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BulgariaSat-1 Blazes to Orbit on Used SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket as Breakthrough Booster Lands 2nd Time on Oceanic Platform

June 24th, 2017

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In another breakthrough milestone aimed at slashing the high cost of rocketry, the innovators at billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched a ‘used’ rocket for only the second time in history – that blazed a path to orbit with its BulgariaSat-1 commercial television comsat payload Friday afternoon, June 23, from the Kennedy Space Center and just minutes later landed upright and intact on an oceanic platform waiting offshore in the vast currents of the Atlantic ocean.

“This is really a great day for us,” Maxim Zayakov, CEO of BulgariaSat and Bulsatcom told Universe Today during pre and post launch interview’s onsite at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Everything is seeming to be a good success so far.”

To top that, SpaceX is targeting a bicoastal weekend doubleheader of launches signaling a remarkably rapid turnaround capability. Another Falcon 9 is scheduled for blastoff on Sunday, June 25 at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT; 2025 UTC) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on the Iridium-2 mission, less than 48 hours apart – which would set a new launch turnaround record for SpaceX.

The picture perfect liftoff of the BulgariaSat-1 communications satellite for East European commercial broadband provider BulgariaSat began at 3:10 p.m. EDT, or 19:10 UTC, June 23, with ignition of all nine of the ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 first stage engines on SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Launch 2nd recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – as seen from the countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

BulgariaSat is an affiliate of Bulsatcom, Bulgaria’s largest digital television provider.

“Everything went down just as we expected,” BulgariaSat CEO Zayakov told me. “Of course there was a lot of excitement. And there are a lot of excited and scared feelings [with launches].”

“At the end of the day it not only worked out just as expected with the launch but the satellite also already reported in telemetry that she is doing fine,” Zayakov elaborated.

BulgariaSat-1 is the first geostationary communications satellite orbited for the nation of Bulgaria.

“We will start using it as soon as we can, in about one and a half months.”

Liftoff of used SpaceX Falcon 9 at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017 delivering BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

The used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying BulgariaSat-1 soared off historic pad 39A into brilliant mid-afternoon blue skies drenching the Florida Space Coast with beloved sunshine to the delight of hordes of spectators gathered from across the globe – including a Bulgarian TV crew witnessing their first launch.

History’s first ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster was successfully launched by SpaceX this past March for Luxembourg based telecommunications giant SES on the SES-10 mission – likewise from pad 39A.

Some 35 minutes after blastoff, BulgariaSat-1 was successfully separated as planned from the Falcon 9 second stage and deployed to its targeted initial geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

“So now she is on her way to the orbital position. The solar arrays deployed about 30 minutes after spacecraft separation from the second stage.”

Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida- as seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Would you launch with Space X again?

“Yes looking to the future we would be happy to use SpaceX again in the future, certainly why not. SpaceX is definitely up there,” Zayakov replied.

BulgariaSat-1 will be located at the Bulgarian orbital position at 1.9 degrees East longitude and will provide reliable satellite communications solutions to broadcast, telecom, corporate and government customers.

How many customers will be served? I asked Zayakov.

“BulgariaSat-1 will serve about 800,000 customers in Bulgaria and about another million subscribers elsewhere in eastern Europe and the Balkans,” Zayakov elaborated.

The BulgariaSat-1 geostationary comsat will provide direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services to Southeastern Europe, including Serbia, the Balkans and other European regions.

You could not have asked for better weather as the recycled Falcon 9 roared to life for the second time with a paying customer and put on a long and exciting space spectacle for those lucky and fortunate enough to witness history with their own eyeballs first hand and follow along for several minutes as the rocket accelerated magnificently to orbit and arched over to the African continent in the nearly cloudless sky.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the BulgariaSat-1 mission previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of this year.

Some two minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff the first and second stages separated.

As the second stage continued to orbit, the recycled first stage began the daunting trip back to Earth on a very high energy trajectory that tested the limits of the boosters landing capability.

“Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today’s launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn’t make it back,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk wrote in a prelaunch tweet.

Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage carried out two burns, the entry burn and the landing burn using a trio of the Merlin 1D engines.

Ultimately the 15 story tall booster successfully landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” or OCISLY droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles (600 km) offshore and east of Cape Canaveral.

“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” Musk tweeted shortly after the recycled booster successfully launched and landed for its second time.

The 156 foot tall first stage may have touched down with a slight tilt.

The OCISLY droneship is expected back into Port Canaveral in a few days.

The 8,100 pounds (3,700 kilograms) BulgariaSat-1 satellite was built by SSL in Palo Alto, Calif. It has a design lifetime for a 15-year mission.

BulgariaSat-1 is equipped with 2 Ku-band FSS transponders and 30 Ku-band BSS transponders for fixed satellite services and advanced television services such as high definition television.

With BulgariaSat-1 now safely in orbit, a period of critical testing and checkout is on tap next.

“It takes about ten days to arrive and stabilize at the final orbital slot,” Zayakov stated. “Then after those 10 days it takes about another 20 to 30 days to actually do all the orbital checkouts and orbital tests required to make sure that the satellite is performing fine and that we can start using it for broadcasts.”

“So in about one and a half months we will be ready to start using BulgariaSat-1.”

“We will start using it as soon as we can!”

