News & Current Affairs

November 4, 2008

Indian Moon probe pictures Earth

Earth (ISRO)

The terrain mapping camera will eventually help compile an atlas of the Moon

India’s Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft has sent back its first images.

The probe was launched on 22 October to embark on a two-year mission of exploration at the Moon.

Ground controllers in Bangalore instructed the probe to take pictures with its Terrain Mapping Camera as the spacecraft made a pass of the Earth.

Chandrayaan also fired its engines for three minutes to carry out an orbit raising manoeuvre which takes the probe closer to the lunar body.

That was the fourth manoeuvre of its type made by the spacecraft, extending its orbit to more than half the distance to the Moon.

Just one more like it is required to take Chandrayaan into the Moon’s vicinity, at a distance of 384,000km from Earth.

Keeping up

The first images, taken at an altitude of 9,000km, show the northern coast of Australia while others, snapped at a height of 70,000km, show Australia’s southern coast.

Earth (ISRO)

The camera takes black and white images at a resolution of 5m

The Terrain Mapping Camera is one of the eleven scientific instruments aboard Chandrayaan 1. The camera takes black and white pictures at a resolution of about 5m.

Once Chandrayaan reaches the Moon, it will slip into orbit to compile a 3D atlas of the lunar surface and map the distribution of elements and minerals.

The mission is regarded as a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace with other spacefaring nations in Asia.

The health of Chandrayaan 1 is being continuously monitored from the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bangalore with support from Indian Deep Space Network antennas at Byalalu.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) – the country’s space agency – says that all systems have been performing well.

September 27, 2008

Chinese astronaut walks in space

Chinese astronaut walks in space

A Chinese astronaut has become the first in his country’s history to take a walk in space.

In an operation broadcast live on national TV, fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang emerged from the capsule orbiting the Earth to wave a Chinese flag.

Mr Zhai, 42, stayed outside the capsule for 15 minutes while his two fellow astronauts stayed in the spacecraft.

The exercise is seen as key to China’s ambition to build an orbiting station in the next few years.

Mr Zhai began the manoeuvre just after 1630 Beijing Time (0830 GMT) on Saturday, and completed it about 15 minutes later.

“I’m feeling quite well. I greet the Chinese people and the people of the world,” he said as he climbed out of the Shenzhou VII capsule.

His colleague, Liu Boming, also briefly got his head out of the capsule to hand him the flag.

Mr Zhai wore a Chinese-made spacesuit thought to have cost between £5m and £20m ($10m-$40m) for the space walk.

The “yuhangyuan” (astronaut) was tethered to the capsule with an umbilical cable.

Mr Zhai retrieved an externally mounted experiment.

The third yuhangyuan on the mission is Jing Haipeng.

Leap

The Shenzhou VII capsule soared into orbit on a Long March II-F rocket from Jiuquan spaceport in north-west China on 25 September.

1958: Base for spaceflights built at Jiuquan, in Gobi desert
April 1970: China launches its first satellite into space
1990-2002: Shenzhou I-IV are launched to develop systems
Oct 2003: The first manned space mission launches on Shenzhou V
Oct 2005: The Shenzhou VI mission takes two men into space
Oct 2007: Chang’e-1 orbiter sent on unmanned mission to the Moon

The rocket put the Shenzhou capsule in a near-circular orbit more than 300km above the Earth.

Earlier, Zhang Jianqi, one of the chief engineers for China’s space programme, said keeping three men in the spacecraft, and then sending one outside, would be a “big test”.

“This is a big technological leap,” he told state-run news agency Xinhua.

“The risks are quite high. Sending up three astronauts is a jump both in quantity and quality.”

The ship is to release a 40kg (90lb) satellite which will circle the orbiter and beam back images to mission control.

At the end of the mission, the Shenzhou re-entry capsule will target a landing in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

China became only the third nation after the United States and Russia to independently put a man in space when Yang Liwei, another fighter pilot, went into orbit on the Shenzhou V mission in October 2003.

Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a five-day flight on Shenzhou VI.

According to the Associated Press news agency, Xinhua posted an article on its website prior to the lift-off that was written as if Shenzhou VII had already been launched into space.

The article reportedly carried a date of 27 September and came complete with a dialogue between the astronauts.

Chinese media report that this latest mission is the “most critical step” in the country’s “three-step” space programme.

These stages are: sending a human into orbit, docking spacecraft together to form a small laboratory and, ultimately, building a large space station.

The Shenzhou VIII and IX missions are expected to help set up a space laboratory complex in 2010.

