On 20 April 2014, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on the ESA Mars Express spacecraft, which is operated by DLR, imaged the northern part of the enormous Argyre Planitia impact basin in the southern hemisphere of Mars. At that time, it was deep winter in the area, as can easily be seen from the ground frost covering the interior of Hooke Crater and large sections of the landscape in the image.
The lava outflow on the Holuhraun field northeast of Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano continues unabated. The lava field has grown to cover an area greater than 25 square kilometres.
When the Philae lander touches down on 11 November 2014, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will have a landing site waiting for it with a varied but not too rugged landscape offering good solar illumination and hardly any steep slopes. In a two-day selection process, the lander team under the leadership of DLR selected landing site 'J' from among five possible candidates.
Bardarbunga, (Bárðarbunga) in Iceland, one of the largest volcanoes in Europe and located beneath the biggest glacier in Europe, became active again in mid-August. For several years now, DLR researchers have been keeping a close eye on Bardarbunga and the system of volcanoes associated with it – an enormous network of subterranean magma channels, vents and craters.
The first things the AISat satellite caught sight of were the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula and the Bering Sea – but at that time only one non-directional rod antenna was in use on board the satellite. Within eight minutes, the receiver picked up Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from 45 ships.
Never before did a mission team have to select a landing site on a comet – the Philae lander will be the first spacecraft ever to land on a comet and conduct in situ measurements. The ESA Rosetta spacecraft and the Philae lander began their journey to their final destination – comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – 10 years ago.
When the Philae lander reaches its landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, it needs to be at a level yet scientifically interesting location, with enough sunlight and the right conditions to ensure a long working life. However, the rugged, unusually shaped comet is not making the choice easy for the lander team.
When looking at Mars through a telescope, once does not usually recognise many landscape features – especially since observations are often affected by dust storms that rage in the Martian atmosphere. The Hellas Planitia impact basin is, however, visible as a large, light, almost circular area in the southern hemisphere. Images of the deepest parts of this impact basin – with unusually great visibility – have now been acquired with the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on board ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft.
The target field on the International Space Station (ISS) where the final European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo carrier, ATV-5 Georges Lemaître, recently docked is just 60 centimetres tall. The spacecraft arrived at 15:29:53 CEST on 12 August 2014, precisely manoeuvring automatically to arrive at the Station, at an altitude of around 400 kilometres. Astronaut Alexander Gerst had one primary task – to monitor the docking process and cancel the automated procedure in the event of an emergency. Inside the 20-ton craft are experiments such as the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML) and the DLR magnetic experiment MagVector/MFX, together with food, coffee and clothing for the astronauts, fuel, air and drinking water, as well as a replacement pump for the water treatment system in the Columbus research laboratory. Overall, the ATV-5 transported roughly 6.6 tons of cargo into space. The sophisticated unloading process now begins for the teams in the control rooms at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen and Cologne.
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.
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.
Surface structures are becoming visible in new images of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. These images, with a resolution of 100 metres per pixel, were acquired with the OSIRIS scientific imaging system on board Rosetta. The comet's neck region - the section connecting the two heads - seems to be much brighter than the head and body of the nucleus.
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.
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.
The richly varied terrain of Hellespontus Montes on Mars is showcased in these images, acquired by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) operated by DLR on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft. On the western edge of the huge Hellas Planitia impact basin, traces can be seen of the icy streams that once flowed here.
Cassini, the Saturn orbiter, has witnessed countless fascinating phenomena, transmitting exceptional images and measurements back to Earth – including the intricate structure of Saturn's rings, the fountains of ice shot into space from the surface of Enceladus and rivers and oceans of methane on Titan.