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Curved Space Any large mass distorts the geometry of space around it, for instance making parallel light rays diverge or converge. Image: Nature Photonics/C. Sheng, H. Liu, Y. Wang, S. N. Zhu & D. A. Genov
A photonic device is capable of simulating gravitational lensing, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein's general relativity
It took two major expeditions charting the solar eclipse of 1919 to verify Albert Einstein’s weird prediction about gravity — that it distorts the path of light waves around stars and other astronomical bodies, distorting objects in the background. Now, researchers have created the first precise analogue of that effect on a microchip.
Any large mass distorts the geometry of space around it, for instance making parallel light rays diverge or converge. One consequence, described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, is that objects behind a body such as the Sun may look magnified or distorted as the optical path of light goes through the region of warped space.
Metamaterials scientist Hui Liu of Nanjing University in China and his colleagues mimicked this 'gravitational lensing' — which affects light in the vacuum of space — by making light travel through solid materials instead. Different transparent media have different indexes of refraction, causing light to bend. One example is at the interface between water and air, a familiar effect that makes a pencil look broken when it is half-dipped in water. But if a medium has an index of refraction that varies gradually rather than abruptly, it will make the the paths of light rays curve as they travel through it.
The varying refraction index bends light in the same way that gravity curves space-time because light always travels along the path that takes the shortest time — regardless of that path’s geometry, notes physicist Ulf Leonhardt of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, who was not involved in the study.
Liu and his collaborators simulated the gravitational lensing of a star on an integrated photonic chip. A layer of clear plastic on the chip acted as a waveguide, confining light to the chip’s surface. To change the index of refraction of the plastic, the researchers had to vary the plastic’s thickness. They did so by heating the plastic and adding polystyrene microspheres before the plastic cooled. Because the plastic rose upwards around the microspheres on cooling, the thickness of the waveguide increased near these miniature balls. The varying index of refraction the team achieved happens to be very similar to the bending of space-time geometry around a massive star.
Liu and his team describe their findings online today in Nature Photonics.
“This is indeed the first time an exact solution of Einstein's equations was mimicked” using an optical model, says Leonhardt. The simplicity of the experiment — microspheres on plastics — “beautifully illustrates some of the ideas of general relativity”, he adds.
Leonhardt notes that the optical analogue developed by Liu’s team cannot replicate the most extreme example of gravitational curvature — a black hole. These objects have a gravitational pull so strong that space-time closes in on itself, so that it has a surface — the event horizon — through which light can enter but never exit. In 2010, researchers at Southeast University in Nanking, China, made artificial black holes that trap microwave light. They did so using strips of circuit boards coated with a thin layer of copper etched in intricate patterns and arranged in concentric circles.
Still, says study coauthor Dentcho Genov of Louisana Tech University in Ruston, the team’s microchip model “may hold the key to the elucidation of phenomena based on general relativity that are extremely difficult to study through direct astronomical observations”. This includes cases of radio waves with wavelengths comparable to the size of the celestial object, he notes.
In its ability to steer, contain and focus light, the microchip system may also help to enhance the performance of solar cells, Liu adds.
Quelle: Scientific American
Launched over 35 years ago, Voyagers 1 and 2 are on an epic journey outward from the Sun to reach the boundary between the solar plasma and the much cooler interstellar medium. The boundary, called the heliopause, is expected to be marked by a large increase in plasma density, from about 0.002 cm−3 in the outer heliosphere, to about 0.1 cm−3 in the interstellar medium. On 9 April 2013, the Voyager 1 plasma wave instrument began detecting locally generated electron plasma oscillations at a frequency of about 2.6 kHz. This oscillation frequency corresponds to an electron density of about 0.08 cm−3, very close to the value expected in the interstellar medium. These and other observations provide strong evidence that Voyager 1 has crossed the heliopause into the nearby interstellar plasma.
Current distance from the sun: 126 AU
1 astronomical unit = 150 million
kilometers (Earth-sun distance)
Voyager 1 is now surrounded by a relatively thick fog of subatomic particles produced in the far reaches of the galaxy. Some particles originated in supernova explosions; others got blasted out of black holes. By 2016 astronomers expect the probe’s sibling spacecraft to pop through the solar bubble. Unlike Voyager 1, Voyager 2 carries a working instrument to measure the temperature and density of the interstellar medium. Both probes have enough plutonium power to communicate with Earth until about 2025.
Distance from the sun: about 122 AU
Until recently, Voyager 1 was traveling within the heliosphere, bathed in a thin mist of particles from the solar wind. Voyager 1 passed through the boundary between the heliosphere and interstellar space, called the heliopause, last August. But the border crossing was not cut-and-dried: Astronomers expected the magnetic field to change direction in interstellar space along with the particle population, yet the field has barely budged. Theorists are struggling to understand why.
