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The International Space Station (ISS) was thrown briefly out of control on Thursday when jet thrusters of a newly arrived Russian research module inadvertently fired a few hours after it was docked to the orbiting outpost, NASA officials said.

The seven crew members aboard – two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut, and a European space agency astronaut from France – were never in any immediate danger, according to NASA and Russian state-owned news agency RIA.

But the malfunction prompted NASA to postpone until at least August 3 its planned launch of Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner capsule on a highly anticipated uncrewed test flight to the space station. The Starliner had been set to blast off atop an Atlas V rocket on Friday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Thursday’s mishap began about three hours after the multipurpose Nauka module had latched onto the space station, as mission controllers in Moscow were performing some post-docking “reconfiguration” procedures, according to NASA.

The module’s jets inexplicably restarted, causing the entire station to pitch out of its normal flight position some 250 miles above the Earth, leading the mission’s flight director to declare a “spacecraft emergency,” US space agency officials said.

An unexpected drift in the station’s orientation was first detected by automated ground sensors, followed 15 minutes later by a “loss of attitude control” that lasted a little over 45 minutes, according to Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA’s space station programme.

‘Tug-of-war’

Flight teams on the ground managed to restore the space station’s orientation by activating thrusters on another module of the orbiting platform, NASA officials said.

In its broadcast coverage of the incident, RIA cited NASA specialists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as describing the struggle to regain control of the space station as a “tug of war” between the two modules.

At the height of the incident, the station was pitching out of alignment at the rate of about a half a degree per second, Montalbano said during a NASA conference call with reporters.

The Nauka engines were ultimately switched off, the space station was stabilised and its orientation was restored to where it had begun, NASA said.

Communication with the crew was lost for several minutes twice during the disruption, but “there was no immediate danger at any time to the crew,” Montalbano said. He said “the crew really didn’t feel any movement.”

Had the situation become so dangerous as to require evacuation of personnel, the crew could have escaped in a SpaceX crew capsule still parked at the outpost and designed to serve as a “lifeboat” if necessary, said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s commercial crew programme.

What caused the malfunction of the thrusters on the Nauka module, delivered by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has yet to be determined, NASA officials said.

Montalbano said there was no immediate sign of any damage to the space station. The flight correction maneuvres used up more propellant reserves than desired, “but nothing I would worry about,” he said.

After its launch last week from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, the module experienced a series of glitches that raised concern about whether the docking procedure would go smoothly.

Roscosmos attributed Thursday’s post-docking issue to Nauka’s engines having to work with residual fuel in the craft, TASS news agency reported.

“The process of transferring the Nauka module from flight mode to ‘docked with ISS’ mode is underway. Work is being carried out on the remaining fuel in the module,” Roscosmos was cited by TASS as saying.

The Nauka module is designed to serve as a research lab, storage unit, and airlock that will upgrade Russia’s capabilities aboard the ISS.

A live broadcast showed the module, named after the Russian word for “science,” docking with the space station a few minutes later than scheduled.

“According to telemetry data and reports from the ISS crew, the onboard systems of the station and the Nauka module are operating normally,” Roscosmos said in a statement.

“There is contact!!!” Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, wrote on Twitter moments after the docking.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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Asteroid 2023 BU Made Fourth Closest Approach to Earth

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Asteroid 2023 BU Made Fourth Closest Approach to Earth

There are hundreds of millions of asteroids in our solar system, which means new asteroids are discovered quite frequently. It also means close encounters between asteroids and Earth are fairly common. Some of these close encounters end up with the asteroid impacting Earth, occasionally with severe consequences.

A recently discovered asteroid, named 2023 BU, has made the news because today it passed very close to Earth.

Discovered on January 21 by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov in Crimea, 2023 BU passed only about 3,600 km from the surface of Earth (near the southern tip of South America) six days later on January 27.

That distance is just slightly farther than the distance between Perth and Sydney and is only about 1 percent of the distance between Earth and our Moon.

The asteroid also passed through the region of space that contains a significant proportion of the human-made satellites orbiting Earth.

All this makes 2023 BU the fourth-closest known asteroid encounter with Earth, ignoring those that have impacted the planet or our atmosphere.

How does 2023 BU rate as an asteroid and a threat? 2023 BU is unremarkable, other than that it passed so close to Earth. The diameter of the asteroid is estimated to be just 4–8m, which is on the small end of the range of asteroid sizes.

There are likely hundreds of millions of such objects in our solar system, and it is possible 2023 BU has come close to Earth many times before over the millennia. Until now, we have been oblivious to the fact.

In context, on average a 4-metre-diameter asteroid will impact Earth every year and an 8-metre-diameter asteroid every five years or so Asteroids of this size pose little risk to life on Earth when they hit because they largely break up in the atmosphere. They produce spectacular fireballs, and some of the asteroids may make it to the ground as meteorites.

Now that 2023 BU has been discovered, its orbit around the Sun can be estimated and future visits to Earth predicted. It is estimated there is a 1 in 10,000 chance 2023 BU will impact Earth sometime between 2077 and 2123.

So, we have little to fear from 2023 BU or any of the many millions of similar objects in the Solar System.

