Europe targets Ariane deal to stay in commercial space race


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  • Meeting on Tuesday expected to agree funding for new rocket
  • Franco-German compromise aims to keep Europe competitive
  • Airbus CEO urges radical shift to counter U.S. rival SpaceX

Weeks after its dramatic coup in landing a probe on a speeding comet, Europe is hoping a last-minute deal to provide funding for the workhorse Ariane rocket will prevent its space ambitions falling back to earth this week.

Anxious to preserve its own access to space, the 20-nation European Space Agency will seek to put aside differences over how to respond to U.S. low-cost rival SpaceX and safeguard thousands of high-tech jobs at ministerial talks on Tuesday.

After two years of wrangling, the outlines of an accord to fund development of a new Ariane 6 satellite launch vehicle appeared to be in place after Germany dropped its insistence on a prior upgrade to the current Ariane 5, officials said.

France is likely in return to back continued European funding for the International Space Station.

“It would be very serious if there is no decision on Dec 2 because Europe would have a competitive delay that it would never manage to reverse,” said Karim Michel Sabbagh, chief executive of Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES.

With the arrival in 2013 of SpaceX, founded by electric car entrepreneur Elon Musk and offering cut-price satellite launches, Ariane needs to lower costs dramatically.

The chief executive of Europe’s largest space contractor Airbus Group, Tom Enders, told Reuters a deal would mark a “new chapter” in the way Europe approaches space.

But he called for a clean break with bureaucratic public-private space industry structures to avoid Europe being “marginalized” by international competition.

“A departure from current ways of working is a precondition for future competitiveness of the European space business”.

Airbus Group, which builds the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, is expected to inaugurate a previously announced joint venture with engine maker Safran on the eve of the talks to help secure Ariane’s future. It will incorporate Arianespace, the launch services firm which operates Europe’s satellite launcher.

CALL FOR REFORM

The new venture is the most serious effort to reorganise Europe’s space industry and is being set up in the hope the one-day ministerial meeting in Luxembourg will back Ariane 6 – ending a compromise two years ago which split potential funding between the upgrade known as Ariane 5ME and an eventual new Ariane 6.

But Europe’s space industry remains heavily influenced by state agencies and industry sources say removing multiple layers of management is key to keeping Europe’s commercial activities competitive.

SpaceX offers launches for around $60 million (50 million euros) compared to 70-90 million euros a shot expected for the Ariane 6 and an average Ariane 5 launch price of 130 million euros ($160 million).

Efficiency comes into play in a cut-throat global commercial market where most companies can only rely on national links when it comes to sensitive defence satellites.

RUSSIA’S ROLE

The European Space Agency, an intergovernmental organisation with 20 member states from across Europe, was founded in 1975 to pool the continent’s finances and brains at a time when the United States and Russia had virtually monopolised space.

But despite Europe’s Ariane capturing 50 percent of the market, a costly system of job distribution and rival design offices has cast a shadow over Europe’s commercial activity even as it basks in scientific success like the Philae comet lander.

Science ministers will also decide on whether the ESA’s participation in the International Space Station will continue beyond 2020, its original shutdown date, and in what way.

The United States earlier this year said it would keep the ISS running until at least 2024, but Russia is looking at going alone and creating its own orbital station. Europe and Russia are also working on a two-mission ExoMars probe shot to Mars.

“(The ISS) shows we can achieve a lot if we all work together and it’s important to highlight that given the tensions building up between Russia and the West,” Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, said.

ESA’s budget for 2014 was about 4.1 billion euros ($5.12 billion), and roughly equates to the price of one cinema ticket each year per each European tax payer.

NASA’s budget is $17.6 billion in 2014. The budget gap has made the achievements of Rosetta appear all the more impressive to many observers, but Europe’s space industry is lobbying for a healthy commercial launch activity to support such projects.

ESA plans also include a mission to orbit one of the icy moons of Jupiter and one going to Mercury.

