10May2012
 European

Divers Resume Work at Chelyabinsk Meteorite Fall Site

The largest-discovered fragment of a Russian meteorite, weighing around 570 kilograms, lifted from the bed of Lake Chebarkul. Credit: RIA Novosti

Work of divers has resumed on Lake Chebarkul at the Chelyabinsk meteorite fall site. The operation was suspended Tuesday because of a strong wind, frost of 15 degrees and silt in the waterThat made searching below the depth of nine meters practically impossible. Divers worked very intensively last weekend, the director-general of the Aleut service for special works, which had won the tender to raise meteorite fragments, Nikolai Murzin, told Itar-Tass on Saturday. Divers together with scientists completed mapping of anomalies on the bottom.

This Saturday, divers have begun to examine the bottom with special probes. Murzin said that this season they were to examine 12 anomalies in two zones of about 300 and 50 sq m. One of the anomalies indicates there may be a meteorite fragment weighing several tonnes, a scientist at the Geophysics Institute of the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Arkady Ovcharenko, has told Itar-Tass.
 
The largest fragment raised last year weighed 570 kilogrammes. It was found near the main anomaly, the scientist said. The Chelyabinsk meteorite came into Earth’s atmosphere on February 15, 2013, at about 07:10 Moscow time, with a powerful explosion in the atmosphere at an altitude of 30-50 km, which was seen by hundreds of thousands of people in the Ural region and northern Kazakhstan. Many fragments fell onto the Chelyabinsk Region. Largest fragments fell in the area of Lake Chebarkul, 78 km west of Chelyabinsk.Credit: ITAR-TASS
 

Europe’s IXV Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator Ready for Final Tests

IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle), the European Space Agency’s atmospheric reentry demonstrator. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

 IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle), the European Space Agency’s atmospheric reentry demonstrator developed by Thales Alenia Space, has finished development, and is now completing integration at Thales Alenia Space’s clean rooms in Turin. The spacecraft will be delivered to ESA’s ESTEC center in the Netherlands, where it will undergo final testing before being shipped to the launch site at the Guiana Space Center (CSG), Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The IXV demonstrator features advanced aerodynamics due to its lifting body design, which also maximizes maneuverability. It is fitted with a sophisticated guidance, navigation and control system that uses automated control surfaces during the atmospheric reentry phase., plus a heat shield to withstand the searing heat of reentry.

Thales Alenia Space Italia is in charge of the IXV vehicle design, development and integration and heads a consortium of the main European industries, research centers and universities. Italy holds the leading role. The project was strongly supported by the Italian Space Agency, which also provides technical assistance to the project and contributes to both the ground segment, with the Malindi base services, and the mission control, with its own equipment placed at the disposal of the Altec Mission Control Center. This to confirm that reentry systems are of top priority in space development in Italy. The launch, using Europe’s new Vega light launcher, is scheduled for October 2014.
 
The IXV will separate from Vega at an altitude of 320 kilometers, then continue its ascent to 412 kilometers. It will then begin its reentry, during which experimental data will be collected by the spacecraft’s complete instrument suite. During atmospheric reentry, it will reach a speed of approximately 7.7 km/s at an altitude of 120 km, a typical profile for reentry from low Earth orbit (for example, from the space station’s orbit).
 
The mission will last approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. Following the parachute descent phase, it will culminate with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, where the spacecraft will be recovered by a specially equipped ship. The ground segment is being developed at the same time. The Mission Control Center, developed and operated by ALTEC in Turin, will be at the heart of the entire mission.

“The design and construction of this technology demonstrator clearly establishes Thales Alenia Space as the European benchmark in space transport and reentry systems,” said Luigi Maria Quaglino, Senior Vice President for Exploration and Science at Thales Alenia Space. “It also paves the way for further developments leading to next-generation systems.” Credit: thalesgroup.com

 Poland to Host Mars Rover Competition in September

Credit: ERC

 If you want to see Mars rovers at work you don’t have to fly to Red Planet, you just need to catch a plane to Poland, because that’s where the rovers are going to be this September.

They’ll be battling for fame and great prizes. That’s right, the University Rover Challenge comes to Europe for the first time and the rover teams will compete in Mars-exploration themed tasks on Polish soil. “Our efforts have at last convinced Mars Society authorities to place European Rover Challenge (ERC) in Poland” Łukasz Wilczyński, CEO of Planet PR, ERC’s public relations agency, told astrowatch.net. “Years-long work of Mars Society Polska, high standard of Polish engineers and students. Robotic exploration becomes one of Polish specialities and our activities have caused the international acknowledgement.”

ERC will be organized by Mars Society Polska, in cooperation with ABM Space Education, the Austrian Space Forum, the Regional Science-Technology Centre in Chęciny and the Marshal Office of the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship. The Challenge will be held at the Regional Science-Technology Centre in Podzamcze, from September 5th to 7th. The core of the Challenge are four practical tasks: a science task based on obtaining and analyzing samples, a “blind” navigation task, in which the team will have to guide the rover to a certain destination using just GPS coordinates and no camera input, and two engineering tasks which will require using and repairing equipment. During all of the tasks, the teams will have to control their rovers without seeing them directly. A fifth task, which is also scored and equally important for success, is a presentation before the judges during which the teams explain the way their rover project was conducted.

 “The ERC is a European variation of the prestigious University Rover Challenge, organized in the USA by The Mars Society – a contest that has seen a number of successful Polish teams.” explained Adam Jarubas, the Marshall of the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship. “We are very happy that this year the students can compete in Poland, at our Regional Science-Technology Centre. The project fits right into our Regional Innovation Strategy.”

 Poland is the country that dominated the University Rover Challenge last year when Hyperion Team (Białystok University of Technology) won the competition, and Scorpio 3 (Wrocław University of Technology) took 2nd place. Białystok University of Technology also won the URC in 2011 and finished 3rd in 2010. Three teams from Poland are already registered in the ERC. First registered was Scorpio Project from Wrocław University of Technology. Recently the organizers received applications from MS Rover Team, representing Czestochowa University of Technology and Team Impuls from Kielce. There are also applications from Egypt, India, Germany and Colombia.

 The ERC 2014 will be accompanied by a Convention attended by world class space researchers, as well as a Science Picnic. “Simultaneously with the Challenge, we’ll host an European Mars Conference on the topic ‘Humans in Space’, intended for experts who share the vision of a manned flight to Mars, as well as for other professionals (e.g. members of the space industry, the medical industry, academics from other fields), and entrepreneurs. Everyone will also have a chance to see many different experiments and scientific demonstrations in the tents of the nearby Science Picnic. There’ll be something for audiences of all ages and tastes.” said Mateusz Józefowicz, Chairman of Mars Society Polska, the ERC organizers.

UK Alerted After Unidentified Object Plummets to Earth from Space

Credit: Sarah-Jane Stanley

 Mystery objects have been seen high in the sky above Gloucester, UK to put UFO spotters in the area on high alert. Hucclecote mum Sarah-Jane Stanley was out walking in Churchdown on Sunday.During the evening she caught sight of a mysterious object plummeting towards earth. Sarah quickly grabbed her camera to record the moment. She said: “I didn’t think anything of it and took the photo as a general sunset picture. Then my 11-year-old daughter and I realised it was moving.

“I looked through my camera lens on full zoom and it appeared to have something at the tip of it and it was clearly visible on a downward descent. The object is spinning and glowing. “I took around 15 clear photos in all, with some exactly a minute apart, and you can see how fast it is travelling by the distance it falls on each picture.  “On one of the pictures, there appear to be two tails coming from whatever it is. Crazy although it sounds, it seems to be shaped like a claw and there is something glowing on it. 

“I sent the larger photos to the Met Office as I wondered if it was something weather related. They came back to me and said their forecasters say it is not a weather phenomenon and looks like something entering the Earth’s atmosphere. “They suggested I contact the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which I have and am waiting to hear back from.” The same object was spotted by Andrew Hill who took the photo from Haresfield Beacon on Sunday evening. Credit: gloucestercitizen.co.uk

 UK Boosts Support for Square Kilometre Array and PLATO Mission

Artist's impression of the Square Kilometre Array at night. Visible in the image are two different types of dishes and an array of antennae on the ground, which will combine to provide astronomers with an unprecendented view of the radio sky. Credit: SKA Organisation

 The UK Science Minister, David Willetts MP, today announced a total of £113 million of new funding to support UK involvement in the world’s most powerful radio telescope and a new space mission that will search for Earth-like planets around other stars. The radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is under development in South Africa and Australia, with its headquarters at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in Manchester. When it begins full operations in 2025, SKA will have thousands of individual receivers with a total collecting area of one square kilometre, making it the most sensitive radio telescope yet built. SKA antennae will spread out for at least 3000 km from the ‘cores’ in Australia and South Africa, giving radio astronomers a view of the sky’s southern hemisphere in unprecedented detail.

In his speech, David Willetts pledged £88 million of investment for the construction of the SKA, boosting UK involvement in the project. The Minister also announced £25 million of investment in the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars(PLATO) mission, a European Space Agency space observatory that will use a suite of telescopes to search for and analyse rocky planets in orbit around other stars. After PLATO is launched in 2024, space scientists and astronomers will use it to try to find planets similar to the Earth, not just in size but with the other characteristics that could make them habitable.

Professor David Southwood, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, welcomed the new funding: ”This is great news for astronomers and space scientists. UK researchers have been at the cutting edge of radio astronomy since Jodrell Bank was set up after the Second World War. The new investment in SKA recognises this strength.  “PLATO is a mission that will help us find where our Earth and Sun sit in the universe. Do other planets and stars exist that could sustain life like that here? The observatory is a big step not just for space astronomers – it will drive the work of observatories on the ground as well.

“The UK is one of the best places in the world to do astronomy. When our scientists have the opportunity to work on inspiring projects on the ground and in space and in the process solve enormously complex engineering and scientific challenges, it helps us retain that leading position.”  Credit: ras.org.uk

Robotic Exploration of Moon and Mars a Priority for Roscosmos

Artist's rendering of Luna-25 moon lander. Credit: Roscosmos

The head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said that developing technologies for robotic exploration of the moon and Mars is a priority. Oleg Ostapenko said in an interview.

hes aid to state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the agency would boost its unmanned space probe efforts ahead of three missions to the moon. The first mission, the long-delayed Luna-25, is slated to launch in 2016 and land at the moon’s south pole.

The next two missions will include an orbiter to monitor the moon in 2018 and a polar lander with a drill to search for water ice in 2019. Subsequent missions are planned to deploy a robotic base on the moon and bring lunar soil back to Earth for analysis. Ostapenko was appointed head of Roscosmos in October amid a shakeup of the country’s space industry following a string of failures of launch vehicles and spacecraft. Fobos-Grunt, the country’s most recent interplanetary probe, was intended to return soil from the Martian moon Phobos to Earth but failed shortly after launch in 2011. Credit: RIA Novosti

Russia Begins Large-Scale Reform of Space Industry

Credit: ITAR-TASS/Sergey Fadeichev

 The United Rocket and Space Corporation has been registered in Russia, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “The United Rocket and Space Corporation has been registered! We are beginning a large-scale reform of the domestic space industry,” he wrote. In Desember 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree establishing the United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) on the basis on the Research Institute of Space Instrument-making.

 In line with the decree that was published on the official Internet portal of legal information, a number of federal state unitary enterprises of the space sector were to be reformed as open joint-stock companies with 100 percent of their stock owned by the federal government. These stakes minus one share in each of them were to be transferred to the authorized capital of the United Rocket and Space Corporation.

 The company includes most companies and design bureaus, save for some defence companies. The corporation will consist of nine federal unitary enterprises to be turned into open joint-stock companies. The URSC’s authorized capital will also include the shares of 13 other companies.

 United Rocket and Space Corporation plans to acquire a controlling interest in rocket-engine manufacturer Energia, of which the Russian government already owned a 38 percent interest as of August 2013. Credit: ITAR-TASS

ESA Selects Planet-Hunting PLATO Mission

The PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission will identify and study thousands of exoplanetary systems, with an emphasis on discovering and characterising Earth-sized planets and super-Earths. It will also investigate seismic activity in stars, enabling a precise characterisation of the host sun of each planet discovered, including its mass, radius and age.  Plato is ESA’s third medium-class science mission and is planned for launch by 2024. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

 A space-based observatory to search for planets orbiting alien stars has been selected today as ESA’s third medium-class science mission. It is planned for launch by 2024. 

The PLATO – Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars – mission was selected by ESA’s Science Programme Committee for implementation as part of its Cosmic Vision 2015–25 Programme. The mission will address two key themes of Cosmic Vision: what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life, and how does the Solar System work? PLATO will monitor relatively nearby stars, searching for tiny, regular dips in brightness as their planets transit in front of them, temporarily blocking out a small fraction of the starlight.

By using 34 separate small telescopes and cameras, PLATO will search for planets around up to a million stars spread over half of the sky. It will also investigate seismic activity in the stars, enabling a precise characterisation of the host sun of each planet discovered, including its mass, radius and age. When coupled with ground-based radial velocity observations, PLATO’s measurements will allow a planet’s mass and radius to be calculated, and therefore its density, providing an indication of its composition.

The mission will identify and study thousands of exoplanetary systems, with an emphasis on discovering and characterising Earth-sized planets and super-Earths in the habitable zone of their parent star – the distance from the star where liquid surface water could exist. “PLATO, with its unique ability to hunt for Sun–Earth analogue systems, will build on the expertise accumulated with a number of European missions, including CoRot and Cheops,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

“Its discoveries will help to place our own Solar System’s architecture in the context of other planetary systems. “All M3 mission candidates presented excellent opportunities for answering the major scientific questions that define our Cosmic Vision programme.” The four other mission concepts competing for the M3 launch opportunity were: EChO (the Exoplanet CHaracterisation Observatory), LOFT (the Large Observatory For x-ray Timing), MarcoPolo-R (to collect and return a sample from a near-Earth asteroid) and STE-Quest (Space-Time Explorer and QUantum Equivalence principle Space Test).

