rsflogo cpj ipi insi ifex2 ifj wanifaaministia2 oea2

Water recycling for monks and astronauts awarded Dutch innovation prize


BARCELONA, (ESA).- For over 25 years ESA has been working on an endless waste-recycling system to provide a self-sustaining ecosystem for humans in space. While we are not there yet, the technology developed to date is having immediate benefits for building a more sustainable planet – including at the La Trappe Abbey brewery in the Netherlands.

When the monks from La Trappe Abbey brewery wanted to make their beer-brewing process more sustainable, they chose the suite of techniques developed for spaceflight to renovate their factory and recycle more water. Upon its completion in 2019, the system should reduce the amount of water used to brew their beer by 80%.

The brewery produces almost a million cubic meters of waste water each year. Thanks to the new recycling techniques this water will no longer be sent to a municipal processing plant but used to irrigate the monks’ land and clean beer bottles.

The system will recover water and purify it using membranes before employing photobioreactors to add nitrogen to the water. Around 3000 species of bacteria and organisms, including plants, will be used to purify the water. The system will also reduce the brewery’s electricity use.

“In this case we applied our expertise and technological developments in a factory, but they could just as easily be incorporated into a hotel or other operation” says Christophe Lasseur, of ESA’s Life Support and Physical Sciences Instrumentation Section.

Using chemistry, biology and mechanical innovations, ESA’s micro-ecological life support system alternative (MELiSSA) programme’s research has already helped purify water in Morocco and developed bioreactors to grow new drugs. It has been recycling water in Antarctica for half a decade and a pilot project in Barcelona, Spain, is testing the system to the max with a fully closed, self-sustainable ecosystem for mice.

Provided funding by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the project at La Trappe has been awarded the innovation prize of 2018 by the Dutch councils of municipal water.

Add a comment

Mars Express gets festive: A winter wonderland on Mars

BARCELONA, (ESA).- This image shows what appears to be a large patch of fresh, untrodden snow – a dream for any lover of the holiday season. However, it’s a little too distant for a last-minute winter getaway: this feature, known as Korolev crater, is found on Mars, and is shown here in beautiful detail as seen by Mars Express.

ESA’s Mars Express mission launched on 2 June 2003, and reached Mars six months later. The satellite fired its main engine and entered orbit around the Red Planet on 25 December, making this month the 15-year anniversary of the spacecraft’s orbit insertion and the beginning of its science programme.

These images are an excellent celebration of such a milestone. Taken by the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), this view of Korolev crater comprises five different ‘strips’ that have been combined to form a single image, with each strip gathered over a different orbit. The crater is also shown in perspective, context, and topographic views, all of which offer a more complete view of the terrain in and around the crater.

Korolev crater is 82 kilometres across and found in the northern lowlands of Mars, just south of a large patch of dune-filled terrain that encircles part of the planet’s northern polar cap (known as Olympia Undae). It is an especially well-preserved example of a martian crater and is filled not by snow but ice, with its centre hosting a mound of water ice some 1.8 kilometres thick all year round.

This ever-icy presence is due to an interesting phenomenon known as a ‘cold trap’, which occurs as the name suggests. The crater’s floor is deep, lying some two kilometres vertically beneath its rim.

The very deepest parts of Korolev crater, those containing ice, act as a natural cold trap: the air moving over the deposit of ice cools down and sinks, creating a layer of cold air that sits directly above the ice itself.

Behaving as a shield, this layer helps the ice remain stable and stops it from heating up and disappearing. Air is a poor conductor of heat, exacerbating this effect and keeping Korolev crater permanently icy.

The crater is named after chief rocket engineer and spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev, dubbed the father of Soviet space technology.

Korolev worked on a number of well-known missions including the Sputnik program – the first artificial satellites ever sent into orbit around the Earth, in 1957 and the years following, the Vostok and Vokshod programs of human space exploration (Vostok being the spacecraft that carried the first ever human, Yuri Gagarin, into space in 1961) as well as the first interplanetary missions to the Moon, Mars, and Venus. He also worked on a number of rockets that were the precursors to the successful Soyuz launcher – still the workhorses of the Russian space programme, and used for both crewed and robotic flights.

The region of Mars has also been of interest to other missions, including ESA’s ExoMars programme, which aims to establish if life ever existed on Mars.

The Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) instrument aboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which began operating at Mars on 28 April 2018, also snapped a beautiful view of part of Korolev crater – this was one of the very first images the spacecraft sent back to Earth after arriving at our neighbouring planet.

CaSSIS imaged a 40-kilometre-long chunk of the crater’s northern rim, neatly showcasing its intriguing shape and structure, and its bright icy deposits.

Add a comment

Galileo set to grow with global system update

BARCELONA, (ESA).- Having completed all necessary qualification testing, ESA has received the green light to upgrade the global infrastructure running Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system. The resulting migration, set to start in February 2019, will incorporate new elements into the world-spanning system and boost the robustness of Galileo services delivered from the 26 satellites in orbit.

Authorisation for this upgrade – formally known as Galileo System Build 1.5.1 – has been given by the Galileo Security Accreditation Board, made up of European Union Member States.

This important milestone marks the climax of a system qualification campaign that took more than a year to execute: more than 150 system tests summing up to a total of 409 tests runs across Europe in the various Galileo operational centres.

This work was performed by the ESA Galileo project team in very tight collaboration with the WP1x system support team led by Thales Alenia Space in Italy.

“This marks the first update for Galileo’s operational infrastructure since it entered service,” explains ESA Galileo system test and verification manager Edward Breeuwer. “Galileo Initial Services began in December 2016 then last year we passed control of the system to our partner organisation, the European Global Navigation Satellite System Agency, or GSA.

