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United Arab Emirates spacecraft Amal — Arabic for hope — closes in on Mars during historic mission –



A spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates was set to swing into orbit around Mars in the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission Tuesday, expected to be followed by two more robotic explorers scheduled to arrive at the Red Planet this month.

The orbiter — called Amal, which is Arabic for hope — travelled 480 million kilometres in nearly seven months to get to Mars. The goal is to map the planet’s atmosphere throughout each season.

A combination orbiter and lander from China is close behind, scheduled to reach Mars on Wednesday. It will circle the planet until the rover separates and attempts to land on the surface in May to look for signs of ancient life.

A rover from the U.S. named Perseverance is set to join the crowd next week, aiming for a landing Feb. 18. It will be the first leg in a decade-long U.S.-European project to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined for evidence the planet once harboured microscopic life.

About 60 per cent of all Mars missions have ended in failure — crashing, burning up or otherwise falling short — in a testament to the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere.

If it pulls this off, China will become only the second country to land successfully on Mars. The U.S. has done it eight times since its first landing almost 45 years ago. A NASA rover and lander are still working on the surface.

First for United Arab Emirates

This is the United Arab Emirates’s first venture beyond Earth’s orbit, making the flight a matter of intense national pride.

For days, landmarks across the U.A.E., including Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, glowed red to mark Amal’s anticipated arrival. This year is the 50th anniversary of the country’s founding, casting even more attention on Amal.

The celestial weather station aimed for an exceptionally high Martian orbit of 13,670 miles by 27,340 miles (22,000 kilometres by 44,000 kilometres). It was set to join six spacecraft already operating around Mars: three U.S., two European and one Indian.

Amal, a spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates was set to swing into orbit around Mars in the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission Tuesday. In this photo, a representation of Amal, which is Arabic for Hope, is seen at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, U.A.E., July 19, 2020. (Ahmed Jadallah/REUTERS)

Amal was expected to perform an intricate, high-stakes series of turns and engine firings to manoeuvre into orbit and achieve what has eluded so many before.

“Anything that slightly goes wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah al-Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology and the chair of the U.A.E.’s space agency.

A success would be a tremendous boost to the U.AE.’s space ambitions. The country’s first astronaut rocketed into space in 2019, hitching a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) with the Russians. That’s 58 years after the Soviet Union and the U.S. launched astronauts.

Engineers, scientists worked with U.S. researchers

In developing Amal, the Emirates chose to collaborate with more experienced partners instead of going it alone or buying the spacecraft elsewhere. Its engineers and scientists worked with researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley and Arizona State University.

People watch a big screen displaying the launch of the Amal orbiter from Tanegashima Island in Japan, at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, U.A.E., July 20, 2020. The car-size Amal cost $200 million US to build and launch; that excludes operating costs at Mars. (Ahmed Jadallah/REUTERS)

The spacecraft was assembled at Boulder, Colo., before being sent to Japan for launch last July.

All three spacecraft en route to the Red Planet lifted off within days of one another, taking advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars — thus their close arrival times.

The car-size Amal cost $200 million US to build and launch. That excludes operating costs at Mars. The Chinese and U.S. expeditions are considerably more complicated — and expensive — because of their rovers. NASA’s Perseverance mission totals $3 billion US.

The U.A.E., a federation of seven sheikdoms, is looking for Amal to ignite the imaginations of the country’s scientists and its youth, and help prepare for a future when the oil runs out.

“This mission was never about just reaching Mars,” said Omran Sharaf, Amal’s project manager. “Mars is just a means for a much bigger objective.”

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The first drone on Mars shows what the right collaborations make possible – World Economic Forum



  • 2-way dialogue and strong collaboration between the public and private sectors must happen early and continuously in the development process.
  • Work between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Qualcomm Technologies Inc., led to Ingenuity, a small helicopter drone that landed on Mars on February 18th, 2021 and is the first autonomous aerial platform operated outside Earth’s atmosphere.
  • The collaboration between JPL and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. helped shorten the innovation cycle by 15 years.

Since July, a small helicopter drone named Ingenuity had been hitched to the underbelly of the Perseverance rover as it made its way to Mars. The drone’s arrival this February marked the first time an autonomous aerial platform is operated outside Earth’s atmosphere.

