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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 [...]

ESA reentry vehicle on track for flight in 2013

Copyright ESA

ESA and Thales Alenia Space Italia announced an agreement today at the Paris Air & Space Show to begin building the IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle for its mission into space in 2013.

Europe’s ambition for a spacecraft to return autonomously from low orbit is a cornerstone for a wide range of space applications, including space transportation, exploration and robotic servicing of space infrastructure.

This goal will be achieved with IXV, which is the next step from the Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator flight of 1998. More manoeuvrable and able to make precise landings, IXV is the ‘intermediate’ element of Europe’s path to future developments with limited risks.

Launched into a suborbital trajectory on ESA’s small Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, IXV will return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new European critical reentry technologies such as advanced ceramic and ablative thermal protection.

The 2 t lifting body 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 [...]

Leonardo attached to Space Station

Copyright ESA

After a flawless launch last Thursday and a textbook docking on Saturday, the Space Shuttle today delivered the European-built Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module to the International Space Station.

This final flight of Discovery marks the eighth and final trip of Leonardo to the orbiting complex. This visit will be longer: the module will be left attached to the Station as a permanent extension. Originally built to ferry cargo to and from the Station in the Shuttle cargo bay, Leonardo’s modifications include improved debris shielding and easier access by the crew to its internal equipment.

Leonardo flew into space for the first time in 2001, also on Discovery, as the first of three Multipurpose Logistics Modules built by the Italian space agency, ASI, under an agreement with NASA.

Its final cargo for the Station includes an experiment rack and a range of stowage facilities. Leonardo can also support microgravity research into fluid physics, materials science, biology and biotechnology.

Leonardo was removed from the Shuttle’s cargo bay using the Station’s robotic arm and mated to the Earth-facing port of the Unity node. Attachment was called complete at 16:05 CET.

Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth on 8 [...]

Europe’s ATV supply ship docks safely with Space Station

Copyright ESA

Eight days after launch, ESA’s latest Automated Transfer Vehicle, Johannes Kepler, completed a flawless rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station at 17:08 CET (16:08 GMT) to deliver essential supplies.

The approach and docking were achieved autonomously by its own computers, closely monitored by ESA and French space agency (CNES) teams at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, as well as the astronauts on the Station.

Although both ATV and the ISS orbit at 28 000 km/h, the relative speed during final approach remained below 7 cm/s and the accuracy within a few centimetres.

Johannes Kepler closed in on the ISS from behind in order to dock with Russia’s Zvezda module.

At close range, the 20-tonne unmanned spaceship computed its position through sensors pointed at laser reflectors on the Station to determine its distance and orientation relative to its target.

ATV’s docking probe was captured by the docking cone inside Zvezda’s aft end at 16:59 CET (15:59 GMT). The closure of hooks completed the docking sequence some nine minutes later.

“With this smooth docking, Johannes Kepler proves to be a great example of the wave of innovation ‘made in Europe’. We are more ready than [...]

Romania accedes to ESA Convention

Copyright ESA

Romania took a step further in its relations with ESA by signing the Accession Agreement to the ESA Convention on 20 January 2011, to become the 19th ESA Member State.

The signing ceremony took place at the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bucharest, with the participation of Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, Teodor Baconschi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Marius-Ioan Piso, President and CEO of the Romanian Space Agency. Other government officials and personalities attended the ceremony, including cosmonaut Dumitru Dorin Prunariu, member of the Board of the Romanian Space Agency.

Romania has a long aerospace tradition and has contributed to more than 30 scientific and technological space missions. During the 1970s and 1980s, Romania was an active member of the Soviet Union’s Interkosmos programme to involve fellow socialist nations in space exploration.

Romania’s cooperation with ESA is long-standing. In 1992, Romania was one of the first Eastern European countries to sign a Cooperation Agreement in the field of the peaceful use of outer space with ESA, paving the way for Romanian participation in several research projects with other European countries. Cooperation between ESA and Romania was strengthened further in October 1999 with the signing [...]

ATV Johannes Kepler gears up for space journey

Copyright ESA

ATV-2 is almost ready for launch on 15 February from Europe’s Spaceport. It will be the heaviest load ever lofted into space by the Ariane 5 rocket, making the 200th flight of the European launcher even more spectacular.

ESA’s latest Automated Transfer Vehicle space ferry, named after the German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, is now fully fuelled, its oxygen tanks are filled and most of the cargo from ESA and NASA is placed inside.

