News & Current Affairs

November 11, 2010

Developing world warned of ‘obesity epidemic’

Filed under: Health and Fitness — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:31 pm
Obesity Developing countries are catching up industrialised nations

Developing countries should act now to head off their own “obesity epidemic”, says a global policy group.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says obesity levels are rising fast.

In a report in the Lancet medical journal, it says low-income countries cannot cope with the health consequences of wide scale obesity.

Rates in Brazil and South Africa already outstrip the OECD average.

Increasing obesity in industrialised countries such as the UK and US has brought with it rises in heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

However, increasing prosperity in some developing countries has led to a rise in “Western” lifestyles.

Now the OECD warns that they are catching up fast in terms of obesity rates.

Across all the countries represented in the OECD, 50% of adults are overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity

Rates in the Russian Federation are only just below this, and while fewer than 20% of Indians are classed this way, and fewer than 30% of Chinese people, the body says things are worsening fast.

graph

The report recommends that these countries act now to slow the increase, with media campaigns promoting healthier lifestyles, taxes and subsidies to improve diets, tighter government regulation of food labelling and restrictions on food advertising.

Its authors calculate that doing this would add one million years of “life in good health” to India’s population, and four million to China over the next 20 years.

The cost would be considerable but the OECD insists that the strategy would pay for itself in terms of reduced health care costs, becoming cost-effective at worst within 15 years.

Michele Cecchini, one of the report’s authors, said: “A multiple intervention strategy would achieve substantially larger health gains than individual programmes, with better cost-effectiveness.”

She suggested that specific action be taken to target childhood obesity.

Advertisements

February 20, 2010

Police battle illegal Russian gamblers

Filed under: Business News, Entertainment News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:27 pm

Police battle illegal Russian gamblers

Police vidoe of raid on ilegal casino

A picture from a police video shows officers catching staff and gamblers red-handed

Illegal gambling has spread rapidly across Russia since a new law came into force last July banning casinos and slots machines in towns and cities, according to a senior police officer in an exclusive interview with the BBC.

Col Oleg Bolderov of the economic crimes department of the Russian police said they had carried out thousands of raids over the past eight months.

“We have closed down 70 casinos and 4,000 slot-machine arcades… and have brought 600 criminal cases against those trying to organise this (illegal gambling),” he said.

A police video of one of the raids given to the BBC shows heavily armed officers dressed in black, breaking into an illegal casino and catching the staff and punters red-handed.

Brandishing automatic weapons, two police officers stand over a poker table busy with startled gamblers.

But despite the crackdown, well-placed sources connected to the formerly legal gambling industry say underground gambling dens continue to flourish in the capital, Moscow, and in St Petersburg, while in more far-flung cities very little actually changed when the law came into force last July.

‘Gambling rife’

There are also allegations that some senior police officers are actively offering to protect illegal casinos in return for huge pay-offs.

“We were approached by a police official who told us that for $400,000 per month we could stay open,” said one source who wished to remain anonymous.

Russian police officer Oleg Bolderov
In parts of Russia, gambling remains rife. Why? Because of corruption
Col Oleg Bolderov

Even Col Bolderov admits that authorities are fighting a losing battle against the continuing huge demand for gambling as well as against corrupt officials.

“One of the most probable explanations for the rise of illegal gambling is corruption,” he says.

“In our police department, we do our best to close down underground casinos and slot-machine halls and we have some success.

“But in parts of Russia, gambling remains rife. Why? Because of corruption.”

In the centre of Moscow it is easy to find slot-machine arcades operating openly, although slightly more discreetly than before.

And it took just a few phone calls to arrange a visit to an illegal casino.

I was told to leave my bag behind to ensure I had no recording equipment or cameras with me.

Lucrative industry

The owner then led me through corridors and heavy doors, which could only be opened using special security codes, into the casino.

It was not large but it had pristine poker tables, a roulette wheel and hi-tech slot machines.

At the bar, a lone gambler, his back turned to me, nursed a drink.

Still from police video of Moscow gambling site

The police have had some success in closing gambling sites down

According to industry sources the illegal casinos were up and running just four months after the ban came into force.

The new law, which should have put an end to gambling in Russia’s towns and cities, was pushed through by the former president and now Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

Casinos and slot-machine arcades had come to dominate city centres with their gaudy neon entrances.