The drone was also the first to be used in space science exploration – and other firsts will likely follow. Ingenuity’s planned experiential flights on Mars will aim to prove the effectiveness of aerial exploration for future interplanetary missions to scout areas once considered out of sight and reach.

The project – like any other scientific advancement – leverages decades of scientific expertise. But the drone, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight platform, also leverages private sector knowledge and guidance. This advancement would not have been possible unless the two core collaborators – NASA and Qualcomm Technologies – had not connected at the right time and in the right way.

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The challenge

To fully understand the scientific achievement Ingenuity represents, it’s necessary to detail the challenges that Mars exploration presents. First, Mars’ atmosphere is 99% less dense than Earth’s, which means achieving lift is very difficult. Second, because of the time it takes for communication signals to pass between Earth and Mars – anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes – remote controlled flight is not possible.

To enable this mission in the face of these challenges, Ingenuity required high computational performance at extremely low power for autonomous navigation via computer vision, intelligent decision making, and a small, lightweight design. Such a project required not just NASA’s expertise in space science exploration, but also required knowledge of cutting-edge technologies. These technologies included flight navigation based on computationally-complex flight algorithms and a rich array of computer vision enablement technologies for drone location determination and object avoidance, something only a private sector company could provide.

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.

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The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

The collaboration

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) approached Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. (QTI) in 2015 as the Qualcomm Snapdragon Flight platform was being developed. The Flight Platform was designed to enable drone manufacturers to build drone platforms quickly and efficiently.

These specifications fit with JPL’s needs: a commercial-based platform with the correct size and power constraints that could manage flight, control, and the ability to take and store images that would ultimately prove the utility of drones on another planet for the betterment of space science.

Through this process, it became evident that the autonomous capabilities Qualcomm was commercializing for next generation automotive experiences were in lockstep with the mission requirements JPL was seeking for aerial space exploration and that QTI could understand its program objectives. As a result, QTI was brought on as a consult to act as a sounding board while JPL was integrating a solution.

Several factors led to the successful partnership, revealing elements any collaborators in the public and private sector could put into place. They include:

  • Starting early. Such early and continuous connections were key. Leveraging commercial technology must be strategic. During this critical early period, core technologies are developed, standards are created, and rollout plans are shaped. When the right experts can connect early in the process, the right technologies can be applied to the right mission needs.
  • Open communication. Bringing two partners together isn’t guaranteed to lead to innovation. Open communication is required. In this case, the collaboration included a two-way exchange of ideas and education of the two very different worlds – the public and private sector – each with its unique way of solving complex mission problems.

    This two-way engagement enabled QTI and JPL to take an empathetic view that unified their collective thinking toward a common goal. Early open discussions and brainstorming sessions revealed how commercial technology could best address mission specifications. By focusing on the needs of the mission, the teams could guide one another through in-person visits early on. Later, a cadence of collaboration via teleconference and email was created to help answer questions as they arose.

  • Continuous partnership. Qualcomm now continues to collaborate on this project while Perseverance and Ingenuity make their first explorations on Mars. This proves another key aspect of a successful partnership. Engagement cannot be ‘one and done’ – it must be continual, ensuring that the key collaborators can keep problem solving through different phases of development.

The way forward

Conventional wisdom suggests that public sector and private sector ecosystems are vastly different in structure, composition, language and priorities. Common ground can be found, however, because many of the problems each ecosystem tries to solve for its constituents are often remarkably similar.

“Engagement cannot be ‘one and done’ – it must be continual, ensuring that the key collaborators can keep problem solving through different phases of development.”

—Kim Koro, Senior Vice President, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and President, Qualcomm Government Technologies

Still, the opportunity for public and private partnerships isn’t just to find short-term solutions that benefit both parties. As the public sector cannot match the scale at which the private industry invests in developing new capabilities, the public sector needs to find ways tap into that momentum and dynamic expertise, enabling government to move at the speed of innovation.

