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ESA Top Multimedia

ESA Top Multimedia

Thomas grasping in VR space for science

Timelapse video made during ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet’s second mission to the International Space Station, “Alpha”. The camera is setup to take pictures at regular intervals, the pictures are then played quickly after each other at faster than normal speed.

The video shows Thomas running a session on the Grasp experiment in the European Columbus laboratory.

Grasp stands for Gravitational References for Sensimotor Performance and seeks to better understand how the central nervous system integrates information from different senses, such as sight, sound and touch, to coordinate hand movements and determine what role gravity plays.

How does the experiment work? Mike dons virtual reality (VR) gear that is coupled with a laptop and driven by an audio/graphics system. The VR headset simulates a series of tasks for the him, while a 3D motion tracker updates the display in real time in response to his hand, body and arm movements. Measurements are taken on ground and during spaceflight.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet was the first to use the VR gear to perform the experiment during his 2016 mission.

Researchers suspect that, on Earth, the brain uses gravity as a reference. When reaching for an object, the brain uses visual clues as well as how your shoulder muscles counteract the downward force of gravity to keep your arm straight to calculate the distance between your hand and the object.

However, the sensation of floating for months on end is something our brains did not have to deal with until last century. Seeing how they adapt to this environment offers valuable insight.

Spearheaded by researchers at French national space agency CNES, the study helps us identify the workings of the vestibular system that keeps our balance, and how it connects to the other sensory organs. In other words, Grasp investigates the physiology behind hand-eye coordination, shedding light on how to treat patients showing a loss of vestibular function on Earth.

For astronauts, the research will be useful during spacewalks, where coordination in weightlessness with few visual clues is vital.

Over 200 experiments are planned during Thomas’ time in space, with 40 European ones and 12 new experiments led by the French space agency CNES.

Latest updates on the Alpha mission can be found via @esaspaceflight on Twitter, with more details on ESA’s exploration blog via thomaspesquet.esa.int.

Background information on the Alpha mission is available at www.esa.int/MissionAlpha with a brochure at www.esa.int/AlphaBrochure.              

Samantha Cristoforetti calls for ESA astronaut applicants

Deadline is approaching: ESA is still looking for new astronauts until 28 May - Samantha Cristoforetti gives tips for those who are still undecided

Name the mission

We need a name for our new spacecraft. Its mission? To spot potentially hazardous solar storms before they reach Earth.

Between them, our greatest minds have come up with ... not very much.

ESA needs you.

Send us your suggestions now.

Getting ready to rocket

The pieces are stacking up for the launch of Artemis 1 mission around the Moon and back. The massive Space Launch Systems (SLS) rocket that will launch the first crewless test flight of the Orion spacecraft, powered by the European Service Module, is being integrated at the Vehicle Assemble Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.

Visible in this image are the twin solid fuel rocket boosters, now fully stacked atop the mobile launcher. The boosters will be mated with the rocket’s 65 m tall core stage that recently barged in to Florida aboard the Pegasus barge on 27 April after successful testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. 

Once the rocket stages are ready to go, the Orion spacecraft and additional flight hardware are next up for integration.

Since our last Orion and the European Service Module update for Artemis I, the spacecraft has moved, from the NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout facility, a few kilometres down the road to the Multi Payload Processing Facility. The names of these buildings give the game away. The first Orion spacecraft has been checked out and is ready for the next step on the road to space: processing for launch.

Fuelling was completed on 1 April, after which the system will be serviced in high pressure helium that serves as a pressurisation agent to the European Service Module propellant tanks, ensuring the correct pressure at the engine inlets.

Eventually, the spacecraft will be hoisted to the top of the fully stacked SLS rocket.

Read more updates on the Orion blog

The European Service Module is ESA’s contribution to NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will send astronauts, including the first European, to the Moon and beyond. Follow Europe’s role in the mission here.

Cosmic silver lining

This Picture of the Week showcases the emission nebula NGC 2313. The bright star V565 — surrounded by four prominent diffraction spikes — illuminates a silvery, fan-shaped veil of gas and dust, while the right half of this image is obscured by a dense cloud of dust. Nebulae with similar shapes — a star accompanied by a bright fan of gas — were once referred to as cometary nebulae, though the name is no longer used. 

The language that astronomers use changes as we become better acquainted with the Universe, and astronomical history is littered with now-obsolete phrases to describe objects in the night sky, such as “spiral nebulae” for spiral galaxies or “inferior planets” for Mercury and Venus. 

While modern astronomical terminology has become steadily more precise, the nature of objects in astronomical exposures can still occasionally puzzle astronomers. For example, if you look very closely, you can see a faint bluish streak across the centre of this image to the bottom right of the blue region. This could be an asteroid, but seems to be travelling far too quickly for such an object — making this one of the remaining mysteries of the night sky.

