First Results from Cheops: ESA’s Exoplanet Observer Reveals Extreme Alien World

Artist impression of exoplanet WASP-189b orbiting its host star. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s new exoplanet mission, Cheops, has found a nearby planetary system to contain one of the hottest and most extreme extra-solar planets known to date: WASP-189 b. The finding, the very first from the mission, demonstrates Cheops’ unique ability to shed light on the Universe around us by revealing the secrets of these alien worlds.

Launched in December 2019, Cheops (the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite) is designed to observe nearby stars known to host planets. By ultra-precisely measuring changes in the levels of light coming from these systems as the planets orbit their stars, Cheops can initially characterise these planets — and, in turn, increase our understanding of how they form and evolve.

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Mars Express Finds More Underground Water on Mars

ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft has discovered several ponds of liquid water buried under the ice in the south polar region of Mars. The spacecraft’s radar instrument, MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding), revealed one underground reservoir in 2018, buried about 1.5 km below the ice. Now, taking into account more data and analysing it in a different way, three new ponds have been discovered. The largest underground lake measures about 20 x 30 km, and is surrounded by several smaller ponds. The water is thought to be very salty in order for it to remain liquid at cold temperatures.

Mars was once warmer and wetter with water flowing across the surface, much like early Earth. While it is not possible for water to remain stable on the surface today the new result opens the possibility that an entire system of ancient lakes might exist underground, perhaps millions or even billions of years old. They would be ideal locations to search for evidence of life on Mars, albeit very difficult to reach.

Subglacial lakes are also known on Earth, like Lake Vostok in Antarctica. They may harbour unique ecosystems, providing useful analogies for astrobiologists exploring how life can survive in extreme environments. The techniques used to analyse the radar data on Mars are similar to those used in investigations of subglacial lakes in Antarctica, Canada and Greenland.

Plans Underway for New European Polar Ice and Snow Topography Mission

CRISTAL satellite (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Monitoring the cryosphere is essential to fully assess, predict and adapt to climate variability and change. Given the importance of this fragile component of the Earth system, today ESA, along with Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space, have signed a contract to develop the Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter mission, known as CRISTAL.

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ESA Awards Airbus €300 Million Copernicus Satellite Contract

CRISTAL satellite (Credit: ESA)
  • CRISTAL will measure sea ice thickness and ice sheet elevations
  • Airbus in Germany will lead the industrial consortium
  • Contract is worth € 300 million

FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany, 21 September 2020 – The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected Airbus to develop and build the Copernicus polar ice and snow topography mission (CRISTAL). With two satellites the CRISTAL mission will ensure the long-term continuation of radar altimetry ice elevation and change records. It is one of six new missions to expand the current capabilities of the Copernicus space component for the benefit of all European citizens. The contract is worth € 300 million [$352 million].

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SSTL Demonstrates New GNSS-R Capabilities

4 Delay Doppler Maps (DDMs) collected by DoT-1 that show signal reflections from 4 GPS satellites. (Credit: Surrey Satellite Technology)

GUILDFORD, UK (SSTL PR) — Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has successfully demonstrated GNSS-Reflectometry (GNSS-R) from its 18kg DoT-1 satellite. SSTL has pioneered the new field of GNSS-R with successful payloads on board TechDemoSat-1 and the CYGNSS constellation, and is continuing to develop the technology and data analysis in pursuit of this new science.

The latest GNSS-R payload on-board the DoT-1 satellite is incorporated within the new small form factor Core Avionics module integral to all SSTL’s future satellite platforms. This innovation paves the way for any SSTL satellite that can accommodate a nadir pointing antenna to become part of a GNSS-R small-sat constellation.

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ESA Develops Breakthrough Mesh Reflector for Shaped Radio Beams

A prototype 2.6-m diameter metal-mesh antenna reflector. (Credit: Leri Datashvili/Large Space Structures GmbH)

NOORDWIJK, Netherlands (ESA PR) — This prototype 2.6-m diameter metal-mesh antenna reflector represents a big step forward for the European space sector: versions can be manufactured to reproduce any surface pattern that antenna designers wish, something that was previously possible only with traditional solid antennas.

