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Chang’e-5 lands on the moon: the scientific community waits for the capsule to return with the sample

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Following a perfect landing on the designated area on the near side of the moon late Tuesday evening, the landing vehicle of Chinese robotic lunar probe Chang’e-5 officially began sample collecting work on the surface of Earth’s celestial neighbor, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Wednesday.

The CNSA said in a statement sent to the Global Times that as of 4:53 am Wednesday, the lander-ascender combination of the Chang’e-5 probe had completed drilling the moon’s surface and sealed the samples it had collected. The CNSA did not reveal the weight of the sample collected as of press time.

The lander-ascender combination of the spacecraft is currently working on collecting samples from the lunar surface, the Chinese space agency said.

The Chang’e-5 uses a combination of a robotic arm and drilling equipment for its automatic and robotic sample collection from multiple points on the moon’s surface and deeper ground, the CNSA said.

The surface sample collecting stage will take about two days, after which the ascender segment of the probe, carrying the sealed lunar samples, will take off from the moon to rendezvous and dock with the orbital module.

The re-entry capsule will then haul the moon dirt and rocks to Earth, with a touchdown planned in North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The whole mission will last for 23 days, the CNSA said.

Chang’e-5, the latest of China’s increasingly complex lunar probe mission named after the moon goddess of Chinese mythology, aims to retrieve approximately two kilograms of rocks and dust and bring them back to Earth for scientific research and study.

To ensure the reliability and diversity of the sample collecting stage of the mission, designers from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), a subordinate of the state-owned aerospace giant China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the landing vehicle is designed to collect surface dirt by gathering it with a robotic arm as well as digging into the moon surface with a cutting-edge drill.

Jiang Shuiqing, chief designer of the Chang’e-5 probe, said the Chinese spacecraft adopts an “automatic robotic” method in the surface operation stage, which is unique when compared to previous human lunar sample retrieval missions, and marked a world first.

The CAST designer team developed highly dexterous robotic arms for the lander vehicle. At the end of robotic arms are two types of samplers – one can perform scooping and the other one is capable of drilling up to 2 meters under the surface.

“Sample collection on a celestial body normally combines the scoop and the drill, since the materials on the surface are usually too complicated to analyze due to all kinds of space weathering effects, and it is the soil and rocks underground that are most valuable for studying,” Wang Ya’nan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times.

The tubular samples, which will be taken from up to 2 meters deep, could provide a great amount of geological data, allowing for further studies on the material’s content, causes, and time of formation.

Scientists believe that the landing site contains rocks and soil that are about 1.2 billion years old. It has never been visited either by a probe or human, and scientists believe it will fill an important gap in their understanding of the moon’s volcanic activities.

The lunar material collected by the Chang’e-5 probe was formed from the space weathering of lunar rocks after meteorite impact, solar wind and cosmic ray radiation. It consists of a considerable amount of rock fragments, minerals and meteorites, which provide valuable information for studying the geological evolution of the moon, as well as solar activities, Xiao Long, a professor at the Wuhan-based China University of Geosciences, told the Global Times.

“Analysis of the lunar samples shows that contents within the soil and rocks could be turned into water and oxygen, which will be useful in supporting the operation of the moon base and serve as supplementary fuel for lunar landing vehicles,” Pang Zhihao, a Beijing-based space expert, told the Global Times.

More importantly, scientists have found in the lunar samples the ideal material for nuclear fusion, and enough of it to meet mankind’s energy needs for about 10,000 years, Pang added.

If successful, China will become the first country to bring moon materials back to Earth since 1976.

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union successfully carried out three robotic sample return missions that retrieved a total of 330 grams of lunar soil. The Chang’e-5 plans to bring back 2 kilograms in one single mission.

The gap in weight reflects how much the ability to retrieve lunar samples has advanced over the past decades, Pang Zhihao said.

He explained that back in the 1970s, the Soviet Union missions adopted a direct ascending and return plan from the lunar surface, which required the ascender to use large amounts of fuel to carry the huge load on the return capsule, resulting in the sample weight being greatly reduced.

The Chang’e-5, however, is expected to carry out rendezvous and docking with the orbital module in the lunar orbit, greatly reducing the amount of fuel needed for the ascender and allowing room for more samples.

The surface operation of the Chang’e-5 lander vehicle came after what insiders dubbed a “perfect” soft landing on the planned site earlier on Tuesday evening.

According to CNSA, the exact location of the Chang’e-5 Tuesday landing was determined to be 51.8 degrees West longitude and 43.1 degrees North latitude on the near side of the moon, which is north of the Mons Rümker area of the huge volcanic plain Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the “Ocean of Storms.”

The international community has been closely following the event.

“For the space program of China, this event is undoubtedly historic,” Deputy Director General of Roscosmos Sergei Savelyev said in a statement, after congratulating his Chinese colleagues on behalf of the corporation.

“The study of the natural satellite of the Earth is currently one of the priority areas of space activities in all countries, and Russia and China regularly discuss the development of cooperation between our countries in this area,” he added.

