VividX2 Makes History

The VividX2 makes history as the world’s first commercial satellite able to provide full-colour video of life on Earth.

It is capable of taking ultra-high definition images of any location on Earth and can take two minutes of video at the same time.

The satellite is only about the size of a typical cloths-washing machine (a cubic meter) and weighs just 100 kg.

See more at

Four Years of NEOWISE

Impressive four years of NEOWISE operation:

Asteroids detected or observed 29,000
Near Earth Objects: 788

About the video (NASA): The orbits of Mercury, Venus and Mars are shown in blue. Earth’s orbit is in teal.

Green dots represent near-Earth objects. Gray dots represent all other asteroids which are mainly in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Yellow squares represent comets.

Upcoming this week:

22 April 2018: Earth Day

25 April 2018 (Wednesday): ESA’s Sentinel 3B Satellite launches atop a Russian Rokot. I believe launch time is 17:57 UTC.

Also Mercury is heading towards maximum Western elongation (29 April @ 27 degrees), we might get a look at it just before sun up in the Eastern sky. If you do go looking for Mercury as always be very-very careful. The Sun isn’t far away and you could be badly injured if you look at the sun, especially if you are using any magnifying devices.

Waiting For Gaia

Every now and then you will read my lamenting how we need better distance measurements. You might think we know the distances to distant stars, after all we reference distances. The trouble is those measures are only accurate in the broadest sense – we really do need more accuracy.

Gaia aims to change all that! ESA just posted this excellent overview of the Gaia mission.

28 Years of Hubble

I like the Lagoon Nebula, I can see it from here when it is visible and it does make a nice telescope target. My best looks are usually from August, due south, not too late (22:00 on) and warm weather.

Click the image for a larger view here and the links from NASA’s Image of the Day caption from yesterday contains more links to both the image and about Hubble. 28 years, I feel old (lol) – what a great machine Hubble is! Congratulations to the Hubble team both current and past for a mission that started out a bit rocky but ended up being an icon. The team’s resilience and dedication to the project seems to get lost sometimes but without them the mission never would have never amounted to anything near what it has, so my hat is off to you folks!

From the NASA’s Image of the Day (yesterday):

This colorful image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, celebrates the Earth-orbiting observatory’s 28th anniversary of viewing the heavens, giving us a window seat to the universe’s extraordinary stellar tapestry of birth and destruction. At the center of this image is a monster young star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun that is blasting powerful ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-like stellar winds, carving out a fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust.

This mayhem is all happening at the heart of the Lagoon Nebula, a vast stellar nursery located 4,000 light-years away, visible in binoculars as merely a smudge of light with a bright core.

The giant star, called Herschel 36, is bursting out of its natal cocoon of material, unleashing blistering radiation and torrential stellar winds, which are streams of subatomic particles, that push dust away in curtain-like sheets. This action resembles the Sun bursting through the clouds at the end of an afternoon thunderstorm.

Herschel 36’s violent activity has blasted holes in the bubble-shaped cloud, allowing astronomers to study this action-packed stellar breeding ground. The hefty star is 32 times more massive and 40,000 times hotter than our Sun, and is nearly nine times our Sun’s diameter. Herschel 36 is still very active because it is young by a star’s standards, only 1 million years old. Based on its mass, it will live for another 5 million years. In comparison, our smaller Sun is 5 billion years old and will live another 5 billion years.

The image shows a region of the nebula measuring about 4 light-years across.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and STScI

SENTINEL-3B – Deja Vu?

If you have a feeling of deja vu at the Sentinel-3B above don’t worry this is a twin. The first was launched in 2016 and this one is scheduled to be launched on 25 April 2018.

This great image is from ESA – S. Corvaja.

ESA’s caption — The Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite being mated with the Rockot adapter at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

The satellite is being prepared for liftoff, scheduled for 25 April 2018. Its identical twin, Sentinel-3A, has been in orbit since February 2016. The two-satellite constellation offers optimum global coverage and data delivery for Europe’s Copernicus environment programme.


Really nice launch and EXCELLENT video from Stage 1 just hitting the mark perfectly on the return.

Here’s a replay from SpaceX. This is from the same URL as the live feed, I just took out the leader.

Great launch and landing!


Launch coverage begins about 15 minutes prior to launch.

Mission: Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

Launch time: 22:51 UT / 18:51 ET.

Launch Window Duration: 30 seconds (?!)

Alternate Launch Date/Time: Not yet specified.

Launch site: Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9

First Stage Landing Attempt? Yes aboard the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You

Fairing Recovery Attempt? Not specified.

About TESS (via SpaceX): The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is NASA’s next planet finder, led out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. TESS will discover new potential planets orbiting bright host stars relatively close to Earth. In a two-year survey of the solar neighborhood, TESS will search for tell-tale dips in the brightness of stars that indicate an orbiting planet regularly transiting across the face of its star. The satellite is expected to catalog thousands of exoplanet candidates around a wide range of star types, including hundreds of planets that are less than twice the size of Earth. The TESS mission is expected to find planets ranging from small, rocky worlds to gas giants.


