Wednesday, January 30, 2013

IRIS: NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph Mission Satellite Completed

The fully integrated spacecraft and science instrument for NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission is seen in a cleanroom at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Sunnyvale, Calif. facility. 

The solar arrays are deployed in the configuration they will assume when in orbit.

The spacecraft and science instrument integration for the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) - NASA's next Small Explorer (SMEX) Mission - has been completed, and final testing is underway.

NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is responsible for mission operations and the ground data system.

The Norwegian Space Agency will capture the IRIS data with their antennas in Svalbard, inside the Arctic Circle, in northern Norway.

The science data will be managed by the Joint Science Operations Center of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, run by Stanford and Lockheed Martin.

"The entire IRIS team is enormously pleased that we've reached this crucial milestone," said Gary Kushner, Lockheed Martin IRIS program manager. "

After many months of hard work by the Lockheed Martin team and all of our collaborators and subcontractors in designing, engineering and building the instrument and spacecraft bus, our goal of putting it into orbit is in sight and we look forward to producing great science at a low cost."

Understanding the interface between the photosphere and corona remains a fundamental challenge in solar and heliospheric science.

The IRIS mission will open a window of discovery into this crucial region by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the chromosphere and transition region into the corona using spectrometry and imaging.

Here all but a few percent of the non-radiative energy leaving the Sun is converted to heat and radiation. The remaining few percent create the corona and solar wind.

Magnetic fields and plasma exert comparable forces in this region, and IRIS is uniquely suited to provide the observations necessary to pinpoint the physical forces at work in this little understood piece of real estate near the surface of the Sun.

"The interpretation of the IRIS spectra is a major effort coordinated by the IRIS Science Team that will utilize the full extent of the power of the most advanced computational resources in the world.

"It is this new capability, along with development of state of the art codes and numerical models by the University of Oslo that capture the complexities of this region, which make the IRIS mission possible.

Without these important elements we would be unable to fully interpret the IRIS spectra," said Dr. Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator and physicist at the ATC Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto.

ISS Image: Water Bubble in Zero Gravity

NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, Expedition 34 commander, watches a water bubble float freely between him and the camera, showing his image refracted, in the Unity node of the International Space Station. 

Image Credit: NASA

NASA MARS Curiosity: Starts Drilling

The percussion drill in the turret of tools at the end of the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been positioned in contact with the rock surface in this image from the rover's front Hazard-Avoidance Camera (Hazcam).

The drill was positioned for pre-load testing, and the Hazcam recorded this image during the 170th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Jan. 27, 2013).>br />

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is sizing up a target rock and flexing its robotic arm ahead of its first-ever drilling activity on the Red Planet, which should take place in the coming days.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover pressed down on the rock in four different places with its arm-mounted drill Monday (Jan. 27). These "pre-load" tests should allow mission engineers to see if the amount of force applied matches predictions, researchers said.

The six-wheeled robot won't be ready to start boring into the rock until it completes several additional hardware tests and other checks, which should keep the rover busy through at least the end of this week, they added.

ESA Herschel Image: Andromeda's Colourful Rings

The ring-like swirls of dust filling the Andromeda galaxy stand out colourfully in this new image from the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA participation.

The glow seen here comes from the longer-wavelength, or far, end of the infrared spectrum, giving astronomers the chance to identify the very coldest dust in our galactic neighbor.

These light wavelengths span from 250 to 500 microns, which are a quarter to half of a millimeter in size.

Herschel's ability to detect the light allows astronomers to see clouds of dust at temperatures of only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

These clouds are dark and opaque at shorter wavelengths. The Herschel view also highlights spokes of dust between the concentric rings.

The colours in this image have been enhanced to make them easier to see, but they do reflect real variations in the data. The very coldest clouds are brightest in the longest wavelengths, and coloured red here, while the warmer ones take on a bluish tinge.

These data, together with those from other observatories, reveal that other dust properties, beyond just temperature, are affecting the infrared color of the image.

Clumping of dust grains, or growth of icy mantles on the grains towards the outskirts of the galaxy, appear to contribute to these subtle color variations.

These observations were made by Herschel's Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) instrument

The data were processed as part of a project to improve methods for assembling mosaics from SPIRE observations.

Light with a wavelength of 250 microns is rendered as blue, 350-micron is green, and 500-micron light is red. Color saturation has been enhanced to bring out the small differences at these wavelengths.

Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/NHSC

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

ESA Galileo: Cospas-Sarsat passes first space test

Spectrum of the L-band signal received from the third Galileo satellite's Cospas-Sarsat search and rescue repeater at ESA's Redu Centre on 18 January 2013. 

This first switch-on represents the intial step in the expansion of the Cospas-Sarsat system into medium-Earth orbit.

Its activation begins a major expansion of the ESA space-based Cospas-Sarsat network, which brings help to air and sea vessels in distress.

The second pair of Europe's Galileo navigation satellites - launched together on 12 October last year - are the first of the constellation to host SAR search and rescue repeaters.

These can pick up UHF signals from emergency beacons aboard ships and aircraft or carried by individuals, then pass them on to local authorities for rescue.

Once the satellites reached their 23 222 km-altitude orbits, a rigorous test campaign began. The turn of the SAR repeater aboard the third Galileo satellite came on 17 January.

"At this stage, our main objective is to check the repeater has not been damaged by launch," explains ESA's Galileo SAR engineer Igor Stojkovic.

