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India Chandrayaan-2 Postponed Due To Technical Difficulties

India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission delayed but its historic first landing on the moon will still push through but at a different date

Chandrayaan-2 | ISRO | Twitter

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India was set to perform the first step toward its historic first moon landing with it its launch of the Chandrayaan-2 today. However, the move was otherwise postponed due to technical difficulties.

Chandrayaan-2 was supposed to launch at 02:51 local time on Monday (21:21 GMT Sunday) from Sriharikota space station in India’s eastern coast. The launch was stopped minutes at 56:24, only 36 minutes away.

“A technical snag was observed in launch vehicle system at T-56 minute. As a measure of abundant precaution, #Chandrayaan2 launch has been called off for today,” the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said in a tweet momentarily after media was blocked.

Furthermore, the agency told that the delay was due to an abundance of precaution. ISRO Chief, K Sivan, said this was “the most complex space mission ever to be undertaken by the agency.”

Although a new launch date is set to be announced soon, the 10-minute backup window on Tuesday would seem most likely for the ISRO to opt for the Chandrayaan-2.

So far, India’s Chandrayaan-2 is touted to be the country’s most ambitious space mission to date with its goal of making a soft landing on the moon along with a lander and orbiter aboard its most powerful rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III), which weighs 640 tonnes and stands at 44 meters (144ft).

To achieve such goal, India has devised its hardware and technology that would allow them to explore the moon’s hardly-explored south pole. This serves as an interesting location for space exploration since it was theorized that the craters on that side of the moon are permanently shadowed, which could hold water ice — a vital resource for future space exploration.

Through a team of nearly 1,000 engineers and scientists, the team developed their lander, orbiter, and rover aside from its powerful GSLV Mk-III launcher — a task that the United States is currently developing.

Initially, the ISRO plans to get the Chandrayaan-2 into the moon’s orbit by September by which it will deploy its lander called Vikram, named after Dr. Vikram Sarabhai who was considered as the Father of the Indian space program. Vikram is also designed to function for one lunar day.

After then, it will make a soft landing of its rover, which a 27 kilogram, six-wheeled robotic vehicle named Pragyan that can travel up to 500 meters and leverages solar energy for its functioning.

There will also be the Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter that will be able to communicate with the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) at Byalalu, Karnataka as well as the lander Vikram. The mission life of the Orbiter is one year, and it will be placed in a 100X100 km lunar polar orbit.

Overall, the mission costs about $150 million to complete, which is largely encouraged by the first lunar mission by the ISRO back in 2008 with the Chandrayaan-1.

Though the Chandrayaan-1 did not make a lunar landing, it was able to provide one of the most in-depth probes on the existence of water on the moon’s surface and a first using radars.

If successful, India will join the other three countries who achieved the feat, including the United States, Russia, and China. Furthermore, aside from national pride and achieving a new milestone for the ISRO, successfully completing the unmanned mission will allow the agency for manned flights as early as 2022.

Interestingly and historically, the Chandrayaan-2 is led by women namely Vanitha Muthayya, head of the mission as Project Director, and Ritu Karidhal as the mission director. 

Specifically, both women have proved their capabilities in the past. Vanitha has worked with the Chandrayaan-1 with her data-handling expertise and has effective managerial skills. This time, she is overseeing the mission from start to finish. While Karidhal has worked with India’s Mars Orbital Mission in 2013 and will now oversee the spacecraft’s insertion into the lunar orbit.

On the other hand, it is quite interesting since India continues to be a very sexist country whereas they are known to have very misogynist culture. “Women power is powering India’s Moon ambitions,” Dr. Sivan said, adding that at Isro, “women and men are all equal. Only talent matters – not the gender.”

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Space

Hawaii space observatories reopen after weeks of shutting down

TMT would be a spectacular instrument for space observation but continues to face protests against its construction

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Photo by Daniel Gregoire on Unsplash
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Astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatories can finally return to work after a grueling 4-week pause due to ongoing protests against the construction of a mega observatory called the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak, offers clear views of the night sky because of its dark skies from lack of light pollution, good astronomical seeing, low humidity, high elevation of 4,205 meters (13,796 ft), position above most of the water vapor in the atmosphere, clean air, good weather and low latitude location. All of these characteristics place the mountain top as a nearly ideal location to observe the universe by national and international scientists alike.

Although the 13,800-foot summit is already considered home for thirteen different observatories, Hawaiian locals and elders have been adamant to the construction of TMT, arguing that the land is sacred and putting a colossal of infrastructure over the land tarnishes it.

Over the past four weeks, protesters by the thousands have been flocking and creating a human barricade that literally blocked the access ways to the other observatories on top, forcing astronomers to take a mandatory leave from their work.

Astronomers around the world compete for valuable time on the telescopes, and since the observatories closed, the scientists have canceled over 2,000 hours of observational time, according to an outlet. Additionally, this has been considered as the longest shutdown since the location’s five-decade history.

