SpaceX brought four astronauts home with a midnight splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, capping the busiest month yet for Elon Musk's taxi service.
The three U.S. astronauts and one German in the capsule were bobbing off the Florida coast, near Tampa, less than 24 hours after leaving the International Space Station. NASA expected to have them back in Houston later in the morning.
NASA's Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, and the European Space Agency's Matthias Maurer, embraced the seven astronauts remaining at the station, before parting ways.
"It's the end of a six-month mission, but I think the space dream lives on," Maurer said.
SpaceX brought up their U.S. and Italian replacements last week, after completing a charter trip to the station for a trio of businessmen.
That amounts to two crew launches and two splashdowns in barely a month. Musk's company has now launched 26 people into orbit in less than two years, since it started ferrying astronauts for NASA. Eight of those 26 were space tourists.
The newly returned astronauts said their mission was highlighted by the three visitors and their ex-astronaut escort who dropped by in April, opening up NASA's side of the station to paying guests after decades of resistance.
On the down side, they had to contend with a dangerous spike in space junk after Russia blew up a satellite in a missile test in mid-November. More than 1,500 pieces of shrapnel spread across Earth's orbit for years to come.
While the war in Ukraine has caused tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the astronauts have stood by their Russian crew mates, and vice versa. Flight controllers in Houston and Moscow also continued to cooperate as always, according to NASA officials.
As he relinquished command of the space station earlier this week, Marshburn called it "a place of peace" and said international cooperation would likely be its lasting legacy. Russian Oleg Artemyev, the new commander, also emphasized the "peace between our countries, our friendship" in orbit and described his crewmates as brothers and sisters.
Up there now are three Russians, three Americans and one Italian.
It was Marshburn's third spaceflight, and the first for the three returning with him. Chari and Barron's next stop could be the moon; they are among 18 U.S. astronauts picked for NASA's Artemis moon-landing program. Two others in that elite group are now at the space station.
The first all-private mission to the International Space Station began its return trip Sunday evening after a string of delays dragged the mission out for a week longer than expected because of weather and other inopportune circumstances.
The mission, called AX-1, was brokered by the Houston, Texas-based startup Axiom Space, which books rocket rides, provides all the necessary training, and coordinates flights to the ISS for anyone who can afford it.
The four crew members — Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut-turned-Axiom employee who is commanding the mission; Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe; Canadian investor Mark Pathy; and Ohio-based real estate magnate Larry Connor — left the space station aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Sunday at 9:10 pm EST. But as had happened so often already with this mission, there was one more delay, as the capsule departed 15 minutes past the original planned departure time of 8:55 pm EST, as the capsule occupants dealt with minor communications issues.
They will spend about one day free flying through orbit before plummeting back into the atmosphere and parachuting to a splashdown landing off the coast of Florida around 1 pm ET Monday.
AX-1, which launched on April 8, was originally billed as a 10-day mission, but delays extended the mission by about a week.
During their first 12 days on the space station, the group stuck to a regimented schedule, which included about 14 hours per day of activities, including scientific research that was designed by various research hospitals, universities, tech companies and more. They also spent time doing outreach events by video conferencing with children and students.
The weather delays then afforded to them "a bit more time to absorb the remarkable views of the blue planet and review the vast amount of work that was successfully completed during the mission," according to Axiom.
It's not clear how much this mission cost. Axiom previously disclosed a price of $55 million per seat for a 10-day trip to the ISS, but the company declined to comment on the financial terms for this specific mission beyond saying in a press conference last year that the price is in the "tens of millions."
The mission has been made possible by very close coordination among Axiom, SpaceX and NASA, since the ISS is government-funded and operated. And the space agency has revealed some details about how much it charges for use of its 20-year-old orbiting laboratory.
For each mission, bringing on the necessary support from NASA astronauts will cost commercial customers $5.2 million, and all the mission support and planning that NASA lends is another $4.8 million. While in space, food alone costs an estimated $2,000 per day, per person. Getting provisions to and from the space station for a commercial crew is another $88,000 to $164,000 per person, per day.
