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  • richardmitnick 4:29 pm on December 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ESA Rosetta   

    From ESA: “Rosetta Fuels Debate on Origin of Earth’s Oceans” 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    10 December 2014

    Kathrin Altwegg
    Principal investigator for ROSINA
    University of Bern, Switzerland
    Email: kathrin.altwegg@space.unibe.ch

    Markus Bauer




    ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer





    Tel: +31 71 565 6799





    Mob: +31 61 594 3 954





    Email: markus.bauer@esa.int

    Matt Taylor



    ESA Rosetta project scientist



    Email: matthew.taylor@esa.int

    ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has found the water vapour from its target comet to be significantly different to that found on Earth. The discovery fuels the debate on the origin of our planet’s oceans.

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    ESA/Rosetta

    The measurements were made in the month following the spacecraft’s arrival at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 6 August. It is one of the most anticipated early results of the mission, because the origin of Earth’s water is still an open question.

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    Comet on 20 November – NavCam

    One of the leading hypotheses on Earth’s formation is that it was so hot when it formed 4.6 billion years ago that any original water content should have boiled off. But, today, two thirds of the surface is covered in water, so where did it come from?

    In this scenario, it should have been delivered after our planet had cooled down, most likely from collisions with comets and asteroids. The relative contribution of each class of object to our planet’s water supply is, however, still debated.

    The key to determining where the water originated is in its ‘flavour’, in this case the proportion of deuterium – a form of hydrogen with an additional neutron – to normal hydrogen.

    This proportion is an important indicator of the formation and early evolution of the Solar System, with theoretical simulations showing that it should change with distance from the Sun and with time in the first few million years.

    One key goal is to compare the value for different kinds of object with that measured for Earth’s oceans, in order to determine how much each type of object may have contributed to Earth’s water.

    Comets in particular are unique tools for probing the early Solar System: they harbour material left over from the protoplanetary disc out of which the planets formed, and therefore should reflect the primordial composition of their places of origin.

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    Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud in context

    But thanks to the dynamics of the early Solar System, this is not a straightforward process. Long-period comets that hail from the distant Oort cloud originally formed in Uranus–Neptune region, far enough from the Sun that water ice could survive.

    They were later scattered to the Solar System’s far outer reaches as a result of gravitational interactions with the gas giant planets [Jupiter and Saturn] as they settled in their orbits.

    Conversely, Jupiter-family comets like Rosetta’s comet were thought to have formed further out, in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune. Occasionally these bodies are disrupted from this location and sent towards the inner Solar System, where their orbits become controlled by the gravitational influence of Jupiter.

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    Kuiper Belt

    Indeed, Rosetta’s comet now travels around the Sun between the orbits of Earth and Mars at its closest and just beyond Jupiter at its furthest, with a period of about 6.5 years.
    Deuterium-to-hydrogen in the Solar System

    Previous measurements of the deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio in other comets have shown a wide range of values. Of the 11 comets for which measurements have been made, it is only the Jupiter-family Comet 103P/Hartley 2 that was found to match the composition of Earth’s water, in observations made by ESA’s Herschel mission in 2011.

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    Photograph from close approach by EPOXI mission

    NASA EPOXI
    NASA/EPOXI

    ESA Herschel
    ESA Herschel schematic
    ESA Herschel

    By contrast, meteorites originally hailing from asteroids in the Asteroid Belt also match the composition of Earth’s water. Thus, despite the fact that asteroids have a much lower overall water content, impacts by a large number of them could still have resulted in Earth’s oceans.

    It is against this backdrop that Rosetta’s investigations are important. Interestingly, the D/H ratio measured by the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis, or ROSINA, is more than three times greater than for Earth’s oceans and for its Jupiter-family companion, Comet Hartley 2. Indeed, it is even higher than measured for any Oort cloud comet as well.

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    ESA Rosetta Rosina
    Rosina Instrument

    “This surprising finding could indicate a diverse origin for the Jupiter-family comets – perhaps they formed over a wider range of distances in the young Solar System than we previously thought,” says Kathrin Altwegg, principal investigator for ROSINA and lead author of the paper reporting the results in the journal Science this week.

    “Our finding also rules out the idea that Jupiter-family comets contain solely Earth ocean-like water, and adds weight to models that place more emphasis on asteroids as the main delivery mechanism for Earth’s oceans.”

    “We knew that Rosetta’s in situ analysis of this comet was always going to throw up surprises for the bigger picture of Solar System science, and this outstanding observation certainly adds fuel to the debate about the origin of Earth’s water,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

    “As Rosetta continues to follow the comet on its orbit around the Sun throughout next year, we’ll be keeping a close watch on how it evolves and behaves, which will give us unique insight into the mysterious world of comets and their contribution to our understanding of the evolution of the Solar System.”

    See the full article here.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 5:48 pm on December 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , ESA Rosetta   

    From ESA: “The quest for organic molecules on the surface of 67P/C-G” 

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    European Space Agency

    From The Rosetta Blog

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    Rosetta

    02/12/2014
    This blog post is contributed by Ian Wright and his colleagues from the Ptolemy team.

