to go into hibernation. The rover's team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, hasn't heard from it since. On Sept. 11, JPL began increasing the frequency of commands it beams to the 14-year-old rover. The tau -- a measurement of how much sunlight reaches the surface -- over Opportunity was estimated to be a little higher than 10 during some points during the dust storm. The tau has steadily fallen in the last several months. On Thursday, Sept. 20, when this image was taken, tau was estimated to be about 1.3 by MRO's Mars Color Imager camera. This image was produced from about 166 miles (267 kilometers) above the Martian surface. The white box marks a 154-foot-wide (47-meter-wide) area centered on the rover.

The University of Arizona in Tucson operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Ariane 5 Rocket Lofts 2 Satellites on Milestone 100th Launch

An undisclosed issue brought the countdown clock to a halt 94 seconds before the targeted launch time of 5:53 p.m. EDT (2153 GMT; 6:53 p.m. local time at the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana). The webcast of the French company Arianespace, which boasted more than 3,000 viewers at that point, suddenly went silent as a scrolling banner relayed that the launch was on hold. Few updates followed for the next 45 minutes. But at the end of tonight's launch window — 6:38 p.m. EDT (2238 pm GMT; 7:38 p.m. local time) — the Ariane 5 rose into the dark sky, lighting up banks of clouds shrouding the humid launch pad. The rocket sped into space, first deploying one satellite and then the other. Arianespace mission control at the Guiana Space Center erupted in applause as the second spacecraft successfully deployed around 7:20 p.m. EDT (2320 GMT; 8:20 p.m. local time). "The heavyweight launcher has once more performed flawlessly. Congratulations to all," Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said in a speech broadcast on the Arianespace YouTube channel minutes after the second satellite deployment. Israel gave a special thanks to the longstanding customers of Arianespace; the company has launched more than 200 satellites using the Ariane 5 alone. "Ariane 5 is known for delivering, and we are very appreciative of another flawless launch," Ken Lee, senior vice president of space systems for the satellite communications company Intelsat, said after Israël's speech. He joked that the launch did not go exactly as planned, but it was "flawless nonetheless."

Intelsat is a joint venture partner in both of the spacecraft that launched toward geostationary orbit this evening. These satellites are called Horizons 3e and Azerspace-2/Intelsat 38.

Both spacecraft are expected to improve communications for consumer, corporate and government customers. Horizons 3e (in partnership with Japan's SKY Perfect JSAT Group) is intended to improve broadband coverage in the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile, Azerspace-2/Intelsat 38 (in partnership with Azerbaijan's Azercosmos) will host direct-to-home television programs in the Asia-Pacific area, as well as parts of Africa and central and eastern Europe.

Though the first Ariane 5 test flight in 1996 failed spectacularly, the rocket line quickly became known for its reliability (98.1 percent success rate heading into tonight's launch) and payload capacity (the ability to carry 20 tons to low Earth orbit). The rocket is therefore an attractive option for customers with heavy telecommunications satellites.

The Ariane 5 has five operational versions; the variant that launched tonight, called Ariane 5 ECA, has now flown 67 times.

The Ariane 5 has notable competitors, such as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and United Launch Alliance's Atlas V vehicle.

Arianespace is expecting to debut a successor rocket called Ariane 6 around 2020. One of the major goals of the new rocket will be to significantly reduce the cost of launch services, according to the European Space Agency. In 2014, a typical Ariane 5 launch cost roughly $137 million.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Small satellite demonstrates possible solution for 'space junk'

The International Space Station serves as humanity's orbital research platform, conducting a variety of experiments and research projects while in orbit around the planet. On June 20, 2018, the space station deployed the NanoRacks-Remove Debris satellite into space from outside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. This technology demonstration was designed to explore using a 3D camera to map the location and speed of orbital debris or "space junk." The NanoRacks-Remove Debris satellite successfully deployed a net to capture a nanosatellite that simulates debris. Collisions in space could have have serious consequences to the space station and satellites, but research has shown that removing the largest debris significantly reduces the chance of collisions.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Arianespace to launch KOMPSAT-7 for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) using a Vega C launch vehicle

Arianespace has been selected by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute to launch KOMPSAT-7. Stephane Israel, Arianespace CEO, and Lim Cheol-Ho, President of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), signed the KOMPSAT-7 launch contract today. Using a Vega C launcher, the mission will be conducted from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, from December 2021. For nearly 30 years now, Arianespace and Korea's satellite technology research centers have developed a sound relationship, with the launch of both scientific microsatellites (Kitsat A and B) and the multi-mission COMS satellite. Following the upcoming launches of GEO-KOMPSAT-2A and 2B, the KOMPSAT-7 will be the fourth KARI satellite - as well as the ninth Korean satellite - to be orbited by Arianespace to date. Developed by KARI at its facility in Daejeon, South Korea, KOMPSAT-7 will weigh approximately 2,000 kg. at launch, and will be placed in a sun-synchronous orbit. KOMPSAT-7 is the follow-up model of KOMPSAT-3A whose mission is to provide high-resolution satellite images to satisfy South-Korea's governmental and institutional needs. Vega C will join the Arianespace's family of launch vehicles beginning in 2019, alongside the company's heavy-lift Ariane 5, the medium-lift Soyuz and the light-lift Vega - all operated from the Guiana Space Center.

To meet the needs of an increasingly dynamic market segment for flight with small to medium-size satellites, Vega C will offer Arianespace customers enhanced payload performance thanks to its improved lift capability, along with increased volume under the payload fairing. Colleferro, Italy-based Avio is the industrial prime contractor for Vega and Vega C.

Stephane Israel, Arianespace CEO, welcomed the contract signing, saying: "We are delighted that KARI has chosen Arianespace and Vega C to launch KOMPSAT-7. At a time where we are preparing for the launch of GEO-KOMPSAT-2A and 2B for KARI, it means a lot when such a close partner confirms the relevance of our solutions towards the dynamic Earth observation market.

