Spectacular Earth Timelapse Video: Christmas Gift from Alexander Gerst’s 2014 ISS Voyage

Video Caption: Watch the Earth roll by through the perspective of German astronaut Alexander Gerst in this 4K six-minute timelapse video of images taken from on board the International Space Station (ISS) during 2014. Credit: Alexander Gerst/ESA

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst from Germany who recently returned from a six month voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) has a special Christmas gift for all – a stunning six-minute timelapse compilation of his favorite images of Earth taken during his “Blue Dot” mission in 2014.

“A 4K timelapse showing our planet in motion, from my favourite Earth images taken during the Blue Dot mission,” wrote Gerst in connection with his spectacular timelapse video released to coincide with Christmastime.

“I wish all of you a merry Christmas! It was a wild year for me, thanks for joining me on this fascinating journey!” said Gerst in English.

“Wünsche euch allen fröhliche Weihnachten! War ein wildes Jahr für mich, vielen Dank, dass ihr mit dabei wart!” said Gerst in German.

You can watch the Earth roll by through Gerst’s perspective in this six-minute timelapse video combining over 12,500 images taken during his six-month mission aboard the ISS that shows the best our beautiful planet has to offer.

“Marvel at the auroras, sunrises, clouds, stars, oceans, the Milky Way, the International Space Station, lightning, cities at night, spacecraft and the thin band of atmosphere that protects us from space,” according to the video’s description.

Gerst would often would set cameras to automatically take pictures at regular intervals while doing his science research or preparing for the docking of other spacecraft at the ISS in order to get the timelapse effect shown in the video.

“Scary. The sunlight is far from reaching down the abyss of Neoguri's 65 km-wide eye.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst
“Scary. The sunlight is far from reaching down the abyss of Neoguri’s 65 km-wide eye.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst

The robotic arm capture and berthing of the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship and the release of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo freighter are particularly magnificent in a rarely seen timelapse glimpse of visiting vehicles that are absolutely essential to keeping the station afloat, stocked, and humming with research activities.

Gerst served aboard the ISS between May and November this year as a member of the Expedition 40 and 41 crews.

Gerst launched to the ISS on his rookie space flight on May 28, 2014, aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-13M capsule along with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman.

They joined the three station flyers already aboard – cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov & Oleg Artemyev, and astronaut Steve Swanson – to restore the station crew complement to six.

Gerst and Wiseman became well known and regarded for their prolific and expertly crafted photography skills.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, Russian commander Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman returned to Earth on 10 November 2014, landing in the Kazakh steppe.  Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, Russian commander Maxim Suraev, and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman returned to Earth on 10 November 2014, landing in the Kazakh steppe. Credit: ESA–S. Corvaja

They returned to Earth safely on Nov. 10, 2014, with a soft landing on the Kazakh steppes.

Alex is Germany’s third astronaut to visit the ISS. He conducted a spacewalk with Wiseman on Oct. 7 while aboard. He is trained as a geophysicist and a volcanologist.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst spent six hours and 13 minutes outside the International Space Station with NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman on Tuesday, 7 October 2014. This was the first spacewalk for both astronauts but they performed well in the weightlessness of orbit.  Credit: NASA/ESA
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst spent six hours and 13 minutes outside the International Space Station with NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman on Tuesday, 7 October 2014. This was the first spacewalk for both astronauts but they performed well in the weightlessness of orbit. Credit: NASA/ESA

Read my story detailing Christmas 2014 festivities with the new crews at the ISS – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Satellite Debris Forces Space Station To Evade Threat Hours Before Collision Risk

A spacecraft attached to the International Space Station did an “emergency maneuver” to push the complex, which now houses six people, away from a threatening piece of space debris Oct. 27, the European Space Agency said in a statement.

A hand-sized shard of the Russian Cosmos-2251 satellite, which collided with a U.S. Iridium satellite in 2009, would have come within at least four kilometers (2.5 miles) of the orbiting outpost. This was close enough for the space station partners to agree to a move six hours before the potential impact.

“This is the first time the station’s international partners have avoided space debris with such urgency,” the European Space Agency wrote. The push to a safer orbit took place using the agency’s automated transfer vehicle Georges Lemaître, which docked with the space station in August.

