Friday, September 30, 2011

ESA Telecomms: SmallGEO Extension

ESA and OHB System AG have signed an extension to the contract for development of the SmallGEO geostationary satellite platform.

Estimated at a value of EUR 14 million, the added features in this extension contract will optimise the SmallGEO platform for a number of different commercial satellite services beyond the Hispasat AG1 mission.

By expanding SmallGEO’s capabilities, the costs of the entire platform as well as production and process costs will be reduced.

“This extension will allow SmallGEO to offer higher flexibility as well as better performances,” said Antonio Garutti, ESA’s programme manager. “It contributes to the enhancement of European industry potential and growth in the satellite telecommunication market."”

Read more at ESA Portal

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NASA WISE: Asteroid Caught Marching Across Tadpole Nebula

This infrared image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, showcases the Tadpole Nebula, a star-forming hub in the Auriga constellation about 12,000 light-years from Earth.

As WISE scanned the sky, capturing this mosaic of stitched-together frames, it happened to catch an asteroid in our solar system passing by.

The asteroid, called 1719 Jens, left tracks across the image, seen as a line of yellow-green dots in the boxes near center. A second asteroid was also observed cruising by.

But that's not all that WISE caught in this busy image -- two natural satellites orbiting above WISE streak through the image, appearing as faint green trails. This Tadpole region is chock full of stars as young as only a million years old -- infants in stellar terms -- and masses over 10 times that of our sun.

It is called the Tadpole nebula because the masses of hot, young stars are blasting out ultraviolet radiation that has etched the gas into two tadpole-shaped pillars, called Sim 129 and Sim 130. These "tadpoles" appear as the yellow squiggles near the center of the frame.

The knotted regions at their heads are likely to contain new young stars. WISE's infrared vision is helping to ferret out hidden stars such as these.

The 1719 Jens asteroid, discovered in 1950, orbits in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The space rock, which has a diameter of 19 kilometers (12 miles), rotates every 5.9 hours and orbits the sun every 4.3 years.

Twenty-five frames of the region, taken at all four of the wavelengths detected by WISE, were combined into this one image. The space telescope caught 1719 Jens in 11 successive frames. Infrared light of 3.4 microns is color-coded blue: 4.6-micron light is cyan; 12-micron-light is green; and 22-micron light is red.

WISE is an all-sky survey, snapping pictures of the whole sky, including everything from asteroids to stars to powerful, distant galaxies.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

NASA UARS: Debris may never be recovered

A six-ton NASA science satellite crashed to Earth on Saturday, leaving a mystery about where a ton of space debris may have landed.

The U.S. space agency said it believes the debris ended up in the Pacific Ocean, but the precise time of the bus-sized satellite's re-entry and the location of its debris field have not been determined.

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, ended 20 years in orbit with a suicidal plunge into the atmosphere sometime between 11:23 p.m. on Friday and 1:09 a.m. EDT on Saturday (0323 to 0509 GMT Saturday), NASA said.

The satellite would have been torn apart during the fiery re-entry, but about 26 pieces, the largest of which was estimated to have weighed 330 pounds (150 kg), likely survived the fall, officials said.

As it fell to Earth, UARS passed from the east coast of Africa over the Indian Ocean, then the Pacific Ocean, across northern Canada and the northern Atlantic Ocean to a point over West Africa. Most of the transit was over water, with some flight over northern Canada and West Africa, NASA said.

"Because we don't know where the re-entry point actually was, we don't know where the debris field might be," said Nicholas Johnson, chief orbital debris scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We may never know."

Stretching 35 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, UARS was among the largest spacecraft to plummet uncontrollably through the atmosphere, although it is a slim cousin to NASA's 75-tonne (68,000 kilogram) Skylab station, which crashed to Earth in 1979.

Russia's last space station, the 135-tonne (122,000 kilogram) Mir, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2001, but it was a guided descent.

NASA now plans for the controlled re-entry of large spacecraft, but it did not when UARS was designed.

The 13,000-pound (5,897 kg) satellite was dispatched into orbit by a space shuttle crew in 1991 to study ozone and other chemicals in Earth's atmosphere.

It completed its mission in 2005 and has been slowly losing altitude ever since.

With most of the planet covered in water and vast uninhabited deserts and other land directly beneath the satellite's flight path, the chance that someone would be hit by falling debris was 1-in-3,200, NASA said.
"The risk to public safety is very remote," it said.

The satellite flew over most of the planet, traveling between 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south of the equator.

UARS was one of about 20,000 pieces of space debris in orbit around Earth. Something the size of UARS falls back into the atmosphere about once a year.

The Bright Shining Moon of Frankenstein's Mary Shelley

A Texas astronomer has used science to confirm one of the most famous tales in western literature, the "bright and shining moon" over Lake Geneva that inspired an 18-year-old Mary Shelley to write "Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus."

Shelley has long been doubted for her version of events that led to the writing of one of the most beloved Gothic tales in the English language: That she wrote it on a challenge one night in June 1816 during a "waking dream" as the moon shone through her window.

But Donald Olson, an astronomy professor at Texas State University in San Marcos, told Reuters on Monday that the night sky would argue that she was telling the truth.

"Some scholars are very skeptical, they even call her a liar," Olson said. "But we see no reason, either in the science or in the primary sources, to doubt Mary Shelley's account."

Olson has made a hobby out of using the sky to solve the mysteries of many of the world's most famous works of art and historical accounts.

His study of tides in the English Channel forced historians to change the accepted date of Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain in 55 BC, and he used astronomical tables to pinpoint where and when Vincent Van Gogh painted the famous painting alternately known as "Moonrise" and "Sunrise over Saint-Remy."

Shelley first wrote of how she came to write Frankenstein in the preface of the book's 1831 edition, and critics immediately began questioning her story as simply a ruse to sell more books.

The story goes like this: Shelley was staying with her future husband, Percy Shelley, at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland in June of 1816. Also present were Lord Byron and friends Claire Clairmont and John Polidori. Byron challenged all of them to try their hand at writing a ghost story.

Shelley saw the "bright and shining moon" through her window that night and wrote the story while she was in what she called "a waking dream."

The closest account of Byron's challenge comes from Polidori's diary, in which he tells of the party gathering at the Villa Diodati for a philosophical discussion that ended "after the witching hour" of June 16, 1816. The next day he wrote that "the ghost-stores are begun by all but me."

But Olson said there was no record of the challenge itself from any sources other than Shelley's preface, and the assumption has always been made, though not proven, that the challenge and the writing took place early in the morning of June 16.

But he said that had never been confirmed until now.

"We verified when the moon would have shone on her window, which is when she first came up with the idea for the story we know as Frankenstein," Olson said.

The Villa Diodati still stands above Lake Geneva and the room where Shelley stayed is well known. Olson and his researchers made "extensive topographic measurements of the terrain" and investigated "weather records for June of 1816," described by Lord Byron and Polidori as unusually wet and rainy.

On that night, however, "we determined that a bright, gibbous moon would have cleared the hillside to shine right into Shelley's bedroom window just before 2 a.m. on June 16," Olson said.

He said that had there been no moonlight visible that morning, it would have indicated fabrication on her part.
"This indicates her famous "waking dream" that gave birth to Frankenstein's famous monster occurred between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on June 16," he said.

