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Launch of China's new Long March 7A ends in failure – SpaceNews

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Unspecified failure of Long March 7A launch could impact major missions.

HELSINKI — China’s attempt to launch its first new-generation Long March 7A rocket ended in failure Monday, resulting in a classified satellite apparently failing to enter geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Liftoff from the coastal Wenchang Satellite Launch Center occurred at 10:34 a.m. Eastern. Launch was initially confirmed by images and footage shared online by distant spectators.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., (CASC), which developed and manufactured the rocket, typically announces launches following declaration of mission success. Similar mission profiles are usually announced to be successful around an hour after launch, but no announcement was made. 

State news agency confirmed failure (Chinese) just under two hours after launch, with no cause nor nature of the failure stated. An investigation into the anomaly will follow.

The payload for the launch was earlier stated to be named ‘new technology verification satellite-6’. No further details were released ahead of launch.

Measures to counter the spread of the novel coronavirus have been in force at Wenchang spaceport, though launch campaigns continued.

The launch preparations were conduced discreetly at Wenchang. No announcement of rollout was made nor were airspace closure notices issued. Previous launches from Wenchang, including the return to flight of the Long March 5 in December, were live streamed.

Preparations for the test flight of the Long March 5B are also underway at Wenchang. It is unclear if the Long March 7A failure will have any impact on the launch planned for mid-late April.

Potential impacts of failure

The Long March 7A is a variant of the standard Long March 7, which has flown twice. A 2017 mission to test the Tianzhou refueling spacecraft with Tiangong-2 space lab was its most recent activity. The launcher uses RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellant and could replace older models using toxic propellants.

It modular design means it shares common engines with other new, cryogenic Long March vehicles. Depending on the cause of the anomaly, the failure could impact upcoming missions.

The RP-1/liquid oxygen side boosters and core stage share commonalities with the Long March 5, including YF-100 engines. An issue with these engines could potentially impact planned Long March 5 missions, including China’s first independent interplanetary mission—to Mars—in July. It could also have knock-on effects for China’s space station plans.

If the issue was with the second stage YF-115 engines, the impact of the failure could be limited to the Long March 6 and 7 series rockets. A new variant of the Long March 6 developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology is expected later in 2020.

An upper stage problem could see knock-on effects for the older, Long March 3 series rockets, as the Long March 7A third stage is adapted from the Long March 3B. The 3B is the current workhorse for Chinese GTO launches.

Long March 7A

The 60.13-meter-long Long March 7A  has a liftoff mass of around 573 metric tons, according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, a CASC subsidiary.

The 7A uses the same 3.35-meter-diameter kerolox core and four 2.25-meter-diameter side boosters as the stand Long March 7 but includes an additional hydrolox third stage. The added stage is adapted from the older generation Long March 3B rocket to allow it to send payloads to GTO. 

The new launch vehicle could become China’s main rocket for communications satellite missions. The modularised, cryogenic rocket could have benefits in terms of cost, but also in reducing threat to life and property. 

The older, hypergolic Long March 3B is China’s current option for launches to GTO. The 3B launches from deep inland at Xichang, Sichuan province, resulting in spent stages frequently falling on inhabited areas. The Long March 7A launches from the coastal Wenchang spaceport, meaning its flightpath is over the sea. 

China’s new Long March 5 and 7 series rockets are a new generation of launch vehicles. They are designed to boost the country’s launch capabilities and to some extent replace the ageing hypergolic Long March launch vehicles. 

The new rockets are delivered to Wenchang on the island province of Hainan via specially designed cargo ships. The older, smaller diameter Long March vehicles are transported by the nation’s rail system to inland launch centers.

China’s nascent commercial space sector is also seeing the development of new light- and medium-lift launchers which could potentially provide launch services.

Coronavirus impacts space activities

Launch of the Long March 7A was conducted despite the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. 

A new Long March 5B mission, expected to launch from Wenchang in mid-late April, will involved an uncrewed test flight of a new generation crewed spacecraft. If successful the following Long March 5B mission is expected to launch the core module of China’s space station into LEO.

China appears committed to conducting more than 40 launches across 2020, despite the outbreak. Expace, a launch service provider spin-off from defense contractor CASIC, has resumed activities despite its facilities being close to the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei. The city and province had been in lockdown, preventing work and transport of Kuaizhou rockets to Jiuquan space center in the northwest of China.

European rocket launches have meanwhile been suspended. NASA centers are switching to remote work with further impacts uncertain. Roscosmos announced Monday the cancelation of media attendance for the Soyuz MS-16 launch scheduled April 9. 

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NASA taps SpaceX for future cargo deliveries to the lunar Gateway – SlashGear

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In an announcement on Friday, NASA revealed the first private American space company to receive a Gateway Logistics Services contract under the Artemis program: SpaceX. Under this new deal, SpaceX will eventually deliver various experiments, supplies, and other cargo to the planned lunar Gateway. The space agency has described this as a ‘significant step forward’ in its Artemis program, which is aiming for a manned return to the Moon by 2024.