2 enthusiastic ‘Thumbs Up’ from Maxim Zayakov, CEO of BulgariaSat, during interview with Universe Today at KSC countdown clock following June 23, 2017 launch of BulgariaSat-1 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The BulgariaSat-1 launch had originally been slated for this past Monday, June 19 but was delayed four days to fix a valve in the payload fairing.

“Postponing launch to replace fairing pneumatic valve,” Musk tweeted last Sunday. “It is dual redundant, but not worth taking a chance.”

And everything went off without a hitch!

BulgariaSat-1 counts as the eighth SpaceX launch of 2017.

Payload fairing encapsulating BulgariaSat-1 comsat launching atop used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite BulgariaSat-1 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Photo of BulgariaSat-1 undergoing launch processing. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 BulgariaSat-1 mission patch logo. Credit: SpaceX/BulgariaSat

The post BulgariaSat-1 Blazes to Orbit on Used SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket as Breakthrough Booster Lands 2nd Time on Oceanic Platform appeared first on Universe Today.



Astronomy Cast Ep. 454: Things We’re Looking Forward To

June 23rd, 2017

As we wrap up season 10 of Astronomy Cast, we look forward to all the instruments, missions and science results on the distant horizon. Think astronomy is exciting already? Just you wait.

We’re taking our summer hiatus during July and August, but we’ll be back in September with all-new episodes!

Visit the Astronomy Cast Page to subscribe to the audio podcast!

We usually record Astronomy Cast as a live Google+ Hangout on Air every Friday at 1:30 pm Pacific / 4:30 pm Eastern. You can watch here on Universe Today or from the Astronomy Cast Google+ page.

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Weekly Space Hangout – June 23, 2017: NEOShield-2 Project Team

June 23rd, 2017

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Special Guest:
This week’s special guests are the NEOShield-2 Project Team. NEOShield-2 is a 100% European Union funded project to develop technologies to avoid an asteroid impact on Earth.

Guests:
Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter)

Their stories this week:

Hubble Finds a Dead Galaxy

LISA is ON!

NASA Releases a Huge Catalog of Planets

We use a tool called Trello to submit and vote on stories we would like to see covered each week, and then Fraser will be selecting the stories from there. Here is the link to the Trello WSH page (http://bit.ly/WSHVote), which you can see without logging in. If you’d like to vote, just create a login and help us decide what to cover!

Announcements:

The WSH recently welcomed back Mathew Anderson, author of “Our Cosmic Story,” to the show to discuss his recent update. He was kind enough to offer our viewers free electronic copies of his complete book as well as his standalone update. Complete information about how to get your copies will be available on the WSH webpage – just visit http://www.wsh-crew.net/cosmicstory for all the details.

If you would like to join the Weekly Space Hangout Crew, visit their site here and sign up. They’re a great team who can help you join our online discussions!

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12:00 pm Pacific / 3:00 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Universe Today, or the Universe Today YouTube page

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Snake Rovers Might be the Best Way to Explore the Surface and Tunnels on Mars

June 23rd, 2017

Human space exploration is going to kick into high gear in the coming decades. Within the inner Solar System alone, missions are being planned that will see robotic explorers and crews sent to Near Earth Objects (NEOs), back to the Moon, and even on to Mars. Beyond that, there are even plans to send robotic missions to Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and other “ocean worlds” to look for signs of life.

In all cases, questions natural arise as to what kinds of missions will be most suited to them. In the case of places like Titan (which have low gravity and dense atmospheres) aerial drones are considered the best bet. But when it comes to rocky place like asteroids, the Moon and Mars, the best candidate may be robot snakes, which could find their way through tight spaces and travel underground.

This concept was proposed three years ago by the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF), the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia. As part of a project commissioned by the ESA – known as SERPEX – they began studying how robots designed to mimic the movements of snakes could assist astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

SINTEF researchers Pål Liljebäck and Aksel Transeth, and Knut Robert Fossum of NTNU’s CIRiS, playing with Wheeko the snake robot. Credit: SINTEF/Thor Nielsen.

But as Aksel Transeth, a senior research scientist at SINTEF, explained in a recent press statement, the possibilities go far beyond the ISS:

“More ambitious applications include potential activities on comets and the Moon. [A] Snake Robot that can assist ISS astronauts in maintaining their equipment is perhaps a solution which can be possible to realize on a more short term.”

Compared to other robotic explorers, the main selling point of a robot snake is that it offers better mobility. For two decades now, NASA has been exploring the Red Planet with robotic rovers, starting with Pathfinder and Sojourner in 1997, Spirit and Opportunity in 2003, and then Curiosity in 2012. And in a little over two years, they will be sending the Mars 2020 rover.

In all cases, these robots get around on six wheels and conduct experiments using instruments on robotic arms. But as the missions teams behind these rovers have learned, mobility can be a challenge. For instance, after five years on the Martian surface, the Spirit rover became stuck in soft soil, where its mission ended. And as successful as these missions have been at conducting research, there are locations that they simply can’t get to.

The SINTEF researchers decided to tackle these issues through biomimicry – i.e. robots that mimic the functions of living creatures. By combining a rover that can navigate over large distances with a snake robot that can crawl along the ground and get into inaccessible places, they believe that future missions would be able to go places and collect samples in ways that other missions could not.

