Laser-powered farewell to Moon mission

NASA's LADEE mission sends laser data to ESA's Optical Ground Station, testing future deep-space communication technologies

Laser from the Moon

25 April 2014

Just before NASA’s latest Moon mission ended last week, an ESA telescope received laser signals from the spacecraft, achieving data speeds like those used by many to watch movies at home via fibre-optic Internet.

During an intense, three-day effort starting on 1 April, ESA’s Optical Ground Station in Spain received data signals via laser from the Moon at the stunning speed of 80 megabits per second.

The signals were transmitted from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, from a distance of 400 000 km. LADEE completed its seven-month exploration and technology mission on 17 April in a planned impact on the Moon.

The speed is high enough to transmit an entire movie DVD in about eight minutes and is many times faster than provided by traditional radio links used by today’s spacecraft.

Faster than traditional radio

“We had already achieved 40 Mbit/s in our first round of laser communication with LADEE in October, so we’re pretty happy that the final test transmissions were able to double that,” says Klaus-Juergen Schulz, responsible for tracking station engineering at ESA’s ESOC operations centre.

“We also demonstrated that we could transmit laser signals to LADEE and even obtain highly accurate range data, just like our traditional but much larger radio tracking stations can. Overall, the test series has been a big success.”

ESA’s station in Spain’s Canary Islands was equipped with advanced technology developed in Switzerland, France and Denmark that could communicate with LADEE using infrared laser beams.

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Soyuz TMA-12M Launch

The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Baikonur
The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 (local time) carrying Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Steven Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos to the International Space Station.
Image Credit:
NASA/Joel Kowsky

Astronauts Prepare for Spacewalks

Expedition 38 crew member Mike Hopkins checks out the spacesuit he will wear outside the International Space Station on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013. He and fellow astronaut Rick Mastracchio will conduct a series of spacewalks to replace an ammonia pump that is part of the station’s coolant system. This will be Hopkins’ first spacewalk, while Mastracchio has had six previous ones on STS-118 and STS-131.
Expedition 38 crew member Mike Hopkins checks out his spacesuit

Helping China to the Moon

Kourou tracking station

29 November 2013Shortly after China’s Chang’e-3 spacecraft departs Earth to land on the Moon, ESA’s network of tracking stations will swing into action, providing crucial support for the vessel’s five-day lunar cruise.

China’s Chang’e-3, named after the mythological goddess of the Moon, is scheduled for lift off on 1 December from the Xichang launch base in China’s Sichuan province on a journey to deposit a lander and a six-wheeled rover on the lunar surface.

The landing, in the Sea of Rainbows on 14 December, will be the first since Russia’s Luna-24 in 1976.

Immediately after liftoff, ESA’s station in Kourou, French Guiana, will start receiving signals from the mission and uploading commands on behalf of the Chinese control centre.

The tracking will run daily throughout the voyage to the Moon. Then, during descent and after landing, ESA’s deep-space stations will pinpoint the craft’s path and touchdown.

“We are proud that the expertise of our ground station and flight dynamics teams and the sophisticated technologies of our worldwide Estrack network can assist China to deliver a scientifically important lander and rover to the Moon,” says ESA’s Thomas Reiter, Director for Human Spaceflight and Operations.

“Whether for human or robotic missions, international cooperation like this is necessary for the future exploration of planets, moons and asteroids, benefitting everyone.”

The effort is being run from the Estrack Control Centre in ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Following lunar mission progress

Chang’e-3 liftoff is set for around 18:00 GMT on 1 December, and the 15 m-diameter dish in Kourou will pick up the first signals around 18:44 GMT.

Working with Chinese tracking stations, Kourou will support the mission through lunar orbit entry on 6 December continuing until just prior to its descent to the surface, expected around mid-day on 14 December.

The landing and rover operations on the Moon will be commanded via two Chinese tracking stations at Kashi, in the far west of China, and at Jiamusi, in the northeast.

“After the lander and rover are on the surface, we will use our 35 m-diameter deep-space antennas at Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia, to provide ‘delta-DOR’ location measurement,” says Erik Soerensen, responsible for external mission tracking support at ESOC.

“Using this delta-DOR technique, you can compute locations with extreme accuracy, which will help our Chinese colleagues to determine the precise location of the lander.”

Cebreros and New Norcia stations watch lunar landing

Together with Cebreros, New Norcia will record Chang’e-3’s radio signals during landing, which will help the Chinese space agency to reconstruct the trajectory for future reference.

A team of engineers from China will be on hand in Darmstadt. “While we’re very international at ESOC, hardly anyone speaks Mandarin, so having Chinese colleagues on site will really help in case of any unforeseen problems,” says Erik.

“Both sides are using international technical standards to enable our stations and ESOC to communicate with their mission and ground systems.”

Celebrating Fifteen Years of the International Space Station

Astronaut James H. Newman waves during a spacewalk
Astronaut James H. Newman waves during a spacewalk preparing for release of the first combined elements of the International Space Station. The Russian-built Zarya module, with its solar array panel visible here, was launched into orbit fifteen years ago on Nov. 20, 1998. Two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 1998, NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour launched Unity, the first U.S. piece of the complex. Endeavour’s forward section is reflected in Newman’s helmet visor in this image. During three spacewalks on the STS-88 mission, the two space modules built on opposite sides of the planet were joined together in space, making the space station truly international.

Since that first meeting of Zarya and Unity, the space station grew piece by piece with additions from each of the international partners built across three continents and leading to the largest and most complex spacecraft ever constructed. The space station, now four times larger than Mir and five times larger than Skylab, represents a collaboration between NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, representing 15 countries in all.

