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The Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator lifted off on a Proton-M rocket operated by Russia's Roscosmos at 09:31 GMT (10:31 CET) this morning from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Following separation of Proton's first and second stages, the payload fairing was released. The third stage separated nearly 10 minutes after liftoff. The Breeze-M upper stage, with ExoMars attached, then completed a series of four burns before the spacecraft was released at 20:13 GMT (21:13 CET). Signals from the spacecraft, received at ESA's control centre in Darmstadt, Germany via the Malindi ground tracking station in Africa at 21:29 GMT (22:29 CET), confirmed that the launch was fully successful and the spacecraft is in good health. The orbiter's solar wings have also now unfolded and the craft is on its way to Mars. "It's been a long journey getting the first ExoMars mission to the launch pad, but thanks to the hard work and dedication of our international teams, a new era of Mars exploration is now within our reach," says Johann-Dietrich Woerner, ESA's Director General. "I am grateful to our Russian partner, who have given this mission the best possible start today. Now we will explore Mars together." Igor Komarov, General Director of the Roscosmos State Space Corporation, adds, "Only the process of collaboration produces the best technical solutions for great research results. Roscosmos and ESA are confident of the mission's success." "We're not only looking forward to the world-class science data that this mission will return, but it is also significant in paving the way for the second ExoMars mission, which will move our expertise from in-orbit observations to surface and subsurface exploration of Mars," says Alvaro Giménez, ESA's Director of Science. The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli will travel to Mars together before separating on 16 October at distance of 900 000 km from the planet. Then, on 19 October, Schiaparelli will enter the martian atmosphere, descending to the surface in just under six minutes. Schiaparelli will demonstrate key entry, descent, and landing technologies for future missions, and will conduct a number of environmental studies during its short mission on the surface. For example, it will obtain the first measurements of electric fields on the surface of Mars that, combined with measurements of the concentration of atmospheric dust, will provide new insights into the role of electric forces on dust lifting – the trigger for dust storms. Meanwhile, on the same day, TGO will enter an elliptical four-day orbit around Mars, taking it from about 300 km at its nearest to around 96 000 km at its furthest point. After a year of complex 'aerobraking', manoeuvres during which the spacecraft will use the planet's atmosphere to lower its orbit slowly to a circular 400 km, its scientific mission to analyse rare gases in the atmosphere will begin. Of particular interest is methane, which on Earth, points to active geological or biological processes. One of the mission's key goals is to follow up on the methane detection made by ESA's Mars Express in 2004 to understand the processes at play in its generation and destruction, with an improved accuracy of three orders of magnitude over previous measurements. TGO will also image features on the martian surface that may be related to trace-gas sources such as volcanoes. In addition, it will be able to detect buried water-ice deposits, which, along with locations identified as sources of the trace gases, could influence the choice of landing sites of future missions. The orbiter will also act as a data relay for the second ExoMars mission, comprising a rover and stationary surface science platform, which is scheduled for launch in May 2018, arriving in early 2019. Explore further: Image: The ExoMars 2016 Schiaparelli module in Baikonur

News Article | March 4, 2016
Site: phys.org

This timelapse video shows Sentinel-3A, from final preparations to liftoff on a Rockot launcher from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, at 17:57 GMT (18:57 CET) on 16 February 2016.

