MMO will sit at the top of the BepiColombo stack on launch in January 2017. It will be placed atop ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which will be attached in turn to a carrier spacecraft, the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), tasked with transporting the other two via highly efficient electric propulsion.
While MPO will go into an approximately 400 x 1500 km mapping orbit around Mercury, MMO will enter a highly elliptical orbit to study the planet’s enigmatically strong magnetic field.
The two spacecraft employ differing strategies to cope with temperatures in excess of 350°C involved in operating around the closest world to the Sun. The octagonal MMO will spin 15 times per minute to distribute heat evenly across its highly polished surface.
MPO, meanwhile, will maintain a steady attitude, covered with high-temperature insulation with a rear-facing radiator behind protective louvres that will dump waste heat into space.
But since MMO cannot spin during BepiColombo’s seven-year cruise phase, it will be fitted with a dedicated sunshield, the Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure.
MPO has undergone thermal balance/thermal vacuum testing, with MTM scheduled to do the same towards the end of the year.
MMO’s arrival at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on 20 April will allow follow-on mechanical testing of the complete stack, known as the Mercury Composite Spacecraft.
Based on data from the Sentinel-1A satellite, this image shows how and where the land uplifted and sank from the 7.8-magnitute earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015.
Near the boundary of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, blue shows areas of uplift of up to 0.8 m towards the satellite (called ‘line of sight’) which could be caused by a vertical uplift of 1 m. The yellow area depicts areas of subsidence, a movement that often occurs as a counter movement to the uplift in subduction zones (where one plate dips below the other) during earthquakes. Additionally, a horizontal north–south shift of up to 2 m was detected.
This image was generated using data acquired by Sentinel-1A before and after the earthquake event.
An image shared by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on social media earlier this week, with the comment: "Flying over #Arizona today. What an unreal view!".
Samantha is currently living and working on the ISS as part of the Expedition 43 crew for her six-month Futura mission.
More photos on Samantha's Flickr page.
Follow Samantha via samanthacristoforetti.esa.int
This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken on 26 April 2015 from a distance of 98 km from the comet centre. The image has a resolution of 8.4 m/pixel and measures 8.6 km across.
The original image and more information is available on the blog: CometWatch 26 April
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The refitted Airbus A310 aircraft is on the runway and ready for its first flight for weightless research next week. Although the aircraft can weigh up to 157 tonnes, skilled pilots will angle its nose 50° upwards to create brief periods of weightlessness. At the top of each curve, the forces on the passengers and objects inside cancel each other out, causing everything to float in weightlessness.
During the climb and pulling out of the descent, the occupants endure almost twice normal gravity. A person weighing 80 kg on Earth will feel as if they weighed 160 kg for around 20 seconds.
Conducting hands-on experiments in weightlessness and hypergravity is enticing for researchers in fields as varied as biology, physics, medicine and applied sciences.
French company Novespace has conducted these ‘parabolic flights’ for more than 25 years. Last year they acquired a new aircraft to replace their trusty Airbus A300. Most seats were removed to provide as much space as possible inside, while padded walls provide a soft landing for the researchers – the changes in ‘gravity’ can be hard to handle. Extra monitoring stations have been installed for a technician to monitor the aircraft system’s as it is pushed to its limits – this is no transatlantic cruise.
The inaugural scientific campaign will start on 5 May, a collaboration between Novespace’s three main research partners: ESA, France’s CNES space agency and the DLR German Aerospace Center.
Experiments include understanding how humans sense objects under different gravity levels, investigating how the human heart and aorta cope, looking at how plants grow, testing new equipment for the International Space Station, trying out new techniques for launching nanosatellites, investigating whether pharmaceutical drugs will work without ‘gravity’, understanding Solar System dust clouds and planet formation as well as investigating potential propulsion for martian aircraft.
If you want to know more about these experiments and the parabolic flights, join us on Wednesday 6 May at 13:00 GMT (15:00 CEST) for a live ESA hangout with the researchers and space agency experts. Ask questions live in chat or via Twitter with hashtag #ZeroGhangout.
The subject of this image bears a remarkable resemblance to a porous sea sponge, floating in the inky black surroundings of the deep sea.
Indeed, the cold, hostile and lonely environment of deep water is not too far removed from deep space, the actual setting for this image in which one of Saturn’s outer moons, Hyperion, can be seen in incredible detail. This image was taken by Cassini when the spacecraft performed a flyby of the small moon on 26 September 2005.
During the flyby, Cassini got more than it bargained for as Hyperion unleashed a burst of charged particles towards the spacecraft, effectively delivering a giant 200-volt electric shock. It appears that Hyperion’s surface becomes electrostatically charged as it is bathed in charged particles – both those constantly streaming out into space from the Sun and those trapped within the magnetic field of the moon’s host planet, Saturn.
While astronomers expected many bodies throughout the Solar System to be charged, the data from the Cassini flyby represent the first-ever experience of a charged natural object in space other than our own Moon.
Hyperion is shaped a bit like a potato and, with dimensions of 410 x 260 x 220 km, is one of the largest bodies in the Solar System known to be so irregular. Its odd, almost ‘bubbly’ appearance, can be attributed to it having a very low density for its size. Because of these properties the entire moon is porous, like a sponge, with well-preserved craters of all shapes and sizes packed together across its surface. Scientists think that this moon is mostly made up of water ice, with small amounts of rock.
Images taken using infrared, green and ultraviolet filters were combined to create this view. The natural redness of Hyperion’s surface was toned down in this false-colour image to enhance the visibility of the moon’s surface features
Cassini was approximately 62 000 km from Hyperion when the image was taken, and the image scale is 362 m per pixel.
The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project between NASA, ESA and Italy’s ASI space agency.
This image was previously released on the JPL photojournal image archive in September 2005.
The smudge of stars at the centre of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a galaxy known as UGC 5797. UGC 5797 is an emission line galaxy, meaning that it is currently undergoing active star formation. The result is a stellar population that is constantly being refurbished as massive bright blue stars form. Galaxies with prolific star formation are not only veiled in a blue tint, but are key to the continuation of a stellar cycle.
In this image UGC 5797 appears in front of a background of spiral galaxies. Spiral galaxies have copious amounts of dust and gas — the main ingredient for stars — and therefore often also belong to the class of emission line galaxies.
Spiral galaxies have disc-like shapes that drastically vary in appearance depending on the angle at which they are observed. The collection of spiral galaxies in this frame exhibits this attribute acutely: Some are viewed face-on, revealing the structure of the spiral arms, while the two in the bottom left are seen edge-on, appearing as plain streaks in the sky. There are many spiral galaxies, with varying colours and at different angles sprinkled across this image — just take a look.
A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by Luca Limatola.
Not all of Saturn's rings are created equal: here the C and D rings appear side-by-side, but the C ring, which occupies the bottom half of this image, clearly outshines its neighbour. The D ring appears fainter than the C ring because it is comprised of less material.
This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 12 degrees below the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on 11 February 2015.
The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 599 000 km from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 133 degrees. Image scale is 3.6 km per pixel.
The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Week In Images
27 April - 1 May 2015