The legacy of Planck

Operating between 2009 and 2013, ESA’s Planck mission scanned the sky at microwave wavelengths to observe the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, which is the most ancient light emitted in the history of our Universe. Data from Planck have revealed an ‘almost perfect Universe’: the standard model description of a cosmos containing ordinary matter, cold dark matter and dark energy, populated by structures that had been seeded during an early phase of inflationary expansion, is largely correct, but a few details to puzzle over remain. In other words: the best of both worlds.

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Shaking Orion’s solar wings

Testing the solar wings of the European service module that will provide power, water, air and electricity to NASA’s Orion Moon module.

The solar arrays Orion will use to produce electricity are tested at ESA’s technical heart in the Netherlands. Folded for launch, the fragile solar panels need to survive the rumbling into space aboard the most powerful rocket ever built, NASA’s Space Launch System.

Orion’s solar panels will be folded inside the rocket fairing on the first leg of the trip around the Moon. Once released from the rocket they will unfold and rotate towards the Sun to start delivering power.

To make sure the solar panels will work after the intense launch, ESA engineers are putting them through rigorous tests that exceed what they will experience on launch day. This includes vibrating them on a shaking table and placing them in front of enormous speakers that recreate the harsh launch conditions.

Orion will eventually fly beyond the Moon with astronauts, the first time a spacecraft will support humans with European hardware will also be the farthest humans ever travel from Earth. The first mission – without astronauts – is getting ready for launch in 2019.

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Simulation of asteroid spin creating binary asteroids

This simulation  the top view on the left and side view on the right  shows an aggregate (assumed to be the common structure of small asteroids) asteroid that is spun-up due to differential heating, through the so-called 'YORP' effect. The orange particles are those initially at the surface and the white particles are those initially below the surface. While spinning up, the particles that are at mid-latitude move to the equator where the centrifugal force is greatest. When this force exceeds the gravity of the body, these particles escape and can potentially collide together to form a secondary. This mass shedding process turns an initially more or less spheroidal body into what is known as a top shape body, i.e. a spheroid with an equatorial bulge, which seems to be a common shape based on radar models of some small  asteroids, as well as direct images of asteroids Ryugu and Steins (and soon Bennu, the destination of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission). Taken from Walsh, K.J., Richardson, D.C. & Michel, P. 2008. Rotational break up as the origin of binary asteroids. Nature 454, 188-191.

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First hot firing of P120C motor for Vega-C and Ariane 6

The hot firing of the development model of the P120C solid fuel rocket motor at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 16 July 2018, proves the design for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020.

The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter, and uses solid fuel in a case made of carbon composite material built in a single segment.

It will replace the current P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.

This test was a collaboration between ESA, France’s CNES space agency, and Europropulsion under contract to Avio and ArianeGroup.

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Every point is a galaxy

At first glance this frame is flooded with salt-and-pepper static – but don’t adjust your set!

Rather than being tiny grains or pixels of TV noise, every single point of light in this image is actually a distant galaxy as observed by ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory. Each of these minute marks represents the ‘heat’ emanating from dust grains lying between the stars of each galaxy. This radiation has taken many billions of years to reach us, and in most cases was emitted well before the Solar System and the Earth had even formed.

This frame shows a map of the North Galactic Pole as imaged by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver, SPIRE. As on Earth, astronomers define locations on a cosmic scale using a coordinate system. For the Milky Way galaxy, this coordinate system is spherical with the Sun at its centre, and provides values for longitude and latitude on the sky with respect to our Galaxy.

The North Galactic Pole lies far from the cluttered disc of the Milky Way, and offers a clean, clear view of the distant Universe beyond our home galaxy. In the sky, it is located somewhere in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair), a region that also contains an especially rich galaxy cluster known as the Coma Cluster. Serendipitously, the Coma Cluster is included in this map, adding over 1000 points of light to the tally of individual galaxies.

Herschel was active from 2009 to 2013, and used its instruments to study the sky in the far infrared. SPIRE was particularly well-suited to mapping large areas of sky, and observed the North Galactic Pole in three different filters simultaneously – such observations can be used to produce multicoloured images.

The image shown is a single-filter map obtained at a wavelength of 250 μm as part of the Herschel Astrophysical Terahertz Large Area Survey (H-ATLAS), and covers some 180.1 square degrees of sky. This used both SPIRE and another Herschel instrument, the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), to survey some 660 square degrees of sky in five wavelength bands and produce the largest far infrared surveys ever made of the sky lying outside our galaxy.

The North Galactic Pole imaged by PACS

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Space Bites: Resources beyond Earth | Angel Abbud Madrid

Humans will have to breath, drink and eat while living on the Moon. They will need energy to perform tasks using their robotic companions and materials to build structures. For a sustainable approach to space exploration these resources cannot be carried from Earth but have to be found on the Moon itself.

Angel Abbud Madrid is the Director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), where he leads a multidisciplinary research programme on the human and robotic exploration of space and the utilisation of its resources. He is also the Director of the CSM Space Resources Program, the first academic programme in the world focused on educating scientists, engineers, economists, entrepreneurs and policymakers in the developing field of space resources. 

Space Bites hosts the best talks on space exploration from the most inspiring and knowledgeable speakers from the field. Held at the technical heart of the European Space Agency in the Netherlands, the lectures are now also available on YouTube. If you want to know about the present and future challenges of ESA, stay tuned for more.

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In touch with meteorites

To mark Asteroid Day, ESA Web TV pays a social call to two neighbours of ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, both of which contain chunks of iron meteorites. While one, at ESTEC’s Space Expo visitor centre is available to be seen and touched by the general public, the other is on private property inside the nearby Decos IT management company – but both meteorites came from the same impact site.

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Shanghai, China

The Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite takes us over Shanghai, China. One of the most populous cities in the world and home to over 24 million people, the city is visible in the lower right of the image just above the Yangtze River mouth. As a significant global financial centre it is also the site of the world’s busiest container ports because of its strategic location on the Yangtze River delta.

The image covers an area of over 1200 km, showing Beijing at the centre-top, the salt flats close to the Mongolian border in the top left, and North Korea, with its capital, Pyongyang, just visible in the top right of the image. A large number of urban settlements represented as grey flecks are interspersed with agricultural fields, dominating the central part of the image.

This true colour image taken using Sentinel-3A’s Ocean and Land Colour Instrument  (OLCI) shows the huge amount of sediment carried into the ocean along the coast.

Meanwhile, Taihu Lake is shown in green in the lower right part of the image. In 2007, an algal bloom on the lake caused major problems with water supplies in the neighbouring city of Wuxi. Such algal blooms may well be linked to the discharge of phosphates found in fertilizers used in industry and agriculture into the water.

Steps have been taken to limit the use of such fertilisers in a bid to reduce algal blooms, which can significantly alter the ecology of the environment below the surface and pose a threat to various forms of water life.

Sentinel-3 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme. Since 2016, Sentinel-3A has been measuring our oceans, land, ice and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics and to provide critical information for marine operations, and more.

This image, which was captured on 29 April 2017, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.

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