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Category Archives: Space Station

China’s new crew spacecraft looks like it could dock with the International Space Station –

Posted: March 31, 2020 at 6:05 am

A next-generation crew spacecraft that China is preparing for a flight test this spring appears to be capable of docking with the International Space Station (ISS).

An image posted by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) shows the new spacecrafts docking system, which appears compatible with the International Docking System Standard (IDSS).

NASA, the European Space Agency and Russia's federal space agency, known as Roscosmos, use IDSS-compatible systems or adapters. These are in use on the ISS to facilitate rendezvous and docking with spacecraft.

Related: Photos of China's new spacecraft to take astronauts to the moon

The new spacecraft is designed to boost China's capabilities in sending humans into orbit, reduce costs through partial reusability and allow astronauts to survive the radiation environment and high-speed reentries of deep-space missions.

The as-yet-unnamed spacecraft is 28.9 feet (8.8 meters) long with a mass at liftoff of 23.8 tons (21.6 metric tons). It will be capable of carrying six astronauts, or three astronauts and 1,100 lbs. (500 kilograms) of cargo to Chinas planned space station.

A prototype of the next-gen crewed spacecraft is being prepared for a test flight at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. Launch on a Long March 5B rocket is expected in mid- to late April.

The IDSS docking mechanism is androgynous. A first such system was developed and used for the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, meaning neither the U.S. nor Soviet spacecraft had "male" or "female" mechanisms.

China has demonstrated rendezvous and docking capabilities with Shenzhou crewed spacecraft and the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space labs, as well as with the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft.

The rendezvous systems on spacecraft, which facilitate the maneuvering and matching of vectors and velocities for close approaches, may, however, need to be adapted to be compatible.

But even if the new Chinese crewed spacecraft can technically rendezvous and dock with the ISS, it is currently not possible politically.

While China cooperates with ESA and Russia, the United States has effectively excluded China from the ISS project. The US government in 2011 introduced text into legislation, referred to as the "Wolf Amendment," that severely restricts opportunities for NASA and other agencies from bilateral cooperation with entities linked to the Chinese government.

The test flight of the new spacecraft will also test China's Long March 5B launch vehicle. If successful, the new rocket will subsequently be used to launch the 20-metric-ton modules of the Chinese Space Station.

Follow Andrew Jones at @AJ_FI. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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In Photos: The Expedition 62 mission to the International Space Station –

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Expedition 62 to the International Space Station (ISS) began on Feb. 6, 2020, with the departure of the Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft. The Expedition currently consists of three crewmembers: Cmdr. Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, as well as two NASA astronauts, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan.

The ISS will be back up to its usual population of six crewmembers with the arrival of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. On April 16, Skripochka will hand over command of the ISS to Cassidy, marking the end of Expedition 62 and the start of Expedition 63.

See photos of the Expedition 62 crew in action and photos taken by the crew in space in this gallery.

Related: The International Space Station: inside and out (infographic)

The official Expedition 62 insignia includes the astronauts' names and an astronaut holding a star alongside another carrying a leaf.

This official crew portrait, taken April 17, 2019, shows (from left): Andrew Morgan of NASA, Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos and Jessica Meir of NASA.

The three-member Expedition 62 crew Oleg Skripochka, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan pose together wearing their mission patch t-shirts at the International Space Station, on Feb. 7, 2020.

Below the International Space Station, California's San Francisco Bay, the Pacific Ocean and Washington State's Columbia River offer a spectacular view on Feb. 9, 2020.

Water floats in an undulating sphere as NASA's Expedition 62 flight engineer Jessica Meir looks on. This Feb. 9, 2020 photo displays the effects of microgravity on water.

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir participates in the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Cerebral Autoregulation experiment aboard the International Space Station on Feb. 10, 2020. The study investigates how microgravity effects how the regulation of blood flow to the brain changes in microgravity. A goal of the study is "applications to future space travelers and patients back on Earth," according to Meir.

Sunlight hits the International Space Station's solar arrays with a golden shimmer in this image by Jessica Meir on Feb. 10, 2020.

