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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope launch window now under a month away – TweakTown

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After years of waiting due to technical and funding issues, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch on December 18th, 2021, aboard Ariane flight VA256.

“We’re going to look at everything there is in the universe that we can see. We want to know, how did we get here? The Big Bang, How does that work? We’ll look, yes, and we have predictions. But we don’t honestly know [how]” said John Mather, senior project scientist for the telescope, at a press conference on November 18th.

Set to survey worlds in our solar system and the greater universe, the James Webb Space Telescope will succeed NASA’s esteemed Hubble Space Telescope. It is destined for the Lagrange point, a gravitationally stable area roughly a million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth. After a month-long journey to arrive, the observatory will require another six months before it becomes fully operational. Onboard systems must find all instruments in working order, especially the giant folded mirror that must unfold and arrange itself.

“At six and a half meters (21 feet), the primary mirror was too big to fit in a rocket, so we designed it so that would it would unfold in space. It doesn’t fold like a drop leaf table, so we needed mirrors that had to be in segments,” said Lee Feinberg, the optical telescope element manager for Webb at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, during the same press conference.

All eighteen mirror segments will unfold into a final design that must align with precision within one five-thousandth the diameter of a human hair, which algorithms running on the observatory’s systems must manage, expected to consume several months as the process is carefully undertaken.

Compared to the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb’s images will be captured at a hundred times the resolution and cover a more extensive portion of the infrared spectrum. No initial targets have been determined for observation, but the possibilities are endless. Where Hubble was able to see objects far enough away that appear as they did 400 million years following the Big Bang, Webb will be able to see the universe as it was only 100 million years after the Big Bang.

With the unprecedented discoveries that Hubble managed at the time, the future is looking bright for Webb.

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NASA resets spacewalk after ruling out immediate threat from orbital debris – Financial Post

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A spacewalk planned for Tuesday to replace a faulty antenna on the International Space Station has been postponed for 48 hours, after mission control concluded that the position of orbital debris cited for the delay posed no risk to the repair operation, NASA said.

Two U.S. astronauts were originally due to venture outside the space station on Tuesday morning to begin their work, despite what NASA officials acknowledged was a slightly elevated risk level from debris scattered in low-Earth orbit by a Russian anti-satellite missile test this month.

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But about five hours before the outing was to have begun, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced the spacewalk had been temporarily called off after mission control was alerted that the U.S. military’s Space Surveillance Network had detected debris that could collide with the space station. The origin of the debris was not made clear in the NASA announcement.

On Tuesday afternoon, NASA said its evaluation of the situation “determined the orbit of the debris does not pose a risk to a scheduled spacewalk” or space station operations.

The antenna repair was rescheduled for Thursday, with astronauts Tom Marshburn, 61, and Kayla Barron, 34, set to begin their planned 6-1/2-hour spacewalk starting at 7:10 a.m. EST (1210 GMT).

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A NASA spokesman, Gary Jordan, said there was no information available about the size of the debris, its proximity to the space station, which is orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above the Earth, or whether one or more objects were involved.

“We have no indications that this is related” to the Russian missile test weeks earlier, Jordan added in an email to Reuters.

The planned “extravehicular activity,” or EVA, will mark the fifth spacewalk for Marshburn, a medical doctor and former flight surgeon with two previous trips to orbit, and a first for Barron, a U.S. Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer on her debut spaceflight for NASA.

Their objective is to remove a faulty S-band radio communications antenna assembly, now more than 20 years old, and replace it with a new spare stowed outside the space station.

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According to plans, Marshburn will work with Barron while positioned at the end of a robotic arm operated from inside the station by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency, with help from NASA crewmate Raja Chari.

The four arrived at the station on Nov. 11 in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, joining two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut already aboard the space laboratory.

Four days later, Russia fired a missile into one of its own defunct satellites in an unannounced space weapons test, generating a large orbital debris field that prompted an emergency aboard the space station. All seven crew members scrambled to take shelter in their docked spaceships to allow for a quick getaway until the immediate danger passed, according to NASA.

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The residual debris cloud from the blasted satellite has since dispersed, according to Dana Weigel, NASA deputy manager of the space station program.

But NASA calculates that remaining fragments continue to pose a “slightly elevated” background risk to the orbiting platform as a whole, and a 7% higher risk of spacewalkers’ suits being punctured, as compared to before Russia’s missile test, Weigel told reporters on Monday.

Although NASA has yet to fully quantify hazards posed by more than 1,700 larger fragments it is tracking around the station’s orbit, the 7% higher risk to spacewalkers falls “well within” fluctuations previously seen in “the natural environment,” Weigel said. (Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Peter Cooney)

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NASA details intent to replace the International Space Station with a commercial space station by 2030 – TechCrunch

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NASA’s auditing body, the Office of Audits, has produced a report detailing the agency’s commitment to replacing the International Space Station (ISS) with one or more commercial space stations once the orbiting lab is retired. Despite still being scheduled for 2024, all indications are that the ISS’s operational life will be extended to 2030, which is when the agency is assuming it’ll be able to hand off human occupation of an on-orbit science facility to a private company.

This audit basically details the current costs of maintenance and operation of the ISS, and also explains why it thinks that there will still be an essential need for a research facility that can provide a test bed for prolonged human exposure to space, as well as for development and demonstration of tech key to helping people explore deep space, including the establishment of a more permanent presence on the moon and exploration of Mars.

The conclusion is that NASA hopes to see a commercial station operation by 2028 in order to give a period of two years of overlap before the anticipated retirement and de-orbiting of the ISS. That timeline presents clear risks, however, in part because of “limited market demand, inadequate funding, unreliable costs estimates and still-evolving requirements.”

The good news is that recently a lot of companies seem to be interested in pursuing the development of commercial orbital destinations. A partnership between Nanoracks, its parent company Voyager Space,and Lockheed Martin aims to produce one by 2027. Blue Origin hopes to launch its Orbital Reef station with Sierra Space and Boeing by 2030 at the latest, while Axiom is already progressing with its plan to send up modules that will attach to the ISS before separating and self-orbiting as its own station by 2028.

You can read the NASA Office of Audits report in full below:

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Uh oh, world's first living robots can now reproduce – Toronto Sun

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Well, this never happened in the Terminator movies.

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Scientists at Tufts University, the University of Vermont and Harvard, say xenobots, otherwise known as the world’s first living robots, can now reproduce, according to the New York Post.

Now, these aren’t robots in the traditional sense; they are tiny blobs made from heart and skin stem cells from the African clawed frog.

But still, the headline still makes you stop and think.

The original plan had been released last year.

The results of the new research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

Experiments showed that the organisms can swim out into their dish, find other single cells and assemble “baby” xenobots, according to the report.

The offspring look like the originals and can then replicate again, according to the research.

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Xenobots, which are less than a millimetre wide, are designed on a computer and assembled by hand.

“People have thought for quite a long time that we’ve worked out all the ways that life can reproduce or replicate. But this is something that’s never been observed before,” said Douglas Blackiston, one of the co-authors of the study.

“This is profound,” added Michael Levin, another study co-leader. “These cells have the genome of a frog, but, freed from becoming tadpoles, they use their collective intelligence, a plasticity, to do something astounding.

“All of these different problems are here because we don’t know how to predict and control what groups of cells are going to build. Xenobots are a new platform for teaching us.”

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