"Mary Shelley wrote about moonlight shining through her window, and now we have recreated that night," Olson said. "We see no reason to doubt her account, based on the astronomical data."

Olson's study appears in the October edition of "Sky and Telescope" magazine.

NASA Cassini: Electrical Circuit Between Saturn and Enceladus

This artist's concept shows a glowing patch of ultraviolet light near Saturn's north pole that occurs at the "footprint" of the magnetic connection between Saturn and its moon Enceladus.

The footprint and magnetic field lines are not visible to the naked eye, but were detected by the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph and the fields and particles instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

The footprint, newly discovered by Cassini, marks the presence of an electrical circuit that connects Saturn with Enceladus and accelerates electrons and ions along the magnetic field lines. In this image, the footprint is in the white box marked on Saturn, with the magnetic field lines in white and purple.

A larger white square above Enceladus shows a cross-section of the magnetic field line between the moon and the planet. This pattern of energetic protons was detected by Cassini's magnetospheric imaging instrument (MIMI) on Aug. 11, 2008.

The patch near Saturn's north pole glows because of the same phenomenon that makes Saturn's well-known north and south polar auroras glow: energetic electrons diving into the planet's atmosphere.

However, the "footprint" is not connected to the rings of auroras around Saturn's poles (shown as an orange ring around the north pole in this image).

The Cassini plasma spectrometer complemented the MIMI data, with detection of field-aligned electron beams in the area. A team of scientists analyzed the charged particle data and concluded that the electron beams had sufficient energy flux to generate a detectable level of auroral emission at Saturn.

Target locations were provided to Cassini's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team. On Aug. 26, 2008, the spectrograph obtained images of an auroral footprint in Saturn's northern hemisphere.

The newly discovered auroral footprint measured about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) in the longitude direction and less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) in latitude, covering an area comparable to that of California or Sweden. It was located at about 65 degrees north latitude.

In the brightest image the footprint shone with an ultraviolet light intensity of about 1.6 kilorayleighs, far less than the Saturnian polar auroral rings. This is comparable to the faintest aurora visible at Earth without a telescope in the visible light spectrum. Scientists have not yet found a matching footprint at the southern end of the magnetic field line.

The background star field and false color images of Saturn and Enceladus were obtained by Cassini's imaging science subsystem.

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

The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team is based at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The magnetospheric imaging team is based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. The Cassini plasma spectrometer team is based at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit and .

Image credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College/SSI
One of two vehicles used in Desert RATS. 

In addition to the 'science backroom' at ESTEC, ESA had a robotic expert Frédéric Didot in Arizona and a mission control expert Paul Steele at NASA's Johnson Space Centre. Steele also acted as CapComm during the operations.

Credits: ESA - F. Didot

Earlier this month, European scientists linked up with astronauts roaming over the surface of an asteroid. Desert RATS, NASA’s realistic simulation of a future mission, this year included a European dimension for the first time.

It was not really an asteroid, but a desert near Flagstaff in Arizona, USA. Since 1999, scientists, astronauts and engineers from various NASA establishments and universities have gathered once a year to simulate human missions to the Moon and Mars.

Desert RATS – Desert Research and Technology Studies – have tested rovers, habitats, spacesuits, instruments, robots, communication systems, research methods and other technical, scientific and operational aspects of future missions.

These realistic ‘missions’ in extreme environments help to guide planning for future space exploration and build valuable experience in complex operations.

Desert RATS field trip by an astronaut and geologist. The space suits were not used on these "spacewalks" this year.

Credits: ESA - F. Didot

Fly me to an asteroid

This time, the crew of astronauts and geologists ‘landed’ on a nearby asteroid and ventured out on field trips – by foot and on two Space Exploration Vehicles.

For two weeks, the crew lived in a Deep Space Habitat with realistic radio links to their mother craft and mission control on Earth.

They had to cope with a two-way communications delay of 100 seconds with Earth, and limited bandwidth.

Reproducing the low gravity on an asteroid was impossible, but the ‘spacewalkers’ acted as though they were on a small body.

For instance, they had to attach themselves to the ground when they used their hammers to take geological samples – otherwise, the recoil would have sent them spinning into space.

NASA Expedition 29 Crew: Launch slated for Nov 14, 2011

Image above: Expedition 29 crew members pictured from the left on the front row are Commander Mike Fossum and Flight Engineer Dan Burbank. 

Pictured from the left on the back row are Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa, Sergei Volkov, Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov. Photo credit: NASA

Mike Fossum commands the Expedition 29 crew which will continue to support research into the effects of microgravity on the human body, biology, physics and materials.

Fossum and Flight Engineers Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 7 aboard the Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft, docking their Soyuz to the Rassvet module on the Russian segment of the station on June 9.

According to the current plan, the Soyuz 28 spacecraft, carrying NASA's Dan Burbank and Russia's Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov, will launch Nov. 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and arrive at the station on Nov. 16.

› Read more about Expedition 29 on NASA portal

NASA Astronaut Ron Garan's Blog on Descent from ISS in Soyuz Capsule

A NASA Blog by Ron Garan relating a fabulous description of what it's like to descend from the ISS, through the seering heat of Earth's protective atmosphere, in a Soyuz Capsule.

Ron Garan:
About two weeks before my return to Earth, I had a videoconference from the International Space Station with astronaut Scott Kelly who told me about his experience plunging over Niagara Falls in a burning barrel six months before. 
He was actually describing what his own ride home from the ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft was like. Now that I’ve taken the same trip, I can tell you that it was as advertised, and more.

Travel Day
I spent undocking day completing a biological study and stowing it onboard the Soyuz for return to Earth, packing cargo, taking some last minute pictures of our beautiful planet from the space station Cupola, and Tweeting pictures I took on my last full day in space
Following a brief goodbye to Mike Fossum, Satoshi Furukawa and Sergei Volkov, who remain onboard the space station, Sasha, Andrey and I hurried into our Soyuz spacecraft, closed the hatch and started preparing for undocking. 
Once the hatch was closed, I put on special garments worn under my spacesuit to help counteract the negative effects of the g-forces we would encounter upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. 
Sasha and Andrey also dressed in their spacesuits, and then we all strapped into the same seats we occupied when we launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 5, 2011. Andrey was on the left, Sasha in the middle, and I sat on the right. 

As the hooks securing our spacecraft released, springs pushed us slowly away from the space station. As we backed away, I took in my last views of the amazing orbital complex that we called home for five and a half months. I strained for a last glimpse of the outboard edge of the space station’s massive solar arrays through the window next to my seat.

We made a lap and a half around the Earth before the spacecraft fishtailed to point backwards, just as the moon was setting west of South America. Then, moments before passing the southern tip of the continent, I watched an orbital sunrise one last time. We then fired the main engines for about four and a half minutes, enough to slow us down for re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. 

The next big event during our return to Earth was the separation of our Soyuz spacecraft into three separate parts: the orbital compartment, the propulsion compartment and the descent capsule, the only part that would survive the transition through the atmosphere. Separation occurred with a small explosion followed by debris flying everywhere out my window!
Read More of this wild ride on Ron Garan's Blog

Lockheed Martin Completes Primary Structure of NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission has reached a new milestone.