The ESA recently elaborated its plan to create a Moon base by the 2030s. Credit: ESA/Foster+Partners

As Transeth explained back in 2013, this pairing would open up all kinds of possibilities. “We are looking at several alternatives to enable a rover and a robot to work together,” he said. “Since the rover has a powerful energy source, it can provide the snake robot with power through a cable extending between the rover and the robot. If the robot had to use its own batteries, it would run out of power and we would lose it.”

In the configuration Transeth and his colleagues are envisioning, the rover would handle the task of traveling over long distances and then be able to dispatch the snake to crawl into tight inaccessible areas. They would be connected by a cable that would provide electricity, communication signals and would be used to pull the snake back in. In this sense, the snake would act like one of the rover’s arms, but would have the ability to travel autonomously.

“We believe that we can design a robot that can hold on, roll itself up and then extend its body in order to reach new contact points,” said Transeth. “Moreover, we believe that it can creep in among equipment components on the ISS and use equipment surfaces to gain traction in order to keep moving forward – much in the same way as real snakes do in the wild.”

On Mars, sample collection is crucial to many space agency’s research. For the Curiosity rover, the presence of hydrated minerals and clays in soil samples confirmed that Mars once had a warmer, wetter climate. And in the future, scientists hope to find biomakers in Martian soil that could indicate the presence (past or present) of biological life. In this respect, a snake robot would prove very useful since it could access underground recesses the rover cannot.

The sinuous rille known as Rima Ariadaeus, as photographed from Apollo 10, which is the result of a collapsed lava tube. Credit: NASA

On the Moon, snake robots could be especially useful in helping the ESA establish it’s proposed “Moon Village” – a permanent base for scientific activity, tourism and mining that would also act as a successor to the ISS.  The most likely location for this base could be within stable lava tubes or subterranean tunnels, which would provide natural shielding from meteors, solar radiation and cosmic rays.

But before such construction of this base can take place, these tunnels and lava tubes will have to be inspected to ensure that they are safe for human habitation. The ESA has also been committed to studying comets in recent years, which included sending the Rosetta space probe and Philae lander to rendezvous with the comet 67P/Tsjurjumov–Gerasimenko in 2014.

Unfortunately, the lander experienced problems when its system of harpoons (designed to hold it in place) failed to deploy. As a result, it was forced to make another soft landing which left it in a position and location that was not optimal for research. In the future, the ESA could get avoid this by sending a probe to the surface that would deploy the snakes to the surface, which could then burrow into the comet’s interior.

But in the meantime, operations aboard the ISS remain the most realistic and likely application for these robots. Here, astronauts are engaged in ongoing scientific experiments, but are also responsible for maintaining the station and all of its equipment. In this latter respect, the SERPEX project could certainly prove useful, providing them with robot helpers that could help with the regular maintenance.

“It’s possible that a robot could carry out some of the routine inspection and maintenance work,” said Transeth. “The experiments are stacked in the shelf sections, behind which corrosion can occur. To find this out, inspections have to be made. A snake robot could creep behind the sections, carry out an inspection, and perhaps even perform small maintenance tasks.”

Some of the concepts developed by SINTEF so far include the Aiko robot, which was developed to produce a portable system for experimenting with snake robot locomotion. The robot consists of several identical joint modules with two motorized degrees of freedom each. As you can see from the video above, it is propelled by contact forces between the robot and the obstacles in its way.

And then there’s the Wheeko robot, which was developed by SINTEF in conjunction with the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS), and the Norwegian Space Center (NSC). Much like Aiko, this experimental robot was designed to study snake robot locomotion across flat surfaces. It consists of ten identical joint modules with two motorized degrees of freedom each.

But of course, developing snake robots that can handle various tasks while working in different environments – ranging from working in micro-gravity aboard the ISS to snaking their way through tunnels on a body with gravity – presents many challenges. And in the coming years, Transeth and his colleagues will be looking for ways to address all of them.

“We want to find out what specifications a snake robot system requires,” he said. “For example, what kind of sensors does the robot need to obtain an adequate understand its surroundings? What technologies are available to help us meet these needs, and what new technologies will have to be developed? What uncertainties are involved in terms to what it may be possible to achieve?”

Already, astronauts aboard the ISS have robotic helpers in the form of the Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellite (SPHERES). These free flying satellites serve as test beds for a diverse range of hardware and software, all of which is critical for future space missions that use distributed spacecraft architecture.

Soon enough, they will be replaced by a drone called Astrobee – a robotic cube packed with sensors, cameras, computers, and a propulsion system. The brainchild of the Ames Research Center’s Intelligent Robotics Group, this drone will be flying around the ISS and making inspections.

Some of the technology used by Astrobee will be similar to what Transeth and his colleague are hoping to apply to their snake robot system. As such, they hope to learn much from this drone’s time aboard the ISS and incorporate the lessons that are learned from it.

Further Reading: SINTEF

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2nd SpaceX Recycled Falcon 9 Rocket Launching 1st Bulgarian GeoComSat June 23, Plus Potential Weekend Launch ‘Doubleheader’ – Watch Live

June 22nd, 2017

Flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage arrives at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida slated for launch of BulgariaSat-1 on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – For only the second time in history, SpaceX will launch a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 rocket this Friday afternoon and the payload this time for this remarkable and science fictionesque milestone is the first geostationary communications satellite for the nation of Bulgaria.

