After years of zooming through deep space, a presumed leftover piece of a Chinese rocket slammed into the Moon today, just as space tracking experts expected it would. At least, it should have hit the Moon around 7:30AM ET this morning, as long as the law of gravity has not changed. The collision brings an end to the rocket’s life in space and likely leaves a fresh new crater on the Moon that may be up to 65 feet wide.
The now-expired rocket has caused quite a buzz this past month. First of all, the vehicle was never intended to crash into the Moon, making it a rare piece of space debris to find its way to the lunar surface by accident. Additionally, there was some confusion over its identity, with various groups trying to nail down exactly where the rocket came from.
Originally, space trackers thought it was a leftover piece of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that had launched a weather satellite back in 2015. But after careful analysis, various groups of space trackers confirmed that the rocket was likely leftover from the launch of China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission — a flight that launched in 2014 to test out technology needed to bring samples back from the Moon. That mission, launched on a Chinese Long March 3C rocket, sent a spacecraft looping around the Moon in an attempt to see if China could send a vehicle to the Moon and then bring it back to Earth. Given the flight profile of the Chang’e 5-T1 mission and the tracking of the mystery object, astronomers are fairly certain that a chunk of the Long March 3C rocket has remained in an extremely elongated orbit around Earth ever since, only to find its way to the far side of the Moon.
China tried to deny that the rocket belonged to the country’s space program, claiming that the rocket actually returned to our planet and fell into the atmosphere. “According to China’s monitoring, the upper stage of the Chang’e-5 mission rocket has fallen through the Earth’s atmosphere in a safe manner and burnt up completely,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during a press conference in February after trackers had changed the identity of the rocket. However, Wang may have mixed up his Chinese missions. Chang’e-5 was a completely different mission that launched in 2020, while astronomers believe this rocket stemmed from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which took place six years earlier.
Some other confusion revolved around the fact that the Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS) — which keeps track of space debris around Earth — noted on its tracking website that the rocket from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission returned to our planet about a year after launch and burned up in our atmosphere. However, the 18SPCS later confirmed in a statement to The Verge that the Long March 3C from the flight did not actually reenter our atmosphere and has been in space ever since its launch.
Though the 18SPCS’s update lends credibility to the idea that the rocket is from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission, it won’t say for sure that’s the origin of the object. “The 18th Space Control Squadron is currently determining the appropriate update to the space catalog,” Major Annmarie Annicelli, chief of the public affairs operations division at US Space Command, provided in an emailed statement to The Verge. “While U.S. Space Command can confirm the CHANG’E 5-T1 rocket body never de-orbited, we cannot confirm the country of origin of the rocket body that may impact the moon.”
The reason the 18SPCS does not have good data here is that it’s not really concerned with tracking deep-space debris like this. The 18SPCS is much more focused on tracking space debris in closer orbits to Earth, as the space environment there has become much more crowded. That population of objects has grown extensively over the last few decades, especially after Russia intentionally destroyed one of its own satellites during an anti-satellite test, or ASAT test, in November. The 18SPCS claimed that once the Chang’e 5-T1 rocket passed more than 22,000 miles beyond Earth, their official trackers de-prioritized following the object. They plan to revise the database, though, to reflect more up-to-date information.
But while the 18SPCS cannot confirm or deny the source of the space debris, astronomers are pretty certain that the rocket is from Chang’e 5-T1 and that it is now pulverized on the lunar surface. The rocket’s demise was first predicted by Bill Gray, an astronomer and asteroid tracker running Project Pluto, who’s been following the rocket pretty closely for the last few months.
The collision shouldn’t really be a cause for concern, especially since we’ve crashed plenty of objects on the lunar surface before. Pieces of rockets from the Apollo missions to the Moon were sent careening into the lunar surface, and NASA purposefully crashed a spacecraft into the Moon in 2009 called LCROSS in order to blast up some lunar dirt and see what materials were lurking under the surface. All those past crashes were usually on purpose, though, and the ones that weren’t typically entailed a lunar lander or vehicle bound for the Moon going in a little too hard. This may be the first time a spacecraft that wasn’t supposed to go to the Moon’s surface made it there anyway. Or at least, it’s the first time one we know about.
