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China Announces 3-Member Crew for Shenzhou-14 Spacecraft to Be Launched on June 5

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 4 June 2022

China on Saturday unveiled a three-member astronaut crew that will travel by the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft on a six-month mission to complete the construction of the country’s space station currently orbiting the earth. The Shenzhou-14 spacecraft carrying astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe will dock with the Tiangong space station currently under construction, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced on Saturday.

The Shenzhou-14 spaceship will be launched with a Long March-2F carrier rocket on Sunday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China.

Earlier, a three-member Chinese astronaut crew, which included a woman returned to the earth in April after spending a record six months building vital parts of the space station which was expected to be ready by this year.

They completed the verification of key technologies of its space station, according to the CMSA.

Once ready, China will be the only country to own a space station. The International Space Station (ISS) of Russia is a collaborative project of several countries.

China Space Station, (CSS) is also expected to be a competitor to the ISS built by Russia.

Observers say CSS may become the sole space station to remain in orbit once the ISS retires in the coming years.

Chen, who will be the commander of the new mission, participated in the Shenzhou-11 crewed spaceflight mission, Liu in the Shenzhou-9 mission and Cai is a newcomer to space, Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA, said at the press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre.

The trio will stay in orbit for six months, Lin said.

The Shenzhou-14 mission will complete the construction of the Tiangong space station, with a basic three-module structure consisting of the core module Tianhe and the lab modules Wentian and Mengtian.

The Shenzhou-14 mission will build the space station into a national space laboratory, Lin Xiqiang, the deputy director of the CMSA, was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

During their stay in orbit, the Shenzhou-14 crew will witness the two lab modules, Tianzhou-5 cargo craft and Shenzhou-15 crewed spaceship dock with the core module Tianhe.

They will rotate with the Shenzhou-15 crew in orbit, and return to the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in December, Lin said.

Shenzhou-14 will be the third of four crewed missions – and the seventh of a total of 11 missions – needed to complete the space station by the end of the year.

China began constructing its three-module space station in April 2021 with the launch of Tianhe – the first and biggest of the station’s three modules.

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NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Enters Lunar Orbit a Week After Artemis I Launch

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 26 November 2022

NASA’s Orion spacecraft was placed in lunar orbit Friday, officials said, as the much-delayed Moon mission proceeded successfully.

A little over a week after the spacecraft blasted off from Florida bound for the Moon, flight controllers “successfully performed a burn to insert Orion into a distant retrograde orbit,” the US space agency said on its website.

The spacecraft is to take astronauts to the Moon in the coming years — the first to set foot on its surface since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

This first test flight, without a crew on board, aims to ensure that the vehicle is safe.

“The orbit is distant in that Orion will fly about 40,000 miles above the Moon,” NASA said.

While in lunar orbit, flight controllers will monitor key systems and perform checkouts while in the environment of deep space, the agency said.

It will take Orion about a week to complete half an orbit around the Moon. It will then exit the orbit for the return journey home, according to NASA.

On Saturday, the ship is expected to go up to 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, a record for a habitable capsule. The current record is held by the Apollo 13 spacecraft at 248,655 miles (400,171 km) from Earth.

It will then begin the journey back to Earth, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean scheduled for December 11, after just over 25 days of flight.

The success of this mission will determine the future of the Artemis 2 mission, which will take astronauts around the Moon without landing, then Artemis 3, which will finally mark the return of humans to the lunar surface.

Those missions are scheduled to take place in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

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ISRO’s RH200 Sounding Rocket Registers 200th Consecutive Successful Launch

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 24 November 2022

ISRO on Wednesday announced that RH200, the versatile sounding rocket of the Indian space agency, has registered its 200th consecutive successful launch from the shores of Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has termed it a “historic moment”. It was witnessed by former President Ram Nath Kovind and ISRO chairman S Somanath, among others.

The successful flight of RH200 took off from the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS).

“Indian sounding rockets are used as privileged tools for the scientific community for carrying out experiments on meteorology, astronomy and similar branches of space physics,” an ISRO statement said.

Campaigns such as Equatorial ElectroJet (EEJ), Leonid Meteor Shower (LMS), Indian Middle Atmosphere Programme (IMAP), Monsoon Experiment (MONEX), Middle Atmosphere Dynamics (MIDAS), and Sooryagrahan-2010 have been conducted using the sounding rocket platform for scientific exploration of the Earth’s atmosphere, it said.

The Rohini Sounding Rocket (RSR) series have been the forerunners for ISRO’s heavier and more complex launch vehicles, with a continued usage even today for atmospheric and meteorological studies, the national space agency headquartered here said.

