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Watch Mercury come out of the shadows as the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo spacecraft flew by the planet’s nightside on June 19, 2023, and enjoy a special flyover of geologically rich scenery and a bonus 3D scene.

In the first part of the movie, which is made up of 217 pictures taken by BepiColombo Spacecraft’s monitoring camera M-CAM 3, the lit side of the planet quickly appears in the spacecraft’s field of view, showing a lot of interesting geological features. From far away, the Terminator, which is the line between day and night, stands out more. This makes the picture series even more beautiful. Mercury seems to hang between the spacecraft’s body and antenna for a moment before the spacecraft speeds away.

BepiColombo’s Journey

The picture sequence begins at 19:46:25 UTC on June 19, 2023, when BepiColombo Spacecraft was 1,789 km above the surface of the planet. It ends at 20:34:25 UTC on June 20, 2023, when BepiColombo was 331 755 km away. Around the closest approach, images were taken about once every minute. In later stages, this rate slowed down a lot.

BepiColombo Spacecraft and Mercury’s Beauty

In the second part of the BepiColombo Spacecraft movie, there is a view of an interesting area with the 600 km-long curved cliff called Beagle Rupes and the 218 km-wide Manley Crater, which was named for the Jamaican artist Edna Manley by the International Astronomical Union. Beagle Rupes goes through Sveinsdóttir, which is a long impact hole.

BepiColombo Spacecraft’s Closest Approach

The flight starts with a vertical view down, with east at the top of the screen. The view then moves down and BepiColombo Spacecraft focus on Beagle Rupes and Sveinsdóttir Crater. The view then moves from east to south by turning around. It then moves south to put Manley Crater in the middle, with the straight scarp called Challenger Rupes to its left, and then turns the view so that north is at the top again. At the end, the animated terrain goes away and the projected picture used for 3D reconstruction shows. For BepiColombo’s main science goal, which is to learn more about Mercury’s natural past, places like these will be very important.

Shape From Shading Method

Using a method called “shape from shading,” the scene has been put back together. Galileo Galilei noticed more than 400 years ago that parts of the Moon’s surface that tilt away from the Sun look darker, while those that tilt toward the Sun look brighter. The method for getting shape from coloring is based on this fact. It uses how bright the pictures of Mercury taken by BepiColombo Spaccraft are to figure out how steep the surface is. With the surface slope, you can make geographic maps. This particular flight view is based on a picture from BepiColombo and a rougher digital elevation model from NASA’s Messenger. Shape from shading uses the picture to improve the original terrain, find small geological features, and suggest more accurate slopes. The heights can’t be reached.

BepiColombo Spacecraft and Music by Mima Group

Music and AI: IL wrote the music for the sequence with the help of AI tools made by the University of Sheffield’s Machine Intelligence for Musical Audio (MIMA) group. The creative director of Maison Mercury Jones, IL (formerly known as Anil Sebastian), and Ingmar Kamalagharan gave the AI tool music from the first two flyby movies as seeds for the new composition, the BepiColombo Spacecraft. IL then chose one of the seeds to edit and combine with other parts to make the BepiColombo third Mercury Flyby. The team at the University of Sheffield has made an Artificial Musical Intelligence (AMI), which is a large-scale general-purpose deep neural network that can be customized for each artist and use case.

BepiColombo_s_Mercury

The goal of the project with the University of Sheffield is to find out where the ethics of AI creation end and to highlight how important the (human) artist is.

BepiColombo Spacecraft’s Reconstruction of Mercury

In this picture of BepiColombo spacecraft, part of the area shown in the flyover scene has also been rebuilt as a 3D anaglyph. To get the most out of this view, wear red-green-blue glasses. The picture was taken from a distance of about 2,982 km, 17 minutes after closest approach. It shows an area of about 1,325.5 km x 642 km. Using the “shape from shading” method, the land at this spot has also been rebuilt. The geography is used to make anaglyphs that show what the land looks like. The heights are changed by a factor of 12.5 so that they look best on a computer or phone screen.

If you are wondering is there any need of space agriculture, then your concern is right. Astronauts, and employees who work in space can’t simply make a quick visit to the grocery store, if they need any good range of healthy meal choices. That is why there is a need to have the farming concept in space too.

 And this is done to have a fresh, and healthy diet during long space missions. Astronauts must have nutrient-packed food available. Till today, they bring the majority of their needed food from Earth. And as its very common that space missions got prolonged. That is why it has become important for the researchers to cultivate plants. This cultivation will serve to enhance their diet and provides a good atmosphere like home to them too.

Today, we will highlight some of the major projects by NASA & ESA when it comes to the space agriculture research.

What Backgrounded Study has been Provided by SpaceX?

As SpaceX’s 25th cargo resupply mission for NASA (SpX-25) is all ready towards the International Space Station. It will be transporting an important space agricultural and its biology study. Furthermore, this investigation also holds the potential to revolutionize the methods that we use to cultivate and sustain crops. That is why both in the space environment and on our home planet Earth will have a better point of view about agriculture.

How SpaceX has Conduct a Study on Space Agriculture?

This experiment is known as Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space” (DynaMoS). And it centers around the investigation of small organisms that we don’t know. Moreover, the initial indications of life on Earth trace back more than three billion years.

These microorganisms that is also known as microbe. They will eventually paved the way for all the life forms thriving on our planet today. With the passage of time, these microbes have evolved to effectively to the  available resources. And soil stands out as one of the most common, and opted ecosystems that has diverse microbial communities.

Microbes that stays in the soil plays a crucial role in the carbon cycle. And that is why the circulation of other essential nutrients, which in turn supports the growth of plants. Which is an important factor for the quality sustain of all life.

The DynaMoS project has a aim to dissect the impact of microgravity in space agriculture. And other variables on the metabolic plays important role among communities of soil microorganisms. This study will particularly highlight the soil microorganism groups which is known as  chitin. It is basically a carbon polymer that ranks as the second most prevalent on our planet.

Results from the Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space (DynaMoS) investigation will compare soil samples full of microbes flown aboard the International Space Station and ground control samples at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

How Space Agriculture Pave a Way in Science Inventions & Discoveries?

As we all know that consistent efforts plays an important role in the plant growth. And they holds a good significant in space exploration. This is why paving into the microorganism communities that are found within soil takes on fundamental role in our many space explorations.

What is BPS & How it Contributes to Space Agriculture?

NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division takes the lead in driving scientific revelations. And it further facilitates the science exploration. They do it by harnessing space environments for conducting studies that is not possible on Earth.

We all know that investigating biological and physical phenomena within extreme conditions provides researchers with so much knowledge.  With the means to push forward the important scientific insights necessary for extending our reach and duration in space missions.  Aside from this, the future space agriculture’s research yield valuable insights that have practical applications here on Earth.

Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space
Four bags containing 13 tubes each, like this one filled with soil, will fly to the International Space Station as part of the Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space (DynaMoS) investigation.

