First Female Space Station Cosmonaut Preparing For Launch

Expedition 41/42 Flight Engineer Elena Serova of Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) direct her attention to infrared camera equipment as an instructor (out of frame) discusses it during a training session in the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center on April 16, 2014. The camera is to be used on spacewalks at the Earth-orbiting International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

 Russia is preparing to launch its first woman to the International Space Station (ISS). Elena Serova, 38, is slated to serve as a flight engineer, along with NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev.

The trio is due to launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on September 25 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. She is expected to spend up to six months in space performing biophysics and medical experiments.

Serova will become only the fourth Russian woman to fly in space and the first since cosmonaut Elena Kondakova joined a 1997 U.S. space shuttle crew (STS-84) to visit the now-defunct Mir space station. “I don’t think I’m doing anything extraordinary,” Serova said in a NASA interview.

“It is undoubtedly very important that we have all kinds of people working on the international space station — people from different countries, people from different professions, because the international space station is the beginning of something tremendous, something outstanding especially in light of further exploration, when people will be exploring other planets and other worlds.” she added.

Serova was selected as a test cosmonaut at the age of 30 in October 2006 while working as a flight engineer. She completed basic training at Star City in 2009.  “Her work programme at the ISS will not be anything extraordinary. It will be the usual research programme. A space walk is not planned,” said Alexei Temerov, an official at Russia’s Star City space training centre.

Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova, Expedition 41/42 flight engineer, poses for a portrait following an Expedition 41/42 preflight press conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Stafford

Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova, Expedition 41/42 flight engineer, poses for a portrait following an Expedition 41/42 preflight press conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Stafford

 The former Soviet Union launched the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, aboard a Vostok rocket on June 16, 1963. Almost 20 years later, the Soviets flew Svetlana Savitskaya to their Salyut 7 space station. Savitskaya returned for a second mission in 1984, during which she became the first woman to make a spacewalk.

By then, NASA had launched the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, who was a crew member on the June 1983 STS-7 shuttle mission.  Serova’s flight to the ISS will make her only the 58th women in history to leave the Earth out of the more than 500 worldwide space explorers. Credit: spacenews.com

Russia to Conduct First-Ever ‘Extreme Space’ Research Aboard Satellite

Credit: lomonosov.sinp.msu.ru

Russia is preparing to launch a scientific satellite that will, for the first time ever, give astrophysicists unique insight into the nature of extreme astrophysical phenomena. By that we mean cosmic gamma-ray bursts etc, according to the director of an institute participating in the study. The Lomonosov satellite is to be put into orbit in 2015 as part of the inaugural launch at Russia’s brand-new Vostok space center. “Lomonosov carries an entire space lab for experimenting with extreme phenomena, in both near and outer space,” said Mikhail Panasyuk, director of Moscow State University’s Institute of Nuclear Physics, one of the organizations taking part in the project.

Speaking at an MSU roundtable meeting Wednesday, Pansyuk said the advanced satellite would help scientists study ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. “This is the first time an experiment of this nature will be conducted,” he stressed.

“We hope the Lomonosov satellite will help us develop the space-based part of a system to monitor potential asteroid threats,” the scientist added. Cosmic gamma-ray bursts and ultra-high-energy cosmic rays are traditionally associated with the processes that occurred in the initial stages of the universe’s development, which means they could also shed some light on the evolution of the universe. Credit: RIA Novosti

Russia, ESA to Cooperate on Phobos Mission

An image of Phobos by the High-Resolution Stereo Camera on board Mars Express on 22 January 2007. The larger and inner of the two martian moons is seen here floating just above the martian limb. The image has been enhanced slightly to bring out the detail on the moon. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

 Russia will cooperate with the European Space Agency (ESA) on its Boomerang mission to obtain samples from the largest Martian moon Phobos by 2020, Viktor Khartov, head of the Lavochkin aerospace company, told ITAR-TASS on Wednesday. “We are currently working on getting a joint position with the European Space Agency. This is part of our joint activities with the ESA after the ExoMars programme,” Khartov said, adding that specialists were actively working on the Mars exploration project.

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency signed an agreement on the joint ExoMars program in March 2013 to investigate the Martian environment and to demonstrate new technologies paving the way for a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020’s.

Two missions are foreseen within the ExoMars programme: one consisting of an Orbiter plus an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module, to be launched in 2016, and the other, featuring a rover, with a launch date of 2018.

