China’s space probe Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit

China’s space probe Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit
A Long March-5 rocket, carrying an orbiter, lander and rover as part of the Tianwen-1 mission to Mars, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China’s Hainan Province on July 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 10 February 2021

China’s space probe Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit

China’s space probe Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit
  • The UAE’s orbiter called Amal, Arabic for Hope, began circling the red planet on Tuesday
  • Tianwen-1 is China’s second attempt to send a spacecraft to Mars

BEIJING: A Chinese spacecraft entered Mars orbit on Wednesday on a mission to land a rover and collect data on underground water and possible signs of ancient life, state media said.
“China’s probe Tianwen-1 successfully entered the orbit around Mars on Wednesday after a nearly seven-month voyage from Earth,” the Xinhua News Agency said in a brief report.
The orbiter-rover combo became the second spacecraft in two days to reach the red planet. An orbiter from the United Arab Emirates led the way on Tuesday.
Next week, the US will try to land its Perseverance rover on the Martian surface. Only the US has successfully touched down on Mars – eight times beginning with two Viking missions. A lander and rover are in operation today.
All three Mars missions launched last July to take advantage of the planet’s close alignment with Earth that occurs only every two years.
The Chinese mission is its most ambitious yet. If all goes as planned, the rover would separate from the spacecraft in a few months and attempt to touch down. If all goes as planned, China would become only the second nation to do so successfully.
Tianwen, the title of an ancient poem, means “Quest for Heavenly Truth.”
Landing a spacecraft on Martian soil is notoriously difficult, and China’s attempt will involve a parachute, back-firing rockets and airbags. Its proposed landing site is inside the massive, rock-strewn, Utopia Planitia, where the US Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.
The solar-powered rover — about the size of a golf cart — is expected to operate for about three months, and the orbiter for two years.
Only the US has successfully touched down on Mars — eight times beginning with the two Viking missions. A lander and rover are in operation today.
A US rover called Perseverance is aiming for a Feb. 18 touchdown on Mars to also search for signs of ancient microscopic life and to collect rocks for return to Earth in the next decade.
The UAE’s orbiter called Amal, Arabic for Hope, began circling the red planet on Tuesday to gather detailed data on Mars’ atmosphere.
Six others were already operating around Mars: three US, two European and one Indian.
Many others haven’t made it. Smashed Russian and European spacecraft litter the Martian landscape along with a failed US lander. About a dozen orbiters missed the mark.
Tianwen-1 is China’s second attempt to send a spacecraft to Mars. In 2011, a Chinese orbiter that was part of a Russian mission didn’t make it out of Earth orbit.
China’s secretive, military-linked space program has progressed considerably since then. In December, its Chang’e 5 mission was the first to bring lunar rocks to Earth since the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019.


Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline
Updated 22 October 2021

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline

Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline
  • Law enforcement and intelligence cyber specialists were able to hack REvil's computer network infrastructure, obtaining control of at least some of their servers
  • One person familiar with the events said that a foreign partner of the US government carried out the hacking operation that penetrated REvil's computer architecture

The ransomware group REvil was itself hacked and forced offline this week by a multi-country operation, according to three private sector cyber experts working with the United States and one former official.
Former partners and associates of the Russian-led criminal gang were responsible for a May cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline that led to widespread gas shortages on the US East Coast. REvil's direct victims include top meatpacker JBS. The crime group's "Happy Blog” website, which had been used to leak victim data and extort companies, is no longer available.
Officials said the Colonial attack used encryption software called DarkSide, which was developed by REvil associates.
VMWare head of cybersecurity strategy Tom Kellermann said law enforcement and intelligence personnel stopped the group from victimizing additional companies.
"The FBI, in conjunction with Cyber Command, the Secret Service and like-minded countries, have truly engaged in significant disruptive actions against these groups,” said Kellermann, an adviser to the US Secret Service on cybercrime investigations. “REvil was top of the list.”
A leadership figure known as "0_neday," who had helped restart the group's operations after an earlier shutdown, said REvil's servers had been hacked by an unnamed party.
"The server was compromised, and they were looking for me," 0_neday wrote on a cybercrime forum last weekend and first spotted by security firm Recorded Future. "Good luck, everyone; I'm off."
US government attempts to stop REvil, one of the worst of dozens of ransomware gangs that work with hackers to penetrate and paralyze companies around the world, accelerated after the group compromised US software management company Kaseya in July. 
That breach opened access to hundreds of Kaseya's customers all at once, leading to numerous emergency cyber incident response calls.

