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Wetlands worldwide are vanishing at an alarming rate. New maps produced by ESA’s GlobWetland Africa project show how satellite observations can be used for the effective use and management of wetlands in Africa.
After six months on the International Space Station and just over four as commander, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will return to Earth together with US astronaut Christina Koch and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov in the Soyuz-MS13 spacecraft.
In the third episode of our ‘Fit for space’ training series, ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer explains how astronauts learn to survive on their own if ever a spacecraft lands away from its intended landing site.
Generally a spacecraft lands within a few kilometers of its landing site, but sometimes they return in a so-called ‘ballistic mode’ in a steeper entrance trajectory putting the astronauts under increased gravity loads, and landing with less precision – sometimes 400 km away from the intended landing area.
From winter survival to water survival, astronauts are prepared for anything, from building fires and shelters, to surviving cold waters and righting capsized life rafts.
The video includes footage from the Soyuz winter survival training, water survival training fire emergency training as well as Chinese sea survival training.
Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana is gearing up for the arrival of Ariane 6, Europe’s next-generation launch vehicle. This aerial view taken in January 2020 shows the main elements of the new launch complex.
The 8200 tonne 90 metre-high mobile gantry will house Ariane 6 before launch. First in July then again in December 2019, the gantry was rolled along its rails to its prelaunch position over the launch pad. Platforms inside the gantry will allow engineers access to the rocket for integration and maintenance. The mobile gantry is retracted before launch.
Flame trenches on either side of the gantry will funnel the exhaust at liftoff.
Four lightning masts have been erected around the launch pad to protect against lightning strikes.
The water tower pictured left of the mobile gantry will provide the water that will quell the fiery plumes at liftoff.
The assembly building, on the right, is 20 m tall, 112 m long and 41 m wide and is located 1 km away from the launch pad. This is used for Ariane 6's horizontal preparation and integration before rollout to the launch zone.
ESA’s new Sun-explorer, Solar Orbiter, will capture close-up images of never before seen regions of our parent star, including the poles, and study the electromagnetic environment in its vicinity. The cutting-edge spacecraft will get as close as 42 million kilometres away from the Sun, about a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth, and face scorching temperatures of up to 500°C.
ESA has a long history of studying the Sun from space. Since the launch of Ulysses in 1990, the agency has led or cooperated on several Sun-exploring missions including SOHO, the Cluster quartet and Proba-2.
The video provides a summary of ESA’s past and present Sun-exploring ventures, which have transformed our understanding of the star.
The A and B roll features ESA’s archive material tracing the agency’s past missions to the Sun.
The B roll contains new cleanroom footage showing the early stages of integration of Solar Orbiter into the upper stage of the Atlas V launcher.
The B-roll also contains newly re-digitised ESA archive material.
Week in images: 27-31 January 2020
Discover our week through the lens.
World Wetlands Day is celebrated internationally each year on 2 February. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, known as the Ramsar Convention, in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971.
World Wetlands Day raises global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for our planet, paying particular attention to wetland biodiversity.
This Copernicus Sentinel-2 image takes us over Lake George, in western Uganda. In 1988, Lake George was designated as Uganda’s first Ramsar site, given its importance as a centre for biological diversity.
This equatorial lake covers an area of around 250 sq km and has an average depth of around 2.4 metres. Lake George is fed by a complex system of rivers and streams originating from the Rwenzori mountains – supplying a system of permanent swamps surrounding the lake.
A dense fringe of wetland grass, visible in bright green, can be seen around the edges of the lake in the centre of the image.
The wetlands provide a natural living space for a number of mammals including elephants, hippopotamus and antelope. They also provide a habitat for over 150 species of birds including several rare species such as the saddle-billed stork.
Seen from above, the waters of Lake George appear green as a result of the thick concentration of blue-green algae. Metal pollution, mine seepage and agricultural runoff has caused serious pollution to the lake’s waters and are severely impacting the lake’s health.
Lake George drains through the Kazinga Channel in the image’s centre. The wide, 32km long channel connects Lake George with Lake Edward, which lies on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Kazinga Channel flows through the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The almost 2000 sq km park is known for its wildlife including the African buffalo and the Nile crocodile.
The park is also famous for its volcanic features, including volcanic cones and deep craters which can be seen dotted around the image. Many contain crater lakes, including the Katwe crater lake, whose salt deposits have been mined for centuries.
Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus programme. The mission’s frequent revisits over the same area and high spatial resolution allow changes in inland water bodies to be closely monitored.
This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Ahead of World Wetlands Day, celebrated internationally each year on 2 February, this week's edition of the Earth from Space programme features a Copernicus Sentinel-2 image over Lake George in western Uganda. In 1988, Lake George was designated as Uganda’s first site under the Ramsar Convention - an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
See also Lake George, Uganda to download the image.
The first European device to land on the Moon this decade will be a drill and sample analysis package, and the teams behind it are one step closer to flight as part of Russia’s Luna-27 mission.
ESA is working with Argentina to test telemedicine device Tempus Pro in the harsh conditions of Antarctica as Europe prepares for its next phase of human exploration in space.
On 21 January, a foreign body crashed to Earth causing a cascade of bright light to trail through the sky.
The fleeting flash was a fireball, defined as a meteor brighter than the planet Venus. Such bright meteors are caused as small asteroids strike the atmosphere, entirely or almost entirely burning up due to friction, sometimes suddenly exploding.