But the extra days the AX-1 crew spent in space due to weather won't add to their own personal overall price tag, according to a statement from NASA.
"Knowing that International Space Station mission objectives like the recently conducted Russian spacewalk or weather challenges could result in a delayed undock, NASA negotiated the contract with a strategy that does not require reimbursement for additional undock delays," the statement reads.
It's not the first time paying customers or otherwise non-astronauts have visited the ISS, as Russia has sold seats on its Soyuz spacecraft to various wealthy thrill seekers in years past.
On Sunday, the largest asteroid this year flew by Earth at 77,000 mph.
The celestial object, which had received the designation of a "potentially hazardous asteroid" by NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, didn’t get too close, though.
"We know the orbital path of 2001 FO32 around the Sun very accurately, since it was discovered 20 years ago and has been tracked ever since," said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "There is no chance the asteroid will get any closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles.
WHAT THE PERSEVERANCE MARS ROVER HAS ACCOMPLISHED SO FAR
The asteroid, which completes one orbit every 810 days, reached its closest point on Sunday, but still the rock was more than five times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
The close call will allow scientific study of the asteroid.
Said Lance Benner, principal scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "Currently little is known about this object, so the very close encounter provides an outstanding opportunity to learn a great deal about this asteroid."
Lucky stargazers may just witness the visit.
"The asteroid will be brightest while it moves through southern skies," said Chodas. "Amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere and at low northern latitudes should be able to see this asteroid using moderate size telescopes with apertures of at least 8 inches in the nights leading up to closest approach, but they will probably need star charts to find it."
Source: Fox News
YouTube: Videos from Space
Our food, cosmetics and clothes may be filled with an invisible killer that doesn't show up in ingredients lists but may be more dangerous than COVID-19, according to new research.
A new study published the journal Nature Communications has shed light on the unseen, and often unseeable, world of nanomaterials.
An international team of researchers has developed a new method to trace these nanomaterials across the aquatic food chain, from microorganisms to the blood and tissues of fish.
"We found that that nanomaterials bind strongly to microorganisms, which are a source of food for other organisms, and this is the way they can enter our food chain," explained Dr Fazel Monikh, from the University of Eastern Finland.
"Once inside an organism, nanomaterials can change their shape and size and turn into a more dangerous material that can easily penetrate cells and spread to other organs.
"When looking at different organs of an organism, we found that nanomaterials tend to accumulate especially in the brain," Dr Monikh warned.
Nanomaterials are so small they're difficult to measure - the amount of them in any given organism can't be ascertained through their mass, which is the standard method for measuring other chemicals for regulatory purposes.
The researchers' findings emphasise the importance of assessing the risk of nanomaterials before they are introduced to consumer products in large amounts.
"It could be that you are already using nanomaterials in your food, clothes, cosmetic products, etc, but you still don't see any mention of them in the ingredient list. Why? Because they are still unregulated and because they are so small that we simply can't measure them once they're in your products," Dr Monikh added.
"People have the right to know what they are using and buying for their families. This is a global problem which needs a global solution. Many questions about nanomaterials still need to be answered.
"Are they safe for us and the environment? Where will they end up after we're done using them? How can we assess their possible risk?" Dr Monikh concluded.
Source: Sky News
A confidential UN report circulated among its Security Council members reportedly claims that North Korea has continued to maintain and develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes through cyberattacks.
The summary, key findings and recommendations of the report were seen by the Associated Press news agency, who reported that it was written by independent sanctions monitors and delivered to UN Security Council members on Monday.
It states that North Korea has "produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure" and encourages the Security Council to sanction four North Korean men: Choe Song Chol, Im Song Sun, Pak Hwa Song, and Hwang Kil Su.
UN Security Council sanctions have steadily increased since the state's first test explosion of a nuclear device in 2006, and today most of the country's exports and imports face severe restrictions.