Distance from the sun: about 90 AU
The solar wind gradually slows as it cruises past the planets. About 13 billion kilometers from where that wind originates, it slows down to about 350,000 kilometers per hour and generates a shock wave analogous to the one produced when a jet crosses the sound barrier. Voyager 1 reached this shock wave, known as the termination shock, in 2004. Beyond it, the solar wind wanes as the gateway to interstellar space approaches.
The sun unleashes a continuous stream of subatomic particles at more than 1.5 million kilometers per hour. This solar wind permeates a radius of billions of kilometers in all directions and inflates the heliosphere. For some astrophysicists, the solar system is defined by the presence of the solar wind.
Distance from the sun: 30–100 AU
For much of the past quarter century, Voyager 1 has been traversing this disk of icy objects (including Pluto) that were not incorporated into planets when the solar system formed.
The sun, planets and entire heliosphere orbit the center of the galaxy at a brisk 83,000 kilometers per hour. In July NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer satellite discovered that the sun drags behind it a cometlike tail of subatomic particles (not shown) that may stretch 10 times as far from the sun as Voyager 1’s current position. The finding shows that the solar bubble is shaped more like an elongated bullet than a sphere. Fortunately Voyager 1 trekked toward the leading edge of the bubble, where the distance to interstellar space is comparatively short.
Neptune’s distance from sun: 30 AU
The notion of the solar system as the sun plus eight planets (or nine, depending on your age) largely gets abandoned after grade school. Voyager 1 passed Neptune’s orbit in May 1987 and has since logged 14.2 billion kilometers.
The scene at Pic du Midi is one out of a sci-fi movie: a fortified concrete-and-stone complex, packed full of metal domes, sprawls across the top of a precipitous peak above the clouds. At an altitude of 9,349 feet, the sweeping view of the surrounding French Pyrénées is rivaled only by the site's magnificently dark night sky.
Prime observing conditions are the reason why astronomers have made the arduous trek up this mountainside for an unobstructed view of the firmament since 1884. But the history of scientific research on the fabled French peak goes back all the way to 1774, when chemist Jean Darcet and physicist Gaspard Monge climbed the Pic to study the pressure of the atmosphere.
While accessing the summit in those days was a much more trying experience, it did not stop scientists from constructing a full-fledged meteorological station and astronomical observatory in the 1870s. Today, the research facilities are only a 15-minute cable-car ride from the resort town of La Mongie, and the public is welcome to a view so treasured that NASA scientists traveled there to map the surface of the moon in preparation for the Apollo landing.
Visitors can even choose to spend the night at the Pic, where up to 19 people can be accommodated in a package deal that includes tours of the site's telescopes (including the six-foot-seven Bernard Lyot telescope, the largest in France), nighttime observing with professional astronomers, and traditional Pyrénées cuisine at the on-site restaurant.
The observatory is also home to the highest museum in Europe, one that will guide you through the history of Pic du Midi and over a century of scientific research and technological progress. But if, for some odd reason, learning about a long history of discovery begins to get tiresome, experienced skiers can plunge 4,600 feet down the vertiginous mountain slopes at no extra charge.
Webcam Pic du Midi / 5.10.2013 - 8.20 MESZ
NBC says it's reached a deal with Virgin Galactic and reality TV producer Mark Burnett to create a television series called "Space Race," which will follow contestants as they compete to win a flight into space aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocket plane.
SpaceShipTwo is currently in the midst of flight tests at California's Mojave Air and Space Port, and could take passengers on suborbital space rides as early as next year. But it's too early to say when "Space Race" will air, or when the show's winner would fly, said Clare Anne Darragh, a spokeswoman for Burnett's production company, One Three Media.
More than 600 customers have made their reservations for SpaceShipTwo flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico, at a current price of $250,000 per seat.
The TV project combines the long-held ambitions of Burnett, the mastermind behind such shows as "Survivor" and "The Voice"; and Richard Branson, the British billionaire who founded Virgin Galactic.
"The scope of this endeavor is so staggering that it took these two titans to even imagine it," Paul Telegdy, president of alternative and late night programming for NBC Entertainment, said Thursday in a news release announcing the deal. "The term 'trip of a lifetime' has for once been delivered on! This will be a remarkable experience for anyone who has looked at the night's sky and dared to dream of spaceflight."
Branson said the show fits in with Virgin Galactic's vision of democratizing space and "eventually making commercial space travel affordable and accessible to all."
