All posts by Tom

Ariane V Launchers

Solid history.

ESA: If it wasn’t for launch capabilities we would never have delved deep into the echo of the Big Bang nor lived out the adventures of Rosetta and Philae at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Nor would we have captured some of the Universe’s most energetic phenomena, or be on our way to the innermost planet of the Solar System. Some of ESA’s biggest science missions only got off the ground – literally – thanks to the mighty Ariane 5, one of the most reliable launchers that gives access to space from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

ESA has been using the Ariane family of launch vehicles right back since Ariane 1, which launched the comet-chaser Giotto, ESA’s first deep space mission, in 1985. Later, the astrometry satellite Hipparcos rode into space on an Ariane 4 in 1989 and the Infrared Space Observatory launched in 1995.

One of the first Ariane 5 flights took XMM-Newton into space twenty years ago, in December 1999 (leftmost image). The X-ray space observatory is an impressive workhorse, enabling ground-breaking discoveries on a range of cosmic mysteries from enigmatic black holes to the evolution of galaxies across the Universe.

SMART-1, Europe’s first mission to the Moon, got its ride to space in 2003 (second image from left). It was used to test solar electric propulsion and other technologies, while performing scientific observations of the Moon. BepiColombo launched in 2018 (far right) on the 101st Ariane 5 launch; it is using electric propulsion, in combination with planetary gravity assists, to reach Mercury.

In between, Rosetta began its ten year journey through the Solar System starting with a boost into space on an Ariane 5 (middle image), and in 2009 Herschel and Planck shared a ride on the same launcher (second from right) from which they would both proceed to the second Lagrange point, L2, 1.5 million km from Earth in the opposite direction to the Sun, to reveal the Universe in new light. Observing in infrared wavelengths, Herschel unlocked the secrets of how stars and galaxies form and evolve, while Planck captured the most ancient light in the Universe, released only 380 000 years after the Big Bang, in greater detail than ever, shedding light on our 13.8 billion year long cosmic history.

Europe’s next generation launchers, including Ariane 6, will provide new opportunities for ESA’s upcoming science missions to fulfil their scientific goals from their various viewpoints in our Solar System.

Rockets are the backbone of all space-based endeavours. ESA in partnership with industry is developing next-generation space transportation vehicles, Ariane 6, Vega-C, and Space Rider. At Space19+, ESA will propose further enhancements to these programmes and introduce new ideas to help Europe work together to build a robust space transportation economy. This week, take a look at what ESA is doing to ensure continued autonomous access to space for Europe and join the conversation online by following the hashtag #RocketWeek

Under the InSight Lander

I always wondered what it looked like under the InSight Lander since it used thrusters to land.

Here we see the “pits” left by the thrusters, I’m actually surprised at how contained they are, figuring the surface would be more scoured out than it is.

The image above is a NASA contrast enhanced version to make the pits really show up. Here is the non-contrast enhanced image:

Thanks NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Here’s the original caption from NASA:

Thrusters under NASA’s InSight lander churned up soil during landing on Mars. This contrast-enhanced image, Figure 1, which has not been color-corrected, shows two pits excavated by the thrusters.

This image was taken by the Instrument Deployment Camera on InSight’s robotic arm. It was taken on Dec. 14, 2018, the 18th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Switzerland, Imperial College and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the wind sensors.

For more information about the mission, go to

SpaceX Launch Live

Mission: RADARSAT Constellation (Deployment at about T +54 mins)

Spaceport: Vandenberg AFB California – Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E)

Launch window open: 14:17 UTC / 10:17 ET

Launch window close: 14:30 UTC / 10:30 ET

Alternate window is 24 hours later (on 13 June)

Reused Falcon 9? Yes, it was the Crew Dragon 1st stage in March 2019.

Landing attempt? Yes and at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) at Vandenberg Air Force Base! Should get some good looks at it.

Replays later in the day.

Good luck SpaceX!

Hubble’s Look at NGC 7773

Very nice look at NGC 7773 from Hubble.

NASA: This striking image was taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), a powerful instrument installed on the telescope in 2009. WFC3 is responsible for many of Hubble’s most breathtaking and iconic photographs.

Shown here, NGC 7773 is a beautiful example of a barred spiral galaxy. A luminous bar-shaped structure cuts prominently through the galaxy’s bright core, extending to the inner boundary of NGC 7773’s sweeping, pinwheel-like spiral arms. Astronomers think that these bar structures emerge later in the lifetime of a galaxy, as star-forming material makes its way towards the galactic center — younger spirals do not feature barred structures as often as older spirals do, suggesting that bars are a sign of galactic maturity. They are also thought to act as stellar nurseries, as they gleam brightly with copious numbers of youthful stars.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is thought to be a barred spiral like NGC 7773. By studying galactic specimens such as NGC 7773 throughout the universe, researchers hope to learn more about the processes that have shaped — and continue to shape — our cosmic home.