Important Words by a Scientist of BPS (Biological and Physical Sciences)

Dr. Mamta Patel Nagaraja. Who is a deputy program scientist for space biology for NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences (BPS) division. He said:

“Farmers on Earth face challenges with weather changes, balancing carbon levels in soil, and other unpredictable forces, but growing crops in space is a whole different playing field.

One factor that is key is understanding how soil microbes perform and function in microgravity since they heavily affect the carbon and nutrient levels. Understanding the behavior of these microbes in spaceflight has the potential to improve agricultural production for long duration space travel. Which includes to other planets, and of course, farming right here on Earth.”

What is APH & How it Contributes to Space Agriculture?

The Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) also serves as a growth chamber into the station which helps in the plant research. This system has LED lights and a micro clay substrate. That is couple with control release fertilizer. It effectively provide water, nutrients, and oxygen to the plant roots.

However, what sets APH apart is its enclosed and automated design. Which is equipped with cameras and over 180 sensors. They maintain constant communication with a ground-based team stationed at Kennedy.

Space Agriculture
John “JC” Carver, a payload integration engineer with Kennedy’s Test and Operations Support Contract, opens the door to the growth chamber of the Advanced Plant Habitat Flight Unit No. 1 for a test harvest of half of the Arabidopsis thaliana plants growing within.
Credits: NASA/Leif Heimbold

Furthermore, it demands less day-to-day attention from the crew. Automation handles aspects such as water recovery and distribution, atmospheric composition, moisture levels, and temperature regulation. APH features an expanded palette of LED light colors compared to Veggie, including red, green, blue, white, far red, and even infrared. Which further benefits the nighttime imaging capabilities.

What is BRIC LED Lights?

The Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) serves as a facility that help out in investigating the impact of space conditions on tiny organisms. Which can be cultivate in petri dishes. These organisms encompass entities like yeast and microbes. The latest iteration, known as BRIC-LED, has introduced light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to cater to biological specimens such as plants, mosses, algae, and cyanobacteria that rely on light to produce their sustenance.

Currently, BRIC-LED is undergoing tests to validate its hardware. Scientists are diligently ensuring that the LEDs remain within suitable temperature ranges for the plants while also conducting various system checks. In the near future, researchers like Dr. Simon Gilroy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison will utilize this facility to carry out their studies.

When did NASA start growing plants in space?

The timeline of these space-based projects of space agriculture is as follows:

  • Advanced Plant Habitat. It commenced its journey aboard the ISS in April 2017.
  • Bion Satellites. That stary back in 1973.
  • Biomass Production System. Which embarked on its mission in April 2002 aboard the ISS.
  • Vegetable Production System (Veggie). And it took off in May 2014, finding its place aboard the ISS.

How does NASA help agriculture?

NASA Acres collaborates with various stakeholders within the agricultural domain to create data and tools derived from Earth observatories. These resources are aims at enhancing production levels. While protecting the land, water, the atmosphere, and human well-being.

What food did NASA grow in space?

NASA has achieved successful cultivation of plants. That includes lettuce and radishes, and has examined their reactions to the space environment in space agriculture research. This has a comprehensive analysis ranging from gene expression to even assessing the spiciness of the plants. NASA’s Plant Habitat-04 experiment further builds upon prior endeavors, extending to the growth of peppers within the confines of the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH).

Farming Projects by NASA
The first growth test of crops in the Advanced Plant Habitat aboard the International Space Station yielded great results. Arabidopsis seeds – small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard – grew for about six weeks, and dwarf wheat for five weeks.
Credits: NASA

What is the NASA Veggie program?

The Vegetable Production System (Veggie) stands as a plant growth setup developed and employed by NASA within the context of outer space conditions. Veggie holds a dual purpose: to furnish astronauts with a self-sustaining and lasting food source, while also offering a platform for leisure and relaxation through therapeutic gardening activities.

Space Agriculture
Zinnia plants from the Veggie ground control system are being harvested in the Flight Equipment Development Laboratory in the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy. A similar zinnia harvest was conducted by astronaut Scott Kelly on the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/Bill White

What is the Role of ESA in Space Agriculture?

On January 25, 2023, the European Space Agency (ESA) has a collaboration with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE). They held an event that united the research of space agriculture in space exploration and agri-food sectors. The goal was to collaboratively address common challenges and lay out a shared trajectory for progress.

BepiColombo Project

The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo project has made the third of six flybys of Mercury to help it reach orbit around the planet in 2025. During this flyby, it took pictures of a newly named impact crater and tectonic and volcanic features.

The closest approach happened at 19:34 UTC (21:34 CEST) on June 19, 2023, on the planet’s night side, about 236 km above the surface.

“The flyby went very well, and images from the monitoring cameras taken during the close approach phase of the flyby have been sent to Earth,” says Ignacio Clerigo, who is in charge of the BepiColombo spacecraft’s operations for ESA.

“The next Mercury pass won’t happen until September 2024, but problems will still be solved before then. Our next long solar electric propulsion “thruster arc” is set to begin in early August and last until mid-September. Together with the flybys, the rocket arcs are a key part of helping BepiColombo slow down against the strong pull of the Sun’s gravity before it can enter orbit around Mercury.

Geological curiosities

Monitoring camera 3 took dozens of pictures of the hard planet during last night’s close pass. The black-and-white pictures with a size of 1024 x 1024 pixels were downloaded overnight and early this morning. Here are three photos that were released early.

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As BepiColombo got closer to the planet on its night side, a few features started coming out of the shadows about 12 minutes after the closest approach, about 1800 km from the surface. From about 20 minutes after the closest approach and on, when the spacecraft was about 3500 km away, and further, the planet’s surface was better lit for taking pictures. Many natural features, including a newly named crater, can be seen in these close-up pictures.

Edna Manley in BepiColombo

Artist Edna Manley’s name is on a crater. The International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has just named a 218 km-wide peak-ring impact crater “Manley” after Jamaican artist Edna Manley (1900–1987). The crater can be seen just below and to the right of the antenna in the two closest images.

“When we were planning the images for the flyby, we knew this big crater would be visible, but it didn’t have a name yet,” says David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University in the UK and a part of the BepiColombo MCAM imaging team. “It is clear that BepiColombo scientists will be interested in it in the future because it has dug up dark “low reflectivity material” that may be left over from Mercury’s early carbon-rich crust. Also, the pond floor inside has been filled with smooth lava, which shows that Mercury has been volcanically active for a long time.

Even though it needs to be clarified from these flyby pictures, BepiColombo will learn more about what makes the dark stuff around Manley Crater and elsewhere. To learn more about Mercury’s natural past, it will try to figure out how much carbon it has and what minerals are near it.

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Snaking scarps

In the two closest pictures, near the planet’s terminator and to the right of the spacecraft’s antenna, you can see one of the planet’s most impressive geological push systems. The Beagle Rupes cliff is an example of one of Mercury’s many lobate scarps, which are tectonic features that probably formed when the planet cooled and contracted, making its surface twisted like an apple left out in the Sun too long.

