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Excavation of colossal caverns for Fermilab’s DUNE experiment completed

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The excavation of the caverns that will house the gigantic particle detectors of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment in Lead, South Dakota is complete. Final outfitting of the colossal caverns will begin soon and make way for the start of the installation of the DUNE detectors later this year.

 

Lead, South Dakota, Feb. 01, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Excavation workers have finished carving out the future home of the gigantic particle detectors for the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. Located a mile below the surface, the three colossal caverns are at the core of a new research facility that spans an underground area about the size of eight soccer fields.

Hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, DUNE scientists will study the behavior of mysterious particles known as neutrinos to solve some of the biggest questions about our universe. Why is our universe composed of matter? How does an exploding star create a black hole? Are neutrinos connected to dark matter or other undiscovered particles?

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The caverns provide space for four large neutrino detectors—each one about the size of a seven-story building (see 2-minute animation). The detectors will be filled with liquid argon and record the rare interaction of neutrinos with the transparent liquid.

Trillions of neutrinos travel through our bodies each second without us even knowing it. With DUNE, scientists will look for neutrinos and examine the behavior of a neutrino beam produced at Fermilab, located near Chicago, about 800 miles east of the caverns. This will be the world’s most intense neutrino beam and will travel straight through earth from Fermilab to the detectors in South Dakota. No tunnel is necessary for the neutrinos’ path.

“The completion of the excavation of these enormous caverns is a significant achievement for this project,” said U.S. Project Director Chris Mossey. “Completing this step prepares the project for installation of the detectors later this year and brings us a step closer towards fulfilling the vision of making this a world-class underground facility.”

 Engineering, construction and excavation teams have been working 4,850 feet below the surface since 2021 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, home of the South Dakota-portion of DUNE. Construction crews dismantled heavy mining equipment and, piece by piece, transported it underground using an existing shaft. Workers then reassembled the equipment, and workers spent almost two years blasting and removing close to 800,000 tons of rock.

Workers will soon begin to outfit the caverns with the systems needed for the installation of the DUNE detectors and the daily operations of the research facility. Later this year, the project team plans to begin the installation of the insulated steel structure that will hold the first neutrino detector. The goal is to have the first detector operational before the end of 2028.

“The completion of the three large caverns and all of the interconnecting drifts marks the end of a really big dig. With no lost-time accidents in over three years, we reached a major achievement,” said Fermilab’s Michael Gemelli, who managed the excavation of the caverns by Thyssen Mining.

The DUNE collaboration, which includes more than 1,400 scientists and engineers from over 200 institutions in 35 countries, is eager to start the installation of the particle detectors. They have successfully tested the technology and assembly process for the first detector and preparations for the technology of the second detector is underway at the European research laboratory CERN.

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website at www.fnal.gov and follow us on Twitter at @Fermilab.

The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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Aided by Canadian hardware, lunar lander aims to make space history – The Globe and Mail

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Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander Odysseus separates from a SpaceX rocket’s upper stage before heading toward the moon on Feb. 15.The Associated Press

It took 10 years for Odysseus to complete his epic voyage from the Trojan war to his home on Ithaca.

For the lunar lander named after Homer’s mythical seafarer, a mere six days is enough to get from Earth to the moon. But now comes the real peril as the 1,900-kilogram uncrewed vehicle, developed by Intuitive Machines Inc. of Houston, tries to become the first commercially built spacecraft to safely touch down on the moon’s surface.

If the mechanical version of Odysseus succeeds at the attempt, expected no sooner than 5:49 p.m. ET on Thursday, it will mark a new chapter in commercial space exploration. It will also signal the long-awaited return to the moon for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which has several payloads aboard the lander. The U.S. space agency has not had a presence on the lunar surface since the final Apollo mission concluded in 1972.

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Canadian know-how is also represented on Odysseus, with seven systems and components provided by Canadensys Aerospace Corporation of Bolton, Ont. While the company has an established track record in space, Odysseus represents its largest involvement to date in the race to commercialize lunar exploration.

“Our centre of expertise is exploration missions and there’s a big emphasis on lunar surface activities right now,” said the company’s president, Christian Sallaberger.

If all goes well, the lander will set down on a smooth patch of lunar topography near the crater Malapert A, about 300 kilometres from the moon’s south pole. The area is considered ripe for scientific investigation because of the possible presence of lunar ice in permanently shadowed craters in the region. Artemis III, NASA’s first crewed mission to the lunar surface since the Apollo era, is similarly aiming for a landing somewhere near the south pole when it sets out for the moon in 2026.

Odysseus was launched on a Space X rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 15 and has had an uneventful trip so far. On Wednesday morning, Intuitive Machines announced the spacecraft has entered lunar orbit on a circular trajectory about 92 kilometres above the moon’s crater-scarred surface.

In doing so, it has already achieved more than the first U.S. commercial lander sent to the moon. Dubbed Peregrine, that device was built by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology and launched on Jan. 8. However, the mission went awry a few hours after liftoff because of problems with the spacecraft’s propulsion system. Peregrine never left Earth’s orbit and was destroyed 10 days later in a controlled re-entry.

Both Odysseus and Peregrine are part of a NASA initiative known as Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS. Its ultimate goal is to hand off the task of ferrying material to the moon to the private sector. A similar effort involving flights to low Earth orbit was started in 2006 and opened the door to Space X and other private companies becoming the primary means of getting people and supplies to the International Space Station.

