The logo for Hera, ESA’s proposed asteroid mission for planetary defence, has already reached space, thanks to ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, who snapped this photo from the cupola of the International Space Station. The Hera mission itself is seeking final approval for development at the Space19+ Ministerial Council this November.
“The Hera team welcomes this high-profile appearance,” says Ian Carnelli, managing Hera. “The next time our logo will get anywhere near this high would be for its initial moments of flight, covering the fairing of its Ariane 6 launcher.”
Part of ESA’s new Space Safety programme, Hera is planned as Europe’s contribution to an audacious planetary defence experiment. In summer 2022, NASA’s DART mission will impact the smaller of the Didymos binary asteroids, in an attempt to deflect it.
Hera would then perform a detailed post-impact survey of the deflected body, measuring its mass and the size and shape of the crater left by DART, to turn planetary deflection into a well-understood technique that could be performed against various scales of targets if ever needed to actually defend Earth.
“Asteroids hold unique information about Solar System formation and ultimately about our own origins,” comments Luca. “They are tracers of Solar System formation where collisions played a fundamental role.
“Understanding the impact processes at scales beyond what is achievable in laboratories provides important clues on the evolution of the Solar System, including our own planet. It is fascinating to think that the same science can protect our planet from asteroid impacts.”
The Hera logo summarises key goals of the Hera mission: protection from asteroid impact, modelling binary asteroid systems, preventing asteroid collisions and developing new technology – including the two CubeSats the spacecraft will deploy to perform close-up surveys.
The Netherlands is featured in this false-colour image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. This image was processed in a way that included the near-infrared channel, which makes vegetation appear bright red.
Amsterdam, the capital city of the country, is visible towards the top of the image, on the edge of the IJmeer lake. The city’s complex network of canals can be seen in the image, and the city is said to have over 1000 bridges.
Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands and is visible in the lower left, along the banks of the New Meuse River, which divides the municipality into its northern and southern parts. Rotterdam’s port is the largest port in Europe, stretching over 40 km in length and covering over 10 000 hectares.
The Hague is north of the port, visible along the North Sea coast. The Hague is home to the Dutch seat of government, and the city also hosts the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.
To the north of The Hague is the coastal town of Noordwijk, home to ESA's European Space Technology Research Centre (ESTEC). ESTEC is ESA’s technical centre where new missions are designed, their industrial development is managed and, in some cases, the spacecraft and instruments are tested.
On Sunday 6 October, ESTEC is hosting its annual Open Day, where it will open its doors and give general public the chance to meet astronauts, space experts and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of ESA’s largest establishment. The Open Day is now fully booked.
The theme of this year’s event is ESA to the Moon – where Dutch ESA astronaut André Kuipers will be joined by pioneering Apollo astronauts Walt Cunningham, who flew on the first crewed Apollo mission, and Rusty Schweickart, who was the first person to fly the Lunar Module and use an Apollo lunar spacesuit for a spacewalk.
This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Friday 30 September 2016 was a bitter-sweet day for space exploration: the incredible Rosetta spacecraft reached the end of its hugely successful mission, fittingly, by touching down on the surface of the comet it had been studying from orbit for the previous two years.
This image was captured by the spacecraft’s wide-angle OSIRIS camera during the final hour of the mission from an altitude of about 400 m above the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Its final resting place is not far from the top centre of the image; see also this breathtaking sequence of images covering the final hours of the mission.
Rosetta arrived at the comet on 6 August 2014 after a ten year journey through space, and deployed lander Philae to its surface on 12 November 2014. Rosetta continued to study the icy, dusty object from near and far as the comet reached its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015 and moved towards the outer Solar System again.
Conducting science until the very end, the descent gave Rosetta the opportunity to collect unique data on the comet’s gas, dust and plasma environment very close to its surface, as well as take very high-resolution images and temperature measurements.
While the mission operations have concluded, the science certainly continues. Intense activities also surround the preservation of Rosetta’s highest resolution and best calibrated data in ESA’s Planetary Science Archive, securing the mission’s legacy for future generations.
