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  • richardmitnick 12:57 pm on October 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Hard X-rays, JAXA, , Nanoflares, , NASA Sounding Rocket Instrument Spots Signatures of Long-Sought Small Solar Flares, NASA UC Berkeley FOXSI sounding rocket, One of the consequences of nanoflares would be pockets of superheated plasma, ,   

    From Goddard: “NASA Sounding Rocket Instrument Spots Signatures of Long-Sought Small Solar Flares” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Oct. 13, 2017
    Sarah Frazier
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Like most solar sounding rockets, the second flight of the FOXSI instrument – short for Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager – lasted 15 minutes, with just six minutes of data collection. But in that short time, the cutting-edge instrument found the best evidence to date of a phenomenon scientists have been seeking for years: signatures of tiny solar flares that could help explain the mysterious extreme heating of the Sun’s outer atmosphere.

    FOXSI detected a type of light called hard X-rays – whose wavelengths are much shorter than the light humans can see – which is a signature of extremely hot solar material, around 18 million degrees Fahrenheit. These kinds of temperatures are generally produced in solar flares, powerful bursts of energy. But in this case, there was no observable solar flare, meaning the hot material was most likely produced by a series of solar flares so small that they were undetectable from Earth: nanoflares. The results were published Oct. 9, 2017, in Nature Astronomy.

    “The key to this result is the sensitivity in hard X-ray measurements,” said Shin-nosuke Ishikawa, a solar physicist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, and lead author on the study. “Past hard X-ray instruments could not detect quiet active regions, and combination of new technologies enables us to investigate quiet active regions by hard X-rays for the first time.”

    The NASA-funded FOXSI instrument captured new evidence of small solar flares, called nanoflares, during its December 2014 flight on a suborbital sounding rocket. Nanoflares could help explain why the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, is so much hotter than the surface. Here, FOXSI’s observations of hard X-rays are shown in blue, superimposed over a soft X-ray image of the Sun from JAXA and NASA’s Hinode solar-observing satellite.
    Credits: JAXA/NASA/

    JAXA/NASA HINODE spacecraft

    NASA UC Berkeley JAXA FOXSI sounding rocket

    These observations are a step toward understanding the coronal heating problem, which is how scientists refer to the extraordinarily – and unexpectedly – high temperatures in the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona. The corona is hundreds to thousands of times hotter than the Sun’s visible surface, the photosphere. Because the Sun produces heat at its core, this runs counter to what one would initially expect: normally the layer closest to a source of heat, the Sun’s surface, in this case, would have a higher temperature than the more distant atmosphere.

    “If you’ve got a stove and you take your hand farther away, you don’t expect to feel hotter than when you were close,” said Lindsay Glesener, project manager for FOXSI-2 at the University of Minnesota and an author on the study.

    The cause of these counterintuitively high temperatures is an outstanding question in solar physics. One possible solution to the coronal heating problem is the constant eruption of tiny solar flares in the solar atmosphere, so small that they can’t be directly detected. In aggregate, these nanoflares could produce enough heat to raise the temperature of the corona to the millions of degrees that we observe.

    One of the consequences of nanoflares would be pockets of superheated plasma. Plasma at these temperatures emits light in hard X-rays, which are notoriously difficult to detect. For instance, NASA’s RHESSI satellite – short for Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager – launched in 2002, uses an indirect technique to measure hard X-rays, limiting how precisely we can pinpoint the location of superheated plasma. But with the cutting-edge optics available now, FOXSI was able to use a technique called direct focusing that can keep track of where the hard X-rays originate on the Sun.

    “It’s really a completely transformative way of making this type of measurement,” said Glesener. “Even just on a sounding rocket experiment looking at the Sun for about six minutes, we had much better sensitivity than a spacecraft with indirect imaging.”

    FOXSI’s measurements – along with additional X-ray data from the JAXA and NASA Hinode solar observatory – allow the team to say with certainty that the hard X-rays came from a specific region on the Sun that did not have any detectable larger solar flares, leaving nanoflares as the only likely instigator.

    “This is a proof of existence for these kinds of events,” said Steve Christe, the project scientist for FOXSI at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and an author on the study. “There’s basically no other way for these X-rays to be produced, except by plasma at around 10 million degrees Celsius [18 million degrees Fahrenheit]. This points to these small energy releases happening all the time, and if they exist, they should be contributing to coronal heating.”

    There are still questions to be answered, like: How much heat do nanoflares actually release into the corona?

    “This particular observation doesn’t tell us exactly how much it contributes to coronal heating,” said Christe. “To fully solve the coronal heating problem, they would need to be happening everywhere, even outside of the region observed here.”

    Hoping to build up a more complete picture of nanoflares and their contribution to coronal heating, Glesener is leading a team to launch a third iteration of the FOXSI instrument on a sounding rocket in summer 2018. This version of FOXSI will use new hardware to eliminate much of the background noise that the instrument sees, allowing for even more precise measurements.

    A team led by Christe was also selected to undertake a concept study developing the FOXSI instrument for a possible spaceflight as part of the NASA Small Explorers program.