Lockheed Martin has completed building the primary structure of NASA's MAVEN spacecraft at its Space Systems Company facility near Denver.

The Mars Atmosphere And Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft is scheduled to launch in November 2013 and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.

In the photo taken on Sept. 8, technicians from Lockheed Martin are inspecting the MAVEN primary structure following its recent completion at the company's Composites Lab.

The primary structure is cube shaped at 7.5 feet x 7.5 feet x 6.5 feet high (2.3 meters x 2.3 meters x 2 meters high). Built out of composite panels comprised of aluminum honeycomb sandwiched between graphite composite face sheets, the entire structure only weighs 275 pounds (125 kilograms).

At the center of the structure is the 4.25 feet (1.3 meters) diameter core cylinder that encloses the hydrazine propellant tank and serves as the primary vertical load-bearing structure. The large tank will hold approximately 3,615 pounds (1640 kilograms) of fuel.

"It's always a significant milestone when the project moves from a paper design to real hardware and software," said Guy Beutelschies, MAVEN program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

"Seeing the core structure reinforces the fact that MAVEN is no longer just a set of ideas that scientists and engineers have come up with, it is starting to become a spacecraft."

In mid October, the structure will be moved to Lockheed Martin's Structures Test Lab and undergo static load testing, which simulates and tests the many dynamic loads the spacecraft will experience during launch.

Despite the primary structure's light weight, it's designed to support the entire spacecraft mass during the launch, which applies an equivalent axial force at the launch vehicle interface of approximately 61,000 pounds when including accelerations up to 6 Gs.

After completion of the static tests, the structure will be moved into a clean room to start propulsion subsystem integration. The Assembly, Test and Launch Operations (ATLO) phase begins July 2012.

China prepares to launch first space lab module this week

Engineers are conducting the final preparations before launching China's first space laboratory module at the end of this week at a launch center in northwest China.

The unmanned Tiangong-1 module was originally scheduled to be launched into low Earth orbit between Sept. 27 and 30.

However, a weather forecast showing the arrival of a cold air mass at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center forced the launch to be rescheduled for Sept. 29 or 30, depending on weather and other factors.

"This is a significant test. We've never done such a thing before," said Lu Jinrong, the launch center's chief engineer.

A full ground simulation was conducted on Sunday afternoon to ensure that the module and its Long March 2F carrier rocket are prepared for the actual launch.

Cui Jijun, commander-in-chief of the launch site system and director of Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, told Xinhua that they developed a new target spacecraft for the mission and made more than 170 technical improvements to the Long March 2F, China's manned orbital carrier rocket.

Engineers have also made more than 100 updates at the launch site in order to make it compatible with the Tiangong-1, Cui added.

The module will conduct docking experiments after entering orbit, which is the first step in China's space station program.

Cui said the launch site has an updated computer center and command monitoring system and increased ability to adapt to changes in mission conditions, as well as the resources to handle both the launch and command duties. An integrated simulation training system for space launching has also been developed for the docking mission.

The mission comes just one month after the Long March 2C rocket malfunctioned and failed to send an experimental satellite into orbit. The Tiangong-1 mission was subsequently rescheduled in order to allow engineers to sort out any problems that might occur during the launch.

Monday, September 26, 2011

NASA - Saturn's Moon Enceladus Spreads its Influence

Chalk up one more feat for Saturn's intriguing moon Enceladus.

The small, dynamic moon spews out dramatic plumes of water vapor and ice -- first seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2005.

It possesses simple organic particles and may house liquid water beneath its surface.

Its geyser-like jets create a gigantic halo of ice, dust and gas around Enceladus that helps feed Saturn's E ring.

Now, thanks again to those icy jets, Enceladus is the only moon in our solar system known to influence substantially the chemical composition of its parent planet.

In June, the European Space Agency announced that its Herschel Space Observatory, which has important NASA contributions, had found a huge donut-shaped cloud, or torus, of water vapor created by Enceladus encircling Saturn.

The torus is more than 373,000 miles (600,000 kilometers) across and about 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) thick. It appears to be the source of water in Saturn's upper atmosphere.

Though it is enormous, the cloud had not been seen before because water vapor is transparent at most visible wavelengths of light. But Herschel could see the cloud with its infrared detectors.

"Herschel is providing dramatic new information about everything from planets in our own solar system to galaxies billions of light-years away," said Paul Goldsmith, the NASA Herschel project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The discovery of the torus around Saturn did not come as a complete surprise. NASA's Voyager and Hubble missions had given scientists hints of the existence of water-bearing clouds around Saturn.

Then in 1997, the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory confirmed the presence of water in Saturn's upper atmosphere. NASA's Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite also observed water emission from Saturn at far-infrared wavelengths in 1999.

While a small amount of gaseous water is locked in the warm, lower layers of Saturn's atmosphere, it can't rise to the colder, higher levels.

To get to the upper atmosphere, water molecules must be entering Saturn's atmosphere from somewhere in space. But from where and how? Those were mysteries until now.

Build the model and the data will come.

NASA - Saturn's Moon Enceladus Spreads its Influence

NASA SLS: New Deep Space Exploration System

NASA is ready to move forward with the development of the Space Launch System -- an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit.

The Space Launch System will give the nation a safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond our current limits and opening up new discoveries from the unique vantage point of space.

The Space Launch System, or SLS, will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth's orbit and destinations beyond. Additionally, the SLS will serve as a back up for commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station.

"This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that's exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, tomorrow's explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars."

NASA - NASA Announces Design for New Deep Space Exploration System

NASA - Aquarius Yields NASA's First Global Map of Ocean Salinity

The first global map of the salinity, or saltiness, of Earth’s ocean surface produced by NASA's new Aquarius instrument reveals a rich tapestry of global salinity patterns, demonstrating Aquarius' ability to resolve large-scale salinity distribution features clearly and with sharp contrast. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech
NASA's new Aquarius instrument has produced its first global map of the salinity of the ocean surface, providing an early glimpse of the mission's anticipated discoveries.

Aquarius, which is aboard the Aquarius/SAC-D (Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas) observatory, is making NASA's first space observations of ocean surface salinity variations -- a key component of Earth's climate. Salinity changes are linked to the cycling of freshwater around the planet and influence ocean circulation.

"Aquarius' salinity data are showing much higher quality than we expected to see this early in the mission," said Aquarius Principal Investigator Gary Lagerloef of Earth & Space Research in Seattle. "Aquarius soon will allow scientists to explore the connections between global rainfall, ocean currents and climate variations."

The new map, which shows a tapestry of salinity patterns, demonstrates Aquarius' ability to detect large-scale salinity distribution features clearly and with sharp contrast. The map is a composite of the data since Aquarius became operational on Aug. 25.

The mission was launched June 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Aquarius/SAC-D is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE).

"Aquarius/SAC-D already is advancing our understanding of ocean surface salinity and Earth's water cycle," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division at agency headquarters in Washington.

"Aquarius is making continuous, consistent, global measurements of ocean salinity, including measurements from places we have never sampled before."

NASA - Aquarius Yields NASA's First Global Map of Ocean Salinity

NASA - UARS re-entry landing zone known

NASA’s decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. Sept. 24, 20 years and nine days after its launch on a 14-year mission that produced some of the first long-term records of chemicals in the atmosphere.