In January 2008, when the NASA Messenger mission flew by the planet for the first time, it was the first time anyone saw Beagle Rupes. It is about 600 km long and goes through a crater called Sveinsdóttir, which is long and narrow.

Beagle Rupes is on the edge of a piece of Mercury’s crust that has been pushed at least 2 km to the west. Each end of the scarp curves back more than most other scarps on Mercury.

Also, many nearby impact basins have been filled by volcano lava, which makes this an interesting area for BepiColombo to study again.

The complex landscape is shown well by how the shadows are stronger near the line between day and night. This gives a sense of the heights and depths of the different features.

The BepiColombo image team members are already having a lively discussion about how volcanism and tectonics affect this area.

Valentina Galluzzi of Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) says, “This is a great place to study Mercury’s tectonic history.” “The way these escarpments interact with each other shows that as the planet cooled and shrunk, it caused the surface crust to slip and slide, making several strange features that we will study more closely once we are in orbit.”

BepiColombo Farewell ‘Hugs’

As BepiColombo moved away from the planet, it looked like it fit between the spacecraft’s antenna and body, as seen in these pictures. As BepiColombo moved away from Mercury, it also took a series of “goodbye Mercury” pictures, which will be sent to Earth tonight.

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In addition to taking pictures, some scientific instruments were turned on and used during the flyby. These instruments measured the magnetic, plasma, and particle environments around the ship from places that aren’t usually reachable during an orbital journey.

“Mercury’s heavily cratered surface shows that asteroids and comets have hit it for 4.6 billion years,” says ESA research fellow and planetary scientist Jack Wright, also a BepiColombo MCAM imaging team member. “This, along with the planet’s unique tectonic and volcanic features, will help scientists figure out where the planet fits in the history of the Solar System.”

“The pictures taken during this pass, which were the best MCAM has ever taken, set the stage for BepiColombo’s next exciting mission. With the full suite of scientific tools, we will study everything about Mercury, from its core to its surface processes, magnetic field, and exosphere, to learn more about how a planet close to its parent star came to be and how it changed over time.

BepiColombo Passing Mercury

The next time BepiColombo will pass by Mercury will be September 5, 2024, but the teams have plenty to do until then. Soon, the mission will enter a very difficult part of its journey. To keep stopping against the Sun’s huge gravity pull, solar electric propulsion will gradually increase through extra propulsion times called “thrust arcs.” These thrust arcs can last anywhere from a few days to two months. The longer arcs are broken up occasionally to improve guidance and maneuvering.

Beginning of Next Story Arc

The next story arc will begin at the beginning of August and go on for about six weeks.

Santa Martinez Sanmartin, the mission manager for ESA’s BepiColombo, says, “We are already working hard to get ready for this long thruster arc. We are increasing communications and commanding opportunities between the spacecraft and ground stations to make sure that thruster outages don’t happen too often during each sequence.”

“This will become more important as we move into the final stage of the cruise phase because the frequency and length of the thrust arcs will increase significantly. By 2025, they will be happening almost constantly, and it will be very important to stay on course as well as possible.”

BepiColombo Using Solar Power

Throughout its lifetime, BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module will use solar electric power for over 15,000 hours. This and the spacecraft’s nine flybys of planets (one at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury) will get it into orbit around Mercury. The modules of the ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will go into different orbits around the planet that complement each other. Their major research mission will start in early 2026.

Roscosmos Spacewalk

Mark your calendars for Thursday, June 22, as NASA gears up to provide an exciting live broadcast of a spacewalk performed by two Roscosmos cosmonauts outside the International Space Station. In order to move stuff from the Rassvet segment to the new Nauka multifunctional research module, two Roscosmos cosmonauts will perform an array of spacewalks exterior to the International Space Station in the months of April and May. NASA will broadcast the space missions live.

NASA Broadcasting Roscosmos Live

Beginning at 9:45 a.m. EDT, you can tune in to NASA TV, the NASA app, or the agency’s website to catch all the action. The highly anticipated spacewalk of Roscosmos is slated to commence around 10:20 a.m. and is anticipated to extend for up to seven hours.

The orbital station has been dedicated to a continual American human population since the establishment of NASA, which has helped humanity learn how to survive and thrive in space for lengthy intervals of time. The space station will serve as a launching pad for NASA’s upcoming major exploration initiatives, such as the Artemis lunar expeditions and, eventually, manned missions to Mars.

Astronauts in Roscosmos Spacewalks

The skilled duo undertaking this mission of Roscosmos are Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, integral members of Expedition 69. Venturing through the Poisk airlock, their objectives include retrieving essential experimental items and setting up vital contact equipment.

Sergey Prokopyev, a seasoned veteran, boasts an impressive track record of six previous spacewalks. He will be easily identifiable by his red-striped Orlan spacesuit. Dmitri Petelin, on the other hand, has successfully executed four spacewalks and will don the blue-striped spacesuit for this excursion. Attend this incredible event as these daring cosmonauts embark on their extravehicular journey to enhance the International Space Station and secure the necessary tools for ongoing operations.

Roscosmos and International Space Station

Among the key collaborators on the International Space Station (ISS) is Roscosmos. Within the ISS, there is constantly a minimum of one Russian cosmonaut. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft served as the sole path for astronauts to reach the International Space Station (ISS) between the termination of the American space travel mission in 2010 and the start of spaceflights with the Dragon capsules in 2020. At the conclusion of 2024, Roskosmos said it would stop working on the ISS mission and start building an independent orbital space station.

Roscosmos Extension in Space Lab

But later, Roscosmos declared that Russia will continue its involvement in the International Space Station as long as 2028, contradicting Yuri Borisov’s declaration from a year ago that Russia intended to withdraw from the space lab after 2024 and concentrate on developing its own orbiting outpost.

Director-General of Roscosmos Yuri Borisov claims that Russia is entering into satellites launching agreements with states in Africa, Europe, and Asia in order to promote the expansion of its aerospace sector and take all of the benefits of the aerospace sector for social and economic growth.

Roscosmos and NASA’s Deal

Russian cosmonauts will be permitted to fly on American-built spacecraft as a substitute for American astronauts being permitted to travel on Russia’s Soyuz. All this happened owing to a long-sought deal between NASA and Roscosmos regarding integrating missions to the International Space Station.

According to a declaration from Roscosmos, “the accord aligns with furtherance of the goals of Russia as well as the United States of America and will encourage the establishment of collaborative efforts under the confines of the ISS programme.” It will also make it easier to “explore the outer universe for constructive purposes,” the agency added.

 

Proba-3 is made up of two satellites that launched together into orbit for a single mission.

What will Proba-3 Flyers Observe?

The pair will fly in precise formation relative to one another to cast a sustained shadow. This shadow will be from the disk-faced ‘Occulter spacecraft to the ‘Coronagraph spacecraft.

Due to this, it will be possible to take the observation of the inner layers of the Sun’s faint corona, or atmosphere. These are normally concealed by the brilliance of the solar disc.