    FOXSI is a collaboration between the United States and JAXA. The second iteration of the FOXSI sounding rocket launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Dec. 11, 2014. FOXSI is supported through NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA’s Heliophysics Division manages the sounding rocket program.


    JAXA press release on these findings (Japanese)
    NASA-funded FOXSI to Observe X-rays from Sun

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

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  • richardmitnick 1:45 pm on July 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , JAXA,   

    From ESA: “BepiColombo spacecraft modules stacked up in launch configuration” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    No writer credit

    ESA–C. Carreau, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

    BepiColombo, a joint ESA and JAXA mission to Mercury, has completed its final tests in launch configuration, the last time it will be stacked like this before being reassembled at the launch site next year.

    The image was taken on 6 July, during a dedicated press event where media were invited to see BepiColombo in ESA’s test centre. In the coming weeks, the three spacecraft elements will be separated for a final set of tests.

    The Mercury Transfer Module is seen at the bottom of the stack, with one folded solar array visible to the right. When both solar arrays are deployed they span about 30 m. The module will use solar-electric propulsion as well as gravity assists at Earth, Venus and Mercury to carry two science orbiters to Mercury orbit.

    ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter is seen in the middle of the stack (with the folded solar array towards the left and antenna to the right). JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter sits at the top of the 6 m-high stack. During the cruise to Mercury it will be protected by the Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF), which in this image is sitting on the floor to the right.

    ESA/JAXA BepiColumbo

    After arriving at Mercury, the modules will separate, and from their respective orbits the science orbiters will make complementary measurements of Mercury’s interior, surface, exosphere and magnetosphere, following up on many of the open questions raised by NASA’s Messenger mission.

    NASA/Messenger satellite

    The final tests completed with BepiColombo in the launch configuration – also with the MOSIF in place – were vibration tests to simulate the shaking conditions at launch. In the coming weeks the assembly will be dismantled and the individual modules will undergo final checks following the vibration test, including solar array deployment tests. In addition, the transfer module will undergo a thermal vacuum test to simulate the extreme environmental conditions expected during the cruise.

    The spacecraft is scheduled to leave Europe in March, with a launch from Kourou, French Guiana, anticipated in October 2018, and arrival at Mercury at the end of 2025.

    See here for the latest status update, and our video gallery for examples of some of the recent tests.

    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 2:43 pm on June 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , ESA Gravitational Wave Mission Selected. Planet Hunting Mission Moves Forward, , , ESA/Plato, JAXA,   

    From ESA: “Gravitational Wave Mission Selected. Planet Hunting Mission Moves Forward” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    Merging black holes. No image credit

    20 June 2017
    ESA Media Relations Office

    Tel: + 33 1 53 69 72 99

    Email: media@esa.int

    The LISA trio of satellites to detect gravitational waves from space has been selected as the third large-class mission in ESA’s Science programme, while the Plato exoplanet hunter moves into development.

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    These important milestones were decided upon during a meeting of ESA’s Science Programme Committee today, and ensure the continuation of ESA’s Cosmic Vision plan through the next two decades.

    The ‘gravitational universe’ was identified in 2013 as the theme for the third large-class mission, L3, searching for ripples in the fabric of spacetime created by celestial objects with very strong gravity, such as pairs of merging black holes.

    Predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravitational waves remained elusive until the first direct detection by the ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in September 2015. That signal was triggered by the merging of two black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away. Since then, two more events have been detected.

    Furthermore, ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission has also now demonstrated key technologies needed to detect gravitational waves from space.

    ESA/LISA Pathfinder

    This includes free-falling test masses linked by laser and isolated from all external and internal forces except gravity, a requirement to measure any possible distortion caused by a passing gravitational wave.

    The distortion affects the fabric of spacetime on the minuscule scale of a few millionths of a millionth of a metre over a distance of a million kilometres and so must be measured extremely precisely.

    LISA Pathfinder will conclude its pioneering mission at the end of this month, and LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, also an international collaboration, will now enter a more detailed phase of study. Three craft, separated by 2.5 million km in a triangular formation, will follow Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

    Following selection, the mission design and costing can be completed. Then it will be proposed for ‘adoption’ before construction begins. Launch is expected in 2034.

    Planet-hunter adopted

    In the same meeting Plato – Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars – has now been adopted in the Science Programme, following its selection in February 2014.


    This means it can move from a blueprint into construction. In the coming months industry will be asked to make bids to supply the spacecraft platform.

    Following its launch in 2026, Plato will monitor thousands of bright stars over a large area of the sky, searching for tiny, regular dips in brightness as their planets cross in front of them, temporarily blocking out a small fraction of the starlight.

    The mission will have a particular emphasis on discovering and characterising Earth-sized planets and super-Earths orbiting Sun-like stars in the habitable zone – the distance from the star where liquid surface water could exist.

    It will also investigate seismic activity in some of the host stars, and determine their masses, sizes and ages, helping to understand the entire exoplanet system.

    Plato will operate from the ‘L2’ virtual point in space 1.5 million km beyond Earth as seen from the Sun.

    LaGrange Points map. NASA

    Missions of opportunity

    Proba-3. No image credit.

