Team Bepi

Members of the BepiColombo test and project teams in front of the mission’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter spacecraft inside the Large Space Simulator, the largest vacuum chamber in Europe.

BepiColombo, Europe’s first mission to study Mercury, is a joint mission with Japan. Two spacecraft – the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter – will fly in two different paths around the planet to study it from complementary perspectives.

Flight hardware for the mission is undergoing testing at ESA’s Technical Centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the largest spacecraft test facility in Europe, to prepare for its 2016 launch.

The Mercury Planetary Orbiter was placed inside the chamber in late October for ‘thermal–vacuum’ testing. It will sit in vacuum until early December, subjected to the equivalent temperature extremes that will be experienced in Mercury orbit.

Liquid nitrogen runs through the walls of the chamber to recreate the chill of empty space, while an array of lamps focuses simulated sunlight 10 times more intense than on Earth.

Set to arrive at Mercury in 2024, BepiColombo will investigate properties of the innermost planet of our Solar System that are still mysterious, such as its high density, the fact that it is the only planet with a magnetic field similar to Earth’s, the much higher than expected amount of volatile elements detected by NASA’s Messenger probe, and the nature of water ice that may exists in the permanently shadowed areas at the poles.

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Quelccaya ice cap, Peru

This image features Peru’s Quelccaya ice cap, the largest in the Tropics.

Resting high up in the Cordillera Oriental of the Peruvian Andes, the ice cap has been shrinking due to rising temperatures in the region, losing over 20% of its area since the 1970s.

Downstream communities rely on this water source for drinking and electricity in this dry region, but some estimates show that the ice cap will vanish in a matter of decades, draining the water supply for millions of people.

In the far upper-left corner of the image, we can see the Qori Kalis Glacier, the ice cap’s main outlet. This glacier is retreating – and this retreat has accelerated in recent years – losing about 50% of its total length since the 1960s.

As a result of the glacier’s melting, a lake began to form in late 1980s and has grown over the years.

Other smaller lakes have also formed around the ice cap. Meltwater lakes are generally lighter in colour through the presence of fine particles produced by the grinding of the ice over bedrock – called ‘rock flour’. When this ‘flour’ turns the water white or cloudy, it is referred to as ‘glacial milk’.

The false-colour of this image makes vegetation appear bright red, and we can clearly see how vegetation grows mainly in the valleys and along the paths of water runoff.

This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video programme, was acquired on 29 June 2009 by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s Kompsat-2 satellite.

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ESA Ministerial Conference : HSO & ISS

Ministers in charge of space activities within the 20 ESA Member States and Canada will meet in Luxembourg on 2 December to take key decisions in particular on the European Participation in the ISS Exploitation Programme and the future European strategy for exploration.

This video explains the role of ESA in the International Space Station and what are the plans now for sustaining engineering activities, astronaut training and, in cooperation with NASA, participating in Orion, the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle Programme. It includes an interview with Thomas Reiter, Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, ESA.

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ESA Ministerial Conference : Launchers

Ministers in charge of space activities within the 20 ESA Member States and Canada will meet in Luxembourg on 2 December to take key decisions, in particular on Europe's Launcher Programmes and the new Ariane 6 design should then be unveiled, a next generation launcher being required for an increasingly competitive market. 

This video covers why it is important for Europe to have independent access to space and maintain its leadership in the world’s commercial satellite launch market.

If final approval on its development is given at the forthcoming Ministerial, Ariane 6 will launch from Kourou at the start of the next decade.

Both A-roll and B-roll contain soundbites from Gaele Winters, Director of Launchers, ESA .

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Principia logo revealed

BBC presenter Lindsay Russel, logo designer Troy and ESA astronaut Tim Peake with the Principia mission logo.

The BBC’s Blue Peter programme asked schoolchildren to design a mission patch for Tim and received more than 3000 entries.

The winning entry is by 13-year-old Troy, who explains: “Principia refers to Isaac Newton’s principal laws of gravity and motion so I drew an apple because that is how he discovered gravity.

“Plus Tim Peake is promoting healthy eating as part of his mission and apples are healthy.” Fittingly, a stylised Space Station glints in the apple.

The Soyuz rocket taking Tim into space flies over the UK as the colours of the Union Flag run along the border.

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The gold standard for EDRS

The Eutelsat-9B satellite with its EDRS-A payload is shown in the anechoic test chamber of Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse, France. It completed its final antenna pattern tests today.

EDRS-A is a hosted package as the first of two nodes of the European Data Relay System set to be launched next year.

Also known as Europe’s SpaceDataHighway, EDRS will use cutting-edge laser technology to capture and relay information gathered by Earth-observing satellites. By travelling via EDRS’s high-speed links and stationary position over Europe, the satellites’ data reach the ground in near-real time.

While EDRS-A’s Laser Communication Terminal is being checked for flight, the terminals on Copernicus’ Sentinel-1A and Alphasat telecom satellite are already fully operational in space, ready to demonstrate their ground-breaking capabilities for multi-gigabit optical communications in space.

On Friday, 28 November the first Earth observation image gathered by Sentinel-1A and relayed to a ground station at the DLR German Aerospace Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, via Alphasat will be presented at an event at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

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Hellas Chaos in 3D

Data from the nadir channel and one stereo channel of the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express have been combined to produce this anaglyph 3D image, which can be viewed using stereoscopic glasses with red–green or red–blue filters.

This region was imaged on 23 January 2014 during orbit 12 785. The image is centred on 46ºS / 69ºE and has a ground resolution of about 18 m per pixel. North is to the right and west is at the top.

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ESRIN celebrates 50 years of Europe in space

ESA’s centre for Earth Observation welcomed high-ranking representatives of the Italian Government, European institutions and industry on 26 November in an event to mark the 50th anniversary of European cooperation in space. Among the guests were Stefania Giannini, the Italian Minister of Education, Universities and Research, and Head of the Italian Space Agency, ASI, Roberto Battiston.

From left to right: ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, Roberto Battiston, Head of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Minister Giannini and ESA Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain.

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