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Christian Sallaberger, president and CEO of Canadensys Aerospace, stands inside the company’s lunar test environment in Stratford, Ont. on Aug. 15, 2022.Patrick Dell/The Globe and Mail

As part of CLPS, Odysseus is meant to help create a more robust and routine pathway to the lunar surface. This will aid the science that is needed to support the Artemis program but could also end up serving customers that are willing to pay for access to the moon. Along the way, the program’s leaders hope the effort will draw the moon firmly into the sphere of activity that comprises today’s space economy.

“With a commercial industry comes a competitive environment,” said Sue Lederer, NASA’s CLPS project scientist for the Odysseus mission, during a teleconference with reporters last week. “Being risk tolerant allows for high yield and high reward.”

Certainly the risk side of the equation will be front and centre during Odysseus’s descent to the moon.

Since 1966, four countries, the Soviet Union, the United States, China and India, have successfully soft-landed machines onto the lunar surface. On Jan. 19, Japan became the fifth with the caveat that its SLIM lander is thought to have rolled down a slope, ending up in an upside-down position.

That and other recent mishaps underscore how challenging the moon remains. So far, landing on the surface is a goal that has eluded every privately funded effort or company that has tried.

But each failure adds to a growing expectation that at some point, someone will succeed.

“We’re all cheering for all the missions,” said Dr. Sallaberger, whose company has worked with a number of lunar lander teams, including the one that built Japan’s upside-down craft. “The lessons learned by one also benefit others.”

In total, he said, Canadensys has worked with three customers to provide various elements for the Odysseus payload.

One that is particularly groundbreaking is a telescope built in Canada as a proof-of-concept test for the International Lunar Observatory Association, a Hawaii-based organization that aims to turn the moon into a remote, airless platform for astronomical studies of the distant universe.

If it survives Thursday’s landing intact, the telescope carried on board Odysseus will attempt to take the first images of the Milky Way’s galactic centre as seen from the moon.

While the view may not compare to the dazzling releases lately seen from the James Webb Space Telescope, the project’s aim is to see whether the moon can play host to many more telescopes that can perform large-scale surveys that Webb and other space observatories would never have the time to conduct on their own.

As Homer might say, it is a quest worthy of the gods.

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lunar landing: U.S. spacecraft enters orbit around moon

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –

A private U.S. lunar lander reached the moon and eased into a low orbit Wednesday, a day before it will attempt an even greater feat — landing on the gray, dusty surface.

A smooth touchdown would put the U.S. back in business on the moon for the first time since NASA astronauts closed out the Apollo program in 1972. The company, if successful, also would become the first private outfit to ace a moon landing.

Launched last week, Intuitive Machines’ lander fired its engine on the back side of the moon while out of contact with Earth. Flight controllers at the company’s Houston headquarters had to wait until the spacecraft emerged to learn whether the lander was in orbit or hurtling aimlessly away.

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Intuitive Machines confirmed its lander, nicknamed Odysseus, was circling the moon with experiments from NASA and other clients. The lander is part of a NASA program to kickstart the lunar economy; the space agency is paying $118 million to get its experiments on the moon on this mission.

On Thursday, controllers will lower the orbit from just under 60 miles (92 kilometres) to 6 miles (10 kilometeres) — a crucial maneuver occurring again on the moon’s far side — before aiming for a touchdown near the moon’s south pole. It’s a dicey place to land with all the craters and cliffs, but deemed prime real estate for astronauts since the permanently shadowed craters are believed to hold frozen water.

The moon is littered with wreckage from failed landings. Some missions never even got that far. Another U.S. company — Astrobotic Technology — tried to send a lander to the moon last month, but it didn’t get there because of a fuel leak.

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Satellite ERS-2 falling towards reentry to Earth Wednesday: ESA

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After spending over a decade on a mission in space, a now-defunct satellite is projected to return to Earth on Wednesday.

ERS-2, one of the European Space Agency’s first advanced Earth observing satellites, will make a “natural” reentry after staying in space for 16 years.

Live updates from ESA

According to live updates from the ESA, the agency predicts the reentry will occur at 12:05 p.m. EST, with an uncertainty of plus-or-minus 30 minutes, but we are now passed the center of the reentry window.

ERS-2 launched in 1995 and was initially planned to serve the ESA for three years. However, it remained in operation until 2011, providing data for over 5,000 projects, including tracking Earth’s shrinking polar ice, sea levels and atmospheric make-up.

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The majority of the 2.5 ton satellite will disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere, according to the agency. Remaining debris is likely to land in a body of water, though the agency does not have a prediction on where it will land.

Graphics:A dead satellite will crash back to Earth this Wednesday. What to know.

Where will the satellite reenter?

In its latest update, the ESA identified a projected reentry point roughly 50 miles over the Pacific Ocean. Upon reentry, the ESA predicts the satellite will begin to break up and the majority of it will burn, with any remaining pieces to be spread out “somewhat randomly” over a span of hundreds of kilometers (1 kilometer = 0.62 miles).

The ESA stresses the point of reentry is not certain due to the difficulty of forecasting the density of air through which the object is passing.

How ERS-2 spent its time in space

The space agency used the satellite to track the Earth’s decreasing polar ice, shifting land masses, rising sea levels, warming oceans and changing atmospheric chemistry. Since the satellite’s retirement, the agency has been slowly lowering its altitude.

An infographic detailing the reentry of ERS-2

Contributing: James Powel, USA TODAY staff

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