The ExoMars programme will demonstrate a number of essential flight and enabling technologies that are necessary for future exploration missions, such as an international Mars Sample Return mission. A number of important scientific investigations will be carried out, including a search for signs of past and present life on Mars, investigations into the water and geochemical environment varies and studies of Martian atmospheric trace gases and their sources. Credit: ITAR-TASS

 First Stage of Vostochny Cosmodrome to be Put into Operation in a Year

Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko (first from the left) and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (second from the left) inspecting Vostochny Cosmodrome construction site. Credit: spetsstroy.ru

The first stage of the Vostochny (Eastern) spaceport in the Russian Far East will be put into operation in a year, said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin who is in charge of the construction of the facility and the Russian defense industry sector. Rogozin inspected the technical area, construction site of the first launch pad, saw the work of the student construction brigades engaged in the work for the construction of the “Tsiolkovsky city of space intelligentsia.” “We note that the task to involve student construction brigades has been fulfilled,” the deputy prime minister said. “We have attracted the students of space universities.

The guys have come to the place where they will be living, working and achieving their dreams of working in the Russian space industry,” the official said.  At the moment, Rogozin stressed, one of the main tasks is the synchronisation of the actions of Russia’s Federal Special Construction Agency (Spetsstroy) and industry for the delivery of the needed equipment.

At a meeting on the spaceport construction Rogozin said that he would sign the order of the Russian government that would obligate the federal officials who are responsible for the Vostochny construction to visit the construction site every three months as a minimum.

The decree on the construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 6, 2007. The cosmodrome is located in the Far East in the Amur region. The total area of Vostochny will reach about 700 square kilometres.

Vostochny will become the first national civilian spaceport ensuring Russia’s independent access to outer space. The first launch from Vostochny is planned for late 2015, and the first manned flight – for 2018.

First Man to Walk in Space Celebrates His 80th Birthday

Aleksei Leonov. Credit: Russia-24/vk.com

Soviet cosmonaut and first spacewalker in the world, Aleksei Leonov, celebrated his 80th birthday on Friday. In March 1965 he was outside his spaceship for 12 minutes.

He was connected to the craft by a 5.35 meter tether. Later, Leonov commanded the Soviet side of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, the first joint space mission between the Soviet Union and the United States. Leonov is also an accomplished artist, whose works are displayed in many art galleries in Russia and abroad, and an author of several popular books about space.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have congratulated the legendary cosmonaut, who was twice awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title, on his anniversary and wished him good health, happiness and success. “Your professional biography, rich in significant and truly historical events, and all your life is a worthy example of unblinking devotion to the cause and of enormous personal courage,” Putin said in a telegramme, published on the Kremlin website on Friday.

“As a representative of the first legendary team of cosmonauts, you have added one of the brightest and unforgettable chapters to the chronicles of space exploration,” the telegramme said. “You have made an outstanding contribution to developing the country’s aerospace industry and strengthening its scientific and technical potential.”

The president especially noted Leonov’s active social and creative work, his constant and sincere attention to problems of preserving and continuing traditions of national astronautics. Prime Minister Medvedev also noted the cosmonaut’s versatile talent and rare commitment to work, thanks to which Leonov managed to share his impressions with other people, who duly appreciated his literary and artistic works.

“A whole epoch in the development of not only Russian but also the world’s aeronautics is associated with your name,” Medvedev said. “You are a man of courage and a representative of the legendary first team of space conquerors. You were the first to walk in open space and you participated in the famous Soviet-US Apollo-Soyuz programme, which became quite literally ‘a link-up of detente’.”  “Today, this is a reminder to all of us that space is a platform for the closest and most fruitful cooperation,” Medvedev added.