Earth from Space: Qeshm Island

This week's edition of the Earth from Space programme features a Copernicus Sentinel-2 image of Qeshm Island – the largest island in Iran.

See also Qeshm Island, Iran to download the image.

Qeshm Island, Iran

A Copernicus Sentinel-2 image over Qeshm Island – the largest island in Iran.

Did you always want to be an astronaut?

This video summarises advice given by ESA astronauts during the ESA Astronaut Careers Fair on 22 April 2021. Samantha Cristoforetti, Thomas Reiter and André Kuipers have all flown in space as ESA astronauts and offer their perspectives on the selection process and the work and life of an astronaut. See the astronaut vacancy notice and other opportunities to work at ESA at https://jobs.esa.int

Further information on the astronaut selection may be found in the Astronaut Applicant Handbook and in the astronaut selection FAQs. If your question is not answered in these documents, you have the option to email astronaut.recruitment@esa.int.

Applications will be accepted until 28 May 2021.

ESA's technical heart

ESA's technical heart

Webb mirror beauty

The beauty shot video of the international James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) showing off the telescope's primary mirror.

The world’s most powerful space science telescope has opened its primary mirror for the last time on Earth.

As part of Webb’s final tests, the 6.5 meter (21 feet 4 inch) mirror was commanded to fully expand and lock itself into place, just like it would in space. The conclusion of this test represents the team’s final checkpoint in a long series of tests designed to ensure Webb’s 18 hexagonal mirrors are prepared for a long journey in space, and a life of profound discovery. After this, all of Webb’s many movable parts will have confirmed in testing that they can perform their intended operations after being exposed to the expected launch environment.

Making the testing conditions close to what Webb will experience in space helps to ensure the observatory is fully prepared for its science mission one million miles away from Earth.
Commands to unlatch and deploy the side panels of the mirror were relayed from Webb’s testing control room at Northrop Grumman, in Redondo Beach, California. The software instructions sent, and the mechanisms that operated are the same as those used in space. Special gravity offsetting equipment was attached to Webb to simulate the zero-gravity environment in which its complex mechanisms will operate. All of the final thermal blanketing and innovative shielding designed to protect its mirrors and instruments from interference were in place during testing.

Read more.

Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and CSA. The telescope will launch on an Ariane 5 from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

Webb’s golden mirror wings open one last time on Earth

The world’s most powerful space science telescope has opened its primary mirror for the last time on Earth.

As part of the international James Webb Space Telescope’s final tests, the 6.5 meter (21 feet 4 inch) mirror was commanded to fully expand and lock itself into place, just like it would in space. The conclusion of this test represents the team’s final checkpoint in a long series of tests designed to ensure Webb’s 18 hexagonal mirrors are prepared for a long journey in space, and a life of profound discovery. After this, all of Webb’s many movable parts will have confirmed in testing that they can perform their intended operations after being exposed to the expected launch environment.

Making the testing conditions close to what Webb will experience in space helps to ensure the observatory is fully prepared for its science mission one million miles away from Earth.

Commands to unlatch and deploy the side panels of the mirror were relayed from Webb’s testing control room at Northrop Grumman, in Redondo Beach, California. The software instructions sent, and the mechanisms that operated are the same as those used in space. Special gravity offsetting equipment was attached to Webb to simulate the zero-gravity environment in which its complex mechanisms will operate. All of the final thermal blanketing and innovative shielding designed to protect its mirrors and instruments from interference were in place during testing.

Read more.

Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and CSA. The telescope will launch on an Ariane 5 from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

Ariane 6 launch pad water deluge system test

The water deluge system activated at liftoff was put to the test on the Ariane 6 launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport

Installing Juice at ESTEC

Installing Juice at ESTEC

Higher Power in space | Thomas Pesquet & Coldplay

To celebrate the premiere of Coldplay's latest single 'Higher Power’, the band linked up for an extraterrestrial video chat with French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who is currently on a six-month mission on board the International Space Station. A specially recorded performance of Higher Power - featuring dancing alien holograms - was beamed up to Thomas, who gave the track its very first play on board the Station. The song’s premiere followed a conversation which took in similarities between life on tour and life on the Space Station, how planet Earth looks from space and its fragility; and how Thomas listens to music in microgravity.

Our giant universe

This detailed image features Abell 3827, a galaxy cluster that offers a wealth of exciting possibilities for study. It was observed by Hubble in order to study dark matter, which is one of the greatest puzzles cosmologists face today. The science team used Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to complete their observations. The two cameras have different specifications and can observe different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, so using them both allowed the astronomers to collect more complete information. Abell 3827 has also been observed previously by Hubble, because of the interesting gravitational lens at its core. 