Every day, roughly 54 tonnes of extra-terrestrial material reaches Earth, including interplanetary dust, meteoroids and asteroids. Fireballs like this one are estimated to strike Earth hundreds of times every year, however not all are caught on camera or shine so brightly.
From the brightness of this fireball, around the time of a full moon, experts have deduced that the original object could have ranged from tens of centimetres to a metre in size, depending on its entry speed, composition and other characteristics.
This impressive shot was captured by photographer Chris Small at the seaside resort town of Bude, northeast Cornwall, England, at 23:24 UTC.
"I see a lot of meteors due to spending so long shooting the night sky, but I’ve never seen anything quite like that before!" says Chris.
"It was incredible, and lit up the entire coast almost as bright as daytime for a few seconds. There were beautiful green and blue colours."
While the foreground is filled with lobster pots used by local fishermen, the background is lit up with this green-blue tinge, revealing the presence of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. As the air surrounding the burning ball heats up, atoms become ‘excited’, with oxygen emitting light at a frequency of about 558 nm – in the blue-green part of the visible spectrum.
This colourful effect is also the reason for the beautiful aurorae at Earth’s poles, caused as charged particles from the Sun strike and excite atoms in the upper atmosphere.
The fireball in this image was spotted by at least five observers across the UK, who reported it to the International Meteor Organization – an organisation set up to collect meteor observations from around the world.
A new ESA warning system called NEMO (NEar-real time MOnitor) also picked up the event shortly after it happened. The NEMO system tracks social media activity to build a near real-time picture of fireball events around the globe, and is part of the Agency's Planetary Defence Office.
Find more of Chris' photography on his website, Ocean And Earth Photography.
Italian ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will return to Earth 6 February 2020, following his second long-duration mission on the International Space Station (ISS).
Luca’s mission – known as ‘Beyond’ – began 20 July 2019, exactly 50 years after the first lunar landing. On this date, Luca was launched to the Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft alongside Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan.
During Beyond, Luca supported over 50 European experiments in orbit. These included remotely operating a rover in the Netherlands to collect rock samples as instructed by scientists in Germany, and completing four complex spacewalks to repair the cosmic-ray-detecting Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer AMS-02. He also supported numerous international experiments and became the third European and first ever Italian commander of the International Space Station.
Science and research completed during Luca’s mission will help pave the way for farther exploration as ESA looks beyond the International Space Station to the Moon and Mars.
ESA, NASA, the European Commission, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have renamed the upcoming Sentinel-6A satellite after Earth scientist Dr Michael H. Freilich.
ESA’s mission to the Sun, Solar Orbiter, is due for launch on an Atlas V 411 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on 7 February 23:15 EST / 04:15 GMT / 05:15 CET on 8 Feb.
Equipped with a suite of ten scientific instruments, Solar Orbiter will capture the first images of the Sun’s poles and make detailed observations of solar activity. Its specially designed heatshield is capable of enduring temperatures of more than 500ºC.
This A and B roll includes footage of launch preparations in Florida and interviews with mission leaders.
Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. The spacecraft has been developed by Airbus.
Ice loss from Pine Island Glacier has contributed more to sea-level rise over the past four decades than any other glacier in Antarctica. However, the way this huge glacier is thinning is complex, leading to uncertainty about how it is likely to raise sea level in the future. Thanks to ESA’s CryoSat mission, scientists have now been able to shed new light on these complex patterns of ice loss.
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano (middle) and NASA astronaut Drew Morgan (left) work on get-ahead tasks during the fourth spacewalk to service the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).
Saturday’s spacewalk, which lasted five hours and 55 minutes, was the last in a four-part series to extend the life of the particle physics detector that was not designed to be maintained in space.
Installed on the outside of the International Space Station in 2011, the instrument out-lived its three-year mission time to provide researchers with invaluable data on cosmic rays that bombard our planet. When the cooling pumps for AMS-02 began to fail, plans were made to service the instrument in space and give it a new lease on life and science.
During the first three spacewalks Luca and Drew replaced the old cooling system with a new one using a tube-tying technique known as swaging that was quite the feat to perform in space gloves.
On this final spacewalk, where Drew held the lead role of EV1, the pair set out to check the tubes that connect the cooling system to the larger instrument for any leaks.
When a leak was found in tube number five, Luca tightened this connection and waited around an hour before checking the tube again. Upon this second check, a leak was still present, but thankfully after retightening once more and waiting again the leak was overcome and the system was declared leak-free.
In between these leak checks, the duo worked on get-ahead tasks, activities that often set the stage for future spacewalks, should the astronauts have extra time on their hands.
Once all leaks were addressed, Luca and Drew wrapped things up by installing a mud flap between the new pump and vertical support beam before removing a cover known as a shower cap to expose the new radiator system.
Five hours and two minutes into Saturday’s spacewalk, Luca broke the European record for the most time spent spacewalking. He has now clocked in 33 hours and nine minutes, beating previous record holder Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang’s 31 hours and 54 minutes.
Solar Orbiter launch media kit
Week in images: 20-24 January 2020
Discover our week through the lens (20-24 January 2020).
Solar Orbiter will orbit our nearest star, the Sun, observing it up close. It will take the first-ever direct images of its poles, while also studying the inner heliosphere – the bubble-like region around the Sun created by the stream of energised, charged particles released in the solar wind.