Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos

Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos
A screen broadcasts a CCTV state media news bulletin, showing an image of Mars taken by Chinese Mars rover Zhurong as part of the Tianwen-1 mission, in Beijing, China, May 19, 2021. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 19 May 2021

Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos

Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos
  • China’s first probe on the Red Planet has beamed back its first “selfies” after its history-making landing last week
  • The Zhurong rover has been celebrated in China as a milestone in its ascent to space superpower status

BEIJING: Solar panels against an alien landscape, ramps and rods pointing at the Martian horizon — China’s first probe on the Red Planet has beamed back its first “selfies” after its history-making landing last week.
The Zhurong rover was carried into the Martian atmosphere in a lander on Saturday, in the first ever successful probe landing by any country on its first Mars mission.
Zhurong, named after a mythical Chinese fire god, arrived a few months behind the United States’ latest probe to Mars — Perseverance — and has been celebrated in China as a milestone in its ascent to space superpower status.
The China National Space Administration on Wednesday published the images taken by cameras attached to the rover, which showed the obstacle-avoidance equipment and solar panels on the vehicle, as well as the texture of the Martian surface.
“People of the Internet, the Mars images you’ve been longing for are here,” the space agency said in a social media post containing the images.
The rover’s landing was a nail-biter for Chinese space engineers, with state media describing the process of using a parachute to slow descent and buffer legs as “the most challenging part of the mission.”
It is expected to spend around three months there taking photos and harvesting geographical data.
China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.
It successfully launched the first module of its new space station last month with hopes of having it crewed by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.


SpaceX capsule with world’s first all-civilian orbital crew splashes down off Florida

This September 16, 2021, image courtesy of Inspiration4 shows the Inspiration4 crew (L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski and Sian Proctor in orbit. (AFP)
This September 16, 2021, image courtesy of Inspiration4 shows the Inspiration4 crew (L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski and Sian Proctor in orbit. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

SpaceX capsule with world’s first all-civilian orbital crew splashes down off Florida

This September 16, 2021, image courtesy of Inspiration4 shows the Inspiration4 crew (L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski and Sian Proctor in orbit. (AFP)
  • The crew members will be removed from the capsule once it has been placed safely on the floating recovery vessel

FLORIDA: The quartet of newly minted citizen astronauts comprising the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission safely splashed down in the Atlantic off Florida’s coast on Saturday, completing a three-day flight of the first all-civilian crew ever launched into Earth orbit.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, parachuted into calm seas around 7 p.m. EDT, shortly before sunset, after an automated re-entry descent, SpaceX showed during a live webcast shown on its YouTube channel.
The return from orbit followed a plunge through Earth’s atmosphere generating frictional heat that sent temperatures surrounding the outside of the capsule soaring to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,927 degrees Celsius). The astronauts’ flight suits, fitted to special ventilation systems, were designed to keep them cool if the cabin heated up.
Applause was heard from the SpaceX flight control center in suburban Los Angeles as the first parachutes were seen deploying, slowing the capsule’s descent to about 15 miles per hour (24.14 kilometers per hour) before splashdown, and again as the craft hit the water.
SpaceX recovery boats were shown approaching the water-proof Crew Dragon as it bobbed upright in the ocean, while retrieval teams clambered over the capsule, attaching rigging before hoisting it out of the water. The crew members will be removed from the capsule once it has been placed safely on the floating recovery vessel.
After undergoing medical checks at sea, the four amateur astronauts will be flown by helicopter back to Cape Canaveral to be reunited with loved ones, SpaceX said.
Camera shots from inside the cabin showed them sitting calmly strapped into their seats.
SpaceX, the private rocketry company founded by Tesla Inc. electric automaker CEO Elon Musk, supplied the spacecraft, launched it from Florida and flew it from the company’s suburban Los Angeles headquarters.
The Inspiration4 team blasted off on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral atop one of SpaceX’s two-stage reusable Falcon 9 rockets.
Within three hours the crew capsule had reached a cruising orbital altitude of just over 363 miles (585 km) — higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope, and the farthest any human has flown from Earth since NASA’s Apollo moon program ended in 1972.
It also marked the debut flight of Musk’s new space tourism business and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune to experience the exhilaration of spaceflight and earn amateur astronaut wings.
The Inspiration4 team was led by its wealthy benefactor, Jared Isaacman, chief executive of the e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc, who assumed the role of mission “commander.”
“That was a heck of a ride for us,” he radioed from the capsule moments after splashdown. “We’re just getting started.”
He had paid an undisclosed but reportedly enormous sum — put by Time magazine at roughly $200 million — to fellow billionaire Musk for all four seats aboard the Crew Dragon.
Isaacman was joined by three less affluent crewmates he had selected — geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, 51, physician’s assistant and childhood bone cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and aerospace data engineer and Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski, 42.
Isaacman conceived of the flight primarily to raise awareness and donations for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee, where Arceneaux was a patient and now works.
The Inspiration4 crew had no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which was operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though Isaacman and Proctor are both licensed pilots.
SpaceX already ranked as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the space station for NASA.
Two rival operators, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. and Blue Origin, inaugurated their own astro-tourism services in recent months, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.
Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s three days in orbit.