The highest clouds in Earth's atmosphere noctilucent, or "night shining" clouds glow in this image taken from the ISS on Feb. 12, 2020. Noctilucent clouds occur only when the sun shines on clouds from below Earth's horizon.

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir represents her alma mater, Brown University, while gazing at Earth through the Cupola observatory aboard the International Space Station, on Feb. 13, 2020. When she tweeted this photo, Meir said she tried "to spot the Van Wickle gates from space!"

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan "sit" on the shoulders of Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka as they pose for another "zero-g" group photo on Feb. 14, 2020.

The last quarter moon looms behind the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm in this photo by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir. She and her Expedition 62 crewmate Andrew Morgan used Canadarm2 to grapple anarriving Cygnus cargo spacecrafton Feb. 18, 2020.

NASA astronauts Jessica Meir captured this vibrant view of Key West, Florida, from 266 miles (428 kilometers) above the Earth, on Feb. 17, 2020. "Many fond memories in idyllic #KeyWest #Florida, including @NASA_Astronauts flight training with landings @NASKeyWest," Meir tweeted.

In honor of Black History Month, Northrop Grumman named its 13th Cygnus cargo spacecraft after U.S. Air Force Maj. Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., the first African-American ever selected as an astronaut. The Cygnus NG-13 cargo spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station on Feb. 18, 2020, carrying more than 7,500 lbs. (3,400 kilograms) ofscience experiments, supplies and other vital gearfor the station's three-person Expedition 62 crew.

Northrup Grumman's Cygnus NG-13 arrives at the ISS on Feb. 18, 2020. The freighter, full of supplies for the space station, was named after a U.S. Air Force test pilot, Maj. Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., the first African American selected for a national space program.

The Expedition 62 astronaut crew is pictured inside a SpaceX Dragon resupply craft, on March 9, 2020. The crew is wearing portable breathing gear while entering to test the spaceship's atmosphere for particles and irritants that could have come loose while launching to space.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan tweeted this photo of an Irish flag floating in one of the windows of the Cupola observatory on St. Patrick's Day (March 17). Full story: Astronauts celebrate St. Patrick's Day 2020 with photos of Ireland from space

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Five MIT payloads deployed on the International Space Station – Space Daily

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Five research payloads from the MIT Media Lab's Space Exploration Initiative were recently deployed on the International Space Station for a 30-day research mission. Scientists, designers, and artists will be able to study the effects of prolonged microgravity, on-station radiation, and launch loads on experiments ranging from self-assembling architecture to biological pigments. The payloads launched on the SpaceX CRS-20 via the Dragon cargo ship atop a Falcon 9 rocket on March 6.

This first launch to the ISS represents a key milestone in the schedule of iterative microgravity testing that the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) undertakes throughout each year, following a successful Karman line launch with Blue Origin and a second parabolic research flight over the past 12 months.

"Sending five concurrent payloads to the International Space Station - this is a huge milestone for the team, and something we've been working towards explicitly for nearly a year," says Ariel Ekblaw, SEI's founder and lead.

The payloads were integrated into the Nanoracks BlackBox, a locker-sized platform with mechanical mounting points and electrical connections for power, data, and communication capabilities. Payloads are fully integrated into BlackBox on the ground; when they reach ISS, the astronauts aboard integrate them into ISS experiment racks, then simply leave them alone - the boxes are completely self-contained and remotely commanded via Nanoracks from the ground. This system allows for larger and more complex research payloads on the ISS, as the astronauts aren't required to come near any potentially hazardous materials and don't need any special expertise to run the experiments.

The capabilities of this platform allow for precisely the kind of cross-disciplinary research that is the hallmark of the Space Exploration Initiative. The five payloads currently on the ISS represent SEI's unique approach to research, prototyping, and design for humanity's future in space.

Sojourner 2020 is payload of artworks, the first-ever international "open call" art payload to the ISS, selected by SEI's arts curator Xin Liu. Sojourner 2020 features a three-layer telescoping structure. Each layer of the structure rotates independently; the top layer remains still in weightlessness, while the middle and bottom layers spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that mimic lunar gravity and Martian gravity, respectively.

