Competing missions, soaring satellite traffic call for a rules-based space order

Special Last year was a remarkable year for space travel, but 2022 will primarily be the year of the moon, with governments and private companies working in partnership to make their ambitions a reality. (Shutterstock)
Last year was a remarkable year for space travel, but 2022 will primarily be the year of the moon, with governments and private companies working in partnership to make their ambitions a reality. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 03 February 2022

Competing missions, soaring satellite traffic call for a rules-based space order

Last year was a remarkable year for space travel, but 2022 will primarily be the year of the moon, with governments and private companies working in partnership to make their ambitions a reality. (Shutterstock)
  • UN chief has called for an urgent dialogue about the terms guarding human involvement in outer space
  • With governments and private companies working in partnership, 2022 will primarily be the year of the moon

NEW YORK: The new space race is upon us, and the moon will soon be very crowded. According to the US space agency NASA, the year 2022 will be an historic one, ushering in a “new era of lunar exploration.”

“There is a moon rush” and “everyone’s going to the moon,” trilled the Economist recently. But this new moon race, while filled with hope, is fraught with concern and apprehension owing to fierce competition and superpower rivalry.

The heavy traffic in space this year, especially around the moon, is reminiscent of the 1960s and the Cold War when space was the new battleground between the competing visions of the US and the Soviet Union.

The Soviets enjoyed an early lead, putting the first satellite in orbit in 1957, the first probe on the lunar surface in 1959, and the first man in space in 1961. But with US President John F. Kennedy vowing to put a man on the moon and returning him safely before the end of the decade, the Americans soon pulled ahead.

By 1969, the US had succeeded, making Neil Armstrong the first human to set foot on the lunar surface. But in 1972, six Apollo missions later, the program was scrapped and no manned mission has returned to the moon since.




Since the historic moon landings from 1969, there have been growing calls for manned missions to return to the lunar surface and beyond. (AFP)

President Donald Trump issued a similar directive in 2017, calling on NASA to lead a human return to the moon and beyond. He also told the space agency it was high time that a woman walked on the moon.

Last year was a remarkable year for space travel, with several historic firsts. NASA succeeded in landing the Perseverance Rover on Mars, and piloting Ingenuity — the first helicopter flown on the Red Planet. The space agency also launched the James Webb Space Telescope — the largest and the most powerful ever built.

Another major development is the private sector’s emergence as a key player in the field, offering low-cost rocketry and launch facilities and even the beginnings of space tourism. NASA’s leadership now speaks of “catalyzing the space economy with public-private partnerships.”

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have all made significant leaps over the past year, while a Japanese billionaire recently spent a week aboard the International Space Station.

However, 2022 will primarily be the year of the moon, with governments and private companies working in partnership to make their ambitions a reality.




NASA is moving away from the ISS project (above) with the upcoming Artemis station program. (Shutterstock)

NASA’s multibillion-dollar Artemis program, named after Apollo’s twin sister, the Greek goddess of the moon, is the biggest project of its kind in the world. After 20 years of multinational cooperation aboard the ISS, the US and its partners are now preparing to move beyond the aging space station and deeper into space.

The moon is thought to be rich in resources such as rare earth elements and precious metals, titanium, aluminum and — that all important ingredient for sustaining life — water. However, the moon is not viewed as the ultimate goal but as a “stepping stone” for what is considered the bigger prize: Mars and beyond.

NASA, for instance, believes “the sooner we get to the moon, the sooner we get American astronauts to Mars.”

But all of this rides on the success of the three phases of the Artemis program, which will combine the technology and expertise of the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Artemis I, planned for March or April this year, will be the first unmanned flight test.

FASTFACTS

* The first observatory was built in the 8th century by Abbasid Caliph Al-Mamun ibn Al-Rashid in Baghdad.

* Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Arab in space when he flew aboard the US space shuttle Discovery in 1985.

* Today, 9 Middle East countries have space programs.

* SpaceX Starlink project has more than 1,700 satellites in low-Earth orbit.

* There could be more than 100,000 satellites orbiting the Earth by 2030.

The core components of Artemis include the Space Launch System rocket, which will carry the Orion capsule to lunar orbit, and the Gateway — a space station that will orbit the moon as a “staging point” to the lunar surface and for deep space exploration.