The precise re-entry time and location of debris impacts have not been determined. During the re-entry period, the satellite passed from the east coast of Africa over the Indian Ocean, then the Pacific Ocean, then across northern Canada, then across the northern Atlantic Ocean, to a point over West Africa. The vast majority of the orbital transit was over water, with some flight over northern Canada and West Africa.

Six years after the end of its productive scientific life, UARS broke into pieces during re-entry, and most of it up burned in the atmosphere. Data indicates the satellite likely broke apart and landed in the Pacific Ocean far off the U.S. coast. Twenty-six satellite components, weighing a total of about 1,200 pounds, could have survived the fiery re-entry and reach the surface of Earth. However, NASA is not aware of any reports of injury or property damage.

Russia may launch its first Earth remote sensing satellite in 2012

Russia's first Earth remote sensing satellite, the Kondor, may be launched in January 2012, a space official said on Thursday.

"We are developing Kondor and Arkon [satellites]," deputy head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos Anatoly Shilov said. "Arkon is a distant future, but Kondor will hopefully fly in January."

The Kondor is an 800 kg Earth remote-sensing spacecraft designed to provide high-resolution radar imagery and terrain mapping in real-time. It will be launched as part of the so-called Arktika Earth observation satellite grouping.

"As a rule, 90% of the time the Arctic region is covered with clouds or remains in darkness due to long polar night season. In such conditions these satellites are indispensible," Shilov said.

The official added that Russia was planning to launch in 2012 two Earth optical observation satellites - the Resurs-P and the Canopus-B - to provide precision monitoring of natural and man-made disasters, particularly wildfires and environmental pollution.

Russia Resumes Planet Exploration: Martian satellite Phobos

Russia would resume its program of inter-planetary explorations after a long break with an unmanned mission to the Martian satellite Phobos, a Russian space company said Thursday.

According to Victor Khartov, head of the Lavochkin Scientific and Production Company, the launch of the Phobos-Grunt vehicle was scheduled for November.
"Our country is about to return to planets and stars. 

We must learn how to fly to deep space, to Mars, after a 20-year break," Khartov told the Interfax news agency.
He admitted the Phobos mission would be "very risky", but said "the first step must be made".

Russia had spent about 5 billion rubles (161 million U.S. dollars) preparaing for the three-year mission, which would include drilling Phobos' surface and returning 200 grams of soil back to Earth in 2014, he said.

The mission would also collect bacteria samples for two Russian and one U.S. biological experiments.

According to the director of the Russian Space Explorations Institute Lev Zeleny, scientists want to find out if the bacteria can survive a long space trip.

The vehicle itself would be disinfected before the launch to prevent micro-organisms being inadvertently transferred between Earth and Phobos.

Friday, September 23, 2011

H1N1 influenza virus prevalent in domestic animals in Africa

UCLA life scientists and their colleagues have discovered the first evidence of the H1N1 virus in animals in Africa. In one village in northern Cameroon, a staggering 89 percent of the pigs studied had been exposed to the H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu.

“I was amazed that virtually every pig in this village was exposed,” said Thomas B. Smith, director of UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research and the senior author of the research.

“Africa is ground zero for a new pandemic. Many people are in poor health there, and disease can spread very rapidly without authorities knowing about it.”

H1N1 triggered a human pandemic in the spring of 2009, infecting people in more than 200 countries. In the U.S., it led to an estimated 60 million illnesses, 270,000 hospitalizations and 12,500 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The virus, known scientifically as Influenza A (H1N1), is made up of genetic elements of swine, avian and human influenza viruses. The pigs in Cameroon, the researchers say, were infected by humans.

“The pigs were running wild in that area,” said lead author Kevin Njabo, a researcher in UCLA’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology and associate director of the Center for Tropical Research. “I was shocked when we found out it was H1N1. Any virus in any part of the world can reach another continent within days by air travel. We need to understand where viruses originate and how they spread, so we can destroy a deadly virus before it spreads. We have to be prepared for a pandemic, but so many countries are not well-prepared — not even the United States.”

Njabo and his colleagues randomly collected nasal swabs and blood samples from domestic pigs that were part of 11 herds in villages and farms in Cameroon in 2009 and 2010. The results are published in the current issue of Veterinary Microbiology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal specializing in microbial animal diseases.

Nasal swabs can detect a current infection, and blood samples reveal past exposure to a virus. Because an active infection lasts only about five days, “we have to be lucky to get an active infection in the field, but evidence of the infection stays in the blood.”

In the village in northern Cameroon, Njabo found two pigs with active H1N1 infections, and virtually every other pig had evidence of a past infection in its blood.

“The pigs got H1N1 from humans,” Njabo said. “The fact that pigs in Africa are infected with the H1N1 flu virus illustrates the remarkable interconnectedness of the modern world with respect to diseases. The H1N1 virus that we found in livestock in Cameroon is virtually identical to a virus found in people in San Diego just a year earlier, providing an astonishing example of how quickly the flu can spread all over the globe.

“The discovery of H1N1 in African swine is also important because it shows how farming practices can trigger disease outbreaks and suggests opportunities for improving human and livestock health. Our studies indicate that H1N1 infections are more common in swine that wander freely in villages than in animals that are confined to farms.”

The biologists used a diagnostic test called ELISA — enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay — to test for potential viruses. ELISA revealed the pigs had the human strain of H1N1.

NASA’s SkyLAb litter bill: Cleaning up after Space Debris

A “fine” imposed on NASA for littering Australia with debris from a crashing space station has finally been paid – 30 years late. 

The agency had apparently ignored the penalty issued after Skylab broke up on re-entry in a spectacular fireball in July 1979.

The 75-ton space station – America’s first – was home to a succession of astronauts in the early Seventies but thankfully it had long been abandoned when it crashed to Earth.

The night-time re-entry scattered fragments over western Australia. Parts fell on Esperance, a small town 360 miles east of Perth.

Town officials decided to fine NASA for dropping litter – and sent them a bill for the equivalent of 400 US dollars to cover the cost of the clean-up.

NASA ignored it and local councillors decided to write it off. But with the 30th anniversary of the crash coming up, they erected billboards around Esperance reminding people of the outstanding debt. Now listeners to a US radio station have clubbed together to wipe the slate clean.

Radio host Scott Barley, of California’s Highway Radio, heard about the fine and issued an appeal on his morning show for funds. The whip-round collected the $400 needed. The cheque has been sent already and Scott will fly to Australia next weekend for an official handover.

The billboards have now been stamped with a bright red sign: Paid in full!

OK, it is a great publicity stunt for the station. But Scott said: “I thought this unpaid bill was rather funny. I reckoned it would be great if I challenged my listeners to contribute to pay off this long-outstanding debt.”

After the re-entry, the San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 prize for the first piece of Skylab to be delivered to their offices. A 17-year-old lad, Stan Thornton, picked up some chunks from the roof of his home in Esperance and caught the first flight to San Francisco, where he collected his prize.

NASA Hubble Space Telescope (HST) - Infographics

CERN Press Release on Neutrino Experiment

Geneva, 23 September 2011. The OPERA experiment, which observes a neutrino beam from CERN 730 km away at Italy’s INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory, will present new results in a seminar at CERN this afternoon at 16:00 CEST.