Nine artists contributed works in a variety of different media, including carved stone sculpture, liquid pigment experiments, and sculptures made of transgender hormone replacement meds. Sojourner 2020 highlights the ways in which the arts can contribute to new means of encountering space; by including projects from indigenous peoples and gender minorities, the project additionally emphasizes key values of human dignity, equality, and democratizing access.

Space Miso, a collaboration between Maggie Coblentz at the MIT Media Lab and Joshua Evans at the University of Oxford, aims to map the emergence of a new space "terroir." This research seeks to understand how the environment of space may uniquely alter the flavors of familiar foods, in particular through fermentation processes. This initial experiment sends a sample of miso to the ISS for 30 days and tracks how its microbiome and flavor chemistry may change compared to earthbound control samples.

The latest iteration of Ekblaw's self-assembling TESSERAE tiles tests new paradigms for in-orbit construction of satellites and future space habitats. The tiles (two pentagons, five hexagons) will be selectively released on-station to test autonomous self-assembly and docking over many days of sustained microgravity. These latest prototypes include an extensive suite of sensing and electro-permanent magnet actuation for full diagnostic capability (determining "good" and "bad" bonds between tiles as they join together) and structure reconfigurability.

Radiofungi: Biological Pigments for Radioprotection is a payload from the Mediated Matter Group. The Radiofungi team is researching the synthesis of biological pigments, including melanins and carotenoids, to explore the potential new strategies for radiation protection. Such pigments can be fabricated for a variety of applications, creating a new class of materials and coatings that can protect life on Earth, in deep space, and beyond. This payload examines the growth and behavior of five pigment-producing microorganisms during a one-month stint on the ISS.

BioX1 is a test of reagents to enable space-based genomics for human health and life detection, designed by a research team from MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, testing an experiment apparatus for DNA analysis that may become the basis for a future Mars rover experiment.

The experiment will analyze sequencing tools that assist in the Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes program, a NASA-funded life detection instrument that would detect nucleic acid-based life via single molecule sequencing.

The Nanoracks team supporting the MIT payloads is able to downlink data directly from the networked payload on the International Space Station, and then share directly to the researchers. The team is hard at work analyzing telemetry, sensor data, pictures, and videos to track each payload's current status.

These results will be paired with a full holistic report on each payload upon return of the hardware to Earth. After the 30-day mission, the BlackBox will be packed up as return cargo in the Dragon capsule, splash down in the Pacific Ocean, and then Nanoracks will acquire BlackBox to return to MIT.

Several of these projects directly address research supported by the NASA-guided Translational Research Institute for Space Health. All represent collaborations across disciplines - engineering, architecture, materials science, chemistry, art, technology, design, and more. This kind of cross-pollination and teamwork are core to SEI's mission.

For Ekblaw, that ethos doesn't extend only to research; it's about bringing people together, building communities of people with different interests and expertise with shared goals and common experiences. It's why she flew any of the researchers who were able to make the trip down to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch together, and why she hosted a dinner for the researchers, the artists, and the Nanoracks team.

"Our Space Exploration Initiative deployments are often MIT-wide endeavors - it's an honor to have the opportunity to support research and collaborations that span departments," says Ekblaw. "We are standing on the shoulders of giants, and are actively expanding our regular cadence of SEI launch opportunities, throughout the year, to an even broader community. This means building bridges across the space industry - with academia, business, and government - to profoundly democratize access to space."

Related LinksSpace Exploration InitiativeSpace Tourism, Space Transport and Space Exploration News

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Five MIT payloads deployed on the International Space Station - Space Daily

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NASA tasks SpaceX with sending cargo and supplies to future lunar space station – The Verge

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Despite the worsening coronavirus pandemic in the US, NASA is still looking ahead to its long-term goal of sending humans back to the lunar surface and is now asking SpaceX to start doing cargo runs to the Moon in the near future. NASA awarded the aerospace company with a new contract this afternoon, tasking SpaceX with sending cargo and supplies to a space station that NASA wants to build in the Moons orbit.