"The first day was a matter of turning the repeater on and checking its temperature and power profiles were as predicted.

"The following day involved sending a signal to the repeater using the UHF antenna at ESA's Redu Centre in Belgium, then picking up the reply from our L-band antenna."

Redu's antenna is 20 m in diameter, so the shape of the relayed signal was captured in great detail, out of all proportion to surrounding noise.

"We can precisely measure its power, the time the relay took and so on," adds Igor.

More detailed system testing will follow, to completely prove this new type of SAR payload in orbit.

This international system has been taking the search out of search and rescue for more than three decades, saving some 31 000 lives along the way.

Cospas is a Russian acronym for 'Space System for the Search of Vessels in Distress', with Sarsat standing for 'Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking'.

Ground stations - known as Local User Terminals - pinpoint the source of distress calls using signals relayed by participating satellites, then alert local authorities.

BSF-Auto Japanese Robotic Scanner: A 250 Page Book in 1 Minute

THIS super-fast robot deserves a spot in the record books - it can read a 250-page book in just one minute. It’s called the BSF-Auto and can scan so fast it actually takes in each page twice as it skims past. Read more:

CSA Dextre Robot: Refuels Mock Satellite on ISS

Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency's robotic "handyman" on board the International Space Station (ISS), made space history last night by successfully refueling a mock satellite on the exterior of the station.

Topping off the satellite's fuel tank was the pivotal task in the experimental Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), a collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to demonstrate how robots could service and refuel satellites on location in space to extend their useful lifetime.

For RRM, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center designed a module simulating a satellite, as well as custom power tools for Dextre.

Since RRM operations began in 2011, Dextre has performed three series of tests to show how a robot could service satellites, which were designed never to be opened in space.

In this latest set of operations, Dextre removed two safety caps, cut through two sets of thin retaining wires, and finally transferred a small quantity of liquid ethanol into the washing machine-sized module.

The latter maneuver was particularly tricky, since handling liquids in space required perfect precision to prevent dangerous leaks.

The specialized tools built for the job allowed Dextre to seal the connections between the tool and the fuel valve to eliminate the possibility of leaks.

Adding to the level of difficulty was the fuel hose itself, which adds additional forces that tend to pull Dextre's hands.

It took the combined skills of the experienced NASA and CSA robotics controllers to pull off this first-of-a-kind space refueling demonstration successfully and without any mishap.

RRM is a significant step in pioneering robotic technologies and techniques in the field of satellite servicing-saving ailing space hardware by refueling or refurbishing them before they become space debris.

The ability to refuel satellites in space could one day save satellite operators from the significant costs of building and launching new replacement satellites.

Monday, January 28, 2013

NASA Hubble: Bright Red Outburst of Light

Hubble space telescope images show an expanding burst of light from a red supergiant star. 

(Image: NASA/ESA)

A University of Alberta professor has revealed the workings of a celestial event involving binary stars that results in an explosion so powerful it ranks close to supernovae in luminosity.

Astrophysicists have long debated about what happens when binary stars, two stars that orbit one another, come together in a common envelope.

When this dramatic cannibalizing event ends there are two possible outcomes; the two stars merge into a single star or an initial binary transforms into an exotic short-period one.

The event is believed to take anywhere from a dozen days to a few hundred years to complete. Either length is considered to be extremely fast in terms of celestial events.

More than a half of all stars in the universe are binary stars. Up until now, researchers had no idea what a common envelope event would look like.

U of A theoretical astrophysicist Natalia Ivanova analyzed the physics of what happens in the outer layers of a common envelope.

She found that hot and ionized material in the common envelope cools and expands and then releases energy in the form of a bright red outburst of light.

Ivanova linked these theoretically anticipated common envelope outbursts with recently discovered luminous red novae, mysterious transients that are brighter than novae and just a bit less luminous than supernovae.

Her research provided both a way to identify common envelope events and explained the luminosity generated during the common envelope event.

NASA Mars Curiosity Night Image: White Lightning

This image of a Martian rock illuminated by white-light LEDs (light emitting diodes) is part of the first set of nighttime images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. 

MAHLI took the images on Jan. 22, 2012 (PST)

View all NASA images here.

Iran has successfully launched a live monkey into Earth Orbit

A view of an observatory at the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) in Mahdasht, about 60 km west of Tehran.

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi 

Iran has successfully launched a live monkey into space, the Fars news agency reported on Monday, lauding it as an advance in a missile and space program that has alarmed the West and Israel.

There was no independent confirmation of the report and there have been no announcements by Western powers of any Iranian launch late last week.

Fars said the monkey was launched into space on a Kavoshgar rocket. The rocket reached a height of more than 120 kilometers and "returned its shipment intact", Fars reported.
Iran announced plans in 2011 to send a monkey into space, but that attempt was reported to have failed.

Western countries are concerned the long-range ballistic technology used to propel Iranian satellites into orbit could be used to launch atomic warheads. Tehran denies such suggestions and says its nuclear work is purely peaceful.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mars Rover Curiosity Uses Arm Camera at Night

This image of a Martian rock illuminated by white-light LEDs (light emitting diodes) is part of the first set of nighttime images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. 

Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has for the first time used the camera on its arm to take photos at night, illuminated by white lights and ultraviolet lights on the instrument.

Scientists used the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument for a close-up nighttime look at a rock target called "Sayunei," in an area where Curiosity's front-left wheel had scuffed the rock to provide fresh, dust-free materials to examine.

