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French military surveillance satellite launched by Soyuz rocket – Spaceflight Now



A Soyuz ST-A rocket fires off its launch pad in French Guiana with the CSO 2 spacecraft. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – P. Piron

An optical reconnaissance satellite for the French military took off atop a Soyuz launcher Tuesday, riding the Russian-made rocket from a tropical spaceport in South America into a 300-mile-high polar orbit to begin a 10-year mission surveying the globe.

France’s CSO 2 spy satellite joins CSO 1, an identical craft launched in 2018, to continue replacing the French military’s 1990s- and 2000s-era Helios family of reconnaissance satellites.

The new military spysat lifted off on a Soyuz ST-A rocket at 11:42:07 a.m. EST (1642:07 GMT) from the European-operated Guiana Space Center in South America. Launch occurred at 1:42 p.m. local time at the spaceport in French Guiana.

Running more than eight months late due to delays primarily caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the mission succeeded in delivering the 7,852-pound (3,562-kilogram) CSO 2 spacecraft to an on-target orbit around 300 miles (480 kilometers) above Earth.

The Soyuz launcher’s four kerosene-fueled first stage boosters shut down and dropped away from the rocket around two minutes after liftoff, followed by separation of the Soyuz payload shroud and core stage. A third stage engine fired next, then released a Russian Fregat upper stage for a pair of engine burns to place the CSO 2 spacecraft in the proper orbit for deployment.

Ground teams in French Guiana confirmed separation of the CSO 2 satellite around one hour liftoff, as the spacecraft flew over a European Space Agency ground station in Australia.

“Mission perfectly accomplished,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, the French company that oversees launch operations in French Guiana.

“It’s a really moving moment, and great news for the French Armed Forces,” said Caroline Laurent, director of orbital systems at CNES, the French space agency, a partner for the French military on the CSO program. “Personally speaking, I think it is the best Earth observation satellite in the world.”

The CSO 2 spacecraft is set to provide the highest-resolution Earth observation images ever produced by a European satellite. The first images from CSO 2 are expected to be downlinked within about two weeks of launch, according to Laurent.

“We launched a magnificent satellite,” said Maj. Gen. Michel Friedling, head of French Space Command. “It will producing images of extraordinary quality. we are very much looking forward to this. Our military operators are behind their desks awaiting these images.”

Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – P. Piron

CSO 2 is the second satellite to join the French military’s Composante Spatiale Optique, or CSO, series of orbiting reconnaissance platforms.

France’s CSO 1 satellite launched on a Soyuz rocket in December 2018, and the third and final CSO satellite is scheduled to launch on Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket in 2022.

While CSO 1 launched into an orbit around 500 miles (800 kilometers) in altitude, the CSO 2 spacecraft flies 200 miles (about 300 kilometers) closer to Earth. In that orbit, the satellite will capture sharper images for French military planners and intelligence analysts.

The CSO satellites are replacing France’s Helios family of military surveillance satellites, the last of which launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in 2009.

The new CSO satellites boast better global imaging capabilities than their Helios predecessors, and can take more pictures in a single overhead pass than the Helios spysats, according to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces.

The CSO satellites reportedly have a resolution of around 14 inches, or 35 centimeters, from the 500-mile-high orbit. From the lower 300-mile-high perch, CSO 2’s resolution is predicted to be better than 8 inches, or around 20 centimeters. For comparison, the new WorldView Legion commercial Earth-imaging satellites being developed by DigitalGlobe have a resolution of about 11.4 inches, or 29 centimeters.

The imaging capabilities of the U.S. government’s spy satellites are classified.

The French military’s CSO 2 reconnaissance satellite, with a cover over its optical telescope. Credit: Arianespace

Placing the CSO 2 satellite into a lower orbit allows it to “supply imagery at the highest possible level of resolution, quality and analytical precision,” CNES said on its website.

The improved imaging quality from CSO 2, flying in its lower orbit, makes the new satellite well-suited for follow-up observations from other satellites in the fleet. CSO 2 could help identify targets and reveal information not visible to satellites in higher orbits, which have a broader field-of-view.

In its low-altitude orbit, CSO 2 could identify the details of a car, according to Nadège Roussel, chief weapons engineer at DGA, the French military’s procurement agency.

“Such level of detail is real operational asset, and its performance makes this a unique system in Europe,” she said.

The three CSO satellites are identical, other than an adjustment in the focusing of the optical instrument on CSO 2 to allow it to take pictures from a lower altitude, according to Pierre-Emmanuel Martinez, CSO 2 satellite manager at CNES.

The new-generation CSO spy satellite fleet is costing the French government more than $1.5 billion, including spacecraft, launch and ground system upgrade expenses, according to French authorities. The program is funded through the DGA, and the French space agency CNES is responsible for in-orbit testing, satellite operations, and the purchasing of the spacecraft and launch services.

