BEIJING — China launched its most ambitious Mars mission yet on Thursday in a bold attempt to join the United States in successfully landing a spacecraft on the red planet.
Engines blazing orange, a Long March-5 carrier rocket took off under clear skies around 12:40 p.m. from Hainan Island, south of China’s mainland. Hundreds of space enthusiasts cried out excitedly on a beach across the bay from the launch site.
“This is a kind of hope, a kind of strength,” said Li Dapeng, co-founder of the China branch of the Mars Society, an international enthusiast group. He wore a Mars Society T shirt, and was there with his wife, 11-year-old son and 2,000 others on the beach to watch the launch.
Launch commander Zhang Xueyu announced to cheers in the control room that the rocket was flying normally about 45 minutes later. “The Mars rover has accurately entered the scheduled orbit,” he said in brief remarks shown live on state broadcaster CCTV.
China’s space agency said that the rocket carried the probe for 36 minutes before successfully placing it on the looping path that will take it beyond Earth’s orbit and eventually into Mars’ more distant orbit around the sun.
Liu Tongjie, spokesman for the mission, said in a press briefing that the launch was a “key step of China marching towards farther deep space.” He said that China’s aim wasn’t to compete with other countries, but to peacefully explore the universe.
It marked the second flight to Mars this week, after a United Arab Emirates orbiter blasted off on a rocket from Japan on Monday. And the U.S. is aiming to launch Perseverance, its most sophisticated Mars rover ever, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, next week.
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“It’s amazing that another nation has launched the case for Mars,” said Dr. Katarina Miljkovic, a planetary scientist at Curtin University in Australia, adding that the world was no longer in a space race. “It’s more like this marathon of space that we all want to be running.”
China’s tandem spacecraft — with both an orbiter and a rover — will take seven months to reach Mars, like the others. If all goes well, Tianwen-1, or “quest for heavenly truth,” will look for underground water, if it’s present, as well as evidence of possible ancient life.
This isn’t China’s first attempt at Mars. In 2011, a Chinese orbiter accompanying a Russian mission was lost when the spacecraft failed to get out of Earth’s orbit after launching from Kazakhstan, eventually burning up in the atmosphere.
This time, China is going at it alone. It also is fast-tracking, launching an orbiter and rover on the same mission instead of stringing them out.
China’s secretive space program has developed rapidly in recent decades. Yang Liwei became the first Chinese astronaut in 2003, and last year, Chang’e-4 became the first spacecraft from any country to land on the far side of the moon.
Conquering Mars would put China in an elite club.
“There is a whole lot of prestige riding on this,” said Dean Cheng, an expert on Chinese aerospace programs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
The launch was “gutsy,” said Dr. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The next challenge is for the probe to be “still working when it gets to Mars and survives entry and landing.”
Landing on Mars is notoriously difficult. Only the U.S. has successfully landed a spacecraft on Martian soil, doing it eight times since 1976. NASA’s InSight and Curiosity rovers still operate today. Six other spacecraft are exploring Mars from orbit: three American, two European and one from India.
Unlike the two other Mars missions launching this month, China has tightly controlled information about the program — even withholding any name for its rover. National security concerns led the U.S. to curb cooperation between NASA and China’s space program.
In an article published earlier this month in Nature Astronomy, mission chief engineer Wan Weixing said Tianwen-1 would slip into orbit around Mars in February and look for a landing site on Utopia Planitia — a plain where NASA has detected possible evidence of underground ice. Wan died in May from cancer.
The landing would then be attempted in April or May, according to the article. If all goes well, the 240-kilogram (530-pound) golf cart-sized, solar-powered rover is expected to operate for about three months, and the orbiter for two years.
There is uncertainty even after the rover lands on Mars, said Liu Tongjie. “For instance, if there is a sand storm, it needs to modify its mode of work to prevent sands falling on solar panel, which will affect its ability to get energy,” he said.
Though small compared to America’s hulking, car-sized 1,025-kilogram (2,260-pound) Perseverance, it’s almost twice as big as the two rovers China has sent to the moon in 2013 and 2019. Perseverance is expected to operate for at least two years.
This Mars-launching season — which occurs every 26 months when Earth and Mars are at their closest — is especially busy.
