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.

READ ALSO: Britain’s Johnson Rejects ‘Unacceptable’ Brexit Deal

“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

How Conspiracy Theories Followed Man To The Moon

This NASA photo obtained July 3, 2019 shows a fully functional Launch Abort System (LAS) with a test version of Orion attached,as it soars upward on NASA’s Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) flight test atop a Northrop Grumman provided booster on July 2, 2019, after launching at 7 am EDT, from Launch Pad 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. TONY GRAY, KEVIN O’CONNELL / NASA / AFP

 

It was the biggest piece of supposed fake news before the term “fake news” was even invented.

Millions of people across the world still believe that no one has ever walked on the Moon, and that the images that NASA broadcast in July 1969 were shot in a Hollywood studio.

Thousands of Internet sites are devoted to “proving” that the landing never happened, or calling into question the whole Apollo 11 mission.

Some claim that NASA did not have the technological know-how to pull off such a coup, or that if it did that it wasn’t done with a human crew — who would surely have been fried alive by cosmic rays.

Others tout possible alien involvement, which of course has been covered up — as has the lunar civilisation the astronauts discovered…

But almost all the conspiracy theories focus on supposed anomalies in the grainy photos and videos which NASA sent back to Earth.

Shadows in the footage show they were suspect, as is the absence of stars in the sky in some images — theories which have long since been refuted by scientists.

Yet theories live on regardless of proof from the Lunar Orbiter in 2009 which showed the abandoned modules from Apollo 11, 14, 15, 16 and 17 still on the Moon’s surface.

Six in 10 Russians sceptical

When Apollo 11’s lunar module touched down on the Sea of Tranquility in 1969, less than one in 20 Americans doubted what they were seeing on their television screens.

By the turn of the century a Gallup poll found scepticism has only spread to six percent of the population.

In contrast, more than half of Russians — the old Cold War enemy — still refuse to believe that the Americans got there first.

But surprisingly serious doubt is also rampant among some of Washington’s closest allies, with a 2009 TNS survey showing a quarter of British people did not believe the landings happened, while nine percent of French people were also unconvinced, according to pollsters Ifop.

Academic Didier Desormeaux, who has written widely on conspiracy theories, said the more important an event the more likely it is to attract outrageous counter-narratives.

“Conquering space was a major event for humanity. Undermining that can shake the very foundations of science and man’s mastery of nature,” he told AFP, making it a huge target for conspiracists.

While earlier conspiracy theories also involved images — such as the assassination of US president John F Kennedy in 1963, and the so-called Roswell UFO incident — “what is new about these rumours is that they are based on a minute deconstruction of the images sent back by NASA,” the French specialist insisted.

‘Images anaesthetise thinking’

For Desormeaux it is the first time a “conspiracy theory was built entirely around the visual interpretation of a media event — which they denounce entirely as a set-up.”

The same logic has been used repeatedly to dismiss school massacres in the US as fake, he added, with hardcore conspiracists claiming that the dead “are played by actors”.

“Images can anaesthetise our capacity to think” when deployed with ever more twisted leaps of logic, Desormeaux warned.

“The power of such theories is that no matter what they survive, because they become a belief which comes with a kind of evangelism and so they can go on forever,” he added.

For NASA’s former official historian Roger Launius, “the fact that the denials of the Moon landings would not go away should not surprise anyone.”

Launius — who has devoted a large part of his career to fighting them — said in his latest book, “Apollo’s Legacy”, that deniers “do not accept the same rules of investigation and knowledge that all others live by.

“They have tapped into a rich vein of distrust of government, populists critiques of society and questions about the fundamentals of (scientific method) and knowledge creation,” he added.

For decades they have played on “our deepest and most secret fears”, fed by America’s defeat in the Vietnam war at home and by anti-Americanism abroad, he said.

But Launius also blames the media for adding fuel to flames of paranoia.

“Moon landings denials were fanned by… competition for a new and different perspective on the events,” he said.

AFP

India To Send Three-Person Crew On Landmark Space Mission

Indian flag

 

India will send a three-member team into space for up to a week when it launches its first manned mission expected in 2022, the government announced Friday. 

Indian ministers approved a budget of $1.4 billion to provide technology and infrastructure for the programme, according to a government statement.

It said the cabinet had approved financing to launch an Indian-developed craft in a “low earth orbit for a mission duration ranging from one orbital period to a maximum of seven days.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in August that India will launch a manned space flight by 2022 with at least one astronaut.