Completion & Testing Details of Proba-3 Flyers 

In the spring, we completed the satellites and subsequently shipped them to IABG for testing. IABG one of a trio of European satellite test centers, possesses facilities capable of simulating every aspect of the space environment.

Proba-3 satellites
Stacked Proba-3 satellites

Alexandru Vargalui, Proba-3 structural engineer at ESA explained:

“To ensure the pair’s ability to endure launch stresses,we placed the Coronagraph spacecraft on top of the Occulter spacecraft and subjected the combined stack to ‘sine’ testing. During this testing, we placed them on a shaker table and gradually increased the frequency of vibrations to identify any resonant frequencies that could potentially cause damage.”

He added;

“Next came acoustic testing, where the spacecraft stack is blasted with noise levels representative of a launcher take-off.”

artificial eclipse
Proba-3 satellites form artificial eclipse

Deployment Mechanism Testing on Proba-3 Flyers 

After establishing the fitness of Proba-3, the next step involved conducting testing of the deployment mechanisms. The testing will involve trying out the systems that will separate the pair from their upper stage and each other. Additionally, the crucial arrangement of the solar drive mechanisms, which will turn their solar panels towards the Sun to allow them to charge up in orbit, will also be performed.

The next test stage will be unique to this mission, explains Damien Galano, Proba-3 project manager:

“For the Proba-3 pair to maintain their positions relative to each other down to millimeter-level precision, they employ a range of guidance, navigation, and control systems. We are taking advantage of the large space available at IABG to test Proba-3’s vision-based sensor system. This combines cameras on the Occulter spacecraft with bright LEDs on the Coronagraph spacecraft. That in turn allows them to find each other and estimate their distance apart.”

Proba-3
Preparing for acoustic testing

Furthermore, he said:

“The system designed to operate across up to 250 m between the two satellites requires a wide space for testing – so we’ve previously made use of the main corridor of ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands.”

Proba-3
Proba-3’s pair of satellites

Thermal Vacuum Testing of Proba-3

Following that test, Proba-3 will undergo more traditional ‘thermal vacuum’ testing. It involves the satellites operations occurring in a space-quality vacuum for a sustained period.

While also being exposed to orbital-style temperature extremes.

Space is a place where it is possible to be hot and cold at the same time. It happens when parts of your structure are illuminated by sunlight while others are in shadow.

Proba-3

When will Proba-3 will be Flown?

Once the environmental campaign is complete, the satellite pair will return to Belgium for functional verification.

Proba-3 will be flown by a PSLV launcher from India next year.

Proba 3 flyers
Proba-3 fact sheet

News:


The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission project is preparing for its next close flyby of Mercury on June 19. It will be about 236 km above the planet’s surface at that time.

Solar Electric Operations for BepiColombo Third’s FlyBy 

This is the third of six flybys that ESA’s spacecraft control team is leading BepiColombo mission through at Mercury to help it get used to the planet’s gravity.

The flybys and more than 15,000 hours of complicated solar electric propulsion operations are needed to support the spaceship’s fight against the vast gravitational pull of our Sun.

So, that it can lose enough energy to be pulled into Mercury’s orbit in 2025.

When will BepiColombo Mission Pass Through the Mercury?

On Monday, the pass will be at its closest at 19:34 UTC (21:34 CEST). BepiColombo mission will approach Mercury from the night side.

So, the spacecraft’s cameras will capture the most exciting views of the planet’s surface about 13 minutes later. On June 20, the first pictures are likely to be made public.

BepiColombo_s_third_Mecury_flyby

Mercury’s Gravity for Passing of BepiColombo

The main reason for the pass is to use Mercury’s gravity to guide BepiColombo mission through the inner Solar System.

It will also allow scientists to take pictures and fine-tune how their instruments work before the primary mission starts.

BepiColombo Mission Used Nine Flybys

The mission was sent into space in October 2018 by an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou.

The mission uses nine flybys of planets to get into orbit around Mercury: one at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury.

BepiColombo timeline

What are Thrust Arcs While Passing by Mercury?

After this flyby, the mission will start a challenging part of its trip to Mercury. It will have to use more solar electric power, called “thrust arcs,” to keep stopping against the Sun’s massive gravitational pull.

These thrust arcs can last anywhere from a few days to two months. The longer arcs are broken up occasionally to improve guidance and maneuvering.

Lets’ Dive into the Background Information of the Operations on Mercury 

Mercury is the least-explored complex planet in the Solar System, and getting there is one of the main reasons why. As BepiColombo mission gets closer to the Sun, the Sun’s intense gravity pulls the spaceship toward it faster and faster.

Gravity-assisted flybys are an excellent way to change direction with little fuel use, but they are challenging.

Flight controllers are ready to guide BepiColombo mission to pass Mercury at the proper distance, speed, and angle.

All of this was figured out years ago, but on the day of the event, it has to be as close to perfect as possible.

Frank Budnik, an ESA expert on flight dynamics, said:

When BepiColombo starts to feel the pull of Mercury’s gravity, it will be moving at a speed of 3.6 km/s relative to the planet. “That’s just over half the speed at which it came close to Mercury during the last two flybys,”

 

“This is precisely what these kinds of events are for. Our spaceship started with much more energy than it needed because it took off from Earth and circled the Sun like Earth. We’re using the gravity of Earth, Venus, and Mercury to slow down so Mercury can catch us.”

Fixing of Some Operations in BepiColombo’s Orbit

On May 19, teams at mission control did the mission’s most significant chemical propulsion maneuver.

The goal was to fix the mistakes in BepiColombo’s mission’s orbit that had been made when its thrusters stopped working during the slow electric propulsion arc that happened a month and a half before.

Standard operations include correction maneuvers on the way to a pass. This one is necessary for BepiColombo to be 24,000 km away from Mercury and on the wrong side of the planet.

Keen Observations to Pass the Track of BepiColombo Mission

To be safe and ensure the mission wouldn’t end up on a crash course with Mercury, the latest maneuver was made so that BepiColombo would pass the brutal planet at a slightly higher altitude than needed.

The extra cushion was a good bet, and it made up for the mistakes as the spaceship traveled over millions of kilometers. One week before the flyby. It is now thought that BepiColombo will pass over the planet’s surface at a height of 236 km (+/- 5 km).

Dependence of Mercury’s Gravity for BepiColombo’s Mission Speed

At the time of closest approach, Mercury’s gravity will have sped up BepiColombo to 5.4 km/s relative to the planet.

Still, the flyby will slow the spaceship down relative to the Sun by 0.8 km/s and change its direction by 2.6 degrees.

Santa Martinez Sanmartin, who is in charge of the BepiColombo mission project for ESA, said:

“This is the first time that the complicated solar electric propulsion method is being used to get a spacecraft to Mercury, and it will be a big challenge for the rest of the cruise phase,”

We’ve already changed our operations plan so that we can talk to our ground stations more often. This lets us fix problems with our thrusters faster and helps us figure out where we are in space better. And all of this is done with contact delays of more than ten minutes because it takes light signals from Earth to the spaceship so long to get there”

The science and art of flight mechanics are both involved.