As part of the testing phase, the unmanned Artemis I will circle the moon before returning to earth. Artemis II, which will carry a crew of four astronauts, will perform a lunar flyby, but will not land.

Finally, the fully crewed Artemis III will land near the moon’s south pole, where astronauts will search for water, study the surface, and test technologies. There they will establish “Artemis Base Camp” to support future lunar expeditions. The mission is expected to take place in 2025.

In the meantime, NASA has contracted private firms to send three robotic moon landers to conduct excavations and bring back lunar soil samples, which is already raising puzzling questions about land and resource ownership on the moon.

There are currently nine moon missions in the works led by various nations and private companies that “could try to orbit, or land on the moon” in 2022, according to The New York Times. Five of them are sponsored by NASA.




Russian rockets will send five spacecraft into orbit in 2022, including two manned missions. (AFP)

Russia plans to launch five spacecraft in 2022, two of which will include manned missions, and three cargo missions to the ISS. They are also working with China on a new space station, the International Lunar Research Station, due for launch in 2027. The collaboration is reportedly a direct response to their exclusion from the Artemis program.

Russia is expected to launch the Luna-25 lander in October, making it the first Russian moon landing since the Luna-24 in 1976. India will also try to land on the moon in the third quarter of 2022 after its failed mission in 2019 when its lander, Chandrayaan-2, crashed into the surface.

Japan, meanwhile, is planning to send its Mission 1 lander to the moon in the second half of 2022, with two robots aboard. One of them is the Rashid rover, developed by the UAE.

China started 2022 by launching a Long March 2D rocket, reported to be one of 40 Chinese Long March rocket missions scheduled for 2022. China has also committed to completing its Tiangong space station this year.

All this space traffic and competing missions to the moon will no doubt intensify existing rivalries and create new possibilities for confrontation.




“We’re at a time of transformative change in the human use of space,” says Jonathan McDowell, scientist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. (Supplied)

Currently, there are only two treaties governing the behavior of states in space. These include the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Moon Treaty of 1979. Both appear worryingly out of date in an increasingly busy cosmic marketplace.

The Moon Treaty in particular has only been ratified by 18 states — four of them Arab countries. Of the big powers, only France is a signatory.  

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, has called for an urgent dialogue about the terms guarding human involvement in outer space. The Summit of the Future, scheduled for 2023, may provide just such an opportunity to establish a rules-based order for the heavens.

Given the speed with which nations and private firms are embracing space travel, and the bounty of business and prestige that will come with it, contenders will likely be well out of the starting block by the time the rules of the new space race have even been established.


Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus
Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus
  • David Petraeus said Afghanistan’s ‘economy has collapsed, many of the people are literally starving and the Taliban regime (has taken) the country back to the 8th or 9th century
  • He added that women in the country now ‘have very little opportunity to contribute to the economy, the business world, even to society’

LONDON: A former US military commander warned that the Taliban has allowed Al-Qaeda to return and Daesh to become “very dangerous” amid the disastrous situation in Afghanistan in the 12 months since US troops withdrew.

“Gen. David Petraeus said that in the year since Western forces left, the country had returned to the 8th or 9th century, with the new regime imposing an ‘ultra-conservative’ vision of Islam,” according to a report by The Guardian newspaper, which cited an interview he gave to Times Radio.

The report added that the West “left behind hundreds of thousands of people whose security was jeopardized because of their service in the Afghan government or work alongside Western troops.”

“I think it is still a tragic, heartbreaking and, frankly, disastrous situation. Clearly the Taliban have allowed Al-Qaeda to return. The Islamic State appears very dangerous,” Petraeus said, using an alternative name for the terrorist organization Daesh.

“The economy has collapsed, many of the people are literally starving and the Taliban regime has imposed an ultra-conservative vision of Islam that takes the country back to the 8th or 9th century … and in which women have very little opportunity to contribute to the economy, the business world, even to society.”

He added: “The vast majority of the coalition forces who were carrying out training and assistance in the country until last summer had wanted to stay.”

The Guardian said that intelligence chiefs “previously warned that withdrawing from the country could weaken the ability of the UK and US to gain an accurate picture of terrorist activity on the ground.”

