Gaia Hit by a Micrometeoroid AND Caught in a Solar Storm

Artist impression of ESA's Gaia satellite observing the Milky Way. The background image of the sky is compiled from data from more than 1.8 billion stars. It shows the total brightness and colour of stars observed by Gaia
Artist impression of ESA's Gaia satellite observing the Milky Way (Credit : ESA/ATG medialab; Milky Way: ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

For over ten years, the ESA’s Gaia Observatory has monitored the proper motion, luminosity, temperature, and composition of over a billion stars throughout our Milky Way galaxy and beyond. This data will be used to construct the largest and most precise 3D map of the cosmos ever made and provide insight into the origins, structure, and evolutionary history of our galaxy. Unfortunately, this sophisticated astrometry telescope is positioned at the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange Point, far beyond the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere.

As a result, Gaia has experienced two major hazards in recent months that could endanger the mission. These included a micrometeoroid impact in April that disrupted some of Gaia‘s very sensitive sensors. This was followed by a solar storm in May—the strongest in 20 years—that caused electrical problems for the mission. These two incidents could threaten Gaia‘s ability to continue mapping stars, planets, comets, asteroids, quasars, and other objects in the Universe until its planned completion date of 2025.

Continue reading “Gaia Hit by a Micrometeoroid AND Caught in a Solar Storm”

ESA is Building a Mission to Visit Asteroid Apophis, Joining it for its 2029 Earth Flyby

ESA's Ramses mission to asteroid Apophis. Credit: ESA

According to the ESA’s Near-Earth Objects Coordination Center (NEOCC), 35,264 known asteroids regularly cross the orbit of Earth and the other inner planets. Of these, 1,626 have been identified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), meaning that they may someday pass close enough to Earth to be caught by its gravity and impact its surface. While planetary defense has always been a concern, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slamming into Jupiter in 1994 sparked intense interest in this field.

In 2022, NASA’s Double-Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) mission successfully tested the kinetic impact method when it collided with Dimorphos, the small asteroid orbiting Didymos. Today, the ESA Space Safety program is taking steps to test the next planetary defense mission – the Rapid Apophis Missin for Space Safety (RAMSES). In 2029, RAMSES will rendezvous with the Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) 99942 Apophis and accompany it as it makes a very close (but safe) flyby of Earth in 2029. The data it collects will help scientists improve our ability to protect Earth from similar objects that could pose an impact risk.

Continue reading “ESA is Building a Mission to Visit Asteroid Apophis, Joining it for its 2029 Earth Flyby”

LEGO Bricks Printed out of Space Dust

A LEGO-style ESA space brick, 3D-printed using dust from a meteorite. Credit: The LEGO Group

There have been many proposals for building structures on the Moon out of lunar regolith. But here’s an idea sure to resonate with creators, mechanical tinkerers, model builders and the kid inside us all.

What about using actual LEGO bricks?

Researchers ground up a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite and used the dust to 3D print LEGO-style space bricks. They actually click together like the plastic variety, with so far only one downside: they only come in one color, grey.

Want to see some of these lunar LEGOs? LEGO will showcase the space bricks at some of its stores.

Continue reading “LEGO Bricks Printed out of Space Dust”

ESA Sets the Launch Date for Ariane 6: July 9th

An artist concept of the Ariane 6 powering into space. Ariane 6 is Europe’s new heavy lift launch vehicle. Credit: ESA.

The European Space Agency has retired its Ariane 5 rocket, and all eyes are on its next generation, Ariane 6. The rocket’s pieces have been arriving at the Kourou facility in French Guiana and are now assembled.  ESA has now announced they’ll attempt a test launch on July 9th and hope to complete a second flight before the end of 2024. This new heavy-life rocket has a re-ignitable upper stage, allowing it to launch multiple payloads into different orbits.

Continue reading “ESA Sets the Launch Date for Ariane 6: July 9th”

Solar Orbiter Takes a Mind-Boggling Video of the Sun

The 'fuzzy' Sun. Credit: ESA & NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team

You’ve seen the Sun, but you’ve never seen the Sun like this. This single frame from a video captured by ESA’s Solar Orbiter mission shows the Sun looking very …. fluffy!  You can see feathery, hair-like structures made of plasma following magnetic field lines in the Sun’s lower atmosphere as it transitions into the much hotter outer corona. The video was taken from about a third of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

See the full video below, which shows unusual features on the Sun, including coronal moss, spicules, and coronal rain.  

