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By European Space Agency
Watch the live launch broadcast of Ireland’s first satellite EIRSAT-1 on ESA Web TV Channel 2 and ESA YouTube, currently scheduled for 29 November. Coverage of this historic moment is set to begin shortly before 18:00 UTC (19:00 CET) (times to be confirmed).
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NASA Mission Excels at Spotting Greenhouse Gas Emission Sources
Flaring, in which excess natural gas is intentionally burned into the air, is one way methane is released from oil and gas facilities. NASA’s EMIT mission, in more than a year in operation, has shown a proficiency at spotting emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases from space.Adobe Stock/Ilya Glovatskiy Since launching 16 months ago, the EMIT imaging spectrometer aboard the International Space Station has shown an ability to detect more than just surface minerals.
More than a year after first detecting methane plumes from its perch aboard the International Space Station, data from NASA’s EMIT instrument is now being used to identify point-source emissions of greenhouse gases with a proficiency that has surprised even its designers.
Short for Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, EMIT was launched in July 2022 to map 10 key minerals on the surface of the world’s arid regions. Those mineral-related observations, which are already available to researchers and the public, will help improve understanding of how dust that gets lofted into the atmosphere affects climate.
Detecting methane was not part of EMIT’s primary mission, but the instrument’s designers did expect the imaging spectrometer to have the capability. Now, with more than 750 emissions sources identified since August 2022 – some small, others in remote locations, and others persistent in time – the instrument has more than delivered in that regard, according to a new study published in Science Advances.
“We were a little cautious at first about what we could do with the instrument,” said Andrew Thorpe, a research technologist on the EMIT science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the paper’s lead author. “It has exceeded our expectations.”
EMIT identified a cluster of 12 methane plumes within a 150-square-mile (400-square-kilometer) area of southern Uzbekistan on Sept. 1, 2022. The instrument captured the cluster within a single shot, called a scene by researchers. NASA/JPL-Caltech By knowing where methane emissions are coming from, operators of landfills, agriculture sites, oil and gas facilities, and other methane producers have an opportunity to address them. Tracking human-caused emissions of methane is key to limiting climate change because it offers a comparatively low-cost, rapid approach to reducing greenhouse gases. Methane lingers in the atmosphere for about a decade, but during this span, it’s up to 80 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, which remains for centuries.
EMIT has proven effective at spotting emission sources both big (tens of thousands of pounds of methane per hour) and surprisingly small (down to the hundreds of pounds of methane per hour). This is important because it permits identification of a greater number of “super-emitters” – sources that produce disproportionate shares of total emissions. The new study documents how EMIT, based on its first 30 days of greenhouse gas detection, can observe 60% to 85% of the methane plumes typically seen in airborne campaigns.
In a remote corner of southeastern Libya, EMIT on Sept. 3, 2022, detected a methane plume that was emitting about 979 pounds (444 kilograms) per hour. It’s one of the smallest sources detected so far by the instrument.NASA/JPL-Caltech From several thousand feet above the ground, methane-detecting instruments on aircraft are more sensitive, but to warrant sending a plane, researchers need prior indication that they’ll detect methane. Many areas are not examined because they are considered too remote, too risky, or too costly. Additionally, the campaigns that do occur cover relatively limited areas for short periods.
On the other hand, from about 250 miles (400 kilometers) altitude on the space station, EMIT collects data over a large swath of the planet – specifically the arid regions that fall between 51.6 degrees north and south latitude. The imaging spectrometer captures 50-mile-by-50-mile (80-kilometer-by-80-kilometer) images of the surface – researchers call them “scenes” – including many regions that have been beyond the reach of airborne instruments.
This time-lapse video shows the Canadarm2 robotic arm of the International Space Station maneuvering NASA’s EMIT mission onto the exterior of the station. Extraction from the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft began around 5:15 p.m. PDT on July 22 and was completed at 10:15 a.m. PDT on July 24. Portions of the installation have been omitted, while others have been speeded up. Credit: NASA “The number and scale of methane plumes measured by EMIT around our planet is stunning,” said Robert O. Green, a JPL senior research scientist and EMIT’s principal investigator.
To support source identification, the EMIT science team creates maps of methane plumes and releases them on a website, with underlying data available at the joint NASA-United States Geological Survey Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC). The mission’s data is available for use by the public, scientists, and organizations.
