Following its textbook launch on 30 July 2014, the fifth and final supply spacecraft in the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) series is on its way to the International Space Station (ISS). The freighter – which is named after Belgian physicist Georges Lemaître, father of the Big Bang theory – is roughly the same size as a London double-decker bus and, together with its payload, weighs more than 20 tons. Scheduled to dock with the Space Station at 15:34 CEST on 12 August, it will supply the ISS with fuel, food and new experiments; it will remain attached to the Station for at least five months.
The ESA Rosetta spacecraft has travelled over 6.4 billion kilometres, swung by planets, examined two asteroids during flybys, and spent more than two and a half years in hibernation during its 10-year journey. On 6 August 2014 at 11:30 CEST, with the Philae lander on board, it arrived at its target comet and entered into orbit. Now, the mapping of the comet, which appears to consist of two interconnected parts, will begin. The first ever landing on a comet is expected to take place on 11 November 2014. The Philae lander is controlled and operated from the Lander Control Centre of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
Record cold temperatures on Earth are far from the low point on a comet formed from ice and dust. Researchers using the Visible and InfraRed Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) on board ESA’s comet rendezvous spacecraft, Rosetta, have determined that the average temperature on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a mere minus 70 degrees Celsius. This is where, in November 2014, the lander Philae – constructed and operated by a consortium led by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) will touch down. “At this temperature, the surface of the comet is not completely covered with a layer of ice, but with dark, dusty material,” says DLR planetary researcher Gabriele Arnold, who heads the German scientific contributions to this experiment. The temperature was measured during Rosetta’s approach to the comet, where it is due to arrive on 6 August 2014.
Seventy-five years ago, flow researchers at the Aerodynamic Research Institute (Aerodynamischen Versuchsanstalt; AVA) in Göttingen unveiled a car that, for many years, was considered the quintessential execution of aerodynamic design in vehicle construction; its name was the Schlörwagen. A large number of myths have arisen about what became of the vehicle. Now the archives at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) – the successor to AVA – have helped shed light on some of the mysteries.
Less than 2000 kilometres separate the ESA orbiter Rosetta and the Philae lander from their destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Images acquired with the OSIRIS camera system already indicate what lies ahead for the orbiter and lander upon arrival: "The surface seems pretty rough. We will have to wait to determine whether the visible depressions are impact craters or structures produced by cometary activity," says Ekkehard Kührt from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). The comet researcher is involved in the acquisition of data by the OSIRIS camera and is also responsible for data analysis. Another image taken by the camera shows that a cloud of dust, the coma, enshrouds the comet. “As we draw closer to Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the other instruments used in the mission will provide us with interesting insights into the interaction between the dust and the surrounding gas.”
So far, four European space freighters have carried supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). At 01:47 CEST on 30 July 2014, Georges Lemaître – the fifth and last European Space Agency (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) – lifted off from the spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana carrying experiments such as an electromagnetic levitator (EML), a furnace, that the German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst will install and commission. Also on board are items needed for everyday life in space such as coffee and snacks, and additional supplies to replenish the stocks of fuel, water and air. The freighter is scheduled to dock with the Space Station on 12 August 2014.
Tough, resilient and able to survive in the most inhospitable regions on Earth –now, they are being asked to show their strength in a space environment as well; blue-green algae (cyanobacteria of the genus Nostoc) and biofilms (deinococcus geothermalis) will depart for the International Space Station (ISS) at 23:44 CEST on 23 July 2014 on board a Progress spacecraft.
Comets have irregular and rather potato-like shapes – this is a well-known fact. But the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on which the Philae lander is scheduled to descend in November 2014, has an unexpected shape.
The flight plans of DLR until 23 July include some unusual flight tests. During extremely low-level passes across the grounds of Magdeburg/Cochstedt Airport, the A320 ATRA will collect insects for aerodynamic research.
At 12:39 CEST on 16 July 2014, the Cygnus Orbital-2 transport vehicle will approach the International Space Station (ISS), closing to a separation of just 12 metres. At this moment, astronaut Alexander Gerst and his colleague Steve Swanson will be called on to capture the transporter and dock it with the Space Station.