By embarking this satellite expected to step up Korean Earth Observation capacities, European launchers will support an ambitious national space program and contribute to strengthening the strong bond between Europe and South Korea."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Airbus wins ESA studies for future human base in lunar orbit

The European Space Agency (ESA) has commissioned Airbus for two studies for possible European involvement in the future human base in lunar orbit. The Gateway, previously known as the Deep Space Gateway (DSG) or Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), is a project involving the US, Russian, Canadian, Japanese and European space agencies (NASA, Roscosmos, CSA, JAXA and ESA). Over the next 15 months, Airbus will develop a concept for a habitation and research module as part of the first study (habitat, approximately 6.5 x 4.5 metres and weighing some 9 tonnes). In the second study, Airbus will design a concept for an infrastructure element for refuelling, docking and telecommunications, which will also serve as an airlock for scientific equipment (known as Esprit, around 3 x 3 metres and weighing around 4 tonnes). Both studies will be developed as part of a far-reaching European partnership. Under NASA's overall design leadership, other elements - such as a second habitat, an airlock for scientific payloads and a logistics module - will be designed by international and commercial partners. NASA has plans to launch the first module - the central power propulsion element (PPE) - into lunar orbit in the early 2020's.

"The experience and know-how that ESA and Airbus have gained during flagship projects such as the Columbus space laboratory, the ATV space transporter and the European service module for Orion provide solid foundations for the studies," said Oliver Juckenhofel, Head of On-Orbit Services and Exploration at Airbus.

"When developing the new lunar platforms, robotic and human space exploration go hand in hand. Europe has a fantastic track record in both, and these two studies will help to ensure a strong European presence in future space exploration."

David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, said: "With these studies and other preparations, ESA aims to stay at the centre of human space exploration. The Gateway will become humanity's most remote research outpost and we hope Europe will benefit from the world of innovation, discovery and excitement that lies ahead."

Unlike the International Space Station (ISS), the Gateway is not intended to be continually inhabited. It is envisaged that the lunar platform will act as a staging point for human missions to the Moon or Mars, and testing is planned for a series of technologies and procedures that will be needed.

Airbus will present its initial designs for the Gateway at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen on 3 October 2018.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Planet Vulcan Found

Among the TV series Star Trek's many charms are its rich universe of characters and planets. Now, the Dharma Planet Survey, in a new study led by University of Florida (UF) astronomer Jian Ge and team including Tennessee State University (TSU) astronomers Matthew Muterspaugh and Gregory Henry, has shown that science fiction may be a little less so; the Dharma project has discovered what may be Star Trek's famed planet Vulcan. "The new planet is a 'super-Earth' orbiting the star HD 26965, which is only 16 light-years from Earth, making it the closest super-Earth orbiting another Sun-like star," says Ge. "The planet is roughly twice the size of Earth and orbits its star with a 42-day period just inside the star's optimal habitable zone." The discovery was made using the Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope (DEFT), a 50-inch telescope located atop Mt. Lemmon in southern Arizona. The planet is the first "super-Earth" detected by the Dharma Survey. "The orange-tinted HD 26965 is only slightly cooler and slightly less massive than our Sun, is approximately the same age as our Sun, and has a 10.1-year magnetic cycle nearly identical to the Sun's 11.6-year sunspot cycle," explains Muterspaugh, who helped to commission the Dharma spectrograph on the TSU 2-meter automatic spectroscopic telescope. "Therefore," he adds, "HD 26965 may be an ideal host star for an advanced civilization."

"Star Trek fans may know the star HD 26965 by its alternative moniker, 40 Eridani A," says Henry, who collected precise brightness measurements of the star at TSU's automated observatory needed to confirm the presence of the planet. "Vulcan was connected to 40 Eridani A in the publications 'Star Trek 2' by James Blish (Bantam, 1968) and 'Star Trek Maps' by Jeff Maynard (Bantam, 1980)," explains Henry.

In a letter published in the periodical "Sky and Telescope" in July 1991, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, along with Sallie Baliunas, Robert Donahue, and George Nassiopoulos of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics confirmed the identification of 40 Eridani A as Vulcan's host star. The 40 Eridani star system is composed of three stars. Vulcan orbits the primary star, and the two companion stars "would gleam brilliantly in the Vulcan sky," they wrote in their 1991 letter.

"Vulcan is the home planet of Science Officer Mr. Spock in the original 'Star Trek' Sci-Fi series," says Henry. "Spock served on the starship Enterprise, whose mission was to seek out strange new worlds, a mission shared by the Dharma Planet Survey."

"This star can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the host stars of most of the known planets discovered to date. Now anyone can see 40 Eridani on a clear night and be proud to point out Spock's home," says Bo Ma, a UF postdoc on the team and the first author of the paper just published in "Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society."

"This discovery demonstrates that fully dedicated telescopes conducting high-cadence, high-precision radial velocity observations in the near future will continue to play a key role in the discovery of more super-Earths and even Earth-like planets in the habitable zones around nearby stars," says Ge. "I am very grateful to the donor of our Dharma Planet Survey, Mr. Mickey Singer, who recognized the importance of this project and has continuously provided support to make this and future discoveries possible."

Orion's first Service Module integration complete

Last week at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany, technicians installed the last radiator on the European Service Module for NASA's Orion spacecraft marking the module's finished integration. ESA's European service module will provide power, water, air and electricity to NASA's Orion exploration spacecraft that will eventually fly beyond the Moon with astronauts. The European Service Module is now complete for Orion's first mission that will do a lunar fly-by without astronauts to demonstrate the spacecraft's capabilities. Much like closing the bonnet on a car, with the radiators in place technicians can no longer access the internals of the European service module, symbolically ending the assembly and integration of the module that will fly further into our Solar System than any other human-rated spacecraft has ever flown before. Technicians worked 24 hours a day in three shifts to complete the service module's assembly which is now going through the last stages of its extensive testing. Engineers will put the module through its paces with functional tests that include checking the newly installed radiators and testing the propulsion system with its intricate pipelines that deliver fuel and oxidiser to the spacecraft's 33 engines. Once complete the service module will be packed and flown to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. Orion's solar wings will be shipped separately, also from Bremen. In the USA the module will be stacked together with NASA's Crew Module Adaptor and Crew Module, the first time the complete spacecraft will be on display.

More tests await the Orion spacecraft at NASA's Plum Brook facility where it will be put in the world's largest vacuum chamber to simulate spaceflight as well as being subjected to acoustic tests to simulate the intense vibrations Orion will endure when launched on the world's largest rocket, NASA's Space Launch Systems.

