What the European Space Year 2019 promises

In the Space Year ahead, the next European will take command of the International Space Station. Nasa is also preparing for a journey to the moon – with strong European participation. Finally, at the end of the year, ministers from the 22 ESA member states will decide what programs European space travel will tackle in the coming years.

Artistic presentation of the Ariane 6 launch vehicle

The launcher ESA’s Ariane 6 is currently in development.

Photo: ESA / David Ducros

Next step for the nerve-racking Luca Parmitano

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano.

Source: ESA / A. Conigli

The Sicilian astronaut Luca Parmitano will become the next European – and the first Italian – commander on the International Space Station ISS. The mission named “Beyond”, which Parmitano embarks on in 2019, is the second trip to the ISS for the 42-year-old. Already in 2013, the test pilot, who also has a degree as a political scientist, was in space for half a year. At that time, Parmitano had spectacularly demonstrated how resilient the nerves of an astronaut must be.

In an outdoor operation, a total of one and a half liters of water had penetrated his helmet and Parmitano threatened to drown. He struggled back to the space station with difficulty. There he later said that it was like having to walk around with his eyes closed, his head in a fishbowl. As it turned out, a faulty pump system was the cause of the life-threatening incident.

How Luca Parmitano prepares for his third mission in space can be found at http://www.lucaparmitano.esa.int.

Return to the Moon – with European participation

On January 3, 2019, the Chinese probe Chang’e 4 landed on the back of the moon, providing proof of this difficult maneuver. that the young space travel nation China is to be expected. At the same time, NASA is getting ready for the next trips to the moon – and beyond. For years, the Americans have been building the space capsule Orion, with which astronauts circle the moon and eventually fly to asteroids and also to Mars. For these explorations in the depths of space, the Europeans make a significant contribution in the form of a service module. This sounds rather insignificant, but apart from the crew module, it is the central component of the Orion space capsule.

The 4.5 meter module will provide energy, water, breathing air and electricity to Orion and the four-person crew Deliver thrust. The module, in which 20 European companies co-founded, is part of the compensation business with the US, with which ESA contributes to the costs for the space station. In November 2018, the European Service Module reached its provisional destination from Germany – the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first unmanned test flight to the moon is scheduled for mid-2020. Orion was originally supposed to launch to the moon for the first time in 2019.

Illustration of the structure of the crew and service module at Orion

This is how the space capsule Orion will be built, with which people will be transported to the moon and

Source: ESA / K. Oldenburg

Cheops examines exoplanets near the earth

The name Cheops does not stand for a pyramid, but is the abbreviation for a planned mission of the ESA and Switzerland, in which exoplanets in the vicinity of the earth are investigated and characterized: CH aracterising E x OP lanets S atellite. Exoplanets are planetary celestial bodies that belong not to our solar system but to another planetary system. The satellite will fly for three and a half years on a high-precision telescope in about 700 kilometers above the earth and from there observe bright stars, of which one already knows that a planet circles around them.

The satellite should then Monitor the brightness of the star with high-precision brightness measurements using a telescope 32 cm wide and 1.2 meters long. In this way, he should look for clues to transit, so passing planet. The astronomers receive information on the diameter and mass of the exoplanets so inspected and can calculate their density, which in turn allows conclusions about the nature. It is thus possible to determine whether the planet consists predominantly of rock, ice or gas. Cheops, which will launch a Soyuz rocket from the Kourou Space Center in October or November 2019, is one of ESA’s relatively new “S-Class missions.” These are rather small missions with one for the space flight relatively small budget of a maximum of 150 million euros. With them, innovative ideas are to be quickly turned into reality.

Ministers of the ESA member states advise in Seville

Every three years, the ministers responsible for space of the 22 ESA member states meet to discuss to advise on the orientation of the European space industry. This is always exciting, partly because the ESA does not have its own budget, but a project budget, which is paid by the ESA member states. In 2016, around € 10.3 billion was granted for ongoing and new programs. The next Council of Ministers will be in November 2019, this time under the Spanish Presidency in Seville.