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A seat on a spaceship ride with billionaire Jeff Bezos went for $28 million (roughly Rs. 205 crores) during a live auction on Saturday, concluding the month-long bidding process for the sightseeing trip on the Blue Origin’s maiden voyage next month.

Within four minutes of the open of Saturday’s live phone auction, bids reached beyond $20 million (roughly Rs. 150 crores). The bidding closed seven minutes after the auction began. The identity of the winner – presumably an ultra-wealthy space aficionado – was not immediately disclosed.

The July 20 launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster from West Texas would be a landmark moment as US firms strive toward a new era of private commercial space travel.

Blue Origin’s founder and Amazon executive Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man and a lifelong space enthusiast, has been racing against fellow aspiring billionaire aeronauts Richard Branson and Elon Musk to be the first of the three to travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

“To see the earth from space, changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity,” Bezos said in a video before the final bidding took place, adding that his brother Mark will join him on the trip.

As the month-long bidding process leading up to the live auction closed on Thursday, the winning figure stood at $4.8 million (roughly Rs. 38 crores), fueled by entries from more than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries, Blue Origin said.

“Putting the world’s richest man and one of the most recognised figures in business into space is a massive advertisement for space as a domain for exploration, industrialisation, and investment,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas told clients earlier this month.

While the funds raised from the event are earmarked for charity, Blue Origin is hoping to galvanise enthusiasm for its nascent suborbital tourism business.

However, Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic, may attempt to steal Bezos’ thunder by joining a possible test flight to the edge of space over the July 4 weekend aboard Virgin’s VSS Unity spaceplane, one person familiar with the matter said.

The race is fueled by optimism that space travel will become mainstream as nascent technology is proven and costs fall, fueling what UBS estimates could be a $3 billion (roughly Rs. 21,950 crores) annual tourism market by 2030.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, as well as Musk’s SpaceX, have also discussed using their rockets to link far-flung global cities. UBS says that long-haul travel market could be worth more than $20 billion (roughly Rs. 150 crores), though several barriers such as air-safety certification could derail the plans.

Blue Origin has not divulged its pricing strategy for future trips.

Reuters reported in 2018 that Blue Origin was planning to charge passengers at least $200,000 (roughly Rs. 1.5 crores) for the ride, based on a market study and other considerations, though its thinking may have changed.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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Neuralink Expected to Begin Human Trials in Six Months, Elon Musk Says

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Neuralink Expected to Begin Human Trials in Six Months, Elon Musk Says

Elon Musk said on Wednesday a wireless device developed by his brain chip company Neuralink is expected to begin human clinical trials in six months.

The company is developing brain chip interfaces that it says could enable disabled patients to move and communicate again. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas, Neuralink has in recent years been conducting tests on animals as it seeks US regulatory approval to begin clinical trials in people.

“We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human but we’ve submitted I think most of our paperwork to the FDA and probably in about six months we should be able to upload Neuralink in a human,” Musk said during a much-awaited public update on the device.

The event was originally planned for October 31 but Musk postponed it just days before without giving a reason.

Neuralink’s last public presentation, more than a year ago, involved a monkey with a brain chip that played a computer game by thinking alone.

Musk is known for lofty goals such as colonizing Mars and saving humanity. His ambitions for Neuralink, which he launched in 2016, are of the same grand scale. He wants to develop a chip that would allow the brain to control complex electronic devices and eventually allow people with paralysis to regain motor function and treat brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. He also talks about melding the brain with artificial intelligence.

Neuralink, however, is running behind schedule. Musk said in a 2019 presentation he was aiming to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then said at a conference in late 2021 that he hoped to start human trials this year.

Neuralink has repeatedly missed internal deadlines to gain US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to start human trials, current and former employees have said. Musk approached competitor Synchron earlier this year about a potential investment after he expressed frustration to Neuralink employees about their slow progress, Reuters reported in August.

Synchron crossed a major milestone in July by implanting its device in a patient in the United States for the first time. It received US regulatory clearance for human trials in 2021 and has completed studies in four people in Australia.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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

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

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

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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