The International Space Station in October 2014, with the European automated transfer vehicle Georges Lemaître attached. Credit: Alexander Gerst/ESA/NASA
The International Space Station in October 2014, with the European automated transfer vehicle Georges Lemaître attached. Credit: Alexander Gerst/ESA/NASA

While many collision threats are spotted at least days before impact, occasionally ground networks aren’t able to see a piece until 24 hours or less before the potential impact. Since 2012, the space station has normally done last-minute maneuvers using Russian cargo Progress vehicles, but this time around none were docked there. This is where the ATV came in.

Controllers at the ATV control center in France then did a four-minute preprogrammed move that raised the station’s orbit by one kilometer (0.6 miles), enough to get out of the way.

The ATV is expected to remain at the station until February, when it will undock and burn up in the atmosphere. This is the last of the series of ATVs that Europe agreed to make as a part of its space station agreement.

Europe’s Last ATV Cargo Ship Docks Safely At Space Station

It took two weeks to get there, but all indications is it was worth the wait. The final automated transfer vehicle of the European Space Agency successfully docked with the International Space Station today (Aug. 12) at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1:30 p.m. UTC) — right on time.

The cargo vehicle has about seven tons of stuff on board, ranging from science experiments to fresh food. The astronauts always enjoy it when fruit and other new food arrives in these shipments, given so many of their meals are freeze-dried.

Also on board was a new rendezvous system manufactured by Canadian company Neptec, which is testing out new ways of docking for future cargo vehicles. And when it’s time for Georges Lemaître to leave the station around January 2015, sensors inside will monitor its planned destruction to make future cargo vehicles better equipped to survive re-entry.

Georges Lemaître left Earth July 29 from French Guiana, as did its four predecessors. The series of ATVs started in March 2008 when Jules Verne departed to resupply the Expedition 16 crew. The other vehicles were called Johannes Kepler, Edoardo Amaldi and Albert Einstein.

The new vehicle will be opened up on Wednesday. It will be a busy week for cargo vehicles at the station, as the privately constructed Cygnus spacecraft (from Orbital Sciences) is expected to leave the station on Friday at 6:40 a.m. EDT (10:40 a.m. UTC). Both Alexander Gerst (ESA) and Reid Wiseman (NASA) will release Cygnus using Canadarm2, a robotic arm on station.

Amazing Telescopic Pictures Of The Space Station And A Cargo Ship Heading That Way

Here’s your morning photographic space delight: the International Space Station and the last European automated transfer vehicle (ATV), Georges Lemaître, taken using a camera and 10-inch Newtonian telescope.

The photographer, Ralf Vandebergh, captured these images as the ATV flew to the space station. The ATV launched flawlessly on July 30 and is expected to meet up with the station on Aug. 12. Check out pictures of the cargo vehicle below the jump.

The vehicle will stay docked to the space station for six months before making a planned re-entry in the atmosphere with a load of trash. The European Space Agency plans to track its fiery destruction to better design cargo vehicles in the future.

“The project is proceeding under our ‘Design for Demise’ effort to design space hardware in such a way that it is less likely to survive reentry and potentially endanger the public,”said Neil Murray, who is leading the project at the European Space Agency (ESA), in a July statement.

“Design for Demise in turn is part of the agency’s clean space initiative, seeking to render the space industry more environmentally friendly in space as well as on Earth.”

Pictures of the last European automated transfer vehicle going to the International Space Station in 2014. Pictures taken using a 10-inch Newtonian telescope and monochromatic camera. Credit: Ralf Vandebergh
Pictures of the last European automated transfer vehicle going to the International Space Station in 2014. Pictures taken using a 10-inch Newtonian telescope and monochromatic camera. Credit: Ralf Vandebergh

Cargo Ship’s Fiery Demise Could Help Predict What Happens When The Space Station Burns Up

It’s sad to think about, but there will be a day sometime when the International Space Station makes its final journey — a destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Historically, it’s been hard to break up large pieces of space hardware safely. Pieces of the Skylab space station famously rained down in Australia, while Mir’s demise triggered warnings across its re-entry path.

The European Space Agency sees an opportunity to gather more information for this future use: closely watching what happens when the final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Georges Lemaître, goes to the International Space Station and has its planned breakup in the atmosphere following the shipment.