What the world’s most accurate clock can tell us about Earth and the cosmos

What the world’s most accurate clock can tell us about Earth and the cosmos
Updated 09 September 2021

What the world’s most accurate clock can tell us about Earth and the cosmos

What the world’s most accurate clock can tell us about Earth and the cosmos
  • Scientists share award for making the most precise timekeeping pieces ever built

WASHINGTON: It would take 15 billion years for the clock that occupies Jun Ye’s basement lab at the University of Colorado to lose a second — about how long the universe has existed.
For this invention, the Chinese-American scientist, along with Hidetoshi Katori of Japan, will split $3 million as co-winners of the 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.
Working independently, the two developed techniques using lasers to trap and cool atoms, then harness their vibrations to drive what are known as “optical lattice clocks,” the most precise timekeeping pieces ever built.
By comparison, current atomic clocks lose a second once every 100 million years.
But what is gained by greater accuracy?
“It’s really an instrument to allow you to probe the basic fabric of space-time in the universe,” Ye told AFP.
In Ye’s lab, researchers have shown that time moves slower when the clock is moved closer to the ground by a matter of centimeters, in line with Einstein’s predictions of relativity.
Applied to current technology, these clocks could improve GPS navigation accuracy by a factor of a thousand, or help smoothly land an unmanned spaceplane on Mars.
Improving the precision and accuracy of timekeeping has been a goal since ancient Egyptians and Chinese made sundials.
A key breakthrough came with the invention of the pendulum clock in 1656, which relies on a swinging weight to keep time, and a few decades later chronometers were accurate enough to determine a ship’s longitude at sea.
The early 20th century saw the advent of quartz clocks, which when jolted with electricity resonate at very specific, high frequencies, or number of ticks in a second.
Quartz clocks are ubiquitous in modern electronics, but are still somewhat susceptible to variations caused by the manufacturing process, or conditions like temperature.
The next great leap in timekeeping came from harnessing the movements of energized atoms to develop atomic clocks, which are immune the effects of such environmental variations.
Physicists know that a single, very high frequency will cause particles called electrons that orbit the nucleus of a specific type of atom to jump to a higher energy state, finding an orbit further away from the nucleus.
Atomic clocks generate the approximate frequency that causes atoms of the element Cesium to jump to that higher energy state.
Then, a detector counts the number of those energized atoms, adjusting the frequency if necessary to make the clock more precise.
So precise that since 1967, one second has been defined as 9,192,631,770 oscillations of a Cesium atom.
Katori’s and Ye’s labs have found ways to improve atomic clocks even further by moving oscillations to the visible end of the electromagnetic spectrum, with frequencies a hundred thousand times higher than those used in current atomic clocks -- to make them even more accurate.


Philippines approves commercial use of genetically engineered rice

Philippines approves commercial use of genetically engineered rice
Updated 26 August 2021

Philippines approves commercial use of genetically engineered rice

Philippines approves commercial use of genetically engineered rice
  • Golden Rice to be initially deployed in areas with high prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency by the third quarter of 2022