Last week marked another milestone as the final Science Working Team meeting was held at ESA’s technical facility in the Netherlands. It was the 52nd of such meetings, the first having been held in the late 1990s. The meeting closed out the formal aspect of the mission and archiving activities and enabled teams to reflect on their efforts over the last decades. In addition, several days were dedicated to the latest and ongoing science activities, which are delving deep into the cross-instrument analysis of the comet. A number of the topics discussed are also presented in a recently published special edition of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
When Earth is so far away, it helps to have friends nearby.
The usual six-astronaut crew of the International Space Station welcomed three more and a cargo vehicle last week, making for a full house on the orbital outpost.
The arrival of NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and the first United Arab Emirates (UAE) astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri on Friday was followed by the Japanese HTV-8 space freighter the next day, bringing over four tonnes of supplies and fresh science.
With nine people now on board, the Space Station is even busier and nosier than usual, including at mealtimes.
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano tweeted this image of the team gathered for a celebratory dinner in the Russian Zvezda module, the food preparation area of the Space Station. He captioned it:
“Celebrating three birthdays in one week (me, and Nick Hague and Alexei Ovchinin), wearing the t-shirts of our ‘space band’: ‘Kryk Chayky’- ‘The cry of the seagull.’”
The seagulls, like shared mealtimes, are one way the crew cope with the oddities of life in space. From isolation and disturbed day-night rhythms to the hums and buzzes of the Space Station, living in space can be stressful. Astronauts try to maintain a routine that includes social time to unwind and build comradery.
This is especially important in a multicultural environment. A total of 239 people from 19 countries have visited the space home, and as of Luca’s current mission Beyond, there are 4 nationalities on board.
Luca is preparing to take over command of the Space Station, when current commander cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin, NASA astronaut Nick Hague and UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri return to Earth in the early hours of 3 October.
In the meantime, it is not all fun and band practice for the crew. They are hard at work on science experiments and, perhaps more importantly this week, station maintenance. Read more about the experiments and chores in the biweekly roundup.
Watch this space for the release of Kryk Chayky’s first station album, due out in the coming light year.
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano captured this image of Africa from the International Space Station and shared it on his social media channels saying: "The skin of Earth – Africa: Sculptures of desert winds."
Luca was launched to the International Space Station for his second mission, Beyond, on 20 July 2019. He will spend six months living and working on the orbital outpost where he will support more than 50 European experiments and more than 200 international experiments in space.
Magali Vaissiere, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, and Phil Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation, sign an agreement to put satellite-based data communication links terminals on up to 20 aircraft flying commercial services across continental Europe.
The Iris terminals are designed to help pilots and air traffic controllers to use the shortest and fastest routes, boosting productivity, saving fuel and reducing environmental pollution.
In the night of 25 September 2019, an ESA team together with the Canadian Space Agency practiced night-time operations controlling a rover from afar. Experts at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, controlled the Canadian Space Agency’s Juno rover from across the Atlantic Ocean, with a science team at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in The Netherlands advising – a similar setup is used for daily International Space Station operations.
The four-hour experiment saw Juno travel over two kilometres covering six ‘waypoints’ while taking scans of its surroundings and inspecting areas of scientific interest. None of the teams in Europe knew exactly what to expect, just as they would during an actual lunar mission.
“The MAGIC experiment really was a huge success,” says Kim Nergaard, Head of Advanced Mission Concepts at ESA’s ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
“We faced some issues of course – at one point the rover was overly cautious of a relatively small rock – but we reached our end point within the allocated time and achieved all the objectives we set out to, learning a great deal along the way.”
The galaxy pictured in this Hubble Picture of the Week has an especially evocative name: the Medusa merger.
Often referred to by its somewhat drier New General Catalogue designation of NGC 4194, this was not always one entity, but two. An early galaxy consumed a smaller gas-rich system, throwing out streams of stars and dust out into space. These streams, seen rising from the top of the merger galaxy, resembles the writhing snakes that Medusa, a monster in ancient Greek mythology, famously had on her head in place of hair, lending the object its intriguing name.
The legend of Medusa also held that anyone who saw her face would transform into stone. In this case, you can feast your eyes without fear on the centre of the merging galaxies, a region known as Medusa's eye. All the cool gas pooling here has triggered a burst of star formation, causing it to stand out brightly against the dark cosmic backdrop.
The Medusa merger is located about 130 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear).
Week in images
28 September - 04 October 2019