The gambling industry, which was resurrected after the collapse of the Soviet Union almost twenty years ago, had grown to be worth around $6bn (4.4bn euros, £3.9bn) a year.

And the number of addicts was also growing.

Too remote

The government’s plan was to banish gambling to four specially-designated zones in the remotest regions of the country.

But the zones were so remote that none of the big casino operators was prepared to invest the huge sums of money required to have the slightest chance of attracting gamblers to travel so far.

So for the most part, they remain empty plots of land.

In a forlorn ceremony earlier this month however, one casino in one of the regions did finally open its doors.

It is at least a two hour drive from the nearest city and airport, in the middle of nowhere in the far south of the country.

No other casinos have been built so far in any of the regions.

Already there are calls for the law to be revised on the basis that it has simply driven gambling underground and provided corrupt officials with yet another opportunity to solicit bribes.

July 20, 2009

Space station toilet breaks down

Space station toilet breaks down

Toilet (Nasa)

The $100bn ISS has been blighted by toilet trouble

The main toilet has broken down on the International Space Station (ISS), currently home to a record 13 astronauts, Nasa said.

Mission Control told the crew to hang an “out of service” sign until the toilet can be fixed.

The crew of the shuttle Endeavour is confined to using the craft’s loo. ISS residents are using a back-up toilet in the Russian part of the station.

If repairs fail, Apollo-era urine collection bags are on hand, Nasa said.

“We don’t yet know the extent of the problem,” flight director Brian Smith told reporters, adding that the toilet troubles were “not going to be an issue” for now.

Bad plumbing?

The main toilet, a multi-million-dollar Russian-built unit, was flown up and installed on the US side of the space station last year.

ISS, July 17 (Nasa)

It had broken down once before, requiring a rush delivery of a replacement pump by the shuttle Discovery in 2008.

And another toilet-related row broke out earlier this year, when a Russian cosmonaut complained that he was no longer allowed to use the US toilet because of billing and cost issues.

Despite the latest housekeeping setback, astronauts managed to transfer spare parts from the shuttle Endeavour to the ISS on Sunday, the second day of a planned 11-day mission.

Nasa was also investigating why Endeavour’s tank shed an unusually large amount of insulating foam during its launch.

July 19, 2009

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Afghan helicopter crash kills 16

Russian-built Mi-8. File photo

Russian media say the aircraft was an Mi-8 similar to this

A civilian helicopter has crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 16 civilians and injuring five, Nato officials have confirmed.

The helicopter crashed at Kandahar airfield apparently as it was trying to take off, though Nato has ruled out the involvement of insurgents.

Reports from Moscow say the helicopter was a Russian-built Mi-8.

The crash is the second in a week. Six passengers died when a helicopter came down in Helmand province on Tuesday.

‘Not shot down’

Russia’s Interfax agency quoted a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Air Transportation Agency (Fata) as saying the aircraft was a Russian-built Mi-8 transport helicopter.

Map

Fata said it was owned by the Russian air company Vertical-T.

The nationalities of the dead are not yet known.

A statement from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said: “A civilian contracted helicopter crashed during take-off from Kandahar airfield.

“Emergency personnel are on the scene. There was no indication of the cause of the accident but insurgent action has been ruled out.”

Kandahar airfield is Nato’s largest air base in southern Afghanistan but the BBC’s Martin Patience in Kabul says a lot of civilian aircraft fly in and out so there is no surprise this was a civilian crash.

A Nato spokeswoman, Lt Cmdr Sam Truelove, told the AFP news agency it had been confirmed that all the dead were civilians and no military personnel were involved.

RECENT HELICOPTER CRASHES
14 Jul 2008: Six Ukrainian civilians and Afghan girl die in crash in Helmand. Suspected enemy fire
6 Jul 2008: One UK and two Canadian soldiers die in crash in Zabul province. Enemy fire not suspected
15 Jan 2008: Afghan general and 12 other soldiers die in crash in Herat province. Bad weather blamed
30 May 2007: Seven killed as Nato Chinook crashes in Helmand. Cause unclear

The condition of the injured was not known, she said.