Under a Gateway Logistics Services contract, NASA will be able to order missions for as long as 12 years, it explained on Friday. The space agency is working on making the lunar Gateway outpost a reality — it will be a small spaceship that remains in lunar orbit, serving as a living space for astronauts, a space lab for scientific work, and more.

As with the International Space Station today, the future Gateway will require regular shipments of cargo and other goods. SpaceX has worked extensively with NASA over the years to launch cargo deliveries, among other things, and it makes sense that the space agency would continue its work with the private space company.

In a statement, NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Deep Space Logistics manager Mark Wiese said:

This is an exciting new chapter for human exploration. We are bringing the innovative thinking of commercial industry into our supply chain and helping ensure we’re able to support crews preparing for lunar surface expeditions by delivering the supplies they need ahead of time.

At this point in time, NASA says that it is planning supply missions to the Gateway that will involve a cargo spacecraft spending between six and 12 months at the outpost each time. SpaceX plays an important role in NASA’s Artemis program and future Mars ambitions, but it isn’t the only private American space company working with the space agency. Among others, Boeing also has considerable involvement with the Artemis program.

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Astronaut tips to survive lockdown: Talk, teamwork, treats – The Jakarta Post – Jakarta Post

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Stick to a daily routine, stay connected with family and treat yourself occasionally – those are some of the tips German astronauts gave for surviving lockdown during the coronavirus crisis, which they said was much like their time in space.

Thomas Reiter, 61, who was the first German astronaut to perform a spacewalk, recalled during a Skype conversation with other astronauts on Thursday how he had a tight daily routine in space.

“I think it’s important to follow a conscious routine in such a situation … keeping that routine all week,” said Reiter, now retired.

But weekend treats were important to look forward to.

“During the week we picked out the things from the food container that each person liked the most for a Friday or Saturday evening and then had a bit better food,” he said.

Reiter recalled using Skype to connect with his family from the International Space Station. Sitting in front of a bookshelf, he recommended using lockdown to catch up on reading.

“You have to be able to retreat,” he said, but added that in confinement with others, people must put the group first. “You work together as a crew, you have to think of the others.”

Matthias Maurer, 50, the newest addition to the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps, said it was important to address any niggles before they blow up into arguments.

Read also: ‘Embrace your passion’: Confinement tips from French barrel sailor

“Everyone of us has a quirk which we are comfortable with but which can annoy others,” he said, recalling how his taste for bananas annoyed a colleague who couldn’t stand their smell.

“If he hadn’t said that so politely and clearly, I would have continually annoyed him,” said Maurer.

Alexander Gerst, 43, who commanded the International Space Station, addressed the anxiety people may feel during the coronavirus epidemic.

Before a mission, astronauts think about the worst that could happen and then train how to respond.

“Then you have the feeling not that you are losing control, but that you have some control over the situation,” he said.

“Now the situation is similar. We have a very effective means of limiting this illness – that is that we stay at home.”

Reiter urged people to act likes astronauts going into quarantine before a mission – a protocol to prevent illness in space.

“Some people take the attitude ‘I’m young, I’m not at danger, I have no symptoms, so I don’t need to pay attention’,” he said. “It is up everyone to behave appropriately now, just like for us in quarantine.” 

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Uranus has started leaking gas, NASA scientists confirm – Happy Mag

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As if 2020 couldn’t get any more cursed, NASA scientists looking back through decades-old data from the Voyager 2 spacecraft have discovered a mysterious gas escaping from Uranus.

The data showed some mysterious force sucking the atmosphere straight out of the planet and into space.

Uranus

Photo: NASA/JPL

Highly detailed and scientific NASA research can confirm that something massive is coming out of Uranus.

Buried data reveals that when the spacecraft flew past the gas giant in 1986, it passed through something called a plasmoid that escaped and stole a big old cloud of the planet’s atmosphere along with it.

NASA have learnt from Voyager 2’s gassy expedition that the plasmoid itself was about 127,000 miles long and twice as wide. The data, first published in August in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, will be able to give NASA a much more detailed understanding of Uranus’ atmospheric composition, however won’t be able to tell them everything.

“Imagine if one spacecraft just flew through this room and tried to characterise the entire Earth,” NASA researcher Gina DiBraccio said in a new press release. “Obviously it’s not going to show you anything about what the Sahara or Antarctica is like.”

NASA researchers are hypothesising that a similar unexpected release of gas may explain how Mars ended up as barren and dry as it is. However for this to be known for sure, NASA would have to fly another spacecraft back to Uranus and have a good rummage around.

“It’s why I love planetary science,” DiBraccio said. “You’re always going somewhere you don’t really know.”

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