The UAE spacecraft Amal, or Hope, which will orbit Mars but not land, is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. NASA’s Perseverance rover is up next.
“At no other time in our history have we seen anything like what is unfolding with these three unique missions to Mars. Each of them is a science and engineering marvel,” the Space Foundation’s chief executive officer Thomas Zelibor said in an online panel discussion earlier this week.
China’s road to Mars hit a few bumps: A Long March-5 rocket, nicknamed “Fat 5” because of its bulky shape, failed to launch earlier this year. The coronavirus pandemic forced scientists to work from home. In March, when instruments needed to be transported from Beijing to Shanghai, three team members drove 12 hours to deliver them.
While China is joining the U.S., Russia and Europe in creating a satellite-based global navigation system, experts say it isn’t trying to overtake the U.S. lead in space exploration.
Instead, Cheng of the Heritage Foundation said China is in a “slow race” with Japan and India to establish itself as Asia’s space power.
An Emirati walks past a screen displaying the “Hope” Mars probe at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai on July 19, 2020, ahead of it’s expected launch from Japan. The probe is one of three racing to the Red Planet, with Chinese and US rockets also taking advantage of the Earth and Mars being unusually close: a mere hop of 55 million kilometres (34 million miles).
GIUSEPPE CACACE | AFP via Getty Images
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE has successfully launched its Mars probe, named Hope, making history as the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
“We have lift-off. H2A, the rocket carrying the Hope Probe to space, has launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan,” the official account Hope Mars Mission tweeted early Monday morning. “The Hope Probe is the culmination of every single step that humans have taken throughout history to explore the unknown depths of space.”
Hope launched from the Japanese space center on Sunday, having been delayed from the previous week due to poor weather conditions. Within a few hours of liftoff, the ground segment at Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre established two-way communication with the probe.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover tweeted to the Hope mission: “Congratulations on your launch! I wish you a successful journey and look forward to the sol when we are both exploring Mars.”
The Hope probe, a $200 million project called “Al Amal” in Arabic, is scheduled to reach Mars’ orbit in February 2021 and will spend one Mars year — equivalent to 687 days on Earth — studying and gathering data on the red planet’s atmosphere. The year 2021 is also significant: it will mark 50 years of the UAE’s existence.
“It is a weather satellite, and that’s one objective of the mission,” Sarah al-Amiri, the Mars mission’s lead scientist and UAE minister of state for advanced sciences told Spaceflight Now. “We also look at what role Mars’ weather plays in atmospheric loss. That’s the other part of the mission.”
The Emirates Mars Mission partnered with a team at the University of Colorado Boulder to build the spacecraft, drawing on expertise from the university’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. But the small Gulf country itself has spent years investing in space research and development, founding its own space agency in 2014 after launching satellites in 2009 and 2013 developed jointly with South Korean partners.
The U.S. and China are also launching their own Mars missions — expected to reach the planet’s orbit around the same time as the Hope probe — this summer, because of a specific time window that occurs once every two years where Mars and Earth are closest together.
The UAE’s government has launched various campaigns to expand the country’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) sector, and it views its growing space program as an important part of that. It’s also the first country in the world to have a minister of A.I., and is investing heavily in its own indigenous defense industry.
Some 200 Emirati engineers and scientists spent six years working on the Arab world’s first spacecraft. NASA administrator Jim Bridestine tweeted: “Congrats to the team that worked on @HopeMarsMission. It’s truly amazing what @UAESpaceAgency & @MBRSpaceCentre have accomplished in such a short time.”
“The Emirates has successfully launched the first interplanetary mission in the Arab world, commencing a 493-million-kilometer (306-million-mile) journey to Mars,” Ahmad Al Falasi, chairman of the UAE Space Agency and minister of state for higher education, said in a statement. “This is a huge leap forward for the UAE’s ambitious space program. The Emirates Mars Mission is a catalyst that has already served to significantly accelerate the development of the UAE’s space, education, science and technologies sectors.”
A SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off from Florida in the predawn Saturday sky, just two weeks after another of the company’s workhorse rockets sent NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station.
The company had followed up its historic first launch of humans just a few days later, with a launch of Starlink satellites, and now it’s pulled off its first Starlink ride-share, carrying 58 of its own broadband satellites, along with three Earth observing spacecraft for Planet Labs.
