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(29 July 2020 – ESA) Latvia signed an Association Agreement with ESA on 30 June 2020.

This Association Agreement between ESA and the Government of the Republic of Latvia, builds on the successful results achieved under the previous frameworks of cooperation and enters into force for a duration of seven years. Comprising 18 Articles and two Annexes, it orchestrates the strengthening of Latvia’s relations with ESA.

Following its approval by ESA Council, meeting at ESOC in Darmstadt on 24 June, the Agreement was signed on behalf of ESA by Director General Jan Wörner. The Latvian Minister of Education and Science (IZM) Mrs Ilga Šuplinska subsequently signed it on 30 June in Riga, prior to its ratification by the national Parliament which was notified to ESA on 27 July.

Latvia Association Agreement signing, June 2020 (courtesy: Izglītības un zinātnes ministrija (IZM))

Mrs Šuplinska stressed that becoming an Associate Member of ESA will open up new opportunities for Latvian scientists and entrepreneurs to cooperate with the European space industry, and advance research and development. The stepped increase in contribution foreseen is regarded as ‘an investment in the people of Latvia, as participation in European space missions and consortia will enable practitioners to develop high-tech skills and competences in the space sector, and researchers to carry out excellent projects under the supervision of ESA experts, using ESA’s research infrastructure’, as dedicated access to agency facilities and services will be provided to Latvia’s national space projects. Such contribution would ‘bring economic growth, in granting access to technology for space missions involving 22 European countries and international partners from the US, Japan, Canada and other technologically advanced countries’.

The Associate membership will indeed allow direct Latvian participation in Optional Programmes, subject to the unanimous approval of respective participating ESA Member States. Among the programmes proposed at the Space 19+ Ministerial Council in November 2019, GSTP-1, EOEP-5 and Space Safety (a new basic pillar of ESA’s activities) have been jointly identified as matching Latvian industrial capabilities. Subscribing to those would also be consistent with the priorities set in the Latvian space strategy in the making, in terms of public cross-sectorial policies and stakeholders interests.

At the Space 19+ meeting, the Latvian State Secretary of Science and Education, Ms Līga Lejiņa, pointed out that, “Deepening relations with ESA is the cornerstone of Latvian space policy. The single space strategy for Europe should provide a real incentive and opportunities on capacity buildings in Members States and regions which do not have traditions in the space sector.” She was accompanied by Mr Kaspars Karolis from the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, directed by Mr Dmitrijs Stepanovs, Deputy State Secretary, ensuring the institutional interface for space-related matters in Latvia.

Latvian delegates and advisers will be entitled to attend meetings of ESA Council and its subordinate bodies, and to vote on questions relating to the activities and programmes in which Latvia participates, in its capacity of Participating State in the case of optional programmes. An incentive scheme, in the form of Requesting Party Activities, aims at further developing Latvia’s industrial base, with the support of ESA experts. Such technical assistance and expertise have proven instrumental in the capacity building process, since the first Cooperation Agreement concluded on 23 July 2009.

ESA has now established formal relations with all the 13 States that acceded to the European Union since 2004, and are thereby associated to the definition of an overall European Space Policy and participating with full rights and obligations in the EU Copernicus and Galileo programmes. While Latvia was the first country to approach ESA, it followed Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Estonia and Slovenia in joining the European Cooperating State (ECS) status, a frame for cooperation dating back to 2001. The five first countries have become Member States between 2008 and 2015, and Slovenia became an Associate Member in 2016. Latvia was followed as ECS by Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Cyprus, while Malta and Croatia have concluded Cooperation Agreement in 2012 and 2018 respectively.

Signed with Latvia on 15 March 2013, the ECS Agreement entered into force upon signature of the Plan for the European Cooperating State Charter (PECS) on 30 January 2015. It was lately extended for six months, until 29 July 2020, through an exchange of letters.

The joint review of the five-year implementation of the ECS Agreement, as well as the independent assessment performed in parallel by Invent Baltics in September 2019, confirmed the success of the various PECS projects involving Latvian entities in ESA’s programmes and activities. Until now, fifteen different entities have been selected to conduct over fifty space technology development projects. Twelve proposals recommended after the sixth PECS call still have to be implemented. The overarching objective was, through an enhanced and mutually beneficial cooperation, to ensure a successful integration of Latvia in the frame of ESA, the further development of sustainable and competitive industrial capabilities, and their integration in the space supply chain, while securing ultimately a fair geographical return to the country.