Since EMIT began collecting observations in August 2022, it has documented over 50,000 scenes. The instrument spotted a cluster of emissions sources in a rarely studied region of southern Uzbekistan on Sept. 1, 2022, detecting 12 methane plumes totaling about 49,734 pounds (22,559 kilograms) per hour.
In addition, the instrument has spotted plumes far smaller than expected. Captured in a remote corner of southeastern Libya on Sept. 3, 2022, one of the smallest sources so far was emitting 979 pounds (444 kilograms) per hour, based on estimates of local wind speed.
More About the Mission
EMIT was selected from the Earth Venture Instrument-4 solicitation under the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed for the agency by Caltech in Pasadena, California. The instrument’s data is available at the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center for use by other researchers and the public.
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Last Updated Nov 17, 2023 Related Terms
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Humans in Space
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The third and final crewed mission to the Skylab space station, Skylab 4, got underway on Nov. 16, 1973, with a thunderous launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Docking eight hours later, astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue began a planned 56-day mission that program managers extended to a record-breaking 84 days. During their first month, as they adjusted to weightlessness and their new surroundings, they completed the first of four spacewalks. They began an extensive science program, investigating the effects of long-duration spaceflight on human physiology, examining the Sun, conducting observations of the Earth, as well as technology and student-led experiments. They began their systematic observations of recently discovered Comet Kohoutek as it approached the Sun.
Left: Crew patch of the third and final crewed mission to Skylab. Middle: Official photo of the Skylab 4 crew of Gerald P. Carr, left, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue. Right: The Skylab 4 backup crew of Vance D. Brand, left, William B. Lenoir, and Don L. Lind.
In January 1972, NASA announced the astronauts it had selected for the Skylab program. For Skylab 4, the third crewed mission and at the time planned to last 56 days, NASA named Carr as commander, Gibson as science pilot, and Pogue as pilot to serve as the prime crew, the first all-rookie prime crew since Gemini VIII in 1966. For the backup crew, NASA designated Vance D. Brand, William B. Lenoir, and Don L. Lind, who also served as the backup crew for Skylab 3. Brand and Lind would serve as the two-person crew for a possible rescue mission.
Left: The S-IB first stage for the Skylab 4 mission’s SA-208 Saturn IB rocket arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Middle: The two S-IVB second stages for the Skylab 4 SA-208 rocket, right, and the SA-209 Skylab rescue rocket sit side by side in the VAB. Right: Workers in the VAB stack the second stage onto the first stage for the Skylab 4 Saturn IB.
Preparations at KSC for the Skylab 4 mission began on Nov. 4, 1971, with the arrival of the S-IVB second stage of the SA-208 Saturn IB rocket. Workers placed it in long-term storage in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The rocket’s S-IB first stage arrived on June 20, 1973. Workers in the VAB mounted it on Mobile Launcher 1 on July 31, adding the second stage later that same day.
Left: The arrival of the Skylab 4 Command Module (CM), front, and Service Module, partly hidden at left, in the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Middle left: The Skylab 4 astronauts conduct an altitude test aboard their CM in the MSOB. Middle right: Rollout of the Skylab 4 vehicle from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B. Right: Workers at Launch Pad 39B replace the eight stabilization fins on the Saturn IB rocket’s first stage.
Meanwhile, Command and Service Module-118 (CSM-118) for the mission arrived in KSC’s Manned Spacecraft and Operations Building (MSOB) on Feb. 10, 1973, where engineers placed it inside a vacuum chamber. The prime and backup crews conducted altitude tests of the CSM in early August. With the thruster problems aboard the Skylab 3 spacecraft docked to the space station, managers accelerated the processing flow for the Skylab 4 vehicle to enable a launch as early as Sept. 9 in case they had to implement a rescue mission. Workers mated CSM-118 to the Saturn rocket on Aug. 10 and rolled the stack to Launch Pad 39B four days later. By this time, the need for a rescue had diminished and the processing flow readjusted to enable a launch on need within nine days until the Skylab 3 splashdown on Sept. 25. Normal processing then resumed for a planned Nov. 9 launch, later adjusted to Nov. 11. Carr, Gibson, and Pogue entered their preflight health stabilization plan quarantine on Oct. 20. On Nov. 6, workers found hairline cracks in the mounting brackets of the Saturn IB’s stabilizing fins, requiring a slip of the launch date to Nov. 16 to complete their replacement at the pad. The Skylab 4 countdown began on Nov. 14, the day after the astronauts arrived at KSC.