The site is near where the rover team plans to begin using Curiosity to drill into a rock in coming weeks. The images of the rock Sayunei and of MAHLI's calibration target were taken on Jan. 22 (PST) and received on Earth Jan. 23.

The MAHLI, an adjustable-focus color camera, includes its own LED (light-emitting diode) illumination sources. Images of Sayunei taken with white-LED illumination and with illumination by ultraviolet LEDs are available online here and here.

"The purpose of acquiring observations under ultraviolet illumination was to look for fluorescent minerals," said MAHLI Principal Investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), San Diego.

"These data just arrived this morning. The science team is still assessing the observations. If something looked green, yellow, orange or red under the ultraviolet illumination, that'd be a more clear-cut indicator of fluorescence."

NASA TDRS-K Spacecraft Ready for Launch

NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-K, enclosed in its payload fairing, passes through the Launch Complex 39 area at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 20, 2013 as it travels from the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Fla., to its launch site.

TDRS-K will lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41 on Jan. 30, 2013.

The TDRS-K spacecraft is part of the next-generation series in the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, a constellation of space-based communication satellites providing tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services.

Image Credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

Early Signs of Life on MARS: Watery McLaughlin crater

"The McLaughlin crater is an ideal place for scientists to examine the structure of Mars's soil," Russian scientist Evgeny Chernyakov says.

Scientists believe that a large crater, which has been discovered on Mars, might have been a lake several billion years ago.

A space vehicle, which NASA sent to explore Mars, has discovered layers of clay and carbonate minerals in the walls of this crater.

These substances may form in the ground only after the contact with water.

This crater, which has received the name of McLaughlin, is one of Mars's largest craters. It is 92 kms wide and 2 kms deep.

The space vehicle discovered no traces of washouts on the crater's walls, which means that, most likely, no water has ever come into the crater from outside.

If the crater really was once full of water, this water has most likely penetrated from underground.

Mars is smaller than the Earth, and the gravity power on Mars is three times weaker than on the Earth.

Thus, scientists suppose that if underground waters have once existed on Mars, the soil layers that contained water were thicker and more clay-like than they were on the Earth.

These conditions are ideal for bacteria to appear, scientists say. It is not ruled out that there is still water under the crater's bottom and that bacteria still live there.

"The McLaughlin crater is an ideal place for scientists to examine the structure of Mars's soil," Russian scientist Evgeny Chernyakov says.

"The fact that there exists such a deep natural hollow on Mars allows scientists to examine Mars's soil without drilling artificial holes," Mr. Chernyakov says.

"This makes delivering the relevant equipment to Mars (which would have been very difficult and costly) unnecessary.

Now, all that we need is to send a small device to Mars, which would "look" into this crater and take photographs or samples of the soil.

From the ribs of the crater, we can rather easily take samples of the ground that would otherwise have been very hard to extract."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ice Stalagmites

Ice stalagmites in Oswald Cave, Muggendorf, Germany.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

ESA /ESO APEX Image: Setting the Dark on Fire

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To better understand star formation, astronomers need telescopes that can observe at longer wavelengths, such as the submillimetre range, in which the dark dust grains shine rather than absorb light.

APEX, on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes, is the largest single-dish submillimetre-wavelength telescope operating in the southern hemisphere, and is ideal for astronomers studying the birth of stars in this way.

Located in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter), 1500 light-years away from Earth, the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth, and contains a treasury of bright nebulae, dark clouds and young stars.

The new image shows just part of this vast complex in visible light, with the APEX observations overlaid in brilliant orange tones that seem to set the dark clouds on fire.

Often, the glowing knots from APEX correspond to darker patches in visible light — the tell-tale sign of a dense cloud of dust that absorbs visible light, but glows at submillimetre wavelengths, and possibly a site of star formation.

The bright patch below of the centre of the image is the nebula NGC 1999. This region — when seen in visible light — is what astronomers call a reflection nebula, where the pale blue glow of background starlight is reflected from clouds of dust.

The nebula is mainly illuminated by the energetic radiation from the young star V380 Orionis [2] lurking at its heart.

In the centre of the nebula is a dark patch, which can be seen even more clearly in this well-known image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Normally, a dark patch such as this would indicate a dense cloud of cosmic dust, obscuring the stars and nebula behind it.

However, in this image we can see that the patch remains strikingly dark, even when the APEX observations are included.

Thanks to these APEX observations, combined with infrared observations from other telescopes, astronomers believe that the patch is in fact a hole or cavity in the nebula, excavated by material flowing out of the star V380 Orionis.

French Scientists: 'Background' light of universe measured

The brightness of the background of light photons that has filled the universe since its formation has been measured for the first time, French researchers say.

Scientists at the country's National Center for Scientific Research say their findings could provide new insight into the size of the universe, the formation of stars and the evolution of galaxies.

The light emitted by all the objects in the universe, such as stars and galaxies, ever since its birth fills intergalactic space with an "ocean" of photons known as the "diffuse extragalactic background light," the researchers said.

The shine of our own galaxy makes it impossible to directly measure this fossil record of the light emitted in the universe, so astrophysicists made use of gamma rays, with energy more than 500 billion times greater than that of visible light, as an alternative, indirect method of measuring this light, a release from the center said.

These measurements made it possible to estimate for the first time the intensity of the starlight contained within all the universe at wavelengths ranging from the near infrared to the ultraviolet, including visible wavelengths, it said.