    The Science Programme Committee also agreed on participation in ESA’s Proba-3 technology mission, a pair of satellites that will fly in formation just 150 m apart, with one acting as a blocking disc in front of the Sun, allowing the other to observe the Sun’s faint outer atmosphere in more detail than ever before.

    ESA will also participate in Japan’s X-ray Astronomy Recovery Mission (XARM), designed to recover the science of the Hitomi satellite that was lost shortly after launch last year.

    JAXA/Hitomi telescope lost

    LAXA/NASA XARM future satellite

    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 8:47 pm on December 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Epsilon-2, JAXA, ,   

    From NASA SpaceFlight: “Epsilon-2 rocket set to launch Japanese ERG mission” 

    NASA Spaceflight

    NASA Spaceflight

    December 19, 2016
    William Graham

    Japan’s Epsilon rocket will make its second flight Tuesday, tasked with orbiting JAXA’s ERG satellite to study Earth’s radiation belts. Liftoff from the Uchinoura Space Centre is scheduled for 20:00 local time (11:00 UTC), the opening of an hour-long launch window.

    Epsilon-2 Mission:

    The Exploration of Energisation and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) mission will be operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), studying Earth’s magnetosphere.


    Also known as SPRINT-B, ERG is a 365-kilogram (805 lb) satellite based on JAXA’s SPRINT bus, which was demonstrated by 2013’s Hisaki – or SPRINT-A – mission. The spacecraft measures 1.5 by 1.5 by 2.7 meters (4.9 x 4.9 x 8.9 feet) in its launch configuration.

    Once in orbit, ERG will deploy its instrument booms and solar arrays. With a span of 6.0 meters (19.7 feet) along the satellite’s x-axis and 5.2 m (17.1 ft) meters along its y-axis, the solar panels will generate over 700 watts of power for the spacecraft’s systems and instruments.

    Following initial operation and testing, ERG is expected to operate for at least a year.

    The ERG satellite carries instruments dedicated to the study of plasma, particles, waves and fields in Earth’s radiation belts.

    Earth’s radiation belts were discovered by James Van Allen’s experiments aboard the first US satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958 although their existence had previously been theorized by other scientists.


    As a result, the belts are known as the Van Allen belts.

    Earth has two permanent radiation belts, the inner and outer Van Allen belts, although NASA’s Van Allen Probes, or Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), which were launched in August 2012, showed that a third belt can form and dissipate.

    RBSP. http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/missions-projects/quick-facts-rbsp/

    ERG will join NASA’s two Van Allen Probes and three earlier Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms (THEMIS) spacecraft in making in-situ observations of the Van Allen belts. These will be joined by the UA Air Force Research Laboratory’s DSX satellite, currently scheduled for launch aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket next year.

    ERG’s Plasma and Particle Experiment (PPE) instrument suite consists of electron and ion mass analyzers. The Low Energy Particle Experiments – Electron Analyser (LEP-e), Medium Energy Particle Experiments – Electron Analyser (MEP-e), High Energy Electron Experiments (HEP) and Extremely High Energy Electron Experiments (XEP) instruments will study electrons at increasing energies between 10 electronvolts and 20 megaelectronvolts.

    Low Energy Particle Experiments – Ion Mass Analyser (LEP-i) and Medium Energy Particle Experiments – Ion Mass Analyser (MEP-i) are mass spectrometers which will be used to study the different types of ions present in ERG’s environment.

    The Plasma Wave Experiment (PWE) will measure the Earth’s electric and magnetic fields as the satellite passes through them, up to frequencies of 10 megahertz and 100 kilohertz respectively.

    This will be complimented by the Software-Type Wave Particle Interaction Analyser (S-WPIA), software aboard ERG’s computer systems, will attempt to quantify energy transferred between waves and electrons through the spacecraft’s observations of plasma waves and particles.

    ERG will launch atop JAXA’s solid-fuelled Epsilon rocket, which made its first flight in September 2013 and has not flown since.

    A replacement for the earlier M-V rocket, which retired in September 2006, Epsilon is designed to provide a ride to orbit for Japan’s smaller satellites. Epsilon uses an SRB-A3 motor – used as a strap-on booster on the larger H-IIA and H-IIB rockets – as its first stage with upper stages derived from the M-V.

    Epsilon launches from the Uchinoura – formerly Kagoshima – Space Centre, using the same launch pad from which the M-V flew.

    Also used by earlier members of the Mu family of rockets – of which the M-V was the final member – the complex was originally constructed in the 1960s.

    It consists of an assembly tower with the rocket mounted upon a movable launcher platform which is rotated into position ahead of launch. This was originally built as a rail launcher for the Mu series, however a pedestal has been added for Epsilon with the former support structure for the rail serving as an umbilical tower.

    Tuesday’s launch will be the first flight of the operational or “Enhanced Epsilon” configuration, introducing improvements to the upper stages over those used on the maiden flight.

    The vehicle has been described as “Epsilon-2”, however it is presently unclear whether this name refers to the enhanced configuration, or to Tuesday’s launch being Epsilon’s second flight.