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    Ptolemy on Philae Lander

    For scientists engaged with large complex projects like Rosetta, there is always a delightful period early on when, unbound by practical realities, it is possible to dream. And so it was that at one time the scientists were thinking about having a lander with the capability to hop around a comet’s surface. In this way it would be possible to make measurements from different parts of the comet.

    Interestingly, this unplanned opportunity presented itself on 12 November 2014, when Philae landed not once but three times on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

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    Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

    The Ptolemy instrument on Philae is a compact mass spectrometer designed to measure the composition of the materials making up 67P/C-G, with a particular focus on organic molecules and mineral components. Earlier in 2014, Ptolemy had collected data at distances of 15,000, 13,000, 30, 20, and 10 km from the comet, while Philae was still attached to Rosetta.

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    But from 12 to 14 November, along with some other instruments on the lander, Ptolemy had the chance to operate at more than one location on the comet’s surface.
    Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera images of Philae’s first touchdown on the comet. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

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    OSIRIS

    Ptolemy performed its first ‘sniffing’ measurements on the comet just after the initial touchdown of Philae. At almost exactly the same moment, the OSIRIS camera on Rosetta was imaging Philae flying back above the surface after the first bounce.

    Later, once Philae had stopped at its final landing site, Ptolemy then made six subsequent sets of measurements, sniffing the comet’s atmosphere at the surface between 13 and 14 November. Finally, a slightly different experiment was also conducted on 14 November, which was completed only 45 minutes before Philae went into hibernation as its primary battery was exhausted.

    For this “last gasp” experiment, the team used a specialised oven, the so-called “CASE” oven, to determine the composition of volatiles (and perhaps any particulates) that had accumulated in it. The Ptolemy team also used the same opportunity to reconfigure their analytical procedures, to see if they could make some isotopic measurements. Unfortunately, there was no chance to use Ptolemy in conjunction with SD2, as this was confined to the sister instrument, COSAC, given the limited power and time available.

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    The experiments conducted by Ptolemy on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G. Table courtesy of the Ptolemy team.

    Because of the relatively high power consumption of Ptolemy, it was a race against the clock. The battery had to hold out, both to perform the measurements and to relay the data back to Rosetta and then home. For those involved, it’s hard to describe the shared emotions on that day, helplessly watching a voltage heading towards the end-stop.

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    Scientists from the Ptolemy team at the Lander Control Centre at DLR in Cologne, Germany, during the night between 14 and 15 November 2014, just before Philae went into hibernation. Photo courtesy of Ian Wright.

    Nevertheless, the very good news is that Ptolemy definitely returned data from its various stops on the comet. However, the data are complex and will require careful analysis: this will take time. Also, because the instrument was operated in ways that hadn’t initially been planned for, it will be necessary to go back into the laboratory to run some simulated tests, to ensure that the on-comet data obtained in similar configurations can be understood.

    In the first instance, however, the team will be concentrating on the data acquired immediately after the first touchdown. It will be fascinating to compare the rich spectrum of organic compounds detected by Ptolemy with the measurements made by COSAC about 14 minutes later.

    The Ptolemy team has lots of questions. Exactly what organic compounds are present and in what ratios? How did things change between the various sets of measurements? What does these data tell us about the composition of the 10–20 cm depth of surface dust that got kicked up during the first bounce? And what can these materials tell us about the fundamental make-up of comets?

    The team is looking forward to making these analyses over the coming months and sharing the results with you.

    See the full article here.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 3:09 pm on November 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ESA Rosetta, , Philae obelisk   

    From livescience: “Philae Lander, Like Philae Obelisk, Is a Window to the Past” 

    Livescience

    November 19, 2014
    Ben Altshuler, Oxford University

    Benjamin Altshuler is on the classics faculty at the University of Oxford and is the current Classics Conclave fellow at the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents. Altshuler is a specialist in reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), a computational photographic method that illuminates surface features undetectable by direct observation.

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    This image shows the power of reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) in an image of the Philae obelisk.
    Credit: Ben Altshuler, Oxford University

    The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. — Marcel Proust

    Separated by two millennia, the Philae lander and the Philae obelisk illuminate two separate and shared paths of discovery. The Philae lander, recently launched from the European Space Agency (ESA) mothership Rosetta, is the robotic space vehicle that landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last week in hopes of unlocking some of the secrets of ancient comets. The Philae obelisk, like the much better known Rosetta stone, helped unlock the ancient secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphs 200 years ago. Both are now connected by technology, as the same types of sensors aboard the Philae lander are now helping archaeologists unlock the obelisk’s messages to reveal secrets about ancient Egypt.