Aleksei Leonov was born on 30 May, 1934 in the small village of Listvyanka 600 kilometres north of the city of Kemerovo in the southeast of Western Siberia. After early schooling in Kaliningrad, Leonov joined the Soviet Air Force in 1953 and was selected for cosmonaut training in 1959. In 1965 he became the first person to perform a spacewalk. After exiting the spacecraft Voskhod-2 and while tethered to the ship, Leonov made observations, took motion pictures before re-entering the ship. A decade later he commanded the Soyuz craft that linked in orbit with the US Apollo craft in July 1975. Credit: ITAR-TASS

Soyuz Space Ticket at $45-50 Million

US space tourist Dennis Tito celebrates after his landing near the Kazakh town of Arkalyk (some 300 km from Astana), 06 May 2001. (AFP Photo / Alexander Nemenov)

 Anybody willing to go to orbit may travel to the International Space Station for $45-50 million. This is the price tag for a two-week tour, delivery by Soyuz spacecraft, Russia’s Energia Rocket and Space Corporation revealed. “A trip to deep space is a trip for a distance of no more than 100 kilometers. Speaking about trips to the orbit, there have been a few tourists, but there are no many interested people,” says President of RKK Energia Vitaly Lopota. “One seat to go to the ISS for about two weeks is about $45-50 million,” he added as cited by Itar-Tass news agency.

For comparison, the world’s first “space tourist”, multimillionaire Dennis Tito and former NASA engineer, bought a seat aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2001 for $20 million. His trip to the ISS lasted for eight days. For now there are 925 applications to go to on suborbital trips, which four American companies share. But low interest should not stop space tourism development. In the future, space scientists should focus on colonization of other planets.

“Further than Mars we would not go,” Lopota said, adding that to go deeper in space different principles of travel should be invented. Russia already voiced its plans to colonize the moon by 2030. The first stage of the ambitious project might start as soon as two years from now. Credit: rt.com

Russian Minister Rebukes Investigators Over Rocket Sabotage Statement

Proton-M rocket crash on May 16, 2014. Credit: Roscosmos

 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Thursday scolded an interagency commission tasked with investigating the recent malfunction of a rocket for citing sabotage as a possible cause of the crash. “The [possibility] of sabotage has not been ruled out.” Alexander Danilyuk, head of the commission, said in a statement released Thursday by the Federal Space Agency, or Roscosmos. The Russian Proton-M rocket took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan two weeks ago carrying an advanced communications satellite, but ground control lost contact with it after nine minutes and its fuel and component parts burned up in the atmosphere. The failure, Russia’s fifth since 2010, was put down to a malfunction in a steering engine, and the commission is analyzing all possible causes, including skullduggery. 

Danilyuk gave no details at what stage during the rocket’s assembly sabotage could have occurred. Last week, Danilyuk said four causes of the Proton-M accident were being considered. The commission quickly excluded the accident’s cause as a result of a control system failure. Rogozin, who oversees the space and defense industries, and is never one to shy away from inflammatory remarks, ripped into Roscosmos’ statement via social media.

 The “accident commission should first finish its work and present its results to the Russian government, and then torment society with subsequent versions of the incident,” Rogozin wrote on Twitter. Roscosmos said in a second statement Thursday that looking into the possibility of sabotage is standard procedure for any accident investigation and that the commission has not uncovered any evidence to support suspicions of foul play. “The human factor version, including the possibility of a deliberate violation of production norms, is considered during an investigation into every accident or incident, it’s a standard procedure. The commission has no information to prove it,” Roscosmos said in a statement.

Based on the commission’s findings, Roscosmos is preparing a report into the crash that will be submitted to the government. Roscosmos did not say when the report would be ready. Roscosmos Head Oleg Ostapenko earlier said an emergency shutdown of the third stage engine was being considered as the primary cause of the accident. The investigation has found “no violations” at the Voronezh-based Khimavtomatika Design Bureau, which manufactures third stage engines for Proton space rockets, and at the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center. This is not the first time that Russian space officials have raised the specter of sabotage after high-level and embarrassing rocket failures put the industry under scrutiny.

In 2012, former Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin suggested that several rocket failures since 2010, including that of the Phobos-Grunt probe, destined for one of the Martian moons, had been caused by foreign saboteurs, though no concrete evidence supporting his claims ever came to light.

The Proton-M rocket suffered an unknown failure and was lost May 16, about nine minutes after being launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. The upper stage and its payload, the advanced Express-AM4R communications satellite, burned up in the atmosphere above China, with no debris reaching Earth. The Express-AM4R satellite was manufactured by Astrium, an aerospace subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), and was built as part of Russia’s space program for 2006-2015. The crashed rocket was insured for 7.8 billion rubles ($224 million). Credit: themoscowtimes.comRIA Novosti

Government Backs UK Launch Site Plan for Space Tourism

Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo spaceship at Spaceport America. Credit: Virgin Galactic

A British spaceport could be launching crafts into space within five years, the science minister has said. This is a burgeoning new industry called Space Tourism spearheaded by sheer guts. David Willetts announced Tuesday that a group of space, defence, business and transport experts has been formed to find a suitable base for the launch site. The spaceport could be operational as early as 2019 to take advantage of a new era in space tourism, with Mr Willetts saying he hoped Virgin Galactic would take off from the new site. It will also act as a satellite launch centre. Although no sites have been earmarked, Mr Willetts said it was unlikely the spaceport would be in south east England.

