Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mars Meteorite Strikes Egypt - 100 years ago

Exactly a century ago, on June 28, 1911, an explosion shook the Nakhla region of Alexandria in Egypt at 9 a.m.

Soon after, around 40 chunks of meteorite debris from the high altitude blast rained down. 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of the bolide were recovered by witnesses of this cosmic event.

The Smithsonian received two samples of the Nakhla meteorite the following August and then acquired a larger 480 gram (one pound) piece in 1962 (pictured top).

By the 1970's, the Smithsonian had collected 650 grams (1.4 pounds) of the meteorite.

The Nakhla meteorite fragments -- dubbed "Nakhlites" -- are now known to originate from Mars.

Even better than that, scientists have been able to narrow down to where on the Martian surface the original meteoroid came from.

Nakhlites are igneous rocks rich in the mineral augite.

This indicates the original rock formed as a basaltic magma approximately 1.3 billion years ago, when Mars was volcanically active.

Through careful analysis of the rock's crystalisation ages and crater-count chronology of different regions on Mars, the Nakhla meteorite most likely formed in the ancient volcanic regions of Tharsis, Elysium or Syrtis Major Planum, according to the Smithsonian website.

Mars tectonics

Homemade Air Purifier: Reduces 90% of allergen particles

Many people with sinus problems have underlying allergies to dust, pollen, mold or animal dander. All of these can build up in the air inside homes.

One of the best ways to get rid of allergy symptoms is to avoid allergens in the first place, says Jeffery E. Terrell, M.D., director of the University of Michigan Health System’s Michigan Sinus Center. To avoid indoor allergens, many doctors recommend using an air purifier with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.

The cost of these machines can run from $75 up to $800 for high-end systems.

For those who are looking for a cheaper alternative for high-use rooms such as the bedroom, Terrell offers a do-it-yourself solution at a fraction of the cost.

“This is a filtration system that you can put together with items from your local hardware store for $25 to $30 and use in your home to cut indoor allergens by about 90 percent,” says Terrell.

Start with a 20-inch by 20-inch box fan, which often retails for about $12. To the front of it, tape a 20-inch by 20-inch by 1-inch furnace filter.

ESA Integral: Challenges physics beyond Einstein

Integral’s IBIS instrument captured the gamma-ray burst (GRB) of 19 December 2004 that Philippe Laurent and colleagues have now analysed in detail.

It was so bright that Integral could also measure its polarisation, allowing Laurent and colleagues to look for differences in the signal from different energies.

The GRB shown here, on 25 November 2002, was the first captured using such a powerful gamma-ray camera as Integral’s. When they occur, GRBs shine as brightly as hundreds of galaxies each containing billions of stars.

Credits: ESA/SPI Team/ECF

ESA Cluster Mission: 'Dirty hack' restores Cluster from near loss

Using ingenuity and an unorthodox 'dirty hack', ESA has recovered the four-satellite Cluster mission from near loss.

The drama began in March, when a crucial science package stopped responding to commands – one of a mission controller's worst fears.

Since a pair of spectacular dual launches in 2000, the four Cluster satellites have been orbiting Earth in tightly controlled formation.

Each of the 550 kg satellites carries an identical payload to investigate Earth's space environment and its interaction with the solar wind – the stream of charged particles pouring out from the Sun.

Among each satellite's 11 instruments, five comprise the Wave Experiment Consortium (WEC), which makes important measurements of electrical and magnetic fields.

All four sensors must work together to make carefully orchestrated observations – the loss of any one could seriously affect the unique 'four-satellite science' delivered by the mission.

On 5 March, the WEC package on Cluster's number 3 satellite, Samba, failed to switch on. Ground controllers at ESA's European Space Operations Centre, in Darmstadt, Germany, immediately triggered a series of standard recovery procedures, none of which succeeded.

Even worse, no status information could be coaxed out of the instruments.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fifty Years of Space Mobile Nuclear Power

Fifty years ago this week, on June 29, 1961, an electrical generator driven by nuclear energy was launched into space for the first time.

The SNAP-3 radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) powered by the natural decay heat of plutonium-238 provided a minuscule 2.7 watts of power to the Navy’s Transit 4A navigational satellite, which was placed in orbit around the Earth at a mean altitude of 930 kilometers.

The event was commemorated in this advert (shown above) for Martin Marietta, as the device’s manufacturer was then known, which appeared in the December 1962 issue of Astronautics magazine (thanks to Gary L. Bennett).

Since that time, plutonium power sources have enabled a series of ambitious missions into deep space that may rank among the grandest adventures of all time, extending human cognition into domains that were previously accessible only by imagination.

Voyager 1 and 2, for example, twin RTG-powered probes which were launched in 1977, are now on the threshold of becoming the first spacecraft to leave the solar system and to enter interstellar space.

“The men and women involved in Voyager did something that is absolutely the equal of Magellan or Columbus or any of the great explorers of terrestrial discovery,” said project contributor (and FAS sponsor) Ann Druyan.

She and Voyager project scientist Ed Stone offered “Perspectives on More Than 3 Decades of the Voyager Mission” (pdf) in an article by Randy Showstack in the May 10 issue of Eos, the weekly newspaper of the American Geophysical Union (scroll down to the middle of the first page).

Unfortunately, the plutonium 238 power sources that are used to power these missions are not only expensive, they are dirty and dangerous to produce and to launch.

The first launch accident (pdf) involving an RTG occurred as early as 1964 and distributed 17,000 curies of plutonium-238 around the globe, a 4% increase in the total environmental burden (measured in curies) from all plutonium isotopes (mostly fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing).

A plutonium fueled RTG that was deployed in 1965 by the CIA not in space but on a mountaintop in the Himalayas (to help monitor Chinese nuclear tests) continues to generate anxiety, not electricity, more than four decades after it was lost in place. See, most recently, “River Deep Mountain High” by Vinod K. Jose, The Caravan magazine, December 1, 2010.

A good deal of effort has been invested to make today’s RTGs more or less impervious to the most likely launch accident scenarios. But they will be never be perfectly safe.

To minimise the health and safety risks involved in space nuclear power while still taking advantage of the benefits it can offer for space exploration, the Federation of American Scientists years ago proposed (pdf) that nuclear power — both plutonium-fueled RTGs and uranium-fueled reactors — be used only for deep space missions and not in Earth orbit.

Although this proposal was never officially adopted, it represents the de facto policy of spacefaring nations today.

The next RTG enabled space mission, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral between November 25 and December 18 of this year.

The MSL rover, known as “Curiosity,” will be fueled with 4.8 kilograms of plutonium dioxide. It will be, NASA says, “the largest, most capable rover ever sent to another planet.”

ESA XMM-Newton: Neutron star bites off more than it can chew

This animated sequence of images illustrates the partial ingestion of a clump of matter by the neutron star hosted in the Supergiant Fast X-Ray Transient, IGR J18410-0535.