Second module getting ready

Meanwhile technicians in Bremen are not resting as work on the second European Service Module is already well under way. The structure is complete and over 11 km of cables are being meticulously placed in preparation for the computers and equipment that will keep astronauts alive and well for the second Orion mission called Exploration Mission-2.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Japanese billionaire businessman revealed as SpaceX's first Moon traveler

A Japanese billionaire and online fashion tycoon, Yusaku Maezawa, will be the first man to fly on a monster SpaceX rocket around the Moon as early as 2023, and he plans to bring six to eight artists along. Maezawa, 42, will be the first lunar traveler since the last US Apollo mission in 1972. He paid an unspecified amount of money for the privilege. "Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the Moon," Maezawa said at SpaceX headquarters and rocket factory in Hawthorne, California, in the middle of metropolitan Los Angeles, late Monday. "This is my lifelong dream." Maezawa is chief executive of Japan's largest online fashion mall, and is the 18th richest person in Japan with a fortune of $3 billion, according to the business magazine Forbes. Maezawa's other hobby is amassing valuable works of modern art and last year, he announced the acquisition of a Jean-Michel Basquiat masterpiece worth $110.5 million. His love of art led him to decide to invite artists to come along, he said. "I would like to invite six to eight artists from around the world to join me on this mission to the Moon," Maezawa said. "They will be asked to create something after they return to Earth. These masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us." Maezawa said he planned to pick "artists I love" to go along, but gave no further specifics.

Until now, Americans are the only ones who have left Earth's orbit. A total of 24 NASA astronauts -- all white men -- voyaged to the Moon during the Apollo era of the 1960s and '70s. Twelve walked on the lunar surface.

The first space tourist was Dennis Tito, an American businessman who in 2001 paid some $20 million to fly on a Russian spaceship to the International Space Station.

- Free for artists -

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described Maezawa as the "bravest" and "best adventurer."

"He stepped forward," Musk added. "We are honored that he chose us."

Musk said he would not reveal the price Maezawa paid for the Moon trip, but said it would be "free for the artists."

"This is dangerous, to be clear. This is no walk in the park," Musk cautioned.

"When you are pushing the frontier, it is not a sure thing. There is a chance something could go wrong."

Still, when asked by reporters if Musk would be a passenger, he left the door open to the possibility.

"As far as me going, I'm not sure. He did suggest like maybe that I would join on this trip. I don't know," Musk said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said Maezawa.

"All right. Maybe we will both be on it," Musk said to cheers and applause.

The ride will take place aboard a Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which may not be ready for human flight for five years at least, Musk said.

The BFR was first announced in 2016, and was touted as the most powerful rocket in history, even more potent than the Saturn V Moon rocket that launched the Apollo missions five decades ago.

Last year, Musk said the BFR's admittedly "ambitious" goal was to make a test flight to Mars in 2022, followed by a crewed flight to the Red Planet in 2024.

- 'Multi-planetary species' -

This isn't the first time Musk has vowed to send tourists around the Moon. Last year, he said two paying tourists would circle the Moon in 2018, but those plans that did not materialize.

Musk showed off designs for the 118-meter (129 yards) long BFR, which will consist of a first stage with engines and fuel systems, and a second stage with the spacecraft where the passengers will ride.

Musk estimated it would cost $5 billion to build.

The BFR spacecraft's shape is reminiscent of the space shuttle, the bus-like US spaceships that carried astronauts to space 135 times from 1981 to 2011.

Musk has said he wants the BFR's vessel to be able to hold around 100 people, and that the launch system could one day be used to colonize the Moon and Mars in order to make humans a "multi-planetary" species.

Other space companies, like Virgin Galactic, founded by British tycoon Richard Branson, and billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's rocket company Blue Origin, are working on trips to the edge of space that could offer tourists a chance at weightlessness for 10 minutes or so.

Virgin's trip will cost about $250,000. Blue Origin's price has not been revealed.

Russian and Chinese companies are also working on space tourism plans.

- Human flights to space -

Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla Motors, has drawn attention in recent months over his erratic behavior.

He has alleged that a cave diver in Thailand who helped rescue stranded boys was a "pedo," smoked what appeared to be marijuana on a comedian's podcast, spooked Tesla investors with comments about the future of the electric car maker, and admitted to exhaustion and use of the sleeping pill Ambien.

But so far this year, his space firm has also kept up a schedule outpaced only by the Chinese government, making 15 launches with its Falcon 9 rocket.

Next year, SpaceX -- which has received billions in NASA funding to ferry supplies to the ISS and build a crew vehicle -- hopes to become the first private company to send astronauts to the space station.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Roscosmos Finds No Flaw in Fabric of Soyuz Vehicle at Assembly Stage

The commission of Russia's rocket and space corporation Energia, which investigated the emergence of a hole in the fabric of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, attached to the conclusions the space vehicle's photographs at the assembly stage, a source in the rocket and space industry told Sputnik on Sunday. "The last photographs of the fabric of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft have been done in shop 45 of the experimental machine-building plant of the Energia rocket and space corporation... The photographs show no holes in the fabric [of the spacecraft]," the source said. "Thus, leaving aside the version of the spacecraft's drilling in space, the hole emerged during 180 days between its transportation from the shop in the Energia rocket and space corporation and the orbital launch," the source indicated. On Wednesday, Dmitry Rogozin, the Roscosmos chief, held phone talks with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. They discussed the issue and agreed on interaction at the level of technical experts and, as Roscosmos noted, "agreed to refrain from any preliminary conclusions and from providing any explanation before the final completion of the investigation."

The air leak on the ISS was found almost two weeks ago, prior to which the ISS crew discovered a microfracture in one of the walls of the living section of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft. It was not located in the landing section, so it did not risk the spacecraft's return flight.

Two sources told Sputnik later that a manufacturing defect - a hole drilled into the internal body of the spacecraft while it was still on Earth - was apparently became the cause of depressurization. At the same time, it was previously thought that the hole appeared due to a hit from a micrometeorite.