Governments that continually work with industry do not limit themselves to waiting for technology when it is productized and available commercially on the shelf (COTS). As this partnership with Qualcomm and JPL shows, by utilizing an early engagement point with the commercial industry, governments can dramatically shift the cycle of change and innovation. In this case, the cycle shrank from almost 20 to just 5 years.

The more the public and private sector learn how to leverage their strengths, the better technology will address existing and anticipated needs. Ingenuity provides a perfect reminder of collaborative power – a pioneering technology that’s the unique product of great minds coming together.

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SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink satellites, while Starship moves closer to being able to launch up to 400 at a time – Yahoo Movies Canada



SpaceX has launched another batch of its Starlink satellites – the usual complement of 60 of the low Earth orbit spacecraft, which will join the more than 1,000 already making up the existing constellation. This is the fifth launch of Starlink satellites for SpaceX this year, and the 20th overall.

Earlier this year, SpaceX opened up Starlink access to anyone in a current or planned service area via a pre-order reservation system with a refundable up-front deposit. The company aims to continue launches like this one apace throughout 2021 in order to get the constellation to the point where it can serve customers over a much larger portion of the globe. SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell has previously said that the company expects it should have coverage over much of the globe at a constellation size of around 1,200 satellites, but the company has plans to launch more than 30,000 to fully build out its network capacity and speed.

While SpaceX is making good progress on Starlink with its Falcon 9 launcher, it’s also looking ahead to Starship as a key driver of the constellation’s growth. Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation launch vehicle currently under development in South Texas, will be able to deliver 400 Starlink satellites at a time to orbit, and it’s also being designed with full reusability and fast turnaround in mind.

The ability to launch more than six times as many satellites per mission would help SpaceX a lot in terms of the speed with which they can deploy the Starlink network, as well as the overall cost of the endeavor – assuming their cost projections about Starlink’s general affordability are even close to accurate once it becomes a high-volume production rocket. That’s definitely still at least a few years off, but SpaceX did mark a milestone on Wednesday that bodes well for its chances of making that happen.

The company’s latest Starship prototype performed its most successful test launch to date on Wednesday, taking off from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas development site and flying to around 32,000 feet before executing a ‘flop’ maneuver and then reorienting itself for a soft vertical landing. The test rocket also blew up after sitting on the pad for just under 10 minutes, but despite that spectacular ending, the test proved out a lot of the basic engineering work that SpaceX needs to make Starship a reality.

Starlink is a huge, multi-year effort, so even if Starship is still a few years away from high-volume production and flight, it should still have a significant impact on the project overall. And Starlink, once operational and fully deployed, will require regular maintenance – individual satellites in the network are only really designed to be operational for ups to five years max, with regular replacements required to keep things running smoothly.

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SpaceX sticks 75th Falcon rocket landing after launching 60 more Starlink satellites – Spaceflight Now – Spaceflight Now



A Falcon 9 rocket disappears in a blanket of clouds shortly after launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center early Thursday. Credit: SpaceX

Launching through a blanket of low-hanging clouds and light mist, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket thundered into the sky over Florida’s Space Coast early Thursday and delivered 60 more Starlink internet satellites to orbit. The rocket’s first stage touched down on SpaceX’s floating landing platform in the Atlantic Ocean to complete its eighth trip to space and back.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket flashed to life and lifted off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 3:24:54 a.m. EST (0824:54 GMT). Fifteen seconds later, the liquid-fueled launcher disappeared into a cloud deck over the seaside spaceport, leaving behind an orange flow that slowly faded with the roar of the Falcon 9’s powerful main engines.

Arcing toward the northeast, the Falcon 9 exceeded the speed of sound and dropped its first stage booster about two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. A single Merlin engine on the upper stage ignited to continue the flight into space, while the first stage descended to a propulsive landing on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” positioned about 400 miles (630 kilometers) downrange from Cape Canaveral.

The successful landing marked the 75th intact recovery of a Falcon rocket booster since December 2015. The booster on Thursday mission — designated B1049 — made its eighth launch and landing after debuting in September 2018, tying another first stage for the most number of flights in SpaceX’s fleet.

A Falcon 9 booster on SpaceX’s previous launch Feb. 15 failed to land on the drone ship after one of its nine main engines shut down prematurely during ascent.