PLATO joins Solar Orbiter and Euclid, which were chosen in 2011 as ESA’s first M-class missions. Solar Orbiter will be launched in 2017 to study the Sun and solar wind from a distance of less than 50 million km, while Euclid, to be launched in 2020, will focus on dark energy, dark matter and the structure of the Universe. PLATO will be launched on a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou by 2024 for an initial six-year mission. It will operate from L2, a virtual point in space 1.5 million km beyond Earth as seen from the Sun. Data from ESA’s recently launched Gaia mission will help PLATO to provide precise characteristics of thousands of exoplanet systems. These systems will provide natural targets for detailed follow-up observations by future large ground- and space-based observatories. Credit: ESA

Baikonur Space Center Head Quits

Yevgeny Anisimov. Credit: TSENKI

 The head of Russia’s Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan has quit, a spokesperson for the country’s Federal Space Agency said Tuesday. Yevgeny Anisimov stepped down from the post for personal reasons and will likely be reappointed to a position at Russia’s space launch coordination body – Center for managing ground and space infrastructure (TSENKI), which incorporates Baikonur and Yuzhny space center, spokeswoman Irina Zubareva said.

The change of job for Anisimov was linked to disagreements he has had with senior officials at the Federal Space Agency, or Roscosmos, according to a report in Russia’s Kommersant newspaper Tuesday. Anisimov was in fact summoned to Roscosmos headquarters in Moscow and pressured to sign a letter of resignation, Kommersant said, citing unnamed sources at the agency.

Anisimov had worked at Baikonur for almost 30 years, and was made head of the space center in 2010. The current head of Roscosmos, Oleg Ostapenko, was appointed to the position last year after his predecessor was criticized for a series of failed space launches and a corruption scandal around the Glonass satellite navigation program. Credit: RIA Novosti

Rosetta’s Journey Into the Unknown

Artist’s impression of the Rosetta orbiter at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The image is not to scale; the Rosetta spacecraft measures 32 m across including the solar arrays, while the comet nucleus is thought to be about 4 km wide. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab

 ESA’s comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft has been woken up from 31 months of deep-space slumber. So far, the journey to the comet has taken ten years, some of which the probe has had to travel in energy-saving mode – a kind of hibernation – on account of the vast distances involved. During this period, it has had to fend for itself and survive without any assistance. Radio contact was rendered impossible because of a lack of solar energy. After course correction in May, the probe will be set to rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August, enter into its orbit – which is just a few kilometres across – and accompany it as it heads towards the Sun over the following months.

This is both a pioneering achievement and a journey into the unknown. “Nobody knows exactly how large or sturdy the comet is,” said Tommy Strandberg, an engineer at Airbus Defence and Space. “What we do know is that the comet’s gravitational pull is only around a millionth of that of the Earth. Without frequent course corrections, it would probably be almost impossible to keep Rosetta in orbit.”

“Please be our eyes and ears and nose, and follow where the comet goes. Go on Rosetta – help us see our proto-genealogy.” Wrote Max Pudney, who was inspired by the successful wake-up of the comet chasing probe.

This a real journey into our unknown beginnings. As the most primitive objects in the Solar System, comets carry essential information about our origins. Their chemical compositions have not changed much since their formation, therefore reflecting that of the Solar System when it was very young and still ‘unfinished’, more than 4600 million years ago.

Rosetta will also help to discover whether comets contributed to the beginnings of life on Earth. Comets are carriers of complex organic molecules, delivered to Earth through impacts, and perhaps played a role in the origin of life. Moreover, volatile light elements carried by comets may also have played an important role in forming Earth’s oceans and atmosphere.

“The Rosetta mission features an array of pioneering achievements, with many technologies and methods being used for the first time. It’s an unprecedented undertaking in the history of spaceflight and one that is designed to deliver new insights into the origins of life on Earth,” says a proud Gunther Lautenschläger, project manager at Airbus Defence and Space.

Barring any complications, the scientists will be able to study the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko over the weeks that follow, keeping an eye out for a suitable place for the Philae lander to put down. Up to now Philae has been along for the ride, waiting for the moment when it will land on the comet in November.

Designed with an operating life of six months, the lander will carry out tests on the mysterious matter of comets. But all that time, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will be getting closer and closer to the Sun and the rising temperatures will cause more and more matter to vaporise, forming the comet’s signature tail. Just how long Philae will be able to withstand this turbulent ride is unclear.

Airbus Defence and Space is ESA’s industrial prime contractor for this mission, and the project was run from Friedrichshafen. Astrium UK was responsible for the architectural design of the Rosetta platform, the solar panels and the complex propulsion system, while Astrium France supplied the avionics and Astrium Spain the medium gain antenna system. In total, an industrial team comprising more than 50 subcontractors from 15 countries was involved in the Rosetta mission.

Space Capsule That Will Fly Indian Astronauts

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After its Mars mission, India now aims to puts humans into space. The first steps towards flying Indian astronauts into space could be taken in weeks. Its a bold stepup. The Indian astronaut capsule has been unveiled for the very first time. If all goes as per plan in the first experimental flight of India’s latest monster rocket, the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III is likely to be tested as early as May or June from Sriharikota.

It could see this astronaut module being flown into space for the very first time, but in a sub-orbital flight. In its first test flight no crew or any animals are likely to be flown.

“Only re-entry technologies and flight dynamics will be tested and the capsule will be recovered 400-500 kilometers away from Port Blair in the Bay of Bengal,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K Radhakrishnan told NDTV.

ISRO has been dreaming of putting an Indian into space using an Indian rocket launched from India soil. ISRO has sought funding worth Rs. 12,500 crores from the government for the program. It says once the approval comes, an Indian astronaut can be flown in a low Earth orbit in about seven years from the time the approval comes from the government.

When it happens, India’s human space capsule could be sent on a seven day mission for two-three astronauts in a low Earth orbit of 300-400 kilometers above earth.

Till date only Russia, USA and China have successfully flown astronauts into space with the latest entrant being China in 2003.

The outer skeleton of Indian human space capsule has been fabricated by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore and was handed over to ISRO which developed it. HAL says the first Crew Module will be further equipped with systems necessary for crew support, navigation, guidance and control systems by ISRO for experimentation in the forthcoming GSLV-MK3 launch.

“HAL takes pride in the India’s space programmes and our Aerospace Division has produced this Crew Module in a record time to meet the requirements of ISRO”, said Dr RK Tyagi, Chairman, HAL.

While the government has hesitated to clear a hefty bill of Rs. 12,500 crores as desired by ISRO for its human space flight program, but so that there are no delays in the development work the Indian government has already sanctioned Rs. 145 crores for the development of what it calls ‘critical technologies’.   NDTV

Search for Chelyabinsk Meteor Bits to Be Over by Spring 2014

600kg fragment of the Chelyabinsk Meteorite at the Chelyabinsk Regional History Museum. Credit: ITAR-TASS/Gleb Lunin

 The search party looking for heavy fragments of the Chelyabinsk meteor, which still remain in Lake Chebarkul in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region, is to be completed by March 1. This is according to the CEO of the Aleut Corporation Nikolai Murzin told Itar-Tass on Thursday. Earlier, the company managed to pull from the lake the biggest, 600 kg sunken meteorite fragment. “We have already pitched our tents up on the lake’s frozen surface and started the search, which we plan to complete by March 1.

It usually takes much time to search for meteorite remains on the lake’s bottom with our custom equipment. The lake is now covered with ice and we can place the equipment steadily on a particular spot on the surface.

When the water is clear of ice, it is different, because the waves keep tossing the boat with the equipment, so the search radius is constantly altering. That is why it is better to conduct such research in winter”, he explained. The meteor, measuring about 17 meters in size, entered the Earth’s atmosphere on February 15, 2013. Most of its fragments left from the explosion that followed fell on the territory of Russia’s Chelyabinsk region.

The head of the theoretical physics department of the Chelyabinsk State University, Alexander Dudorov, recalled that the biggest fragment recovered so far weighed 654 kilograms. The chunk was recovered from the bottom of Chebarkul Lake, some 60km west of Chelyabinsk. An operation to recover fragments of the meteorite from the lakebed began in late September 2013. Credit: ITAR-TASS

ESA’s Billion-Star Surveyor Sends Test Image

A Gaia test image of the young star cluster NGC1818 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, taken as part of calibration and testing before the science phase of the mission begins. The field-of-view is 212 x 212 arcseconds and the image is approximately oriented with north up and east left. The integration time of the image was 2.85 seconds and the image covers an area less than 1% of the full Gaia field of view. Credit: ESA/DPAC/Airbus DS

 ESA’s billion-star surveyor Gaia is slowly being brought into focus. This test image shows a dense cluster of stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. Once Gaia starts making routine measurements, it will generate truly enormous amounts of data. To maximise the key science of the mission, only small ‘cut-outs’ centred on each of the stars it detects will be sent back to Earth for analysis.

This test picture, taken as part of commissioning the mission to ‘fine tune’ the behaviour of the instruments, is one of the first proper ‘images’ to be seen from Gaia, but ironically, it will also be one of the last, as Gaia’s main scientific operational mode does not involve sending full images back to Earth. Gaia was launched on 19 December 2013, and is orbiting around a virtual point in space called L2, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth.

Gaia’s goal is to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way. It will make precise measurements of the positions and motions of about 1% of the total population of roughly 100 billion stars in our home Galaxy to help answer questions about its origin and evolution. Repeatedly scanning the sky, Gaia will observe each of its billion stars an average of 70 times each over five years. In addition to positions and motions, Gaia will also measure key physical properties of each star, including its brightness, temperature and chemical composition.
 
To achieve its goal, Gaia will spin slowly, sweeping its two telescopes across the entire sky and focusing the light from their separate fields simultaneously onto a single digital camera – the largest ever flown in space, with nearly a billion pixels. But first, the telescopes must be aligned and focused, along with precise calibration of the instruments, a painstaking procedure that will take several months before Gaia is ready to enter its five-year operational phase.
Artist's impression of Gaia. Credit: ESA–D. Ducros

Artist’s impression of Gaia. Credit: ESA–D. Ducros

As part of that process, the Gaia team have been using a test mode to download sections of data from the camera, including this image of NGC1818, a young star cluster in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The image covers an area less than 1% of the full Gaia field of view. The team is making good progress, but there is still work to be done to understand the full behaviour and performance of the instruments. While all one billion of Gaia’s target stars will have been observed during the first six months of operations, repeated observations over five years will be needed to measure their tiny movements to allow astronomers to determine their distances and motions through space.
 

As a result, Gaia’s final catalogue will not be released until three years after the end of the nominal five-year mission. Intermediate data releases will be made, however, and if rapidly changing objects such as supernovae are detected, alerts will be released within hours of data processing. Eventually, the Gaia data archive will exceed a million Gigabytes, equivalent to about 200 000 DVDs of data. The task of producing this colossal treasure trove of data for the scientific community lies with the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium, comprising more than 400 individuals at institutes across Europe. Credit: ESA

Arianespace Successfully Launches ABS-2 and Athena-Fidus Satellites

Ariane 5 rocket successfully launches ABS-2 and Athena Fidus satellites. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

 Arianespace opened a busy year of mission activity in 2014 with another Ariane 5 success Thursday that added key numbers to the company’s commercial launch services track record. This 250th launch performed by Arianespace lifted off from the Spaceport in French Guiana at 6:30 p.m. local time, delivering a dual-satellite payload into geostationary transfer orbit: ABS-2 for global satellite operator ABS, and Athena-Fidus for the defense/homeland security needs of France and Italy. The mission’s duration was just over 32 minutes. Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël said the ambitious launch manifest is a challenge that Arianespace is ready to meet.

Recognizing the Spaceport’s launch teams, he noted their role in maintaining the quality, reliability and availability of the company’s Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega launcher family in a time of increased competition. “My satisfaction is all the greater that tonight’s mission is the very symbol of Arianespace’s dual raison d’être,” he explained in post-launch comments. “Arianespace provides Europe with a guaranteed and independent access to space; while at the same time it delivers high-quality launch services to commercial satellite operators worldwide.”
 
Released first during Flight VA217 was the ABS-2 relay spacecraft, which had a mass at liftoff of approximately 6,330 kg. and was the first satellite for which ABS directly awarded the launch contract – selecting Arianespace. As a result, Arianespace continued its support of new and developing communications market entrants, with more than 80 percent of satellite telecommunications operators selecting the company for their first launch milestones – placing the emphasis on quality, reliability and availability.
 
ABS-2 was produced by SSL (Space Systems/Loral) and will deliver optimized telecommunications, direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting, multimedia, and data transmission services for Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Its operational geostationary orbital slot will be at 75° East. ABS-2 is the 43rd satellite built by Space Systems/Loral to be launched by Arianespace. 
 
Deployed at the conclusion of Flight VA217 was the Athena-Fidus payload – the 50th satellite launched by Arianespace for European defense purposes. Thales Alenia Space built the 3,080-kg.-category spacecraft as prime contractor to customer Telespazio, working on behalf of the French CNES and Italian ASI space agencies, as well as the French DGA and Italian Segredifesa defense ministry organizations. Athena-Fidus is to deliver telecommunications services to both armed forces and homeland security units in France and Italy, operated from a geostationary orbit position of 38° East.
Athena-Fidus satellite. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

Athena-Fidus satellite. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

It is the 130th payload built by Thales Alenia Space and launched by Arianespace. In orbiting Athena-Fidus, Arianespace opened a key year at the service of European institutions. Included in the company’s planned 2014 mission manifest are flights for the European Commission’s Galileo and Copernicus flagship programs, along with launches with the European Space Agency’s final Automated Transfer Vehicle and the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) atmospheric reentry demonstrator.
 

The launch was the 216th flight of an Ariane-series vehicle. It marked the 72nd Ariane 5 mission overall, and the 58th consecutive success for Arianespace’s workhorse heavy-lift vehicle. The next Arianespace mission is planned for March 7, using another Ariane 5 to orbit the ASTRA 5B and Amazonas 4A relay satellites. Amazonas 4A – built by Orbital Sciences Corporation for Hispasat – arrived in French Guiana this week aboard a cargo jetliner. Credit: arianespace.com

Meteorite May Have Landed in Finland

A fireball camera recorded a bright flash early Sunday morning in Helsinki’s Pukinmäki district. Image: Esko Lyytinen / Ursa

 Separate fireball observations early Sunday morning have caused some to wonder whether a meteorite may have landed in Finland. The Ursa Astronomical Association says a meteorite hasn’t been recovered in Finland for decades. Ursa’s Marko Pekkola says that as of yet, there is no certainty whether the flash was the result of a fireball, but the presumption is strong. “We only see two or three fireballs that bright each year. Finland hasn’t collected a meteorite that has fallen to the Earth in over 40 years, so it would be fantastically great to find one,” he says.

