A team of physicists at a university in the Netherlands have 3D-printed a microscopic version of the USS Voyager, an Intrepid-class starship from Star Trek.
The miniature Voyager, which measures 15 micrometers (0.015 millimeters) long, is part of a project researchers at Leiden University conducted to understand how shape affects the motion and interactions of microswimmers.
Microswimmers are small particles that can move through liquid on their own by interacting with their environment through chemical reactions. The platinum coating on the microswimmers reacts to a hydrogen peroxide solution they are placed in, and that propels them through the liquid.
“By studying synthetic microswimmers, we would like to understand biological microswimmers,” Samia Ouhajji, one of the study’s authors, told CNN. “This understanding could aid in developing new drug delivery vehicles; for example, microrobots that swim autonomously and deliver drugs at the desired location in the human body.”
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By using a 3D printer, the scientists have discovered that they can print any shape of microswimmers, including boats and starships. That helps them single out the effect each shape has on the motion of swimming particles.
While most people wouldn’t understand what the USS Voyager has to do with science, Jonas Hoecht, one of the study’s co-authors, had his own reason to replicate the ship.
“In the last week of his project, I promised him we could print any shape he liked,” Ouhajji said. “As a major Star Trek fan, he choose the USS Voyager. Additionally, it was also to show that the type of shapes we can print is almost limitless.”
In their project, the physicists also printed shapes like boats, trimers and helices, with each object’s shape affecting their swimming behaviors.
Along with understanding how microswimmers can be used to clean wastewater or deliver drugs to the body, the experiment will help scientists learn more about biological swimmers, like sperm and bacteria, and how they travel through the body.
China's 'space dream': A Long March to the Moon – RFI
Issued on: 24/11/2020 – 04:36Modified: 24/11/2020 – 04:35
China’s launch this week of an unmanned spacecraft aimed at bringing back lunar rocks — the first attempt by any nation to retrieve samples from the Moon in four decades — underlines just how far the country has come in achieving its “space dream”.
Beijing has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon.
China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have had decades of experience in space exploration.
Beijing sees its military-run space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and growing technological might.
Here is a look at China’s space programme through the decades, and where it is headed:
Soon after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong pronounced “we too will make satellites.”
It took more than a decade, but in 1970, China’s first satellite lifted into space on the back of a Long March rocket.
Human space flight took decades longer, with Yang Liwei becoming China’s first astronaut to go into space in 2003.
As the launch approached, concerns over the viability of the mission caused Beijing to cancel a nationwide live television broadcast at the last minute.
Despite the fears, the launch went off smoothly, with Yang orbiting the Earth 14 times during his 21-hour flight aboard the Shenzhou 5.
Since then, China has sent men and women into space with increasing regularity.
Space station and ‘Jade Rabbit’
Following in the footsteps of the United States and Russia, China is striving to open a space station circling our planet.
The Tiangong-1 was shot into orbit in September 2011.
In 2013, the second Chinese woman in space, Wang Yaping, gave a video class from inside the space module beamed back to children across the world’s most populous country.
The lab was also used for medical experiments and, most importantly, tests intended to prepare for the building of a space station.
The lab was followed by the “Jade Rabbit” lunar rover in 2013, which looked at first like a dud when it turned dormant and stopped sending signals back to Earth.
The rover made a dramatic recovery, though, ultimately surveying the Moon’s surface for 31 months, well beyond its expected lifespan.
In 2016, China launched its second station, the Tiangong-2 lab into orbit 393 kilometres (244 miles) above Earth, in what analysts say will likely serve as a final building block before China launches a manned space station.
Astronauts who have visited the station have run experiments on growing rice and other plants, as well as docking spacecraft.
Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China’s “space dream”, as he calls it, have been put into overdrive.
The new superpower is looking to finally catch up with the US and Russia after years of belatedly matching their space milestones.
The ambitions start with a space station of its own — China was deliberately left out of the International Space Station effort — with the assembly of pieces in space expected to start this year and manned use to begin around 2022.
China is also planning to build a base on the Moon, with Zhang Kejian, head of the country’s National Space Administration saying last year that the country aimed to establish a lunar mission by 2029.
But lunar work was dealt a setback in 2017 when the Long March-5 Y2, a powerful heavy-lift rocket, failed to launch on a mission to send communication satellites into orbit.
The failure forced the postponement of the launch of Chang’e-5, which was originally scheduled to collect Moon samples in the second half of 2017.