Decryption key
Following the attack on Kaseya, the FBI obtained a universal decryption key that allowed those infected via Kaseya to recover their files without paying a ransom.
But law enforcement officials initially withheld the key for weeks as it quietly pursued REvil's staff, the FBI later acknowledged. 
According to three people familiar with the matter, law enforcement and intelligence cyber specialists were able to hack REvil's computer network infrastructure, obtaining control of at least some of their servers.
After websites that the hacker group used to conduct business went offline in July, the main spokesman for the group, who calls himself "Unknown," vanished from the internet.
When gang member 0_neday and others restored those websites from a backup last month, he unknowingly restarted some internal systems that were already controlled by law enforcement.
“The REvil ransomware gang restored the infrastructure from the backups under the assumption that they had not been compromised,” said Oleg Skulkin, deputy head of the forensics lab at the Russian-led security company Group-IB. “Ironically, the gang's own favorite tactic of compromising the backups was turned against them.”
Reliable backups are one of the most important defenses against ransomware attacks, but they must be kept unconnected from the main networks or they too can be encrypted by extortionists such as REvil.
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council declined to comment on the operation specifically.
"Broadly speaking, we are undertaking a whole of government ransomware effort, including disruption of ransomware infrastructure and actors, working with the private sector to modernize our defenses, and building an international coalition to hold countries who harbor ransom actors accountable," the person said.
The FBI declined to comment.
One person familiar with the events said that a foreign partner of the US government carried out the hacking operation that penetrated REvil's computer architecture. A former US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation is still active.
The success stems from a determination by US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco that ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure should be treated as a national security issue akin to terrorism, Kellermann said.
In June, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General John Carlin told Reuters the Justice Department was elevating investigations of ransomware attacks to a similar priority.
Such actions gave the Justice Department and other agencies a legal basis to get help from US intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense, Kellermann said.
"Before, you couldn't hack into these forums, and the military didn't want to have anything to do with it. Since then, the gloves have come off." 


China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity

China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity
Updated 21 October 2021

China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity

China says moon rocks offer new clues to volcanic activity
  • China in December brought back the first rocks from the moon since missions by the US and former Soviet Union in the 1970s

BEIJING: Moon rocks brought back to Earth by a Chinese robotic spacecraft last year have provided new insights into ancient lunar volcanic activity, a researcher said Tuesday.
Li Xianhua said an analysis of the samples revealed new information about the moon’s chemical composition and the way heat affected its development.
Li said the samples indicate volcanic activity was still occurring on the moon as recently as 2 billion years ago, compared to previous estimates that such activity halted between 2.8 billion and 3 billion years ago.
“Volcanic activities are a very important thing on the moon. They show the vitality inside the moon, and represent the recycling of energy and matter inside the moon,” Li told reporters.
China in December brought back the first rocks from the moon since missions by the US and former Soviet Union in the 1970s.
On Saturday, China launched a new three-person crew to its space station, a new milestone in a space program that has advanced rapidly in recent years.
China became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a person in space on its own in 2003 and now ranks among the leading space powers.
Alongside its crewed program, it has expanded its work on robotic exploration, retrieving the lunar samples and landing a rover on the little-explored far side of the moon. It has also placed the Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose accompanying Zhurong rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the red planet.
China also plans to collect soil from an asteroid and bring back additional lunar samples. The country also hopes to land people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.
The military-run Chinese space program has also drawn controversy. China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday brushed-off a report that China had tested a hypersonic missile two months ago. A ministry spokesperson said it had merely tested whether a new spacecraft could be reused.


