Virgin Galactic Restarting Space Tickets From $450,000

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo space plane Unity returns to earth after the mothership separates flying way above Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021 on the way to the cosmos.  (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP)

 

After flying its founder Richard Branson to space, Virgin Galactic is restarting ticket sales beginning at $450,000, the company announced Thursday.

The new price is about double the $200,000 to $250,000 paid by around 600 people who previously booked seats on Virgin’s spaceship between 2005 and 2014, as the company looks to cash in on the success of last month’s fully-crewed test flight.

“We are excited to announce the reopening of sales effective today,” said CEO Michael Colglazier in a statement, with first dibs going to people on a waiting list.

“As we endeavor to bring the wonder of space to a broad global population, we are delighted to open the door to an entirely new industry and consumer experience.”

On July 11, Branson beat Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos to space in a battle between the billionaires. Bezos achieved the feat nine days later.

The next test flight will come in September and involve members of the Italian Air Force.

There will be one further test after the September mission, then the first commercial flights will take place in the third quarter of 2022, Colglazier said in an earnings call.

The offerings for customers will include a single seat; multi-seats for couples, friends or family; and a full-flight buyout.

Two free seats on an early flight are up for grabs in a prize draw, with registrations open until September 1.

The spaceplane was originally designed to carry six crew, but last month’s flight, which was described as “fully-crewed,” had just four — suggesting this is the current number.

Virgin’s space experience involves an air-launched spaceplane, VSS Unity, that takes off attached to the belly of a massive carrier plane from a runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Jeff Bezos receives astronaut wings from Blue Origin’s Jeff Ashby, a former Space Shuttle commander, after her flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas.

 

After gaining altitude, the spaceplane detaches from its mothership and ignites its rocket engine, ascending to beyond 50 miles (80 kilometers) above sea level.

Passengers unbuckle and experience a few minutes of weightlessness before the plane glides back to the runway to land.

The company has come under fire for its carbon footprint, which is roughly equivalent to a transatlantic flight but for far fewer people. It has said it is examining the possibility of offsetting its emissions.

“Our long term objective is to offer a near-daily cadence of space flights, and not just from New Mexico, but from multiple locations around the world,” CFO Doug Ahrens said during the call.

AFP

After Conquering Earth, Bezos Completes New Mission In Space

Jeff Bezos receives astronaut wings from Blue Origin’s Jeff Ashby, a former Space Shuttle commander, after her flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space on July 20, 2021, in Van Horn, Texas. PHOTO: JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

 

Jeff Bezos fulfilled his longtime dream of going into space Tuesday and potentially opening a door to space tourism — possibly the next mission for the man who built one of Earth’s biggest business empires.

The Amazon founder spent a few minutes in space on a reusable rocket built by his firm Blue Origin as part of a four-member crew, in a small step toward his stated goal of building floating space colonies.

The journey comes just two weeks after he stepped aside as chief executive of Amazon, which grew from a garage startup into one of the world’s most formidable businesses.

Bezos, 57, remains executive chair at the technology and e-commerce colossus he founded 27 years ago. He founded Blue Origin in 2000 and has poured in billions of his money into the venture.

With a fortune worth more than $200 billion, Bezos has been at or near the top of the world’s richest people, even after his divorce settlement.

He owns some 10 percent of Amazon, a behemoth with a presence in dozens of countries and some 1.3 million employees.

But Bezos often points to his humble beginnings: born to a teenage mother in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and adopted at the age of four by his Cuban immigrant stepfather.

Bezos was attracted by computer science when the IT industry was in its infancy and studied engineering at Princeton University.

After graduating, he put his skills to work on Wall Street, whereby 1990 he had risen to be a senior vice president at investment firm D.E. Shaw.

But about four years later he surprised peers by leaving his high-paid position to open an online bookseller called Amazon.com, backed by money from his parents.

– ‘Keep inventing’ –

In his parting letter to Amazon staff, Bezos said the company succeeded by following his mantra: “Keep inventing, and don’t despair when at first the idea looks crazy.”

In public appearances, Bezos often recounts the early days at Amazon, when he packed orders himself and drove boxes to the post office.