Another robot, the Chang’e-4, landed on the far side of the Moon in January 2019 — a historic first.
China’s astronauts and scientists have also talked up manned missions to Mars as Beijing strives to become a global space power.
© 2020 AFP
Sea Level Watcher Takes Flight – nasa.gov
A joint U.S.-European satellite, built to monitor global sea levels, lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base just after 9 a.m. Pacific Time on November 21, 2020. About the size of a small pickup truck, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will extend a nearly 30-year continuous dataset on sea surface height.
The satellite’s principal instrument is a radar altimeter, which monitors the height and shape of the ocean’s peaks and valleys—known to scientists as ocean surface topography. Radar altimeters continually send out pulses of radio waves (microwaves) that bounce off the surface of the ocean and reflect back toward the satellite. The instrument calculates the time it takes for the signal to return, while also tracking the precise location of the satellite in space. From this, scientists can derive the height of the sea surface directly underneath the satellite.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will continue a sea level record that began in 1992 with the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite and continued with Jason-1 (2001), OSTM/Jason-2 (2008), and Jason-3 (2016). Together, these satellites have provided long-term, precise measurements of sea level height while tracking the rate at which our oceans are rising in response to global warming. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will eventually pass the baton to its twin, Sentinel-6B, scheduled for launch in 2025.
“Together, these satellites will let us keep measuring global sea levels for another full decade,” said Josh Willis, the NASA Project Scientist for the mission and an ocean scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It is the first time we have been able to launch one of these while its predecessor is still young. Jason-3 is still within its design life, and that is a big deal for us because to keep the record accurate when it gets handed off from one satellite to the next, we really need them overlap so we can cross-calibrate.”
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The time-lapse video above shows the plume of exhaust from the Falcon 9 in the 25 minutes after the rocket launched from California. The images were acquired with the Advanced Baseline Imager (band 2/red) on GOES-17. The satellite is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NASA helps develop and launch the GOES series.
The spacecraft is named in honor of Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division and a leader in advancing ocean observations from space. Freilich retired in 2019 and passed away on August 5, 2020. His close family and friends attended the launch of the satellite that now carries his name.
“Michael was a tireless force in Earth sciences. Climate change and sea level rise know no national borders, and he championed international collaboration to confront the challenge,” said Josef Aschbacher, the director of Earth observation programmes for the European Space Agency (ESA). “It is fitting that a satellite in his name will continue the ‘gold standard’ of sea level measurements for the next half-decade.”
“The Earth is changing, and this satellite will help deepen our understanding of how,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “Changing Earth processes are affecting sea level globally, but the impact on local communities varies widely. International collaboration is critical to both understanding these changes and informing coastal communities around the world.”
After arriving in orbit, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s second stage and unfolded its twin sets of solar arrays. Ground controllers successfully acquired the satellite’s signal, and initial telemetry reports showed the spacecraft is in good health. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will now undergo a series of exhaustive checks and calibrations before it starts collecting science data in a few months.
The initial orbit of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) lower than its ultimate operational orbit of 1,336 kilometers (830 miles). In about a month, the satellite will receive commands to raise its orbit, trailing Jason-3 by about 30 seconds. Mission scientists and engineers will then spend about a year cross-calibrating the data collected by the two satellites. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will then take over as the primary sea level satellite and Jason-3 will provide a supporting role until the end of its mission. Scientific instruments on both satellites will also make atmospheric measurements that can be used to complement climate models and help meteorologists make better weather forecasts.
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich and Sentinel-6B compose the Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission developed in partnership with ESA, NASA, and NOAA. NASA JPL is contributing three science instruments to each Sentinel-6 satellite: the Advanced Microwave Radiometer for Climate, the Global Navigation Satellite System—Radio Occultation, and the Laser Retroreflector Array. NASA is also contributing launch services, ground systems and data support, and support for the U.S. component of the international Ocean Surface Topography Science Team.
To learn more about sea surface height and the long international collaboration to study it, read Taking a Measure of Sea Level Rise: Ocean Altimetry.
Looking for data related to sea level rise? The Sea Level Change Data Pathfinder on NASA’s Earthdata site highlights tools used by researchers to study ocean altimetry, including the Integrated Multi-Mission Ocean Altimeter Data for Climate Research.
