Category Archives: ESA

ExoMars Coming Together

Look at that clean-room! Brings back memories; I worked in a clean-room (not that one) years ago.

ESA: The ExoMars landing platform Kazachok is seen here atop of the rear jacket of the descent module, during integration activities in Turin, Italy.  A front shield will also be placed on top.
The descent module is also now integrated with the carrier module will move on to Cannes, France for environmental testing, while the Rosalind Franklin rover undergoes environmental testing in Toulouse, France.

Tbanks to ESA and Thales Alenia Space for the nice image.

Way to Go!

Congrats to Judith de Santiago who won the “under 18” ESA 3D printing competition! Very pleased to see. Thanks to J. Santiago and ESA for the image.

ESA: Judith de Santiago, winner of the under 18 category of ESA’s lunar 3D printing competition, with the printed version of her design: a dodecahedron (or 12-sided) plant pot.

While studying lunar base concepts ESA ran a competition, asking: what would you 3D print on the Moon, to make it feel like home?

Judith, a student from Madrid, Spain, proposed a pot for plants that would be cherished on a Moon base, incorporating symbols of Earth: “The blue curves of the bottom represent the waves of the sea, and the badge with a small plant located at the centre, inspired by Disney’s movie WALL·E, represents the Earth in general.”

Judith ensured her design was realistic by designing it in a 3D printing format.

“I first got interested in 3D printing two years ago when my high school got a new 3D printer,” Judith explains. “We were talking about future printers and what they have in mind to do with them such us using them for medical situations or maybe to build houses or even more! 

“I remember my first 3D prototype: that day I was learning how to draw in a new app and I told my father to choose a random item. That’s how I did a coke can, then I sent it to my tech teacher to print it for me and the result was amazing.

“Since then I’ve been learning how to use the different apps to create from basic figures to replace some broken pieces. Finally, I got a small 3D printer for my birthday so I could keep practicing.”

As a prize, Judith received this prototype version of her design BeeVeryCreative in Portugal, part of the URBAN consortium of companies overseeing ESA’s ‘Conceiving a Lunar Base Using 3D Printing Technologies’ project: “It is exactly as I imagined it to be – I was very excited to see it.”

The competition received more than a hundred entries from adults and children across the world with other ideas including a mobile lampshade to generate Earth-like colours, an hourglass filled with lunar dust, a glass model of Earth including realistic night lighting, proposals for statues and game boards – not to mention a few suggestions to print a 3D printer.

The adult category was won by visual artist Helen Schell from the UK, proposing a ‘magic Moon garden’, printed from recycled coloured plastics.

XMM-Newton’s Look at M83

ESA: This colourful spread of light specks is in fact a record of extremely powerful phenomena taking place in a galaxy known as Messier 83, or M83. Located some 15 million light-years away, M83 is a barred spiral galaxy, not dissimilar in shape from our own Milky Way, and currently undergoing a spur of star formation, with a handful of new stars being born every year.

While the starry pattern of spiral arms is barely visible in this X-ray view obtained by ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory, this kaleidoscopic image tells a different story about the stellar remnants in this galaxy.

Most of the dots in this view represent the end points of the life cycle of stars, including remnants of supernova explosions and binary systems featuring compact stellar remnants like neutron stars or black holes that are feeding on matter from a companion star. In particular, the large speck to the lower left of the galaxy’s central region is what astronomers call an ultra-luminous X-ray source, or ULX, a binary system where the compact remnant is accreting mass from its companion at a much higher rate than an ordinary X-ray binary.

The highly energetic phenomena that can be observed with X-ray telescopes often undergo regular changes, on time scales of days or even hours, turning the X-ray sky into a spectacular light show. An animated version of this image, based on XMM-Newton data gathered on six occasions – January 2003, January and August 2014, February and August 2015, and January 2016 – is available here.

The sources located in the reddish area at the centre of the image correspond to objects located in the inner portions of M83. The majority of sources scattered across the image are located in the outskirts of the galaxy, but a few of those are foreground stars in our own galaxy, and others correspond to more distant galaxies in the background.

This RGB image combines nine XMM-Newton observations performed between 2003 and 2016 at energies of 0.2–2 keV (shown in red), 2–4.5 keV (shown in green), and 4.5–12 keV (shown in blue).

A study of 189 X-ray sources in M83, based on data from XMM-Newton, was presented in a paper by L. Ducci and collaborators in 2013.