The government has backed plans for a four-fold expansion of the UK space industry to £40bn by 2030. The government made the announcements in response to an industry report published last year called the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy Action Plan. The industry grew by 7% per annum during the recession. Space technology requires ultra-high precision engineering, which is a UK strength with a background in defence technology companies.

 This, coupled with British strength in space science, makes it ideally placed to take advantage of the projected rapid expansion in low-cost satellite launches and space tourism. Space is already a multi-billion-pound industry. The science minister has been a supporter of the UK space industry and has fostered closer links with the European Space Agency (ESA).

 He was closely involved in negotiating the selection of ESA’s first “official” UK astronaut, Tim Peake. Major Peake will be going into space next year to conduct experiments on the International Space Station (ISS). Mr Willetts said that the space sector could “propel” UK growth. “Space industries already support 95,000 full-time jobs and generate £9.1bn for the economy each year, and our response to the Growth Action Plan shows our commitment to secure its future growth and realise ambitions to develop a viable UK spaceport for commercial space flight,” he explained.

 Speaking of the planned spaceport Mr Willets said: “We want an area where there is not much civil airspace, where it is not very busy.” “It might be smaller airports, it might be underused or disused RAF airfields. “We’re starting to look at relatively remote parts of the country. “We’re rediscovering our great tradition of developing space vehicles and having a spaceport where we can launch will be part of that long term plan.”

 Currently Britain has no space launch facilities, even for unmanned rockets. When British astronaut Tim Peake joins the International Space Station next year he will launch from either French Guiana or Kazahkstan. Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company, will begin launches from New Mexico in the US, but it is likely the business will want a base in Europe.

 Sweden has already declared an interest in making its far northern town of Kiruna into a European spaceport.  The spaceport is also likely to be a base for the Sylon spaceplane being developed by Reaction Engines, a private British company. Credit: telegraph.co.uk

Russia to Begin Moon Colonization in 2030, Newspaper Reports

 Russia will start colonizing the Moon in 2030, Izvestia daily reported on Thursday. The daily has received a draft concept of Russian lunar program developed by enterprises of the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), a Russian Academy of Sciences institute and Moscow State University. Notably, the draft concept envisages “creation of a lunar testing ground and a base for extraction of natural resources,” the daily reported.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said in an article published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily on April 11 that Russia’s strategic goals in space exploration were linked to a broader presence on low Earth orbits, colonization of the Moon and launching exploration of Mars and other objects of the Solar System. “Authors of the project do not rule out attracting private investors to lunar projects”, and “first expeditions with cosmonauts’ landing to create a permanent lunar base are planned in 2030,” the daily reported.

It is needed to explore the Moon dynamically, the project authors recommended, because “leading space powers will explore and assign for themselves lunar territories suitable to provide future opportunities of practical use in the next 20-30 years.”

“The Moon is a first step on the way to the deep space,” chief scientific fellow of the Institute of Space Policy Ivan Moiseyev said. “Therefore, it is reasonable to use the Moon as a promising spaceport,” he added. “As for extraction of mineral resources on the Moon, it is senseless to deliver them to the Earth, because even if diamonds are found there, it will be unprofitable to bring them here all the same,” Moiseyev believes. “But in any case it is possible to start with oxygen generation, as it exists on the Moon in many chemical compounds,” the scientist noted.

Such large-scale projects as colonization of the Moon or Mars would hardly be funded from the state budget, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics Andrei Ionin said.

“Planet exploration by people will be a prerogative of private companies,” Ionin said. “There are already many such projects now that envisage Mars colonization, production of mineral resources on asteroids and similar initiatives. It is difficult to imagine that some government will be prepared to spend trillions for creation of lunar bases, because they have a good deal of other, more vital tasks, including medicine, education, army,” he added.