Blastoff of the BulgariaSat-1 communications satellite for commercial broadband provider BulgariaSat is slated for early Friday afternoon, June 23 at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

BulgariaSat is an affiliate of Bulsatcom, Bulgaria’s largest digital television provider. The geostationary comsat will provide direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services to Southeastern Europe, including the Balkans and other European regions.

Flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 poised for launch of BulgariaSat-1 on June 23, 2017 at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The used 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 will deliver BulgariaSat-1 to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 15 June 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch BulgariaSat-1on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

All systems are GO at this point!

And if all goes well there is a definite possibility of a weekend bicoastal launch double header by SpaceX – says SpaceX billionaire founder and CEO Elon. The next Falcon 9 mission is scheduled for blastoff on Sunday, June 25 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, barely 48 hours apart.

SpaceX is maintaining a blistering launch pace this year.

The Falcon 9 booster arrived just hours after launch of the Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission for NASA on June 3 – as I witnessed the recycled rockets arrival at pad 39A first hand later the same day (see photos).

Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 5:07 p.m. EDT on June 3, 2017, on Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX successfully launched history’s first ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9 booster this past March for Luxembourg based telecommunications giant SES on the SES-10 mission – likewise from pad 39A.

Recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 skyrockets to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A as it zooms past US Flag by the countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The late lunchtime liftoff time for BulgariaSat-1 offers a very convenient opportunity for everyone to enjoy an eyewitness view, regardless of whether you live locally or if have the availability to take a quick trip to the Florida Space Coast.

And the current weather outlook is excellent say forecasters.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC

Watch the SpaceX broadcast live at: SpaceX.com/webcast

The recycled Falcon 9’s launch window extends for a full two hours until 4:10 p.m. EDT, June 23, or 20:10 UTC.

Fridays weather forecast is currently 90% GO for favorable conditions at launch time. That’s about as good as it gets for the notoriously fickle central Florida region.

The concern is for the Cumulus Cumulus Cloud Rule according to Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base.

In case of a scrub for any reason on Friday, June 23, the backup launch opportunity is Saturday, June 24, at 2:10 p.m. EDT, or 18:10 UTC. Likewise it extends for two hours.

Saturdays’ weather forecast also quite good, dropping only slightly to 80% GO. The concern is for the Cumulus Cumulus Cloud Rule.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the BulgariaSat-1 mission previously supported the Iridium-1 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of this year. Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt a landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

The satellite was built by SSL in Palo Alto, Calif. It has a design lifetime for a 15-year mission.

“We selected SSL to manufacture our first satellite early on, based on its history of success and reliability,” says Maxim Zayakov, chief executive officer of Bulgaria Sat. “SSL has been an excellent partner in helping us bring this project to fruition.”

BulgariaSat-1 will be equipped with 2 Ku-band FSS transponders and 30 Ku-band BSS transponders for fixed satellite services and advanced television services such as high definition television.

Photo of BulgariaSat-1 undergoing launch processing. Credit: SpaceX

The historic pad 39A was previously used to launch NASA’s Apollo Saturn Moon rockets and Space Shuttles.

The path to launch was cleared following the successful completion of a critical static hot-fire test of the first stage last Thursday, June 15.

The hot fire test lasted about seven seconds as I witnessed from Banana River Lagoon and Rt. 1 in Titusville, which provides numerous excellent viewing locations.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of Falcon 9 booster atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 15 June 2017 as seen from Space View Park, Titusville, FL. The Falcon 9 is slated to launch BulgariaSat-1on June 23, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The BulgariaSat-1 launch had originally been slated for this past Monday, June 19 but was delayed four days to fix a valve in the payload fairing.

Payload fairing encapsulating BulgariaSat-1 comsat launching atop used SpaceX Falcon 9 booster at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite BulgariaSat-1 mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about the upcoming SpaceX launch of BulgariaSat 1, recent SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 resupply launch to ISS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

June 22-24: “SpaceX BulgariaSat 1 launch, SpaceX CRS-11 and CRS-10 resupply launches to the ISS, Inmarsat 5 and NRO Spysat, EchoStar 23, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 BulgariaSat-1 mission patch logo. Credit: SpaceX/BulgariaSat

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Hubble Finds a Dead Galaxy that was Finished Making Stars Just a Few Billion Years After the Big Bang

June 22nd, 2017

Thanks to recent improvements in space-based and ground-based telescopes, astronomers have been able to probe deeper into the Universe than ever before. By looking billions of years back in time, we are able to test our theories about the history of galactic formation and evolution. Unfortunately, studying the very early Universe is a daunting task, and one that is beyond the capabilities of our current instruments.

But by combining the power of the Hubble Space Telescope with a technique known as gravitational lensing, a team of astronomers made the first discovery of a compact galaxy that stopped making stars just a few billion years after the Big Bang. The discovery of such a galaxy existing so early in the Universe is unprecedented and represents a major challenge to \theories of how massive galaxies form and evolve.

Their findings were reported in a study titled “A Massive, Dead Disk Galaxy in the Early Universe“, which appeared in the June 22 issue of the journal Nature. As is indicated in the study, the team relied on data from Hubble which they combined with gravitational lensing – where a massive cluster of galaxies magnifies and stretches images of more distant galaxies beyond them – to study the distant galaxy known as MACS 2129-1.

