ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan will exit the International Space Station airlock together for the fourth time Saturday 25 January. It is the ninth spacewalk for Expedition 61 – the most spacewalks ever performed during a single Space Station expedition – and the last in a complex series to maintain the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer AMS-02.
As well as providing global navigation services, Europe’s Galileo satellite constellation is contributing to saving more than 2000 lives annually by relaying SOS messages to first responders. And from now on the satellites will reply to these messages, assuring people in danger that help is on the way.
The Philippines’ Taal volcano erupted on 12 January 2020 – spewing an ash plume approximately 15 km high and forcing large-scale evacuations in the nearby area.
This almost cloud-free image was captured today 23 January at 02:20 GMT (10:20 local time) by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, and shows the island, in the centre of the image, completely covered in a thick layer of ash.
This optical image has also been processed using the mission’s short-wave infrared band to show the ongoing activity in the crater, visible in bright red. Ash blown by strong winds can be seen in Agoncillo, visible southwest of the Taal volcano. Ash has also been recorded in other areas of the Batangas province, as well as Manila and Quezon.
According to The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology bulletin published today, sulphur dioxide emissions were measured at an average of around 140 tonnes. The Taal volcano still remains on alert level four, meaning an explosive eruption is possible in the coming hours or days. The highest alert level is five which indicates an eruption is taking place.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, over 50 000 people have been affected so far. In response to the eruption, the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community, respond to emergencies.
Spacewalk season continues on the International Space Station. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan are getting ready to step outside the Quest airlock for their fourth and final time together on Saturday. But before they do, we look back at an action-packed fortnight of science and operations on the world’s only orbital outpost.
The second satellite in the European Data Relay System has reached its intended orbit and completed its in-orbit tests.
Dubbed the “SpaceDataHighway” by its commercial operator Airbus, EDRS uses innovative laser technology to enable Earth-observation satellites to deliver their information to users on the ground in near real-time, accelerating responses to emergency situations and spurring the development of new services and products.
EDRS-C is the second satellite in the system and was launched on 6 August.
Sometimes doing science is as simple as wiping up. NASA astronaut Jack Fisher is seen here using a wet wipe on the surfaces of the European Cupola module of the International Space Station.
Doubling as both Station maintenance and science experiment, Jack collected microbes living on the surfaces of his orbital home for ESA’s Extremophiles experiment. Headed by Dr. Christine-Moissl Eichinger from the Medical University of Graz, Austria, the experiment studies how microbes settle into the harsh environment of space.
Cosmic radiation exposes not only humans but also bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms to cellular stress. A typical stay in microgravity for an astronaut weakens the immune system and causes more health issues, prompting researchers to ask whether the same was happening to microbiomes, or the organisms found in a particular environment, and whether they resist treatment, becoming ‘super bugs.’
Because the Space Station is a closed environment, microbes can only arrive with new crew and cargo. The Station has accumulated a core group of 55 microbes over 20 years of continuous human inhabitants.
Researchers tested these against microbes found in a similar environment on Earth: spacecraft cleanrooms. They found that space-based microbes did not have a higher resistance and were not more stressed than Earth-based ones.
In short, microbes are no more extremophilic – able to survive in uninhabitable environments – in the weightless and radiative environment of space. The results were recently published in a paper in Nature Communications.
Interestingly, researchers found that space-based microbiomes can react negatively to metal surfaces, especially when those surfaces are wet. As they struggle to adapt to their environment, they attack the metal surfaces they find themselves on by corroding them or creating biofilm.
Researchers and crew are monitoring the situation by keeping metal surfaces dry and easily accessible for regular cleaning and sampling.
After all, there is no getting rid of microbes or any need to. They are a fact of human life.
Press Release N° 28–2020
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano is returning to Earth after six months on the International Space Station. He will land with Alexander Skvortsov and Christina Koch in Kazakhstan on 6 February 2020 after 201 days in space. Luca will fly directly to ESA’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne for an expected arrival around 21:00 GMT (22:00 CET).
Today, the Solar Orbiter control team is simulating launch for the penultimate time, before the Sun-seeking spacecraft lifts-off for real.
Press Release N° 27–2020
ESA’s new Sun explorer will be launched from Cape Canaveral on 6 February. Media are invited to Europe’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, to follow the launch and moment of signal acquisition.
Material falling into a black hole casts X-rays out into space – and now, for the first time, ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory has used the reverberating echoes of this radiation to map the dynamic behaviour and surroundings of a black hole itself.
The changing activity of our Sun as seen by ESA’s Proba-2 satellite in 2019.
The satellite is continuously monitoring the Sun – one image was selected to represent each day of the year in this montage of 365 Suns. The images were taken by the satellite’s SWAP camera, which works at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths to capture the Sun’s hot turbulent atmosphere – the corona, at temperatures of about a million degrees.
Throughout 2019, the Sun showed low levels of activity, as it is currently at the minimum of its 11-year activity cycle. The most energetic flare of the year was observed on 6 May close to the eastern limb of the Sun (the left side of the Sun in the corresponding image). It was classified as a C9.9 class flare that divides solar flares according to their strength. The smallest are A, followed by B, C, M and X, with each letter representing a ten-fold increase in energy output such that an X-class flare is 100 times stronger than a C-class flare.