NASA Earth Observatory video by Joshua Stevens, using GOES 17 data from NOAA and the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). Photographs courtesy of SpaceX. Story assembled from NASA and ESA press releases by Mike Carlowicz.
China launches mission to bring back material from moon – Red Deer Advocate
WENCHANG, China — China launched an ambitious mission on Tuesday to bring back rocks and debris from the moon’s surface for the first time in more than 40 years — an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally.
Chang’e 5 — named for the Chinese moon goddess — is the country’s boldest lunar mission yet. If successful, it would be a major advance for China’s space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission.
The four modules of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft blasted off at just after 4:30 a.m. Tuesday (2030 GMT Monday, 3:30 p.m. EST Monday) atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch centre along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.
Minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s first and second stages and slipped into Earth-moon transfer orbit. About an hour later, Chang’e 5 opened its solar panels to provide its independent power source.
Spacecraft typically take three days to reach the moon.
The launch was carried live by national broadcaster CCTV which then switched to computer animation to show its progress into outer space.
The mission’s key task is to drill 2 metres (almost 7 feet) beneath the moon’s surface and scoop up about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and other debris to be brought back to Earth, according to NASA. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Chang’e 5 lander’s time on the moon is scheduled to be short and sweet. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 Earth days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units to withstand the moon’s freezing nights.
The lander will dig for materials with its drill and robotic arm and transfer them to what’s called an ascender, which will lift off from the moon and dock with the service capsule. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule to be hauled back to Earth.
The technical complexity of Chang’e 5, with its four components, makes it “remarkable in many ways,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a space expert at the U.S. Naval War College.
“China is showing itself capable of developing and successfully carrying out sustained high-tech programs, important for regional influence and potentially global partnerships,” she said.
In particular, the ability to collect samples from space is growing in value, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Other countries planning to retrieve material from asteroids or even Mars may look to China’s experience, he said.
While the mission is “indeed challenging,” McDowell said China has already landed twice on the moon with its Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4 missions, and showed with a 2014 Chang’e 5 test mission that it can navigate back to Earth, re-enter and land a capsule. All that’s left is to show it can collect samples and take off again from the moon.
“As a result of this, I’m pretty optimistic that China can pull this off,” he said.
The mission is among China’s boldest since it first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third nation to do so after the U.S. and Russia.
Chang’e 5 and future lunar missions aim to “provide better technical support for future scientific and exploration activities,” Pei Zhaoyu, mission spokesperson and deputy director of the Chinese National Space Administration’s Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center told reporters at a Monday briefing.
“Scientific needs and technical and economic conditions” would determine whether China decides to send a crewed mission to the moon, said Pei, whose comments were embargoed until after the launch. “I think future exploration activities on the moon are most likely to be carried out in a human-machine combination.”
While many of China’s crewed spaceflight achievements, including building an experimental space station and conducting a spacewalk, reproduce those of other countries from years past, the CNSA is now moving into new territory.
Chang’e 4 — which made the first soft landing on the moon’s relatively unexplored far side almost two years ago — is currently collecting full measurements of radiation exposure from the lunar surface, information vital for any country that plans to send astronauts to the moon.
China in July became one of three countries to have launched a mission to Mars, in China’s case an orbiter and a rover that will search for signs of water on the red planet. The CNSA says the spacecraft Tianwen 1 is on course to arrive at Mars around February.
China has increasingly engaged with foreign countries on missions, and the European Space Agency will be providing important ground station information for Chang’e 5.
U.S. law, however, still prevents most collaborations with NASA, excluding China from partnering with the International Space Station. That has prompted China to start work on its own space station and launch its own programs that have put it in a steady competition with Japan and India, among Asian nations seeking to notch new achievements in space.
China’s space program has progressed cautiously, with relatively few setbacks in recent years. The rocket being used for the current launch failed on a previous launch attempt, but has since performed without a glitch, including launching Chang’e 4.
“China works very incrementally, developing building blocks for long-term use for a variety of missions,” Freese-Johnson said. China’s one-party authoritarian system also allows for “prolonged political will that is often difficult in democracies,” she said.
While the U.S. has followed China’s successes closely, it’s unlikely to expand co-operation with China in space amid political suspicions, a sharpening military rivalry and accusations of Chinese theft of technology, experts say.
“A change in U.S. policy regarding space co-operation is unlikely to get much government attention in the near future,” Johnson-Freese said.
Sam McNeil, The Associated Press
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