A fireball is formed when an object falls to the Earth from space, for example, when a stone the size of a fist reaches the Earth’s atmosphere. The flash on Sunday morning was captured by two different fireball cameras, one in Helsinki and the other in Siuntio. The flash could also have been caused by cloud lightning, but the people at Ursa says it is doubtful because cloud lightning does not usually appear as widely as the light phenomenon observed on Sunday.
 
Observations made in Lohja saw the fireball even more distinctly, as the weather was clearer there. No meteorite search parties have been organised, however. “A very rough preliminary model suggests a trajectory towards the Porvoo or Sipoo archipelago, but our indications are really so obscure that we can’t rely on them to find it,” says Pekkola.
 

Pekkola says Finland is a difficult country for finding fallen meteorites. “We have broad areas that are virtually uninhabited and people aren’t spending extended periods out and about in nature anymore. This, plus a difficult terrain of marshes, lakes, forests and lots of undergrowth, means that things are very hard to find.” And even if someone found the meteorite, it is not entirely clear if he or she could keep it. “The Museum of Natural History would probably offer a finder’s fee, but there’s no saying if you get to keep a meteorite if you find one,” says Pekkola. Credit: yle.fi

Russia Successfully Launches Progress Resupply Spacecraft to ISS

The ISS Progress 54 resupply spacecraft, loaded with 2.8 tons of cargo, launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:23 a.m. EST Wednesday. Credit: Roscosmos

 The ISS Progress 54 resupply spacecraft, loaded with 2.8 tons of cargo, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:23 a.m. EST Wednesday (10:23 p.m. Baikonur time) to begin a 6-hour, 4-orbit trek to the International Space Station. At the time of launch of Progress 54 atop its Soyuz rocket, the station was orbiting 262 statute miles over far western Kazakhstan near the border with Russia. Once the Progress reached its preliminary orbit about nine minutes after launch, it was less than 1,750 miles behind the complex.

A series of thruster firings by the Russian space freighter during the next several hours will adjust the orbit to put the Progress on track for its rendezvous with the station and an automated docking to the Earth-facing port of the Pirs docking compartment at 5:25 p.m. NASA Television coverage of the docking begins at 4:45 p.m.
 
Aboard the station, Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin will use the Telerobotically Operated Rendezvous Unit, or TORU, to monitor the approach and docking of Progress 54. The crew can use TORU to remotely guide the cargo craft to its docking port in the event that its Kurs automated rendezvous system experiences a problem. The new Progress is loaded with 1,764 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen, 926 pounds of water and 2,897 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and other supplies for the Expedition 38 crew. The crew will open the hatch to Progress Thursday morning to begin unloading the cargo. Progress 54 is slated to spend about two months docked to the complex before departing to make way for ISS Progress 55.
 
The ISS Progress 52 cargo craft, which undocked from Pirs on Monday, is in the midst of several days of tests to study the thermal effects of space on its attitude control system before it is ultimately de-orbited Feb. 11 for a fiery demise over the Pacific. While they await the arrival of Progress 54, the astronauts and cosmonauts of the Expedition 38 crew will focus on a variety of science and maintenance tasks. The launch, televised live, was the first of over three dozen scheduled for the Russian space program this year.
 

Progress is one of five unmanned vehicles to have visited the station, along with the Japanese HTV, European ATV and American Cygnus and Dragon spacecraft. Progress freighters have been launched more than 130 times since their debut in 1972 with only one failure, including over 50 missions to the ISS. Credit: NASARIA Novosti

ISRO Unveils Space Capsule That Will Fly Indian Astronauts

On behalf of HAL, quality documents were handed over by  Dr. Jeyakar Vedamanickam, GM, Aerospace Division, HAL (left) to Shri John. P. Zachariah, Director (R&D), VSSC in the backdrop of the Crew Module Structure. Credit: HAL

 After its Mars mission, India now aims to puts humans into space. The first steps towards flying Indian astronauts into space could be taken in weeks. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has handed over the first “Crew Module Structural Assembly” for the “Human Spaceflight Program” to Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bangalore, recently. If all goes as per plan in the first experimental flight of India’s latest monster rocket, the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III is likely to be tested as early as May or June from Sriharikota. It could see this astronaut module being flown into space for the very first time, but in a sub-orbital flight. In its first test flight no crew or any animals are likely to be flown.

“Only re-entry technologies and flight dynamics will be tested and the capsule will be recovered 400-500 kilometers away from Port Blair in the Bay of Bengal,” ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan told NDTV. ISRO has been dreaming of putting an Indian into space using an Indian rocket launched from India soil. ISRO has sought funding worth Rs. 12,500 crores from the government for the program. It says once the approval comes, an Indian astronaut can be flown in a low Earth orbit in about seven years from the time the approval comes from the government.

When it happens, India’s human space capsule could be sent on a seven day mission for two-three astronauts in a low Earth orbit of 300-400 kilometers above earth.Till date only Russia, USA and China have successfully flown astronauts into space with the latest entrant being China in 2003. The outer skeleton of Indian human space capsule has been fabricated by HAL and was handed over to ISRO which developed it. HAL says the first Crew Module will be further equipped with systems necessary for crew support, navigation, guidance and control systems by ISRO for experimentation in the forthcoming GSLV-MK3 launch.
 
“HAL takes pride in the India’s space programmes and our Aerospace Division has produced this Crew Module in a record time to meet the requirements of ISRO”, said Dr RK Tyagi, Chairman, HAL. Earlier also HAL has contributed in the India’s space programmes such as “ISRO’s Mars Mission” by providing Satellite Structure, Propellant Tankages and supplied thirteen types of riveted structural assemblies, seven types of welded propellant tankages which include the cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks and cryogenic stage structures for GSLV D5. While the government has hesitated to clear a hefty bill of Rs. 12,500 crores as desired by ISRO for its human space flight program, but so that there are no delays in the development work the Indian government has already sanctioned Rs. 145 crores for the development of what it calls ‘critical technologies’. Credit: hal-india.comndtv.com

European Astronomers Discover New Comet

Orbit of comet P/2014 C1 TOTAS. Credit: TOTAS

 A team of European astronomers has found a previously unknown comet, detected as a tiny blob of light orbiting our Sun deep in the Solar System. Europe’s Teide Observatory Tenerife Asteroid Survey team has been credited with discovering comet P/2014 C1, named ‘TOTAS’ in recognition of the teamwork involved in the find. The comet was unexpectedly discovered on 1 February during a routine set of observations using the 1 m-diameter telescope at ESA’s Optical Ground Station, Tenerife, Spain.

The confirmation was announced by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, the international clearing house for all such discoveries, on 4 February, after eight other observatories confirmed the sighting. The tiny object is extremely faint, and its orbit was determined to lie between Jupiter and Mars – it will not come close to Earth.
 
Comet P/2014 C1 (TOTAS) seen by the FRAM telescope (MPC code I47) on 4 February 2014. Image comprises a stack of four base images and is centred on the comet. FRAM is 0.3-m Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, f/10 with a CCD camera MII G2-1600. FRAM is located at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina. Credit: FRAM/GLORIA/Martin Masek http://gloria.fzu.cz/en/

Comet P/2014 C1 (TOTAS) seen by the FRAM telescope (MPC code I47) on 4 February 2014. Image comprises a stack of four base images and is centred on the comet. FRAM is 0.3-m Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, f/10 with a CCD camera MII G2-1600. FRAM is located at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina. Credit: FRAM/GLORIA/Martin Masek http://gloria.fzu.cz/en/

 “All comets are interesting especially as they are thought to have played a role in bringing water to Earth in the distant past,” says Detlef Koschny, responsible for near-Earth object (NEO) activities at ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme office. “Later this year, Rosetta will meet up with another comet, 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and study its nucleus and surrounding gas and dust, so it’s especially fitting that a European team has found a new comet this year.”
 
This latest discovery was, in fact, made by software, which compares successive images to find ‘movers’ – objects that move against the star field background. The find was confirmed by Rafal Reszelewski, working as part of the team to verify possible new objects automatically flagged by the software. Since 2010, the TOTAS team has been working in collaboration with ESA’s SSA office to conduct periodic sky surveys to find and confirm asteroids and other NEOs that orbit close to Earth. In 2011, it found asteroid 2011 SF108, which does orbit much closer to Earth. Credit: ESA

ExoMars Spacecraft to Go on Martian Mission in January 2016

ESA's ExoMars Rover. Credit: ESA

 A spacecraft built for the Russian-European ExoMars project will begin its voyage to Mars in January 2016, Director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Lev Zelyony told Interfax-AVN. “In all, there will be four stages in this project. An orbiter designed by the European Space Agency will be launched with a Russian Proton-M LV and a Briz-M upper stage in the period from January 7 to January 27, 2016.

The spacecraft will arrive in the Martian orbit in October 2016. It will be carrying a number of our and European instruments and a small craft, which will be airdropped to the planet,” the scientist said. The vehicle will spend two weeks on the planet’s surface.The second stage of the mission is scheduled for 2018. “We will contribute a Proton-M launch vehicle, a Briz-M upper stage and a landing platform, which will bring a rover to Mars. The rover will be carrying a Russian payload, too,” Zelyony said. The orbiter launched in 2016 will be transmitting data from the rover to the Earth. “Initially, the orbiter will be doing measurements and after the rover and the landing platform touch down in 2018 some of the orbiter’s resources will be used to transmit their data,” he added.Credit: interfax.com

Russian Progress M-20M Spacecraft Burns Up Over Pacific

Russian Progress M-20M spacecraft. Credit: NASA TV

 A Russian Progress-M spacecraft burned up over the Pacific Ocean Tuesday evening in a planned descent following a successful mission to the International Space Station. Remnants of the craft that were not destroyed during the controlled re-entry crashed into an isolated area of the Pacific, a spokesman for Russia’s Mission Control said. The Progress M-20M delivered over two metric tons of cargo to the station in July. It undocked early last week to free up a port for another Progress space freighter, which arrived last Wednesday.

Scientific equipment on board the departing craft continued to make measurements over the past week as part of an experiment to characterize the station’s gravitational environment. Data about vibrations aboard the ISS during events such as spacewalks and the undocking of spacecraft could help in the analysis of other ongoing experiments aboard the ISS. The unmanned Progress cargo spacecraft is not designed to survive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. It has flown over 130 missions with just one failure since its debut in 1978 and has delivered supplies to four space stations – Salyut 6, Salyut 7, Mir and the ISS.Credit: RIA Novosti

  ESA Astronaut Ready to Become the First Italian Woman in Space

Samantha Cristoforetti reviewing procedures before the start of the scenario. Credit: GCTC

 The “Futura” mission ISS Expedition 42/43, to which the Air Force pilot Captain Samantha Cristoforetti will be taking part – the seventh Italian astronaut up till now.

She’s also the first Italian woman that will go to space – was officially unveiled January 22 at Palazzo Chigi in Rome during a crowded press conference. “It is a great joy for me to be here today, and it will be a great honour to be part of this mission to the ISS” Cristoforetti said.

“I feel very calm, in my everyday life I live the preparation with commitment but also with joy, knowing that I have the privilege of being part of an extraordinary group that has extraordinary opportunities”. She will board a Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft at the end of November, and will fly to the ISS from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Cristoforetti was selected as an ESA astronaut in May 2009. She joined ESA in September 2009 and completed basic astronaut training in November 2010. She was assigned to this year’s mission in July 2012.

The logo of the mission was officially unveiled during the press conference as the winner of the ‘contest’ organized by Italian Space Agency (ASI) “Disegna la Missione di Samantha Cristoforetti” ["Draw the Mission of Samantha Cristoforetti"]. It represents – as seen to the left – a ‘stylized’ ISS and its imaginary orbit around the Earth, with a rising sun and a canopy of stars in the background. This was created by Valerio Papeti, a young graduated in the Academy of Fine Arts in Turin.

The logo has been chosen from competition entries asking for a design that captured the elements of her mission: research, discovery, science, technology, exploration, wonder, adventure, travel, excellence, teamwork, humanity, enthusiasm, dreams and nutrition. “I derive a strong sense of purpose from being part of the space community, as we build a future in space for we human beings.

The name Futura for me is about our collective journey towards that future.” Cristoforetti said. “The logo beautifully represents that momentum, that voyage of discovery. As a European of Italian nationality, I am especially proud of Europe’s and Italy’s contribution to this endeavour and I am happy to see Europe’s outline and the Italian colours in the design.” Cristoforetti is now training for her mission on Station systems, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, robotics and spacewalks. During the six months she stays on the space laboratory she will run new international experiments and continue the research of her astronaut colleagues.

 
Samantha Cristoforetti during fire evacuation scenario. Credit: GCTC

Samantha Cristoforetti during fire evacuation scenario. Credit: GCTC

The ASI, the only national space agency in Europe to have direct access to the resources of the ISS, has selected and is developing eight Italian scientific research and technological demonstration projects for the “Futura” mission, which will be carried out by our astronaut in her six months aboard the ISS.

Five projects will be devoted to the study of various aspects of human physiology under conditions of weightlessness, two will perform biological analysis on cell samples taken in microgravity; a demonstrator will be experimented on board the ISS for an automated manufacturing process for the realization of 3D objects in zero gravity (3D printing). The projects have been developed by universities, research centres, companies and Italian SMEs, and selected by the ASI with the National Human Spaceflight Call for Proposals for the utilization of the ISS. Credit: ESAASI

Russian Officials Discuss the Future of Space Exploration

Soyuz 2.1v rocket on the launch pad. Credit: RIA Novosti

 The human path to Mars should lay through consistent development of space technologies on asteroids and on the Moon. This view expressed the President of RSC Energia Vitaly Lopota and head of Lavochkin Association Viktor Khartov at the Korolyov Readings in Bauman Moscow State Technical University on Tuesday. According to Lopota, in the nearest future, Mars would be a priority in terms of colonization and research.