“It was very far-reaching,” says Sarah Bosman of University College London, who lost 3 nights of time to observe distant galaxies with the twin W. M. Keck Observatory telescopes. “Every area of astronomy was affected by this.”

Fortunately, state authorities brokered the deal with the protesters to allow current astronomers access to the observatories and said that construction of a temporary roadway will be built across hardened lava around the protesters’ camp on the summit access road.

Additionally, law enforcement will give protesters an advanced list of all vehicles going up and down to show that they are not associated with TMT.

Apparently, protesters began to gather on the main road leading up to the observatories on July 15, the week in which construction on the site for TMT was supposed to begin.

Significantly, the protesters who gathered at the base of Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island include indigenous Hawaiian elders, or “kupuna” and has swelled dramatically as the controversy sparked support from the online community.

Despite polls suggesting that Hawaiian were in favor of the construction of TMT, the online community has attracted support from significant figures such as actors Dwayne Johnson and Jason Momoa—who both visited the protest site—and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren. 

TMT is touted to be a $1.4 billion project that aims to provide one of the biggest lenses in the world attached to an observatory, in order to provide better tools to help astronomers study the universe.

Scientists have been sketching the plans for such an instrument as far back as the 1990s, and a global consortium of scientists led by the U.S. and Canada completed the TMT design in 2009. The TMT project would also be the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere.

The telescope would be built with support from Canada, China, India, and Japan; a consortium of U.S. universities and international organizations, which will own and operate TMT like many of the observatories operating on Mauna Kea.

However, every step towards the construction of the observatory was met with legal battles ensued by protesters ever since its groundbreaking ceremony in 2014. After nearly a decade of the legal debacle, Hawaii’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the construction in August 2018, which prompted protesters to take a more active stand against it.

Manua Kea itself has been a flashpoint for controversy ever since the University of Hawaii opened the first telescope there in 1970. Opponents of TMT continue to push the sacred value of the land and also pointed out the mismanagement of the University of Hawaii on the mountaintop observatories. Protesters have also involved other issues with the construction such as Hawaiian nationalism, self-determination, and land rights.

“TMT should build their observatory in their own ancestral lands, not in mine,” says Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa, a senior professor at the University of Hawaii’s Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge. “Imagine if TMT were to put its five-acre monstrosity on top of Notre Dame or the Vatican. How would the French or Italians feel? Would they not protest?”

However, astronomers urge that TMT would be a valuable instrument for human society. It would be able to help astronomers to discover more with what the universe has in store.

“In our lifetime, we could discover life — evidence of life — off the Earth, which would be one of the biggest things [that have] ever happened in science,” says Michael Bolte, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a member of the TMT board.

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Space

Asteroid nearly hit Earth, and we barely noticed

It’s as big as the one that wiped out dinosaurs.

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Asteroid nearly hit Earth
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A potentially disastrous asteroid merely brushed past Earth, according to a former presidential consultant — noting that the asteroid was massive enough and was similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

The warning was delivered by Douglas McKinnon who served in the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In July, an asteroid 2019 OK, nicknamed “city killer,” was shot within 40,000 miles away from Earth.

Writing in The Hill, McKinnon said: “Thanks to the collective failure of our world leaders, our only defense today against such an event is dumb luck. On this issue, every leader around the world is in gross dereliction of duty to the people they purport to lead.”

Furthermore, McKinnon urged that world leaders should stop turning a blind eye from the potentially deadly risks and not only put their focus and energy with what’s here on the Earth’s surface but also what lies from the beyond.

Scientists failed to detect 2019 OK until it was close to Earth noting that the sun obscured the asteroid. According to McKinnon, NASA has a record of missing asteroids less than 500 feet long.

He claims one of these could “wipe out a city, a region or a small country and kill millions in the process.”

The former Presidential advisor commented: “So far, only the fickle whims of the universe have prevented the unimaginable. But soon our luck could run out, and Earth will be shaken to its core. President Trump and all world leaders should immediately focus on solutions.”

However, scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson says large space rocks, like the 1990 MU, which measures almost 5 miles in diameter, should not phase us. Instead, the American astrophysicist has insisted the public should be more concerned about smaller asteroids that have the potential to sneak under the radar unnoticed.

Appearing on a Joe Rogan podcast last year, Dr. Tyson explained how it is easy to defend Earth against threats we can easily see.

He said: “It’s all about how much timing we have, what you want to do is go out and nudge it. You just have to give it a sideways velocity relative to its path towards Earth. If you do that, the sideways velocity sort of accumulates and the angle grows.”

In other words, Tyson says that to avoid getting hit by an asteroid hurtling towards Earth, all we need to do is go out into space and plan a method that would knock it off its course; big enough that when it nears our planet, it would completely miss.

“If you do that early enough it will miss Earth, but it’s still out there to harm you on another day,” he said. Additionally, we would at least be able to create such a device in 10 years or so.