MANILA: The Philippines said on Wednesday it has approved the commercial propagation of genetically modified Golden Rice after more than a decade of field tests that drew strong opposition from anti-GMO activists.
The Southeast Asian country, which is one of the world’s biggest rice importers, is the first nation to approve the Vitamin A-enriched grain for commercial cultivation, according to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which helped develop Golden Rice.
Formal biosafety approval was issued last month, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agency, Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), said in a statement.
“With the biosafety permit, DA-PhilRice has now commenced producing seeds for cultivation, which usually takes 3-4 cropping seasons,” said Ronan Zagado, the government spokesman for the Golden Rice initiative.
Golden Rice will be initially deployed in areas with high prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency by the third quarter of 2022, before it can become commercially available for public consumption, he told Reuters.
The Philippines had been expected to approve the widespread planting of Golden Rice as early as 2011, but faced public concerns over health risks and opposition from various sectors.
Greenpeace has denounced the approval and called on the agriculture department to reverse the decision.
“The DA needs to ensure that farmers are central in a green and just recovery from the pandemic, and are supported by resilient food and farm systems in the face of the climate emergency,” said Wilhelmina Pelegrina, senior campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
PhilRice Executive Director John de Leon, however, allayed health risk concerns.
“We have generated extensive data on the safety (of Golden Rice) in terms of national and international safety standards,” he said.
Golden Rice has received food safety approvals from regulators in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, and is undergoing final regulatory review in Bangladesh, according to IRRI.

 

The Philippines is the first nation to approve the Vitamin A-enriched grain for commercial cultivation. (Shutterstock image)

Golden Rice has received food safety approvals from regulators in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States


International Space Station thrown out of control by misfire of Russian module — NASA

International Space Station thrown out of control by misfire of Russian module — NASA
Updated 30 July 2021

International Space Station thrown out of control by misfire of Russian module — NASA

International Space Station thrown out of control by misfire of Russian module — NASA

LOS ANGELES/MOSCOW: The International Space Station (ISS) was thrown briefly out of control on Thursday when jet thrusters of a newly arrived Russian research module inadvertently fired a few hours after it was docked to the orbiting outpost, NASA officials said.
The seven crew members aboard — two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a European space agency astronaut from France — were never in any immediate danger, according to NASA and Russian state-owned news agency RIA.
But the malfunction prompted NASA to postpone until at least Aug. 3 its planned launch of Boeing's new CST-100 Starliner capsule on an uncrewed test flight to the space station. The Starliner had been set to blast off atop an Atlas V rocket on Friday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Thursday's mishap began about three hours after the multipurpose Nauka module had latched onto the space station. The module's jets inexplicably restarted, causing the entire station to pitch out of its normal flight position some 250 miles above the Earth, US space agency officials said.
The "loss of attitudinal control" lasted for a little more than 45 minutes, until flight teams on the ground managed to restore the space station's orientation by activating thrusters on another module of the orbiting platform, according to Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA's space station program.
In its broadcast coverage of the incident, RIA cited NASA specialists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as describing the struggle to regain control of the space station as a "tug of war" between the two modules.
At the height of the incident, the station was pitching out of alignment at the rate of about a half a degree per second, Montalbano said hours later in a NASA conference call with reporters.
The Nauka engines were ultimately switched off, the space station was stabilized and its orientation was restored to where it had begun, NASA said.
Communication with the crew was lost briefly twice during the disruption, but "there was no immediate danger at any time to the crew," Montalbano said.
A drift in the space station's normal orientation was first detected by automatic sensors on the ground, and "the crew really didn't feel any movement," he said.
What caused the malfunction of the thrusters on the Nauka module, delivered by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has yet to be determined, NASA officials said.
Montalbano said there was no immediate sign of any damage to the space station. The flight correction maneuvers used up more propellant reserves than desired, "but nothing I would worry about," he said.
After its launch last week from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, the module experienced a series of glitches that raised concern about whether the docking procedure would go smoothly.
Roscosmos attributed Thursday's post-docking issue to Nauka's engines having to work with residual fuel in the craft, TASS news agency reported.
"The process of transferring the Nauka module from flight mode to 'docked with ISS' mode is underway. Work is being carried out on the remaining fuel in the module," Roscosmos was cited by TASS as saying.
The Nauka module is designed to serve as a research lab, storage unit and airlock that will upgrade Russia's capabilities aboard the ISS.
A live broadcast showed the module, named after the Russian word for "science," docking with the space station a few minutes later than scheduled.
"According to telemetry data and reports from the ISS crew, the onboard systems of the station and the Nauka module are operating normally," Roscosmos said in a statement.
"There is contact!!!" Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, wrote on Twitter moments after the docking. 


SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa

SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa
Updated 24 July 2021

SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa

SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa
  • Europa Clipper mission due for blastoff in October 2024

LOS ANGELES: Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million launch services contract for NASA’s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.
The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said in a statement posted online.
The contract marked NASA’s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.
In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.
But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.
The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.
NASA did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.
The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.
A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.
Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, NASA said.