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Why NASA's moonshot, Boeing, Bezos and Musk have a lot riding on U.S. election – Reuters Canada

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WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s differences with rival presidential candidate Joe Biden extend far beyond planet earth.

FILE PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 39A with the seventh batch of SpaceX broadband network satellites, at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

President Trump’s plans to win the race in space call for a 2024 moon mission, and ending direct U.S. financial support for the International Space Station in 2025 – turning over control of the decades-old orbital laboratory to private space companies.

Biden, on the other hand, would likely call for a delayed moonshot and propose a funding extension for the International Space Station if he wins the White House, according to people familiar with the fledging Biden space agenda.

Pushing back the moon mission could cast more doubt on the long-term fate of Boeing Co’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, just as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin scramble to bring rival rockets to market as soon as next year.

Extending support for the space station for a decade would also be a major boost for Boeing, whose $225 million annual ISS operations contract is set to expire in 2024 and is at the depths of a financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 737 MAX grounding after fatal crashes.

Boeing and SpaceX are already supplying spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the ISS under a program begun under the Obama administration and supported by both Trump and Biden.

Though slowing the moonshot would push back contracts for moon landers and related equipment the companies aim to win, the emerging Biden space agenda appears broadly set to promote competition between traditional defense contractors like Boeing and “new space” rivals like SpaceX who promise lower-cost and reusable rocket systems and space vehicles.

CRAVING CONSISTENCY

For the commercial space industry, “consistency is key,” said Mike French, a vice president at the Aerospace Industries Association trade group who earlier served as NASA chief of staff under Obama.

“If you shake the etch-a-sketch now, you will (be) risking a series of potentially historic accomplishments and the strong and sustained bipartisan support NASA has seen across its portfolio,” French told Reuters.

Roughly 20 former senior NASA officials and scientists have assembled as a volunteer subgroup under the Biden campaign’s science committee to informally help draw up ideas for a space platform.

Many held jobs in the Obama administration and are jockeying for influential roles on the transition team or in a Biden administration.

Reuters spoke to three of those people, as well as over a dozen lobbyists, industry executives, and former NASA officials who have held their own discussions with Biden’s campaign.

Members of the subgroup also want to boost NASA funding for Earth science and support partnerships with other nations. They stressed that Biden’s space agenda, and the staff assignments to lead it, were in a formative stage as his campaign prioritizes more pressing issues, like the coronavirus pandemic and joblessness.

A Biden campaign spokesman pointed to earlier remarks from Biden. In August, after SpaceX launched and returned the first astronauts from U.S. soil on a trip to the ISS in nearly a decade, Biden said he looked forward to “leading a bold space program that will continue to send astronaut heroes to expand our exploration and scientific frontiers.”

Representatives for Blue Origin and Boeing declined to comment. SpaceX and the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

FIGHT OVER BOEING ROCKET

But the Biden space group is divided on what to do about Boeing’s SLS, several sources said.

The super heavy-lift rocket has been beset by development delays and cost overruns, but supports tens of thousands of jobs in Alabama and California and is seen by backers as central to NASA’s exploration plans and the only path to Trump’s 2024 timeline for the Artemis mission.

Critics say the rocket’s ageing technology and launch costs of $1 billion or more per mission should prompt a formal White House or Congressional review of the program, particularly if SpaceX and Blue Origin are able to offer new rockets at lower cost.

It costs as little as $90 million to fly Musk’s massive but still less-powerful Falcon Heavy, and some $350 million per launch for United Launch Alliance’s legacy Delta IV Heavy.

Whether a Biden space policy would be more friendly to SLS or to newer commercial alternatives from “new space” players will be heavily influenced by his choice for NASA administrator, a role the campaign wants to be filled by a woman, two people said.

NASA views SLS as its only human-rated ride to the moon in the near term, said Doug Loverro, the former NASA head of human spaceflight.

“But is that the long-term direction to continue to pursue?” Loverro asked.

Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington, D.C. and Eric M Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Edward Tobin

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How to see a mysterious object that might be space junk fly near Earth today – CNET

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This photo from 1964 shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket. Space object 2020 SO might be one of these.


NASA

The moon shouldn’t feel too jealous. Earth has another satellite right now, but it’s only a temporary fling. The exact identity of the object, named 2020 SO, is still a lingering question, but you can watch it on Monday, Nov. 30, when it gets close to Earth. The Virtual Telescope Project will livestream the flyby.  

The Earth’s gravitational pull captured the object into our planet’s orbit earlier this month, which makes 2020 SO a sort of mini-moon. 

Usually, we’d expect an object like this to be an asteroid, and there are plenty of those flying around in space. But 2020 SO may have a more Earthly identity. The orbit of 2020 SO around the sun — which is very similar to Earth’s — has convinced researchers it’s probably not a rock, but is actually a piece of space junk from a NASA mission.      

The object’s closest approach to our planet will be on Dec. 1. The Virtual Telescope Project will offer a livestream starting at 2 p.m. PT on Nov. 30

Virtual Telescope Project founder Gianluca Masi already managed to capture a view of the tiny object on Nov. 22. It appears as a dot against a backdrop of stars.