A better understanding of this diffuse light should yield information about the first stars, shedding light on their formation and on the evolution of galaxies, astronomers said.

NASA Scientists Observe the Sun in Different Wavelengths

This collage of solar images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows how observations of the sun in different wavelengths helps highlight different aspects of the sun's surface and atmosphere. 

The collage also includes images from other SDO instruments that display magnetic and Doppler information. 

Credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center.

Taking a photo of the sun with a standard camera will provide a familiar image: a yellowish, featureless disk, perhaps coloured a bit more red when near the horizon since the light must travel through more of Earth's atmosphere and consequently loses blue wavelengths before getting to the camera's lens.

The sun, in fact, emits light in all coluors, but since yellow is the brightest wavelength from the sun, that is the colour we see with our naked eye -- which the camera represents, since one should never look directly at the sun. When all the visible colours are summed together, scientists call this "white light."

Specialist instruments, either in ground-based or space-based telescopes, however, can observe light far beyond the ranges visible to the naked eye.

Different wavelengths convey information about different components of the sun's surface and atmosphere, so scientists use them to paint a full picture of our constantly changing and varying star.

Yellow light of 5800 Angstroms, for example, generally emanates from material of about 10,000 degrees F (5700 degrees C), which represents the surface of the sun.

Extreme ultraviolet light of 94 Angstroms, on the other hand, comes from atoms that are about 11 million degrees F (6,300,000 degrees C) and is a good wavelength for looking at solar flares, which can reach such high temperatures.

By examining pictures of the sun in a variety of wavelengths - as is done through such telescopes as NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) - scientists can track how particles and heat move through the sun's atmosphere.

We see the visible spectrum of light simply because the sun is made up of a hot gas - heat produces light just as it does in an incandescent light bulb but, when it comes to the shorter wavelengths, the sun sends out extreme ultraviolet light and x-rays because it is filled with many kinds of atoms, each of which give off light of a certain wavelength when they reach a certain temperature.

Not only does the sun contain many different atoms - helium, hydrogen, iron, for example -- but also different kinds of each atom with different electrical charges, known as ions.

Each ion can emit light at specific wavelengths when it reaches a particular temperature. Scientists have catalogued which atoms produce which wavelengths since the early 1900s, and the associations are well documented in lists that can take up hundreds of pages.

Solar telescopes make use of this wavelength information in two ways. For one, certain instruments, known as spectrometers, observe many wavelengths of light simultaneously and can measure how much of each wavelength of light is present.

This helps create a composite understanding of what temperature ranges are exhibited in the material around the sun. Spectrographs don't look like a typical picture, but instead are graphs that categorise the amount of each kind of light.

NASA to Send Bigelow Inflatable Pod to International Space Station

NASA to Send a Bigelow Aerospace Inflatable Pod to the ISS. 

Photo courtesy NASA.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said it wants to send an inflatable space pod to be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2015, which could lead to a completely new and cheaper way to conduct future space missions.

NASA announced on Wednesday that it had signed a $17.8 million contract with Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace to build the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), in the hopes of developing deep space habitats for future missions.

"As we venture deeper into space on the path to Mars, habitats that allow for long-duration stays in space will be a critical capability," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA, said in a press release on the NASA website.

Bigelow Aerospace specializes in creating expandable habitats like the BEAM, which will initially be launched to the ISS in a compact form and then inflated at the space station into a 13-by-10 foot (3.9 meter-by-3-meter) cylinder.

The module's walls will be made of fabric making it easier to launch and then inflate in space.

"NASA's partnership with Bigelow opens a new chapter in our continuing work to bring the innovation of industry to space, heralding cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably," said Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator.

The BEAM will be launched to the ISS through another commercial spacecraft called the SpaceX Dragon and then astronauts will use a robotic arm to install the module, NASA stated on its website.

During a two-year test period after the inflatable module is attached to the ISS, crew members and engineers will gather data on the inflatable pod, such as its structural integrity and leak rate.

Instruments located within the module will also "provide important insights on its response to the space environment," such as "radiation and temperature changes compared with traditional aluminum modules," NASA stated on its website.

After the test period, the BEAM will be detached from the ISS and will burn and disintegrate upon entry back into Earth's atmosphere.

Do Auroras Exist Outside our Solar System?

University of Leicester planetary scientists have found new evidence suggesting auroras -- similar to Earth's Aurora Borealis -- occur on bodies outside our solar system. 

Auroras occur on several planets within our solar system, and the brightest -- on Jupiter -- are 100 times brighter than those on Earth. 

However, no auroras have yet been observed beyond Neptune.

A new study led by University of Leicester lecturer Dr. Jonathan Nichols has shown that processes strikingly similar to those which power Jupiter's auroras could be responsible for radio emissions detected from a number of objects outside our solar system.

In addition, the radio emissions are powerful enough to be detectable across interstellar distances -- meaning that auroras could provide an effective way of observing new objects outside our solar system.

Auroras occur when charged particles in an object's magnetosphere collide with atoms in its upper atmosphere, causing them to glow.

However, before hitting the atmosphere, these particles also emit radio waves into space.

The study, "Origin of Electron Cyclotron Maser Induced Radio Emissions at Ultracool Dwarfs: Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling Currents," which recently appeared in the Astrophysical Journal, shows that this phenomenon is not limited to our solar system.

It shows that the radio emissions from a number of ultracool dwarfs may be caused in a very similar, but significantly more powerful, way to Jupiter's auroras.

