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Japanese space officials eager to analyze asteroid samples – CTV News



Japanese space officials said they are excited about the return of a capsule that landed safely in the Australian Outback on Sunday while carrying soil samples from a distant asteroid, and that they are eager to begin analyzing the “treasure” inside.

The capsule’s delivery by Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft completes its six-year sample-return mission and opens the door for research into finding clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.

“We were able to land the treasure box” onto the sparsely populated Australian desert of Woomera as planned, said Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, adding that the capsule was in perfect shape. “I really look forward to opening it and looking inside.”

The capsule will be packed in a container as soon as its preliminary treatment at an Australian lab is finished and brought back to Japan this week, Satoru Nakazawa, a project sub-manager, said during an online news conference from Woomera.

Hayabusa2 left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometres (180 million miles) from Earth, a year ago. After it released the capsule on Saturday, it set off on a new expedition to another distant asteroid.

Tsuda said Hayabusa2’s successful completion of its inter-planetary round trip is the world’s first and that he hoped to use the expertise gained in future planetary exploration, possibly Japan’s MMX mission to Mars’ moons beginning in 2024.

Scientists say they believe the samples, especially ones taken from under the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in organic materials in the samples to find out how they are distributed in the solar system and related to life on Earth.

“And then the sample will start to tell its stories and reveal to us some wonderful signs about how water arrived on our Earth and how we even may have been formed, such as our organics, carbon-based animals, humans and plants,” said Megan Clark, head of the Australian Space Agency, who was also at the news conference.

The return of the capsule with the world’s first asteroid subsurface samples comes weeks after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made a successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from the asteroid Bennu. China, meanwhile, announced recently that its lunar lander collected underground samples and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth, as space developing nations compete in their missions.

JAXA officials said the Ryugu samples will be handled in clean chambers to avoid any impact on the samples. Initial research is planned in the first six months, and the samples will be distributed to NASA and other key international research groups, with about 40% stored for future technological advancement to resolve unanswered questions.

More than 70 JAXA staff had been working in Woomera to prepare for the sample return. They set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area inside the Australian Air Force test field to receive the signals.

The pan-shaped capsule, about 40 centimetres (15 inches) in diameter, was found inside the planned landing area and retrieved by a helicopter team from JAXA.

Hayabusa2 released the capsule on Saturday from 220,000 kilometres (136,700 miles) away in space, sending it toward Earth. About 12 hours after the release, the capsule reentered the atmosphere at 120 kilometres (75 miles) away from Earth, seen as a fireball cutting across the night sky.

For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission. It is now heading to a small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 11 years one way, for possible research into planetary defence, such as finding ways to prevent meteorites from hitting Earth.

Since its Dec. 3, 2014, launch, the Hayabusa2 mission has been fully successful. It touched down twice on Ryugu despite the asteroid’s extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1 1/2 years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018.

In its first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In a more challenging mission in July that year, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it created earlier by blasting the asteroid’s surface.

Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved.

Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.


Associated Press writer Dennis Passa in Brisbane, Australia, contributed to this report.

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SpaceX launches 143 satellites on one rocket in record-setting mission – CTV News



A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried 143 satellites into orbit on a jam-packed rideshare mission Sunday, setting a new world record for the most satellites launched by a single rocket.

The mission, dubbed Transporter-1, carried 10 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink internet network, and more than 130 satellites for a variety of customers including Planet, which operates a constellation of Earth-imaging satellites, and ICEYE, which develops small radar satellites for monitoring ice and tracking floods.

The previous record for the most satellites sent to space in one trip was held by PSLV, an Indian rocket, that carried 104 satellites in a 2017 launch.

SpaceX’s Transporter-1 mission was the first in new rideshare program that SpaceX announced in 2019. The company said at the time it will dedicate “regularly scheduled” launches of its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket to carrying large batches of small satellites, or “smallsats,” rather than focusing on one large, primary payload.

Smallsats have seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the past few years. They range in size from as small as a smartphone to as large as a kitchen refrigerator. And as they’ve grown more advanced, hoards of businesses have entered the market promising to deliver services using new smallsat technologies.

Typically, smallsats reach orbit by tagging along with larger, more expensive satellites, and the waiting list can be long and unpredictable. But there’s been a major push in the launch industry to cater directly to the booming smallsat market. Dozens of new rocket companies are promising to build scaled-down rockets that can provide quick and easy launches for smallsats. Two such companies, Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, have successfully sent their downsized rockets to orbit and begun commercial operations.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets are much larger than Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit’s rockets, and they’re typically used to launch hefty communications or spy satellites or Dragon spacecraft, which ferry astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station.

Deciding to dedicate additional missions just to launching batches of smallsats is a company first, and it’s a sign of how much interest in the industry has grown.

As the number of devices in orbit grows, however, experts are becoming increasingly concerned about congestion. Satellites have collided in orbit before, and though such incidents don’t post much of a threat to people on the ground, the debris from the crash can stay in orbit for years or decades.

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First baby tyrannosaur fossils discovered in Alberta, Montana –



Researchers have discovered the first baby tyrannosaur fossils in Alberta and Montana. 