Today, Amazon has a market value of some $1.8 trillion. It posted 2020 annual revenues of $386 billion from operations in the e-commerce, cloud computing, groceries, artificial intelligence, streaming media and more.

“Bezos has been a transformational leader… in bookselling, the retail market, cloud computing, and home delivery,” said Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.

“He was a pioneer who introduced many of the conveniences that people take for granted.”

Bezos “had an instinct for the right thing” in finding the next market, said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

Kay said Bezos deftly transitioned from books to other merchandise to an online marketplace, and successfully built the cloud infrastructure for the company which became the highly profitable Amazon Web Services.

Amazon outlasted its rivals by forgoing profits in its early years “and reinvesting everything into expanding,” Kay said.

“If you look at the trajectory now, it was all logical,” Kay added. “You can say Bezos has been one of the best business architects of his time.”

Bezos has been fascinated by space since watching the 1969 Apollo moon landing as a child and sees space as important to the future of the planet.

He has spoken about the possibility of humans living in space colonies, drawing ideas from science fiction writers as well as scientists.

“We humans have to go to space if we are going to continue to have a thriving civilization,” Bezos told a 2019 CBS News interview.

“We have become big as a population, as a species, and this planet is relatively small. We see it in things like climate change and pollution and heavy industry. We are in the process of destroying this planet… we have to preserve this planet.”

– Lasting legacy –

Bezos is stepping away from day-to-day Amazon management to spend more time on projects including Blue Origin.

He also owns the Washington Post newspaper and has devoted time and funds to efforts to fight climate change.

While Amazon has boasted of its $15 minimum wage and other benefits, critics say its relentless focus on efficiency and worker surveillance has treated employees like machines.

The Teamsters union recently launched a campaign to organize Amazon employees, claiming its workers “face dehumanizing, unsafe and low-pay jobs, with high turnover and no voice at work.”

Bezos appeared to respond to worker concerns earlier this year when he called for a “better vision” for employees after a bruising battle over a unionization vote in Alabama, which ultimately failed.

He laid out a new goal for the company to be “Earth’s best employer and Earth’s safest place to work,” in his final letter as chief executive.

AFP

World’s Richest Man Jeff Bezos Blasts Into Space

Blue Origin’s New Shepard flies into space from the launch pad carrying Jeff Bezos along with his brother Mark Bezos, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, and 82-year-old Wally Funk on July 20, 2021, in Van Horn, Texas.  PHOTO: JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

 

The wealthiest man on the planet Jeff Bezos spent a few minutes in space Tuesday on Blue Origin’s first human mission, a key moment for a fledgling industry seeking to make the final frontier accessible to elite tourists.

“A very happy group of people in this capsule,” said Bezos after the spaceship touched down in the west Texas desert following a 10-minute hop to the Karman line and back.

The four-member crew exchanged high-fives and hugged family who came to meet them at the landing site.

Earlier, the New Shepard capsule reached at an altitude of 66.5 miles (107 kilometers), allowing the passengers to experience weightlessness while admiring the curve of the Earth.

This undated photo released by Blue Origin shows (L-R) Mark Bezos, Jeff Bezos, Oliver Daemen, and Wally Funk posing ahead of their July, 20, 2021, space flight in Van Horn, Texas. PHOTO: HANDOUT / BLUE ORIGIN / AFP

 

“It’s dark up here,” said barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk, who joined Bezos, his brother, and 18-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen, who became the youngest ever astronaut.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the voyage on July 11, narrowly beating the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.

But Blue Origin’s sights were set higher: both in the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft would ascend compared to Virgin’s spaceplane, and in its ambitions.

Bezos, 57, founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.

Today, the company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA.

Named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, the New Shepard suborbital rocket had flown 15 uncrewed flights to put it through its paces and test safety mechanisms.

Lift-off was slightly delayed and came at 1312 GMT from a remote facility in the west Texas desert called Launch Site One, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the nearest town, Van Horn.

“This might have looked easy today, it was anything but easy,” said Gary Lai, lead designer of New Shepard.

 

– Richest, oldest, youngest –

Notably absent was the still anonymous winner of a $28 million auction for a seat, who had “scheduling conflicts” and will take part in a future flight.

