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World’s first private moon mission launches

Image Credit: YouTube / SpaceX

The probe was launched in to space atop a Falcon 9 rocket. 

Israel is set to join China, Russia and the US as the fourth nation to achieve a controlled lunar landing.

At around the size of a washing machine and weighing in at 585kg, the robotic lander, which is called Beresheet (the Hebrew word for Genesis), launched atop a SpaceX rocket from Florida this week.

“We thought it’s about time for a change, and we want to get little Israel all the way to the moon,” said Yonatan Winetraub, co-founder of non-profit organization SpaceIL.

“We’ll keep analyzing the data, but bottom line is we entered the very exclusive group of countries that have launched a spacecraft to the moon.”

The project, which cost around $90 million, was privately funded by a number of backers including South African-born Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn and philanthropist Miriam Adelson.

The launch was met with messages of support from several famous faces including Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin who referred to the moon as his “old stomping ground.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine also hailed the launch as “a historic step for all nations and commercial space as we look to extend our collaborations.”

If all goes well, Beresheet should touch down on the lunar surface on April 11th.

Source: The Guardian

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India shoots down satellite, becomes ‘space superpower’

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has claimed his forces shot down a low-earth satellite in a pre-planned test. Such capabilities raise fears of a weaponization of space at a time of rising tension with Pakistan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday that his country’s forces had shot down a low-orbit satellite as part of a test exercise.

Modi said he was proud of his scientists and congratulated those behind the mission. He said the exercise proved India had become a “space superpower,” bringing it in line with the US, Russia and China.

Although Modi said the test exercise, deemed “Mission Shakti” (Hindi for “power”), was not aimed at any one country, the announcement could inflame tensions with Pakistan just days ahead of a crucial election.

Pakinstan responded by urging international action against military threats in space.

“Space is the common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarization of this arena,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Prime Minister Modi was careful to point out that India opposes the weaponization of space, emphasizing that Wednesday’s test did not violate international law.

Indian space expert Ajay Lele underscored Modi’s claim by saying: “India is not placing weapons in space. A ground-based missile defense interceptor system was used to destroy the satellite. If some country or adversary places a satellite for intelligence or for troubling India, India now has the capability to remove such an irritant.”

Modi praised the effort on Twitter, saying it was important because it was an entirely indigenous effort. India has an ambitious space program, having launched probes to the moon and Mars, as well as unveiling plans for a manned space mission by 2022.

Polls are due to open in Indian elections in just days, with the vote lasting six weeks. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is facing a challenge from opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party. The nationalist leader crushed the Congress party at the last general election in 2014.

Analysts said the latest speech fell in line with Modi’s campaign message so far, in which he has presented aspirational goals for India. Modi was quoted as saying “I dream of an India which can think two steps ahead. I dream of an India that is completely self-reliant in every possible way.”

Tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated in recent months, after a militant attack killed 40 policemen in Indian-controlled Kashmir in February. Islamabad denied it was behind the attack, but India responded with a cross-border air strike against what it said was a militant training camp.

Pakistan returned fire with its own air strikes, and by shooting down an Indian plane over Kashmir. The pilot was captured and later released.

Since then, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has offered to talk with Modi over the issue. However, Pakistan has accused the Hindu right-wing leader of capitalizing on the tensions for political gain.

Source www.dw.com

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Astronomer manages to photograph a US experimental ship Boeing X-37B in the orbit of the Earth

Astronomer and professional photographer Ralf Vandebergh took photographs of the unmanned device while moving 300 kilometers up. Little is known of this classified project, initiated by NASA and currently addressed by Boeing and the United States Department of Defense (DARPA).

US experimental ship Boeing X-37B

The raw and processed images released by the Dutch astronomer Ralf Vandebergh.

A Dutch astronomer specializing in satellite monitoring captured the first images of the mysterious spacecraft Boeing X-37B, which is believed to hold the future of the US space program, orbiting the Earth.

Ralf Vandebergh, who is dedicated to taking pictures of planets and satellites from his base in Nijswiller, many of which have been used officially by NASA, published his find last week on his Twitter account.

There you can see the raw and processed image of the Boeing X-37B, an unmanned vehicle that would be testing systems for a new space shuttle, orbiting the earth at about 300 kilometers altitude on a mission called OTV-5 (Orbital Test Vehicle, or Orbital Test Vehicle).

The astronomer had been trying to take a picture of the X-37B, of which little is really known, for months and finally managed to detect its trajectory in May.

Preparing the photo, taken with an ALCCD 5L-11 mono CMOS and 5-inch F / 4.8 telescope, required a little more time.

«When I tried to observe it again in mid-June, it did not fulfill the trajectory and the expected time. Apparently, he had maneuvered into another orbit. Thanks to the amateur network of satellite observers, it was quickly found again and I was able to take the images on June 30 and July 2, “Vandebergh explained.