Dr. Nichols, a Lecturer and Research Fellow in the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: "We have recently shown that beefed-up versions of the auroral processes on Jupiter are able to account for the radio emissions observed from certain "ultracool dwarfs" -- bodies which comprise the very lowest mass stars -- and "brown dwarfs" -- 'failed stars' which lie in-between planets and stars in terms of mass.

"These results strongly suggest that auroras do occur on bodies outside our solar system, and the auroral radio emissions are powerful enough -- one hundred thousand times brighter than Jupiter's -- to be detectable across interstellar distances."

The paper, which also involved researchers at the Center for Space Physics, Boston University, USA, could have major implications for the detection of planets and objects outside our solar system which could not be discovered with other methods.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Baikonur: Soyuz Launch Site in Economic Crisis

Although its future might have appeared certain until 2050, Baikonur may not perhaps remain Russia's primary space hub after the Soviet Union's demise. Sooner or later, it has to be replaced.

Only 12 Proton-M launches were approved by Kazakhstan for 2013 instead of the planned 17.

The decision has put the future of Russian-Kazakh space cooperation under further threat. What does fate have in store for the famed launch pad in the near future?

It seems the status quo, which has survived in the space world for several decades, is to face an imminent challenge. Once again, Baikonur cosmodrome, Russia's main launch pad, is at the centre of the conflict.

Kazakhstan has refused to approve the limit of 17 Proton launches that Russia asked for in 2013, allowing only 12, even fewer than in 2012. Russia's response could be to reduce the annual rent paid to Kazakhstan for the site.

Proton-M, currently the heaviest launcher in the Russian space programme, provided 10 of the 24 launches in 2012 (plus an additional Proton-K launch, also from Baikonur).

Its capabilities could only be replaced by Angara, which is still-under-development. Moreover, as Russian space officials have announced, no launch pads for Protons are available other than those at Baikonur.

Should the available number of launches diminish, a good deal of the contracts with launch operators will come under threat of termination or penalty sanctions.

One apparent reason for the decision could be the Proton rocket's toxic propellant, perhaps a legitimate bargaining point. Last year also saw two failures, in August and December, fortunately, they occurred in space and had no impact on the environment. As a result, the next Proton launch was postponed until at least the end of March.

Few however doubt that the real cause of the tension is Russia's apparent future withdrawal from Baikonur. Kazakhstan is concerned about the future of the space port after the new Vostochnyi cosmodrome is up and running, which may be as soon as 2015.

Moreover, Vostochnyi also threatens Baiterek, the joint Russian-Kazakh endeavour at Baikonur, which was initially intended mainly for Angara launches. If Russia builds Vostochnyi, there will be no reason to maintain another launch pad incurring additional rental costs.

Russia has also announced that it is going to make more use of its northern Plesetsk cosmodrome, and launch the majority of state satellites from there, rather than Kazakhstan.

The conflict follows a statement by Talgat Musabaev, head of the Kazakh space agency, in early December 2012, blaming Russia for failing to follow the Baiterek agreement and calling for Proton launches to be cut. As the dispute heats up, both sides will have to make decisions with long-term consequences.

Although its future might have appeared certain until 2050, Baikonur may not perhaps remain Russia's primary space hub after the Soviet Union's demise. Sooner or later, it has to be replaced. On the other hand, Kazakhstan does have a usable cosmodrome, but who will use it?

Mars One - Dutch Reality TV Program colonising Mars

The updated HD version is also available: Mars One introduction film (updated version).

The updated version includes subtitles in several languages:

Hello Mars, here we come! A TV production Dutch company says it will produce the biggest reality TV show ever, centered around a group of humans who will colonise Mars.

Mars One was founded by Bas Lansdrop, a Netherlands researcher from Delft University, and has the backing of Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Gerard Hooft.

The TV firm claims it will put four people on the red planet every two years, beginning 2023.

Scientist Conquers Antarctica with Super-Tiger Air Balloon

The Super Tiger Balloon getting ready for its release at McMurdo ice station Antarctica.

Dr. John E Ward, an Astrophysicist at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, has been in Antarctica since October getting ready for the record attempt.

Dr. Ward is part of a NASA research project called Super-TIGER (Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder), a two-ton machine that collects cosmic-ray particles at the top of the atmosphere.

Although cosmic rays were discovered over 100 years ago, physicists are still uncertain about where in the Universe they originate.

Dr. Ward and his team are trying to show that cosmic rays come from cosmic explosions within groups of enormous hot stars, known as OB associations.

The Super-TIGER instrument is about the size of a snooker table and weighs in at around two tons.

It was launched from the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica on a NASA high-altitude balloon on the 9th December 2012.

The balloon itself is massive, weighing some 5,000 lbs. It is made of plastic and is a little thicker than cling film.

An image of the two and a quarter turns taken around the South Pole by the Super Tiger

The balloon has circled the South Pole twice, at an altitude of around 130,000 feet.

So far the team have collected over 50 million cosmic-ray particles.

This morning Dr. Ward’s balloon flight surpassed the previous record of 42 days, set in 2004 by an Irish man, Jojo Boyle from Donegal, with the CREAM cosmic-ray project.

It is expected that Dr. Ward’s balloon will stay in the air for another 10-14 days.

When the balloon is back close to McMurdo Station, it will be brought down by a remote controlled explosion triggered from a NASA satellite that will rip a massive hole in the balloon and allow the Super-TIGER instrument to fall back to Earth on a parachute.