The Horizon 2000 programme, developed in 1984, transformed Europe into a world leader in many areas, including solar physics, cosmology and X-ray Astronomy, said Ken Pounds, former CEO of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

Pounds said he hoped the success of Philae would lead to a virtuous circle “where Europe is proving it can do world-class things, people feel warm about it, and the political class respond to that.”

Source : Reuters

Esa’s mission to Jupiter is GO! ‘Juice’ spacecraft will launch in 2022


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  • Jupiter and its moons could be best hope of finding signs of alien life
  • Jupiter icy moons explorer (Juice) will reach the Jovian system in 2030
  • It will explore volcanic Io, Europa and rock-ice Ganymede and Callisto
  • Juice will also take a look at Jupiter’s atmosphere and magnetosphere

Astronomers claim Jupiter and its moons could provide the best hope of finding signs of alien life in our solar system.

Now, in an effort to explorer its distant oceans, the Jupiter icy moons explorer (Juice) mission has been given the green light to launch in 2022.

The five-tonne satellite will reach Jupiter in 2030 where it will use its suite of instruments to explore the planet’s atmosphere, magnetosphere and tenuous set of rings.

Juice will also look at Jupiter’s diverse Galilean moons – volcanic Io, icy Europa and rock-ice Ganymede and Callisto – which make the Jovian system a miniature solar system in its own right.

The focus will largely be on Ganymede, though, and will the first time any icy moon has been orbited by a spacecraft.

Earlier this year, scientists said Ganymede might have ice and oceans stacked up in several layers similar to a club sandwich.

Previously, the moon was thought to harbour a thick ocean sandwiched between just two layers of ice, one on top and one on bottom, but now it seems it has multiple layers.

Scientists claims that places where water and rock interact are important for the development of life. For example, it is possible life began on Earth in bubbling vents on our sea floor.

Prior to the new study, Ganymede’s rocky sea bottom was thought to be coated with ice, not liquid – a problem for the emergence of life.

It will visit Callisto, the most heavily cratered object in the solar system, and will twice fly by Europa.

Juice is hoping to make the first measurements of the thickness of Europa’s icy crust and will identify candidate sites for future in situ exploration.

The Galileo mission found strong evidence that a subsurface ocean of salty water is in contact with a rocky seafloor.

Source : Daily mail

Philae reveals presence of large amount of water ice on the comet


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A comet seen from close up – the surface looks like rock, but is a mixture of water ice, carbonaceous particles and interesting compounds. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR  (Click Image to Download ) 

The European Space Agency has revealed that the comet – 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko “is not nearly as soft and fluffy as it was believed to be”.

The first results to emerge from the team of the SESAME experiment (Surface Electrical, Seismic and Acoustic Monitoring Experiment) confirm that “the strength of the ice found under a layer of dust on the first landing site is surprisingly high”.

“The mechanical properties of 67P will be derived. SESAME’s two other instruments suggest that cometary activity at this landing site is low, as well as revealing the presence of a large amount of water ice under the lander,” Klaus Seidensticker from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research said.

Source : Times of india , SEN Blog

NASA contracts two firms to work on asteroid mining


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NASA has contracted with two private space firms to prepare for and ultimately execute missions to land on and mine asteroids for valuable resources. The contracts, forged between NASA and both Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, are further evidence of a the kinds of new and interesting partnerships as space exploration increasingly becomes the domain of private industry.
Both companies have been forging plans to launch asteroid-landing probes for months-long stints on near Earth objects — with the aim of extracting valuable resources. Although such expeditions could theoretically return to Earth with valuable minerals, the financial viability of the concept relies on the prospects of supplying other space missions with an extracted assets. That’s where NASA comes in.

With a spate of deep space missions planned in the coming century, NASA would be able to save time and money by supplying some of those missions (including International Space Station expeditions) with vital resources mined from asteroids — water, silicate, carbonaceous minerals and more.

