ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst captured this image of the atmosphere over a burning California from the International Space Station on shared it on his social media channels saying: "Looking down on countless fires when flying over California. Tough to see so much destruction, and we can’t do anything about it from up here."
The Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite takes us over the Gulf. Also known as the Arabian Gulf and the Persian Gulf, this marginal sea of the Indian Ocean is just under 1000 km long and covers an area of around 250 000 sq km. It is bordered by eight nations shown counter-clockwise from the top of the image – Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman.
Most of these countries are shown in a warm shade of orange in the lower part of the image. The variations in colour in this area represent the different surface types and compositions. Some areas are purely sand, whilst others are a mixture of rocks and sand, or salt mineral deposits. Sand dunes are prevalent in the central area, depicting one of the largest and driest sand deserts in the world – the Rubh al Khali or the Empty Quarter.
Meanwhile, Iran is shown in brown in the upper part of the image. The country’s rugged terrain is clearly visible, with mountainous rims spreading out across the southern part, interspersed with towns, cities and other urban settlements.
The fifth-most-populous city of Iran, Shiraz, can be seen in the top left of the image. Once home to vineyards, where wine of the same name was produced, the city hosts some of the country’s most spectacular gardens and an array of impressive mosques. It is known for its literary tradition and the tombs of the poets Saadi and Hafez can both be found here.
The Gulf of Oman, flowing into the Arabian Sea can be seen on the far right of the image. In spring 2018, underwater robots confirmed a ‘dead zone’ in this area, thought to be bigger than Scotland, where there is little to no oxygen. This may have been caused by the use of chemical fertilisers and wastewater.
The Sentinel-3 mission gathers data on our oceans, land and ice, as part of Europe’s Copernicus programme. It can measure sea-surface temperature and sea-surface height, as well as providing important data to monitor the health of our marine ecosystems.
This image, which was captured on 30 September 2018, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
A European antenna in Australia will soon be tracking a US mission currently preparing to land on Mars.
ESA’s New Norcia antenna is situated in the red and dusty desert of Western Australia, seen here under the twinkling lights of the Milky Way. From here, it will provide support to NASA’s InSight lander, which is scheduled to touch down on the similarly dry and dusty landscape of the Red Planet, at 20:00 UTC (21:00 CET) on Monday 26 November.
About 12 hours before the landing, and during the very last ‘Target Correction Manoeuvre’ before Insight enters the martian atmosphere, this 35-metre deep space antenna will make contact with the lander.
A crucial part of ESA’s Estrack network, the New Norcia antenna routinely supports ESA missions voyaging throughout the Solar System, including Mars Express, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), Gaia and BepiColombo.
ESA’s TGO will join with NASA orbiters to pick up data signals from InSight once it has landed, and relay these back to Earth, providing the first-ever routine data relay support between missions of different agencies at Mars.
You can watch the landing live on Monday from 19:00 UTC (20:00 CET), via NASA’s webcast.
The technology-focused extension of the Pangaea geology field course, Pangaea-X, is in full swing this week on Lanzarote, part of the Canary Islands. The test campaign combines geology and space exploration with high-tech equipment to prepare humans for extra-terrestrial terrains.
Over the course of the week ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, scientists, operations experts and engineers will work side-by-side on eight experiments and technology demonstrations to advance European know-how of human and robotic mission operations.
Known as the island of a thousand volcanoes, Lanzarote was chosen because of its geological similarity with Mars such as a volcanic origin, mild sedimentary processes owing to a dry climate, little vegetation and a well-preserved landscape. It is the perfect setting to test the best way for astronauts to take rock samples of the terrain.
Communications delays that are as much a part of space missions as sampling and scientific objectives will also be included in the campaign. Astronauts operating rovers on the surface of the Moon, for example, must contend with low-quality links and delays in space.
One of the experiments taking place this week is called Analog-1 and will test the science, operations and communications aspects of an exploratory mission.
From Lanzarote Matthias will drive a rover located at ESA’s main technology centre in The Netherlands.
A team of scientists will advise Matthias on the most interesting samples from a scientific point of view. He will use a tool that integrates real-time positioning, data sharing, voice chat and much more. This Electronic Field Book is an all-in-one, easy-to-use and plug-and-play device ‘made in ESA’.
The dry-run is a precursor to the same experiment that ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will carry out next year but this time from the International Space Station, taking Moon-targeted operations out into space. Humankinds’s only orbital outpost in space is an excellent stand-in for orbital platforms around the Moon, allowing humans to test the waters for future exploration.