Daemen’s father, the CEO of a private equity firm, was a runner-up in the bidding, allowing his teenage son to become the company’s first paying customer.

After lift-off, New Shepard careened towards space at speeds exceeding 2,300 mph (3700 kph) using a liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen engine whose only byproduct is water vapor.

The capsule separated from its booster, and when it got high enough, the astronauts unbuckled and experienced space for three to four minutes.

The booster returned autonomously to a landing pad just north of its launch site, while the capsule fell back to Earth with three giant parachutes, and finally a thruster, for a gentle landing.

 

– ‘Read the room’ –

Blue Origin has remained relatively coy about what comes next.

The company says it plans two more flights this year, then “many more” next year.

Analysts say much will hinge on early successes and building a solid safety record.

CEO Bob Smith revealed Sunday that the next launch could take place in September or October, adding “willingness to pay continues to be quite high.”

At the same time, the sector is beginning to face criticism over the optics of super wealthy individuals blasting off to space while Earth faces climate-driven disasters and a coronavirus pandemic.

“Could there be a worse time for two uber-rich rocket owners to take a quick jaunt toward the dark?” wrote Shannon Stirone in an Atlantic piece titled “Space Billionaires, Please Read the Room.

AFP

How Can You Become A Space Tourist?

 

Thrill-seekers might soon be able to get their adrenaline kicks — and envy-inducing Instagram snaps — from the final frontier, as space tourism finally lifts off.

All you’ll need is a bit of patience. And a lot of money.

Here’s a rundown of where things stand.

Who’s offering spaceflights?

Two companies are offering short “suborbital” hops of a few minutes: Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket takes off vertically and the crew capsule detaches and crosses the Karman line (62 miles, or 100 kilometers, in altitude), before falling back to Earth with three parachutes.

Virgin Galactic uses a massive carrier plane, which takes off from a horizontal runway then drops a rocket-powered spaceplane. This in turn soars to over 50 miles altitude before gliding back.

In both cases, up to six passengers are able to unbuckle from their seats to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and take in the view of Earth from space.

When can you go?

Virgin Galactic has said regular commercial flights will begin from 2022, following two more test flights. Their waiting list is already long, with 600 tickets so far sold.

But the company predicts it will eventually run up to 400 flights per year. Two seats on one of the first flights are up for grabs in a prize draw: registrations are open until September 1.

As for Blue Origin, no detailed calendar has been announced.

“We’re planning for two more flights this year, then targeting many more in 2022,” a spokesperson told AFP.

Another way to get to space is via reality television. Space Hero, an upcoming show, says it plans to send the winner of a competition to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2023.

How much will it cost?

The first tickets sold by Virgin Galactic went for between $200,000 and $250,000 each, but the company has warned that the cost for future sales will go up.

Blue Origin hasn’t announced prices. The anonymous winner of a public auction for a seat on the first crewed flight paid $28 million, but decided to defer their trip.

It’s not known what amount was bid for the seat secured by Dutch teen Oliver Daemen, who will fly in the auction winner’s place.

The more “budget conscious” might consider spending $125,000 for a seat on Space Neptune: a capsule that offers 360 degree windows and is lifted to the upper atmosphere by a balloon the size of a football stadium.

Despite the promise of spectacular views, the balloon ascends only 19 miles — far from the boundary of space, and weightlessness.

The 300 seats for 2024 have all been sold, but reservations are open for 2025.

Are the physical requirements tough?

No — you’re only expected to be in reasonable shape. Virgin Galactic’s training lasts just five days.

Blue Origin promises to teach you everything you need to know “the day before you launch,” and its first crewed flight includes pioneering aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 will become the oldest astronaut.

The company’s requirements include being able to climb seven flights of stairs in under 90 seconds (the height of the launch tower) and being between 5’0″ and 110 pounds (152 centimeters and 50 kilograms) and 6’4″ and 223 pounds (193 cm and 100 kg).

What about SpaceX?

Elon Musk’s company is also getting into the space tourism game, but its plans involve journeys that are far longer. The costs are also predicted to be astronomical — tens of millions of dollars.

In September, American billionaire Jared Isaacman has chartered a mission called Inspiration4 to take him and three other passengers into orbit around the Earth on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, launched into space by a Falcon 9 rocket.

