By Reuters | Updated: 6 January 2021
Malaysian researchers have developed a method to transform the fibre found in normally discarded pineapple leaves to make a strong material that can be used to build the frames for unmanned aircraft, or drones.
The project, headed by Professor Mohamed Thariq Hameed Sultan at Malaysia’s Putra University, has been trying to find sustainable uses for pineapple waste generated by farmers in Hulu Langat, an area about 65 km (40 miles) from Kuala Lumpur.
“We are transforming the leaf of the pineapple into a fibre that can be used for aerospace application, basically inventing a drone,” he told Reuters at a workshop.
Mohamed Thariq said drones made out of the bio-composite material had a higher strength-to-weight ratio than those made from synthetic fibres, and were also cheaper, lighter, and easier to dispose of.
If the drone was damaged, the frame could be buried in the ground and would degrade within two weeks, he said.
The prototype drones have been able to fly to a height of about 1,000 metres (3,280 ft) and stay in the air for about 20 minutes, he added.
Ultimately, the research team hopes to create a larger drone to accommodate bigger payloads, including imagery sensors, for agricultural purposes and aerial inspections.
“Our role here is to help the industry, the farmers, to increase their yield and make their jobs much easier,” said William Robert Alvisse of the Malaysian Unmanned Drones Activist Society, a non-governmental group helping to design the drone and advising on the project.
Before the project launched in 2017, pineapple stems were discarded after the once-in-a-year harvest period, but farmers hope the drones project will encourage more innovation to find uses for the waste and boost incomes.
“With the health issue, the economy problem due to COVID-19, the society is desperate and there is no alternative to increase income,” said pineapple farmer Irwan Ismail.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
Mars Rover Perseverance Takes First Drive on Surface of Red Planet
By Reuters | Updated: 6 March 2021
NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance has taken its first, short drive on the surface of the red planet, two weeks after the robot science lab’s picture-perfect touchdown on the floor of a massive crater, mission managers said on Friday.
The six-wheeled, car-sized astrobiology probe put a total of 6.5 metres (21.3 feet) on its odometer on Thursday during a half-hour test spin within Jezero Crater, site of an ancient, long-vanished lake bed and river delta on Mars.
Taking directions from mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, the rover rolled 4 metres (13.1 feet) forward, turned about 150 degrees to its left and then drove backward another 2.5 metres (8.2 feet).
🔴 LIVE: What comes next as our @NASAPersevere rover begins to drive on Mars? Experts at @NASAJPL provide an update on the mission’s achievements & a preview of the unpaved road ahead: https://t.co/mzKW5uV4hS pic.twitter.com/saGY1LXvCL— NASA (@NASA) March 5, 2021
“It went incredibly well,” Anais Zarifian, a JPL mobility test engineer for Perseverance, said during a teleconference briefing with reporters, calling it a “huge milestone” for the mission.
NASA displayed a photo taken by the rover showing the wheel tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.
Another vivid image of the surrounding landscape shows a rugged, ruddy terrain littered with large, dark boulders in the foreground and a tall outcropping of rocky, layered deposits in the distance – marking the edge of the river delta.
Some additional, short-distance test driving is planned for Friday. Perseverance is capable of averaging 200 meters of driving per day.
But JPL engineers still have additional equipment checks to run on the rover’s many instruments before they will be ready to send the robot on a more ambitious journey as part of its primary mission to search for traces of fossilised microbial life.
So far, Perseverance and its hardware, including its main robot arm, appear to be operating flawlessly, said Robert Hogg, deputy mission manager. The team has yet to conduct post-landing tests of the rover’s sophisticated system to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth via future Mars missions.
NASA announced it has named the site of Perseverance’s February 18 touchdown as the “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” in honor of the award-winning American science-fiction writer. Butler, a native of Pasadena, California, died in 2006 at age 58.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Scientists to Look for Signs of Life in Newly Discovered Exoplanet
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 March 2021
Searching for traces of life on Mars, like NASA is doing, is one thing.
But scientists are also looking further afield. Could it be found beyond our solar system?
A study published on Thursday in the prestigious journal Science reveals the discovery of a new exoplanet that could be instrumental in the hunt.