Looking at this cluster of hundreds of galaxies, it is amazing to recall that until less than 100 years ago, many astronomers believed that the Milky Way was the only galaxy in the Universe. The possibility of other galaxies had been debated previously, but the matter was not truly settled until Edwin Hubble confirmed that the Great Andromeda Nebula was in fact far too distant to be part of the Milky Way. The Great Andromeda Nebula became the Andromeda Galaxy, and astronomers recognised that our Universe was much, much bigger than humanity had imagined. We can only imagine how Edwin Hubble — after whom the Hubble Space Telescope was named — would have felt if he’d seen this spectacular image of Abell 3827.

Earth from Space: Morbihan

In this week's edition of the Earth from Space programme, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Morbihan – a French department in the south of Brittany.

See also Morbihan, France to download the image.

Morbihan, France

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Morbihan – a French department in the south of Brittany.

Masked campaign

Researchers take a group photo in front of the Air Zero G aircraft to mark the end of the 75th ESA parabolic flight campaign. The campaign was the third to take place under Covid-19 restrictions, and ran from 21 to 30 April in Bordeaux, France.

Participants and coordinators adjusted to a new way of flying: PCR tests were required to enter France, as well as rapid antigen or RT LAMP tests each day for every participant. Facilities on the ground as well as on board were adapted to allow for social distancing and cleanliness requirements. Surgical masks were worn at all times, and movement was restricted during the flights.

Otherwise, the parabolic flights were business-as-usual. Teams from various research institutes and universities performed experiments and technology demonstrations across many disciplines including complex fluidics, astronomical light scattering, protoplanetary agglomeration, and human physiology in altered states of gravity.

Initially used for training astronauts, parabolic flights are now mostly used for short-duration scientific and technological investigations in reduced gravity. These flights are the only way for humans to run tests in microgravity without going through lengthy astronaut-training and flights to the International Space Station.

To perform each parabola, the refitted A310 Air Zero G aircraft flies close to maximum speed and pulls the nose up to a 45° angle, then cuts the power to fall over the top of the curve. Whilst falling freely the passengers and experiments experience around 20 seconds of microgravity, until the plane is angled 45° nose-down, before pulling out of the dive to level off with normal flight.

These “pull up” and “pull out” manoeuvres before and after the weightless period increase gravity inside the plane up to 2g, but that is just part of the ride, repeated every three minutes for almost two hours.

A typical parabolic flight campaign involves three flights and requires a week of on-site preparation. Each flight offers 31 periods of weightlessness. The aircraft can also fly in arcs that provide lunar or martian gravity levels by adjusting the angle of attack of the wings.

Simplicity of preparation and operations, reduced cost, partial-gravity levels, multiple microgravity phases and opportunity for researchers to work directly on the experiments on board are some of the unique advantages..

Parabolic flights are organised by Novespace, which handles flight and ground operations. ESA, French space agency CNES, and German space agency DLR are the promoters and sponsors of the programme.

Starry night at the Ariane 6 launch base

A timelapse under the stars on the Ariane 6 launch base at Europe’s Spaceport

Unpacking Juice at ESTEC

ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, being unpacked from its shipping container in the Hydra clean room at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre, ESTEC in the Netherlands on 30 April 2020.

Juice will undergo environmental testing in ESTEC's Large Space Simulator to replicate the extreme heating and cooling cycles that the spacecraft will experience on its way to Jupiter.

Once in the Jovian system the mission will spend at least three years making detailed observations of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and its three large ocean-bearing moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

Juice in transport container

Juice in transport container

Vega-C: power and versatility

Europe’s new launch vehicle, Vega-C, is near completion. Elements will soon be shipped to Kourou for assembly and preparation for Vega-C’s inaugural flight.

This new launcher improves its Vega predecessor by offering more power and versatility at similar cost. This new design allows Vega-C to transport larger and heavier payloads into space making it a world-class competitor on the global launcher market while ensuring Europe’s independent access to space.

Conférence de presse de Thomas Pesquet depuis l'ISS

L’astronaute de l’ESA Thomas Pesquet a échangé depuis la Station spatiale internationale avec des journalistes européens rassemblés à Paris, le vendredi 30 avril 2021, pour partager ses premiers jours de retour en impesanteur, la vie à bord et les enjeux de la mission Alpha.

A l’issue d’un voyage de près de 24 heures à bord d’une capsule Crew Dragon de SpaceX, il était arrivé samedi 24 avril 2021 sur la Station spatiale internationale. Dans le cadre de sa mission Alpha, il réalisera plus de deux cents expériences scientifiques – y compris 12 nouvelles manipulations du CNES, l’agence spatiale française, pour le compte de l’ESA – et effectuera des activités de maintenance du complexe orbital, aux côtés d’astronautes américains, japonais et russes.

