Space missions, exploration and tourism

September 22, 2023 | 3:56am
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Space missions, exploration and tourism
3 days ago

Carbon dioxide detected on Jupiter's moon Europa comes from the vast ocean beneath its icy shell, research using James Webb Space Telescope data, potentially bolstering hopes the hidden water could harbour life.

Scientists are confident there is a huge ocean of saltwater kilometres below Europa's ice-covered surface, making the moon a prime candidate for hosting extra-terrestrial life in our Solar System.

But determining whether this concealed ocean has the right chemical elements to support life has been difficult. — AFP

September 16, 2023

Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut dock with the International Space Station after blasting off amid raging tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub and NASA astronaut Loral O'Hara lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft.

The crew docked at the ISS three hours later, the Russian space agency says. — AFP

September 15, 2023

NASA officially joins the search for UFOs -- but reflecting the stigma attached to the field, the US space agency kept secret for hours the identity of the person heading a new program tracking mystery flying objects.

The official's appointment is the result of a year-long NASA fact-finding report into what it calls "unidentified anomalous phenomena," or UAP.

"At NASA, it's in our DNA to explore -- and to ask why things are the way they are," agency chief Bill Nelson says. — AFP

September 9, 2023

Regulators say SpaceX's Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, must remain grounded while Elon Musk's company completes dozens of corrective actions to prevent a repeat of the spectacular explosion that marred its first orbital test flight.

The 63 steps include "redesigns of vehicle hardware to prevent leaks and fires, redesign of the launch pad to increase its robustness," additional testing of safety systems and more, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement after completing a months-long review.

SpaceX blew up the uncrewed rocket four minutes after it blasted off from the company's Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20. Starship experienced multiple engine failures and its first-stage booster did not separate from the spacecraft above it. — AFP

September 7, 2023

Live footage from Japan's space agency shows the country launched on Thursday a rocket carrying what it hopes will be its first successful Moon lander.

The H2-A rocket blasted off at 8:42 am (2342 GMT Wednesday) carrying the precision "Moon Sniper" lander which is expected to touch down on the Moon's surface in four to six months. — AFP

September 2, 2023

A live broadcast from the Indian Space Research Organization shows India launched a rocket carrying a solar probe for its four-month journey towards the Sun.

Mission control technicians applauded as the rocket blasted off from an ISRO launchpad on the island of Sriharikota. — AFP

August 26, 2023

NASA and SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft blast off on Saturday carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station.

The Crew-7 mission is commanded by American Jasmin Moghbeli and includes Andreas Mogensen of Denmark, Satoshi Furukawa of Japan and Konstantin Borisov of Russia.

The Dragon spacecraft carried by a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 3:27 am (0727 GMT) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Floridain front of around 10,000 people gathered to watch the launch. — AFP

August 26, 2023

NASA and SpaceX will try again on Saturday to send the next crew of four astronauts to the International Space Station.

Dubbed Crew-7, the mission will be commanded by American Jasmin Moghbeli and includes Andreas Mogensen of Denmark, Satoshi Furukawa of Japan and Konstantin Borisov of Russia.

Liftoff is planned for 3:27 am (0727 GMT) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with a backup opportunity on Sunday. — AFP

August 17, 2023

India's latest space mission completed a key step in the country's second attempt at a lunar landing, with its Moon module separating from its propulsion section on Thursday.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) confirmed that the lander module of the Chandrayaan-3, which means "Mooncraft" in Sanskrit, had "successfully separated" from the propulsion module six days ahead of a planned landing slated for August 23. 

"Thanks for the ride, mate!" ISRO says in a post on the social media platform X. — AFP

August 11, 2023

Russia launches a Soyuz rocket carrying a probe to the Moon on Friday, live images showed, kicking off its first mission to the celestial body in nearly 50 years.

The rocket with the Luna-25 probe lifted off at 02:10 am Moscow time (2310 GMT Thursday) from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, according to live images broadcast by the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The spacecraft is due to reach lunar orbit in five days. — AFP

August 5, 2023

NASA says it has succeeded in re-establishing full contact with Voyager 2 by using its highest-power transmitter to send an "interstellar shout" that righted the distant probe's antenna orientation.