The experts said that such nuclear and ballistic missile programmes were being financed through black market activities, including cyber heists, which brought in approximately $316m (£229m) in the twelve months preceding November 2020.
According to the report, North Korea remains able to evade UN sanctions and develop its weapons, as well as illicitly importing refined petroleum and accessing international banking channels and carry out "malicious cyber activities".
From 2015 through to 2016, a series of sophisticated cyber heists targeting the SWIFT global financial messaging service allowed a state-sponsored cybercrime collective, which researchers called the Lazarus Group, to steal millions of dollars.
Cybersecurity researchers have linked the Lazarus Group to North Korea, although it is not known whether it is part of the secretive government bureau Office 39, or a group hired by Pyonyang's elite to fill their own coffers.
This January, the country's leader Kim Jong Un ordered the development of new missiles with multiple warheads and nuclear-powered submarines with underwater-launch capabilities, as well as spy satellites.
Mr Kim told a party congress that the key to establishing new relations between his country and the US is "whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy", despite apparently destroying one nuclear test facility in 2018.
It is believed that sanctions following nuclear tests in 2017 hampered North Korea's ability to legitimately import gas and oil from China, driving the state towards developing the ability to generate enormous revenues through cybercrime.
Evidence suggests that a North Korean government bureau has been conducting illicit economic activity for quite some time, and Pyonyang's premiere hacking group started stealing Bitcoin, too.
The cryptocurrency is perfectly suited for dodging sanctions, despite the ferocious volatility in its value, as payments are processed in a distributed manner rather than through a central authority.
North Korea launders these cryptocurrencies through virtual asset brokers in China, the sanctions monitors said, adding that they were investigating a September 2020 hack against a cryptocurrency exchange that resulted in approximately $281m (£203m) being stolen.
FireEye researcher Luke McNamara previously told Sky News how the secretive North Korean agency known informally as Office 39 has been a critical asset of the state by generating black market revenues since at least the 1970s.
It is estimated to bring $1bn a year through illicit activities, including counterfeiting US dollar currency, producing narcotics, and even smuggling gold.
Source: Sky News
The United Arab Emirates has become the fifth nation to ever reach Mars, with its space probe successfully inserting into Martian orbit at 3.57pm UK time on Tuesday.
The probe, named Hope in English (Amal in Arabic), completed a tricky manoeuvre to enter into orbit after a seven month flight in which it covered more than 493 million kilometres following its launch from Tanegashima in Japan.
The Emirates Mars Mission is the first of three space missions due to reach Mars this month, and is being rapidly followed by China's Tianwen-1 orbiter and lander, and NASA's Perseverance rover.
Firing its six delta-v thrusters for 27 minutes to slow it from a cruising speed of 121,000 km/h to just 18,000 km/h, the Hope spacecraft was able to move into what is called its "capture orbit" where it will remain until its scientific instruments have been calibrated and it can descend to its science orbit.
The £160m satellite aims to provide a picture of the Martian atmosphere and study daily and seasonal changes on the planet, as well advancing the UAE's science and technology sector, enabling it to move away from its economic reliance on oil.
The spacecraft itself was designed and assembled by researchers at three American universities - the University of Colorado Boulder, Arizona State University, and the University of California, Berkeley.
Scientists believe Mars was once abundant with water, and very possibly life. The UAE Space Agency said: "One of the culprits of the transformation of this planet into a dry, dusty one is climate change and atmospheric loss."
The agency's probe will monitor the Martian weather system, as well as the distribution of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper portions of Mars' atmosphere - enabling humanity to understand the link between weather change and atmospheric loss.
"Using three scientific instruments on board of the spacecraft, EMM will provide a set of measurements fundamental to an improved understanding of circulation and weather in the Martian lower and middle atmosphere," according to the Emirati space agency.
"Combining such data with the monitoring of the upper layers of the atmosphere, EMM measurements will reveal the mechanisms behind the upward transport of energy and particles, and the subsequent escape of atmospheric particles from the gravity of Mars."