Roscosmos explained that initiatives in the federal space program would pass a comprehensive expertise at the level of experts and scientists of several industries, and after that the program would be submitted to the government, the daily reported.Credit: ITAR-TASS

Russia to Keep Working With Astronauts From US, Europe, Japan

Y.A. Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City © RIA Novosti. Roman Sokolov

Russian cosmonauts will continue to work with their colleagues from the US, Europe and Japan, despite a number of recent NASA statements about curtailing space cooperation.

That was said by the head of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. “I have been flying with these guys, with the Americans and the Europeans, my friends have been flying as well,” Yuri Lonchakov, a former cosmonaut, said in an interview with the Russia-24 TV channel.

“I can say for sure that we have always worked together for the good of Earth and will keep on working in the future. So these recent statements are wrong. Our colleagues in the US, Europe, Canada and Japan have also confirmed their readiness to continue joint projects,” he said. Lonchakov was appointed head of the cosmonaut training center earlier this month.

He earlier told RIA Novosti that he had accepted the offer by Roscosmos to focus on creating a new organization for the strategic development of Russian manned spaceflight, which would be established on the basis of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building, Roscosmos’ leading spacecraft scientific center.Credit: RIA Novosti

Russia to Test Launch New Angara Rocket June 25

Russia to Test Launch New Angara Rocket June 25 © RIA Novosti. Grigory Dubovitsky 

The date of the maiden launch of Russia’s new Angara rocket has been set for June 25, an official with the Russian Space Agency told RIA Novosti Friday. “The launch is set for June 25, with the 26th as a backup date,” the official said. He added the rocket would be fired without an orbital payload from the Plesetsk space center, located about 800 kilometers north of Moscow.

The Angara family of rockets, in development since 1995, is planned to be built in light, semi-heavy and heavy versions to lift a variety of payloads between 2 and 40 metric tons into low earth orbit. The rocket has a liuid-oxygen and kerosene powered first stage and hydrogen-oxygen fueled second stage, so-called “green” fuels that will make the rocket both more ecologically friendly and safer for support personnel than the country’s current largest rocket, the Proton.

Angara is designed to complement the country’s venerable Soyuz rocket, currently the only vehicle in the world capable of launching astronauts to the International Space Station.Credit: RIA Novosti

Roscosmos Head Discusses Rocket Launches, and Crimea’s Space

Roscosmos Head Oleg Ostapenko at news conference on April 24, 2014. Credit: ITAR-TASS

 The Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) is planning to launch five Soyuz 2.1v carrier rockets from the northern Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the next two years, Roscosmos Head Oleg Ostapenko told a news conference on Thursday. He also added that a project to build a new super-heavy carrier rocket was included into the new Federal Space Program (FSP). “We are actively working on the payload with the Defence Ministry. We will carry out five qualification launches with a payload from Plesetsk,” he said. “A [super] heavy carrier rocket was included into the new FSP. Work is still under way, with the first stage envisaging the construction of a rocket capable of lifting from 70 to 80 metric tons.”

The first trial launch of the Angara rocket from Plesetsk scheduled for June 25 will be executed without payload but with a test weight. The new carrier rocket will be used to launch both civilian and military spacecraft and in international space cooperation projects.

A mock-up of the Angara carrier rocket was taken out of the assembly shop at the northern Plesetsk Cosmodrome and installed in the launch pad area in February. Angara is one of the priorities in the development of the Plesetsk spaceport. In November 2013, a full-scale mock-up of the rocket was for the first time put up at the launch pad. It was a fully operational rocket but intended for ground testing only, not for launching.

Work to create the ground infrastructure for the new rocket and prepare an Angara launch is part of the federal programme aimed at developing Russia’s cosmodromes in 2006-2015. A super-heavy lift launch vehicle will be able to carry a payload of 80 tonnes to low-earth orbits. In the future, its capacity can be increased to 160 tonnes and more. Angara will allow Russia to launch all kinds of spacecraft to any orbit. Now Russia can launch heavy satellites only aboard Proton rockets from Baikonur, which it leases from Kazakhstan for about 115 million U.S. dollars a year.

According to Khrunichev, a big advantage of the new rocket carrier is that “it is a universal space rocket system” capable of taking three types of rockets into space: light with a payload of up to 3.5 tonnes, medium with a payload of up to 14.6 tonnes, and heavy with a payload of up to 24.5 tonnes. Medium lift and heavy lift launch vehicles can take payloads to the geostationary orbit as well.