Gray and others have used this episode as a case for why we need better plans for disposing of our deep-space debris and why we need to be tracking junk that goes to extra high altitudes like this. But now that the rocket has impacted, its leftovers could be great to study. The team behind NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is currently orbiting the Moon, says they’ll try to see the aftermath of the crash if they can. Gray predicted that the rocket likely hit the Moon in a far side crater called Hertzsprung.
“We certainly have an interest in finding the impact crater and will attempt to do so over the coming weeks and months,” John Keller, the deputy project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, emailed to The Verge in a statement. “We will not be near the impact site when it takes place so we won’t be able to directly observe it. The onboard narrow angle cameras have sufficient resolution to detect the crater but the Moon is full of fresh impact craters, so positive identification is based on before and after images under similar lighting conditions.”
Hopefully, the LRO team can find it and give us an image of the final resting place of the Long March 3C rocket, and perhaps we can use this whole ordeal as an opportunity to see what kinds of materials the collision was able to dig up.
After 45 years, NASA's Voyager 1 space probe encounters mystery issue – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
(CNN) — The Voyager 1 probe is still exploring interstellar space 45 years after launching, but it has encountered an issue that mystifies the spacecraft’s team on Earth.
Voyager 1 continues to operate well, despite its advanced age and 14.5 billion-mile distance (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth. And it can receive and execute commands sent from NASA, as well as gather and send back science data.
But the readouts from the attitude articulation and control system, which control the spacecraft’s orientation in space, don’t match up with what Voyager is actually doing. The attitude articulation and control system, or AACS, ensures that the probe’s high-gain antenna remains pointed at Earth so Voyager can send data back to NASA.
Due to Voyager’s interstellar location, it takes light 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel one way, so the call and response of one message between NASA and Voyager takes two days.
So far, the Voyager team believes the AACS is still working, but the instrument’s data readouts seem random or impossible. The system issue hasn’t triggered anything to put the spacecraft into “safe mode” so far. That’s when only essential operations occur so engineers can diagnose an issue that would put the spacecraft at risk.
And Voyager’s signal is as strong as ever, meaning the antenna is still pointed to Earth. The team is trying to determine if this incorrect data is coming directly from this instrument or if another system is causing it.
“Until the nature of the issue is better understood, the team cannot anticipate whether this might affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit science data,” according to a NASA release.
“A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.
“The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We’re also in interstellar space — a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there’s a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it.”
If the team doesn’t determine the source of the issue, they may just adapt to it, Dodd said. Or if they can find it, the issue may be solved by making a software change or relying on a redundant hardware system.
Voyager has already relied on backup systems to last as long as it has. In 2017, the probe fired thrusters that were used during its initial planetary encounters during the 1970s — and they still worked after remaining unused for 37 years.
The aging probes produce very little power per year, so subsystems and heaters have been turned off over the years so that critical systems and science instruments can keep operating.
Voyager 2, a twin spacecraft, continues to operate well in interstellar space 12.1 billion miles (19.5 billion kilometers) from Earth. By comparison, Neptune, the farthest planet from Earth, is, at most, only 2.9 billion miles away. Both probes were launched in 1977 and have far exceeded their original purpose to fly by planets.
Now, they have become the only two spacecraft to gather data from interstellar space and provide insights about the heliosphere, or the bubble created by the sun that extends beyond the planets in our solar system.
Boeing's Starliner ready to launch to space station on 2nd test flight – CBC.ca
Boeing’s new Starliner capsule was set for launch on Thursday on a do-over uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station, aiming to deliver the company a much-needed success after two years of delays and costly engineering setbacks.
The gumdrop-shaped CST-100 Starliner was scheduled for liftoff at 6:54 p.m. ET from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, carried atop an Atlas V rocket furnished by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA).
ULA said Wednesday evening forecasts called for a 70 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions for an on-time launch.
If all goes as planned, the capsule will arrive at the space station about 24 hours later, docking with the research outpost orbiting some 400 kilometres above Earth at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday.