Image of the Galaxy Cluster MACS J2129-0741, as part of CLASH. Credit: hubblesite.org

What they found was completely unexpected. Given the age of the galaxy – dated to just three billion years after the Big Bang – they expected to see a chaotic ball of stars that were forming due to early galaxies merging. Instead, they noticed that the galaxy, which was disk-shaped (like the Milky Way), was effectively dead – meaning that star formation had already ceased within it.

This was a surprise, seeing as how astronomers did not expect to see this so early in the Universe. What’s more, it was the first time that direct evidence has been obtained that shows how at least some of the earliest “dead” galaxies in the Universe evolved from disk-shaped objects to become the giant elliptical galaxies that we regularly see in the Universe today.

As Sune Toft – a researcher from the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute and the lead author on the study – explained, this may force a rethink of how galaxies evolved in the early Universe:

“This new insight may force us to rethink the whole cosmological context of how galaxies burn out early on and evolve into local elliptical-shaped galaxies, Perhaps we have been blind to the fact that early “dead” galaxies could in fact be disks, simply because we haven’t been able to resolve them.”

In previous studies, it was assumed that distant dead galaxies were similar in structure to the local elliptical galaxies they eventually evolved into. Prior to this study, confirmation of this hypothesis was not possible since current instruments are not powerful enough to see that far into space. But by combining the power of gravitational lensing with Hubble’s high resolution, Toft and his team were able to see this dead galaxy clearly.

Galaxy Cluster MACS J2129-0741 and Lensed Galaxy MACS2129- Credit: hubblesite.org

Combining rotational velocity measurements from the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) with archival data from the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), they were able to determine the size of the galaxy, mass, and age as well as its (defunct) rate of star formation. Ultimately, they found that the remote galaxy is three times as massive as the Milky Way, though only half its size, and is spinning more than twice as fast.

Why this galaxy stopped forming stars is still unknown, and will require follow-up surveys using more sophisticated instruments. But in the meantime, there are some possible theories. For instance, it could be the result of an active galactic nucleus, where a supermassive black hole at the center of MACS 2129-1 inhibited star formation by heating the galaxy’s gas and expelling it from the galaxy.

Or it may be the result of cold gas being streamed into the galaxy’s center where it was rapidly heated and compressed, thereby preventing it from cooling and forming star-forming clouds. But when it comes to how these types of early, dead galaxies could have led to the elliptical galaxies we see today, Toft and his colleagues think they know the answer. As he explained, it could be through mergers:

“If these galaxies grow through merging with minor companions, and these minor companions come in large numbers and from all sorts of different angles onto the galaxy, this would eventually randomize the orbits of stars in the galaxies. You could also imagine major mergers. This would definitely also destroy the ordered motion of the stars.”

In the coming years, Toft and his team hope to take advantage of the James Webb Telescope (which will be launching in 2018) to search for more early dead galaxies, in the hopes that it can shed light on the unresolved questions this discover raises. And with the ability to probe deeper into space, astronomers anticipate that a great deal more will be revealed about the early Universe.

Further Reading: Hubblesite, Nature

The post Hubble Finds a Dead Galaxy that was Finished Making Stars Just a Few Billion Years After the Big Bang appeared first on Universe Today.



Saturn Rides Bareback On The Galactic Dark Horse

June 22nd, 2017

The bright dot is Saturn and it shines on the back of the Galactic Dark Horse, a collection of dark nebulae in the constellation Ophiuchus that resembles a prancing horse. The head is to the right with a wisp of a tail to the left. The photo, taken on June 20, 2017, has been turned 90° to the right, so the horse stands upright. Credit: Bob King

I didn’t notice it with the naked eye, but as soon as the time exposure ended and I looked at the camera’s back display, there it was — Saturn riding barebacked on the Galactic Dark Horse! The horse, more of a prancing pony, is a collection of dark nebulae in the southern sky beautifully placed for viewing on late June evenings. The Dark Horse is part of the Great Rift, a dark gap that splits the band of the Milky Way in half, starting at the Northern Cross and extending all the way down to the “Teapot” of Sagittarius in the south.

The Great Rift appears to unzip the summer Milky Way right down the middle. Saturn and the Dark Horse are seen at lower right. Credit: Bob King

While appearing to be little more than empty, starless space, in reality the Rift consists of enormous clouds of cosmic dust and gas in the plane of the galaxy called dark nebulae that blot out the light of more distant stars. If you could suck it all up with a monster vacuum cleaner and expose the billions of stars otherwise hidden, the Milky Way would cast obvious shadows — even suburban skywatchers would routinely see it.

Saturn dominates the scene at left center in this photo taken on June 20. To its right you can see the prancing pony standing on its tail with legs sticking out to the right. Several bright Milky Way star clouds are also visible including the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud (left) and the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud below and left of Saturn. Antares in Scorpius is at upper right. Can you find the firefly that flashed during the exposure? Credit: Bob King

Tiny dust particles spewed by older, evolved stars and exploding supernovas have been settling in the plane of the galaxy since its birth 13.2 billion years ago. While the dust is sparse, it adds up over the light years to form a thick, dark band silhouetted against the more distant stars. Gravity has been at work on the dust since the earliest days, compressing the denser clumps into new stars and star clusters. But much raw material remains. Within the curdles of dark nebulae, astronomers use dust-penetrating infrared and radio telescopes to watch new stars in the process of incubation.

