Trio who lived on space station return to Earth safely

Agencies
October 22, 2020

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California, Oct 22: A trio of space travellers safely returned to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission on the International Space Station.

A Soyuz capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan at 7:54 a.m. Thursday. After a medical checkup, the three will be taken by helicopters to Dzhezkazgan from where they will be flown home.

As part of additional precautions due to the coronavirus, members of the Russian rescue team meeting the crew were tested for the virus and the number of people involved in the recovery effort was limited.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner had lived on the station since April.

NASA's Kate Rubins and Roscosmos' Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.

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Agencies
December 1,2020

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Washington, Dec 1: A team led by an Indian-origin scientist in the US has developed a new system that can extract oxygen and hydrogen fuel from the salty water on Mars, and may radically change the logistics of future missions to the Red Planet and beyond.

The researchers noted that Mars is very cold, and water that is not frozen is almost certainly full of salt from the Martian soil, which lowers its freezing temperature.

Using electricity to break the briny water down into oxygen and hydrogen fuel requires removing the salt, which is a cumbersome and a costly endeavour in a harsh, dangerous martian environment, they said.

The team, led by Vijay Ramani, a professor at the Washington University in the US, examined the new system in a simulated Martian atmosphere at minus 36 degrees Celsius. “Our Martian brine electrolyser radically changes the logistical calculus of missions to Mars and beyond. This technology is equally useful on Earth where it opens up the oceans as a viable oxygen and fuel source,” said Ramani.

In 2008, NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander “touched and tasted” Martian water, vapours from melted ice dug up by the lander.

Since then, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express has discovered several underground ponds of water which remain in a liquid state thanks to the presence of magnesium perchlorate salt.

In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers noted that in order to live — even temporarily — on Mars, not to mention to return to Earth, astronauts will need to manufacture some of the necessities, including water and fuel, on the Red Planet.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is en-route to Mars, carrying instruments that will use high-temperature electrolysis.
However, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) will be producing oxygen only, from the carbon dioxide in the air.

The system developed in Ramani’s lab can produce 25 times more oxygen than MOXIE using the same amount of power, said the researchers, adding it also produces hydrogen, which could be used to fuel astronauts’ trip home.

“Our novel brine electrolyser incorporates a lead ruthenate pyrochlore anode developed by our team in conjunction with a platinum on carbon cathode” Ramani said.

“These carefully designed components coupled with the optimal use of traditional electrochemical engineering principles has yielded this high performance,” he said.

The careful design and unique anode allow the system to function without the need for heating or purifying the water source, the researchers said.

“Paradoxically, the dissolved perchlorate in the water, so-called impurities, actually help in an environment like that of Mars,” said Shrihari Sankarasubramanian, a research scientist in Ramani’s group and joint first author of the research paper on the study.

“They prevent the water from freezing and also improve the performance of the electrolyser system by lowering the electrical resistance,” he said. Water electrolysers typically use highly purified, deionized water, which adds to the cost of the system, according to the researchers.

A system that can work with “sub-optimal” or salty water, such as the technology demonstrated by the team, can significantly enhance the economic value proposition of water electrolysers everywhere, even on the Earth, they said.

“Having demonstrated these electrolysers under demanding Martian conditions, we intend to also deploy them under much milder conditions on Earth to utilize brackish or salt water feeds to produce hydrogen and oxygen, for example through seawater electrolysis,” said Pralay Gayen, a postdoctoral research associate in Ramani’s group and also a joint first author on the study.

Such applications could be useful in the defence realm, creating oxygen on demand in submarines, for example, said the researchers, adding it could also provide oxygen as we explore uncharted environments in the deep sea.

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Agencies
November 22,2020

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California, Nov 22: The US space agency along with the European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully launched a satellite to monitor rising global sea level.

The joint US-European satellite built to monitor global sea levels lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California late on Saturday.

About the size of a small pickup truck, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite will extend a nearly 30-year continuous dataset on sea level collected by an ongoing collaboration of US and European satellites, while enhancing weather forecasts and providing detailed information on large-scale ocean currents to support ship navigation near coastlines.

"The Earth is changing, and this satellite will help deepen our understanding of how," said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA's Earth Science Division.

"The changing Earth processes are affecting sea level globally, but the impact on local communities varies widely. International collaboration is critical to both understanding these changes and informing coastal communities around the world."

The spacecraft is named in honour of Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA's Earth Science Division, who was a leading figure in advancing ocean observations from space.

"Freilich was a tireless force in Earth sciences. Climate change and sea level rise know no national borders, and he championed international collaboration to confront the challenge," said Josef Aschbacher, ESA (European Space Agency) Director of Earth Observation Programmes.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will continue the sea level record that began in 1992 with the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite and continued with Jason-1 (2001), OSTM/Jason-2 (2008), and eventually Jason-3, which has been observing the oceans since 2016.

The satellite will be followed in 2025 by its twin, Sentinel-6B.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: "Whether 800 miles above Earth with this remarkable spacecraft or traveling to Mars to look for signs of life, whether providing farmers with agricultural data or aiding first responders with our disasters programme, we are tirelessly committed not just to learning and exploring, but to having an impact where it's needed".

"The data from this satellite, which is so critical for climate monitoring and weather forecasting, will be of unprecedented accuracy," said EUMETSAT Director-General Alain Ratier.

Global sea level is rising approximately 0.13 inches (3.3 millimeters) a year. That's 30 per cent more than when NASA launched its first satellite mission to measure ocean heights in 1992.

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Agencies
December 1,2020

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Washington, Dec 1: A powerful new telescope in outback Australia has mapped vast areas of the universe in record-breaking time, revealing a million new galaxies and opening the way to new discoveries, the country's national science agency said on Tuesday.

The A$188 million ($138 million) radio telescope, dubbed the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), was able to map about three million galaxies in just 300 hours. Comparable surveys of the sky have taken as long as 10 years.

"It's really a game changer," said astronomer David McConnell, who led the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) study of the southern sky at the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory in Western Australia.

What makes this telescope unique is its wide field of view, using receivers designed by CSIRO, which allow it to take panoramic pictures of the sky in sharper detail than before.

The telescope only needed to combine 903 images to map the sky, compared with other all-sky radio surveys that require tens of thousands of images.

"It is more sensitive than previous surveys that have covered the whole sky like this, so we do see more objects than have been seen in the past," McConnell told Reuters.

Having a telescope that can survey the sky in a few weeks or months means the process can be repeated again and again in a relatively short space of time, allowing astronomers to systematically spot and track changes.

"Even with this first pass we've got right now, compared with previous images, we've already found some unusual objects," McConnell said, including some unusual stars that undergo violent outbursts.

He said data gathered in this survey would allow astronomers to find out more about star formation and how galaxies and black holes evolve through statistical analyses.

The initial results were published on Tuesday in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

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