News Article | March 9, 2016
The ice buried inside comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko is mainly found in crystalline form, which implies that it originated in the protosolar nebula and is therefore the same age as the Solar System. These findings were obtained by analyzing data from the Rosina2 instrument, placed on board ESA's Rosetta spacecraft.
Tomoya Mori is a senior at Brown University pursuing interdisciplinary studies in space exploration, multimedia and education. He is a co-founder at Metaplaneta, a creative think tank that investigates a multidisciplinary approach to space. He contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights. "Been there, done that." President Barack Obama famously used that line to help shift the world's attention from the moon to Mars as a space destination in recent years, though the debate on where to go next continues. But whether humanity wants to colonize the moon or terraform Mars, establishing a settlement on other celestial bodies is a challenge of immense scale. So a more important question to ask is this: What does it take to establish a permanent human presence outside of Earth? This question presents a great diversity of challenges that transcend disciplines. It goes beyond the realm of science and engineering, the two fields often considered the core of space exploration, and include politics, law, architecture, business and design. Extending a human presence beyond the planet will depend on diversifying the space community to include broader interests and perspectives. Already, a number of institutions collectively foster a multidisciplinary environment within the space industry. The Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) in the University of Houston offers the world's only master of science program in space architecture. Other institutions educate students about space law and policy, including the George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., and Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston. These unique programs equip their students with specialized knowledge and skills for the field of space travel. The real value, however, is in bringing new perspectives to the ever-growing space industry. [Moon Base Visions: How to Build a Lunar Colony (Photos )] Currently, most of those disciplines are functionally independent. Rarely do politicians talk about the architecture of space vehicles, or scientists talk about the potential of space business. But in reality, those fields are so intertwined that interdisciplinary fusion can be a real game-changer. The space industry should focus not merely on diversification, but also on the process by which diverse disciplines interact. It is time to take a more transparent, integrative and interdisciplinary approach to space exploration. One method for integrating disciplines, called the integrated design approach (IDA), has proven effective in sustainable design and could provide the same benefits for space. Traditionally, designers have used a linear process to construct sustainable buildings. Architects make sketches and pass them on to the engineers, who evaluate the designs and then assign subcontractors, and so on. However, with that approach, time and money are already running out by the time conflicts and problems arise. IDA is successful because it involves all project members from the beginning, allowing them to identify and resolve potential conflicts earlier in the process. And the multidisciplinary environment forces project members to think outside their immediate areas of expertise, inspiring innovative solutions to problems and generally producing more energy-efficient and cost-effective results. For example, in the book "Integrative Design Guide to Green Building" (John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2009), the authors present real-life situations in which IDA led to a surprisingly efficient outcome. The book was written by 7group, a multidisciplinary team dedicated to sustainability and regeneration, and Bill Reed, a proponent and practitioner of sustainability and regeneration. In the example, a team of architects, landscape designers and engineers was determining the placement of an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system in an office building, and the architect asked the mechanical engineer to provide an answer. The engineer was stunned, at first. Even though he had more than 20 years of experience designing HVAC systems, never in his life had anyone asked him where to locate one. After a few minutes, he provided a solution that turned out to be extremely efficient and cost-effective. Instead of placing the necessary mechanical room on the roof, which the architects had done in the last project, the engineer proposed placing heat-pump units on the ground floor of the building. Not only did this solution reduce the piping work and save $40,000 in construction costs, it also led to simplified maintenance and significant operational savings. From that experience, the team realized the importance of questioning assumptions. All components of a building are interdependent, and therefore everyone's input should be respected — not only individuals within one's own area of expertise, but also everyone else in a team. Innovative solutions or strategies often come from unexpected sources, and in this example, the multidisciplinary environment was critical to promoting openness and stimulating everyone's creativity. The work of Danish architects in the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) provides another illustration. In 2009, the Urban Planning Department of Tallinn, Estonia, and the Union of Estonian Architects held an international competition for a new town hall in in Tallinn. Throughout the design process, the BIG architects received input from the jury about the citizens’ needs and take into account of the city’s governance system. The design had to be flexible and accommodate unexpected demands. The BIG group's solution was simple yet quite novel; it was to increase the transparency between the citizens and politicians, to improve governance and the town's participatory democracy. The BIG town hall design has myriad glass windows and an open structure, offering the politicians daylight and a view of the city marketplace, and offering the town's citizens a chance to see their elected officials at work. Although the mayor of Tallinn had expressed his hope to build a new city hall, the proposal still remains a mere design, albeit one that shows the effectiveness of integrated