|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
ABC Science / Monday, 16 January 2012
Mars probe "crashes into Pacific": military
Не сгоревшие в атмосфере фрагменты российской межпланетной станции «Фобос-Грунт» упали в Тихий океан (по другим данным - в Атлантический) 15 января.
Russia believes fragments of its Phobos-Grunt probe which spiralled back to Earth after failing to head on a mission to Mars crashed into the Pacific Ocean, a spokesman said.
The splashdown marks an inglorious if spectacular end for the Phobos-Grunt probe which Russia launched in November and hoped would scoop up a sample from Mars' largest moon Phobos and bring it back to Earth.
"According to information from mission control of the space forces, the fragments of Phobos Grunt should have fallen into the Pacific Ocean at 17:45 GMT (4:45 am AEDT)," spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin told the Interfax news agency.
There was no immediate comment from Russia's space agency Roscosmos, which throughout the day, as the probe approached Earth, had given wildly different predictions about where it could land.
Zolotukhin says that the agency had closely followed the probe's course. "This has allowed us to ascertain the place and time of the fall of the craft with a great degree of accuracy," he told Interfax.
According to the ITAR-TASS news agency, the probe should have splashed down 1250 kilometres west of the island of Wellington off the coast of Chile.
A landing in the ocean would be a huge relief for Russia after earlier reports suggested it could crash into the territory of South America, possibly Argentina.
However in a sign that the final crash site had yet to be confirmed, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russian ballistics experts as saying Phobos-Grunt had splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Brazil.
Largest object to re-enter since Mir
Rather than heading out on the expedition to Mars, Phobos-Grunt instead became stuck in an Earth orbit that became lower and lower as it becomes increasingly tugged by the Earth's gravity.
The unmanned US$165 million (AU$160 million) vessel is one of the largest objects to re-enter the atmosphere since Russia brought down the Soviet-era Mir space station in 2001.
Sky gazers reported the gold-coloured vessel emitting a bright orange glow as it traversed the globe in an eastward direction between London to the north and New Zealand to the south. The craft is loaded with 11,000 tonnes of toxic fuel, enough to take it to Phobos, and a Chinese satellite it had been due to put in orbit around the Red Planet under a landmark deal with Beijing.
Roscosmos predicted that only 20 or 30 segments weighing no more than 200 kilograms in total would survive the explosive re-entry and actually hit the Earth's surface.
Russian and NASA scientists have downplayed the risks posed by the fuel, predicting that it should burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the Earth's surface. The fuel is stored in tanks of light aluminium, not the sturdy titanium used by the now-retired US space shuttle, with a relatively low melting point.
The ignominious ending for the probe provides a bitter reminder for Russia of the prowess it has lost in the half-century since Yuri Gagarin's historic first space flight in 1961.
The ambitious project had initially aimed to revive Russia's interplanetary programme and prepare the way for a manned mission to Mars. The accident represents one of the more high-profile mishaps in a year littered with unprecedented setbacks for the once-vaunted Russian space program. It struck less than three months after a Progress supply ship bound for the International Space Station crashed into Siberia.
Russia also lost three navigation satellites as well as an advanced military satellite and a telecommunications satellite in the past year.
© 2012 ABC.
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New Scientist / 10 January 2012
Siberia was a wildlife refuge in the last ice age
Флора и фауна Сибири во время последней ледниковой эпохи (15-25 тыс. лет назад) отличались невероятным разнообразием и стабильностью.
SIBERIA, a name that conjures up images of snow and ice, may have been an unlikely refuge from the bitter cold of the last ice age. Ancient DNA from the region paints a picture of remarkably stable animal and plant life in the teeth of plunging temperatures. The findings could help predict how ecosystems will adapt to future climate change.
The permanently frozen soil of Siberia, Canada and Alaska preserves the DNA of prehistoric plants, fungi and animals. "It's a giant molecular freezer," says James Haile at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia.