“This therefore marks a major step, but migration to the upgraded system should in principle be entirely transparent to Galileo users. We achieve this by taking advantage of the redundant elements of the Galileo system, taking them offline to update them while their operational counterparts continue to run.”

The constellation in orbit is only one element of the overall satellite navigation system. At the same time as satellites were being built, tested and launched, ESA was putting in place a global ground segment, extending to some of the world’s loneliest places.

The ground segment is essential to keeping Galileo services running reliably. It identifies and generates corrections for any tiny drifts in the onboard atomic clocks delivering metre-scale positioning, or in the positioning of the satellites themselves.

Establishing Galileo’s ground segment was among the most complex developments ever undertaken by ESA, with the requirement to fulfil strict levels of performance, security and safety.

A major driver of this latest update was the growth of the Galileo constellation, which increased by 12 satellites through a trio of Ariane 5 launches in the last three years to become Europe’s largest.

The updated ground system incorporates a sixth telemetry, tracking and control station in Papeete, used to oversee Galileo satellite platforms, as well as an expansion of the number of antennas at the sites of uplink stations at Kourou in French Guiana; Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and Noumea in French Polynesia – serving to upload navigation message corrections to the satellites for rebroadcast to users.

Additional receivers have been added to the Galileo sensor stations to ensure full redundancy: their small antennas check the accuracy and signal quality of individual satellites in real time, and work together to pinpoint the current satellite orbits.

And the two Galileo control centres at the heart of this global ground segment – Fucino in Italy focused on Galileo navigation payloads and Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany on the satellites hosting them – will be made fully redundant of one another, each one able to perform all the functions of the other at a moment’s notice ensuring the required business continuity.

Operation of the individual Galileo satellites from the control centres will be further streamlined, with automation of key housekeeping tasks.

The system build connects two brand new Galileo Security Monitoring Centres, one in Paris and, in the near future, one in Madrid currently under construction, to the core Galileo infrastructure. These two sites check on security issues related to Galileo services, and are used for controlling access to the Public Regulated Service, the single most accurate and secure class of Galileo signal, restricted to governmental users.

Similarly, the new System Build is able to connect to the Galileo Service Centre in Madrid, the portal for the Galileo user community and to the Galileo’s Search-and-Rescue Return Link service, overseen by French space agency CNES from Toulouse.

Add a comment

Reflecting on Earthrise: 50 years on

BARCELONA, (ESA).- Monday 24 December marks 50 years since Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders snapped an iconic image of Earth rising above the lunar surface.

The image, known as Earthrise, has been credited with sparking an environmental movement. Now, head of ESA’s Astronaut Centre in Cologne Germany Frank De Winne shares his perspective on our planet seen from space.

Though Frank does not recall the Earthrise photo from childhood, he remembers the Moon landing clearly.

“My parents woke me up to watch it. Having to get up in the middle of the night to watch television was very impressive,” he says.

Little did he know one day he would be among the ranks of those who fly to space, spending 198 non-consecutive days orbiting Earth and gaining a whole new outlook on the planet we call home.

Frank says every experience in life has an impact, but the fragility of our planet, the thinness of our atmosphere and the immense nature of the universe strikes you when you fly into space.

“The other part of course is that in space there are no borders,” he explains. “You can look as much as you want, but you cannot see a border between Germany and Poland and Poland and Ukraine. We have spent thousands of years fighting over imaginary lines on a map that are simply not evident from orbit.”

Author Frank White calls this shift in awareness the “overview effect” and says, while the ideas Frank De Winne and many other astronauts describe are known to us intellectually, it is the direct experience that makes them so powerful.

“Some of the astronauts I interviewed talked about going to the Grand Canyon in the United States – you can describe it, you can talk about it, you can try to explain it to people, but that is not the experience,” he explains.

Despite this, he believes the Earthrise image, and imagery captured by astronauts like ESA’s Alexander Gerst, does play a vital role in helping us better understand our place in the universe and the need for global thinking.

Earthrise amplified the environmental movement here on Earth. It is a good example of how, by sharing their experiences with people who may not have the opportunity to travel to space, astronauts can influence our thinking and behaviour.”

For Frank De Winne, the overview effect remains ever-present, but these days he looks to the Moon.

“We have come a long way since this photo was taken,” he says. “We landed on the Moon six times. ESA’s Rosetta orbiter landed on a comet, probes and rovers have landed on Mars, we are working together with five international partners and many more countries on the International Space Station.

“Now it is time to take the next step and go forward to the Moon – not to plant a flag and be first, but to truly explore as an international community for the benefit of Earth. That is our vision for Europe.”

Add a comment

Back on Earth

BARCELONA, (ESA).- Just hours after returning from his Horizons mission on board the International Space Station, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst gives a short interview at the German Aerospace Centre’s :envihab facility in Cologne, Germany.

Alexander returned to Earth alongside crew mates Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Sergei Prokopyev on 20 December 2018 in the same Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that flew them to the Station on 6 June 2018.

The trio’s landing in the Kazakh steppe marked the successful conclusion of over six months in space during which Alexander conducted over 60 European experiments, became the second ever European commander of the International Space Station, welcomed six resupply vehicles, installed the first commercial facility for research in the Columbus laboratory, delivered an important message on climate change for leaders at the COP24 climate change conference, captured real-time footage of a Soyuz launch abort and much, much more.

Horizons was Alexander’s second mission to the International Space Station – the first was Blue Dot in 2014. He has now spent 363 full non-consecutive days in space (he returned home on his 364th day).

Now back in Cologne, Alexander will take his time to readapt to Earth’s gravity supported by ESA’s team of space medicine experts. He will also continue to provide ground-based data for researchers to support experiments performed in space.

Add a comment