“The 200th consecutive successful flight stands testimony to the commitment of Indian rocket scientists towards unmatched reliability demonstrated over the years,” it said.

Meanwhile, ISRO is all set to launch PSLV-C54/ EOS-06 mission with Oceansat-3 and eight nano satellites, including one from Bhutan, from the Sriharikota spaceport on November 26. The launch is scheduled at 11.56am on Saturday, the national space agency said on Sunday.

Last week, ISRO announced that the payload capability of India’s heaviest LVM3 rocket has been enhanced by up to 450kg with a successful engine test. According to the Indian Space Research Organisation, the CE20 cryogenic engine indigenously developed for Launch Vehicle Mark 3 (LVM3) was subjected to a successful hot test at an uprated thrust level of 21.8 tonnes for the first time on November 9, according to the country’s national space agency.

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G20 Summit: India Plans Science-20 Meet for Member Nations, Side Events in July 2023

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 21 November 2022

India will host a meeting of science ministers from G-20 member nations at Coimbatore in July next year during its presidency of the grouping of the world’s 20 major developed and emerging economies. Besides the Science-20 Summit with the theme ‘Disruptive Science for Innovative and Sustainable Growth’, the science administrators will also host the “Research Innovation Initiated Gathering (RIIG) on the theme Research and Innovation for Equitable Society.

Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh on Saturday chaired a meeting of six science ministries and departments to review the preparations for the S-20 summit.

A number of side events related to the Science-20 and RIIG meetings have been planned across the country to showcase India’s rich cultural heritage and diversity, an official statement said.

The Science-20 Secretariat will be chaired by Vijay P Bhatkar, the architect of the PARAM series of supercomputers with Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India Prof Ajay K Sood and noted structural chemist Gautam Desiraju as eminent members of the Secretariat.

The inception meeting for the S-20 meeting will be held on January 30-31 in Puducherry, while the side event on ‘non-conventional energy for a greener future’ will be held on Bangaram Island in Lakshadweep on February 27-28.

The side events on ‘Connecting Science to Society’ and ‘Culture and Holistic Health: Cure and Prevention of Disease’ will be held at Agartala (April 3-4) and Indore (June 16-17) respectively.

The sub-themes for RIIG gathering will be Materials for Sustainable Energy (CSIR), Scientific Challenges and Opportunities towards Achieving a Sustainable Blue Economy (Ministry of Earth Sciences), Bio-resource/ Biodiversity and Bio-economy (Department of Biotechnology) and Eco-Innovations for Energy Transition (SERB).

The inception meeting for RIIG will be held in Kolkata on February 9-10 with side events in Ranchi (March 21-22),: Dibrugarh & Itanagar (March 24-25), Shimla (April 19-20), and Diu (May 18-19).

The RIIG Summit and Research Ministers meeting will be held in Mumbai from July 4 to Juy 6 July.

Singh said the expected deliverables of the S-20 and RIIG will be creation of better and encouraging frameworks for environmentally responsible technologies and assertion of IP sharing and technology transfers, creation of a global ecosystem for start-up mentorship and funding.

The themes for the two science events will also cover encouragement of more mega science projects, creation of framework for global holistic health program and mental health program, creating common cultural dialogue for science through more engagement programs and interdisciplinary partnerships, creation of a common digital global heritage that is accessible for all citizens, the statement said.

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Vikram-S, India’s First Private Rocket, Successfully Launched Into Space by Skyroot Aerospace

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By Agencies | Updated: 18 November 2022

India launched its first privately developed rocket, the Vikram-S, on Friday, a milestone in the country’s effort to create a commercial space industry. The 545-kg rocket developed by space startup Skyroot took off from the Indian space agency’s launch site near Chennai. The rocket has the capability of reaching Mach 5 – five times the speed of sound – and carrying a payload of 83 kg. Video footage showed the rocket taking off from the space centre, leaving a plume of smoke and fire in its trail.

Hyderabad-based Skyroot, founded in 2018 and backed by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, was the first space startup to sign an agreement to use Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launch and test facilities after the government opened the door to private companies in 2020.

It has raised Rs. 530 crore so far and employs about 200 people. Close to 100 people have been involved in its maiden launch project, the company said.

The rocket is expected to reach an altitude of about 81 kilometres before splashing down in about 5 minutes.

With the launch of Vikram-S, Skyroot has become the first private space company in India to launch a rocket into space, heralding a new era for the space sector which was opened up in 2020 to facilitate private sector participation.

