Seeing ISS through a computer’s eye

Infrared view of ISS. Credits: Sodern

Infrared view of ISS. Credits: Sodern

This week the first images from the LIRIS technology demonstration were published on the ESA website. LIRIS is demonstrating technology that could be used for docking with uncooperative targets by scanning space objects in infrared and lidar. For its first outing in space it was place on ATV-5 to scan the International Space Station. The results are some incredible views of the weightless research centre.

Some people on Twitter were asking why the resolution of the images are so low. We asked Olivier Mongrard, project engineer for LIRIS at ESA to explain:

The image resolution should be put in the context of a demonstration for Guidance Navigation and Control. The sensors were selected for navigating spacecraft and not for Public Relations!

Lidar view of ISS. Credits: Jena-Optronik

Lidar view of ISS. Credits: Jena-Optronik

Infrared detectors typically deliver smaller resolution images than found on normal camera cell phones today, but for vision-based navigation, the resolution on the Space Station image is sufficient at 70 m distance to navigate adequately.

As we get closer to the target, the resolution is enough to make out even small features and the accuracy reached based on these images will only increase as we start exploiting the data LIRIS has returned.

Keep in mind that we want to extract navigation-relevant information on spacecraft autonomously, using the spacecraft's onboard computers. One of the challenges of vision-based navigation is to extract data without demanding too much in terms of computing power. So for our purposes too much resolution can be detrimental as it would require more computers.

For some of the vision-based navigation that Rosetta is performing around comet 67P, analysis of the images is done on Earth with powerful machines, for LIRIS the objective is that the spacecraft itself do all computations in real-time...



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Astro Sam working in ATV

Our ATV-5 welcomes a new European astronaut into its massive cargo carrier!

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European Service Module gets real

On 17 November, ESA signed a contract in Berlin with the Airbus Defence and Space division to develop and build the European Service Module for Orion, NASA’s new crewed spacecraft. It is the first time that Europe will provide system-critical elements for an American space transportation vehicle.

Credits: NASA

Credits: NASA

NASA intends to use this service module for the 2017 unmanned flight of Orion. The vehicle will perform a high-altitude orbital mission around the Moon. This flight will be a precursor for future Orion human space exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

The official name of Orion is ‘Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle’, because the spacecraft can be used to conduct different missions. Eventually, NASA will use Orion to send astronauts to Mars.

The design of the European Service Module (ESM) is based on the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), the European supply craft for the International Space Station. It is a major achievement, as this is the first European development of a human spacecraft operating beyond Earth orbit.

“Being selected by NASA to develop critical elements for the Orion project – currently their most important exploration project – is a clear recognition of Europe’s performance in the frame of the ATV programme,” says Nico Dettmann, Head of ESA’s Space Transportation Department.

“Cooperation with NASA is going well. It is fruitful and is happening with the same good spirit as with the International Space Station partnership,” he adds.

The ESM is a cylindrical module with a diameter of 4.5 metres and a total length – main engine excluded – of 2.7 metres. It is fitted with four solar array ‘wings’ with a span of 18.8 metres. Its dry mass is 3.5 metric tons and it can carry 8.6 tons of propellant. Besides propulsion and power, ESM carries consumables.

The Critical Design Review (CDR) is planned for 2015.

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ATV education challenge relaunched

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst with box-set during his Blue Dot mission on the Space Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst with box-set during his Blue Dot mission on the Space Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

In August we offered five limited-edition box-sets of ATV heritage in a competition for the best educational videos on physics. The prize includes all five ATV mission patches and pins with five DVD’s worth of educational videos packaged in a sleek blue box.

Never before has a competition on the ATV blog had such little response. An explanation for this baffles us, considering the amazing prize we have on offer. ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst himself was overjoyed on receiving his prize for his unique demonstration of the physics behind a comet landing, he took a picture of himself with the box set on the International Space Station. Watch his entry below:

We did receive two entries from people on Earth through the normal channels. Rafael from Spain was the first to kick of the competition with a short video on the laws of reflection:

Shortly afterwards Simon sent in this excellent film explaining ATV’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere and the physics behind their burnup. He even modifies a bicycle pump to power a led lamp to prove his point and inspire teachers:

Not too late to win

The three pioneering individuals above will receive their prizes soon, but we have decided to extend the deadline yet again to allow another three people a chance to win. Make a video, post it online using the service of your choice, and link to it in the comments on the ATV education challenge post.

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ATV-5 mid-mission report: EXCELLENT

ATV-5. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

ATV-5. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

ESA’s ATV-5 mission manager Massimo Cislaghi sent this mid-mission report on ATV Georges Lemaître:

About 3.5 months have passed since the launch of ATV Georges Lemaître on 29 July, and about 3.5 months are left before the end of its mission. We do not have a fixed date yet, but we are targeting the end of February 2015.