    ESA Rosetta Philae Lander
    ESA/Rosetta Philae Lander

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    Philae obelisk

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    67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

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    Rosetta stone

    A message in granite

    The story begins 2,100 years ago, when a group of priests in Egypt successfully petitioned their king Ptolemy VIII for a tax cut. The priests created a permanent document of their success in the form of a 7-meter-tall (23 feet) granite obelisk. Never intending their success to be a hidden secret, the priests had their accomplishment inscribed onto the obelisk in Greek, with prayers written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, for all to see and understand forever.

    However, by the fall of their eventual Roman conquerors 600 years later, the knowledge of hieroglyphs perished, and the obelisk’s Egyptian inscription remained unreadable for centuries.

    Then, in the 19th century, Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion used the recently discovered tri-lingual inscription on the Rosetta stone and the bilingual inscription on the Philae obelisk to decode hieroglyphs. While the importance of the Rosetta stone cannot be underplayed, the obelisk’s role in cementing hieroglyphs as a phonetic language was invaluable.

    Digital eyes to see the past

    Now, new computer-based imaging technologies called polynomial texture mapping (PTM) and multispectral imaging (MSI) are allowing researchers to revisit the Philae obelisk and reveal parts of the inscriptions that have eroded with time.

    While archaeology has often benefited from expanded excavations and deeper trenches, the field is now entering an age in which the most spectacular finds are not coming out of the ground but out of existing museum collections. Digital archaeology is allowing experts to uncover secrets in plain sight; indeed, to go beyond the boundaries of human sight and document sketch lines under layers of paint, transcribe badly eroded inscriptions and recover the faintest manuscripts.

    With the power of these technologies growing exponentially, the next ground-breaking find could just as easily be discovered in the basement of a museum as under the streets of Cairo.

    PTM is a powerful computational photographic technology that is literally shedding new light on ancient objects. Its ability to analyze the smallest features of surface topology has led to breakthroughs in the fields of epigraphy, archaeology and papyrology. The discoveries have been so frequent and significant that museums and archaeologists around the world are seeking to make PTM the standard international protocol for artifact documentation. Indeed, the age of digital archaeology has begun a quiet revolution in classical studies. Scholars no longer feel limited by what they can see with their own eyes.

    More than anything else, it is the sheer volume of data gathered by PTM that sets it apart from what is currently the most common documentation methods used in museums: simple photography. While a conventional photograph can adequately capture color information, it can only convey a very crude sense of shape and surface texture through a fixed number of highlights and shadows.

    By contrast, PTM, in addition to capturing superb color data, can record detailed shape and texture measurements at the level of individual pixels. This massive quantity of incremental data not only provides a far more comprehensive method for object documentation than simple photography can, but it also opens up a range of opportunities for computer-driven rendering techniques — potentially including the use of 3D printers — for creating highly detailed depictions of objects for study and analysis. PTM combines digital photography, specialized lighting techniques and sophisticated computer software to combine dozens of images into an interactive image that enables researchers to read worn inscriptions or recover artistic details.

    Current PTM work has already allowed researchers to confirm early transcriptions of the hieroglyphic and Greek text on the Philae obelisk and to begin studying the tool marks. In the coming weeks, epigraphists will also employ MSI and focus on the Greek text at the base of the obelisk where significant portions of the text are almost completely eroded, leaving huge swaths of text unaccounted for.

    It is hoped that ultraviolet and infrared light will pick up some of the original paint that adorned the obelisk and help researchers read more of the text to get a better understanding of the exact correspondence between Ptolemy VIII and the priests of Philae. Moreover, in a language where a single word, or even a single letter, can change the entire meaning of a sentence, every single minim picked up by PTM could contribute to, or even change, our current understanding.

    Digital eyes in space

    Meanwhile, 300 million miles away at comet 67P, the Philae lander is equipped with ROLIS (Rosetta-Lander Imaging System) and CIVA (Comet Nuclear Infrared and Visible Analyzer), both of which use digital imaging technologies and multispectral analyzers to “see” the comet and send images back to Earth.

    ESA Rosetta Philae Rolis
    ROLIS

    Over the next several months, scientists will use the same spectral properties that researchers are using to pick up traces of paint on the obelisk, albeit of different elements, to analyze and isolate the exact makeup of the comet. By understanding this, more can be learned about the origins of comet 67P, other comets in our solar system and the nature of the entire solar system.

    Although the Philae lander has now run out of power due to a malfunction in the landing apparatus, the data gathered in its short time on the comet is currently being analyzed by scientists and looks to shed light on many of the questions posed at the beginning of the mission. As the comet gets closer and closer to the sun, Rosetta will have to take over the mission continue to use mapping technologies similar to PTM to assess the changes in the topography of the comet. By monitoring 67P’s vital signs constantly, scientists look forward to seeing a process that has only ever been observed from millions of miles away.

    It is powerful to recognize that so many technologies being used in space to lead scientists to the origins of the solar system have equally valuable uses on Earth, helping archaeologists uncover lost secrets of the past.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:51 pm on November 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ESA Rosetta   

    From ESA: “Rosetta Continues into its Full Science Phase” 

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    European Space Agency

    19 November 2014
    No Writer Credit

    With the Philae lander’s mission complete, Rosetta will now continue its own extraordinary exploration, orbiting Comet 67P/Churymov–Gerasimenko during the coming year as the enigmatic body arcs ever closer to our Sun.