Glacial ice can also contain ancient DNA but permafrost is much more abundant than ice and so should provide a more complete picture of the effects of prehistoric climate change, says Haile. Last month, at the International Barcode of Life Conference in Adelaide, South Australia, his colleague Eva Bellemain of the University of Oslo in Norway revealed the first fruits of their analysis of Siberian permafrost DNA.
The samples were extracted from 15,000 to 25,000-year-old frozen sediment in southern Chukotka in north-eastern Siberia. Their age is significant: around 20,000 years ago temperatures plummeted and ice sheets blanketed much of the northern hemisphere - but parts of Siberia, Canada and Alaska apparently stayed ice-free (Quaternary Science Reviews, DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2011.07.020).
Fossils and pollen found in these regions suggest they may have acted as a refuge for plants and animals during this time, but Bellemain turned to fungal DNA to get a complete picture of the environment. Many fungi consume plants, and so indicate the plant life around at the time. Using 23 permafrost cores, Bellemain identified around 40 fungal taxa that thrived during the last ice age. "We didn't expect to find so much," she says.
The diversity of fungi found suggests that a brimming plant community thrived in northern Siberia to support them. This range of plants should also have sustained a diverse assembly of mammals - and the samples indeed contain DNA from woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) and moose (Alces alces) dating back to between 15,000 and 25,000 years ago (Molecular Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294x.2011.05306.x).
Meanwhile, Haile and Tina Jørgensen at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have used ancient DNA together with pollen and fossil evidence to reconstruct the plant life surrounding Lake Taymyr, on the Taymyr peninsula in northern Siberia. Using 18 cores from five sites around the lake, the team identified 66 plant taxa that stuck around from 46,000 to 12,000 years ago, even though temperatures in the region fluctuated by some 20 °C during this period. "I was surprised that the [living] environment remained stable for so long," says Jørgensen (Molecular Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294x.2011.05287.x).
The result does not surprise Gregory Retallack at the University of Oregon in Eugene, who studies plant remains in ancient soils that have been fossilised. "A part of this stability is down to the inertia of ecosystems," he says.
Haile and colleagues are now keen to analyse other samples to uncover how the prehistoric flora and fauna in Canada and Alaska were affected by climate change.
Andrew Lowe at the University of Adelaide thinks the results could be used in climate models "to tell us how future communities will change". But Retallack thinks such predictions will not be possible until we know, for example, how the flora and fauna were affected by large pulses of warming 70,000 and 125,000 years ago.
© Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
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PhysOrg.com / January 4, 2012
Russian river water unexpected culprit behind Arctic freshening near US, Canada
Российские реки Лена, Енисей и Обь стали причиной рекордного повышения количества пресной воды в море Бофорта (Канадский бассейн Северного Ледовитого океана). Произошло это в результате такого явления, как арктическая осцилляция, когда температура и атмосферное давление в Северном полушарии совершают циклические колебания. Понижение давления в 2005-2008 гг. привело к тому, что пресная речная вода из Евразийского бассейна переместилась за сотни километров в другую часть океана. В конечном итоге это может привести к замедлению течения Гольфстрим и, соответственно, похолоданию в Европе.
Статья "Changing Arctic Ocean freshwater pathways" опубликована в журнале Nature от 5 января с.г.
A hemispherewide phenomenon - and not just regional forces - has caused record-breaking amounts of freshwater to accumulate in the Arctic's Beaufort Sea.
Frigid freshwater flowing into the Arctic Ocean from three of Russia's mighty rivers was diverted hundreds of miles to a completely different part of the ocean in response to a decades-long shift in atmospheric pressure associated with the phenomenon called the Arctic Oscillation, according to findings published in the Jan. 5 issue of Nature.
The new findings show that a low pressure pattern created by the Arctic Oscillation from 2005 to 2008 drew Russian river water away from the Eurasian Basin, between Russia and Greenland, and into the Beaufort Sea, a part of the Canada Basin bordered by the United States and Canada. It was like adding 10 feet (3 meters) of freshwater over the central part of the Beaufort Sea.