China launched an unmanned Moon probe last year about one month after rival Japan blasted its own lunar orbiter into space.
SHENZHOU VII SPACECRAFT

1. Forward orbital module – crew live and work in this section, which contains scientific equipment. In future missions, this module may remain in orbit as part of a Chinese space station
2. Re-entry capsule – contains seats for three crew
3. Propulsion module – contains spacecraft’s power unit and liquid fuel rocket system
4. Solar panels – spacecraft carries one pair of solar panels
5. Spacewalk – One yuhangyuan (astronaut) exits the orbital module on a tether. Another crew member stands just inside to assist in case of an emergency

September 26, 2008

China astronauts braced for walk

China astronauts braced for walk

The spacecraft is now in a stable, circular orbit

China’s three astronauts have spent their first day in orbit preparing for the mission’s spacewalk.

A 42-year-old fighter pilot, Zhai Zhigang, is due to carry out the 20-minute manoeuvre at 1630 Beijing Time (0830 GMT) on Saturday.

It will be the first time Chinese yuhangyuan (astronauts) have ventured outside their spacecraft.

Their Shenzhou VII capsule soared into orbit on a Long March II-F rocket from Jiuquan spaceport in north-west China.

The rocket put the Shenzhou capsule in a near-circular orbit more than 300km above the Earth.

Mr Zhai is joined on the mission by two other “yuhangyuan” – Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng.

The astronauts have been training in a water tank

Zhang Jianqi, one of the chief engineers for China’s space programme, said keeping three men in the spacecraft, and then sending one outside, would be a “big test”.

“This is a big technological leap,” he told state-run news agency Xinhua.

“The risks are quite high. Sending up three astronauts is a jump both in quantity and quality.”

When Mr Zhai carries out his extra-vehicular activity (EVA), he is expected to wear a Chinese-made spacesuit thought to have cost between £5m and £20m ($10m-$40m).

1958: Base for spaceflights built at Jiuquan, in Gobi desert
April 1970: China launches its first satellite into space
1990-2002: Shenzhou I-IV are launched to develop systems
Oct 2003: The first manned space mission launches on Shenzhou V
Oct 2005: The Shenzhou VI mission takes two men into space
Oct 2007: Chang’e-1 orbiter sent on unmanned mission to the Moon

The yuhanguan will be tethered to the capsule with a cable that provides him with life support and a communications link with the spacecraft.

His back-up, Mr Liu, will monitor the activity, presumably to reel the spacewalker back inside if there is an emergency.

Mr Zhai will retrieve an externally mounted experiment and oversee the release of a satellite.

During their 68 hours in orbit, the astronauts will be able to enjoy an unprecedented choice of food. The menu includes spicy chicken with peanuts, shrimps and dry fruits.

“We have tried to make them taste like stir-fried dishes they have on Earth,” Chen Bin, who is in charge of food for the astronauts, told state-run news agency Xinhua.

At the end of the mission, the Shenzhou re-entry capsule will target a landing in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

China became only the third nation after the United States and Russia to independently put a man in space when Yang Liwei, another fighter pilot, went into orbit on the Shenzhou V mission in October 2003.

Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a five-day flight on Shenzhou VI.

According to the Associated Press, Xinhua posted an article on its website prior to the lift-off that was written as if Shenzhou VII had already been launched into space.

The article reportedly carried a date of 27 September and came complete with a dialogue between the astronauts.

Chinese media report that this latest mission is the “most critical step” in the country’s “three-step” space programme.

These stages are: sending a human into orbit, docking spacecraft together to form a small laboratory and, ultimately, building a large space station.

The Shenzhou VIII and IX missions are expected to help set up a space laboratory complex in 2010.

China launched an unmanned Moon probe last year about one month after rival Japan blasted its own lunar orbiter into space.

September 19, 2008

Europe plans asteroid sample grab

Europe plans asteroid sample grab

British scientists and engineers are working on a potential new mission to bring back material from an asteroid.

The European Space Agency (Esa) mission, which could launch in the next decade, would be designed to learn more about how our Solar System evolved.

The plan is to select a small asteroid – less than 1km across – near Earth and send a spacecraft there to drill for dust and rubble for analysis.

Mission plans are being worked on at EADS Astrium, in Stevenage, Herts.

A final decision on whether to approve the mission – known as Marco Polo – will be made in a few years’ time. The mission would launch towards the end of the next decade.

Asteroids are debris left over from the formation of the Solar System about 4.6 billion years ago.

Studying their pristine material should provide new insights into the ingredients of the early Solar System and how planets like Earth evolved.

“We’ll be looking at the best solution for getting there and back,” Astrium’s Dr Ralph Cordey told News.

“We’ve got to look at all elements of the mission – how we would design the mission, how to design the trajectory to one of a number of possible asteroids, how to optimize that so we use the smallest spacecraft, the least fuel and the smallest rocket.”