The new partnership is a big piece of NASAs Artemis program, an initiative to land the first woman on the lunar surface by 2024. As part of the program, NASA has proposed building a space station in orbit around the Moon called the Gateway, where astronauts can work and train before heading down to the lunar soil. Just like the International Space Station, the Gateway is going to need supplies and science experiments from time to time, and now SpaceX is the first company charged with making that happen.

SpaceX has been supplying cargo to the International Space Station for almost a decade now, packing supplies inside the companys Dragon capsule and launching them on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. To get supplies to the future Gateway, SpaceX is going to use some upgraded vehicles. The company is developing a new cargo vehicle called the Dragon XL, a cylindrical white spacecraft that can carry more than 5 metric tons of cargo to Gateway in lunar orbit, according to SpaceX. The supersized Dragon will launch on top of SpaceXs Falcon Heavy rocket, the much more powerful variant of the Falcon 9 that consists of three rocket cores strapped together.

Thanks to a fixed-price contract, SpaceX is on the hook to send multiple supply missions to the Gateway once the station is up and running. During each trip, the Dragon XL will stay docked to the Gateway for six to 12 months a time. The capsule will carry things like sample collection materials and other items the crew may need on the Gateway and during their expeditions on the lunar surface, according to NASA.

Returning to the Moon and supporting future space exploration requires affordable delivery of significant amounts of cargo, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceXs president and COO, said in a statement. Through our partnership with NASA, SpaceX has been delivering scientific research and critical supplies to the International Space Station since 2012, and we are honored to continue the work beyond Earths orbit and carry Artemis cargo to Gateway.

SpaceX likely wont be the only company tasked with sending supplies to the Gateway. Ultimately, NASA has the option to add multiple cargo suppliers and has allotted up to $7 billion to spend on cargo contracts for Artemis. Each contract guarantees that NASA will order at least two cargo missions per provider and NASA can request missions for up to 12 years.

While the contract is a big step for SpaceX and NASA, a lot of questions remain about the future of the Artemis program. For one, its unclear when the Gateway will actually be built. For the last few years, NASA officials have argued that building the Gateway is a crucial part of the Artemis program as it will help the space agency establish a sustainable presence around the Moon, rather than just send astronauts to the lunar surface to leave flags and footprints. But the administration challenged NASA to land its first Artemis astronauts by 2024, and with that deadline quickly approaching, the space agency may not have enough time to build the Gateway if it wants to get humans back to the Moon in the next four years. In fact, NASAs newly appointed associate administrator for human exploration said that the Gateway is no longer critical for getting humans back to the Moon by 2024, according to Space News. That doesnt mean it wont get built, but it may not happen until after the first lunar landing deadline.

Meanwhile, its becoming increasingly unlikely that NASA will be able to meet its 2024 deadline at all, as the coronavirus pandemic has forced the agency to suspend production on some key programs. Notably, NASA shut down development of its next big rocket, the Space Launch System, which the agency plans to use to fly the first Artemis astronauts to the Moon.

As for SpaceX, the company is still operating during the pandemic as the company has been deemed mission essential by the state of California, due to its work with the Department of Defense. So its possible the company could still get a jump-start on the development of this new capsule. But its unclear when the Gateway will be ready to receive its first shipment.

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‘I’m in awe’: NASA astronaut salutes coronavirus-fighting doctors and nurses from orbit –

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All traditions are scrapped: Keeping coronavirus off the ISS – Digital Trends

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With the global outbreak of coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, affecting every area of life, you might be surprised to hear that NASA and other space agencies still intend to go ahead with their plan to send more astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) next month.

In fact, ISS astronauts already undergo strict quarantine restrictions as part of their launch preparations, so they might be some of the few people in the world whose plans for the next few weeks havent changed. But now, restrictions have been tightened even further to ensure theres almost no chance of spreading the coronavirus beyond our planet and onto the space station.

While quarantine procedures are new for most of us, they are well familiar to astronauts. For decades, astronauts have been placed in quarantine for periods of time before they launch into space, especially if they are traveling to the ISS. The quarantine period ensures not only that the astronauts arent sick themselves, which could be a problem if they were in space, but also that they dont transport any viruses or bacteria to other members of the crew.