"Knowing the pathways of freshwater in the upper ocean is important to understanding global climate because of freshwater's role in protecting sea ice - it can help create a barrier between the ice and warmer ocean water below - and its role in global ocean circulation. Too much freshwater exiting the Arctic would inhibit the interplay of cold water from the poles and warm water from the tropics," said Jamie Morison, an oceanographer with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory and lead author of the Nature paper.
Morison and his co-authors from the UW and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are the first to detect this freshwater pathway and its connection to the Arctic Oscillation. The work is based on water samples gathered in the field combined with satellite oceanography possible for the first time with data from NASA satellites known as ICESat and GRACE.
"Changes in the volume and extent of Arctic sea ice in recent years have focused attention on the impacts of melting ice," said co-author Ron Kwok, senior research scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The combined GRACE and ICESat data allow us to now examine the impacts of widespread changes in ocean circulation."
Taken as a whole, the salinity of the Arctic Ocean is similar to the past, but the change in the freshwater pathway means the Eurasian Basin has gotten more saline while the Canada Basin has gotten fresher.
"The freshening on the Canadian side of the Arctic over the last few years represents a redistribution of freshwater, there does not seem to be a net freshening of the ocean," Kwok said.
In the Eurasian Basin, the change means less freshwater enters the layer known as the cold halocline and could be contributing to declines in ice in that part of the Arctic, Morison said. The cold halocline normally sits like a barrier between ice and warm water that comes into the Arctic from the Atlantic Ocean. Without salt the icy cold freshwater is lighter, which is why it is able to float over the warm water.
In the Beaufort Sea, the water is the freshest it's been in 50 years of record keeping, he said. The new findings show that only a tiny fraction is from melting ice and the vast majority is Eurasian river water.
The Beaufort Sea stores a significant amount of freshwater from a number of sources, especially when an atmospheric condition known as the Beaufort High causes winds to spin the water in a clockwise gyre. When the winds are weaker or spin in the opposite direction, freshwater is released back into the rest of the Arctic Ocean, and from there to the world's oceans. Some scientists have said a strengthening of the Beaufort High is the primary cause of freshening, but the paper says salinity began to decline in the early 1990s, a time when the Beaufort High relaxed and the Arctic Oscillation increased.
"We discovered a pathway that allows freshwater to feed the Beaufort gyre," Kwok said. "The Beaufort High is important but so are the broader-scale effects of the Arctic Oscillation."
"A number of people have come up with ways of looking at regional forces at work in the Arctic," Morison said, "To better understand changes in sea ice and the Arctic overall we need to look more broadly at the hemispherewide Arctic Oscillation, its effects on circulation of the Arctic Ocean and how global warming might enhance those effects."
In coming years if the Arctic Oscillation stops perpetuating that low pressure, the freshwater pathway should switch back.
Morison and the co-authors argue that, compared to prior years, the Arctic Oscillation has been in its current state for the last 20 years. For example, the changes detected in response to the Arctic Oscillation between 2005 and 2008 are very similar to freshening seen in the early 1990s, Morison said.
Discerning the track of freshwater from Eurasian rivers would have been impossible without the ICESat and GRACE satellites, Kwok and Morison agree. With satellite measurements of ocean height and bottom pressures, the researchers could separate the changes in mass from changes in density - or freshwater content - of the water column.
"To me it's pretty spectacular that you have these satellites zipping around hundreds of kilometers above the Earth and they give us a number about salinity that's very close to what we get from lowering little sampling bottles into the ocean," Morison said.
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Popular Science / 4 Jan 2012
Drill, Don't Kill: Lessons From Two Underground Lakes
В полевом сезоне 2011-2012 гг. 57-я Российская антарктическая экспедиция (РАЭ) планирует завершить бурение четырехкилометровой толщи льда над реликтовым озером Восток. Осталось пробурить 30±20 м.
This month, Russian scientists will nearly reach the waters of Lake Vostok, which have been sealed more than two miles under Antarctica's surface for at least 15 million years. If all goes well, the drill will never touch the fragile ecosystem.
