Tuesday, May 4, 2021
HELSINKI — China launched the first module for its space station into orbit late Wednesday, but the mission launcher also reached orbit and is slowly and unpredictably heading back to Earth.
The Long March 5B, a variant of China’s largest rocket, successfully launched the 22.5-metric-ton Tianhe module from Wenchang Thursday local time. Tianhe separated from the core stage of the launcher after 492 seconds of flight, directly entering its planned initial orbit.
Designed specifically to launch space station modules into low Earth orbit, the Long March 5B uniquely uses a core stage and four side boosters to place its payload directly into low Earth orbit.
However this core stage is now also in orbit and is likely to make an uncontrolled reentry over the next days or week as growing interaction with the atmosphere drags it to Earth. If so, it will be one of the largest instances of uncontrolled reentry of a spacecraft and could potentially land on an inhabited area.
Most expendable rocket first stages do not reach orbital velocity and reenter the atmosphere and land in a pre-defined reentry zone. Some other larger, second stages perform deorbit burns to lower altitude to reduce time in orbit and lower chances of collisions with other spacecraft or to immediately reenter the atmosphere.
There had been speculation that the Long March 5B core would perform an active maneuver to deorbit itself, but that appears not to have happened. At a Wenchang press conference Thursday, Wang Jue, Commander-in-Chief of Long March 5B launch vehicle, stated (Chinese) that this second Long March 5B had seen improvements over the first launch, but a possible deorbit maneuver was not stated.
Ground based radars used by the U.S. military to track spacecraft and other objects in space have detected an object and catalogued it as the Long March 5B rocket body. Now designated 2021-035B, the roughly 30-meter-long, five-meter-wide Long March 5 core stage is in a 170 by 372-kilometer altitude orbit traveling at more than seven kilometers per second.
A possible amateur ground observation of the rocket core showing regular flashes suggests that it is tumbling and thus not under control.
Sunday, May 2, 2021
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United States on Sunday immediately denied a report by Iran’s state-run television broadcaster that deals had been reached between the Islamic Republic, Washington and the United Kingdom that would see prisoners swapped and Tehran receive billions of dollars.
The announcement by state television, relying on an unnamed source, comes amid a wider power struggle between hard-liners and the relatively moderate government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That conflict only has grown sharper as Iran approaches its June 18 presidential election.
The broadcaster long controlled by hard-liners has aired similarly anonymously sourced reports contradicting diplomats in Vienna trying to negotiate a return to its nuclear deal with world powers.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Sunday’s report represented another means to disrupt negotiations by Rouhani officials or sabotage any potential negotiations with the West over frozen funds and prisoner exchanges.
The official quoted by Iranian state TV said a deal made between the U.S. and Tehran involved a prisoner swap in exchange for the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
“The Americans accepted to pay $7 billion and swap four Iranians who were active in bypassing sanctions for four American spies who have served part of their sentences,” state TV said, quoting the official in an on-screen crawl. It did not name the Iranians that Tehran sought to be freed.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price immediately denied the Iranian state TV report.
“Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached are not true,” Price said. “As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran. We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families.”
Price did not elaborate. But Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “unfortunately that report is untrue. There is no agreement to release these four Americans.”
“We’re working very hard to get them released,” Klain said. “We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time but so far there’s no agreement.”
Tehran holds four known Americans now in prison. They include Baquer and Siamak Namazi, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz and Iranian-American businessman Emad Shargi.
State TV also quoted the official as saying a deal had been reached for the United Kingdom to pay 400 million pounds to see the release of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
British officials downplayed the report. The Foreign Office said that the country continues “to explore options to resolve this 40-year old case and we will not comment further as legal discussions are ongoing.’’
Last week, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to an additional year in prison, her lawyer said, on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for participating in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.
That came after she completed a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.
While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family.
Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, told The Associated Press he was not aware of any swap in the works.
“We haven’t heard anything,” he said. “Of course we probably wouldn’t, but my instinct is to be skeptical at present.”
Earlier Sunday, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC that he believed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held “unlawfully” by Iran.
“I think she’s been treated in the most abusive, tortuous way,” Raab said. “I think it amounts to torture the way she’s been treated and there is a very clear, unequivocal obligation on the Iranians to release her and all of those who are being held as leverage immediately and without condition.”
Last week, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei hinted that a prisoner swap between Iran and the U.S. may be in the works, saying the idea “has always been on the agenda” and noting the judiciary has confirmed its “readiness.” His remarks followed that of the Foreign Ministry spokesman who suggested Tehran hopes to swing a major prisoner swap as part of ongoing negotiations in Vienna. A similar swap accompanied the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers
Tehran is now negotiating with world powers over both it and the U.S. returning to its 2015 nuclear deal, which saw it limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
As the negotiations continue, Iranian negotiators there have offered encouraging comments, while state TV quoted anonymous sources striking maximalist positions. That even saw Abbas Araghchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister leading the talks, offer a rebuke on Twitter last week to Iranian state television’s English-language arm, Press TV.
“I don’t know who the ‘informed source’ of Press TV in Vienna is, but s/he is certainly not ‘informed,‘” Araghchi wrote.
Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Danika Kirka in London and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
WASHINGTON — The first rocket booster test of the U.S. Air Force’s hypersonic AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon failed when the vehicle did not launch during an April 5 flight.
During tests over Point Mugu Sea Range off the coast of California, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber attempted to launch the ARRW booster vehicle. However, “the test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence” and the bomber returned to Edwards Air Force Base, California, with the test vehicle, the Air Force said in a statement.
The service plans to study the missile to understand why it didn’t launch, then make alterations and attempt to fire it in a future test, the service said.
“The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward,” said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive officer for its armaments directorate. “While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead. This is why we test.”
Aside from demonstrating the safe separation of the ARRW booster from the B-52 during the April 5 test, the Air Force had intended to evaluate the performance of the missile at operational speeds through ignition and the boost phase, as well as simulate the separation of the booster from the glide vehicle.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Virgin Galactic, the space tourism firm that hopes to send its first customers to space next year, unveiled a new spacecraft design on Tuesday. The sleek new space plane has a reflective coating that the company calls "mirror-like," and says will add to space tourists' experience.
Thursday, February 25, 2021