"'Space Race' allows us to extend this opportunity of a lifetime to as many people as possible right at the start of our commercial service — through direct experience and television viewing," Branson said. "All of us at Virgin Galactic and our partner Aabar Investments are delighted to be collaborating with NBC and Mark, who is a true pioneer and creative force in television programming."
The deal's deja vu
If "Space Race" becomes a reality, it would be the first TV contest built around honest-to-goodness space travel. But there's a hint of deja vu to the deal: Thirteen years ago, NBC said Burnett would produce a space-themed reality TV series titled "Destination Mir," with the winner flying to Russia's Mir space station. "It's going to be very, very dramatic in the beginning, and all the way through to the end," Burnett told NBC News at the time.
That deal literally went up in flames in 2001 due to Mir's demise. Other efforts to create space-themed reality TV projects, including a plan to put boy-band singer Lance Bass in orbit, have been stymied by the inherent risk of spaceflight. Potential insurers and advertisers were put off by the idea that someone could get blown up on the show they were backing.
Burnett obliquely referred to "Destination Mir" in Thursday's press statement about "Space Race."
"For the past 10 years I have relentlessly pursued my dream of using a TV show to give an everyday person the chance to experience the black sky of space and look down upon Mother Earth," he said. "Last year I spent time in New Mexico at the state-of-the-art facility, and last week spent time in the Mojave Desert with Sir Richard and his impressive team. We got to see the spaceship up close and hear of Sir Richard’s incredible vision of how Virgin Galactic is the future of private space travel. I am thrilled to be part of a series that will give the everyday person a chance to see space, and that NBC has come on board, too, so that viewers at home will have a first-class seat."
Thursday's news release said One Three Media would be distributing "Space Race" at the upcoming MIPCOM TV market in Cannes.
Correction for 5:30 p.m. ET: I mistakenly referred to SpaceShipOne rather than SpaceShipTwo at one point in the original posting. That's what I get for going too far down commercial spaceflight's memory lane.
Richard Branson is seen at the Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave this year. NBC says it will air a competition show with an out-of-this-world prize: a ride into space.
It had to happen: "Voice" and "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett is teaming up with Richard Branson for the ultimate unscripted TV show in which average Americans compete for a chance to go into outer space.
NBC on Thursday announced an exclusive deal with the pair for "Space Race," a show it's hyping as a "groundbreaking, elimination competition series." Winners score a ride on Branson's Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, which made successful test flights this year in its quest to take commercial passengers into space.
The show will be filmed at least in part at Virgin Galactic's home in the Spaceport America in New Mexico, where prospective fliers are trained and prepared for space flights, according to the announcement.
" 'Space Race' allows us to extend this opportunity of a lifetime to as many people as possible right at the start of our commercial service – through direct experience and television viewing," Branson said in the announcement.
This isn't the first time Burnett's One Three Media has wanted to do a show with a Space Age payoff. The Hollywood Reporter's story about the show says:
"... The producer first sold 'Destination Mir' to NBC in 2000. The series, whose finalists would have been teamed up with professional cosmonauts to go through training at Russia's Star City facility, was poised to end with an ordinary American taking a televised trip to the aging Mir space station. The pricey project, also at the center of a multinetwork bidding war, was shuttered when Mir was brought down the following year."
A Virgin Galactica ticket costs $250,000 -- and more than 600 people have signed up to be among the first passengers, including actors Ashton Kutcher and Leonardo DiCaprio. The "spaceline" has trained more than 140 "space agents" to sell tickets for upcoming flights expected to begin as soon as 2014.
Quelle: Los Angeles Times
The images above show the Orion Nebula with a huge cloud of high-temperature gas discovered by XMM-Newton. The left panel is an X-ray image obtained with XMM-Newton, with the hot gas seen as a red haze. The right panel, a Spitzer infrared image of the Orion Nebula overlaid with XMM-Newton X-ray data (in blue), shows the newly discovered hot gas cloud.© (Left) XMM-Newton EPIC (Guedel et al.); (Right) AAAS/Science (ESA XMM-Newton and NASA Spitzer data)
Tylor Hofelich, Ohio - 1.Oktober 2013
Göran Strand, Nord-Schweden - 2.Oktober 2013
Alexander Kuznetsov, Finnland - 2.Oktober 2013
Lauri Kangas, Ontario, Canada - 2.Oktober 2013
Ulf Jonsson, Luleå in north of Sweden - 2.Oktober 2013
A. Garrett Evans, Sutton, New Hampshire - 2.Oktober 2013
Bjørn Ole Solberg,Trondheimsfjord, Norway - 2.Oktober 2013
Martin Sammtleben, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland - 2.Oktober 2013
Shawn Malone, Marquette MI USA - 2.Oktober 2013
Markus Eriksson,Tårneträsk, Kiruna, Sweden- 2.Oktober 2013
Chuy Ojeda, Saint Francis, WI USA - 1.Oktober 2013
KRASNOZNAMENSK (Moscow region), October 2 – A Russian military space official admitted Wednesday that the country will be powerless to act should Earth become the target of an interplanetary incursion.
