How do astronauts return to Earth?

The ride home from the International Space Station sees the astronauts brake from 28 800 km/h to a standstill at touchdown in barely three hours. How does the Soyuz spacecraft reenter the atmosphere? And how does the capsule land?

Watch in just two minutes the sequence of events from farewell to landing. This video is based on a training lesson for ESA astronauts, and it features dramatic footage of actual landings.

To find out more, watch the extended version:

ESA; NASA; Roscosmos; S.P. Korolev Rocket; Space Corporation Energia; Aerospace Search and Rescue Service of the Russian Federation.

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BepiColombo launch to Mercury

Enjoy this animation visualising BepiColombo’s launch and cruise to Mercury. Some aspects have been simplified for the purpose of this animation.

The joint ESA-JAXA mission comprises the European Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, which will be transported to the innermost planet by the Mercury Transfer Module. The animation highlights several key milestones, including the solar array and antenna deployments once in space, through to the arrival at Mercury seven years later. When approaching Mercury, the transfer module will separate and the two science orbiters, still together, will be captured into orbit around the planet. Their altitude will be adjusted until the Magnetospheric Orbiter’s desired orbit is reached. Then the Planetary Orbiter will separate and descend to its lower orbit, and the two craft will begin their scientific exploration of Mercury and its environment.

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Credits: ESA/ATG medialab

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One step closer to Mercury!

BepiColombo is one step closer to Mercury!

The component parts of BepiColombo, the European Space Agency’s first mission to Mercury, have been delivered to the launch site in French Guiana by air, sea and road.

The joint mission between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) consists of two orbiters and one transfer module. It required 70 shipping containers and four cargo planes to ensure it was safely delivered to the European Spaceport at Kourou.

Everything will now be unpacked and re-assembled, together with the addition of solar panels, before launching to Mercury later this year.

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ExoMars is ready for science!

ExoMars is ready for Martian science!

ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter mission arrived at Mars in October 2016. After a year spent carefully adjusting its position, the spacecraft is now beginning its science operations.

The Trace Gas Orbiter’s instruments will be able to look through the atmosphere to identify trace gases – in particular methane – which could indicate signs of past or even present life. The orbiter will also act as a relay for rovers on the Martian surface.

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Preparing CHEOPS

The space telescope CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite) has left a clean room in Switzerland, where it was assembled and tested, and is on its way to Madrid for further launch preparations. The telescope will study hundreds of known exoplanets using the transit method – measuring the dip in light as a planet transits its parent star.

CHEOPS will herald a new era of discovery. Its precision measurements will give more detailed information about a planet’s structure, atmosphere and surface temperature. It was built at the University of Bern and the mission is a partnership between ESA and Switzerland with additional contributions from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Integration and testing of the CHEOPS spacecraft is ongoing and the project is on track to reach flight readiness by the end of 2018.

This film contains soundbites from Willy Benz, CHEOPS principal investigator, ESA/University of Bern and Andrea Fortier, Cheops Instrument Scientist, ESA/University of Bern.

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Mars sample return

Spacecraft in orbit and on Mars’s surface have made many exciting discoveries, transforming our understanding of the planet and unveiling clues to the formation of our Solar System, as well as helping us understand our home planet. The next step is to bring samples to Earth for detailed analysis in sophisticated laboratories where results can be verified independently and samples can be reanalysed as laboratory techniques continue to improve.

Bringing Mars to Earth is no simple undertaking—it would require at least three missions from Earth and one never-been-done-before rocket launch from Mars.

A first mission, NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover, is set to collect surface samples in pen-sized canisters as it explores the Red Planet. Up to 31 canisters will be filled and readied for a later pickup – geocaching gone interplanetary.

In the same period, ESA’s ExoMars rover, which is also set to land on Mars in 2021, will be drilling up to two meters below the surface to search for evidence of life.

A second mission with a small fetch rover would land nearby and retrieve the samples in a Martian search-and-rescue operation. This rover would bring the samples back to its lander and place them in a Mars Ascent Vehicle – a small rocket to launch the football-sized container into Mars orbit.

A third launch from Earth would provide a spacecraft sent to orbit Mars and rendezvous with the sample containers. Once the samples are safely collected and loaded into an Earth entry vehicle, the spacecraft would return to Earth, release the vehicle to land in the United States, where the samples will be retrieved and placed in quarantine for detailed analysis by a team of international scientists.

Credits: NASA

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Cheops: how to build a planet-watcher model

Print out and build a paper model of Cheops, the CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, a space science mission to study known exoplanets orbiting bright, nearby stars.

Cheops will measure accurate sizes of Earth- to Neptune-sized planets. By combining this information with existing mass measurements, it will be possible to establish the bulk density and to put constraints on the composition of these planets. It is a Small-class mission in ESA’s Science programme in partnership with Switzerland, with important contributions from other ESA member states.

Cheops paper model:

Building the model requires scissors and glue. Remember to take into account ample time to cut out all the pieces.

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