South Korea seeks space race entry with first homegrown rocket

South Korea seeks space race entry with first homegrown rocket
Updated 21 October 2021

South Korea seeks space race entry with first homegrown rocket

South Korea seeks space race entry with first homegrown rocket
  • South Korea's space program has a chequered record — its first two launches in 2009 and 2010, which in part used Russian technology, both ended in failure

SEOUL: South Korea is aiming to join the ranks of advanced spacefaring nations on Thursday when it attempts to put a one-ton payload into orbit using its first fully homegrown rocket.
The country has risen to become the world’s 12th-largest economy and a technologically advanced nation, home to the planet’s biggest smartphone and memory chip maker, Samsung Electronics.
But it has lagged in the headline-making world of spaceflight, where the Soviet Union led the way with the first satellite launch in 1957, closely followed by the United States.
In Asia, China, Japan and India all have advanced space programs, and the South’s nuclear-armed neighbor North Korea was the most recent entrant to the club of countries with their own satellite launch capability.
Ballistic missiles and space rockets use similar technology and Pyongyang put a 300-kilogramme (660-pound) satellite into orbit in 2012 in what Western countries condemned as a disguised missile test.
Even now, only six nations — not including North Korea — have successfully launched a one-ton payload on their own rockets.
The South will become the seventh if the Korean Satellite Launch Vehicle II, informally called Nuri, succeeds in putting its 1.5-ton dummy cargo into orbit from the launch site in Goheung, with an altitude of 600 to 800 kilometers being targeted.
The three-stage rocket has been a decade in development at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion). It weighs 200 tons and is 47.2 meters (155 feet) long, fitted with a total of six liquid-fueled engines.

But the South Korean space program has a chequered record — its first two launches in 2009 and 2010, which in part used Russian technology, both ended in failure, the second one exploding two minutes into the flight and Seoul and Moscow blaming each other.
Eventually a 2013 launch succeeded, but still relied on a Russian-developed engine for its first stage.
The satellite launch business is increasingly the preserve of private companies, notably Elon Musk’s SpaceX, whose clients include the US space agency NASA and the South Korean military.
But one expert said a successful Nuri launch offered South Korea “infinite” potential.
“Rockets are the only means available to mankind to go out into space,” Lee Sang-ryul, the director of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, told local paper Chosun Biz.
“Having such technology means we have fulfilled basic requirements to join this space exploration competition.”
Thursday’s launch is one step on an increasingly ambitious space program for South Korea, which President Moon Jae-in said would seek to launch a lunar orbiter next year, after he inspected a Nuri engine test in March.
“With achievements in South Korean rocket systems, the government will pursue an active space exploration project,” he said.
“We will realize the dream of landing our probe on the Moon by 2030.”


China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
Updated 16 October 2021

China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
  • Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022
  • With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit

JIUQUAN, China: China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts — two men and one woman — to the core module of a future space station where they will live and work for six months, the longest orbit for Chinese astronauts.
A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which means “Divine Vessel,” blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at 12:23 a.m. (1623 GMT on Friday).
The vessel successfully docked to the port of the space station on at 6:56 a.m. (2156 GMT), and the astronauts entered the space station’s core module at 10:03 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said.
China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe — the first and largest of the station’s three modules. Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station.
Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. During the first crewed mission https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/chinese-astronauts-return-after-90-day-mission-space-station-2021-09-17 that concluded in September, three other astronauts stayed on Tianhe for 90 days.
In the latest mission, astronauts will carry out tests of the key technologies and robotics on Tianhe needed to assemble the space station, verify onboard life support systems and conduct a host of scientific experiments.
The mission commander is Zhai Zhigang, 55, from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. Born to a rural family with six children, Zhai carried out China’s first spacewalk in 2008. Shenzhou-13 was his second space mission.
“The most challenging task will be the long-term stay in orbit for six months,” Zhai told a news conference on Thursday. “It will exact higher demands (on us), both physically and psychologically.”
He was accompanied by Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, both 41.
Wang, also born to a rural family, is known among colleagues for her tenacity. The former air force pilot first traveled to space in 2013, to Tiangong-1, a prototype space lab.
She is China’s second female astronaut in space, following Liu Yang in 2012.
Shenzhou-13 is the first space mission for the third astronaut, Ye.
After the crew returns to Earth in April, China plans to deploy six more missions, including deliveries of the second and third space station modules and two final crewed missions.
China, barred by US law from working with NASA and by extension on the International Space Station (ISS), has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own.
With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit.
China’s space program has come far since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space. China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, in October 2003, following the former Soviet Union and the United States. (Reporting by Carlos Garcia and Xihao Jiang; additional reporting by Josh Horwitz; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie and William Mallard)


For the love of space: Saudis celebrate International Astronomy Day

For the love of space: Saudis  celebrate International Astronomy Day
Updated 09 October 2021

For the love of space: Saudis celebrate International Astronomy Day

For the love of space: Saudis  celebrate International Astronomy Day
  • ‘Space exploration unites us as a species, despite our differences,’ says Astromania co-founder

JEDDAH: Astronomy enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia are observing International Astronomy Day and World Space Week this year by encouraging others to look up in wonder with some visual and auditory help.