Sergei Berezhnoy, an aide to the head of the Titov Space Control Center, said that Russian aerospace defense authorities have not been tasked with preparing for the contingency of an alien attack.
“There are enough problems on Earth and in near-Earth space,” Berezhnoy said in response to a reporter’s question.
The planet’s space powers are in any event limited in their scope of action for building up military capabilities beyond the Earth’s confines. Under the terms of the 1976 Outer Space Treaty, to which Russia is a signatory, states cannot place weapons of mass destruction in orbit, although conventional weapons are allowed.
The Titov Space Control Center, which is run by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces, is the country’s primary military and commercial satellite control facility.
The facility currently operates about 80 percent of Russian orbital spacecraft.
Quelle: (RIA Novosti)
Kuaizhou – China secretly launches new quick response rocket
On 25 September 2013 China launched another earth observation satellite into orbit. The spacecraft, identified in Chinese press reports as the Kuaizhou 1, is a small earth observation satellite that will be used for disaster management and will be operated by China’s National Remote Sensing Center. But the launch had a second purpose: to test a new solid-fueled launch vehicle the Chinese military plans to use to provide a rapid ability to replace Chinese satellites that might be damaged or destroyed by an enemy attack.
The United States military refers to this capability as Operationally Responsive Space (ORS). Having this capability would allow both militaries to rapidly replace satellites that might be damaged or destroyed in an anti-satellite (ASAT) attack with small but “good enough” satellites able to restore at least some of the functions of the satellites lost. The Pentagon’s ORS office, like the Chinese military, is also using non-military satellite launches for non-military partners to develop its ORS program. For example, the Pentagon’s ORS office is currently working with the University of Hawaii to launch a small imaging satellite called the HiakaSat.
According to a February 2013 Chinese press report on the Kuaizhou program, this new Chinese military space capability will be operated by the 2nd Artillery, the branch of the Chinese military that operates China’s land-based missile forces, including its land-based nuclear missiles. The February report indicates the Kuaizhou program calls for pre-positioning launchers and their attached satellites at various locations around the country. Should Chinese satellites used to provide imaging, communication and data relay functions come under attack during a time of war, the 2nd Artillery could launch small replacement satellites into orbit within a few hours.
For more than a decade, U.S. analysts and observers of China’s military space activities have claimed China is pursuing an “asymmetric” military strategy in space that may include plans for a “space Pearl Harbor” attack on U.S. space systems. These U.S. interpretations of Chinese strategy, which were repeated in a recent report from the Stimson Center, are based on the assumption that because Chinese space capabilities are less developed, and supposedly less important to the Chinese military than those of the United States, China has less to lose from making space a battlefield.
While by no means definitive, China’s pursuit of an ORS capability suggests that maintaining Chinese space capabilities in a time of war may be more important to Chinese military strategists than U.S. observers and analysts normally assume. Consider the following passage from a highly classified 2003 text on 2nd Artillery operations. It indicates that as early as a decade ago, Chinese military planners concluded space offers unique capabilities that are increasingly important,
“… owing to the fact that missiles are extremely complicated weapons systems whose use in warfare cannot be separated from intelligence, communication, surveying, weather, damage assessment and similar types of support. Moreover, for all of these, simply relying on ground equipment is already useless, and reliance on the support of military space systems such as intelligence satellites, communication satellites, surveying satellites and weather satellites is necessary.”
It seems clear the Chinese military and the U.S. military are both concerned about the loss of space capabilities in a time of conflict and are pursuing the same means to compensate for it. This shared concern could form the basis for meaningful bilateral talks on space security that lead to a mutual understanding, and possibly a formal agreement, to refrain from attacks on each other’s satellites.
About the author: Gregory has lived and worked in China for the better part of the last twenty-five years facilitating exchanges between academic, governmental, and professional organizations in both countries. Since joining the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2002, he has focused on promoting and conducting dialog between Chinese and American experts on nuclear arms control and space security. Areas of expertise: Chinese foreign and security policy, Chinese space program, international arms control, cross-cultural communication.