Continue reading “Solar Orbiter Takes a Mind-Boggling Video of the Sun”

Watch a Satellite Reaction Wheel Melt in a Simulated Orbital Re-Entry

This illustrations shows one of the ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicles burning up during re-entry. Heavier spacecraft components like satellite reaction wheels don't always burn up and constitute a hazard. ESA engineers are working to change that. Image Credit: ESA LICENCE ESA Standard Licence

Most satellites share the same fate at the end of their lives. Their orbits decay, and eventually, they plunge through the atmosphere toward Earth. Most satellites are destroyed during their rapid descent, but not always

Heavy pieces of the satellite, like reaction wheels, can survive and strike the Earth. Engineers are trying to change that.

Continue reading “Watch a Satellite Reaction Wheel Melt in a Simulated Orbital Re-Entry”

Phew, De-Icing Euclid’s Instruments Worked. It’s Seeing Better Now

Artist impression of the Euclid mission in space. Credit: ESA

From its vantage point at the Sun-Earth L2 point, the ESA’s Euclid spacecraft is measuring the redshift of galaxies with its sensitive instruments. Its first science images showed us what we can expect from the spacecraft. But the ESA noticed a problem.

Over time, less light was reaching the spacecraft’s instruments.

Continue reading “Phew, De-Icing Euclid’s Instruments Worked. It’s Seeing Better Now”

Ice is Starting to Cloud Euclid's Optics

Artist impression of the Euclid mission in space. Credit: ESA

On July 1st, 2023, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Euclid Observatory, a mission that will spend the next six years investigating the composition and evolution of the Universe. In particular, Euclid will observe how the Universe has expanded over the past 10 billion years to test theories about Dark Energy. While fine-tuning and calibrating the telescope’s instruments in preparation for the mission’s first survey, the mission team noticed that a few layers of water ice formed on its mirrors after it entered the freezing cold of space.

While common, this is a problem for a highly sensitive mission like Euclid, which requires remarkable precision to investigate cosmic expansion. After months of research, the Euclid team tested a newly designed procedure to de-ice the mission’s optics. On March 20th, the ESA announced that the team’s de-icing approach worked (so far) and that Euclid’s vision has been restored. If the method proves successful, it will have validated the mission team’s plan to keep Euclid‘s optical system working for the rest of its mission.

Continue reading “Ice is Starting to Cloud Euclid's Optics”

An Astronaut Controls a Robotic Dog From Orbit

DLR's four-legged robot Bert explores and monitors the unfamiliar environment. The Surface Avatar Experiment rehearsed an important scenario for future exploration missions on the Moon and Mars. Bert is being developed at the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics and can walk, trot, gallop, perform a passing gait and even climb. This enables him to cover long distances and at the same time move around in rough terrain or small caves. Credit: DLR.

Swedish astronaut Marcus Wandt took control of a series of robots in Germany while on board the International Space Station, zipping around the Earth at 28,000 kilometers per hour (17,500 mph.) Researchers want to understand how time delays can affect the remote control of robots from an orbiting platform. Future astronauts could control rovers on the Moon’s or Mars’s surface from a spacecraft in orbit. Until now, only wheeled rovers have been part of the tests, but now they have added a dog-like robot called Bert.

Continue reading “An Astronaut Controls a Robotic Dog From Orbit”

The Ice Sheet on Mars is Even Thicker Than Previously Believed

Map of potential ice thickness in Mars’s Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF). Credit: ESA.

Maybe Mars isn’t as dry as we thought. ESA’s Mars Express has revealed new details about a region near Mars’ equator that could contain a massive deposit of water ice several kilometers deep. If it is indeed ice, there is enough of it in this one deposit that if melted, water would cover the entire planet up to 2.7 meters (almost 9 feet) deep.

But ice is just one explanation for the unusual features detected by the orbital spacecraft. Another is that this is a giant pile of dust several kilometers deep — although the dust would still need to have some ice mixed in.

Continue reading “The Ice Sheet on Mars is Even Thicker Than Previously Believed”