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The mission brings the total number of Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit to more than 500, while increasing Planet’s SkySat fleet to 18. SpaceX’s Starlink aims to eventually include tens of thousands of orbiting routers that’ll blanket the Earth in broadband internet access, while the SkySats will help Planet Labs develop imagery of the Earth’s surface.
The first stage booster had previously flown twice, both times on Dragon cargo resupply missions to the ISS. It was successfully recovered again when it landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean less than 10 minutes after launch.
You can watch a recording of the whole mission above.
FILE PHOTO: The Snapchat app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration taken September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
(Reuters) – Snap Inc on Thursday announced a slate of new features for its photo messaging app Snapchat, such as new original shows and ways for outside developers to create products that will entice users to spend more time using the app.
Snap has sought to set itself apart from rivals for both users and investors, focusing on communication between close friends rather than broadcasting to an open audience, and allowing it to avoid the misinformation and hate speech problems that have plagued Facebook and Twitter. Shares of Snap have risen more than 50% over the past year.
During a webcast for Snap’s Partner Summit, which gathers developers who use the Snapchat app, as well as its creators and marketers, Snap said it will add an “action bar” to make it easier to navigate the app.
Users will now be able to find local businesses on its Snap Map feature, which will open up new ways for Snap to make money by allowing companies to promote their business, Snap said.
Snapchat, known for photo messages that disappear after being opened, has invested heavily in shows made to be watched on mobile, as well as in-app gaming. On Thursday, it announced 10 new original shows, including “Coach Kev” starring comedian Kevin Hart who will share “daily doses of positivity and wisdom,” and “Queen of Stylez,” a documentary series that follows celebrity hairstylist Tokyo Stylez.
The company also launched Snap Minis, which will allow outside developers to build experiences inside the Snapchat app. For example, popular meditation app Headspace will introduce a mini version inside Snapchat, allowing users to do quick meditations and send encouraging messages to their friends.
Reporting by Sheila Dang; Editing by David Gregorio
May 29, 2020 | 11:30am | Updated May 29, 2020 | 12:35pm
Kim Jong Un has gone nuclear in a new crusade against sex — lashing out at “immorality” and “impure acts” among teens in the Hermit Kingdom, according to a report.
After lying low off and on for the past few weeks, the reclusive leader has targeted what he deems “treasonous” behavior by youth with overactive sex drives, the UK’s Express reported.
Blaming “decadent capitalist influences,” including porn smuggled over the Chinese border, Kim suggested that parents and teachers could face punishment if they fail to control teens’ behavior.
“Recently more and more high school boys and girls are engaging in immoral sexual deviance, and the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party has issued a directive calling for strong measures against them,” a source told Radio Free Asia, according to Express.
“The reason behind this order is that the local Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League in Sinuiju inspected high school students, and found that some high school boys and girls hang out with local gangsters, live together, and commit immoral acts such as prostitution,” the source said.
“The immoral sexual behavior of students, who are influenced by capitalist lifestyles, has become a problem,” the person added. “The committee defined sexual promiscuity among teenagers as a treasonous act that helps the enemy to destroy our society.
“And since they are warning of strong punishment, students are shaking with fear.”
To stem the rise in “sexual promiscuity,” largely due to a rise in electronic media, the committee has “ordered schools to check students for phones or other devices they might have with them,” the source said.
This is accomplished using an application called Red Flag, which keeps a record of all sites visited by users and randomly takes screenshots that can be checked by authorities.
Another source warned there was widespread alarm at the strict measures among educators.
“Teachers are anxious because of the warning that school principals, advisers to the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League and the Korean Children’s Union, and school teachers, will also be punished if there is a serious sexual violation among students,” the source said.
Many also blamed the “increase in deviance” on the postponement of the school year amid concerns about the risk posed by coronavirus — although the rogue regime has not officially admitted to having any cases of the illness.
“As students do not go to school and are staying at home, they naturally approach impure media with curiosity and share it with each other, so there is an increasing number of these immoral sexual behaviors,” the second source said.
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Libya’s UN-supported government launched a counterattack on Sunday against a strategic military base used by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar to pound the capital Tripoli with rocket fire.
