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.”
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.
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.
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.
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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New species of crested dinosaur identified in Mexico
A team of palaeontologists in Mexico have identified a new species of dinosaur after finding its 72 million-year-old fossilized remains almost a decade ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said on Thursday.
The new species, named Tlatolophus galorum, was identified as a crested dinosaur after 80% of its skull was recovered, allowing experts to compare it to other dinosaurs of that type, INAH said.
The investigation, which also included specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, began in 2013 with the discovery of an articulated tail in the north-central Mexican state of Coahuila, where other discoveries have been made.
“Once we recovered the tail, we continued digging below where it was located. The surprise was that we began to find bones such as the femur, the scapula and other elements,” said Alejandro Ramírez, a scientist involved in the discovery.
Later, the scientists were able to collect, clean and analyze other bone fragments from the front part of the dinosaur’s body.
The palaeontologists had in their possession the crest of the dinosaur, which was 1.32 meters long, as well as other parts of the skull: lower and upper jaws, palate and even a part known as the neurocranium, where the brain was housed, INAH said.
The Mexican anthropology body also explained the meaning of the name – Tlatolophus galorum – for the new species of dinosaur.
Tlatolophus is a mixture of two words, putting together a term from the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl that means “word” with the Greek term meaning “crest”. Galorum refers to the people linked to the research, INAH said.
(Reporting by Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests – CBC.ca
A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.
Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.
While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers.
“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”
Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 — visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.
The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.
‘Everything went south, super-fast’
By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.
“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”
Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.
“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.
When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.
“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.
“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.
Searching for answers
At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.
But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.
“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”
The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.
According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.
‘Unusual but not impossible’
University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.
However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.
“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.
According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.
She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop.
“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.”
Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.
‘An amazing kid’
The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.
But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.
Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.
She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.
“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.
“She’s an amazing kid.”
Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.
“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.
“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”
China launches key module of space station planned for 2022
BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.
The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.
Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.
“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.
Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.
The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).
In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.
Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.
Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.
China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.
In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.
The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.
Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.
Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)