Sonntag, 6. Oktober 2013 - 13:15 Uhr

Raumfahrt - Unterstützung von Unternehmern bei Forschung auf ISS





Blick auf und aus ISS



Quelle: CASIS


Sonntag, 6. Oktober 2013 - 11:53 Uhr

Astronomie - Chip ahmt gekrümmte Raumzeit nach.


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


Curved Spacetime Mimicked on a Chip

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.

Light-bending chip
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


Sonntag, 6. Oktober 2013 - 11:30 Uhr

Raumfahrt - Voyager-1-Wir sind in der Tat zum ersten Mal im interstellaren Raum!



NASA's Voyager first spacecraft to exit solar system
Never before has a human-built spacecraft traveled so far. NASA's Voyager 1 probe has left the solar system and is wandering the galaxy, US scientists said Thursday.
The spacecraft, which looks like a combination of a satellite dish and an old television set with rabbit ear antennas, was launched in 1977 on a mission to explore planets in our solar system.
Against all odds, Voyager kept on moving and now is about 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) from our Sun in a cold, dark part of space that is between the stars, said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist.
"We are indeed in interstellar space for the first time," said Stone, who is based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
"We got there. This is something we all hoped when we started on this 40 years ago," Stone said. "None of us knew anything could last as long as the two Voyager spacecraft."
The twin spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were sent off 36 years ago on a primary mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn.
They discovered new details about the nature of Saturn's rings and found volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io.
Voyager 2 traveled on to Uranus and Neptune, before the duo's mission was extended to explore the outer limits of the Sun's influence.
The precise position of Voyager has been fiercely debated in the past year, because scientists have not known exactly what it would look like when the spacecraft crossed the boundary of the solar system -- and the tool on board that was meant to detect the change broke long ago.
However, US space agency scientists now agree that Voyager is officially outside the protective bubble known as the heliosphere that extends beyond all the planets in our solar system.
Their findings -- which describe the conditions that show Voyager actually left the solar system in August 2012 -- are published in the US journal Science.
NASA said Voyager 1 "is in a transitional region immediately outside the solar bubble, where some effects from our Sun are still evident."
Voyager 1 -- with Voyager 2 a few years behind in its travels -- sent back data to scientists on Earth on August 25 last year, showing an abrupt drop in energetic charged particles, or cosmic rays, that are produced inside the heliosphere.
Scientists expected that the direction of the magnetic field in space would reverse at the barrier known as the heliopause.
The Voyager 1 magnetometer did not show this change, leading scientists to be extra cautious about declaring whether or not the spacecraft had left the solar system.
However, an analysis of data from Voyager's plasma wave science instrument between April 9 and May 22 this year showed the spacecraft was in a region with an electron density of about 0.08 per cubic centimeter.
Astrophysicists have projected that the density of electrons in interstellar space would be between 0.05 and 0.22 per cubic centimeter, placing Voyager squarely in that range.
"This historic step is even more exciting because it marks the beginning of a new era of exploration for Voyager, the exploration of the space between the stars," said Stone.
While the Voyager team has reached a consensus, not all are convinced.
"I don't think it's a certainty Voyager is outside now," space physicist David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas told Science magazine.
"It may well have crossed," he said. "But without a magnetic field direction change, I don't know what to make of it."
The spacecraft is expected to keep cruising, though the radioisotope thermo-electric generators that power it are beginning to run down.
Voyager's instruments will have to shut down permanently in 2025, Science reported. However, experts say the spacecraft may keep traveling indefinitely.
NASA said the total cost of the twin Voyager missions has been $988 million dollars, including launch, mission operations and the spacecraft's nuclear batteries.
"Even though it took 36 years, it's just an amazing thing to me," said co-author Bill Kurth, of the University of Iowa.
"I think the Voyager mission is a much grander voyage of humankind than anyone had dreamed."
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft officially is the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space. The 36-year-old probe is about 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) from our sun.
New and unexpected data indicate Voyager 1 has been traveling for about one year through plasma, or ionized gas, present in the space between stars. Voyager is in a transitional region immediately outside the solar bubble, where some effects from our sun are still evident. A report on the analysis of this new data, an effort led by Don Gurnett and the plasma wave science team at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, is published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.
"Now that we have new, key data, we believe this is mankind's historic leap into interstellar space," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "The Voyager team needed time to analyze those observations and make sense of them. But we can now answer the question we've all been asking -- 'Are we there yet?' Yes, we are."
Voyager 1 first detected the increased pressure of interstellar space on the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles surrounding the sun that reaches far beyond the outer planets, in 2004. Scientists then ramped up their search for evidence of the spacecraft's interstellar arrival, knowing the data analysis and interpretation could take months or years.
Voyager 1 does not have a working plasma sensor, so scientists needed a different way to measure the spacecraft's plasma environment to make a definitive determination of its location. A coronal mass ejection, or a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields, that erupted from the sun in March 2012 provided scientists the data they needed. When this unexpected gift from the sun eventually arrived at Voyager 1's location 13 months later, in April 2013, the plasma around the spacecraft began to vibrate like a violin string. On April 9, Voyager 1's plasma wave instrument detected the movement. The pitch of the oscillations helped scientists determine the density of the plasma. The particular oscillations meant the spacecraft was bathed in plasma more than 40 times denser than what they had encountered in the outer layer of the heliosphere. Density of this sort is to be expected in interstellar space.