Since the departure of US-led Western troops on Aug. 31 last year and the resultant Taliban takeover, warnings and threats from the West to the group about its actions have been ignored, The Guardian said, and British security agencies have major concerns that it will continue to allow a resurgence of extremist groups, in particular Al-Qaeda “who could exploit a security vacuum.”

Petraeus also said a number of resources had been employed to carry out strikes against individuals who pose a threat, including Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri who was killed by a US drone strike on his hideout in the Afghan capital, Kabul, this month.

Meanwhile, almost 60 percent of journalists in Afghanistan have lost their jobs or fled the country since the Taliban takeover, according to a survey published on Friday by Reporters Without Borders.

The France-based nongovernmental organization said 219 of the nation’s 547 media organizations have shut down in the past year and women are the worst affected, with 76 percent of them losing their jobs. The survey found that only 656 female journalists in the country are still working, the vast majority of them in Kabul, compared with 2,756 a year ago.

“Journalism has been decimated during the past year in Afghanistan,” said Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. “The authorities must undertake to end the violence and harassment inflicted on media workers, and must allow them to do their job unmolested.”

Accusations of immorality are frequently used to remove women working in the media from their posts.

“The living and working conditions of women journalists in Afghanistan have always been difficult, but today we are experiencing an unprecedented situation,” Meena Habib, a journalist in Kabul, told Reporters Without Borders. “They work in conditions that are physically and mentally violent and tiring, without any protection.”

Some media outlets were forced to shut by Taliban rules banning the broadcast of music and other content, while others have been unable to continue without international funding.

In addition, a decree issued last month by Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada warned against “defaming and criticizing government officials without proof.” It was the latest in a series of measures aimed at curbing press freedoms.

At least 80 journalists have been detained for varying lengths of time by Taliban security forces in the past year, including three who are currently imprisoned, Reporters Without Borders said. The organization ranked Afghanistan 156th out of 179 countries in its 2022 press freedom index.

(With additional reporting by AFP)


Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers
Updated 13 August 2022

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers
  • ‘We were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us,’ one man says
  • Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year

KABUL: When Mohammad Parwiz was trying to cross from Iran to Turkey in search of a better life, he was caught by Iranian police guards and subjected to forced labor before being deported back to Afghanistan.

Parwiz is just one among hundreds of Afghans trying to cross the Iranian border every day to find employment abroad. He is also one of an increasing number to face abuse in the process.
Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country. The number jumped to 5 million from nearly 4 million last year, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry data, as economic restrictions imposed on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 triggered unprecedented levels of poverty.
“As embassies closed in August last year, I had no other way but to go to Iran illegally,” Parwiz, a 22-year-old from the northern Baghlan province, told Arab News.
“I stayed in Iran for three months working at my relative’s bakery. My friends and I were caught by a border police patrol close to Turkey’s border.
“We were kept in jail for 12 days where we were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us. We wouldn’t get proper food during that time. They constantly threatened us that if we come to Iran again, we may get killed. After 12 days of forced labor, humiliation, abuse and torture by Iran’s police, we were sent back to Afghanistan.”
Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year. Reports include abuse not only by the Iranian police, but also human traffickers.
Ahmad Jalil, a 19-year-old from Laghman province, tried to leave Afghanistan and go via Iran to Turkey, from where he wanted to reach Europe with a group of 15 other teenagers.
“We paid a lot of money to the trafficker here but when we entered Iran through the border in Nimroz province during the night, we were received by another person after walking in the desert for hours,” he said.
The second smuggler asked them for more money.
“The trafficker would abuse us and would beat some of us,” Jalil said. “He even threatened us with death.”
Eventually, Jalil was abandoned and managed to return to Afghanistan on his own.
“We have cases of Afghan migrants being abused, beaten up and even killed,” Sayed Hazratullah Zaeem, a commissioner at Islam Qala, a border town in Herat province, near the Afghanistan–Iran border, told the Afghan media on Thursday.
Abdullah Qayoum, an official of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation in Herat, confirmed the reports of abuse.
“Afghans who want to go there (Iran), some of them are sent back after being tortured,” he said.
In April, videos circulated on social media showing civilians being manhandled by men dressed like Iranian security forces sparked a wave of demonstrations targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat, and a diplomatic protest by Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities.
“The border police in Iran are so brutal. For them we are not even humans,” said Mohammad Karim, a recent graduate from Kabul, who tried to cross from Iran to Turkey earlier this year.
He did not manage to reach his destination after he was injured in a car accident as his traffickers tried to evade Iranian police.
“If they saw our vehicle in the desert, they would shoot at us,” he said.