Marco Polo (EADS Astrium)

Marco Polo would map the asteroid as well as grabbing a sample

Esa has an exploration roadmap for the missions it wishes to conduct in the coming years.

One of its major goals is a Mars sample return mission – a mission to bring back pieces of Martian rock for study in Earth laboratories, where the full panoply of modern analytical technologies can be deployed.

An asteroid sample return mission would have huge scientific merit in its own right but it would also help develop the technology needed for the more challenging task of getting down and up from a large planetary body that has a much bigger gravitational pull.

Not that getting down on to a small, low-gravity body is easy. The wrong approach could crush landing legs or even result in the vehicle bouncing straight back off into space.

Such problems were amply demonstrated by the recent Japanese attempts to grab samples off the surface of an asteroid.

It is still not clear whether the Hayabusa spacecraft managed to capture any material and the probe’s return to Earth is still haunted by uncertainty.

The Americans landed on an asteroid with their Near-Shoemaker probe in 2001.

They have also sent the Dawn spacecraft to rendezvous with Asteroid Vesta in 2011 before going on to visit Asteroid Ceres in 2015.

There is even feasibility work going on in the US space agency to look at how astronauts could be sent on an asteroid mission one day.

September 8, 2008

China sets dates for space launch

China sets dates for space launch

Shenzhou VI launches in 2005

China has already launched two manned flights

China will launch its third manned space mission in late September, state-run news agency Xinhua reports.

The Shenzhou VII flight will feature China’s first ever space walk, which will be broadcast live with cameras inside and outside the spacecraft.

Three “yuhangyuan” (astronauts) will blast off on a Long-March II-F rocket sometime between 25 and 30 September.

Previous reports in state media had put the launch in October, possibly during the National Day holiday.

In 2003, China became only the third country in the world to send a human into orbit. It followed with a two-man mission in 2005.

The spacecraft will be launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the country’s north-western Gansu province.

Technically demanding

Technicians have been busily checking the readiness of the spacecraft, which will carry the crew into orbit on a mission lasting up to five days.

This flight will be more technically demanding than the last.

Performer in space suit during Olympics opening ceremony (Getty)

China highlighted its space successes during the Beijing Olympics

For the spacewalk, two crew members will go into the spacecraft’s vacuum module. One yuhangyuan will carry out the spacewalk; the other is there to monitor the activity and assist in case of an emergency.Two types of spacesuits – one made in China, the other from Russia – will be carried up on the flight.

It is unclear why China has opted for two different types of spacesuit.

Spaceflight analyst Dr Morris Jones commented that China might want to test the suits against each other. Alternatively, he said, it might not be ready or willing to fly a mission exclusively with its own suits.

The crew members, whose identities have not been released, have been training in a water tank to get used to weightlessness and to study procedures for the flight.

Bad vibrations

The Shenzhou spacecraft closely resembles the Russian Soyuz capsules, but is substantially larger. Unlike the Soyuz, it has an orbital module that is equipped with its own propulsion, allowing autonomous flight.

Testing of the spacecraft and the Long-March II-F rocket which will loft it into orbit is now complete, a Chinese space official told Xinhua.

Engineers have reportedly made over 30 technical improvements to the new rocket.

“There were some rocket vibrations after it took off which sometimes made our astronauts experience physical discomfort,” Jin Muchun, the Long-March II-F’s chief designer, told the state-owned television channel CCTV9 in July.

“So we have been trying to eliminate the vibrations by changing the frequency of the engine and the electric circuit of the rocket.”

According to reports, a small satellite will also be launched during the mission.

China launched an unmanned Moon probe last year about one month after rival Japan blasted its own lunar orbiter into space.

In July, Dr Michael Griffin, the head of the US space agency (Nasa), told News that China was capable of sending a manned mission to the Moon in the next decade, if it so wished.

August 14, 2008

Japanese satellite rides skyward

Japanese satellite rides skyward

Ariane launch (Esa)

An early evening launch for Ariane

The first wholly home-designed and built telecommunications satellite for Japan has gone safely into orbit.

The Superbird-7 spacecraft went up on an Ariane rocket from Europe’s Kourou launch facility in French Guiana.

Built by the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, the satellite will deliver TV and other services to Japan and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Currently, all Japanese broadcasters and commercial telecoms carriers use space platforms made in the US.

As is customary for an Ariane, the latest mission delivered two satellites into orbit.

The second was the AMC-21 spacecraft, a TV and internet platform whose services will be focussed on North and Central America.

The rocket left the ground at 1744 local time (2044 GMT) and released the Superbird-7 just under half-an-hour later, with the AMC-21 following shortly afterwards.

This flight was the fifth Ariane mission of 2008. Two further flights are planned in the coming months – making this year’s schedule the busiest since the vehicle’s commercial introduction in 1999.

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