The International Space Station has a long history of being used as a test-bed for exploration techniques and technology. ESA has been running experiments controlling robots on Earth from space for over five years and 20 November 2018 marks 20 years of collaboration on this greatest international project of all time. In celebration, take a look back at 20 of our most memorable moments on the International Space Station. Eager to take part in celebrations online? Share your most memorable Space Station moments, photos or footage using hashtag #SpaceStation20th.
This image of ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor capturing the latest Cygnus vehicle arriving to the International Space Station, was shared on Alexander's social media channels on 19 November 2018.
Alexander said "Busy times for Expedition 57. We just caught the 2nd cargo vehicle in one day, first time in Space Station history. Serena operated the Canadarm while I sent navigation commands to the Cygnus vehicle, great teamwork. Welcome aboard "S.S. John Young"!"
ESA's upper stage propulsion module for use on Europe's future Vega-C in 2020, underwent vibration testing on the QUAD shaker at the ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, during November 2018.This Attitude Vernier Upper Module, AVUM+, provides several improvements on Vega's AVUM including: composite skin sandwich structure, increased propellant load and main engine re-ignition capabilities, giving more flexibility for multi-payload missions.
A vision of a future Moon base that could be produced and maintained using 3D printing.
Habitat modules are seen beside ‘garages’ for rovers, with an adjacent launch site. Note the robotic vehicles on the surface, proceeding with base construction.
A new ESA-led project is investigating the ways that 3D printing could be used to create and run a habitat on the Moon, reducing logistical dependency on Earth. Everything from building materials to solar panels, equipment and tools to clothes, even nutrients and food ingredients can potentially be 3D printed – as detailed in this new video.
Space agencies around the world are considering the concept of a lunar base as a possible next step in human space exploration – and 3D printing represents a key technology for making it happen.
The aim would be to ‘live off the land’ as much as possible, by printing as many structures, items and spares out of lunar regolith as possible, or by using and reusing materials brought for the mission, rather than continuously relying on the long, expensive supply line from Earth.
Maximised 3D printing would also allow on-demand production of items and spares with routine recycling of materials available within the base, making lunar settlement much more self-sufficient and sustainable.
“The selected print processes would allow available materials to be recycled for different purposes,” explains Antonella Sgambati of OHB System AG, managing the project. “Another major benefit of 3D printing – otherwise known as additive manufacturing – is the breadth of design options it allows. Components, products and the print process itself can be redesigned based on their intended final usage in the lunar base. Decisions can be made on how best to link available materials with the hardware to be printed.”
Supported through ESA’s Basic Activities, this ‘Conceiving a Lunar Base Using 3D Printing Technologies’ project is being run by the URBAN consortium led by Germany’s OHB System AG, with extreme environments specialist Comex in France, Austrian design company Liquifer Systems Group and spacecraft structures manufacturer Sonaca Space in Germany.
This colour view shows the landscape around Nili Fossae, an escarpment sitting between the northern lowlands and southern highlands of Mars.
It was created using data from the nadir channel of the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, the field of view which is aligned perpendicular to the surface of Mars, and the camera’s colour channels. The data were acquired during spacecraft orbit 17916. The ground resolution is about 18 m/pixel and the images cover a part of the martian surface centred on 78°E, 28°N. North is to the right.
Star clusters are common structures throughout the Universe, each made up of hundreds of thousands of stars all bound together by gravity. This star-filled image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), shows one of them: NGC 1866.
NGC 1866 is found at the very edges of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy located near to the Milky Way. The cluster was discovered in 1826 by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop, who catalogued thousands of stars and deep-sky objects during his career.
However, NGC 1866 is no ordinary cluster. It is a surprisingly young globular cluster situated close enough to us that its stars can be studied individually — no mean feat given the mammoth distances involved in studying the cosmos! There is still debate over how globular clusters form, but observations such as this have revealed that most of their stars are old and have a low metallicity. In astronomy, ‘metals’ are any elements other than hydrogen and helium; since stars form heavier elements within their core as they carry out nuclear fusion throughout their lifetimes, a low metallicity indicates that a star is very old, as the material from which it formed was not enriched with many heavy elements. It’s possible that the stars within globular clusters are so old that they were actually some of the very first to form after the Big Bang.
In the case of NGC 1866, though, not all stars are the same. Different populations, or generations, of stars are thought to coexist within the cluster. Once the first generation of stars formed, the cluster may have encountered a giant gas cloud that sparked a new wave of star formation and gave rise to a second, younger, generation of stars — explaining why it seems surprisingly youthful.
Week in images
19 - 23 November 2018