Vertical-T was founded in 1992 and started to work abroad in 1998 in Italy. It has worked in countries including Germany, East Timor, Cyprus, Yemen and Greece, according to the company’s website.

The company’s helicopters are currently carrying out operations in the interests of the UN in Afghanistan and a number of other countries including Congo, Sudan and Pakistan.

The dead in Tuesday’s crash in Helmand were all civilians.

That helicopter crashed near the Sangin military base, with local people saying it had been shot down by insurgents.

Six Ukrainian crew members of the Mi-26 helicopter died, along with an Afghan girl on the ground.

July 15, 2009

Russian activist ‘found murdered’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:55 pm

Russian activist ‘found murdered’

A prominent Russian human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, has been found dead in the North Caucasus.

She was bundled into a van and abducted as she left her home in Chechnya on Wednesday morning, a colleague said. Her body was found in Ingushetia.

The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed “outrage” at the murder, and ordered a top-level investigation.

Ms Estemirova had been investigating human rights abuses in Chechnya for the independent Memorial group.

Memorial is one of Russia’s best known rights groups, working to document Soviet-era abuses and those taking place more recently, especially in Chechnya.

In recent months, she had been gathering evidence of a campaign of house-burnings by government-backed militias.

Forcefully taken

Ms Estemirova, who was 50 according to Russian prosecutors, had worked in the past with the activists Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in 2006, and Stanislav Markelov, who was killed in January this year.

In 2007 she was awarded the inaugural Anna Politkovskaya Prize, and had also received awards from the Swedish and European parliaments, Memorial said.

In a statement the group said she “was forcefully taken from her house into a car and shouted that she was being kidnapped” at about 0830 local time (0430 GMT).

Her body was found in woodland near Nazran, the main city in neighbouring Ingushetia, about nine hours later. She had bullet wounds to the head and chest.

Dangerous work

The New-York based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Ms Estemirova had been working on “extremely sensitive” cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

“There is no shred of doubt that she was targeted due to her professional activity,” said Tanya Lokshina, HRW’s Russian researcher in Moscow.

Ms Estemirova was engaged in very important and dangerous work, says the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Moscow, investigating hundreds of cases of alleged kidnapping, torture and extra-judicial killings by Russian government troops or militias in Chechnya.

Memorial says it believes that government security services of some nature must be involved in her killing.

Our correspondent says no evidence of that has emerged so far, but that it was the government sponsored militias that had most to fear from her work.

She is the most recent in a long line of human rights activists and lawyers to have been killed or attacked in Russia. The history of these sorts of cases over many years is that very rarely are their killers ever brought to justice, our correspondent says.

July 12, 2009

Russian Roma face image problem

Filed under: Latest, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:03 am

Russian Roma face image problem

As part of a series on Roma Gypsies in Europe,we examines how their reputation has changed in modern-day Russia.

Burned Roma house

“Houses started to burn”: a Roma drug dealer’s house

Russians have traditionally tended to think of Roma (Gypsies) in two ways: as horse-dealers and rustlers, or as rolling stones, wandering around the world in colourful costumes and singing romantic songs.

But in the new Russia this old image has been replaced by a different one – one generated by media reports from villages where Roma drug dealers sell heroin.

And although pro-Roma organisations try to argue that this picture does not apply to all Roma, their voice is drowned out by the media.

“All of a sudden, their houses started to burn because of some electrical problems, and entire clans would leave,” remembers Yevgenii Malenkin from Russian non-governmental organisation City Without Drugs, pointing to a burned house not far from Yekaterinburg, in central Russia.

Mr Malenkin says that about seven years ago Roma people living in the house were openly selling heroin.

“Right here on the crossroads crowds gathered, waiting for drugs to arrive. Those who had received their dose were lying in the bushes nearby. And police cars would be there too, providing security for the Gypsies,” he says.

There are no Roma engineers, no Roma doctors, they are all drug dealers
Yevgenii Malenkin

City Without Drugs started fighting drug addiction and drug dealing in Yekaterinburg 10 years ago.

But it seems Mr Malenkin’s attitude towards Roma has been tainted by his experience.

“There are no Roma engineers, no Roma doctors, they are all drug dealers. There are five Roma villages in Yekaterinburg and all five trade drugs,” he says.

