ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli completes some tests in the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, on the International Space Station.
The crew routinely monitors the new expandable habitat for its suitability for space. The module was compressed for launch and expanded to its full volume in space, offering lightweight but larger constructions than traditional hulls.
As for beaming back to Earth, Paolo will rely on a Soyuz rather than a Scotty.
Paolo and Expedition 52/53 crewmates Randy Bresnik of NASA and Sergei Ryazansky of Roscosmos will record a total of 139 days in space when they return to Earth on 14 December. They will hitch a ride back to Earth in Soyuz MS-05, landing on the Kazakh steppe in the early hours.
By the end of his Vita mission, Paolo will have completed over 60 experiments covering biology, material sciences, technology, education and human research. During this time Paolo, Randy and Sergei also welcomed five visiting vehicles – a Soyuz crew vehicle and four cargo ferries – two of which Paolo captured with the 16 m-long Canadarm2 robotic arm.
With the 139 days of Vita, Paolo totals 313 days in space across his three flights.
On Monday 4 December, teachers from Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, and Italy had the opportunity to talk live with ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who is currently living and working on the International Space Station (ISS) for the VITA mission.
Hundreds of primary and secondary school teachers and students, as well as space scientists and engineers, gathered at national events in Prague, Linz, Vantaa, and at ESA’s ESRIN centre in Frascati, to participate in the call with Paolo – the opportunity of a lifetime! Several teachers had the opportunity to ask questions surrounding the theme: life in space.
Read more: Thank you Paolo for a great Inflight Call!
Captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 5 December 2017, this image shows flames and smoke from the fierce blazes devastating northwest Los Angeles in Southern California.
Click on the box in the lower-right corner to view this image at its full 10 m resolution directly in your browser.
While hundreds of firefighters battle the fires, more than 200 000 people have been forced to flee their homes. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the 2017 California wildfire season is the worst on record.
The image shows the extent of the devastation caused by this latest outcrop of wildfires, which are so large that they have been given names. The worst, known as the Thomas Fire, engulfed almost the whole city of Ojai and an area north of Ventura, seen here in the far left of the image. The image also show two other sets of large fires: the Rye Fire near Santa Clarita (the middle fire) and the Creek Fire near Sylmar (right).
The Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite takes us over Toulouse in southern France and the surrounding agricultural landscape.
Positioned on the banks of the River Garonne, the city is France’s fourth largest. It is nicknamed the Ville Rose – pink city – owing to the colour of the terracotta bricks commonly used in the local architecture. Even from space, the pinkish tint from the terracotta roof tiles is evident.
In the upper left we can see the runways of the Toulouse-Blagnac airport. The air route to the Paris Orly airport is one of the busiest in Europe.
Fields blanketing the countryside dominate the image. In fact, France is the EU’s leading agricultural power and is home to about a third of all agricultural land within the EU. While agriculture brings benefits for economy and food security, it puts the environment under pressure. Satellites can help to map and monitor land use, and the information they provide can be used to improve agricultural practices.
This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video programme, was captured on 10 July 2017 by Sentinel-2’s multispectral camera. Sentinel-2 is designed to provide images that can be used to distinguish between different crop types as well as data on numerous plant indices, such as leaf area, leaf chlorophyll and leaf water – all essential to monitor plant growth accurately.
In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the international Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and the splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series of images that has been assembled into this new mosaic.
The mission concluded on 15 September with a planned dramatic plunge into the planet’s atmosphere. Two days earlier it captured wide-angle images to cover the planet and its main rings from one end to the other. The moons Prometheus, Pandora, Janus, Epimetheus, Mimas and Enceladus also make a faint appearance in the background. Can you spot them? (Click here for a labelled version of this image.)
The image shown here has been brightened to reveal the details of the moons and rings; the original natural colour view can be found here.
This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 15° above the ring plane. Cassini was 1.1 million km from Saturn, on its final approach to the planet, when the 42 red, green and blue images in this mosaic were taken. They were combined and mosaicked together to create a natural-colour view. The image scale on Saturn is about 67 km/ pixel. The image scale on the moons varies from 59 km/pixel to 80 km/pixel. The Sun-planet-spacecraft angle is 138°.
The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and Italy’s ASI space agency.
The image was first released on 20 November. Read the full story via the NASA website.
Don’t be fooled! The subject of this Picture of the Week, ESO 580-49, may seem tranquil and unassuming, but this spiral galaxy actually displays some explosive tendencies.
In October of 2011, a cataclysmic burst of high-energy gamma-ray radiation — known as a gamma-ray burst, or GRB — was detected coming from the region of sky containing ESO 580-49. Astronomers believe that the galaxy was the host of the GRB, given that the chance of a coincidental alignment between the two is roughly 1 in 10 million. At a distance of around 185 million light-years from Earth, it was the second-closest gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever detected.
