After a 10-year journey of some seven billion kilometres, the Rosetta mission is now heading towards its next major milestone – setting the lander Philae on a comet.
Among the most interesting landforms on Mars are features referred to as 'chaotic terrain'. Dozens or even hundreds of isolated mountains up to 2000 metres high are scattered in these extensive regions. Seen from orbit, they form a bizarre, chaotic pattern.
This mission ‘selfie’ was taken on 7 October at a distance of approximately 16 kilometres from the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the CIVA imaging system on board Rosetta’s lander, Philae.
The radar satellite TerraSAR-X has been orbiting the Earth since June 2007; in June 2010 its twin, TanDEM-X, followed it into space. For almost four years, the two satellites have been operated in a close flight formation by DLR.
In mid September, the site where the Philae lander will touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was selected – landing site 'J'. Now, there is a detailed timetable for the descent of Philae. The lander will undock from the Rosetta spacecraft at 09:35 CET on 12 November 2014 at a distance of approximately 22.5 kilometres from the centre of the comet and land on the surface about seven hours later.
The 2014 harvest season is coming to an end, and throughout Germany the signs are of good yields for wheat, corn and similar crops. But the differences are large depending on the location. Hence, for optimum cultivation, it is important to be constantly aware of the condition of the soil and the crops. Radar images are particularly suitable for providing large-scale observations – using an aircraft or a satellite.
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.
The Bardarbunga volcano on Iceland began erupting on 31 August 2014 – an effusive eruption with no ejection of volcanic ash. However, measurements made by DLR have since indicated that there is ongoing emission of sulphur dioxide (SO2). High sulphur dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are a clear indication of volcanic activity, as there are no other natural emission sources, only anthropogenic ones.
Lucie Poulet, from DLR, spent four months living 'on Mars', donning a spacesuit to explore the Red Planet and cultivating vegetables inside the domed Mars station. To do all this, she did not have to move away from her home planet, Earth.
Pumping fuel with no bubbles is no problem at the filling station around the corner, but it certainly is in the microgravity environment of space. The fourth and final series of the Capillary Channel Flow (CCF) experiments on the International Space Station (ISS), which began on 5 August 2014, has just come to an end.
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.
The radar system on board the European Space Agency (ESA) Sentinel-1A satellite has been imaging Earth's surface in 250-kilometre swathes since April 2014. Now, scientists at DLR, working under a contract from ESA, have created the first interferogram from this data – showing the topography of Earth as a coloured pattern.
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.