Launched in 1977 to explore the outer planets and serve as a beacon of humanity to the wider universe, it is currently more than 12.3 billion miles (19.9 billion kilometers) from our planet -- well beyond the solar system.

A series of planned commands sent to the spaceship on July 21 mistakenly caused the antenna to point two degrees away from Earth, compromising its ability to send and receive signals and endangering its mission. — AFP

July 14, 2023

India on Friday launches a rocket seeking to land an unmanned spacecraft on the surface of the Moon, a live feed showed, its second attempt to become only the fourth country to do so.

The rocket lifted off from Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh carrying the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, as thousands of enthusiasts clapped and cheered.

The world's most populous nation has a cut-price aerospace programme that is rapidly closing in on the milestones set by global space powers. — AFP

July 12, 2023

NASA is set to unveil a new image from the James Webb Space Telescope a year after it first stunned the world with breathtaking views of the distant cosmos.

Webb, the most powerful observatory in orbit, was launched in December 2021 from French Guiana, on a million mile (1.6 million kilometer) voyage to a region called the second Lagrange point.

Its first full color picture was revealed by President Joe Biden on July 11, 2022: the clearest view yet of the early universe, going back 13 billion years.

The next wave included "mountains" and "valleys" of a star-forming region, dubbed the Cosmic Cliffs, in a region of space called the Carina Nebula; and a grouping of five galaxies bound in a celestial dance, called Stephan's Quintet. — AFP

July 5, 2023

North Korea's first spy satellite had "no military utility" at all, South Korea said Wednesday after analysing its wreckage.

In May, North Korea attempted to put what it described as its first military reconnaissance satellite in orbit but the rocket carrying it plunged into the sea minutes after launch.

The crash sparked a complex, 36-day South Korean salvage operation involving a fleet of naval rescue ships, minesweepers and deep-sea divers.

The retrieved parts of the rocket and the satellite were analysed by experts in South Korea and the United States, the defence ministry in Seoul said Wednesday after the end of the operation.

They "evaluated it had no military utility as a reconnaissance satellite at all", the ministry said.

North Korea said it had developed the spy satellite as a necessary counterbalance to the growing US military presence in the region. — AFP

July 1, 2023

Europe's Euclid space telescope is scheduled to blast off Saturday on the first-ever mission aiming to shed light on two of the universe's greatest mysteries: dark energy and dark matter.

The launch is planned from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 11:12 am local time (1512 GMT) on a Falcon 9 rocket of the US company SpaceX.

The European Space Agency was forced to turn to billionaire Elon Musk's firm to launch the mission after Russia pulled its Soyuz rockets in response to sanctions over the war in Ukraine. — AFP

July 1, 2023

NASA says it has re-established contact with the intrepid Ingenuity Mars Helicopter after more than two months of radio silence.

The mini rotorcraft, which hitched a ride to the Red Planet with the Perseverance rover in early 2021, has already survived well beyond its initial 30-day mission to prove the feasibility of its technology in five test flights.

Since then, it has been deployed dozens of times, acting as an aerial scout to assist its wheeled companion in searching for signs of ancient microbial life from billions of years ago, when Mars was much wetter and warmer than today. — AFP

June 4, 2023

Three Chinese astronauts working at the country's space station have returned safely to Earth, state media reported Sunday, hailing the mission as a "complete success".

The return capsule of the Shenzhou-15 spaceship touched down at a landing site in northern China's Inner Mongolia region, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Astronauts Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu emerged from the capsule in "good physical condition", Xinhua reported.

"The mission... was a complete success," it said.

Footage showed medical officials in white jumpsuits and face masks swaddling the astronauts in blue blankets and carrying them away from the arid landing site, where the copper-coloured capsule lay flanked by red flags.

The trio had spent six months at the Tiangong space station, conducting spacewalks and a variety of scientific experiments. — AFP

June 2, 2023

Boeing has once again delayed the first crewed flight of its Starliner space capsule after discovering new technical issues, officials said Thursday.

The troubled CST-100 Starliner program has experienced numerous postponements but was finally meant to send humans on a test flight to the International Space Station on July 21.

During testing, Boeing engineers identified new issues relating to a faulty parachute system and wire harness tape used extensively through the capsule that was found to be flammable under some conditions.

After internal deliberations, they decided to abandon the test flight and report the new issues to the US space agency, which has contracted Boeing to provide a taxi service to the ISS.