Only last-minute cargo of up to 400 kg will be added two weeks before launch using a special access device.

While the first ATV in 2008 performed a series of demonstrations on its way to the International Space Station (ISS), Johannes Kepler will head directly to its destination.

The planned journey includes some extra days to allow for possible delays, but the docking has to take place on 26 February to meet the busy ISS schedule.

ATV will navigate, fly and dock to the Station automatically, but it will be monitored and commanded from the ATV Control Centre (ATV-CC) in Toulouse, France. Despite its mass of about 20 tonnes, the ferry can manoeuvre itself to within a few centimetres.

During the [...]

Planck’s new view of the cosmic theatre

Copyright ESA

The first scientific results from ESA’s Planck mission were released at a press briefing today in Paris. The findings focus on the coldest objects in the Universe, from within our Galaxy to the distant reaches of space.

If William Shakespeare were an astronomer living today, he might write that “All the Universe is a stage, and all the galaxies merely players.” Planck is bringing us new views of both the stage and players, revealing the drama of the evolution of our Universe.

Following the publication by ESA of the first full-sky Planck image in July last year, today sees the release of the first scientific results from the mission.

These results are being presented by the Planck Collaboration at a major scientific conference in Paris this week, based on 25 papers submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The basis of many of these results is the Planck mission’s ‘Early Release Compact Source Catalogue’, the equivalent of a cast list.

Drawn from Planck’s continuing survey of the entire sky at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths, the catalogue contains thousands of very cold, individual sources which the scientific community is now free to explore.

“This is a great [...]

ESA unveils latest map of world’s land cover

ESA unveils latest map of world’s land cover

Copyright ESA

ESA’s 2009 global land cover map has been released and is now available to the public online from the ‘GlobCover’ website. GlobCover 2009 proves the sharpest possible global land cover map can be created within a year.

The map was produced using 12 months of data from Envisat’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer at a resolution of 300 m.

ESA and Belgium’s Université catholique de Louvain created the map using software developed by Medias France and Germany’s Brockmann Consult on data collected from 1 January to 31 December 2009. GlobCover 2009 was generated within a year of acquiring the final satellite data.

The map’s legend uses the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Land Cover Classification System.

Some 8000 people have downloaded the previous version, GlobCover 2005. These maps are useful for studying the effects of climate change, conserving biodiversity and managing natural resources.

Express map delivery from space

Copyright ESA

Meeting the environmental needs of an ever-expanding Europe requires consistent and regularly updated information on its land cover and use. As part of ESA’s GlobCorine project, a pan-European land cover and use map for 2009 is now available online.

The map, based on ESA’s Envisat MERIS data from 1 January to 31 December 2009, is the first of its kind to be produced in such a short time – nine months as opposed to years. GlobCorine shows how an automated service can generate and regularly update such maps, which are essential for environmental agencies.

The map, providing a resolution of 300 m, was delivered to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), the project’s main user, in October.

“The novelty of this map is that we can finally have relevant, timely global land cover information compatible with the time series of European Corine land cover data for decision-making,” EEA’s Chris Steenmans, Head of Programme, Shared Environmental Information System, said at the final GlobCorine meeting held at ESA’s Earth observation centre (ESRIN) in Frascati, Italy, last week.

“If you want to bring the environment into the context of economic and social development, then the speed of environmental information delivery needs [...]

Building Europe’s vision for space exploration

Copyright ESA

Europe’s vision for launching astronauts and robot explorers out into the Solar System will come into sharper focus on 21 October when the ministers responsible for space activities meet in Brussels to discuss Europe’s goals for space exploration. Events can be followed live on the web.

Ministers from the 29 ESA and EU states will rendezvous in Brussels this week for their second International Conference on Space Exploration as the next step towards creating a future European exploration strategy.

The ministers will build on the debate begun a year ago in Prague during the first high-level conference dedicated to the topic.

Core discussion points during the three main sessions include the new technologies needed, access to space and what infrastructure is needed in low Earth orbits.

The ministers will also have insights at the plans, priorities and programmes of the world’s other space agencies and discuss about opportunities for cooperation.

Events at the Palais d’Egmont in Brussels can be followed live via the web stream at webcast.ec.europa.eu

The conference is co-organised by the Belgian Presidency of the EU, the European Commission, the Chair of the ESA Ministerial Council (Italy) and by ESA.

Proceedings will be opened [...]