Four astronauts are set to lift off Sunday night from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station.
The crewed flight will be the second for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and the first since NASA officially certified the small spacecraft to carry people. Aboard will be NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover, along with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
“As a crew, we are ready,” said Hopkins, the mission commander, in a press conference last week. “We are ready for this launch, we are ready for the six months of work that is waiting for us on board the International Space Station, and we are ready for the return.”
The Dragon is a relatively new ride for astronauts. Its first crewed flight took place in May, when Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launched on a jaunt to the station. They stayed for roughly two months before returning to earth and splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico in early August.
That flight was the first launch of American astronauts from American soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Following the shuttle’s retirement, NASA spent the better part of a decade paying the Russian space agency for seats aboard its Soyuz rockets. It hopes the Dragon can end that dependence by providing an American-made system to get astronauts into low earth orbit. This mission, known as “Crew-1”, is supposed to be the first of many routine flights that will ferry astronauts to and from the station.
Unlike the Soyuz, which has room for three crew members, the Dragon can carry up to seven passengers into orbit, according to the company. While the design fundamentally resembles older spacecraft like the Apollo capsules used to reach the moon, Dragon sports some modern upgrades such as a sleek white interior and touch-screen control panels.
The arrival of four astronauts to the station will bring the total crew to seven. Normally the ISS is staffed with anywhere from three to six crew members, and space will be tight. Hopkins said he will likely have to make due with the capsule as his bedroom for the duration of the mission.
The extra crew will help NASA to conduct more scientific research aboard the station, Hopkins said. “I think they’re going to keep us pretty busy.”
Liftoff is set for 7:27 p.m. and the flight to the station will take roughly 28 hours. Docking will occur Monday evening around 11 p.m. and will be televised by NASA TV.
China prepares mission to bring samples from the Moon – Prensa Latina
This new mission is considered one of the most complicated and challenging for China, since its objective is to bring samples to Earth back from the Moon.
The current probe is the successor of the Chang’e-4, the world’s first probe traversing the dark side of the Moon.
If it performs as expected, another mission to the lunar North Pole will follow to determine the age of the soil, the composition of the solar wind, the isotopes of hydrogen, carbon, helium and oxygen.
Meanwhile, the Chang’e-7 will seek to discover if there is ice in the hidden side of the moon and the eighth will later focus on scientific experiments and will test key technologies to lay the foundations for the construction of a science and research base that involves humans and robots in the 2030s.
China has also launched since the summer a team to Mars in order to study the planet’s atmosphere, environment and geological characteristics.
Thailand: Rare whale skeleton discovered – Report Door
An almost perfectly preserved whale skeleton thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old has been discovered in Thailand.
The bones were found in early November some 12km (7.5 miles) off the coast just to the west of Bangkok.
The 12m (39ft) long skeleton is thought to be that of a Bryde’s whale.
Experts hope the find might provide “a window into the past,” especially for research on sea levels and biodiversity.
The partially fossilised bones are “a rare find,” mammal researcher Marcus Chua of the National University of Singapore told the BBC.
“There are few whale subfossils in Asia,” he said, and even fewer ones are “in such good condition”.
Pictures shared by Thailand’s environment minister Varawut Silpa-archa show the bones apparently almost entirely intact.
According to the politician, more than 80% of the skeleton has so far been recovered, including vertebrae, ribs, fins and one shoulder blade.
The skeleton’s head alone is estimated to be about 3m in length.
Mr Chua says the discovery will allow researchers to find out more about the particular species in the past, whether there were any differences compared to today’s Bryde’s whales.
The skeleton will also provide information about the “paleobiological and geological conditions at that time, including sea level estimation, types of sediments, and the contemporary biological communities at that time”.
“So this find provides a window into the past once the skeleton has been dated,” Mr Chua says.
The bones are yet to be carbon-dated to determine their exact age, with the results expected in December.
The gulf of Thailand has an interesting history in the last 10,000 years, the biologist points out, with sea levels possibly up to 4m higher than today and active tectonic activity.
The skeleton was found off the current coastline in Samut Sakhon.
Bryde’s whales, which live worldwide in warm temperate and tropical waters, are still found in the waters around Thailand today.
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European Space Agency inks deal to deploy massive space pincers to clean up orbit – ZDNet
The European Space Agency (ESA) has inked a deal with ClearSpace SA to clean up orbit with craft equipped with pincers designed to grab space junk.
As space agencies and private companies go beyond research and start exploring the potential of commercial space and tourism, the space ‘junk’ we are accumulating will only grow.
This is a severe issue, considering the smallest satellite or piece of defunct technology zooming around at thousands of meters per second, if it collides with craft or other objects, can cause massive damage that also sends additional debris into space.
To tackle the problem, the ESA has signed an €86 million contract with startup ClearSpace to fund and launch debris-removal missions.
Due to launch in 2025, the first active debris removal mission, dubbed ClearSpace-1, will propel a craft into space equipped with pincers able to capture satellites. In this test, the ESA says that ClearSpace craft will “rendezvous, capture and bring down for reentry a Vespa payload adapter.”
The adapter, a leftover from a 2013 mission, has a mass of 112kg and is roughly the size of a small satellite.
“Cleaning space is no longer optional,” ClearSpace says in its mission statement. “Removing human-made space debris has become necessary and is our responsibility to ensure that tomorrow’s generations can continue benefiting from space infrastructures and exploration.”
ClearSpace was selected out of 12 candidates in 2019 by the ESA to develop a commercial debris removal solution for space.
The ESA is only partially funding the mission and the agency intends to raise the rest of the mission cost from commercial investors interested in the technology.
According to the ESA’s latest Space Environment report, there are over 25,000 objects in space — including satellites and various hunks of debris — and rocket bodies, upper stages leftover from launches, and malfunctioning satellites that can’t be deorbited are forms of space junk causing the most concern.
The majority of objects on the list were launched before 2000 and modern space junk mitigation guidelines were adopted by space agencies.
In October, IBM revealed a separate project designed to tackle the emerging problem of space junk. A new open source venture between the tech giant and Dr. Moriba Jah at the University of Texas at Austin is focused on predicting where space objects are in orbit, and where they are likely to go.
By accurately predicting future orbit positions through the creation of machine learning (ML)-based algorithms, this could help companies such as ClearSpace track junk and clean up orbit more effectively.
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