Boeing X-37B

A Boieng X-37B, the advanced new American space vehicle (US Air Force).

Although the images of the small spaceship are blurred, they have exceeded Vandebergh’s expectations: “We can recognize a bit of the nose, cargo area and tail of this mini-ferry, even with some details”.

Unknown objective

The OTV-5 mission ( the fifth of its kind ) of this X-37B began on September 7, 2017, after being launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, United States.

Its role and objectives are classified and little is known about its real capabilities, although it is believed that it would be collecting data, information, and intelligence, in addition to testing numerous equipment and components.

It is also not known when this mission that will take almost 700 days will end. The last X-37B (OTV-4) landed at the KSC on May 8, 2017, after 718 days orbiting, and it is expected that the OTV-6 will be launched sometime in 2019.

Source: Live Science

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Opening Up the Moon: Q&A with ‘Moon Rush’ Author Leonard David

Humanity is poised to take another giant leap.

The moon is back in vogue.

The United States aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, and then build up a long-term, sustainable presence on Earth’s nearest neighbor. The European Space Agency has repeatedly stressed a desire to establish a “moon village” in the near future, and China has crewed lunar ambitions as well.

And then there’s the private sector. Companies such as Blue Origin, Moon Express and Astrobotic are building landers to deliver payloads to the lunar surface. Before too much longer, such craft may carry mining robots that first test, and then exploit, lunar resources such as water ice, which appears to be plentiful on the floors of permanently shadowed polar craters.

And, in case you hadn’t heard, SpaceX is building a giant spaceship to ferry people to and from the moon, Mars and other solar system destinations.

Author (and longtime Space.com contributor and columnist) Leonard David looks at these coming developments and much more in his new book “Moon Rush: The New Space Race,” which was published this week by National Geographic.

Space.com recently caught up with David to talk about the book and the future of lunar exploration.

Leonard David’s book “Moon Rush” was published by National Geographic on May 7, 2019.

Space.com: People have talked about returning humans to the moon for decades now, since the end of the Apollo program in the early 1970s, but it still hasn’t happened. Is there something different about this moment? Or do you think the momentum we see building will stall? 

Leonard David: In some ways, I’m too old and cranky, and it reminds me of other things that have happened in my lifetime, when the moon was in vogue and the program got curtailed. I lived through all the Apollo landings, and, as you know, there were a lot of other plans beyond Apollo 17. We would’ve gotten a lot bolder — more pinpoint landings on a lot of different parts of the moon.

But I do give credit to the Trump Administration, particularly to the Space Council being re-established. I think that’s the new twist in this story — that council and the people that are on it, trying to help guide the administration to make a space program that can be stood up and withstand the test of time instead of falling apart.

Again, I’ve seen this before, where you get a lot of momentum going and then the monies never arrive, and things start falling apart. Without constancy of purpose, we will relinquish our goal of returning humans to the moon, and other countries are going to fill that void.

Space.com: About those other countries: Apollo was driven largely by a space race with the Soviet Union. Do you see something similar happening today, even if it’s not so overt, with China or other nations?

David: I’ve kind of convinced myself that it’s a little bit of a low-latency Sputnik effect. We’ve got all the makings of a rivalry with other countries, China being on top of the list. And I do think they have a multifaceted program that we haven’t focused on. They may actually have a quite capable space-station program, as well as a moon-landing program. They’re on the far side of the moon with a probe, and they’re going to perhaps launch a [lunar] sample-return mission at the end of the year, depending on how the next Long March 5 launch goes, coming up in July.

It does seem to me to have all the makings of some kind of space race that we’re not really cognizant of. [U.S. Vice President Mike] Pence has said “space race,” so it’s becoming part of the terminology of why we’re going back to the moon.

The other thing is, the idea that the European Space Agency is still involved with a “moon village” and opening that up to other nations is interesting, as well as us building the Lunar Gateway, if that becomes a real program. They try to subdivide that into international involvement — kind of a mini-International Space Station.

So, you put all those pieces together — I don’t know. I smell space race.

Space.com: And you’ve also got all the private companies involved now. 

David: Exactly. When we say “space race,” there are these companies now, too, with private entrepreneurs. The Israeli lander [Beresheet] crashed, but it does show us what could be forthcoming from a lot of private companies and groups.

But I do think that with that come the lawyers. [There will be] different types of governance that are going to be involved on the moon, and the lawyers are already there, sniffing around the craters. I’m not sure we know yet what is really going to happen with the legal aspect of multiple nations going, particularly when the moon is becoming carved up into projected bases. There are certain points on the moon where you want to be, and you want to be there first, before anybody else.

Space.com: Yeah, that’s going to be tricky. There’s a lot of talk about mining lunar resources — not just water ice, but also maybe minerals, and perhaps even helium-3. And if there really are billions and billions of dollars to be made there, then there are going to be lots of fights about who owns what. Is it going to be another land rush? We’re going to see that play out.