The mission makes the United Arab Emirates the first Arab nation to reach Mars, and the fifth space agency to get there overall after the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, and India.
It is being followed by China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft which is expected to insert itself into Mars orbit in the coming days, with a rover landing expected in April.
Although NASA's Perseverance rover will arrive at Mars later than Tianwen-1, it will land earlier and it has no orbiter component, with a scheduled date of 18 February.
Source: Sky News
SpaceX is gearing up to test the ninth prototype of its big, shiny rocket, Starship SN9 Wednesday (Jan. 20), lighting up its engines for what should be the last time before its inaugural flight. The test is expected before 5 p.m. Central Time.
The rocket won't go anywhere during this "static fire" test. (Or, at least, it's not supposed to.) But if all goes according to plan, this test should clear the way for a launch in the near future, though SpaceX has not set a date. NASA Spaceflight is livestreaming the test from the Boca Chica, Texas, site where SpaceX builds and tests its Starships.
This will be the second static fire test of SN9, after a trio of Jan. 13 tests ended inconclusively, with the engines not firing for the full intended duration, as NASA Spaceflight reported. The company has since swapped out the engines used in the past tests.
Starship is SpaceX's moonshot — literally. The company has suggested the 160-foot-tall (49 meters) and 30-foot-wide (9 m) vehicle could one day land large groups of people on the moon or Mars. It has also sold tickets to board a future Starship for an orbit around the moon. To do all that will require a far-larger "Super Heavy" booster rocket to loft Starship into space, and that rocket has not yet been built.
For now, SpaceX is focused on developing the Starship vehicle itself. The last prototype, SN8, demonstrated impressive capabilities during a December 2020 test flight. That test saw SN8 loft to the cruising altitude of a jetliner and make a controlled approach to its landing site before exploding on contact, as LiveScience reported at the time. SpaceX hasn’t said what its goals are for this next launch, though a successful landing of the mammoth vehicle could be on the menu.
Russia says International Space Station is falling apart & may have to be abandoned early, plans to go it alone on replacement
Russia may invoke the spirit of ‘Mir’ by launching its own orbital station after 2024, as a replacement for the ISS. The current setup had been expected to operate until 2030, but there are signs that it may not be possible.The proposed new Russian replacement is set to consist of between three and seven modules, with a crew of up to four people.
Moscow’s plans were revealed by Vladimir Solovyov, the first deputy designer general for RSC Energia, the company which operates the Russian segment of the ISS. In his opinion, several elements on the international station are already failing, and it will just get worse from 2025.
“Until 2025, Russia has obligations to participate in the ISS program,” Solovyov explained to the Russian Academy of Sciences. “There are already a number of elements that have been seriously damaged and are out of service. Many of them are not replaceable. After 2025, we predict an avalanche-like failure of numerous elements onboard the ISS.”
The ISS regularly has problems. Last month, the Russian Zvezda module suffered a crack. At the time, former cosmonaut Ivan Vagner explained that it may have been caused by wear and tear.
“Twenty years is actually an absolute record for all space stations,” he explained.
As things stand, Russia has obligations to participate in the ISS program until 2025, and afterwards, the costs may be too prohibitive.
Writing on Twitter, the head of space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said that it was too early to decommission the international project but that some modules might have to be replaced.
“I think it’s too early to write off the station,” Rogozin wrote. “I see the great potential of the ISS for the development of space tourism and the participation of private space companies.”
Later, in a press release, Roscosmos clarified that Solovyov’s comments were of “an informational nature” and did not contain any “proposals for termination of participation in the ISS.”
The Russian-built proposed replacement for the ISS is currently in development and is planned for deployment after 2024. The Russian Orbital Station will be able to run autonomously, and will be operated by a crew of two to four people. In May, Rogozin explained that an ISS replacement was in the works, but it was not yet clear whether it would be visited or inhabited, national or international.
