31 Oct 2019

Driving into the future

Driving into the future
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A highly autonomous self-driving shuttle has entered service at ESA’s technical heart. Its official inauguration took place on Tuesday, when it was assigned a suitably spacey name – ‘Orbiter’ – chosen through an employee competition.

The Agency’s ESTEC establishment in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, is being used as a testbed for the automated shuttle, to assess its viability as a ‘last mile’ solution for public transport.

ESTEC was selected because it is a controlled private environment but with all common transport found on public roads – cars, bikes, pedestrians and roundabouts – the shuttle is able to operate in mixed traffic.

“We’re very pleased to be involved with testing this project,” said Franco Ongaro, Head of ESTEC and ESA’s Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality, “as it makes practical use of technologies we have been developing here at ESTEC.”

The autonomous vehicle calculates its position using a fusion of satellite navigation, lidar ‘laser radar’, visible cameras and motion sensors. It is being used to transport employees and visitors around the ESTEC complex.

The fully-electric, zero-emission vehicle observes an on-site speed limit of 15km/h (although it has a top speed of 25 km/h). It can seat up to eight people, and is wheelchair accessible. For the first six months of service the vehicle will carry a steward to observe its operation along its programmed 10-minute-long roundtrip.

ESTEC’s Facilities Management team is working with vehicle owner Dutch Automated Mobility, bus company Arriva who operate the vehicle, provincial and municipal governments, vehicle provider Navya and other partners.

Deputy Floor Vermeulen of Province Zuid-Holland spoke at the official opening:  “It is important for the province to know whether the technology of self-driving transport can make a real contribution to the objective of making Zuid-Holland the most accessible province in the Netherlands. And whether it fits in with our motto for the coming years: Better every day. "

Project partners and guests including the Mayor of Noordwijk Jon Hermans-Vloedbeld, came to ESTEC’s Erasmus Highbay, filled with notable human and robotic exploration hardware, to learn more about the project and ride the automated shuttle for themselves. Watch a Dutch news report here.

Source: ESA news

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31 Oct 2019

SMOS 10 years in orbit


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SMOS has been in orbit for a decade. This remarkable satellite has not only exceeded its planned life in orbit, but also surpassed its original scientific goals. It was designed to deliver data on soil moisture and ocean salinity which are both crucial components of Earth’s water cycle. By consistently mapping these variables, SMOS is not only advancing our understanding of the water cycle and the exchange processes between Earth’s surface and the atmosphere, but is also helping to improve weather forecasts and contributing to climate research as well as contributing to a growing number of practical everyday applications.

Source: ESA news

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31 Oct 2019
29 Oct 2019

Antarctic mist


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As the Northern hemisphere tucks into longer nights, Antarctica bursts into its season of sunlight.

After four months of night, the crew of Concordia research station, located on Dome C in the Antarctic peninsula, saw first light in August, marking the end of the dreaded winter-over, a period of darkness and isolation.

The arrival of spring means the residents of Antarctica say goodbye to the last true night and those Milky Way views.

Each year, ESA sponsors a research medical doctor through the winter months to run experiments on the rest of the 15-strong crew. There are few other places on Earth that resemble the isolation and extreme climate astronauts will endure on other planets – giving ESA the opportunity to test technology and learn how humans behave in close quarters.

Current ESA-sponsored medical doctor Nadja Albertsen is wrapping up her residency at Concordia.

In addition to running simulations and collecting blood and urine samples, Nadja spent the year blogging about life and science in the Polar Desert. You can find her posts on the Chronicles from Concordia blog. Read also a CNN feature on life at Concordia and how it’s preparing humans for Mars. 

Ahead of the influx of summer visitors, the crew are also busy with housekeeping: linens are washed, mattresses are cleaned and changed, and fresh food supplies are on their way.

Concordia hosts up to 80 researchers in the busy summer months who flock to Concordia to check equipment, setup sensors and run experiments for a few weeks.

The next ESA-sponsored medical doctor is Stijn Thoolen. He arrives with and his fellow crew mates for their Antarctic stay in November.

Source: ESA news

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29 Oct 2019

Tracking Typhoon Hagibis from space

Floods northeast of Tokyo captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1

Hagibis was the biggest typhoon to hit Japan in decades. With extreme events like this likely to increase in number and in severity as a consequence of climate change, satellites are playing an increasingly important role in understanding and tracking huge storms.

Source: ESA news

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28 Oct 2019

A ghost in the Pleiades

A ghost in the Pleiades
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This ghostly image shows what can happen when an interstellar cloud passes too close to a star. Barnard’s Merope Nebula, also known as IC 349, is a cloud of interstellar gas and dust travelling through the Pleiades star cluster at a relative speed of 11 kilometres per second. It is passing close to the star Merope, located 0.06 light years away from the cloud, which is equivalent to about 3 500 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. This passage is disrupting the nebula and creating the wispy effect seen in the image.

Merope is located just out of the frame at the top right. Light from the star is reflected from the surface of the cloud, which illuminates it to become what astronomers call a reflection nebula. The beams of light at the upper right from the star are an effect produced by the telescope but the eerie wisps of light from the lower left to upper right are real.

Astronomers believe that radiation pressure from the star is acting like a sieve to separate dust particles of different sizes. As the nebula approaches Merope, the starlight decelerates dust particles, but the small particles slow down more than the large particles. As an effect, the almost straight lines that are reaching out towards Merope in this view are made of large particles, whereas smaller-sized particles lag behind to create the wispy structure on the lower left.

The nebula will continue its approach towards Merope over the next few thousand years and will eventually move past the star, if it survives. Studying the nebula’s interaction with the star is important as it provides a chance to observe interstellar material in an unusual situation and learn more about interstellar dust.

The nebula near Merope was discovered in 1890 by E.E. Barnard using the 36 inch telescope at the Lick Observatory in California. This image was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on 19 September 1999 and was originally published in 2000.

Source: ESA news

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28 Oct 2019

Contract seals deal for Biomass satellite’s ride into space

Forests key to climate fight

Today, ESA and Arianespace signed a contract that secures the launch of the Earth Explorer Biomass satellite. With liftoff scheduled for 2022 on a Vega launch vehicle from French Guiana, this new mission is another step closer to mapping the amount of carbon stored in forests and how it changes over time though deforestation, for example.

Source: ESA news

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25 Oct 2019

Is Earth on fire?

Wildfires have been making headlines again this month, with multiple fires burning in Lebanon and California, but these are just some of the many fires 2019 has seen. Fires in the Amazon sparked a global outcry this summer, but fires have also been blazing in the Arctic, France, Greece, Indonesia as well as many other areas in the world.

Source: ESA news

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25 Oct 2019
23 Oct 2019

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