The European Space Agency (ESA) also extended a message of congratulations to CNSA upon its achievement.

The Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate of US space agency NASA, Thomas Zurbuchen, wrote shortly after the landing event: “Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5.”

“This is no easy task. When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community,” he wrote.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying thanked Roscosmos, ESA, and other aerospace bodies for their congratulations to Chang’e-5 on Wednesday, and said that the mission marked a historic step for China to explore outer space, as well as a historic step for the world to deepen cooperation on this matter.

“China has been committed to a peaceful cooperation with the world on space exploration with an open mind, and we will share our achievements with other countries,” Hua stressed.

ബെയ്ജിങ് : ചന്ദ്രനിൽ നിന്നുള്ള സാമ്പിളുകൾ ശേഖരിക്കാൻ ചൈന വിക്ഷേപിച്ച ബഹിരാകാശ പേടകം ചന്ദ്രനിൽ ലാൻഡ് ചെയ്തു. നവംബർ 24 നാണ് ചൈന ചങ്അ 5 വിക്ഷേപിച്ചത്. പുരാതന ചൈനക്കാർക്ക് ചന്ദ്രൻ ചങ്അ എന്ന ദേവതയാണ്. പലരും ചങ്അയെ ആരാധിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. അതിനാലാണ് ചന്ദ്രനിൽ നിന്നുളള കല്ലുകളും മറ്റു പദാർഥങ്ങളും ശേഖരിക്കാൻ ചൈനയയച്ച ദൗത്യത്തിന് ചങ്അ എന്ന പേരിട്ടത്.

ചന്ദ്രന്റെ ഉത്ഭവം കണ്ടെത്താനുള്ള പഠനത്തിന്റെ ഭാഗമായാണ് അവിടെ നിന്നുള്ള പദാർഥങ്ങൾ ശേഖരിക്കുന്നത്.

ഓഷ്യാനസ് പ്രോസെല്ലറം അഥവാ ഓഷ്യൻ ഓഫ് സ്റ്റോംസ് എന്നറിയപ്പെടുന്ന ചന്ദ്രനിലെ ലാവാ സമതലത്തിൽ മനുഷ്യ സ്പർശം ഏൽക്കാത്ത ഇടത്തുനിന്നാണ് സാമ്പിളുകൾ ശേഖരിക്കുന്നത്. രണ്ട് കിലോയോളം സാമ്പിളുകൾ ശേഖരിക്കാൻ ദൗത്യം ലക്ഷ്യമിടുന്നുണ്ട്.

ദൗത്യം വിജയകരമായി പൂർത്തീകരിക്കാനാവുകയാണെങ്കിൽ സോവിയറ്റ് യൂണിയനും അമേരിക്കക്കും ശേഷം ചന്ദ്രനിൽ നിന്ന് സാമ്പിളുകൾ ശേഖരിക്കുന്ന മൂന്നാമത്തെ രാജ്യമാകും ചൈന.

ലാൻഡിങ്ങിന് ശേഷം പേടകം അതിന്റെ റോബോട്ടിക് ഭുജങ്ങളുപയോഗിച്ച് പാറ തുരന്ന് സാമ്പിളുകൾ ശേഖരിക്കാനാണ് ഉദ്ദേശിക്കുന്നത്.

തിരിച്ച് ഭൂമിയിലേക്ക് മടങ്ങുന്ന ക്യാപ്സൂളിലായിരിക്കും ശേഖരിക്കുന്ന സാമ്പിളുകൾ സൂക്ഷിക്കുന്നത്. ചൈനയിലെ മംഗോളിയ മേഖലയിലായിരിക്കും ഇത് ലാൻഡ് ചെയ്യുക.

2013ലാണ് ചൈന ആദ്യ ചാന്ദ്രപര്യവേക്ഷണം നടത്തിയത്. ചന്ദ്രനിൽ ഇതുവരെ മനുഷ്യസ്പർശമേൽക്കാത്ത ഇടത്തിൽ സന്ദർശിച്ച് ചങ്അ- 4 ചരിത്രം കുറിച്ചിരുന്നു.

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Indian-American scientist Swati Mohan leads NASA’s Mars 2020 mission

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Washington: Indian-American scientist, Swati Mohan, who leads the guidance, navigation, and control operations of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission played a pivotal role in landing the US space agency’s historic Perseverance rover on the Martian surface on Friday.

Mohan was also the first to confirm that the rover had sucessfully touched down on the Martian surface after surviving a particularly tricky plunge through the atmosphere of the Red Planet.

“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking signs of past life,” flight controller Mohan announced, prompting her colleagues at NASA to fist-bump and break into celebrations.

Mohan, who emigrated from India to the US when she was only a year old, says the Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Operations (GN&C) are “eyes and ears” of the spacecraft.

Commenting on her team’s role in the current mission, Mohan said during the cruise phase heading towards Mars, their job was to figure out how the spacecraft is oriented, and make sure it is pointed correctly in space — “solar arrays to sun, antenna to Earth, and maneuver the spacecraft to get it where we want to go.”