    Epsilon’s launch will begin with first stage ignition and liftoff, when the countdown reaches zero. The rocket will fly in a south-easterly direction, along an azimuth of 100 degrees. Its first stage will burn for 109 seconds, accelerating the vehicle to a velocity of 2.5 kilometers per second (5,600 mph). At burnout, Epsilon will be at an altitude of 71 kilometers (44 miles, 38 nautical miles) and 75 kilometers (47 miles, 40 nautical miles) downrange.

    After the end of the first stage burn, Epsilon will enter a coast phase as it ascends into space. Around 41 seconds after burnout, at an altitude of 115 kilometers (71.5 miles, 62.1 nautical miles), the payload fairing will separate from the nose of the rocket. Eleven seconds later the spent first stage will be jettisoned.

    Epsilon-2 has an M-35 second stage, in place of the M-34c used on the maiden flight. The new stage is larger than its predecessor and has a fixed nozzle instead of the extendible nozzle used on the M-34c. The M-35 generates 445 kilonewtons of thrust, an increase from the 327 kilonewtons generated by the M-34c, and burns for fifteen seconds longer.

    The second stage will ignite four seconds after first stage separation, burning for two minutes and eight seconds.

    A second coast phase will take place between second stage burnout and third stage ignition. One minute and forty-five seconds after burning out, the second stage will separation, with the third stage igniting four seconds later. During the coast phase the third stage will be spun-up; spin-stabilisation is used to help it maintain attitude during its burn.

    For Tuesday’s launch the third stage has also been upgraded, with Epsilon-2 using a KM-V2c instead of the KM-V2b that flew on the 2013 launch. This uses a fixed nozzle instead of an extendible one, but has no significant difference in performance. The third stage will burn for about 89 seconds.

    Epsilon can fly with a liquid-fuelled fourth stage, the Compact Liquid Propulsion System (CLPS), which was used on its first launch. This is not required for Tuesday’s launch, so instead the rocket is flying in its all-solid three-stage configuration for the first time.

    Spacecraft separation is scheduled for thirteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds after liftoff; five minutes and sixteen seconds after third stage burnout.

    Tuesday’s launch is targeting an elliptical orbit with a perigee – the point closest to Earth – of 219 kilometers (136 miles, 118 nautical miles) and an apogee – or highest point – of 33,200 kilometers (20,600 miles, 17,900 nautical miles).

    The orbit will have inclination of 31.4 degrees to the equator, with the satellite taking about 580 minutes – or 9.7 hours – to complete one revolution.

    Tuesday’s launch is Japan’s fourth and last of 2016, following H-IIA missions in February and November which deployed the Hitomi observatory and the Himawari 9 weather satellite – and an H-IIB launch earlier this month with the Kounotori 6 spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station.

    Japan’s next launch, currently scheduled for 11 January, will be an experimental flight which aims to use a modified SS-520 sounding rocket to orbit a single three-unit CubeSat. An H-IIA launch carrying the DSN-2 communications satellite is also scheduled for January.

    The next Epsilon launch will carry the ASNARO-2 experimental radar imaging satellite. This is expected to occur during Japan’s 2017 financial year, which begins on 1 April.

    ASNARO-1 Satellite. http://spaceflight101.com/spacecraft/asnaro-1/

    (Images via JAXA)

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:46 am on August 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A quest for redemption, , , JAXA, What is the future?   

    From Nature: “Troubled Japanese space agency seeks fresh start” 

    Nature Mag

    29 July 2016
    Alexandra Witze

    JAXA/Hitomi telescope
    JAXA/Hitomi telescope. The Hitomi X-ray astronomy satellite launched in February, but broke up in space after a month. Asahi Shimbun/Getty

    The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is on a quest for redemption. In March, a software error caused the agency’s Hitomi X-ray astronomy satellite to break up in space, cutting short a planned three-year mission after only one month.

    Now JAXA is considering whether to rebuild and relaunch a copy of the spacecraft’s key instrument — a US-built X-ray spectrometer — with help from NASA. On 5 August, representatives of the two space agencies will meet to discuss the possibility of resurrecting the instrument that was the heart of Hitomi’s science. But whether JAXA can regain the confidence of the Japanese nation, and of its international partners, remains to be seen.

    Space experts note that JAXA has pulled off stunning recoveries before. It coaxed its crippled Hayabusa spacecraft to bring back dust from an asteroid, and nudged its Akatsuki probe into orbit around Venus 5 years after an engine failure seemed to render the spacecraft useless.

    JAXA/Hayabusa 2
    JAXA/Hayabusa 2


    “It’s important to note how resourceful JAXA has been at recovering from failures that typically would be catastrophic,” says Ralph Lorenz, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and co-author of the book Space System Failures (Praxis, 2005).

    Hitomi broke apart because an erroneous software command prompted the spacecraft to spin faster and faster, until its solar panels flew off into space. A JAXA investigation blamed faulty project-management techniques for not catching the error.