The ingestion of the clump material produced a dramatic increase in the X-rays released by the neutron star, which was detected with XMM-Newton.

The peak in the X-ray luminosity corresponds to the period when the accretion rate was at its maximum.

Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab

Visit the ESA Portal to see the full sequence

ATLAS3D project: Replacing the handle of Hubble's tuning fork

Since Edwin Hubble introduced his famous tuning fork diagram more than 70 years ago, spiral galaxies and early-type galaxies have been regarded as being two distinct families.

The spirals are characterised by the presence of disks of stars and gas in rapid rotation, while the early-types are gas poor and described as spheroid systems, with less rotation and often non-axisymmetric shapes.

A team of 25 astronomers from Europe and Northern America, including ASTRON astronomers Morganti, Oosterloo, and Serra, has shown that many galaxies, which are normally classified as spheroid galaxies according to the 70 year old Hubble classification scheme, are in fact spiral galaxies.

The so-called ATLAS3D team observed a sample of 260 galaxies with the SAURON spectrograph on the 4.2-meter William Herschel Telescope on La Palma, which allowed them to determine the movements of the stars in these carefully selected galaxies. The results are important because it gives astronomers more information about the way galaxies form.

The team proposed a revised scheme in which the vast majority of spheroid galaxies, also known as early-type galaxies, are close relatives of spiral galaxies and for this reason form a parallel sequence to them.

The new paradigm highlights a much closer connection between early-type and spiral galaxies than previously thought, and this will need to be considered in future models of how galaxies form.

The above results were presented in three ATLAS3D team papers which will appear this month on the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis: Ready for launch

After the day-long Flight Readiness Review at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, senior NASA and contractor managers voted unanimously to set space shuttle Atlantis' STS-135 launch date as July 8 at 11:26 a.m. EDT.

"We had a very thorough review," said Bill Gerstenmaier, assistant administrator for space operations.

"This flight is incredibly important. The cargo that is coming up on this flight is really mandatory for space station."

"We're really looking forward to achieving this mission, putting station where it needs to be and finishing strong with the shuttle program here with STS-135," added Mike Moses, Space Shuttle Program launch integration manager.

"Atlantis is in great shape out at the pad," said Mike Leinbach, shuttle launch director.

"Team Atlantis is feeling good about the flow and the launch countdown and hope we'll be able to get her off the ground on Friday the 8th as scheduled."

The STS-135 mission to the International Space Station is the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program.

Space junk narrowly misses ISS

A piece of space debris narrowly missed the International Space Station on Tuesday in a rare incident that forced the six-member crew to scramble to their rescue craft, space agency officials said.

The high-speed object hurtled toward the orbiting lab and likely missed it by just 1,100 feet (335 meters). The crew moved to shelter inside two Soyuz spacecraft 18 minutes before the debris was expected to pass, NASA said.

"It was probably the closest object that has actually come by the space station," said the US space agency's associate administrator for space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier. "We didn't have any information that it was coming until it was very, very close."

The size of the space junk remains unknown and no harm was done by its fly-by.

The six astronauts climbed into the Soyuz craft at 7:50 am Eastern time (1150 GMT), and the expected time of closest approach to the object was 8:08," said NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz.

They spent about half an hour in the Russian space capsules and then went "back to their regular day," she added.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Astronauts take 'shelter' as space debris swings by

NASA ordered the six crew members at the International Space Station to "shelter in place" Monday when space debris came tumbling toward the station's orbit.

An all-clear announcement followed 41 minutes later. An investigation is under way to find out how close the debris came and where it was from, said NASA spokesman Joshua Buck.

NASA Mission Control received late notice of an "unknown object of unknown size" approaching the space station's orbit Monday morning, Buck said. The debris was spotted "too late to make an avoidance maneuver." So the orders were given to "shelter in place."

At about 7:30 a.m. ET, the crew members climbed into the two Soyuz capsules positioned at the station to wait out the debris. NASA determined that the debris would come closest to the space station at 8:08.

Three minutes later, at 8:11 a.m. ET, the all-clear was sounded and astronauts were allowed to exit the capsules.

NASA Will Compete Space Launch System (SLS) Boosters

It should come as no surprise that NASA has selected a "shuttle-derived" vehicle with two existing LOX/LH2 stages as its reference design for the new heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) ordered by Congress and to be used for exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).

Over the past few years NASA had supported the use of solid rocket boosters (SRBs) as strap-on motors for both the now-cancelled Ares I and Ares V launch systems.

Many experts have opposed the use of SRBs for these applications, because of limited energy efficiency and expensive post-flight refurbishing.

NASA has now decided to hold a competition between liquid-propellant and solid-propellant boosters for the SLS in order to satisfy a Congressional mandate.

The use of liquid-propellant boosters is not a new idea. The original proposed Space Shuttle design had included reusable fly-back liquid boosters as far back as the early 1970s.

Of course, the Shuttle system design was changed many times in the 1970s due to political and financial pressures. The end result was a lower cost development and higher per-flight costs for the Shuttle system.

Earlier this month, NASA Administrator Bolden endorsed the possible use of LOX/kerosene liquid boosters for SLS.

Such boosters could significantly increase the energy efficiency of the SLS boost phase and could allow this vehicle to offer a 130-metric-ton payload capability that is specified in the 2010 NASA reauthorization legislation.

The booster competition will likely be between ATK and Aerojet. It appears that ATK will propose the five-segment version of the four-segment SRBs used on the Space Shuttle. The five-segment variant was to be the first stage of the Ares I crew launch vehicle.

Aerojet will likely propose a U.S.-built version of the Russian-based NK-33, but renamed as the AJ-26.

Orbital Sciences will be using the AJ-26 as the main-stage engine for its new Taurus II commercial launch vehicle.

Monday, June 27, 2011

NEO: Small Asteroid Flies Past Earth on June 27, 2011

Trajectory of 2011 MD projected onto the Earth's orbital plane

Trajectory of 2011 MD projected onto the Earth's orbital plane. Note from this viewing angle, the asteroid passes underneath the Earth.

Trajectory of 2011 MD  from the general direction of the Sun
Trajectory of 2011 MD from the general direction of the Sun.

Near-Earth asteroid 2011 MD will pass only 12,300 kilometers (7,600 miles) above the Earth's surface on Monday June 27 at about 1:00 PM EDT.

The asteroid was discovered by the LINEAR near-Earth object discovery team observing from Socorro, New Mexico.

The diagram on the left shows the trajectory of 2011 MD projected onto the Earth's orbital plane over a four-day interval.

The diagram on the left gives another view from the general direction of the Sun that indicates that 2011 MD will reach its closest Earth approach point in extreme southern latitudes in fact over the southern Atlantic Ocean).