India plans to undertake two unmanned and one manned flight as part of its Gaganyaan (Sky-Vehicle) Programme, the statement said.

The country has invested heavily in its space programme in the past decade, stepping up its rivalry with China.

The Indian Space Research Organisation also announced in July that it planned to send an unmanned mission to the moon in 2019.

India launched an orbiter to Mars in 2013 which is still operational and last year launched a record 104 satellites in one blast-off.

New Delhi is competing with other international players for a greater share of the satellite market and is known for its low-cost space programme.

AFP

NASA’s Dawn Asteroid Mission Ends As Fuel Runs Out

This March 2, 2015, NASA artist’s concept obtained November 1, 2018, shows NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres (lower right). Photo: HO / NASA/JPL-CALTECH / AFP

 

Dawn, a NASA spacecraft that launched 11 years ago and studied two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, has ended its mission after running out of fuel, officials said Thursday.

Scientists have known for about a month that Dawn was essentially out of hydrazine, the fuel that kept the spacecraft’s antennae oriented toward Earth and helped turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge.

When the spacecraft missed scheduled communications with NASA’s Deep Space Network on Wednesday and Thursday, the space agency formally declared it dead.

“The fact that my car’s license plate frame proclaims, ‘My other vehicle is in the main asteroid belt,’ shows how much pride I take in Dawn,” said mission director and chief engineer Marc Rayman at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time. It’s hard to say goodbye to this amazing spaceship, but it’s time.”

“Astounding images”

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the NASA science mission directorate in Washington, hailed Dawn’s “vital science” and “incredible technical achievements.”

Dawn became the only spacecraft ever to orbit a cosmic body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in 2011 when it began circling the asteroid Vesta.

Then it moved on to the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, becoming the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet and the only spacecraft to orbit one, NASA said.

The unmanned spacecraft has traveled 4.3 billion miles (6.9 billion kilometers) since launching in 2007.

It is expected to remain in orbit around Ceres for decades, but will no longer be able to communicate with Earth.

Zurbuchen said the scientific learning from Dawn’s mission will go on.

“The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system,” he said.

Dawn’s demise is the latest in a series of spacecraft troubles for NASA.

The Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel earlier this week, as expected, ending its nine and a half year mission of hunting for planets outside our solar system.

NASA’s Opportunity rover is stalled on the surface of Mars following a major dust storm that struck in late May and June.

The Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory experienced technical problems last month that have since been fully repaired.

AFP

Supercomputer Takes ‘Cloud’ To Astronauts In Space

After more than a year of testing, Hewlett Packard Enterprise says it is opening a supercomputer delivered to the International Space Station in August 2017 to “over cloud” scientific experiment. Photo: HO/NASA/Roscosmos/AFP

 

A supercomputer at the International Space Station aims to bring “cloud” computing to astronauts in space and speed up their ability to run data analysis in orbit, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise said on Thursday.

A SpaceX cargo capsule delivered the equipment, known as The Spaceborne Computer, to the space station in August 2017.

After more than a year of tests, HPE says it is ready to bring the cloud experience to astronauts for the first time — a kind of “cloud” above the clouds, as it were.

“We’ve completed all the requirements of our original one-year agreement. It’s been successful and we can open it up,” HPE technology officer Mark Fernandez told AFP.

A supercomputer is essentially a group of computers that work together.

The one on the ISS contains 32 “cores” and is similar to the kind HPE sells on Earth. It is 30 to 100 times faster than an iPhone or tablet, Fernandez said.

NASA needed to know that any super-computer it purchased would be able to function in the harsh environment of space, amid microgravity, radiation and occasional power outages. The HPE product stood up to all the tests.

The goal is for astronauts to be able to run their scientific analysis in space, without transmitting the data to Earth first.

Currently, the connection between space and the Earth can be slow and unreliable. The connection is often lost, and there may be a gap in communication lasting several seconds or more.

Fernandez said the new computer aims to upgrade the experience — currently a bit like relying on an old, dial-up modem.

“It is slow, it is intermittent and it has high latency,” he said.

With the new system, “I’ll have lower latency to move my data, I’ll have higher bandwidth to move my data. I won’t have any loss of signal to get my data down to Earth, and I’ll be much more reliable.”

On a future journey to Mars, millions of miles away, communication delays could last 20 minutes or more.

So testing such supercomputers in space, at a relatively close distance of 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth, could help develop future deep space computers.