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    ESA/Rosetta

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    Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko as seen by Rosetta

    Last week, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft delivered its Philae lander to the surface of the comet for a dramatic touchdown.

    ESA Rosetta Philae Lander
    Rosetta’s Philae Lander

    The lander’s planned mission ended after about 64 hours when its batteries ran out, but not before it delivered a full set of results that are now being analysed by scientists across Europe.

    Rosetta’s own mission is far from over and the spacecraft remains in excellent condition, with all of its systems and instruments performing as expected.

    “With lander delivery complete, Rosetta will resume routine science observations and we will transition to the ‘comet escort phase’,” says Flight Director Andrea Accomazzo.

    “This science-gathering phase will take us into next year as we go with the comet towards the Sun, passing perihelion, or closest approach, on 13 August, at 186 million kilometres from our star.”

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    Rosetta control room

    On 16 November, the flight control team moved from the large Main Control Room at ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where critical operations during landing were performed, to a smaller Dedicated Control Room, from where the team normally flies the craft.

    Since then, Rosetta has performed a series of manoeuvres, using its thrusters to begin optimising its orbit around the comet for the 11 scientific instruments.

    “Additional burns planned for today, 22 and 26 November will further adjust the orbit to bring it up to about 30 km above the comet,” says Sylvain Lodiot, Spacecraft Operations Manager.

    From next week, Rosetta’s orbit will be selected and planned based on the needs of the scientific sensors. After arrival on 6 August, the orbit was designed to meet the lander’s needs.

    On 3 December, the craft will move down to height of 20 km for about 10 days, after which it will return to 30 km.

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    Rosetta path after 12 November

    With the landing performed, all future trajectories are designed purely with science as the driver, explained Laurence O’Rourke and Michael Küppers at the Rosetta Science Operations Centre near Madrid, Spain.

    “The desire is to place the spacecraft as close as feasible to the comet before the activity becomes too high to maintain closed orbits,” says Laurence.

    “This 20 km orbit will be used by the science teams to map large parts of the nucleus at high resolution and to collect gas, dust and plasma at increasing activity.”

    Planning the science orbits involves two different trajectories: ‘preferred’ and ‘high-activity’. While the intention is always to fly the preferred path, Rosetta will move to the high-activity trajectory in the event the comet becomes too active as it heats up.

    “This will allow science operations to continue besides the initial impact on science planning that such a move would entail,” adds Michael.

    “Science will now take front seat in this great mission. It’s why we are there in the first place!” says Matt Taylor, Rosetta Project Scientist.

    “The science teams have been working intensively over the last number of years with the science operations centre to prepare the dual planning for this phase.”

    When solar heat activates the frozen gases on and below the surface, outflowing gas and dust particles will create an atmosphere around the nucleus, known as the coma.

    Rosetta will become the first spacecraft to witness at close quarters the development of a comet’s coma and the subsequent tail streaming for millions of kilometres into space. Rosetta will then have to stay further from the comet to avoid the coma affecting its orbit.

    In addition, as the comet nears the Sun, illumination on its surface is expected to increase. This may provide sufficient sunlight for the DLR-operated Philae lander, now in hibernation, to reactivate, although this is far from certain.

    Early next year, Rosetta will be switched into a mode that allows it to listen periodically for beacon signals from the surface.


    Rosetta orbiting the comet

    Regular updates on Rosetta’s continuing mission and its scientific explorations will be posted in the mission blog, via http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta.

    See the full article, with video, here.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 9:31 pm on November 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ESA Rosetta   

    From BBC- “Comet landing: Organic molecules detected by Philae” 

    BBC
    BBC

    18 November 2014
    Paul Rincon

    The Philae lander has detected organic molecules on the surface of its comet, scientists have confirmed.

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    Carbon-containing “organics” are the basis of life on Earth and may give clues to chemical ingredients delivered to our planet early in its history.

    The compounds were picked up by a German-built instrument designed to “sniff” the comet’s thin atmosphere.

    Other analyses suggest the comet’s surface is largely water-ice covered with a thin dust layer.

    The European Space Agency (ESA) craft touched down on the Comet 67P on 12 November after a 10-year journey.

    Dr Fred Goessmann, principal investigator on the Cosac instrument, which made the organics detection, confirmed the find to BBC News. But he added that the team was still trying to interpret the results.

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    Cosac instrument from Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research

    It has not been disclosed which molecules have been found, or how complex they are.

    But the results are likely to provide insights into the possible role of comets in contributing some of the chemical building blocks to the primordial mix from which life evolved on the early Earth.

    Preliminary results from the Mupus instrument, which deployed a hammer to the comet after Philae’s landing, suggest there is a layer of dust 10-20cm thick on the surface with very hard water-ice underneath.

