SpaceX launches second crew, regular station crew flights begin

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft was launched on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. (NASA via AP)
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Updated 16 November 2020

SpaceX launches second crew, regular station crew flights begin

  • Sunday’s launch follows by just a few months SpaceX’s two-pilot test flight
  • NASA turned to private companies to haul cargo and crew to the space station, after the shuttle fleet retired in 2011

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station on Sunday on the first full-fledged taxi flight for NASA by a private company.
The Falcon rocket thundered into the night from Kennedy Space Center with three Americans and one Japanese, the second crew to be launched by SpaceX. The Dragon capsule on top – named Resilience by its crew in light of this year’s many challenges, most notably COVID-19 – reached orbit nine minutes later. It is due to reach the space station late Monday and remain there until spring.
“By working together through these difficult times, you’ve inspired the nation, the world, and in no small part the name of this incredible vehicle, Resilience,” Commander Mike Hopkins said right before liftoff.
Once reaching orbit, he radioed: “That was one heck of a ride.”
Sidelined by the coronavirus himself, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk was forced to monitor the action from afar. He tweeted that he “most likely” had a moderate case of COVID-19. NASA policy at Kennedy Space Center requires anyone testing positive for coronavirus to quarantine and remain isolated.
Sunday’s launch follows by just a few months SpaceX’s two-pilot test flight. It kicks off what NASA hopes will be a long series of crew rotations between the US and the space station, after years of delay. More people means more science research at the orbiting lab, according to officials.
Cheers and applause erupted at SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, after the capsule reached orbit and the first-stage booster landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic. Musk tweeted a single red heart.
At Kennedy, he was replaced by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. She wouldn’t give Musk’s whereabouts, but said he was “tied in very closely to the launch.”
“I have a series of texts to prove it,” Shotwell told reporters.
The flight to the space station – 27 1/2 hours door to door – should be entirely automated, although the crew can take control if needed. SpaceX had to deal with pressure pump spikes once the capsule reached orbit, but quickly resolved the issue.
With COVID-19 still surging, NASA continued the safety precautions put in place for SpaceX’s crew launch in May. The astronauts went into quarantine with their families in October. All launch personnel wore masks, and the number of guests at Kennedy was limited. Even the two astronauts on the first SpaceX crew flight stayed behind at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, joined NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to watch the launch.
“I didn’t start breathing until about a minute after it took off,” Pence said during a stop at SpaceX Launch Control to congratulate the workers.
Outside the space center gates, spectators crowded into nearby beaches and towns. NASA worried a weekend liftoff – coupled with a dramatic nighttime launch – could lead to a superspreader event. They urged the crowds to wear masks and maintain safe distances. Similar pleas for SpaceX’s first crew launch on May 30 went unheeded.
“In such a crazy year, we have finally some great news,” said Sophia Giallanza, who came from Miami with her husband and son to see their first launch. “So, it’s really wonderful.”
The three-men, one-woman crew led by Hopkins, an Air Force colonel, named their capsule Resilience in a nod not only to the pandemic, but also racial injustice and contentious politics. It’s about as diverse as space crews come, including physicist Shannon Walker, Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover, the first Black astronaut on a long-term space station mission, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, who became the first person in almost 40 years to launch on three types of spacecraft.
They rode out to the launch pad in Teslas – another Musk company – after exchanging high-fives and hand embraces with their children and spouses, who huddled at the open car windows.
Besides its sleek design and high-tech features, the Dragon capsule is quite spacious – it can carry up to seven people. Previous space capsules have launched with no more than three. The extra room in this newest capsule was used for science experiments and supplies.
The four astronauts will be joining two Russians and one American who flew to the space station last month from Kazakhstan. The orbiting outpost soared over the launch site a mere half-minute before liftoff.
The first-stage booster is expected to be recycled by SpaceX for the next crew launch. That’s currently targeted for the end of March, which would set up the newly launched astronauts for a return to Earth in April.
In the next 15 months, SpaceX should be flying roughly seven Dragon missions for NASA, both crew and cargo, Shotwell said.
While Bridenstine noted it was a beautiful launch, he stressed: “This is a six-month mission and it’s the first of many.”
“When you’re flying into space, there’s always risk and we will always be diligent,” he added.
SpaceX and NASA wanted the booster recovered so badly that they delayed the launch attempt by a day, to give the floating platform time to reach its position in the Atlantic over the weekend following rough seas.
Boeing, NASA’s other contracted crew transporter, is trailing by a year. A repeat of last December’s software-plagued test flight without a crew is off until sometime early next year, with the first astronaut flight of the Starliner capsule not expected before summer.
NASA turned to private companies to haul cargo and crew to the space station, after the shuttle fleet retired in 2011. SpaceX qualified for both. With Kennedy back in astronaut-launching action, NASA can stop buying seats on Russian Soyuz rockets. The last one cost $90 million.
The commander of SpaceX’s first crew, Doug Hurley, noted it’s not just about saving money or easing the training burdens for crews.
“Bottom line: I think it’s just better for us to be flying from the United States if we can do that,” he told said last week.