Instead, pressurized lake water will burst through the last few feet of ice and freeze in the borehole. The scientists will return next winter
(Antarctica's summer) to test the frozen lake water for signs of life. In a few years, a team from the U.K. will drill down to another subglacial ecosystem, Lake Ellsworth, by applying a jet of hot water drawn and recirculated from the melting ice. The Europa Jupiter System Mission team will be watching closely. They plan to send a lander to drill into the moon Europa's ice-enclosed oceans to look for life.
It's one thing to contaminate pristine lakes here on Earth, but it's quite another to contaminate an entire alien sea.
Copyright © 2009 Popular Science.
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Sfluxe.com / 28 December 2011
In Russia, a new judicial system - on intellectual property rights
В России будет создана новая система специализированных арбитражных судов по интеллектуальным правам.
Soon holders of trademarks, scientific research, literary texts and other intellectual property to protect their rights will go to a new trial.
The law creates a "smart" the judicial system has already been published. According to the authors of this undertaking, the court will be better to find out, is an invention of a product of thought, who claims to be the appropriate authority, or a new - well the old stolen.
Go to court on the issue of protecting their ideas from hostile attacks are now able to both organizations and ordinary Lefty. All of the cases in court for intellectual property rights will be addressed collectively, with a broad range of experts.
"Nowadays, the performance of men of science, art, design, make up a significant, if not most, of the value of a commodity - leads the commentary on this topic President of the Association of Lawyers of Russia Pavel Krasheninnikov, a federal press. - Constantly there are new objects of copyright and other spheres of intellectual activity, which obviously require protection, including the judiciary. Therefore, the creation of specialized courts for intellectual property rights is a prerequisite for innovative development of our economy.
Tomsk innovators in their comments the idea of publishing the intellectual support of the court.
"I think this idea is correct, - shared the opinion of the Chairman of the Council of Young Scientists in Tomsk Aleksey Knyazev. - In Russia, too low estimate of intellectual property. Even when we start up small businesses, which invest their own know-how, most managers do not understand that idea - it's real value, even if immaterial. It was obtained during the high mental and physical costs. So I think that any action aimed at securing for the intellectual property rights to exist, should be implemented ".
Court of intellectual property rights as the trial court will consider, first of all, cases concerning challenges to regulations of federal agencies, such as the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, Rospatent, affecting patent rights and the rights of, say, selection achievements, know-how and the like.
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PhysOrg.com / January 26, 2012
Anthropologists clarify link between Asians and early Native-Americans
Ученые из Института цитологии и генетики СО РАН и Университета Пенсильвании провели генетическое исследование, подтверждающее, что Алтай является прародиной североамериканских индейцев. Две линии разделились около 13-14 тыс. лет назад, что подтверждает теорию о заселении Америки через Аляску, начавшееся 15-20 тыс. лет назад.
A tiny mountainous region in southern Siberia may have been the genetic source of the earliest Native Americans, according to new research by a University of Pennsylvania-led team of anthropologists.
Lying at the intersection of what is today Russia, Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan, the region known as the Altai "is a key area because it's a place that people have been coming and going for thousands and thousands of years," said Theodore Schurr, an associate professor in Penn's Department of Anthropology. Schurr, together with doctoral student Matthew Dulik and a team of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, collaborated on the work with Ludmila Osipova of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia.
Among the people who may have emerged from the Altai region are the predecessors of the first Native Americans. Roughly 20-25,000 years ago, these prehistoric humans carried their Asian genetic lineages up into the far reaches of Siberia and eventually across the then-exposed Bering land mass into the Americas.
"Our goal in working in this area was to better define what those founding lineages or sister lineages are to Native American populations," Schurr said.
The team's study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, analyzed the genetics of individuals living in Russia's Altai Republic to identify markers that might link them to Native Americans. Prior ethnographic studies had found distinctions between tribes in the northern and southern Altai, with the northern tribes apparently linked linguistically and culturally to ethnic groups farther to the north, such as the Uralic or Samoyedic populations, and the southern groups showing a stronger connection to Mongols, Uighurs and Buryats.
Schurr and colleagues assessed the Altai samples for markers in mitochondrial DNA, which is maternally inherited, and in Y chromosome DNA, which is passed from fathers to sons. They also compared the samples to ones previously collected from individuals in southern Siberia, Central Asia, Mongolia, East Asia and a variety of American indigenous groups. Because of the large number of gene markers examined, the findings have a high degree of precision.