Baikonur Facilities to Undergo Overhaul Before OneWeb Satellites Launch - Source

The assembly and testing facility of the Baikonur cosmodrome which will be used for the launch of OneWeb satellites atop Russian rockets will go through a reconstruction ahead of the beginning of the launches, a source at the cosmodrome told Sputnik Sunday. "In the central hall of the assembly and testing facility floor is being replaced... The floor replacement will help to improve considerably the air quality in the hall," the source said. Besides, the facility's ventilation system and electricity are being examined by the specialists, according to the source. The source recalled that the first launch of the OneWeb satellites from the Baikonur cosmodrome will take place six months after a qualification launch from the Guiana Space Center, which, according to the existing schedule, will be held in mid-February 2019. OneWeb aims to launch almost 900 satellites to provide Internet broadband service to millions of consumers.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Magnetic waves are main force in star formation, researchers say

Magnetic waves are the main force in star formation in space, according to new research. This birth process leads to the formation of planets orbiting the sun and, ultimately, life on those planets, according Stella Offner, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Texas Austin. The new findings, which included using a supercomputer for models of the multitude of processes happening inside a cloud where stars are forming, was published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy. "These clouds are violent places," Stella Offner, assistant professor of astronomy, said in a press release. "It's an extreme environment with all kinds of different physics happening at once." This includes gravity and turbulence as well as radiation and winds from forming stars, which are called stellar feedback. Offner wanted to know: "Why are the motions in these clouds so violent?" The answer, according to some astronomers, are observed motions to gravitational collapse, or possibly turbulence and stellar feedback. Offner said it's virtually impossible to use telescopes to observe these clouds to find the influence of the various processes, she said.

"That's why we need computer models," Offner said.

Using the computer models, she noticed extra motions when comparing clouds with gravity, magnetic fields and stars.

Stellar winds interacting with the cloud magnetic field generated energy and influenced gas at great distances across the cloud more than previously thought.

"Think of the magnetic fields like rubber bands that stretch across the cloud," Offner said. "The winds push the field -- it's like rubber bands being plucked. The waves outrun the wind and cause distant motions."

This study focused on one area within star-forming clouds but Offner said she plans to study this process on larger scales in time and space.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

MarCO makes space for small explorers

Twenty years ago, CubeSats - a class of boxy satellites small enough to fit in a backpack - were used by universities as a teaching aid. Simpler, smaller and cheaper than traditional satellites, they've made space more accessible to private companies and science agencies. This summer, NASA has been flying the first two next-generation CubeSats to deep space. They're currently on their way to Mars, trailing thousands of miles behind the InSight spacecraft. InSight and its CubeSat tag-alongs are already more than halfway to the Red Planet. The mini-mission, called Mars Cube One (MarCO), has already proved this class of spacecraft can survive the deep-space environment. It will next test the use of miniaturized communication technology to relay data when InSight attempts to land in November. Relaying landing data is one of the jobs of NASA's orbiters, which will record InSight's descent; engineers learn more from every landing attempt. MarCO will test whether this technology can ably perform the relay job for future missions. To complete their mission, the MarCOs have miniature high-gain antennas and radios that can communicate with Earth from roughly 93 million miles away. Their propulsion systems are capable of steering towards Mars; each MarCO completed its second steering maneuver in August. They even have color cameras, one of which snapped the first image from a CubeSat of the Earth and the Moon - proof of just how far this technology has literally come.

MarCO is still experimental. It's meant to demonstrate that spacecraft technology can be shrunk into a tiny package and still do something useful in deep space. And while CubeSats will never compete with the larger and more complex spacecraft NASA usually flies, the MarCO spacecraft are pioneering a new class of robotic exploration.

"Our hope is that MarCO could help democratize deep space," said Jakob Van Zyl, director of the Solar System Exploration Directorate at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "The technology is cheap enough that you could envision countries entering space that weren't players in the past. Even universities could do this."

A Legacy of Pathfinders

JPL initiated and built MarCO, just one of several CubeSat projects the Lab has developed. JPL is a natural place to host CubeSats: The Lab built the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, which discovered the Van Allen radiation belts in 1958. Not unlike a CubeSat, it was a small, rudimentary spacecraft. The history of the U.S. space program followed in its wake.

JPL later built a Mars mini-rover called Sojourner that took baby steps in 1997 and proved to be a trial run for NASA's Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers.

Innovation often begins with pathfinder technology, Van Zyl said. Once engineers prove something can be done, science missions follow.

"When it comes to innovation, MarCO is in the same class as Explorer 1 and Sojourner," Van Zyl said. "The question is: Can we use CubeSats to do more science? Not all science, because they're too limited to carry many instruments. But this technology creates a vehicle for people to do science at a much lower investment to the taxpayer."

NASA has already committed to answering the question. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency's Science Mission Directorate, is a proponent of CubeSats; last month, he announced NASA will be funding $100 million worth of SmallSat science missions each year.

Preparing for Future CubeSats

MarCO has already laid the groundwork for future exploration with small spacecraft.

"Almost all the features of MarCO are being adapted for use on future spacecraft," said John Baker, the program manager responsible for small spacecraft at JPL. "And many parts started with a commercial partner's product that was modified."

The role of MarCO's commercial partners can't be overstated. Its solar panels, cameras, avionics, propulsion systems and attitude-control systems were all provided by commercial contractors. One advantage of CubeSats is they can use standardized parts and systems, allowing private companies to lower the price of new technology. Lower-cost spacecraft also mean engineers can take more design risks, testing that technology in space.

Van Zyl said that MarCO's main goal was to prove CubeSats can survive the harsh journey to deep space. MarCO's team can check that box off their list.

They're already focused on their next goal: Mars is just a few months and 68 million miles (110 million kilometers) away.

Friday, September 14, 2018

SpaceX announces new plan to send tourist around Moon

SpaceX on Thursday announced a new plan to launch a tourist around the Moon using its Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), a massive launch vehicle that is being designed to carry people into deep space. "SpaceX has signed the world's first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle -- an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space," the company said on Twitter. SpaceX gave no further details, but said more information would follow on Monday. This is not the first time the California-based company, headed by Internet entrepreneur and Tesla electric car CEO Elon Musk, has touted plans to send tourists around the Moon. In February, 2017, SpaceX announced it would send the world's first two space tourists around the Moon in late 2018. That plan called for them to ride on a Dragon crew vehicle, similar to the cargo ships that SpaceX routinely sends loaded with supplies to the International Space Station. They would have blasted off aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket. However, the company has remained mum about those plans in recent months. The names and identities of those two tourists -- and how much they intended to pay -- were never revealed. SpaceX declined an AFP request for more details, but said further information would follow Monday at an event lasting from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm (0030 GMT to 0200 GMT).