    The failure has reverberated at every level of JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) in Sagamihara, which managed Hitomi. JAXA president Naoki Okumura was one of three leading officials who took a 10% pay cut for four months “to express our regret and caution ourselves”, he said in a June press conference. He has also ordered a systems review of the institute’s next big project: a mission to study Earth’s radiation belts that is slated to launch in the coming months.

    Before Hitomi, JAXA’s lowest point was perhaps the loss of its Nozomi mission to Mars, which sailed past the red planet in 2003 without entering orbit as it was supposed to. The same year, a new JAXA rocket design failed during a test launch, prompting a review of all agency projects.


    Try, try again

    Some have questioned whether JAXA is trying to do too much with too little. It often assigns one person to cover a number of tasks that NASA would spread among multiple project engineers, says Lorenz, who collaborates on the Akatsuki Venus probe.

    Okumura has acknowledged as much, saying that ISAS will generally develop a mission using a small in-house team, along with the spacecraft manufacturer. By contrast, Hitomi involved a larger number of complex systems. There were simply not enough safeguards built into the process to catch the software error. “The previously conventional ISAS methods were not necessarily suited for the production of modern satellites and spacecraft,” Okumura said.

    JAXA has released an extraordinary level of technical detail about the failure. Agency officials have said that because Hitomi was meant as a community mission to serve X-ray astronomers across the globe, they feel obligated to explain what happened so that nobody makes the same mistake.

    Because of this determination and openness, “I think Hitomi’s successor is in safe hands with JAXA,” says Elizabeth Tasker, an astrophysicist at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

    But such projects may be a hard sell to politicians. “High-profile setbacks like Nozomi and Hitomi make it difficult for JAXA to justify big-ticket science missions in today’s political atmosphere,” says Saadia Pekkanen, an expert in Japanese space policy at the University of Washington in Seattle.

    JAXA has not yet decided whether a Hitomi successor would fly or which instruments it would carry, says ISAS spokeswoman Chisato Ikuta. But Hitomi’s premier scientific instrument was the spectrometer provided by NASA; data that it collected before the spacecraft died revealed secrets about gas flows in the Perseus galaxy cluster.

    The spectrometer seems to be thrice cursed; two earlier versions on different satellites were lost to a launch failure and a coolant leakage. Even so, a NASA advisory group reported on 5 July that launching a copy of the instrument no later than 2023 “would fulfill the immense scientific promise of the Hitomi” spectrometer. The cost to rebuild would be roughly US$70 million to $90 million.

    Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics director, will meet with JAXA representatives to discuss the options. “Certainly we would not be overseeing JAXA,” he told a NASA advisory committee on 20 July. “We can discuss practices that NASA implements to prevent us from making avoidable mistakes.”

    Other international missions in the works from JAXA include a magnetospheric orbiter, which is scheduled to launch next year on the European Space Agency’s BepiColumbo mission to Mercury.

    “The Olympics of engineering is when things go wrong,” says Lorenz. “Maybe the best time to fly is right after a failure.”

    See the full article here .

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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 11:35 am on February 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , JAXA   

    From DLR: “DLR and JAXA strengthen cooperation” 

    DLR Bloc

    German Aerospace Center

    25 February 2016
    Andreas Schütz
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Head, Media Relations Section
    Tel.: +49 2203 601-2474
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249

    On 25 February 2016, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) signed an ‘Inter Agency Arrangement for Strategic Partnership’ at the German Embassy in Tokyo, Japan. With this arrangement, both partners intend to jointly undertake the new role of space agencies and significantly contribute to the advancement of the world’s space development.

    The German Ambassador to Japan, Hans Carl von Werther, welcomed the arrangement: “Germany and Japan are highly technological nations that cooperate closely in research and science. The strategic partnership between DLR and JAXA agreed upon today will strengthen both countries.”

    The arrangement was signed by Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, and Naoki Okumura, President of JAXA. “The scientific and technical cooperation between Germany and Japan is characterised by high levels of excellence and expertise in tackling common global challenges,” says Ehrenfreund, adding: “Japan is among DLR’s most important partner countries. With this new cooperation arrangement, we want to further strengthen our strategic partnership with JAXA by intensifying not only the current scientific and technical cooperation, but also the cultural exchange between our two research institutions.”

    “Recently, the space development environment has changed significantly with, for example, the rise of the private sector and increasing space development and utilisation by emerging countries. With this arrangement, JAXA aims to build a new role for national space agencies with DLR, with whom we have enjoyed working together as leaders in the space sector. I am confident that we will be able to provide better and more effective value for society through a strategic partnership between both space agencies, which pursue high technology solutions and have excellent human resources. This can be achieved by complementing each other sharing and exploiting synergies,” says Okumura

    At present, various DLR institutes are collaborating with 18 scientific institutions and universities in Japan as part of of more than 30 aerospace projects. These are in the areas of, for example, Earth observation and planetary science, space robotics, aircraft design and atmospheric research. In addition, services in support of government and industry are provided.

