Category Archives: ESA

Proba’s Solar Eclipses

ESA: Thanks to a quirk of our cosmos, the Moon’s average distance from Earth is just right for it to appear as the same size in the sky as the significantly larger Sun. Once in a while the Moon slides directly between Earth and the Sun such that it appears to cover our star completely, temporarily blocking out its light and creating a total solar eclipse for those along the narrow path cast by the Moon’s shadow.

But sometimes the alignment is such that the Moon only partially covers the Sun’s disc. Such a partial eclipse occurred on Saturday for observers located primarily in northern and eastern Europe, northern parts of North America, and some northern locations in Asia.

ESA’s Sun-watching Proba-2 satellite orbits Earth about 14.5 times per day and with its constant change in viewing angle, it dipped in and out of the Moon’s shadow twice during Saturday’s eclipse.

Selected views of the two partial eclipses are seen side-by-side here – the first (left) was captured at 08:40:12 GMT and the second (right) at 10:32:17 GMT on 11 August.

The images were taken by the satellite’s SWAP camera, which works at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths to capture the Sun’s hot turbulent atmosphere – the corona – at temperatures of about a million degrees, which can be seen in the background.

Watch the full image sequence here.

Image: ESA/Royal Observatory of Belgium

A Bit of Asteroid Itokawa

Along with the likes of the Cassini and Rosetta missions we have the history making Hayabusa Mission. The mission actually returned a sample from the asteroid Itokawa and the mission at least for me showcases the resilience of the JAXA mission team (see the section “Changes in mission plan” in the provided link.

The image above was released yesterday 01 Aug 2018 by ESA.

Here’s the caption included in the release:

ESA: Seen on a microscopic support, this sharp-edged grain of rock is an extraterrestrial object – a tiny sample from the Itokawa asteroid, retrieved by Japan’s Hayabusa mission and now being tested by ESA researchers.

Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft was the world’s first mission to retrieve samples from the surface of an asteroid and return them to Earth. Beset by many problems, after a seven-year, six-billion-km odyssey Hayabusa returned around 1 500 precious asteroid grains to Earth.

Extremely precious, these Hayabusa grains have become the focus of scientific study around the world – and three of them are currently here, at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.

Researcher Fabrice Cipriani is leading research into their static charging properties, to understand the consequences for the surface environments of asteroids.

FENIX The Little Boosters That Can

I love this idea!

ESA: Sometimes the key to innovation is staying simple. Italian tech company D-Orbit applied this principle to their winning product submitted to last year’s Space Exploration Masters.

The competition encourages ideas to solve some of the space industry’s main challenges while fostering products and services with commercial potential.

In the case of D-Orbit’s Fenix propulsion system, the idea was both simple and small. The pen-sized booster prototype, is just 10 cm long and 2 cm wide – allowing small satellites to work smarter and explore farther.

The 10 x 10 x 10 cm CubeSats are deployed directly into orbit from space. They currently have no propulsion system to change orbit or deorbit at the end of their missions. With the FENIX, CubeSats could be employed for longer missions farther out in space.

Each of the four boosters is packed with solid propellant that provides thrust which is triggered by a simple electrical ignition system. The boosters can be configured at each corner of the CubeSat or doubled up on either side. Thanks to their lightweight and compact size, they do not take up much instrument space.

With space exploration opening for business, technologies like Fenix have the potential to expand our horizons farther out in space. CubeSats can take on more sophisticated missions if they can manoeuvre in orbits – such as studying the Moon and asteroids from different angles.

In low Earth orbit, the boosters can deorbit the CubeSats at the end of their missions to help reduce space debris.

D-Orbit won a four-month ticket to test their prototype on the newly-installed ICE Cubes facility in the Columbus module of the International Space Station. The team will test the booster’s safe ignition mechanism inside an ICE cube experiment unit, without firing the actual propulsion system, to ensure that it works and is safe under space conditions.

Sensors and cameras will record the sparks, triggered by an electrical impulse, and the team can observe the testing anytime, anywhere, thanks to ICE Cubes dedicated control centre providing continuous remote access for users on ground. Fenix is set for launch to the Space Station by the end of next year.