"We've decided to stand down the preparation for the CFT (Crewed Flight Mission) mission in order to correct these problems," Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing told reporters on a press call. No new date has been proposed. — AFP

May 31, 2023

North Korea launched its purported spy satellite Wednesday, the South's military say, prompting confusion in Seoul as the city briefly issued an evacuation warning in error.

South Korea's military detected the launch of what Pyongyang has described as a military reconnaissance satellite "from Tongchang County area of North Pyongan Province in North Korea, at around 6:29 today" in a southerly direction, the Joint Chiefs of Staff say. 

"Our military is checking whether it is flying normally," they adds.

The military was now analyzing whether "what North Korea has claimed as a space launch vehicle" — ostensibly intended to carry a satellite into orbit — may have broken up in mid-air or crashed after vanishing from radar early, the Yonhap News Agency reports. — AFP

May 30, 2023

China sends three astronauts to its Tiangong space station on Tuesday, putting a civilian scientist into space for the first time as Beijing pursues plans to send a manned mission to the Moon by the end of the decade.

The world's second-largest economy has invested billions of dollars in its military-run space programme in a push to catch up with the United States and Russia.

The Shenzhou-16 crew took off atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 9:31 am (0131 GMT), AFP journalists and state TV showed. — AFP

May 29, 2023

China will send its first civilian astronaut into space as part of a crewed mission to the Tiangong space station on Tuesday, the country's Manned Space Agency says.

"Payload expert Gui Haichao is a professor at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics," China Manned Space Agency Spokesperson Lin Xiqiang tells reporters.

Until now, all Chinese astronauts sent into space have been part of the People's Liberation Army. — AFP

May 29, 2023

North Korea has notified Japan of a plan to launch what it calls a satellite in the coming weeks, Japan's coastguard said Monday.

Japanese officials believe the launch will involve a ballistic missile, according to a tweet from the prime minister's office that refers to a "ballistic missile that it (Pyongyang) describes as a satellite."

Pyongyang has informed Japan's coastguard that a rocket will be launched between May 31 and June 11 and will fall in waters near the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and east of Luzon Island in the Philippines, a coastguard spokesman told AFP. 

In a tweet, the prime minister's office said Kishida issued instructions "on North Korea's notification about the launch of a ballistic missile that it describes as a satellite".

He has told officials to gather intelligence, remain vigilant and closely coordinate with allies including the United States and South Korea, the tweet added.

Pyongyang has intensified its missile launches in recent months, with some triggering emergency warning systems in parts of Japan. — AFP

May 24, 2023

South Korea on Wednesday postponed the launch of its homegrown Nuri rocket after a technical glitch was detected just hours before lift-off, officials said.

It was the third planned launch of Nuri, following a failed first attempt and a successful second mission last year.

A communication error between the launch control computer and another computer managing the launch pad was detected during preparation, forcing officials to postpone, said Oh Tae-seog, vice minister of science and ICT.

"It's currently believed there is no problem with the projectile itself, so it will remain erected" while scientists and software engineers try to resolve the issue, Oh said in a briefing.

If they find a solution by Thursday morning, they will hold a meeting to decide whether to carry out the launch that day, he added. — AFP

May 24, 2023

Virgin Orbit, the satellite launch company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, announces it is permanently ceasing operations, just months after a major mission failure.

The California-based firm, which had already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States in early April, auctioned off its main assets, recovering just over $36 million.

That is barely one percent of the temporary worth it reached in late 2021 on Wall Street, when it was valued at some $3.5 billion.

In a statement announcing it is selling its assets to four winning bidders and then folding, Virgin Orbit thanked its employees and stakeholders and said the company will be remembered for its "groundbreaking technologies." -- AFP

May 12, 2023

Astronomers say on Friday they have identified the "largest" cosmic explosion ever observed, a fireball 100 times the size of our Solar System that suddenly began blazing in the distant universe more than three years ago.

While the astronomers offered what they think is the most likely explanation for the explosion, they emphasize that more research was needed to understand the puzzling phenomenon.

The explosion, called AT2021lwx, is not the brightest flash ever observed in the universe. That record is still held by a gamma-ray burst in October that was nicknamed BOAT — for Brightest Of All Time. 