In support of station assembly and maintenance, station and shuttle crews have conducted 174 spacewalks totalling almost 1,100 hours – the equivalent to nearly 46 days of spacewalks to build and maintain the complex. The station, with a mass of almost a million pounds and the size of a football field, is second only to the moon as the brightest object in the night sky.

Over the years, a great deal of research has been done on the space laboratory, which has already yielded tremendous results toward various fields. The science of the space station has provided benefits to humankind in areas such as human health, Earth observation and education. Many more results and benefits for both space exploration and life on Earth are expected in the coming years.

ISS 15 Years Insignia – available soon.

Space Station 15 Years Logo

 

Full View of Asteroid Vesta

Full View of Asteroid Vesta
As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft travels to its next destination, this mosaic synthesizes some of the best views the spacecraft had of the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn studied Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012. The towering mountain at the south pole – more than twice the height of Mount Everest – is visible at the bottom of the image. The set of three craters known as the “snowman” can be seen at the top left.
These images are the last in Dawn’s Image of the Day series during the cruise to Dawn’s second destination, Ceres. A full set of Dawn data is being archived at http://pds.nasa.gov/ .
The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington D.C. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. The Dawn framing cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, with significant contributions by DLR German Aerospace Center, Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The Framing Camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR, and NASA/JPL.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCAL/MPS/DLR/IDA

Luca Skywalker

this_sure_beats_any_selfie_I_ve_done_up_to_now_fullwidth changing_the_socket_on_my_PGT_after_recovering_the_CPLA_fullwidth my_wrist_mirror_refects_my_visor_which_reflects_the_Earth_fullwidth on_the_Canadarm_on_the_way_to_the_port_side_fullwidth photo_op_before_reentry_fullwidth ready_to_install_the_Starboard_RGB_fullwidthLuca Parmitano Spacewalker

These images were captured during the spacewalk of ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, together with NASA’s Chris Cassidy, 9 July 2013. The spacewalk, the first for Luca and the fifth for Chris, lasted 6 hours 7 minutes.

This was the first of two Expedition 36 excursions to prepare the International Space Station for a new Russian module and perform additional installations on the station’s backbone. The second spacewalk is scheduled for 16 July; Luca, working again with Chris Cassidy, will egress the Quest airlock at around 12:15 GMT (14:15 CEST).

NASA, Space Station Partners Announce Future Crew Members

HOUSTON — NASA and its international partners have appointed three International Space Station crew members to round out future expeditions to the orbiting laboratory.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Japanese Exploration Aerospace Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko are scheduled to launch in June 2015. They will join three Expedition 44 crew members in orbit and will remain aboard as part of Expedition 45.

The Expedition 45 crew will be:

Lindgren, a board-certified emergency and aerospace medicine physician, joined the astronaut corps in 2009 and worked as a NASA flight surgeon before his selection. He was born in Taiwan and spent some time in the Midwestern United States, but spent most of his youth in England. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree in cardiovascular physiology and a doctorate in medicine. At the U.S. Air Force Academy, he was an instructor, jumpmaster and member of the “Wings of Blue” parachute team. He also conducted cardiovascular countermeasure research at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

Yui was born in Nagano, Japan. He received degrees from the Graduate School of Science and Engineering, National Defense Academy of Japan, in March 1992. He served in the Japan Air Self Defense Force until his selection as an astronaut candidate by JAXA in February 2009. He has participated in two years of astronaut candidate training at NASA, which included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction on the space station’s systems, spacewalking, robotics, physiological training, flight training using a T-38 jet trainer and water and wilderness survival training. Yui also participated in the 16th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations off the coast of Key Largo in Florida in June 2012.

Oleg Kononenko was selected to join the cosmonaut corps in 1996, and he completed his initial training in 1998. His first spaceflight was as a flight engineer for Expedition 17 in 2008. Kononenko launched to the International Space Station for his second mission in December 2011 and returned to Earth in July 2012. He spent a total of 193 days in space, 191 of which were aboard the station as a part of Expeditions 30 and 31. During Expedition 31, Kononenko served as both the station commander and Soyuz commander. During the course of his two missions, Kononenko has spent 393 days in space.

Luca, the orbital repair man

 10 July 2013

Yesterday, at 12:02 GMT, astronauts Luca Parmitano and Chris Cassidy switched their spacesuits to battery power and began their spacewalk outside the International Space Station.

The sortie was planned for six and half hours, but the astronauts proceeded faster than planned and had time for extra ‘get-ahead’ tasks, routing cables and staging equipment to help future spacewalkers. The final duration of Tuesday’s extravehicular activity was 6 hours and 7 minutes.

The primary goals were to replace a Ku-band communications transceiver, retrieve two science experiments that exposed material samples to space, install cables for Russia’s coming Nauka laboratory module, and carry out routine maintenance. Nauka will replace the Pirs module currently attached to the Station.

The highlight of the spacewalk for Luca was surely riding on the platform at the end of the Station’s Canadarm2 robot arm – this moment is shown in the image.

Operated by Karen Nyberg inside the Station, the arm moved Luca to the port side of the Station’s long central truss to remove a failed camera that will be returned to Earth for analysis.

Finally, Luca installed a multilayer insulation cover to protect the docking interface of the Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 on the Harmony module.

Luca and Chris will venture out to space again next week to continue work started during this spacewalk.

Stepping into the Orion Crew Module

NASA Astronauts Orion Capsule

NASA astronauts Cady Coleman and Ricky Arnold step into the Orion crew module hatch during a series of spacesuit check tests conducted on June 13, 2013 at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The Orion crew module will serve as both transport and a home to astronauts during future long-duration missions to an asteroid, Mars and other destinations throughout our solar system.
Image Credit: NASA

Orion Embroidered Patch

Orion Pin

NASA Space Program Orion Exploration Flight Test 1 Lapel Pin