This small asteroid, only 5-20 meters in diameter, is in a very Earth-like orbit about the Sun, but an orbital analysis indicates there is no chance it will actually strike Earth on Monday.

The incoming trajectory leg passes several thousand kilometers outside the geosynchronous ring of satellites and the outgoing leg passes well inside the ring.

One would expect an object of this size to come this close to Earth about every 6 years on average.

For a brief time, it will be bright enough to be seen even with a modest-sized telescope.

NASA Hubble Image: The Eight-Burst Nebula NGC 3132

This is NGC 3132, or The Eight-Burst Nebula. NASA explain: "It's the dim star, not the bright one, near the centre of NGC 3132 that created this odd but beautiful planetary nebula.

Nicknamed the Eight-Burst Nebula and the Southern Ring Nebula, the glowing gas originated in the outer layers of a star like our Sun.

In this representative colour picture, the hot blue pool of light seen surrounding this binary system is energised by the hot surface of the faint star.

Although photographed to explore unusual symmetries, it's the asymmetries that help make this planetary nebula so intriguing.

Neither the unusual shape of the surrounding cooler shell nor the structure and placements of the cool filamentary dust lanes running across NGC 3132 are well understood."

Picture: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

ESA SKYLON: 'no impediments' for spaceplane development

After nearly 30 years of service, the Space Shuttle fleet is due to enter retirement with the last ever mission scheduled for takeoff on July 8, 2011.

In its lifetime, the world's first Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) has provided information that will prove invaluable for the next generation of spacecraft that will succeed it.

One such craft is the Skylon, an unpiloted, single-stage, reusable spaceplane currently under development by UK-based Reaction Engines Ltd. (REL).

The Skylon got a shot in the arm last month with the release of a technical review of Skylon carried out by the European Space Agency (ESA) that concluded there are "no impediments" that would prevent the continued development of the Skylon and its SABRE engine.

The Skylon design, which grew out of the HOTOL (Horizontal Take-Off and Landing) program by Rolls Royce and British Aerospace that was terminated in 1988.

The design consists of a slender fuselage containing propellant tankage and payload bay, with delta wings attached midway along the fuselage carrying the SABRE engines in axismmetric nacelles on the wingtips.

With a payload bay measuring 4.6 m (15 ft) in diameter and 12.3 m (40 ft) long, Skylon is designed to transport up to 15 tons of cargo into Low Earth Orbit (LEO, approx. 300 km /186 mile) at about 1/50th of the cost of traditional expendable launch vehicles, such as rockets. It could also carry 10.5 tons to a 460 km (286 mile) equatorial space station, or 9.5 tons to a 460 km x 28.5 degree space station, when operating from an equatorial site.

Read more here: ESA review finds 'no impediments' for SKYLON spaceplane development

Gagarin's Soyuz capsule - Mockup

Full-size mockup of Gagarin's Soyuz capsule at the Musee de l'Air et Espace at Le Bourget

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nasa Mariner 4 Image: The first View of Mars

A 'real-time data translator' machine converted a Mariner 4 digital image data into numbers printed on strips of paper.

Too anxious to wait for the official processed image, employees from the Voyager Telecommunications Section at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attached these strips side by side to a display panel and hand coloured the numbers like a paint-by-numbers picture.

The completed image was framed and presented to JPL director, William H. Pickering.

Mariner 4 was launched on November 28, 1964 and journeyed for 228 days to the Red Planet, providing the first close-range images of Mars.

The spacecraft carried a television camera and six other science instruments to study the Martian atmosphere and surface. The 22 photographs taken by Mariner revealed the existence of lunar type craters upon a desert-like surface.

After completing its mission, Mariner 4 continued past Mars to the far side of the Sun. On Dec. 20, 1967, all operations of the spacecraft were ended.

Visit for more information.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Dan Goods

Brilliant Replicating Concept - The RepRap

RepRap from Adrian Bowyer on Vimeo.

RepRap is a free desktop 3D printer capable of printing plastic objects. Since many parts of RepRap are made from plastic and RepRap can print those parts, RepRap is a self-replicating machine - one that anyone can build given time and materials. It also means that - if you've got a RepRap - you can print lots of useful stuff, and you can print another RepRap for a friend...

RepRap is about making self-replicating machines, and making them freely available for the benefit of everyone. We are using 3D printing to do this, but if you have other technologies that can copy themselves and that can be made freely available to all, then this is the place for you too. is a community project, which means you are welcome to edit most pages on this site, or better yet, create new pages of your own. Our community portal and New Development pages have more information on how to get involved. Use the links below and on the left to explore the site contents. You'll find some content translated into other languages.

Friday, June 24, 2011

MARS Simulation on Tenerife mountain top

One of the most exciting parts of my astrobiology research is working out how to search for evidence of past Martian life - signs of ancient biology that may have fallen extinct hundreds of millions of years ago.

One promising technique for finding these "biosignatures" - which could be pockets of organic molecules or even microbial life - is to entice them to glow in the dark using an ultraviolet laser mounted on a robotic probe. A camera on the probe would then detect the glow.

If you've ever had a gin and tonic in a nightclub you are probably already familiar with this effect. You'll have noticed how the ultraviolet lights in the club (we see them as black) cause the G&T to emit an eerie blue glow. This is caused by quinine, an organic molecule in the tonic water, fluorescing. It is this bitter-tasting compound that gives tonic water its anti-malarial properties so it's funny to think how far we've come since Victorian colonists in East Africa supped medicinal G&T sun-downers!

I have been testing this technique in the lab but it is now time to try the equipment in a more realistic scenario. So next week I'm flying out to Tenerife in the Canary Islands to carry out fieldwork in the volcanic caldera that sits like a giant pimple on the face of this tiny island. The barren rocky terrain and volcanic geology around Tenerife are a good approximation to the Martian landscape, and, in fact, prototypes for Mars rovers are put through their paces here.

I am part of a team of scientists, lead by Derek Pullan at Leicester University, who will be field-testing different instruments and camera systems. The system I'll be testing involves a sensitive digital camera and an ultraviolet light source. Because we'll be operating by day I'll have to shield everything from the bright sunlight beneath a thick photographic blanket. My rucksack will also be laden with other snazzy kit like a laser range-finder and GPS-equipped camera to record the environment around my test sites.

There are still a few things to sort out, but I'm pretty much good to go now. Holiday snaps to follow!

ESA ENVISAT Image: Qeshm Island, Jewel of the Persian Gulf

This Envisat image features the largest island in the Persian Gulf: Iran’s Qeshm Island.

This long thin island lies just a few kilometres off the Iranian coast near the narrow Strait of Hormuz.

The Straits of Hormuz separate the Persian Gulf to the west and the Gulf of Oman to the southeast.

Qeshm Island harbours the Hara Biosphere Reserve, the largest stretch of mangrove forest along the Persian Gulf shoreline.

