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Eytan Stibbe among Axiom's first private crew to visit space station – Space in Africa

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axiom space private crew to ISS
Credit: Axiom Space

The founding director of Vital Capital Fund, Eytan Stibbe, is one of the four people that will be going on the first-ever entirely private mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Stibbe has been investing in Africa for the past 26 years.

Axiom Space, an American aerospace manufacturer and orbital spaceflight service provider, announced the private crew on Tuesday. Joining Stibbe on the proposed Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) are former astronaut of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Axiom’s vice president Michael López-Alegría; American entrepreneur and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor; and Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy.

Both Pathy and Stibbe will fly as the mission specialists, while López-Alegría will fly as commander and Connor will fly as the pilot. Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will serve as Ax-1’s backup commander and John Shoffner of Knoxville is the backup pilot.

The Ax-1 is expected to launch as soon as January 2022, using a SpaceX Crew Dragon. Axiom said Ax-1 is its first “precursor” private astronaut missions to the ISS—subject to approval from NASA and its international partners. It is also working NASA are working on the final approval for a formal Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) to enable private astronaut missions, with further discussions underway to agree on and authorise the Ax-1 mission profile.

The Ax-1 mission, which is to a Low Earth Orbit destination (LEO), would allow the four-man crew to carry out research and philanthropic projects for eight days. According to NASA’s 2019 pricing policy on private astronaut flights to the ISS, each night costs $35,000 per person. This cost includes $11,250 to use life support system and toilet, $22,500 for other necessary supplies like food, air, and medical supplies.

Each member of the first private crew, however, is paying $55 million. This ticket price includes “any and all necessary costs”, an Axiom spokesperson told The Verge.

“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. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate expansive future for humans in space—and make a meaningful difference in the world”.

Eytan StibbeStibbe will be the second Israeli to launch into space, following his friend Ilan Ramon who died on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. At age 63, Stibbe will be the third oldest person to enter orbit.

According to the statement by Axiom, Stibbe plans to conduct scientific experiments of Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs coordinated by the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology. He will also undertake educational activities from orbit to inspire Israeli children, youth, and educators.

While Stibbe has over 26 years of investing in Africa, Vital Capital was launched in 2011 as a $350 million impact investment, private equity fund focused on sub-Saharan Africa. The portfolio companies of Vital Capital include Aldeia Nova, an agro-industrial company, Kora Housing, Luanda Medical Centre, Vital Tomosi’s Dairy, WaterHealth International, Capital Water, Focal Energy, Prabon Greenfields, Water for All, Sumbe-Gabela-Waku-Kungo (SWGK), 8 Miles, and Vital Capital Environment. Through investment in these companies, Vital Capital has delivered essential development impact to millions of individuals in low- and middle-income communities.

Stibbe is a board member of the Centre for African Studies at Ben-Gurion University and other non-governmental organisations dedicated to education, art and culture.

Pathy will be the 11th Canadian astronaut going into the orbit. He is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency as well as the Montreal Children’s Hospital, who are helping to identify health-related research projects that could be undertaken during the mission.

Connor will collaborate with Mayo Clinic and Cleaveland Clinic on research projects. He also intends to provide instructional lessons to students at Dayton Early College Academic in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

“This collection of pioneers—the first space crew of its kind—represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress”, López-Alegría said. “I know from firsthand experience that what humans encounter in space is profound and propels them to make more meaningful contributions on returning to Earth. And as much as any astronauts who have come before them, the members of this crew have accomplished the sorts of things in life that equip them to accept that responsibility, act on that revelation, and make a truly global impact”.

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NASA's InSight still hunting marsquakes as power levels diminish – Phys.org

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InSight captured this image of one of its dust-covered solar panels on April 24, 2022, the 1,211th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dusty solar panels and darker skies are expected to bring the Mars lander mission to a close around the end of this year.

NASA’s InSight Mars lander is gradually losing power and is anticipated to end science operations later this summer. By December, InSight’s team expects the lander to have become inoperative, concluding a mission that has thus far detected more than 1,300 marsquakes—most recently, a magnitude 5 that occurred on May 4—and located quake-prone regions of the Red Planet.

The information gathered from those quakes has allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle, and core. Additionally, InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) has recorded invaluable weather data and studied remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field.

“InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “We can apply what we’ve learned about Mars’ inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems.”