Dense cores of dust within the Pipe Nebula are collapsing to form new stars. We can’t see them yet because of obscuring dust. The left end of the Pipe forms the long back leg and rump of the Dark Horse. The much smaller Snake Nebula (shaped like the letter “S”) is visible at top center. Credit and copyright: Yuri Beletsky

There are more obvious parts of the Rift to the naked eye but few conjure up as striking an image as the Dark Horse, located about one outstretched fist to the left of the Scorpius’ brightest star, Antares. Saturn sits astride the horse’s back or eastern side. While it’s fun to see the horse as a single figure, astronomers catalog the various body parts as individual dark nebulae with separate numbers and even names. The largest part of the horse, the hind leg, is nicknamed the Pipe Nebula and lies 600-700 light years away. The Pipe is further subdivided into B59, B72, B77 and B78, from a survey of dark nebulae by early 20th century American astronomer E.E. Barnard.

You’ll need dark skies and averted vision to spot the Dark Horse. Let Saturn and Antares be your guides. The nebula is highest in the sky around 12:30 a.m. in late June as shown in the map above. Latitude shown is 40° North. Created with Stellarium

While the dark horse shows up well in time-exposure photos, you’ll need dark, rural skies to view it with the naked eye. It’s only a couple fists high for those of us living in the northern U.S. and southern Canada, but considerably higher up from the southern states and points south. The figure is large but faint, about 10° long by 7° wide, and stands due south and highest in the sky around 12:30 a.m. in late June. Allow your eyes time to fully dark adapt beforehand. Try for the dark rump and hind leg first then work from there to fill in the rest of the horse.

If we could see the Milky Way galaxy edge-on from afar, it would look similar to NGC 891 in Andromeda. Both have long bands of interstellar dust along their equators that appear dark against the bright, starry backdrop. Credit: Hunter Wilson

Once I knew what to look for, I could fleetingly see the entire horse with its various protrusions as a subtle darkness against the brighter Milky Way. Averted vision, the technique of playing your eye around the subject rather than staring directly at it, helped make it happen. Wide-field binoculars will show it easily and in greater detail against a fabulously rich star field.

The best time to horse around under the Milky Way happens from now till the end of the month, when the bright Moon sends the critter into hiding.

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See NASA’s Curiosity Rover Simultaneously from Orbit and Red Planet’s Surface Climbing Mount Sharp

June 22nd, 2017

NASA’s Curiosity rover as seen simultaneously on Mars surface and from orbit on Sol 1717, June 5, 2017. The robot snapped this self portrait mosaic view while approaching Vera Rubin Ridge at the base of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater – backdropped by distant crater rim. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images and colorized. Inset shows overhead orbital view of Curiosity (blue feature) amid rocky mountainside terrain taken the same day by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

You can catch a glimpse of what its like to see NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover simultaneously high overhead from orbit and trundling down low across the Red Planet’s rocky surface as she climbs the breathtaking terrain of Mount Sharp – as seen in new images from NASA we have stitched together into a mosaic view showing the perspective views; see above.

Earlier this month on June 5, researchers commanded NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to image the car sized Curiosity rover from Mars orbit using the spacecrafts onboard High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) telescopic camera during Sol 1717 of her Martian expedition – see below.

HiRISE is the most powerful telescope ever sent to Mars.

And as she does nearly every Sol, or Martian day, Curiosity snapped a batch of new images captured from Mars surface using her navigation camera called navcam – likewise on Sol 1717.

Since NASA just released the high resolution MRO images of Curiosity from orbit, we assembled together the navcam camera raw images taken simultaneously on June 5 (Sol 1717), in order to show the actual vista seen by the six wheeled robot from a surface perspective on the same day.

The lead navcam photo mosaic shows a partial rover selfie backdropped by the distant rim of Gale Crater – and was stitched together by the imaging team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo.

The feature that appears bright blue at the center of this scene is NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover amid tan rocks and dark sand on Mount Sharp, as viewed by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 5, 2017. The rover is about 10 feet long and not really as blue as it looks here. The image was taken as Curiosity was partway between its investigation of active sand dunes lower on Mount Sharp, and “Vera Rubin Ridge,” a destination uphill where the rover team intends to examine outcrops where hematite has been identified from Mars orbit. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Right now NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover is approaching her next science destination named “Vera Rubin Ridge” while climbing up the lower reaches of Mount Sharp, the humongous mountain that dominates the rover’s landing site inside Gale Crater.

“When the MRO image was taken, Curiosity was partway between its investigation of active sand dunes lower on Mount Sharp, and “Vera Rubin Ridge,” a destination uphill where the rover team intends to examine outcrops where hematite has been identified from Mars orbit,” says NASA.

“HiRISE has been imaging Curiosity about every three months, to monitor the surrounding features for changes such as dune migration or erosion.”

The MRO image has been color enhanced and shows Curiosity as a bright blue feature. It is currently traveling on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. Curiosity is approximately 10 feet long and 9 feet wide (3.0 meters by 2.8 meters).

“The exaggerated color, showing differences in Mars surface materials, makes Curiosity appear bluer than it really looks. This helps make differences in Mars surface materials apparent, but does not show natural color as seen by the human eye.”

See our mosaic of “Vera Rubin Ridge” and Mount Sharp below.