Misrepresented

Nikolai Bessonov, one of the best known Russian specialists on Roma, believes that they are misrepresented in Russia.

“The real number of drug-dealers among Roma is exaggerated. The news only shows the drug-dealers. We never hear about Roma who study in universities, work on a farm, we don’t see Roma engineers or Roma doctors,” says Mr Bessonov, whose daughter and son-in-law are actors in a famous Moscow Roma theatre, the Roman.

Mr Bessonov lives in a village near Moscow where, he says, there are many Roma of “respectable” professions: a lawyer, a jeweller and a number of legitimate traders.

But the media tends to ignore them and this leads to misunderstanding.

A recent poll by the independent Levada Centre found that 52% of Russians think negatively of Roma.

According to Russia’s 2002 census, there are 183,000 Roma in the country.

But Mr Bessonov estimates the number to be nearer 250,000.

Secret identity

Nikolai Bugai, foreign relations counsellor at the ministry of regional development, says that Roma are able to live in harmony with the rest of the community.

Traditional Roma

Can reviving traditions improve the image of the Roma?

He recently visited a village in the Krasnodar region in the south of Russia, where out of a population of 13,000, at least 5,000 were Roma.

“There is a farm there of 220 hectares, which is headed by a Roma and the workers are also Roma,” says Mr Bugai.

Nikolai Bessonov believes that Roma people themselves are partly responsible for their negative image, in that they prefer to keep their identities secret.

“When I try to write about Roma who work, I ask a Roma doctor if I can talk about him, but he refuses, saying that he doesn’t want his patients to find out who he really is because that might create work-related problems. I approach a teacher and she tells me the same thing,” he says.

It has been said that those Roma who have assimilated into society have therefore partly lost their Roma identity.

But Mr Bessonov disagrees.

“When Russians stopped wearing beards and woven bast shoes, stopped farming and went to work at a factory or became, for instance, engineers, no one said that they ‘assimilated’. So why when a Roma goes to work in a mine or study at a university, do people say that he has assimilated?” asks the historian.

Our women want to work, but they can’t find anything because they are illiterate
Elza Mihai

He says it is important that Roma continue to respect their traditions, no matter what they do in life.

Many Roma are afraid to assimilate and so they don’t send their children to school. And if they do, it’s only for a year or two, so that children learn to read and write.

But the lack of a complete education makes it difficult for these children to find a job later on in life.

“Our women want to work, but they can’t find anything because they are illiterate,” says Elza Mihai, a teacher from a Roma village in the Leningrad region.

Myths and prejudices

Ms Mihai hopes that with such difficulty in finding employment, Roma people will eventually be convinced to send their children to school for longer than just a couple of years.

But better education alone will not improve the negative image of Roma in Russia.

After all, there are many myths and prejudices about other, well educated peoples.

Nikolai Bessonov hopes that revival of Roma folklore will help improve the image of Roma in Russia.

Together with his daughter and Roma son-in-law, Mr Bessonov has created a folklore group “Svenko”, where artists in typical colourful Roma costumes dance and sing Roma romances.

July 6, 2009

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:16 pm

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have reached an outline agreement to cut back their nations’ stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

The “joint understanding” signed in Moscow would see reductions of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1,700 each within seven years of a new treaty.

The accord would replace the 1991 Start I treaty, which expires in December.

Mr Obama said the two countries were both “committed to leaving behind the suspicion and the rivalry of the past”.

Separately, Russia also agreed to allow the US military to fly troops and weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, allowing it to avoid using supply routes through Pakistan that are attacked by militants.

On a range of issues, differences remain between us
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The two countries also will set up a joint commission to co-operate over energy, and fighting terrorism and drug-trafficking. Military co-operation, suspended since last year’s conflict between Russia and Georgia, will be resumed.

However, on the contentious issue of US plans to base parts of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, the presidents merely said they had agreed to a joint study into ballistic missile threats and the creation of a data exchange centre.

‘Frank’ discussions

After three hours of talks at the Kremlin on Monday, Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev publicly signed a joint understanding to negotiate a new arms control treaty that would set lower levels of both nuclear warheads and delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and bombers.