They plan to record its last moments using a heat-seeking camera on the inside of the spacecraft. This sort of thing has been done before with NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, but this will be a first for ESA.

“The data should also hold broader value,” stated Neil Murray, who is leading the project at the European Space Agency (ESA).

“The project is proceeding under our ‘Design for Demise’ effort to design space hardware in such a way that it is less likely to survive reentry and potentially endanger the public. Design for Demise in turn is part of the agency’s clean space initiative, seeking to render the space industry more environmentally friendly in space as well as on Earth.”

The Automated Transfer Vehicle Albert Einstein burning up on Nov. 2, 2013 at 12:04 GMT over an uninhabitated part of the Pacific Ocean. This picture was snapped from the International Space Station. Credit: ESA/NASA
The Automated Transfer Vehicle Albert Einstein burning up on Nov. 2, 2013 at 12:04 GMT over an uninhabitated part of the Pacific Ocean. This picture was snapped from the International Space Station. Credit: ESA/NASA

The camera will ride inside, bolted to a rack, and transmit the last 20 seconds of its lifetime to a special Reentry Satcom capsule that is designed to survive the breakup. The data will in turn be sent to Earth using an Iridium satellite.

While the SatCom will be protected by a heatshield, the challenge will be transmitting the information through the plasma generated as it falls at 6 to 7 kilometers (3.7 to 4.3 miles) a second. The breakup will happen at 80 kilometers (50 miles) and the plasma will be there until below an altitude of about 40 kilometers (25 miles), ESA stated.

“The fall will generate high-temperature plasma around it, but signals from its omnidirectional antenna should be able to make it through any gap in the plasma to the rear,” the agency added.

Georges Lemaître is expected to launch later this month and last six months in space before re-entry.

Source: European Space Agency

Why Trapping Somebody In Space Only Takes A Breeze (And Other Highlights From Expedition 40)

Imagine that you were in the middle of a module on the International Space Station. Floating in mid-air, far from handholds or any way to propel yourself. Is there any way to get out of that situation?

The short answer is not easily, and the longer answer is it could be an effective way to trap criminals in space, joked veteran cosmonaut Maxim Suraev in a press conference today (March 18) for the upcoming Expedition 40/41 mission, which also includes rookies Alex Gerst and Reid Wiseman.

Speaking in Russian, Suraev explained that during his last 2010 mission, he had crew members set him up in the middle of the station’s Node 3. “It is true that you can twist as much as a contortionist, but you won’t be able to move because you have nothing to bear against,” he said in remarks translated into English.

That said, the ventilation system on station does tend to push objects (and people) towards the vents after a time, he observed. What if you had multiple vents set up, however?

“I thought that if ever we have a permanent human habitation in space, this would be the best way to keep a person confined — like in a prison — in the middle of the room, where he or she could not move anywhere,” Suraev continued. “Being in limbo, as you will. The only thing that is required is a large room, a person and several fans blowing in different directions to keep the person in the middle of the room. That’s scary, trust me!”

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman does spacewalk training in a partial gravity simulator ahead of his Expedition 40/41 flight in 2014. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman does spacewalk training in a partial gravity simulator ahead of his Expedition 40/41 flight in 2014. Credit: NASA

There’s no fear on Suraev’s part that it will happen with his crewmates, however. “My new crew, they’re really good guys and I’m really looking forward to being with my new crew in space, and to spend five and a half months aboard the space station,” he said in an English phone interview after the press conference. (Good news given that Suraev will assume command of Expedition 41.)

The crew (who lifts off in May) will have an action-packed mission. It will include the arrival of the last Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and — if NASA fixes on a spacesuit leak allow — two American maintenance spacewalks. There also are 162 experiments to perform (this according to Gerst) and if there’s time, checking out our home planet.

“Earth observation was not one of the primary goals that [station] was designed for,” he cautioned in a phone interview, but he added that one of its strengths is there are people on board the orbiting laboratory that can fill in the gaps for other missions.

Gerst (who was a volcano researcher before becoming an astronaut) pointed out that if a volcano erupts, a typical Earth satellite would look straight down at it. Astronauts can swing around in the Cupola and get different views quickly, which could allow scientists to measure things such as the volcano plume height.

Another example of flexibility: The Expedition 39 crew right now is (news reports say) helping out with the search for the missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370.

