European Space Agency Flickr Update

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Cold gas in deep space
09-06-2016 02:11 PM CEST

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

Cold gas in deep space

This image shows the LISA Pathfinder launch composite (spacecraft plus propulsion module) at the IABG test centre in Ottobrunn, near Munich, Germany, on 31 August 2015, before it was shipped to the launch site.

In January 2016, seven weeks after launch, LISA Pathfinder reached its operational orbit around ‘L1’, the first libration point of the Sun–Earth system, a virtual point in space some 1.5 million km from Earth toward the Sun.

Arrival marked the start of what has now become an extraordinary scientific achievement: demonstrating the technology needed to build a space-based gravitational wave observatory (see LISA Pathfinder exceeds expectations).

Any spacecraft orbiting L1, however, will, over time, tend to drift away. As a result, the teams flying LISA Pathfinder must plan and conduct ‘station-keeping manoeuvres’ every one to two weeks. These gentle ‘pushes’ – using the same cold-gas microthrusters used for the mission’s scientific operations – deliver very small puffs of gas to keep the spacecraft where it should be.

There are three sets of four microthrusters. The image shows one set (with black caps) at centre-right of the spacecraft body. The other set of thrusters with red caps to the left belong to the Disturbance Reduction System, a separate NASA payload.

How small is this microthrust?

The devices generate forces of 1–100 millionths of a Newton, much, much less than the weight of any housefly. But it’s enough to do the job.

Credit: ESA–P. Sebirot, 2015

Step to the stars
09-06-2016 09:31 AM CEST

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

Step to the stars

Concordia sits on a plateau 3200 m above sea level. A place of extremes, temperatures can drop to –80°C in the winter, and the Sun does not rise above the horizon in the winter, forcing the crew to live in isolation without sunlight for four months of the year.

Its seclusion offers scientists a unique location to conduct research far from civilisation in many disciplines. The thin atmosphere, clear skies and zero light pollution around Concordia make it an ideal place for observing the Universe – as this picture shows with its aurora and many stars.

Auroras occur when atomic particles from the Sun hits Earth’s upper atmosphere, making it glow in a greenish blue light. They occur frequently over both polar regions, but are often difficult to see from populated areas.

For ESA, the isolation and extreme weather offer interesting parallels with spaceflight and living on another planet. Each year an ESA-sponsored medical doctor joins the crew of the Italian–French station to monitor and run experiments on the crew of up to 15.

This image was taken by Beth Healey, medical doctor from the winter of 2015. Timed to coincide with the opening of an exhibition on space and Antarctica, Beth is presenting the story “Step to the stars – our future in space starts on Earth”.

The narrative is featured in the WhiteSpace exhibition at the Times Science festival in Cheltenham, UK, being held 7–12 June.

What really happens in a crew of 13 isolated in a research station for nine months? Find out at Chronicles from Concordia.

Credit: ESA/IPEV/PNRA–B. Healey

Integrated circuits on silicon
09-06-2016 08:47 AM CEST

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

Integrated circuits on silicon

Multiple integrated circuits at the heart of Europe’s space missions, etched together onto a single piece of silicon.

This 20 cm-diameter wafer contains 35 replicas of five different space chips, each incorporating up to about 10 million transistors or basic circuit switches.

Laid down within a microchip, these designs endow a space mission with the ability to perform various specialised tasks such as data handling, communications processing or attitude control.

To save money on the high cost of fabrication, various chips designed by different companies and destined for multiple ESA projects are crammed onto the same silicon wafers, etched into place at specialised semiconductor manufacturing plants.

Once tested for functionality, the chips on the wafer are chopped up and packaged for use, then mounted on printed circuit boards for connection with other microelectronic components aboard a satellite.

Since 2002, ESA’s Microelectronics section has maintained a catalogue of ‘building blocks’ for chip designs, known as Intellectual Property cores, available to European industry through ESA licence.

More information: www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Engineering_Technology/M…

Credit: ESA-Guus Schoonewille

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