Do you have an idea with commercial potential that could innovate space exploration? Submit it to the Space Exploration Masters challenge.

Image: ESA

The First P120C Hot Fire

Very impressive! It sounds like the test went fine here are the ESA comments:

Today’s hot firing of the P120C solid-propellant motor at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana proves its flight-worthiness for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020.

This marks an important milestone in the development schedule of Europe’s new-generation launchers, designed to boost our autonomy in the space arena, and maintain Europe’s global competitiveness.

The test lasted 140 seconds with the motor delivering a maximum thrust of 4650 kN, simulating the complete burn time from liftoff and through the first phase of flight.

No anomalies were seen and the performance met expectations, though full analysis will take several months.

The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in (44.3 ft by 12.8 ft) diameter and is made using a carbon composite material and built in one segment. It will replace the current P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.

This test was a collaboration between ESA, France’s CNES space agency, and Europropulsion under contract to Avio and ArianeGroup.

The next static firing will occur at the end of this year with the P120C qualification motor.

The Giant PC120C

Meet the giant PC120C; the world’s largest solid rocket motor in once piece and it’s ready for a test fire.

ESA: This week, the largest solid rocket motor ever (built in one piece) will be test fired at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana for the first time.

This important milestone validates the booster for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020.

Fully loaded with solid fuel, the P120C rocket motor common to Europe’s future launchers Vega-C and Ariane 6, will be held vertically in the test stand and ignited. Sensors will gather about 600 measures during the test.

The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter, contains 142 tonnes of solid propellant and provides a maximum thrust of 4615 kN (in vacuum) over a burn time of about 135 s.

The design builds on existing expertise and lessons learned with Vega’s P80 first stage motor. P120C will replace P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.

All main components of the motor such as nozzle, igniter, solid propellant, and insulated motor case have already been tested separately. This static firing will prove these technologies, materials and production techniques in combination and validate the behaviour of the assembled motor.

The test stand with the tools and equipment that will secure the P120C for its test firing, have had to be modified or developed to accommodate this huge motor.

Recently a full-scale model of the P120C filled with inert propellant allowed engineers to verify tools, check connections and perfect procedures.

Information gathered during this static firing will allow engineers to compare their numerical models against observed reality to consolidate the P120C design.

This will guide the design of the P120C qualification motor that will be static fired at the end of the year.

Image: ESA

Aeolus Mission

The Aeolus satellite has reached Europe’s spaceport near Kourou in preparation for a scheduled launch on 21 August 2018. The satellite traveled by ship from Saint Nazare, western France to the Port of Cayenne, French Guiana.

The satellite should provide data on global wind-profiles especially those vertical portions in the lower 30 km. The data on the famous El Nino should be very interesting.

ESA’s Lunar Agenda

The approach ESA is taking is sound, it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

ESA: This image of the Moon was taken by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station during his Horizons mission. But he’s not the only one to be eyeing the Moon these days.

From 3 to 5 July, ESA is hosting a workshop on lunar exploration at its technical heart in the Netherlands. Building on ESA’s commitment to sustainable exploration, the workshop brings space experts and industry together to talk lunar resources and how to use them to return humanity to the Moon and farther afield.

For humans to live and work on the Moon and beyond, we need oxygen and water for life support as well as fuel and materials to build habitats and equipment. Launching these bulky consumables would cost the kind of money and energy that makes human exploration of the Solar System unsustainable.

Instead, ESA is looking into the capabilities that would allow humans to harness lunar resources for humanity’s sustainable return to the Moon. The approach is known as In-Situ Resource Utilisation. Put simply, it means extracting and processing resources on site to make useful products and services.

Last year, service providers with like-minded ideas were invited to take place in a one-year study exploring what a collaborative and commercially viable mission to the Moon would look like.

During this week’s workshop ESA is continuing this discussion with experts, industry officials, and potential new partners by exploring the technological readiness, commercial viability, legal status, and international context for lunar resource use.

In the meantime, the humans closest to our rocky satellite – astronauts on the International Space Station – are testing technologies such as remotely operating robots to take us a step closer to our next outpost in space.

Image: ESA / NASA

Stellar Bubble

ESA: This turbulent celestial palette of purple and yellow shows a bubble of gas named NGC 3199, blown by a star known as WR18 (Wolf-Rayet 18).