She said during the “seven minutes of terror” leading to the entry, descent, and landing on Mars, GN&C determines the position of the spacecraft and commands the maneuvers to help it land safely.

“As the team’s operations lead, I am the primary point of communication between the GN&C subsystem and the rest of the project.

“I am responsible for the training of the GN&C team, scheduling the mission control staffing for GN&C, as well as the policies/procedures the GN&C uses in the mission control room,” Mohan noted.

Raised in Northern Virginia-Washington DC metro area, she completed her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, and her M.S. and Ph.D from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Aeronautics/Astronautics.

Over the course of her career with NASA, Mohan has worked on the Cassini mission to Saturn and GRAIL — a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon, and has been a mainstay with the Mars 2020 mission since its beginning in 2013.

Mohan says she got interested in space after watching the popular TV show Star Trek when she was 9.

“Seeing the beautiful depictions of the new regions of the universe that they were exploring. I remember thinking ‘I want to do that. I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe.’ The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn,” she had told NASA.

Mohan noted that her passion for space increased further when she took her first physics class at the age of 16.

“I was lucky enough to have a great teacher, and everything was so understandable and easy. That was when I really considered engineering, as a way to pursue space,” she added.

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ISRO, MapmyIndia join hands to take on Google Maps/Earth

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Indian Space Research Organisation and location and navigation technology solutions provider MapmyIndia announced an initiative to partner together to offer India’s best, and fully indigenous, mapping portal and geospatial services.

It combines the power of MapmyIndia’s digital maps and technologies with ISRO’s catalogue of satellite imagery and earth observation data, according to MapmyIndia’s CEO and Excutive Director, Rohan Verma.

He termed it a path-breaking milestone in India’s journey towards ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, wherein Indian users would not be dependent on foreign organisations for maps, navigation and geospatial services, and leverage made-in-India solutions instead.

“You don’t need Goo*le Maps/Earth any longer”, Mr. Verma said in the headline in an article on LinkedIn.

According to ISRO, the Department of Space (DoS) — ISRO comes under it — has joined hands with MapmyIndia to combine their geospatial expertise and build holistic solutions by leveraging their geoportals.

DoS entered into an MoU with geospatial technology company CE Info Systems Pvt Ltd, which owns MapmyIndia, on Thursday.

Under the partnership, the combined geospatial expertise of the DoS and CE Info Systems would be leveraged through their respective Geoportals, according to Bengaluru-headquartered ISRO.

The collaboration will enable them to jointly identify and build holistic geospatial solutions utilising the earth observation datasets, ‘NavIC’, Web Services and APIs (application programming interface) available in MapmyIndia, ‘Bhuvan’, ‘VEDAS’ and ‘MOSDAC’ geoportals, the space agency said in a statement.

Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) called NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation, is India’s own navigation system, developed by ISRO.

Bhuvan is the national geo-portal developed and hosted by ISRO comprising geospatial data, services and tools for analysis.

VEDAS (Visualisation of Earth observation Data and Archival System) is an online geoprocessing platform using optical, microwave, thermal and hyperspectral EO data covering applications particularly meant for academia, research and problem solving, according to ISRO.

MOSDAC (Meteorological and Oceanographic Satellite Data Archival Centre)is a data repository for all the meteorological missions of ISRO and deals with weather related information, oceanography and tropical water cycles.

Mr. Verma said there are many reasons why Indians are better off with an indigenous solution for maps and geospatial services.

“MapmyIndia, being a responsible, local, Indian company, ensures that its maps reflect the true sovereignty of the country, depicting India’ s borders as per Government of India, and hosts its maps in India,” he said.

Through the combined partnership with ISRO, MapmyIndias end user maps, apps and services will now integrate with ISROs huge catalogue of satellite imagery and earth observation data, a MapmyIndia statement said.

It would be a much better, more detailed and comprehensive, as well as privacy-centric, hyper local and indigenous mapping solution for Indians, compared to foreign map apps and solutions, it said.

Mr. Verma said foreign mapping solutions come with a lot of hidden costs.

For example, foreign search engines and companies claim to offer “free” maps, but in reality they make money by targeting the same users with advertising based on invading user privacy and auctioning those users private location and movement data,” he claimed.

“This should be very alarming to all citizens”.

“On the other hand, MapmyIndia has an ethical point of view against advertising led business models of such companies, and hence, does not have an advertising business model. By using MapmyIndia maps and applications instead of the foreign map apps, users can better protect their privacy,” he said.

The “sustainable and direct, clean business model” ensures that MapmyIndias maps and apps can be kept free of cost as well as free of ads for users, according to him.

“MapmyIndias maps cover all 7.5 lakh villages, 7500+ cities at street and building-level, connected by all 63 lakh kilometres of road network pan India and within cities, in total providing maps for an unparalleled 3+ crore places across India,” the company statement said.

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