India aborts moon mission launch citing technical glitch

This July 2019, photo released by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) shows its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) MkIII-M1 being prepared for its July 15 launch in Sriharikota, an island off India's south-eastern coast. (AP)
Updated 15 July 2019

India aborts moon mission launch citing technical glitch

  • The US is working to send a manned spacecraft to the moon’s south pole by 2024

SRIHARIKOTA, India: India aborted the launch on Monday of a spacecraft intended to land on the far side of the moon less than an hour before liftoff.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission was called off when a “technical snag” was observed in the 640-ton, 14-story rocket launcher, Indian Space Research Organization spokesman B.R. Guruprasad said.
The countdown abruptly stopped at T-56 minutes, 24 seconds, and Guruprasad said that the agency would announce a revised launch date soon.
Chandrayaan, the word for “moon craft” in Sanskrit, is designed for a soft landing on the lunar south pole and to send a rover to explore water deposits confirmed by a previous Indian space mission.
With nuclear-armed India poised to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, the ardently nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is eager to show off the country’s prowess in security and technology. If India did manage the soft landing, it would be only the fourth to do so after the US, Russia and China.
Dr. K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, said at a news conference last week that the around $140-million Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation’s “most prestigious” to date, in part because of the technical complexities of soft landing on the lunar surface — an event he described as “15 terrifying minutes.”
After countdown commenced on Sunday, Sivan visited two Hindu shrines to pray for the mission’s success.
Practically since its inception in 1962, India’s space program has been criticized as inappropriate for an overpopulated, developing nation.
But decades of space research have allowed India to develop satellite, communications and remote sensing technologies that are helping solve everyday problems at home, from forecasting fish migration to predicting storms and floods.
With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission this month, the world’s biggest space agencies are returning their gaze to the moon, seen as ideal testing grounds for technologies required for deep space exploration, and, with the confirmed discovery of water, as a possible pit stop along the way.
“The moon is sort of our backyard for training to go to Mars,” said Adam Steltzner, NASA’s chief engineer responsible for its 2020 mission to Mars.
Because of repeated delays, India missed the chance to achieve the first soft landing near the lunar south pole. China’s Chang’e 4 mission landed a lander and rover there last January.
India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission orbited the moon in 2008 and helped confirm the presence of water. The Indian Space Research Organization wants its new mission’s rover to further probe the far side of the moon, where scientists believe a basin contains water-ice that could help humans do more than plant flags on future manned missions.
The US is working to send a manned spacecraft to the moon’s south pole by 2024.
Modi has set a deadline of 2022 for India’s first manned spaceflight.


Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

Updated 19 August 2019

Two engineers help fight Lebanese farming foe

  • Early-warning system lets farmers know when to protect their crops from fruit flies
  • Mobile app tells them the best time to spray pesticides to halt their advance

DUBAI: An award-winning startup led by two female Lebanese engineers has created an automated early-warning system that allows Middle East farmers to protect their crops against the Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive pests.

Fruit flies can devastate entire harvests and have infested over 300 types of vegetables, fruits and nuts globally, causing financial ruin to countless farmers in the Arab world.

However, an ingenious system designed by Nisrine El Turky, a computer engineer and university professor, and Christina Chaccour, an electrical engineer, will tell farmers via text messages and mobile app of the best time to spray pesticides to halt the pests’ advance.

“Many Lebanese farmers weren’t able to export apples because the quality of their produce wasn’t good enough,” said El Turky, co-founder of IO Tree.

“So many I met were desperate to sell a crate of apples for $2 (SR7.50), which is nothing. I wanted to help the sector by better integrating technology.”

Farmers were found spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies. (Shutterstock)

She began by investigating the difficulties that farmers faced, attending workshops and seminars, and visiting farms. She found the main problem was that farmers were spraying too much pesticide to try to kill fruit flies.

“I found a way that could reduce the use of pesticides and increase production.”

El Turky began working on the IO Tree concept in February 2018 and swiftly built a working prototype, which she showed to Chaccour, who promptly joined the company as a co-founder.

IO Tree’s technology is being tested on farms in Lebanon and the Netherlands. There are two prototype machines — one for indoor use and another for outdoor. The machines can be placed in an orchard, field or greenhouse.

“We need to ensure that the prototype functions in all conditions. Outdoors, there is sun, dust, rain and other weather factors that could disrupt its operation,” said El Turky, who still works up to 10 hours a week as a lecturer at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University.

Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, the machine’s sensors monitor indicators such as temperature and moisture, as well as studying plant stress.

The system can detect and identify pests, providing data on the likely scale of an imminent pest invasion and the best action the farmer should take to combat it. Information is conveyed to the farmer via IO Tree’s app.

“If you’re using pesticides, our app will tell you the best pesticide to use to tackle that problem, the quantity you need and when to spray.”

IO Tree’s sensors use machine learning to measure plant stress. (Supplied photo)

EL Turky said her technology had shown over 90 percent accuracy in identifying medflies.

“Machine learning means that every day the system becomes more accurate,” she said.

“We’re also working on identifying other pests, but medfly is our main target. Once medflies arrive at a farm, they will eat everything.”

IO Tree will enable farmers to use fewer pesticides, reducing environmental damage, while produce will be in better condition and can command a higher sales price.

“By using fewer pesticides, farmers will be better able to preserve biodiversity: Spraying kills a lot more insects than just pests,” she said. IO Tree has initially targeted all types of fruit trees, plus tomatoes and cucumbers, and the product will be launched commercially in September.

“We’re aiming at farmers directly,” said El Turky.

IO Tree’s services will be sold via subscription. After a farmer signs up for one year initially, the company will install its machines at the farm. The number of machines required per acre depends on crop type, crop yield, land topography and other factors.

The company’s initial target market is the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, though it also plans to expand to Europe and eventually worldwide.

The product’s potential has helped IO Tree win a string of startup competitions. It was selected to represent Lebanon GSVC 2019 (Global Social Venture Competition) at the University of California, Berkeley.

IO Tree also joined Lebanon’s Agrytech accelerator, which provided $44,000 in funding, and schooled the fledgling entrepreneurs in how to create and manage a startup.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.