This network of shallow waterways and forest can be seen clearly in the image, between Qeshm Island and the mainland.

The image was created by combining three Envisat radar images from 2009 (7 May, 29 October and 3 December) over the same area. The colours result from changes in the surface between acquisitions.

Credits: ESA

ESA Videos: Highlights of Telecommunications Satellite News

Featuring the ESA Director of telecommunication Systems: Magali Vaissiere

Robotic Kilobots swarm and collaborate

If robots can learn to cooperate, teams of automatons could patrol borders or help out in the home. So far, it's been hard to test software that coordinates robot swarms because of the cost and difficulty of maintaining several robots.

But now an army of low-cost, social robots, designed by Mike Rubenstein and his team at the WYSS Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is proving to be a feasible way to test these systems (see video above).

In this video, you can see some of the complex behaviour they are capable of. They can disperse to explore their surroundings, play "follow the leader", or even mimic foraging behaviour.

In this last example, robots locate a food source while maintaining contact with a bot that represents their nest. When they find the food, a green light turns on and they head back to simulate depositing their find.

The tiny machines, called Kilobots, are about four centimetres in diameter and carry a battery that lasts for up to three hours. They're cheap enough to make in large numbers: according to the project site, the parts for each bot cost around US $14 and take 5 minutes to assemble.

The robots move around on three stiff legs, using two vibration motors to rotate, go straight ahead, or move along a curved path. They communicate by bouncing infrared signals off the ground, which can be used to measure how far away other bots are.

An onboard microprocessor can be programmed with simple behaviors, such as "stay 10 centimetres away from other bots." But all of the robots can also be controlled at once using a master controller hanging overhead.

For more cooperative robots, check out this video of flying robo-jugglers.

NASA's Missing Moon Dust Is Found at Auction House

Buzz Aldrin
It was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, and a lot of people wanted a piece of it.

Now, some 40 years after moon dust brought back from the Apollo 11 mission went missing, it was recovered at a St. Louis auction house and returned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston this week.

"It's a speck — the size of a fingertip," said David Kols of Regency-Superior auction house, where the dust had been placed for sale.

"But it's lunar material, and since we're not going back to the moon in my lifetime or yours, that makes it worth a lot to some people."

The U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis, which announced the recovered moon dust on Thursday, said that investigators with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) believed the dust had come from the film cartridge of a camera used by astronauts on humanity's first trip to the moon in 1969.

The dust was lifted from the cartridge using a 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of clear tape. Somehow, it reached the black market and was sold in 2001, NASA investigators believe, to a German collector who cut up the tape into tiny slivers, rather than return it to the U.S. government.

When investigators from both NASA and the U.S. Attorney's office noticed moon dust listed for sale in St. Louis, they shut down the transaction with the cooperation of the auction house and the seller.

The widow trying to sell the dust — her name was not released — said she didn't know where her late husband had purchased it. She "immediately and graciously agreed to relinquish it back to the American people," the U.S. Attorney's office said.

The auction house had estimated its value at between $1,000 and $1,500.

D-Dalus: Radical new flying machine may replace helicopters?

It can take off vertically, hover, rotate on a dime, fly in reverse and thrust down to nail a landing a moving target and, it can do all of this at jet-like speed and without any loud chopping noise.

What’s surprising is that the D-Dalus doesn’t have fixed wings or a standard rotor engine and more closely resembles a lawn mower than an aircraft.

It hovers using an innovative flight technology that may someday allow it supplant helicopters as the ultimate in aerial maneuverability.

Helicopters have long been deployed in a wide range of military and police operations. Yet, for just as long, they’ve been beset with a fair number of drawbacks. The same design principles that allows them to hover also limits their forward flying speed. The loud rotor engines also makes them impractical for reconnaissance missions.

IAT21, the Austrian Innovative Aeronautical Technology research company which developed the D-Dalus, claims their invention is a potential game-changer because it’s designed to rectify all these concerns. It’s ultra-quiet, works swimmingly in harsh weather conditions and requires much less maintenance.

The aircraft can enter buildings through windows and comes equipped with a sense-and-avoid system, which means it can navigate within tight spots and close to walls. Such versatility makes it ideal for search-and-rescue operations or as a surveillance drone.

The aircraft’s differs in that it generates propulsion using four contra-rotating turbines spinning at speeds upwards of 2,200 rpm. But the key to its incredibly nimble maneuvering is the turbines ability to be adjusted to generate thrust at different angles around the three axes.

A series of built-in computer algorithms take the guesswork out of how to reposition the blades so that in-air tricks, like glue-down landings, can be easily executed using a joystick.

Currently, the D-Dalus is marketed as a spy-drone. But the company plans to scale up the technology so that it can handle heavier payloads and so that it can someday be commissioned as a passenger vehicle.

According to the company website: “In trials to date D-DALUS has met the performance criteria placed upon it and appears to be scalable, becoming more efficient and less complex as it increases in size.”

Right now, the biggest version can only lift a payload of 70kg, although IAT21 is now working with the UK's Cranfield University on a larger, more powerful version.

Photo: IAT21

NASA Aqua Image: 2 Cyclones in one InfraRed Image

The Northwestern Pacific Ocean is active with two tropical cyclones today, Tropical Storm Meari near the Philippines, and Tropical Depression Haima moving over China and now toward Vietnam.

NASA's Aqua satellite passed over the region on June 22 and captured an infrared image of both storms in one image.

One of the instruments onboard NASA's Aqua satellite is the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS).

AIRS captures cloud top temperatures in tropical cyclones to determine the strength of convection and thunderstorms.

The strongest thunderstorms have cloud tops with icy cold temperatures of -63F/-52C and are indicative of areas where rainfall rates could reach up to 2 inches / 50 mm per hour and both Meari and Haima had large areas of those very cold cloud top temperatures.

AIRS captured the image on June 22 at 17:53 UTC 1:53 p.m. EDT and it showed the heaviest rainfall and strongest convection (rapidly rising air that forms the thunderstorms that power a tropical cyclone) from Tropical Storm Meari is currently over the Philippine Sea and skirting the east coast of Luzon.

The imagery showed the large area of strong thunderstorms (and convection) in Haima mostly over the South China Sea and Hainan Island, China.

Haima is still a tropical depression as its maximum sustained winds on June 23 at 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EDT) were near 30 knots (34 mph/55 kmh). Tropical storms have maximum sustained winds between 38 and 73 mph.

It was located over Hainan Island, China, and about 235 nautical miles west-southwest of Hong Kong, China near 21.4 North and 109.6 East. Tropical Depression Haima is moving westward at 10 knots (11 mph/19 kmh).