David: That’s what I think. You can see that there’s going to be tension; it almost seems like “We’re going to do whatever we want to do and then ask for forgiveness later.”

We’ve seen this before — claim jumpers and whatever — when you go back in history.

Space.com: So, with all of this going on, do you see something big happening with lunar exploration in the next 10 to 20 years?

David: I do. I think some of it’s going to depend on what we find there with the first sorties of humans and more robotic exploration. This lunar ice question is questionable; we’re not sure what we’re dealing with there. We’re not sure what the consistency is, how hard it will be to drag out of the bottom of craters that are ultracold. Can you do that economically?

So, we need a lot more data. If you’re trying to predicate the whole economic value of the moon, you better know what you’re going to go and dig out.

And there’s one thing that’s lurking — I kind of touched on it, but I wish would’ve written more about it — and that’s the military utility of the moon. I think that’s a sleeper thing. You can see even the generals starting to talk about cislunar space. So, this is another higher ground than where we have been in the past, and now we’re going to have cislunar things that the military is very interested in. I think that’s another one that’s coming that we’ll have to keep an eye on.

And then you get into — let’s say you do have an economic windfall on the moon. It’s to a country’s benefit to protect it — make sure nobody tampers with anything. That has all the makings of the conflicts we get down here on Earth.

Space.com: Can we take any lessons about this next giant leap from Apollo? Apollo was so long ago now, it’s almost out of living memory. And what we want to do on the moon next is very different — go and stay, not just plant flags and leave footprints. 

David: Unfortunately, as the astronauts die — and these ancient astronauts are dropping; there are only a handful left — the experience of actually being there is sort of getting lost.

A lot of people don’t remember Apollo. So, there’s an issue of recalling all the things that were actually accomplished. Not just planting flags — setting up instruments, and what kind of data was accumulated, and how hard that environment was to work in, particularly the dust. The dust issue is the one that’s always held out as, “This is dangerous.” There are ways to mitigate it; people have some ideas. I think new technologies will allow us to counter those kinds of issues.

[Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison] “Jack” Schmitt is a great example. He’s trying to go back and document every footstep he took from a geological perspective. He’s trying to document the entire benefit of him, as a geologist, going there. And memories are going to fade.

You look at some of the problems we’re going to have in trying to establish an economic foothold on the moon; the drawings are cheap. People have a lot of PowerPoints [presentations], how it’s going to look. But doing experiments here on Earth and then thinking that’s the way it’s going to work on the moon — it’s probably not going to happen. You’re going to have to go to the moon and figure out, “Well, that technique does not work.” You have to go there and try out stuff.

Space.com: And lots of the tech we’ll test out there will help us push even farther out. NASA stresses that the moon is a stepping-stone to the ultimate destination for people — Mars. 

David: I’m big on the stepping-stone thing. The Mercury and Gemini missions were all stepping-stones to proving out Apollo technology. So, I do see this lunar outpost as something important to deep-space habitation.

To me, the stepping-stones are very critical in this. NASA needs a steppingstone program, because they’re not ready. We’ve been in low-Earth orbit so long, we’ve lost that feeling, that moon feeling, how to pull off deep-space exploration. Testing the hardware. And we’re still learning about the human body, thanks to the space station program.

But the idea that the moon is a “been there, done that” world is flat wrong. We haven’t been to that many places on the moon.

I look at it like Seward’s Folly, when we purchased Alaska. That was very contentious in Congress at the time, why we were spending that much money. But we didn’t know what that wilderness was going to provide. The surprises came later, and that was a windfall for the country instead of some folly. So, maybe that’s what the moon may represent — something like wilderness that we’re not quite sure what’s there yet, and we need to go there and find out, using humans and robots.

We’re going to find things on the moon that will surprise us. I’m ready to be surprised.

Space.com: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

David:I hope the book stirs up conversation. Anytime you write these things, you want people to walk away with maybe more questions than they had going in.

Another thing is the ethics of it all. You’ve got ethics at some level here on the law side, with who’s going to be where and how we can operate together on the moon. Are we all going to hold hands, or will there be claim jumpers? That kind of stuff.

And then you’ve got some people — it didn’t wind up in the book, but I wrote it all — some of the advertising people want to do things with the moon. I’ve seen some pretty wild ideas — you know, carving out parts of the moon to make a logo so everybody can see it on Earth. That’s the kind of thing that makes people in the audience wince when you even bring it up.

And then there’s the whole preservation of the moon sites. If you really think, and I do, that tourists will be going to the moon in the future, it’d be nice to visit the Apollo 11 or 17 [landing sites] or whatever, and use those as part of the tourist campaign. There’s a pretty good amount of work going on about making the moon a historical site and trying to preserve that for future visitors.

You can learn more about “Moon Rush,” and purchase the book, via National Geographic. The book is also available on Amazon.com.

Source www.space.com

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