ESA astronaut Tim Peake took this image from the International Space Station during his six-month Principia mission. He commented: "The ISS just passed straight through a thick green fog of aurora…eerie but very beautiful."
Professional photographer Max Alexander has known Tim Peake from before his launch into space and gave Tim photography tips during his mission. Max comments: "The International Space Station is flying right through the aurora in this eerie image - which also gives the viewer the feeling of passing through these curtains of light. Photographing this space weather on the surface of the Earth is difficult; much harder still from space due to the speed the Space Station is travelling. Tim has very quickly mastered low light photography to capture this."
Follow Tim Peake via timpeake.esa.int
The stellar views from the International Space Station are not the only things to take an astronaut’s breath away: devices like this are measuring astronauts’ breath to determine the health of their lungs. ESA astronaut Tim Peake took part in the Airway Monitoring experiment during his Principia mission in 2016.
Developed by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, the experiment draws on a study of airway inflammation that ran on the Station from 2005 to 2008.
The analyser measures the amount of nitric oxide in exhaled air – a signalling molecule produced in the lungs to help regulate blood vessels. Too much nitric oxide suggests inflammation. Causes can be environmental, like dust or pollutants, or biological, such as asthma – at least on Earth, but what happens in space?
Researchers compare measurements from astronauts taken before their flights to those taken in space to understand the effects of weightlessness on airway health. Astronauts in space are essentially fish out of water. Understanding how to track, diagnose and treat lung inflammations is important for their safety.
The experiment began with ESA astronaut Samantha Cristofretti’s 2015 mission and measurements have been gathered by six astronauts. Four more astronauts will conduct the experiment next year.
The ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter being fuelled at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
In March, Europe’s new era of Mars exploration begins with the launch of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli. After a seven-month journey through space, Schiaparelli will separate from the orbiter on 16 October and head towards the planet’s surface, where it will land three days later, on Meridiani Planum.
Meanwhile, the orbiter will begin to manoeuvre into orbit and, after a year of aerobraking, will begin science operations.
Any long journey requires an ample supply of fuel and, on 21 February, fuelling of TGO began. This spacecraft has one fuel tank and one oxidiser tank, each with a capacity of 1207 litres. When fuelling is complete, the tanks will contain about 1.5 tonnes of MON (mixed oxides of nitrogen) and 1 tonne of MMH (monomethylhydrazine).
The propellant is needed for the main engine and the 10 thrusters (plus 10 backup thrusters) that are used for fine targeting and critical manoeuvres.
Even the propellants have had a long journey: both were procured via Gerling Holz in Germany, brought by ship to St Petersburg in Russia, and then by train to the cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan.
Since fuelling is a hazardous exercise, only essential staff – wearing protective suits – are allowed in the fuelling area. A team from Thales Alenia Space France is in Baikonur to take care of TGO fuelling, as they did for Schiaparelli. While this activity is under way, the fire brigade, doctor, security and safety officers are on hand.
The launch window for the Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli is open 14–25 March 2016.
Tomorrow’s orbit today? This image shows how a large solar sail-equipped satellite could partly offset Earth’s and the Sun’s gravity with the slight but steady pressure of sunlight to hover above the Arctic or Antarctic, enabling continuous coverage of high-latitude regions for climate observation or regional communication services.
“Standard space missions employ conventional elliptical ‘Keplerian’ orbits,” comments Colin McInnes, Professor of Engineering Science at the UK’s University of Glasgow.
“However, our VisionSpace project has been investigating novel families of orbits and space systems across a broad range of sizes that could make use of additional factors such as solar radiation pressure, air drag or gravitational interactions.
“The space systems range from microscale applications such as satellite swarms and dust clouds, to mesoscale large deployable space webs and solar sails, all the way up to macroscale solutions such as asteroid capture.”
VisionSpace was a five-year project ending in 2014 to research space system engineering across the extremes of size, funded by the European Research Council.
Prof. McInnes, who oversaw the project while at the University of Strathclyde, was recently invited to ESA’s ESTEC technical centre by the Agency’s Advanced Concepts Team to highlight the project’s findings.
The ACT is tasked with peering beyond the horizon of current space projects. Further information on ESA's activities concerning Earth's polar regions can be found on the ESA Space for Earth website.
The Sentinel-2A satellite takes us over central-eastern Egypt with this image from 17 January.
Like most of Egypt’s landscape, the image is dominated by arid desert – namely the Eastern Desert between the Nile River the Red Sea. The distinctive pattern of water erosion from rivers and streams is clearly visible as they make their way towards the Nile, at which point the rolling sandy highlands drop abruptly at the Nile valley, visible along the bottom of the image.
Fields of intensive farming along the Nile appear red owing to this false-colour image being processed to include the near-infrared. The varying shades of red indicate how sensitive the multispectral instrument on Sentinel-2 is to differences in chlorophyll content, providing key information on plant health.
The Nile valley is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. The river is the primary source of water for both Egypt and Sudan’s populations, supporting life in an otherwise uninhabitable environment, as evident by the stark contrast between the colours of this image.
Zooming in along the bottom we can see clusters of black dots where cities and towns are located, in addition to the fields. In the lower right, just above the red area, there is an interesting pattern of roads from our bird’s-eye view – possibly a developing residential area.
This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
App Camp 2016 took place at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
OSIRIS wide-angle camera image taken on 18 February 2016, when Rosetta was 35.6 km from Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The scale is 3.45 m/pixel.
More details via the OSIRIS Image of the Day website.
Week In Images
22-26 February 2016