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NASA will launch its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, in 2023 to get a closer view of the Moon’s South Pole and evaluate the concentration of water as well as other potential resources on its surface. The space agency is undertaking the mission to understand if it is possible for human life to sustain there, by using locally available resources. The VIPER mobile robot, NASA said, is the first resource mapping mission on any other celestial body. 

NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services  (CLPS) will be providing the launch vehicle and lander for what’s going to be a 100-day mission. Similar to a golf cart, VIPER measures 5 feet by 5 feet and weighs 430 kilograms, said the agency. On its website, NASA said that the Moon rover will directly analyse the water ice on the surface and sub-surface of the celestial body. The VIPER will also evaluate the same at varying depths and temperatures within four main soil environments on the moon.  

The Lunar rover will transmit the data to Earth which will then be utilised in the creation of resource maps. It will also help scientists determine the location and concentration of frozen water on the Moon and varied forms such as ice crystals or molecules chemically bound to other materials. NASA said that VIPER’s findings will inform “future landing sites under the Artemis program by helping to determine locations where water and other resources can be harvested” to sustain humans over extended stays.

The agency added that the findings could be a game-changer, especially because it’s not possible to bring everything to the Moon, Mars, and beyond for long-term exploration. It will use the data that VIPER collects to determine where the water ice is most likely to be found and the easiest to access. This is going to be a critical step forward in NASA’s Artemis programme to establish a sustainable human presence on the surface of the Moon by 2028, the agency said.

NASA said satellites orbiting the Moon as part of the past missions have helped us understand that there is water ice on its surface. However, in order to use it one day, they have to learn more about it — up close and personal. “VIPER will roam the Moon using its three instruments and a 3.28-foot (1m) drill to detect and analyze various lunar soil environments at a range of depths and temperatures,” the agency said. “The rover will venture into permanently shadowed craters, some of the coldest spots in the solar system, where water ice reserves have endured for billions of years.”

There are challenges, too, of extreme temperature conditions, dynamic lighting, and complex terrain. The near real-time driving of the rover will also pose new engineering and design challenges to the team.


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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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