Orbits, maneuvers, and flybys are all planned out years in advance, but spaceships are not perfect mathematical objects.

This is why teams always err on the side of caution and plan for multiple maneuvers to fine-tune and fix the actual path of a spaceship.

Significant Instruments for the Samples During Mission of BepiColombo Mission

Even though many instruments were turned on during the cruise phase, some will also be turned on during the flyby, giving us another sneak peek at the science that will be done during the primary mission.

Instruments that measure magnetic fields, plasma, and particles will take samples of the surroundings before, during, and after the closest contact.

This will be the first time the BepiColombo Laser Altimeter (BELA) and Mercury Orbiter Radio-science Experiment (MORE) will be turned on.

 

However, BELA will only be turned on to test its functionality. BELA will measure the shape of Mercury’s surface once it is in orbit around the planet, and MORE will look into Mercury’s gravity field and core.

Johannes Benkhoff, who works on the BepiColombo mission for ESA said,

“Collecting data during flybys is a great way for the science teams to make sure their instruments are working properly before the main mission,”

“It also gives a unique chance to compare data received by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft during its journey to Mercury from 2011 to 2015 from places around the planet that aren’t usually reachable from orbit. We are very happy that data from our earlier flybys have already been released and have led to new scientific results. This makes us even more excited to get into orbit!”

When BepiColombo mission gets to Mercury in December 2025.

The ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) will split from the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) and go into orbits around the planet that are different from each other.

BepiColombo Mission Real Images During Flybys

The primary research camera is covered until the spacecraft sections split apart, but BepiColombo’s monitoring cameras take pictures during flybys.

BepiColombo will be in Mercury’s shadow when it gets the closest.

The spaceship will be able to see the part of the planet lit up about 13 minutes later when BepiColombo is about 1840 km away.

That means no pictures won’t be lit up from the closest approach. The most compelling images of Mercury’s surface will be taken between 13 and 23 minutes after the spacecraft gets close to the planet.

Resolutions of Pictures Taken by BepiColombo Mission

The cameras can take 1024 x 1024 pixel pictures in black and white. Because of where they are on the spaceship, they also get pictures of one of the MTM’s solar panels and the MPO’s antennas in the foreground. As BepiColombo goes by Mercury, the planet will move from the top right to the bottom left of the M-CAM 3 pictures.

BepiColombo monitoring cameras

The first pictures will be sent back to Earth a few hours after the closest approach, and they should be available to the public by the afternoon of June 20. The nearest pictures should show many interesting natural features, like big holes, volcanic terrain, and tectonic terrain.The pictures will also be published in the ESA’s Planetary Science Archive in the coming days.

The orbiter designed to study gas giants has traveled more than 510 million miles and has observed three of Jupiter’s four largest moons up close.

When is NASA’s Juno spacecraft scheduled to pass by Io and Jupiter?

On Tuesday, May 16, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will pass by Io, Jupiter’s volcanic moon, and then shortly after, it will fly by the gas giant itself. The upcoming flyby of the Jovian moon will be the closest one so far. The spacecraft will be at an altitude of approximately 22,060 miles (35,500 kilometers). The spacecraft, which is powered by solar energy, is currently in its third year of an extended mission to study the interior of Jupiter. Additionally, it will investigate the ring system where some of the gas giant’s inner moons are located.

Which Galilean moons have Juno gathered information from during its close encounters?

Juno has conducted 50 flybys of Jupiter and gathered information during close encounters with three of the four Galilean moons, namely Europa, Ganymede, and Io. Europa and Ganymede are icy worlds, while Io is fiery.

Scott Bolton:

Scott Bolton, who is the principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, stated that Io is the most volcanic celestial body known in our solar system. By observing the volcanoes repeatedly over a period of time, we can monitor their variations such as frequency of eruption, intensity of heat and brightness, whether they are connected to a group or not, and any changes in the shape of the lava flow.

What effect does Jupiter’s gravitational pull have on Io?

Io is a celestial body that is slightly bigger than Earth’s moon. It is constantly experiencing turmoil. The largest planet in our solar system exerts a gravitational pull on everything around it, including its two largest moons, Europa and Ganymede. Io experiences continuous stretching and squeezing, which is responsible for the creation of lava seen erupting from its numerous volcanoes.

What is the purpose of the Juno spacecraft and how does JunoCam contribute to the study of Io’s volcanoes?

Juno was created with the purpose of examining Jupiter, but its numerous sensors have also gathered a significant amount of information about the planet’s moons. The spacecraft has several instruments, including JunoCam, JIRAM, SRU, and MWR. These instruments will study Io’s volcanoes and how they interact with Jupiter’s magnetosphere and auroras.

How close will Juno get to Io’s surface during the flybys?

We are now approaching an exciting phase of Juno’s mission as we move closer to Io with each orbit. Bolton stated that the 51st orbit will offer us the best opportunity to observe this heavily damaged moon up close. In July and October, we will have flybys that will bring us closer. These will lead up to twin flyby encounters with Io in December and February. During these encounters, we will fly within 1,500 kilometers of its surface. Each of these flybys is offering stunning glimpses of the volcanic eruptions on this extraordinary moon. The information ought to be impressive.

A period of fifty years spent at Jupiter:

Juno has flown close to Jupiter’s cloud tops during its flybys, reaching a distance of approximately 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). During these flybys, the spacecraft approaches Jupiter from over the north pole and exits over the south. Its instruments are used to study Jupiter’s interior, auroras, structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere by probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover. This helps in learning more about the planet’s origins.

How long has the spacecraft Juno been in orbit around Jupiter?

The spacecraft Juno has completed more than 2,505 Earth days in orbit around Jupiter and has traveled over 510 million miles (820 million kilometers). On July 4, 2016, the spacecraft successfully reached Jupiter. The spacecraft had its first science flyby 53 days after its launch. It maintained that same orbital period until it flew by Ganymede on June 7, 2021. This caused its orbital period to decrease to 43 days. On September 29, 2022, the Europa flyby caused a reduction in the orbital period to 38 days. Following the upcoming Io flybys on May 16 and July 31, Juno’s orbital period will remain constant at 32 days.

Matthew Johnson:

Matthew Johnson, the acting project manager of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, stated that Juno is examining several celestial bodies during its extended mission, and Io is one of them. In addition to adjusting our orbit to obtain fresh views of Jupiter and flying at a low altitude over the planet’s dark side, our spacecraft will also navigate through some of Jupiter’s rings to gain insights into their composition and how they were formed.

NASA’s Lucy mission marks a new era in space exploration, as it is the first spacecraft launched with the specific aim of exploring the Trojan asteroids. These asteroids are a population of primitive celestial bodies that share Jupiter’s orbit, making them unique targets for scientific study. However, the spacecraft is set to embark on a series of multiple flybys of these asteroids, providing a close-up look at these “fossils” of planetary formation. With its launch date set for October 16, 2021, the Lucy mission represents a significant step forward in our understanding of the formation and evolution of our solar system.