“We’re really good at capturing things quickly and then sending the  pictures down to the ground,” Gerst said.

Wiseman, as one of the rookies on mission, says he is interested in comparing the experience to his multi-month Navy missions at sea. It’s all a matter of mindset, he said in a phone interview. He once was assigned to a naval voyage that was expected to be at sea for six months. Then they were instructed it would be 10 months, leading to fistfights and other problems on board, he recalled.

Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev during a spacewalk in January 2010 for Expedition 22. Credit: NASA
Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev during a spacewalk in January 2010 for Expedition 22. Credit: NASA

Astronauts for the forthcoming one-year mission to station, he pointed out, will launch with different expectations than someone expecting about a six-month stay. “If you know you’re up there for one year, you’re going to pace yourself for one year,” he said.

But there still will be sacrifices, as Wiseman has two daughters (five years old and eight years old). He’s asking the older child to do a bit of social media, and the younger one to draw pictures that could be included in the “care packages” astronauts receive from Earth. “It’s going to be tough not to see them on a daily basis. They grow so fast,” he said.

Other things to watch for on this mission include the arrival of the station’s first 3-D printer, setup of an alloy furnace to make new materials in microgravity, and a potential Wiseman-led “come out and wave campaign” that would encourage families to go outside and tweet about the space station as they watch it.

You can follow Expedition 40/41’s continuing adventures at Universe Today as well as on social media: @astro_reid for Wiseman, and for Gerst, @astro_alex or his Facebook page.

The crew members of Expedition 40/41 pose in front of a Soyuz spacecraft simulator in Star City, Russia. From left, Alex Gerst (European Space Agency), Max Suraev (Roscosmos) and Reid Wiseman (NASA). Credit: NASA
The crew members of Expedition 40/41 pose in front of a Soyuz spacecraft simulator in Star City, Russia. From left, Alex Gerst (European Space Agency), Max Suraev (Roscosmos) and Reid Wiseman (NASA). Credit: NASA

 

Here’s What A Spacecraft Looks Like Burning Up (Plus Correction of Past Article)

Flame and fireworks. That’s what the Automated Transfer Vehicle Albert Einstein appeared to astronauts to be like as it made a planned dive into Earth’s atmosphere Nov. 2. The European Space Agency ship spent five months in space, boosting the International Space Station’s altitude several times and bringing a record haul of stuff for the astronauts on board the station to use.

According to the European Space Agency, this is the first view of an ATV re-entry that astronauts have seen since Jules Verne, the first, was burned up in 2008. Controllers moved the spacecraft into view of the Expedition 37 crew to analyze the physics of breakup.

Also, yesterday you may have seen an article concerning a picture a photographer snapped of the ATV burning up on Earth. After publishing it, we then realized we were in error with that information. But it turns out the photographer actually DID capture the ATV-4 ina subsequent image. We’ve now updated the article a second time. Senior Editor Nancy Atkinson writes:

Here’s a story that we’ve updated a couple of times, and now it ultimately has a happy ending. We originally posted a picture from Oliver Broadie who thought he captured an image of the ATV-4 Albert Einstein right before it burned up in the atmosphere. That image, see below, was ultimately determined to be of the International Space Station and not the ATV-4, so yesterday we pulled the image and explained why. But now, thanks to a great discussion between the photographer and satellite tracker Marco Langbroek (see it in the comment section), they have determined that Oliver actually did capture the ATV-4 in a subsequent image taken about 4 minutes later. Thanks to both Ollie and Marco for analyzing the timing and images. Also, we were in error for saying that the image showed the ATV-4 burning up in the atmosphere. That was my mistake (Nancy).

More orbital pictures of the ATV burning up are available in this ESA Flickr set.

Automated Transfer Vehicle Albert Einstein burning up in the atmosphere at 12:04 GMT on Nov. 2, 2013. Picture snapped from the International Space Station. Credit: ESA/NASA
Automated Transfer Vehicle Albert Einstein burning up in the atmosphere at 12:04 GMT on Nov. 2, 2013. Picture snapped from the International Space Station. Credit: ESA/NASA

Space Trucks! A Pictorial History Of These Mighty Machines

Cargo resupply ships are vital for space exploration. These days they bring food, experiments and equipment to astronauts on the International Space Station. And in recent years, it hasn’t just been government agencies sending these things up; SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and (just this week) Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft brought up cargo of their own to station in recent months.