Then in January 2022, three businessmen will travel to the ISS with an experienced astronaut. The mission, named Ax-1, is being organized by the company Axiom Space, which has signed up for three other future flights with SpaceX.

Elon Musk’s company is also planning a trip to orbit for four people, organized by intermediary Space Adventures — the same company in charge of the flight of the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to the ISS in December, aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Maezawa is also supposed to take a trip around the Moon in 2023, this time aboard a rocket that is still under development by SpaceX, called Starship.

He invited eight members of the public to join him — but applications are now closed.

Earth’s Richest Man Bezos To Blast Off Into Space

In this file photo Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos addresses the audience during a keynote session at the Amazon Re:MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 6, 2019. Mark RALSTON / AFP
In this file photo Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos address the audience during a keynote session at the Amazon Re: MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 6, 2019. Mark RALSTON / AFP

 

Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, is set to join the astronaut club Tuesday on the first crewed launch by Blue Origin, another key moment in a big month for the fledgling space tourism industry.

The mission comes days after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson crossed the final frontier, narrowly besting the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.

Blue Origin’s sights are, however, set higher: both literally in terms of the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft will ascend compared to Virgin’s spaceplane, but also in its future ambitions.

Bezos founded Blue Origin back in 2000, with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.

Today, the company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA under the Artemis program.

“They’ve had 15 successful New Shepard uncrewed flights and we’ve been waiting years to see when they’re going to start flying people,” Laura Forczyk, founder of space consulting firm Astralytical, told AFP, calling it an “exciting time” for enthusiasts.

New Shepard will blast off at 8:00 am Central Time (1300 GMT) on July 20 from a remote facility in the west Texas desert called Launch Site One, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the nearest town, Van Horn.

The event will be live streamed on BlueOrigin.com beginning an hour and a half before.

Richest, oldest, and youngest

Joining Bezos on the fully autonomous flight will be barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 is set to be the oldest ever astronaut, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, the company’s first paying customer, who will become the youngest astronaut.

Rounding out the four-member crew is Jeff Bezos’ brother Mark, a financier who directs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter.

The pair are best friends, and Jeff shared the moment he asked his younger sibling to join him in a viral video on Instagram last month.

Notably absent is the mysterious winner of a $28 million auction for a seat, who had “scheduling conflicts” and will take part in a future flight, and has asked to remain anonymous, the company said.

After lift-off, New Shepard will accelerate towards space at speeds exceeding Mach 3 using a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine with no carbon emissions.

The capsule soon separates from its booster, and the astronauts unbuckle and begin to experience weightlessness.

The crew will spend a few minutes beyond the Karman line — the internationally recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, at 62 miles altitude (100 kilometers), as the spacecraft peaks at 65 miles high (106 kilometers).

They will be able to admire the curvature of the planet — and the inky black of the rest of the universe — from large windows that comprise a third of the cabin’s surface area.

The booster returns autonomously to a landing pad just north of its launch site, while the capsule freefalls back to Earth before deploying three giant parachutes, and finally a thruster, to land gently in the west Texas desert.

Bigger prizes

Beyond the first flight, relatively little is known about Blue Origin’s future tourism plans.

The company has a history of secrecy, its existence only becoming public knowledge three years after its creation. It then pursued a policy of “self-imposed silence” until 2015.

Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin hasn’t officially started selling tickets — Daemen won his spot through the auction process. The company wants two more flights this year, then “many more” in 2022, it told AFP.

Forczyk, the analyst, said it will all depend on the level of demand that is generated by these early flights, and how well the industry recovers from accidents “which there inevitably will be, because spaceflight is inherently risky.”

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will enter the fray in September with an all-civilian orbital expedition on its Crew Dragon, and is tying up with another company, Axiom, for visits to the International Space Station.

Beyond tourism, Blue Origin would like to supplant SpaceX as NASA’s leading private sector partner, and sees New Shepard as “sort of the stepping stone and also the way to make money along the way for the greater ambition,” said Forczyk.

