#ESA; #Moonlight; #Connectivity; #Moon
New York/Canadian-Media: As international teams across the world forge plans to revisit the Moon, ESA is elaborating how best to facilitate this exploration. As part of its Moonlight initiative, the agency is encouraging European space companies to put a constellation of telecommunications and navigation satellites around the Moon.
To succeed, the proposed lunar missions will require reliable navigation and telecommunication capabilities. Building these independently would be costly, complex and inefficient.
If this work were outsourced to a consortium of space companies, each individual mission would become more cost-efficient.
Having one system dedicated to lunar telecommunications and navigation could reduce design complexity, liberating missions to concentrate on their core activities.
Because missions could rely on this dedicated telecommunications and navigation service, they would be lighter. This would make space for more scientific instruments or other cargo.
An accurate and reliable telecommunications and navigation service would enable missions to land wherever they wanted. Radio astronomers could set up observatories on the far side of the Moon.
Rovers could trundle over the lunar surface more speedily. It could even enable the teleoperation of rovers and other equipment from Earth.
Finally, lowering the ticket price to lunar exploration could empower a wider group of ESA member states to launch their own national lunar missions. Even on a relatively low budget, an emerging space nation would be able to send a scientific cubesat mission to the Moon, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
#ArcticSea; #Atlantification, #EuropeanSpaceAgency
New York/Canadian-Media: With alarm bells ringing about the rapid demise of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, satellite data have revealed how the intrusion of warmer Atlantic waters is reducing ice regrowth in the winter. In addition, with seasonal ice more unpredictable than ever, ESA’s SMOS and CryoSat satellites are being used to improve sea-ice forecasts, which are critical for shipping, fisheries and indigenous communities, for example.
CryoSat Sateite. Image credit: ESA
The amount of sea ice floating in the Arctic Ocean varies enormously as it grows and shrinks with the seasons. Although some of the older thicker ice remains throughout, there is an undeniable trend of declining ice as climate change tightens its grip on this fragile polar region.
Arctic sea ice reaches a maximum around March after the cold winter months and then shrinks to a minimum around September after the summer melt. However, these seasonal swings are not only linked to the changing seasons – it transpires that along with our warming climate, the temperature of adjacent ocean seawater is now also adding to the ice’s vulnerability.
Previous research suggested that sea ice can partly recover in the winter following a strong summer melt because thin ice grows faster than thick ice. However, new findings indicate that heat from the ocean is overpowering this stabilising effect – reducing the volume of sea ice that can regrow in the winter. This means that sea ice is more vulnerable during warmer summers and winter storms.
The research published recently in the Journal of Climate describes how scientists used satellite data from ESA’s Climate Change Initiative to calculate changes in the volume of Arctic sea ice between 2002 and 2019.
Robert Ricker, from the AWI Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, and colleagues mapped regional changes in sea-ice volume owing to drift and calculated how much ice grows because of freezing each month. They also used model simulations to explore the causes of change, which corroborated their findings.
Dr Ricker said, “Over the last decades we observed the tendency that the less ice you have at the beginning of the freezing season, the more it grows in the winter season.
This new process is called Atlantification, meaning that heat from the Atlantic Ocean carried to higher latitudes is causing the edge of the sea ice to retreat.
“Importantly, this also means that if you have a warm summer or strong winds, the sea ice is less resilient,” added Dr Ricker.
The researchers believe that the stabilising mechanism in other regions of the Arctic could also be overpowered in the future.
While it is clearly essential to continue monitoring Arctic sea ice for evidence to support climate policies, satellite observations are put to practical use such as sea-ice forecasting.
Ice-thickness data from the CryoSat mission played an important contribution to the Atlantification findings, but the mission’s data combined with data from the SMOS satellite are also key to improving forecasts of the thinner more fragile thin sea ice.
SMOS in orbit. Image credit: ESA
The Alfred Wegner Institute (AWI) in Germany merge weekly CryoSat data with daily SMOS data to generate a weekly-averaged product every day.
As well as being used for forecasts, these combined data show that the volume of sea ice in the 2020-21 winter season was at its lowest since these sea-ice data products began in 2010.
Stefan Hendricks from AWI said, “The driver of this low volume of sea ice is the region north of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, where the thickest ice usually resides. Last winter, thick sea ice was almost absent. The rest of the Arctic sea ice is a mix of above and below average.”
The information can also potentially improve forecasts of the weather and climate.
Many seasonal forecasting centres provide dynamic predictions of sea ice. While assimilating sea-ice concentration is common, constraining initial conditions of sea-ice thickness is in its early stages. However, first assimilation studies at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) indicate a significant improvement in the seasonal forecast system.