design. Here, the architects not only provided a great working space for politicians, but also unified the city as a whole. Space habitation is not just space travel Space infrastructures are, in essence, organic systems. They need to be more self-sustaining than any regenerative and sustainable green buildings on Earth. And because of the constrained living conditions they present, such buildings must include input from the astronauts and travelers who might use them, and the input from a range of designers, engineers and others. For example, the habitation modules of the International Space Station must address energy and thermal balance, waste management, mechanical structure, and architecture, in addition to comfort and privacy, among other factors. The Habitation Design Center in NASA's Johnson Space Center often invites astronauts as consultants to improve module designs and make them more human-centered. It may seem obvious, but it is crucial that space vehicles be designed with feedback from astronauts, instead of becoming function-based machines like fighter planes. Rarely does one see inhabitants involved in the design process of an Earth-bound structure. For missions, like space colonization, of a larger scale, the IDA approach is even more necessary. Settling on a celestial body is far different from simply going there. To establish a sustainable living space in such a hostile environment, one needs to not only think about science and engineering, but also consider psychological, architectural, societal, political and economic aspects. Today, many of the world's space agencies have expressed interest in sending humans to the moon. Johann-Dietrich Woerner, the director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), has been pushing his vision to establish a moon village. Although the agency has yet to officially approve that plan, his message has gone global. Despite the hint of novelty it carries, the concept of lunar colonization existed long before the Apollo era. Numerous books and papers have presented promising plans for a lunar colony, but none have been realized, or even attempted. One of the fundamental obstacles is financial. Even if the moon village concept succeeded, most taxpayers would not understand why it was worth the cost. And yet, the moon has the potential to help humanity grow as a species. A lunar colony could be a model for a sustainable ecosystem, a testing ground to strengthen international collaboration, a giant laboratory for cutting-edge scientific experiments and technological innovation, a platform for new businesses, a stepping-stone for further exploration of the solar system, and a mental exercise for challenging norms. But if humanity is to establish a lunar colony, the world must employ IDA, involving all key players at the start. Over the weekend of Feb. 19 to 21, Brown University in Rhode Island will host Space Horizons 2016, a student-focused, three-day integrative workshop that brings students and professionals from all disciplines to conceptualize an international lunar city. The event will consist of four workshops — Politics, Infrastructure, Science, and Business & Technology — that will ask several questions: What would politically motivate participating countries? What is the economic value of a lunar city, and what commercial opportunities can sustain the lunar economy? What new experiments would emerge on a lunar base, and how would they help humanity live on the moon and beyond? What infrastructure is required to sustain a lunar ecosystem? Through the integrated-design approach, participants will be encouraged to think beyond their immediate expertise, and to recognize the connections between their skills and the space industry, making space more tangible to everybody. Each workshop will have experienced mentors and professionals, including representatives from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Lunar and Planetary Institute, PoliSpace, Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture, Masten Space Systems, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University, Yale University in New Jersey, the University of Central Florida and the Rhode Island School of Design. Ultimately, the findings may lead to a joint project or publication. But Space Horizons 2016 is not the first to take on the moon village concept. At the end of last year, ESA European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) hosted "The Moon Village Workshop", which took place in conjunction with International Symposium on Moon 2020-2030. The workshop invited professionals and students from all over the world to discuss and propose ideas to consolidate visions for the moon village concept. The participants were split into three groups: Moon Habitat Design, Science and Technology Potential in the Moon Village, and Engaging Stakeholders. The three working groups came up with several recommended actions to be taken by the director general of ESA, including the design and operations of a moon-base simulation at the European Astronaut Centre and the engagement of the most direct stakeholders, such as media, national governments and citizens, at the next ESA Ministerial Council Meeting. It takes time for educational strategies to prove their effectiveness. And as long as the moon village concept remains a vision, it will be challenging to involve people from nonspace industries, especially in an era in which the space industry is generally considered exclusive to rocket scientists. However, the future of space exploration is in widening the community. Most innovative ideas are the products of interdisciplinary fusions. Just as much as technological advancements will accelerate space exploration, broader interests and perspectives will also catalyze the process of establishing space colonies. The integrated-design approach has the potential to not only open up new perspectives, but also offer a younger generation an opportunity to design the future of space exploration and radically change humanity's perception of space. It is those people who will advance society into the universe. Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Space.com. Copyright 2016 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
News Article | August 22, 2016
Operating in the depths of space, far beyond the Moon's orbit, ESA's Gaia spacecraft has now completed two years of a planned five-year survey of the sky. Despite a series of unexpected technical challenges, the mission is on track to complete the most detailed and complex mapping of the heavens ever undertaken.