The vehicle uses a unique engineering solution: the carrier can be assembled of the same modules. Their maximum number is five in a heavy version, three in a medium version, and one in a light version. They can all be launched form the same pad, not like now at Baikonur where each carrier requires its own launching pad.

The Angara class of rockets comprises four types of vehicles, with payload capacities ranging between 3.7 tones /light class, intended for low orbits/ and 28.5 tonnes.

The rockets are based on a universal rocket module powered by the RD-191 engine using kerosene and liquid oxygen. One such module makes up the first stage of the light class Angara 1.1 and Angara 1.2 boosters. Their second stages are different. The medium and heavy class boosters Angara-3 and Angara 4 are an extension of the light class types with additional three or four universal modules. Depending on the specific tasks, the booster can be equipped with the Briz-M or KVRB accelerator units.

The first light-lift launch vehicle Soyuz 2.1v (with a Volga booster and a satellite) was launched on December 28, 2013 from Plesetsk.

Soyuz-2.1v is a two-stage light carrier rocket and can lift off from the launch pads designed for Soyuz-2 rockets. Complete with a Volga booster, Soyuz-2.1v will be able to deliver spacecraft to circular orbits of up to 1,500 km and heliosynchronous orbits of up to 850 km.

Zenit rocket launches

 Roscosmos believes it would be illogical to start the production of Ukrainian-made Zenit space launch rockets in Russia, Ostapenko said. “In regard to the Zenit, I can say that making the same carrier rocket here makes no sense. The situation in Ukraine isn’t fully stabilized so far, but there is no reason to make a stake on the Zenit carrier rocket, but time will tell depending on the development of events,” Ostapenko revealed.

 “Today we are oriented around our national Russian carrier rockets,” he said. Zenit rockets are manufactured by the State Design Bureau Yuzhnoye in the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, but more than two thirds of the rockets’ components are sourced in Russia.

 The Zenit-SL carrier rocket is launched from the Sea Launch floating platform and from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan. The most recent ground launch was in late 2011. The last Sea Launch attempt on February 1, 2013 was unsuccessful. The rocket crashed into the Pacific Ocean following an emergency shutdown of its first-stage engine. A Russian government commission that investigated the failure ruled that “the accident was caused by defective blocks manufactured in Ukraine” and “there was nothing wrong with the Russian-made equipment.”

Crimea’s space infrastructure

Crimea’s space infrastructure will be used and developed, Ostapenko said. Crimea, in his words, “has many interesting things”: an observatory, a unique station near Yevpatoria, and a number of other stations.

 “We have decided what is interesting for us,” he said. “We have set up a joint group with a number of other agencies, which have their own visions and possibilities of further use (of Crimea’s space infrastructure). Now we are working on a programme on what is to be used and how to develop these facilities in future,” he added

Earlier, the director of the Main (Pulkovo) Astronomical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander Stepanov has said that the reunification of Crimea with Russia can and must lead to revival of science on the peninsula, first of all astronomy.

The scientific potential created in Crime in the Soviet times can be restored, he believes. Astronomical instruments are in good working condition, but many scientists from the observatory left for the United States, Belgium and Russia. Many went into business. There is a reflector a 2.5-metre telescope, one of Europe’s largest, and several smaller telescopes at the Crimean astrophysical observatory. A powerful 22-metre radio telescope is located in the village of Nauchny. After technical renovation, it can give perfect material to study Gamma radiation, Stepanov notes.

“The Crimean observatory can become the brightest diamond in the crown of Russia’s astronomy,” the scientist said, “not only for its good instruments, but for its climate favourable to take high-quality pictures,” he noted. St. Petersburg, where the Pulkovo observatory is located, has only 80-90 clear days a year, while Crimea has 200. With a competent approach, the scientific potential in Crime can make the peninsula a leading scientific centre, he concluded.

Working together

Ostapenko also discussed international cooperation. He said that Russia is set to develop its space cooperation with India, China and Japan. “Recently, we received an invitation from Japan to discuss an array of questions,” he added. The announcement was made amid threats of Russia’s western partners to freeze or cut cooperation with Russia amid tensions over Ukraine and Crimea secession. NASA threatened to cut space ties with Russia, but Roscosmos has yet received no official notifications.