Quelle: Gregory Kulacki, China project manager and senior analyst
China last week conducted a test of a maneuvering satellite that captured another satellite in space during what Pentagon officials say was a significant step forward for Beijing’s space warfare program.
The satellite capture took place last week and involved one of three small satellites fitted with a mechanical arm that were launched July 20 as part of a covert anti-satellite weapons development program, said U.S. officials familiar with reports of the test.
One official described the satellite-grabbing spacecraft as a “mobile satellite launch vehicle.”
A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment on the specifics of the test. But Cynthia O. Smith, the spokeswoman, confirmed that the satellites, designated Payloads A, B, and C, have maneuvered in space since their launch.
“The United States Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Combatant Command for Space (JFCC-Space), consistent with its routine operations to maintain track of objects in space, has monitored these satellites since their launch and has noticed the relative motions of these satellites amongst each other and with respect to other space objects,” she said.
The Pentagon’s website Space-Track.org does not report on missions or functions of the hundreds of space objects it tracks, and Smith referred further questions to the Chinese government.
A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not return emails seeking comment on the ASAT test.
The satellites involved in the space warfare development program were identified by the Chinese as “scientific experimentation satellites,” according to a notice published July 24 in the online journal Space News.
They were identified as Chuangxin-3 (Innovation-3), Shiyan-7 (Experiment-7), and Shijian-15 (Practice-15). The spacecraft with the robotic mechanical arm that conducted the satellite capture experiment has not been authoritatively identified from among the three orbiters. However, space analysts suspect it is Shiyan-7.
Space News is published by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), which builds strategic missiles and space launchers, and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), China’s largest missile manufacturer.
The notice stated that the three satellites were launched atop a Long March-4C rocket on July 20 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north central China.
“These three satellites are to be used for the observation of space debris and conducting scientific experiments in space maintenance techniques like space arm operations,” the statement said.
Space Track continues to identify the satellites as by their payload designations, rather than using the Chinese names.
Space analyst Bob Christy, who writes the blog Zarya.info that first disclosed the three satellites, said no public information has indicated the three satellites involved in earlier close maneuvers engaged in a significant orbit change since activities in August.
“There have certainly been no more approaches between them, and Payload A has shown no sign of maneuvering in the whole of its time in space,” he said in an email.
Since no other satellites are in the same orbit as the three satellites and another satellite known as Shijian-7, “if the capture was last week, it didn’t involve any of these working together,” he said.
Christy said that leaves the possibility that Payload B was captured by Payload C during a close flyby around Aug. 17.
“My actual calculations showed them getting closer than 500 meters but given the inherent error margins of the Space Track data, I stuck with a few hundred meters,” he said.
Another possibility is that the test involved a detachable part of one satellite and its release into a separate orbit, and the subsequent recapturing of the component using the extension arm, Christy said.
“If the separation distance was small and the period of separated flight was short, then U.S. sensors are unlikely to have detected an extra object in orbit,” he said.
A third possibility is that the test involved completely different satellites that were not observed by non-government space trackers.
Christy’s analysis of the August activities revealed that the satellites conducted several experiments.
Since August, Payload C and Shijian-7 showed slight variations in orbit that are likely the result of thruster operation for position control, Christy stated in a recent blog post.
In August, Payload B, a non-maneuvering satellite, was positioned about 620 miles behind Payload C, a spacecraft that specialists say could be the craft with the manipulator arm, and Payload C gradually slowed to until is passed very close to the other satellite.
The robotic satellite may be part of efforts to develop China’s large space station set to be deployed around 2020.
However, Pentagon officials believe the small satellite activity is more closely associated with China’s secret ASAT program.
Little is known about the Chinese space warfare program, which is among the Chinese military’s most closely guarded secrets.
China conducted a direct ascent ASAT missile test in January 2007 that destroyed a Chinese weather satellite and created tens of thousands orbiting debris pieces that threaten both manned and unmanned spacecraft.
Chinese officials have told U.S. counterparts that the 2007 test was a one-time event and so far have not conducted further debris-causing satellite attack tests.
A U.S. official told the Free Beacon in August that the launch of the three satellites was part of Beijing’s covert anti-satellite warfare program.
The official said the craft with the robotic arm was viewed as the most threatening because U.S. satellites, vital strategic assets used by both the American military and civilian infrastructure, are vulnerable to kinetic or electronic disruption in space.
The official said the satellites are part of China’s “Star Wars” space weapon program that has been largely ignored by the Obama administration over concerns that pressing China to explain its space weapons would upset U.S.-China relations.
The ASAT program is a “real concern for U.S. national defense,” the official said.
Until the satellite capture, the mission of the spacecraft with the mechanical arm was unknown. It was thought that it could used to grab, gouge, or alter the orbits of other satellites.
