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By Ather Fawaz
China launches Chang'e-5 mission to extract and bring lunar rock samples to Earth
by Ather Fawaz
Image via National Geographic China successfully launched its Chang'e-5 mission on Monday whereby it is sending a spacecraft to the Moon to collect rock samples. If everything goes according to plan, the lander portion of the spacecraft will touch down on the lunar surface by the end of this week and will have approximately 14 days—or the length of a single day on the satellite—to collect the samples and bring them back to Earth.
The spacecraft took off from the Wenchang space site at Hainan Island in China on Monday. Unlike previous missions, China was open about live-streaming and consistently sharing information about the launch procedures. The entire event was live-streamed by Chinese state media without any delay, showing the growing confidence that the nation has in its space program.
The mission is being hailed as the most ambitious program in China's space history. Not only will it be the first attempt at collecting lunar rock samples in over forty years, but it also sets the nation on course to become only the third country to bring pieces of the moon back to Earth, joining the ranks of the U.S. and Soviet Russia who each completed this feat with the Apollo Missions and the Luna robotic landings, respectively.
China plans to land Chang'e-5 on the Mons Rümker, which is an isolated volcanic formation that is located in the northwest part of the Moon's near side. It's also much younger than the craters that the Apollo astronauts visited. Once there, the spacecraft is slated to retrieve more than four pounds of lunar samples. For contrast, the three successful Soviet Luna missions brought close to 0.625 pounds while NASA’s Apollo astronauts ferried 842 pounds of moon rock and soil back to the Earth.
From liftoff to touchdown back to Earth, the entire mission is scheduled to take less than a month. China hopes that the successful completion of Chang’e-5 will be a stepping stone towards establishing an international lunar research station before colonizing the moon by the next decade.
Source: The New York Times via Engadget
UK set to help build space debris removal satellite
by Paul Hill
The UK government has announced a firm based in the UK will help build the Clearspace-1 satellite which aims to clear space debris. The satellite is jokingly called ‘The Claw’ and will begin its mission in 2025.
Once in space, The Claw will use a pincer motion to collect debris and then control it to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up. The debris that is sent into the atmosphere will be too small to make it through the atmosphere and pose a risk to life but if any does eke its way through there’s a very high likelihood it’ll end up in the sea.
According to the government, Elecnor Deimos in the UK will design Clearspace-1’s Attitude and Orbit Control System (AOCS), a vital part of the entity which helps to orientate and position the satellite to help grab space debris using power generators, thrusters, and antennas.
Commenting on the news, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:
The AOCS developed by Elecnor Deimos UK will be integrated into the satellite’s autopilot. Elecnor Deimos in Portugal and Germany are also developing parts of the satellite ready for the mission in 2025. As more and more satellites go into space, missions like Clearspace-1 become more and more necessary to avoid collisions.
By Ather Fawaz
Arianespace Vega rocket fails shortly after launch, Spanish and French satellites lost
by Ather Fawaz
Image via ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Arianespace, a European satellite launch company, lost its Vega rocket shortly after launch. The four-stage Vega rocket, jointly developed by France and Italy, lifted off from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana at 8:52 PM EST (01:52 GMT, November 17), with two satellites onboard—one French and the other Spanish. Things appeared to go well in the initial stages of the flight but as the rocket neared the eight-minute mark, things started to go downhill as the rocket showed signs of going off-course. Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, later delivered the official statement, confirming that the mission is lost.
The problem, which is yet to identified, occurred shortly after the Vega rocket ignited its upper stage, and veered off course, indicating that the speed was not nominal anymore, apprised Israël. The rocket did not make its next expected contact with ground stations either.
The Vega 9 launch system had two satellites on board that it was expected to deploy. The first one was the Spanish Earth-watching satellite called SEOSAT-Ingenio, which came under the envelope of the European Space Agency's (ESA) plan to study our planet in greater detail. The second one was the French TARANIS satellite for the country's space Agency CNES. It was tasked to study visible-light flashes, including gamma-ray flashes, sprites, blue jets, and elves over the next four years.
"I want to present my deepest apologies to my customers for this mission," Israël continued. "Arianespace is presenting its apologies and we have now to analyze and to understand." This failed launch is Arianespace's second in the span of two years. The last one came last year in July in which another Vega rocket failed during the launch due to a faulty motor on the booster.
Whether this will be the case this time around as well, remains to be seen. Extrapolating from the loss of nominal speed, it seems that the upper stage did not produce the thrust required to keep the Vega on-course. But of course, we cannot say anything until the formal investigation committee passes a verdict on the incident and reveals its findings.
For the complete coverage of the event, you may check out this webcast from Arianespace.
Source: Arianespace (Livestream) via Space.com
The UK begins research into space-based solar power
by Paul Hill
The UK government has announced that it’s commissioning new research into space-based solar power (SBSP) systems that collect solar energy in space and beam it back to receivers on earth using high-frequency radio waves. The ground-based stations then feed the energy into the electrical power grid.
According to the government, the idea was first floated by the SciFi author, Isaac Asimov, in 1941. The UK’s research will seek to find whether the engineering hurdles and economic hurdles can be overcome. It believes that launching systems into space will be cost-effective with commercial space launch systems but it remains to be seen whether these massive satellites could be assembled in orbit.
Commenting on the news, Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said:
The government has asked Frazer-Nash Consultancy to research space-based solar power. While the government expects this plan to be feasible with affordable launch systems other problems could still arise. If the research says the idea is sound, then it could drastically shift the UK’s energy mix away from carbon-emitting sources.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA approves SpaceX and the Crew Dragon for regular crewed missions to the ISS
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA/SpaceX It has been a big year so far for SpaceX. Back in May, its Crew Dragon spacecraft completed its first manned voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). With Elon Musk accrediting Starship as the top priority for the company, the famed project has also picked up pace. So has the Starlink initiative, with its recent expansion to include more beta customers. The firm is also gearing up for Dragon's second manned mission, Crew-1, to the ISS in a few days as well. Amidst all this, it has now finally gained NASA's approval that it has been striving towards with the Commercial Crew program.
The approval came after NASA signed the Human Rating Certification Plan for SpaceX’s crew transportation system yesterday. The signing was completed after conducting a thorough flight readiness review ahead of the agency’s Crew-1 mission, with astronauts onboard, to the space station. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine commended the success of the Commercial Crew Program and the achievements of both companies, stating:
The founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk marked it as an honor and a motivating force in the company's vision to make flights to the Moon and Mars a reality:
This is a milestone for both companies. For SpaceX, this system of the Crew Dragon plus the Falcon 9 rocket along with the associated ground systems is the first to be NASA-certified for regular manned flights since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago. This obviously means that SpaceX's hefty investment in the Commercial Crew program has paid off. For NASA, this is the first time that the agency has certified a commercial spacecraft system in history that is capable of transporting humans to and from the ISS. This directly means that astronauts can regularly make trips to the ISS to and from American soil, which could be a vital step towards commercializing space flights.