Now before we discuss Lucy you might be wondering,

What are Trojan asteroids and what is the role of Lucy in their exploration?

The Trojan asteroids are small celestial bodies in our solar system. They are unique because they were left over from the formation of giant planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These asteroids are remnants of the raw materials that came together to create the planets in our solar system. As a result, they are valuable targets for study.

An American planetary scientist Harold F. Levison says: “The Trojan Asteroids are leftovers from the early days of our solar system, effectively the fossils of planet formation.”

Trojan Asteroids
Lucy Mission to the Trojan Asteroids. Credit: NASA

Unlike the objects in the main asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, the Trojan asteroids share Jupiter’s orbit around the sun, but they stay close to Jupiter’s L4 and L5 Lagrange points, which are gravitational stable locations in space. Moreover, the Trojan asteroids are on average just as far from Jupiter as Jupiter is from the Sun, and they are also known to be almost as numerous as the objects in the main asteroid belt. The Jupiter and Trojan asteroids are small, with the largest being around 160 miles (250 km) across. The asteroids are in a constant gravitational tug-of-war between the Sun and Jupiter.

Furthermore, this causes them to remain in the vicinity of Jupiter’s L4 and L5 Lagrange points. These points are located 60 degrees ahead and behind Jupiter. They form an equilateral triangle with the Sun. This makes the Lagrange points ideal places for the asteroids to remain in a stable orbit.

Lucy is the first spacecraft to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. It will fly by a total of eight asteroids over the next 12 years. This includes one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojans. This makes it the first single spacecraft mission in history to explore so many asteroids. The spacecraft’s journey will provide an up-close investigation of these “fossils” of planetary formation. This will provide invaluable insights into the formation and evolution of our solar system.

Now, we got you covered if you are thinking,

What are the objectives of Lucy’s mission?

NASA’s Lucy mission is an ambitious undertaking that aims to explore a record-breaking number of asteroids, including one asteroid in the solar system’s main asteroid belt and seven Trojan asteroids.  

The Lucy mission has scientific objectives. It aims to achieve them by flying by and performing remote sensing on eight different Trojan asteroids during five flybys. The mission aims to study these asteroids in unprecedented detail. It seeks to provide insights into the formation and evolution of our solar system.

The primary objectives of the mission are to study the asteroids’ geological history, composition, and internal structure, providing valuable insights into the formation and evolution of our solar system.

By flying by and performing remote sensing on these asteroids, the Lucy spacecraft will also collect data on their albedo, shape, and size-frequency distributions. Yet, this data will allow scientists to create detailed maps of the asteroids’ surface features, including their crustal structure, layering, and relative ages of surface units.

In addition, the mission will study the color, composition, and properties of the regolith on the asteroids’ surface. By determining the distribution of minerals, ices, and organic species, the mission will provide clues to the asteroids’ formation and evolution, shedding light on the processes that led to the formation of planets like Earth.

The Lucy mission has a goal to determine the masses and densities of the Trojan asteroids. This information will provide insights into their internal structure and composition. To achieve this, the mission will study sub-surface composition through excavation by craters, fractures, ejecta blankets, and exposed bedding. By doing so, the mission will gain a better understanding of the asteroids’ bulk properties.

The Lucy spacecraft has a dual mission. Firstly, it will search for rings and satellites of the Trojan asteroids. This could give us valuable insights into how these asteroids formed and evolved. Secondly, the mission will investigate the potential for hazardous impacts from these asteroids. This will help us better understand how to protect Earth from asteroid impacts.

By studying the Trojan asteroid’s geological history, composition, and internal structure, the mission aims to advance our understanding of the early solar system and the processes that led to the formation of planets like Earth.

Now, let’s dig into the,

Launch of Lucy

NASA’s Lucy mission launch on October 16, 2021, using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.  This mission is the first spacecraft to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Moreover, it will also fly by a total of eight asteroids over the next 12 years. Furthermore, the spacecraft’s mission is to investigate the Trojan asteroids, which are remnants of the material that formed giant planets, and provide information about the formation and evolution of our solar system.

Lucy's orbital path
This diagram illustrates Lucy’s orbital path. The spacecraft’s path (green) is shown in a frame of reference where Jupiter remains stationary, giving the trajectory its pretzel-like shape. Credit: Southwest Research Institute

Hal Levison, Lucy’s principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado quoted: “We started working on the Lucy mission concept early in 2014, so this launch has been long in the making,”  He added, “It will still be several years before we get to the first Trojan asteroid, but these objects are worth the wait and all the effort because of their immense scientific value. They are like diamonds in the sky.”

Journey of Lucy!

Lucy’s Trojan destinations are located near Jupiter’s Lagrange points, where smaller masses can be trapped. One swarm of Trojans is ahead of Jupiter, and another is behind it. In 2022, during its initial Earth gravity assist, Lucy’s trajectory will accelerate and redirect beyond the orbit of Mars. After that, the spacecraft will return to Earth for a second gravity assist in 2024. Lucy’s journey towards the Donald Johanson asteroid. The Donald Johanson asteroid is present in the main asteroid belt of the solar system. Lucy will arrive at the Donald Johanson asteroid in 2025.

In 2027, Lucy will also travel towards the swarm located ahead of Jupiter to encounter its first Trojan asteroid. After completing its first four targeted flybys, the spacecraft will travel back to Earth for a third gravity boost in 2031, which will also catapult it to the trailing swarm of Trojans for a 2033 encounter.

“Today we celebrate this incredible milestone and look forward to the discoveries that Lucy will uncover,” said Donya Douglas-Bradshaw, Lucy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, after the launch.

The spacecraft’s two solar arrays, each measuring nearly 24 feet in width, unfurled successfully about 30 minutes after launch and also began charging the spacecraft’s batteries to power its subsystems. Yet, at 6:40 a.m., Lucy sent its first signal to Earth from its antenna to NASA’s Deep Space Network. Lucy’s mission is the 13th in NASA’s Discovery Program, overseen by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Lastly,

The end of the mission:

Lastly, when the Lucy mission will be nearing its end. The spacecraft will travel on a stable orbit from near the Earth’s orbit to the Trojan Swarms and back again. The team plans to orbit the spacecraft carefully to avoid contamination for over a century. In the future, if nobody collects Lucy as a historical artifact, the spacecraft’s orbit will become unstable. Jupiter’s gravitational pull could fling it out of the Solar System or send it crashing into the Sun. However, the legacy of the Lucy mission will inspire future generations. In such a way, they explore the mysteries of our Solar System and the vast universe beyond.

Published by: Sky Headlines

The Dawn spacecraft was a groundbreaking mission launched by NASA in 2007 to explore the early days of our solar system by studying two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt – Vesta and Ceres. This $500 million spacecraft equips ion propulsion technology. This allows it to achieve impressive acceleration and make a significant contribution to the field of space exploration. During its eleven-year mission, Dawn provided critical data on the formation and evolution of celestial bodies, including key findings about Vesta and Ceres, the location of their formation, the potential for oceans on dwarf planets, and the discovery of organic molecules on Ceres.