- Footprints on the Moon -

Humans have not set foot on the Moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972, capping an era of US national pride.

American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to explore the lunar surface in 1969, a moment seen and heard around the world when Armstrong declared "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Only 24 people in history have ever been to the Moon.

US President Donald Trump has championed plans to put boots on the Moon again, as NASA works on building a lunar gateway that would serve as a launching point for missions heading even further into deep space, such as asteroids or Mars.

SpaceX is a key commercial partner to NASA, and is working on a crew ship that will make its first flight to the orbiting International Space Station next year, restoring access to space from US soil for the first time since 2011, when the space shuttle program was retired after 30 years.

Boeing is also hard at work on its crew vehicle, with pioneering flights planned for 2019 as well.

SpaceX currently has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to supply the astronauts living at the ISS, via regular cargo trips on its Dragon spaceship, launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

The BFR is SpaceX's newest rocket, a super powerful launch vehicle with 31 engines and the capacity to lift 150 tons into space.

During a speech in Australia last year, Musk said he was hopeful that the BFR would be able to launch and land at last two cargo ships on Mars by 2022.

"I feel fairly confident that we can complete the ship and launch in about five years," Musk said.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

NASA tests engine part to reduce costs

NASA redesigned and tested a key component for the RS-25 engine that powers the agency's new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), by incorporating modern manufacturing techniques that significantly reduce both cost and fabrication time. The redesigned main combustion chamber, which is the heart of the engine, has performed well during two tests in flight-like conditions. During the tests, temperatures reached 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the part experienced 3,000 pounds of pressure as the engine fired up in a test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. When SLS launches, four RS-25 engines will produce two million pounds of thrust to help send SLS to space for missions to the Moon and beyond. "We're testing propulsion parts like the main combustion chamber, one of the most complex and critical components for engine operations, to show it can be made less expensively without sacrificing reliability, safety or performance," said Steve Wofford, SLS liquid engines manager. "The SLS rocket will be the most powerful rocket in the world, and these tests show engines can be made with modern manufacturing techniques and still provide the power to safely send astronauts to the Moon."

Inside the chamber, the fuel and oxidizer combust and flow through the nozzle, to turn the high-pressure combustion into the 500,000 pounds of thrust that each engine produces. The new chamber design reduces the complexity of the part by eliminating 29 welds. The chamber is made in less time for less money with a bonding technique called Hot Isostatic Pressure - or HIP - bonding. The chamber's internal metal liner and external jacket are bonded together under very high pressures and temperatures.

"The innovative bonding process has reduced the chamber cost and build time by around 50 percent each." said Mike Shadoan, the SLS combustion devices manager for liquid engines. "This series of nine tests allows us to test flight controllers for early missions and at the same time expose parts made with innovative techniques to the same conditions they will see during launch and flight."

The RS-25 was proven during the Space Shuttle Program and has been updated with new controllers and nozzle insulation for its job with SLS. Currently, the SLS Program has 16 engines in its inventory from the Space Shuttle Program, enough for four flights.

Engines for later flights are being built by the SLS core stage engine prime contractor, Aerojet Rocketdyne, at its factory in Canoga Park, California. NASA and Aerojet engineers are working to smartly incorporate today's modern manufacturing techniques not just in the chamber, but also on key components across the entire engine, leading to a host of benefits in cost, schedule and reduced complexity.

"Engine hot fire testing is the ultimate demonstration that new component designs and incorporation of modern manufacturing technologies are paying off big-time for the program," said Dan Adamski, RS-25 program director for Aerojet Rocketdyne. "Continued testing will integrate additional upgraded components into the engine design culminating with final certification testing in 2021."

During six tests, technicians and engineers tested the first 3D printed part on an RS-25 engine, the pogo accumulator. Aerojet Rocketdyne is under contract to manufacture an initial set of six new engines for future SLS missions. These new engines will be fabricated using the components and techniques that are being validated on development engines during engine tests at Stennis.

NASA is leading a return to the Moon through an innovative and sustainable program of exploration to expand human presence into the solar system. Beginning with Exploration Mission-1, SLS and Orion will demonstrate the critical backbone capabilities that will carry humans to the Moon and farther into space than ever before on a variety of missions with increasing complexity. SLS's unprecedented power and volume will also carry the large pieces of hardware needed to build the Gateway and other long-term infrastructure at the Moon and, later, for human missions to Mars.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Exploring the Solar System? you may need to pack an umbrella

Gearing up for its first flight test, NASA's Adaptable Deployable Entry Placement Technology, or ADEPT, is no ordinary umbrella. ADEPT is a foldable device that opens to make a round, rigid heat shield, called an aeroshell. This game-changing technology could squeeze a heat shield into a rocket with a diameter larger than the rocket itself. The design may someday deliver much larger payloads to planetary surfaces than is currently possible. Spacecraft typically approach planets at speeds tens of thousands of miles per hour -screaming fast. Entering a planet's atmosphere at those speeds compresses atmospheric gas, creating pressure shock and generating intense heat right in front of the spacecraft. Aeroshells slow spacecraft during entry and shield them from heat. ADEPT could be key to future NASA missions that require extra-large aeroshells to protect spacecraft destined to land on the surface of other planets, all without requiring larger rockets. ADEPT's first flight test is scheduled for Sept. 12 from Spaceport America in New Mexico aboard an UP Aerospace suborbital SpaceLoft rocket. ADEPT will launch in a stowed configuration, resembling a folded umbrella, and then separate from the rocket in space and unfold 60 miles above Earth. The test will last about 15 minutes from launch to Earth return. The peak speed during the test is expected to be three times the speed of sound, about 2,300 miles per hour.

That is not fast enough to generate significant heat during descent, but the purpose of the test is to observe the initial sequence of ADEPT's deployment and assess aerodynamic stability while the heat shield enters Earth's atmosphere and falls to the recovery site.