Wolf-Rayet stars are massive, powerful, and energetic stars that are just about reaching the end of their lives. They flood their surroundings with thick, intense, fast-moving winds that push and sweep at the material found there, carving out weird and wonderful shapes as they do so. These winds can create strong shockwaves when they collide with the comparatively cool interstellar medium, causing them to heat up anything in their vicinity. This process can heat material to such high temperatures that it is capable of emitting X-rays, a type of radiation emitted only by highly energetic phenomena in the Universe.

This is what has happened in the case of NGC 3199. Although this kind of scenario has been seen before, it is still relatively rare; only three other Wolf-Rayet bubbles have been seen to emit X-rays (NGC 2359, NGC 6888, and S308). WR18 is thought to be a star with especially powerful winds; once it has run out of material to fuel these substantial winds it will explode violently as a supernova, creating a final breath-taking blast as it ends its stellar life.

This image was taken by the European Photon Imaging Camera (EPIC) on ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory, and marks different patches of gas in different colours. The incredibly hot, diffuse, X-ray-emitting gas within the Wolf-Rayet bubble is shown in blue, while a bright arc that is visible in the optical part of the spectrum is traced out in shades of yellow-green (oxygen emission) and red (sulphur emission).

This blue and yellow-green component forms an optical nebula – a glowing cloud of dust and ionised gases – that stretches out towards the western end of the X-ray bubble (in this image, North is to the upper left). This lopsided arc caused astronomers to previously identify WR18 as a so-called runaway star moving far faster than expected in relation to its surroundings, but more recent studies have shown that the observed X-ray emission does not support this idea. Instead, the shape of NGC 3199 is thought to be due to variations in the chemistry of the bubble’s surroundings, and the initial configuration of the interstellar medium around WR18.

Image: SA/XMM-Newton; J. Toalá; D.Goldman


Stellar Nursery

The Herschel Observatory is still responsible for great science even after the four or five-years or so since the end of the mission.

ESA — Stellar nurseries are cloudy and dusty places that shine brightly in infrared light. The G305 star-forming complex is no exception. It features a number of bright, intricate gas clouds heated by infant stars in their midst. In this spectacular image by ESA’s Herschel space observatory, these star-forming hotspots stand out in a blue tone that contrasts with the red-brownish colour of cooler regions.

While there are several star-formation sites dotted throughout this scene, the most striking ones surround the dark, heart-shaped area in the top right of the image. Hidden at the centre of the dark region lie the massive star WR48a and its two neighbours, stellar clusters Danks 1 and 2. All three play an important role in triggering the formation of new stars, even if they themselves are relatively young objects no older than a few million years (for comparison, the Sun is around 4.6 billion years old).

Strong winds and radiation from WR48a and the high-mass stars in the two clusters have pushed away the gas remnants from the cloud where they originated. The swept-away gas, gathered together at the edge of the heart-shaped bubble, is now forming new stars.

Using Herschel, astronomers have identified 16 sites where high-mass stars are forming in this stellar nursery. The region is one of the brightest and most plentiful star-forming complexes in the Milky Way, and an ideal ground to observe and study massive stars at different stages of formation and evolution.

The G305 complex is about 12 000 light-years away and gets its name from its location at around 305º longitude in the plane of our Galaxy. In the night sky, it appears near the Coalsack Nebula, a large interstellar cloud of dust visible to the naked eye and located in the constellation of Crux, the Southern Cross. A very prominent dark nebula, Coalsack shows up in the southern skies as a black patch against the bright, starry backdrop of the Milky Way.

This image, obtained as part of Hi-GAL – the Herschel infrared Galactic Plane Survey, combines observations at three different wavelengths: 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red).

Launched in 2009, Herschel operated for four years observing at far infrared and submillimetre wavelengths. This spectral range allowed it to observe the glow of dust in gas clouds where stars are born to investigate this process and observe their early evolution.

Image: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/Hi-GAL Project. Acknowledgement: UNIMAP / L. Piazzo, La Sapienza – Università di Roma; E. Schisano / G. Li Causi, IAPS/INAF, Italy