Thanks to: ESA/XMM-Newton – Acknowledgement: S. Carpano, Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

Parabolic Flight #72

The perception portion seems quite interesting. Free floating and no visual references relative to distance, oh yeah it’s easy to see how to see this is relevant to humankind’s future in space.

ESA: Engineers, pilots, researchers and scientists convened in Bordeaux, France, for ESA’s 71st parabolic flight campaign. Over the course of three days they flew on a specially-fitted commercial aircraft, testing equipment and running research as the pilots put the plane through repeated parabolas, giving the passengers and their experiments brief bouts of microgravity.

ESA’s project coordinator Neil Melville introduces the experiments that flew on this campaign, from plasma to granular physics and heat pipes.

Parabolic flights are one of many platforms ESA offers for European researchers to run experiments for spaceflight. These flights are one of the few that allow the researchers to interact with their own experiments “hands-on” in a weightless environment. Send a proposal through our continuously open research announcements and you could be flying on the next campaign.

It’s a plage – oh my

Oh wait a plage not a plague. Must be I am all obsessed with the book I’m reading, it’s about the cholera outbreak in 1854 London (The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson).

Actually I’ve seen a few of these in the past few months from monitoring SolarHam.

ESA: This image shows a snippet of the Sun up close, revealing a golden surface marked by a number of dark, blotchy sunspots, curving filaments, and lighter patches known as ‘plages’ – brighter regions often found near sunspots. The width of the image would cover roughly a third of the diameter of the solar disc. 

It was captured in 2015 from the site of the European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC) in Madrid, Spain, using a Solarmax 90 H-alpha telescope (9 cm in diameter) and a QHY5-II monochromatic camera. A grayscale 283-second video was initially created of the solar surface, and the best 30% of these 8222 frames were then combined and coloured to produce this image.

The part of the Sun shown here is known as the chromosphere (literally ‘sphere of colour’), one of the three main layers comprising our star. This layer sits just above the photosphere, the visible surface of the Sun with which we are most familiar. When viewed using a H-alpha telescope, as seen here, the chromosphere can reveal myriad intriguing features decorating the whole solar disc.

Sunspots are not permanent fixtures on the Sun. They exist for days or weeks at a time, and come about as intense magnetic fields become twisted and concentrated in a given place, stifling the flow of energy from the Sun’s interior to the surface. This leaves sunspots cooler than their surroundings, causing their darker appearance, while gas continues to flow both beneath and around these areas of magnetic disruption. 

The ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) mission, launched in 1995, has probed deeper into these features, characterised the flows in and around the spots themselves, and found that they form as magnetic fields break through the visible surface of the Sun. The work of missions such as SOHO will be continued by ESA’s upcoming Solar Orbiter, the first medium-class mission selected for ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Programme

Solar Orbiter will explore how the Sun creates and manipulates a patch of space known as the heliosphere – a bubble blown by the solar wind, an ongoing stream of charged particles heading out from the Sun into the Solar System. The mission will also clearly image the solar poles for the first time, and track magnetic activity as it builds up and gives rise to powerful flares and eruptions. Planned for launch in February 2020, Solar Orbiter will make significant breakthroughs in our understanding of how our host star works.

Read more about the Solar Orbiter testing campaign

NGC 3432 Edge-on

Great image thanks to ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Filippenko, R. Jansen; CC BY 4.0. Clicking the image should show a larger version,

ESA: Believe it or not, this long, luminous streak, speckled with bright blisters and pockets of material, is a spiral galaxy like our Milky Way. But how could that be? 

It turns out that we see this galaxy, named NGC 3432, orientated directly edge-on to us from our vantage point here on Earth. The galaxy’s spiral arms and bright core are hidden, and we instead see the thin strip of its very outer reaches. Dark bands of cosmic dust, patches of varying brightness, and pink regions of star formation help with making out the true shape of NGC 3432 — but it’s still somewhat of a challenge! Because observatories such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have seen spiral galaxies at every kind of orientation, astronomers can tell when we happen to have caught one from the side. 

The galaxy is located in the constellation of Leo Minor (The Lesser Lion). Other telescopes that have had NGC 3432 in their sights include those of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), and the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).

The Ice Cube

Using a Raspberry Pi? Very cool indeed!