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    Mupus instrument from DLR Institute of Planetary Research

    The ice would be frozen solid at temperatures encountered in the outer Solar System – Mupus data suggest this layer has a tensile strength similar to sandstone.

    “It’s within a very broad spectrum of ice models. It was harder than expected at that location, but it’s still within bounds,” said Prof Mark McCaughrean, senior science adviser to ESA, told BBC News.

    Philae has gone into standby because of low power.

    He explained: “You can’t rule out rock, but if you look at the global story, we know the overall density of the comet is 0.4g/cubic cm. There’s no way the thing’s made of rock.

    “It’s more likely there’s sintered ice at the surface with more porous material lower down that hasn’t been exposed to the Sun in the same way.”

    After bouncing off the surface at least twice, Philae came to a stop in some sort of high-walled trap.

    “The fact that we landed up against something may actually be in our favour. If we’d landed on the main surface, the dust layer may have been even thicker and it’s possible we might not have gone down [to the ice],” said Prof McCaughrean.

    Scientists had to race to perform as many key tests as they could before Philae’s battery life ran out at the weekend.

    On re-charge

    A key objective was to drill a sample of “soil” and analyse it in Cosac’s oven. But, disappointingly, the latest information suggest no soil was delivered to the instrument.

    Prof McCaughrean explained: “We didn’t necessarily see many organics in the signal. That could be because we didn’t manage to pick up a sample. But what we know is that the drill went down to its full extent and came back up again.”

    “But there’s no independent way to say: This is what the sample looks like before you put it in there.”

    Scientists are hopeful however that as Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko approaches the Sun in coming months, Philae’s solar panels will see sunlight again. This might allow the batteries to re-charge, and enable the lander to perform science once more.

    “There’s a trade off – once it gets too hot, Philae will die as well. There is a sweet spot,” said Prof McCaughrean.

    He added: “Given the fact that there is a factor of six, seven, eight in solar illumination and the last action we took was to rotate the body of Philae around to get the bigger solar panel in, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to think it may well happen.

    “By being in the shadow of the cliff, it might even help us, that we might not get so hot, even at full solar illumination. But if you don’t get so hot that you don’t overheat, have you got enough solar power to charge the system.”

    The lander’s Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) , designed to provide information on the elemental composition of the surface, seems to have partially seen a signal from its own lens cover – which could have dropped off at a strange angle because Philae was not lying flat.

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    Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) from NASA/JPL

    See the full article here.

    [I gotta say, I am not sure if the results in the story match the headline. But, hey, I am not a rocket scientist.]

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  • richardmitnick 7:04 am on November 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ESA Rosetta,   

    From NYT: “So Far Away, Yet So Near to Us” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    NOV. 17, 2014
    JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

    Philae is talking to us,” announced the manager in charge of the little piece of machinery that had just achieved the first landing on a comet, a frozen remnant from the formation of the solar system. “We are on the comet.”

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    Philae

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    ESA/Rosetta with Philae

    Note the familiar, almost casual tone. It was as if the first thing the probe did on arrival was to call home, like a traveler with an ever-ready iPhone. The flight had taken forever, and that was some landing — bouncing around and finally winding up almost halfway across the surface. The European Space Agency’s probe was “talking” about its comet landing on Wednesday after a 10-year, four-billion-mile journey.

    The “we” echoes a famous human-machine flight relationship, Lindbergh’s solo crossing of the Atlantic in “The Spirit of St. Louis.” Here, the distant robotic messenger and the human receiver — the “we” — are also collaborators in reaching a new milestone in flight. Philae had made it to the surface on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, an icy, rocky place only two and a half miles wide and 317 million miles from Earth.

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    Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

    Now, as even the most stalwart human explorers remain confined to lower Earth orbit for the foreseeable future, the search for discovery in the outer reaches of the solar system is left to robotic probes. They are conceived by humans to go where humans themselves cannot go. But that does not preclude the development of a strong human-machine bond over years of building, testing and flying a mission.

    Minders of these machines may spend half a career on an idea they will then cast into the heavens, and wait through what may seem like another half-career for it to reach its destination and send back results. The human-machine bond can be tight. Even no-nonsense scientists and engineers find themselves personalizing such a consuming life experience as well as a trusted machine.

    Sometimes, they too are guilty of the transgression they warn laypeople against: anthropomorphism, the attribution of human form and behavior to nonhuman or even inanimate forms. A machine is talking to us. It was shaken up by the three-bounce landing, at last coming to rest near a sheltering rock face (not a choice place, as it prevents sunlight from reaching the lander’s solar panels, which were counted on to charge its batteries). Poor Philae may not have long to live.

    What could be more natural than treating the probe in almost human terms when you have spent at least a decade, waking and dreaming, with machinery on which such care is bestowed that it penetrates to your very core? Your dog may or may not be your best friend, and who knows about the cat? But Philae talks to you.