As recalled by the Minister and State Secretary during the preparatory bilateral meeting held in Riga on 7 August 2019, Latvian’s involvement in space is driven by a ‘niche approach’ to innovation, building on the historical heritage of space technologies and competences initially developed in Soviet times. The educational dimension is seen as pivotal for the development of the expertise required for geospatial data processing and operations.

This approach was further developed on the occasion of the visit of Mr Ralfs Nemiro (former Latvian Minister of the Economy) to ESTEC on 12 September 2019. Heading a Delegation of Latvian officials, researchers and entrepreneurs, Mr Nemiro was accompanied by the IZM Parliamentary Secretary, Ms Anita Muižniece. They were welcomed by the ESA Director General, Head of ESTEC Dr Franco Ongaro and Director of Industry, Procurement and Legal Services Mr Eric Morel de Westgaver.

As climate change and ice monitoring are key concerns in the area, the Associate membership will also enable Latvia to benefit from the Baltic initiative developed under ESA’s auspices, with a view to promote synergies among regional partners for the development and specific use of space systems.

This Associate membership is another step towards achieving the ‘united space in Europe’ strongly advocated by ESA’s Director General. He conveyed to the new Associate Member the congratulations of the Member States and of the staff, all very much looking forward to the concrete implementation of the Association, through Latvia’s steadily extending participation in ESA’s programmes and activities.

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Global helium abundance measurements in solar corona

Global helium abundance measurements in solar corona

(18 September 2020 – Naval Research Laboratory) Two U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Space Science Division (SSD) researchers joined an international cadre of scientists July 27 in presenting the results of the first simultaneous global solar corona images of the helium and hydrogen emission that is helping scientists to better understand the space environment.

The paper, “Global Helium Abundance Measurements in the Solar Corona,” was published online in Nature Astronomy and discusses the abundance of helium relative to hydrogen in the solar corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun, seen from earth only during eclipses.

NRL Astrophysicist Dennis Wang, Ph.D., software lead for the HElium Resonance Scattering in the Corona and HEliosphere (HERSCHEL) rocket flight, was responsible for flight and ground software. His NRL colleague, Research Physicist Martin Laming, Ph.D., managed the new model of element abundance fractionation, to include helium.

A composite image of the Sun showing the hydrogen (left) and helium (center and right) in the low corona. The helium at depletion near the equatorial regions is evident. (courtesy: NASA)

“Understanding space weather is important for space situational awareness, that is, forecasting and mitigating the effects of solar activity on Navy and Defense Department satellites,” said Laming. “This was one case where instead of explaining the observations after the fact, I was able to see a prediction I had made come true.”

The HERSCHEL sounding rocket, launched Sep. 14, 2009, provided a number of technological advances in space-based remote sensing. Using a concept developed at NRL for a coronagraph functioning in the extreme ultraviolet regime of the electromagnetic spectrum, the helium coronagraph obtained the first images of the solar atmosphere in the region of the solar wind source surface from light resonantly scattered from helium ions.

The leading model for solar wind variability used by the Department of Defense and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration space weather forecasters is an NRL SSD product, known as the Wang, Sheely, Arge Model which is based on simple assumptions about the relation of the solar magnetic field structure and the solar wind, and is reasonably successful in predicting the overall variability of the solar wind as it reaches Earth.

Geomagnetic storms impact radio frequency transmission at frequencies refracted, or reflected, by the ionosphere. The Navy uses magnetic sensors in various battlespace applications, which could be disrupted during large geomagnetic storms and Coronal Mass Ejections. These are major reasons why the Navy is interested in disruptions of the Earth’s magnetic field structure in these measurements.

“There is a long chain of work efforts that go from fundamental understanding of the solar atmosphere, to specifying the observables that need to be monitored before we eventually get to reliable Space Weather forecasts,” said Laming. “In the future, service members should anticipate more reliable satellite-based Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.”

Laming demonstrates a strong belief in his model’s prediction capability and his understanding of the sun’s corona adding, “I think we all have more confidence in my model and the conclusions one might draw from it.”

About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL headquarters is located in Washington, D.C., with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; and Monterey, California, and employs approximately 2,500 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.

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hints of fresh ice in northern hemisphere

hints of fresh ice in northern hemisphere

(18 September 2020 – JPL) New composite images made from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft are the most detailed global infrared views ever produced of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. And data used to build those images provides strong evidence that the northern hemisphere of the moon has been resurfaced with ice from its interior.

Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) collected light reflected off Saturn, its rings and its ten major icy moons – light that is visible to humans as well as infrared light. VIMS then separated the light into its various wavelengths, information that tells scientists more about the makeup of the material reflecting it.

The VIMS data, combined with detailed images captured by Cassini’s Imaging Science Subsystem, were used to make the new global spectral map of Enceladus.

In these detailed infrared images of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, reddish areas indicate fresh ice that has been deposited on the surface. (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/LPG/CNRS/University of Nantes/Space Science Institute)

Cassini scientists discovered in 2005 that Enceladus – which looks like a highly reflective, bright white snowball to the naked eye – shoots out enormous plumes of ice grains and vapor from an ocean that lies under the icy crust. The new spectral map shows that infrared signals clearly correlate with that geologic activity, which is easily seen at the south pole. That’s where the so-called “tiger stripe” gashes blast ice and vapor from the interior ocean.

But some of the same infrared features also appear in the northern hemisphere. That tells scientists not only that the northern area is covered with fresh ice but that the same kind of geologic activity – a resurfacing of the landscape – has occurred in both hemispheres. The resurfacing in the north may be due either to icy jets or to a more gradual movement of ice through fractures in the crust, from the subsurface ocean to the surface.

“The infrared shows us that the surface of the south pole is young, which is not a surprise because we knew about the jets that blast icy material there,” said Gabriel Tobie, VIMS scientist with the University of Nantes in France and co-author of the new research published in Icarus.

“Now, thanks to these infrared eyes, you can go back in time and say that one large region in the northern hemisphere appears also young and was probably active not that long ago, in geologic timelines.”

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Cassini was an orbiter that observed Saturn for more than 13 years before exhausting its fuel supply. The mission plunged it into the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017, in part to protect Enceladus, which has the potential of holding conditions suitable for life, with its ocean likely heated and churned by hydrothermal vents like those on Earth’s ocean floors.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

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Rocket Lab completes final dress rehearsal at Launch Complex 2 ahead of first Electron mission from U.S. soil

Rocket Lab completes final dress rehearsal at Launch Complex 2

(17 September 2020 – Rocket Lab) Rocket Lab has successfully completed a wet dress rehearsal of the Electron vehicle at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops Island, Virginia.

With this major milestone complete, the Electron launch vehicle, launch team, and the LC-2 pad systems are now ready for Rocket Lab’s first launch from U.S. soil. The mission is a dedicated launch for the United States Space Force in partnership with the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program and the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Small Launch and Targets Division.

(courtesy: Rocket Lab)

The wet dress rehearsal is a crucial final exercise conducted by the launch team to ensure all systems and procedures are working perfectly ahead of launch day. The Electron launch vehicle was rolled out to the pad, raised vertical and filled with high grade kerosene and liquid oxygen to verify fueling procedures. The launch team then flowed through the integrated countdown to T-0 to carry out the same operations they will undertake on launch day. Before a launch window can be set, NASA is conducting the final development and certification of its Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) software for the mission. This flight will be the first time an AFTS has been has flown from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and represents a valuable new capability for the spaceport.

Launch Complex 2 supplements Rocket Lab’s existing site, Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, from which 14 Electron missions have already launched. The two launch complexes combined can support more than 130 launch opportunities every year to deliver unmatched flexibility for rapid, responsive launch to support a resilient space architecture. Operating two launch complexes in diverse geographic locations provides an unrivalled level of redundancy and assures access to space regardless of disruption to any one launch site.

“Responsive launch is the key to resilience in space and this is what Launch Complex 2 enables,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and Chief Executive. “All satellites are vulnerable, be it from accidental or deliberate actions. By operating a proven launch vehicle from two launch sites on opposite sides of the world, Rocket Lab delivers unmatched flexibility and responsiveness for the defense and national security community to quickly replace any disabled satellite. We’re immensely proud to be delivering reliable and flexible launch capability to the U.S. Space Force and the wider defense community as space becomes an increasingly contested domain.”

While the launch team carried out this week’s wet dress rehearsal, construction is nearing completion on the Rocket Lab Integration and Control Facility (ICF) within the Wallops Research Park, adjacent to NASA Wallops Flight Facility Main Base. The ICF houses a launch control center, state-of-the-art payload integration facilities, and a vehicle integration department that enables the processing of multiple Electron vehicles to support multiple launches in rapid succession. The build has been carried out in just a few short months thanks to the tireless support of Virginia Space, Governor Northam, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, and Accomack County.

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