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Unmanned space station supply craft 'plunges back to Earth'

Posted 30/04/2015

The Progress resupply craft was to carry three tonnes of cargo to the ISS

An unmanned Russian cargo spacecraft ferrying supplies to the International Space Station plunged back to Earth and apparently out of control.

"It has started descending. It has nowhere else to go," an official familiar with the situation said on condition of anonymity.

An official Russian space agency statement is expected later.

"It is clear that absolutely uncontrollable reactions have begun," a flight controller said.

Russian flight controllers had been trying to re-establish contact with the craft.

The Progress 59 cargo spacecraft launched successfully on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday and was due to dock with the ISS six hours later.

The early part of the flight went without difficulty but an unspecified problem arose soon after the craft separated from the third stage.

According to NASA the issue prevented flight controllers from confirming if two of the craft's antennae had deployed successfully or not.

As a result they decided to opt for a backup rendezvous plan which would see the cargo arrive at the ISS after two days rather than the six hours.

Several attempts were subsequently made to re-establish contact with the craft during the following orbits of Earth, but without success.

The docking attempt planned for Thursday has also been stood down.

NASA says the six crew on board the ISS are all fine and the station itself is also safe.

The crew have sufficient supplies to last several months.

The Progress 59 was not carrying any mission critical supplies, but it did have over three tonnes of food, water, propellant, oxygen, parts and other supplies on board.

Without control of the craft it drops out of orbit and burns up in the Earth's atmosphere in the next few days.

Only the US, Russia and Japan carry out resupply missions to the ISS after the European Space Agency completed its final delivery mission earlier this year.

SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are contracted by NASA to do the US deliveries, but Orbital Sciences craft are currently grounded following a launch explosion last October.

The next planned resupply mission will be carried out by SpaceX in June. The following one will be run by Japan in August.

An engine mishap on a similar Progress flight in 2011 led to a complete loss of communication and a failure to reach the target orbit.

A few weeks later it crashed into Siberia in one of Russia's biggest space setbacks.

Three or four Progress cargo ships are launched every year bringing necessities like oxygen, fuel and food supplies to the orbiting laboratory.

After completing their mission they usually fall into the Pacific Ocean.

Speaking aboard the space station, Astronaut Scott Kelly said the Russian Progress 59 freighter ship will re-enter the earth's atmosphere "some days in the future."

Astronaut Scott KellyAstronaut Scott Kelly"Well we have a lot of redundancies aboard the space station.

The program plans for these kind of things to happen. It's very unfortunate when they do, but we do have supplies on board, and you know, one of the great things about this international partnership is that we do have other vehicles that can resupply the space station.

When we had the Columbia accident, we we're fortunate to have the Soyuz to keep the space station manned, and we have other vehicles now, SpaceX, HTV, and hopefully Orbital soon that can continue to resupply us, so we should be okay. Long term impact, you know both programs are looking at that right now but I think we're going to be in good shape."


"Well I'm not familiar with everything that was on the vehicle, I know the stuff that was on the - manifested for the U.S. operational segment, which was a lot of clothing for Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui, also some EVA hardware. But you know the important thing is hardware can be replaced, and we'll replace all that hardware and we'll continue to operate the space station."

"The program plans for these kind of things to happen. It's very unfortunate when they do, but we do have supplies on board, and you know, one of the great things about this international partnership is that we do have other vehicles that can resupply the space station. When we had the Columbia accident, we we're fortunate to have the Soyuz to keep the space station manned, and we have other vehicles now, SpaceX, HTV, and hopefully Orbital soon that can continue to resupply us, so we should be okay," Kelly said. 



Google in €150m digital media investment

Posted 28/04/2015

Google's project brings together a number of European media organisations

Google is set to announce a €150 million programme to support innovative online journalism in partnership with eight European publications.

In a statement, Google said the Digital News Initiative would "support quality journalism (through) technology and innovation."

The initiative brings together Les Echos in France, Germany's FAZ, the Financial Times, The Guardian, NRC Media in The Netherlands, El Pais in Spain, La Stampa in Italy and Die Zeit in Germany as well as European media organisations.

The partners will focus on product development, supporting innovation as well as training and research.

They will also set up a working group to "increase revenue, traffic and audience engagement", according to the statement.


Google will inject €150m into the project to promote new ideas in digital journalism.

In addition to its innovation fund, Google has also pledged to:

  • Work with European publishers to discuss ways to boost revenues via the use of ads, apps, paywalls and analytics data;
  • Pay for three of its own workers - based in Paris, Hamburg and London  to provide digital skills training to journalists;
  • Fund research to investigate how people consume news and find new techniques to crowdsource information.