The <a href=”https://twitter.com/BoeingSpace?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BoeingSpace</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Starliner?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Starliner</a> counts down to liftoff at 6:54pm ET today as the Exp 67 crew preps for its Friday arrival and keeps up human research. <a href=”https://t.co/PqF6Pkbf9Z”>https://t.co/PqF6Pkbf9Z</a>
The Boeing craft is to spend four to five days attached to the space station before undocking and flying back to Earth, with a parachute landing cushioned by airbags on the desert floor of White Sands, New Mexico.
A successful mission will move the long-delayed Starliner a major step closer to providing NASA with a second reliable means of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
Since resuming crewed flights to orbit from American soil in 2020, nine years after the space shuttle program ended, the U.S. space agency has had to rely solely on the Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules flown by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.
Payload and model passenger
The Starliner will not be flying to orbit empty. The capsule will carry a research mannequin to collect data on crew cabin conditions during the journey, plus 500 pounds of cargo for delivery to the space station’s crew — three NASA astronauts, a European Space Agency astronaut from Italy and three Russian cosmonauts.
Two of the U.S. astronauts will be tasked with boarding the capsule during Starliner’s stay to take measurements of its interior environment and unload the supplies.
Thursday’s launch marks a repeat of a 2019 test mission that failed to achieve a successful rendezvous with the space station because of a flight-software malfunction. Subsequent problems with Starliner’s propulsion system, supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne, led Boeing to scrub an attempt to launch the capsule last summer.
The spacecraft remained grounded for nine more months while the two companies sparred over what caused its fuel valves to stick shut and which firm was responsible for fixing them.
Boeing says it has since resolved the glitch with a temporary workaround and plans to redesign the propulsion system’s fuel valves system after this week’s flight.
Starliner was developed with a $4.5 billion US fixed-price NASA contract to provide the U.S. space agency a second avenue to low-Earth orbit, along with SpaceX, and has proven costly to Boeing.
Delays and engineering setbacks with Starliner have led the aerospace giant to take $595 million US in charges since the capsule’s 2019 failure, even as the company strives to climb out of successive crises in its jetliner business and its space-defence unit.
If the second uncrewed trip to orbit succeeds, Starliner could fly its first team of astronauts in the fall, though NASA officials caution that time frame could get pushed back.
NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Mike Fincke had been designated to fly Starliner’s maiden crewed mission. But NASA officials, reluctant to tie down two astronauts to a flight whose launch date is uncertain, said Wednesday the mission could end up carrying at least two of any of the four astronauts now training to test-fly Starliner.
Dusty demise for NASA Mars lander in July; power dwindling – CGTN
A NASA spacecraft on Mars is headed for a dusty demise.
The InSight lander is losing power because of all the dust on its solar panels. NASA said Tuesday it will keep using the spacecraft’s seismometer to register marsquakes until the power peters out, likely in July. Then flight controllers will monitor InSight until the end of this year, before calling everything off.
“There really hasn’t been too much doom and gloom on the team. We’re really still focused on operating the spacecraft,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Bruce Banerdt, the principal scientist.
Since landing on Mars in 2018, InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes; the biggest one, a magnitude 5, occurred two weeks ago.
It will be NASA’s second Mars lander lost to dust: A global dust storm took out Opportunity in 2018. In InSight’s case, it’s been a gradual gathering of dust, especially over the past year.
NASA’s two other functioning spacecraft on the Martian surface – rovers Curiosity and Perseverance – are still going strong thanks to nuclear power. The space agency may rethink solar power in the future for Mars, said planetary science director Lori Glaze, or at least experiment with new panel-clearing tech or aim for the less-stormy seasons.
InSight currently is generating one-tenth of the power from the sun that it did upon arrival. Deputy project manager Kathya Zamora Garcia said the lander initially had enough power to run an electric oven for one hour and 40 minutes; now it’s down to 10 minutes max.
The InSight team had anticipated this much dust buildup, but hoped a gust of wind or dust devil might clean off the solar panels. That has yet to happen, despite several thousand whirlwinds coming close.
“None of them have quite hit us dead-on yet enough to blow the dust off the panels,” Banerdt told reporters.
Another science instrument, dubbed the mole, was supposed to burrow 16 feet (5 meters) underground to measure the internal temperature of Mars. But the German digger never got deeper than a couple of feet (a half-meter) because of the unexpected composition of the red dirt, and it finally was declared dead at the beginning of last year.
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