The plasma wave science team reviewed its data and found an earlier, fainter set of oscillations in October and November 2012. Through extrapolation of measured plasma densities from both events, the team determined Voyager 1 first entered interstellar space in August 2012.
"We literally jumped out of our seats when we saw these oscillations in our data -- they showed us the spacecraft was in an entirely new region, comparable to what was expected in interstellar space, and totally different than in the solar bubble," Gurnett said. "Clearly we had passed through the heliopause, which is the long-hypothesized boundary between the solar plasma and the interstellar plasma."
The new plasma data suggested a timeframe consistent with abrupt, durable changes in the density of energetic particles that were first detected on Aug. 25, 2012. The Voyager team generally accepts this date as the date of interstellar arrival. The charged particle and plasma changes were what would have been expected during a crossing of the heliopause.
 "The team’s hard work to build durable spacecraft and carefully manage the Voyager spacecraft's limited resources paid off in another first for NASA and humanity," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We expect the fields and particles science instruments on Voyager will continue to send back data through at least 2020. We can't wait to see what the Voyager instruments show us next about deep space."
Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, were launched 16 days apart in 1977. Both spacecraft flew by Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 also flew by Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2, launched before Voyager 1, is the longest continuously operated spacecraft. It is about 9.5 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) away from our sun.
Voyager mission controllers still talk to or receive data from Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 every day, though the emitted signals are currently very dim, at about 23 watts -- the power of a refrigerator light bulb. By the time the signals get to Earth, they are a fraction of a billion-billionth of a watt. Data from Voyager 1's instruments are transmitted to Earth typically at 160 bits per second, and captured by 34- and 70-meter NASA Deep Space Network stations. Traveling at the speed of light, a signal from Voyager 1 takes about 17 hours to travel to Earth. After the data are transmitted to JPL and processed by the science teams, Voyager data are made publicly available.
“Voyager has boldly gone where no probe has gone before, marking one of the most significant technological achievements in the annals of the history of science, and adding a new chapter in human scientific dreams and endeavors,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. “Perhaps some future deep space explorers will catch up with Voyager, our first interstellar envoy, and reflect on how this intrepid spacecraft helped enable their journey.”
Scientists do not know when Voyager 1 will reach the undisturbed part of interstellar space where there is no influence from our sun. They also are not certain when Voyager 2 is expected to cross into interstellar space, but they believe it is not very far behind.
JPL built and operates the twin Voyager spacecraft. The Voyagers Interstellar Mission is a part of NASA's Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA's Deep Space Network, managed by JPL, is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions.
The cost of the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 missions -- including launch, mission operations and the spacecraft’s nuclear batteries, which were provided by the Department of Energy -- is about $988 million through September.
Whether and when NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, humankind's most distant object, broke through to interstellar space, the space between stars, has been a thorny issue. For the last year, claims have surfaced every few months that Voyager 1 has "left our solar system." Why has the Voyager team held off from saying the craft reached interstellar space until now?
"We have been cautious because we're dealing with one of the most important milestones in the history of exploration,” said Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.  “Only now do we have the data -- and the analysis -- we needed."
Basically, the team needed more data on plasma, which is ionized gas, the densest and slowest moving of charged particles in space. (The glow of neon in a storefront sign is an example of plasma.) Plasma is the most important marker that distinguishes whether Voyager 1 is inside the solar bubble, known as the heliosphere, which is inflated by plasma that streams outward from our sun, or in interstellar space and surrounded by material ejected by the explosion of nearby giant stars millions of years ago. Adding to the challenge: they didn't know how they'd be able to detect it.
"We looked for the signs predicted by the models that use the best available data, but until now we had no measurements of the plasma from Voyager 1," said Stone.
Scientific debates can take years, even decades to settle, especially when more data are needed. It took decades, for instance, for scientists to understand the idea of plate tectonics, the theory that explains the shape of Earth's continents and the structure of its sea floors. First introduced in the 1910s, continental drift and related ideas were controversial for years. A mature theory of plate tectonics didn't emerge until the 1950s and 1960s. Only after scientists gathered data showing that sea floors slowly spread out from mid-ocean ridges did they finally start accepting the theory. Most active geophysicists accepted plate tectonics by the late 1960s, though some never did.
Voyager 1 is exploring an even more unfamiliar place than our Earth's sea floors -- a place more than 11 billion miles (17 billion kilometers) away from our sun. It has been sending back so much unexpected data that the science team has been grappling with the question of how to explain all the information. None of the handful of models the Voyager team uses as blueprints have accounted for the observations about the transition between our heliosphere and the interstellar medium in detail. The team has known it might take months, or longer, to understand the data fully and draw their conclusions.
"No one has been to interstellar space before, and it's like traveling with guidebooks that are incomplete," said Stone. "Still, uncertainty is part of exploration. We wouldn't go exploring if we knew exactly what we'd find."
