It is only a few more days until the Dawn spacecraft enters orbit around Ceres on 6 March 2015, marking humankind's first visit to a dwarf planet. What Ceres has disclosed to scientists so far has raised more questions than it has provided answers.
Only 46,000 kilometres separated the Dawn spacecraft from its destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, when its German-built Framing Camera acquired the latest images on 19 February 2015. One of the most striking features of Ceres is the multitude of different crater shapes across its surface; in addition to numerous smaller, shallow craters, the images also reveal impact basins with large mountains located at their centres.
The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the United Nations University (UNU) have agreed to continue to strengthen their cooperation. Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Chairman of the DLR Executive Board, and Jakob Rhyner, Vice Rector of UNU in Europe and Director of the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) in Bonn, signed an agreement to this effect on 23 February 2015.
The mountain massif of Phlegra Montes extends into the northern lowlands of Mars like a long, slightly curved salient. Stretching for hundreds of kilometres, this alignment of numerous mountains, rolling hills and ridges lies to the east of the volcano Hecates Tholus in the Elysium volcanic region.
The final farewell; Georges Lemaître, the fifth and last European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) performed a controlled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and burned up at around 19:00 CET on 15 February. Its task had been to transport supplies and experiments to the International Space Station (ISS) and to raise and adjust the International Space Station ISS orbit. The era of ATV space transporters has now drawn to a close with its retirement from service – but the expertise gained during their development and operation will live on as part of the European service module fitted to the United States Orion space capsule.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko could lose up to 20 metres of surface material from its previously unilluminated south side when it heats up, starting in May 2015. The increasing heat as the comet approaches the Sun will trigger this 'diet', during which gases and solid materials will be ejected into space.
Without water, there can be no life as we know it. This principle applies both to Earth and to other celestial bodies. Water that has been lying hidden under a thick sheet of ice for millions of years can tell us something about the origin and development of life. But if one wants to recover a sample of this water, care has to be taken that no microorganisms from the surface are introduced and that the sample and underwater habitat are not contaminated.
The Lander Control Center (LCC) at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is quiet. While the Philae lander is hibernating on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the control room team are able to take a break. Philae' s battery finally ran out at 01:36 CET on 15 November 2014, following a triple landing and more than 56 hours of scientific work.
Planetary scientists have never seen dwarf planet Ceres from this close up. The German-developed Framing Camera on board NASA's Dawn spacecraft acquired this image on 25 January 2015 from a distance of just 237,000 kilometres.
It is still early days for the scientists involved in evaluating data that the 21 instruments on board the Rosetta spacecraft and its Philae lander have transmitted back to Earth. But preliminary results from seven of the 11 instruments on the Rosetta orbiter have been published in a special edition of the journal Science.
Nili Fossae caught the attention of astronomers in the last century, when Mars could only be observed from Earth with ground-based telescopes. The grabens of Nili Fossae extend for several hundred kilometres along the eastern edge of the giant impact basin Isidis Planitia and, together with the volcanic region Syrtis Major, they form a concentric pattern that runs parallel to the edge of the basin.
BIROS, a microsatellite capable of detecting forest fires from space, will be launched in 2015. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) HALO atmospheric research aircraft will be flying through the Monsoon winds in the summer of 2015, investigating the effect of large-scale airflows on polluted air masses above India.
Planetary scientists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) may find a thick ice crust with an ocean underneath when the NASA Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres in March 2015. Even now, from a distance of 383,000 kilometres, the first surface features are visible.
The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) telescope at the Paranal Observatory, operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, has achieved 'first light'.
2014 was an extraordinarily eventful and exciting year at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). The landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the mission by German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst were undisputed highlights. But the research conducted in other areas was extremely diverse, and sought to find answers to questions in the fields of aeronautics, aerospace, energy, transport and security.
It follows an elliptical orbit around Mars, undisturbed, almost lonely – the orbiter Mars Express. For 11 years now – to be precise since Christmas Eve 2003 – the first and, for some time now, European Space Agency longest-serving interplanetary mission has been travelling around our planetary neighbour.
Looking almost brand-new, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) set off from Hamburg, destined for its home base at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, at 13:16 CET on 14 December 2014 after its five and a half month visit.
With a diameter of nearly 1000 kilometres, it was the largest known asteroid – and yet Ceres, which was 'promoted' from asteroid to dwarf planet in 2006, is just nine pixels wide in the image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on 1 December 2014.
Philae landed on a comet just three weeks ago; now, another German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) lander mission has been launched – the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) is already on its way to Asteroid 1999 JU3.
Originally scheduled for launch at 05:24 CET on 30 November 2014, the MASCOT asteroid lander will now set off from Tanegashima Space Center on board the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) orbiter Hayabusa 2 no earlier than 1 December, destined for asteroid 1999 JU3.