Astronauts leave ISS, begin return journey to Earth on SpaceX craft

Updated 02 May 2021

Astronauts leave ISS, begin return journey to Earth on SpaceX craft

  • Astronauts Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi went to space last November as the crew on the first fully operational mission to the ISS aboard a vehicle made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX

WASHINGTON: Four astronauts left the International Space Station on Saturday aboard a SpaceX vessel, after more than 160 days in space which will culminate in a splash landing off the Florida coast.
The Crew Dragon capsule undocked from the ISS as scheduled at 8:35 p.m. (0035 Sunday GMT). With the flight back to Earth expected to take six-and-a-half hours, the crew was scheduled to splash down in the dark of night off Panama City, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57 am.
“Dragon separation visually confirmed,” a NASA commentator said after two sets of six hooks tying the capsule to the ISS retracted.
The capsule then fired a series of short bursts with its thrusters to gently ease away from the ISS.
NASA livestream footage showed the Crew Dragon capsule moving off into the dark as it began its journey back to Earth, its rear engines lighting up in small flashes.
Seven astronauts remained on the ISS including a new crew of four who arrived on a different SpaceX craft last week.
“Thanks for your hospitality,” Michael Hopkins, one of the departing US astronauts, said as the capsule moved away. “We’ll see you back on Earth.”
NASA and SpaceX have alternative splash down sites ready, aside from Panama City, if need be.
“We have been practicing to recover the crews day or night,” Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew program manager, said shortly before the capsule’s departure.
“The ships have lots of lighting,” helped by “good moonlight,” he said, adding that weather conditions were excellent, with calm seas.
SpaceX boats are expected to reach the capsule about 10 minutes after splashdown.
Astronauts Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi went to space last November as the crew on the first fully operational mission to the ISS aboard a vehicle made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has become NASA’s favored commercial transportation partner.
Prior to that, two American astronauts made a test mission to the ISS in May and stayed for two months.
That was the first launch to the ISS from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. It was also the first crewed mission run by a private company, as opposed to NASA.
Until then US astronauts had caught rides to the ISS aboard Russian spacecraft.


Encrypted chat app Signal alleges flaws in Cellebrite equipment

Updated 22 April 2021

Encrypted chat app Signal alleges flaws in Cellebrite equipment

WASHINGTON: Encrypted chat app Signal suggested in a blog post published on Wednesday that products sold to law enforcement from Israeli surveillance provider Cellebrite can easily be sabotaged.
Cellebrite DI Ltd, which specializes in helping law enforcement and intelligence agencies copy call logs, texts, photos and other data off of smartphones, has repeatedly come under fire for past sales to authoritarian governments, including Russia and China.
Signal, a privacy-focused app eager to show the lengths it goes to protect users’ conversations, clashed with Cellebrite last year when the Israeli company said its equipment was upgraded to allow law enforcement to scoop up Signal messages from devices in their possession.
Signal creator and CEO Moxie Marlinspike said in his blog post on Wednesday he had come into possession of a bag of Cellebrite equipment and examined the gear inside.
He was “surprised to find that very little care seems to have been given to Cellebrite’s own software security,” Marlinspike said, noting it would be easy to add a specially crafted file onto a phone that would derail Cellebrite’s functionality.
In a statement, Cellebrite did not directly address Marlinspike’s claim but said that the company’s employees “continually audit and update our software in order to equip our customers with the best digital intelligence solutions available.”
Elsewhere in his blog post, Marlinspike alleged he had found snippets of code from Apple Inc. inside Cellebrite’s software, something he said “might present a legal risk for Cellebrite and its users” if it was done without authorization.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Signal’s allegations come as Cellebrite prepares to go public through a merger with a blank-check firm, valuing the equity of the combined company at around $2.4 billion. 