Researchers will try to determine whether there is an atmosphere on the “super-Earth” and traces of life around a star other than our Sun.
“The end of the road is finding biomarkers or biosignatures in the atmospheres of exoplanets, which is signs of life on habitable Earth-like planets,” said Jose Caballero, an astronomer at Spain’s Centro de Astrobiologia and one of the co-authors of the study.
About 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered during the past 25 years and some have been found to have an atmosphere.
But these are “gaseous planets or icy planets,” Caballero told AFP, and planets the size of Earth have not been investigated yet.
The latest discovery opens up the possibility for researchers to study an exoplanet that is “rocky in nature, like the Earth,” he said.
The name of the exoplanet is Gliese 486b and it is “only” 26 light years away.
It is about 30 percent larger than Earth but with a mass 2.8 times that of our planet and is located in what is called a habitable zone around a star.
To identify it, researchers used two methods: “transit photometry” – slight variations in a star’s brightness as a planet passes in front of it – and “Doppler radial velocity,” which measures the “wobbling” of stars from the gravitational pull of orbiting planets.
‘Have to start with something’
Since Gliese 486b is very near its star, Gliese 486, it takes only slightly less than 1.5 days to complete an orbit around it.
“We surveyed about 350 small red-dwarf stars for signs of low-mass planets,” said Trifon Trifonov, a researcher with the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the lead author of the study involving contributions from five continents.
Trifonov said Gliese 486b is not habitable with temperatures ranging around 430 degrees Celsius.
“The proximity to the red dwarf Gliese 486 heats the planet significantly, making its landscape hot and dry, interspersed with volcanos and glowing lava rivers,” Trifonov said.
At the same time, Caballero said “if our planet has an atmosphere, then any planet at wider separation (from its star), and with roughly the same planet characteristics… will also have an atmosphere.”
If it doesn’t have an atmosphere then the other planets in the orbit will not be habitable either.
“We have to start with something,” Caballero said.
Trifonov said Gliese 486b is a “remarkable discovery, which will likely become the ‘Rosetta Stone’ for atmospheric investigations of rocky exoplanets.”
He is anxiously awaiting the deployment later this year of the James Webb Space Telescope.
It should allow researchers to tell no earlier than three years from now whether the exoplanet has an atmosphere and its composition.
And eventually, in a couple of decades, to tell whether there are any traces of life, Caballero said.
SpaceX Starship SN10 Rocket Explodes on Ground After Seemingly Successful Flight
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 4 March 2021
Third time’s a charm? Not so for SpaceX, whose unmanned rocket exploded on the ground Wednesday after carrying out what had seemed to be a successful flight and landing – fresh on the heels of two fiery crashes.
It was yet another flub involving a prototype of the Starship rocket, which SpaceX hopes one day to send to Mars.
“A beautiful soft landing,” a SpaceX commentator said on a live broadcast of the test flight, although flames were coming out at the bottom and crews were trying to put them out.
The rocket exploded a few minutes later, lurching into the air and crashing back to the ground.
No explanation was immediately provided.
“Starship SN10 landed in one piece!” Musk tweeted jokingly about an hour after the explosion.
Starship SN10 landed in one piece! https://t.co/lO4AF47MaN— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 4, 2021
“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” he said in a second tweet.
The latest prototype, named SN10, for serial number 10, took off a little before 23:20 GMT (4:50am IST) from Boca Chica, Texas.
The rocket rose into the sky and progressively shut down its three engines as it reached a height of six miles (10 kilometres) and assumed a horizontal position before becoming vertical again and returning to Earth.
As seen on SpaceX video, it appeared to have otherwise landed properly after its flight. Then came the explosion.
To Mars or the Moon
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been developing the next-generation Starship rocket for the purpose of going to Mars – though two prototypes (SN8 and SN9) blew up in spectacular fashion on their test runs in December and early February.
The tests take place in a nearly deserted area leased by SpaceX in South Texas near the border with Mexico and Gulf of Mexico – the area is vast and empty enough that an accident or explosion would not likely cause damage or fatalities.
Apart from Mars, the rocket, if it becomes operational, could also prove useful for closer trips, especially to the Moon.