Asteroid Vesta
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft took this image of asteroid Vesta on July 24, 2011, from a distance of about 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers). Dawn entered orbit around Vesta on July 15, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

First, we should know;

What is the Dawn spacecraft?

Dawn spacecraft was a mission launched by NASA in September 2007 to study two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt – Vesta and Ceres. The spacecraft used ion propulsion, a space propulsion breakthrough. The total cost of the spacecraft is $500 million, which includes $370 million for building and launching the spacecraft and $130 million for 11 years of operations and data analysis. At launch, the spacecraft weighed 1,647.1 pounds and carried 937 pounds of xenon propellant for the ion propulsion system. The spacecraft’s pointing control at launch was achieved with four reaction wheels, augmented by 100.5 pounds of hydrazine.

snowman on asteroid Vesta
Dawn took this picture of a group of craters resembling a snowman on asteroid Vesta on Aug. 20, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

What is the functional structure of the Dawn spacecraft?

The ion propulsion system of the spacecraft consisted of three thrusters. Each of which measured 13 inches in length and 16 inches in diameter, weighing 20 pounds each. The system produced a thrust ranging from 0.07 to 0.33-ounce propulsion system allowing the spacecraft to achieve an acceleration of 0 – 60 mph in 4 days at full thrust.

“It is a tribute to all those involved in the design and operations of this remarkable spacecraft,” said Marc Rayman. He is the chief engineer for the Dawn mission and former project manager for Deep Space 1, in a statement. “I am delighted that it will be Dawn that surpasses DS1’s record.”

The launch of the Dawn spacecraft was on September 27, 2007, at 7:34 a.m. United Launch Alliance, Denver provided EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Pad 17B, aboard a Delta II Heavy 2925H-9.5 rocket, including a Star 48 upper stage. The mission had two extended missions, the first from July 2016 to October 2017, and the second from October 2017 to November 2018. The spacecraft’s mission came to an end on November 1, 2018, after completing its objectives. The Dawn spacecraft was a remarkable technological achievement and a significant milestone in the exploration of the solar system.

Now let’s find out;

What did the Dawn spacecraft discover?

NASA’s Dawn mission began in 2007 to study early solar system processes. The spacecraft visited two-time capsules of the solar system, Vesta and Ceres, which are the largest bodies of the main asteroid belt. Dawn’s mission aimed to build a detailed picture of the early days of the solar system. It was formed 4.6 billion years ago. Dawn mapped these planet-like worlds from orbit. As it provides key pieces of data that scientists could not obtain using telescopes or brief flybys.

Image of Ceres
This image of Ceres was made in September 2017 from views that Dawn took at about 240 miles (385 kilometers) above the surface. At the center is Occator Crater, home to the brightest area on Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

So,

Location is Key:

NASA’s Dawn mission discovered that the location of the formation of celestial bodies in the early solar system is essential to understanding their evolution. Scientists studied Vesta and Ceres to determine their histories, and the findings from the mission indicate that Vesta likely formed in the inner solar system and remained there. Whereas Ceres likely formed farther from the Sun and drifted inward. They differ in local action and determined the amount of water present in the bodies, which played a crucial role in how they cooled. Vesta cooled slowly and formed a metallic core and rocky mantle and crust. While Ceres cooled rapidly and formed a stratified interior consisting of a water-rich rock mantle and a water-rich ice and hydrate outer shell. These findings have implications for early solar system and planetary migration models.

Dawn’s Findings on Vesta:

The Dawn mission revealed important findings about the dwarf planet Vesta, including the confirmation that the giant basin in Vesta’s southern hemisphere, Rheasilvia, is more than 310 miles in diameter and 12 miles deep. The mission also discovered a second impact basin what we call Veneneia.  Rheasilvia partially covered it.

Christopher Russell, the principal investigator for Dawn. He stated that: “We went to Vesta to fill in the blanks of our knowledge about the early history of our solar system”.

The data from the Dawn spacecraft shows that these giant impacts created dozens of canyons. Hence, rivals the size of the Grand Canyon, and the surface of the southern hemisphere appears younger than the northern hemisphere due to the massive impact that carved Rhea Silvia. Furthermore, Dawn found water-rich minerals on Vesta’s surface. Since asteroids or comets from the outer solar system delivered them to planets.

Floor of Occator
This view of the floor of Occator Crater on Ceres is based on images taken by Dawn in 2018. Occator Crater is 57 miles (92 kilometers) across. The salty liquid released during the freezing of the water-rich floor formed bright pits and mounds. It followed the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI

Dwarf Planets and Oceans:

Dawn’s findings indicate that not only icy moons, but also dwarf planets could have sustained oceans for a significant portion of their existence, and may still possess them. Ceres are an essential element in understanding ocean worlds. As its crust consists of a combination of ice, minerals, salts, and other substances, making it a relic of an “ocean world”.  It retains the chemical composition of its previous ocean and evidence of surface interactions. The observations made by Dawn suggest that some amount of salty liquid could still exist beneath its surface. Ceres, as an advanced dwarf planet, has the potential to offer insights into the environmental conditions of other ocean worlds.

Organic Molecules at Ceres:

Scientists remain curious about the organics discovered by Dawn at Ceres. According to the Dawn team, these organics were likely generated in the dwarf planet’s deep ocean, beginning from its innards. The organics were mostly aliphatic carbon-hydrogen chains. Ceres’ loose surface material contains considerable quantities of carbon globally, despite the organics being found in a small zone. Despite this, the origin of the organics found on Ceres remains unknown.

Lastly, we should conclude this by,

Where is the dawn spacecraft now?

The Dawn spacecraft was a pioneering mission that greatly expanded our understanding of the early solar system and the evolution of celestial bodies. The mission ended on Nov. 1, 2018. The mission was a great success. It was no longer able to communicate with Earth due to the reason the spacecraft ran out of fuel. Furthermore, experts say the spacecraft is still orbiting around Ceres.

When the mission came to an end, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C says: “Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission — its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us. And the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries”. Moreover, he says: “The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Dawn's End of mission
Dawn’s end of mission statistics. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

The spacecraft’s ion propulsion technology and advanced instruments allowed it to gather a wealth of scientific data during its 11 years of operation including more than 51,000 hours of ion engine thrusting, 172 GB of science data, 3,052 orbits around Vesta and Ceres, and over 100,000 images. Additionally, the spacecraft traveled over 4.3 billion miles since its launch in 2007. It reached a record distance of 367+ million miles from Earth. The success of the Dawn mission stands as a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of NASA’s scientists and engineers. It continues to push the boundaries of our knowledge of the universe.

