Massimo Luciani

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).

Map of the polarisation of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (Image ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

Nearly two years after presenting the best map ever made of the cosmic microwave background radiation, ESA revealed another map created using data collected by the Planck Surveyor space probe between 2009 and 2013. This new map shows the polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation dating back to the early stages of the universe. It shows that the first stars started forming about 550 million years after the Big Bang, 100 million years later than previously thought.

Image of Pluto and Charon magnified four times to make them more visible (Image NASA/JHU APL/SwRI)

Yesterday, NASA released the first photographs of the dwarf planet Pluto and its main satellite Charon taken by the space probe New Horizons after its awakening. The spacecraft was still over 200 million kilometers (about 126 million miles) away from Pluto but February 4, 2015 was the 109th anniversary of the birth of Clyde Tombaugh, who in 1930 discovered the dwarf planet. A small portion of Tombaugh’s ashes were placed aboard New Horizons.