Massimo Luciani

A comparison of the map of Ligeia Mare on Titan before and after the application of despeckling (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI)

Since July 2014, NASA’s space probe Cassini has been accomplishing its mission exploring Saturn and its moons, including Titan. Its SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) instrument allowed to map almost half of the surface of this satellite, allowing to know its geological features like never before. Now these surveys can offer even more details thanks to a new technique that improves their quality.

The images created thanks to the Cassini space probe’s SAR are “grainy”, like photographs of limited quality. Scientists must strive to interpret the smaller geological features or to identify changes in images of the same area taken at different times. The new technique called despeckling by its developers is improving the situation.

The DSCOVR satellite lifting off atop a Falcon 9 rocket (Photo NASA/Tony Gray and Tim Powers)

The DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) satellite was launched a few hours ago on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral. The spacecraft successfully separated from the rocket’s last stage after about half an hour and inserted in the trajectory that will bring it to its destination. It also deployed its solar panels and sent the first signals, confirming that it’s working properly.

DSCOVR will be placed in an area called L1, about a half million kilometers (about 930,000 miles) from Earth, where the planet and the Sun’s gravity are balanced. There it will begin its mission of observation of the solar wind after the test period, that will last about 40 days.

IXV lifting off atop a Vega rocket (Image ESA)

Today the suborbital test of IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) was conducted. It’s an ESA experimental spacecraft that is designed to verify the some rentry technologies. IXV was launched on a Vega rocket in the launch indicated as VV04 from the Kourou space center in French Guyana.

The final purpose for ESA is to build a spacecraft capable of returning to Earth autonomously. Over the years, ESA has built various types of spacecraft, including cargo ships, but none are able to return to Earth. For this reason, in 2002 it was decided to develop the technologies needed in order to build a spacecraft capable of bringing cargo from the International Space Station or from other missions in orbit.

The Dragon spacecraft lifted on SpaceX ship finishing its CRS-5 mission (Photo courtesy SpaceX / Elon Musk. All rights reserved)

A few hours ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft ended its CRS-5 (Cargo Resupply Service 5) mission for NASA splashing down without problems in the Pacific Ocean about 400 km (about 260 miles) off the coast of California. The Dragon left the International Space Station yesterday evening, American time.

Shortly after splashing down, the Dragon was recovered by the SpaceX boats that will transport it to the coast. The cargo brought back to Earth should be delivered to NASA today. The Dragon spacecraft reached the International Space Station on January 12, 2015.

Artistic concept of a jet launching a small satellites in the project ALASA (Image courtesy DARPA. All rights reserved)

A the 18th Annual Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference, Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office showed the progress of the project ALASA (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access), a system to launch small satellites using an airplane instead of a carrier rocket. This would greatly reduce the cost, currently very high, down to one million dollars for just under 50 kg (100 pounds).