Polio detected in NYC’s sewage, suggesting virus circulating

This 2014 illustration made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a polio virus particle. (AP
This 2014 illustration made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a polio virus particle. (AP
Updated 13 August 2022

Polio detected in NYC’s sewage, suggesting virus circulating

This 2014 illustration made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a polio virus particle. (AP
  • New York City is being forced to confront polio as city health officials are struggling to vaccinate vulnerable populations against monkeypox and adjusting to changing COVID-19 guidelines

NEW YORK: The polio virus has been found in New York City’s wastewater in another sign that the disease, which hadn’t been seen in the US in a decade, is quietly spreading among unvaccinated people, health officials said Friday.
The presence of the poliovirus in the city’s wastewater suggests likely local circulation of the virus, the city and New York state health departments said.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said the detection of poliovirus in wastewater samples in New York City is alarming but not surprising.
“The risk to New Yorkers is real but the defense is so simple — get vaccinated against polio,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a statement. “With polio circulating in our communities there is simply nothing more essential than vaccinating our children to protect them from this virus, and if you’re an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult, please choose now to get the vaccine. Polio is entirely preventable and its reappearance should be a call to action for all of us.”

FASTFACT

New York City is being forced to confront polio as city health officials are struggling to vaccinate vulnerable populations against monkeypox and adjusting to changing COVID-19 guidelines.

New York City is being forced to confront polio as city health officials are struggling to vaccinate vulnerable populations against monkeypox and adjusting to changing COVID-19 guidelines.
“We are dealing with a trifecta,” Mayor Eric Adams said Friday on CNN. “COVID is still very much here. Polio, we have identified polio in our sewage, and we’re still dealing with the monkeypox crisis. But the team is there. And we’re coordinating and we’re addressing the threats as they come before us, and we’re prepared to deal with them with the assistance of Washington, DC.”
The announcement about the discovery of the polio virus in New York City comes shortly after British health authorities reported finding evidence the virus has spread in London but found no cases in people. Children ages one through nine in London were made eligible for booster doses of a polio vaccine Wednesday.
In New York, one person suffered paralysis weeks ago because of a polio infection in Rockland County, north of the city. Wastewater samples collected in June in both Rockland and adjacent Orange County were found to contain the virus.


UN humanitarian agencies face record funding gap this year

In this Sept. 21, 2018 file photo, men deliver UN World Food Programme (WFP) aid in Aslam, Hajjah, Yemen. (AP)
In this Sept. 21, 2018 file photo, men deliver UN World Food Programme (WFP) aid in Aslam, Hajjah, Yemen. (AP)
Updated 12 August 2022

UN humanitarian agencies face record funding gap this year

In this Sept. 21, 2018 file photo, men deliver UN World Food Programme (WFP) aid in Aslam, Hajjah, Yemen. (AP)
  • Armed conflict, climate change emerge as key drivers of ‘mega crises’ that threaten livelihoods of communities

GENEVA: UN humanitarian projects face a record funding gap this year, with only a third of the required $48.7 billion secured so far as global needs outpace pledges, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

The money is needed to help around 204 million people worldwide as armed conflict and climate change, such as the war in Ukraine and the drought in the Horn of Africa, emerge as key drivers of “mega crises” that threaten the livelihoods of whole communities.
“More than halfway through the year, the funding shortfall is $33.6 billion, our biggest funding gap ever,” said Jens Laerke, OCHA spokesman.
“The needs in the world are rising much faster than the donor funding is coming in,” he added.

More than halfway through the year, the funding shortfall is $33.6 billion, our biggest funding gap ever.