The road map of Mars exploration contemplates two scenarios: to reach it through an asteroid and then through the Moon, or vice versa. “The wise way is to create technology designed for Mars, to use the Moon for testing the required technologies, and the asteroids are a challenge that we should always be able to meet in case of threat,” the expert noted.

Lavochkin is in charge of the landing module of the Russian-European ExoMars project, Khartov said. “We are creating a two-tonne landing module for this mission. It will transport a 3,000-kilogram European rover to the surface of Mars,” he said. The mission starts in 2018, Khartov noted. Khartov believes that first people should learn how to bring soil from Mars and its satellite Phobos.
 
According to the plan announced by the scientist, the Boomerang project should feature the following pattern of bringing soil from Phobos: a space vehicle delivers on the satellite of Mars a lander that takes soil samples and “shoots upwards a capsule with soil”, which is picked up by another space vehicle near Phobos that sends it to Earth.
 
ExoMars rover. Credit: ESA

ExoMars rover. Credit: ESA

The scientist added that this scheme is almost the only possible one to solve the issue of bringing Martial soil to Earth. The implementation of the Boomerang project is planned for approximately 2020. This project is the first stage of a more large-scale plan dubbed Expedition M, which is scheduled for launch in 2024. It is intended to deliver on Mars a fly-back rocket that would put into orbit a capsule with soil to be picked up by another space vehicle and brought to Earth. Khartov also recalled that up from 2016, Russia would start its Moon program that should result in bringing Moon soil to Earth.
 
World’s biggest rocket
 
 Russia’s Roscosmos space agency is to seek government approval to build the world’s largest rocket, its head said Tuesday. “I think that in the near future, within a month, we will make our suggestions to the Military-Industrial Commission,” Oleg Ostapenko said. Ostapenko, who was appointed head of the agency in October, said the planned launcher would be able to lift 80 metric tons into low Earth orbit.
 
It could also be upgraded to launch as much as 160 tons, which would be the heaviest payload every lifted by a single rocket into space. The current record holder, NASA’s Saturn V rocket that was used to launch Apollo astronauts on their journey to the moon, had a maximum capability of 120 metric tons. Roscosmos formed a working group last year to evaluate proposals for a heavy-lift rocket, including the revival of the Energia launcher, the highest payload rocket ever built in the country.
 
The Energia, developed in the Soviet Union and launched twice, was cancelled during the economic crisis twenty years ago. Experts consider such large rockets to be necessary for manned Mars or deep space missions, although they are likely to be uneconomical for commercial payloads that can be launched on existing rockets. NASA is currently building a new super-heavy rocket, the Space Launch System, that will also come in two variants capable of lifting 70 and 130 tons into orbit. The first test flight of the smaller version is scheduled for 2017.
 
Russia’s largest existing rocket, the Proton, can launch payloads of up to 20 tons. The modular Angara rocket is also under development and comes in several versions, the largest of which is planned to send up to 40 tons into orbit.  China is reportedly considering construction of its own super-heavy rocket, the Long March 9, for a manned lunar mission. Roscosmos is also working with aerospace enterprises on the creation of radar spacecraft, which the Russian group currently does not have, Ostapenko said.
 
“Radar location is a very important and promising area. Unfortunately, we do not have such capabilities in our orbital spacecraft group. we are now actively contacting a number of enterprises to work on this issue,” he said. The negotiations between the Roscosmos administration and representatives of the industry took place several days ago, he said. However, Ostapenko did not name the enterprises with which negotiations are being held on this issue.
 
Russia could go it alone after ISS closes
 
According to Lopota, the Russian segment of the International Space Station could live on as a separate facility after the project’s conclusion. “By the mid-2020s our American colleagues will have exhausted their technical resources and Russia will have a unique opportunity to use the segment, still to be completed, as an orbiting international port,” Lopota said. He added that the long-delayed Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module would only be completed in 2018-2020.
 
Russian officials have in the past suggested their segment could be detached and operated independently of the ISS as the United States had previously considered leaving the project as early as 2016. But earlier this month US President Barack Obama vowed to keep the American segment operational until 2024. Lopota said the Russian segment could still be detached at that time, when its first modules will already be more than 20 years old, to serve as a transit point for international missions headed deeper into space.
 
Venus mission
 
As to the Venus mission on which Lavochkin is working, Khartov said, “the Venera-D spacecraft will be launched after 2020″. A Proton-M launch vehicle will propel the spacecraft to the skies.
 
The Venera-D spacecraft approaching clouds-veiled Venus. Shown configuration was only one of several designs envisioned at the conclusion of the project's definition phase in September 2009. Credit: russianspaceweb.com

The Venera-D spacecraft approaching clouds-veiled Venus. Shown configuration was only one of several designs envisioned at the conclusion of the project’s definition phase in September 2009. Credit: russianspaceweb.com

Temperatures are high, approximately 500 degrees Celsius, on the surface of Venus, which means “the spacecraft will have to withstand the planetary surface conditions for about 24 hours,” he said. Venera-D’s prime purpose is to make radar remote-sensing observations around the planet Venus in a manner similar to that of the Venera 15 and Venera 16 probes in the 1980s or the U.S. Magellan in the 1990s, but with the use of more powerful radar. The spacecraft is also intended to map future landing sites. Credit: interfax.comITAR-TASSRIA Novosti

 Telescope Array Could Revolutionize  African Astronomy.

Scientists are predicting an astronomy renaissance on the African continent in coming years, thanks in part to a giant radio telescope array being built there. 

But the road to cosmic cachet is not an easy one, and African science advocates are scrambling to take full advantage of the opportunities coming their way.  “Astronomy really is about to explode across the African continent,” astronomer Kartik Sheth of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory said January 9 at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society near Washington DC The challenge, he said, is to make sure African astronomers benefit from the surge of facilities being built in their midst. “We want to build long-term sustainable collaborations that are mutually beneficial to the US and to Africa. We don’t want brain and data drain from Africa to the US.”

The biggest game-changer on the continent will be the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the world’s largest network of radio telescopes designed to survey the sky faster than any instrument before it. Roughly 3,000 radio dishes — having a combined total surface equal to a light-collecting area of about a square kilometer — will be spread across vast distances to offer a resolution akin to a single dish encompassing the whole span. “SKA will be the premier project of the coming decades, completely revolutionizing radio astronomy,” said Ted Williams, director of the South African Astronomical Observatory. “The largest part of the SKA will be sited in Africa, and it’s continent-wide, extending across eight African countries:” Botswana, Ghana, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia. A smaller portion of the project will be built in Australia.

 South Africa, headquarters for the African contingent of the project, mounted a competitive campaign to bring the observatory to Africa, and the news in 2012 that its bid had won the lion’s share of the project was unexpected to many. “We kind of took them by surprise but we did our homework very well,” says Takalani Nemaungani, an engineer at South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology who led his country’s SKA lobbying campaign. Nemaungani sold the SKA committee on South Africa’s clear skies (necessary for precision radio astronomy), the promised political support of its president and cabinet — who have passed legislation to strictly limit the amount of radio noise in the remote site area — and its expertise in engineering and infrastructure. Construction of the $1.6-billion observatory is due to begin in 2016 and will be added to in phases, with the first observations to take place in 2019 and full operation by 2024.

South Africa’s apartheid past posed a special challenge. Until the race-separation policy ended in 1994 the country faced local unrest and international opprobrium. Trade sanctions imposed on South Africa by other countries, especially the US, hampered the nation’s economy but resulted in some unintended consequences in boosting homegrown technologies. “Because of the embargoes and sanctions here, there were technologies and expertise we had to build for ourselves to sustain the country,” Nemaungani says. For example, the international oil embargo against South Africa enacted in 1987 forced the nation to become the world leader in technology to convert coal to oil.

 Still, Africa’s goal of astronomical ascendancy faces serious challenges, including many African countries’ high levels of unemployment, poverty, poor education and lack of investment in science. According the UNESCO 2010 Science Report, scientific development in sub-Saharan Africa faces “poor infrastructure development, a small pool of researchers and minimal scientific output. The continent has failed to invest in science, technology and innovation (STI) as drivers of economic growth and long-term sustainable development.”

 Proponents of Africa’s new age of astronomy want to change all that. “SKA is helping us to change perspectives on Africa as a destination for high-tech opportunities and industry,” Nemaungani says. “We’re using astronomy as a gateway science to interest young kids to study math and science. That’s where a big project like SKA can make an impact.”

 Virtually everywhere in South Africa people have heard about the SKA, although they might not know much about it, Williams said. Leaders are particularly working to help South Africa’s black population reap the new scientific opportunities, which have traditionally gone to the nation’s privileged whites. “Several generations of Africans were told, ‘You can’t do this,’” he told Scientific American. “The message we’re trying to send is, ‘Yes, you can.’”

 And the SKA is just one of numerous astronomical projects on the continent. The High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) gamma-ray observatory opened in 2002 in Namibia, new telescopes are being built in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) was inaugurated in South Africa in 2005 and came fully online in 2011.

 Ted Williams was a Rutgers University astronomer in 1998 when he first came to South Africa to investigate the possibility of building SALT. His wife insisted on coming on the trip because it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to visit. It was not long, though, before the two moved to Cape Town. In his time there Williams has seen significant technological, scientific and social advancement. “When we started on SALT, nobody could have conceived that a project like SKA would go to South Africa,” Williams says. “So much has changed.” Source: Nature

Israel Explores Possibility of Sending Another Astronaut to Space

Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. Credit: NASA

 Eleven years after tragic loss of Colonel Ilan Ramon in Columbia shuttle disaster, the Israel Space Agency is in contact with the US, European, Russian and Chinese space agencies.

Its about the possibility of their dispatching an Israeli astronaut for a few weeks’ stay on the International Space Station. If accepted, however, it would not happen for another four years or so. Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, ISA chairman – which is part of the Science, Technology and Space Ministry – told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday he thought there would “be many candidates eager to go to space – despite the tragedy that killed Israel’s first astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon, on the ill-fated US National Aeronautics and Space Administration Columbia mission in February 2003.” Ben-Yisrael said there are talks with other space agencies, but nothing has been agreed.

“All the flights to the space station are fully booked for at least two years,” he said. “But if we want a second Israeli astronaut, we have to start talking now.” As NASA ended its shuttle flights, the only place open to would-be astronauts is the International Space Station (ISS) via a Russian Soyuz space vehicle. Up to three astronauts at a time stay in space for a few weeks, although the longest period anyone had lived there was a year.
 
Ramon, who died along with his fellow astronauts when the Columbia crashed, had gone through a seven-year process of being selected and undergoing NASA astronaut training. Although most Israelis believe an astronaut has to be an air force pilot, Ben-Yisrael said this is not true. “The Americans have sent women and men – people who are teachers, scientists or in other professions and not just pilots,” he said.
 
They have to succeed in physical, cognitive and other tests and prove they can function well under stress. There is no formal age limit, one of NASA’s first astronauts, was nearly 80 years old when he went on a flight for the second time, said Ben-Yisrael. The cost of Ramon’s participation, including two years abroad, was paid for by NASA as part of a cooperation agreement with Israel. Nothing has been discussed on whether the ISA would have to pay for a second astronaut’s participation.
 
He said he did not know whether Yitzhak Mayo, who was Ramon’s backup and trained along with him but never went to space, would be interested in applying. ISA officials met a few months ago in China with their counterparts to discuss their participation in next week’s Israel Space Week conference in Israel. The possibility of a second Israeli astronaut sent to the ISS was discussed not only with the Chinese space agency, but also with several others. Some 3,000 scientists and space agency officials are expected to participate. A year ago it was decided in the International Astronautics Federation that Israel will host the world space conference in 2015. Credit: jpost.com

 China’s Lunar Probe Observes Stars, Explores Moon

Jade Rabbit rover on the Moon. Credit: Xinhua

 Moon lander Chang’e-3 and rover “Yutu” of China’s lunar probe mission have collected a large amount space observation and moon exploration data, a government authority said on Friday. A moon-based optical telescope on the lander has been observing lights from many celestial objects at near ultraviolet wavelengths, and has detected 23 stars, said a statement from the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.

After data analysis and processing, scientists have drafted an atlas of stars around the constellation Draco, the statement said. Probe equipment on the rover Yutu (Jade Rabbit) is exploring the moon. The probe radar has surveyed the moon’s surface and collected two sets of data about the structure of lunar soil beneath the surface within 140 meters and 10 meters respectively, the statement said.
 
The panoramic camera and infrared spectrograph have sent back clear images of the moon’s surface and data collected by a particle X-ray device has helped scientists identify 11 types of chemical elements such as magnesium, aluminum, calcium and yttrium on the moon, it added. Data collected from observations of the plasmasphere over the Earth will provide more information about the impact of solar activities to the Earth, according to the statement. These findings will provide information for scientists to better understand the terrain, geological structure, material composition and soil formation of the moon, the statement said. Credit: xinhuanet.com

 UFO Seen Over Saudi Arabia?

Bright lights in the sky over the Saudi city of Medina. Credit: Youtube

 Bright lights in the night sky sparked UFO alerts in Saudi Arabia, but the display turned out to be a well-known space phenomenon: the fiery re-entry of some Chinese space junk. Multiple videos of Thursday night’s lightswere posted on YouTube. One sighting was reported by a witness who was near the Prophet’s Mosque in the western Saudi city of Medina, according to reports from the Saudi newspaper Al Sada and the Emirates24/7 website.

“I was passing just near the mosque when I saw the object … I captured a film of it, but I could not trace it as it split into two or three parts,” Al Sada quoted Fahd Al Harbi as saying.
 
“This was a satellite re-entry that was predicted,” NBC News space analyst James Oberg said in an email. “The object was a rocket body from the Chinese communications satellite Chinasat 9, launched in 2008. It is amazing how bright the fragments can be, and when they fly horizontally and ‘in formation,’ they often fool people — especially pilots — into imagining they are lighted windows in aircraft, spacecraft, or even UFOs.”
 

We’ve seen lots of similar reports relating to space junk — including a SpaceX rocket flaming out over the Indian Ocean last September as well as rocket re-entries observed over China and the Middle East in 2012. The best-known incident was the “space spiral” spotted over Norway in 2009. This posting on the SeeSat-L discussion forum provides some great historical perspective. Credit: nbcnews.com

 Russian Android May Replace Astronauts in Space.