Curiosity images Vera Rubin Ridge during approach backdropped by Mount Sharp. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images taken on Sol 1726, June 14, 2017 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Curiosity is making rapid progress towards the hematite-bearing location of Vera Rubin Ridge after conducting in-depth exploration of the Bagnold Dunes earlier this year.

“Vera Rubin Ridge is a high-standing unit that runs parallel to and along the eastern side of the Bagnold Dunes,” says Mark Salvatore, an MSL Participating Scientist and a faculty member at Northern Arizona University, in a new mission update.

“From orbit, Vera Rubin Ridge has been shown to exhibit signatures of hematite, an oxidized iron phase whose presence can help us to better understand the environmental conditions present when this mineral assemblage formed.”

Curiosity will use her cameras and spectrometers to elucidate the origin and nature of Vera Rubin Ridge and potential implications or role in past habitable environments.

“The rover will turn its cameras to Vera Rubin Ridge for another suite of high resolution color images, which will help to characterize any observed layers, fractures, or geologic contacts. These observations will help the science team to determine how Vera Rubin Ridge formed and its relationship to the other geologic units found within Gale Crater.”

To reach Vera Rubin Ridge, Curiosity is driving east-northeast around two small patches of dunes just to the north. She will then turn “southeast and towards the location identified as the safest place for Curiosity to ascend the ridge. Currently, this ridge ascent point is approximately 370 meters away.”

Curiosity rover raises robotic arm high while scouting the Bagnold Dune Field and observing dust devils inside Gale Crater on Mars on Sol 1625, Mar. 2, 2017, in this navcam camera mosaic stitched from raw images and colorized. Note: Wheel tracks at right, distant crater rim in background. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Ascending and diligently exploring the sedimentary lower layers of Mount Sharp, which towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, is the primary destination and goal of the rovers long term scientific expedition on the Red Planet.

“Lower Mount Sharp was chosen as a destination for the Curiosity mission because the layers of the mountain offer exposures of rocks that record environmental conditions from different times in the early history of the Red Planet. Curiosity has found evidence for ancient wet environments that offered conditions favorable for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life,” says NASA.

NASA’s Curiosity rover explores sand dunes inside Gale Crater with Mount Sharp in view on Mars on Sol 1611, Feb. 16, 2017, in this navcam camera mosaic, stitched from raw images and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

As of today, Sol 1733, June 21, 2017, Curiosity has driven over 10.29 miles (16.57 kilometers) since its August 2012 landing inside Gale Crater, and taken over 420,000 amazing images.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about the upcoming SpaceX launch of BulgariaSat 1, recent SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 resupply launch to ISS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

June 22-24: “SpaceX BulgariaSat 1 launch, SpaceX CRS-11 and CRS-10 resupply launches to the ISS, Inmarsat 5 and NRO Spysat, EchoStar 23, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Curiosity’s Traverse Map Through Sol 1717. This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1717 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (June 05, 2017). The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

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Let’s Clean up the Space Junk with Magnetic Space Tugs

June 21st, 2017

After 50 years of sending rockets, satellites, and payloads into orbit, humanity has created something of a “space junk” problem. Recent estimates indicate that there are more than 170 million pieces of debris up there, ranging in size from less than 1 cm (o.4 in) to a few meters in diameter. Not only does this junk threaten spacecraft and the ISS, but collisions between bits of debris can cause more to form, a phenomena known as the Kessler Effect.

And thanks to the growth of the commercial aerospace industry and the development of small satellites, things are not likely to get any less cluttered up there anytime soon. Hence why multiple strategies are being explored to clean up the space lanes, ranging from robotic arms and nets to harpoons. But in what may be the most ambitious plan to date, the ESA has proposed creating space tugs with powerful magnets to yank debris out of orbit.

The concept comes from Emilien Fabacher, a researcher from the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace at the University of Toulouse, France. His concept for a magnetic tug seeks to address one type of space debris in particular – inoperable satellites. These uncontrolled, rapidly spinning objects often weigh up to several tons, and are therefore one of the most significant collision hazards there is.

Illustration showing the problem of space debris. Credit: ESA

When applied to the problem of orbital debris, magnetic attraction is an attractive solutions for the safe deorbiting of spent satellites. For starters, it relies on technology that is standard issue aboard many low-orbiting satellites, which is known as magnetorquers. These electromagnets allow satellites to adjust their orientation using the Earth’s magnetic field. Hence, debris-chasing satellites would not need to be specially equipped in advance.

What’s more, this same magnetic attraction or repulsion technology is being considered as a safe method for allowing multiple satellites to maintain close formations in space. Such satellites – like NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS), the Landsat 7 and the Earth Observing-1 satellites, and the ESA’s upcoming LISA mission – are either operational or soon will be around Earth.

Because of this, this kind of magnetic attraction technology presents a safe and effective alternative for deorbiting space junk. As Fabacher explained in a recent ESA press release:

“With a satellite you want to deorbit, it’s much better if you can stay at a safe distance, without needing to come into direct contact and risking damage to both chaser and target satellites. So the idea I’m investigating is to apply magnetic forces either to attract or repel the target satellite, to shift its orbit or deorbit it entirely.”

Artist’s impression of the ESA’s proposed Darwin mission, six formation-flying satellites that would look for exoplanets. Credit: ESA/Medialab

The concept emerged out of a conversation Fabacher had with experts from the ESA’s technical center in the Netherlands. As part of his PhD research, he was looking into how magnetic guidance, navigation and control techniques would work in practice. This led to a discussion about how similar technology could allow swarms of satellites to attract and remove debris from orbit.