    Finding something to relate to is a never-ending struggle for humans, as spacecraft and telescopes draw attention to unworldly realms. Thomas A. Mutch of Brown University was the principal geologist for the Viking missions in 1976 to search for possible life on Mars. When the first Viking landed on Mars and started transmitting pictures of the immediate surface, Dr. Mutch (known to all as Tim) focused his excitement on a single rock near of the craft’s footpads. The rock was red, as was nearly everything around on the russet plain, and so the geologist had something he could relate to. He would deal with the big picture in time.

    NASA Viking 1
    NASA/Viking 1

    Reporters don’t always resist the temptation to make homey comparisons of faraway encounters. In 1983, the Pioneer 10 spacecraft crossed the orbit of Pluto. Though it has since been stripped of full planetary standing, Pluto still represents a frontier into a greater unknown. Pioneer had flown by and photographed Jupiter and Saturn and was still going. Writing about this, I kept hearing the rhythm of the Little Engine That Could.

    NASA Pioneer 10
    NASA/Pioneer 10

    So I sought to put the same bug in the reader’s ear: Like the little engine that could, this was the little spacecraft that would probably push on to the frontier of interstellar space and still be living to tell the tale.

    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French author, might have been able to understand our problem with perspective, in a universe so vast in which we are so small. Aside from his books on early aviation, he wrote about the Little Prince, who lived on a small asteroid where he cared for a single rose. The book was written for children, but with grown-ups very much in mind.

    A fox the little prince meets has some of the wisest lines. “One sees clearly only with the heart,” he says. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:34 pm on November 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , ESA Rosetta   

    From Brown: ” Questions for Peter Schultz – What can we learn by landing on a comet?” 

    Brown University
    Brown University

    November 12, 2014
    Contact: Kevin Stacey 401-863-3766

    ps
    Critical moment Peter Schultz and colleagues react to news that the ESA’s Philae Lander has reached the surface of the comet. Photo: Mike Cohea/Brown University

    On Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, the European Space Agency landed a spacecraft on the surface of a comet for the first time. Scientists hope data returned from the Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae Lander might not only offer a new perspective on the nature of comets, but also shed light the evolution of the solar system.

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    ESA/Rosetta

    ESA Rosetta Philae Lander
    Philae Lander

    Brown geoscientist Peter Schultz, who was not involved in the ESA mission, is a veteran of three prior missions to comets and asteroids (NASA’s Deep Impact, Stardust-NExT, and EPOXI missions). He spoke with science writer Kevin Stacey about Rosetta.

    Can you give us a bit of background on this comet?

    This particular comet (officially, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) goes around the sun about every 6.5 years and was discovered by two Ukranian astronomers (Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko) in 1969.

    comet
    67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

    As happens to many short-period comets, it was tugged by Jupiter’s gravity during a close encounter early in 1959. This tug changed its orbit, reducing its closest approach to the sun from 2.7 times the distance from the Earth (an astronomical unit, AU) to the sun to only 1.3 AU. The nucleus rotates on its axis every 12.4 hours but has changed due to jets of gas and dust that are released every time it gets close to the sun. As we now are finding out, cometary nuclei come in all shapes and sizes. This particular nucleus has two large lobes. One is about 2.5 miles across; the other is about 1.5 miles.

    Why was this comet chosen as a target for Rosetta and Philae?

    This comet was not the first choice for the mission, but the rocket that was to carry the spacecraft failed in 2002, which caused a delay. The orbit of this particular comet, however, allowed doing the same mission design, with a few tweaks. The key was to identify a comet that would allow a slow approach to the nucleus so that the spacecraft could rendezvous and then orbit.

    Could you talk about some of the technical challenges involved in landing on a comet?

    ESA scientists and engineers knew that it would be difficult to land on a cometary nucleus, especially because nothing was known about its surface. In fact, the mission was launched in 2002, before NASA’s Deep Impact mission saw the nucleus of 9P/Tempel 1 close-up for the first time, and before we knew anything about the density of a cometary nucleus. As Rosetta first captured its close-up view, it was clear that this nucleus was very different: patches of smooth surfaces, irregular depressions with steep-sided cliffs, and block fields. The Philae Lander will touch down in one of the smooth patches, approaching the surface at around two miles per hour (a slow walking pace). Certain areas look like soft snow while others regions are filled with blocks. As a result, it may be difficult to grab hold or stay put. Engineers designed “harpoons” that should have grabbed on while the lander’s legs are designed to keep the Lander from bouncing off. That’s critical because the escape speed is only about 1 mile per hour.

    What kinds of experiments will Philae be carrying out on the surface?

    Experiments on the lander make a wide range of measurements including the composition at the comet’s surface, the strength and density of the surface, temperature, the nature of compounds from about nine inches below the surface (using drills and instruments), isotopic ratios, magnetic field measurements. One instrument will probe the interior of a nucleus for the first time by sending radio waves from Philae to the orbiting Rosetta. Another will listen to the inside of the nucleus as it cracks and creeks when gas is released. This is like geophysicists and geochemists exploring a field site on Earth, but millions of miles away.