English Press conference with ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the International Space Station

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet talked from the International Space Station to European media gathered in Paris on Friday, 29 April 2021, less than a week after his arrival. He shared how he felt about living in 'weightless' conditions again, life on board and his Alpha mission objectives.

After a 24-hour journey on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, Thomas arrived at the Space Station on Saturday, 24 April. During his Alpha mission, as part of an international crew, he will conduct more than 200 scientific experiments in the Station's cutting-edge laboratories, including 12 experiments prepared by the French space agency CNES for ESA. He will also take part in maintenance activities.

In the sky with diamonds

The interaction of two doomed stars has created this spectacular ring adorned with bright clumps of gas — a diamond necklace of cosmic proportions. Fittingly known as the Necklace Nebula, this planetary nebula is located 15 000 light-years away from Earth in the small, dim constellation of Sagitta (The Arrow).

The Necklace Nebula — which also goes by the less glamorous name of PN G054.2-03.4 — was produced by a pair of tightly orbiting Sun-like stars. Roughly 10 000 years ago, one of the aging stars expanded and engulfed its smaller companion, creating something astronomers call a “common envelope”. The smaller star continued to orbit inside its larger companion, increasing the bloated giant’s rotation rate until large parts of it spun outwards into space. This escaping ring of debris formed the Necklace Nebula, with particularly dense clumps of gas forming the bright “diamonds” around the ring.

The pair of stars which created the Necklace Nebula remain so close together — separated by only a few million kilometres — that they appear as a single bright dot in the centre of this image. Despite their close encounter the stars are still furiously whirling around each other, completing an orbit in just over a day. 

The Necklace Nebula was featured in a previously released Hubble image, but now this new image has been created by applying advanced processing techniques, making for a new and improved view of this intriguing object. The composite image includes several exposures from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

Antofagasta, Chile

Antofagasta, a port city in northern Chile, is featured in this image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission.

Earth from Space: Antofagasta, Chile

This week's edition of the Earth from Space programme features a Copernicus Sentinel-2 image of Antofagasta, a port city in northern Chile,

See also Antofagasta, Chile to download the image.

Dragon fire

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spits fire as it lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, 23 April at 05:49 local time. On board are ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

The crew of four spent around 23 hours orbiting Earth and catching up with the International Space Station after their launch before docking to the Node-2 Harmony module, marking the start of ESA’s six-month mission Alpha.

Thomas is the first European to be launched to space on a US spacecraft in over a decade. The new Crew Dragon ships four astronauts at a time, allowing more people to live and work on the International Space Station doing more research for scientists on Earth.

Alpha is Thomas’ second space mission, and everything is set to be bigger and brighter. A Russian laboratory module, scheduled to arrive in the summer with a European robotic arm, will offer more ways of maintaining the International Space Station and supporting spacewalkers as they work outside. Thomas will help set up this arm and prepare it for use during the Alpha mission.

Over 200 international experiments are planned during Thomas’ time in space. Of the 40 European ones, 12 are new experiments led by the French space agency CNES.

At the end of the Alpha mission in October, Thomas will take over commander of the International Space Station for a brief period and welcome ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer on his first flight to space.

Latest updates on the Alpha mission can be found on Twitter @esaspaceflight, with more details on ESA’s exploration blog via thomaspesquet.esa.int.

Background information on the Alpha mission is available at www.esa.int/MissionAlpha with a brochure at www.esa.int/AlphaBrochure.

Vega liftoff on flight VV18

Vega liftoff on flight VV18

Revoir la Normandie

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet snapped this image of Normandy from the International Space Station during his second long-duration mission known as Alpha. He posted it on social media saying "The Space Station always travels from West to East, which is great for taking pictures of my birthplace Normandy. A perfect frame to start the Earth pictures of #MissionAlpha "

Thomas was launched to the International Space Station for his second mission, Alpha, on 23 April 2021. He will spend six months living and working on the orbital outpost where he will support more than 200 international experiments in space.

Follow Thomas and his Mission Alpha on his blog.

Version française:

L'astronaute de l'ESA Thomas Pesquet a pris cette photo de la Normandie depuis la Station spatiale internationale pendant Alpha, sa seconde mission de longue durée. Il l'a publiée sur les réseaux sociaux avec la légende suivante: "La trajectoire de la Station va toujours d'ouest en est : une chance pour ma Normandie natale, sous le soleil comme toujours :D (quoi qu’en diront les rageux ;) ). Elle ouvre le bal des photos depuis l’orbite !"

Thomas a décollé à destination de la Station spatiale internationale le 23 avril 2021. Plus de 200 expériences sont prévues pendant le séjour de Thomas dans l’espace, dont 40 expériences européennes et 12 nouvelles expériences menées par le CNES, l’Agence spatiale française.

Hot and cold space radio testing

Hot and cold space radio testing

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