After making some calculations that combined a rendezvous simulator with magnetic interaction models, and also taking account the ever-changing state of Earth’s own magnetosphere, Fabacher and his colleagues realized they had a working concept. “The first surprise was that it was indeed possible, theoretically – initially we couldn’t be sure, but it turns out that the physics works fine,” he said.

To break it down, the chaser satellites would generate a strong magnetic field using superconducting wires that are cooled to cryogenic temperatures. These satellites would also rely on magnetic fields to maintain precise flying formations, thus allowing a swarm of chaser satellites the ability to deal with multiple pieces of debris, or to coordinate and guide debris to a specific location.

According to Finn Ankersen – an ESA expert in rendezvous and docking and formation flight – these magnetic tugs would also be able to remove space debris with a very high level of precision. “This kind of contactless magnetic influence would work from about 10–15 meters out, offering positioning precision within 10 cm with attitude precision [of] 1 – 2º,” he said.

Why Space Debris Mitigation is needed. Click for animation. Credit: ESA

The concept is being developed with support provided by the ESA’s Networking/Partnering Initiative, a program that offers support to universities and research institutes for the sake of developing space-related technologies. And it comes at a time when the issue of space debris is becoming increasingly worrisome.

Left unchecked, space debris is likely to become a very serious hazard in the coming years and decades. Already, it is estimated that the small satellite market will grow by $5.3 billion in the next decade (according to Space Works and Eurostat) and many private companies are looking to provide regular launch services to accommodate that growth.

If we intend to begin making a return to the Moon and mounting missions to Mars, we need to make sure the space lanes are clear! And given the importance of the International Space Station to scientific research and international collaboration, and with companies like Bigelow Aerospace looking to establish space habitats in orbit, something has to be done about this problem before it gets completely out of control!

Who knows? Maybe a small fleet or magnetic tugs is just what we need to clean up this mess!

Further Reading: ESA

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LISA is On! Gravitational Wave Detection is Going to Space

June 21st, 2017

The discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO experiment in 2015 sent ripples through the scientific community. Originally predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, the confirmation of these waves (and two subsequent detections) solved a long-standing cosmological mystery. In addition to bending the fabric of space-time, it is now known that gravity can also create perturbations that can be detected billions of light-years away.

Seeking to capitalize on these discoveries and conduct new and exciting research into gravitational waves, the European Space Agency (ESA) recently green-lighted the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission. Consisting of three satellites that will measure gravitational waves directly through laser interferometry, this mission will be the first space-based gravitational wave detector.

This decision was announced yesterday (Tuesday, June 20th) during a meeting of ESA’s Science Program Committee (SPC). It’s implementation is part of the ESA’s Cosmic Vision plan – the current cycle of the agency’s long-term planning for space science missions – which began in 2015 and will be running until 2025. It is also in keeping with the ESA’s desire to study the “invisible universe“, a policy that was adopted in 2013. 

To accomplish this, the three satellites that make up the LISA constellation will be deployed into orbit around Earth. Once there, they will assume a triangular formation – spaced 2.5 million km (1.55 million mi) apart – and follow Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Here, isolated from all external influences but Earth’s gravity, they will then connect to each other by laser and begin looking for minute perturbations in the fabric of space-time.

Much like how the LIGO experiment and other gravitational wave detectors work, the LISA mission will rely on laser interferometry. This process consists of a beam of electromagnetic energy (in this case, a laser) being split in two and then recombined to look for patterns of interference. In LISA’s case, two satellites play the role of reflectors while the remaining one is the both source of the lasers and the observer of the laser beam.

When a gravitational wave passes through the triangle established by the three satellites, the lengths of the two laser beams will vary due to the space-time distortions caused by the wave. By comparing the laser beam frequency in the return beam to the frequency of the sent beam, LISA will be able to measure the level of distortion.

These measurements will have to be extremely precise, since the distortions they are looking for affect the fabric of space-time on the most minuscule of levels – a few millionths of a millionth of a meter over a distance of a million kilometers. Luckily, the technology to detect these waves has already been tested by the LISA Pathfinder mission, which deployed in 2015 and will conclude its mission at the end of the month.

Artist’s concept of the LISA mission. Credit: AEI/Milde Marketing/Exozet

In the coming weeks and months, the ESA will be looking over the design of the LISA mission and completing a cost assessment. If all goes as planned, the mission will be proposed for “adoption” before construction begins and it is expected to be launched by 2034. In the same meeting, the ESA also adopted another important mission that will be searching for exoplanets in the coming years.

This mission is known as the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, or PLATO, mission. Like Kepler, this mission will monitor stars within a large sections of the sky to look for small dips in their brightness, which are caused by planets passing between the star and the observer (i.e. the transit method). Originally selected in February of 2014, this mission is now moving from the blueprint phase into construction and will launch in 2026.

It’s an exciting time for the European Space Agency. In recent years, it has committed itself to multiple endeavors in the hope of maintaining Europe’s commitment to and continued presence in space. These include studying the “invisible universe”, mounting missions to the Moon and Mars, maintaining a commitment to the International Space Station, and even building a successor to the ISS on the Moon!

Further Reading: ESA

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