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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
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.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA and SpaceX are gearing up for Crew Dragon's second manned voyage to the ISS next month
by Ather Fawaz
SpaceX Crew-1. Image via SpaceX/NASA SpaceX and NASA are preparing to launch the Crew Dragon's second manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) next month. Dubbed Crew-1, the private spaceflight will be ferrying astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi to the space station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Weather permitting and barring unforeseen circumstances, the Crew Dragon will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:49 PM EST (0049 GMT) on Saturday, November 15.
Although the companies planned to launch this mission back in August initially, they have faced numerous delays. Last week, NASA announced that they were considering a launch window sometime early to mid-November. November 15 falls within that period, and it will be less than six months after the Dragon's first voyage to the ISS back in May this year. The latest delay, NASA stated, was to provide "additional time for SpaceX to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of Falcon 9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt".
Image via NASA Commercial Crew (Twitter) Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28, 4 PM EDT, teams managing the Crew-1 mission will hold a media teleconference to get the media and the general public up to speed with what's in store for next month's launch. They will also be discussing results from the recent testing of Falcon 9 Merlin engines that have caused the latest delay. For those interested, you can join the live teleconference here.
NASA finds water on the Moon's sunlit surface
by Paul Hill
Image of the Moon via Wikipedia Using a flying observatory called Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), NASA has confirmed that there is water on the sunlit surface of the Moon in one of the largest craters visible from Earth named Clavius Crater. The water at this location is in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million or the same amount you’d find in a 12-ounce bottle of water.
If you were to ask most people, they’d tell you that there’s no water in the desert but apparently there is. According to NASA, the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water than what SOFIA was able to find in the lunar soil. The agency said despite the amount being small, it now raises questions about how water can persist “on the harsh, airless lunar surface.”
Discussing the findings, Casey Honniball, the lead author on the paper detailing the findings, said:
Now that we know that there’s water on the sunlit portion of the Moon, scientists want to answer two more questions: how is it getting there? And how is it stored?
In terms of how the water gets there, NASA has a few theories. One suggests that micrometeorites are raining down on the lunar surface carrying small amounts of water that could be deposited on impact. Another suggestion is that the Sun’s solar wind delivers hydrogen to the lunar surface and then undergoes a chemical reaction with oxygen-bearing minerals in the soil to create hydroxyl. Radiation from the barrage of micrometeorites could then be transforming the hydroxyl into water.
Regarding the storage of the water, NASA suggests that it could be trapped in tiny beadlike structures in the soil that are formed out of high heat created by micrometeorite impacts. Another possibility is that the water is hidden between grains of lunar soil and sheltered from the sunlight.
SOFIA will continue its observation of the Moon in additional sunlight locations and during different lunar phases to learn more about the production, storage, and movement across the Moon. Understanding the nature of water on the Moon will be essential to future lunar missions including Artemis that will see the first woman and the next man land on the Moon in this decade.
By Usman Khan Lodhi
Nokia to build the first cellular network on the Moon
by Usman Khan Lodhi
When NASA makes a return to the Moon by 2024, it wants its astronauts to have an efficient and reliable way to communicate with one another. To make that happen, the space agency is turning to Nokia for help and providing the Finnish company a $14.1 million funding to roll out 4G on the Moon.
Nokia has today announced further details about the project, which will pave the way towards a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface. The firm noted that deploying the first LTE/4G communications system in space will be extremely vital for NASA's Artemis program, which seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2030. The announcement read:
Nokia said that its solution will be "ultra-compact, low-power, space-hardened, end-to-end LTE," and will be deployed on the Moon in late 2022. The firm plans to integrate its wireless communications system on the lunar surface in partnership with Intuitive Machines, a Texas-based private spacecraft design firm.
Once the delivery is made, the network will automatically configure itself and establish the first LTE communications system on the Moon, Nokia noted.