ATV-5. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

ATV-5. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

Therefore, as my more famous compatriot Dante Alighieri used to say "nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita ..." or "halfway through the journey of our life..." I take the liberty to provide you with a short summary of how the mission is going, even if this could be summarised with just one word: EXCELLENT.

Continue reading

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ATV Control Centre congratulates Rosetta teams

Philae heading for comet 67P. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Philae heading for comet 67P. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

A message from the ATV Control Centre team who had their own concerns yesterday but managed to follow the Rosetta landing nonetheless:

The ATV Control Center team in Toulouse, France, congratulates our Rosetta-Philae ESA-DLR-CNES colleagues for their fantastic performances!

We know the efforts made to prepare and ensure a successful landing, the days and nights on console to be trained and ready for the Great Day. We all followed from the ATV-Control Centre or from the Cite de l'Espace or via internet, the incredible day of 12 November.

Performing the rendezvous with the comet was a major success for Europe, and especially for the Flight Dynamics and Control Center teams. Yesterday you demonstrated again, if that was necessary, the international expertise of our European teams.

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ATV-5 delivers second urgent debris avoidance

ATV-5 approaching Station in August. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

ATV-5 approaching Station in August. Credits: Roscosmos-O. Artemyev

Just two weeks after ATV Georges Lemaîtres moved the International Space Station out of the way of a potentially dangerous piece of space debris, the international partners that run the Station asked ATV-5 to do it again.

The ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, received a warning from NASA yesterday about a piece of debris from a Yaogan satellite. The debris is small but well tracked and was considered a high concern.

The threat was later confirmed and the ATV Control Centre teams issued a Predetermined Debris Avoidance Manoeuvre pushing the International Space Station to increase its speed by 0.5 m/s.

ATV Georges Lemaître thruster's succesfuly executed the urgent avoidance earlier today.

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‘Field of the Sky’ meteorite flying above our skies again

Alexander with artwork on Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

Alexander with artwork on Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

Scottish conceptual Katie Paterson created an artwork 'Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky' based on a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite that was cast, melted, and recast back into a new version of itself while retaining its original form.

The artwork has been on display as part of the 2014 Edinburgh Art Festival, and ESA agreed to load a small sample of the meteorite on the supply spacecraft ATV Georges Lemaître as a symbolic return to space.

Meteorites and asteroids, imbued with cosmic history are crucial to the scientific understanding of our Solar System and our origins on Earth. ESA is involved in many activities in this domain, most notably the comet catcher Rosetta as well as near-Earth object studies and future robotic and human missions.

Before the Campo del Cielo meteorite was handed over to ESA for safety testing it was on show at the UK’s prestigious Turner Contemporary gallery. The piece is now back in space as an artwork on the International Space Station.

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is responsible for unloading the cargo from ATV Georges Lemaître and took a moment to observe Katie’s artwork in weightlessness.

NASA astronaut Stan Love commented on the work of art: “The process of recasting resets the "clock" for geological age-dating techniques and erases the very interesting crystal patterns seen in ancient iron meteorites. We have taken an object that came to Earth from space, put a uniquely human signature on it, and returned it to space. On the most fundamental level, it's a way of communicating with the universe.”

Alexander with artwork on Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

Alexander with artwork on Station. Credits: ESA/NASA

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Tanking up with oxygen – view from above

ATV Georges Lemaître has delivered its 100 kg of oxygen to the International Space Station as reported via the ATV Control Centre during the first, second and third transfer from ATV-5's tanks to the Station. After questions on Facebook the team at ATV Control Centre even took time to explain how the amount of oxygen released is calculated.

But how does an oxygen transfer work for the astronauts on the International Space Station? ATV-5 loadmaster and ESA astronaut Alexander filmed the process from his weightless abode for our viewing pleasure:

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Tanking up a thirsty ISS

Today, ATV-5 completed the first water delivery of the mission so far, transferring 88l. Colleen Boggs, ATV Cargo Operations Engineer at ATV-CC, reports.

We've just completed the first water transfer for ATV-5, delivering 88L of Russian water from Tank #2 into four Russian EDV containers (Russian water containers; 22 litres each).

ATV water & gas control panel Credit: ESA/NASA

ATV water & gas control panel Credit: ESA/NASA

This will be the first of several transfers, as we launched ATV5 with three full water tanks (the first mission to have them fully loaded!).

The crew were able to set up and finish today's transfer faster than expected, so things are looking good – and we have now completed about 10 % of water unloading.

Once a tank becomes empty, it will undergo a bladder integrity check – to ensure there are no leaks – before it is free to accept liquid waste from the ISS.

So with the unloading of water and reloading of waste (up to about 850 L), the water control panel will see lots of activity in the coming months!

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