Beena Balan Sarojini from ECMWF said, “Our results demonstrate the usefulness of new sea-ice observational products in both data assimilation and forecasting systems, and they strongly suggest that better initial sea-ice thickness information is crucial for improving sub-seasonal to seasonal sea-ice forecasts.”
#NASA; #InternationalSpaceStation; #NASAFirstCommercialCrew
Washington/Canadian-Media: Four astronauts splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday, completing NASA’s first commercial crew, long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station. The return comes nearly six months after the crew members arrived at the microgravity laboratory and also marks the longest-duration mission of a crewed American spacecraft to date.
NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, right are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after landing in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, at 2:56 a.m. EDT May 2, 2021. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, carrying NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi, returned to Earth in a parachute-assisted splashdown at 2:56 a.m. EDT off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Crews aboard SpaceX recovery vessels successfully recovered the spacecraft and astronauts. After returning to shore, the astronauts will fly back to Houston.
“Welcome home Victor, Michael, Shannon, and Soichi, and congratulations to the teams at NASA and SpaceX who worked so hard to ensure their safe and successful splashdown,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, who was confirmed by the Senate to serve as NASA Administrator on April 29. “We’ve accomplished another incredible spaceflight for America and our commercial and international partners. Safe, reliable transportation to the International Space Station is exactly the vision that NASA had when the agency embarked on the commercial crew program.”
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission launched Nov. 15, 2020, on a Falcon 9 rocket from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The astronauts named the spacecraft Resilience, in honor of their families, colleagues, and fellow citizens and highlighting the dedication displayed by the teams involved with the mission and demonstrating that there is no limit to what humans can achieve when they work together. Crew Dragon Resilience docked to the Harmony module’s forward port of the space station Nov. 16, nearly 27 hours after liftoff.
Overall, Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi traveled 71,242,199 statute miles during their 168 days in orbit (with 167 days aboard the space station), completing 2,688 orbits around Earth. With splashdown, the crew also broke the American crewed spacecraft mission duration record of 84 days, 1 hour, 15 minutes, set by the final Skylab crew in February 1974.
Crew-1 also is the first night splashdown of a U.S. crewed spacecraft since Apollo 8’s predawn return in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 27, 1968, with NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders.
Throughout their mission, the Crew-1 astronauts contributed to scientific investigations and technology demonstrations, in addition to spacewalks and public engagement events, while aboard the orbiting laboratory. From studying protein crystal development to advance new drug discoveries, to demonstrating robotic assistant technologies, their work advances exploration of the universe while bringing benefits back to Earth.
They also grew crops in both the Advanced Plant Habitat and Veggie plant growth facilities, and conducted tests of a new method for producing semiconductor crystals. The astronauts contributed hundreds of pictures of Earth as part of the Crew Earth Observation investigation, one of the longest-running investigations aboard the space station, which contributes to tracking of natural disasters and changes to our home planet. The crew also tested a new tape dispenser, designed and produced by students as part of the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH), during the mission.
In early 2021, the Crew-1 astronauts had significant roles to play in five spacewalks outside the orbiting laboratory. Glover completed his first four spacewalks, including three alongside Hopkins, whose total number of spacewalks is now five. Noguchi joined NASA’s Kate Rubins on the fourth spacewalk of each of their careers. During the spacewalks, the astronauts connected cables on the recently installed Bartolomeo science platform, prepared the station for upcoming solar array upgrades, serviced the station’s cooling system, and completed other station maintenance tasks.
On April 5, all four Crew-1 astronauts boarded Resilience for a port relocation maneuver, moving their spacecraft from the forward-facing port to the space-facing port on the Harmony module. The move allowed for the forward-facing port to receive four Crew-2 astronauts upon their arrival to the station April 24. Later this year, SpaceX’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission is scheduled to dock at the newly vacant zenith port, bringing with it the first pair of new solar arrays.
The Crew-1 flight is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has worked with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil to the space station.
The second splashdown of the Commercial Crew Program comes just over one week after the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission, the second long-duration mission. The Crew-2 astronauts launched April 23 and will live and work aboard the station until their return to Earth in about six months.
Resilience will return to SpaceX’s Dragon Lair in Florida for inspection and processing. There, teams will examine the spacecraft’s data and performance throughout the flight. The next NASA and SpaceX crewed mission is Crew-3, currently targeted for launch no earlier than Oct. 23. Crew-2 astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth Oct. 31, about a week after welcoming their Crew-3 colleagues to the orbiting outpost.
The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This has already been proven to provide additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.