Proba-2 also performed various scientific campaigns in 2019. One of these campaigns is evident in the images above in early September, where the Sun is positioned to one side of the images. Throughout this period Proba-2 provided extended images of the solar atmosphere to the east of the Sun, in support of a scientific study performed with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission. To make these observations the whole satellite was reoriented to observe more of the solar atmosphere.
Proba-2 will continue to support scientific campaigns and missions throughout 2020, including ESA’s Solar Orbiter mission, which is scheduled for launch on 5 February 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. Proba-2 has already supported Solar Orbiter during the mission’s preparation, as technology heritage has passed from the satellite’s SWAP imager to the Solar Orbiter Extreme Ultraviolet Imager.
With its suite of 10 state-of-the-art instruments, Solar Orbiter will perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high-latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection. The mission will provide unprecedented insight into how our parent star works in terms of the 11-year solar cycle, and how we can better predict periods of stormy space weather.
Discover our new Solar Orbiter range
ESA’s technical heart has begun to produce oxygen out of simulated moondust.
The Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission takes us over the Japanese archipelago – a string of islands that extends about 3000 km into the western Pacific Ocean.
While the archipelago is made up of over 6000 islands, this image focuses on Japan's four main islands. Running from north to south, Hokkaido is visible in the top right corner, Honshu is the long island stretching in a northeast–southwest arc, Shikoku can be seen just beneath the lower part of Honshu, and Kyushu is at the bottom.
Honshu’s land mass comprises approximately four-fifths of Japan’s total area. Honshu’s main urban areas of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka are clearly visible in the image. The large grey area in the east of the island, near the coast, is Tokyo, while the smaller areas depicted in grey are the areas around Nagoya and Osaka.
Honshu is also home to the country’s largest mountain, Mount Fuji. A volcano that has been dormant since it erupted in 1707, Mount Fuji is around 100 km southwest of Tokyo and its snow covered summit can be seen as a small white dot.
The Sea of Japan, also referred to as the East Sea, (visible to the west of the archipelago) separates the country from the east coast of Asia. The turquoise waters surrounding the island of Hokkaido can be seen at the top of the image, while the waters in the right of the image have a silvery hue because of sunglint – an optical effect caused by the mirror-like reflection of sunlight from the water surface back to the satellite sensor.
Sentinel-3 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme. Each satellite’s instrument package includes an optical sensor to monitor changes in the colour of Earth’s surfaces. It can be used, for example, to monitor ocean biology and water quality.
This image, which was captured on 24 May 2019, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Ariane 5’s first launch of 2020 has delivered two telecom satellites, Konnect and GSAT-30, into their planned transfer orbits. Arianespace announced liftoff at 21:05 GMT (22:05 CET, 18:05 local time) this evening from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
On 16 January 2020, Ariane 5 flight VA251 lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana and delivered two telecom satellites, Konnect and GSAT-30, into their planned orbits.
The Rosalind Franklin rover of the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars mission completed a series of environmental tests at the end of 2019 at Airbus, Toulouse, France. This included final thermal and vacuum tests where the Rover is heated and cooled to simulate the temperatures of its journey through space and on the surface of Mars. For example, Rosalind Franklin can expect temperatures dropping to –120°C outside, and –50 °C inside the rover once on Mars. It must also be able to operate in less than one hundredth of Earth’s atmospheric pressure – and in a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere.
Last year the ‘structural and thermal model’ of the rover successfully completed a rigorous environmental test campaign; the latest round of tests subjected the real flight-model to the simulated space environment.
Now the focus moves to final checks on the rover systems. This includes checking the alignment of instruments working together, such as the imaging systems, and a final functional test of the integrated system after the environmental campaign. Once these verifications on the rover are completed, a functional check of the interfaces with the surface platform and descent module that will deliver it safely to the surface of Mars will be performed at Thales Alenia Space, Cannes, France.
The primary goal of the mission is to determine if there is or there has ever been life on Mars, and to better understand the history of water on the planet. The rover will seek out interesting geological locations to examine with its scientific tools and to drill to retrieve underground samples, on a quest to tackle these questions.
The mission is foreseen for launch in the launch window 26 July–11 August 2020 on a Russian Proton-M rocket with a Breeze-M upper stage from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, arriving at Mars 19 March 2021.
Astronomers using the combined powers of ESA’s Rosetta mission and the ground-based Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have traced the journey of phosphorus – one of life’s building blocks – from star-forming regions to comets.
Heavy rainfall has triggered flooding in southern Iran, particularly in the Sistan and Baluchestan, Hormozgan and Kerman provinces. The downpour has led to blocked roads and destroyed bridges, crops and houses – displacing thousands of people.
This image, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, shows the extent of the flooding in the Sistan and Baluchestan province on 13 January 2020. Flooded areas are visible in brown, while the flooded villages are highlighted by dotted circles. Sediment and mud, caused by the heavy rains, can be seen gushing from the Bahu Kalat River, Iran, and Dasht River, Pakistan, into Gwadar Bay.
Zoom in to view the image of the floods at its full 10 m resolution.
The flooding has also affected Zahedan, as well as Konarak, Saravan, Nik Shahr, Delgan, Bazman, Chabahar, Zarābād and Khash.
In response to the flood, the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community, respond to emergencies.