AFP

‘Experience Of A Lifetime’: Billionaire Branson Achieves Space Dream

Sir Richard Branson speaks on stage with other crew members, after they flew into space aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the "experience of a lifetime" -- and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism at Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021. AFP
Sir Richard Branson speaks on stage with other crew members, after they flew into space aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the “experience of a lifetime” — and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism at Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021.

 

British billionaire Richard Branson flew into space Sunday aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the “experience of a lifetime” — and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism.

“Congratulations to all our wonderful team at Virgin Galactic for 17 years of hard, hard work to get us this far,” he said during a live feed as the VSS Unity spaceship glided back to Spaceport America in New Mexico.

It reached a peak altitude of around 53 miles (85 kilometers) — beyond the boundary of space, according to the United States — allowing the passengers to experience weightlessness and admire the Earth’s curvature.

The trip proceeded without drama, and touchdown occurred at around 9:40 am Mountain Time (1540 GMT), about an hour after take-off.

The mission’s success means Branson has beaten fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos in the race to be the first tycoon to cross the final frontier in a ship built by a company he founded.

Earlier, a massive carrier plane took off and ascended to 50,000 feet before dropping VSS Unity to complete the rest of the flight using its rocket-powered engine.

The spaceplane carried two pilots and four passengers, including Branson.

The ship then re-entered the atmosphere, lowered its flexible wings and glided back to the runway.

A smiling Branson hugged loved ones after the trip.

“It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” the brash Brit wrote in a tweet earlier where he posted a video of himself biking to the base and meeting with his crewmates, all Virgin employees.

He also posted a picture of himself standing in a kitchen with SpaceX boss Elon Musk, who’d come to show his support.

Several tourists journeyed to the International Space Station in the 2000s, but on Russian rockets.

Branson’s official role is to evaluate the private astronaut experience to enhance the journey for future clients.

Space base

Branson, who founded the Virgin Group that today has interests in everything from commercial aviation to fitness centers, is known for his appetite for adventure and has set world records in hot air ballooning and boating.

“As a child, I wanted to go to space,” the 70-year-old wrote a few days ahead of his trip.

He founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, but the dream almost came to an end in 2014 when an in-flight accident caused the death of a pilot, considerably delaying the program.

Since then, VSS Unity has successfully reached space three times, in 2018, 2019 — which included the first crew member who wasn’t a pilot — and finally in May this year.

Sunday’s flight left from Spaceport America, a huge base built in the Jornada del Muerto desert, around 20 miles southeast of the nearest town, Truth or Consequences.

Financed largely by the state of New Mexico, Virgin Galactic is the principal tenant.

Paying passengers in 2022?

After Sunday, Virgin Galactic plans two further flights, and then the start of regular commercial operations from early 2022. The ultimate goal is to conduct 400 flights per year.

Some 600 tickets have already been sold to people from 60 different countries — including Hollywood celebrities — for prices ranging from $200,000 to $250,000.

And though, according to Branson, “space belongs to us all,” the opportunity for now remains the preserve of the privileged.

“When we return, I will announce something very exciting to give more people the chance to become an astronaut,” he promised.

The competition in the space tourism sector, whose imminent rise has been announced for years, has come to a head this month.

Bezos, the richest person in the world, is due to fly on July 20 on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Blue Origin posted an infographic Friday boasting the ways in which the experience it offers is superior.

The principal point: New Shepard climbs up to more than 60 miles in altitude, thus exceeding what is called the Karman line, the frontier of space according to international convention.

Bezos himself wished Branson “best of luck” in an Instagram post.

AFP

Chinese Space Probe Completes Moon Mission

This picture taken on December 2, 2020 and released on December 3, 2020 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows the Chang'e-5 lunar probe gathering samples on the moon. China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS / AFP
This picture taken on December 2, 2020 and released on December 3, 2020 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows the Chang’e-5 lunar probe gathering samples on the moon. China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS / AFP

 

A Chinese space probe sent to gather material from a previously unexplored part of the moon has completed its mission and is preparing to send back the world’s first lunar samples in four decades, Beijing said Thursday.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess, landed on the moon Tuesday and has now completed its gathering of lunar rocks and soil, the China National Space Administration said.

The spacecraft had been due to collect two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of material from an area known as Oceanus Procellarum — or “Ocean of Storms” — a vast lava plain, according to the science journal Nature.