Dr. Ward will then fly in a small Twin Otter ski plane to whereever in Antarctica that the parachute lands.

His first job will be to secure the valuable data disks before dismantling and recovering the two ton instrument. Dr. Ward is expected to leave Antarctica at the close of the summer season in February 2013.

NASA Orion and Astronauts in Inaugural Parade

The Orion space capsule along with NASA Astronauts Lee Morin, Alvin Drew, Kjell Lindgren, Serena Aunon, Kate Rubins, and Mike Massimino pass the Presidential viewing stand and President Barack Obama during the Inaugural Parade on Monday Jan. 21, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Orion will carry future astronauts beyond Earth orbit to farther destinations than ever before.

Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Nasa Sphere Satellites in the ISS

The International Space Station has 3 small Sphere satellites used to test control algorithms. 

They form part of an MIT Project and are available for students to program.

They are designed to act in unison with each other in a group or swarm.


NASA Image: Neutron Star Collision

Nasa have released an artist's impression of two neutron stars colliding to produce a gamma ray burst. 

Earth was blasted by a high-energy burst of radiation from space in the 8th century, scientists believe. 

Gamma ray bursts are the most powerful explosions known in the universe. 

Each one corresponds to around a thousand Earths being vapourised into pure energy in seconds. 

Picture: Nasa

Oppressive China Opens Public 3D Printing Booth

While 3D printing may be touted as bringing manufacturing back to the United States, that doesn't mean the rest of the world hasn't taken notice of the technology.

Earlier this week, a 3D Printing Experience Pavilion opened in Beijing's DRC Industrial Design and Cultural Industry Base, where visitors were able to see how 3D printers work firsthand.

With a few hours to spare, they could even have their own head scanned and printed as a bust, which follows the 3D printing booth that opened in a Japanese mall last year.

Among the printed objects on display were custom phone cases, miniatures (including Aldebaran Robotics' NAO, which featured prominently at the Shanghai World Expo), and jewelry.

Visitors who wanted to be scanned had to remain still for around 15 minutes for the process to be completed, whereupon their likeness was printed in single color ABS plastic – a process which takes between two to three hours. 3Ders reports that the 3D Printing Pavilion was spear-headed by Beijing company Suntop-Tech, which is the Chinese distributor of Stratasys' Fortus and Dimension 3D printers.

Russian Hypersonic Space Race hots up

US Hypersonic X51A Waverider

The Russian Defence Ministry will start testing advanced hypersonic missiles in the coming summer.

At present, Russia is conducting research in several areas of developing hypersonic technology, but it's unclear which will be successful.

The work on hypersonic vehicles conducted by the Soviet Union and the U.S. during the Cold War was suspended after it was ended but it has restarted now.

Both countries are aimed at creating guided means of destruction which should be an alternative to intercontinental ballistic missiles. This task was set at the dawn of the hypersonic technology.

At present, the main task is to develop an engine capable of giving the vehicle necessary speed. The manoeuvering warheads are not facing this problem because the booster gives them the necessary speed. The present task is to develop a hypersonic reusable vehicle.

This task is being solved in the U.S. where an experimental vehicle X-27 has been developed. Its testing started in 2010. At present, it is making the third orbital flight started in December 2012.

It will continue for several months. The testing is aimed at developing a hypersonic weapon carrier capable of manoeuvering in the orbit and entering the atmosphere to launch attacks on anywhere in the world.

But many problems, such as the designing of the vehicle, developing navigation and communication systems, are yet to be solved to achieve this goal. The traditional radio communication and radio navigation are not working during flights at hypersonic speeds in the atmosphere.

Russian developments of hypersonic vehicles are moving in several directions.

Russian specialists have achieved great success in developing manoeuvering warheads. Such warheads that are heavier and bigger than ordinary ones are capable of manoeuvering in the atmosphere. This excludes their interception by the existing and promising anti-missile defence systems.

A hypersonic missile for the Russian Navy will be developed in the next few years. The Tsirkon anti-ship system should be based on the hypersonic missile that is being developed by Russia and India on the basis of the Bramos missile.

The Russian Air Force is interested in such missiles but the speed of the missiles for it should be more than ten times the speed of sound.

NSF VLA Image: Microquasar Makes a Giant Manatee Nebula

W50 supernova remnant in radio (green) against the infrared background of stars and dust (red). Credits: NRAO/AUI/NSF, K. Golap, M. Goss; NASA's Wide Field Survey Explorer (WISE).

A new view of a 20,000-year old supernova remnant demonstrates the upgraded imaging power of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) and provides more clues to the history of this giant cloud that resembles a beloved endangered species, the Florida Manatee.

W50 is one of the largest supernova remnants ever viewed by the VLA. At nearly 700 light years across, it covers two degrees on the sky - that's the span of four full Moons!

Aquila, exploded as a supernova around twenty thousand years ago, sending its outer gases flying outward in an expanding bubble.

The remaining, gravitationally-crushed relic of that giant star, most likely a black hole, feeds on gas from a very close, companion star. The cannibalized gas collects in a disk around the black hole.

The disk and black hole's network of powerful magnetic field lines acts like an enormous railroad system to snag charged particles out of the disk and channel them outward in powerful jets traveling at nearly the speed of light.

This system of a black hole and its feeder star shines brightly in both radio waves and X-rays and is known collectively as the SS433 microquasar.

Over time, the micro quasar's jets have forced their way through the expanding gases of the W50 bubble, eventually punching bulges outward on either side.