Text credit: ESA (European Space Agency)
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Walsh

Mt Etna from Space

One of the worlds most famous (or infamous) volcanoes, this is the view of the recent eruption of Mt. Etna in Italy.

There is a larger version available from NASA – click here. Don’t worry if you have a slower connection, it’s not huge.

NASA: The most recent eruption of Mt. Etna, Italy, began May 30, 2019. New fissure vents opened on the New Southeast Crater, feeding two lava flows that moved down into the Valle del Bove, accompanied by loud explosions. By June 4, when this nighttime ASTER thermal image was acquired, eruption activity had ended.

With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of about 50 to 300 feet (15 to 90 meters), ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched Dec. 18, 1999, on Terra. The instrument was built by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A joint U.S./Japan science team is responsible for validation and calibration of the instrument and data products.

The broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution of ASTER provides scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring of dynamic conditions and temporal change. Example applications are monitoring glacial advances and retreats; monitoring potentially active volcanoes; identifying crop stress; determining cloud morphology and physical properties; wetlands evaluation; thermal pollution monitoring; coral reef degradation; surface temperature mapping of soils and geology; and measuring surface heat balance.

The U.S. science team is located at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The Terra mission is part of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

More information about ASTER is available at Credit:NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Commercial Use of ISS

NASA discusses using the International Space Station for commercial business so U.S. industry innovation and ingenuity can accelerate a thriving commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.

I’m not totally sure how I feel about some aspects of this.

Satellite Hurricane Tracking

The hurricane season for North and Central America began on 01 June, here’s how NASA’s Earth observatories keep an eye on things.

There are “crazy” people who fly into hurricanes to get detailed information too, but that’s another story.

ESA’s New Rides

It’s the Vega-C an updated version of the tried and true Vega offering more capacity with more power and the Ariane-6. I can’t wait to watch the Ariane-6 take off, it’s the predecessor to the powerhouse Ariane-5 heavy lift rocket.

Way to go ESA!!

China’s Sea Launch

Date: 05 June 2019

Rocket: Long March – 11

Launch area: Yellow Sea (off Shandong Province)


Five (5) commercial satellites

Two (2) technology experimental satellites


Do you have any favorite music scores you listen to while traveling about? NASA has a long tradition of using music on their missions, notably to awaken space-fairing travelers.

They are looking for suggestions to add to the old eight-track player. Ok no eight-track player, some readers may not even know what that is. Just as well, but if you must know, go here.

You can still buy them (used of course).

So here you go, BE SURE TO READ THE RULES at the end!

NASA: Music has been interwoven throughout spaceflight history, from pre-launch songs to shuttle wake-up calls to crewmembers playing instruments on the International Space Station. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, we’re also preparing to go back to the Moon by 2024, which means astronauts will have a non-stop journey of approximately 3 days each way – the ultimate long-distance travel. Just like any road trip needs a soundtrack, so does a spaceflight! If you were making the journey, what favorite song would you be sure to include on your playlist? Let us add it to ours! Tell us on Twitter with the hashtag #NASAMoonTunes or submit via this form

Submit your suggestion from June 3-June 28 — the same time frame in which Apollo 11 astronauts were making final preparations for their mission 50 years ago. Liftoff of our playlist will be on July 13 and 14 and will air during a live show on NASA’s Third Rock Radio, just a few days prior to the Apollo 11 launch anniversary!

Third Rock Radio


Facebook: @thirdrockradionasa

Twitter: @ThirdRockRadio

NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Facebook: @NASAJSC

Twitter: @NASA_Johnson

The rules:

1. Songs with explicit titles, lyrics and themes will not be accepted for addition to the playlist. NASA is for everyone – let’s make sure our playlist is too.

2. Only songs published on official music streaming services at the time of the acceptance period will be added to the playlist. A user may not submit song lyrics or unpublished music from sites such as SoundCloud, YouTube, Bandcamp, MixCloud or other user-uploaded content websites.

3. Only songs with the hashtag #NASAMoonTunes on Twitter and submissions via the above form will be accepted.

4. Third Rock Radio has the flexibility to select which songs will air from the proposed list. There is no requirement or obligation to play any specific song from the playlist, and there is no guarantee that each song submitted will be aired live. Want to know if your submission made the cut? Don’t miss the live show!