Scientists hope the samples will help them learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.

READ ALSO: 2020 Is One Of The Three Hottest Years Ever, Says UN

State media said this week that the craft was preparing for “around 48 hours” of tasks on the lunar surface.

If successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is the first such attempt since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

The CNSA on Thursday said the Chang’e-5 had completed the sampling and successfully packed the collected materials in a special container by Wednesday night.

“Scientific detection was carried out as planned,” the space agency said, without providing details.

The samples will be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region in early December, according to US space agency NASA.

Space Cooperation: Nigeria Signs MoU With India

FG To Set Up Science Centres In Six Geopolitical Zones
File photo of Science and Technology Minister, Ogbonnaya Onu.

 

 

Nigeria and the Indian Government have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the usage and exploration of the outer space. 

The signing of the MoU took place on Thursday during a virtual meeting at the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology in Abuja.

A statement by the India Ministry of External Affairs indicated that the signing of the MoU was witnessed by Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu and the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Shri. V. Muraleedharan.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Is Making Progress To Reverse U.S. Visa Restrictions, Says Buhari

It further said the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Dr K. Sivan signed the agreement on behalf of the Indian government while the Director-General of National Space Research & Development Agency (NASRDA), Dr Francis Chizea signed for Nigeria.

“The MoU envisages India-Nigeria collaboration in space science, planetary exploration, ground stations, development of micro and mini satellites and joint Space R&D,” the statement added.

“It provides for capacity building assistance by ISRO, exchange of scientific know-how, exchanges between academic institutes and joint symposiums/conferences.”

The cooperation, in remote sensing, communications and navigations, the ministry explained, “will benefit Nigeria in the fields of forestry, environment, agriculture, mining, watershed development and connectivity.”

While restating the long-time relationship between the India and Nigeria, the statement noted that in the past twelve years, “49 Nigerian nationals have attended various short-term ITEC courses in India in the fields of Remote Sensing, GIS and Geoinformatics,” adding that the MoU will deepen the Asian nation’s capacity-building assistance to the West African country.

During the event, both countries also agreed to seal a subsidiary MoU between New Space India Limited (NSIL) and Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) on the use of Geospatial Technologies.

 

Record-Breaking US Astronaut Returns To Earth

This NASA photo released on February 4, 20202 shows NASA astronaut Christina Koch during a spacewalk on January 15, 2020. Photo: HANDOUT / NASA / AFP

 

NASA’s Christina Koch returned to Earth on Thursday having shattered the spaceflight record for female astronauts after almost a year aboard the International Space Station.

Koch touched down on the Kazakh steppe at 0912 GMT after 328 days in space along with Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian space agency.

The 41-year-old Michigan-born engineer by training surpassed the previous record set for a single spaceflight by a woman — 289 days, held by NASA veteran Peggy Whitson — on December 28, 2019.

Koch had already made history by that point after she became one half of the first-ever all-woman spacewalk along with NASA counterpart Jessica Meir in October.

Koch told NBC on Tuesday that she would “miss microgravity” as she answered questions from journalists ahead of her three-and-a-half-hour journey back to Earth.

“It’s really fun to be in a place where you can just bounce around between the ceiling and the floor whenever you want,” she said, smiling as she twisted her body around the ISS.

‘Make space for women’

Koch called three-time flyer Whitson “a heroine of mine” and a “mentor” in the space programme after she surpassed the 59-year-old’s record.

She also spoke of her desire to “inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Koch’s return comes after an advert produced by the skincare brand Olay ran during an intermission in the American football Super Bowl with a call to “make space for women.”

The advert featured NASA astronaut Nicole Stott and saw the company promise to donate up to $500,000 to the nonprofit Women Who Code, which works with young women seeking careers in tech and scientific fields.

This year’s Super Bowl was watched by over 100 million people while advert space costs more than $5 million for a 30-second commercial.

The first woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova whose spaceflight in 1963 is still the only solo mission carried out by a woman.

But the cosmonauts Russia has sent to the ISS since expeditions began in 2000 have all been men with the exception of Yelena Serova’s launch in 2014.