The Russian space chief said that despite belligerent rhetoric, Russia’s space cooperation with European partners remains unharmed. “We are now communicating with the space agencies of France, Germany and, particularly, with the European [Space Agency],” he told journalists. Russia and its BRICS partners India and China have a long history of cooperation, including in space.

In July 2004, Russia and India signed a protocol to boost cooperation in space including space launches and joint development of the GLONASS satellite navigation system. Deputy head of Roscosmos Sergey Savelyev said in mid-April that Russia and China are coordinating on major future research projects in space and agreed last year to expand it. Credit: ITAR-TASSRIA Novosti

Поехали! Russia Celebrates Cosmonautics Day

Soviet postcard commemorating Yuri Gagarin's flight

 ”Poyekhali! (Off We Go!)” were Yuri Gagarin’s first words as his Vostok capsule took off in the first manned orbit of the Earth. Russia celebrates Cosmonautics Day every April 12.

This holiday was instituted by the April 9, 1962 executive order of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet (Parliament) in honor of the first manned space flight. On April 12, 1961, a launch vehicle orbited the Vostok spacecraft with the first cosmonaut, Soviet citizen Yuri Gagarin, on board. After circling the Earth once, the spacecraft’s descent module landed in the USSR.

The cosmonaut ejected at an altitude of several kilometers above the ground and parachuted into a field at 10.55 am Moscow Time. He landed on the bank of the Volga River near the village of Smelovka in the Ternovsky District of the Saratov Region.  The flight lasted 108 minutes, and the launch of the world’s first manned spacecraft was supervised by Sergei Korolev, Anatoly Kirillov and Leonid Voskresensky.

 This history-making event paved the way for space exploration for the benefit of the entire humankind. New opportunities in space were created in 2000 when the first crew boarded the International Space Station (ISS), a joint space project involving 15 countries.

 The station is tracked 24 hours a day from the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Mission Control Center in Korolev near Moscow and NASA’s Mission Control Center at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.  Since the start of its operation, the ISS has gradually turned into a huge laboratory in near-Earth space.  In the years following Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight, over 500 people from almost 40 countries have flown in space.

 In 1962, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR Gherman Titov, Yuri Gagarin’s backup man during the first space flight, voiced an initiative to institute Cosmonautics Day in the USSR. He also suggested calling on the UN, on behalf of the Soviet Government, to institute World Cosmonautics Day.

 In November 1968, delegates of the 61st General Conference of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI – World Air Sports Federation) decided to celebrate World Day of Aviation and Astronautics every April 12. The celebration of this day was confirmed by the April 30, 1969 decision of the FAI Council, made at the recommendation of the Air Sports Federation of the USSR. 

 In the Russian Federation, Cosmonautics Day was instituted as a memorable date by Article 1.1 of the March 13, 1995 Federal Law On the Days of Military Glory and Memorable Dates in Russia.

 On Cosmonautics Day, all employees of the Russian aerospace industry, including designers, scientists, engineers, workers and pilot-cosmonauts, space equipment testers, mission control center personnel, experts of the command and measuring complex, those receiving, processing and storing incoming spacecraft and orbital station data, are congratulated and honored.

 On April 7, 2011, acting on the initiative of Russia, the UN General Assembly proclaimed April 12 International Day of Human Space Flight. This decision coincided with the 50th anniversary of the first step in space exploration, namely, the trailblazing flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.  This resolution was co-authored by over 60 UN member-countries.

 The UN General Assembly voiced its deep conviction regarding the common interest of humankind in promoting the peaceful exploration and use of space that belongs to the human race, expanding the scale of this activity and exerting consistent efforts to allow all countries to use the related benefits.

 Since 2001, many countries have held a Yuri’s Night event in honor of Yuri Gagarin. This event is sponsored by the Space Generation Advisory Council, the official consultant of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications. Yuri’s Night is dedicated to the following two events: the first manned space flight (April 12, 1961, USSR) and the first manned space flight in line with NASA’s Space Shuttle program (April 12, 1981).  In 2011, the year of the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight, Yuri’s Night involved over 100,000 people in 75 countries.  Credit: RIA Novosti

CERN and ESA Sign Cooperation Agreement

ESA, the European Space Agency, and CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, signed a cooperation agreement on 28 March to foster future collaborations on research themes of common interest. The image shows ESA Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, with CERN's Director General, Rolf Heuer. Credit: M. Brice – 2014 CERN

 CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, and ESA, the European Space Agency, signed a cooperation agreement on 28 March at Geneva airport to foster future collaborations on research themes of common interest. Future areas may include the development and characterization of innovative materials for applications in extreme conditions and for cutting-edge scientific performances, the development of new micro-technologies to be applied in miniaturized distributed sensor systems and the development and testing of high-performance detectors for high-energy physics experiments and space payloads.