"For a deployable like ADEPT, you can do ground-based testing, but ultimately, a flight test demonstrates end-to-end functionality - surviving launch environments, deploying in zero gravity and the vacuum of space, holding that rigid shape and then entering, in our case, Earth's atmosphere," said Paul Wercinski, ADEPT project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

This umbrella-like mechanical aeroshell design uses flexible 3D woven carbon fabric skin stretched over deployable ribs and struts, which become rigid when fully flexed. The carbon fabric skin covers its structural surface, and serves as the primary component of the entry, descent and landing thermal protection system.

"Carbon fabric has been the major recent breakthrough enabling this technology, as it utilizes pure carbon yarns that are woven three-dimensionally to give you a very durable surface," said Wercinski. "Carbon is a wonderful material for high temperature applications."

The next steps for ADEPT are to develop and conduct a test for an Earth entry at higher "orbital" speeds, roughly 17,000 miles per hour, to support maturing the technology with an eye towards Venus, Mars or Titan, and also returning lunar samples back to Earth.

The ADEPT aeroshell heat shield technology was developed at Ames. The center leads the agency in the development and innovation of thermal protection system technologies.

ADEPT was funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate's (STMD) Game Changing Development program. The flight test was funded by STMD's Flight Opportunities program, managed at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. Through both programs, NASA supports promising technologies from government, industry and academia for development and/or testing. UP Aerospace, based in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is the flight provider.

Ariane 5 to launch the GSAT-31 and GSAT-30 satellites for India

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has chosen Arianespace to launch its GSAT-31 and GSAT-30 telecommunications satellites. The two satellites are to be launched on separate Ariane 5s from the Guiana Space Center, Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana from end 2018 onwards, starting with GSAT-31. Both satellites will be designed, assembled and integrated by ISRO. They are planned as replacement satellites for the currently operational satellites providing key national services in multiple frequency bands including C- and Ku Bands. GSAT-31 will be based on an enhanced I-2K platform, to be stationed in geostationary orbit at a longitude of 48 degrees East. It will weigh 2,500 to 2,600 kg. at launch. Providing communications to India, it will replace Insat 4CR, whose end of life is soon expected. As for GSAT-30, it will be based on an I-3K platform, will weigh 3,450 kg. at launch and ensure continuity of service for INSAT 4A, positioned at 83 degrees East longitude. It will provide high-quality television, telecommunications and broadcasting services. Commenting on this contract, Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel said: "Arianespace is delighted that ISRO has entrusted Ariane 5 with two new GEO satellites to deliver: GSAT-31 and GSAT-30, to be the 23rd and 24th ISRO satellites launched by Arianespace since our first joint success with APPLE in 1981.

 This contract underlines the availability of Arianespace launchers and proves to be another great demonstration of the strong bond uniting India and Europe in space cooperation for a better life on Earth."

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ariane 6 accelerates as first commercial GEO contracts signed

Arianespace is present at World Satellite Business Week (WSBW) from September 10 to 14 in Paris, confirming the attractiveness of its launcher family with the announcement of two contracts for Ariane 6: the first with Eutelsat as part of a launch services agreement involving five satellites; and the second with France's CNES space agency and the country's DGA defense procurement agency for the CSO-3 satellite. A third contract also was signed recently with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for Ariane 5 missions to orbit two satellites. Arianespace's backlog is now 59 launches to be carried out during the coming years, including three on Vega C and five on Ariane 6 - the new launchers slated to make their maiden flights in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Stephane Israel, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, will participate in the WSBW roundtable entitled: "Accelerating Access to Space" on Tuesday, September 11 at 4:00 p.m. First multi-launch commercial contract with GEO satellites for Ariane 6, along with its third institutional mission. As World Satellite Business Week opened its doors, Arianespace and Eutelsat announced the signature of a multi-year multiple-launch agreement concerning five satellites to be launched through 2027, making Eutelsat the first commercial Ariane 6 customer with geostationary orbit satellite payloads. For institutional missions, after the two launch contracts signed in 2017 for the European Commission and ESA's Galileo constellation, CNES and the DGA have chosen the A62 version of Ariane 6 (with two boosters) to launch their CSO-3 satellite. These orders clearly reflect the competitiveness and versatility of Ariane 6, which will be available in two versions to handle all orbits and multiple payload configurations under the fairing.

Ariane 5 also confirmed its continued attractiveness, as Arianespace signed a contract with India's ISRO space agency for the launch of two geostationary satellites: GSAT-30 and GSAT-31.

In total, and taking into account the signing of a contract with B-SAT during the first half of 2018 to launch BSAT-4b with Ariane 5 - as well as several contracts for the Proof of Concept (POC) flight of the Small Satellite Launch System (SSMS) on Vega - Arianespace's order book value has reached more than euro 4.9 billion. This corresponds to 59 launches: 17 Ariane 5s, five with Ariane 6, 28 with Soyuz and nine with Vega/Vega C.

With nearly one-third of these launches for the European institutions, Arianespace reaffirms its mission to provide Europe with reliable and independent access to space while also confirming its export success.

A contract also is expected to be signed with the South Korean space agency (KARI) on September 20 in Daejeon for a satellite to be lofted by Vega C.

13 satellites orbited by Ariane, Soyuz and Vega since January 2018

Arianespace has carried out five launches since the start of 2018 for both institutional and commercial customers, clearly reflecting the versatility of its launcher family and services. The 13 satellites launched weighed a cumulated total of 25 metric tons and they are performing communications, navigation, science and Earth observation missions. From January to August 2018:

+ Three Ariane 5 launchers orbited four geostationary communications satellites for SES, Yahsat, Avanti Communications and SKY Perfect JSAT/Japanese Ministry of Defense, along with four satellites in the Galileo navigation constellation for the European Commission and ESA,

+ A Soyuz orbited four satellites in SES's O3b constellation, and

+ A Vega launched ESA's Aeolus science satellite, which will support sustainable development.

Six more launches are scheduled during the remaining four months of the year, with two upcoming missions being highly symbolic:

+ The 100th Ariane 5 launch, scheduled for September 25, will loft Horizons 3e for Intelsat and SKY Perfect JSAT, and Azerspace-2/Intelsat 38 for Azercosmos and Intelsat.