Anthropoid robot demonstrated at the Cosmonauts Training Center during the 10th International Manned Space Flights Research Conference (RIA Novosti / Grigory Sisoev)

 Russia has presented a new humanlike robot, which may be delivered to the Space Station to perform 90 percent of risky operations in open space instead of cosmonauts.

The SAR- 401 prototype was revealed to journalists at the Yury Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow Region’s Star City on Wednesday. The robot was developed in 2013 and is currently being tested terrestrially, Vyacheslav Sychkov, executive director of the Android Technics company said. It’s vital for the android to achieve maximum precision in its every move, he added.

The operating principle for the robot is based on the machine repeating movements performed by a human operator. “We’re working on two possible control scenarios: an emergency scenario when the robot is managed from Earth and routine operations when it’s managed from inside the ISS,” Sychkov is cited as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency. The developers plan to make the SAR- 401 compatible with the European Robotic Arm manipulator in the Russian segment of the ISS.
 
“The robot has a base point in order to attach it to the manipulator,” the Android Technics head explained. The android will also be used as a communications system as it’s equipped with hardware capable of receiving messages from Earth and passing it to the station’s crew. It’s not yet clear if the robot will be stored inside the ISS and then delivered to the work areas or be permanently housed on the station’s outer shell. In case of the second scenario, the android will most likely be put in a special container, in which optimum temperature conditions will be maintained, Sychkov said.
 
Anthropoid robot demonstrated at the Cosmonauts Training Center during the 10th International Manned Space Flights Research Conference (RIA Novosti / Grigory Sisoev)

Anthropoid robot demonstrated at the Cosmonauts Training Center during the 10th International Manned Space Flights Research Conference (RIA Novosti / Grigory Sisoev)

When asked about the cost of the SAR- 401 project, the Android Technics head replied that “the work isn’t yet completed, so it’s currently impossible to evaluate the whole program.” But the Russian robot will be “a lot cheaper” than its American counterpart, already working at the ISS, he added. The developers expect that in the future the android will perform over 90 percent of open space operations at the ISS.
 
The Cosmonaut Training Center plans to review a list of works on the station’s outer shell, currently performed by the cosmonauts, to determine which can be taken on by the SAR- 401. “In general, its work will be replacement of equipment, checking and maintenance,” Sychkov explained.
 
Robots v. Humans
 
Meanwhile, the head of the Cosmonaut Training Center, Sergey Krikalyov, stressed that the androids won’t be able to replace people in space in the near future. “A robot can never become a full substitute for a man. It’s interaction, not replacement we’re talking about,” he stressed. According to Krikalyov, the newly presented robot may undergo a number of enhancements before it’ll be actually sent into space.
 
NASA’s Robonaut-2 was launched into orbit in 2011. The US android was designed to assist the crew inside the station as it lacks the kind of protection needed to exist in open space. This August, the first Japanese robot astronaut arrived at the station. The main task of the small android, named Kirobo, is to see how humans and robots can interact in space as his capabilities include voice recognition and speech synthesis. Credit: rt.com

 Meteor Falls in Western Greece

Meteor over Western Greece. Credit: patrasevents.gr/Youtube

 Many residents of Western Greece experienced a unique and incredible phenomenon at 9pm Wednesday evening. Meteorologists spoke of a meteorite that was to fall in the Ionia sea. The phenomenon was particularly noticed from the residents of Zante in the regions of Maheradou and Alikon. The residents said that they saw bright streaks across the sky from West to East, followed by an intense noise. However, there were no damages or problems reported even though the testimonies supported that the glow illuminated the homes of areas in Kefalonia.

Those who saw the bright object talked about a huge burning ball that was moving with tremendous speed. Many of them supported that they also heard a strange hollow noise. According to sources, it was a meteorite that fell in the Ionian Sea between Zante and Kefallonia. The Fire Service of Kefalonia reported the testimony of a resident, who described the drop of a bright object in the sea between Kefalonia and Zante.
 
Geology Professor, Dr. Efthimios Lekkas, confirmed the phenomenon. He also pointed out that we could learn more about the meteorite after it has fallen to the ground. “I believe that it was a meteorite. Reliable witnesses of Zante and Kefalonia told me that at 9pm they saw a bright object fall from the sky into the sea, followed by noise. All the testimonies that I received revealed the same thing.” Credit: greekreporter.com

ESA’s New Vision to Study the Invisible Universe

Artist's impression of a galaxy that is releasing material via two strong jets (shown in red/orange) as well as via wide-angle outflows (shown in gray/blue). Both jets and outflows are being driven by the black hole located at the galaxy's centre.  Black holes, which lurk unseen at the centres of almost all galaxies, are regarded as one of the keys to understanding galaxy formation and evolution. Credit: ESA/AOES Medialab

 The hot and energetic Universe and the search for elusive gravitational waves will be the focus of ESA’s next two large science missions, it was announced Thursday. Both topics will bridge fundamental astrophysics and cosmology themes by studying in detail the processes that are crucial to the large-scale evolution of the Universe and its underlying physics. The science theme “the hot and energetic Universe” was selected for L2 – the second Large-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision science programme – and is expected to be pursued with an advanced X-ray observatory.

This mission, with a launch date foreseen for 2028, will address two key questions. How and why does ordinary matter assemble into the galaxies and galactic clusters that we see today, and how do black holes grow and influence their surroundings? Black holes, which lurk unseen at the centres of almost all galaxies, are regarded as one of the keys to understanding galaxy formation and evolution.
 
The L3 mission will study the gravitational Universe, searching for ripples in the very fabric of space–time created by celestial objects with very strong gravity, such as pairs of merging black holes. Predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity but yet to be detected directly, gravitational waves promise to open a completely new window on the Universe. Planned for launch in 2034, it will require the development of a spaceborne gravitational wave observatory, or extreme precision ‘gravitometer’, an ambitious enterprise that will push the boundaries of current technology.
 
“ESA has an outstanding record for developing state-of-the art space observatories that have revolutionised our knowledge of how stars and galaxies were born and evolved,” says Alvaro Gimenez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. “By pursuing these two new themes, we will continue to push back the scientific boundaries and unveil the mysteries of the invisible Universe.”
 
The selection process for L2 and L3 began in March 2013, when ESA issued a call to the European science community to suggest the next scientific themes that should be pursued by the Cosmic Vision programme’s Large missions. Thirty-two proposals were received and assessed by a Senior Survey Committee, and following an extensive interaction with the scientific community two major themes were recommended to the Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.
 
“We had a difficult task in deciding which scientific themes to choose from all of the excellent candidates, but we believe that missions to study the hot, energetic Universe and gravitational waves will result in discoveries of the greatest importance to cosmology, astrophysics, and physics in general,” says Catherine Cesarsky, chair of the Senior Survey Committee.
 
Although the launch dates for the L2 and L3 missions are more than a decade away, activities to prepare the missions will start very soon. Early in 2014, a call for L2 mission concepts will be announced to solicit proposals for a next-generation X-ray observatory. A similar procedure will be followed at a later date for the L3 mission. “We have opened up a new scientific roadmap for Europe today that will establish our leadership in this field for the next two decades while we develop and implement new technologies for these exciting missions,” adds Prof. Gimenez. Credit: ESA

30 Years of ESA Astronauts

Ulf Merbold, the first ESA astronaut to fly in space. Credit: Ronald Wittek/dpa-Archiv

 Thirty years ago this week the first European-built Spacelab was launched on the Space Shuttle. ESA’s first astronaut, Ulf Merbold, flew on the mission, marking ESA’s entry into human spaceflight. On 28 November 1983 at 11:00 local time, the ninth Space Shuttle mission was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA. “Being the first non-Americans in the US space programme was really something special.

When we started training for Spacelab-1 in Huntsville, Alabama, we received a warm welcome.” Merbold said in an interview for ESA. He was the first ESA astronaut to fly in space, and the first non-US citizen to fly on a Space Shuttle, as part of the crew of the STS-9 Spacelab 1 mission on Space Shuttle Columbia. The six astronauts on Spacelab-1 worked in two teams on 12-hour shifts, allowing for continuous operations. They performed over 70 experiments in solar physics, space plasma physics, astronomy, Earth observation, material science, technology and life sciences.

Spacelab-1/STS-9 launch, 28 November 1983. Credit: NASA

Spacelab-1/STS-9 launch, 28 November 1983. Credit: NASA

After circling Earth 166 times in just over 10 days, Space Shuttle Columbia landed back on Earth on 8 December. Spacelab was a cooperation between ESA and NASA, with Europe responsible for funding, designing and building Spacelab and agreeing to deliver free of charge the engineering model, the first flight unit and ground equipment in return for a shared first mission.
 
Official portrait of STS-42 Payload Specialist Ulf Merbold wearing a launch and entry suit (LES) with space shuttle orbiter model displayed in the background. Merbold is representing ESA during the International Microgravity Laboratory 1 (IML-1) mission aboard Discovery, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 103. Credit: NASA

Official portrait of STS-42 Payload Specialist Ulf Merbold wearing a launch and entry suit (LES) with space shuttle orbiter model displayed in the background. Merbold is representing ESA during the International Microgravity Laboratory 1 (IML-1) mission aboard Discovery, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 103. Credit: NASA

In preparation for Spacelab, ESA Member States in 1978 put forward 53 astronaut candidates, and four were selected: Ulf Merbold of Germany, Wubbo Ockels of the Netherlands, Claude Nicollier of Switzerland and Franco Malerba of Italy. Ulf was selected for the first Spacelab mission, with Wubbo as backup. Wubbo flew on the Spacelab-D1 mission in 1985.
 
“That was a situation of mixed feelings. Wubbo and I are close friends, we had been working together for two years in Huntsville, and at the end of the training in the Marshall Space Flight Center we knew that only one of us could be the first.” Merbold said. “However, when the German government decided to fly the German D1 mission, they promised that the astronaut serving as back-up for Spacelab-l would fly on Dl, so in the end it was not that complicated because we both had the guarantee that we would fly.” he added.
 
Official Portrait of the STS-9 crewmembers. Seated from left to right are Owen Garriott, mission specialist; Brewster Shaw, pilot; John Young, commander; and Robert Parker, mission Specialist. Standing from left to right are the payload specialists, Byron Lichtenberg and Ulf Merbold. Credit: NASA

Official Portrait of the STS-9 crewmembers. Seated from left to right are Owen Garriott, mission specialist; Brewster Shaw, pilot; John Young, commander; and Robert Parker, mission Specialist. Standing from left to right are the payload specialists, Byron Lichtenberg and Ulf Merbold. Credit: NASA

After Spacelab-1, Merbold flew on the Space Shuttle STS-42/IML-1 mission in 1992. Immediately after this mission, he began preparing for the Russian Euromir ’94 mission in October 1994. Euromir ’94 was the first ESA mission to the Russian space station Mir, and it served primarily as the precursor to Columbus – preparing experimenters and the ground segment for the Columbus era. On this, his third spaceflight, he remained on the Mir space station for one month.
 
Merbold has logged 49 days in space over three missions. This is the most spaceflights for a German national, although this is not his only historic distinction. As well as the first non-US astronaut to fly on the Shuttle, Merbold was also the first ESA astronaut to fly on a Russian mission. Between 1983 and 1998, Spacelab modules flew on the Space Shuttle 22 times and totalled 244 days in orbit. Experiments surveyed the possibilities of weightless research in many scientific areas that led to space-age metals used in mass-produced smartphones and revealed areas of space research that show promise in treating chronic muscle diseases.
 
Many of Spacelab’s features live on in space hardware that is flying above us today. The pressure shell was reused for the Harmony and Tranquility modules on the International Space Station, and supply spacecraft, such as ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles and the commercial Cygnus, reuse Spacelab’s exterior structure. Europe’s Columbus laboratory on the Station evolved from Spacelab. On the inside, Spacelab used standardised science racks that contributed to its success and were adopted for all of the Station’s laboratory modules.
 
In the same way that Spacelab was operated by international teams of astronauts, so are today’s European experiments and laboratories on the Station. They are kept running and performing science by the Station’s permanent crew – which now includes European astronauts. Credit: ESA

 

Launch Complex at Vostochny Spaceport to Be Ready to Be Equipped by September 2014

Vostochny spaceport construction site. Credit: ampravda.ru

 The launch complex at Vostochny space center will be ready for installation of special equipment in September 2014, deputy head of the Spetsstroi federal special construction agency’s regional service (Dalspetsstroi) Pavel Buyanovsky told a conference in Uglegorsk. The main buildings and structures that will be used to launch spacecraft will be ready to receive special equipment in February. The railroads will be finished in August 2015, he said. Construction work is underway at three sites, on the launch, technical and industrial grounds.

As was reported on November 21 during Spetsstroi Director Alexander Volosov’s visit to Vostochny, the construction work was ten days behind the schedule. Buyanovsky said 17 buildings with 1,482 apartments, two hospitals, one for children, and a first aid station will be finished in the residential area near the space center by late 2015. The town named after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky will occupy 1,050 hectares in the settlement of Uglegorsk.
 
On October 23, during his working trip to Vostochny, Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko said that the construction of the launch complex and the technical complex was three months behind the schedule. Spetsstroi chief Volosov explained it was caused by rains. The new eastern Russian spaceport Vostochny is under construction near Uglegorsk in the Amur Region. The first launch is planned there for 2015. The first launch of a manned spacecraft is planned for 2018.
 
Russian Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin will inspect the construction site until the end of this year. He said this at the meeting chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday. At first, there will be 18,000 residents, and after 2018, 25,000 space center employees with their families will live there, Rogozin said. The city will be named in honor of great scientist Tsiolkovsky. The name fits it, he said, noting that it was for residents to finally decide. Rogozin assured he controlled the situation at the construction site.
 
Vostochny (Eastern) cosmodrome is designed to launch spacecraft for various purposes under state, international and commercial programs. The construction began in mid-2012. The center is planned to be ready for launches of light Soyuz-2-type rockets by 2015 and for launches of manned spacecraft with the use of heavy rocket systems and Angara-A5-type rockets by 2018. The infrastructure for a promising manned transport system will be also built at the site. Equipping and modernization of the ground infrastructure for heavy-class rockets and a manned transport system are planned to be completed by 2030.
 