US-RUSSIA NUCLEAR DEAL
Each country to cut deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500-1,675 (currently 1,700-2,200)
Delivery systems to be within 500-1,000 range (currently 1,600)
Reductions so be achieved within seven years of new treaty
Treaty to be signed before Start I expires in December and include “effective” verification measures

“Within seven years after this treaty comes into force, and in future, the limits for strategic delivery systems should be within the range of 500-1,100 units and for warheads linked to them within the range of 1,500-1,675 units,” the document said.

Under the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, each country is allowed between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed nuclear warheads and 1,600 delivery systems – meaning each side might only be required to decommission a further 25 warheads.

Correspondents also point out that the proposed cuts would still leave the US and Russia able to destroy each other many times over.

A White House statement said the new treaty would “include effective verification measures” and “enhance the security of both the US and Russia, as well as provide predictability and stability in strategic offensive forces”.

Afterwards, Mr Medvedev said the talks had been “very frank and very sincere”, but that they had been, “without any doubt, the meeting we had been waiting for in Russia and the United States”.

“I would like particularly to stress that our country would like to reach a level of co-operation with the United States that would really be worthy of the 21st Century, and which would ensure international peace and security,” he said.

Russians spell out their hopes for Obama visit

But the Russian leader cautioned that there remained “differences on many issues”, most notably on the proposed US missile defence shield.

Mr Obama said he and Mr Medvedev were countering a “sense of drift” and were now resolved “to reset US-Russian relations so that we can co-operate more effectively in areas of common interest”.

“We must lead by example, and that’s what we are doing here today,” he said.

The US president said he was confident a legally binding disarmament treaty would be signed by the end of the year, when Start I expires.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama will meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

He said last week that he thought the former Russian president had “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new”.

“I think that it’s important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev, that Putin understands that the old Cold War approaches to US-Russian relations is outdated, that it’s time to move forward in a different direction,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr Putin responded: “We stand solidly on our own two feet and always look into the future.”

Graph showing US and Russian nuclear weapon stockpiles

January 6, 2009

Europe’s reliance on Russian gas

Europe’s reliance on Russian gas

A gas storage and transit point on the main gas pipeline from Russia in the village of Boyarka near the capital Kiev, Ukraine

Turned-off taps have caused gas shortages in Europe

The latest developments in the dispute over the price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas has yet again affected deliveries to other countries.

Several countries in Europe have reported a sharp decline or even complete cessation of gas supplies from Russia via pipelines through Ukraine.

This has reinforced unease in Europe about the important role that Russia has a supplier of gas.

A quarter of the gas used in the European Union (EU) comes from Russia.

And that share will rise.

Increasingly dominant

Europe’s need for gas is likely to increase.

Europe’s gas pipeline network

Economic growth, when it resumes after the current recession, will mean more demand for electricity.

Gas accounts for about a fifth of the EU’s electricity and the share is likely to grow, partly because gas produces less by way of greenhouse gas emissions than coal or oil.

The EU does have other suppliers, including Norway and Algeria by pipeline, and Qatar and Algeria, again, by ship.

But Russia, with the world’s largest gas reserves and an extensive network of pipelines to Europe, is likely to be increasingly dominant.

Soviet legacy

The EU, unless it drastically changes its energy strategy, will need Russia.

EU GAS IMPORTS FROM RUSSIA
100% dependent on Russia: Latvia, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia
More than 80% dependent: Bulgaria, Lithuania, Czech Republic
More than 60% dependent: Greece, Austria, Hungary
Source: European Council on Foreign Relations, 2006 figures

But Russia in turn needs Europe to buy its gas, and also its oil.

So it is not in Russia’s interest for Europe to become more wary of using gas as an energy source.

So far the disturbances to EU supplies have been a side effect of the recurrent dispute between Russia and Ukraine, with both sides blaming the other for the reduced supplies to the west.

The quarrels are a legacy of the end of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine has been receiving relatively cheap gas.

Russia’s Gazprom wants to charge more, and the negotiations are complicated further by questions about what fees Ukraine should receive for gas crossing its territory.

Some European countries are protected with substantial stocks to cover any supply disruptions for many weeks, although some, such as Bulgaria have very little cover.

The disruptions also reinforce the attractions of developing new pipelines that avoid potential problem areas.


Have you been affected? Are you worried by the crisis?