The two Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977 and, between them, had visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune by 1989. Voyager 1's plasma instrument, which measures the density, temperature and speed of plasma, stopped working in 1980, right after its last planetary flyby. When Voyager 1 detected the pressure of interstellar space on our heliosphere in 2004, the science team didn't have the instrument that would provide the most direct measurements of plasma. Instead, they focused on the direction of the magnetic field as a proxy for source of the plasma. Since solar plasma carries the magnetic field lines emanating from the sun and interstellar plasma carries interstellar magnetic field lines, the directions of the solar and interstellar magnetic fields were expected to differ.
Most models told the Voyager science team to expect an abrupt change in the magnetic field direction as Voyager switched from the solar magnetic field lines inside our solar bubble to those in interstellar space. The models also said to expect the levels of charged particles originating from inside the heliosphere to drop and the levels of galactic cosmic rays, which originate outside the heliosphere, to jump.
In May 2012, the number of galactic cosmic rays made its first significant jump, while some of the inside particles made their first significant dip. The pace of change quickened dramatically on July 28, 2012. After five days, the intensities returned to what they had been.  This was the first taste of a new region, and at the time Voyager scientists thought the spacecraft might have briefly touched the edge of interstellar space.
By Aug. 25, when, as we now know, Voyager 1 entered this new region for good, all the lower-energy particles from inside zipped away. Some inside particles dropped by more than a factor of 1,000 compared to 2004. The levels of galactic cosmic rays jumped to the highest of the entire mission.  These would be the expected changes if Voyager 1 had crossed the heliopause, which is the boundary between the heliosphere and interstellar space. However, subsequent analysis of the magnetic field data revealed that even though the magnetic field strength jumped by 60 percent at the boundary, the direction changed less than 2 degrees. This suggested that Voyager 1 had not left the solar magnetic field and had only entered a new region, still inside our solar bubble, that had been depleted of inside particles.
Then, in April 2013, scientists got another piece of the puzzle by chance. For the first eight years of exploring the heliosheath, which is the outer layer of the heliosphere, Voyager's plasma wave instrument had heard nothing. But the plasma wave science team, led by Don Gurnett and Bill Kurth at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, had observed bursts of radio waves in 1983 to 1984 and again in 1992 to 1993. They deduced these bursts were produced by the interstellar plasma when a large outburst of solar material would plow into it and cause it to oscillate.  It took about 400 days for such solar outbursts to reach interstellar space, leading to an estimated distance of 117 to 177 AU (117 to 177 times the distance from the sun to the Earth) to the heliopause. They knew, though, that they would be able to observe plasma oscillations directly once Voyager 1 was surrounded by interstellar plasma.
Then on April 9, 2013, it happened: Voyager 1's plasma wave instrument picked up local plasma oscillations. Scientists think they probably stemmed from a burst of solar activity from a year before, a burst that has become known as the St. Patrick's Day Solar Storms. The oscillations increased in pitch through May 22 and indicated that Voyager was moving into an increasingly dense region of plasma. This plasma had the signatures of interstellar plasma, with a density more than 40 times that observed by Voyager 2 in the heliosheath.
Gurnett and Kurth began going through the recent data and found a fainter, lower-frequency set of oscillations from Oct. 23 to Nov. 27, 2012. When they extrapolated back, they deduced that Voyager had first encountered this dense interstellar plasma in August 2012, consistent with the sharp boundaries in the charged particle and magnetic field data on August 25.
Stone called three meetings of the Voyager team. They had to decide how to define the boundary between our solar bubble and interstellar space and how to interpret all the data Voyager 1 had been sending back. There was general agreement Voyager 1 was seeing interstellar plasma, based on the results from Gurnett and Kurth, but the sun still had influence. One persisting sign of solar influence, for example, was the detection of outside particles hitting Voyager from some directions more than others. In interstellar space, these particles would be expected to hit Voyager uniformly from all directions.
"Now that we had actual measurements of the plasma environment – by way of an unexpected outburst from the sun – we had to reconsider why there was still solar influence on the magnetic field and plasma in interstellar space," Stone said.
"The path to interstellar space has been a lot more complicated than we imagined."
Stone discussed with the Voyager science group whether they thought Voyager 1 had crossed the heliopause. What should they call the region were Voyager 1 is?
"In the end, there was general agreement that Voyager 1 was indeed outside in interstellar space," Stone said. "But that location comes with some disclaimers – we're in a mixed, transitional region of interstellar space. We don't know when we'll reach interstellar space free from the influence of our solar bubble."
So, would the team say Voyager 1 has left the solar system? Not exactly – and that's part of the confusion. Since the 1960s, most scientists have defined our solar system as going out to the Oort Cloud, where the comets that swing by our sun on long timescales originate. That area is where the gravity of other stars begins to dominate that of the sun. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 1 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly about 30,000 years to fly beyond it. Informally, of course, "solar system" typically means the planetary neighborhood around our sun. Because of this ambiguity, the Voyager team has lately favored talking about interstellar space, which is specifically the space between each star's realm of plasma influence.
"What we can say is Voyager 1 is bathed in matter from other stars," Stone said. "What we can't say is what exact discoveries await Voyager's continued journey. No one was able to predict all of the details that Voyager 1 has seen. So we expect more surprises."