    The main goals of the arrangement are:

    the development and utilisation of aerospace technologies to provide solutions to global societal challenges
    the development of substantial joint work on research and development projects and missions
    the development of synergies in German-Japanese cooperation, thereby strengthening the competitiveness of both countries

    In this context, DLR and JAXA intend to collaborate in the area of Space Utilisation and R&D with for example, L- and X-band radar technologies for Earth observation, work together in disaster management, and conduct research into reusable launchers. Another important area is the exploration of the Solar System; at present, the DLR MASCOT lander is on board the JAXA Hayabusa 2 spacecraft, en route to asteroid Ryugu previously 1999 JU3), where it will land after 2018 and explore its surface. Germany and Japan also utilise the International Space Station (ISS) intensively to answer questions in the fields of medicine, materials science and fundamental research.

    DLR MASCOT Lander for JAXA
    DLR/MASCOT Lander

    NAOJ Hayabusa 2
    JAXA/Hayabusa 2 spacecraft

    Germany and Japan also utilise the International Space Station (ISS) intensively to answer questions in the fields of medicine, materials science and fundamental research.

    Industrial cooperation between the two countries will also be intensified.

    See the full article here .

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    DLR Center

    DLR is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport and security is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space programme. DLR is also the umbrella organisation for the nation’s largest project management agency.

    DLR has approximately 8000 employees at 16 locations in Germany: Cologne (headquarters), Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Goettingen, Hamburg, Juelich, Lampoldshausen, Neustrelitz, Oberpfaffenhofen, Stade, Stuttgart, Trauen, and Weilheim. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.

  • richardmitnick 3:56 pm on January 19, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From Symmetry: “A speed trap for dark matter” 


    Manuel Gnida

    Analyzing the motion of X-ray sources could help researchers identify dark matter signals.

    Temp 1
    ASTRO-H, an X-ray satellite of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

    Dark matter or not dark matter? That is the question when it comes to the origin of intriguing X-ray signals scientists have found coming from space.

    In a theory paper published today in Physical Review Letters, scientists have suggested a surprisingly simple way of finding the answer: by setting up a speed trap for the enigmatic particles.

    Eighty-five percent of all matter in the universe is dark: It doesn’t emit light, nor does it interact much with regular matter other than through gravity.

    The nature of dark matter remains one of the biggest mysteries of modern physics. Most researchers believe that the invisible substance is made of fundamental particles, but so far they’ve evaded detection. One way scientists hope to prove their particle assumption is by searching the sky for energetic light that would emerge when dark matter particles decayed or annihilated each other in space.

    Over the past couple of years, several groups analyzing data from two X-ray satellites—the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra X-ray space observatories—reported the detection of faint X-rays with a well-defined energy of 3500 electronvolts (3.5 keV).

    ESA XMM Newton

    NASA Chandra Telescope

    The signal emanated from the center of the Milky Way; its nearest neighbor galaxy, Andromeda; and a number of galaxy clusters.

    Andromeda Galaxy. Adam Evans

    Some scientists believe it might be a telltale sign of decaying dark matter particles called sterile neutrinos—hypothetical heavier siblings of the known neutrinos produced in fusion reactions in the sun, radioactive decays and other nuclear processes. However, other researchers argue that there could be more mundane astrophysical origins such as hot gases.

    There might be a straightforward way of distinguishing between the two possibilities, suggest researchers from Ohio State University and the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology [KIPAC], a joint institute of Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

    It involves taking a closer look at the Doppler shifts of the X-ray signal. The Doppler effect is the shift of a signal to higher or lower frequencies depending on the relative velocity between the signal source and its observer. It’s used, for instance, in roadside speed traps by the police, but it could also help astrophysicists “catch” dark matter particles.

    “On average, dark matter moves differently than gas,” says study co-author Ranjan Laha from KIPAC. “Dark matter has random motion, whereas gas rotates with the galaxies to which it is confined. By measuring the Doppler shifts in different directions, we can in principle tell whether a signal—X-rays or any other frequency—stems from decaying dark matter particles or not.”

    Researchers would even know if the signal were caused by the observation instrument itself because then the Doppler shift would be zero for all directions

    Although a promising approach, it can’t just yet be applied to the 3.5-keV X-rays because the associated Doppler shifts are very small. Current instruments either don’t have enough energy resolution for the analysis or they don’t operate in the right energy range.

    However, this situation may change very soon with ASTRO-H, an X-ray satellite of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, whose launch is planned for early this year. As the researchers show in their paper, it will have just the right specifications to return a verdict on the mystery X-ray line. Dark matter had better watch its speed.

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 2:43 pm on September 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Astronomy: “NASA satellites help explain coronal heating” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    August 26, 2015

    Scientists have directly observed an essential part of the process for how magnetic waves in the Sun heat the solar plasma.

    This image taken October 19, 2013, shows a filament on the Sun — a giant ribbon of relatively cool solar material threading through the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona. The individual threads that make up the filament are clearly discernible in this photo. This image was captured by the Solar Optical Telescope onboard JAXA/NASA’s Hinode solar observatory. Researchers studied this filament to learn more about how material gets heated in the corona. JAXA/NASA/Hinode

    Modern telescopes and satellites have helped us measure the blazing hot temperatures of the Sun from afar. Mostly, the temperatures follow a clear pattern: The Sun produces energy by fusing hydrogen in its core, so the layers surrounding the core generally get cooler as you move outwards — with one exception. Two NASA missions have just made a significant step toward understanding why the corona — the outermost wispy layer of the Sun’s atmosphere — is hundreds of times hotter than the lower photosphere, which is the Sun’s visible surface.

