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Progress of space projects around the world reviewed

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The space race is literally on with both public and private enterprises sprinting ahead towards new celestial destinations with different agendas and a quick glance at the progress of space projects around the world was afforded at the annual session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in early February.

Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, vice-chairman of the International Relations Committee of the European Space Agency, called attention upon the huge progress that a number of countries are making in space projects and how this progress is increasing cooperation between countries making space projects a multi-national effort. He also stressed the dual civilian-military nature these projects, and their potential benefits.

During the proceedings, Holger Krag, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office ESA/ESOC, detailed a number of ESA launches and mitigation efforts in 2016, including the Sentinel-3A launched on February 16, 2016 from Plesetsk (Rokot rocket) to monitor ocean and land temperature and color; Exomars, launched on March 14, 2016 from Baikonour (Proton rocket) into Mars orbit to trace gases in the Martian atmosphere; Sentinel-1B, launched on April 25, 2016 from CSG/Kourou (Soyuz rocket) to monitor land and sea; Galileo 13,14,15,16,17,18 satellites, launched on (13, 14) May 24, (15 – 18) Nov. 17.

Walter Naumann of the Max Planck Institute, Germany, was also present and he detailed the ICARUS Initiative, which is a new space system for global wildlife observation and protection, aimed at extending the satellite-based Earth observation to the fauna on Earth, especially to small animals.

China has made notable progress in the space race with the country setting records with its independent manned flight capability: the LM-2F of China and Soyuz of Russia became the only two launch vehicles that can conduct manned space missions, and China’s intensive launch capabilities – 18 launches per year – equaled NASA’s count in 2016.

Yu Qi, Deputy Director-General of the Department of System Engineering in China’s National Space Administration (CNSA), presented the latest Chinese Space achievements, including: long March vehicles that greatly enhance China’s capabilities and access to space; Beidou navigation and positioning system and high-resolution earth observation systems; breakthroughs in spacecraft rendezvous and docking as well as astronauts’ mid-term stay in orbit and long-term ground mission support; the Lunar exploration project’s successful reentry and return flight test; and the first launch at the Wenchang launch site.

China has major plans spread out over the next five years. One of the project involves developing and launching non-toxic and pollution-free medium-lift launch vehicles. The country is also carrying out research in key technologies for heavy-lift launch vehicles and low-cost launch vehicles. China intends to launch the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft to dock with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory; and to start assembly and operation of the space station among other projects.

Other nations also boasted of significant evolution in their space programs.

Japan’s recent developments in space was presented by Masazumi Miyake, director of the International Relations and Research Department in the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Among the many milestones: an H3 launch planned for 2020; a Hayabusa-2 launch to reach target asteroid “Ryugu” in 2018 and return to Earth in 2020; a small lunar-lander (SLIM), which boasts autonomous obstacle detection, robust pin-point guidance, landing shock absorber, and high-performance propulsion – a precursor of full-scale lunar or planetary missions; and BepiColombo –a joint mission between ESA and JAXA, planned to reach Mercury in 2024. After 2020, MMX, a sample return mission to the two moons of Mars, and SPICA, a joint astrophysics mission with Europe, are JAXA’s top-priority missions, although they’re still in the concept phase.

Clezio Marcos De Nardin of the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE) made a presentation on ‘Opportunities in Science and Engineering with Space Applications at INPE,’ which included various Earth observation systems such as remote sensing research on geology, water resources, oceanography, ecosystems and territorial management and monitoring, daily weather forecast, and climate studies.

Space debris was the focus of experts from various countries.

Christian Cazaux of the French Centre Bational D’études Spatiales (CNES), submitted an overview on 2016 space debris activities in France, among which there was an analysis of the results of the past (2000 to 2015) in low Earth orbit for satellites post mission disposal, as well as fragmentations information, and CNES operational services called CAESAR (Conjunction Analysis and Evaluation, Assessment and Recommendations), with an analysis of all conjunction data messages available.

Jer-Chyi Liou, Chief Scientist from the Orbital Debris Program Office at Johnson Space Center, NASA, stressed that the material mass in Earth orbit continued to increase and exceeded 7,400 metric tons in 2016; the low Earth orbit, below 2,000 km altitude, has the highest concentration of the cataloged objects and mass distribution and is dominated by rocket bodies and spacecrafts.

Fernand Alby from IAASS (International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety) examined the impact of newcomers on space debris risk, such as increased collision risk to other users of space, more avoidance maneuvers, operational cost, lifetime reduction, and significant impact on the long term evolution of orbital population and possible instability.

Sam Harbison, consultant to the UK Space Agency, provided some updates on the safety recommendations for nuclear power source applications in space.

Koji Nakaitani, assistant director of the Japanese National Space Policy Secretariat, presented an overview of the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, a 4-satellite constellation that will be established and become operational in 2018.

Aleksei Belotserkovsky of the National Academy of Sciences in Belarus gave an account of Belarus’ satellite system of precise positioning, including 98 continuous operation reference stations (CORSs) that provide 100% coverage of the territory.

Omran Sharaf from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in the UEA informed about the progress of the Arab World’s first mission to explore Mars, with the probe symbolically called Amal (Hope), that will include high technology equipment: EMUS, a far ultraviolet imaging spectrograph that will characterize the escape of hydrogen and oxygen from Mars and the state of the Mars thermosphere; EMIRS – the 5th generation ASU built FTIR spectrometer with OTES.

The first two weeks of February at the 54th session of the Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee of COPUOS in Vienna have definitely provided a comprehensive picture of the latest achievements in the most inspiring and challenging of areas – space.

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