Voyager 1, which is working with a finite power supply, has enough electrical power to keep operating the fields and particles science instruments through at least 2020, which will mark 43 years of continual operation. At that point, mission managers will have to start turning off these instruments one by one to conserve power, with the last one turning off around 2025.
Voyager 1 will continue sending engineering data for a few more years after the last science instrument is turned off, but after that it will be sailing on as a silent ambassador. In about 40,000 years, it will be closer to the star AC +79 3888 than our own sun. (AC +79 3888 is traveling toward us faster than we are traveling towards it, so while Alpha Centauri is the next closest star now, it won't be in 40,000 years.) And for the rest of time, Voyager 1 will continue orbiting around the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, with our sun but a tiny point of light among many.
Reaching interstellar space isn't the first time Voyager 1 has been among stars. The spacecraft transcended into both film and television. In the first "Star Trek" feature film, a V'Ger spacecraft is revealed to be Voyager 6, a fictional Earth space probe modeled after Voyager. In a "Saturday Night Live" segment, Steve Martin's character predicts that an upcoming cover of Time Magazine will show the words "Send More Chuck Berry," in reference to Voyager and its Golden Record.
In 1990, Voyager-1 looked back and took a picture of Earth - a "pale blue dot"
Quelle: NASA
Update: 13.09.2013
Voyager 1 im Februar  2013 von der Erde mit der NRAO VLBA und GBT Teleskopen erfasst.
Voyager 1 Spotted from Earth with NRAO's VLBA and GBT Telescopes
Earlier this year, the National Science Foundation's Very Long Baseline Array telescope turned its gaze to NASA's famed Voyager 1 and captured an image of this iconic spacecraft's faint radio signal. The Green Bank Telescope also detected Voyager's signal, picking it out from the background radio noise in less than one second.
Astronomers using the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and Green Bank Telescope (GBT) spotted the faint radio glow from NASA's famed Voyager 1 spacecraft -- the most distant man-made object.
According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the VLBA imaged the signal from Voyager 1's main transmitter after the spacecraft had already passed beyond the edge of the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles from the Sun that surrounds our Solar System.
Using NASA's Deep Space Network, JPL continually tracks Voyager and calculates its position on the sky, which is known as the ephemeris. Since the VLBA has the highest resolution, or ability to see fine detail, of any full-time astronomical instrument, NRAO astronomers believed they could locate Voyager's ephemeris position with unprecedented precision. This is unrelated to Voyager's distance from the Sun or position relative to the heliosphere.
The initial observations, which were made on February 21, placed Voyager very near, but not precisely at its predicted location. The difference was a few tenths of an arcsecond. An arcsecond is the apparent size of a penny as seen from 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) away. The second observations on June 1 produced similar results.
"It is possible that these observations are at the milliarcsecond [one-thousandth of an arcsecond] level, or better," said NRAO scientist Walter Brisken, who led the observations with the VLBA. At 11.5 billion miles -- Voyager's approximate distance at the time of the initial observations -- one milliarcsecond would be roughly 50 miles across.
Voyager's main transmitter shines at a feeble 22 watts, which is comparable to a car-mounted police radio or -- in visible light -- a refrigerator light bulb. Though incredibly weak by the standards of modern wireless communications, Voyager's signal is astoundingly bright when compared to most natural objects studied by radio telescopes.
"The ability to pinpoint the location of Voyager and other spacecraft is critical as we explore the inner Solar System and beyond," said Brisken. "The NRAO's VLBA has the capability to do this vital task with unprecedented precision."
Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977, is now headed away from the Sun at a speed of about 38,000 miles per hour.
In a remarkably sensitive complementary observation, the NRAO's Green Bank Telescope (GBT), which is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope, easily detected Voyager's signal, picking it out from the background radio noise in less than one second.
"Voyager is the first man-made object to penetrate the interstellar medium, and we really want to be able to receive the data from this new frontier," said NRAO scientist Toney Minter, who oversaw the Green Bank observations. "This information will provide many clues about how the interstellar medium behaves and how the Sun interacts with it."
"NRAO's instruments have the capability to provide the most accurate position information of distant spacecraft like Voyager," said NRAO Director Tony Beasley. "The remarkable sensitivity of GBT and VLBA's sharp vision are essential for discovery but also have unique capabilities that have enabled us to make this contact with one of humanity's most ambitious missions of exploration."
The VLBA is a system of radio antennas located across the United States from Hawaii to St. Croix. The antennas work together as a single telescope nearly 5,000 miles across, giving the VLBA its ability to see fine details. Only seven of the VLBA's full complement of 10 antennas were used to make these observations.
The 100-meter GBT is located in the National Radio Quiet Zone and the West Virginia Radio Astronomy Zone, which protect the incredibly sensitive telescope from unwanted radio interference. The GBT observations were made by NRAO scientists Toney Minter and Frank Ghigo, and Green Bank Director Karen O'Neil.
Caption 1: Artist's impression of Voyager 1's position on the sky when observed by the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) on February 21, 2013, at which point -- according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory -- Voyager was already outside of our Solar System. The actual image from the data (enlarged section) is 0.5 arcseconds across. The radio signal as shown is a mere 1 milliarcsecond across.
Image Caption 2: NRAO's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) telescope catches a glimpse of the signal from Voyager 1's transmitter as seen from more than 11 billion miles away. The slightly oblong shape of the image is a result of the VLBA antenna configuration.
Image Caption 3: Astronomers using the NRAO's Green Bank Telescope (GBT) detected Voyager 1's signal. The signal has a specific polarization, or radio-wave orientation, that helped confirm its identity.
Quelle: NRAO