    What, ultimately, do scientists hope to learn by actually landing on a comet?

    In 2005, Deep Impact slammed into the nucleus of a comet in order to expose and measure ices and dust below. This time, Philae provides a softer touch. There’s much to be learned by landing on the surface. One of the key measurements is the relative abundance of heavy and light hydrogen, which may be a key to understanding the source of water on Earth. In addition, a lander is the only way to understand more about the strength of the surface and to understand how its atmosphere (the coma) changes as the comet goes around the sun. If successful, scientists will have a better understanding of how comets work.

    See the full article here.

    Welcome to Brown

    Rhode Island Hall: Rhode Island Hall’s classical exterior was recently renovated with a modern interiorRhode Island Hall: Rhode Island Hall’s classical exterior was recently renovated with a modern interior

    Located in historic Providence, Rhode Island and founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering, and the School of Professional Studies.

    With its talented and motivated student body and accomplished faculty, Brown is a leading research university that maintains a particular commitment to exceptional undergraduate instruction.

    Brown’s vibrant, diverse community consists of 6,000 undergraduates, 2,000 graduate students, 400 medical school students, more than 5,000 summer, visiting and online students, and nearly 700 faculty members. Brown students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

    Undergraduates pursue bachelor’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, ranging from Egyptology to cognitive neuroscience. Anything’s possible at Brown—the university’s commitment to undergraduate freedom means students must take responsibility as architects of their courses of study.

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  • richardmitnick 3:54 pm on November 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ESA Rosetta   

    From ESA: Philae landing on 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    This is the best I could find, obviously an animation. Hopefully something more real later.

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 4:43 am on November 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ESA Rosetta   

    From ESA/Rosetta: “Rosetta and Philae Go for Separation” 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    12 November 2014
    No Writer Credit

    Following a night of critical Go/NoGo decisions, Rosetta and Philae are cleared for separation, despite a problem onboard the lander. The mission is set to become the first in history to touch down on a comet.

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    ESA/Rosetta

    ESA Rosetta Philae Lander
    Philae on Rosetta

    During checks on the lander’s health, it was discovered that the active descent system, which provides a thrust to avoid rebound at the moment of touchdown, cannot be activated.

    At touchdown, landing gear will absorb the forces of the landing while ice screws in each of the probe’s feet and a harpoon system will lock Philae to the surface. At the same time, the thruster on top of the lander is supposed to push it down to counteract the impulse of the harpoon imparted in the opposite direction.

    “The cold gas thruster on top of the lander does not appear to be working so we will have to rely fully on the harpoons at touchdown,” says Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center.

    “We’ll need some luck not to land on a boulder or a steep slope.”

    “There were various problems with the preparation activities overnight but we have decided to ‘go’. Rosetta is lined up for separation,” says Paolo Ferri, ESA’s head of mission operations.

    Thus despite the potential problem concerning the moment of touchdown, separation will proceed on the planned timeline.

    Separation will occur in space at 08:35 GMT / 09:35 CET, but it will take the radio signals from the transmitter on Rosetta 28 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Earth and be transferred to the Rosetta Mission Control Centre at ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

    That means we must wait until about 09:03 GMT / 10:03 CET for confirmation the separation has happened correctly.

    The Go/No-Go decisions leading up to this milestone began last night at 19:00 GMT / 20:00 CET, with the first confirming that Rosetta is in the correct orbit for delivering Philae to the surface at the required time.

    The second Go was given at midnight (GMT), confirming that the commands to control separation and delivery are complete and ready to upload to Rosetta. The Go also confirmed that Rosetta’s overall health is good, and that the orbiter is ready to perform.

    At 02:35 GMT / 03:35 CET the third GO was given after a final verification that the lander is ready for touchdown.

    The final manoeuvre by Rosetta was conducted at 07:35 GMT / 08:35 CET, which is taking Rosetta to a point about 22.5 km from the comet’s centre for separation.
    Philae separation

    The manoeuvre was followed by the final Go/No-Go decision that verified the two spacecraft, the orbit, the ground stations, the ground systems and the teams are ready for landing.

    After separation, we will not hear from Philae for some two hours until the lander establishes a communication link with Rosetta. Philae cannot send its data to Earth directly – only via Rosetta.

    The descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko will take around seven hours, so confirmation of a successful touchdown is expected in a one-hour window centred on 17:02 GMT / 18:02 CET.

    “We are anxious but excited,” said Jean-Pierre Bibring, lead lander scientist, during this morning’s press briefing. “It is not every day that we try to land on a comet.”

    Follow the event live via http://www.esa.int/rosetta

    See the full article here.

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 9:30 am on November 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ESA Rosetta   

    From NYT: “Philae Lander Nears a Cosmic Touchdown” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    NOV. 10, 2014
    KENNETH CHANG

    In its 10-year chase of a comet, the European Space Agency’s ambitious Rosetta mission has pushed the edges of engineering ingenuity.

