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13-Mile Practice Skydive for Record-Breaking Space Jump

Copyright Red Bull Stratos

Austrian adventurer Felix Baumgartner is hoping to make the world’s highest skydive this summer, in an event backed by energy drink company Red Bull. As a practice run, he leaped from a custom built capsule at an altitude of 71,581 feet (21,818 meters), marking his personal highest-jump ever.

Baumgartner’s ultimate goal is to jump from 120,000 feet (36,576 m) later this year in what he hopes will also be the first supersonic skydive.

Solar Eruption Mistaken for Refueling UFO Spaceship

Copyright NASA

Telescope images captured of the sun on Monday (March 12) show what appears to be a planet-size shadowy object tethered to the sun by a dark filament. In the image sequence, a burst of brightly lit material can be seen erupting from the sun’s surface surrounding the dark object, after which the orb detaches from the sun and shoots out into space.

The footage, a composite of images captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory and processed by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has quickly garnered attention on YouTube, where viewers are suggesting it shows a UFO spacecraft refueling by sucking up solar plasma, or at the very least, the birth of a new planet.

However, according to NASA scientists, the feature is actually a little-understood, but frequently observed, type of solar activity called a “prominence,” and the way it is situated beneath another solar feature gives it its otherworldy appearance.

Mars Express radar gives strong evidence for former Mars ocean

Mars Express radar gives strong evidence for former Mars ocean

Copyright ESA

ESA’s Mars Express has returned strong evidence for an ocean once covering part of Mars. Using radar, it has detected sediments reminiscent of an ocean floor within the boundaries of previously identified, ancient shorelines on Mars.

The MARSIS radar was deployed in 2005 and has been collecting data ever since. Jérémie Mouginot, Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG) and the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues have analysed more than two years of data and found that the northern plains are covered in low-density material. “We interpret these as sedimentary deposits, maybe ice-rich,” says Dr Mouginot. “It is a strong new indication that there was once an ocean here.”

The existence of oceans on ancient Mars has been suspected before and features reminiscent of shorelines have been tentatively identified in images from various spacecraft. But it remains a controversial issue.

Two oceans have been proposed: 4 billion years ago, when warmer conditions prevailed, and also 3 billion years ago when subsurface ice melted, possibly as a result of enhanced geothermal activity, creating outflow channels that drained the water into areas of low elevation.

Mars Express radar investigation “MARSIS penetrates deep into the ground, revealing [...]

Vega to fly ESA experimental reentry vehicle

Copyright ESA

The launch of ESA’s IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle on Europe’s new Vega rocket is now in detailed planning, a major step towards the craft’s flight in 2014.

Launched into a suborbital trajectory from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, IXV will return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new critical technologies for future reentry vehicles. It will attain an altitude of around 450 km, allowing it to reach a velocity of 7.5 km/s on entering the atmosphere. It will collect a large amount of data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, while it is being controlled by thrusters and aerodynamic flaps.

IXV will then descend by parachute and land in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and analysis.

Mr Le Gall, CEO of Arianespace and Mr Fabrizi, ESA Director of Launchers ESA and the Arianespace launch provider signed a contract on 14 December to study the launch on Vega, as part of the VERTA – Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment – programme.

The rocket’s qualification flight planned for liftoff at the end of January will pave the way for the next five VERTA missions that will demonstrate the system’s flexibility.

At [...]

Progress 44 accident and its consequences for Space Station

Copyright ESA

The six astronauts on the International Space Station are safe and continuing their normal work after the loss of their space-bound cargo craft on 24 August.

While the cause of the accident is being sought by a Russian commission, the Station partners are preparing for several scenarios to ensure the safety of the crew and the orbital outpost. The Progress 44 freighter, carrying 2670 kg of cargo for the Station, failed to reach proper orbit after the premature shutdown of its third-stage engine 325 seconds after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The remnants of the stage and Progress fell back to Earth from an altitude of about 200 km over the Altai Republic in southern Siberia.

Soyuz-U launch sequence

No remnants have been found so far and it is possible that the Progress and its third stage – both loaded with fuel and oxygen – burned up in the atmosphere. The search crews are still probing the large areas of difficult terrain in severe weather conditions looking for evidence.

Launches of Soyuz rockets have been suspended until the cause of the engine malfunction is identified.

ESA recognises the vast experience of its Russian partners [...]

An ice sheet on the move

Copyright ESA

A huge network of glaciers, carrying ice thousands of kilometres across Antarctica, has been discovered as a result of space agencies’ efforts to focus their satellites on Earth’s icy regions during the International Polar Year. These new findings are critical to understanding sea-level rise.