The jets also wobble, like an unstable spinning top, and blaze vivid corkscrew patterns across the inflating bulges.

Monday, January 21, 2013

NASA Mars HiRise Image: McLaughlin Crater a Dried up Lake?

Annotated view of McLaughlin Crater on Mars
This view of layered rocks on the floor of McLaughlin Crater shows sedimentary rocks that contain spectroscopic evidence for minerals formed through interaction with water.

This view of layered rocks on the floor of shows sedimentary rocks that contain spectroscopic evidence for minerals formed through interaction with water.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded the image. Image released Jan. 20, 2013.

CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

New photos of a huge crater on Mars suggest water may lurk in crevices under the planet's surface, hinting that life might have once lived there, and raising the possibility that it may live there still, researchers say.

Future research looking into the chances of life on Mars could shed light on the origins of life on Earth, scientists added.

The discovery came from a study of images by NASA's powerful Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that revealed new evidence of a wet underground environment on the Red Planet.

The images focused on the giant McLaughlin Crater, which is about 57 miles (92 kilometers) wide and so deep that underground water appears to have flowed into the crater at some point in the distant past.

Today, the crater is bone-dry but harbors clay minerals and other evidence that liquid water filled the area in the ancient past.

"Taken together, the observations in McLaughlin Crater provide the best evidence for carbonate forming within a lake environment instead of being washed into a crater from outside," study lead author Joseph Michalski, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., and London's Natural History Museum, said in a statement.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

PUMA Breathing Headgear

NASA engineer Dan Dietrich and a team of scientists at Glenn developed the Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis (PUMA) to monitor the oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production rates of astronauts exercising during long missions. 

The portable unit was designed to give the crew the ability to move around the spacecraft without being tethered to a large immovable unit.

PUMA measures six components to evaluate metabolic function: oxygen and carbon dioxide partial pressure, volume flow rate, heart rate, and gas pressure and temperature. 

From those measurements, PUMA can compute the oxygen uptake, carbon dioxide output and minute ventilation (average expired gas flow rate). 

A small, embedded computer takes readings of each sensor and relays the data wirelessly to a remote computer via Bluetooth.

Image Credit: NASA

GRACE the Robot Fish: Data Gathering ROV from MSU

A team of MSU researchers has developed a robotic fish that can swim and glide long distances while gathering data such as water quality and temperature. 

Photo by G.L. Kohuth.

A high-tech robotic fish hatched at Michigan State University has a new look. A new skill and a new name.

MSU scientists have made a number of improvements on the fish, including the ability to glide long distances, which is the most important change to date.

The fish now has the ability to glide through the water practically indefinitely, using little to no energy, while gathering valuable data that can aid in the cleaning of our lakes and rivers.

Designed and built by Xiaobo Tan, MSU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his team, the fish is equipped with an array of sensors that not only allow it to travel autonomously, but also measure water temperature, quality and other pertinent facts.

"Swimming requires constant flapping of the tail," Tan said, "which means the battery is constantly being discharged and typically wouldn't last more than a few hours."

The disadvantage to gliding, he said, is that it is slower and less maneuverable.

"This is why we integrated both locomotion modes - gliding and swimming - in our robot," Tan said. "Such integration also allows the robot to adapt to different environments, from shallow streams to deep lakes, from calm ponds to rivers, with rapid currents."

The robot's ability to glide is achieved through a newly installed pump that pushes water in and out of the fish, depending on whether the scientists want the robot to ascend or descend.

Also, the robot's battery pack sits on a kind of rail that moves backward and forward, in sync with the pumping action, to allow the robot to glide through water on a desired path.

The robotic fish now has a name: Grace, which stands for "Gliding Robot ACE."

Late last year Tan and his team took Grace for a test drive on the Kalamazoo River, where it exceeded all expectations.

"She swam at three sites along the river and wirelessly sent back sensor readings," Tan said.

"I'm not sure, but we may have set a world record - demonstrating robotic fish-based sampling with commercial water-quality sensors in a real-world environment."

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Will First Photos of Black Holes Look Like?

A giant black hole is thought to lurk at the center of the Milky Way, but it has never been directly seen. Now astronomers have predicted what the first pictures of this black hole will look like when taken with technology soon to be available.

In particular, researchers have found that pictures of a black hole ― or, more precisely, the boundaries around them ― will take a crescent form, rather than the blobby shape that is often predicted.

By modeling what these pictures will look like, scientists say they are preparing to interpret the photos that will become available from telescopes currently under construction.

"No one has been able to image a black hole," said University of California, Berkeley student Ayman Bin Kamruddin, who presented a poster on the research last week in Long Beach, Calif., at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

"So far it's been impossible because they're too small in the sky. Right now we're just getting some details about the structure, but we don't have an image yet."

This crescent-shape image is the best fit to observations of Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, according to a January 2013 study.

CREDIT: Kamruddin/Dexter

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Boeing 787 Dreamliners Grounded after Japan Airline Battery Incident

All of Boeing's 50 flagship 787 Dreamliners have been temporarily taken out of service amid safety concerns.

The US and European aviation agencies said planes should be grounded while safety checks are carried out on their lithium ion batteries.

They are worried that the batteries could leak, corroding vital equipment and potentially causing fires.

Boeing said it stood by the integrity of the Dreamliner, which has been in service since October 2011.

Grounding aircraft on this scale over safety concerns is rare. The last time the FAA ordered a general grounding of an aircraft model was in 1979, when McDonnell Douglas DC-10s were grounded following a fatal crash.