Gamma-ray bursts are among the brightest events in the cosmos, occasionally outshining the combined gamma-ray output of the entire observable Universe for a few seconds. The exact cause of the GRB that probably occurred within this galaxy, catalogued as GRB 111005A, remains a mystery. Several events are known to lead to GRBs, but none of these explanations appear to fit the bill in this case. Astronomers have therefore suggested that ESO 580-49 hosted a new type of GRB explosion — one that has not yet been characterised.
The BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module has completed its final major test inside ESA’s Large Space Simulator, proving it will be able to withstand the temperature extremes it will experience on its journey to Mercury.
On the one hand, the mission will be exposed to the cold vacuum of space. On the other, it will travel close to the Sun, receiving 10 times the solar energy than we do on Earth. This translates to about 11 kW per sq m at Mercury, with the spacecraft expected to endure heating to about 350ºC, similar to a pizza oven.
Inside the simulator, the largest of its kind in Europe at 15m high and 10m wide, pumps create a vacuum a billion times lower than standard sea-level atmosphere, while the chamber’s walls are lined with tubes pumped with liquid nitrogen to create low temperatures of about –180ºC. At the same time, a set of 25kW IMAX projector-class lamps are used with mirrors to focus light onto the craft to generate the highest temperatures.
During the latest tests, carried out between 24 November and 4 December 2017, the module was rotated through 13º either side to monitor the heating and distribution. The ion engines were also activated – without creating thrust from an ion beam given the confines of the test chamber – to confirm that the module's electric propulsion system can operate in this challenging environment
The module is seen here stacked on a replica interface to mimic the science orbiters that it will be attached to during launch and the 7.2 year journey to Mercury. The four ion thrusters are seen on the top of module in this orientation. Not present in this test, the module will also be equipped with two solar wings that will unfold to a span of 30 m.
The transfer module’s job is to carry ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter to the planet, where they will separate and enter their respective orbits. The craft will use a combination of gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury along with the transfer module’s ion thrusters to reach its destination.
The module will now be checked before the entire assembly is shipped to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana next year. With this last major test complete, the mission is on track to be launched in the two-month window opening on 5 October 2018.
A prototype transmit/receive module on a single 6x6 mm chip, intended to deliver miniaturised space radar systems for future missions.
Traditional transmit/receive modules used on Europe’s Sentinel-1 and comparable radar missions employ separate circuits for the high-power amplifier, the low-noise amplifier and the switch/isolator.
The aim, developed for ESA by TNO in the Netherlands, UMS in France, and Airbus Defense and Space in Germany, was to integrate all these functions onto a single chip, while delivering increased efficiency and a threefold increase in radio-frequency power.
The added ingredient enabling this was that the chip was made using gallium nitride (GaN) – the most promising semiconductor since silicon. If you have a Blu-ray player than you own a tiny crystal of GaN, used in high-performance blue lasers.
GaN can operate with high radio-frequency output power, low noise or at much higher temperatures than silicon. As a plus, it is also inherently resistant to radiation. ESA has been leading the industrialisation of GaN through the GaN Reliability Enhancement and Technology Transfer Initiative consortium.
A follow-up project to integrate the chip into a complete radar module suitable for a future Sentinel-1 successor mission is being undertaken through the Agency’s follow-up General Support Technology Programme.
The frame of the second European Service module for Orion, showing the completed internal structure for Flight Model-2. It will support up to four astronauts and send them further than any human being has ever been from Earth in a few years.
The two circular tank bulkheads are in place, bolted to vertical panels. The top ring will attach to the Crew Module Adapter that connects the Orion capsule to the service module.
The picture was taken at the Thales Alenia Space facility in Turin, Italy, in November 2017.
This structure can be seen as the chassis of the Orion spacecraft, providing structural rigidity while absorbing vibrations and energy from launch.
The holes are to save weight and accommodate future payloads. It will also hold all the other elements together such as the spacecraft’s thrusters, water tanks, fuel tanks, gas tanks, electronics and wires.
The top bulkhead is thicker as it handles more loads. Orion's storage tanks are supported from the top bulkhead which distributes the forces from 9 tonnes of propellant between the European Service Module structure and NASA structures such as the Crew Module Adapter and the launcher fairing, while the lower platform "only" provides support to prevent the tanks from swinging.
The President of the Republic of Bulgaria, Mr Rumen Radev (right) was welcomed on a visit to ESA’s Headquarters in Paris on 4 December by the Agency’s Director General, Jan Wörner.
Week in Images
4-8 December 2017