Artist’s concept of two CSO satellites in orbit. Credit: DGA

The French government has agreements to share optical imagery from the CSO satellites with the governments of Germany, Sweden, Belgium, and Italy, officials said. In exchange, the French military receives imagery from German and Italian radar observation satellites, which are designed for day-or-night, all-weather surveillance, and access to a ground station in Sweden.

The CSO satellites will also provide intelligence agencies and military officials imagery day-or-night in visible and infrared bands. The infrared imaging capability is an improvement over the Helios fleet, an upgraded enabled by the introduction of cryogenic cooling systems to chill infrared detectors on the CSO satellites.

Each CSO spacecraft features an agile pointing capability, allowing rapid steering from target to target, and enabling views from different look angles for three-dimensional stereo surveillance products.

French officials said reconnaissance imagery from the CSO satellites are useful in obtaining information about inaccessible regions, evaluating the strength of enemy military forces, and identifying civilians in close proximity to the battlefield. The images can help prepare plans for airstrikes, locate coordinates to guide missiles, avoid collateral damage to civilians, and allow commanders to evaluate the effectiveness of strikes by comparing images taken before and after a military operation.

The CSO 2 satellite also features a new autonomous orbit control capability, allowing the spacecraft to maintain its altitude and counteract atmospheric drag using quick burns of on-board thrusters. The satellite can perform the autonomous control maneuvers over the ocean and be ready to resume imaging operations once back over land, according to the French military.

The three CSO satellites were built by Airbus, with optical imaging instruments produced by Thales Alenia Space. CNES controls the satellites from a center in Toulouse, France, and the French military receives images at an airbase in Creil, France.

A French military operator analyzes a satellite image. Credit: Arianespace/DGA

Airbus won the contract to build the CSO satellites in 2010, and the French government approved construction of a third CSO satellite after Germany committed to join the program in 2015.

“Providing the most modern and efficient observation capability for the safety of our citizens, as well as the sovereignty and independence of France and Europe, CSO is a real game changer in terms of resolution, complexity, safety of transmission, reliability and availability: only a couple of nations can claim such a capability,” said Jean-Marc Nasr, head of Airbus Space Systems.

“Today we are celebrating the launch of CSO 2, featuring the most powerful ‘space camera’ ever built in Europe,” said Hervé Derrey, president and CEO of Thales Alenia Space. “We are very proud to have built its telephoto lens and electronics, the brains of the satellite. To develop this instrument, we called on the full sum of our experience in building the optical instruments for the six satellites in the Helios 1, Helios 2 and Pleiades families, allowing us to offer an instrument with unrivaled performance.”

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Astronomers discover huge exoplanet has the density of cotton candy –



Roughly 212 light years away in the Virgo constellation lies a super-large exoplanet that has astronomers revising their theory of how giant gas planets form.

The exoplanet, called WASP-107b, was discovered in 2017. At the time, it was difficult to accurately pinpoint its mass. But what astronomers did know is that it was already unusual. 

It is a particularly large planet, roughly the size of Jupiter, but with an orbit that is just a mere nine million kilometres away from its host star, WASP-107, which is estimated to be about three billion years old.

To put that in perspective, Mercury, the closest planet to our sun, sits at 60 million kilometres. One year on WASP-107b takes roughly 5.7 days. 

However, now, after years of observations using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, a team of international astronomers have uncovered something else: WASP-107b is oddly light. In fact, it’s much lighter than what was thought was needed to build gas giants such as Saturn and Jupiter.

“What was really surprising about this planet is that people have known … that it’s about the size of Jupiter, so it’s a gas giant,” said Eve Lee, co-author of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal and an assistant professor in the department of physics at McGill University and McGill Space Institute in Montreal. “So if it’s a gas giant, then the usual expectation is that it would weigh just as [much] as gas giants. Except it didn’t.”

A comparison of Earth in the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a giant storm that is at least 400 years old. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Christopher Go)

Jupiter is about 300 times the mass of Earth. But WASP-107b — while roughly the same size as our solar system’s biggest and most massive planet — is only 30 times that of Earth. That’s 1/10th the mass. 

The international team of astronomers inferred from their observations that the core of the planet was just four times that of Earth. But in theory, it was believed that these giant planets with such a gaseous atmosphere would require a core that was at least 10 times that of Earth’s.

After a star forms, the remaining gas and dust — called a protoplanetary disk — come together to build planets. When it comes to the gas giants, it’s believed that a core that is 10 times more massive than Earth’s is required to build — or accrete — and hold on to the gas envelopes.

This image from the European Southern Observatory shows a protoplanetary disk This picture of the nearby young star TW Hydrae reveals the classic rings and gaps that signify planets are in formation in this system. (S. Andrews [Harvard-Smithsonian CfA]; B. Saxton [NRAO/AUI/NSF]; ALMA [ESO/NAOJ/NRAO])

So what’s the deal with WASP-107b?