In the plans is also construction of second-phase facilities of the command station, a filling station, a plant, special bases in areas of rocket stage falls and environment monitoring facilities. There will be also ten technical and logistics grounds with more than 400 installations of the social, engineering and transport infrastructure, including a launch complex for medium-class rockets with two launch pads, an airport, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen plants, an electric power supply system and 115 km of automobile roads and 125 km of railroads.
 
Five hundred students will work at the construction site next summer, deputy head of the Spetsstroi department established on November 20 Telman Shikhakhmedov said at the conference on “Vostochny Cosmodrome — the Future of Russia’s Space Industry”, which was held in Uglegorsk on Wednesday.
 
Regional minister for the spaceport construction Konstantin Chmarov noted that students would work there for the third time. Young people from universities of the Amur Region and central Russia’s cities participated in the construction work on the main infrastructure grounds, including the launch complex and the technical base. Each earned at least 27,000 rbls in 2013 and at least 24,000 in 2012. Three tent camps will be set up for students in 2014. Their dining room will be in a building, but they will live in tents in summer, Chmarov added. Credit: ITAR-TASS

 

Russia Postpones Space Lab Launch Again

MLM Nauka module - 3D rendering. Credit: NASA

 The Russian space agency has notified NASA that the launch of a new Russian research module to the International Space Station has been postponed until at least 2015, a senior space industry official said Wednesday. “We have met with our US colleagues and informed them that the MLM [multirole laboratory module] will not appear in orbit in 2014,” said Alexei Krasnov, head of piloted space flight programs at Russia’s Federal Space Agency.

The launch of the Nauka (Science) module has been repeatedly delayed. The module is being developed by the Khrunichev space center and the RKK Energia space corporation. The head of Energia, Vitaly Lopota, earlier blamed the Khrunichev center for the delay, citing technical glitches in the module and organizational issues. Lopota said that the launch schedule could be determined only after Khrunichev fixed all the problems.
 
The Nauka MLM is one of the Russian modules based on the functional cargo block 2, a back-up for the current Zarya cargo block module. The module will carry out commercial projects with the aim of attracting private finance, including investment for developing products. Nauka will also perform a range of other functions including life-support, steering the ISS with an attached motor and docking with cargo vessels.
 
The new module is big enough for three cosmonauts to work in. The ISS currently has five Russian-built modules: the Zvezda service module, the Zarya cargo block, the Pirs docking module, the Poisk (Search) research module and Rassvet (Dawn) research module. Credit: RIA Novosti

 

Roscosmos May Open Office in Belarus

Roscosmos stand at the MAKS-2011. Credit: Wikipedia

 Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) head Oleg Ostapenko has called Russian-Belarusian cooperation in space exploration promising and announced Roscosmos’ plans to open an office in Belarus. “The opening of a Roscosmos office is under consideration for giving a boost to our joint work,” Ostapenko told reporters in Minsk on Wednesday. He also said that Russia and Belarus had agreed to set up a working group dealing with joint projects. “It could be a question of laser technologies, an upgraded Earth observation system and the use of the Glonass network,” Ostapenko said.

He told Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich about his meetings with his Belarusian partners and their ideas. “Their reports evoked keen interest and we took notice of certain suggestions,” Ostapenko said. The Belarusian prime minister expressed confidence in the success of Russian-Belarusian space cooperation and mutually advantageous research projects.
 
“Space cooperation was highlighted in the constructive discussion of aspects of Russian-Belarusian cooperation” at the recent meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Myasnikovich said. “We reached a complete mutual understanding,” the prime minister said, singling out two areas. The first area is “the construction of a super-modern high-resolution Earth observation satellite,” Myasnikovich said. “We also discussed the possibility of setting up a joint company, which will design satellites,” he said. Credit: interfax.com

 

Russia Plans to Deploy an Asteroid-Monitoring System in Outer Space

 Vitay Lopota, the president of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, believes that a monitoring system should be created in outer space to reduce comet and asteroid risks. Lopota said that an asteroid bound for Earth can develop a speed of up to 30 kilometers per second and cover a distance of 1.5 million kilometers in 24 hours. “It is very important for us to be able to see an asteroid at least several days before it hits the Earth in order to calculate where exactly it is going to fall and evacuate the population from those areas,” Lopota explained.

Asteroids with a size of up to 10 meters are not dangerous for people; asteroids with a size from 20 to 30 meters can cause an explosion; asteroids nearing a 100 meters in size can cause a regional catastrophe and asteroids with a size ranging from of 1 to 0 kilometres can cause a global disaster. According to the president of the Energia Corporation, a special monitoring system should be deployed in outer space to protect our planet from comets and asteroids.
 
“We can deploy a system of round monitoring of objects approaching the Earth in the first stage in the next 10 years,” Lopota went on to say. “So far we are powerless in front of space hazards,” he emphasized. Debates on possible space threats have been under way in Russia since February 15, 2013 when a huge meteorite fell down in the Chelyabinsk region in the Urals. The celestial body exploded when it was entering the atmosphere. The blast yield was twenty times stronger than an atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima in 1945.
 
According to the published reports, the Chelyabisnk meteorite was 15-17 in diameter. It was the biggest celestial body to have fallen on Earth since the fall of the Tunguska meteorite in 1908. Scientists around the globe agree that it is extremely difficult to detect such a celestial body in advance. For that, Earth telescopes should be directed in the needed direction for a strictly definite period of time.
 
Foreign space agencies consider a threat of Earth’s collision with other celestial bodies to be serious and real: the United States spends 20 million dollars annually to finance a NASA Near-Earth Object Program compared to 4 million dollars allocated several years ago.
 
The European Space Agency has decided to open a coordination center in Rome to gather space data from all European observatories. Scientists working at the Rome center will track and monitor minor celestial bodies, which create a potential threat to Earth.
 
In addition to that, the European Space Agency has started developing a prototype of a new telescope. Its principle of operation will be based on the structure of ocelli of insects. The telescope will have a mirror with 1 meter in diameter and a large look-out angle, which will make it possible to scan the sky regularly. The European Space Agency plans to commission six such telescopes that will operate automatically.
 
Lidiya Rykhlova, the head of the space astronometry department of the Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that Russia does not have any wide-angle top-quality telescopes capable of covering the entire celestial sphere. That is why Russia does not have a service that tracks and monitors natural space objects.
 
According to Yuri Makarov, the head of the Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos), Russian scientists can track almost all objects, including space garbage, in near-Earth orbits. However, they can track only two percent of meteorites and asteroids that enter the atmosphere. Credit: ITAR-TASS

 

New Zealand Takes Lead in Designing Parts of World’s Most Advanced Space Telescope

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project is seen in his artists impression image made available by the Manchester based SKA Organisation, May 25, 2012. Credit: SKA Organisation/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

 Two New Zealand research groups are to lead work on designing crucial aspects of the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce announced Tuesday. Auckland’s AUT University and Wellington’s Victoria University would lead work on the central signal processor and the science data processor work packages, working alongside other New Zealand experts over the three-year design phase, Joyce said in a statement.

“The SKA is a global effort to create the biggest and most technologically advanced radio telescope ever built. It will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky thousands of times faster than any system currently in existence,” Joyce said. More than 350 scientists and engineers, from 18 countries and from more than 100 institutions, would be involved in the work, he said.
 
“The government is investing a total of 1.717 million NZ dollars (1.42 million U.S. dollars) for this project, with New Zealand institutions providing matching contributions, totalling more than 2.17 million NZ dollars over three years.” One of the greatest challenges associated with the SKA project is the “big data challenge” of how to maximize the scientific return from the vast amount of data generated, said New Zealand scientific representative to the SKA board of directors Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, of Victoria University.
 
“We’ll be working with our partners from across New Zealand to lead the work concerned with how to best extract information from data captured by the SKA, and determine the computation requirements needed to process it,” she said in a statement. The SKA, to be located in Australia and South Africa, will consist of thousands of dishes and millions of dipole radio receptors, with an effective collecting area of a square kilometer, making it 100 times as sensitive as the biggest existing telescopes and image resolution quality 50 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope.
 
Dr Andrew Ensor, of AUT, is leading the design of the survey correlator, which would combine the signals from all the receivers. The data volumes and computational requirements would be 10 times that of the world’s fastest supercomputers and require new high-performance computing and low-power technologies, Ensor said in a statement. The SKA project, which is expected to become operational after 2020, is organized by institutions from 10 nations, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and Britain, with India as an associate member. Credit: xinhuanet.com

 

China’s Chang’e-2 Lunar Probe Travels 60 Million Kilometers

Chang'e-2. Credit: CLEP

 Lunar probe Chang’e-2 is more than 60 million kilometers away from Earth and has become China’s first man-made asteroid, a spokesperson said Tuesday. Still in good condition, Chang’e-2 is heading for deep space and is expected to travel as far as 300 million km from Earth, the longest voyage of any Chinese spacecraft, Wu Zhijian of the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) told reporters at a press conference.

In comparison, the shortest distance between Earth and the Mars is about 55 million km, and the longest 400 million km. NASA confirmed in September that Voyager-1, launched in 1977, had left the solar system and was over 18.7 billion km away from Earth.
 
Launched on Oct. 1, 2010, Chang’e-2 was designed for half a year of service but has kept working for over three years. The probe verified some crucial technologies for Chang’e-3 and reconnoitered the landing area. It also made the world’s first lunar holographic image with a resolution of 7 meters, Wu said. Chang’e-2 and Chang’e-3 are part of the second stage of China’s three-stage lunar mission: orbiting, landing, and return. The country expects to have an unmanned spacecraft return with lunar samples by 2020. Credit: xinhuanet.com

 

SANSA Considers Space Launches from South Africa

Credit: SANSA

 Local launches of rockets bound for space may become a reality in South Africa if old facilities can be restored, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) has said. “SANSA is currently exploring the options for local launch in the country. These will explore the option to invest in restoring old launch facilities and/or the option of developing new sites for this purpose,” SANSA CEO Dr Sandile Malinga told News24.

The agency has supported the latest micro satellite programme by the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) located at CPUT campus in Bellville. The institute recently built a micro satellite, dubbed ZACUBE-1 and intends to launch it from the Yasny Launch Base in Russia. South Africa though experimented with a RSA-3 rocket based on the Israeli-designed Shavit in the 1980s though the project was later abandoned.

Caution
 
The rocket had no payload and in tests, it reached a height of 300km in 1990, after being launched from the Overberg test range. Since the launch of Russia’s Sputnik in 1957, only nine other countries have been able to launch rockets into space and the industry is an expensive business. Malinga expressed caution as far as the date for local launches were concerned. “It is not possible to establish a timeframe as findings will be presented to Government for a decision and funding.”
 
India recently launched a Mars mission at a fraction of the cost of the US effort to study the planet’s atmosphere, despite criticism that the country should focus on it social challenges instead. Despite spending only 4.5 billion rupees ($73m) on the mission, the mission could be a catalyst for solving some of the challenges that the country faces, said the Isro. “Space is one area right from the beginning that has been contributing to the development process of the country,” said Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), K Radhakrishnan, adding that improved weather forecasting could help farmers and satellite networks would enhance communications.
 
Launch options
 
In South Africa, a local company has already been developing a launch vehicle capable of delivering satellite into orbit. Marcom has been working on the vehicle since 2002, and is at advanced stage of development. “We’ve designed the Cheetah 1 launch vehicle as a cryogenic liquid rocket engine which makes it almost impossible to weaponise, but we are registered with the non-proliferation office and they are aware of our capabilities and we provide reports and feedback as to our progress,” Marcom Aeronautics & Space managing director Mark Comninos told News24 recently.
 
He said that the company is investigating launch options that may include a marine launch to access profitable geosynchronous orbits in addition to the old facilities. “If you would like to tackle more lucrative orbits such as geosynchronous orbits, then it’s three options there: You could possibly launch from an area north of Durban, but closer to Richards Bay,” Comninos said. Malinga said that SANSA was actively considering the feasibility of local launch programmes. There are also legal considerations that have to be taken into account related to rockets and liabilities associated with failure.
 
“Sansa is aware of existing establishments in South Africa and will in due course investigate all possibilities regarding the feasibilities of them. As launching is part of a space portfolio this will certainly be investigated in due course.” Credit: news24.com

 

South Korea Plans First Moon Mission

South Korea's planned Moon lander and rover. Credit: Nature/Youtube

 South Korea has unveiled designs for its planned Moon lander, a key part of President Park Geun-hye’s pledge to revitalize the country’s aerospace industry and space programmeThe uncrewed module — of which a scaled-down mock-up was unveiled to the press on 22 October — will travel on board a Korea Space Launch Vehicle-2 rocket and is designed to carry a lunar rover weighing 10–20 kilograms, which will look for signs of rare minerals on the Moon’s surface.

A robotic orbiter will also circle above the lunar landscape for more than a year at an altitude of about 100 km. Fifteen government-funded research institutions, led by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) in Daejeon, have agreed to start collaborating in 2014 to develop foundation technologies for the mission next year, the country’s Ministry of Science has said.

Since Park took office in February, the mission has been designated a central national objective, with the president bringing forward the launch date from 2025 to 2020 in a bid to accelerate the project. KARI has spent 10 billion Korean won (US$ 9.3 million) on lunar research since 2010, and an estimated 700 billion won is needed to complete the project by 2020, according to local reports.
 
NASA support
 
Challenges faced by the project so far have included the development of propulsion, guidance, navigation and control systems for the rocket. A KARI official told Nature that the organisation hopes to make progress in part through cooperation with NASA.
 
NASA’s recent funding difficulties and the effects of the US government shutdown have enhanced the agency’s relationship with KARI, says Ju Gwang-Hyeok, director of the group for lunar exploration and research at KARI. “Since we have full support from the government, NASA has expressed a much stronger will to cooperate with us,” he says.
 
Collaboration with NASA will be key for South Korea to develop its capabilities and personnel in the long run, because “a middle-sized power like South Korea cannot expect to carry out a full range of space activities”, says space-security expert James Clay Moltz of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. “Operationally, a complex mission with a lunar lander will be a major challenge, but it will help build valuable skills within KARI.”
 
