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Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2021)

A spacewalk planned for Tuesday to repair a faulty antenna on the International Space Station was postponed indefinitely, NASA said, citing a “debris notification” it received for the orbiting research laboratory.

Two U.S. astronauts had been scheduled to venture outside the space station at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time (1210 GMT) to begin their work, facing what NASA officials had called a slightly elevated risk posed by debris from a Russian anti-satellite missile test this month.

But about five hours before the outing was to have commenced, NASA said on Twitter that the spacewalk had been called off for the time being.

“NASA received a debris notification for the space station. Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available,” the space agency tweeted.

It was not made clear how close debris had come to the space station, orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above the Earth, or whether it was related to the Russian missile test.

NASA TV had planned to provide live coverage of the 6-1/2-hour “extravehicular activity,” or EVA, operation by astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Brown. The outing would be the fifth spacewalk for Marshburn, 61, a medical doctor and former flight surgeon with two previous trips to orbit, and the first for Barron, 34, a U.S. Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer on her debut spaceflight for NASA.

The objective is to remove a faulty S-band radio communications antenna assembly, now more than 20 years old, and replace it with a new spare stowed outside the space station.

According to plans, Marshburn was to have worked with Barron while positioned at the end of a robotic arm operated from inside the station by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency, with help from NASA crewmate Raja Chari.

The four arrived at the space station on Nov. 11 in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, joining two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut already aboard the orbiting outpost.

Four days later, an anti-satellite missile test conducted without warning by Russia generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit, and all seven crew members took shelter in their docked spaceships to allow for a quick getaway until the immediate danger passed, according to NASA.

The residual debris cloud from the blasted satellite has dispersed since then, according to Dana Weigel, NASA deputy manager of the International Space Station (ISS) program.

But NASA calculates that the remaining fragments continued to pose a “slightly elevated” background risk to the space station as a whole, and a 7% higher risk of spacewalkers’ suits being punctured, as compared to before Russia’s missile test, Weigel told reporters on Monday.

Although NASA has yet to fully quantify additional hazards posed by more than 1,700 larger fragments it is tracking around the station’s orbit, the 7% higher risk to spacewalkers falls “well within” fluctuations were previously seen in “the natural environment,” Weigel said.

Still, mission managers canceled several smaller maintenance tasks under consideration for Tuesday’s spacewalk, Weigel added.

Science & Technology

French justice ministry hit by cyberattack, investigation ongoing

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(Last Updated On: January 29, 2022)

France’s justice ministry on Friday was hit by a cyberattack of unknown scale and an investigation has been launched, news agency AFP reported, citing multiple sources.

“There was something, but not of large extent, no criminal files have been affected”, a report cited a source close to the investigation as saying.

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Chinese hackers target German pharma and tech firms

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(Last Updated On: January 27, 2022)

Chinese hacker group APT 27, long suspected of launching attacks on Western government agencies, has started targeting German companies in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and technology, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) said on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

In addition to stealing trade secrets and intellectual property, the hackers may be trying to penetrate customers’ and service providers’ networks to infiltrate several companies at once, the BfV said in a circular to companies.

According to Reuters in its annual constitutional protection report from 2019, the BfV had pointed out the group’s acronym APT 27 is an alias for a Chinese hacker group also known as the “Emissary Panda,” which is believed to target foreign embassies and critical sectors.

Last year, the United States and its allies accused China of a carrying out a global cyberespionage campaign. China has denied the allegation, read the report.

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NASA’s new space telescope nears destination in solar orbit

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(Last Updated On: January 24, 2022)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, designed to give the world an unprecedented glimpse into the earliest stages of the universe, neared its gravitational parking space on Monday in orbit around the sun, almost 1 million miles from Earth.

With a final course-correcting maneuver by onboard rocket thrusters set for 2 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT), Webb is expected to reach its destination at a position of orbital stability between the Earth and sun known as Lagrange Point Two, or L2, arriving one month after launch.

The thrusters will be activated by mission control engineers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the ground team will use radio signals to confirm when Webb has been successfully “inserted” into orbit, said Eric Smith, NASA’s program scientist for Webb.

From its vantage point in space, Webb will follow a special path in constant alignment with Earth, as the planet and telescope circle the sun in tandem, enabling uninterrupted radio contact.

By comparison, Webb’s 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, orbits the Earth from 340 miles (547 km) away, passing in and out of the planet’s shadow every 90 minutes.

The combined pull of the sun and Earth at L2 can hold the telescope firmly in place so it takes little additional rocket thrust to keep Webb from drifting.

Utilized by several other deep-space satellites over the years, and L2 position allows a “minimum amount of fuel to stay in orbit,” Smith said.

The operations center has also begun fine-tuning the telescope’s primary mirror – an array of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal measuring 21 feet, 4 inches (6.5 meters) across – far larger than Hubble’s main mirror.

Its size and design to operate mainly in the infrared spectrum will allow Webb to peer through clouds of gas and dust and observe objects at greater distances, thus farther back in time, than Hubble or any other telescope.

These features are expected to usher in a revolution in astronomy, giving the first view of infant galaxies dating to just 100 million years after the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set the expansion of the known universe in motion and estimated 13.8 billion years ago.

Webb’s instruments also make it ideal to search for signs of potentially life-supporting atmospheres around scores of newly documented exoplanets – celestial bodies orbiting distant stars – and to observe worlds much closer to homes, such as Mars and Saturn’s icy moon Titan.

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