"At this level of resolution we can see the connections more clearly," Schurr said.
Looking at the Y chromosome DNA, the researchers found a unique mutation shared by Native Americans and southern Altaians in the lineage known as Q.
"This is also true from the mitochondrial side," Schurr said. "We find forms of haplogroups C and D in southern Altaians and D in northern Altaians that look like some of the founder types that arose in North America, although the northern Altaians appeared more distantly related to Native Americans."
Calculating how long the mutations they noted took to arise, Schurr's team estimated that the southern Altaian lineage diverged genetically from the Native American lineage 13,000 to 14,000 years ago, a timing scenario that aligns with the idea of people moving into the Americas from Siberia between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago.
Though it's possible, even likely, that more than one wave of people crossed the land bridge, Schurr said that other researchers have not yet been able to identify a similar geographic focal point from which Native Americans can trace their heritage.
"It may change with more data from other groups, but, so far, even with intensive work in Mongolia, they're not seeing the same things that we are," he said.
In addition to elucidating the Asia-America connection, the study confirms that the modern cultural divide between southern and northern Altaians has ancient genetic roots. Southern Altaians appeared to have had greater genetic contact with Mongolians than they did with northern Altaians, who were more genetically similar to groups farther to the north.
However, when looking at the Altaians' mitochondrial DNA in isolation, the researchers did observe greater connections between northern and southern Altaians, suggesting that perhaps females were more likely to bridge the genetic divide between the two populations.
"Subtle differences here both reflect the Altaians themselves - the differentiation among those groups - and allow us to try to point to an area where some of these precursors of American Indian lineages may have arisen," Schurr said.
Moving forward, Schurr and his team hope to continue to use molecular genetic techniques to trace the movement of peoples within Asia and into and through the Americas. They may also attempt to identify links between genetic variations and adaptive physiological responses, links that could inform biomedical research.
For example, Schurr noted that both Siberian and Native American populations "seem to be susceptible to Westernization of diet and moving away from traditional diets, but their responses in terms of blood pressure and fat metabolism and so forth actually differ."
Using genomic approaches along with traditional physical anthropology may lend insight into the factors that govern these differences.
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PhysOrg.com / January 17, 2012
Permafrost bacteria may slow down ageing: scientists
В зоне вечной мерзлоты в Якутии сибирские ученые обнаружили бактерию возрастом три миллиона лет - Bacillius F, которая способна активироваться и делиться при температуре всего в +5 по Цельсию. Эксперименты на мышах в Институте химической биологии и фундаментальной медицины СО РАН показали, что микроорганизм способен положительно влиять на продолжительность жизни.
A hardy type of bacteria recently discovered in the permafrost of Siberia could help slow down the ageing process, Russian scientists claimed on Tuesday.
The species of bacteria - given the name Bacillius F - was found in laboratory tests to have shown signs of slowing down the process of ageing on mice, the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN) said.
The Siberian branch of the RAN said Bacillius F lags 3 million years behind similar bacteria in evolutionary terms, according to the characteristics of proteins and some other factors.
"Taking into consideration the unusual living environment, one can only marvel at the resilience of these bacteria," it said.
It added that the organisms found in Russia's northern region of Yakutia - home to the coldest inhabited area on the planet - reproduce at just 5 degrees Celsius.
"We just thought: since the bacteria were found in the permafrost where they were successfully preserved they will possibly have mechanisms of retaining viability," added Nadezhda Mironova, senior research scientist at the Institute of Chemical Biology and Fundamental Medicine of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"This is what happened," she was quoted as saying.
Injections of the bacteria into mice have helped boost the natural defences of the animals as they grew older.
"Bacillius F injections have favourably affected the quality of being of the aging animals," the Russian scientists said.
"First and foremost, this concerns immunity and the speed of its activation."
Experiments have shown that metabolism in the tested mice have increased by 20 to 30 percent, the scientists said, adding that the bacterium may also reduce instances of senile blindness but not the emergence of tumours.
