The circular structure dominating this Sentinel-2 image is Pilanesberg, the result of geological activity over more than a billion years. Once a massive volcanic complex towering over 7000 m tall, millions of years of erosion have shaped the landscape to what it is today: concentric rings of hills rising from the surrounding plain, with a diameter of some 25 km.
A greater part of Pilanesberg is a protected game reserve and home to the ‘big five’: lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. Other animals include cheetahs, zebras, giraffes and over 360 species of birds.
Within the circular structure we can see a few bodies of water, the largest being Mankwe near the centre. Before this area was a reserve, farmers built that dam to create this lake, but today it attracts tourists looking to spot wildlife.
The land outside Pilanesberg is speckled by infrastructure such as buildings, roads and even a football stadium (upper right).
South Africa is the world’s leading platinum producer, and a number of mines surround the park – such as the bright area at the top of the image, or square area at the bottom.
This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video programme, was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2B satellite on 18 May 2017.
Witnessed by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission on 12 July 2017, a lump of ice more than twice the size of Luxembourg has broken off the Larsen-C ice shelf, spawning one of the largest icebergs on record and changing the outline of the Antarctic Peninsula forever. The iceberg weighs more than a million million tonnes and contains almost as much water as Lake Ontario in North America. Since the ice shelf is already floating, this giant iceberg will not affect sea level. However, because ice shelves are connected to the glaciers and ice streams on the mainland and so play an important role in ‘buttressing’ the ice as it creeps seaward, effectively slowing the flow. If large portions of an ice shelf are removed by calving, the inflow of glaciers can speed up and contribute to sea-level rise. About 10% of the Larsen C shelf has now gone.
Read full story: Sentinel satellite captures birth of behemoth iceberg
BepiColombo, a joint ESA and JAXA mission to Mercury, has completed its final tests in launch configuration, the last time it will be stacked like this before being reassembled at the launch site next year.
The image was taken on 6 July, during a dedicated press event where media were invited to see BepiColombo in ESA’s test centre. In the coming weeks, the three spacecraft elements will be separated for a final set of tests.
The Mercury Transfer Module is seen at the bottom of the stack, with one folded solar array visible to the right. When both solar arrays are deployed they span about 30 m. The module will use solar-electric propulsion as well as gravity assists at Earth, Venus and Mercury to carry two science orbiters to Mercury orbit.
ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter is seen in the middle of the stack (with the folded solar array towards the left and antenna to the right). JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter sits at the top of the 6 m-high stack. During the cruise to Mercury it will be protected by the Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF), which in this image is sitting on the floor to the right.
After arriving at Mercury, the modules will separate, and from their respective orbits the science orbiters will make complementary measurements of Mercury’s interior, surface, exosphere and magnetosphere, following up on many of the open questions raised by NASA’s Messenger mission.
The final tests completed with BepiColombo in the launch configuration – also with the MOSIF in place – were vibration tests to simulate the shaking conditions at launch. In the coming weeks the assembly will be dismantled and the individual modules will undergo final checks following the vibration test, including solar array deployment tests. In addition, the transfer module will undergo a thermal vacuum test to simulate the extreme environmental conditions expected during the cruise.
The spacecraft is scheduled to leave Europe in March, with a launch from Kourou, French Guiana, anticipated in October 2018, and arrival at Mercury at the end of 2025.
A standard satellite needs extensive test facilities to put it through its paces, but a laboratory desktop has been used to simulate this ESA CubeSat’s post-deployment activation.
ESA’s GomX-4B CubeSat will test inter-satellite links and propulsive orbit control techniques for future constellation operations with a twin called GomX-4A, which is owned by the Danish Ministry of Defence under a separate contract.
Both ‘6-unit’ CubeSats are being built and tested by Danish nanosatellite specialist GomSpace.
A video shows a simulation of GomX-4B’s ‘launch and early operations phase’.
This is the crucial phase when the nanosatellite is released from its launcher and initially tumbles through space – reproduced by hand here – before deploying its antennas to link up with controllers back on Earth.
See GomX-4B’s vibration test – simulating the violent shaking of its rocket launch – here.
Due to fly flight in September 2017, GomX-4B is supported through the In-Orbit Demonstration element of ESA’s General Support Technology Programme, focused on readying new products for space and the marketplace.
The James Webb Space Telescope is prepared for cryogenic-temperature testing in Chamber A at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas.