Experts say the fossils are a rare discovery, as little is known about young tyrannosaurs and their development, according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences on Monday. 

The study, led by Greg Funston, was based on two fossils: a small toe claw found in Morrin, Alta., and a small, lower jawbone found in Montana. 

Tyrannosaurs have been well-researched but fossils from tyrannosaur eggs or embryos have never been found — until now. 

“What this does is give us a starting point that we didn’t have,” said Mark Powers, a University of Alberta PhD student and second author on the study. 

“We had partway of their growth spurt and we didn’t really have where they originated. To find specimens like this, which is definitively a tyrannosaur in the shell or before it hatched, it says something about that development.”

A scale of the specimens found by Greg Funston and his team. (Submitted by Greg Funston)

What do the discoveries mean?

The unprecedented finds offer a lot of information to researchers. 

Using a 3D scan of the fossils and measurements of the bones, researchers were able to find out more about the size of the hatchlings and prove that the specimens are of unborn tyrannosaurs. 

The 71.5 million-year-old claw found in Alberta has what Powers called “a cartilage cone” on the back of the claw, which means the area hadn’t yet turned to bone and was still developing. 

The roughly 75 million-year-old jawbone found in Montana had triangular teeth with shallow roots, confirming they were the first generation teeth of the tyrannosaur.

“This fits with a lot of other discoveries and embryonic studies of birds and other dinosaurs found in the shell so we do suspect that it is an embryonic individual compared to a hatched one,” Powers said.

The location of these fossils is also telling. 

The claw was found after a large sentiment was taken from a dig expedition in Alberta several years ago, Powers said.

Generally, smaller dinosaur remains are harder to come by. 

Smaller fossils would have been more susceptible to the flowing rivers and flood plains of the cretaceous period, compared to larger dinosaur remains which are often buried deep and preserved in sentiment, Powers said.  

The areas where the fossils of the young dinosaurs were found are now possible locations for other important discoveries, according to one professor. 

“We don’t have very much of a skeleton by any means, these are relatively scrappy bits. But because we know the area where it seems tyrannosaurs may have been making their nests, we know to go back to that spot and go over with a fine-tooth comb and find more and more stuff,” said Scott Persons, professor of paleontology at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

“I think undoubtedly that is going to happen so eventually that great prize of actually finding a tyrannosaur egg is going to happen.”

A claw and jawbone of two baby tyrannosaurs were found by researchers, the first discoveries of their kind. (Submittd by Greg Funston)

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UOttawa startup gets $4M funding boost for technology that curbs 'freezer burn' in stem cell tissue – Ottawa Business Journal



A biotech startup co-founded in Ottawa has landed millions of dollars in new funding for its pioneering solution that helps preserve human cells used in next-generation medical research.

PanTHERA Cryosolutions says it’s secured a $4-million investment from a pair of U.S.-based firms, Washington state-based BioLife Solutions and New York’s Casdin Capital, to help get its system ready for market over the next two years. In exchange, BioLife will receive exclusive worldwide marketing and distribution rights to PanTHERA’s products for use in its cell and gene therapy applications.

Founded four years ago by University of Ottawa chemistry professor Robert Ben and University of Alberta researcher Jason Acker, PanTHERA makes small organic molecules that slow down the buildup of ice ​– known as recrystallization ​– that occurs when biological material used in the fields of cell therapy and regenerative medicine is frozen.

Scientists have been freezing cells and tissues for decades to preserve them for research into therapies for a wide range of diseases, explained Ben, who specializes in synthetic organic and medicinal chemistry. 

Protective agents such as glycerol are used to prevent the cells from drying out in the freezing and thawing process, he said. But that process “is kind of hit and miss,” Ben noted in a recent post on uOttawa’s website.

Preventing cellular damage

“We might freeze 100,000 cells, but only 25,000 will survive and be viable for research or clinical applications,” he said, likening the process to “freezer burn” that changes the structure ​– and subsequently the taste – of ice cream that’s been stored for too long. 

“That’s because up to 80 per cent of the cellular damage that happens during freezing is due to the uncontrolled growth of ice. Since current cryoprotectant solutions don’t address this problem, our returns, measured in cell recovery and function, are quite dismal.”

PanTHERA’s technology also allows cells to survive at higher temperatures than traditional methods, making it easier to store and ship them to remote locations.

“Small ice crystals are innocuous,” Ben said. “They’re like grains of sand on a Caribbean beach. They’re so small that they mould to your body and you can lay comfortably on the beach for an entire day. Now, let’s say those grains of sand were replaced by gravel or pebbles. That’s a lot less comfortable. Our cryopreservation technology prevents ice crystals from growing too large for comfort.”

For the past 10 months, Ben and his team have been working on a new class of compounds that can protect proteins and viruses. They’re now in the process of proving that the technology can preserve COVID testing materials and RNA-based vaccines.

“Our molecules are unique because, unlike conventional cryoprotectants, they prevent all that cellular damage caused by ice,” Ben said. “In the end, we recover more cells, they’re healthier and more functional. There is nothing else like it out there.”

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