Xenon Ion Thruster: Aerojet, EADS, QinetiQ,

Aerojet, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, QinetiQ, (LSE: QQ.L) and EADS Astrium Crisa, an EADS (PAR:EAD) company, announced today that the companies have entered into a joint agreement to supply the XENITH™ (Xenon Ion Thruster) ion propulsion system to the worldwide commercial spacecraft market.

The agreement will enable customers to benefit from the combined expertise of independent market leaders in design, manufacture and supply of space propulsion systems, who are collaborating to deliver the XENITH™ system.

Built around the ultra high-efficient T6 ion thruster developed by QinetiQ, the XENITH™ propulsion system will provide a reduction in propellant consumed by more than a factor of 12 over conventional chemical propulsion systems.

Ion propulsion systems have been used for orbit raising and station keeping of satellites, as well as for primary propulsion for deep space missions.

The T6 ion propulsion technology is based on the lower power T5 system, which provides precision atmospheric drag compensation for the highly successful GOCE gravity mapping mission operated by ESA.

A T6-based propulsion system is being qualified for the European Bepi-Colombo mission to Mercury and has been selected to provide onboard propulsion for the Alphabus communications satellite platform.

QinetiQ provides the thruster and flow control subsystem, while Crisa provides the thruster power and control electronics.

"The joint effort with Aerojet and Crisa to market the XENITH™ propulsion system is a significant step toward delivering QinetiQ's proven ion propulsion technology for much wider use worldwide," said Neil Bevan, QinetiQ Technology Solutions, Managing Director of Aerospace.

Aerojet's electric propulsion products are currently flying on more than 150 operational satellites and span a broad range of electric propulsion products.

For the XENITH™ system, Aerojet will perform some of the manufacturing, under a licensed arrangement with QinetiQ, and then integrate and deliver the system to spacecraft primes.

Vice President of Space and Launch Systems for Aerojet, Julie Van Kleeck, states that "the XENITH™ system fills a critical need within Aerojet's suite of electric propulsion product offerings."

"As the developer and supplier of the T5 and T6 power electronics units, we look forward to working with this team to provide this key component of the XENITH™ system with the highest of quality and reliability," said Fernando del Rey, CEO of Crisa.

Crisa has provided flight electronics to most ESA flight programs and delivered more than 700 units with almost 3,000 aggregate years of operation on orbit.

About Aerojet
Aerojet is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader principally serving the missile and space propulsion, defense and armaments markets.

GenCorp is a leading technology-based manufacturer of aerospace and defense products and systems with a real estate segment that includes activities related to the entitlement, sale, and leasing of the company's excess real estate assets.

Additional information about Aerojet and GenCorp can be obtained by visiting the companies' websites at and

About QinetiQ Group
A FTSE250 company, QinetiQ uses its domain knowledge to provide technical support and know-how to customers in the global aerospace, defence and security markets.

Employing 13,000 people around the world, QinetiQ's unique position enables it to be a trusted partner to government organisations, predominantly in the UK and the US, including defence departments, intelligence services and security agencies.

In the year to 31 March 2011, QinetiQ delivered revenue of 1,702.6 m pounds Sterling.

About EADS Astrium Crisa
A fully owned company of EADS Astrium in Spain, Crisa is a well renowned supplier of complex on board electronics for space.

More than 25 years experience, 400 employees, and hundreds of electronic units flown in space, demonstrate Crisa's capabilities in the design and manufacturing of electronic equipment for satellites and launchers, covering every scientific, Earth observation, telecommunications or navigation application.

At the moment, the company is working in the Ariane 5 and Vega launcher programs, the ATV vehicle, the Alphabus and Eurostar platforms, scientific and Earth observation satellites like GAIA, LISA Pathfinder, Sentinel 2 & 3, EarthCARE, and the planetary mission Bepi-Colombo.

XENITH is a trade mark of QinetiQ Limited.

SOURCE Aerojet

ESO VLT Image: The Flames of Betelgeuse

This picture of the dramatic nebula around the bright red supergiant star Betelgeuse was created from images taken with the VISIR infrared camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

This structure, resembling flames emanating from the star, forms because the behemoth is shedding its material into space.

The earlier NACO observations of the plumes are reproduced in the central disc. The small red circle in the middle has a diameter about four and half times that of the Earth’s orbit and represents the location of Betelgeuse’s visible surface.

The black disc corresponds to a very bright part of the image that was masked to allow the fainter nebula to be seen.

Credit: ESO/P. Kervella

NASA ARTEMIS Spacecraft Prepares for Lunar Orbit

They've almost arrived. It took one and a half years, over 90 orbit maneuvers, and - wonderfully - many gravitational boosts and only the barest bit of fuel to move two spacecraft from their orbit around Earth to their new home around the moon.

Along their travels, the spacecraft have been through orbits never before attempted and made lovely curlicue leaps from one orbit to the next. This summer, the two ARTEMIS spacecraft - which began their lives as part of the five-craft THEMIS mission studying Earth's aurora - will begin to orbit the moon instead. THEMIS is an acronym for the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interaction during Substorms spacecraft.

The view from above of the ARTEMIS orbits as they make the transition from the kidney-shaped Lissajous orbits on either side of the moon to orbiting around the moon. 

Even with NASA's decades of orbital mechanics experience, this journey was no easy feat.

The trip required several maneuvers never before attempted, including several months when each craft moved in a kidney-shaped path on each side of the moon around, well, nothing but a gravitational point in space marked by no physical planet or object.

"No one has ever tried this orbit before, it's an Earth-moon libration orbit," says David Folta a flight dynamics engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It's a very unstable orbit that requires daily attention and constant adjustments."

The journey for ARTEMIS - short for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon's Interaction with the Sun - began in 2009, after THEMIS had completed some two years of science data collection on the magnetic environment around Earth, the aurora, and how these are affected by the sun.

The spacecraft are solar-powered, but orbits for the two outermost THEMIS spacecraft had slipped over time and were going to be subjected to regular eight-hour periods of darkness. These spacecraft could withstand up to three hours without sunlight, but this much darkness would soon leave the batteries completely discharged.

NASA Genesis: Mission Data Suggests Sun and Planets Constructed Differently

Researchers analyzing samples returned by NASA's 2004 Genesis mission have discovered that our sun and its inner planets may have formed differently than previously thought.

Data revealed differences between the sun and planets in oxygen and nitrogen, which are two of the most abundant elements in our solar system.

Although the difference is slight, the implications could help determine how our solar system evolved.

"We found that Earth, the moon, as well as Martian and other meteorites which are samples of asteroids, have a lower concentration of the O-16 than does the sun," said Kevin McKeegan, a Genesis co-investigator from UCLA, and the lead author of one of two Science papers published this week.

"The implication is that we did not form out of the same solar nebula materials that created the sun - just how and why remains to be discovered."

The air on Earth contains three different kinds of oxygen atoms which are differentiated by the number of neutrons they contain. Nearly 100 percent of oxygen atoms in the solar system are composed of O-16, but there are also tiny amounts of more exotic oxygen isotopes called O-17 and O-18.