The craft also could be used for maintenance and repair.
Rick Fisher, a Chinese military affairs specialist, said the robot-arm satellite that he believes is the Shiyan-7 is part of China’s dual-use space program that includes satellites for military close-surveillance and attack missions. Civilian applications include development of space manipulator arm technology.
“As an ASAT, a future version of the SY-7 could be used to take close-up images of U.S. satellites, to remove systems from those satellites and return them to China, to directly damage U.S. satellites or to plant ‘mines’ on those satellites or close nearby,” said Fisher, with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“An SY-7-like ASAT gives China the option to attack enemy satellites without creating a large cloud of debris that may also damage other Chinese satellites.”
Fisher said China recently hosted a major space conference and is seeking to position itself as a space “superpower” as a means to increase cooperation and technology acquisition from other countries.
At the conference, “Chinese officials made a deliberate appeal to Canada, which developed and built the manipulator arm used on the International Space Station and U.S. Space Shuttles,” Fisher said.
However, Fisher said China made every effort to conceal the People’s Liberation Army’s role in the space program and would probably deny any military role in the developing mechanical arm technology for offensive space operations.
“The ‘Canadarm’ [manipulator arm] was developed in Canada with Canadian funding and four were purchased by NASA for the U.S. Space Shuttle program,” he said.
China conducted a test launch of a new high-Earth orbit anti-satellite missile called the DN-2 in March, according to U.S. officials.
Quelle: The Washington Free Beacon
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is set for a six-month stay on the International Space Station in 2014. His mission came one step closer today when the mission patch was revealed at the European Astronaut Centre during German Space Day in Cologne, Germany.
Alex is leaving Earth from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan 28 May 2014. He will fly on a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Viktorovich Surayev and NASA astronaut Gregory Reid Wiseman.
The mission logo is inspired by an image of Earth taken by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft as it travelled six billion kilometres from our planet. American astronomer Carl Sagan described our faintly visible planet on the photograph as “a pale blue dot”.
During his 166-day mission the next ESA astronaut to fly to space has an extensive scientific programme planned running around 40 experiments in materials physics, human physiology, radiation biology, solar research, biotechnology, fluid physics, astrophysics and technology demonstrations. All experiments are designed to improve life on Earth and prepare further exploration projects.
A highlight of Expedition 40/41 is the electromagnetic levitator furnace which keeps molten metal suspended in microgravity for measurements. On Earth many readings in furnaces are hampered by the mold holding the metal so characteristics cannot be analysed without interference. The results of this experiment promise to improve industrial casting processes and might allow for more delicate and fine castings.
After conquering remote mountains and working in Antarctica, the geophysicist and volcanologist will become the third German to visit the Station. His mission has the theme ‘shaping the future’ and will include an educational programme to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists.
Alex during weightlessness training
ESA PR 23 2011 - ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has been assigned to fly to the International Space Station on a 6-month mission in 2014, serving as a flight engineer for Expeditions 40 and 41.
Alexander is the second of the new group of European astronauts, which graduated last November, to be assigned to a mission.
He will be launched aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in May 2014, returning to Earth in November 2014.
Today is an ideal day for the announcement: the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne has been buzzing with activity as around 100 000 visitors mingle on German Aerospace Day.
After conquering remote mountains and working in Antarctica, the 35year-old geophysicist and volcanologist will become the third German to visit the Station.
He will be accompanied by Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, as Soyuz commander, and NASA astronaut G. Reid Wiseman.
Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronaut Steven Swanson will also share part of the mission with Alexander as members of Expeditions 39 and 40.
Alexander’s flight will be the sixth long-duration mission for an ESA astronaut.
“ESA Member States have decided to extend their support to the exploitation of the International Space Station up to 2020,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director for Human Spaceflight and Operations.
“The appointment of the new group of European astronauts to long-duration missions reflects the commitment of Member States.
“Alexander Gerst will pursue the European goals in a long fruitful German tradition.
Alexander Gerst was born in Künzelsau, Germany, on 3 May 1976. His favourite sports are fencing, swimming and running. He especially enjoys outdoor activities such as skydiving, snowboarding, hiking, mountaineering, climbing and scuba diving.
Alex graduated from the Technical High School in Öhringen, Germany, in 1995.
In 2003 he received a diploma in geophysics from the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, and a master’s degree in Earth sciences from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Both degrees were awarded with distinction.
In 2010 Alex graduated with a Doctorate in Natural Sciences at the Institute of Geophysics of the University of Hamburg, Germany. His dissertation was on geophysics and volcanic eruption dynamics.
