ESA astronaut Tim Peake prepares his Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit ahead of a spacewalk scheduled for 15 January 2016. He will venture outside of the International Space Station together with NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra to replace a failed voltage regulator to return power to one of eight power channels. The spacewalk is expected to last 6.5 hours.
Tim posted this image on social media, commenting: "We 'built' my spacesuit today - sized to perfection and looking good! Fit check early next week."
Tim's six-month mission is named Principia, after Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which describes the principal laws of motion and gravity. He is performing more than 30 scientific experiments for ESA and taking part in numerous others from ESA’s international partners.
ESA and the UK Space Agency have partnered to develop many exciting educational activities around the Principia mission, aimed at sparking the interest of young children in science and space.
Read more about the spacewalk in Tim Peake's blog: http://blogs.esa.int/tim-peake/
Connect with Tim on social media: http://timpeake.esa.int
Last month, the two spacecraft left Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France, where they had been for the final few months of assembly and testing, and headed towards the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
With both now in Baikonur, preparations are under way for the launch on a Russian Proton rocket during a window that remains open until 25 March.
The 600 kg Schiaparelli – pictured here being unpacked in a cleanroom in the cosmodrome – will ride to Mars on the Trace Gas Orbiter. Three days before they reach the Red Planet, Schiaparelli will separate from the orbiter, which will then enter orbit for a five-year mission of studying atmospheric gases potentially linked to present-day biological or geological activity.
Schiaparelli will enter the atmosphere at 21 000 km/h and slow by aerobraking in the upper layers, then deploying a parachute, followed by liquid-propellant thrusters that will brake it to less than 5 km/h about 2 m above the surface.
At that moment, the thrusters will be switched off and it will drop to the ground, where the impact will be cushioned by its crushable structure.
Less than eight minutes will have elapsed between hitting the atmosphere and touching down in a region known as Meridiani Planum.
Scientific sensors on Schiaparelli will collect data on the atmosphere during entry and descent, and others will make local measurements at the landing site for a short period determined by its battery capacity.
Schiaparelli will remain a target for laser ranging from orbiters using its reflector.
The module is named in honour of the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who mapped the Red Planet’s surface features in the 19th century.
ESA organises regular rocket launches together with the Swedish Space Corporation from northern Sweden in Esrange, Kiruna. The 13th Maser campaign saw experiments being carried 270 km up for six minutes of weightlessness.
Experiments in the November flight included looking at how gravity-sensing genes behave in plants, growing metallic crystals and X-raying them as they solidify, and observing chemical reactions with lasers – all in microgravity.
The launch site 145 km north of the Arctic Circle offers amazing views of the Northern lights. Auroras occur when particle radiation from the Sun is channelled by Earth’s magnetic field into the polar regions and hits Earth’s upper atmosphere, making it glow in a greenish-blue light.
ESA payload system engineer Neil Melville took this picture between preparing the experiments and the launch.
Neil explains: “Sounding rockets offer a unique way for researchers around Europe to experiment in weightlessness, complementing ESA’s range of microgravity facilities, from drop towers and aircraft flights to the International Space Station.
“The Esrange facility and surroundings offer many wonderful views. I was taking photos for a timelapse video of the aurora and by complete chance a very bright meteor from the Taurid shower was caught in this frame. It left a very rare ‘persistent train’, meaning that the trail of ionised air was visible for several minutes.”
The tower with red lights on the horizon is part of Esrange’s meteorology station that monitors the weather for launches.
The Netherlands’ Noordwijk coast lost a local landmark recently as a full-scale model of Europe’s largest ever environmental satellite was removed from the visitor centre for ESA’s technical heart.
The eight-tonne Envisat satellite was launched in 2002. Carrying 10 instruments, the lorry-sized satellite spent a decade monitoring the terrestrial environment, paving the way for Europe’s current Sentinel series.
This metal and plastic replica was installed outside Space Expo – the visitor centre for ESA’s ESTEC technical centre – in July 1999, but it eventually fell prey to the terrestrial environment: years of exposure to North Sea winds led to pieces dropping off.
The decision to dismantle it was taken to prevent it becoming a danger to the public.
The operation began with workers on a cherry picker pulling the main body apart. Then cutting torches split its support structure and solar wings, with an articulated hauler used to pull everything down. The work took place on 18 December.
The actual Envisat – drifting in its 800 km-altitude orbit since contact was lost in 2012 – is itself due for disposal. It is the planned target of ESA’s proposed e.Deorbit mission, intended to pioneer the concept of space debris removal.
Due for launch in 2021, e.Deorbit will rendezvous with the lost satellite and then secure it for a controlled atmospheric reentry.
Space Expo might have lost one attraction, but new ones are arriving regularly – an Ariane 5 Vulcain engine is among its latest acquisitions. Visitors can also book guided tours of the adjoining ESTEC establishment.
A replacement satellite replica is planned to be installed in Envisat’s place, but its identity is yet to be announced.
Single frame OSIRIS narrow-angle camera image taken on 30 December 2015, when Rosetta was 87.5 km from the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The scale is 1.6 m/pixel.
More details via the OSIRIS Image of the Day website.
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressing Irish ESA employees during his visit to the ESTEC technical centre on 6 January 2016.
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 4845, located over 65 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin). The galaxy’s orientation clearly reveals the galaxy’s striking spiral structure: a flat and dust-mottled disc surrounding a bright galactic bulge.
NGC 4845’s glowing centre hosts a gigantic version of a black hole, known as a supermassive black hole. The presence of a black hole in a distant galaxy like NGC 4845 can be inferred from its effect on the galaxy’s innermost stars; these stars experience a strong gravitational pull from the black hole and whizz around the galaxy’s centre much faster than otherwise.
From investigating the motion of these central stars, astronomers can estimate the mass of the central black hole — for NGC 4845 this is estimated to be hundreds of thousands times heavier than the Sun. This same technique was also used to discover the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own Milky Way — Sagittarius A* — which hits some four million times the mass of the Sun (potw1340a).
The galactic core of NGC 4845 is not just supermassive, but also super-hungry. In 2013 researchers were observing another galaxy when they noticed a violent flare at the centre of NGC 4845. The flare came from the central black hole tearing up and feeding off an object many times more massive than Jupiter. A brown dwarf or a large planet simply strayed too close and was devoured by the hungry core of NGC 4845.
Week In Images
4-8 January 2016