The seminar will be webcast at Journalists wishing to ask questions may do so via twitter using the hash tag #nuquestions, or via the usual CERN press office channels.

The OPERA result is based on the observation of over 15000 neutrino events measured at Gran Sasso, and appears to indicate that the neutrinos travel at a velocity 20 parts per million above the speed of light, nature’s cosmic speed limit.

Given the potential far-reaching consequences of such a result, independent measurements are needed before the effect can either be refuted or firmly established. This is why the OPERA collaboration has decided to open the result to broader scrutiny. The collaboration’s result is available on the preprint server

The OPERA measurement is at odds with well-established laws of nature, though science frequently progresses by overthrowing the established paradigms. For this reason, many searches have been made for deviations from Einstein’s theory of relativity, so far not finding any such evidence.

The strong constraints arising from these observations makes an interpretation of the OPERA measurement in terms of modification of Einstein’s theory unlikely, and give further strong reason to seek new independent measurements.

“This result comes as a complete surprise,” said OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern. “After many months of studies and cross checks we have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement.  

While OPERA researchers will continue their studies, we are also looking forward to independent measurements to fully assess the nature of this observation.”

“When an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artefact of the measurement to account for it, it’s normal procedure to invite broader scrutiny, and this is exactly what the OPERA collaboration is doing, it’s good scientific practice,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci.
“If this measurement is confirmed, it might change our view of physics, but we need to be sure that there are no other, more mundane, explanations. That will require independent measurements.”

In order to perform this study, the OPERA Collaboration teamed up with experts in metrology from CERN and other institutions to perform a series of high precision measurements of the distance between the source and the detector, and of the neutrinos’ time of flight.

The distance between the origin of the neutrino beam and OPERA was measured with an uncertainty of 20 cm over the 730 km travel path. The neutrinos’ time of flight was determined with an accuracy of less than 10 nanoseconds by using sophisticated instruments including advanced GPS systems and atomic clocks.

The time response of all elements of the CNGS beam line and of the OPERA detector has also been measured with great precision.

"We have established synchronization between CERN and Gran Sasso that gives us nanosecond accuracy, and we’ve measured the distance between the two sites to 20 centimetres,” said Dario Autiero, the CNRS researcher who will give this afternoon’s seminar. 

“Although our measurements have low systematic uncertainty and high statistical accuracy, and we place great confidence in our results, we’re looking forward to comparing them with those from other experiments."

“The potential impact on science is too large to draw immediate conclusions or attempt physics interpretations. My first reaction is that the neutrino is still surprising us with its mysteries. said Ereditato. “Today’s seminar is intended to invite scrutiny from the broader particle physics community.”

The OPERA experiment was inaugurated in 2006, with the main goal of studying the rare transformation (oscillation) of muon neutrinos into tau neutrinos. One first such event was observed in 2010, proving the unique ability of the experiment in the detection of the elusive signal of tau neutrinos.

CERN Press Release

CERN: Speed of light broken

Prof Jenny Thomas, of University College London, says the claims, if proven true, would call into question our very understanding of physics and the universe.

She said: "It would turn everything on its head. It is too awful to think about.

"The basic thing it that would be questioned is that there is an absolute speed limit which is the basis of special relativity and that is a huge building block of modern physics.

"It permeates everything to do with how we have modelled the universe and everything. It would be very hard to predict what the effects would be."

UPDATE: The ‘discovery’ was made by the OPERA experiment while the neutrinos were beamed from Geneva to a lab in Gran Sasso in Italy. The pre-print of the report, prepared by CERN and published today (23rd September) can be found here:

Special relativity is integral to the understanding of particle accelerators and the creation of particle beams, which are of crucial importance in fields like medicine and engineering, she said.

It could even be that the most famous equation of all time, E=mc2, turns out to be incorrect because it is based on the law of special relativity, Prof Thomas said.

Before any conclusions can be drawn, the CERN team's results will be checked by scientists across the globe including at Fermilab near Chicago, where a similar experiment known as Minos is based.

Prof Thomas – the co-spokesperson for the Minos project – said the team had thrown up similar results several years ago but had discounted them because the possible margin of error was too high.

She said: "Our errors were rather large so we dismissed it. Nothing is further from your belief than that the results might be correct.

CERN Press Release by CMS:

"When I heard about the Cern results my first thought was that they must be wrong, there must be something they have not taken into account."

Potential errors could occur in the measurement of distance between the point the particle was created and where it was detected; the time it took to travel from one point to the other; or in the structure of the accelerator which the whole measurement relies upon.

Prof Thomas added: "I think everyone is sceptical. The scientists themselves have admitted they are sceptical but they cannot see what they have done wrong.

"We will repeat our experiment with higher precision, hopefully in the next six months."

The Fermilab team will then begin a second stage of their experiment, called Minos Plus, which is even more similar to the Cern trial and will deliver results accurate to one nanosecond, she said.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gene therapy clears HIV from human body

A person with HIV who didn't take antiretroviral drugs for three months remained free of the virus, thanks to a groundbreaking gene therapy. The success raises the prospect of keeping HIV in check permanently without antiretrovirals.

The gene therapy works by locking the virus out of the CD4 white blood cells it normally infects. Of six people with HIV given the treatment, one cleared the virus completely and another two saw 10-fold drops in circulating virus.

"We're over the moon to have seen that in this small phase I study," says Jeff Nichol, executive vice president for research at Sangamo BioSciences, the company in Richmond, California, that is developing the treatment. "Having one virus-free patient and 10-fold reductions in another two is amazing."

Most importantly, analysis of data from the six patients, and from four others in a separate trial, revealed the secret of the more successful outcomes, paving the way for the therapy to work better in future.

Zinc fingers

To deliver the treatment, doctors remove blood from the patient and isolate CD4 and other white blood cells. Specialised molecular "scissors" called zinc finger proteins enter the cells and sabotage a gene called CCR5, which makes a protein that helps HIV to enter cells. It is unclear what role CCR5 plays normally, although researchers know that cells can survive without it – and will remain uninfected by HIV.

These cells are then returned to the patient in the hope that they will multiply and provide a permanent source of cells immune to HIV, potentially locking out HIV completely. The link between CCR5 and HIV was first suggested in 1996

The concept was first tested inadvertently in Germany in 2006, when a person with leukaemia who was also HIV positive received a bone marrow transplant that happened to come from someone whose blood cells couldn't make CCR5 proteins. The patient was HIV-free by 2008.

Most people have two working copies of CCR5, one from each parent. The patient who did best in the Sangamo trial already had one defective copy, which is thought to explain why the therapy worked better in him than in the others. 

Further analysis showed that after the treatment he had twice as many cells in which both copies of the CCR5 gene had been sabotaged than any other trial participant.

The two patients who saw 10-fold reductions in circulating virus also had more doubly sabotaged cells than the three who didn't respond as well.

Double sabotage

The secret to making the treatment work best, Sangamo says, is therefore to eliminate both genes in as many cells as possible. If only one is sabotaged, cells can still make enough CCR5 protein to allow the virus to invade. In doubly sabotaged, or "bi-allelic" cells, there is no way in.