Alex is a member of
During school, Alex volunteered as a boy scout leader, fire-fighter and water rescue lifeguard. As a student, from 1998 to 2003 he participated in various international scientific collaborations and field experiments. Several of these expeditions led him to remote locations such as Antarctica where he installed scientific instruments.
From 2001 to 2003, researching his master’s thesis on a volcano in New Zealand, Alex developed new volcano monitoring techniques that might improve forecasts of volcanic eruptions. The results were published inScience Magazine.
Alex worked on developing scientific instruments at the Institute of Geophysics at the University of Hamburg between 2004 and 2009.
From 2005 to 2009, whilst at the Institute of Geophysics, he also worked towards his doctorate, investigating volcanic eruption dynamics on active volcanoes. His research goal was to determine the mechanics and the energy released during the first seconds of a volcanic eruption. His research led him to visit volcanoes on all continents, concentrating on an active volcano in Antarctica. In 2007 Alex received the Bernd Rendel award for outstanding research from the DFG German Research Foundation.
Alex was selected as an ESA astronaut in May 2009. He joined ESA in September 2009 and completed Astronaut Basic Training in November 2010.
In September 2011, Alex was assigned to fly to the International Space Station on a six-month mission. He will serve as a flight engineer for Expeditions 40 and 41. He will be launched on a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in May 2014, returning to Earth in November 2014. His comprehensive research programme will include a wide variety of European and international science experiments.
Twenty-three years ago, on 14 February 1990, one of the most remarkable photographs of our age was taken. At a distance of almost 5.9 billion miles from Earth – and way beyond the orbit of Neptune – NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft acquired 64 images and captured a unique family portrait of six of the nine planets in our Solar System. Included in the portrait was a distant, pale blue speck that we call home. Carl Sagan later referred to it as the “Pale Blue Dot” and the phrase has since become a byword for the smallness and insignificance of our place in the cosmos. Fittingly, the European Space Agency (ESA) recently announced that Germany’s Alexander Gerst – its next long-duration occupant of the International Space Station (ISS) – will fly a mission known as “Blue Dot”.
The announcement and the image of Gerst’s mission patch for Expedition 40/41 was revealed at the European Astronaut Centre during German Aerospace Day in Cologne, Germany, on 22 September. ESA noted that the Blue Dot patch “is inspired” by the Voyager 1 family portrait. The circular, deep blue emblem pays homage to the ISS and its goal of understanding, protecting and advancing life on Earth. “During his 166-day mission, the next ESA astronaut to fly to space has an extensive scientific program planned,” it was explained, “running around 40 experiments in materials physics, human physiology, radiation biology, solar research, biotechnology, fluid physics, astrophysics and technology demonstrations. All experiments are designed to improve life on Earth and prepare further exploration projects.”
German Aerospace Day was also selected back in September 2011 to announce Gerst’s assignment to this mission, which will make him only the third of his countrymen to voyage to the ISS. Previously, Thomas Reiter – who today serves as ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations – flew a 171-day mission in July-December 2006, becoming the first European astronaut to participate in a long-duration flight to the multi-national orbital outpost. More recently, Hans Schlegel flew aboard STS-122, the February 2008 Shuttle mission which delivered Europe’s Columbus laboratory module to the station. More than six years later, Gerst will pick up the baton for German astronauts in space. Unlike Reiter and Schlegel, however, this will be his first space mission.
Liftoff of Soyuz TMA-13M is presently scheduled for 28 May 2014, carrying Gerst, together with Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman. The crew will join Expedition 40 and will later transfer to become the Expedition 41 “core” crew in the last part of their mission. With Reisman also making his first flight, only Surayev is flight-experienced, having served on Expedition 21/22 in September 2009-March 2010. He spent a total of 169 days in orbit. In the aftermath of his first mission, Surayev briefly entered the headlines in the summer of 2010, when the Defence Ministry reportedly twice denied his nomination for the Hero of Russia accolade. This prompted the Russian Federal Space Agency to successfully appeal directly to President Dmitri Medvedev and Surayev duly received the honor in December 2010.
In February 2011, Surayev was assigned to fly with NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and Italy’s Luca Parmitano on Expedition 36/37 and in September 2011 Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin was named to join Gerst and Wiseman on Expedition 40/41. However, at the end of 2011, it would appear that Surayev was grounded and replaced by Yurchikhin. It was noted at the time that Surayev unsuccessfully sought election to the Russian Duma and was subsequently reassigned to the Expedition 40/41 slot. As a result, in effect, Yurchikhin and Surayev swapped missions.