In January, South Korea successfully launched its first space rocket, the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 — known as Naro-1 — on its third attempt, a month after the launch of North Korea’s long-range Unha-3 rocket and Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite.Credit: nature.com

 

Billion-Star Surveyor Ready to Unveil the Secrets of Milky Way’s Stellar Evolution

The Gaia Deployable Sunshield Assembly (DSA) during deployment testing in the S1B integration building at Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 10 October 2013. Credit: ESA–M. Pedoussaut

 Global Astrometric Interferometry for Astrophysics (GAIA), the billion star surveyor. This is the mission slogan. A billion stars. One thousand million stars… That is a lot. Really a lot of stars. The ESA’s spacecraft will be launched on December 20, 2013 from Europe’s spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana. Gaia will measure the distances, motions, brightness, and colours of a billion stars but they will not be scrutinised one by one. The power of the billion stars is that they form a representative sample of the entire population of our home Galaxy, the Milky Way, which is inhabited by about 200 billion stars, give or take 100 billion. And such a representative sample allows astronomers to perform statistical studies where individual stars are of no importance but only the masses count.

In this way, particular patterns and structures (correlations in scientific jargon) can be revealed which will lead to new insight in the structure, dynamics, and history of the Milky Way. So, for most astronomers, the vast majority of the one billion stars in Gaia’s catalogue will remain anonymous entries in an online database. The total data volume expected from Gaia will be a staggering 1 Petabyte.
 
“Our quest to create an enormous stellar census to solve questions on the origin, structure and evolutionary history of our home Galaxy, and to discover tens of thousands of supernovas, previously unseen asteroids and even planets around nearby stars, is finally about to begin.” said Timo Prusti, ESA’s Gaia project scientist. Our Galaxy is the product of the stars it contains. Just like a city, the Milky Way is split into different locales and surrounded by suburbs. Each of these different areas has their own characteristics that show up in the stars’ orbits and chemical composition. Gaia’s observations will enable astronomers to identify these regions one from another.
 
As stars condense out of celestial clouds of gas, they naturally incorporate the chemicals found in space. The stars then process this material in their hearts and expel it at the end of their lives. This enriches the galaxy with new, heavier chemical elements that are incorporated into the next generation of stars. Gaia will be able to discriminate between these different generations and so build up a picture of the way the Galaxy was born and subsequently evolved. For each star, the actual distance is determined from the parallax and the apparent brightness in all spectral bands from photometry. Given the apparent brightness and the distance, the absolute brightness can be computed.
 
The spacecraft will create a map, on which each dot represents a single star. If we do that for all stars of the Milky Way, an intriguing pattern appears: a wavy line from bright to dim and from blue to red. If we now also add information about the star’s age from the measurement of metallicity (abundance of elements heavier than Helium, which can be measured from ground observations), we find that most stars evolve along a particular path during their lifetime: they start bright and blue and end up dim and red. We understand this from the nuclear process that determines the life of a star.
 
Gaia will map the stars from an orbit around the Sun, near a location some 1.5 million km beyond Earth's orbit known as the L2 Lagrangian point. Credit: ESA

Gaia will map the stars from an orbit around the Sun, near a location some 1.5 million km beyond Earth’s orbit known as the L2 Lagrangian point. Credit: ESA

Like many things in astronomy, the Gaia data will have much more use than simply mapping stellar evolution. Since 1992, we have had proof that our Sun is not the only star in the Galaxy that bears planetary companions. Today we know of about 800 such stars from various ground-based and space-based measurements. But this is only the beginning. All those 800 planet-bearing stars are quite close to our Sun compared to the vast expanses of the Milky Way.
 
If the local planet population is any measure for a typical abundance of planets, each star of the Milky Way should have 1.6 planets, on average. While this is a bold extrapolation, more data on the planetary population in the Milky Way is needed to derive solid models of planet formation from their statistics. Gaia will map the stars from an orbit around the Sun, near a location some 1.5 million km beyond Earth’s orbit known as the L2 Lagrangian point. The spacecraft will spin slowly, sweeping its two telescopes across the entire sky and focusing their light simultaneously onto a single digital camera, the largest ever flown in space – it has nearly a billion pixels.

 

After Mars, ISRO Now Plans a Mission to the Sun

Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). Credit: NASA

 After successfully launching the Mars Orbiter Mission, India is now gearing up for its next expedition, to the Sun. Solar physicists from all over the country will meet in Bangalore next week to prepare for the mission, Aditya 1, which will carry equipment to study solar corona. The three-day meeting to be held at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) between November 18 and 20 will focus on the scientific objectives and technical developments of the facilities planned for Aditya-1, which is expected to be launched in 2015-16.

The IIA has designed the space-based solar coronagraph, basically a telescopic attachment which will black out the glare of the Sun in order to study, which will be launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) into an 800 km polar orbit.
 
The major scientific objectives of the proposed space solar coronagraph are to achieve a fundamental understanding of the physical processes that heat the solar corona, the extended out atmosphere of the Sun, accelerate the solar wind and produce coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Aditya-1 mission was originally scheduled to be launched during the high solar activity period (2012-13), but the launch was delayed as ISRO prioritised the Mars Orbiter Mission, as the mission to Red Planet had to be expedited for the first available launch window.
 
The available launch windows to launch the Mars mission in this decade are 2013, 2016 and 2018. However, with the successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission, the focus is now on Aditya-1. “Aditya 1 has recently been reconfigured as a L1 mission and several payloads are expected to fly together. Aditya will work as a space observatory with multi-wavelength capabilities. Different modes of observational requirements will be discussed at length,” states IIA agenda for the meeting.
 
ISRO and other agencies involved in the programme have completed the Preliminary Design Review of Optics and Detector systems. They are currently working on the payload structural design and thermal design of the mirrors. The Mission is expected to be launched in 2015-16. Credit: dnaindia.com

 

UK ‘Needs National Space Programme’

Credit: spaceigs.co.uk

 If the UK space sector is to build on the progress of recent years, it needs a defined and properly funded national space programme, a report says. It is one of the key messages to come out of a review of an industry that has been growing by an average of more than 7% a year, even through the recession. The Space Innovation & Growth Strategy (IGS) sets out a plan to boost exports from £2bn to £25bn per annum by 2030. But to achieve this, the report says, state support needs more coherence.

“I don’t want this to be a criticism of government because they have done some incredible things for space of late, but we have been doing these things piece by piece,” explained Andy Green, the co-chair of the UK Space Leadership Council. “It’s time now that we take a long-term view on our technologies and the bi-laterals we have with other space nations, and make available a pool of funding over, say, the next five years that has some certainty.
 
“That will give us best value for money; the most bang for our buck,” he told BBC News.The majority of the civil space budget in the UK (nearly £300m) ends up being spent on programmes organised through the European Space Agency. A relatively small sum is spent on exclusively home-grown initiatives, and very often that money is delivered as one-offs to support special projects – such as the £60m announced in June for the Sabre air-breathing rocket engine being developed by Reaction Engines Ltd.
 
This is in contrast to Germany, France and Italy – the other big space players in Europe – who have robust national programmes in addition to their Esa participation. The IGS report sets out a Space Growth Action Plan that it believes can lead to a thriving environment for space businesses in the UK – particularly for small and medium enterprises, or SMEs. It is a call to industry to reach out into the wider UK and the global economy to sell the opportunities that exist in space applications, data and services.
 
The hope is that new ideas and new markets can boost demand, drive technological innovation and further amplify the already healthy growth in the sector. To achieve this, however, requires that the right sort of ecosystem is put in place. The IGS wants the government to champion the absolute best regulatory and licensing arrangements, to ensure both that indigenous companies flourish but also that foreign concerns are persuaded they need to invest more in Britain.
 
One way the IGS believes this could be done is by government backing the necessary legal framework to permit a spaceport to be set up in the UK. This might entice the new breed of launcher companies now offering lower-cost access to space to start operating services in Britain to the benefit of the home industry. The report sets a target of 2018 for the spaceport to be established. The IGS 2014-2030 report is a reboot of a study that was prepared for the previous Labour government but which was also enthusiastically endorsed by the current coalition when it came to power.
 
Many of the initial recommendations were acted upon, but the latest report says it is still waiting for the government to publish a National Space Policy. And congruent with such a policy would be a strong National Space Growth Programme to sit alongside the country’s contribution to Esa, the IGS argues. “Many elements of this programme already exist and therefore its creation does not necessarily require a large increase in government spending,” the document reads. “It does however call for a strategic approach driven by the National Space Policy and a multi-year commitment.”
 
The Space IGS is a document produced principally by and for industry to help it focus its future goals, but it is presented to government because the state’s financial muscle makes it a very important player in the market. David Willetts is the minister responsible for space. He said the coalition would produce a formal response in the new year, but added there was much to admire in the new document. “What I like about this report is that it is optimistic, forward-looking and ambitious,” Mr Willetts told BBC News.
 
“It is right to pick up that there are lots of sectors out there – both private and public – who don’t realise just how dependent they already are on space services and how much more use they could be making of satellite applications in the future. That’s a really important theme.” Credit: BBC

 

Ariane 6 Moves to Next Stage of Development

Artist's view of Ariane 6. Credit: ESA–D. Ducros, 2013

 The preliminary requirements for Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 launcher have been agreed and the project is set to move on to the next stage. In November 2012, the ESA Council at Ministerial level, meeting in Naples, Italy, approved the start of preparatory activities for Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle. The objective of Ariane 6 is to guarantee autonomous access to space for Europe, serving European institutional missions, without requiring public support to exploit.

The performance requested for the new vehicle is up to 6.5 tonnes in equivalent geostationary transfer orbit, to cover both institutional and commercial needs. The configuration retained was ‘PPH’ – indicating the sequence of stages: a first and a second stage using solid propulsion (P) and a third stage using cryogenic propulsion (H).
 
Ministers also requested that the new vehicle exploits maximum commonalities with the cryogenic reignitable upper stage of Ariane 5 ME. In early July, seven months after ESA’s Ministerial Council decision, the concept for the Ariane 6 vehicle was selected. On 1 October the Preliminary Requirements Review of the launch system began. The management plans and the preliminary specifications together with the technical and programmatic files of the concept were submitted for review.
 
The review was concluded by the board on 6 November. The review involved European experts from Arianespace, Italy’s ASI space agency, France’s CNES space agency, the DLR German Aerospace Center and ESA. European customers also participated and contributed to the consolidation of the Mission Requirement Document, which will drive the development.
 
The next step for the Ariane 6 project is the completion of a first Design Analysis Cycle, which is planned for the end of February, and which includes trade-offs for several subsystems. A second Design Analysis Cycle will start in March. The results of the second loop will feed the next ESA review: the System Requirements Review, planned for October–November 2014. In parallel, ESA has consulted industry to gather competing ideas on key launcher elements. More than 160 responses were received, and ESA is completing their evaluation.
 
 This will allow the progressive setting up of the industrial organisation, awarding contracts to subcontractors for the second Design Analysis Cycle and receiving an industry proposal for the full development of Ariane 6 in preparation for the next ESA Ministerial Council meeting. “Decisions taken by the ESA Council at Ministerial level in November 2012 are being implemented strictly and timely,” noted Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s Director of Launchers. Credit: ESA

 

Dubai Chosen for Aerospace Programme

Models during the launch of the GCC’s first space tourism programme at Fashion Cafe, Downtown Dubai. Credit: Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

 The UAE in general, and Dubai in particular, is one of the world’s biggest travel hubs. So, a travel agency officially opening bookings for an out-of-this-world holiday– for anybody who meets the health specifications – is only natural; even if the trip on offer is anything but. The engine starts running, but instead of vertically, you move horizontally.

At a speed of 4,000 kmph you travel to an altitude of 103 km. The engine switches off. You have become weightless. You are now officially in space. At $100,000 (Dh367,000) a head, tickets are now available in the UAE. Return ticket, i.e. Only one person will be permitted in the space ship per trip and this person will share the cockpit with the pilot.

Local travel agent Alchemy Tourism and Travel and the Netherlands-based Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) this week jointly launched their Space Tourism Programme in the GCC. The flights are scheduled to take off by end of 2014. Currently, there are two stations from where the SXC will take off; one in Mohavy, USA and one in Curacao, in the Caribbean.
 
Although Mohavy is a common departure place for space travel, Curacao is a destination selected by SXC for its suitable circumstances. The space shuttle will take off four times per day. There are several travel packages available with possible accommodation at the take-off location and transportation arrangements.
 
Crossing all barriers
 
Crossing the 100km barrier promises entry to space, explains Michiel Mol, co-founder of SXC. “It is internationally agreed that crossing the 100km barrier means that you are officially in space. “Anybody who has crossed 100km is officially an astronaut,” he says. Only 560 people in the world have been there so far, but with 250 tickets already sold, this is soon to change.
 
“This is not just for those with a high-net income. There are people who have saved for years to be able to do this. “If you ask people if they would like to go to space, in 50 per cent of the cases they answer with yes,” said Michiel. The space shuttle –named Lynx Mark II – will reach space in four minutes. For the next five-six minutes, its passengers will experience weightlessness.
The model of Lynx Mark II space shuttle. Credit: spacexc.com

The model of Lynx Mark II space shuttle. Credit: spacexc.com

During this time, the space shuttle will turn upside down, offering the spectacular view of earth. “This is a life-changing experience. You feel vulnerable while you find yourself in the thin layer around earth,” Michiel describes. His description is based on the conversations he has had with astronauts, who have all been there.
 
“Surprisingly astronauts are very enthusiastic about space tourism. They want everybody to experience what they have experienced. ” Apart from the costs, there is little that can stand in the way of the common man to go where, until now, not many have gone.
 
Health and training
 
Travelers must be above the age of 18, not taller than 2 meters and preferably not weighing more than 125kg. Apart from pregnancy or heart disease, there are no medical conditions that would complicate the trip. A mandatory training is included in the ticket price, explaining the basic procedures. For an optimised space travel experience, SXC offers three recommended one-day training programmes, discussing unearthly concepts such as weightlessness and G-force.
 
“When the shuttle returns to earth the body weight becomes four times as much as the original body weight, which is a feeling we are not used to. “During the training participants are prepared for this feeling so they can fully enjoy the trip,” explained Michiel.
 