Lead author Caroline Piaulet of the Université de Montréal said there are two key elements in the theory of how this might have happened.

First, it’s believed that WASP-107b formed much farther out from its current location, likely around one astronomical unit, or the average distance between the sun and Earth, roughly 150 million kilometres. There, it began to accrete gas and dust relatively quickly. 

Secondly, it began to cool rather quickly.

“When it cools down efficiently, it’s able to accrete efficiently because if it cools down, it’s going to shrink,” said Piaulet. “So it’s going to have more space to accrete more gas.”

Eventually, the planet migrated inward to its current position.

Yet another surprise

WASP-107b isn’t the only “super puff” planet, as they are often called. Lee said there are four others known, though WASP-107b is the puffiest.

So just how puffy is it?

“It’s usually compared to cotton candy, because it’s about the right density,” Lee said. “But it’s not the kind that you find at carnivals. It’s more like the kind that you buy at stores.”

And, as surprising as this super-puff planet was, there was yet another surprise in store: a second planet orbiting the star, WASP-107c. 

The planet was detected because of the longer observation time and was found to be roughly one-third the mass of Jupiter. Its orbit around the star takes about three years, significantly longer than WASP-107b. 

The discovery is just a reminder that, while we may think we have an understanding of how planets form, we still have a lot to learn about what lies beyond our own solar system. Even then, Piaulet said, we still don’t even know much about the cores of our own giant gas planets, such as Jupiter. 

“What I found really exciting is that it’s kind of pushing our understanding of planet formation to its limits.”

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SpaceX rocket deploys record-setting cargo –



A framegrab of video of the SpaceX launch on January 24, 2021

SpaceX on Sunday launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a record number of satellites on board, the private space company said.

The rocket successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 10:00 am (1500 GMT), 24 hours after its initial take-off had been scrubbed due to .

Andy Tran, a SpaceX production supervisor, said in a video of the launch that the Falcon 9 was carrying 133 commercial and government “spacecraft” as well 10 SpaceX satellites.

“The most spacecraft ever deployed on a single mission,” Tran said.

SpaceX is flying Falcon 9 under a “rideshare” program through which other firms and governments pay the Elon Musk-founded company to deliver their technologies to space.

Minutes after taking off, the Falcon 9’s main booster that had thrust the rocket to the edge of space separated from the rest of the craft and dropped back down to Earth in a controlled fall.

It landed itself on an unmanned spaceport drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean, marking the booster’s fifth successful deployment and recapture.

In a series of tweets, SpaceX said all 143 satellites had been successfully deployed.

SpaceX aims to send thousands of small satellites into space to form a global broadband system called Starlink.

Scientists have expressed concerns about the number of objects clogging the space around Earth. SpaceX say their satellites are designed to burn up in the atmosphere within a few years.

Explore further

SpaceX delays launch of mini-satellites

© 2021 AFP

SpaceX rocket deploys record-setting cargo (2021, January 25)
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Edmundston area of New Brunswick enters lockdown due to COVID-19 surge – Burnaby Now



FREDERICTON — Public Health officials in New Brunswick reported another 20 cases of COVID-19 in the province Sunday, just hours after one of the province’s hardest-hit areas began a 14-day lockdown.

Nine of the new cases are in the newly locked-down Edmundston region which now has 144  of the province’s 334 active cases.

Ten of the new cases are in the Moncton region and there is one new case in the Miramichi area.

Health officials say the Edmundston lockdown is needed to curb a rise in daily infections that they fear is about to get out of control.

As of now, non-essential travel is prohibited in and out of the area, which borders Maine and Quebec’s Bas-St-Laurent region. 

The order also forces non-essential businesses, schools and public spaces to close, including outdoor ice rinks and ski hills. 

Provincial officials say they will evaluate the situation in the region every seven days, and cabinet may extend the lockdown if necessary. 

New Brunswick has had 1,124 COVID-19 cases and 13 related deaths since the pandemic began.

Five people are in hospital, including two in intensive care.

“We will be more confident in our decision making, and zone restrictions are more likely to be eased, if more New Brunswickers, in all health zones, who have symptoms get tested,” Dr. Jennifer Russell,  chief medical officer of health, said Sunday in a statement.

The Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton regions are in the red level of the province’s pandemic recovery plan, with the rest of the province at the orange level.

A handful of schools in the province are also poised to make the move to remote learning amid the surge in local infections.

Monday will be an operational response day at Andover Elementary School, Perth-Andover Middle School and Southern Victoria High School in Perth-Andover, as well as Donald Fraser Memorial School and Tobique Valley High School in Plaster Rock.

Students in those schools will learn from home starting Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021. 

The Canadian Press

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