 

Published by: Sky Headlines

Have you ever dreamed of walking on the Moon or exploring the mysteries of space? NASA’s Artemis mission is a program that will make those dreams a reality. The Artemis program aims to land humans on the Moon, establish a long-term presence on and around the Moon, and eventually send astronauts to Mars. But the mission is not just about exploration and discovery. Artemis will also demonstrate new technologies and inspire the next generation of space explorers.

Now you probably be wondering,

What is NASA’s Artemis mission?

Artemis is the name of NASA’s program that seeks to achieve multiple objectives. The program aims to land humans on the Moon. To establish a long-term human presence on and around the Moon, and eventually send astronauts to Mars. To achieve these goals, Artemis will rely on innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before, and NASA will collaborate with commercial and international partners.

The Artemis program has set forth several objectives that it aims to achieve. One of its key objectives is to demonstrate new technologies, capabilities, and business approaches needed for future exploration, including Mars. In addition, Artemis seeks to study the Moon to gain insights into the origin and history of Earth, the Moon, and our solar system.

Furthermore, the program aims to establish American leadership and a strategic presence on the Moon, expanding U.S. global economic impact. It also seeks to broaden commercial and international partnerships, which will be crucial for the program’s success. Finally, Artemis aims to inspire a new generation and encourage careers in STEM, positioning the next generation to lead future space exploration missions.

So, here are

Some amazing facts about Artemis Mission!

  1. Artemis is named after the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology.
  2. NASA chose the name to symbolize its efforts to return astronauts, science payloads, and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface.
  3. The tip of the A in the Artemis logo points beyond the Moon to signify that the Moon is not the end goal. But rather a preparation for future exploration beyond it.
  4. The crescent in the logo represents missions from the perspective of the audience, with the focus on going from Earth to the Moon and returning with knowledge and development.
  5. The crescent also resembles Artemis’ bow, which represents the source of energy and effort sent toward the Moon.
  6. The Moon is the primary destination for the Artemis program and a stepping stone toward Mars.
  7. The trajectory in the logo moves from left to right through the crossbar of the A. It highlights the differences in the return to the Moon compared to the Apollo missions.
  8. The red color of the trajectory represents the course to Mars.
  9. The A in the logo represents an arrowhead from Artemis’ quiver and symbolizes the launch of missions.

Let’s start with the,

Artemis 1!

After four delays, Artemis 1 was launched on November 16 at 1:47 am EST (6:47 am GMT). Artemis I is NASA’s first flight test of their deep space exploration system. It includes the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This uncrewed mission is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that are establishing a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrating NASA’s commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond.

Now, here is the,

Map of Artemis 1!

Map of Artemis 1

Artemis 1 was a test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft. Scientists designed it to demonstrate their ability to travel to the Moon and beyond. The mission began on November 30, 2021, with the launch of the SLS rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft traveled a total distance of approximately 450,000 kilometers to the Moon. As there it entered a lunar orbit at an altitude of 400 kilometers above the lunar surface. A trans-lunar injection burn followed. As it sent the spacecraft approximately 64,373 kilometers beyond the Moon and into deep space.

During the mission, the spacecraft carried out a series of tests and maneuvers, including a flyby of the Moon, a test of the Orion spacecraft’s heat shield, and a demonstration of its communication and navigation systems. On December 11, 2021, after a mission lasting 25.5 days, the module landed in the Pacific Ocean close to California. The mission was a significant milestone in NASA’s Artemis program.  As it aims to return humans to the Moon and establish a sustainable presence there by the end of the decade.

It’s worth noting that the Space Launch System is the most powerful rocket ever built. As it generates 8.8 million pounds of thrust on liftoff. This makes it 1.3 million pounds more powerful than the Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo missions, and capable of carrying larger payloads and traveling further into space.

Continuing with the mission briefing,

What is the current status of the Artemis 1 mission?

NASA’s Artemis I mission is an uncrewed flight test. It successfully demonstrated the agency’s deep space rocket, spacecraft, and ground systems readiness for future missions to the Moon. Engineers have extensively reviewed data since the mission’s completion to confirm the initial observations. It includes the performance of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. The SLS rocket flew precisely as designed, meeting or exceeding performance expectations. While the Exploration Ground Systems program is repairing damaged components and making upgrades in preparation for future Artemis missions.

The Orion spacecraft successfully performed every aspect of its journey beyond the Moon, including generating more power than expected and consuming less power than predicted. NASA is examining two observations from the flight in more detail. These include variations across the appearance of Orion’s heat shield and an issue where latching current limiters switched open without commanding several times throughout the mission. Despite these issues, NASA is making progress toward the Artemis II mission. Along with the heat shield set to be attached to the crew module in May and the mobile launcher undergoing testing this summer. The agency is determined to ensure crew safety is a top priority for future missions.

Now let’s dig in to find out,

Artemis 2!

Artemis II marks a significant milestone in NASA’s quest for deep space exploration. As it will be the first manned mission of the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System rocket, and ground systems at Kennedy Space Center. With four astronauts aboard, the mission will test the spacecraft’s systems in the actual environment of deep space and confirm their operational readiness for future missions. The Artemis II flight test will be crucial in paving the way for the historic Artemis III mission. Because it aims to land the first woman and next man on the Moon.

Here is,

Map of Artemis 2!

Map of Artemis 2

Artemis 2 is the second planned mission of NASA’s Artemis program and is currently scheduled for launch in 2024. The mission will be crewed by four astronauts. It will be the first time humans have traveled beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will launch the mission into space. And the crew will fly the Orion spacecraft to a distance of 7402 kilometers beyond the Moon’s far side. A lunar flyby will follow it, allowing the crew to observe and study the lunar surface from a closer distance.

The spacecraft will then return to Earth, and the mission is expected to take between eight to ten days to complete. During the mission, the crew will collect valuable flight test data. It will help NASA refine its plans for future crewed missions to the Moon and beyond. It’s worth noting that Artemis 2 is a crucial step towards NASA’s goal of returning humans to the Moon and establishing a sustainable presence there by the end of the decade. By testing the Orion spacecraft and the SLS rocket in a crewed mission beyond low Earth orbit, NASA will be one step closer to achieving this goal.

Now here are some more details on this mission,

What is the current status of the Artemis 2 mission?

NASA’s Artemis II is the first crewed Artemis mission that will send four astronauts around the Moon and return them home. It has achieved a significant milestone in its development. Teams have fully integrated all five major Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage structures at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The engine section was joined to the rest of the rocket stage on March 17. It is located at the bottom of the 212-foot-tall core stage.  The next step will be to integrate the four RS-25 engines into the engine section to complete the stage.

The engine section is the most complex and intricate part of the rocket stage, housing the engines and including vital systems for mounting, controlling, and delivering fuel from the propellant tanks to the engines. The RS-25 engines and the two solid rocket boosters. They together generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust at takeoff, also attach to it. The core stage for Artemis II is built, outfitted, and assembled at Michoud. Through Artemis missions, NASA aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the Moon It paves the way for a long-term lunar presence. It also serves as a stepping stone for astronauts on the way to Mars.

 

Published by: Sky Headlines