Being a 'cool' telescope, JWST is designed to operate at very low temperatures (around -230° C). This will give us an unprecedented view of the Universe at near and mid-infrared wavelengths and will allow scientists to study a wide variety of celestial objects, ranging from planets in the Solar System to nearby stars, from neighbouring galaxies out to the farthest reaches of the very distant Universe.
JWST is joint project of NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, and is scheduled for launch in October 2018 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
More about the cryogenic-temperature testing on NASA's JWST website.
ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli (left) along with Expedition 52 crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos (centre) and Randy Bresnik of NASA (right) took to Red Square in Moscow yesterday to perform ceremonies ahead of their 28 July launch to the International Space Station.
The crew paid tribute to Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, and four other cosmonauts by placing a carnation at each memorial along the Kremlin Wall in Red Square. Other rituals include special signings, haircuts and some gardening.
Many of these traditions originate with Gagarin himself. A week before his launch, he planted a tree outside Baikonur Cosmodrome, and then got a haircut two days before his flight.
Since then, all crews launched aboard a Russian launch vehicle do as Yuri did. Some traditions were added later, such as signing the Visitor’s Book at Yuri’s office in Star City, which has been preserved just as he left it.
Like all rituals and traditions, they serve as a source of calm and comfort ahead of a taxing journey and cement the bond between fellow space explorers.
Expedition 52 marks the last mission for Paolo Nespoli to the International Space Station. He was last on the Station in 2010 for Europe’s third six-month mission.
His mission is called Vita, which stands for Vitality, Innovation, Technology and Ability. The name was chosen by Italy’s ASI space agency, which is providing the mission through a barter agreement with NASA.
In Italian, “vita” means “life”, reflecting the experiments that Paolo will run and the philosophical notion of living in outer space – one of the most inhospitable places for humans.
Seen at ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands, BepiColombo has completed its final tests in launch configuration, the last time it will be stacked like this before being reassembled at the launch site next year to begin its mission to Mercury.
The day before a final media viewing on 6 July 2017, the flight controllers who will operate the robotic explorer had an opportunity to meet ‘their’ spacecraft for the first time.
The team comprises the engineers and specialists dedicated to BepiColombo. They work at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where teams of experts design and develop the facilities, networks and systems to send commands and receive scientific data from all types of missions.
The visit is an important step to allow the controllers to see the spacecraft and receive briefings from the mission scientists and managers with whom they will work closely throughout the life of BepiColombo.
The team, led by Spacecraft Operations Manager Elsa Montagnon, have been working for the past two years defining flight procedures, building up control systems and conducting the initial tests and rehearsals of procedures that will be used to control BepiColombo during its mission.
Perspective view looking along an ancient, dried out river channel in the Libya Montes region close to the equator on Mars. The valley snakes between hummocky mountain terrain and is fed by numerous tributaries arising from rainfall and surface runoff. To the left, part of a co-joined crater can be seen, its smooth floor pockmarked in smaller impact craters.
The oblique perspective view was generated using data from the Mars Express high-resolution stereo camera stereo channels. This scene is part of the region imaged on 21 February 2017 during Mars Express orbit 16647. The main image is centred on 90°E / 1°N. In this orientation north is roughly to the bottom.
Discovered by British astronomer William Herschel over 200 years ago, NGC 2500 lies about 30 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Lynx. As this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows, NGC 2500 is a particular kind of spiral galaxy known as a barred spiral, its wispy arms swirling out from a bright, elongated core.
Barred spirals are actually more common than was once thought. Around two-thirds of all spiral galaxies — including the Milky Way — exhibit these straight bars cutting through their centres. These cosmic structures act as glowing nurseries for newborn stars, and funnel material towards the active core of a galaxy. NGC 2500 is still actively forming new stars, although this process appears to be occurring very unevenly. The upper half of the galaxy — where the spiral arms are slightly better defined — hosts many more star-forming regions than the lower half, as indicated by the bright, dotted islands of light.
There is another similarity between NGC 2500 and our home galaxy. Together with Andromeda, Triangulum, and many smaller natural satellites, the Milky Way is part of the Local Group of galaxies, a gathering of over 50 galaxies all loosely held together by gravity. NGC 2500 forms a similar group with some of its nearby neighbours, including NGC 2541, NGC 2552, NGC 2537, and the bright, Andromeda-like spiral NGC 2481 (known collectively as the NGC 2841 group).
Week In Images
10-14 July 2017