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ESA Signs 2 Contracts with Exotrail for Delivery of Electric Propulsion Solutions

An artistic rendering of a satellite firing with a Exotrail ExoMG cluster of four thrusters. (Credit: Exotrail)

LUXEMBOURG (ESA PR) — ESA has signed two contracts with Exotrail under which the company will build and deliver engineering, qualification, and flight models of its ExoMG™ – nano  and ExoMG™ – micro electric propulsion systems. These contracts will allow Exotrail to develop new features on both products ready to be demonstrated in space.

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IG Audit: NASA Planetary Program Faces Major Financial, Managerial Challenges

Dragonfly flying over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) faces a series of managerial, financial and personnel challenges as it prepares to conduct a series of ever more ambitious missions to the moon and planets, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

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Government Backs UK Companies Tackling Dangerous Space Junk

Distribution of space debris around Earth (Credit: ESA)

Seven UK companies have been awarded a share of over £1 million [$1.3 million] to help track debris in space

  • Currently there are approximately 160 million objects in orbit – mainly debris – which could collide with satellites vital to services we use every day
  • UK Space Agency and Ministry of Defence sign formal agreement to work together on monitoring threats and hazards in orbit

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) –Seven pioneering projects which will develop new sensor technology or artificial intelligence to monitor hazardous space debris, have been announced today by the UK Space Agency.

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ESA Awards Contract for Hera Planetary Defense Mission

ESA’s Hera mission for planetary defence seen approaching the Dimorphos asteroid moonlet. (Credit: OHB)

PARIS, 15 September 2020 (ESA PR) — Today ESA awarded a €129.4 million contract covering the detailed design, manufacturing and testing of Hera, the Agency’s first mission for planetary defence. This ambitious mission will be Europe’s contribution to an international asteroid deflection effort, set to perform sustained exploration of a double asteroid system.

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UK-built Nanosatellites Ready for Launch

Four shoebox-sized, British-funded satellites will join a global fleet in orbit in the next two months

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — Government-backed ‘nanosatellites’ – built in Glasgow – will launch later this month, joining a fleet of more than 100 objects in low Earth orbit that predict global trade movements.

Two of four nanosatellites, made by Spire Global UK and backed by over £6 million of Government investment, will take off on the Russian Soyuz launcher on 24 September. The other two nanosatellites will be aboard an Indian PSLV launcher, due for launch on 1 November.

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ESA Launches First AI Earth Observation Satellite, Selects a Second

Vega begins its ascent from the Spaceport in French Guiana, carrying CubeSats and microsatellites on a flight to validate Europe’s innovative Small Spacecraft Mission Service. (Credit: Arianespace)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Following the successful launch of ɸ-sat-1 – Europe’s first artificial intelligence Earth observation mission – plans are already underway for the next innovative state-of-the-art technology, ɸ-sat-2.

ɸ-sat-1, an enhancement of the Federated Satellite Systems mission, was launched onboard a Vega rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 3 September at 02:51 BST/03:51 CEST (22:51 on 2 September, Kourou local time). ɸ-sat-1, pronounced PhiSat-1, will demonstrate how satellite data, coupled with advanced onboard digital technologies, can bring benefits to business, industry and science.

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ESAIL Maritime Satellite Launched

The ESAIL satellite mounted on Arianespace’s new launch adapter. (Credit: ESA)

KOUROU, French Guiana (ESA PR) — The ESAIL microsatellite for tracking ships worldwide – developed under ESA’s Partnership Projects programme – has been launched aboard an Arianespace Vega from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The launch took place at 02:51 BST (03:51 CEST) on 3 September.

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Nano Particles for Healthy Tissue

Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques installing the Nano Antioxidants experiment cartridges into Kubik incubator in ESA’s space laboratory Columbus on the International Space Station, 7 May 2019. (Credit: NASA)

GENOA, Italy (ESA PR) — “Eat your vitamins” might be replaced with “ingest your ceramic nano-particles” in the future as space research is giving more weight to the idea that nanoscopic particles could help protect cells from common causes of damage.

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Plasma Propulsion for Small Satellites

Rest firing of Europe’s Helicon Plasma Thruster. (Credit: SENER)

A test firing of Europe’s Helicon Plasma Thruster, developed with ESA by SENER in Spain. This compact, electrodeless and low voltage design is ideal for the propulsion of small satellites, including maintaining the formation of large orbital constellations.

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