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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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NASA to Provide Training to Indian Astronauts for Joint Mission to ISS

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NASA to Provide Training to Indian Astronauts for Joint Mission to ISS

NASA will soon provide advanced training to Indian astronauts to send a joint mission to the International Space Station this year or shortly thereafter, US envoy to India Eric Garcetti has said. Garcetti made these remarks while speaking at the “US-India Commercial Space Conference: Unlocking Opportunities for US & Indian Space Startups,” hosted by the US-India Business Council (USIBC) and the US Commercial Service (USCS) in Bengaluru on Friday.

“NASA will soon provide advanced training to Indian astronauts, with the goal of mounting a joint effort to the International Space Station, hopefully, this year or shortly thereafter, which was one of the promises of our leaders’ visit together,” Garcetti said.

“And soon we will launch the NISAR satellite from ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Center to monitor all resources, including ecosystems, the Earth’s surface, natural hazards, sea level rise, and the cryosphere,” Garcetti said, according to a USIBC press statement issued here.

NISAR is a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

“You see whether it’s the pursuit of peace and the peaceful use of space, things like the Artemis Accord, we are hand in hand, arm in arm. When it comes to prosperity and jobs, which is a big part of this conference today, it can be produced by startups in this sector, good-paying, high-tech jobs for Indians and for Americans. Space is right there,” Garcetti said.

The Artemis Accords lay out a framework for collaborating nations’ safe exploration of the moon and beyond.

The day-long event in Bengaluru saw the participation from senior officials from both the US and Indian governments, including Garcetti, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Dr. S Somanath, representatives from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Government of India, as well as prominent leaders from the commercial space industry, industry stakeholders, venture capitalists, and market analysts.

“I must salute the visionary leadership that we have in both nations in India and the US for engaging in such an accord which looks at the moon as a sustainable place for all of us to come and work together,” Somnath said in his remarks.

“The connection between the Indian partners and also the US partners in critical technologies and specifically in the space sector is really becoming stronger. And I’m very happy about that type of engagement and the options available to the industries and the US business indigenous to connect with India in the emerging space sector as well,” he said.

Expressing optimism about the prospects of US-India collaboration in space, USIBC president Atul Keshap described it as a new chapter in the US-India space partnership. This week has been particularly fruitful, with USIBC and USCS joining forces to champion these two iCET space deliverables, he said.

“The conference highlights the deepening synergy between our two free nations in pioneering space exploration and innovation by the leading democracies. Through strategic alliances and collaborative efforts, we’re on the brink of achieving extraordinary milestones and expanding the horizons of space exploration beyond what we once imagined,” Keshap said.

The US-India Commercial Space Conference underscores the importance of fostering strategic partnerships to drive innovation and propel the space industry forward,” said USIBC managing director Alexander Slater.

“This is the next step in USIBC’s continued commitment to fostering bilateral cooperation among leading companies and startups from both countries to unlock new opportunities for economic growth, job creation and technological leadership. It builds on our work in February when we hosted the second edition of INDUS-X in New Delhi, which promoted similar opportunities for innovation and cooperation in new and emerging defence technologies,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior defence officials from India and the US have met in Washington to discuss opportunities to strengthen space cooperation and identified potential areas for collaboration with the American industry.

Meeting for the second annual US-India Advanced Domains Defence Dialogue (AD3), the officials discussed a wide range of bilateral cooperation.

The American team was led by Vipin Narang, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for Space Policy, and the visiting Indian delegation was led by Vishwesh Negi, India’s Joint Secretary for International Cooperation.

During this year’s Dialogue, Narang and Negi discussed opportunities to strengthen space cooperation and identified potential areas for collaboration with US industry, said Department of Defence Spokesperson Cmdr. Jessica Anderson.

Among a group of US and Indian defence officials, the two co-chaired the first US-India principal-level tabletop discussion that explored areas to enhance cooperation in the space domain.

They agreed to advance AD3 through regular working group discussions.

The visiting Indian Government delegation also engaged with the US Space Command, the Joint Commercial Operations Cell, and artificial intelligence experts from across the US Department of Defence, Anderson said.