Researchers studying the oxygen of Genesis samples found that the percentage of O-16 in the sun is slightly higher than on Earth or on other terrestrial planets. The other isotopes' percentages were slightly lower.

Another paper detailed differences between the sun and planets in the element nitrogen. Like oxygen, nitrogen has one isotope, N-14, that makes up nearly 100 percent of the atoms in the solar system, but there is also a tiny amount of N-15.

Researchers studying the same samples saw that when compared to Earth's atmosphere, nitrogen in the sun and Jupiter has slightly more N-14, but 40 percent less N-15.

Both the sun and Jupiter appear to have the same nitrogen composition. As is the case for oxygen, Earth and the rest of the inner solar system are very different in nitrogen.

"These findings show that all solar system objects including the terrestrial planets, meteorites and comets are anomalous compared to the initial composition of the nebula from which the solar system formed," said Bernard Marty, a Genesis co-investigator from Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques and the lead author of the other new Science paper.

"Understanding the cause of such a heterogeneity will impact our view on the formation of the solar system."

Data were obtained from analysis of samples Genesis collected from the solar wind, or material ejected from the outer portion of the sun. This material can be thought of as a fossil of our nebula because the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the outer layer of our sun has not changed measurably for billions of years.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Mars in a Bottle' Tortures Bacteria

It's hard to believe that nearly 35 years ago we conducted the first -- and so far last -- experiments to find life on Mars.

In 1976, two NASA Viking landers scooped up some orange Martian soil and attempted to incubate any native microorganisms that might be present. The results were ambiguous as best, and have been hotly debated ever since.

The Viking experiments were criticized as being too premature because in the 1970s we didn't know very much about the Martian environment or its geological history. In fact, the Viking experiments may have actually killed exotic native life say some astrobiologists (Viking's view of Mars is pictured below). We didn’t even know about the existence of extremophiles on Earth back then -- tough microbes that adapt to hostile conditions that would normally kill us.

Before we send another biology experiment to Mars, says a team of researchers at the University of Padova, Italy, let's build our own Martian environment in a lab and see what Earth life forms might survive. Call it a "goldfish bowl" for seeing if life can live on the edge.

Finding a life form able to survive in homemade Martian conditions may have a double payoff says the team, lead by Giuseppe Galletta. It might expand our understanding of the limits of environments where life can survive.

The experiments would also define the limits for how easy or hard it would be to accidentally contaminate Mars with Earth bugs.

The small Martian environment simulators they built (pictured top), called LISA and mini-LISA (Laboratorio Italiano Simulazione Ambienti), make an attempt at duplicating Martian surface conditions.

Inside the mini-Mars habitats, temperature ranges from a maximum of near-freezing in the tropical Martian summer to –200 degrees Fahrenheit (-130°C) in the harsh polar winter. Air pressure is kept at an anemic fraction of a percent of Earth's surface pressure. The bottled atmosphere is 95 percent carbon dioxide with trace elements. Searing ultraviolet (UV) light floods the habitat.

What's handy is there are no time limits on the experiments. The mini-Mars world is refueled with liquid nitrogen weekly to keep it chilly.

NASA - microgravity flame images

Fire acts differently in space than on Earth. Sandra Olson, an aerospace engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center, demonstrates just how differently in her art.

This artwork is comprised of multiple overlays of three separate microgravity flame images.

Each image is of flame spread over cellulose paper in a spacecraft ventilation flow in microgravity.

The different colours represent different chemical reactions within the flame. The blue areas are caused by chemiluminescence (light produced by a chemical reaction.) The white, yellow and orange regions are due to glowing soot within the flame zone.

Microgravity combustion research at Glenn not only provides insights into spacecraft fire safety, but it has also been used to create award-winning art images. This image won first place in the 2011 Combustion Art Competition, held at the 7th U.S. National Combustion Meeting.

Image Credit: NASA

EADS Eurocopter X3 Hybrid Helicopter demo Video at Paris Air show

The speedy new X3 helicopter made its public debut this week at the Paris Air Show, flying a demonstration routine in front of the aerospace industry crowd.

Developed by EADS Eurocopter, the X3 (pronounced ‘x-cubed’) has already flown more than 260 miles per hour, though the company says extreme top speed is not the only goal.

Unlike Sikorsky’s X2 helicopter, which is an entirely new design, the X3 is built around an existing airframe.

Starting with its Dauphin helicopter, Eurocopter removed the tail rotor and added a pair of propellers mounted on short wings. These propellers are used to counter the torque of the main rotor like a tail rotor, and are also used to provide thrust to push the X3 beyond typical helicopter speeds.

The new helicopter uses twin engines like the standard Dauphin, but the engines are much more powerful and are used to power both the side propellers and main rotor.

Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling said in a statement the hybrid design will not only be fast, but it will also be affordable to customers.

“Future helicopters incorporating the X3 configuration will offer our customers about 50 percent more cruise speed and range at very affordable costs.”

During the week in Paris, Eurocopter has been reinforcing this message saying the other helicopters may be faster, but the X3 is aimed at developing a technology that is easily adaptable. The company says the speedy technology will add less than 25 percent to the cost of a comparable traditional helicopter.

Sikorsky’s X2 helicopter is a technology demonstrator developed over the past several years.

The company has already begun development of its S-97 helicopter, which will be a larger aircraft aimed at military customers using the pusher propeller and co-axial rotor design of the X2. At the Paris Air Show Sikorsky said the S-97 will make its first flight within the next three and a half years, according to Rotor&Wing magazine.

Both companies see a wide-ranging market for the faster helicopters. In addition to military applications, the extra speed and range is attractive for search-and-rescue operations, law enforcement, offshore oil rig transportation and as private transportation.

In other words, just about any application where helicopters are currently used as transportation would likely opt for more speed and range.

Solar Powered aircraft Solar Impulse at Paris Air show

French Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet examines the solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse.

Read more about this amazing aircraft here at the Solar Impulse blog.

Twin-engined "Cri-Cri" at Paris Air Show 2011

Pilot Hugues Duval sits in his twin-engined "Cri-Cri", one of the smallest aerobatic aircraft in the world, in front of a Boeing 747-8FA.

Duval holds the world speed record for an electrically powered aircraft after reaching a top speed of 262 km/h.

Read the spec on this mini aerobatic aircraft here

You can also read more about this amazing aircraft on the Cri-Cri blog

NASA Mars Science Lab: Biggest-Ever Heat Shield Prepared for Mars Spacecraft

The heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is the largest ever built for a planetary mission.

This image shows the heat shield being prepared at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, in April 2011. The heat shield was delivered to NASA Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on May 12, 2011, together with the mission's back shell and cruise stage.

The heat shield and back shell, which together form the spacecraft's areoshell, have a diameter of 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet).