Assuming an on-time liftoff of Soyuz TMA-13M with Surayev, Gerst and Wiseman, it is likely that a four-orbit “fast rendezvous” profile will be adopted to enable the crew to reach the space station about six hours after leaving Baikonur. They will initially join Expedition 40 crewmen Steve Swanson of NASA and Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev for the first few months of their mission. Throughout the summer of 2014, they will welcome numerous Visiting Vehicles from both the International Partners and NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) partners, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. ESA is scheduled to fly its fifth and last Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) – named in honor of Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître – from June-December 2014, with Japan’s fifth H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-5) due to follow in July-August.
With Orbital’s first dedicated Cygnus mission under its CRS contract with NASA presently targeted for launch in early December 2013 – and known as “ORB-1″ – the company has plans to launch two more cargo ships (ORB-2 and ORB-3) to the ISS in May and October 2014. Meanwhile, it was reported by NASASpaceflight.com that SpaceX will stage its third dedicated CRS Dragon mission (known as “CRS-3″) in February 2014, followed by two others (CRS-4 and CRS-5) in April and August. Russian Progress cargo ships are expected to launch toward the ISS every 2-3 months throughout 2014, with missions tentatively planned for February, April, July and October.
Of particular note is the arrival of Russia’s long-awaited Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module (MLM), whose launch was originally expected in December 2013, but which is not expected until at least April or as late as September 2014. If the MLM launches in April, it can be expected that as many as nine EVAs from the Russian segment of the station may be conducted between June and October to outfit the new module and configure it with the rest of the station.
Midway through the expedition of Surayev, Gerst and Wiseman, the “core” Expedition 40 crew of Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev will return to Earth in mid-September at the end of their six-month flight. At this stage, Swanson will hand command of the ISS over to Surayev and Expedition 41 will commence. Two weeks later, three new arrivals – the Soyuz TMA-14M crew of Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Yelena Serova, together with NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore – will arrive to form the second half of Expedition 41. Finally, on 10 November 2014, Surayev, Gerst and Wiseman will board Soyuz TMA-13M and undock from the station, which will have been their home for almost half of the year. They will touch down a few hours later on the barren steppe of Kazakhstan, concluding a mission of about 166-167 days in orbit.
Selected as one of six European astronaut candidates in May 2009 – together with Italy’s Luca Parmitano and Sam Cristoforetti, France’s Thomas Pesquet, Britain’s Tim Peake and Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen – Alexander Gerst will become the 11th astronaut of German nationality to fly into space. Back in August 1978, “East German” cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn flew with Soviet crewmate Valeri Bykovsky aboard Soyuz 31 to the Salyut 6 space station and in November 1983 “West German” astronaut Ulf Merbold was a payload specialist aboard Shuttle mission STS-9, the first Spacelab flight.
Interestingly, Merbold – though “West German” by nationality and political status in his early years – was actually born in Greiz, Thuringia, less than 25 miles from the birthplace of Sigmund Jähn. Both spent their formative years in the communist-led East Germany, but after finishing high school in 1960 – not long before the erection of the Berlin Wall – the young Merbold was one of thousands who defected to the democratic West Germany. Ahead of the collapse of the Wall, two more “West German” astronauts, Reinhard Furrer and Ernst Messerschmid, flew aboard the Shuttle’s Spacelab-D1 mission in October 1985.
After reunification, other Germans followed. Merbold became the first German to fly two, and later three, space voyages, participating in the STS-42 Spacelab mission in January 1992 and a 30-day flight to Russia’s Mir space station in October-November 1994. Klaus-Dietrich Flade flew a short mission to Mir in March 1992 and Reinhold Eward spent three weeks aboard the station in February 1997. Thomas Reiter became the first German to undertake a long-duration mission and a spacewalk, flying for 179 days to Mir in September 1995-February 1996, and is presently the most flight-experienced German astronaut, having also flown a 171-day ISS expedition in July-December 2006. The latter mission made Reiter the first ESA astronaut to fly a long-duration ISS expedition.
Other German astronauts have included Hans Schlegel and Ulrich Walter, who served as payload specialists on the Spacelab-D2 mission in April 1993. Schlegel was later selected for mission specialist training and in February 2008 – aged 56, which makes him the oldest German astronaut to date – he performed a spacewalk to assist in the installation and outfitting of Europe’s Columbus module. Another German, Gerhard Thiele, was the first ESA astronaut to fly in the year 2000, launching aboard the STS-99 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) in February of that year. In May 2014, Alexander Gerst – geophysicist, volcanologist, mountain-climber and astronaut, will join their exalted ranks. According to Thomas Reiter, Gerst “will pursue the European goals in a long fruitful German tradition”.