The Russian Academy of Sciences did not say how many mice were tested, adding more animals were needed for the experiments to be more reliable. The mice from a test group lived longer than those in a control group however, it said, calling the results "impressive."
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Nature / 7 January 2012
Russian physicists protest government consolidation
Restrictive policies are affecting international collaboration
Сотрудники одного из ведущих физических институтов России, Института теоретической и экспериментальной физики (ИТЭФ), выступили против его реорганизации с последующим объединением с НИЦ «Курчатовский институт». Ученые считают, что после этого ИТЭФ фактически прекратит свое существование.
Physicists at one of Russia's top research institutes say that policies being imposed by the government are hindering their work and have mounted an Internet campaign to recruit help from colleagues elsewhere.
In a bid to bring government-funded fundamental physics research under a single organization, the Russian government has moved the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics (ITEP) in Moscow, along with two other institutions, out of the state-owned nuclear corporation, Rosatom, and into its newly expanded Kurchatov Institute.
"In principle, the idea is not bad - fundamental science should be supported by government" rather than by a state-run corporation, says Pavel Pakhlov, an experimental physicist at the institute who is helping to coordinate the protest. But, Pakhlov says, strict new budgetary and security rules mean that "ITEP will be killed if some reasonable solution cannot be found in the next months".
The protestors say that the new administration began imposing impossible restrictions on scientists, many of whom work closely with researchers in Switzerland, Japan and the United States, almost immediately after the move was completed on 1 January.
Pakhlov's work, for instance, depends on use of the Belle particle detector in Japan, but when he sought to make a routine trip there, his request fell afoul of ITEP's new leadership. "The administration wants to know why we need to go to Japan," he says. "It really has no idea what is done here at ITEP from a scientific point of view."
Furthermore, new security procedures have made it nearly impossible for foreign scientists to visit, says Andrei Rostovtsev, another protestor based at ITEP. When an American colleague tried to visit the institute, "he was not even allowed to come to the gates", Rostovtsev says. And other researchers have had to find off-site locations to meet colleagues from abroad.
Alexander Gorsky, who studies quantum mechanics at the institute, says that that it's not just experimentalists running into trouble. He says that he received a letter from administrators at the Kurchatov Institute telling him that ITEP theorists should focus on nuclear medicine and ion-beam physics. This "administrative ignorance", as Gorsky calls it, fails to recognize the lab's world-class research into areas such as fundamental particle physics and string theory.
Pakhlov says that much of their frustration stems from uncertainty surrounding the arrangements. Researchers have not been given clear rules for travel or for how to vet visiting researchers. Even their salaries remain in limbo, amid confusion over a new pay system.
Neither Yuri Kozlov, ITEP's director, nor the press centre at the Kurchatov Institute responded to Nature's queries by deadline.
However, several of ITEP's alumni say they hope that the tense situation can be salvaged. Andrei Golutvin, a particle physicist at Imperial College in London who worked at ITEP in the 1980s says that the consolidation is the "only possible step" for the institute, because it no longer meets the needs of Rosatom. The shift will inevitably be painful for ITEP's researchers, he says, but "if things will go right, then I think there is a real possibility to get resources".
Boris Sharkov, an ITEP alumnus who is now scientific director of the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research being built in Darmstadt, Germany, agrees, but points out that the institute must also keep its international reputation. "ITEP has to keep its open character to the international community," he says. Losing the institute in this transition "would be a very big pity".
© 2012 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.
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MSNBC.com / 1/19/2012
Manned Soyuz launches from South America doubtful
Capsule would need to be able to land at sea, and that's seen as prohibitive despite ESA claims
Несмотря на то, что Европейское космическое агентство давно питает надежды начать пилотируемые запуски российских ракет «Союз» с космодрома Куру во Французской Гвиане, осуществить это вряд ли получится. Например, капсулы «Союзов» не рассчитаны на то, чтобы приземляться на воду (хотя при необходимости могут это делать), а трасса в Куру как раз проходит над океаном. Модернизация капсул, переоборудование площадок и организация поисково-спасательной службы на случай нештатных ситуаций теоретически возможны, но слишком затратны.