News Article
Site: phys.org

LISA Pathfinder is testing the key elements that could be used for a future mission to detect gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. To this end, it will release two test masses into near-perfect free fall and measure their motion with unprecedented accuracy. LISA Pathfinder was launched on 3 December 2015 and arrived today in its orbit around 'L1', the first libration point of the Sun-Earth system, a virtual point in space some 1.5 million km from Earth towards the Sun. LISA Pathfinder's arrival came after a final thruster burn using the spacecraft's hard-working propulsion module on 20 January. The small, 64-second firing was designed to slightly change its speed and just barely tip the craft onto its new orbit about L1. Since launch, the propulsion module raised the orbit around Earth six times, the last of which kicked it towards L1. "We had planned two burns to get us into final orbit at L1, but only one was needed," says Ian Harrison, Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESA's ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany. The propulsion module separated from the science section at 11:30 GMT (12:30 CET) today after the combination was set spinning for stability. "Heat and vibration from the regular, hot thrusters on the propulsion module would cause too much disturbance during the spacecraft's delicate technology demonstration mission," notes Ian. "Primary propulsion during the rest of the mission will be provided by cold-gas microthrusters to keep us at L1." These small thrusters were used in the hours after separation to kill the spin and stabilise the spacecraft. Today's operations were monitored by the mission control and science teams at ESOC in real time via the Agency's deep-space station at Malargüe, Argentina. During this evening, the craft will be slowly turned to point towards Earth and, around midnight, establish a full communications link via ESA's New Norcia ground station, Australia. Next week, LISA Pathfinder's trajectory will be fine-tuned with a series of three microthruster bursts, taking it onto its final orbit, a 500 000 × 800 000 km orbit around L1. L1 was chosen because it is a quiet place in space, far away from large bodies such as Earth and is ideal for communications. Preparing the spacecraft's systems and payload for work has already begun, with the full platform, the thrusters and the Disturbance Reduction System having already been checked. Last week, the laser that will measure the most precise free-fall ever obtained in space was switched on and tested. Next month, the two identical test cubes will be released in two steps. First, the launch lock fingers on the eight corners of each cube will be retracted on 3 February. Then, other mechanisms that secure the cubes will be released on 15 and 16 February. This will enable the craft to begin, on 1 March, demonstrating that we can measure the separation of target masses with the extremely high accuracy required to measure gravitational waves from space in the future. The relative motion of the two cubes will be measured by laser to within a staggering a billionth of a millimetre.

News Article
Site: phys.org

CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System) has been developed by a team led by the University of Bern. It is scheduled to be launched on a PROTON rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 10:31 (CET) on Monday 14 March 2016. It will be carried by the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The launch will send the spacecraft towards an encounter with Mars in October 2016. CaSSIS is a high resolution imaging system designed to complement the data acquired by the other payload on TGO and other Mars orbiters while also enhancing our knowledge of the surface of Mars. The camera is a cooperation between the University of Bern, the Astronomical Observatory of Padua, and the Space Research Center in Warsaw with the support of local industries and funded by the Swiss Space Office (SSO), the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Polish Space Agency (POLSA). The instrument will obtain stereo images of the surface in colour at a resolution of better than 5 m. It is now known that Mars is more dynamic than previously thought. Of particular interest to the 25-strong science team from 9 countries (incl. US and Russia) is the chance CaSSIS offers to study changes that occur over the day and over the Martian seasons. Further studies of recently discovered liquid water on the surface will be one of the main aims. "CaSSIS is the best system we could build with the available resources," says the leader of the science team, Nicolas Thomas of the Center of Space and Habitability (CSH). "It was a real challenge completing the instrument in time. But we have done a lot of tests remotely from Bern, with CaSSIS on the spacecraft in Baikonur and it really seems to be good to go. The launcher now has to do its part." The first signals from the ExoMars spacecraft are expected 9 hours after launch at 19:28 CET. "That is going to be a long wait," says Thomas who will be a guest of ESA at the launch in Baikonur. "I will definitely need a drop of vodka at some point," he jokes. The first switch-on of CaSSIS is planned for mid-April when the Uni Bern team will see if their instrument performs as expected. "That will also be a nervous time," said Thomas. "But whatever happens, the Swiss engineering team did a fantastic job and showed how to build a high precision space instrument in an unbelievably short time."

Samsung's Unpacked event, where the company is anticipated to take the wraps off its much-awaited Galaxy S7 and Galay S7 edge flagship smartphones, is set to take place on Feb. 21. Come Sunday, for the first time, Samsung will be streaming the event live in 360 degree view. That's correct. The Unpacked event will be viewable from multiple angles for viewers all around the globe thanks to the 360 live streaming. "Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2016 is just around the corner, and for the first time the event will be presented in 360 live streaming. Even if you cannot make it to Barcelona for the big event, you can still enjoy the excitement of being the first to see Samsung's newest Galaxy devices-but this time with the added benefit of seeing them unveiled through this groundbreaking and immersive platform," says the company. The event will be recorded from four angles, which means that viewers can check out the event in the following modes: stage left, stage right, center stage or from the auditorium. Here's a look at how you can watch the event on PC, your mobile device or Gear VR this Sunday. Remember to ensure a stable Internet connection is at hand before you begin streaming! How To Watch On PC Watching the event is pretty easy for PC users. How To Watch On Mobile Remember that the event will start in Barcelona, Spain, at 7 p.m. CET on Feb. 21, which is 10 a.m. PST for those in the U.S.

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