When it comes to monitoring the world’s frozen places, ice gets most of the love. Satellites such as CryoSat-2, run by the European Space Agency (ESA), measure minute changes in Earth’s melting ice sheets. Now another group of cryospheric scientists hopes to get in on the action — by monitoring not ice, but snow. Snow measurements are crucial for understanding the world’s water resources. But observations lag behind those of ice, mainly because remote sensing doesn’t work consistently across all snowy environments. From mountains to prairies to tundra, the sheer variety of landscapes has frustrated efforts to produce high-resolution, worldwide maps. “The biggest hole in our knowledge of the global water budget is snow,” says Jeffrey Deems, a research scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. “We really have no idea how much is out there.” Last week, at a workshop in Seattle, Washington, Deems and his colleagues settled on a plan to change that, when they laid out details for a multiyear NASA field campaign scheduled to begin in September. The SnowEx experiment will fly aeroplanes carrying a combination of remote-sensing instruments — including radar, laser altimeters (lidar) and multispectral imagers — over snowy landscapes. The goal is to see which techniques work best for studying snow, and to combine those in a design for a snow-sensing satellite. Snow information is becoming more crucial as the climate changes, says Matthew Sturm, a snow scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. More than 1.2 billion people worldwide rely on mountain snowpacks for water — but in many areas, snowfall may decrease in the future (J. S. Mankin et al. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 114016; 2015). In California, for example, the ongoing drought means that water managers are increasingly eager for any information about how much runoff to expect, and when, throughout the summer. In Alaska, changing snow cover affects how fast permafrost thaws, destabilizing the landscape. And as Arctic sea-ice cover shrinks, so too does its protective snow cover, leading to feedback loops of increasing ice destruction. Current satellites have limited ability to track these changes. ESA’s now-concluded GlobSnow project used satellite microwave data to map global ‘snow water equivalent’ — the crucial estimate of how much water is contained in the world’s snowpacks, calculated by multiplying snow depth by density. But GlobSnow’s maps, with pixels 25 kilometres on each side, are too low-resolution for precise estimates in individual watersheds. In the past few years, NASA and ESA have each rejected proposals for more-detailed snow-observing satellites. Both missions would have used radar to measure snow depth and calculate snow water equivalent, and both were doomed by doubts that researchers could reliably extract that information from the type of radar proposed. “For a long time we were on a quest for a single sensor,” Sturm says. “The snow’s just not that simple.” Now the focus is shifting to testing multiple sensors simultaneously, to see which combination works best. The first SnowEx flights will carry lidar instruments and several types of radar (see ‘Eyes on the snow’) over the Sierra Nevada or Rocky Mountains in western North America. Each will measure snow cover by monitoring how lidar or radar pulses bounce off the ground and reflect back to the plane. The instruments will include new technologies that, when used together, may avoid the problems of the rejected satellite radar, says Edward Kim, lead scientist for SnowEx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. One method is already becoming enormously popular in California and other parts of the western United States. For the past several years, NASA has flown a lidar-equipped plane called the Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) over several western watersheds. The observatory measures the shape of the terrain in the summer, when there is no snow on the ground, and then returns throughout the winter to measure the changing depth of the snowpack. Project scientists can build up highly detailed maps — down to 1.5-metre resolution — of watersheds such as the Tuolumne River Basin, which supplies the city of San Francisco in California. Water managers use the resulting data to estimate how much runoff to expect in the spring. “We’ve never had that across these mountain basins before,” says Thomas Painter, who heads the ASO project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. SnowEx will build on the ASO by testing extra instruments. “This is the number one priority,” says Jessica Lundquist, a hydrologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We need to figure out how to measure snow right.”