These days, astronauts spend two weeks in quarantine in their quarters before launching to the ISS, with minimal contact with others outside of close family members allowed. Astronauts also quarantine when returning from space missions, to ensure they dont bring anything unexpected back to earth with them.

Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin told Ars Technica that he and his crewmates found ways to keep themselves entertained during post-mission quarantine: Well, Mike Collins and I used to exercise and jog a little bit around the hallway, he said. Though the facilities in the 1960s may not have been quite up to the strict standards of today: We looked at this one crack in the floor, and there were ants crawling in and out, he said.

Currently, there are only three astronauts aboard the ISS Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos, and Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan of NASA. Having so few crew members means extra work and extra stress for the astronauts, and while three is not an unusual number for a crew, the station supports up to six astronauts. Therefore, three more astronauts will join them as part of Expedition 62 next month Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos plus Chris Cassidy of NASA. The original three crew members are expected to return to Earth later in April, so the crew will go back down to three once again.

Cassidy, the NASA astronaut who is scheduled to depart for the ISS next month, is already in quarantine ahead of his trip. He told AP that he sympathizes with what people are going through as they isolate themselves: The things that are stressing the rest of the world and the rest of America, are the same things that are stressing me right now, he said. Its not like any other time in our lives as a generation, really, right? Ill have my own interesting story to tell in years to come.

Traditionally, when astronauts have been in quarantine before heading to the ISS, they have had some freedom of movement. They have been allowed to visit nearby restaurants or attend celebratory events which were held in the vicinity of the launch. In Russia, there is a tradition of astronauts visiting the site where the ashes of Yuri Gagarin, the first man to visit outer space, are located and leaving a red carnation there. Members of the public often turn out to see the astronauts paying their respects.

This year, however, there will be no visiting restaurants, no carnations, and no ceremonies. All the traditions are scrapped, Frank De Winne, the head of the European Space Agencys astronaut corps, told the Guardian. The crew is locked up and cannot see anybody except those who are screened.

The restrictions need to be tougher in order to keep the astronauts safe, De Winne explained: The quarantine is much more strict now. As few people as possible will have access to the crew, which means that scientists who need to get baseline data from them have to go into quarantine as well before they can access the crew and do their final checks. It has a big impact on the operations.

NASA and other space agencies say they intend to go ahead with the launch of the three new crew members to the ISS on April 9, unless events demand a change of plans. The intention is for a Soyuz rocket to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with a smaller team than usual manning the launch pad.

Members of the public and the media wont be allowed to watch the launch in person, due to the need to maintain social distancing. It is expected for the launch to be livestreamed, so well keep you up to date on details of if and where you can watch the launch happen.

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When you can see the International Space Station flying in the night sky over Somerset this weekend – Somerset Live

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Many stargazers out there will be well-versed on the opportunities in catching a glimpse of the International Space Station in the night sky.

Many may have already seen the craft pass overhead in the last few days, mainly between 7pm and 10pm.

But the ISS will be visible in the skies over Somerset again from now until next Saturday (April 4).

Based on information available for Taunton, there are 10 more opportunities to catch it - starting from 8.31pm tonight (Saturday, March 28).

But, be quick, because on this occasion it will only be visible for two minutes.

The space station is currently occupied by an international crew of three people who live and work there while travelling at five miles per second.

The crews living and working space is larger than a six-bedroom house and contains a gym and a 360-degree view bay window.

The International Space Station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, travelling through 16 sunrises and sunsets in the space of 24 hours.

To see it this year, head outside during the times listed below.

The ISS looks like a fast-flying plane or a very bright star moving across the sky - but it doesnt have flashing lights or change direction.

Planes usually fly at approximately 600 miles per hour whereas the space station flies at 17,500 miles per hour.

People can visit NASA's Spot the Station website and change the sighting location to the town they live in.

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Watch this space, coronavirus weather & penguin-spotting – EURACTIV

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Welcome to EURACTIVs weekly Transport Brief your one port of call for all the news moving the world and much more! Sign up here for the free newsletter.

It is not all coronavirus doom and gloom. Look out for the hidden gems in this weeks newsletter, check out the latest Transport Vlog and stay safe.


