The newest crewmember on the International Space Station, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, has hit the ground running. After arriving in the early hours of 29 July and taking the rest of the day off, Paolo and the crew were back to work by 30 July.
First up on Paolo’s schedule is a human physiology experiment using the Mares machine. The Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System, housed in Europe’s Columbus laboratory module, is a three-in-one muscle-measuring machine that monitors astronauts’ muscles as they work out.
Muscle strength decreases during spaceflight and researchers need to know why in order to prepare for long missions and safe space tourism.
The measurements are part of the Sarcolab-3 experiment that is assessing how weightlessness affects the calf and ankle muscles, the parts of the leg that carry the load of the rest of the body.
“This is important, as establishing the mechanisms involved in space-related muscle deterioration will help us to devise optimised countermeasures,” says Thu Jennifer Ngo-Anh, head of ESA’s Human Research Office.
Sarcolab-3 is a unique experiment, involving scientists from NASA, ESA and the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems – an example of international cooperation benefitting scientific research.
Watch a timelapse video of Mares being assembled, an all-day task in itself.
Follow Paolo Nespoli during his Vita mission at paolonespoli.esa.int
On 12 July 2017, Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission returned radar images showing that a lump of ice more than twice the size of Luxembourg had broken off the Antarctic Peninsula. Since then, this large tabular iceberg – known as A68 – has drifted about 5 km from the ice shelf. Images from Sentinel-1 also show that a cluster of more than 11 smaller icebergs has also now formed, the largest of which is over 13 km long. These ‘bergy bits’ have broken off both the giant iceberg and the remaining ice shelf. The image has been compiled using Sentinel-1 acquisitions on 27 July (right) and 30 July (left).
This highly mobile, jumping Nanobot was designed by a team of space engineers challenged to develop a Moon mission that was not only technically viable but could also make a profit.
The annual SpaceTech Master Programme of the Technical University of Graz, Austria trains space professionals to combine space and business engineering. ESA Director General Jan Woerner asked the 2016 participants to come up with a profitable business case to fit within ESA’s Moon Village concept.
The eight SpaceTech 2016 participants presented the resulting Lunatix concept last month at ESA’s technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
“We want to enable you to leave your mark on the Moon,” explains ESA engineer Jorge Fiebrich. “Our ambition is to become the creative leader in lunar mobility experiences, through placing unique mobile platforms on the lunar surface.”
The team designed these video camera-equipped Nanobots to tap into the $100 billion gaming market. After raising initial enthusiasm among Earth’s 1.8 billion gamers with controlling a virtual Nanobot on a simulated lunar surface, there will be the possibility to control real Nanobots on the Moon, in Pokemon Go!-style augmented reality scenarios.
Science would be another business line, with the highly agile Nanobots able to probe sites of scientific interest such as lunar lava tubes.
The Nanobots are designed to jump up to 3 m high and 10 m in distance in the one-sixth gravity of the Moon, which allows them to clear obstacles while offering an exciting gaming aspect.
A series of Nanobots – formally known as Small Mobile Platforms – together with the Main Mobile Platform larger rover would be deployed on the Moon. Along with additional scientific payloads, the larger rover would recharge the Nanobots and give them shelter during the two-week lunar night.
The SpaceTech team carried out a rigorous end-to-end design process, ensuring their robots could survive harsh lunar temperature swings and radiation and dust exposure, as well as continuously communicate with Earth – and their customers.
“Through the Nanobots, humans will be experiencing the Moon in near-real time, with a two-way delay of around three seconds,” adds Jon Reijneveld, system engineer at Airbus Defence and Space. “They could be seen as the first inhabitants of the Moon Village.”
Now the study has been completed, the participants are investigating plans to establish the company next year. For more information read the full summary here.
Hidden from our sight, the Westerhout 43 star-forming region is revealed in full glory in this far-infrared image from ESA’s Herschel space observatory. This giant cloud, where a multitude of massive stars come to life in the billowing gas and dust, is almost 20 000 light-years away from the Sun, in the constellation of Aquila, the Eagle.
Massing more than seven million Suns, this region is home to over 20 stellar nurseries, which are being heated by the powerful light from newborn stars within. These hubs of star formation stand out in blue hue against the cooler yellow and red surroundings.
Nestled in the glowing blue bubble of gas at the centre of the image is a cluster of extremely hot and massive Wolf-Rayet and OB stars, which together are over a million times brighter than our Sun. This bubble, hosting the seeds that will grow into several new stellar clusters, is one of the most prolific birthplaces of stars in our Galaxy.
A less extreme but still very active stellar factory is the large complex of blue bubbles visible in the image towards the right. Scrutinising the Herschel images, astronomers have found evidence of what appears like a network of filaments linking these two intense hubs of star formation.
Located in a very dynamic region of the Milky Way, at the transition between the central bar of the Galaxy and one of its spiral arms, Westerhout 43 is an excellent laboratory to study how stars – especially massive ones – take shape at the collision of two large flows of interstellar matter.
Investigating star-forming regions across our Galaxy in unprecedented detail was one of the main goals of Herschel, which was launched in 2009 and operated for almost four years, observing the sky at far-infrared and submillimetre wavelengths. Sensitive to the heat from the small fraction of cold dust mixed in with the clouds of gas where stars form, imaging such regions points astronomers to dense areas of gas where new stars are being born, enabling them to study the action in detail, just as in this image.
This three-colour image combines Herschel observations at 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red), and spans about 3º on the long side; north is up and east to the left. The image was obtained as part of Herschel’s Hi-GAL key-project, which imaged the entire plane of the Milky Way in five different infrared bands. A video panorama compiling all Hi-GAL observations was published in April 2016.
A Galileo Full Operational Capability satellite being prepared for testing inside ESA's Large European Acoustic Facility, which subjects test items to the equivalent noise of launch – note the sound horns to the left. The satellite is in its launch configuration, so its solar arrays are folded up on each side.
The star of this Hubble Picture of the Week is a galaxy known as NGC 4656, located in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). However, it also has a somewhat more interesting and intriguing name: the Hockey Stick Galaxy! The reason for this is a little unclear from this partial view, which shows the bright central region, but the galaxy is actually shaped like an elongated, warped stick, stretching out through space until it curls around at one end to form a striking imitation of a celestial hockey stick.
This unusual shape is thought to be due to an interaction between NGC 4656 and a couple of near neighbours, NGC 4631 (otherwise known as The Whale Galaxy) and NGC 4627 (a small elliptical). Galactic interactions can completely reshape a celestial object, shifting and warping its constituent gas, stars, and dust into bizarre and beautiful configurations. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has spied a large number of interacting galaxies over the years, from the cosmic rose of Arp 273 to the egg-penguin duo of Arp 142 and the pinwheel swirls of Arp 240.
On 2 August 2017, Vega flight VV10 lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana to deliver two Earth observation satellites, Optsat-3000 and Venμs, into their planned Sun-synchronous orbits.
Week in Images
31 July - 4 August 2017