WENCHANG, China — China launched an ambitious mission on Tuesday to bring back rocks and debris from the moon’s surface for the first time in more than 40 years — an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally.
Chang’e 5 — named for the Chinese moon goddess — is the country’s boldest lunar mission yet. If successful, it would be a major advance for China’s space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission.
The four modules of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft blasted off at just after 4:30 a.m. Tuesday (2030 GMT Monday, 3:30 p.m. EST Monday) atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch centre along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.
Minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s first and second stages and slipped into Earth-moon transfer orbit. About an hour later, Chang’e 5 opened its solar panels to provide its independent power source.
Spacecraft typically take three days to reach the moon.
The launch was carried live by national broadcaster CCTV which then switched to computer animation to show its progress into outer space.
The mission’s key task is to drill 2 metres (almost 7 feet) beneath the moon’s surface and scoop up about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and other debris to be brought back to Earth, according to NASA. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Chang’e 5 lander’s time on the moon is scheduled to be short and sweet. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 Earth days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units to withstand the moon’s freezing nights.
The lander will dig for materials with its drill and robotic arm and transfer them to what’s called an ascender, which will lift off from the moon and dock with the service capsule. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule to be hauled back to Earth.
The technical complexity of Chang’e 5, with its four components, makes it “remarkable in many ways,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a space expert at the U.S. Naval War College.
“China is showing itself capable of developing and successfully carrying out sustained high-tech programs, important for regional influence and potentially global partnerships,” she said.
In particular, the ability to collect samples from space is growing in value, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Other countries planning to retrieve material from asteroids or even Mars may look to China’s experience, he said.
While the mission is “indeed challenging,” McDowell said China has already landed twice on the moon with its Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4 missions, and showed with a 2014 Chang’e 5 test mission that it can navigate back to Earth, re-enter and land a capsule. All that’s left is to show it can collect samples and take off again from the moon.
“As a result of this, I’m pretty optimistic that China can pull this off,” he said.
The mission is among China’s boldest since it first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third nation to do so after the U.S. and Russia.
Chang’e 5 and future lunar missions aim to “provide better technical support for future scientific and exploration activities,” Pei Zhaoyu, mission spokesperson and deputy director of the Chinese National Space Administration’s Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center told reporters at a Monday briefing.
“Scientific needs and technical and economic conditions” would determine whether China decides to send a crewed mission to the moon, said Pei, whose comments were embargoed until after the launch. “I think future exploration activities on the moon are most likely to be carried out in a human-machine combination.”
While many of China’s crewed spaceflight achievements, including building an experimental space station and conducting a spacewalk, reproduce those of other countries from years past, the CNSA is now moving into new territory.
Chang’e 4 — which made the first soft landing on the moon’s relatively unexplored far side almost two years ago — is currently collecting full measurements of radiation exposure from the lunar surface, information vital for any country that plans to send astronauts to the moon.
China in July became one of three countries to have launched a mission to Mars, in China’s case an orbiter and a rover that will search for signs of water on the red planet. The CNSA says the spacecraft Tianwen 1 is on course to arrive at Mars around February.
China has increasingly engaged with foreign countries on missions, and the European Space Agency will be providing important ground station information for Chang’e 5.
U.S. law, however, still prevents most collaborations with NASA, excluding China from partnering with the International Space Station. That has prompted China to start work on its own space station and launch its own programs that have put it in a steady competition with Japan and India, among Asian nations seeking to notch new achievements in space.
China’s space program has progressed cautiously, with relatively few setbacks in recent years. The rocket being used for the current launch failed on a previous launch attempt, but has since performed without a glitch, including launching Chang’e 4.
“China works very incrementally, developing building blocks for long-term use for a variety of missions,” Freese-Johnson said. China’s one-party authoritarian system also allows for “prolonged political will that is often difficult in democracies,” she said.
While the U.S. has followed China’s successes closely, it’s unlikely to expand co-operation with China in space amid political suspicions, a sharpening military rivalry and accusations of Chinese theft of technology, experts say.
“A change in U.S. policy regarding space co-operation is unlikely to get much government attention in the near future,” Johnson-Freese said.
Sam McNeil, The Associated Press
Canadian among crew paying $55M to visit International Space Station | News – Daily Hive
Montreal investor Mark Pathy is among humankind’s first-ever private mission to the International Space Station, scheduled for flight next January.