Following its successful launch and early operations phase, EUMETSAT has been supporting the European Space Agency (ESA) in-orbit commissioning activities, before EUMETSAT takes over routine operations of the spacecraft and processing data at its Sentinel-3 Marine Centre. The Copernicus programme is Europe's response to the challenge of global environment monitoring and climate change. Sentinel-3A will provide systematic measurements of the Earth's oceans, land, ice and atmosphere. It has been described as "the most beautiful satellite ever built" from oceanographers' perspective, with its cutting-edge instruments' ability to provide highly accurate data on the ocean colour, sea surface temperature and sea surface height. These data are crucial for Europe's 500 billion euro a year "blue economy" and will be relied upon by the fishing and aquaculture industries, coastal planners, the marine transport industry, environment and climate scientists and others, in addition to weather and ocean forecasters. The EU has entrusted EUMETSAT to undertake, in cooperation with ESA, routine operations of Sentinel-3A, which was launched on 16 February and is now going through its commissioning phase, and to deliver its marine mission. In addition, EUMETSAT will deliver to Copernicus data from the joint European-US Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite, which was launched in January this year, as part of an integrated marine data stream, incorporating data from third-party missions of our partners in the US, China and India. Jason-3 will expand until 2021 the unique mean sea-level climate data record, started in 1992 by Topex-Poseidon, and continue to provide the reference ocean surface topography measurements used for cross-calibrating all other altimeter missions, including Sentinel-3, and this data will also soon be available. Sentinel-3A has already delivered impressive first images from its Ocean and Land Colour Instrument, altimeter and Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer and the quality of the products is expected to improve with fine-tuning over the remaining months of the commissioning before EUMETSAT begins routine operations. When Sentinel-3A's marine mission is fully operational, these new, advanced instruments will be sending back to Earth high quality data in vastly increased amounts. EUMETSAT offers users and service providers access to a multi-mission data stream via EUMETCast, a highly-reliable, cost-effective system based on off-the-shelf, commercially available, standard Digital Video Broadcast technology. EUMETCast's highly scalable architecture will provide the near real-time Sentinel-3 data services to an unlimited number of simultaneous users, regardless of the possible limitations of local communication infrastructures. The UK-based European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which produces and disseminates numerical weather predictions to its 34 Member States and is both a research institute and operational service, receives more than 50 gigabytes of data via EUMETCast in near real time every day. "EUMETCast delivers the majority of the satellite observations operationally assimilated at ECMWF," ECMWF Head of Evaluation Section David Richardson said. "These are important to the quality of the forecasts in all regions and in those parts of the world where non-satellite observations are scarce the forecast skill would fall dramatically without the observations disseminated by EUMETCast. "EUMETCast provides a very reliable, cost-effective and easy to use mechanism for the near real time delivery of more than 50 gigabytes of satellite data every day. It is an essential component of ECMWF's data reception system. "ECMWF is also making use of the EUMETCast service to broadcast essential weather forecast products to over 50 African countries overcoming the lack of network infrastructure available in this area of the world." "The addition of Sentinel-3A data will complement the already existing marine data stream we have available on EUMETCast" EUMETSAT User Relations Manager Sally Wannop said: "As a single data access mechanism, EUMETCast is the one-stop-shop to a wide range of environmental data. "The addition of Sentinel-3A data will complement the already existing marine data stream we have available on EUMETCast." In addition, EUMETSAT will disseminate the Sentinel-3A data on-line, via itsCopernicus Online Data Access, and to international partners via EUMETCast Terrestrial, which functions like the satellite service but using a terrestrial network instead. The DVB satellite link is replaced by a connection to a national research network. EUMETCast Terrestrial has the potential to reach users beyond the EUMETCast satellite footprint, for example, in Australia. EUMETSAT is already looking at future evolutions of its data services to users. A series of pathfinder projects, involving hosted processing, new data view capabilities, the creation of a format conversation toolbox and online data platforms, for example, are currently being undertaken. Many of the enhancements arising from these projects will also be applied to the Copernicus data.