COVID-19: How Can Satellites Help?

Normally busy, Frankfurt airport stands still amid the COVID-19 crisis. The image was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 30 March 2020. (Credits: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data – 2020, processed by ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has virtually paralysed daily life as we know it. Even when the spread of this highly infectious disease has been stemmed, the world will face huge challenges getting back to normal. To help support experts working in Europe’s research centres and technical organisations during these unprecedented times, ESA has issued two new initiatives related to understanding the effects that COVID-19 is imposing on society, the economy and the environment.

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ESA to Conduct BepiColombo Flyby Amid Coronavirus Crisis

BepiColombo approaching Mercury. (Credit: spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/JPL)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Controllers at ESA’s mission control centre are preparing for a gravity-assist flyby of the European-Japanese Mercury explorer BepiColombo. The manoeuvre, which will see the mission adjust its trajectory by harnessing Earth’s gravitational pull as it swings past the planet, will be performed amid restrictions ESA has implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Airbus Successfully Completes In-orbit Commissioning of CHEOPS Exoplanet Satellite

CHEOPS space telescope (Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab)

MADRID, 26 March 2020 (Airbus PR) – Airbus has received confirmation from ESA of a successful end to the In Orbit Commissioning (IOC) of CHEOPS after the IOC review yesterday. This critical phase was performed by Airbus in Spain with the support of the Instrument Team (University of Bern), Mission Operation Centre (INTA), Science Operation Centre (University of Geneva) and ESA.

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‘Major Takeaways from the 2019 Mining Space Summit

White Paper from the Luxembourg Space Agency focusses on opportunities for collaboration between terrestrial and space mining sectors

LUXEMBOURG (Luxembourg Space Agency PR) — On 9 October 2019, the second Mining Space Summit gathered more than 180 experts, from 24 countries, working in fields as diverse as oil & gas, terrestrial mining, space, finance, and government.

Held in Luxembourg, the goal of the Summit was to understand the technical and economic challenges facing the space resources industry and make recommendations for the future growth of this high technology sector.

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ESA to Issue Call for Ideas for Next Earth Explorer

GOES-16 full disk GeoColor image from October 16, 2019. GeoColor is an RGB that approximates what the human eye would see from space. (Credit: NOAA/CIRA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — As part of the ongoing commitment to realise new satellite missions that advance our understanding of Earth, contribute to climate research, benefit society and demonstrate innovative space technologies, ESA soon expects to release a Call for Ideas for Earth Explorer 11, pending approval from Member States at the Programme Board for Earth Observation. The hope is to issue the Call before the end of May, with a deadline to submit full proposals by the end of October 2020.

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New Inventions Putting Squeeze on Satellite Data

Proba-2 spacecraft (Credit: ESA/P. Carril)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The smarter space missions become, the more ‘housekeeping’ data they generate. In theory, this is good news, enabling greater oversight for ground controllers. But with communication links limited in capacity, floods of this telemetry data risk crowding out payload data – the scientifically or commercially valuable information the mission is there to provide. A new ESA-patented data compression method, soon available for use by all missions, helps prevent this from happening.

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Astronauts to Offer Inspiration During Isolation in #SpaceConnectsUs

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti working on the 3D Printer aboard the space station. (Credits: NASA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — In Europe and around the world, we’ve been getting used to a different way of living in recent weeks. On Thursday, 26 March, ESA and long-time partner Asteroid Day will host #SpaceConnectsUs – a chance to connect across borders and hear from space explorers, artists, and scientists about how to manage ourselves and our environment as our communities battle a global pandemic.

#SpaceConnectsUs is an online event running from 16:00–21:00 CET (15:00–20:00 GMT) on ESA WebTV and ESA YouTube to help everyone practising social distancing or in isolation enjoy science, our home planet, and our dreams of the sky above us.            

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ESA Scales Down Science Mission Operations Amid Pandemic

Panorama of the Main Control Room at ESOC, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany, taken in 2012. (Credit: ESA/J. Mai, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

DARMSTADT, Germany (ESA PR) — In response to the escalating coronavirus pandemic, ESA has decided to further reduce on-site personnel at its mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

The new adjustments require temporarily stopping instrument operation and data gathering on four Solar System science missions, which are part of the wider fleet of 21 spacecraft currently flown by the Agency from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt.

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Europlanet Launches 10 Million Euro Research Infrastructure Supporting Planetary Science

The Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratory (PSL) at the DLR Institute of Planetary Research – a laboratory for the spectroscopic investigation of planetary simulants (terrestrial rocks ground into rock dust, such as those found on the Earth-like planets of the Solar System) – offers globally unique research opportunities. Here, the reflection properties and emissions of samples can be measured under extremely high temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius, as is the case on Venus and Mercury. Europlanet, a European platform for planetary research, is now providing 10 million euro for the ‘Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure’ project, which will provide open access to facilities for planetary simulation and analysis for scientists from Europe, Asia and Africa, including two DLR laboratories. The image shows PSL Manager Jörn Helbert with a sample chamber. (Credit: Europlanet / madebygravity.co)
  • Europlanet 2024 RI will provide open access to the world’s largest group of facilities for planetary simulation and analysis, as well as a global network of small telescopes, data services and support for the scientific community.
  • Since 2005, Europlanet has been providing Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.
  • DLR participates in the programme with a spectroscopy laboratory and a laboratory for simulating atmospheric conditions on various planetary bodies.