ESA: A compact experiment aimed at enhancing cybersecurity for future space missions is operational in Europe’s Columbus module of the International Space Station, running in part on a Raspberry Pi Zero computer costing just a few euros.“

Our CryptIC experiment is testing technological solutions to make encryption-based secure communication feasible for even the smallest of space missions,” explains ESA software product assurance engineer Emmanuel Lesser. “This is commonplace on Earth, using for example symmetric encryption where both sides of the communication link share the same encryption key.“

In orbit the problem has been that space radiation effects can compromise the key within computer memory causing ‘bit-flips’. This disrupts the communication, as the key on ground and the one in space no longer match. Up to now this had been a problem that requires dedicated – and expensive – rad-hardened devices to overcome.”

Satellites in Earth orbit might be physically remote, but still potentially vulnerable to hacking. Up until recently most satellite signals went unencrypted, and this remains true for many of the smallest, cheapest mission types, such as miniature CubeSats

But as services delivered by satellites of all sizes form an increasing element of everyday life, interest in assured satellite cybersecurity is growing, and a focus of ESA’s new Technology Strategy for this November’s Space19+ Ministerial Council.

CryptIC, or Cryptography ICE Cube, – the beige box towards the top of the image, has been a low-cost development, developed in-house by ESA’s Software Product Assurance section and flown on the ISS as part of the International Commercial Experiments service – ICE Cubes for short. ICE Cubes offer fast, simple and affordable access for research and technology experiments in microgravity using compact cubes. CryptIC measures just 10x10x10 cm.“

A major part of the experiment relies on a standard Raspberry Pi Zero computer,” adds Emmanuel. “This cheap hardware is more or less flying exactly as we bought it; the only difference is it has had to be covered with a plastic ‘conformal’ coating, to fulfil standard ISS safety requirements.”

The orbital experiment is operated simply via a laptop at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands, routed via the ICE Cubes operator, Space Applications Services in Brussels.“

We’re testing two related approaches to the encryption problem for non rad-hardened systems,” explains ESA Young Graduate Trainee Lukas Armborst. “The first is a method of re-exchanging the encryption key if it gets corrupted. This needs to be done in a secure and reliable way, to restore the secure link very quickly. This relies on a secondary fall-back base key, which is wired into the hardware so it cannot be compromised. However, this hardware solution can only be done for a limited number of keys, reducing flexibility.“

The second is an experimental hardware reconfiguration approach which can recover rapidly if the encryption key is compromised by radiation-triggered memory ‘bit flips’. A number of microprocessor cores are inside CryptIC as customisable, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), rather than fixed computer chips. These cores are redundant copies of the same functionality. Accordingly, if one core fails then another can step in, while the faulty core reloads its configuration, thereby repairing itself.”

In addition the payload carries a compact ‘floating gate’ dosimeter to measure radiation levels co-developed by CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, as part of a broader cooperation agreement

And as a guest payload, a number of computer flash memories are being evaluated for their orbital performance, a follow-on version of ESA’s ‘Chimera’ experiment which flew on last year’s GomX-4B CubeSat.

The experiment had its ISS-mandated electromagnetic compatibility testing carried out in ESTEC’s EMC Laboratory.“

CryptIC has now completed commissioning and is already returning radiation data, being shared with our CERN colleagues,” adds Emmanuel. “

Our encryption testing is set to begin in a few weeks, once we’ve automated the operating process, and is expected to run continuously for at least a year.”

Image: ESA

Warm Stretch

It has been a warm/hot stretch of weather! Here’s a heat map made with modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO). I am expecting 30 deg (C) today too.

ESA: An extreme heatwave has hit Europe once again this week, following June’s hot spell. High temperatures are expected to peak today, reaching as high as 39—40°C, with Netherlands, Belgium and Germany recording their highest ever temperatures. Paris reached a sweltering 41°C, breaking its previous record in 1947.

The map has been generated using the Copernicus Sentinel-3’s Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer. Whereas weather forecasts use predicted air temperatures, the satellite measures the real amount of energy radiating from Earth – therefore this map better represents the real temperature of the land surface. Clouds are visible in white in the image, while the light blue represent snow-covered areas.

In many countries, red heat warnings have been issued, including Italy, Spain and France and civilians are advised to avoid travelling and stay hydrated.

See an animation showing the land surface temperature from 25 July, compared to data recorded during the previous heatwave on 26 June 2019, here.