+ BepiColombo, a mission to explore the planet Mercury, for ESA in partnership with the Japanese space agency (JAXA), to be launched by an Ariane 5 on October 19.

Ariane 6 and Vega C: getting closer!

Development of the new members of Arianespace's launcher family is proceeding apace, with first missions planned in 2019 for Vega C and 2020 for Ariane 6. A milestone took place on July 16 with a successful first hot firing test of the P120C solid rocket motor, which will equip the strap-on boosters for Ariane 62 and Ariane 64, as well as Vega C's first stage. This followed a series of successful tests of the Vulcain 2.1 main stage engine and Vinci upper stage engine for Ariane 6, along with progress toward Maturity Gate 7 (the critical design review) - which is planned by year-end.

European institutions also have reached major milestones in their commitment to Ariane 6 and Vega C. After the European Commission announced its proposed ambitious space budget for the upcoming decade, an ESA Council meeting in June confirmed funding for the transition period between Ariane 5 and Ariane 6. In addition to the four government contracts already signed for Europe's new launchers (three for Ariane 6 and one for Vega C), the commitment of European governments to all missions identified during the transition phase is a key to the sustainable success of these launchers.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Falling stars hold clue for understanding dying stars

An international team of researchers has proposed a new method to investigate the inner workings of supernovae explosions. This new method uses meteorites and is unique in that it can determine the contribution from electron anti-neutrinos, enigmatic particles which can't be tracked through other means. Supernovae are important events in the evolution of stars and galaxies, but the details of how the explosions occur are still unknown. This research, led by Takehito Hayakawa, a visiting professor at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, found a method to investigate the role of electron anti-neutrinos in supernovae. By measuring the amount of 98Ru (an isotope of Ruthenium) in meteorites, it should be possible to estimate how much of its progenitor 98Tc (a short-lived isotope of Technetium) was present in the material from which the Solar System formed. The amount of 98Tc in turn is sensitive to the characteristics, such as temperature, of electron anti-neutrinos in the supernova process; as well as to how much time passed between the supernova and the formation of the Solar System. The expected traces of 98Tc are only a little below the smallest currently detectable levels, raising hopes that they will be measured in the near future. Hayakawa explains, "There are six neutrino species. Previous studies have shown that neutrino-isotopes are predominantly produced by the five neutrino species other than the electron anti-neutrino. By finding a neutrino-isotope synthesized predominantly by the electron anti-neutrino, we can estimate the temperatures of all six neutrino species, which are important for understanding the supernova explosion mechanism."

At the end of its life, a massive star dies in a fiery explosion known as a supernova. This explosion blasts most of the mass in the star out into outer space. That mass is then recycled into new stars and planets, leaving distinct chemical signatures which tell scientists about the supernova.

Meteorites, sometimes called falling stars, formed from material left over from the birth of the Solar System, thus preserving the original chemical signatures.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Youngest Accretion Disk Detected in Star Formation

An international team led by Chin-Fei Lee at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) has discovered a very small accretion disk formed around one of the youngest protostars, with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). This discovery poses a constraint on current theory of disk formation stronger than before, by pushing the disk formation time by a factor of a few earlier. Moreover, a compact rotating outflow has been detected. It may trace a disk wind carrying away angular momentum from the disk and thus facilitate the disk formation. "ALMA is so powerful that it can resolve an accretion disk with a radius as small as 15 astronomical units (AU)," says Chin-Fei Lee at ASIAA. "Since this disk is about a few times younger than the previously resolved youngest disk, our result has provided a stronger constraint on current theory of disk formation by pushing the disk formation time by a factor of a few earlier. Moreover, together with the previous results of the older disks, our disk result favors a model where the disk radius grows linearly with the protostellar mass, and thus supporting the 'early-start, slow-growth' scenario against the 'slow-start, rapid-growth' scenario for accretion disk formation around protostars."

HH 211 is one of the youngest protostellar systems in Perseus at a distance of about 770 light-years. The central protostar has an age of only about 10,000 years (which is about 2 millionths of the age of our Sun) and a mass of less than 0.05 solar mass. It drives a powerful bipolar jet and thus must accrete material efficiently.

Previous search at a resolution of about 50 AU only found a hint of a small dusty disk near the protostar. Now with ALMA at a resolution of 7 AU, which is about 7 times finer, the dusty disk at submillimeter wavelength not only has been detected but also spatially resolved.

It is a nearly edge-on accretion disk feeding the central protostar and has a radius of about 15 AU. The disk is thick, indicating that the submillimeter light emitting grains have yet to settle to the midplane. Unlike the previously resolved older edge-on disk HH 212 which appears as a large "hamburger," this younger edge-on disk appears as a small "bun."

Thus, it seems that an edge-on disk will grow from a small "bun" to a large "hamburger" in a later phase. Moreover, a compact rotating outflow has been detected, and it may trace a disk wind carrying away angular momentum from the disk and thus facilitate the disk formation.

The observations open up an exciting possibility of directly detecting and characterizing small disks around the youngest protostars through high-resolution imaging with ALMA, which provides strong constraints on theories of disk formation and thus the feeding process in star formation.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Mysterious 'lunar swirls' point to moon's volcanic, magnetic past

The mystery behind lunar swirls, one of the solar system's most beautiful optical anomalies, may finally be solved thanks to a joint Rutgers University and University of California Berkeley study. The solution hints at the dynamism of the moon's ancient past as a place with volcanic activity and an internally generated magnetic field. It also challenges our picture of the moon's existing geology. Lunar swirls resemble bright, snaky clouds painted on the moon's dark surface. The most famous, called Reiner Gamma, is about 40 miles long and popular with backyard astronomers. Most lunar swirls share their locations with powerful, localized magnetic fields. The bright-and-dark patterns may result when those magnetic fields deflect particles from the solar wind and cause some parts of the lunar surface to weather more slowly. "But the cause of those magnetic fields, and thus of the swirls themselves, had long been a mystery," said Sonia Tikoo, coauthor of the study recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Planets and an assistant professor in Rutgers University-New Brunswick's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. "To solve it, we had to find out what kind of geological feature could produce these magnetic fields - and why their magnetism is so powerful."

