Arianespace Launch VA249

Another great launch although I was holding my breath as it seemed to take a while for it to get going.

Arianespace is set to launch Intelsat 39 and EDRS-C; both are communications satellites.

Spaceport: Guiana Space Center (Kourou, French Guiana)

Launch Vehicles: Ariane 5 ECA

According to Arianespace the targeted geostationary orbit has a perigee altitude of 250 km an apogee altitude of 35,786 km with an inclination of 4.5 degrees.

Arianespace published the following time table noting launch will be as soon as possible after the opening of the launch window:

Between 3:30 p.m. and 5:51 p.m. Washington DC time

Between 4:30 p.m. and 6:51 p.m. Kourou, French Guiana time

Between 19:30 and 21:51: Universal Time (UTC)

Between 9:30 p.m. and 11:51p.m. Paris time

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).

Parker Data Download

Thanks to the Deep Space Network data from two solar flybys by the Parker Solar Probe is on the ground.

The image above is just a screenshot (from Sarah Frazier). You can go to the Deep Space Network site and get the current activity and information on what spacecraft is currently communicating, click on the dish with the wavy lines.

We should getting hints of the results shortly.

NASA / John Hopkins APL:

As NASA’s Parker Solar Probe approaches its third encounter with the Sun, mission scientists are hard at work poring over data from the spacecraft’s first two flybys of our star — and thanks to excellent performance by the spacecraft and the mission operations team, they’re about to get something extra.

On May 6, 2019, just over a month after Parker Solar Probe completed its second solar encounter, the final transmission of 22 gigabytes of planned science data — collected during the first two encounters — was downlinked by the mission team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, in Laurel, Maryland.

This 22 GB is 50% more data than the team had estimated would be downlinked by this point in the mission — all because the spacecraft’s telecommunications system is performing better than pre-launch estimates. After characterizing the spacecraft’s operations during the commissioning phase, which began soon after launch, the Parker mission team determined that the telecom system could effectively deliver more downlink opportunities, helping the team maximize the download of science data.

The team has capitalized on the higher downlink rate, instructing Parker Solar Probe to record and send back extra science data gathered during its second solar encounter. This additional 25 GB of science data will be downlinked to Earth between July 24 and Aug. 15.

“All of the expected science data collected through the first and second encounters is now on the ground,” said Nickalaus Pinkine, Parker Solar Probe mission operations manager at APL. “As we learned more about operating in this environment and these orbits, the team did a great job of increasing data downloads of the information gathered by the spacecraft’s amazing instruments.”

There are four instrument suites on Parker, gathering data on particles, waves, and fields related to the Sun’s corona and the solar environment. Scientists use this information — gathered closer to the Sun than any previous measurements — along with data from other satellites and scientific models to expand on what we currently know about the Sun and how it behaves. Data collected during the first two perihelia will be made available to the public later this year.

Parker Solar Probe continues on its record-breaking exploration of the Sun with its third solar encounter beginning Aug. 27, 2019; the spacecraft’s third perihelion will occur on Sept. 1.

By Geoff Brown

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

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

InSight’s Drill – The Mole

The InSight team is trying to get the “Mole” to carry on sinking itself into the Martian soil. This image from NASA/JPL-Caltech on 25 July 2019.

Progress halted shortly after the probe was deployed. Speculation is the probe came upon a rock it could not compensate for.

A plan was devised and has been put into action. Will it work?

Basically the support structure was lifted out of the way by InSight revealing an interesting scenario and it could be a compaction problem:

NASA (click here): Scientists and engineers have been conducting tests to save the mole at JPL, which leads the InSight mission, as well as at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which provided HP3. Based on DLR testing, the soil may not provide the kind of friction the mole was designed for. Without friction to balance the recoil from the self-hammering motion, the mole would simply bounce in place rather than dig.

One sign of this unexpected soil type is apparent in images taken by a camera on the robotic arm: A small pit has formed around the mole as it’s been hammering in place.

“The images coming back from Mars confirm what we’ve seen in our testing here on Earth,” said HP3 Project Scientist Mattias Grott of DLR. “Our calculations were correct: This cohesive soil is compacting into walls as the mole hammers.”

The team wants to press on the soil near this pit using a small scoop on the end of the robotic arm. The hope is that this might collapse the pit and provide the necessary friction for the mole to dig.

It’s also still possible that the mole has hit a rock. While the mole is designed to push small rocks out of the way or deflect around them, larger ones will prevent the spike’s forward progress. That’s why the mission carefully selected a landing site that would likely have both fewer rocks in general and smaller ones near the surface.

The robotic arm’s grapple isn’t designed to lift the mole once it’s out of its support structure, so it won’t be able to relocate the mole if a rock is blocking it.

The team will be discussing what next steps to take based on careful analysis. Later this month, after releasing the arm’s grapple from the support structure, they’ll bring a camera in for some detailed images of the mole.

The Red Soil of Duluth

That’s Duluth MARS. Easy to see how Mars got the moniker “the red planet”.

NASA: This close-up image is of a 2-inch-deep hole produced using a new drilling technique for NASA’s Curiosity rover. The hole is about 0.6 inches (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. This image was taken by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sol 2057. It has been white balanced and contrast-enhanced.

Curiosity drilled this hole in a target called “Duluth” on May 20, 2018. It was the first rock sample captured by the drill since October 2016. A mechanical issue took the drill offline in December 2016.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had to innovate a new way for the rover to drill in order to restore this ability. The new technique, called Feed Extended Drilling (FED) keeps the drill’s bit extended out past two stabilizer posts that were originally used to steady the drill against Martian rocks. It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like a human would while drilling into a wall at home.

Image Credit: NASA