Send your comments

December 30, 2008

Private firms to haul ISS cargo

Private firms to haul ISS cargo

Dragon capsule (SpaceX)

The Dragon capsule is designed to carry cargo or crew

Cut off in the seclusion of space, crew members living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) depend on regular deliveries of air, water, food and fuel for their survival.

But when the ageing space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010, the US space agency (Nasa) will lose a principal means of ferrying crew and cargo to the ISS.

The shuttle’s replacement – Ares-Orion – will not enter service until 2015 at the earliest.

And in April, Nasa told legislators it would stop asking for Congressional permission to buy cargo space on Russian Progress re-supply vehicles after 2011.

I don’t think the market can support more than two companies. And it’s going to be hard for it even to support two
Antonio Elias, executive VP, Orbital

That leaves the US dependent on European and Japanese spacecraft for delivering supplies to the space station.

But Nasa has also been pursuing a commercial approach.

Three years ago, the space agency took the unprecedented step of fostering the development of private spacecraft designed to carry crew and cargo to the ISS.

It offered $500m (£340m) in “seed money” to help stimulate a competitive market for supply flights to the space station.

This month, Nasa awarded two companies – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation – with lucrative contracts to provide cargo delivery flights to the ISS up to 2016.

Nasa’s administrator Michael Griffin said he hoped the commercial ventures would succeed. But he told BBC News recently: “It’s not commercial if Nasa is sitting around telling them what to do and how to do it. I don’t think they need that.”

Elon Musk, the South Africa-born entrepreneur who co-founded SpaceX, says: “Even when [Ares-Orion] does come online, it’s sort of overkill to use it for servicing the space station. It would be incredibly expensive. So Nasa looked to the private sector to solve its problem.”

Mr Musk made a fortune from the sale of his internet payment service PayPal to eBay and has invested at least $100m (£68m) of his own money in SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California.

The company’s cargo re-supply plans are based around a rocket called Falcon 9. The standard version of the Falcon 9 is arguably a medium-lift launcher, says Mr Musk, designed to place 9,900kg into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Assembly of the first Falcon 9 at SpaceX’s new launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, should be complete by 31 December 2008.

“To external appearances, it looks like something from the Apollo programme, or Gemini, or Soyuz. But the materials are much more advanced, it’s designed to be reusable – which is an important characteristic,” Mr Musk told BBC News.

Inflatable hotel

Falcon 9 is the intended launch vehicle for a capsule, called Dragon, measuring some three and a half metres (12ft) in diameter. Dragon is designed to carry more than 2,500kg of cargo, or a crew of up to seven, into LEO.

DRAGON CAPSULE
Infographic (BBC/SpaceX)
Pressurised capacity of 2,500kg or 14 cubic metres
Crewed version will carry up to seven astronauts
Highly heat resistant material protects craft on re-entry
Designed for water landing with parachute

It is capable of carrying both pressurised items – those that need to be kept at Earth pressure and are to be used inside the space station – and unpressurised cargo – to be used outside the ISS, such as control moment gyros.

“The Falcon 9-Dragon system is intended to replace the function of the space shuttle when that retires in 2010,” says Elon Musk.

Falcon 9 will place Dragon in an initial parking orbit. From there it will manoeuvre towards the ISS. Dragon will make a slow approach and, once in range, will be grabbed by the space station’s robotic arm and berthed.

During the high speed return to Earth, Dragon will be protected by a heat shield made of phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA). This highly heat-resistant material is barely scathed at heat fluxes that would vapourise steel.

The capsule will parachute down to the sea for recovery.

Safety is of paramount consideration: the manned version will have an escape tower to rescue the crew if something goes wrong – a feature absent from the space shuttle.”

“Hopefully we’ll do the first demonstration flight next year of the Falcon 9-Dragon system, then particular demonstrations in 2010 and start doing operation missions possibly by the end of 2010,” Mr Musk told BBC News.

PICA heatshield (SpaceX)

A heatshield made of PICA protects Dragon during re-entry

First of all, Dragon will carry astronauts from Nasa and from other space agencies to the ISS. But Mr Musk hopes also to transport space tourists to private orbiting stations.