The Virtual Telescope Project caught sight of 2020 SO on Nov. 22. The arrow points out the object.


Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project

Scientists with NASA JPL’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) analyzed 2020 SO’s path and tracked it back in time.  

“One of the possible paths for 2020 SO brought the object very close to Earth and the Moon in late September 1966,” CNEOS Director Paul Chodas said in a NASA statement earlier in November. “It was like a eureka moment when a quick check of launch dates for lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission.”

NASA’s ill-fated Surveyor 2 lander ended up crashing on the moon’s surface, but the Centaur rocket booster escaped into space.   

NASA expects 2020 SO to stick around in an Earth orbit until March 2021 when it will wander off into a new orbit around the sun. The agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office shared a visual of the object’s journey around Earth.

The upcoming close approach should give astronomers a chance to dial in 2020 SO’s composition and tell us if it is indeed a relic from the 1960s.

Even with a telescope view, 2020 SO should look like a bright spot of light traveling against the dark of space. The cool thing is getting the chance to witness a piece of space history returning to its old stomping grounds.  

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Climate change has autumn leaves falling sooner, researchers say – CTV News

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TORONTO —
A new study based on European forest trees indicates that climate change is leading to longer growing seasons and causing leaves to fall earlier in the year.

Using a combination of experiments and long-term observational research dating back to 1948, scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and University of Munich found that leaves are likely to fall three to six days sooner by the end of the 21st century, rather than lengthening by one to three weeks as current models have predicted.

Researchers say this predicted pattern will limit the capacity of temperate forests to mitigate climate change through carbon uptake.

In conducting their research, scientists obtained more than 430,000 phenological observations from 3,855 sites across Central Europe from 1948 to 2015.

According to the study, elevated carbon dioxide, temperature and light levels are causing an increase in spring and summer photosynthetic productivity. Leaves are emerging earlier and they’re also falling sooner than expected.

The new findings reveal the critical constraints on future length of growing-seasons and carbon uptake of trees.

Natural Resources Canada says forests can act as either carbon sources or carbon sinks, which means that a forest can either release more carbon than it absorbs or it can absorb more carbon than it releases.

“For decades we’ve assumed that growing seasons are increasing and that the autumn leaf-off is getting later,” co-researcher and professor at ETH Zurich Thomas Crowther told The Guardian. “However, this research suggests that as tree productivity gets higher, the leaves actually fall earlier.”​

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Scientists discover new balloon-like species using HD video only – The Weather Network US

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Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently identified a new species of gelatinous sea creature with the use of only one tool: high definition video footage captured at the bottom of the ocean.

It’s a first for the administration and could serve as a blueprint for how to identify new species in the absence of physical specimens — an often “contentious” practice that could become more widely accepted as video technology improves.

The creature – called Duobrachium sparksae – is species of ctenophore, discovered by the remotely-operated vehicle Deep Discoverer during a 2015 dive off the coast of Puerto Rico, nearly 4,000 metres below the surface.

The reason the discovery is only coming to light now is because scientists had to take extra precautions to make sure the species was, in fact, unique, ScienceAlert reports.

Traditionally, new species are discovered with physical evidence, but that wasn’t the case here — prompting an extra-long period of research and due diligence.


The comb jelly, or ctenophore, was first seen during a 2015 dive with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research team. Caption and photo courtesy: NOAA.

The use of photographic evidence to establish new species has been “highly contentious in recent decades,” the paper says, but the footage was widely accepted. That’s due, in part, to a high-powered camera that was sensitive enough to detect subtle details on D. sparksae’s body.

“Video identification can be controversial,” NOAA marine biologist Allen Collins says in a statement.

“For example, some insect species descriptions have been done with low-quality imagery, and some scientists have said they don’t think that’s a good way of doing things. But for this discovery, we didn’t get any pushback. It was a really good example of how to do it the right way with video.”


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The findings are detailed in a recently-published paper in Plankton and Benthos Research.

“It’s unique because we were able to describe a new species based entirely on high-definition video,” NOAA marine biologist Allen Collins says in a YouTube video.

“We don’t have the same microscopes as we would in a lab, but the video can give us enough information to understand the morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects.”

The camera is a marvel in itself. Referred to as ‘D2’ by NOAA, it can tolerate depths up to 6,000 metres and can zoom in on a three-inch organism from 10 feet away. It’s equipped with 20 LED lights to illuminate the ocean floor and has manipulator arms that can collect biological and geological samples.

NOAA - new species2
Scientists describing the comb jelly species say it resembles a hot air balloon. Illustrations by Nicholas Bezio. Caption and photo courtesy: NOAA.

In a statement, NOAA Fisheries scientists Mike Ford called the new organism “beautiful.”

In total, three organisms were observed, with one of them “moving like a hot air balloon attached to the seafloor” — suggesting they may be able to anchor themselves to the seabed.

“We did not observe direct attachment during the dive, but it seems like the organism touches the seafloor,” he added.

Around 200 species of ctenophores have been discovered to date, with new species confirmed once a year or so.

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