This animation combines two ways of displaying the Voyager Plasma Wave Science (PWS) observations of electron plasma oscillations which provide the basis for concluding that the spacecraft is now in interstellar space. The graphic is called a spectrogram that shows the amplitude of waves (in which reds are the most intense and blues the least intense) as a function of frequency (vertical axis) and time (horizontal axis). In many respects, this spectrogram is like a voice print which shows the evolution of the spectrum of sounds as a function of time. The sound track reproduces the amplitude and frequency of the plasma waves observed. The vertical white bar that moves across the spectrogram links the sound track to the graphic.
The frequency range shown from about 1.75 kiloHertz to 3.5 kiloHertz is a portion of the actual frequency range detected by PWS and is well within the audio frequency range. Importantly, the frequency is directly related to the number of electrons per unit volume in the vicinity of Voyager and corresponds to about 1 electron per 10 cubic centimeters or a cube about 1 inch on a side. The time scale for this presentation represents 225 days or a bit more than 7 months, while it only takes about 12 seconds to play the audio file. Hence, the time compression is about 1.6 million to one. It should be noted that this compression was done in such a way as to not change the frequencies.
In this animation, there are two events of interest. In the October-November 2012 time frame there is a tone near 2.1 kHz which gradually increases in frequency. Again, in the April-May 2013 time frame there is another event, somewhat more intense and at a higher frequency near 2.6 kHz. We conclude that these two events indicate an ongoing trend to higher frequencies. The second graphic frame which appears in the animation includes a dashed line showing this increase in frequency and suggests that the density of electrons is continually increasing over this time interval as Voyager moves outwards from the heliopause (which was crossed on 25 August 2012).
Quelle: University of Iowa
Update: 14.09.2013