    Researchers led by Joten Okamoto of Nagoya University in Japan and Patrick Antolin of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan observed a long-hypothesized mechanism for coronal heating in which magnetic waves are converted into heat energy. Past studies have suggested that magnetic waves in the Sun — Alfvénic waves — have enough energy to heat up the corona. The question has been how that energy is converted to heat.

    “For over 30 years, scientists hypothesized a mechanism for how these waves heat the plasma,” said Antolin. “An essential part of this process is called resonant absorption, and we have now directly observed resonant absorption for the first time.”

    Resonant absorption is a complicated wave process in which repeated waves add energy to the solar material, a charged gas known as plasma, the same way that a perfectly timed repeated push on a swing can make it go higher. Resonant absorption has signatures that can be seen in material moving side to side and front to back.

    To see the full range of motions, the team used observations from NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/NASA’s Hinode solar observatory to successfully identify signatures of the process. The researchers then correlated the signatures to material being heated to nearly corona-level temperatures. These observations told researchers that a certain type of plasma wave was being converted into a more turbulent type of motion, leading to lots of friction and electric currents, heating the solar material.

    NASA IRIS spacecraft

    JAXA HINODE spacecraft
    JAXA Hinode

    The researchers focused on a solar feature called a filament. Filaments are huge tubes of relatively cool plasma held high up in the corona by magnetic fields. Researchers developed a computer model of how the material inside filament tubes moves, and then looked for signatures of these motions with Sun-observing satellites.

    A filament stretches across the lower half of the Sun in this image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on February 10, 2015. Filaments are huge tubes of relatively cool solar material held high up in the corona by magnetic fields. Researchers simulated how the material moves in filament threads to explore how a particular type of motion could contribute to the extremely hot temperatures in the Sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona. NASA/SDO

    “Through numerical simulations, we show that the observed characteristic motion matches well what is expected from resonant absorption,” said Antolin.

    The signatures of these motions appear in 3-D, making them difficult to observe without the teamwork of several missions. Hinode’s Solar Optical Telescope was used to make measurements of motions that appear, from our perspective, to be up and down or side to side, a perspective that scientists call “plane of sky.” The resonant absorption model relies on the fact that the plasma contained in a filament tube moves in a specific wave motion called an Alfvénic kink wave, caused by magnetic fields. Alfvénic kink waves in filaments can cause motions in the plane of sky, so evidence of these waves came from observations by Hinode’s extremely high-resolution optical telescope.

    NASA Solar Optical Telescope
    NASA Solar Optical Telescope on Hinode

    More complicated were the line-of-sight observations — line of sight means motions in the third dimension, toward and away from us. The resonant absorption process can convert the Alfvénic kink wave into another Alfvénic wave motion. To see this conversion process, scientists need to simultaneously observe motions in the plane of sky and the line-of-sight direction. This is where IRIS comes in. IRIS takes a special type of data called spectra. For each image taken by IRIS’s ultraviolet telescope, it also creates a spectrum, which breaks down the light from the image into different wavelengths.

    Analyzing separate wavelengths can provide scientists with additional details such as whether the material is moving toward or away from the viewer. Much like a siren moving toward you sounds different from one moving away, light waves can become stretched or compressed if their source is moving toward or away from an observer. This slight change in wavelength is known as the Doppler effect. Scientists combined their knowledge of the Doppler effect with the expected emissions from a stationary filament to deduce how the filaments were moving in the line of sight.

    “It’s the combination of high-resolution observations in all three regimes — time, spatial, and spectral — that enabled us to see these previously unresolved phenomena,” said Adrian Daw from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    Using both the plane-of-sky observations from Hinode and line-of-sight observations from IRIS, researchers discovered the characteristic wave motions consistent with their model of this possible coronal heating mechanism. What’s more, they also observed material heating up in conjunction with the wave motions, further confirming that this process is related to heating in the solar atmosphere.
    “We would see the filament thread disappear from the filter that is sensitive to cool plasma and reappear in a filter for hotter plasma,” said Bart De Pontieu from Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Lab in Palo Alto, California.

    In addition, comparison of the two wave motions showed a time delay known as a phase difference. The researchers’ model predicted this phase difference, thus providing some of the strongest evidence that the team was correctly understanding their observations.

    Though resonant absorption plays a key role in the complete process, it does not directly cause heating. The researchers’ simulation showed that the transformed wave motions lead to turbulence around the edges of the filament tubes, which heats the surrounding plasma.

    It seems that resonant absorption is an excellent candidate for the role of an energy transport mechanism, although these observations were taken in the transition region rather than the corona. Researchers believe that this mechanism could be common in the corona as well.

    “Now the work starts to study if this mechanism also plays a role in heating plasma to coronal temperatures,” said De Pontieu.

