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Japan space probe drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

Japan space probe drops explosive on asteroid to make crater


Japan’s space agency said its Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully dropped an explosive designed to make a crater on an asteroid and collect its underground samples to find possible clues to the origin of the solar system.

Friday’s crater mission is the riskiest for Hayabusa2, as it had to immediately get away so it won’t get hit by flying shards from the blast.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said that Hayabusa2 dropped a “small carry-on impactor” made of copper onto the asteroid Friday morning, and that data confirmed the spacecraft safely evacuated and remained intact. JAXA is analyzing data to examine if or how the impactor made a crater.

The copper explosive is the size of a baseball weighing two kilograms. It was designed to come out of a cone-shaped piece of equipment. A copper plate on its bottom was to turn into a ball during its descent and slam into the asteroid at two kilometres per second.

JAXA plans to send Hayabusa2 back to the site later, when the dust and debris settle, for observations from above and to collect samples from underground that have not been exposed to the sun or space rays. Scientists hope the samples will be crucial to determine the history of the asteroid and our planet.

If successful, it would be the first time for a spacecraft to take such materials. In a 2005 “deep impact” mission to a comet, NASA observed fragments after blasting the surface but did not collect them.

After dropping the impactor, the spacecraft was to move quickly to the other side of the asteroid to avoid flying shards from the blast. While moving away, Hayabusa2 also left a camera to capture the outcome. One of its first photos showed the impactor being successfully released and headed to the asteroid.

Members of The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, seen on screen, celebrate, as Hayabusa2 spacecraft safely evacuated and remained intact after the blast. (Daisuke Suzuki/Kyodo News/Associated Press)

“So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted,” said mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa. “But we still have more missions to achieve and it’s too early for us to celebrate with ‘banzai.”‘

Hayabusa2 successfully touched down on a tiny flat surface on the boulder-rich asteroid in February, when the spacecraft also collected some surface dust and small debris. The craft is scheduled to leave the asteroid at the end of 2019 and bring surface fragments and underground samples back to Earth in late 2020.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometres from Earth.



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India's anti-satellite test left debris that could endanger space station, NASA says

India’s anti-satellite test left debris that could endanger space station, NASA says


India declined to comment Wednesday on a statement by a U.S. space official that India’s recent test of an anti-satellite weapon created debris that could threaten the International Space Station.

India’s Defence Ministry spokesman Col. Aman Anand said there was no official response to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine’s statement at a town hall event in Washington on Monday. Bridenstine said in shooting down one of its own satellites with a missile last week, India had left debris high enough in orbit to pose a risk to the International Space Station.

India’s External Affairs Ministry in a statement after the March 27 test said that whatever debris generated would decay and fall back to Earth within weeks as the test was in the lower atmosphere.

The International Space Station serves as a research laboratory and has hosted astronauts from various countries since it was launched into orbit in 1998.

Bridenstine said NASA had identified 400 pieces of the debris and tracked 60 of them.

24 pieces higher than ISS 

“We know that 24 of these are going above the apogee of International Space Station. That’s a terrible, terrible thing to create,” he said.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the test last week and said the destruction of the satellite demonstrated India’s capacity as a “space power” alongside the United States, Russia and China.

A family in India’s Uttar Pradesh state watches Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi address the nation on March 27 to announce that an interceptor missile built in India had shot down a low-orbit Indian satellite. It was the first time that India has ever successfully tested such technology. (Rajesh Kumar Singh/Associated Press)

Pallava Bagla, a science writer at the New Delhi Television Channel, said Wednesday that Indian officials have clearly indicated that the debris will decay in three weeks.

“The amount of debris which the United States itself has created in space is gigantic as compared to a few pieces of debris from the Indian test. In orbit, we have 2,000 functional satellites. Eight hundred of them belong to the United States. India has only 48 functional satellites in the orbit,” he said.

In Washington, the vice commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, Lt. Gen. David Thompson, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week that the Air Force detected about 270 objects in the debris field created when India destroyed the satellite and the number was likely to increase.

He said the Air Force will inform satellite operators if any of those objects become a threat to satellites in orbit.



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More delays for Boeing's new space capsule for astronauts

More delays for Boeing’s new space capsule for astronauts


Boeing’s new space capsule for astronauts faces more launch delays.

The Starliner capsule was supposed to make its debut this month, after a series of postponements. But the first test flight has now been put off until August, with a launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The second test flight, with astronauts, won’t occur until sometime late in the year.

NASA announced the revised lineup Wednesday. 

At the same time, officials said the first Starliner crew will remain at the International Space Station longer than the few weeks originally anticipated. The length will be decided later.

SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew provider, flew its new Dragon capsule to the International Space Station last month. The first Dragon with astronauts could fly this summer, but the schedule is under review.

Boeing said the last major milestones have been cleared and the capsule is almost finished. But scheduling conflicts with an early summer Air Force launch helped push the Starliner’s debut into August.

The Starliner will fly on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, the same kind of rocket needed for the Air Force’s critical mission in late June, from the same pad.

While the first SpaceX astronauts will visit the space station for a few weeks at most, the Starliner’s three-person crew will move into the orbiting complex for an extended period. The typical station stay is about six months.

NASA wants to reduce its reliance on expensive Russian Soyuz capsules as soon as possible, and so the Boeing test flight will double as a taxi mission for station residents. NASA astronauts have been stuck riding Russian rockets since the end of the space shuttle program.

SpaceX Dragons and Boeing Starliners will return human launches to Florida, following the eight-year hiatus. NASA contracted with the two companies to handle space station ferry flights, so it could focus on getting astronauts to the moon and, eventually, Mars.



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