Window opens for Virgin Galactic test flight from spaceport

Window opens for Virgin Galactic test flight from spaceport
This November 11, 2020, image obtained from Virgin Galactic shows pre-flight operations in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Virgin Galactic is preparing for a test flight from its New Mexico launch site at Spaceport America after the launch was delayed for more than a month because of Covid-19, the launch window is from December 11 through the 24, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2020

Window opens for Virgin Galactic test flight from spaceport

Window opens for Virgin Galactic test flight from spaceport
  • Virgin Galactic posted on social media that the flight crew is ready but do not plan to fly before Saturday

ALBUQUERQUE: The window opened Friday for Virgin Galactic’s first rocket-powered test flight from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico as the company prepares for commercial flights next year, but the exact timing of the launch will depend on the weather.
Virgin Galactic posted on social media that the flight crew is ready but do not plan to fly before Saturday.
“We have range clearance through the weekend and can extend into next week if necessary,” the company tweeted. “Evaluating high-level winds and turbulence. Stay tuned for updates.”
The flight was initially planned for November. But it was pushed back because of COVID-19 restrictions stemming from the state’s public health orders.
CEO Michael Colglazier said the company has minimized the number of people onsite at its headquarters at Spaceport America in accordance with state mandates and that only spaceport staff critical to the mission will be present.
Officials with Virgin Galactic and the state-financed spaceport said the test flight will mark another key milestone in the march toward commercial flights. The impending flight will be the third space flight for Virgin Galactic and the first from New Mexico.
“We are thrilled about hosting the first human spaceflight from New Mexico. This is an incredible moment for the entire state,” Scott McLaughlin, the spaceport’s interim executive director, said in a statement.
It has been years since British billionaire Sir Richard Branson and then Gov. Bill Richardson hatched the idea of erecting the world’s first purpose-build spaceport in a remote stretch of the New Mexico desert. Branson will be among the first passengers sometime in the first quarter next year.
More than 600 customers from around the world have purchased tickets to be launched into the lower fringes of space where they can experience weightlessness and get a view of the Earth below.
The suborbital flights are designed to reach an altitude of at least 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) before gliding to a landing.
In addition to those who have put down deposits for a ride with Virgin Galactic, several thousand more have registered their interest online.
The test flight will give Virgin Galactic an opportunity to evaluate the interior space of the cabin where customers will be seated and to check fight controls during boost. The flight will carry payload belonging to NASA as part the space agency’s Flight Opportunities Program.
Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot CJ Sturckow will crew the spacecraft during the test flight. Assuming everything goes well and the engineers sign off, Virgin Galactic can then move to the next phase, which will involve company mission specialists and engineers being loaded into the passenger cabin. They will evaluate all the hardware, camera settings and which angles will provide the best views.
With the upcoming flight, Sturckow will become the first astronaut to have flown into space from three different USstates.
Before joining Virgin Galactic, he completed four flights to the International Space Station during his time as a NASA astronaut. He also was in the cockpit during Virgin Galactic’s first flight to space in December 2018.
“In the months leading up to this flight, our engineering and maintenance teams have been working hard to prepare both our mothership, VMS Eve, and SpaceShipTwo Unity for the flight,” Sturckow said in a recent blog post. “It will be great to validate that their efforts have been highly successful to prepare the SFS (space flight system) for this flight and subsequent test flights.”


Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads- WHO

Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads- WHO
Updated 28 min ago

Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads- WHO

Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads- WHO
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has described coronavirus’s Delta variant as being as transmissible as chickenpox
  • COVID-19 infections have increased by 80% over the past four weeks

GENEVA: The world is at risk of losing hard-won gains in fighting COVID-19 as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads, but WHO-approved vaccines remain effective, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described the Delta variant of the coronavirus as being as transmissible as chickenpox and cautioned it could cause severe disease, the Washington Post said, citing an internal CDC document.
COVID-19 infections have increased by 80 percent over the past four weeks in most regions of the world, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. Deaths in Africa — where only 1.5 percent of the population is vaccinated — rose by 80 percent over the same period.
“Hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed,” Tedros told a news conference.
The Delta variant has been detected in 132 countries, becoming the dominant global strain, according to the WHO.
“The vaccines that are currently approved by the WHO all provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalization from all the variants, including the Delta variant,” said WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan.
“We are fighting the same virus but a virus that has become faster and better adapted to transmitting among us humans, that’s the change,” he said.
Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, said the Delta variant was the most easily spread so far, about 50 percent more transmissible than ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2 that first emerged in China in late 2019.
A few countries had reported increased hospitalization rates, but higher rates of mortality had not been recorded from the Delta variant, she said.
Japan said on Friday it would expand states of emergency to three prefectures near Olympic host city Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka, as COVID-19 cases spike in the capital and around the country, overshadowing the Summer Games.
Ryan noted that Tokyo had recorded more than 3,000 cases in the past 24 hours, among some 10,000 new infections in Japan.
“The Olympics is a part of that overall context and the risk management that is place around the Olympics is extremely comprehensive,” he said.


Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travelers

Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travelers
Updated 30 July 2021

Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travelers

Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travelers
  • From August 1, all people entering Germany will be obliged to have proof of a negative test, vaccination or recovery
  • According to a draft seen by AFP, there will be exceptions for cross-border commuters and transit travellers

BERLIN: Anyone entering Germany from abroad will have to take a Covid-19 test unless they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the disease, according to new rules signed off by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet Friday.
“From August 1, all people entering Germany will be obliged to have proof of a negative test, vaccination or recovery,” Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said in a statement.
“This rule is there to keep the number of new infections brought into Germany as low as possible,” said Demmer, adding that it would apply to all travelers over the age of 12.
According to a draft seen by AFP, there will be exceptions for cross-border commuters and those passing through in transit.
Both PCR tests taken within 72 hours of entry and rapid antigen tests taken within a maximum of 48 hours will be accepted, the draft said.
The rule will apply “regardless of where travelers have come from and the means of transport they use,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the Funke media group.
Under current German rules, any unvaccinated person entering the country by plane must get tested, but those entering by road or rail must not unless they are coming from an area deemed high risk.
Those entering from so-called virus variant countries, such as Brazil and South Africa, must get tested even if they are vaccinated — a rule that will still apply under the new system.
Police have said the rules will not be enforced through systematic border controls, but through random checks.
Regional leaders in Germany’s border regions, especially Bavaria and Rhineland-Palatinate, had been calling for tighter travel measures.
Germany has seen low infection numbers over the summer compared to many of its European neighbors, but cases have been creeping up over the past few weeks, largely fueled by the Delta variant.
The country recorded 2,454 new cases in the past 24 hours on Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency, and an incidence rate of 17 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days — up from a low of 4.9 in early July.
With the country’s vaccination campaign running out of steam, the debate has been heating up around possible restrictions for the unvaccinated, though compulsory vaccination for parts of the population has so far been ruled out.


UN headquarters attacked in western Afghanistan, at least one guard killed

UN headquarters attacked in western Afghanistan, at least one guard killed
Updated 30 July 2021

UN headquarters attacked in western Afghanistan, at least one guard killed

UN headquarters attacked in western Afghanistan, at least one guard killed

KABUL: The United Nations said on Friday that its main compound in western Afghanistan was attacked by "anti-government elements", killing at least one Afghan police guard and other officers injured.
"The area around Herat where the compound is located witnessed fighting today between the Taliban and government forces," a statement by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said. It added the UN is urgently seeking to establish a full picture about the attack and is in contact with the relevant parties.
It was not immediately clear who attacked the compound. 


Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal

Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal
Updated 30 July 2021

Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal

Germany signals growing impatience with Iran on nuclear deal
  • The last round of talks ended in Vienna on June 20 and no date has been set for a new meeting

BERLIN: Germany’s foreign minister is signaling growing impatience with Iran, saying that a revival of the country’s frayed nuclear accord with world powers won’t be possible “forever,” a German magazine reported Friday.
The countries that remain parties to the agreement — Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran — have been trying during six rounds of talks in Vienna to resolve how the United States can rejoin and how Tehran can return to compliance. President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018, but successor Joe Biden has said the US wants to return.
The last round of talks ended in Vienna on June 20. No date has been set for a new meeting.
“I am seeing with growing unease that Iran is delaying the resumption of the Vienna nuclear talks on the one hand, and on the other hand it is simultaneously moving further and further away from core elements of the agreement,” news weekly Der Spiegel quoted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas as saying.
Since the US pulled out, Iran has gradually been violating the deal’s restrictions to put pressures on the remaining parties to come up with economic incentives to offset crippling American sanctions.
The accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is seeking any.
“We want a return to the JCPOA and are firmly convinced that it is in all sides’ interest,” Maas said. “But it is also clear that this option will not be open to us forever.”


EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity
Updated 30 July 2021

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity
  • Puigdemont and two former ministers are wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition
  • The European Parliament voted to strip them of immunity, but the trio appealed to the court

LUXEMBOURG: The EU’s General Court on Friday upheld a decision by the European Parliament to lift the immunity of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and two fellow pro-independence allies.
The move overturned a ruling in June that had seen the separatist politicians provisionally regain the legal protections afforded to members of the parliament.
Puigdemont, along with that of former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati, are wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition following an attempt by the Catalan region to gain independence through a referendum that Madrid ruled was unconstitutional.
In March, the European Parliament voted to strip them of immunity, but the trio appealed to the court arguing that they ran the risk of jail which would prevent them from exercising their mandate as elected European lawmakers.
The latest ruling on Friday rejected the claim that Puigdemont — based in Brussels since fleeing Spain in 2017 — and his colleagues face imminent arrest.
“There is no reason to consider that the Belgian judicial authorities or that the authorities of another Member State could execute the European arrest warrants issued against the deputies and could hand them over to the Spanish authorities,” the court said.
But it added that the three lawmakers — elected to the European Parliament in 2019 — could still reintroduce their demand to have their immunity reinstalled if authorities moved to arrest them and it became “sufficiently probable” they would be sent to Spain.
Madrid last month pardoned nine other jailed Catalan separatists behind the failed 2017 independence bid and released them from long prison sentences.