The European Space Agency has long harbored hopes that it could launch humans aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft from its French Guiana spaceport, but this is likely impossible, Space.com has learned.
The agency has claimed in the past that such future manned Soyuz TMA flights need only infrastructure changes at the launch site to be realized, yet ESA has known since 2004 that the spacecraft can't be launched from the South American territory.
An ESA study conducted between 2002 and 2004 found that because the Soyuz has not been designed to land in the sea, a French Guiana launch that had to be aborted would endanger the spacecraft and its crew as it would likely have to ditch in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Soyuz spacecraft have always landed on land in the former Soviet territory of Kazakhstan.
Aiming for manned launches
Manned Soyuz launches from the French territory have been a declared aspiration for ESA ever since work began on the "Soyuz at the Guiana Space Centre" program. This program culminated in the first unmanned launch of a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana Oct. 21, 2011.
The advantage of launching Soyuz rockets from this equatorial location is that their payload capacity to reach geostationary transfer orbits (not the International Space Station) is almost double compared with taking off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan or Plesetsk in Russia - the other two Soyuz rocket-launch sites. Launches from near the equator get this payload boost from the Earth's rotation.
Despite knowing about the sea-landing problem, ESA's Soyuz information page states: "the (French Guiana) launch infrastructure has been designed so that it can be smoothly adapted for human spaceflight, should this be decided." No mention has been made of the fact that the Soyuz TMA would have to be extensively modified to land in the sea.
Space.com has obtained a technical paper about the 2004 study, which was conducted by ESA's launcher directorate and its "Soyuz at the Guiana Space Centre" program.
According to the paper, "the (Soyuz) re-entry capsule has not been designed to travelling on water and its evacuation following splash-down in the ocean in the event of an aborted launch may result in a particularly difficult experience for the crew." Such difficulty puts the lives of the crew at greater risk.
ESA has not made the full study report available in time for publication. Since 2004, ESA has done no further work to tackle this issue. In response to the report's findings, ESA officials told Space.com, "theoretically all is possible but manned flights from (French Guiana) would be a major endeavor, requiring huge investments."
The agency officials also raised doubts about the feasibility of modifying the Soyuz for a sea landing. "In (the) case of sea landing (we would need) to verify whether the current capsule can be adapted," officials said.
In 2010, Russia launched the first of a new series of Soyuz TMA vehicles that have digital flight controls. The first flight of this version, denoted with the suffix "M," had problems.
During its Oct. 7, 2010 flight, the Soyuz TMA-01M's digital system suffered a computer-display malfunction, depriving cosmonauts of flight data. That spacecraft did land safely in March 2011, and the second digital Soyuz TMA-02M launched successfully later in June, but the problems of -01M show how difficult spacecraft adaptation is.
Meanwhile the Soyuz rocket itself has seen changes for ESA's needs.
The rocket, generically called Soyuz-ST, has two versions, the Soyuz 2-1a and Soyuz 2-1b. Both have an additional electronic flight-safety system that ESA required and larger fairings, while the 1a and 1b denote differences in their third stages.
While the French Guiana Soyuz launch site is largely a replica of those at Baikonur and Plesetsk, it has a mobile gantry tower that protects the rocket from rain.
In a change from Russian launch operations, ESA adds the payload stage to the rocket stack while it is vertical and in the tower. In Russia, payload stages are added while the rocket is still in a horizontal position, as a part of the overall assembly process.
In addition to the difficulty in modifying the Soyuz for sea landings, many infrastructure changes would be necessary for a manned launch from South America.
The 2004 study details the need for astronaut-specific access platforms in the mobile gantry, an additional lift and astronaut escape-chute system, a new vacuum chamber for capsule-tightness checks, an electromagnetic-compatibility chamber, an additional S-band mobile station, electrical, fluid and mechanical ground-support equipment, deforestation of a circular area up to 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) around the launch pad for launch aborts that will result in a land landing, and a new container for Soyuz TMA transportation from Russia to French Guiana. All these issues are technically simpler than re-engineering a spacecraft for a sea landing.