CHINA's Openly Aggressive Strategy to Dominate Space

China is making increasingly aggressive plans to launch 20 spacecrafts this year,2013.

This will include the country's third lunar probe Chang'e-3 and manned spacecraft Shenzhou-10, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) announced.

The country is scheduled to conduct a manned space docking test between orbiting target module Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-10, the corporation said during an internal work conference.

The Chang'e-3 moon probe is expected to land and stay there during the second stage of the country's lunar probe program, it said.

According to CASC, by 2020, China will have more than 200 spacecrafts operating in orbit, accounting for about 20 percent of the world's total.

How many of the countries who are already under threat from China's expansionist plans will suffer as a consequence of their imposed domination of the space above the Earth's atmosphere?

What safeguards can be put in place to prevent their militarisation of Space and to make the Earth's atmospheric zone a de-militarised zone (DMZ)?

NASA Orion Spacecraft: ESA ATV Providing the Driving Force

ESA is making a major cotribution to the NASA Orion Spacecraft program.

Both agencies continue with the confident spirit of international cooperation that forms the foundation of the International Space Station.

ESA has agreed with NASA to contribute the driving force for the Orion spacecraft, planned for launch in 2017.

Ultimately, Orion will carry astronauts further into space than ever before using a module based on Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle technology.

Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) have been successfully resupplying the International Space Station since 2008.

The fourth in the series, ATV Albert Einstein, is being readied for launch next year from Kourou, French Guiana.

The ATV-derived service module, sitting directly below Orion's crew capsule, will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, as well as supplying water and gas to the astronauts in the habitable module.

This collaboration between ESA and NASA continues the spirit of international cooperation that forms the foundation of the International Space Station.

ATV is a versatile showcase of European technology performing many functions during a mission to the International Space Station.

The space freighter reboosts the Station and can even push the orbital complex out of the way of space debris.

While docked, ATV becomes an extra module for the astronauts. Lastly, at the end of its mission it leaves the Space Station with waste materials.

"ATV has proven itself on three flawless missions to the Space Station and this agreement is further confirmation that Europe is building advanced, dependable spacecraft," said Nico Dettmann, Head of ATV's production programme.

Thomas Reiter, ESA director of Human Spaceflight and Operations says: "NASA's decision to cooperate with ESA on their exploration programme with ESA delivering a critical element for the mission is a strong sign of trust and confidence in ESA's capabilities, for ESA it is an important contribution to human exploration."

Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA headquarters in Washington DC, agrees: "It is a testament to the engineering progress made to date that we are ready to begin integrating designs of an ESA-built service module with Orion."

The first Orion mission will be an unmanned lunar fly-by in 2017, returning to Earth atmosphere at a speed of 11 km/s - the fastest re-entry ever.

NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System: TDRS-K Video

As a vital information pipeline for space-based research and exploration ambitions, the TDRS constellation fulfills NASA's broadest communication demands.

Now into it's fourth operational decade, the TDRS legacy continues to be communications excellence.

The addition of the third generation of spacecraft will replenish the constellation and ensure that the critical lifeline of space-to-ground communication support will be available for many years to come.

This video is public domain and can be downloaded at: NASA TDRS-K Video

USAF Cape Canaveral: First Stage of Atlas V rocket

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida, preparations are underway to erect the first stage of the Atlas V rocket that will carry the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-K, into orbit.

TDRS-K is the first of three next-generation communications satellites designed to ensure vital operational continuity for NASA.

The seven TDRS spacecraft currently in orbit provide tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services for numerous science and human exploration missions orbiting Earth.

These include NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. TDRS-K has a high-performance solar panel designed for more spacecraft power to meet growing S-band communications requirements.

Image Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

Raytheon to design DARPA new SEEME Military Imaging Satellites

Raytheon has been awarded a $1.5 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract for phase one of the agency's Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program.

During the next nine months, the company will complete the design for small satellites to enhance warfighter situational awareness in the battlespace.

The SeeMe program will provide useful on-demand imagery information directly to the war-fighter in the field from a low-cost satellite constellation launched on a schedule that conforms to Department of Defense operational tempos.

"Leveraging our state-of-the-art missile assembly lines, we can mass produce these small, lightweight satellites quickly and affordably," said Tom Bussing, Raytheon Missile Systems' vice president of Advanced Missile Systems.

"As the world's only producer of exoatmospheric kill vehicles, we are already developing and building hardware to space standards."

For this contract, Raytheon has teamed with Sierra Nevada Corporation, University of Arizona and SRI International to assist with design work and eventually production.

Next year, in phase two of the SeeMe program, the Raytheon team would build six satellites for ground testing.

"We are pleased to be working with DARPA to solve the challenge of providing warfighters with a tactical space sensor capability at a production rate price," said Bussing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NASA ORION Spacecraft: ESA Service Module

This artist's concept of the Orion Service Module was introduced today. 

When the Orion spacecraft blasts off atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in 2017, attached will be the ESA-provided service module – the powerhouse that fuels and propels the Orion spacecraft.

Orion will be the most advanced spacecraft ever designed and carry astronauts farther into space than ever before.

It will sustain astronauts during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space and emergency abort capability.

Orion will be launched by NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS will enable new missions of exploration and expand human presence across the solar system.

The service module of the Orion spacecraft will provide support to the crew module from launch through separation prior to atmospheric re-entry.

Image Credit: NASA