Mars Science Laboratory will launch in late 2011. The mission's rover, Curiosity, will land on Mars in August 2012. It will study whether an intriguing area of Mars has offered environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and for preserving evidence of whether life existed there.

The aeroshell will encapsulate and protect Curiosity from intense heat and friction generated during descent through the Martian atmosphere.

Technicians in the photo are installing electronics of an instrument for collecting data about temperature and pressure during descent through the atmosphere.

This instrument is the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI).

It was developed by NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., in partnership with NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

The white area near the centre of the heat shield will serve for calibration of the mission's Mars Descent Imager as the heat shield drops away from the rover during descent. The camera will then record a high-definition colour video of the ground until moments after touch down.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Robotic Hand Control lets you pluck strings like a pro musician

WANT to learn a musical instrument, but can't find the time to practise? A device now under development can take control of your hand and teach you how to play a tune.

No spirits of dead musicians are involved. PossessedHand, being developed jointly by the University of Tokyo, Japan, and Sony Computer Science Laboratories, also in Tokyo, electrically stimulates the muscles in the forearm that move your fingers.

A belt worn around that part of the subject's arm contains 28 electrode pads, which flex the joints between the three bones of each finger and the two bones of the thumb, and provide two wrist movements.

Users were able to sense the movement of their hands that this produced, even with their eyes closed. "The user's fingers are controlled without the user's mind," explains Emi Tamaki of the University of Tokyo, who led the research.

Devices that stimulate people's fingers have been made before, but they used electrodes embedded in the skin, which are invasive, or glove-like devices that make it hard to manipulate an object.

Tamaki claims that her device is far more comfortable. "The electric stimulations are similar to low-frequency massage stimulations that are commonly used," she says.

Robo-tailor stitches a jacket seam

Even if sewing isn't your strong point, chances are you could outperform most machines. Fabric needs to be carefully aligned and held with the right amount of tension during stitching, a task best suited for two human hands but now a one-armed robot, developed by a European project called Leapfrog, seems like it's up to the challenge. In this video, you can watch it slide up two joined pieces of cloth and successfully sew up a seam.

The arm, developed by German company Moll Automatische Nahsysteme, was initially designed to help doctors stitch up patients after surgery. Since then, it has also been used to sew car upholstery. It's a much faster worker than humans: a job that would take an experienced human 5 minutes to complete is finished up by this robot in just 20 seconds.

The robot is just one element of an automated production line being developed by Leapfrog to create a jacket. A pattern is first cut out by a computer-controlled cutting table before suction grippers transfer the pieces to a bespoke, shape-changing dummy. Then pins hold the fabric in place for the arm to sew it up.

ESA & Ariane 5: Paris Air & Space Show

ESA pavilion at Paris Air & Space Show

ESA Galileo: Soyuz launchers arrive at French Guiana

Soyuz ST-B launchers at Kourou harbour
The two Soyuz launchers that will fly the first four satellites of Europe’s Galileo navigation system into orbit have arrived at Kourou harbour in French Guiana, completing a journey that took them halfway round the world.

The first two Galileo In Orbit Validation satellites are set to be launched from Europe’s Spaceport on 20 October, with two more following them into orbit by mid-2012.

The October launch will be the first flight of a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana.

Artist's impression of a Soyuz liftoff in French Guiana

First Soyuz launch this October
The two Soyuz ST-B launchers and their Fregat-MT upper stages were carried across the Atlantic aboard Arianespace vessel MN Colibri, arriving on 18 June.

The rocket hardware left by train from the Soyuz manufacturing plant in Samara, Russia and the Fregat factory in Moscow to St Petersburg harbour, where it was loaded for shipment, leaving on 3 June for French Guiana.

The next step will be the Launcher Flight Readiness Review, due to take place on 21 July. Authorisation will then be given to begin assembling the rocket hardware and deployingthe initial Soyuz ST-B launcher for the first Galileo campaign.

The first two Galileo satellites – known as PFM and FM2, for Protoflight Model and Flight Model 2 – are currently undergoing their final qualification and acceptance tests at Thales Alenia Space in Rome, Italy.

Once Satellite Flight Readiness Review has given the green light, both satellites and their ground equipment and launch teams will arrive at the beginning of September for the launch campaign.

Soyuz ST-B is the most powerful version of the famous Soyuz launcher, while the Fregat-MT is an upgraded version of the Fregat upper stage.

NASA Cassini Captures Ocean-like Spray at Saturn's Moon Enceladus

Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice out from many locations along the famed "tiger stripes" near the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

The tiger stripes are fissures that spray icy particles, water vapor and organic compounds.

More than 30 individual jets of different sizes can be seen in this image and more than 20 of them had not been identified before. At least one jet spouting prominently in previous images now appears less powerful.

This mosaic was created from two high-resolution images that were captured by the narrow-angle camera when NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flew past Enceladus and through the jets on Nov. 21, 2009. (For other images captured during the same flyby, see Enceladan Tectonics and Baghdad Sulcus in 3-D ). Imaging the jets over time will allow Cassini scientists to study the consistency of their activity.

The south pole of the moon lies near the limb in the top left quadrant of the mosaic, near the large jet that is second from left. Lit terrain seen here is on the leading hemisphere of Enceladus (504 kilometers, 313 miles across).

Cassini scientists continue to study the question of whether reservoirs of liquid water exist beneath the surface of the moon. See Baghdad and Cairo Sulci on Enceladus and Jet Blue to learn more.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 14,000 kilometers (9,000 miles) from Enceladus and at a sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 145 degrees. Image scale is 81 meters (267 feet) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit and The Cassini imaging team homepage is at

ESA high-thrust engine takes next step

NGL concepts under study - Left: main stage powered by a cryogenic liquid oxygen and hydrogen engine (staged combustion cycle), with a cryogenic reignitable engine for the upper stage. Right: first two stages powered by solid propellants, with a cryogenic reignitable engine for the upper stage.

ESA is preparing the NGL Next-Generation Launcher to meet Europe's institutional needs and safeguard its guaranteed access to space into the long term, ensuring it will continue to have effective and economic launchers at its disposal.

The work is being performed under the Agency's Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP), which is identifying and studying new launch vehicle concepts and anticipating the technologies to make them possible.

Many configurations have been screened and studied on the way to the current four, using two and three stages to orbit, different types of liquid and solid propellants and a cryogenic upper stage.

Credits: ESA - D. Ducros

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ESA Galileo - Europe's GPS system in big cash boost

Sufficient savings have been found in Europe's Galileo sat-nav project for at least six additional spacecraft to be bought for the system before 2014.

The European Commission says it has about 500m euros (£440m) "in its pocket" which it will use to make the extra purchase.

It would take Europe's version of GPS from 18 operational satellites in the next few years to 24.

This should make a big difference to Galileo's performance.

