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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Europe and the space - more intimate than ever

Time for little pro-European propaganda. I won't comment it, but I think that these are important corner stones for European science. It was time to have something important enough to brag about. Enjoy!
  1. ESA’s next long-term ISS mission has a name: OasISS
  2. Looking Back 13.8 Billion Years: The countdown for Planck satellite has started
  3. Europe's Sexy New Gravity Satellie

ESA’s next long-term ISS mission has a name: OasISS

February 5th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In May 2009, Frank De Winne, of Belgian nationality and a member of the European Astronaut Corps, will fly to the International Space Station at the start of his six-month mission. This mission sees him become the first European commander of the Station by October 2009. ESA has now given his mission the name OasISS.

During his stay on the International Space Station (ISS), De Winne will conduct scientific experiments developed by scientists from different European countries and others worldwide. In addition he will perform technology demonstrations and an education programme. De Winne will also be instrumental in operating the Station's robotic arm and that of the Kibo module, to help install the external payloads for the Japanese laboratory.

OasISS, the second European long-term mission to the ISS, will enlarge the crew of the ISS to six astronauts for the first time and thereby increase the time available for scientific experiments. It is a visible sign of the important role Europe plays through ESA in human spaceflight and in human exploration.

The name was chosen by ESA from 520 suggestions received in response to a competition launched by ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight last September.

The winning name refers to many aspects of the International Space Station as well as to human exploration.

OasISS also ties in with De Winne's role as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF Belgium. In support of the UNICEF 2009 WASH campaign dedicated to water, sanitation and hygiene, several events will be implemented during his flight to draw public attention to the availability and cleanliness of water which is critically important for human life. source

Looking Back 13.8 Billion Years: The countdown for Planck satellite has started

February 5th, 2009

The Planck satellite is set to eavesdrop with hitherto unsurpassed precision on the echo of the Big Bang, thereby providing a sharp image of the infancy of the Universe. The satellite is due to be launched on board an Ariane 5 rocket on April 16th. The aim of this international mission, managed by the European Space Agency (ESA), is to map the cosmic microwave background. The Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching is the German partner in this project. Researchers have spent a decade developing important software components that have now been delivered to the collaboration.

380,000 years after the Big Bang, all the structures we see in the universe today - stars, galaxies and galaxy clusters - were present in embryonic form as minute fluctuations in the density of matter. At that time, the Universe became transparent. The light freed then is still travelling through the cosmos today, and is measurable as the cosmic microwave radiation. This radiation provides an accurate image of the appearance of the Universe 13.8 billion years ago - precisely at the epoch when it became transparent.

The Planck space telescope will measure the microwave background for between 18 and 30 months from a location close to the so-called second Lagrange point of the Sun-Earth system. The satellite has one high-frequency and one low-frequency instrument and a total of nine different frequency bands. Temperature maps will not just provide an image of the early phase of our Universe. They will also allow scientists to answer important cosmological questions: What exactly happened during the Big Bang? What is today's Universe made of? How old is it? How did its structures form?

These measurements could also help verify the theory of inflation. Space is supposed to have undergone a phase of explosive expansion, when the universe was all of 10 to the power of -35 seconds old. Minute quantum fluctuations of the hypothetical energy field which drove this spatial explosion are believed to have produced the density fluctuations visible in the microwave background from which today's galaxies emerged.

It may never be possible to measure this epoch and so prove the theory of inflation directly. However, the temperature fluctuations in the microwave background conceal messages from this time that can be decoded through statistical analysis of the measurements of Planck.

The Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics represents Germany in the Planck Consortium and carried out part of the software development for the project. It has developed a mission simulation software package over the past decade for the data processing centers in Paris and Trieste. Such simulations generate synthetic datastreams that resemble the real one expected from the satellite. However, in the case of the synthetic data streams, the exact properties of the virtual Universe that produced them are known. This enables the testing and optimization of the data processing procedures, critical elements of this complex mission.

The German Planck team also developed a database-supported graphic workflow engine, the Planck Process Coordinator (known as the ProC). This important component of the project software infrastructure permits the construction, implementation, and monitoring of complex data processing pipelines.

With the simulation package and the Process Coordinator, the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics has contributed key components to the Planck mission. This project presents enormous challenges both to astrophysicists and to computer scientists. As the leading German partner, the Institute will be intensively involved in the scientific evaluation of the data. In addition to the cosmological questions at the heart of the project, research will also focus on more traditional astrophysical objects, such as galaxy clusters or active galactic nuclei.source

Europe's Sexy New Gravity Satellite

By Clara MoskowitzJanuary 23, 2009 | 4:39:50 PM

A sleek new European Space Agency satellite set to launch this year, perhaps as early as February, aims to map out the planet's gravitational field in unprecedented detail. The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE, will gather data useful for research in oceanography, solid Earth physics and climate change.

GOCE will use ultrasensitive instruments called accelerometers to measure tiny variations in Earth's gravitational tug due to the planet's rotation, the positions of mountains and ocean trenches, and variations in the density of Earth's interior.

Orbiting low at just 155 miles above the surface of the planet, GOCE will compile its precise 3-D map of Earth's gravitational field over a period of about 20 months.

The information it gathers will also help scientists finally gauge accurate heights for major Earth features such as Mount Everest, for which today's best estimates vary by more than 16 feet.

"GOCE will result in an improved accuracy of the geoid and will facilitate the establishment of a unified global height system so that heights of the highest mountains in the world can be directly compared," she said. "Another benefit will be an improvement in our capabilities to predict the behavior of the Earth, and hence provide information needed to help mitigate disasters and economically damaging events." source

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