The first astronauts arrived at China’s new space station on Thursday in the country’s longest crewed mission to date, a landmark step in establishing Beijing as a major space power.
The trio blasted off on a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwest China’s Gobi desert, and their craft docked at the Tiangong station around seven hours later, where they will spend the next three months.
State broadcaster CCTV showed a live feed from inside the spacecraft during the journey, with the three astronauts lifting their helmet visors after it reached orbit as one smiled and waved at the camera.
Another floated a pen just off his lap in zero-gravity as he browsed the flight manual.
Around seven hours after lift-off, space officials confirmed that the craft had docked with Tianhe, the core module of the country’s new space station.
The Shenzhou-12 craft has “successfully docked with the forward port of the core module” of the Tiangong station, said the China Manned Space Agency, as state TV showed live footage.
At a ceremony before blast-off, the three astronauts, already wearing their space suits, greeted a crowd of supporters and space workers, who sang the patriotic song “Without the Chinese Communist Party, there would be no new China”.
The mission’s commander is Nie Haisheng, a decorated air force pilot in the People’s Liberation Army who has already participated in two space missions.
The two other members are also members of the military.
The Tianhe module of the space station has separate living spaces for each of the astronauts, a “space treadmill” and bike for exercise, and a communication centre for emails and video calls with ground control.
It is China’s first crewed mission in nearly five years.
Huang Weifen of the China Manned Space Program said the astronauts will perform two spacewalks during the mission, both lasting around six or seven hours.
She also said the trio will wear newly-developed spacewalk suits.
The launch represents a matter of huge prestige in China, as Beijing prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a massive propaganda campaign.
To prepare for the mission, the crew underwent more than 6,000 hours of training, including hundreds of underwater somersaults in full space gear.
The Chinese space agency is planning a total of 11 launches through to the end of next year, including three more manned missions that will deliver two lab modules to expand the 70-tonne station, along with supplies and crew members.
China’s space ambitions have been fuelled in part by a US ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station, a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan.
It is due for retirement after 2024, even though NASA has said it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.
Tiangong will be much smaller than the ISS, and is expected to have a lifespan of at least 10 years.
China has said it would be open to international collaboration on its space station although it has yet to give specific details.
Zhou Jianping, chief designer for the space programme, said “foreign astronauts are certainly going to enter the Chinese space station one day”.
“There are a number of countries that have expressed a desire to do that and we will be open to that in future,” he said.
Beijing said in March it was also planning to build a separate lunar space station with Russia, and this week the two countries issued a “roadmap” for potential collaboration opportunities.
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
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.
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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