Philip Wiseman, an astrophysicist at Britain's University of Southampton and the lead author of a new study, says that AT2021lwx was considered the "largest" explosion because it had released far more energy over the last three years than was produced by BOAT's brief flash.

Wiseman tells AFP it was an "accidental discovery". — AFP

May 8, 2023

NASA launched two small satellites designed to track tropical cyclones hour by hour from a base in New Zealand on Monday, in a project that could improve weather predictions on devastating storms.

The new storm trackers, sent into orbit on a rocket built by US company Rocket Lab, can fly over hurricanes (or typhoons in the Pacific) every hour, compared to every six hours with current satellites.

Researchers will be able to see storms evolve on an hourly basis, said NASA scientist Will McCarty at a press conference for the first launch of the TROPICS mission.

"We still need the large satellites," he added. "What we get from this is the ability to add more information to the flagship satellites that we already have." — AFP

April 26, 2023

Japanese start-up ispace concedes Wednesday its attempt to become the first company to land on the Moon had ended in failure, but pledged to move ahead with new missions.

The unmanned Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander had been scheduled to touch down on the Moon's surface overnight, but about 25 minutes after the landing was to have occurred, the firm could not establish contact.

"It has been determined that there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the Moon's surface," ispace says in a statement. — AFP

April 25, 2023

A Japanese space start-up will attempt Tuesday to become the first private company to put a lander on the Moon.

If all goes to plan, ispace's Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander will start its descent towards the lunar surface at around 1540 GMT.

It will slow its orbit some 100 kilometers above the Moon, then adjust its speed and altitude to make a "soft landing" around an hour later.

Success is far from guaranteed. In April 2019, Israeli organization SpaceIL watched their lander crash into the Moon's surface.

ispace has announced three alternative landing sites and could shift the lunar descent date to April 26, May 1 or May 3, depending on conditions.

"What we have accomplished so far is already a great achievement, and we are already applying lessons learned from this flight to our future missions," ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said earlier this month. — AFP

April 20, 2023

SpaceX is to make a second attempt on Thursday to carry out the first test flight of Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

A planned liftoff Monday of the gigantic rocket was aborted less than 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled launch because of a pressurization issue in the first-stage booster.

The new window for liftoff from Starbase, the SpaceX spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas, opens on Thursday at 8:28 am Central Time (1328 GMT) and lasts for about an hour, SpaceX says. — AFP 

April 18, 2023

SpaceX has rescheduled for Thursday the first test flight of Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the Moon, Mars and beyond, after a technical glitch forced a halt to the countdown.

A planned liftoff Monday of the gigantic rocket was called off less than 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled launch because of a pressurization issue in the first-stage booster, SpaceX said.

The private space company continued with the countdown in what it called a "wet dress rehearsal," stopping the clock with 10 seconds to go, just before the massive engines on the booster were to have been ignited. — AFP

April 18, 2023

SpaceX has rescheduled for Thursday the first test flight of Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the Moon, Mars and beyond, after a technical glitch forced a halt to the countdown.

A planned liftoff Monday of the gigantic rocket was called off less than 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled launch because of a pressurization issue in the first-stage booster, SpaceX said.

The private space company continued with the countdown in what it called a "wet dress rehearsal," stopping the clock with 10 seconds to go, just before the massive engines on the booster were to have been ignited.


April 15, 2023

SpaceX plans to carry out its first test flight on Monday of Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the Moon and eventually beyond.

The launch is scheduled to take place at 7:00 am (1200 GMT) from the sprawling Texas base of the private space company owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

Fallback times are scheduled later in the week if Monday's attempt is postponed. — AFP

April 13, 2023

The European Space Agency's JUICE spacecraft is to blast off Thursday on an eight-year journey through the Solar System to discover whether Jupiter's icy moons are capable of hosting extraterrestrial life in their vast, hidden oceans.

The JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer (JUICE) has received the green light for its scheduled launch on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 1215 GMT.

"The weather conditions are good," Guiana Space Centre director Marie-Anne Clair said on Wednesday in the control room, where Belgium's King Philippe was among those in attendance.

The six-tonne spacecraft, which is roughly four square metres, will separate from the rocket at an altitude of 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) a little under half an hour after blast-off. — AFP

April 12, 2023

Four small rooms, a gym and a lot of red sand -- NASA unveiled on Tuesday its new Mars-simulation habitat, in which volunteers will live for a year at a time to test what life will be like on future missions to Earth's neighbor.