The future
 
In the future, more stations might be opened in other parts of the world, not leaving out the UAE as an option. A bit further ahead in the future space travel might exceed the leisure purpose, Michiel expects, revealing that plans are in the making for space transportation. “We want to be able to reach any place in the world within 2 hours,” he says.
 
A leap into the future also promises of a space hotel, trips to Mars and possibly drive-your-own space ships. “Space travel is the future and this century is certainly that of a colonisation of space. Humans want to explore, and I think this is a good thing,” Michiel concludes. Credit: emirates247.com

 

Soviet Cosmonaut Alexander Serebrov Dies

Cosmonaut Alexander Serebrov. Credit: ITAR-TASS/Grigory Sysoev

 Soviet cosmonaut Alexander Serebrov died at his apartment in Khovanskaya street in Moscow on Tuesday. He was 69. His death was sudden, a source from Cosmonauts’ Training Center told Itar-Tass. Alexander Serebrov was born in Moscow on February 15, 1944. In 1967 Serevbrov graduated from the Moscow Physics Technological Institute (MFTI). In 1970 he received a post- graduate degree at MFTI. Since 1976 Serebrov had worked at Energia scientific -industrial Corporation and took part in space apparatus development programs. In December 1978 he was enrolled in a Team of Soviet cosmonauts.

As a cosmonaut Serebrov performed four space flights. In August 1982 he performed a space flight as a flight engineer on board the Soyuz T-7 spaceship with Leonid Popov- Chief pilot and woman-cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, who was a cosmonaut researcher. Serebrov worked on board the orbital station Salyut-6 with the main space crew – Anatoly Berezovoi and Valentin Lebedev.
 
Sereberov was on his second mission to space in April 1983, when he was sent to the orbital station Salyut-7 on board the spaceship Soyuz- T-8 with Chief Pilot Vladimir Titov and flight engineer Gennady Strekalov. Because of the failure of the aerial on board the spaceship and malfunctioning of the rapprochement system “Igla” the scheduled docking of the “Soyuz T-8″ with the Salyut-7 orbital station was not carried out. Serebrov’s space mission then continued for two days.
 
His third space flight as a flight engineer sent to the orbital station “Mir” with Chief pilot Alexander Viktorenko continued since September 6 , 1989 until February 19, 1990. During the space flight Serebrov made five space walks.
 
Serebrov had been to space a fourth time as a flight engineer of the Soyuz-TM-17 spaceship with Chief pilot Vasily Tsibliyev and research astronaut Jean-Pierre Hignere since July 1, 1993 until January 14. 1994. During the flight Serebrov made five space walks. All in all Alexander Serebrov had been to space for 372 days and 22 hours; the overall time of his ten space walks is 31 hours and 49 minutes. Serebrov resigned on May 10,1995. Credit: ITAR-TASS

 

Two Servicemen Die, Another Three Poisoned at Plesetsk Cosmodrome

Credit: ITAR-TASS

 Russian defense officials said Tuesday that two people were killed at the Plesetsk space launch facility last week while carrying out routine work cleaning out a propellant tank. Another three servicemen were hospitalized after being exposed to poisonous nitrogen vapors on November 9 as they were working in the cosmodrome in the northwestern Arkhangelsk province, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The servicemen are in no danger of losing their lives,” the ministry said.

It was unclear what accounted for the delay between the incident and its announcement, but sensitive military issues are typically kept highly confidential in Russia.Officials said the accident appeared to have been caused by failure to follow safety regulations. Russia hopes to steadily develop domestic space launch facilities such as Plesetsk as it looks to reduce reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome, which it leases from the former Soviet nation of Kazakhstan.
 

Under current goals, Russia’s Federal Space Agency will carry out nine-tenths of its space launches from Plesetsk and the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Far East by 2030. Only a quarter of launches are currently carried out within Russia itself. Russia uses Plesetsk to test intercontinental ballistic missile and launch satellites. The facility is also to be used to test the Angara heavy rocket, possibly from next year. Initial planned launches of the Angara had to be delayed from this year over complications in building a universal launch site. Credit: RIA Novosti

 

Spacecraft Wreck Found Near Baikonur.

Credit: press-service of the Department of Emergency Situations of Kyzylorda oblast

 A wreck of an unidentified spacecraft, origin unknown,  has been discovered not far from Baikonur, Tengrinews reports citing the Emergency Situations Ministry of Kazakhstan. Several objects resembling fragments of a spacecraft were found three kilometers from Kokzhabaky village of Kazaly region of Kyzyorda Oblast in southern Kazakhstan. There were no casualties. The site was cordoned off. A working commission to study the situation was formed. Meanwhile, Kyzylorda Oblast Emergency Situations Department told Tengrinews that the wrecks were discovered by shepherds who reported the discovery to the local police officer.

It is unclear if the wreck fell from above or was brought to the site from elsewhere for some reason. “The wreckage resembles a rocket nozzle. Representatives of the Emergency Situations Department, Kyzylorda Oblast Governor’s Office and ecologists are already working at the site,” the Department reported.
 
The fragments might be pieces of Dnepr rocket, Tengrinews reports. These may be the fragments of the Dnepr rocket that crashed right after it was launched in July, 2006, experts suggest. “If the wreckage, found near Kokzhabaky village is a piece of a rocket, then it probably belongs to the Dnepr that crashed on July 26, 2006,” a space from space industry told Interfax-Kazakhstan today.
Credit: press-service of the Department of Emergency Situations of Kyzylorda oblast

Credit: press-service of the Department of Emergency Situations of Kyzylorda oblast

According to the source, most of the rockets launched from Baikonur fly in the eastern direction, where there are impact areas for detaching parts of the rockets to fall. “Sometimes the rockets are launched in the northern and southern directions. Usually, they carry remote sensing satellites that must be put into sun-synchronous orbits to provide them effective surveying positions,” the expert said.
 
“That Dnepr rocket was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 26, 2006 in the southern direction. The rocket carried 18 small satellites of different countries. The main load was the remote sensing satellite BelKA of Belarus,” he continued. That time the rocket crashed 74 seconds after the launch. Its wreckage fell on uninhabited territories 150 kilometers from the launching pad (Zhahakala village was the nearest inhabited location).
 
The wrecks of the forebody with the satellites fell 20 kilometers from the rest of the rocket, and fragments of the rocket fairing were scattered 50 kilometers around the launching site,” the expert explained. Dnepr carrier rocket is is based on PC20 Voevoda ballistic rocket — called the SS-18 Satan by NATO — the most powerful ballistic rocket in the world. Credit: tengrinews.kz

 

Suborbital Spaceport in Wales Feasible

Spaceport America

 The UK should focus on the nascent sub-orbital spaceflight sector and become a future hub, opening its own spaceports, if it wants to make the best out of the emerging technology, think tank believes. Speaking at the International Space Commerce Summit in London Tuesday, Dan Lewis, Energy Policy Adviser at the Institute of Directors, said that despite the high population density and the extremely dense air-traffic in its airspace, the UK should seize the opportunity brought about by companies such as Virgin Galactic, XCOR or Blue Origin.

“We should capitalise on the deep local research culture,” Lewis said. “The progress in sub-orbital vehicle technology is moving faster than previously foreseen and can change the current dynamics of the space industry. We need to start thinking seriously about these opportunities,” he said, suggesting that in addition to the existing telecommunications and satellite research centres, UK universities should consider establishing dedicated sub-orbital technology research centres.
 
So far, telecommunications and satellite services have been the most thriving part of the UK’s space industry, creating more than £1.5bn in revenues annually. However, this dynamics could soon change, thanks to the emerging sub-orbital technology. “The next 20 years will be suborbital, the question is how to dig into these opportunities,” Lewis said. Lewis believes there are several locations in the UK offering favourable conditions to become future sub-orbital space flight hubs. “We are now examining the options, looking at various airfields. Right now, we believe the best location could be either in Torquay, Kinloss or Wales,” he said.
 
However, some of the delegates at the summit listening to Lewis’s presentation were sceptical. In fact, all existing spaceports have always been selected with safety of those on the ground and those in the air in mind, with preferable locations in abandoned sparsely populated areas with little commercial air-traffic above. Even the currently built Space Port America in the Mojave desert in New Mexico is by far not a busy location.
 
“Of course, we wouldn’t be launching from the Heathrow airport or London city,” Lewis said. “But we can certainly find options. For example, in the first years of operations, we can be taking off above water to reduce the risk for those on the ground,” he said. Even without sub-orbital, UK space sector is by far the fastest growing sector of the country’s economy, with an average growth rate of almost 7.5 per cent, and ambitions to increase annual turnover to £40bn by 2030. Credit: theiet.org

 

First Scottish-Built Satellite UKube-1 to Launch in 2014

UKube-1 satellite. Credit: Scottish Government

 A date has been set for the launch of the first satellite to be built in Scotland. UKube-1 will begin its journey to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this week. The satellite will then be launched on 10 February next year aboard a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket. UKube-1 is the UK Space Agency’s first CubeSat mission. It is relatively small satellite but it will pack in several experiments. These include FunCube, designed to engage school pupils in space, electronics, physics and radio.

CubeSats are tiny fully-functional satellites with typical mass of 4kg and dimensions of around 100mm x 100mm x 340mm. Such nanosatellites are designed to keep costs down by piggy-backing on larger launches. UKube-1 has been designed and built by the Glasgow company Clyde Space, at the West of Scotland Science Park in Maryhill. They are already a market leader in small satellite systems and have just announced record sales.
 
‘Roll on February’
 
Clyde Space said this would be the first of many complete satellites to be built in Scotland. Its chief executive Craig Clark said: “The sooner it’s launched the better because it will show our capabilities. “We’ve been at the mercy of other people’s programmes and that has caused the postponements, so roll on 10 February.” The small satellites can carry multiple payloads and their applications can be used from anything from astrophysics research to tracking ships or wildfires or taking high-resolution photographs.
 
Payloads in UKube-1 include the first GPS device aimed at measuring plasmaspheric space weather. It will also carry a payload made up of five experiments that UK students and the public can interact with. Credit: BBC

 

Ten Candidate Names for China’s First Moon Rover After Global Poll

The model of China's first moon rover. Credit: ecns.cn

 Ten possible names for China’s first moon rover, likely to be launched in December, have come out after a month-long online poll and debate of a jury board. “Yutu,” or jade hare in Chinese, tops the list while “Tansuo,” or explore, and “Lanyue,” or catch moon, came at the second and third places, said Sunday’s Beijing Times. Chinese at home and abroad were wooed to submit proposals for the name of the lunar rover at www.xinhuanet.com and www.qq.com from Sept. 25 to Oct. 25.

About 190,000 proposals were received and a 14-member jury board selected the ten most popular after heated debates and several rounds of vote on Saturday, said the newspaper report. Yutu is a white pet rabbit accompanying the goddess Chang’e on the moon in a popular ancient Chinese myth. In the next week, another online poll will elect the three most popular names and the final result will be announced in November.
 
The moon rover is scheduled to be on board of the Chang’e-3 moon probe, which will soft-land on the moon. The rover has two wings, stands on six wheels, weighs 140 kg and will be powered by solar energy. In an interview last month, Zhao Xiaojin, director of the aerospace department of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, depicted the lunar rover an orbiter adaptable to harsh environments; a highly efficient and integrated robot; and a high altitude “patrolman” carrying the dreams of Asia.
 
“When it arrives in lunar orbit on board a lander, the rover will choose the best landing site and gently touch down the moon’s surface, using optical and microwave sensors to avoid rocks and craters,” Zhao said. The Chang’e-3 moon probe is part of the second stage of China’s three-stage lunar mission, orbiting, landing, and analyzing lunar soil and stone samples. Credit: xinhuanet.com

 

New Roscosmos Chief Inspects Construction of Vostochy Spaceport

Artist's rendering of Vostochny spaceport. Credit: tsenki.com

 Slow progress in the construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome causes no serious concern, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) Oleg Ostapenko stated on Wednesday. “We have all the possibilities to compensate for the lag behind schedule,” he stressed to reporters during a visit to Uglegorsk. According to Ostapenko, the lag in the construction of the launch pad is three months; the same is the lag in building the technical area. Director of the Federal Agency for Special Construction (Spetsstroy) Alexander Volosov said the reason for this was rain.

The Roskosmos head on Wednesday arrived in Amur Oblast in order to assess the progress of the Vostochny cosmodrome construction. A closed-door meeting in Uglegorsk was to consider how to make up for lost time.Oleg Ostapenko also told reporters that after the construction of the Vostochny spaceport, Russia would continue to use the Baikonur cosmodrome. He said that the new cosmodrome’s possibilities would y also be used “to prevent the asteroid problem.”
 
The Russian Space Agency head also noted that Vostochny would be the most environmentally friendly spaceport. Vostochny is intended to replace Baikonur in Kazakhstan as Russia’s main launch facility, although in April RF President Vladimir Putin stressed Russia’s continued commitment to Baikonur. According to Roskosmos, Vostochny will host 45% of Russia’s space launches and all its manned flights from 2020, while Baikonur’s share will fall from 65% to 11%, with the remainder going to Plesetsk in Russia’s far north. The construction of Russia’s new cosmodrome Vostochny in the Far East has been underway since 2012. The first launch of a carrier rocket from this site is planned for 2015. Credit: ITAR-TASS
 

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Astronomy buffs in Taipei invited to track ‘Comet of the Century’ WantChinaTimes

Skywatchers are invited to join experts on Saturday in tracking two brightening comets, ISON and Lovejoy, a spokesperson from the Taipei 

 

Peter H says:

Yuri’s 50th anniversary came and went, and still the space excitement grows. A graphic novel has been created to celebrate the successful first manned spaceflight. Yuri’s Day illustrates the amazing stories of early rocket development through to the space race culminating in Gagarin’s successful manned space flight. Includes the raw detail – from the Chief Designer Korolev’s incarceration in a Stalin re-education (gulag) camp to the incredible space training methods employed by the Soviets. This is an accurate visual take on some incredible stories – an educational honouring of the past.

Printed in both paperback and hardcopy, English and Russian. Even an iPad App with interactive Russian TV set!

Sample pages can be viewed here: http://www.yuri-gagarin.com/about/