“Deep Space brings commercial insight to NASA’s asteroid planning, because our business is based on supplying what commercial customers in Earth orbit need to operate, as well as serving NASA’s needs for its moon and Mars exploration,” Deep Space CEO Daniel Faber said in a press release earlier this year. “The fuel, water, and metals that we will harvest and process will be sold into both markets, making available industrial quantities of material for expanding space applications and services.”

The fuel it takes to rocket out of the grasp of Earth’s gravity makes launching anything — much less a massive cargo ship — exceptionally expensive. By contrast, asteroids have minuscule centers of gravity, making coming and going from them much less fuel (and cost) intensive.

“Right now it costs $17 million per ton to get anything up to geosynchronous orbit,” David Gump, vice chairman of Deep Space, told The Boston Globe. “If we can beat whatever that price is in 2022, we’ll have a big market.”

“Asteroids hold the resources necessary to enable a sustainable, even indefinite presence in space — for science, commerce and continued prosperity here on Earth,” Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, echoed in a statement released by NASA last week.

As part of Planetary Resources’ ongoing cooperation with NASA’s asteroid exploration efforts, the company will help sort through the near Earth object-finding algorithms being submitted by citizen scientists as part of the agency’s Asteroid Data Hunter challenge.

“By harnessing the public’s interest in space and asteroid detection, we can more quickly identify the potential threats, as well as the opportunities,” Lewicki added.

Following in the wake of European Space Agency’s history-making comet landing, NASA will attempt to land its own spacecraft, the OSIRIS-Rex, on an asteroid named Bennu in September 2016.

Source : upi.com

‘Space plane’ readies for launch


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(Click image to Download) The Intermediate experimental Vehicle. Photo: ESA 

Europe’s first-ever “space plane” will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace says after a three-month delay to fine-tune the flight plan.

The unmanned, car-sized vessel will be sent into low orbit by Europe’s Vega light rocket, on a 100-minute fact-finding flight to inform plans to build a shuttle-like, reusable space vehicle.

Dubbed IXV, for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, the plane will be boosted from Europe’s space pad in Kourou, French Guiana, and separate from its launcher at an altitude of 320 kilometres.

The European Space Agency website says it will attain an altitude of around 450k kilometres before re-entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120 kilometres – representative of a return mission from low orbit.

The vessel is expected to collect data on its hypersonic and supersonic flight phases, before plunging into the Pacific Ocean with a parachute.

The initial launch had been scheduled for November 18, but Arianespace in October announced a postponement “to carry out additional flight trajectory analyses”.

“Based on joint work by ESA [the European Space Agency] and CNES [the French space agency], the date for the IXV mission to be launched by Vega has been set for February 11, 2015,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Developed over five years at a cost of 150 million euros ($225 million), the IXV is the testbed for a reusable vehicle that may one day be able to land on a conventional runway on Earth after a mission to space.

This could be useful for bringing astronauts back from the International Space Station (ISS).

The only craft currently able to ferry astronauts to the ISS and back is Russia’s Soyuz.

Last month saw two major setbacks for the space industry.

On October 28, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after launch on what was to be a supply mission to the ISS, followed three days later by the crash of Virgin Galactic tourist space plane SpaceShipTwo on a test flight, killing one of two pilots.

Source : smh

Philae’s Incredible Comet-Landing Sequence Shows Up In Fresh Rosetta Images


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Images from the Rosetta spacecraft show Philae drifting across the surface of its target comet during landing Nov. 12, 2014. Credit: ESA/Rosetta

New images released from the Rosetta spacecraft orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko show the spacecraft coming in for its (first) landing on Wednesday (Nov. 12). “The mosaic comprises a series of images captured by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera over a 30 minute period spanning the first touchdown,” wrote the European Space Agency in a blog post today (Monday).