Skyroot’s launch vehicles are named ‘Vikram’ as a tribute to the founder of the Indian space programme and renowned scientist Vikram Sarabhai. The startup was the first to sign a memorandum of understanding with ISRO for launching its rockets. It aims to disrupt entry barriers to cost-efficient satellite launch services and space-flight by advancing its mission to make spaceflights affordable, reliable and regular for all, the statement said.

“The maiden launch by a new Startup has significantly enhanced the credibility for Indian private space players around the globe. The capability that the sector has been claiming has been demonstrated in Space. Since its inception in 2018, Skyroot has come a long way in delivering its expertise in manufacturing of small lift launch vehicles by launching India’s first private rocket which was manufactured in just two years. The Vikram-S rocket’s success will further validate most of the technologies in the ‘Vikram’ series of space launch vehicles planned by Skyroot for the coming years. India’s space economy is set to grow to $13 billion (roughly Rs.1,06,222 crore) and the space launch segment is estimated to grow the fastest by 2025 at a CAGR of 13 percent which will be further spurred by growing private participation, latest technology adoption and low cost of launch services and this launch is a major landmark for this growth to take place in the coming years”, Lt. Gen. AK Bhatt, director general, Indian Space Association said in a prepared statement.

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SpaceX Employees Fired for Criticising Elon Musk Accuse Firm of Violating US Labour Law

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By Associated Press | Updated: 18 November 2022

Several SpaceX employees who were fired after circulating an open letter calling out CEO Elon Musk’s behaviour have filed a complaint accusing the company of violating labour laws.

The complaint, made Wednesday to the National Labor Relations Board, details the aftermath of what allegedly happened inside SpaceX after employees circulated the letter in June, which, among other things, called on executives to condemn Musk’s public behaviour on Twitter — including making light of allegations he sexually harassed a flight attendant — and hold everyone accountable for unacceptable conduct.

The letter was sent weeks after a media report surfaced that Musk paid $250,000 (roughly Rs. 2,04,27,920) to the flight attendant to quash a potential sexual harassment lawsuit against him. The billionaire has denied the allegations.

Employees in their letter urged SpaceX to uniformly enforce its policy against unacceptable behaviour and commit to a transparent process for responses to claims of misconduct. A day later, Paige Holland-Thielen and four other employees who participated in organizing the letter were fired, according to the filing, which was made by Holland-Thielen to a regional NLRB office in California. Four additional employees were fired weeks later for their involvement in the letter.

A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk, who is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and is currently running Twitter, prefers to do things his own way even if that means running afoul of rules and regulations. He’s currently in a defiant fight with Civil Rights department, a California regulator that is suing Tesla for rampant racial discrimination.

Some view Musk’s management style as autocratic and demanding, as evidenced by a recent email he sent to Twitter staff giving them until Thursday evening to decide whether they want to remain a part of the business. Musk wrote that employees “will need to be extremely hardcore” to build “a breakthrough Twitter 2.0″ and that long hours at high intensity will be needed for success.

A number of engineers also said on Twitter they were fired last week after saying something critical of Musk, either publicly on Twitter or on an internal messaging board for Twitter employees.

In a statement, Holland-Thielen said as a woman engineer at SpaceX, she experienced “deep cultural problems” and comforted colleagues who had experienced similar issues.

“It was clear that this culture was created from the top level,” she said.

Still, she said part of what she liked about the company was that any person could escalate issues to leadership and be taken seriously.

“We drafted the letter to communicate to the executive staff on their terms and show how their lack of action created tangible barriers to the long term success of the mission,” Holland-Thielen said. “We never imagined that SpaceX would fire us for trying to help the company succeed.”

The firings coincide with Musk’s $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore) buyout of Twitter. Around the same time, the billionaire used a sexual term to make fun of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ belly and also posted a poop emoji during an online discussion with then-Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal.

After terminating the first set of employees, SpaceX allegedly interrogated dozens of others over the next two months in private meetings, telling them they couldn’t disclose those conversations to anyone else due to attorney-client privilege, according to the complaint. Four additional employees who helped draft or share the letter were fired in July and August, the filing said, adding up to nine terminations in total.

“Management used this ‘ends justifies the means’ philosophy to turn a blind eye to the ongoing mistreatment, harassment, and abuse reported by my colleagues, much of which was directly encouraged and inspired by the words and actions of the CEO,” said Tom Moline, who was also fired from SpaceX after organizing the letter.

Jeffery Pfeffer, a professor who specializes in organizational behaviour at Stanford University’s business school, said that the allegations were hardly a surprise given Musk’s leadership style at Twitter. Musk’s success at companies like Tesla and SpaceX have created what he labeled as hubris under the false notion that it was “all about individual genius.”