"The way forward is to get as many bi-allelic cells as possible back into the patient," says Nichol.
In the light of the findings, Sangamo has plans to try depleting the patient's native blood system with drugs before returning the altered cells. 

Depletion causes blood cells to multiply faster than normal to compensate for the shortage, resulting in a more rapid expansion of the numbers of HIV-resistant bi-allelic cells.

Nichol's colleagues presented the results on Sunday at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Chicago.

NASA - UARS Update for friday's Re-entry

As of 1:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 21, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 120 mi by 130 mi (190 km by 205 km).

Re-entry is expected sometime during the afternoon of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time.

The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period.

It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 to 48 hours.


Scottish Zoological Team (SZSS) Photograph Rare giant armadillo

A rare giant armadillo has been caught on camera by researchers in the wetlands of central Brazil.

Little is known about the mysterious mammals, which can reach 1.5m in length and weigh up to 50kg.

In the past, the species' nocturnal, solitary lifestyles have posed a considerable challenge for scientists wishing to study them.

Conservationists now hope to learn more about the vulnerable animals using automatic camera traps.

At up to twice the size of more familiar species, giant armadillos (Priodontes maximus) are known to live in undisturbed forest near to water sources in South America.

But the species have a patchy distribution and spend their days in underground burrows making confirmed sightings rare.

Researchers from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) spent 10 weeks intensively searching for the elusive mammals in a region of the Pantanal, one of the world's largest wetlands spanning Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Using cameras provided by Chester Zoo, the team were able to capture rare photographs of the animals.

"The cameras will offer critical pieces of information for the assessment of the status of giant armadillo populations in Brazil," said Dr Arnaud Desbiez, a conservation biologist from RZSS who runs the Giant Armadillo Project.


  • Little is known about giant armadillos but scientists have identified that their long claws are suitable for digging up termite mounds for food
  • Unlike their smaller relatives, these large animals are unable to fully roll into a protective ball and so burrow to escape predators
  • Their armour-like shell is made of 11 to 13 hinged bands of bony plates covered in scales

NASA Completes Giant Mirrors for Webb Space Telescope

In September 2011 engineers completed coating of James Webb's 21 mirror segments with microscopic layers of gold.

NASA's next huge space telescope passed a major mirror milestone this week on its path to become the world's most powerful space observatory when it launches in 2018.

Engineers completed coating 21 mirrors that will make up NASA's flagship James Webb Space Telescope with the thin — but vital — layer of gold that will reflect the faint infrared light collected by the observatory from the most distant reaches of the universe.

"It represents not just the coating event but the completion of a huge engineering project," John Mather, the telescope's senior project scientist, stated. "The mirrors are spectacularly new technology."

Declassified US Spy Satellites: Secret Cold War Space Program

The massive KH-9 Hexagon spy satellite on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, after being declassified on Sept. 17, 2011. 

Longer than a school bus at 60 feet in length and weighing 30,000 pounds at launch, 20 KH-9 Hexagons were launched by the National Reconnaissance Office between 1971 and 1986.

CREDIT: Roger Guillemette/

Twenty-five years after their top-secret, Cold War-era missions ended, two clandestine American satellite programs were declassified Saturday (Sept. 17) with the unveiling of three of the United States' most closely guarded assets: the KH-7 GAMBIT, the KH-8 GAMBIT 3 and the KH-9 HEXAGON spy satellites.

The vintage National Reconnaissance Office satellites were displayed to the public Saturday in a one-day-only exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, Va.

The three spacecraft were the centerpiece of the NRO's invitation-only, 50th Anniversary Gala celebration held at the center last evening.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ESA live event: Paolo Nespoli and Cady Coleman at ESA/ESRIN

ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli and US astronaut Cady Coleman will be visiting ESA's ESRIN facility in Frascati, near Rome, Italy.

Also known to Twitter followers as @Astro_Paolo and @Astro_Cady

In this image taken on the ISS by Ron Garan, Paolo Nespoli and Cady Coleman give a final wave before entering the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft for their return to Earth after nearly 6 months in the International Space Station, 23 May 2011.

Credits: NASA

ROSAT Space telescope set to crash to Earth

As the world waits for the six-ton satellite UARS to crash to Earth this week, we can reveal that a second giant piece of space junk is set for a similar fiery demise within weeks.

It wasn’t always junk. The latest doomed craft, called ROSAT, is a German space telescope that observed in X-ray light from 1990 to 1999 in an orbit 575 km above the Earth.

Atmospheric drag has already brought ROSAT (ROentgen SATellite) to a height of less than 327 km and it has no on-board propulsion system to control its descent.

NASA experts are warning that as many as 30 fragments, weighing a total of 1.6 tons, could survive re-entry to hit the ground, including the largest chunk, the observatory’s hefty glass mirror.

It will re-enter the atmosphere at a speed of around 28,000 km per hour and disintegrate in early November. There is currently an error of plus or minus five weeks in this prediction, so the crash landing could occur in early October.

Fluctuations in solar activity which can cause variation in the density of the fringes of the atmosphere add to the uncertainty.

Most of the inhabited world lies under the track of ROSAT which flies in an orbit that carries it from 53 degrees north to 53 degrees south. Experts expect most of the debris to impact the ground in a compact region but fragments could fall within an 80 km wide path.

With UARS, a massive dead satellite due to plunge back to Earth this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is laying the groundwork for a fast response in case the 6 1/2-ton spacecraft falls over, or on American soil.

ESA Ariane5 Kourou Launch - Video

ESA Ariane 5 Launch carries 2 communications satellites: Astrium & Thales Alenia Space Arabsat 5C and SES 2 (Americom).   

Arianespace - VideoCorner

NASA ISS: Aurora Borealis from the ISS

Earlier this week, NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson tweeted a 14 second time-lapse film of the Aurora Borealis taken from the International Space Station.

The short clip called to mind a more extensive view of the Northern Lights shot by Don Pettit, also working in the ISS, back in 2008 and it raised the basic question: What causes the Aurora Borealis anyway?

Bizarre real time face-substitution system demonstrated

Faces from arturo castro on Vimeo.

Some day in the not-too-distant future, you may be on a service like Chatroulette, and suddenly find yourself matched up with a person who looks exactly like Angelina Jolie.

Well, chances are it won't really be her. Instead, it will likely be someone using the descendant of a system put together by Arturo Castro. Using a combination of existing software, the Barcelona digital artist has demonstrated how a variety of famous faces can be mapped onto his own, moving with it in real time.

While Castro's system isn't likely to fool anyone - in its present version - it's an unsettling indication of what could be possible with just a little more finessing.

Castro's application was created using openFrameworks, an open source framework for creative coding. This was combined with FaceTracker, which produces a virtual mesh that matches a human subject's facial features.

The colours of the famous faces were blended with those of Arturo's own using an image clone code developed by artist Kevin Atkinson. Finally, the FaceTracker meshes were wrapped around his face using the ofxFaceTracker add-on for openFrameworks.

The resulting video, which can be seen below, alternates between being funny and just plain creepy, with Castro taking on the identities of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton.

Face Substitution from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

ESA ESO: Chicken space dust cloud

With bright glowing eyes and a swirl of crimson, the chicken concealed in the Lambda Centauri nebula looks ready to pummel some pigs in a game of Angry Birds.