American, Russians dock at ISS in flight honoring first man in space

Updated 10 April 2021

American, Russians dock at ISS in flight honoring first man in space

  • Launch timed with 60th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic flight
  • It was also the 40th anniversary of the first launch of NASA’s space shuttle

MOSCOW: A trio of Russian and American space travelers launched successfully and reached the International Space Station on Friday.
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov blasted off as scheduled at 12:42 p.m. (0742 GMT, 3:42 a.m. EDT) aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.
They docked at the station after a two-orbit journey that lasted just over three hours.
It is the second space mission for Vande Hei and the third for Novitskiy, while Dubrov is on his first mission.
The launch came three days before the 60th anniversary of the first human flight to space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the 40th anniversary of the first launch of NASA’s space shuttle.
“When we started, we were competing with each other and that was one of the reasons we were so successful at the beginning of human space flight,” Vande Hei said at a pre-flight news conference Thursday. “And as time went on, we realized that by working together we can achieve even more. And of course, that’s continuing to this day and I hope that it will continue into the future.”
The three will work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.
On the International Space Station, they are joining NASA’s Kate Rubins, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, Russians Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov arrived in a Soyuz ship in October; Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi — the crew of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience — joined them in November.


NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter dropped on Mars’ surface ahead of flight

Updated 04 April 2021

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter dropped on Mars’ surface ahead of flight

  • The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18

WASHINGTON: NASA’s Ingenuity mini-helicopter has been dropped on the surface of Mars in preparation for its first flight, the US space agency said.
The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.
“MarsHelicopter touchdown confirmed!” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted Saturday.
“Its 293 million mile (471 million kilometer) journey aboard @NASAPersevere ended with the final drop of 4 inches (10 centimeter) from the rover’s belly to the surface of Mars today. Next milestone? Survive the night.”
A photograph accompanying the tweet showed Perseverance had driven clear of the helicopter and its “airfield” after dropping to the surface.
Ingenuity had been feeding off the Perseverance’s power system but will now have to use its own battery to run a vital heater to protect its unshielded electrical components from freezing and cracking during the bitter Martian night.
“This heater keeps the interior at about 45 degrees F (7 degrees Celsius) through the bitter cold of the Martian night, where temperatures can drop to as low as -130F (-90 degrees Celsius),” Bob Balaram, Mars Helicopter Project chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in an update on Friday.
“That comfortably protects key components such as the battery and some of the sensitive electronics from harm at very cold temperatures.”
Over the next couple of days, the Ingenuity team will check that the helicopter’s solar panels are working properly and recharging its battery before testing its motors and sensors ahead of its first flight, Balaram said.
Ingenuity is expected to make its first flight attempt no earlier than April 11, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted.
Ingenuity will be attempting to fly in an atmosphere that is one percent the density of Earth’s, which makes achieving lift harder — but will be assisted by gravity that is one-third of our planet’s.
The first flight will involve climbing at a rate of about three feet (one meter) per second to a height of 10 feet (three meters), hovering there for 30 seconds, then descending back to the surface.
Ingenuity will be taking high-resolution photography as it flies.
Up to five flights of gradual difficulty are planned over the month.
The 1.8-kilogram rotorcraft cost NASA around $85 million to develop and is considered a proof of concept that could revolutionize space exploration.
Future aircraft could cover ground much quicker than rovers, and explore more rugged terrain.


A digital library offers Saudis affordable access to scholarly research

Updated 22 March 2021

A digital library offers Saudis affordable access to scholarly research

  • Saudi students, researchers and professionals will soon benefit from a vast new digital library of academic literature
  • Zendy’s creator Kamran Kardan says his ed-tech start-up will help the MENA region develop knowledge-based economies

DUBAI: A Dubai-based edutech start-up has launched a digital library for researchers in Saudi Arabia — the first subscription-based library for scholarly literature of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Academic literature is usually hidden behind expensive paywalls or restricted to those who are affiliated with big organizations. Now Zendy, developed by Knowledge E, is offering users affordable access to scholarly works from around the world.

In step with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development agenda and its efforts to foster a culture of research, innovation and entrepreneurship, Zendy will give students, professionals and hobbyists access to thousands of articles, e-books and scholarly resources.

Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

“Zendy is a massive online library available to every single individual in the region,” Kamran Kardan, Knowledge E founder and CEO, told Arab News.