As Canada continues to discourage non-essential travel, interstellar journeys seem to be fine, assuming you have over $55 million to travel.
The four-person crew (officially called Ax-1 Crew) includes former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría as commander, and the three customers: Pathy, American entrepreneur Larry Connor, and Israeli investor Eytan Stibbe.
The cost for all three passengers costs a smooth $55 million (US$70 million) and includes an eight-day stay at the ISS where customers will participate in “research and philanthropic projects,” according to Axiom Space’s press release.
If you can scratch up enough dough, the flight to space takes off in January 2022.
López-Alegría, who flew to space four times over a 20-year span, will become the first person to ever command both a civil and commercial human spaceflight mission.
Pathy, who is the CEO and Chairman of Montreal-based MAVRIK Corporation, would become the 11th Canadian astronaut to visit outer space. The Montrealer is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency and the Montreal Children’s Hospital, “who are helping identify health-related research projects that could be undertaken during the mission.”
All of the private astronauts were required to pass a medical test and engaged in 15 weeks of training.
“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group,” Axiom Space President & CEO Michael Suffredini said. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space – and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home.”
Axiom plans to launch its own live-in quarters on the ISS, beginning in 2024. The section would be detachable from the station and become its own private outpost.
First Private Crew Will Visit Space Station. The Price Tag: $55 Million Each – Prairie Public Broadcasting
A crew of private astronauts will pay around $55 million each to spend about eight days at the International Space Station next January in what would be a new step for joint private-public space missions. Axiom Space, a Houston company, says the trip will be led by former NASA astronaut and space station commander Michael López-Alegría.
The proposed Ax-1 mission will use a SpaceX rocket to put three paying customers — American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe – into low-Earth orbit on the space station. All of the trio are wealthy entrepreneurs and investors. The group will be under the command of López-Alegría, who is now an executive at Axiom.
It would be the first time an entirely private mission sends astronauts to the International Space Station. Russia sold the first ride to the station to a private citizen, American businessman Dennis Tito, in 2001.
All of the private astronauts for the upcoming mission are far older than the average NASA astronaut’s age of 34. The space agency does not have age restrictions for astronaut candidates, who generally range from 26 to 46 years old. At 70, Connor is surpassed in age only by John Glenn, who flew on the space shuttle when he was 77.
Under NASA’s rules for private astronaut missions, Axiom must ensure its astronauts meet the space agency’s medical standards. They must also undergo training and certification procedures required for crew members of the International Space Station.
While the paying customers represent a new era of space tourism, they will also perform research as the space station whizzes over the Earth.
Connor will work with the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic on research projects, Axiom says, while Pathy will collaborate with the Canadian Space Agency and the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Stibbe plans to do experiments for Israeli researchers, working with the Ramon Foundation and Israel’s space agency.
“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group,” Axiom Space President and CEO Michael Suffredini said as the company announced the crew.
Similar missions are planned for the future, Suffredini said. Axiom hopes to arrange up to two trips per year — and the company also wants to build its own privately funded space station. Under that plan, its modules would be attached to the space station as soon as 2024. And when the space station is retired, the Axiom modules would break off to continue in orbit on their own.
NASA announced its plans to open the International Space Station to commercial activities in June 2019, saying it wants businesses to use innovation and ingenuity to speed up development of “a thriving commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.”
The space agency has a plan to recoup the steep costs of a private citizen visiting the space station. Its pricing policy lists expenses such as a daily fee of $11,250 per person for “regenerative life support and toilet” and $22,500 per person for crew supplies such as food and air. The price sheet also includes a data plan, priced at $50 per gigabyte.
Canadian Space Agency using satellite data to track endangered right whales – CBC.ca
The Canadian Space Agency is harnessing satellite technology to monitor and protect endangered North Atlantic right whales in the country’s waters.
The agency said Tuesday it will lead a $5.3-million project funded by the federal government called smartWhales, which will use satellites to detect the presence of right whales and to predict the animals’ movements.
Canada is giving a total of $5.3 million over three years to five companies for a series of projects to help protect the endangered species.
One of the projects will involve a system that can rapidly provide location data and detect if the whales are approaching a fishing vessel.
Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says collecting satellite data about the movement of the whales is key to preventing collisions between whales and vessels and to spot cases where the animals are caught in fishing gear — two of the leading causes of right whale deaths.
In late October last year, the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium released its annual report card, estimating that only 356 right whales were alive at the end of 2019.
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