“Powerful people get to break the rules. They don’t think they are bound by the same conventions as other people,” Pfeffer said, criticizing Musk’s behavior. He said it showed the arrogance of Musk, one of the world’s richest men: “Why would he think he is a mere mortal?”

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NASA’s Artemis I on Its Trajectory to Moon After Launching Successfully in Third Attempt

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By Reuters | Updated: 16 November 2022

NASA’s huge next-generation rocketship was on course Wednesday for a crewless voyage around the moon and back hours after blasting off from Florida on its debut flight, half a century after the final lunar mission of the Apollo era.

The much-delayed launch kicked off Apollo’s successor program, Artemis, aimed at returning astronauts to the lunar surface this decade and establishing a sustainable base there as a stepping stone to future human exploration of Mars.

The 32-story-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:47am EST (12:17pm IST), piercing the blackness over Cape Canaveral with a reddish-orange tail of fire.

About 90 minutes after launch, the rocket’s upper stage successfully thrust the Orion capsule out of Earth orbit and on its trajectory to the moon, NASA announced.

Launchpad Drama

Liftoff came on the third attempt at launching the multibillion-dollar rocket, after 10 weeks beset by technical mishaps, back-to-back hurricanes and two excursions trundling the spacecraft out of its hangar to the launch pad.

About four hours before Wednesday’s blastoff, crews had to deal with a flurry of simultaneous issues, including a leaky fuel valve.

Quick work on the launch pad by a special team of technicians, who tightened down a loose connection well inside the “blast zone” demarcated around a nearly fully fueled rocket, was credited with saving the launch.

The three-week Artemis I mission marks the first flight of the combined SLS rocket and the Orion capsule together, built by Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, respectively, under contract with NASA.

After decades with NASA focused on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station (see graphic), it also signals a major change in direction for the agency’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program.

Named for the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt — and Apollo’s twin sister — Artemis aims to return astronauts to the moon’s surface as early as 2025.

More science-driven than Apollo — born of the Cold War-era U.S.-Soviet space race that put 12 NASA astronauts on the moon during six missions from 1969 to 1972 — the Artemis program has enlisted commercial partners such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the space agencies of Europe, Canada, and Japan.

The Artemis I mission entails a 25-day Orion flight bringing the capsule to within 97km of the lunar surface before flying 64,400km beyond the moon and looping back to Earth. The capsule is expected to splash down at sea on December 11.

You could feel it

The thunder of 8.8 million pounds of thrust produced at launch by the rocket’s four main R-25 engines and its twin solid-rocket boosters sent shock waves across the Kennedy complex, where crowds of spectators cheered and screamed.

“It was just incredible to see. It was so bright, so loud, you could feel it,” said NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, among those who could be selected for a future Artemis crew.

The Orion capsule will have some company around the moon from a tiny satellite, CAPSTONE, that reached its intended lunar orbit on Sunday to test a complex gravitational parking position called a “near-rectilinear HALO orbit.”

That position would be home to a future lunar space station called Gateway, slated for deployment later this decade as part of the Artemis venture.

The first Artemis voyage is intended to put the SLS-Orion vehicle through its paces in a rigorous demonstration flight, pushing its design limits to prove the spacecraft is safe and reliable enough to fly astronauts.

If the mission succeeds, a crewed Artemis II flight around the moon and back could come as early as 2024, followed within a few years by the program’s first lunar landing of astronauts, one of them a woman, with Artemis III.

Sending astronauts to Mars, an order of magnitude more challenging than lunar landings, is expected to take at least another decade and a half to achieve.

Billed as the most powerful, complex rocket in the world, the SLS represents the biggest new vertical launch system NASA has built since the Saturn V of the Apollo era.

Although no people were aboard, Orion carried a simulated crew of three – one male and two female mannequins — fitted with sensors to measure radiation levels and other stresses that astronauts would experience.

A top objective is to test the durability of Orion’s heat shield during re-entry as it hits Earth’s atmosphere at 39,400km per hour — much faster than re-entries from the space station.

The spacecraft also is set to release 10 miniaturized science satellites, called CubeSats, including one designed to map the abundance of ice deposits on the moon’s south pole, where Artemis seeks to eventually land astronauts.

More than a decade in development with years of delays and budget overruns, the SLS-Orion spacecraft has cost NASA at least $37 billion (roughly Rs. 3 lakh crore). Its Office of Inspector General has projected total Artemis costs at $93 billion (roughly Rs. 7.55 lakh crore) by 2025.

NASA says the program also has generated tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in commerce.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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