    With the launch of over a dozen missions in the past 20 years, astronomers’ understanding of the Sun and how it interacts with Earth and the solar system is better than at any time in human history. Heliophysics System Observatory missions are working together to unravel the coronal heating problem and the Sun’s other remaining mysteries.


    This is a simulation of a cross-section of a thread of solar material called a filament hovering in the Sun’s atmosphere. The yellow area is the thread itself, where the material is denser, and the black area is the surrounding, less dense material. The characteristic wave motion leads to complex turbulence around the edges of the yellow thread, which heats the surrounding black material. This model was created with the Aterui supercomputer at the Center for Computational Astrophysics at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. // NAOJ/Patrick Antolin

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  • richardmitnick 12:44 pm on July 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From ESA: “The Argo’s hidden cargo” 

    European Space Agency

    No Writer Credit


    The constellation of the great ship Argo Navis used to bob along the watery southern horizon of the Mediterranean during times of antiquity.

    Said to represent the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts in the quest for the Golden Fleece, it was included by Greek astronomer Ptolemy in his 2nd century AD list of the constellations.

    French star-mapper Nicolas Louis de Lacaille split the giant constellation into three pieces in 1752 and this image shows Carina, the keel of the ship. Taken by Japan’s Akari space observatory, it shows a hidden cargo: star-forming dust.

    JAXA AKARI spacecraft

    This dust is part of the interstellar medium, which also contains gas. The bright knots reveal dense cores, just a few tenths of a light-year across. These dusty cocoons are where gravity is incubating new stars. They are invisible at optical wavelengths because the dust blocks the light from escaping.

    However, the dust’s low temperature means it gives off far-infrared radiation, making it visible to the special detectors on Akari.

    This false-colour image, spanning 20×15°, is constructed from three far-infrared bands: blue represents 65 micrometres, green shows 90 micrometres and red codes the 140 micrometre wavelength. The image is part of Akari’s recently released all-sky survey.

    This is the first far-infrared all-sky survey since the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) was launched by the US, the UK and the Netherlands in 1983. IRAS’s final release of image data was made in 1993 and astronomers have been using it ever since.

    NASA IRAS spacecraft

    Akari’s all-sky survey is both higher resolution and contains longer wavelengths than the IRAS survey.

    Akari observed more than 99% of the sky over a period of 16 months. The all-sky images have a resolution of 1–1.5 arcminutes (0.017–0.025º), in four wavelengths: 65, 90, 140 and 160 micrometres.

    Akari was the second space mission for infrared astronomy from the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science of the JAXA Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, this time with ESA’s participation.

    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 1:07 pm on April 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From ESA: “Tracking Japan’s asteroid impact mission” 

    European Space Agency

    29 April 2015
    No Writer Credit

    Hayabusa-2 dispatches European Mascot lander

    ESA is set to support Japan’s ‘touch-and-go’ Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, now en route to a little-known asteroid, helping to boost the scientific return from this audacious mission.

    A flawless launch last December marked the start of a six-year round-trip for Japan’s Hayabusa-2, which is on course to arrive at the carbon-rich asteroid 1999 JU3 in June 2018.

    Once there, it will study the surface in detail in preparation for dispatching three diminutive landing drones. It will also deliver the Mascot lander, developed by the DLR German Aerospace Center in cooperation with France’s CNES space agency and equipped with a ‘hopper’ mechanism to enable it to explore the tiny world from multiple locations.


    Hayabusa will also use explosives to fire a copper impactor into the 980 m-diameter asteroid, then scoop up the debris fragments in a complex touch-and-go manoeuvre. The fragments will be returned to Earth in 2020.

    In the first such support provided to a Japanese deep-space mission, ESA’s 35 m-diameter dish at Malargüe, Argentina, will provide up to 400 hours of tracking, establishing radio contact as the asteroid arcs through the Solar System between 135 million to 210 million km from the Sun.

    Malargüe station

    Telecommands from mission controllers at the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) will be fed to the station via ESOC, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Germany.

    The sophisticated technology and location of ESA’s station will enable Hayabusa-2 to deliver significantly more science data and provide coverage when Japanese stations are out of visibility.

    In the past, ESOC has supported JAXA’s Earth and astronomy missions, including Oicets and Astro-F.

    “This is the first time we’ve supported a Japanese deep-space mission, so we’ve been working closely with JAXA in the past months to establish technical links between the ground station and the Hayabusa mission systems,” said Maite Arza, ESA’s Service Manager for Hayabusa at ESOC.

    Together with similar stations in Spain and Australia, the Malargüe site comprises the deep-space tracking capability of ESA’s Estrack network.

    Tracking network control room

    Estrack’s global system of ground stations provides links between spacecraft in orbit and control teams on Earth. The network is controlled from ESOC, and provides tracking support to ESA and partner agency missions 24 hours/day, 365 days/year. The network will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.

    “On 22 April, we completed a live, inflight compatibility test, linking Malargüe with the Japanese spacecraft, demonstrating that we’re ready to provide tracking for the incredible Hayabusa-2 mission,” says Maite.

    “We look forward to helping our Japanese colleagues explore asteroid 1999 JU3, demonstrate advanced technology and achieve some excellent scientific results.”

    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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