After reaching a preliminary parking orbit, the upper stage coasted halfway around the world before firing its engine again for a one-second orbit adjustment burn over the Indian Ocean. The 60 Starlink satellites deployed from the Falcon 9’s upper stage at 4:29 a.m. EST (0929 GMT) while flying 172 miles (278 kilometers) above Earth just south of New Zealand.

The on-target launch came after a series of delays kept the mission grounded since late January. The delays were caused by weather and unspecified technical issues, and two other Falcon 9 missions with Starlink satellites took off from nearby pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station while the flight from pad 39A stayed earthbound.

The change in the order of missions meant the batch launched Thursday was on the 20th Falcon 9 flight dedicated to carrying Starlink satellites, despite its designation on the military-run Eastern Range as Starlink V1.0-L17. Launches No. 18 and 19 ended up flying before No. 17.

The 60 Starlink satellites, each weighing about a quarter-ton, will unfurl their solar panels and switch on ion krypton thrusters to begin raising their altitude to 341 miles (550 kilometers) in the coming weeks. At that altitude, the satellites will join more than 1,000 active Starlink satellites flying in orbits inclined 53 degrees to the equator, taking them above nearly all of the world’s populated regions.

SpaceX has launched 1,205 Starlink satellites to date with the 60 fresh relay stations delivered to orbit Thursday. But 63 of the Starlinks have been intentionally deorbited or re-entered the atmosphere after failing, and another 20 are not maneuvering or appear to be in the process of deorbiting, according to a tally of Starlink satellites from Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and respected tracker of spaceflight activity.

SpaceX is well on the way to finish deployment of its initial tranche of 1,584 Starlink stations — including spares — later this year. SpaceX won’t stop there, with plans to launch additional orbital “shells” of Starlink satellites into polar orbit to enable global coverage, with a first-generation fleet totaling some 4,400 spacecraft.

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized SpaceX to eventually operate up to 12,000 Starlink satellites.

The company is already providing an interim level of service over parts of the Earth, such as Canada, northern parts of the United States, and the United Kingdom. Beta testing of the Starlink services is already underway with users in those regions. SpaceX is also accepting pre-orders from Starlink consumers, who can pay $99 to reserve their place in line to get Starlink service when it becomes available in their area. For people in the southern United States and other lower-latitude regions, that should come by late 2021, SpaceX says.

Once confirmed, customers will pay $499 for a Starlink antenna and modem, plus $50 in shipping and handling, SpaceX says. A subscription will run $99 per month.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster stands on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” after launch Thursday. Credit: SpaceX

“Starlink continues to improve as SpaceX deploys additional infrastructure and capability, averaging two Starlink launches per month, to add significant on-orbit capacity alongside activation of additional gateways to improve performance and expand service coverage areas across the country,” SpaceX wrote in the filing.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, tweeted Feb. 9 that SpaceX’s Starlink subsidiary will go public once it has a predictable cash flow.

“Once we can predict cash flow reasonably well, Starlink will IPO,” Musk tweeted.

Until then, SpaceX will be spending cash at a high rate to maintain the Starlink network’s high-tempo deployment, from satellite launches at an average pace of every couple of weeks to the manufacturing of user ground terminals. SpaceX has said the entire project could cost more than $10 billion, but Musk has said the revenue opportunities are even higher, providing resources for SpaceX to advance its audacious plans to send people to Mars.

The centerpiece of SpaceX’s Mars plans is a next-generation fully reusable rocket called the Starship, which the company says will eventually replace the company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

The Falcon 9 launch early Thursday occurred less than a half-day after at atmospheric test flight of a Starship prototype from SpaceX’s development facility in South Texas. The Starship test vehicle made a controlled landing, a first for a Starship descending from high altitude, and a major step forward for the rocket program.

But the prototype exploded a few minutes later, scattering debris across the landing site on Texas Gulf Coast. Nevertheless, SpaceX declared the test a success.

SpaceX’s jam-packed launch schedule continues with the next Falcon 9 mission set to blast off Sunday night from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with 60 more Starlink satellites. That flight is scheduled for 10:41 p.m. EST Sunday (0341 GMT Monday), followed by more Falcon 9 launches with Starlink satellites in the coming weeks.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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