InSight landed on Mars Nov. 26, 2018. Equipped with a pair of solar panels that each measures about 7 feet (2.2 meters) wide, it was designed to accomplish the mission’s primary science goals in its first Mars year (nearly two Earth years). Having achieved them, the spacecraft is now into an extended mission, and its solar panels have been producing less power as they continue to accumulate dust.

Because of the reduced power, the team will soon put the lander’s robotic arm in its resting position (called the “retirement pose”) for the last time later this month. Originally intended to deploy the seismometer and the lander’s heat probe, the arm has played an unexpected role in the mission: Along with using it to help bury the heat probe after sticky Martian soil presented the probe with challenges, the team used the arm in an innovative way to remove dust from the solar panels. As a result, the seismometer was able to operate more often than it would have otherwise, leading to new discoveries.

[embedded content]

NASA’s InSight Mars lander team speak about the mission’s science and the innovative ways they took on engineering challenges. During its time on Mars, InSight has achieved all its primary science goals and continues to hunt for quakes. Its mission is expected to conclude around the end of 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When InSight landed, the produced around 5,000 watt-hours each Martian day, or sol—enough to power an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes. Now, they’re producing roughly 500 watt-hours per sol—enough to power the same electric oven for just 10 minutes.

Additionally, seasonal changes are beginning in Elysium Planitia, InSight’s location on Mars. Over the next few months, there will be more dust in the air, reducing sunlight—and the lander’s energy. While past efforts removed some dust, the mission would need a more powerful dust-cleaning event, such as a “dust devil” (a passing whirlwind), to reverse the current trend.

“We’ve been hoping for a cleaning like we saw happen several times to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the mission. “That’s still possible, but energy is low enough that our focus is making the most of the science we can still collect.”

If just 25% of InSight’s panels were swept clean by the wind, the lander would gain about 1,000 watt-hours per sol—enough to continue collecting science. However, at the current rate power is declining, InSight’s non-seismic instruments will rarely be turned on after the end of May.

Energy is being prioritized for the lander’s seismometer, which will operate at select times of day, such as at night, when winds are low and marsquakes are easier for the seismometer to “hear.” The seismometer itself is expected to be off by the end of summer, concluding the science phase of the .

At that point, the lander will still have enough power to operate, taking the occasional picture and communicating with Earth. But the team expects that around December, will be low enough that one day InSight will simply stop responding.


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NASA’s InSight records monster quake on Mars


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Peek-a-Boo Moon: Astronaut on Space Station Captures Spectacular Photos of the Lunar Eclipse – SciTechDaily

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ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured pictures of the May 2022 lunar eclipse from the International Space Station.

On the evening of May 15, 2022, Earth passed between the Sun and the Moon blocking sunlight and casting a shadow on the lunar surface. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti witnessed this lunar eclipse from the International Space Station and captured it in a series of photographs.

During a lunar eclipse, Earth’s atmosphere scatters sunlight. The blue light from the Sun scatters away, and longer-wavelength red, orange, and yellow light pass through, turning our Moon red.

Lunar Eclipse From International Space Station 1

An image of a lunar eclipse as seen from the International Space Station. Credit: ESA-S.Cristoforetti

In these images, the Moon appears to play hide and seek with one of the International Space Station’s solar panels:

Lunar Eclipse From International Space Station 4

A partially eclipsed Moon playing hide and seek with the solar panel of the International Space Station. Credit: ESA-S.Cristoforetti

Lunar Eclipse From International Space Station 3

A partially eclipsed Moon playing hide and seek with the solar panel of the International Space Station. Credit: ESA-S.Cristoforetti

Lunar Eclipse From International Space Station 2

A partially eclipsed Moon playing hide and seek with the solar panel of the International Space Station. Credit: ESA-S.Cristoforetti

Samantha is living and working aboard the Space Station for her second mission, ‘Minerva’. Learn more about Samantha and the Minerva mission.

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African scientists and technology could drive future black hole discoveries – The Conversation Africa

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Astronomers have revealed the first image of the black hole at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The image was produced by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, an international team made up of over 300 scientists on five continents – including Africa.