Working with what is known about the intricate geometry of lunar swirls, and the strengths of the magnetic fields associated with them, the researchers developed mathematical models for the geological "magnets." They found that each swirl must stand above a magnetic object that is narrow and buried close to the moon's surface.

The picture is consistent with lava tubes, long, narrow structures formed by flowing lava during volcanic eruptions; or with lava dikes, vertical sheets of magma injected into the lunar crust.

But this raised another question: How could lava tubes and dikes be so strongly magnetic? The answer lies in a reaction that may be unique to the moon's environment at the time of those ancient eruptions, over 3 billion years ago.

Past experiments have found that many moon rocks become highly magnetic when heated more than 600 degrees Celsius in an oxygen-free environment. That's because certain minerals break down at high temperatures and release metallic iron. If there happens to be a strong enough magnetic field nearby, the newly formed iron will become magnetized along the direction of that field.

This doesn't normally happen on earth, where free-floating oxygen binds with the iron. And it wouldn't happen today on the moon, where there is no global magnetic field to magnetize the iron.

But in a study published last year, Tikoo found that the moon's ancient magnetic field lasted 1 billion to 2.5 billion years longer than had previously been thought - perhaps concurrent with the creation of lava tubes or dikes whose high iron content would have become strongly magnetic as they cooled.

"No one had thought about this reaction in terms of explaining these unusually strong magnetic features on the moon. This was the final piece in the puzzle of understanding the magnetism that underlies these lunar swirls," Tikoo said.

The next step would be to actually visit a lunar swirl and study it directly. Tikoo serves on a committee that is proposing a rover mission to do just that.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Airbus-built ACLS Life Support Rack is ready for launch from Tanegashima

Airbus is sending a new Life Support Rack to the International Space Station (ISS). The rack also known as Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS) has been developed by Airbus for the European Space Agency (ESA) as a technology demonstrator, which will purify air and produce oxygen for the ISS. The Life Support Rack is stored in the pressurized part of the Japanese HTV-7, an unmanned cargo spacecraft to resupply the ISS, which is currently set to launch from Tanegashima Space Center on 11 September 2018. It will be installed into the Destiny Module (US Laboratory) by ESA astronaut and ISS commander Alexander Gerst on 2 November 2018. Its technology is a critical step forward towards a closed loop life support system, necessary for human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit. Air on the ISS has a higher carbon dioxide content than on Earth, in the order of 0.4 percent. ACLS will provide additional capacity to the existing ISS life support system to remove carbon dioxide from the cabin air. This is performed by two components: CO2 adsorption using Astrine (a solid amine resin), and use of a Sabatier reactor (using hydrogen to convert carbon dioxide into methane and water).

The third component of ESA's new Rack is its electrolyser, which produces oxygen and hydrogen from water. The oxygen produced is used to replenish the cabin air, and the hydrogen is consumed by the Sabatier reactor.

A newly formed ACLS operations team (OPS), based at Airbus in Friedrichshafen, Germany, will operate the ACLS throughout its mission. ACLS OPS is part of the ISS's ground network, and works directly with the ESA Columbus Control Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

Following installation, the ACLS OPS team will commence a six week commissioning phase to check the new facility. Successful commissioning will be followed by operations on the ISS until the end of 2019, with the ACLS providing additional carbon dioxide removal and oxygen generation capabilities to the astronauts onboard.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Little star sheds light on young planets

Astronomers from the Department of Physics at the University of Tokyo discovered a dense disk of material around a young star, which may be a precursor to a planetary system. Their research could vastly improve models of how solar systems form, which would tell us more about our own place in the cosmos. Early in 2017, Assistant Professor Yoko Oya gave graduate student Yuki Okoda some recent complex data on a nearby star with which she could begin her Ph.D. Little did she realize that what she would find could unlock not only the secrets of how planets form but possibly her career as a professional astronomer. The star in question (only known by its catalog number IRAS 15398-3359) is small, young and relatively cool for a star. It's diminutive stature means the weak light it shines can't even reach us through a cloud of gas and dust that surrounds it. But this doesn't stop inquisitive minds from exploring the unknown. In 2013, Oya and her collaborators used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to observe the star in submillimeter wavelengths, as that kind of light can penetrate the dust cloud - for reference, red light is around 700 nanometers. A painstaking analysis revealed some interesting nebulous structures, despite the images they worked from being difficult to comprehend.

"The greatest academic challenge I've faced was trying to make sense of grainy images. It's extremely difficult to know exactly what you're really looking at." says Okoda. "But I felt compelled to explore the nature of the structures Dr. Oya had seen with ALMA, so I came up with a model to explain them."

The model she produced came as a surprise to Okoda and her colleagues, but it fit the data perfectly. It describes a dense disk of material that consists of gas and dust from the cloud that surrounds the star. This has never before been seen around such a young star.

The disk is a precursor to a protoplanetary disk, which is far denser still and eventually becomes a planetary system in orbit around a star.

"We can't say for sure this particular disk will coalesce into a new planetary system," explains Oya. "The dust cloud may be pushed away by stellar winds or it might all fall into the star itself, feeding it in the process. What's exciting is how quickly this might happen."

The star is small at around 0.7 percent the mass of our sun, based on observations of the mass of the surrounding cloud. It could grow to as large as 20 percent in just a few tens of thousands of years, a blink of the eye on the cosmic scale.

"I hope our observations and models will enhance knowledge of how solar systems form," says Okoda. "My research interests involve young protostellar objects, and the implication that protoplanetary disks could form earlier than expected really excites me."

Okoda began this project a year-and-a-half ago to hone her skills as an astronomer, but mirroring the young star she observed, the practice evolved quickly and became a full research project, which will hopefully earn her a Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo.

The observations and resultant model were only possible thanks to advancements in radio astronomy with observatories such as ALMA. The team was lucky that the plane of the disk is level with our own solar system as this means the starlight ALMA sees passes through enough of the gas and dust to divulge important characteristics of it.

"We were also lucky to be given time with ALMA to carry out our observations. Only about 20 percent of applications actually go ahead," explains Oya. "With highly specialized astronomical instruments, there is much competition for time. My hope is our success will inspire a new generation of astronomers in Japan to reach for the stars."