Left: Skylab 4 astronauts William R. Pogue, left, Edward G. Gibson, and Gerald P. Carr training in the Skylab training mockup. Middle: Gibson, left, Carr, and Pogue display a model of the Skylab space station at the conclusion of their preflight press conference. Right: Gibson, left, Carr, and Pogue pose in front of a T-38 Talon aircraft at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston prior to their departure for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch.
Left: Skylab 4 astronauts William R. Pogue, left, Edward G. Gibson, and Gerald P. Carr enjoy the traditional prelaunch breakfast. Middle: Carr, front, Gibson, and Pogue test the pressure integrity of their spacesuits before launch. Right: Carr, front, Gibson, and Pogue exit crew quarters to board the transfer van for the ride to Launch Pad 39B.
Liftoff of Skylab 4!
The third and final mission to the Skylab space station got underway on Nov. 16, 1973, with a thunderous liftoff from KSC’s Launch Pad 39B. Although officially planned as a 56-day mission for several years, mission managers had confidence of an extension to 84 days and planned accordingly, with the astronauts bringing additional food, supplies, and science experiments.
Left: Skylab during the rendezvous and docking. Right: Left by the Skylab 3 crew before their departure from the station, three astronaut manikins wear the Skylab 4 crew’s flight overalls.
Eight hours after launch, and following two unsuccessful attempts, Carr hard docked the spacecraft to the space station. Pogue, who on Earth appeared resistant to all forms of motion sickness, developed a case of space motion sickness during the crew’s first evening, requiring several days to fully recover. This incident along with an overly packed timeline caused the astronauts to fall behind in accomplishing their tasks as they adjusted to weightlessness and learned their way around the large space station. The astronauts spent their first night in space aboard the Command Module, opening the hatch the next morning to begin reactivating Skylab. To their surprise, the station appeared to already have three occupants. As a joke, before they left the station in September, the Skylab 3 crew stuffed their successors’ flight suits with used clothing and left them in strategic places throughout the workshop. Carr, Gibson, and Pogue began settling into the routine aboard Skylab, preparing meals, exercising, and starting the large number of experiments. They continued the science program begun by the previous two Skylab crews, including biomedical investigations on the effects of long-duration space flight on the human body, Earth observations using the Earth Resources Experiment Package (EREP), and solar observations with instruments mounted on the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM). With the prediction earlier in the year that newly discovered Comet Kohoutek would make its closest approach to the Sun in late December, scientists added cometary observations to the crew’s already busy schedule. The astronauts brought a Far Ultraviolet Electronographic Camera, the backup to the instrument deployed on the Moon during Apollo 16, to Skylab especially for observations of the comet, and used it for cometary photography during two spacewalks added to the mission.
Left: Edward G. Gibson, left, William R. Pogue, and Gerald P. Carr prepare a meal in the Skylab wardroom. Middle: Carr uses the Thornton treadmill to exercise. Right: Carr “weighs” himself in weightlessness using the body mass measurement device.
One of the lessons learned from the first two Skylab missions indicated that the onboard bicycle ergometer alone did not provide enough exercise to maintain leg and back muscle mass and strength. To remedy this problem, physician and Skylab support astronaut Dr. William E. Thornton designed a makeshift treadmill that the third crew brought with them to the station. The treadmill device consisted of a teflon-coated aluminum plate bolted to the floor of the workshop. Bungee cords attached to the floor and to the ergometer harness supplied the downward force for the back and leg muscles with the astronauts sliding over the teflon-coated plate while walking or jogging in stocking feet. Because the exercise provided quite a strenuous workout, the crew dubbed it “Thornton’s revenge.” They also increased the overall amount of time they spent exercising.
Left: William R. Pogue replaces film in the Apollo Telescope Mount during the mission’s first spacewalk. Middle: Gerald P. Carr flies the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit. Right: Overall view showing the large volume of the Skylab Orbital Workshop.