“If you take a look at the current status of how you can access academic content, books, journals and literature related to that, it’s very cumbersome,” he said.

“You have to be a part of a larger institution, university or organization like the ministry of health, or a place where they can actually afford access to the content. And not all institutions can afford access to all the multiple publishers that are available out there.”

Zendy’s aim is to break down barriers to scholarly discovery by providing individuals with affordable access to the world’s latest research and literature — drawing inspiration from the evolution of music and television consumption.

“The whole idea stemmed from what’s happening to the entertainment and music industry, like Netflix and iTunes, and applying it to academic content, making it affordable,” Kardan said. “So, the whole idea was to open all of that content up and make it affordable, on a monthly subscription or an annual cost.”

ZENDYFACTS

  • Zendy first launched in Jordan in late 2019.
  • Digital library hosts over 120,000 publications.
  • Subscribers in the UAE, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

With a background in publishing at Oxford University Press in the UK, Kardan has made it his mission to promote open access and to help higher education institutions discover new research strategies through various business frameworks. He moved to Dubai 15 years ago to promote scholarly access among universities, businesses and consortiums across the region.

“When I moved in 2006, it was the start of a transition from the print world to electronic,” he said. “Libraries were predominantly shelves full of books and journals and, if you could imagine a researcher who was trying to find something, it was such an effort to go through all these different indexes that you have available.

“To actually find all the relevant information you were looking for was a task of its own.”

Kamran Kardan, Knowledge E founder and CEO. (Supplied)

In the years that followed, Kardan worked with consortiums in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to provide scholarly access on a national level. “Many universities did not have that much access during those days,” he said.

“I remember a university in Kuwait where I had one of the most complete collections of journals from one of the top publishers and going through that transition of moving everything to online — providing more digital libraries to the region was the story of those days.”

Beyond the evolution of digital infrastructure itself, publishing has also had to account for the slow pace of cultural change, with many people continuing to prefer books in paper format for all manner of reasons, including the simple aesthetic of touch and smell.

So far, most of Zendy’s content is only available in English, although some is offered in French and other languages, with the objective of linguistically diversifying further in the near future.

“The idea is to have a comprehensive online library at the fingertips of every single person,” Kardan said. “It is no longer an issue that you can’t afford it, no matter where you’re located, if you’re not part of a larger institution. We don’t target institutions, we target individuals.”

Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

After launching in Jordan in 2019, Zendy spread out to the UAE, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Bahrain and, from this month onward, it will be available in Saudi Arabia. The online library has since accumulated thousands of users across the Arab region, hosting over 120,000 publications including more than 30,000 journals and 30,000 e-books.

Zendy also allows users to save searches, export citations and navigate easily according to material type, subject, publication title, language and more.

“You can search, find the article, download the PDF and you can use it as many times as you want,” Kardan said.

“We would like to have more publishers, and this is something that is growing. We have three of the top five publishers in the world and you can imagine that, for publishers that have existing business models with organizations, it is difficult to shift and make everything accessible to all individuals.

“So, it’s also a great step for publishers and that’s why we want to break this barrier.”

To access content, users sign up for a free trial period before choosing between a monthly or annual subscription. Zendy’s business model is based on revenue sharing with publishers based on usage. And, true to Kardan’s ideals, some content will remain free to all.

“There is a portion of free content that will be available in open-access format around the world in a few months’ time,” he said. “So, individuals who are happy with free content can keep that. And then in order to have access to the more premium content, users will need to sign up to Zendy Plus, which is what is currently available.”

Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

Kardan hopes Zendy will have a big impact on the countries of the MENA region, playing a role in the creation of diversified, knowledge-based societies and economies. He is confident that providing easy access to information, open to all, is one way of achieving this goal.

“We are also involved in other ways of building that in terms of conducting workshops in academia and building capacity,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how small you are, you can still make a change. In whatever we do as a company, we try to make that change and impact and we think that Zendy is one of those that has the potential to have a global impact.”

Although in its early stages in Saudi Arabia, subscribers include entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses. Kardan’s goal is to scale up the platform into a global operation in order to allow easier access to content to many more people around the world.

There are also plans to include videos, book summaries and magazines down the line.

“It’s really to increase readership in all of those areas and to shift this literature world online,” he said. “For me, success is to eventually look back and see what impact I was able to have on the people and society around me.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek

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