On Wednesday, Japanese billionaire and online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, who paid an undisclosed sum for a SpaceX lunar spaceship trip expected to launch in 2023 at the earliest, threw open the application process for eight people from around the world to join him.
He announced the move in a video posted on Twitter in which Musk tells potential applicants: “I’m highly confident that we will have reached orbit many times with Starship before 2023 and that it will be safe enough for human transport by 2023. It’s looking very promising.”
The mission will be the first private space flight beyond Earth’s orbit, Musk said.
Japanese Billionaire Yusaku Maezawa Invites 8 People for Private Lunar Expedition Onboard SpaceX Spaceship
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 3 March 2021
It’s the sort of chance that comes along just once in a blue Moon: a Japanese billionaire is throwing open a private lunar expedition to eight people from around the world.
Yusaku Maezawa, an online fashion tycoon, was announced in 2018 as the first man to book a spot aboard the lunar spaceship being developed by SpaceX.
Maezawa, who paid an undisclosed sum for the trip expected to launch in 2023 at the earliest, originally said he planned to invite six to eight artists to join him on the voyage around the Moon.
But on Wednesday, in a video posted on his Twitter account, he revealed a broader application process.
“I’m inviting you to join me on this mission. Eight of you from all around the world,” he said.
“I have bought all the seats, so it will be a private ride,” he added.
Maezawa, 45, said his initial plan of inviting artists had “evolved” because he came to believe that “every single person who is doing something creative could be called an artist.”
The Japanese entrepreneur said applicants would need to fulfil just two criteria: being ready to “push the envelope” creatively, and being willing to help other crew members do the same.
In all, he said around 10 to 12 people will be on board the spaceship, which is expected to loop around the Moon before returning to Earth.
The application timeline for spots on the trip calls for would-be space travellers to pre-register by March 14, with initial screening carried out by March 21.
No deadlines are given for the next stages – an “assignment” and an online interview – but final interviews and medical checkups are currently scheduled for late May 2021, according to Maezawa’s website.
Musk ‘highly confident’
Maezawa and his band of astronauts will become the first lunar voyagers since the last US Apollo mission in 1972 – if SpaceX can pull the trip off.
Last month, a prototype of its Starship crashed in a fireball as it tried to land upright after a test flight, the second such accident, after the last prototype of the Starship met a similar fate in December.
But the company hopes the reusable, 394-foot (120-metre) rocket system will one day carry crew and cargo to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
“I’m highly confident that we will have reached orbit many times with Starship before 2023 and that it will be safe enough for human transport by 2023. It’s looking very promising,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in Maezawa’s video posted Wednesday.
The mission will be the first private space flight beyond Earth’s orbit, Musk said.
Because it will not land on the Moon, but loop behind it, “we expect people will go further than any human has ever gone from planet Earth,” he added.
Maezawa, known for his eccentric comments and extravagant lifestyle including a penchant for pricey art, was last year valued around $1.9 billion (roughly Rs. 13,880 crores), making him one of Japan’s richest people.
He made his fortune as founder of online fashion store Zozo, which he sold to Yahoo! Japan in 2019.
Maezawa has previously made headlines with an online advertisement for a girlfriend to join him on his SpaceX flight – only to abruptly cancel the hunt, despite attracting nearly 30,000 applicants.
US space agency NASA is intending to land astronauts on the Moon, including the first woman, in 2024.
One of the goals of its Artemis III voyage is to bring back a total of 85 kilograms (187 pounds) of lunar samples – more than the average 64 kilograms brought back by Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972.
International Space Station Being Prepped for New Solar Panels Coming Later This Year
By Associated Press | Updated: 1 March 2021
Spacewalking astronauts ventured out Sunday to install support frames for new, high-efficiency solar panels arriving at the International Space Station later this year.
NASA’s Kate Rubins and Victor Glover put the first set of mounting brackets and struts together, then bolted them into place next to the station’s oldest and most degraded solar wings. But the work took longer than expected, and they barely got started on the second set before calling it quits.
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Rubins will finish the job during a second spacewalk later this week.
