A unique view of Mars Express

In this unique image, one spacecraft orbiting Mars records the presence of another. The narrow blur against a black backdrop is in fact ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor. It is the first-ever successful image of any spacecraft orbiting Mars taken by another spacecraft in a Martian orbit.

Mars Express, still in operation, represents ESA’s first visit to another planet in the Solar System. Launched in 2003 it marked the beginning of a new era for Europe’s planetary exploration, contributing over the past 15 years to the newly emerging picture of Mars as a once-habitable planet, with warmer and wetter epochs that may have once acted as oases for ancient Martian life. These findings have paved the way for missions dedicated to hunting for signs of life on the planet, such as ESA and Roscosmos’s two-mission ExoMars programme.

The Mars Global Surveyor was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched in 1996. It mapped the entire Martian planet from the ionosphere down through the atmosphere to its red, rocky surface.

On one special occastion, on 20 April 2005, from a distance of 250-370 km, the Mars Global Surveyor captured this remarkable shot of Mars Express, but unfortunately ESA’s satellite could not return the favour during the few years in which the two spacecraft operated simultaneously at the red planet.

On 2 November 2006 the NASA spacecraft failed to respond to messages and commands. Three days later a faint signal was detected, indicating the spacecraft had gone into safe mode and was awaiting further instruction. Attempts to re-contact the Mars Global Surveyor and resolve the problem failed, and the mission ended officially in January 2007.

Following this loss of contact, ESA’s Mars Express team was requested by NASA to perform actions in the hope of visually identifying the American spacecraft. Two attempts were made to find it, but both proved unsuccessful.

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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.

To know more about the exploration of the Moon visit http://lunarexploration.esa.int

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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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Aeolus standing proud for testing

As part of the campaign to launch ESA's Aeolus satellite on 21 August, the satellite is held in a vertical position, allowing engineers to access the different components. Since the satellite's arrival in Kourou, French Guiana, on 28 June, it has been 'functionally tested'. This included tests on the pressure of the propulsion tanks, piping, valves, filters and thrusters.

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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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Horizons science: installing ICE Cubes

The International Commercial Experiments service – ICE Cubes for short – facility provides commercial access to microgravity offering faster, easier and more affordable access to research in space.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst installed the first experiment cubes in the facility that is housed in Europe’s research laboratory Columbus, part of the International Space Station.

The International Space University is the first customer to run experiments in ICE Cubes. The plug-and-play cubes need only to be slotted into the facility and the data collection can begin.

The first cube houses an experiment that is continuing research on methane-producing microorganisms to see how they survive in space conditions. In the longer term, the knowledge gained could lead to these microorganisms for bio-mining of asteroids to produce methane to fuel future space missions.

The second International Space University experiment is an interactive art installation that brings space to Earth and back again, highlighting the versatility of the ICE Cubes facility. The cube contains a kaleidoscope linked to a ground installation that is activated by the pulse of participants. The images are then beamed down to the installation on Earth, thanks to ICE Cubes’ unique 24-hour accessibility.

Researchers can access the data from their payloads at any time via a dedicated mission control centre at Space Applications Services’ premises in Sint-Stevens-Woluwe, Belgium. Clients can connect to their experiment from their own location over internet to read the data and even send commands directly.

For more information on ICE Cubes, visit the website to see how you can fly your experiment.

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