This is just the latest in a series of images coming from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft showing the Philae lander coming in for its rendezvous with 67P. A major next step for the mission will be figuring out where the lander actually came for a rest, but there’s plenty of data from both Rosetta and Philae to comb through for this information, ESA said.

What’s known for sure is Philae made three touchdowns on the comet — making history as humanity’s first soft-lander on such an object — stopping in a shady area that will make recharging its solar panels difficult. The spacecraft is in hibernation as of Friday (Nov. 17) and scientists are really, really hoping it’s able to charge up for another science session soon. Rosetta, meanwhile, is hard at work above and will continue to follow the comet in 2015.

Source : universe today

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Philae sleeps, but Rosetta’s not done yet


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Its battery dead, the European lander is lost in a crater somewhere on a huge comet. But the orbiter that brought it there still has plenty of science left to do.

Rosetta

As of Saturday morning, the Philae lander is in a digital coma somewhere on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But even if the history-making little robot never wakes again, the Rosetta mission and the orbiter of the same name still have a long journey ahead of them.

The plan was for Philae to land at a targeted site on the comet, firing harpoons into the surface of the icy rock to keep itself locked in place for a long trip around the sun. The strong grip was particularly important since a comet this size has only a tiny fraction of the gravity of a place like Earth, leaving little Philae at risk of floating off into space.

But when showtime came, there were problems with Philae’s downward thrusters and with firing the harpoons. The European Space Agency reports that the lander bounced off the surface of the comet twice and eventually landed somewhere else without much access to the sunlight its solar panels need to keep it functioning.

Friday evening, Philae used its remaining energy to upload all its data before going into hibernation mode. There was a time slot early this morning during which, the ESA had reported, communication with the lander was possible, but that time has now come and gone.

Still, Rosetta remains.

Even if Philae stays lost in a comet crater for the next year, the orbiter that traveled almost half a billion miles to get to this point will continue to orbit the comet and its lost lander.

Right now, Rosetta has been pulling out to a 30 kilometer orbit of the comet. It will come closer again early next month to get more details on the comet — some of its flybys will be as close as 8 kilometers to the comet. There’s a whole lot of potential science and data about comets, planets and our solar system packed in that process, building up to the trio’s closest encounter with the sun, next August.

Before that point there may also be better opportunities to rouse Philae.

Continue reading Philae sleeps, but Rosetta’s not done yet

European Space Agency releases first picture from comet surface


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The European Space Agency has released the first picture taken by the Philae landing probe from the surface of a comet after determining that the craft had stabilized following a tension-filled landing.

The photo released Thursday shows a rocky surface with one of the lander’s three feet. Philae became the first spacecraft to land on a comet when it touched down Wednesday on the comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  Harpoons meant to anchor the lander to the surface failed to work properly, causing Philae to bounce twice.

Scientists are still analyzing what effect the two bounces had on the spacecraft and plan to release further details at a news briefing at 8 a.m. EST.

Gerhard Schwehm, a scientist on the Rosetta mission, told The Associated Press on Thursday that it may still be possible to fire the harpoons but in any case the lander is “very healthy.” However, Lander project manager Stephan Ulamec told the BBC that he was wary of making another attempt to fire the harpoons on the grounds that Philae could be thrown back into space.

The BBC reported that ESA scientists are still trying to determine the craft’s precise location on the comet, while engineers say it may have bounced hundreds of feet off the surface on its first landing attempt.

A key question is whether Philae’s drill can be used to extract samples from beneath the surface without pushing the lander into space. Gravity on the comet is 1/100,000th that of Earth, meaning the washing machine-sized lander weighs just 0.04 ounces there.

Philae and Rosetta will use 21 instruments to analyze the comet over the coming months. Scientists hope the $1.62 billion will help them better understand comets and other celestial objects, as well as possibly answer questions about the origins of life on Earth.

Source : fox news

The Rosetta comet landing has made history


After 10 years of hard work and one nerve-wracking night, the Rosetta mission has made history by landing on the surface of a comet.