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    ESA/Rosetta

    After three slingshot flybys of Earth to fling it at ever faster speeds to catch up with its target, Rosetta was so far from the sun that its solar arrays could not generate enough electricity, and it was, by design, put into hibernation for two and a half years.

    To the relief of mission managers, Rosetta woke up from its cold, deep sleep as scheduled in January. In August, it finally pulled up alongside the comet, known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, both flying closer to the sun at 34,400 miles per hour. In the months since, Rosetta has snapped photographs just 4.5 miles above the craggy surface.

    Now it is about to attempt its greatest feat yet: drop a small lander onto the comet.

    On Wednesday, at 3:35 a.m. Eastern time, the 220-pound lander, named Philae, is scheduled to detach from Rosetta and be pulled downward by the comet’s gravity. Signals from Rosetta will take nearly 30 minutes to travel more than 300 million miles to mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

    ESA Rosetta Philae Lander
    Philae

    Philae will be aimed at a landing site that covers about a third of a square mile; the area looks relatively smooth and clear of boulders but is still close to streams of dust and gas shooting off the surface.

    Seven hours later, give or take some minutes, Philae is to bump onto the surface. The comet, 2.5 miles wide, is so small and its gravity so slight that even after that long fall, Philae will be traveling no faster than walking pace.

    comp
    A composite image of Comet 67P, where the Philae lander is scheduled to land after detaching from the Rosetta orbiter. Credit European Space Agency

    To keep the lander from bouncing, thrusters will fire for 15 seconds, pressing it against the surface, and a harpoon will shoot into the comet to anchor Philae.

    Both the European Space Agency and NASA, which contributed three instruments to the $275 million lander mission, will broadcast coverage on their websites.

    In this era of social media and anthropomorphized spacecraft, Philae and Rosetta have their own Twitter feeds: @Philae2014 and @ESA_Rosetta. “I’m so ready!” a Twitter post announced Sunday.

    Scientists hope that Philae and its 10 instruments will conduct 64 hours of work before its batteries drain.

    After that, if the dust and gas rising from the comet do not obscure too much sunlight, Philae’s solar panels are to recharge the batteries enough to provide an hour’s worth of observation every couple of days. Engineers expect Philae to survive until next March, when the surface of the comet becomes too hot.

    Philae is a high-risk, high-reward gamble. The lander could miss its mark, touch down on a boulder and topple over, or land in shadows where solar arrays cannot produce enough power.

    If it succeeds, scientists will have a breathtaking view from the surface of a comet. If it fails, mission managers say, Rosetta will still be a resounding success with the slew of data coming back from the orbiter. Planetary scientists have never had a look at a comet so close up for so long.

    Previous spacecraft missions have zoomed by comets at high speeds, providing only brief examinations. By contrast, Rosetta will be a constant companion as Comet 67P approaches the sun, swings around and heads out again, its instruments potentially providing more than two years of data.

    “We will watch this comet evolve,” Matt Taylor, the project scientist, said during a news briefing last week. “It’s never been done before.”

    Even at its brightest, Comet 67P will not be visible to the naked eye from Earth. At its closest point to the sun, it is still as far away as Earth. At the other end of its 6.5-year orbit, it is as far from the sun as Jupiter.

    Still, the changes on Comet 67P have been considerable already. Rosetta initially measured about 0.3 liters of water coming off the comet every second, Dr. Taylor said. “This is increasing,” he said. “We’re talking of kilos per second now coming off.” (A liter of water has a mass of one kilogram.)

    By the middle of next year, the comet will be spraying hundreds of liters of water a second, Dr. Taylor said.

    The comet has already provided a number of surprising findings, beginning with its shape. Instead of something roughly round, “we saw the duck,” Dr. Taylor said, referring to Comet 67P’s two-lobed structure that somewhat resembles a rubber bathtub toy.

    Among the gases that Rosetta has detected coming off the comet are hydrogen sulfide (the scent of rotten eggs), ammonia, methane, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde. “It may be not be the perfume that some of us would choose to wear,” Dr. Taylor said. “It’s a bit smelly.”

    He added, “At least there’s some alcohol, which some of us might enjoy.”

    Or not — the alcohol in the comet is methanol, also known as wood alcohol, which is poisonous and can cause blindness when imbibed.

    In preparation for the landing operation, Rosetta has moved farther from the comet. On Tuesday, it will take a sharp turn toward the comet on a not-quite collision course.

    To get the lander to the selected site, Rosetta will have to drop Philae at the right time at the right spot at an altitude of 14 miles from the comet’s center while traveling at the right velocity.

    Up to that point, if anything looks not quite right, mission managers have several opportunities to stop and regroup and plan for another day.

    But after Philae is let go, the mission managers can only be helpless onlookers. The thrusters are not capable of making any midcourse corrections.

    “We cannot actively steer the trajectory of the landing on descent,” said Andrea Accomazzo, the flight director. “That’s the part that worries me most, because I have no control.”

    See the full article here.

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