The new shot from the European Southern Observatory shows hot newborn stars that formed from hydrogen gas clouds glowing brightly with ultraviolet light.

The intense radiation excites the hydrogen cloud, making it glow red.

Visible against the red clouds, black clumps called Bok globules dot the frame and conceal stars within.

Known playfully as the "running chicken" nebula, the bird's roost is some 6500 light years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus. But where does the chicken end? If you think you can make out its exact outline, submit your guess to the observatory's Flickr group for a chance at a prize.

Bryde's Whale in the tropical Pacific Ocean

Bryde's whales are baleen whales, one of the "great whales" or rorquals.Seen here with a mouthful of water and krill or plankton.

These whales opportunistically feed on plankton (e.g., krill and copepods), and crustaceans (e.g. pelagic red crabs, shrimp), as well as schooling fish (e.g., anchovy, herring, sardine, mackerel, and pilchard).

Bryde's whales use several recognisable feeding methods, including skimming the surface, lunging, and bubble nets.

They prefer tropical and temperate waters over the polar seas that other whales in their family frequent.

They are largely coastal rather than pelagic. Bryde's whales are very similar in appearance to sei whales and almost as large.

"Bryde" is sometimes misheard as "brutus whale". The name comes from the Norwegian consul to South Africa, Johan Bryde, who helped set up the first whaling station in Durban, South Africa in 1908.

They inhabit tropical and subtropical waters worldwide.

Bryde's whales are considered medium-sized for balaenopterids, dark gray in color with a white underbelly.

NASA WISE: Doubt Raised over Dinosaur Extinction by Asteroid

Observations from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission indicate the family of asteroids some believed was responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs is not likely the culprit, keeping open the case on one of Earth's greatest mysteries.

While scientists are confident a large asteroid crashed into Earth approximately 65 million years ago, leading to the extinction of dinosaurs and some other life forms on our planet, they do not know exactly where the asteroid came from or how it made its way to Earth. A 2007 study using visible- light data from ground-based telescopes first suggested the remnant of a huge asteroid, known as Baptistina, as a possible suspect.

According to that theory, Baptistina crashed into another asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter about 160 million years ago. The collision sent shattered pieces as big as mountains flying. One of those pieces was believed to have impacted Earth, causing the dinosaurs' extinction.

Since this scenario was first proposed, evidence developed that the so-called Baptistina family of asteroids was not the responsible party. With the new infrared observations from WISE, astronomers say Baptistina may finally be ruled out.

"As a result of the WISE science team's investigation, the demise of the dinosaurs remains in the cold case files," said Lindley Johnson, program executive for the Near Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"The original calculations with visible light estimated the size and reflectivity of the Baptistina family members, leading to estimates of their age, but we now know those estimates were off. With infrared light, WISE was able to get a more accurate estimate, which throws the timing of the Baptistina theory into question."

WISE surveyed the entire celestial sky twice in infrared light from January 2010 to February 2011. The asteroid-hunting portion of the mission, called NEOWISE, used the data to catalogue more than 157,000 asteroids in the main belt and discovered more than 33,000 new ones.

Visible light reflects off an asteroid. Without knowing how reflective the surface of the asteroid is, it's hard to accurately establish size. Infrared observations allow a more accurate size estimate.

They detect infrared light coming from the asteroid itself, which is related to the body's temperature and size. Once the size is known, the object's reflectivity can be re-calculated by combining infrared with visible-light data.

The NEOWISE team measured the reflectivity and the size of about 120,000 asteroids in the main belt, including 1,056 members of the Baptistina family. The scientists calculated the original parent Baptistina asteroid actually broke up closer to 80 million years ago, half as long as originally proposed.

US deep space exploration: Russian engines

The United States has announced it is developing a heavy rocket for deep space expeditions.

It might use Russian-made engines which is the result of house-cleaning in the U.S. space industry.

On Wednesday, NASA reported that it had chosen a design for a new carrier rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which will send future American spacecraft on missions to explore the solar system.

"This launch system will ... ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden as he made a public presentation of the project. So, with the Shuttles retired in the summer of 2011, the Americans are lining up something new.

Successor to Saturn
So NASA claims to have developed a new heavy carrier rocket. The new rocket's predecessor was the Saturn V, designed by Wernher von Braun. It was Saturn rockets that launched U.S. Apollo spacecraft on their missions to the moon.

The two rockets have something in common. The SLS will be able to deliver 70 metric tons of payload to low Earth orbit and, with an additional stage, to lift up to 130 metric tons.

Its first stage will be equipped, in different configurations, with three to five RS-25D/T engines - modifications of cruise engines installed on the Shuttles. But the second stage brings us back to Wernher von Braun's brainchild. This stage is scheduled to use a J-2X engine - an improved version of the J-2, which powered the Saturns of the 1960s.

The new design also incorporates detachable side rocket boosters. The original idea was to use solid-fuel boosters. The U.S. team has experience with the technology used in such booster sections from the Shuttle days. These boosters are a tried and tested solution and this is their advantage.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Arctic Airships carry Cargo

Airships may soon soar in the cold skies of northern Canada and Alaska, bringing supplies to remote mining communities where planes can't always fly and roads are cost-prohibitive.

British airship manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles has announced a major contract with Canada's Discovery Air Innovations to build airships capable of lifting as much as 50 tons, delivering freight at one-quarter the cost of other alternatives.

Though various militaries have expressed interest in airships, this is HAV's first commercial contract. The first ship is expected by 2014.

While the word "airship" may conjure images of prewar zeppelins and Goodyear advertisements, the aircraft are quite useful for carrying cargo to remote locations, because they have greater payload flexibility than airplanes or trucks. They're often cheaper to operate, too.

"If you look at the mining operations in the North, the traditional way of opening a mine is to build a road to it.

That's very expensive and time consuming," said Barry Prentice, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba. He builds, tests and studies airships.

Prentice estimated the cost of a road to a gold mine in Baker Lake, Nunavut, at $110 million - an amount not easily recovered if the mine shuts down - and said obtaining the permits to build it can take as long as three years.

"The day after your mine is finished, the road has no value whatsoever," he said. "The idea of being able to use an airship to bring the product back out means you could start your operations sooner, and have the flexibility, if mineral prices turn, to cease operations temporarily."

Prentice is working on cold-weather testing of smaller airships, the kind that may be able to carry supplies to existing Arctic communities.

"For a mining operation, you need something that's really muscle-bound," he said. "But if you're taking goods into a remote community, that's actually too big," he said.

It's a renaissance for the airship, though today's craft bear little resemblance to the hydrogen-filled, metal-framed behemoths of the 1920s and '30s.

New ships have rigid envelopes that eliminate the need for a frame, and they are filled with nonflammable helium.

Hybrid aircraft can even be heavier than air, taking off like a conventional airplane and landing softly like a hovercraft.

"They're almost nothing like the ones that have been produced in the past," Prentice said.

Though modern airships are novel, the technology on board is hardly cutting-edge.

"What we are seeing today could've been done any time within the past 25 years," Prentice said. "The technology has been around that long. The problem has been a lack of business confidence."