Mauro Dell’Ambrogio, the State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation of Switzerland, highlighted how the two institutions complement each other as examples of successful European collaboration and worldwide excellence in science and technology: “CERN and ESA are two examples that attest to the approach of European collaboration for global benefit.”

Geneviève Fioraso, Minister for Higher Education and Research of France, stated that, “This cooperation agreement brings concrete expression to the long shared history of two international organisations that are emblematic of the strength of European science: CERN and ESA. This joining together in the exploration of the infinite, from the infinitely large that is the focus of the sciences of the Universe to the infinitely small in high energy physics, opens up new avenues for science and technology, bringing progress and strengthening European industry.”

 “CERN and ESA have common roots and share a long history of pioneering research work in their respective fields,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “This new cooperation agreement will foster synergies between the expertise, know-how and facilities available in the two Organizations.”

 This year is CERN’s 60th anniversary and ESA’s 50th, making the signature an opportunity to celebrate the memory of a scientist who was a founding father of both organizations: the Italian, Edoardo Amaldi (5 September 1908 – 5 December 1989).

 Amaldi had an unshakeable belief in the open nature of science and the need for international cooperation. After participating in the creation of CERN during the 1950s, he became Secretary General of the provisional organization. Then, in 1958 when CERN was firmly established, he joined forces with French physicist Pierre Auger to urge European governments to set up a European organisation for space research, based on the CERN model. Their vision led to the founding of the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), which later became ESA.

 During the ceremony, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain presented Heuer with copies of letters by Amaldi in which he lays out his concern for peace, and the role science should play in fostering it. These letters were flown aboard ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle 3 – a spacecraft named in Amaldi’s honour. The ceremony took place in the presence of members of Amaldi’s family, along with Research Ministers and State Secretaries from Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland. Credit: CERN

Moon, Mars, Solar System Colonization Top Tasks of Russia’s Space Program

The Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft is seen after being erected on the launch pad on Sunday, March 23, 2014, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky


Russia has determined the general conceptual basis of outer space exploration and development. Top tasks of the country are to expand its presence on low earth orbits, exploration and colonization of the Moon, start of exploration of Mars and other Solar System objects. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said this in his article published by Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily on Friday. In his words, the near future goals of Russian space industry should become the formation of a market of space services and advanced achievements in exploration and development of remote space resources.

The domestic project on far space exploration would play a special role in this, Rogozin noted. Now the Russian space agency Roscosmos jointly with several ministries and in cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences and Russian state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom are instructed to draft and formulate proposals on expediency of project’s implementation, he added.

 “The key trends of developments within this national project will be creation of nuclear power plants and energy conversion plasma technologies, development of biotechnologies, robotic machinery and new materials,” the deputy prime minister added.

 “At the same time, works are being launched to make a technical shape of a piloted spaceship on a basis of a super-heavy rocket for lunar missions and to the Mars in the future,” Rogozin added. Feasibility studies are also being done “to create powerful orbital transfer vehicles without which exploration of the Moon and Solar System planets is impossible.”

 Meanwhile, a weak spot of Russian cosmonautics remains production of high-quality domestic electronics, exactly speaking, electronic component base, deputy prime minister noted. “Space-borne transponders on telecommunications satellites being created in the last few years are produced fully by foreign companies or by Russian space enterprises on a basis of foreign components,” the deputy prime minister stated. “Therefore, the military-industrial committee empowered the Federal Space Agency to assume the role of systemic integrator and actual contractor of radiation-resistance electronic component base for domestic productions,” the deputy premier added.

 Rogozin also commented on the halt of NASA’s cooperation with Russia. He said that today, amid sanctions, there is an opportunity to draft a development strategy of domestic piloted space missions independently from unreliable international partners. Credit: ITAR-TASS 

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


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

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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/