Jens Laerke, OCHA spokesman

So far $15.2 billion has been collected by the mid-year mark, also a record, Laerke said, in a year of soaring humanitarian needs.
According to OCHA’s website, the US is the top donor, contributing just over $8 billion, while the World Food Programme was the largest recipient.
The nearly $50 billion needed includes all the UN coordinated appeals worldwide, like the annual humanitarian response plans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, as well as flash appeals in Ukraine and regional appeals for refugees in Afghanistan.
The money is meant for all UN humanitarian agencies and some NGOs, but does not cover appeals from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the ICRC because they have independent appeal processes, Laerke said.
The UN’s humanitarian agency earlier said nearly 900,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo had been displaced since the start of the year amid rebel fighting in the country’s east.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report that more than 877,000 people had been displaced between January and June.
Over 446,000 people had also returned home during that period, OCHA said.
There are currently 4.86 million people displaced within the DRC, according to OCHA, with women representing 51 percent of that number.
“More than 80 per cent of the displacement is due to armed attacks and clashes,” the report said.
The majority of displaced people are located in Congo’s turbulent east, a mineral-rich region plagued by over 120 armed groups.
Late last year, the M23 rebel group resumed fighting in eastern Congo after lying mostly dormant for years. It has since captured swaths of territory, including the strategic border town of Bunagana.
The clashes have destabilized regional relations in central Africa, with DRC accusing its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the militia.
Despite denials from the Rwandan government, an unpublished report for the UN seen by AFP also pointed to Rwandan involvement.


Salman Rushdie stabbed onstage, rushed to hospital

Salman Rushdie stabbed onstage, rushed to hospital
Updated 12 August 2022

Salman Rushdie stabbed onstage, rushed to hospital

Salman Rushdie stabbed onstage, rushed to hospital
  • Police said that a male suspect stormed the stage and attacked Rushdie
  • He was rushed by helicopter to a local hospital, police said, adding that his condition was not known

NEW YORK: British author Salman Rushdie, whose writings have made him the target of Iranian death threats, was attacked and stabbed in the neck at a literary event on Friday in western New York state.
Police said that a male suspect stormed the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer, with the writer suffering “an apparent stab wound to the neck.”
He was rushed by helicopter to a local hospital, police said, adding that his condition was not known.
New York governor Kathy Hochul said Rushdie was alive, and hailed him as “an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power.”
“We condemn all violence, and we want people to be able to feel (the) freedom to speak and to write truth,” she said.
A state trooper assigned to the event at the Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was due to give a talk, immediately took the suspect into custody.
Police gave no details about the suspect’s identity or any probable motive.
Social media footage showed people rushing to Rushdie’s aid and administrating emergency medical care. The interviewer also suffered a head injury in the attack.
The Chautauqua Institution — which puts on arts and literary programming in a tranquil lakeside community seventy miles (110 kilometers) south of Buffalo — said in a statement that it was coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials.
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India.
But his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” brought attention beyond his imagination when it sparked a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for his death by Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The novel was considered by some Muslims as disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammad.
Rushdie, who was born in India to non-practicing Muslims and today identifies as an atheist, was forced to go underground as a bounty was put on his head — which remains today.
He was granted police protection by the government in Britain, where he was at school and where he made his home, following the murder or attempted murder of his translators and publishers.
He spent nearly a decade in hiding, moving houses repeatedly and being unable to tell his children where he lived.
Rushdie only began to emerge from his life on the run in the late 1990s after Iran in 1998 said it would not support his assassination.
Now living in New York, he is an advocate of freedom of speech, notably launching a strong defense of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after its staff were gunned down by Islamists in Paris in 2015.
The magazine had published drawings of Muhammad that drew furious reactions from Muslims worldwide.
Threats and boycotts continue against literary events that Rushdie attends, and his knighthood in 2007 sparked protests in Iran and Pakistan, where a government minister said the honor justified suicide bombings.
The fatwa failed to stifle Rushdie’s writing and inspired his memoir “Joseph Anton,” named after his alias while in hiding and written in the third person.
“Midnight’s Children” — which runs to more than 600 pages — has been adapted for the stage and silver screen, and his books have been translated into more than 40 languages.
Suzanne Nossel, head of the PEN America organization, said the free speech advocacy group was “reeling from shock and horror.”
“Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face,” Nossel said in a statement.
“Our thoughts and passions now lie with our dauntless Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery. We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”