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.

Artistic concept of the Kepler 444 system (Image Tiago Campante/Peter Devine)

Using data collected by the Kepler space telescope, a group of researchers led by asteroseismologists from the University of Birmingham discovered five planets orbiting the star Kepler-444. They’re small rocky planets: the smallest has a size similar to Mercury, the largest has a diameter about three-quarters of the Earth. Another special feature is that the star Kepler-444 is very ancient, with an age estimated to around 11.2 billion years.

Planck view of BICEP2 field (Image ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France)

In March 2014, the announcement that the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) experiment had detected gravitational waves in the perturbations in the cosmic microwave background radiation existing in the universe was sensational. This echo of cosmic inflation occurred shortly after the Big Bang was an extraordinary discovery. Unfortunately, a collaboration between the BICEP2 experiment and the team of ESA’s Planck space telescope has determined that those weren’t gravitational waves but probably emissions caused by galactic dust.