BERLIN (DLR PR) — Solar System exploration benefits primarily from the ability of robotic spacecraft to visit planetary bodies, carrying cameras and experiments. In addition, much research is carried out in laboratories on Earth, and during field studies on volcanoes or in arid and cold polar regions.

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin has two laboratories for planetary research with globally unique capabilities. These are a spectroscopy laboratory for emissivity measurements of planetary simulants under extremely high temperatures, and a laboratory for simulating atmospheric conditions on a wide range of planetary bodies. Now, Europlanet, a European platform for planetary science, has launched ‘Europlanet 2024 RI‘, a 10 million euro project.

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How Space Station Research is Helping NASA’s Plans to Explore the Moon and Beyond

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly undergoes ultrasound measurements for the Fluid Shifts experiment during his one-year mission. The investigation measures how much fluid shifts from the lower to the upper body and in or out of cells and blood vessels as well as the effect on vision and the eye. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — As part of the Artemis lunar exploration program, NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon and use that experience to inform future human exploration of Mars. To safely and comfortably explore for days at a time on the surface of these celestial bodies, astronauts need suitable equipment and places to live. Almost 20 years of human habitation aboard the International Space Station and a growing body of research conducted there are contributing important insights into how to meet these needs for future lunar explorers.

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ESA’s Mission Control Adjusts to Coronavirus Conditions

Panorama of the Main Control Room at ESOC, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany, taken in 2012. (Credit: ESA/J. Mai, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

DARMSTADT, Germany (ESA PR) — Responsible for spacecraft orbiting Earth, the Sun and exploring the Solar System, teams at ESA’s ESOC mission control deal with in-flight challenges every day, from faulty hardware, problematic software and hazardous space debris to computer viruses that could affect ground stations.

So how do they keep missions flying when a viral pandemic puts the people of the Agency at risk?

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Growing Stem Cells for Deep Space Exploration

Artist impression (not to scale) idealising how the solar wind shapes the magnetospheres of Venus (top), Earth (middle) and Mars (bottom). Unlike Venus and Mars, Earth has an internal magnetic field that deflects the charged particles of the solar wind as they stream away from the Sun, carving out a ‘bubble’ – the magnetosphere – around the planet. At Mars and Venus, which don’t generate an internal magnetic field, the main obstacle to the solar wind is the upper atmosphere, or ionosphere. (Credit: ESA)

Radiation protection is the final frontier in human space exploration.

PARIS (ESA PR) — Earth’s magnetosphere protects us from the most harmful cosmic rays that bombard our planet but beyond this natural shield, astronauts are subjected to radiation that is a hundred times more than at sea level.

The risks of radiation are in the spotlight of ESA’s research efforts. The first ‘radiation summer school’ took place last year to train students and stimulate novel ideas for research into the effects of space radiation on humans.

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ESA, European Commission Pre-order Four More Ariane 6 Launches

Artist’s view of the configuration of Ariane 6 using four boosters (A64) (Credit: ESA – D. Ducros)

PARIS (Arianespace PR) — The European Space Agency (ESA) has finalized its preorder for four more launches on Ariane 6, along with an initial payment.

Using Ariane 62, the light version of the new European launcher, these missions will be carried out on behalf of the European Commission to continue the deployment and operational ramp-up of the high-performance Galileo satellite navigation system.

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Coronavirus and ESA’s Duty of Care

PARIS (ESA PR) — With significant developments in the coronavirus situation and recent directives in our host nations, ESA has taken steps ensure the operation of its critical tasks while carefully reinforcing its duty of care and social responsibility.

Last week, many ESA staff and contractors were advised to stay at home and take up teleworking, but the weekend saw border restrictions, closure of schools, shops and centres of social activity in France, Spain and the Netherlands, and even more stringent measures in other host nations. Pre-empting these events, ESA decided to apply this condition to the majority of ESA personnel across all establishments.

Several weeks ago, ESA’s management team began the process to confirm the list of critical tasks that ESA needs to protect, and identify the key resources that are required to support them, should the response to the coronavirus pandemic call for more stringent measures designed to reduce social interaction.

ESA Director General Jan Wörner said, “The health and welfare of our employees, their families and their communities remain my top priority. ESA has a duty of care to them all. But at the same time, we must also protect the core tasks of the Agency. My business priority has to be to ensure that these critical tasks continue uninterrupted.”

Only key workers required to support the formally identified critical tasks will be active at ESA sites, with all others now teleworking wherever possible both to reduce unnecessary social interaction and to allow maximum focus on critical tasks.

The ESA Council scheduled for 17/18 March was cancelled, but ESA management is working to identify the best process to allow executive committee approval of actions if necessary. Business continuity in the financial and procurement areas is being maintained.

The European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, is also adopting significant restrictions on operations and access. In compliance with measures decided by the French government, launch campaigns under way at the centre have been suspended. These launch preparations will resume as soon as health conditions allow. See the Arianespace press release.

Orion Completes Environmental Tests at Plum Brook

Orion undergoing testing at Plum Brook Station. (Credit: NASA–Marvin Smith)

SANDUSKY, Ohio (ESA PR) — The first Orion spacecraft that will fly around the Moon as part of Artemis to return humans to the lunar surface has finished its space-environment tests at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio, USA.

The vehicle – that can transport up to four astronauts – consists of the European Service Module, the Crew Module and connecting adapter and all elements have now been given the stamp of approval for spaceflight after being subjected to the vacuum, extreme temperatures and electro-magnetic interference it will encounter during its trip to the Moon.

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