Earth is 2,000 light years closer to supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy than we thought
A new map of the Milky Way by Japanese space experts has put Earth 2,000 light years closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
This map has suggested that the center of the Milky Way, and the black hole which sits there, is located 25,800 light-years from Earth. This is closer than the official value of 27,700 light-years adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985, the National Observatory of Japan said.
What's more, according to the map, our solar system is traveling at 227 kilometers per second as it orbits around the galactic center -- this is faster than the official value of 220 kilometers per second, the release added.
These updated values are a result of more than 15 years of observations by the Japanese radio astronomy project VERA, according to an announcement released Thursday from the National Observatory of Japan. VERA is short for VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry and refers to the mission's array of telescopes, which use Very Long Baseline Interferometry to explore the three-dimensional structure of the Milky Way.
Because the Earth is located inside the Milky Way, it's difficult to step back and see what the galaxy looks like. To get around this, the project used astrometry, the accurate measurement of the position and motion of objects, to understand the overall structure of the Milky Way and Earth's place in it.
The black hole is known as Sagittarius A* or Sgr A* and is 4.2 million times more massive than our sun. The supermassive hole and its enormous gravitational field governs the orbits of stars at the center of the Milky Way. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez earned the 2020 Nobel prize for physics for its discovery. There are several types of black holes, and scientists believe the supermassive ones may be connected to the formation of galaxies, as they often exist at the center of the massive star systems -- but it's still not clear exactly how, or which form first.
More precise approach
In August, VERA published its first catalog, containing data for 99 celestial objects. Based on this catalog and recent observations by other groups, astronomers constructed a position and velocity map. From this map, the scientists were able to calculate the center of the galaxy, the point that everything revolves around.
VERA combines data from four radio telescopes across Japan. The observatory said that, when combined, the telescopes were able to achieve a resolution that in theory would allow the astronomers to spot a United States penny placed on the surface of the Moon.
To be clear, the changes don't mean Earth is plunging toward the black hole, the observatory said. Rather, the map more accurately identifies where the solar system has been all along.
A whale skeleton thought to be up to 5,000 years old has been discovered, almost perfectly preserved, by researchers in Thailand.
The skeleton, believed to be a Bryde’s whale, was found in Samut Sakhon, west of Bangkok. Researchers have excavated 80% of the remains and have so far identified 19 complete vertebrae, five ribs, a shoulder blade and fins. The skeleton measures 12 metres (39ft), with a skull that is 3 metres long.
The bones will be carbon dated to verify their age, but it is thought they are between 3,000 and 5,000 years old.
Bryde’s whales are still found in Thailand’s waters, where they are considered a protected species. The whales – which prefer waters above 16C (61F), and feed on schooling fish such as anchovies – face threats from fishing equipment as well as tourism.
The remains, which were found about 12km (7.5 miles) inland, will help scientists understand the evolution of the species, and track how sea levels have changed over thousands of years, said Varawut Silpa-archa, the natural resources and environment minister.
Marcus Chua, of the National University of Singapore, said the discovery adds to evidence of “relatively large sea level changes around 6,000 years to 3,000 years ago in the Gulf of Thailand, where the shoreline was up to tens of kilometres inland of the present coast”.
Previously, only marine deposits containing small fossilised marine shells or crabs had been found inland, and it was not clear if those fossils had been moved by humans, said Chua. “A large subfossil whale dated thousands of years ago near Bangkok would provide strong evidence of where the sea was during that time,” he said.
Such evidence is highly relevant, given that the climate crisis is contributing to rising sea levels. “This could certainly bring attention to the issue, and show how and where low-lying areas could be inundated by the sea when that happens,” said Chua.
The discovery will also help deepen researchers’ understanding of the Bryde’s whale, as well as other marine life. Alongside the skeleton, researchers found preserved items including shark teeth and shells.
“Scientists could also study the deposits found at the same level as the whale to reconstruct the biological communities present during that time, and compare them to present day systems,” said Chua.
The exact age of the skeleton is expected to be confirmed in December.
Source: The Guardian