However, the Harvard University graduate offered more dim prospects for smaller asteroids, arguing that the good thing about asteroids — big enough to wipe out entire species — is that they are large and visible. In consequence, NASA or any other space agency will only detect the relatively smaller, yet city-killing ones too late and would smash right into our planet.

Notably, most of the Earth’s surface is comprised of water, so most probably, it would hit the ocean instead of directly hitting cities. However, that does not technically mean that the human species would completely be out of harm’s way.

Tyson warned in 2008 that in the event where an asteroid crashes into the Pacific Ocean, it would create a hole with a depth of three miles, at which point it explodes, creating an even wider hole in the Pacific in a hole that’s approximately three miles wide.

“Oceans don’t like having holes in them, so this three-mile-high wall does what? It collapses. It falls back into the hole sloshing against itself with such ferocity that it rises high into the atmosphere and falls back down to the ocean, caveating it again,” he said, adding that “this cycle takes about 50 seconds, you can calculate it.”

That result will be a massive tsunami wave outwards from that location that is 50 feet high. “It’s April 12, 2029, and if it threads the keyhole it will hit Earth on April 13, 2036,” Tyson said.

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SpaceX Starhopper test launch delayed to August 21

SpaceX Starhopper test flight face delays but a tentative date is set

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SpaceX is looking to launch Starhopper — an early test prototype of the company’s Mars-colonizing Starship vehicle — on August 21, based on tweets sent by the company’s founder, Elon Musk. 

Starship, once completed, is a super heavy-lift launch vehicle that’s pegged to be a 384-foot giant (117 meters). Upright, it will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty. The company aims to use this spacecraft to launch humans to space and to potentially colonize Mars. 

At the moment, SpaceX is looking to test a smaller prototype called Starhopper this weekend from its facility in Boca Chica, Texas, near the border city of Brownsville at an altitude of about 650 feet (200 meters).

However, Musk said in a series of tweets that they will be delaying the launch due to permissions that need to be secured from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Good conversation with [the] head of FAA Space. Need a bit more hazard analysis & should be clear to fly soon,” one of Musk’s tweets read. 

Fortunately, Musk’s “soon” apparently means the middle of next week at the earliest. Officials in Cameron County, where Boca Chica lies, announced that Boca Chica Beach and part of State Highway 4 will be closed on August 21 from 2 p.m. to midnight local time to accommodate SpaceX activities. 

Cameron County officials also said that August 21 is the “primary date” for the closure, but August 21 and 22 will serve as alternative dates.

So far, Starhopper has already accomplished three test flights, all of them from Boca Chica. Reportedly, there were two brief hops in early April and flew freely for the first time on July 25, on a test flight that had a targeted altitude of 65 feet (20 m). 

In terms of the mechanical aspects of Starhopper, it will only have one Raptor engine — enough to make initial results to gauge for the final spacecraft. Meanwhile, Starship will have six Raptor engine, according to Musk and Super Heavy — a giant rocket that will propel Starship from Earth’s atmosphere — will have 35 Raptor engines.

However, these numbers could change as Musk is set to give a Starship design update on August 24. If all goes according to plan, the Starship-Super Heavy duo could begin launching satellites as early as 2021, SpaceX representatives have said. 

The spaceflight system already has a mission booked. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa wants SpaceX to carry him and a few other artists to a trip around the moon by 2023.

Significantly, the rocket is set to be a central piece in Musk’s commercial plans in space, as it will also be used to reach Mars and, hopefully, to come back to Earth for reuse.

Approximately, the Starship rockets are expected to launch up to 24 times a year from SpaceX’s current flagship launchpad 39A, the draft of the company’s environmental assessment said.

The rockets will also be integral in NASA’s Artemis mission, which hopes to bring man back and the first woman to the moon by 2024. The 39A launchpad would also support NASA’s future moon missions from the same Kennedy Space Centre site used for the Apollo lunar missions.

Furthermore, there are two sets of Starship vehicles that are being developed by SpaceX. Currently, both Starship spacecraft is being developed by separate teams of SpaceX engineers. One of which in Boca Chica, Texas and Starship Mk2, in Cocoa, Florida.

In the near future, SpaceX hopes to able to perform launches specifically targeting Mars and its endeavors of colonizing the red planet, Paul Wooster, the principal Mars development engineer at SpaceX, said during a speech at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington in May. 

He explained that SpaceX’s first launch to Mars would be an uncrewed test to determine the environment of the planet such as the presence of natural resources and build the infrastructure necessary to support the company’s Starship flights to and from Mars; that could include landing pads and refueling stations for the reusable rockets. 

Meanwhile, the company also wants to use water ice from the planet’s surface and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere to refuel Starships on Mars, enabling the rockets to return to Earth. 

“SpaceX’s intent, Elon’s intent in founding SpaceX was to enable humanity to become a multiplanet species, allowing us to establish cities on Mars” and to inspire people, Wooster said. “So, while some aspects of [Musk’s vision] are an artist’s concept, the vehicle itself is very much in development now.”

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