The International Polar Year (IPY) was an ambitious science programme carried out in 2007 and 2008. Involving more than 60 countries, this large-scale campaign yielded an unprecedented wealth of information about the polar regions, much of which is being used to examine the relationship between these fragile environments and climate.

By joining forces and coordinating their various satellites to optimise data acquisitions, space agencies around the world played a crucial role in IPY.

Carefully piecing together billions of radar data points that were collected over Antarctica by satellites such as ESA’s Envisat, the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Radarsat and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) ALOS, a team of scientists has created the first map of ice motion over the entire continent of Antarctica – and made some astonishing discoveries.


Space Station Crew Enjoys Eye-Level View of Perseid Meteor Shower

Copyright NASA

With the bright moon that was out on the evening of August 13, many astronomy buffs were not able to fully appreciate the spectacular Perseid meteor shower going on in the night sky. From the International Space Station, however, astronaut Ron Garan had a front seat view as part of the Crew Earth Observations, or CEO, investigation.

Using a Nikon D3S digital camera with a 22 mm lens, Garan captured a stunning photo of one of the Perseid meteors streaking through Earth’s atmosphere. You can see part of the space station’s solar array in the image, allowing the viewer to share in the unique perspective of the crew from low Earth orbit. This photograph will add to the CEO investigation’s collection of hundreds of thousands of Earth images.

The astronaut photography for CEO supports global research, according to William Stefanov, chief scientist for the Engineering and Science Contract Group supporting the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “The inclined equatorial orbit of the station, and having ‘humans in the loop,’ makes it a useful and unique platform in comparison to unmanned polar-orbiting sensor systems. From the space station, data can [...]

Trying to Make a Dream Come True

The story began on June 3, 1982, when a camera in an Australian P-3 patrol plane captured images of a Soviet ship recovering a space craft from the Indian Ocean.

It continued Wednesday, when Sierra Nevada Corp. honored the employees — many now retired — at NASA’s Langley Research Center who used those photos to carve a cherry wood model of the Soviet craft, a BOR-4, then used that model as the jumping-off point to the HL-20 (for horizontal lander) personnel space vehicle.

A proper ending, says Sierra Nevada chairman, Mark Sirangelo, would be for its version of the HL-20, the “Dream Chaser,” to ferry crews from Earth to the International Space Station and back.

On April 18, NASA awarded Sierra Nevada — a Louisville, Colo., firm — $80 million to continue work on the Dream Chaser after it was judged among four winners of the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

“I had made a promise that if we ever got to the point where the program was beginning to go to the next level, that we would find a way to come back and thank all of those people who enabled this,” Sirangelo told [...]

First Solar Sail NanoSail-D Deploys in Low-Earth Orbit

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., confirmed that the NanoSail-D nanosatellite deployed its 100-square-foot polymer sail in low-Earth orbit and is operating as planned. Actual deployment occurred on Jan. 20 at 10 p.m. EST and was confirmed today with beacon packets data received from NanoSail-D and additional ground-based satellite tracking assets. In addition, the NanoSail-D orbital parameter data set shows an appropriate change which is consistent with sail deployment.

“This is tremendous news and the first time NASA has deployed a solar sail in low-Earth orbit,” said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator and aerospace engineer at the Marshall Center. “To get to this point is an incredible accomplishment for our small team and I can’t thank the amateur ham operator community enough for their help in tracking NanoSail-D. Their assistance was invaluable. In particular, the Marshall Amateur Radio Club was the very first to hear the radio beacon. It was exciting!”

NanoSail-D will continue to send out beacon signals until the onboard batteries are expended and can be found at 437.270 MHz. It can be tracked on the NanoSail-D dashboard at: http://nanosaild.engr.scu.edu/dashboard.htm.

It is estimated that NanoSail-D will remain in low-Earth orbit between 70 and [...]

SpaceX plans November test flight to space station

California-based rocket maker SpaceX said that it will make a test flight in late November to the International Space Station, now that NASA has retired its space shuttle program.

“SpaceX has been hard at work preparing for our next flight — a mission designed to demonstrate that a privately-developed space transportation system can deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS),” the company, also called Space Exploration Technologies, said in a statement.

The mission is the second to be carried out by SpaceX, one of a handful of firms competing to make a spaceship to replace the now-defunct US shuttle, which had been used to carry supplies and equipment to the orbiting outpost.

“NASA has given us a November 30, 2011 launch date, which should be followed nine days later by Dragon berthing at the ISS,” the company said.

It said the arrival of the vessel at the space station would herald “the beginning of a new era in space travel.”

“Together, government and the private sector can simultaneously increase the reliability, safety and frequency of space travel, while greatly reducing the costs,” SpaceX said.

The company won $75 million in new seed money earlier this year, [...]