NASA just published a brief timeline of (real-life) cargo spacecraft, so we thought we’d adapt that information in pictorial form. Here are some of the prominent members of that elite group. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield
SpaceX’s Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. It was the first commercial spacecraft to resupply the space station, and since 2012 has completed resupply missions. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield
Thrust
Space shuttle Discovery heads to space after lifting off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its final flight to the International Space Station on the STS-133 mission. The shuttle was NASA’s main human spacecraft between 1981 and 2011. Credit: NASA
Progress 51 on final approach to the International Space Station. The stuck antenna is visible below the crosshairs. Credit: NASA TV (screencap)
Progress 51 on final approach to the International Space Station. The Russians have been flying versions of this cargo spacecraft since 1978. Credit: NASA TV (screencap)
JAXA's H-II Transfer Vehicle during a mission in July 2012. The first demonstration flight took place in 2009. Credit: NASA
JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) during a mission in July 2012. The first demonstration flight took place in 2009. Credit: NASA

 

The ATV Johannes Kepler docked at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
The ATV Johannes Kepler docked at the International Space Station. Versions of this spacecraft have flown since 2008. Credit: NASA
A line drawing of the TKS (Transportnyi Korabl’ Snabzheniia, or Transport Supply Spacecraft). It was intended to send crew and cargo together in one flight, but delays and a change in program priorities never allowed it to achieve that. According to NASA, versions of TKS (under the Cosmos designation) flew to the Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space station. The cargo part of the spacecraft was also used for Russian base modules in the Mir space station and International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons
A line drawing of the TKS (Transportnyi Korabl’ Snabzheniia, or Transport Supply Spacecraft). It was intended to send crew and cargo together in one flight, but delays and a change in program priorities never allowed it to achieve that. According to NASA, versions of TKS (under the Cosmos designation) flew to the Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space station. The cargo part of the spacecraft was also used for Russian base modules in the Mir space station and International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

First-Ever Video of an ATV Vehicle Into Orbit!

Yesterday, June 5, the European Space Agency launched their ATV-4 Albert Einstein cargo vessel from their spaceport in French Guiana. Liftoff occurred at 5:52 p.m. EDT (2152 GMT), and in addition to over 7 tons of supplies for the ISS a special payload was also included: the DLR-developed STEREX experiment, which has four cameras attached to the Ariane 5ES rocket providing a continuous 3D view of the mission, from liftoff to separation to orbit and, eventually, docking to the Station on June 15.

The dramatic video above is the first-ever of an ATV vehicle going into free-flight orbit — check it out!

“The highlight of the STEREX deployment will be observing the settling of ATV-4 in orbit. STEREX for this event will include three-dimensional video sequences to study the dynamic behavior of the spacecraft during the separation phase. This opens up for the ATV project engineers an entirely new way to monitor the success of their work and also to gain important new experiences for the future.”DLR blog (translated)

If you look along the horizon at around 5:20, you can make out the plume from the launch.

At 20,190 kg (44, 511 lbs) ATV Albert Einstein is the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Ariane. Read more here.

(HT to Daniel Scuka at ESA.)

ATV-4 Albert Einstein Says ‘Fill ‘er Up!’

The next European cargo mission to the International Space Station is preparing for launch, and in this new image, a fuelling operator at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana inspects the ATV-4 Albert Einstein as it is filled with propellant. Launch is currently scheduled for June 5, 2013 on an Ariane 5ES rocket to bring about 7 tons of cargo the ISS, including fuel to give the space station an orbital re-boost.


These Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) bring other supplies such as equipment, experiments, water, air, nitrogen, oxygen and fuel.

As the ISS circles Earth, it slowly loses altitude, and occasionally needs a boost to keep it in the proper orbit. ATVs, Progress resupply ships and the thrusters on the Zvezda service module are used to re-boost the station; Soyuz spacecraft are also used “in a pinch” said Johnson Space Center News Chief Kelly Humphries, but they mainly want to save the Soyuz fuel for the departing crew heading back to Earth.

Watch this video as astronaut Jeff Williams demonstrates the acceleration experienced inside the cabin during a reboost on January 24, 2010 (the acceleration starts about 3:50 in the video):