Water discovered on second asteroid, may be even more common

Water ice on asteroids may be more common than expected, according to a new study that will be presented today at the world’s largest gathering of planetary scientists.
Two teams of researchers who made national headlines in April for showing …

Revealed: Europe’s master plan for space technology

The European Space Agency and its 16 national delegations have come together with the European Commission and more than a hundred separate industries to develop future road maps for space technology research and development across the continent. The new ‘European Space Technology Master Plan’ consolidates the overall process for space R&D and highlights 20 separate harmonised technology areas. It was discussed at a round table at this year’s Le Bourget with key representatives from the EC, European industry and ESA.

More autonomy for blind people thanks to satellite navigation

“When blind people take a taxi, they will be able to give directions to the taxi driver!” says Jose Luis Fernandez Coya. The man speaking really knows what he is talking about: he is blind but also heads the R&D department of ONCE, the National Organization of Spanish Blind people. This association has always been looking for helpful innovations and has just developed a system based on GPS to guide blind people. The system called “Tormes”, named after a famous Spanish 16th century story, is a computer with a Braille keyboard and satellite navigation technology that gives verbal directions. This personal navigator was presented to the press in Madrid recently. The European Space Agency (ESA) was involved in this event because ONCE and ESA are already working on how to improve “Tormes.”

40,000 lbs of Space Shuttle debris collected so far

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) continues their work into the investigation of the accident and a number of hearings are now being held in public. The chairman of the NASA Columbia Task Force (the body that supports the CAIB) gave a detailed briefing a few days ago to ESA and the other International Partners on the status to date. Over 40,000 lbs of debris have been recovered, representing 20% of the total Shuttle mass. However, nothing has yet been recovered west of Texas despite the fact that there is filmed evidence that debris had fallen over California. The search for debris in this area still continues.
The Orbiter Experiments Recorder is the latest piece of important equipment to be found. This is a magnetic tape recorder that records data from various sensors during ascent and re-entry, which had not been tele-metered down to the ground. The recorder is currently at the Kennedy Space Centre and undergoing analyses.

European astronomers observe first evaporating planet

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have, for the first time, observed the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet evaporating into space. Much of this planet may eventually disappear, leaving only a dense core. It is a type of extrasolar planet known as a ‘hot Jupiter’. These giant gaseous planets orbit their stars very closely, drawn to them like moths to a flame. The scorched planet called HD 209458b orbits ‘only’ 7 million kilometres from its yellow Sun-like star. By comparison, Jupiter, the closest gas giant in our Solar System, orbits 780 million kilometres from our Sun. NASA/ESA Hubble Space telescope observations reveal a hot and puffed-up evaporating hydrogen atmosphere surrounding the planet. This huge envelope of hydrogen resembles a comet with a tail trailing behind the planet. Earth also has an extended atmosphere of escaping hydrogen gas, but the loss rate is much lower.

Europe's first deep space ground station opens in Western Australia

The inauguration ceremony for the European Space Agency’s first deep space ground station was held today in New Norcia, 150km north of Perth. The completion of the New Norcia facility, its first deep space ground station, is an important event for ESA. The station will play a major role in the Agency’s deep space missions, including Rosetta and Mars Express, the latter expected to launch in May this year. The key component of the ground station is its massive antenna which weighs over 600 tonnes and is over 40 metres high. It can move 540 tonnes of ballast, cantilever and 35 metre dish while maintaining precision accuracy of its beam.

OK, our next caller is… from Mars!

It is midnight on 1 January 2004 and you want to send a greeting on your mobile phone to a friend. Sorry, the line is too busy, try again later. If you think you are alone with this problem, you are wrong. Space agencies have had to work out ingenious solutions to prevent similar ‘engaged, call later’ tones from happening on Mars. For the first time, there will be seven spacecraft on the Red Planet at the same time. Will they all be able to ‘phone home’?

Plasma probe scientists ready for Rosetta blast-off

Scientists who built and will control the instruments to investigate plasma changes around a comet describe their contribution to the ten year long mission at a pre-launch press briefing in London today. While the actual launch date for the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission has yet to be confirmed, the scientists, engineers and technicians behind the plasma-detecting instruments on board the spacecraft are all ready to begin the journey to comet Wirtanen they hope will return a rich scientific bounty.

GPS technology to help the blind

A new navigation tool to help blind people find their way around city streets is soon to be tested under a European Space Agency project. The hand-held device incorporates ESA’s new satellite navigation technologies into the personal navigator for blind people. At present, satellite navigation based on GPS and without the use of inertial systems, is not accurate enough to guide pedestrians, especially around cities. When few GPS satellites are in view because of tall buildings, positioning accuracy can be little better than 30 to 40 m. ESA’s EGNOS system, however, improves the accuracy of GPS positions to a few metres, making it sensitive enough to locate obstacles in the street.

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