Coronavirus impact is not just limited to Earth. Europes space agency has put four missions on standby until technicians can return to work as normal. NASA astronauts bound for the space station on 9 April are in tighter quarantine than usual, to prevent the outbreak reaching the ISS.

Space travellers are full of sage advice when it comes to dealing with long periods cooped up inside, unable to go out. Here is what astronauts past and present said about surviving quarantine.

The European Commission opened up a consultation on its plans to boost the Galileo global positioning system in critical infrastructure. Brussels wants to make the satellite network the most precise on the market less reliant on rivals GPS and GLONASS.

Arianespace the main rocket firm that puts Europes satellites into orbit is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The French launcher still hopes to debut its new blasters soon but the virus has already forced it to shutter operations at its French Guyana base.

Elon Musks SpaceX project suffered a parachute testing setback that might delay its first crewed mission, while the US Space Force the new branch of the military not the planned Netflix show completed its first satellite launch.

Lockdown getting you down? Pass the hours by helping scientists look for new galaxies or count penguins by tracking their guano stains. It is all for the advancement of human understanding.

More on space in this weeks Transport Vlog


Ghost flights were finally busted, as first MEPs and then the Council gave the airport slots rules waiver the green light. It becomes law today.

Fewer flights might have unexpected consequences: more grounded planes means airlines will have to hunt for parking places to store their jets, while our ability to predict the weather might suffer too. More on the meteorological aspect here

In the UK, London closed one of its airports to try and curb the virus spread, while Virgin Atlantic started to prepare the ground for a government bailout. Budget carrier easyJet grounded its entire fleet.

US airlines are also struggling but billions of dollars in government aid will not be contingent on them upping their environmental credentials as previously planned. Their combined value is currently lower than the market price of Zoom, an e-meeting platform.

Airbus set up an airbridge between its base in Toulouse and Madrid, to deliver crucial medical supplies, while the German airforce flew Italian patients from Bergamo to Cologne in a special hospital plane, to alleviate the overwhelmed health system.

Dutch airline KLM and Australian carrier Qantas both retired their jumbo jet 747 fleets a year ahead of time because of the virus. Qantas also struck a pay deal with pilots about planned non-stop services between New York, London and Sydney.

Planes are flying empty or with more cargo than usual on board so what kind of technical challenges does that pose to keeping jets in the air? Heres a good explainer.


Europes biggest carmakers urged Brussels to put the brakes on its legislative timetable, citing the virus as reason why many will struggle to meet EU targets. Green groups were quick to accuse the auto giants of trying to profit from the outbreak.

It is the worst crisis ever for the industry and government bailouts might yet be needed. Although the sector has not put a price on the damage set to be caused by the outbreak, the cash could be earmarked for green tech.

Less traffic means less pollution, a theory confirmed by new figures last week, which showed nitrogen dioxide levels have plummeted by up to 50% in some of Europes largest cities.

The virus has also prompted a rethink of the rules of the road. Governments have relaxed laws on mandatory rest times for truckers and made it easier for motorists to get new permits or keep expired ones during the outbreak.

Coronavirus is also being used as a reason to attack the Mobility Package. Some MEPs have said the first part of the legislation should not be adopted as planned, while nine member states also said it should be put on ice for now.

Bulgaria one of those countries is building what it claims is the worlds largest truck park, to accommodate European hauliers on their way to Turkey. Ankaras 14-day quarantine period does not apply to Bulgaria, so Sofia wants to cash in on the opportunity.

New research confirms that electric cars are a cleaner alternative to the combustion engine, across most of the world. Coronavirus might stymie their development, in the US at least, where miners are feeling the pinch.

Long-distance live animal transport should be suspended during the outbreak, according to a group of MEPs and NGOs, who say long border crossing times are harmful for critter welfare. For more stories like this, subscribe to Gerardo Fortuna and Natasha Footes Agrifood Brief.

On track

Europes rail sector wrote to the Commission to make its case for state aid and extra treatment during the outbreak. The open letter points out how train travel demand was growing before the crisis and how that momentum should be defended.