In addition to the heavy science experiment load, the astronauts spent the first week in orbit preparing for the first spacewalk of the mission. On Nov. 22, their seventh day in space and also Thanksgiving Day, Gibson and Pogue suited up and stepped outside the space station with Gibson exclaiming, “Boy, if this isn’t the great outdoors.” During this six-hour 33-minute spacewalk, they replaced film canisters in the ATM and deployed an experiment package on the ATM truss. They took photographs with a camera that had originally been intended for the airlock now blocked by the sunshade that the first crew deployed in May to help cool the station. Gibson and Pogue accomplished all the tasks planned for this first spacewalk. Back inside the station, the astronauts settled in for the first Thanksgiving meal in space. For their dinner, Carr selected prime rib, Gibson went with traditional turkey, and Pogue chose chicken.
Left: The S-IB first stage for Saturn-IB SA-209, the Skylab 4 rescue mission, arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Middle left: The S-IVB second stage for SA-209 inside the VAB. Middle right: Workers stack the Command and Service Module CSM-119, the Skylab 4 rescue spacecraft, atop SA-209. Right: The Skylab 4 rescue vehicle at Launch Pad 39B.
The inclusion of two docking ports on the Skylab space station enabled an in-flight rescue capability for the first time in human spaceflight history. In case a failure of the docked CSM stranded the onboard three-person crew, a two-person crew would launch in a second Apollo spacecraft specially configured with two extra couches to return all five astronauts. For the first two Skylab missions, the rocket and spacecraft for the subsequent mission served as the potential rescue vehicle. The failure of two Service Module thruster groups during Skylab 3 nearly required the rescue capability. Since Skylab 4 was the final mission, NASA procured an additional Saturn IB rocket, SA-209, and Apollo spacecraft, CSM-119, for the rescue role. The spacecraft arrived at KSC on May 2, 1973, and workers placed it in storage in the MSOB. In September, the backup crew of Brand, Lenoir, and Lind completed altitude chamber tests with the CSM, although only Brand and Lenoir would fly any the rescue mission. The S-IVB second stage for Saturn IB SA-209 arrived at KSC on Jan. 12, 1972, and workers placed it in storage in the VAB. The S-IB first stage arrived on Aug. 20, 1973. Because only one Mobile Launcher included the milkstool to launch a Saturn IB, assembly of the rescue vehicle had to await its return from the launch pad the day after the Skylab 4 liftoff. Assembly of the rocket in the VAB began on Nov. 26, and workers topped the rocket off with the spacecraft four days later. The stacked vehicle rolled out to Launch Pad 39B on Dec. 3 where engineers prepared the vehicle so that after Dec. 20, it could support a launch within nine days, should the need arise. The vehicle remained at the pad until Feb. 14, 1974, six days after the Skylab 4 splashdown.
Left: Gerald P. Carr monitors Edward G. Gibson during a lower body negative pressure test of his cardiovascular system. Middle: Gibson works out on the bicycle ergometer during a test of his cardiopulmonary function. Right: Gibson in the rotating chair to test his vestibular system.
To add to their packed timeline, one of the station’s three control moment gyros (CMGs) failed the day after the first spacewalk. Skylab used CMGs to control the station’s attitude without expending precious attitude control gas, a non-renewable resource heavily depleted early in the station’s life. Engineers on the ground worked out a plan to control the station’s attitude using only the two working CMGs, thereby enabling completion of the remaining science, especially the Earth resource passes and comet Kohoutek observations. Pogue made the first measurements of Comet Kohoutek on Nov. 23 from inside the station using a photometric camera brought to Skylab especially to observe the comet. The astronauts practiced flying the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit, a precursor of the Manned Maneuvering Unit used during the space shuttle program to retrieve satellites, inside the large dome of the workshop.
Left: Edward G. Gibson at the controls of the Apollo Telescope Mount. Right: William R. Pogue, left, and Gerald P. Carr at the control panel for the Earth Resources Experiment package inside the Multiple Docking Adapter.
Left: Image of a massive solar flare taken by one of the Apollo Telescope Mount instruments. Middle: Earth Resources Experiment Package photograph of the San Francisco Bay area. Right: Crew handheld photograph of a cyclone in the South Pacific.