Wary of the unusual technology, few businesses have wanted to take the risk of building hangars and training pilots. The public sector hasn't stepped up to the plate, either.

"Truck drivers don't build their own roads, and airlines don't build airports," Prentice said.

"This is a role where the public should come in - setting up mooring masts, locating zones for the airships to land in."

According to Prentice, military interest in using airships as unmanned surveillance drones and cargo-lifters has jump-started civilian curiosity. When military users prove airships' utility in difficult environments, he expects commercial demand to increase.

"Once airships are back in the skies again, there's going to be quite a stampede of people saying, ‘Me too,'" he said.

NASA Dawn Vesta Asteroid - DLR Fly Around Video

A new video from NASA's Dawn spacecraft takes us on a flyover above the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta.

The data obtained by Dawn's framing camera will help scientists determine the processes that formed Vesta's striking features.

It will also help Dawn mission fans all over the world visualise this mysterious world, which is the second most massive object in the Kuiper asteroid belt.

NASA Dawn Flies Around Vesta - Video

A new video from NASA's Dawn spacecraft takes us on a flyover above the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta.

The data obtained by Dawn's framing camera will help scientists determine the processes that formed Vesta's striking features.

It will also help Dawn mission fans all over the world visualize this mysterious world, which is the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt.

You'll notice in the video that Vesta is not entirely lit up.
There is no light in the high northern latitudes because, like Earth, Vesta has seasons.

Currently it is northern winter on Vesta, and the northern polar region is in perpetual darkness. When we view Vesta's rotation from above the south pole, half is in darkness simply because half of Vesta is in daylight and half is in the darkness of night .

Another distinct feature seen in the video is a massive circular structure in the south pole region. Scientists were particularly eager to see this area close-up, since NASA's Hubble Space Telescope first detected it years ago.

The circular structure, or depression, is several hundreds of miles, or kilometers, wide, with cliffs that are also several miles high.

One impressive mountain in the center of the depression rises approximately 9 miles (15 kilometers) above the base of this depression, making it one of the highest elevations on all known bodies with solid surfaces in the solar system.

The collection of images, obtained when Dawn was about 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) above Vesta's surface, was used to determine its rotational axis and a system of latitude and longitude coordinates.

One of the first tasks tackled by the Dawn science team was to determine the precise orientation of Vesta's rotation axis relative to the celestial sphere.

The zero-longitude, or prime meridian, of Vesta was defined by the science team using a tiny crater about 1,640 feet (500 meters) in diameter, which they named "Claudia," after a Roman woman during the second century B.C.

Dawn's craters will be named after the vestal virgins-the priestesses of the goddess Vesta, and famous Roman women, while other features will be named for festivals and towns of that era.

NASA James Webb Space Telescope: Funding Restored

U.S. Senate panel has proposed giving NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) about $150 million more for 2012 than the White House requested for the overbudget project, which appropriators in the House of Representatives voted this summer to cancel.

The additional funding for JWST amounts to a 40 percent increase for the project and is part of a 2012 spending bill approved Sept. 14 by the Senate Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee.

Overall, the subcommittee's bill would provide NASA with a total of $17.9 billion for 2012. That is about $500 million less than the agency got for 2011 and $800 million less than what U.S. President Barack Obama sought for NASA in the 2012 budget request he sent Congress in February.

The Webb telescope, which was marked for cancelation in the $16.8 billion NASA spending bill the House Appropriations Committee approved in July, would receive $530 million next year under the Senate's bill — about 40 percent more than the $374 million the Obama administration included for the project in its 2012 request.

NASA Soyuz Alliance: ISS Crew Launch slated for Novemebr 14th 2011

NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency have agreed on a Nov. 14 date for the first manned Soyuz rocket launch since the failure of a similar booster carrying a robotic cargo ship last month.

The decision follows an investigation by Russian space officials to identify the source of that failure and ensure it won't plague future launches, NASA announced today (Sept. 15).

It also clears the way for a new three-man crew to launch on the Soyuz to the International Space Station, sustaining the orbiting lab's 10-year streak for a continuous human presence in space.

"Our Russian colleagues have completed an amazing amount of work in a very short time to determine root cause and develop a recovery plan that allows for a safe return to flight," International Space Station program manager Michael Suffredini said in a statement.

Monday, September 19, 2011

NASA: "Star Trek" crew met the real Shuttle Enterprise

From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. "Bones" McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Rodenberry; an unnamed NASA official; and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).

When NASA rolled out its Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1976 it was met by not only NASA dignitaries, but also some of the cast from the "Star Trek" television series.

According to NASA, there was a good reason for the Star Trek folks to be there.

That's because Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle, was originally to be named Constitution (in honor of the U.S. Constitution's Bicentennial that year).

However, Star Trek viewers started a write-in campaign urging the White House to select the name Enterprise. The rest is history.

NASA MARS Rover Opportunity: On verge of new discovery

A closeup of the Cape York rim segment of Endeavour Crater with the Opportunity rover's path shown. 

Tisdale, the rock Opportunity sampled earlier, is on the southern tip of Cape York.

Mars rover Opportunity was poised on the rim of the 22,000 meter-wide Endeavour Crater, preparing to sample a novel rock type.

Much older than the sedimentary samples the rover's "tasted" so far, this new sample is flush with the promise of revealing clues to the planet's environment when running rivers coursed the surface.

What was supposed to have been a 90- to 180-day exploration of two distinct regions of the red planet has turned into a saga that has become one of science's most compelling and long-lasting adventures (now into its eighth year), enthralling the public and the science communities alike.

Launched the summer of 2003 and landing in January 2004, the solar-powered Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity completed their intended basic missions in April 2004.

Raymond E. Arvidson, PhD, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Arts and Sciences at WUSTL, is the MER deputy principal investigator. Each continued roving until March 2010, when Spirit, mired in unexpected but scientifically interesting martian sand and pointed in an unfavorable direction to survive the winter dark, gave up the ghost.

Opportunity, on the other hand, remains active, having reached the rim of Endeavour Crater Aug. 9, 2011, knocking at the door of geology different from any it has explored during its first seven-plus years on Mars.

"Opportunity now is in a brand new mission," Arvidson says. "In late August, we looked at a rock named Tisdale, with a composition unlike any we've seen before. It has an enormous amount of zinc, bromine, phosphorus, chlorine and sulfur, all elements that are mobile in the presence of water.

The ancient rim of Endeavour represents a period when there was probably a lot more water on the surface," Arvidson says. "So, we're trying to get the chemical, mineralogical and geological setting to 'back out' those ancient conditions to reconstruct environmental conditions during this earlier time period."

The conditions that formed the sandstones Opportunity has sampled over the past seven years represent a kind of drying-out period of Mars.

Occasionally wet but usually dry and wind-blown, the sulphur-rich mineral grains formed vast dune fields that were cemented into sandstone over millions of years by occasional seeping groundwater.

But the terrain Opportunity now is sampling - largely buried by lake bed sediments - pops up in places like the Endeavour rim and is much older, going back to the earliest days of the planet.

That's some 3.5 to 4 billion years ago in the last stages of heavy bombardment, when Mars was sweeping up the last planetessimals - cosmic dust grains that collided and stuck to each other to form larger bodies. Endeavour is an impact crater produced during that heavy bombardment period.