"Through the Digital News Initiative, Google will work hand in hand with news publishers and journalism organisations to help develop more sustainable models for news," said Carlo D'Asaro Biondo, president of strategic relationships for Google in Europe.

"This is just the beginning, and we invite others to join us."

However, at least one of the parties involved is wary that the deal might promise more than it ultimately delivers.

"We welcome the Digital News Initiative, and see its real potential. But that potential depends on whether, having been conceived by Google in Europe, it is now adopted by Google [bosses at its US headquarters] in Mountain View," said Tony Danker, international director of Guardian News & Media Limited.

"The test of success is whether it leads to meaningful change to ensure journalism flourishes in the digital age."

The European Union has recently accused Google of abusing a monopoly position in online search, and it is investigating whether the firm unfairly bundles its Android apps. The European Commission is expected to try to tighten restrictions on how the wider tech sector makes use of the public's personal data.

These contentious issues are likely to feature prominently in the European media's news and comments sections over the coming months.



Earth Day 2015: NASA celebrates Earth’s splendid beauty

Posted 22/04/2015

Today is Earth Day, on which events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and celebrated in more than 192 countries each year.

Celebrating the Earth Day, NASA has released some of the most gorgeous images and a stunning video of planet Earth as captured from the International Space Station (ISS).

As part of its Earth Day programme, the US space agency is asking people for videos, messages, Instagram pictures celebrating our world, with the hashtag #NoPlaceLikeHome.

In the image gallery celebrating Earth Day, you can see a composite image of southern Africa and the surrounding oceans to the tropical cyclone Joalane seen over the Indian Ocean.

On April 5 this year, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA ‘s Terra satellite acquired a natural-colour image of sea ice off the coast of East Antarctica’s Princess Astrid Coast.

Next day, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took a stunning photograph over Australia and posted it to social media.

NASA‘s Terra satellite also captured the March 20 solar eclipse’s shadow over clouds in the Arctic Ocean.

From the ISS, Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Barry Wilmore took a photograph of the Great Lakes and central US on December 7 last year and posted it on social media.

The NASA video features dramatic visual comparisons of parts of the Earth most severely impacted by climate change, including the Aral sea visibly shrinking between 2000 and 2014.

It also features photographs of areas impacted by extreme weather, such as partially submerged islands in Bermuda.

“Every day of every year, NASA satellites provide useful data about our home planet, and along the way, some beautiful images as well,” NASA posted in the video.

The clip was released on the “Earth Day” as NASA plans to focus attention on “exploring” our home planet—the most “complex” of the 1,800 planets discovered in our cosmos so far.

It is this complexity that challenges the Earth scientists as they seek to figure out how the whole planet works as a system.

“Earth has oceans, forests, deserts, ice sheets, rain, snow, an atmosphere. And we have life. These are some of the things that NASA ‘s 20 Earth-orbiting missions observe and measure in our quest to build the most complete understanding possible of our dynamic planet,” the US space agency said.

The space agency has a Facebook page dedicated to the #NoPlaceLikeHome project and also provides full coverage on its redesigned web site.



Hubble, a window to the cosmos opened 25 years agoRandall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 19/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

The Space telescope has revolutionized astronomy and has helped us to disclose the mysteries of the universe.

The Hubble is a living legend not only for astronomers, but also for millions of people around the world, who have admired the beautiful images of the universe. The telescope is celebrating 25 years since it was launched into space on 24 April 1990.

Hubble’s images are already part of the cultural heritage of the past two generations, from the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter, amazing nebulae, protoplanetary systems to colliding galaxies.

Designed to operate in orbit for between 15 to 20 years, Hubble is still in great shape to continue accumulating discoveries. In a quarter of a century Hubble has carried out more than 1.2 million scientific observations and astronomers have published more than 12,800 items, making this telescope one of the most productive scientific instruments ever built. The cost of the telescope was EUR 2.3 billion at the moment of its launch and reached, in 2010, EUR 9.3 billion, including the cost of operation and improvements.

The Hubble is a success story but fraught with difficulties and challenges; such as the delay of its launch in 1990 due to the Challenger accident (1986), which postponed all NASA shuttle missions; or the default in the telescope’s main mirror that was discovered when it was already in orbit. Astronomers were confronted with a slight error in the mirror polishing which smudged images.


"About 10,000 people worked over two decades to achieve putting Hubble on the launch pad," recalled Eric J. Chaisson in his book The Hubble Wars (1994). Undeterred, scientists and engineers sought a solution to Hubble’s myopia (technically called spherical aberration), which culminated in 1993, when seven astronauts through a marathon of space walks set up a corrective glasses that solved the issue.




With a main mirror of 2.4 metres in diameter, in 1990, Hubble was not the largest telescope, and a few years later other telescopes began to operate on land with a range of ten metres. But in space, above the atmosphere, the Hubble prevents the distortion produced by the air in the starlight, obtaining high resolution images. Images, treated with filters that facilitate its scientific analysis as well as beautify its results which fascinate millions of people.