Black holes were predicted by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity over a century ago. They are regions of space so dense that nothing, including light, can escape. Their boundary is known as the event horizon, which marks the point of no return. That’s just one of the reasons these objects are hidden from our eyes. The other is that they are exceedingly small, when placed in their cosmic context. If our Milky Way galaxy were the size of a soccer field, its black hole event horizon would be a million times smaller than a pin prick at centrefield.

How, then, can one photograph them? Our team did so by capturing light from the hot swirling gas in the immediate vicinity of the black hole. This light, with a wavelength of 1 millimetre, is recorded by a global network of antennas that form a single, Earth-sized virtual telescope.

The light looks rather like a ring, a characteristic signature that is the direct consequence of two key processes. First, the black hole is so dense that it bends the path of light near it. Second, it captures light that strays too close to the event horizon. The combined effect produces a so-called black hole shadow – a brightened ring surrounding a distinct deficit of light centred on the black hole. In the case of our Milky Way black hole, this ring has the apparent size of a doughnut on the moon, requiring an extraordinary engineering effort to bring it into focus.




Read more:
How we captured first image of the supermassive black hole at centre of the Milky Way


The unveiling of an image of our black hole, Sagittarius A*, is not just a massive moment for science. It could also be an important catalyst for diversifying African astrophysics research using existing strengths. We were the only two of more than 300 EHT team members based on the African continent. The continent doesn’t host any EHT telescopes – we were brought on board because of expertise we’ve developed in preparation for the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), to be co-hosted by South Africa and Australia.

Why the image is important

This is not the first time a black hole image has captured people’s attention. We were also members of the team that captured the first ever image of a black hole in 2019 (this one is at the centre of a different galaxy, Messier 87, which is 55 million light years away). It has been estimated that more than 4.5 billion people saw that image. Sagittarius A* has also dominated headlines and captured people’s imaginations.

But there’s more to this result than just an incredible image. A plethora of rich scientific results has been described in ten publications by the team. Here are three of our primary highlights.

First, the image is a remarkable validation of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The EHT has now imaged two black holes with masses that differ by a factor of over 1000. Despite the dramatic difference in mass, the measured size and shape are consistent with theoretical predictions.

Second, we have now imaged black holes with very different environments. A wealth of prior research over the past two or three decades shows strong empirical evidence that galaxies and their black holes co-evolve over cosmic time, despite their completely disparate sizes. By zooming into the event horizon of black holes in giant galaxies like M87, as well as more typical galaxies like our own Milky Way, we learn more about how this seemingly implausible relationship between the black hole and its host galaxy plays out.

Third, the image provides us with new insights on the central black hole in our own galactic home. It is the nearest such beast to Earth, so it provides a unique laboratory to understand this interplay – not unlike scrutinising a tree in your own garden to better understand the forests on the distant horizon.

Southern Africa’s geographic advantage

We are proud to be part of the team that produced the first black hole images. In future, we believe South Africa, and the African continent more broadly (including a joint Dutch-Namibian initiative), could play a critical role in making the first black hole movies.




Read more:
Combined power of two telescopes is helping crack the mystery of eerie rings in the sky


As has been the case with the country’s key role in paleoanthropology, there are contributions to global astronomy that can only be made from South African soil. Sagittarius A* lies in the southern sky, passing directly above South Africa. That is a major reason why this image of the Milky Way’s centre, taken by the MeerKAT (a precursor to the SKA) is the best there is.

The MeerKAT Galactic Centre image (top). Predicted snapshot imaging performance (bottom middle), based on a simulated black hole movie (bottom left), using an African-enhanced EHT array (bottom right).
Heywood et al. (2022) / SARAO, M. Johnson (Harvard & Smithsonian)

South Africa also has well-established infrastructure at its astronomical sites, which are protected by legislation. And it has world-class engineers at the forefront of their craft. This makes for low-cost, high-performance telescopes delivered on time and to budget.

New technology is also on our side: a cutting-edge simultaneous multi-frequency receiver design, pioneered by our Korean colleagues, means that EHT sites no longer need to be the most pristine, high-altitude locations on Earth.

All the elements are in place for a dramatic increase in the number of young Africans who participate in this new era of black hole imaging and precision tests of gravity. In the coming years, we hope to be writing about findings that couldn’t have been made without technology on South African soil, as well as African scientists leading high-impact, high-visibility EHT science in synergy with our multi-wavelength astronomy and high-energy astrophysics programmes.

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