On Dec. 13, the mission’s 28th day, program officials assessed the astronauts’ performance and the status of the station and fully expected that they could complete the nominal 56-day mission and most likely the full 84 days. Despite being overworked and often behind the timeline, Carr, Gibson, and Pogue had already accomplished 84 hours of solar observations, 12 Earth resources passes, 80 photographic and visual Earth observations, all of the scheduled medical experiments, as well as numerous other activities such as student experiments, and science demonstrations. The astronaut’s major concern centered around the timelining process that had not given them time to adjust to their new environment and did not take into account their on-orbit daily routine. Despite the crew sending taped verbal messages to the ground asking for help in fixing these issues, the problem persisted. Skylab 4 Lead Flight Director Neil B. Hutchinson later admitted that the ground team learned many lessons about timelining long duration missions during the first few weeks of Skylab 4.
For more insight into the Skylab 4 mission, read Carr’s, Gibson’s, and Pogue’s oral histories with the JSC History Office.
To be continued …
With special thanks to Ed Hengeveld for his expert contributions on Skylab imagery.
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Volunteers Worldwide Successfully Tracked NASA’s Artemis I Mission
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky In the year since NASA’s historic Artemis I mission successfully launched, the agency has been analyzing data from its approximately 25-day journey around the Moon and back to Earth, including data submitted from volunteers around the world as they tracked the uncrewed Orion spacecraft.
The flight test, which launched on Nov. 16, 2022, atop the agency’s powerful SLS (Space Launch System) rocket, sent the Orion spacecraft nearly 270,000 miles beyond the Moon to test the integrated rocket and spacecraft for the first time before future crewed missions.
NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program selected 18 participants to attempt to passively track the Orion spacecraft. The effort helped NASA gain a better understanding of external organizations’ tracking capabilities as it seeks to augment the agency’s capabilities for tracking future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Ten volunteers successfully tracked the Orion spacecraft during Artemis I’s uncrewed flight test to and from the Moon.
The participants – ranging from international space agencies, academic institutions, commercial companies, nonprofits, and private citizens – attempted to receive Orion’s signal and use their respective ground antennas to passively track and measure changes in the radio waves transmitted by Orion. They took measurements during three phases of the mission: the spacecraft’s journey to the Moon, its orbit around the Moon, and the journey back to Earth.
We have spent the last few months really understanding what the data can mean for future Artemis or lunar tracking efforts.
SCaN Mission Integration and Commitment Manager
“We were happy with the engagement and have spent the last few months really understanding what the data can mean for future Artemis or lunar tracking efforts,” said John Hudiburg, SCaN Mission Integration and Commitment Manager.
Data collected from the participants was provided to Flight Dynamics Facility (FDF) analysts at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for evaluation.
“The public and industry sector’s response was very exciting,” said Flight Dynamics Facility liaison Juan Crenshaw. “It shows the worldwide interest in supporting the next era of human exploration. The Flight Dynamics Facility analysts found that the data showed promising results, with many of the participants successfully tracking Orion during its journey.”
Sam Schrieber, Director of Goddard’s Flight Dynamics Facility sits on console at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for the Artemis I launch on November 16, 2023. NASA To process the data, analysts combined it with operational data from NASA’s Deep Space Network and generated standard datasets that were easier to analyze. Analysts then compared this data against the actual Artemis I tracking data collected by engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. This comparison allowed analysts to identify any errors or trends in the data.
Some of the data submitted also revealed certain challenges. These challenges included differences in the implementation of Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) standards, formatting issues with the data, data quality issues. However, these challenges help NASA understand what information should be clarified for future tracking efforts.
“NASA gained an understanding of the broader community’s capabilities, the participating organizations got to show what they can do in terms of tracking, and the Flight Dynamics Facility learned how to analyze unconventional external tracking data,” said Flight Dynamics Facility Deputy Operations Director Jason Laing. “Now, we can take the lessons learned and apply them to potential tracking opportunities for future missions.”
SCaN serves as the program office for all of NASA’s space communications and navigation activities and supports the Artemis missions through both the Near Space Network and Deep Space Network. SCaN is a part of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
With Artemis missions, NASA is collaborating with commercial and international partners to explore the Moon for scientific discovery and technology advancement and establish the first long-term presence on the Moon. The Moon missions will serve as training for how to live and work on another world as NASA prepares for human exploration of Mars.
By Katrina Lee
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md
Last Updated Nov 15, 2023 Editor Katherine S. Schauer Contact Katherine S. Schauerkatherine.firstname.lastname@example.org Location Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
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