The response came after a missile barrage damaged Tripoli’s main airport and set fuel tanks and several aircraft ablaze, with at least six civilians killed in surrounding residential areas in the attacks on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Turkey – the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) main ally defending Tripoli against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) – threatened to step up its attacks against the eastern-based LNA, which has attempted to seize the capital for more than a year.
“The forces of war criminal [Haftar] fired more than a hundred rockets and missiles at residential areas in the centre of the capital,” the GNA said in a statement on Facebook.
The airport was badly damaged and came under renewed rocket fire on Sunday morning, it said.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said the GNA launched the counter-offensive in an effort to take a key LNA base using advanced weaponry to strike the city centre.
“The government’s military commanders say they are trying to recapture a military camp in southern Tripoli, which has been under the control of Haftar’s forces for the past few months. Haftar’s troops have been using that camp to fire rockets into residential areas and the airport,” said Abdelwahed.
“Military sources say it is also important because it is run and protected by Russian military experts from the Wagner Group, who have been fighting with Haftar’s forces.”
More than a dozen people have been killed over the past two days in missile attacks, the Tripoli-based government said.
Adding to the misery of Tripoli residents, the main water supplier to northwest Libya said armed men in the south had stormed one of its facilities, reducing supply.
Turkey said on Sunday that it would deem the Haftar’s forces “legitimate targets” if their attacks on its interests and diplomatic missions in Libya persisted.
On Thursday, Turkey and Italy said the area around their embassies in Tripoli had been shelled.
Turkey backs Libya’s internationally recognised GNA. It has signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and deployed military trainers and equipment, including armed drones that have helped repel Haftar’s offensive.
Ankara views Haftar’s forces, which are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, as “putschists”.
“If our missions and our interests in Libya are targeted, we will deem Haftar’s forces legitimate targets,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, in which it also slammed the United Nations for not taking action over the LNA’s attacks.
“It is unacceptable for the United Nations to remain silent against this carnage any longer,” it said. “Countries providing military, financial and political aid to Haftar are responsible for the suffering that the people of Libya are enduring and the chaos and instability the country is being dragged into.”
It also said attacks on Tripoli’s Mitiga airport early on Saturday, part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital, were war crimes.
“The attacks on diplomatic missions including our Tripoli embassy, Mitiga airport, civilian planes preparing to take off and other civilian infrastructure, and those which kill civilians or injure them, constitute a war crime,” the statement added.
Haftar’s LNA has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli from the GNA, frequently shelling the capital. The United Nations said four-fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Libyan conflict in the first quarter of 2020 were caused by LNA ground fighting.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the LNA was in a “period of regression” after NATO member Turkey threw its support behind the GNA.
“Even the efforts of countries that provide him [Haftar] with unlimited financial support and weapons will not be able to save him,” Erdogan said.
Pro-GNA forces have retaken some territory from the LNA around Tripoli during an escalation of fighting in recent weeks with the help of Turkish-supplied drones.
The LNA says Turkey has established a military drone base at the Mitiga airport, but the GNA denies this.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called the bombardment “an all too familiar but frightening spectacle”.
“These horrifying attacks occur on a regular basis in close proximity to civilian neighbourhoods,” UNSMIL said on Twitter.
It called the shelling “one in a series of indiscriminate attacks, most of which are attributable to pro-LNA forces, killing more than 15 and injuring 50 civilians since 1 May”.
Since Wednesday, 17 civilians and two police officers have been killed and more than 66 other civilians wounded in rocket fire targeting several areas of the capital, according to the GNA.
UNSMIL slammed the attacks for hitting civilians and civilian infrastructure, and called for “those responsible for crimes under international law to be brought to justice”.
But the GNA said international condemnation was not enough.
“We no longer pay any attention to the timid condemnations of the international community … The senseless acts are proof of his weakness and desperation after the successive defeats of his militias and mercenaries,” it added.
Haftar’s forces have suffered several setbacks in recent weeks, with GNA fighters pushing them from two key coastal cities west of Tripoli in April.
GNA troops now surround the LNA’s main rear base at Tarhouna, 80km (50 miles) southeast of the capital.
China has successfully launched a new rocket and prototype spacecraft, according to state media, in a major test of its ambitions to operate a permanent space station and send astronauts to the Moon.
A Long March 5B rocket took off from the Wenchang launch s…