Expedition 37 crewmembers in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station. Pictured (clockwise from lower left) are Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, commander; Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, all flight engineers.
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano arrived at the International Space Station in May 2013 for a six-month mission. Read more about the Volare Mission in his blog: blogs.esa.int/luca-parmitano
Lakes and mountains of western Uganda are captured in this Envisat radar image.
The area pictured is part of the Albertine Rift, a branch of the East African Rift where the Somali Plate is splitting away from the rest of the continent.
In the upper right corner is Lake George. With the equator running right through the middle, this body of water is recognised as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty for the sustainable use of wetlands.
Its waters flow into the Kazinga Channel – known for its high concentration of hippopotami and Nile crocodiles – and then empty into Lake Edward at lower left.
The colours in the two lakes and connecting channel indicate changes in water level between acquisitions. On either side of the channel, large craters and crater-lakes dot the volcanic fields.
At the top of the image, we can see the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (west).
Its highest peak topping 5100 m, the mountain chain is home to numerous glaciers, waterfalls and lakes. However, climate change has negatively affected the glaciers, and subsequently the mountains’ vegetation and biodiversity.
To the south of the mountains, the bright pink, purple and green areas show where changes in the land’s surface occurred between the three radar scans that make up this composite image. These changes are primarily in vegetation as the land here is blanketed with agricultural plots. There is even a clear-cut line where agricultural activities end and the protected land begins.
This image was created by combining three acquisitions from Envisat’s radar on 14 June 2007, 14 February 2008 and 3 July 2008 over the same area and it is featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
While scanning the sky for the oldest cosmic light, ESA’s Planck satellite has captured snapshots of some of the largest objects populating the Universe today: galaxy clusters and superclusters.
Several hundred galaxies and the huge amounts of gas that permeate them are depicted in this view of the core of the Shapley Supercluster, the largest cosmic structure in the local Universe.
The supercluster was discovered in the 1930s by American astronomer Harlow Shapley, as a remarkable concentration of galaxies in the Centaurus constellation.
Boasting more than 8000 galaxies and with a total mass more than ten million billion times the mass of the Sun, it is the most massive structure within a distance of about a billion light-years from our Milky Way Galaxy.
The hot gas pervading galaxy clusters shines brightly in X-rays, but it is also visible at microwave wavelengths, which Planck sees as a distinctive signature in the Cosmic Microwave Background – the afterglow of the Big Bang.
Looking for this signature – called the Sunyaev–Zel’dovich effect – Planck has already spotted more than 1000 galaxy clusters, including several superclusters and pairs of interacting clusters.
This composite image of the core of the Shapley Supercluster combines the gas detected with Planck at large scales between the members of the supercluster (shown in blue) with that detected in X-rays within the galaxy clusters of Shapley using the Rosat satellite (pink), as well as a view of its rich population of galaxies as observed at visible wavelengths in the Digitised Sky Survey.
The largest pink blobs of X-rays identify the two galaxy clusters Abell 3558 on the right and Abell 3562 on the left, as well as a couple of smaller groups between them.
The image measures 3.2 x 1.8 square degrees and shows the central portion of the Shapley Supercluster. It was produced by reconstructing the Sunyaev–Zel’dovich effect from the Planck frequency maps, and was first published in a Planck Collaboration paper in March 2013.
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope picture shows C/2012 S1, better known as Comet ISON, as it appeared in our skies on 9 October.
In this image, the comet’s solid nucleus is unresolved because it is so small. If it had broken apart – a possibility as the Sun slowly warms it up during its approach – Hubble would have likely seen evidence for multiple fragments instead.
ISON will be brightest in our skies in late November, just before and after it hurtles past the Sun. As it grows brighter, it may even become visible as a naked-eye object, before it fades throughout December – the month of its closest approach to Earth.
Depending on its fate as it passes close to the Sun, it could become spectacular or, on the contrary, it could completely disintegrate. Many observatories, as well as several ESA and NASA missions, aim to observe this icy visitor over the coming months
The final command shutting off Planck's transponder (radio transmitter) was sent by Jan Tauber, Planck project scientist, from ESA/ESOC on 23 October 2013.
The masks are part of a system to estimate energy requirements. They measures how much oxygen is consumed and how much carbon dioxide is exhaled by the volunteers. These measurements allow scientists to get an idea of the relationship between food, the lungs and the energy consumption when at rest.
The data are needed for an experiment in this ESA bedrest study held in Toulouse, France, in cooperation with the French space agency, CNES. The University of Bonn is interested in seeing if a high-protein, high-salt diet combined with exercise could combat bone and muscle loss and insulin insensitivity.
Our bodies adapt to long periods spent lying in bed tilted 6° below the horizontal as if they were flying in weightlessness. Muscles and bones waste away and when a mission or bedrest campaign ends, the body needs many days to return to form. Studying this process on bedrest volunteers is a lot cheaper and easier than collecting information on astronauts.
Finding ways to counteract negative effects to spaceflight is important for astronauts on long-duration missions as well as bedridden people on Earth.
For months, the 60-plus engineers of the Gaia control team have been intensively simulating every aspect of the spacecraft’s initial journey to the L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million km from Earth.
The training – often running through a full 12-hour shift – is conducted ‘on console’ in the Main Control Room at ESOC, ESA’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
In a ‘Sim’, engineers use the actual mission control system to operate and fly a faithful software replication of the real Gaia that responds to their commands just as the real one will.
“While it may appear like a big video game, the training is far more complex and demanding and meant to be so,” says ESA’s Michael Gabel, responsible for training at ESOC. “We ensure that the teams can react quickly to any contingency.”
The training is overseen by a little-known team of ESA and industry specialists who work in an access-limited ‘Sim Room’ underneath the main room.
The trainers inject a carefully staged series of faults, errors and failures into the spacecraft or into the software and systems used to fly it.
Upstairs, under the watchful eye of the senior Flight Director, the controllers sitting on console must recognise and assess the problem and apply the correct contingency procedure.
Earlier in the campaign, the faults were simpler in nature. “But today, closer to actual launch, we’re simulating Gaia’s arrival at the L2 orbital position,” says Joe Bush, from Telespazio Vega Deutschland and responsible for Gaia simulations.
“Just like ‘LEOP’ – the Launch and Early Orbit Phase – this is one of the most critical phases of the mission and demands a complex series of manoeuvres. We’re injecting multiple, complex faults; we really try to stress the control team to see if they know their stuff. And the solutions require them to work together as a team.”
LEOP includes separation from the launcher, deployment of the solar panels and acquisition of first signals from the satellite.
“If something’s going to go wrong in a mission, one of the likely times is during LEOP, or during a manoeuvre like arrival at L2, where the impact can be more critical. Our job is to ensure the mission controllers are ready for anything,” says Michael.
Gaia is set for launch from Kourou on 20 November 2013, and will arrive at L2 some 21 days later.
Week in Images
21-25 October 2013