Hubble has made possible the observation and therefore greater understanding of the nearest stars, to the most distant galaxies known with an accuracy and exquisite detail. It has been a wonderful tool, and in many ways unique to the advancement of human knowledge, and still is. Astronomer’s requests to use it are so numerous that only one in five is granted to carry out an observation.

"Thanks to the unbeatable combination of resolution and sensitivity, as well as its comprehensive coverage wavelength, Hubble has enabled some of the most exciting and fundamental discoveries, including the discovery of dark energy, the first direct images of planets around nearby stars and a first look at the early stages of galaxy formation after the Big Bang that created our universe," said Danny Lennon, head of scientific operations of the European Space Agency (ESA), co-owner (15%) of Hubble.

One of its milestones was determining the value of the Hubble constant call to specify the age of the universe (now set at 13.8 billion years).

When, in 2009, astronauts updated and repaired the telescope, it was decided that there would be another mission. Six years have passed and it is still active. Meanwhile, NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency are preparing its substitute: the James Webb telescope, which has a mirror of 6.5 meters and an astronomical budget that reaches nearly EUR 8 billion, which will be launched in 2018.



So, what colour Apple Watch is everyone buying?

Posted 14/04/2015

Early trends have emerged in preorders for Apple's newest offering

Apple Watch pre-orders are off to a solid start - the company received one million pre-orders in the US during the first day of sales - this easily surpassed the 720,000 Android Wear devices that were sold throughout all of 2014 - but it's nowhere near the four million orders received for the two iPhone 6 models during their first 24 hours of pre-sales.

Slice Intelligence, a company who tracks online consumer behaviour has been analysing Apple Watch sales during the first 24 hours - here's what they've come up with:

The black sport band has proved to be the most popular colour - making up almost half of all pre-sales on the opening day.

Nearly two-thirds of the orders were for the aluminum sport watch - it starts at $349 (this model is expected to cost €320 in Ireland).

The top-end $10,000 watch didn't get enough sales to register in Slice's report.

One third of buyers opted for the $549 stainless-steel watch.

Apple's trademark 'space grey' has been the most purchased casing option.

The company also started selling its new Mac Book on the same day - 43 percent of the people who bought the laptop also splashed out on an Apple Watch.

71 percent of pre-purchasers bought the larger 42mm watch over the smaller 38mm version.

Slice found that 72 percent of these early-adopters had bought another Apple product during the last two years.

The first Apple watch reviews came out last week - leading publications' first thoughts on the new product - the reaction was mixed but generally positive.

The overriding question left unanswered was - will the average person be impressed enough with Apple's wearable to buy a first generation watch?

The Apple watch will go on sale in nine countries on April 24th.



CERN Hadron Collider Is Back In Action

Posted 07/04/2015

Last Sunday, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider successfully turned it on, injecting two proton beams moving in opposite directions into the massive particle accelerator.

The particles will be travelling at a relatively low energy at first of 450 GeV so that the operators of the can ensure that everything’s working as it should be. Once all systems are cleared, proton beams will be accelerated to 13 TeV, nearly twice the energy used to find the Higgs Boson.

And that’s where the fun will start.

The Large Hadron Collider has been shut down for about two years as upgrades were made to its various systems. This included consolidating some of the electrical systems, adding magnet protection systems, and making improvements to its cryogenic and vacuum systems. The LHC will also be able to fire proton beams in bunches separated by 25 ms, half the time it used to take.

The improvements to the LHC along with the higher energies will allow thousands of physicists around the world – including over 1,700 in the United States alone – to conduct experiments to test theories that so far have only been the province of computer simulations.

“We are on the threshold of an exciting time in particle physics: the LHC will turn on with the highest energy beam ever achieved,” Fleming Crim, National Science Foundation Assistant Director said in a statement. “This energy regime will open the door to new discoveries about our universe that were impossible as recently as two years ago.”

The Large Hadron Collider’s particle accelerator consists of a ring 27 km (about 16.7 mi) long. The protons are emitted into the ring (which is a vacuum), and then are accelerated using superconducting magnets that are cooled to near absolute zero: -271 degrees C. They are then sped up to nearly the speed of light and have energies added to them. The particles are then crashed together, which produces huge amounts of energies. By studying the byproducts of those collisions, physicists are able to discover new particles and learn other things about the physics of subatomic particles.

Some of the things that the Large Hadron Collider will be looking for during its next round of experiments will be more information about the Higgs boson and how it works. Scientists at CERN will also be trying to create the particles that are hypothesized to make up dark matter as well as evidence for the first supersymmetric particle.