The sector also asked the EU executive in a separate letter what punishments member states will face if they fail to adopt fully the Fourth Railway Package by its June deadline this year.

French train firm SNCF has converted one of its TGVs into a hospital train, in order to shift ill patients from at-risk regional areas to better-equipped facilities. India is also using the power of the railways to prepare for the worse to come.

Trains get flat batteries too. A Eurostar found itself out of juice in Brussels so the next train over had to bring jumper cables to get it running again. Reduced services mean the batteries are not charged as often as they need to be.

The Shipping News

The Commission opened up a consultation on including shipping emissions in the blocs carbon market the emissions trading system- and is sticking to its timetable of publishing a proposal early next year. Background here.

Shippers can continue to form alliances until 2024 without fear of breaching anti-competition rules, the Commission also decided. The European Transport Workers Federation warned that the extension would hurt the sector and was not well thought-out.

Picture of the week

US Navy hospital ship Comfort docks in New York City harbour to help alleviate the crisis there.

Next stops

The airport slots waiver becomes law later today and will last until the end of October.

The European Court of Justice hears a case on 2 April brought by an Austrian group against Volkswagen, off the back of the Dieselgate scandal.

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Space holiday, anyone? Space X to send tourists to International Space Station – The Star Online

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Spacex recently announced a partnership to send three tourists to the International Space Station (ISS), the first private trip in more than a decade.

Elon Musks company has signed a deal with Axiom Space to transport the tourists along with a commander on one of its Crew Dragon capsules in the second half of 2021.

Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said the flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space. He did not reveal a price tag.

The cost of launching a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is around US$60mil (RM246mil) and, throwing in the cost attached to building a new capsule, the project price tag could exceed US$100mil (RM410mil).

Each ticket is therefore likely to cost tens of millions of dollars.

Eight space tourists have so far gone to the ISS on Russian Soyuz rockets with the company Space Adventures.

The first was Dennis Tito, who paid US$20mil (RM82mil) for an eight-hour stay on the ISS back in 2001. The last to go was Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, in 2009.

In February, SpaceX announced a partnership with Space Adventures to send four tourists deeper into orbit than any private citizen before them.

This mission is also projected for late 2021 at the earliest, but more likely 2022.

Other companies involved in space tourism are Richard Bransons Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezoss Blue Origin.

The two are developing vessels to send tourists just beyond the border of space (80km or 100km, depending on how each defines it).

Tickets for Virgin started at US$250,000 (RM1.02mil) when they first went on sale in the mid-2000s.

SpaceXs offering is far more ambitious and powered by the same reusable Falcon 9 rocket that puts satellites into space and sends astronauts to the ISS.

At the same time, Boeing is also developing a crew capsule called Starliner, also with the intention of transporting US astronauts to the ISS.

Like SpaceX, Boeing envisages sending tourists into space, but the programmes development is hampered by major glitches that resulted in the early termination of an uncrewed test flight in December. AFP

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US launches advanced satellite in 1st Space Force national security mission –

Posted: at 6:05 am

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket took to the skies Thursday afternoon (March 26), delivering a highly advanced communications satellite to orbit for the U.S. Space Force.

The rocket, outfitted with five strap-on solid rocket boosters, leapt off the pad from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here at 4:18 p.m. EDT (2018 GMT), near the middle of a planned two-hour window.

Perched atop the rocket was the sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-6) satellite. AEHF-6 is the final satellite in the AEHF constellation, and it will provide jam-proof communications including real-time video between U.S. national leadership and deployed military forces.

Related: Blastoff! US Space Force's 1st launch is the AEHF-6 satellite (video)

The AEHF constellation is built by Lockheed Martin and consists of six secure military communications satellites that will replace the military's aging Milstar constellation. Working in tandem, the satellites will provide coverage from geostationary Earth orbit, about 22,200 miles (35,700 kilometers) above the planet. This orbit allows spacecraft to drift along in sync with Earth's rotation, providing constant coverage over the same part of the planet.