Both Tereshkova and Serova are now lawmakers in the Russian parliament, where they represent the ruling United Russia party.

Unlike Koch, whose stay aboard the ISS was extended, Parmitano and Skvortsov are rounding off regular six-month missions.

Parmitano handed over command of the ISS to Roscosmos’ Oleg Skripochka on Tuesday.

The 43-year-old Italian posted regular shots of the Earth while aboard, highlighting the plight of the Amazon rainforest and poetically describing the Alps as “like a spinal column, never bending to time.”

Four male cosmonauts have spent a year or longer in space as part of a single mission with Valery Polyakov’s 437 days the overall record.

Scott Kelly holds the record for a NASA astronaut, posting 340 days at the ISS before he returned home in 2016.

China Launches Powerful Rocket Ahead Of Planned Mission To Mars

In this file photo taken on November 3, 2016 shows China’s heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket blasting off from its launch center in Wenchang, south China’s Hainan province. STRINGER / AFP

 

China Friday launched one of the world’s most powerful rockets in a major step forward for its planned mission to Mars in 2020.

The heavy lift Long March 5 rocket carrying a test satellite payload blasted off from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan at 8:45 pm (1245 GMT), a livestream from state broadcaster CCTV showed.

“After more than 2,000 seconds, the Shijian 20 satellite was sent into its predetermined orbit,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The rocket launch “tests key technologies related to future space missions,” Xinhua said.

The successful launch is a key part of China’s ambitious plans for a mission to the Red Planet next year and hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022.

“The Long March 5 rocket is tasked with important missions,” Wu Yanhua, the deputy head of China’s National Space Administration, said in a video released by CCTV last week.

“It will be tasked with a series of key missions including launching China’s first Mars probe, the Chang’e-5 lunar probe and a core module for the manned space station.”

The rocket is carrying a Shijian 20 test satellite, according to space news site NASASpaceFlight.com.

Friday’s success comes after a previous attempt in July 2017 failed mid-launch.

The Long March 5 Y2 was supposed to put the Shijian 18 experimental communications satellite into orbit and its failure delayed plans to use the rocket in a planned mission to collect lunar samples in the second half of 2017.

China successfully launched the first Long March 5 in November 2016, which it said at the time was the most powerful launcher it had yet developed.

The Long March 5, which is capable of carrying up to 25 tonnes, is comparable in capacity to the US-made Delta IV Heavy and Russia’s Proton-M, some of the most powerful launchers in existence, according to NASASpaceFlight.com.

By contrast the US’s Saturn V, which delivered astronauts to the Moon in 1969, was designed to deliver some 140 tonnes of payload into low Earth orbit.

Space ambitions

Beijing has invested billions of dollars in its space programme in an effort to catch up with its rival the United States and affirm its status as a major world power.

In 2003, the Asian giant, which now spends more than Russia and Japan on its civil and military space programmes, became only the third nation to put a human into orbit.

In January 2019, China became the first nation to land a probe on the far side of the Moon.

The Chang’e-4 lander — named after the Moon goddess in Chinese mythology — released a rover in the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin shortly after New Year.

In November China completed a test of its Mars exploration lander, ahead of its first mission to the Red Planet slated for 2020 which is planned to deploy a rover to explore the Martian surface.

China also aims to have a manned space station in orbit in 2022.

The Tiangong — or “Heavenly Palace” — is set to replace the International Space Station, which is due to be retired in 2024.

China will also seek to build an international lunar base, possibly using 3D printing technology, in the future, Wu said in January.

China’s space programme has alarmed the US, which fears that Beijing will threaten its dominance in space.

The White House announced the creation of a new military arm called the Space Force earlier this month, with President Donald Trump calling space “the world’s newest warfighting domain.”

 

AFP

India Loses Contact With Moon Lander

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) employees react as they watch the live broadcast of the soft landing of spacecraft Vikram Lander of Chandrayaan-2 on the surface of the Moon at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) centre in Bangalore early on September 7, 2019. MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP

 

India’s space programme suffered a huge setback Saturday after losing contact with an unmanned spacecraft moments before it was due to make a historic soft landing on the Moon.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to comfort glum scientists and a stunned nation from mission control in Bangalore, saying India was still “proud” and clasping the visibly emotional space agency head in a lengthy hug.