In Situ Observations of Interstellar Plasma With Voyager 1

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.



Update: 6.10.2013


Voyager's view

Spacecraft’s journey to interstellar space helps put the solar system in perspective
It’s finally official: Voyager 1 has become the first human-made object to enter interstellar space, mission scientists report September 12 in Science. On August 25, 2012, the scientists say, Voyager 1 exited a giant invisible bubble called the heliosphere that is inflated by a torrent of subatomic particles spewing from the sun. Now the probe is surrounded almost exclusively by particles produced by other stars. But whether it’s correct to say that the probe has left the solar system depends on how you define the solar system. “From my perspective, Voyager is nowhere near the edge of the solar system,” says planetary scientist Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. The sun continues to exert gravitational dominance out to hundreds of times the distance of Voyager 1 from the sun, where trillions of icy pebbles, boulders and comets orbit. In the last 36 years, Voyager has traveled an impressive 25.4 billion kilometers, but it still has a long way to go to unambiguously depart the solar system.
Distance from the sun: 5,000–100,000 AU

The sun, planets and Voyager probes sit inside the tiny yellow dot at right, within a giant sphere called the Oort cloud. This reservoir of trillions of ice chunks extends 100,000 astronomical units out, tethered to the sun by gravity. Astronomers believe these objects got thrown out of the inner solar system as the planets took shape 4.5 billion years ago. Occasionally these castaways pass near Earth: The comet ISON, which may light up the night sky this November, started out in the Oort cloud. The Voyagers would have to travel another 30,000 years before clearing this broadest definition of the solar system.

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.

Quelle: ScienceNews

Tags: Voyager-1 


Samstag, 5. Oktober 2013 - 22:23 Uhr

Astronomie - Über den Wolken, unter den Sternen: Pic du Midi Observatorium


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



Tags: Pic du Midi Observatorium 


Samstag, 5. Oktober 2013 - 22:00 Uhr

Raumfahrt - NBC Teams mit Virgin Galactic wollen 'Space Race' Reality-TV- Show im nächsten Jahr



NBC teams up with Virgin Galactic for 'Space Race' reality TV show

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.

Long-held ambitions
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.

Quelle: NBC


Update: 5.10.2013


Ultimate prize on new TV show 'Space Race': Virgin Galactic ticket

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


Samstag, 5. Oktober 2013 - 16:17 Uhr

Astronomie - Orion-Nebel im Focus von XMM-Newton.