For many years ESA has looked at manned operations from French Guiana using its Ariane 5 rocket, which is built by EADS Astrium.
It was originally conceived to launch the canceled Hermes mini-space shuttle. In the last few years, ESA has studied a crewed evolution of its Automated Transfer Vehicle, which supplies cargo to the space station.
The French space agency CNES also funded a study into launching NASA's Orion capsule using Ariane 5.
© 2012 msnbc.com.
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MSNBC.com / 1/19/2012
Russia wants to build manned base on surface of the moon
It has talked with NASA and ESA about possibility of that and lunar space stations, reports say
По сообщениям информационных агентств, Россия ведет переговоры с НАСА и ЕКА по поводу возможности создания лунных орбитальных станций и обитаемой базы на поверхности Луны.
Russia is talking to NASA and the European Space Agency about building manned research colonies on the moon, according to Russian news reports.
Russia's Federal Space Agency, known as Roscosmos, is also consulting with NASA and ESA about the possibility of placing manned space stations in lunar orbit, Russian news agency Ria Novosti reported Thursday.
A growing body of research supports the supposition that humanity can live for extended periods of time on or around the moon, Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said.
"Today, we know enough about it, we know that there is water in its polar areas," Popovkin told the Vesti FM radio station Thursday, according to Ria Novosti. Popovkin added that "we are now discussing how to begin (the moon's) exploration with NASA and the European Space Agency."
Russian space officials have already begun investigating a "prospective manned transportation system" to the moon, Popovkin said.
An effort to put boots on the lunar ground would complement Russia's existing robotic moon exploration plans. The nation hopes to send two unmanned missions, called Luna-Glob and Luna-Resource, to the moon by 2020, according to the reports.
A partnership between Russia, NASA and ESA on a big human spaceflight project is not unprecedented; the three agencies have been working together for more than a decade to build and operate the International Space Station. And they're in active discussions - along with a handful of other space agencies - about how humanity should best explore outer space.
In his latest comments about moon bases, Popovkin may be referencing these broad, overarching conversations, NASA officials said.
"We believe Popovkin may be referring to the work of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) and its Global Exploration Roadmap," NASA spokesman J.D. Harrington told Space.com in an email. "NASA has been meeting with senior managers from Russia and nine other space agencies to advance coordinated space exploration. The ISECG, as this group is called, has developed a long-range human exploration strategy over the past year."
The Global Exploration Roadmap begins with the space station and then expands human presence out into the solar system, leading ultimately to human exploration of the Martian surface, Harrington added. The roadmap identifies two possible pathways to Mars - going to an asteroid first, or going to the moon first.
"Both pathways were deemed practical approaches addressing common high-level exploration goals developed by the participating agencies, recognizing that individual preferences among participating space agencies may vary regarding these pathways," Harrington said.
A tough year for Russian spaceflight
Russia may have caused some strain in its international partnerships in the wake of the failure of the country's Phobos-Grunt Mars probe, which crashed to Earth Sunday.
The $165 million spacecraft got stuck in Earth orbit shortly after its Nov. 8 launch, when Phobos-Grunt's thrusters failed to fire as planned to send it toward the Red Planet. Roscosmos officials still aren't sure what caused the malfunction, but they speculated last week that some sort of sabotage may be responsible.
Then, this week, some Russian space officials said that strong emissions from a United States radar station in the Marshall Islands may have accidentally brought Phobos-Grunt down. Outside experts regard that scenario as highly unlikely.
Phobos-Grunt was just one of five high-profile failures for the Russian space program in 2011. The country also suffered three botched satellite launches and the crash of the unmanned Progress 44 supply ship, which was delivering cargo to the space station.
The Progress 44 mishap was caused by a problem in the third-stage engine of its Soyuz rocket. Russia uses a similar version of the Soyuz to launch astronauts to the space station, so flights to the orbiting outpost were grounded temporarily this autumn until the problem was identified and fixed.
© 2012 msnbc.com.
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