It should also hasten the eventual completion date.

The announcement was made at the Paris Air Show by European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, who has overall responsibility in Brussels for the flagship EU space project.

"It is possible to reduce not only the cost but also the timing," he said. "And by reducing the timing, we reduce the cost. This is a very good cocktail - cost and timing together."

Mr Tajani was at Le Bourget aerodrome to sign the last two industrial contracts needed to make Europe's satellite-navigation venture a reality.

The combined valued of these two agreements is 355m euros. They are both concerned with ground operations.

One (281m euros) is with Thales Alenia Space of France, who will be tasked with looking after Galileo's timing and navigation data, ensuring it is properly formatted for transmission by the satellites.

The other contract (73.5m euros) is going to Astrium-UK. Their work will ensure the good "housekeeping" of the satellites, including the maintenance and correct positioning of the spacecraft in orbit.

But it was the news that Mr Tajani had managed to find major economies in the project that dominated discussions at Le Bourget.

BBC News - Europe's Galileo sat-nav in big cash boost

ESA Galileo: EU Govs Trim Galileo Cost Overruns

European governments on June 22 announced that they have been able to trim the huge cost overruns in Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation program and said the belt-tightening demonstration should make it easier to secure additional funds needed to complete the program.

Meeting here at the Paris air show to sign the final two ground segment contracts for the Galileo network, European Commission and European Space Agency (ESA) officials said they are confident enough about Galileo’s progress to order six more satellites following a competition between two consortia likely to be organized late this year.

Officials said the competition — a second Galileo face-off between OHB Technology of Germany and Astrium Satellites of France, Germany and Britain — would be designed to squeeze the bidders to a price of about 40 million euros ($56 million) per satellite for the six-satellite order.

Galileo is designed as a constellation of 30 satellites in medium Earth orbit and an elaborate ground network to provide the same positioning, navigation and timing services as the U.S. GPS, Russian Glonass and Chinese Beidou/Compass systems.

Galileo had been budgeted at 3.4 billion euros, but it became clear more than a year ago that this would be far from enough to complete development. As a result, only 18 Galileo satellites were ordered, and launch vehicles for just 14 of them were put under contract.

In February, the executive commission of the 27-nation European Union, which is financing Galileo, issued a Galileo midterm assessment that said finishing the system would cost an additional 1.9 billion euros. These monies would need to be found in negotiations during the commission’s next multiyear budget cycle, which begins in 2014.

Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani said during a press briefing here that a broad effort at cost containment had concluded that a round of cost-saving efforts had reduced the overrun to 1.4 billion euros. Tajani said the lower figure would make it easier for the commission to argue for the funds needed to complete Galileo.

That effort at cost savings extended to the current Galileo budget. The commission has this 3.4 billion euros at its disposal but must spend it before 2014 or it returns to European Union governments.

The commission and ESA, which is acting as Galileo prime contractor, did not know how much of this money would be left over from the approved Galileo budget until they had negotiated the final two Galileo ground segment work packages.

These two contracts, totaling 354.5 million euros, were announced June 22. Thales Alenia Space will build the Galileo Mission Segment — a global network of sensor stations to monitor Galileo signals and uplink navigation information to the spacecraft — under a contract valued at 281 million euros.

European Governments Trim Galileo Cost Overruns |

ESA ATV-2: Johannes Kepler undocking from Space Station

Alors qu’il vient de se séparer de la Station spatiale internationale, l’ATV Kepler glisse lentement dans la nuit au terme d’une mission de 4 mois couronnée de succès.

Cette image a été prise le lundi 20 juin depuis la Station peu après le désamarrage qui s’est effectué à 16h46 heure de Paris. Le lendemain, l’ATV Kepler, piloté depuis le Centre Spatial Toulousain du CNES, s’est désintégré comme prévu vers 23h au-dessus de l’Océan Pacifique.

Picture credit: ESA/CNES

ESA Cassini-Huygens: Cassini samples the icy spray of Enceladus' water plumes

The NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission has directly sampled the water plumes jetting into space from Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

The findings from these fly-throughs are the strongest evidence yet for the existence of large-scale saltwater reservoirs beneath the moon’s icy crust.

Enceladus’ water plumes shoot water vapour and tiny grains of ice into space.

They originate from the ‘tiger stripe’ surface fractures at the moon’s south pole, and create the faint E-ring, which traces the orbit of Enceladus around Saturn.

The Cassini spacecraft discovered the plumes in 2005 and more recently has been able to fly directly through them.

During three of Cassini’s passes in 2008 and 2009, the Cosmic Dust Analyser measured the composition of freshly ejected plume grains.

The icy particles hit the detector target at speeds of 6.5–17.5 km/s, and vaporised instantly. Electrical fields inside the instrument then separated the various constituents of the resulting impact cloud for analysis.

Far away from Enceladus, the data show that the ejected grains are relatively small and mostly salt-poor, closely matching the composition of the E-ring. Closer to the moon, however, Cassini has found that relatively large, salt-rich ice grains dominate.

It appears as though more than 99% of the total mass of ejected solids is in salt-rich grains, but most of these are heavy and fall back to the moon, so never make it into the E-ring.

The salt-rich particles have an ‘ocean-like’ composition which indicates that most, if not all, of the expelled ice comes from liquid saltwater, rather than from the icy surface of the moon.

When salty water freezes slowly, the salt is squeezed out, leaving pure water ice behind. So, if the plumes were coming from the surface ice, there should be very little salt in them.

“There currently is no plausible way to produce a steady outflow of salt-rich grains from solid ice across the tiger stripes other than from saltwater under Enceladus’ icy surface,” says Frank Postberg, Universität Heidelberg, Germany, who is the lead author on the paper announcing these results.

ESA - Cassini-Huygens - Cassini samples the icy spray of Enceladus' water plumes

Resveratrol: The Chemical in Red wine that improves your heart's health

It may soon be possible to receive the heart protecting abilities of red wine without having to drink a glass every day.

This is thanks to the synthesis of chemicals derived from resveratrol, the molecule believed to give wine its protective powers. The chemicals have the potential to fight many diseases, including cancer.

Plants make a huge variety of chemicals, called polyphenols, from resveratrol to protect themselves against invaders, particularly fungi but they only make tiny amounts of each chemical, making it extremely difficult for scientists to isolate and utilise them. 

The unstable nature of resveratrol has also hindered attempts at building new compounds from the chemical itself.

Scott Snyder at Columbia University in New York and his team have found a way around this: building polyphenols from compounds that resemble, but are subtly different to, resveratrol.

These differences make the process much easier. Using these alternative starting materials, they have made dozens of natural polyphenols, including vaticanol C, which is known to kill cancer cells (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature10197).

"It's like a recipe book for the whole resveratrol family," says Snyder. "We've opened up a whole casket of nature's goodies."