Asteroids need to be greater than 25m in diameter to pose any significant risk to life in a collision with Earth; to challenge the existence of civilisation, they’d need to be at least a kilometre in diameter.

It is estimated there are fewer than 1,000 such asteroids in the Solar System and could impact Earth every 5,00,000 years. We know about more than 95 per cent of these objects.

Will there be more close asteroid passes? 2023 BU was the fourth closest pass by an asteroid ever recorded. The three closer passes were by very small asteroids discovered in 2020 and 2021 (2021 UA, 2020 QG and 2020 VT).

Asteroid 2023 BU and countless other asteroids have passed very close to Earth during the nearly five billion years of the Solar System’s existence, and this situation will continue into the future.

What has changed in recent years is our ability to detect asteroids of this size, such that any threats can be characterised. That an object roughly 5m in size can be detected many thousands of kilometres away by a very dedicated amateur astronomer shows that the technology for making significant astronomical discoveries is within reach of the general public. This is very exciting.

Amateurs and professionals can together continue to discover and categorise objects, so threat analyses can be done. Another very exciting recent development came last year, by the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which successfully collided a spacecraft into an asteroid and changed its direction.

DART makes plausible the concept of redirecting an asteroid away from a collision course with Earth if a threat analysis identifies a serious risk with enough warning.


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Google Working on Fast Pair Setup, May Debut on Galaxy S23 Series: Report

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Google Working on Fast Pair Setup, May Debut on Galaxy S23 Series: Report

Google is reportedly working on the ability to set up an Android phone via the company’s Fast Pair feature. The capability could reportedly debut on a smartphone with the Samsung Galaxy S23 series that is expected to be unveiled by the South Korean conglomerate at its Galaxy Unpacked 2023 event on February 1. The upcoming flagship smartphone series from Samsung is expected to include the vanilla Samsung Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+, and Galaxy S23 Ultra models.

Fast Pair is a feature that is part of Google Play Services that allows users to set up, connect, and pair new devices like headphones, Wear OS smartwatches, styluses, tracking tags, and other accessories automatically, with a single tap when nearby and turned on. According to a report by 9to5Gooogle, the Fast Pair feature has reportedly been updated by Google to also include support for setting up nearby smartphones.

The updated Fast Pair feature could reportedly debut on Samsung‘s upcoming flagship smartphone series, the Samsung Galaxy S23. With the Fast Pair feature enabled on an Android device, it could detect nearby devices that are compatible with Fast Pair including another Android smartphone and other accessories, as per the report. On detection of the specific device that is nearby, the feature will automatically redirect users to the process to install the relevant steps that need to be followed to move data between the two devices.

With nearby Android smartphones also being supported on Fast Pair, and reportedly featuring on the Samsung Galaxy S23 series, the smartphones in the series could detect nearby Android devices and prompt users to install the Samsung Smart Switch app that allows users to transfer data between two devices, according to the report.

The feature could end up making the setup process for a new Samsung Galaxy S23 series smartphone easier than ever, but there is currently no information on whether the older and newer device will both need support for the updated Fast Pair feature.

9to5Google accessed details from a recent version of the Google Play Services application that seems to suggest that Google is preparing to debut Android’s new Fast Pair feature on the Samsung Galaxy S23 series. The South Korean conglomerate recently opened pre-reservations for the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series in India, along with several other countries.

However, it is important to note that neither Google nor Samsung has confirmed plans to update the Fast Pair feature or the inclusion of such a feature on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series, respectively.


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Watch Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Grab, Throw Objects Just Like a Human

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Watch Boston Dynamics' Atlas Robot Grab, Throw Objects Just Like a Human

Boston Dynamics has unveiled the latest version of its Atlas Robot that is capable of improved human-like movement and actions. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based robot firm, showed off the humanoid robot with grippers while displaying its capabilities via a video posted to YouTube. The robot is seen performing complex actions such as grabbing and throwing an object, navigating complex terrain while holding another object.

In the video posted on Boston Dynamics’ YouTube channel, the company’s Atlas Robot is seen navigating a challenging environment while walking on two legs mimicking human motion. The Atlas Robot is also seen grabbing hold of a plank and jumping to spin around, carrying it and placing it to create a bridge to walk between two platforms, all while holding onto a toolkit.

The Atlas Robot is then seen walking across the platform bridge it created, tossing up the toolkit to the person on top of the scaffolding. The executed manoeuvre is being referred to by Boston Dynamics as an inverted 540-degree, multi-axis flip.

After successfully passing the toolkit along to the human on the ledge above, the Atlas Robot then theatrically proceeds to do a perfectly executed backflip while still on the thin platform.

The demonstration shows how humanoid robots such as the Atlas could potentially replace humans in performing tasks that involve risk of life and injury when performed by humans.

Recently, Boston Dynamics and IBM were seen collaborating to deploy robot dogs at the US National Grid sites for the purpose of autonomous inspection. The robotic dogs named Spot, are integrated by artificial intelligence (AI) developed by IBM Research and being deployed at the electric and gas utility sites in Massachusetts and New York for regular inspections.

However, Boston Dynamics’ creative foray into deploying robots in real-life situations and applications hasn’t always been smooth. The company faced backlash for selling Spot to local police departments, including the NYPD, leading to the NYPD cancelling the arrangement.


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