One company, Bigelow Aerospace, is planning to assemble an orbiting “space hotel” based on a series of inflatable modules.

“We have also thought of perhaps carrying private space adventurers on a loop around the Moon,” says Mr Musk, adding that this would probably cost on the order of $40m-$50m per person.

“I think there is a wide range of applications. Perhaps the Falcon 9-Dragon system will ultimately evolve into something that will take people to Mars.”

‘Big empty can’

The other winning bid in Nasa’s cargo re-supply contract was made by Orbital Sciences Corporation, based in Dulles, Virginia.

Orbital’s vehicle consists of a medium-lift rocket called Taurus 2 which will be used to launch the Cygnus capsule. Unlike Dragon, Cygnus will only carry cargo – not astronauts.

CYGNUS CAPSULE
Cygnus (Orbital Sciences Corporation)
Pressurised capacity of 2,000kg, or 18.7 cubic metres
Service module contains propulsion, power and avionics
Accommodates pressurised, unpressurised and cargo return modules
Space station robotic arm used to berth capsule

Launching from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the medium-lift rocket will be able to ferry 5,500kg into LEO. Orbital is due to carry out a demonstration flight in the fourth quarter of 2010.”We took a bunch of existing parts but combined them in a way that is very, very efficient,” says Dr Antonio Elias, Orbital’s executive vide-president, who is overseeing the development of the new system.

Cygnus is based around a common service module, containing the vehicle’s propulsion, power systems and avionics. To this common module is added one of three types of specialised cargo modules – each designed for different mission scenarios.

One of these specialised modules will carry pressurised cargo, another will transfer unpressurised cargo, and a third type of module will return cargo items from the space station to Earth.

“The one that will be used the most, I believe, is the pressurised cargo module,” Orbital’s executive vice president told BBC News.

Dr Elias describes this module as a “big empty can”. It is “volumetrically efficient and light” because, says Dr Elias, “all it has to do is bring cargo up”.

The task is significantly bigger than anything either company has ever done
John Pike, GlobalSecurity.org

“It gets attached to the station, the hatch opens and crew empty the pressurised ‘can’ of its contents. They fill it up with trash, close the hatch. The service module backs it out of position and de-orbits it over the Pacific Ocean. Both can and service module then perish in a fiery ball of plasma,” Dr Elias told BBC News.

The unpressurised module is less efficient because some complex, heavy mechanisms are required to attach cargo: “The boxes you carry have to be very far apart because the (ISS robotic arm) has to come around and handle them. You have to give it lots of clearance,” says Dr Elias.

The efficiency of the cargo return module, he says, is relatively low because of the shielding, parachutes and other paraphernalia required. He expected only a fraction of re-supply flights would require the use of this module.

Orbital says this approach of using specialised modules keeps development costs low.

Rocket origin

Dr Elias was chief designer of Orbital’s Pegasus rocket, the first privately developed launch vehicle, which made its maiden flight in 1990.

A few years ago, he says, Orbital came up with an idea to re-supply the space station using Pegasus. But, at the time, the benefits were not clear to either Orbital or Nasa.

In fact, the origins of Orbital’s Taurus 2-Cygnus system can be traced to the demise of the Delta 2 rocket.

For two decades, the Delta 2 had been the US fleet’s most reliable medium-lift launcher for military, scientific and commercial payloads. It is still a perfectly good rocket, but Nasa plans to make its final Delta 2 launch at the end of the decade, shifting more of its medium-lift launch traffic to the Atlas 5 or Delta 4 heavy launch vehicles.

SpaceX HQ (SpaceX)

The SpaceX HQ occupies 50,000 sq m in Hawthorne, California

The US Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs), though significantly bigger, are expected to be comparable in cost in the long run – if not cheaper – than the Delta 2.

“We became concerned that the US government satellites we were bidding for, winning and building in this class would disappear for lack of a launch vehicle,” Dr Elias explains.

“We were concerned this would favour the larger spacecraft launches on [EELVs] and that the market would go to the big companies, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman.”

Orbital began designing a successor to the Delta 2 with its own money. Although the company was on solid financial ground, finding a market to justify the expense was not easy. But a new opportunity was about to present itself.

Market forces

In August 2006, Nasa selected two companies – SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler – to develop and demonstrate orbital re-supply vehicles under its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) programme, setting the firms aggressive timelines.