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year — around the times of the Spring and Autumn equinox or first quarter moon — to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year.

Arab and Muslim scholars have made significant contributions to astronomy throughout history — suggesting scientific and mathematical methods; naming stars and nebulae; and more.

While it may seem that we now spend less time looking at the skies, and more time looking down at our screens, 21st-century technology is actually enabling enthusiasts across the world to share knowledge, spread information, and raise awareness at lightning speed.  

In Saudi Arabia, Astromania — founded by Mahdi Al-Sulaiman, Fatima Hilal, and Abdullah Al-Meshari, a trio of space lovers — has made good use of this technology, starting a podcast in 2019 to complement its stargazing trips into the desert, which enable people to check out some of the brightest astronomical objects through telescopes.

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (Supplied)

“I’ve always been interested about space, and I wanted to create an Arabic platform that helps other people to know more about it in a non-academic style, in a fun and easy-to-understand way,” Hilal told Arab News.

“People were weirded out and surprised when they heard about the subject. But now people understand the idea when they listened to the podcast for the first time. I know it is a unique subject, but it is a passion of mine,” she added.

While there is Arabic-language astronomy content available online —  notably on Wikipedia and a few social-media pages — Astromania is, the group claim, the first podcast in Arabic talking about astronomy and space. It is an independent project, but the founders work closely with the Saudi Space Authority too.

The podcast quickly gathered popularity, even attracting the attention of the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform, which selected Astromania as one of the top 14 podcasts to listen to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to create something out of love, so basically we are doing this podcast for free,” Hilal said. “The main reason why we created this podcast is to educate people more about the world and people’s support is very important to us.”

HIGHLIGHTS

While there is Arabic-language astronomy content available online Astromania is the first podcast in Arabic talking about astronomy and space. It is an independent project, but the founders work closely with the Saudi Space Authority too.

The podcast quickly gathered popularity, even attracting the attention of the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform, which selected Astromania as one of the top 14 podcasts to listen to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To celebrate World Space Week,  the UK’s National Space Center is running a ‘Women in Space’ program to shed light on women’s role in the science of space and astronomy throughout history.

To celebrate World Space Week (which runs from October 4-10),  the UK’s National Space Center is running a “Women in Space” program to shed light on women’s role in the science of space and astronomy throughout history. Hilal expressed her excitement at the theme.

“This will definitely help young girls to consider space science as a profession,” she said. “We already have some successful Saudi women who work in the field, like Ghada Al-Muttairi and Mashael Al-Shammari. They are setting an example for Saudi women.”

To coincide with International Astronomy Day and World Space Week, this month’s episode of the Astromania podcast features Jordanian-British filmmaker Kinda Al-Kurdi, who won the Best Documentary Short Film award for her film “As in Heaven, So on Earth” at the Moscow International Film Festival, Hilal said. “We are going to discuss the relationship between films and space.”

Hilal’s co-founder Mahdi Al-Sulaiman told Arab News that events such as World Space Week remind people “to think beyond our planet and beyond our differences. To work together as men and women of this great nation to pave the way for a better and prosperous future for the next generations.”

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (Supplied)

He continued, “We are not just sharing one planet, we share one fate. And space exploration unites us as a species, despite our differences. I hope the celebration of International Astronomy Day will also inspire future generations to become astronauts, space scientists, or work in the space industry, to build a better tomorrow and take the next giant leaps to sustain mankind’s future.”

Joining in on the celebrations is avid Saudi astrophotographer Anas Al-Majed who has, for years, frequented the Kingdom’s many deserts, searching the night skies through his telescope for the perfect shot.

Al-Majed — who purchased his first telescope seven years ago — told Arab News he was “awestruck” by the detail it provided.

“From Saturn’s rings to Jupiter’s bands and Great Red Spot, my interest grew and I delved into deep-sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula.”

His experience with astrophotography has made a lasting impression, he said. And he encourages everyone to consider taking the time to learn more about our galaxy and what lies beyond it.

“We need everyone to be part of space programs,” he said. “The space industry can help human advancement and provide equal opportunities for everyone.”