The spacewalkers had to lug out the hundreds of pounds of mounting brackets and struts in 8-foot (2.5-meter) duffle-style bags. The equipment was so big and awkward that it had to be taken apart like furniture, just to get through the hatch.
Some of the attachment locations required extra turns of the power drill and still weren’t snug enough, as indicated by black lines. The astronauts had to use a ratchet wrench to deal with the more stubborn bolts, which slowed them down. At one point, they were two hours behind.
“Whoever painted this black line painted outside the lines a little bit,” Glover said at one particularly troublesome spot.
“We’ll work on our kindergarten skills over here,” Mission Control replied, urging him to move on.
With more people and experiments flying on the space station, more power will be needed to keep everything running, according to NASA. The six new solar panels — to be delivered in pairs by SpaceX over the coming year or so — should boost the station’s electrical capability by as much as 30 percent.
Rubins and Glover tackled the struts for the first two solar panels, due to launch in June. Their spacewalk ended up lasting seven hours, a bit longer than planned.
“Really appreciate your hard work. I know there were a lot of challenges,” Mission Control radioed.
The eight solar panels up there now are 12 to 20 years old — most of them past their design lifetime and deteriorating. Each panel is 112 feet (34 meters) long by 39 feet (12 meters) wide. Tip to tip counting the center framework, each pair stretches 240 feet (73 meters), longer than a Boeing 777′s wingspan.
Boeing is supplying the new roll-up panels, about half the size of the old ones but just as powerful thanks to the latest solar cell technology. They’ll be placed at an angle above the old ones, which will continue to operate.
A prototype was tested at the space station in 2017.
Rubins’ helmet featured a new high-definition camera that provided stunning views, particularly those showing the vivid blue Earth 270 miles (435 kilometers) below. “Pretty fantastic,” observed Mission Control.
Sunday’s spacewalk was the third for infectious disease specialist Rubins and Navy pilot Glover — both of whom could end up flying to the moon.
They’re among 18 astronauts newly assigned to NASA’s Artemis moon-landing programme. The next moonwalkers will come from this group.
Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris put in a congratulatory call to Glover, the first African American astronaut to live full time at the space station. NASA released the video exchange Saturday.
“The history making that you are doing, we are so proud of you,” Harris said. Like other firsts, Glover replied, it won’t be the last. “We want to make sure that we can continue to do new things,” he said.
Rubins will float back out Friday with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to wrap up the solar panel prep work, and to vent and relocate ammonia coolant hoses.
Glover and Noguchi were among four astronauts arriving via SpaceX in November. Rubins launched from Kazakhstan in October alongside two Russians. They’re all scheduled to return to Earth this spring.
Russia Launches Its First Arctic-Monitoring Satellite Arktika-M
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 1 March 2021
A Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sunday carrying Russia’s first satellite for monitoring the Arctic’s climate, the Roscosmos space agency said.
Video published by the Russian space agency showed the Soyuz blaster launching against grey skies at 0655 GMT (12:25pm IST), carrying an Arktika-M satellite.
Space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Twitter later that communication with the satellite had been established.
ЕСТЬ КОНТАКТ ПОДЪЕМА 🚀— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) February 28, 2021
С космодрома Байконур только что стартовала ракета-носитель «Союз-2.1б» с разгонным блоком «Фрегат» и новым космическим аппаратом для оценки климата Арктики — #АрктикаМ.
Смотрите полёт ракеты вместе с нами ➡️ https://t.co/SsM7CKVJBa pic.twitter.com/AVjENB3oEA
The monitoring system will need at least two satellites to operate properly, the space agency said.
“As part of the system, they will provide round-the-clock all-weather monitoring of the Earth’s surface and the seas of the Arctic Ocean,” it added.
The launch of the second Arktika-M satellite is planned for 2023, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Economic exploitation of the Arctic is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s key goals.
The Arctic holds huge oil and gas reserves that are being eyed by Russia and other countries including the United States, Canada, and Norway.
UK scientists last month reported ice was disappearing across the world at a rate that matched “worst-case climate warming scenarios”.
The team from the universities of Edinburgh and Leeds and University College London found that some of the largest losses in the last three decades were from Arctic Sea ice.
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