Launch Reminder

First a reminder the TESS Mission will (maybe) launch later today.

Liftoff scheduled for 22:51 UTC today that’s 18:51 ET. Coverage to begin 15 minutes prior to launch.

So the image above is another instrument which will make its way to the International Space Station this summer. ECOSTRESS is one of those experiments that is none too soon considering longer termed space travel is not far away.

NASA’s ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) arrives at Kennedy Space Center in preparation for launch to the space station this summer.

ECOSTRESS, a new instrument that will provide a unique, space-based measurement of how plants respond to changes in water availability has arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin final preparations for launch to the International Space Station this summer aboard a cargo resupply mission.

ECOSTRESS left NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on April 6, 2018 by ground transport and arrived at Kennedy Space Center on April 9. 2018.

JPL built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for NASA’s Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. ECOSTRESS is sponsored by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program, managed by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The TESS Data Pipeline

While we wait for the launch tomorrow of TESS, delayed “to conduct additional Guidance Navigation and Control analysis”, let’s look at how the data getting from the spacecraft back to researchers. We are not talking about a little data, the data rate could reach 27 gigabytes per day!

A quick word about the delay, everybody is doing their best to be sure that everything is perfect for the launch. I am unaware of what appears to be a last-minute decision; it could be just for reassurance or it could be something was not quite right. Double check the fairing while you are there.

Anyway, being a ham radio operator I enjoy these bits of communications news.

NASA — A Science Pipeline to New Planet Discoveries

NASA’s ongoing search for life in the universe produces a lot of data. The agency’s new planet-hunting mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, will collect 27 gigabytes per day in its all-sky search for undiscovered planets orbiting 200,000 of the brightest and closest stars in our solar neighborhood. That’s the equivalent of about 6,500 song files beaming down to Earth every two weeks. The music of the stars, however, is not as polished for human ears as the latest Taylor Swift album. To get ready for scientific discovery, the data needs a bit of fine tuning.

One of the first steps in the data’s journey from deep space to a scientist’s laptop is the Science Processing Operations Center, called SPOC, at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, the design of which is based on the Kepler mission’s Science Operations Center, called the SOC, also at Ames. The SOC has been chugging along for more than a decade, spitting out tens of thousands of possible planet signals from the Kepler space telescope, NASA’s groundbreaking planet-finding mission that’s revolutionized our view of the heavens as a place chock-full of other worlds where life could exist. Among Kepler’s many gifts to TESS is its science data pipeline, which will provide the public’s “data of record” for the mission. About 75 percent of the Kepler pipeline, which took over 150 person-years to develop, remains the same for TESS, giving this new mission a leg up on discoveries.

A data pipeline is like an assembly line where computer algorithms act in stages to refine data and extract types of information — in this case, the possible signals of planets. TESS’s cameras observe the slight dip in the brightness of a star as a planet crosses, or transits, in front of the star. Over time, a pattern emerges as the dips line up across multiple transits, revealing the signal of an orbiting planet.

It’s a simple concept with a history of successful science, but the raw data, appearing as two-minute digital counts of brightness on each pixel, is contaminated with signals from the telescope and the sky when it first arrives here on Earth. SPOC’s science data pipeline does a cleanup job, and paves the way for the mission’s science office branch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pick out the most promising planet candidates. From there, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University coordinates follow-up observations to determine which candidates are bona fide planets.

NASA Ames’ Pleiades supercomputer, one of the most powerful systems in the world, has the power to process TESS’s biweekly data deluge of almost 10 billion pixels in three to five days, a cadence that enables SPOC to keep up with the volume of incoming data.

TESS’s mission is to identify the most promising exoplanets for follow-up observations. Future missions and observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, will apply new technologies to study these exoplanets’ atmospheres in search of the chemical signatures of life.

TESS’s first public release of pipeline-processed data is planned for the beginning of 2019. Astronomers will then begin to peer at data from entirely new areas of the sky where we await new discoveries from these singing stars and their quietly humming planets.
Continue reading

TESS NOT Launching

I check in and all of a sudden the date has changed! I thought it was me, but no, the launch was delayed for “additional GNC analysis”.

That’s fine with me. I have no power at the moment and for the near future, hopefully by tomorrow. I have a picture of the culprit in a bit. Mid-April and ice and wind storms back-to-back, a year ago it was 27 C, this year -3.

The photo below was taken from my postbox. The tree extends to one lane in the road to the left. The downed line can be seen to the right. My power line feeds that line from a different branch (no pun intended), same with phone/internet. All I really need is for a breaker or something to be reset. Down the lane, well that is another story. If I could have gone another hour I would have made it. I am just one of thousands over a few hundreds of square kilometers, very spread out and rural and sometimes we have to balance the sweet with sour.

UPDATE: About dark the local constabulary set up reflective cones and flares etc. Pulled out all the stops.

Moments after filling the generator with petrol four power company trucks pulled up and the workers jumped out with chainsaws and other assorted implements of power restoration and set to work. The time was 00:30 right outside my bedroom. After two and a half hours they left and within a few minutes commercial power was back on. Not too much sleep but everything else is back to normal.