The lander Philae was confirmed to touch down on the surface of the comet more than 300 million miles away at 11:03 a.m. Eastern. Now, scientists expect it to send a panoramic image home and begin analyzing the comet for scientists back on Earth.

Philae is already transmitting scientific data back home, but we’re still waiting to see whether the probe is in a stable position. Until we know it’s anchored tight, it could roll onto its back and never get back up.

Tensions were high in the European Space Agency’s German mission control center, especially as the landing window approached. Because the comet that Philae landed on is so far from Earth, there’s a communications delay of 28 minutes. So as the minutes ticked by, the Rosetta team knew that Philae had already either landed or failed — and there was nothing they could do but wait for the data to reach them. Those following the video online were nearly as desperate for news, and Twitter became a sounding chamber of anticipation and excitement.

But a few minutes after 11 a.m., the stern, cautious expressions of the mission control team melted into smiles. And just like that, the world swiveled from anxiety to elation: Philae was on the surface of the comet and ready to do some science.

The comet contains the materials that originally formed our solar system, frozen in time. By digging them out, we can learn more about the origins of our planet. The Rosetta spacecraft has made invaluable observations about the comet’s attributes, and it will continue to do so as it follows it around the sun for the next year. But Philae will be able to look more closely at the comet’s physical and molecular composition.

“It’s a look at the basic building blocks of our solar system, the ancient materials from which life emerged,” said Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern in Switzerland, one of the Rosetta project’s lead researchers. “It’s like doing archaeology, but instead of going back 1,000 years, we can go back 4.6 billion.”

It’s no easy thing to land on a comet’s surface: These chunks of rock and ice are constantly spinning, and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was discovered in 1969, orbits the sun at a speed of about 85,000 mph. It’s irregularly shaped — like a toddler’s play-dough impression of a duck, or something — and its surface is uneven and pitted. And in a universe of unimaginable proportion, Rosetta’s target is just 2.5 miles in diameter — smaller than Northwest Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

So Rosetta has taken an onerous journey to get in sync with the comet’s orbit, which would allow it to drop down a lander. In 2004, the spacecraft began what would be three looping orbits around the sun, altering its trajectory as it skimmed Mars, just 150 miles from the surface, and enduring 24 minutes in the planet’s shadow to align with Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The cumulative distance traveled by the craft – with all its looping and gravity assists – is a stunning 4 billion miles. “When the Rosetta signal reappeared after the passage behind Mars, shortly after the end of the ‘shadow’ period, there was a collective sigh of relief,” ESA said.

At one point in 2011, the spacecraft even had to hibernate for nearly three years. It flew so far from the sun — nearly 500 million miles — that its solar panels couldn’t leech enough energy to keep the spacecraft operational. But in January of this year, Rosetta woke up, and quickly approached its target.

The last leg of this landing has not been without its bumps. Even as the mission approached its most critical moment, controllers at the European Space Agency on Tuesday night reported a problem with the thruster on the lander that could make for a rough landing. The gravity of the problem — and the extent to which it threatened the mission — remained unknown. “We’ll need some luck not to land on a boulder or a steep slope,” blogged Stephan Ulamec, lander manager for the project.

Source : washington post

3D-printed moonbase? ESA suggested future moon colony


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The European Space Agency (ESA) has proven that its project to 3D-print a base on the Moon is possible. In a latest video the agency shows how 3D-printing robots may be used to build the base using lunar material.

The ESA started investigation of the lunar base possibility in 2013, working alongside its industrial and architectural partners. The creation of the reliable semi-spherical structures on the surface of the moon could be fulfilled within the next 40 years, and 90 percent of the materials needed would be derived from the moon itself.

latest details of the new concept, which is, however, still “firmly on the drawing board,” were discussed at a conference this week at ESA’s technical center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

Continue reading 3D-printed moonbase? ESA suggested future moon colony