The Spaceborne Computer will be tested by scientists for just a few months, then sent back to Earth in February or March.

AFP

UAE Announces First Astronauts To Go To Space

 

The United Arab Emirates has selected its first two astronauts to go on a mission to the International Space Station, Dubai’s ruler said Monday.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum named the new astronauts as Hazza al-Mansouri, 34, and 37-year-old Sultan al-Neyadi.

Writing on Twitter, he said the duo “raise the bar of ambitions for future Emirati generations”.

Sheikh Mohammed, the UAE’s vice president and prime minister, last year vowed to send four Emirati astronauts to the space station within five years.

The UAE has its sights set on space with a programme worth 20 billion dirhams ($5.4 billion), according to Sheikh Mohammed.

The oil-rich Gulf nation has already announced plans to become the first Arab country to send an unmanned probe to orbit Mars by 2021, naming it “Hope”.

The astronaut programme would make the UAE one of only a handful of states in the Middle East to have sent a person into space, as it looks to make good on a pledge to become a global leader in space exploration.

The first Arab in outer space was Saudi Arabia’s Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, who flew on a US shuttle mission in 1985. Two years later, Syrian air force pilot Muhammed Faris spent a week aboard the ex-Soviet Union’s Mir space station.

Mansouri and Neyadi, who were among more than 4,000 Emiratis to apply for the programme, were chosen after a rigorous six-stage vetting procedure.

In the long-term, the UAE says it is planning to build a “Science City” to replicate life on Mars and aims to create the first human settlement on the red planet by 2117.

India To Send Manned Mission To Space By 2022 – Modi

India To Send Manned Mission To Space By 2022 - Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures while delivering his speech as part of India’s 72nd Independence Day celebrations, which marks the 71st anniversary of the end of British colonial rule, at the Red Fort in New Delhi on August 15, 2018. AFP

 

India will send a manned mission into space by 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Wednesday in a speech to the nation.

“India will send into space — a man or a woman — by 2022, before that if possible,” Modi said in a marathon address at the Red Fort in New Delhi for the country’s Independence Day.

The astronaut would be “carrying the national flag,” Modi said.

The conservative prime minister said that India would be only the fourth country — after Russia, the United States and China — to launch its own manned space mission.

Stepping up its rivalry with China, India has invested heavily in its space programme in the past decade.

It is aiming to send an unmanned mission to the moon in January 2019, the Indian Space Research Organisation announced last week.

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will aim to put a craft with a rover onto the moon’s surface to collect data. Design changes to the craft forced the space body to push the launch back from this year.

Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008, orbited the moon and sent a probe to the surface which made a controlled crash landing.

India also launched an orbiter to Mars in 2013 which is still operational and in 2017 launched a record 104 satellites in one blast-off.

AFP

Trump Orders Pentagon To Create U.S. ‘Space Force’

Trump Orders Pentagon To Create U.S. 'Space Force'
United States President Donald Trump speaks during the National Space Council meeting in the East Room of the White House on June 18, 2018, in Washington,DC. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the Pentagon to create a new US “Space Force,” which would become the sixth branch of the American military but which requires Congressional approval to take effect.

“I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” Trump said.

“We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal,” he added.

Details about the role and timing of any new space force were not immediately clear.

However, the creation of a new branch of the military cannot happen from one day to the next, as Congress would have to pass a law authorizing it first.

Trump has previously supported the idea of creating a sixth branch of the armed forces, adding to the US Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.

Debate over the issue has raged in Congress for years, with some supportive of the idea and others insisting space duties remain under the Air Force as they are now.

“When it comes to defending America it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space,” Trump said at the start of the third meeting of the National Space Council, an advisory body led by Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump also signed a directive on space traffic management, aimed at boosting public-private monitoring of objects in orbit so as to avoid collisions and debris strikes.

A statement released by the White House said the move “seeks to reduce the growing threat of orbital debris to the common interest of all nations.”

AFP

Trump Signs Executive Order To Revive National Space Council

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to revive the National Space Council on Friday, which he said would be led by Vice President Mike Pence.

He was joined at the White House by former astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Alvin Drew and Dave Wolf.

“Today’s announcement sends a clear signal to the world that we’re restoring America’s proud legacy of leadership in space,” Trump said.

He added, “Our journey into space will not only make us stronger and more prosperous but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bring us all closer together. Wouldn’t that be nice?

“Can you believe that space is going to do that? I thought politics would do that. Well, we’ll have to rely on space instead.”