Blasting off in July, the emerging Asian giant had hoped to become just the fourth country after the United States, Russia and regional rival China to make a successful Moon landing, and the first on the lunar South Pole.

But in the early hours of Saturday local time, as Modi looked on and millions watched nationwide with bated breath, the Vikram lander — named after the father of India’s space programme — went silent just 2.1 kilometres (1.3 miles) above the lunar surface.

Its descent had been going “as planned and normal performance was observed”, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said.

“Subsequently the communication from the lander to the ground station was lost,” he said after initial applause turned to bewilderment at the operations room. “The data is being analysed.”

The Chandrayaan-2 (“Moon Vehicle 2”) orbiter, which will circle and study the Moon remotely for a year, is however “healthy, intact, functioning normally and safely in the lunar orbit”, the ISRO said.

– Consoler-in-chief –
Freshly re-elected Modi had hoped to bask in the glory of a successful mission, but on Saturday he deftly turned consoler-in-chief in a speech at mission control broadcast live on television and to his 50 million Twitter followers.

“Sisters and brothers of India, resilience and tenacity are central to India’s ethos. In our glorious history of thousands of years, we have faced moments that may have slowed us, but they have never crushed our spirit,” he said.

“We have bounced back again,” he added. “When it comes to our space programme, the best is yet to come.”

Other Indians also took to Twitter to offer words of encouragement. “The important thing is we took off and had the Hope and Belief we can,” said Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

Indian media offered succour by quoting a NASA factsheet that said out of 109 lunar missions in the past six decades, 48 have failed.

Chandrayaan-2 took off on July 22 carrying an orbiter, lander and rover almost entirely designed and made in India — the mission cost a relatively modest $140 million — a week after an initial launch was halted just before blast-off.

ISRO had acknowledged before the soft landing that it was a complex manoeuvre, which Sivan called “15 minutes of terror”.

It was carrying rover Pragyan — “wisdom” in Sanskrit — which was due to emerge several hours after touchdown to scour the Moon’s surface, including for water.

According to Mathieu Weiss, a representative in India for France’s space agency CNES, this is vital to determining whether humans could spend extended periods on the Moon.

That would mean the Moon being used one day as a pitstop on the way to Mars — the next objective of governments and private spacefaring programmes such as Elon Musk’s Space X.

‘Space superpower’

In March Modi hailed India as a “space superpower” after it shot down a low-orbiting satellite, a move prompting criticism for the amount of “space junk” created.

Asia’s third-largest economy also hopes to tap into the commercial possibilities of space.

China in January became the first to land a rover on the far side of the Moon. In April, Israel’s attempt failed at the last minute when its craft apparently crashed onto the lunar surface.

India is also preparing Gaganyaan, its first manned space mission, and wants to land a probe on Mars.

In 2014, it became only the fourth nation to put a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet, and in 2017 India’s space agency launched 104 satellites in a single mission.

The country’s principal scientific adviser, K Vijay Raghavan, described Chandrayaan-2 as “very complex, and a significant technological leap from previous missions of ISRO” in a series of tweets on Saturday.

Raghavan said the orbiter will help India better understand the Moon’s evolution, mapping minerals and water molecules “using its eight state-of-the-art scientific instruments”.

“After a moment of despondency, it is back to work!! It is inspirational to see this characteristic of science in collective action. Kudos to ISRO,” he added.

ISRO in a late Saturday statement said that the orbiter’s “precise launch and mission management has ensured a long life of almost 7 years instead of the planned one year.”

“The Orbiter camera is the highest resolution camera (0.3m) in any lunar mission so far and shall provide high resolution images which will be immensely useful to the global scientific community,” it added.

France To Develop Anti-Satellite Weapons

 

France plans to develop anti-satellite weapons but will only deploy them in self-defence, its defence minister said on Thursday, as she laid out the country’s new military strategy for space.

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“If our satellites are threatened, we intend to blind those of our adversaries,” Florence Parly said. “We reserve the right and the means to be able to respond: that could imply the use of powerful lasers deployed from our satellites or from patrolling nano-satellites.”

AFP