Today's launch marks the 83rd flight of an Atlas V and the 11th overall in the 551 configuration. The most powerful version of the Atlas V, the 551 comes with five solid rocket boosters, a 16.5-foot-wide (5 meters) payload fairing and a single engine Centaur upper stage.

The 13,600-lb. (6,168 kilograms) AEHF-6 is the first National Security Space payload to launch under the recently established U.S. Space Force, which was signed into existence by President Donald Trump in December 2019. Just like the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, the Space Force will operate under the Department of the Air Force.

Rather than deploying soldiers in space, the new military branch will focus on national security and preserving the satellites and vehicles that are dedicated to international communications and observation, U.S. officials have said.

Originally scheduled to fly on March 13, Thursday's launch was pushed back after an off-nominal valve reading occurred during prelaunch processing. Crews removed the suspect hardware and rescheduled the launch.

The launch was the second to occur from Florida's Space Coast in the past eight days, despite the coronavirus pandemic. On March 18, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket ferried another batch of the company's Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing the total up to more than 350.

Related: Atlas V rocket launches US milsat and experimental spacecraft

Meanwhile, most of NASA's Kennedy Space Center is working from home after an employee at the center tested positive for the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19.

The virus has wreaked havoc across the globe, overwhelming hospitals and grinding much business activity to a halt. But for now, it's business as usual for the 45th Space Wing and the Eastern Range, which oversees all launch activity at the Cape.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday (March 24), Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing, said that the Eastern Range remains ready to support all upcoming launches.

"We're going to continue to do what we do best, which is provide assured access to space, while also taking care of our airmen and their families," he said. "We obviously can't telework launches, so we'll be here working those."

Schiess told reporters that the Pentagon has directed military commanders to continue critical missions, like AEHF-6 and the upcoming launch of a GPS satellite, scheduled for April, while ensuring the health and safety of their teams during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Department of Defense's priority is to continue the mission, so we'll continue the mission," Schiess said. "I can't see it happening where they would say, 'Stop doing that.' We may do more testing, more temperature testing, or something like that, but I think we have to have a significant population within the operations folks to be sick to have a situation where it would impact our launches."

Related: Coronavirus pandemic: Full space industry coverage

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus at either Patrick Air Force base or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Scheiss did say that the base has tests on hand and has administered some of them, but so far all have come back negative.

Scheiss also said that launch teams are taking extra precautions right now. They have reduced staff to essential personnel only and have spread work stations farther apart. Staff are also being monitored for symptoms and encouraged to self-quarantine if they feel sick. Anyone who can telework is encouraged to do so.

According to Scheiss, several hundred people are needed to support a launch, and some missions, like AEHF-6, require more range support than others.

For instance, the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket requires around 200 people versus well over 300 people who are needed to support an Atlas V or Delta IV rocket liftoff. These numbers include operators, weather personnel, safety operators and more.

The reason why SpaceX launch teams are a bit leaner is because the Falcon 9 relies on an automated flight termination system, which triggers a self-destruct automatically versus relying on a human to do so.

Public viewing areas near the Air Force Station's entrance are closed during the pandemic, which further cuts back on the number of team members required to support the launch.

Scheiss said that national security payloads will be given priority over other launches, but he doesn't foresee any delays on the horizon beyond the indefinite hold on SpaceX's SAOCOM 1B mission. Slated to launch this month, the mission is on hold due to travel restrictions implemented by Argentina in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. (Argentina's space agency is the satellite's operator and would need to have representatives on site for the launch.)

According to Scheiss, there is a planned maintenance period scheduled for the beginning of April, where there will be no launches. Following that, launches will resume with a Falcon 9 set to loft another batch of Starlink satellites, and a second will launch an upgraded GPS satellite for the U.S. military. Those two launches are slated for April.

But first, SpaceX (as well as NASA and the military) is looking into an engine anomaly that occurred during the company's launch on March 18. During ascent, one of the Falcon's nine Merlin 1D engines cut out, which led to the booster missing its drone ship landing. This was the fifth flight for this particular Falcon 9 rocket, but SpaceX is being overly cautious and will not launch another rocket until it investigates the anomaly, company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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US launches advanced satellite in 1st Space Force national security mission -

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