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)



Samstag, 5. Oktober 2013 - 15:00 Uhr

Astronomie - AURORA - Wenn der Himmel brennt


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





Samstag, 5. Oktober 2013 - 12:30 Uhr

UFO-Forschung - Russland Verteidigung ist nicht darauf vorbereitet mit einer Alien-Invasion umzugehen



Russia Unprepared to Deal With Space Alien Invasion – Official


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)


Freitag, 4. Oktober 2013 - 15:30 Uhr

Raumfahrt - China startet neue Kuaizhou Träger-Rakete mit Kuaizhou I-Satelliten


Kuaizhou – China secretly launches new quick response rocket


China launched a brand new rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 04:37 UTC on Wednesday. The Kuaizhou “quick-vessel” is an all solid launch rocket that had been the subject of rumors for the past few months. However, an obscure NOTAM (Notice To Airman) was followed by a launch confirmation via a short announcement by the Chinese media.
New Chinese Rocket:
Very little is known about the Kuaizhou rocket, other than it was developed by CASIC.  No photos or graphics exist in the public domain.
It is also known the rocket – likely on its test flight – was carrying a satellite, called Kuaizhou-1.
Built by the Harbin Institute of Technology, the new satellite will be used for emergency data monitoring and imaging, under the control of the national remote sensing center at the national Academy of Sciences.
The new satellite is probably part of a “quick response satellite system” model that was already announced as in the works by the Chinese.
Notably, the Chinese appear to be making a statement to the international community, as the launch took place in the backdrop of the 64th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which is being held in Beijing.
The Chinese Society of Astronautics is hosting this year’s IAC – with the Congress taking place between the 23 and 27 of September. The theme is “Promoting Space Development for the Benefit of Mankind.”
More than 3000 attendees – along with most of China’s top space flight players, IAC 2013 promises a rare insight into China’s space ambitions – all while managing to launch a new rocket without any advanced notice to the media.
The Launch Site:
The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Ejin-Banner – a county in Alashan League of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region – was the first Chinese satellite launch center and is also known as the Shuang Cheng Tze launch center.
The site includes a Technical Centre, two Launch Complexes, Mission Command and Control Centre, Launch Control Centre, propellant fuelling systems, tracking and communication systems, gas supply systems, weather forecast systems, and logistic support systems.
Jiuquan was originally used to launch and recover scientific satellites into medium or low earth orbits at high inclinations. It is also the place from where all the Chinese manned missions are launched.
Presently, only the LC-43 launch complex, also known by South Launch Site (SLS) is in use.
This launch complex is equipped with two launch pads: 921 and 603. Launch pad 921 is used for the manned program for the launch of the Chang Zheng-2F launch vehicle (Shenzhou and Tiangong). The 603 launch pad is used for unmanned orbital launches by the Chang Zheng-2C, Chang Zheng-2D and Chang Zheng-2C launch vehicles.
The first orbital launch took place on April 24, 1970 when the CZ-1 Chang Zheng-1 (CZ1-1) rocket launched the first Chinese satellite, the Dongfanghong-1 (04382 1970-034A).
Quelle: NSC
China launches satellite to monitor natural disaster
JIUQUAN, Sept. 25 -- A satellite for natural disaster monitoring was successfully launched into orbit at 12:37 p.m. Wednesday, China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has announced.
The satellite Kuaizhou I, or speedy vessel I, will be used to monitor natural disasters and provide disaster-relief information for its user, the National Remote Sensing Center of China, a public institution under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The satellite was carried by a small launch vehicle bearing the same name as the vessel Kuaizhou.
Quelle: Xinhua
Update: 28.09.2013

“Kuaizhou” Challenges U.S. Perceptions of Chinese Military Space Strategy


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

Tags: satellite Kuaizhou I 


Freitag, 4. Oktober 2013 - 12:15 Uhr

Raumfahrt - Bekanntgabe der ESA Blue Dot Mission auf ISS 2014



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

  • The International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI)
  • The German Geophysical Society (DGG)
  • The European Geosciences Union (EGU)
  • The European Volcanological Society (SVE)
  • The American Geophysical Union (AGU)


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.


Quelle: ESA


Update: 4.10.2013


Blue Dot Worker: Germany's Third ISS Crewman Prepares for May 2014 Launch

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 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”.


Alexander Gerst (in blue shirt) and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman (in yellow shirt) are pictured during a training session for their Expedition 40/41 mission. Photo Credit: ESA

Quelle: AS

Tags: ISS-Crew 39/40 ESA Blue Dot Mission ISS-Crew 40/41 


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