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Profluent Unveils AI DNA Editor Generator OpenCRISPR to Cure Diseases

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Profluent Unveils AI DNA Editor Generator OpenCRISPR to Cure Diseases

Profluent, a California-based artificial intelligence (AI)-first protein design company, announced its AI model that can generate CRISPR-like proteins that do not occur in nature on Tuesday. CRISPR or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats is a complex containing important proteins that scientists can use for precise gene editing in organisms. The company claims the usage of AI can create a vast number of such proteins that can help in creating bespoke cures for diseases which, at present, remain incurable.

Ali Madani, the founder and CEO of Profluent announced the AI model in a series of posts on X (formerly known as Twitter). The company has also made a blog post detailing the initiative and a pre-print version of its research paper has been published on bioRxiv. Besides announcing the DNA editor-generating AI model, the company also launched OpenCRISPR-1, one of the AI-created gene editors, as an initial open-source release licencing it for both ethical research and commercial uses.

Why OpenCRISPR AI Model matters

While CRISPR is a major focus of scientists, the research is limited due to the protein Cas9, which acts as a gene editor, and its equivalent being only available in nature. As a result, scientists spend a significant amount of time discovering different types of gene editors and their impact. Profluent claims its AI model, which is powered by an in-house large language model (LLM) trained on “massive scale sequence and biological context”, can now generate millions of diverse CRISPR-like proteins that do not occur in nature. In theory, these synthetic gene editors can play a pivotal role in finding cures for diseases previously thought to be incurable.

In its blog post, the company said, “OpenCRISPR-1 gene editor maintains the prototypical architecture of a Type II Cas9 nuclease but is more than 400 mutations away from SpCas9 and nearly 200 mutations away from any other known natural CRISPR-associated protein.”

What is CRISPR

CRISPR, put simply, is a complex or system found in bacteria and some other unicellular organisms. This complex contains the Cas9 (or similar proteins like Cas12 and Cas13) proteins that have a specific ability to make precise cuts in gene strands of DNA to enable editing. It was first discovered in 1987, and ever since scientists have been researching it extensively. The technology has vast applications and has already been used to artificially create crop variants that have a higher yield, are resistant to diseases, and are drought tolerant.

It is also used to change the DNA of mosquitoes so that they cannot spread diseases like malaria. Experiments are being conducted to cure patients suffering from diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia. It is also theorised that the technology can be used to edit the DNA of the embryo to create babies who are naturally resistant to diseases and possess genes that promote higher physical and mental abilities.


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Watch Boston Dynamics’ New Atlas Robot Show Off Superhuman Movements

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Watch Boston Dynamics’ New Atlas Robot Show Off Superhuman Movements

Boston Dynamics unveiled the next generation of its humanoid Atlas robot on Wednesday. The announcement came just a day after the company retired the hydraulic Atlas robot. The new Atlas is fully electric and comes with several upgrades over the predecessor, including a superhuman range of motion. In a video, the slender and more athletic robot was shown moving in ways that defy human anatomy. The robotics giant claims it will be able to lift and manoeuvre a wide variety of objects.

In a video posted on YouTube, Boston Dynamics introduced the electric Atlas robot designed for real-world applications. Based on the demo, the new robot now has an entirely different design. It no longer possesses a heavy torso plate or carries a wider upper body. The new Atlas has a slender, metallic torso, longer and straighter limbs, no externally connected cables, and a ring light circling its head.

The demo begins with Atlas lying on the ground. As it boots up, the humanoid robot twists and folds its legs backwards over its body and then stands up as it twists its waist by 180 degrees as if a creature from a sci-fi horror movie. In the next few moments, it rotates its head a couple of times showcasing its head that appears to be a large camera lens and walks away taking straighter and concise strides.

In less than a minute, the video demonstrated that the new Atlas robot is not only more agile and flexible, it might also potentially move heavier objects given its larger limbs. Explaining its vision, Boston Dynamics said in a press release, “We designed the electric version of Atlas to be stronger, more dexterous, and more agile. Atlas may resemble a human form factor, but we are equipping the robot to move in the most efficient way possible to complete a task, rather than being constrained by a human range of motion.”

Currently, the electric Atlas is in testing and it will stay that way for the next few years. In this period, the company plans to explore multiple new gripper variations to enable the robot to perform a diverse set of tasks. The testing phase will include a limited number of customers, with Hyundai being the first in the line.


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