The space agency dropped Rocketplane Kistler a year into the programme; the company reportedly failed to meet a development milestone to Nasa’s satisfaction.

“We decided to make an offering whereby Orbital would provide out of its own funds not only the additional money to develop Taurus 2, but also a space vehicle that would be suitable to provide those services,” said Dr Elias.

Cygnus (Orbital Sciences Corporation)

Cygnus will be grabbed by the space station’s robotic arm

Orbital filled the void left by the departure of Rocketplane Kistler, winning a Nasa contract under Phase II of COTS.

Each of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts awarded to SpaceX and Orbital in December is worth a potential $3.1bn (£2.1bn). But the market itself remains very small.

“I don’t think the market can support more than two companies. And it’s going to be hard for it even to support two,” Dr Elias told.

“However, as prudent businessmen, we did not embark on this venture believing we would grab 100% of the demand. So we are willing to be profitable in a situation where we only have half of it.”

Artist's impression of Taurus 2 rocket (Orbital)

Orbital’s Taurus 2 rocket uses tried and tested technology

Observers point out that Nasa is betting on vehicles which do not yet exist, an approach which presents a major risk for the space agency.Not only is it relying on two companies to keep supplies coming to the ISS, Nasa hopes the rocket and cargo vehicles can be developed in months – not the years it has usually taken other agency programmes.

“The task is significantly bigger than anything either company has ever done,” John Pike, a space policy analyst for GlobalSecurity.org, told the LA Times.

“All of these things strike me as significant challenges for even the biggest aerospace companies.”

But Nasa is not putting all its eggs in one basket. It can still barter for cargo space aboard the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and Japan’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle, or HTV, which is due to enter service in 2009.

Europe also plans to modify the ATV so that it can bring cargo back from the space station, a capability Nasa is eager to have.

Announcing the award of the CRS contract, Bill Gerstenmaier, Nasa’s chief of space operations, said: “This is a pretty monumental thing for us, this is a contract that we really need to keep space station flying and to service space station.”

He added: “I think it’s exciting we’re doing this from the commercial side. We’ve got some good proposals and we’ve chosen the two winners.”

Elon Musk (Getty)

December 16, 2008

Israel tourism bus crash kills 24

Israel tourism bus crash kills 24

A bus carrying Russian visitors has plunged into a ravine in southern Israel, killing at least 24 people, rescue workers say.

More than 50 passengers were on the bus when it came off a desert road and rolled down a steep slope near the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Several of those hurt were said to be in a serious condition.

The group had only just arrived and were being transported to Eilat from Ovda airport in the Negev desert.

The group had come from the Russian city of St Petersburg. Local media reports said they were travel agents from the city on a trip to survey the Red Sea resort.

Dozens of rescue workers, ambulances and several air force helicopters rushed to the site to evacuate the injured.

Map

Television footage showed the blue bus on its side at the bottom of the ravine.

Several of the passengers were thrown from the bus as it rolled down the slope, an eyewitness said. Luggage and wreckage lay strewn across the slope.

Some of the casualties were taken to hospital in Eilat, where medical personnel attending a conference were drafted in to help out. Others were flown to the town of Beersheba, a police spokesman said.

Six injured people who were trapped in the bus were rescued, an Israeli military officer said.

“They were saved because they were trapped in their seats,” the Associated Press news agency quoted the unidentified officer as saying.

The Russian embassy in Tel Aviv said it had sent a representative to the scene of the accident.

‘Overtook’

It is being seen as a tragic accident rather than any kind of attack.

The road where the accident happened links Eilat, a popular holiday destination, with Ovda airport, some 50km (30 miles) away.

The bus lies at the bottom of the ravine

The bus broke through a rail and rolled down a ravine, witnesses said.

It crosses mountainous terrain and involves a series of hair-pin bends.

The driver of another bus said that the vehicle overtook him in a no-passing zone and then crashed through a guard rail, the Associated Press news agency reported.

A taxi driver who saw the accident gave a similar account to Israeli public radio.

“The driver of the bus tried to overtake another bus in a hair-pin curve and lost control of his vehicle,” he said.

Have you been affected by the crash? You can send us your comments

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.