The facility, created for three planned experiments called the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), is located at the US space agency's massive research base in Houston, Texas.

Four volunteers will begin the first trial this summer, during which NASA plans to monitor their physical and mental health to better understand humans' fortitude for such a long isolation.

With that data, NASA will better understand astronauts' "resource use" on Mars, said Grace Douglas, lead researcher on the CHAPEA experiments. -- AFP

April 3, 2023

NASA is to reveal the names on Monday of the astronauts — three Americans and a Canadian — who will fly around the Moon next year, a prelude to returning humans to the lunar surface for the first time in a half century.

The mission, Artemis II, is scheduled to take place in November 2024 with the four-person crew circling the Moon but not landing on it.

As part of the Artemis program, NASA aims to send astronauts to the Moon in 2025 — more than five decades after the historic Apollo missions ended in 1972.

Besides putting the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, the US space agency hopes to establish a lasting human presence on the lunar surface and eventually launch a voyage to Mars.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said this week at a "What's Next Summit" hosted by Axios that he expected a crewed mission to Mars by the year 2040.

The four members of the Artemis II crew will be announced at an event at 10:00 am (1500 GMT) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. — AFP

April 3, 2023

NASA is to reveal the names on Monday of the astronauts -- three Americans and a Canadian -- who will fly around the Moon next year, a prelude to returning humans to the lunar surface for the first time in a half century.

The mission, Artemis II, is scheduled to take place in November 2024 with the four-person crew circling the Moon but not landing on it. — AFP

March 25, 2023

European Space Agency says a large asteroid will safely zoom between Earth and the Moon on Saturday, a once-in-a-decade event that will be used as a training exercise for planetary defence efforts.

The asteroid, named 2023 DZ2, is estimated to be 40 to 70 meters (130 to 230 feet) wide, roughly the size of the Parthenon, and big enough to wipe out a large city if it hit our planet.

At 19:49 GMT on Saturday it will come within a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, said Richard Moissl, the head of the ESA's planetary defence office. — AFP

March 23, 2023

The world's first 3D-printed rocket launched successfully on Wednesday, marking a step forward for the California company behind the innovative spacecraft, though it failed to reach orbit.  

Billed as less costly to produce and fly, the unmanned Terran 1 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:25 pm (0325 GMT Thursday) but suffered an "anomaly" during second-stage separation as it streamed towards low Earth orbit, according to a livestream broadcast by aerospace startup Relativity Space.

The company did not immediately give further details.

While it failed to reach orbit, Wednesday's launch proved that the rocket — whose mass is 85% 3D-printed — could withstand the rigors of lift-off.

The successful launch came on the third attempt. It had originally been scheduled to launch on March 8 but was postponed at the last minute because of propellant temperature issues. — AFP

March 23, 2023

The world's first 3D-printed rocket launched successfully on Wednesday on its third attempt but failed to reach orbit after an "anomaly" during its second-stage separation, a company livestream revealed.

The unmanned Terran 1, built by California private aerospace startup Relativity Space, had been intended to gather data and demonstrate that a 3D-printed rocket can withstand the rigors of liftoff and space flight. — AFP

March 12, 2023

NASA's SpaceX Crew-5 returned to Earth on Saturday after a five-month stay aboard the International Space Station, livestreamed video broadcast by the US space agency shows.

The SpaceX "Endurance" capsule carried Koichi Wakata of Japan, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, and NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada. 

It splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after 9:00 PM (0200 GMT) off the west coast of Florida.

Crew-5, which launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral in early October 2022, was the fifth mission in space for Wakata and the first for Cassada, Kikina and Mann -- who also became the first Native American woman in space, NASA said. — AFP

March 11, 2023

The world's first 3D printed rocket is scheduled to blast off from Florida on Saturday on the maiden flight of an innovative spacecraft billed as being less costly to produce and fly.

Liftoff of the rocket, Terran 1, had been scheduled for Wednesday at Cape Canaveral but was postponed at the last minute because of propellant temperature issues.

The new launch window for the rocket built by California aerospace startup Relativity Space to put satellites into orbit is from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm (1800 GMT to 2100 GMT) on Saturday. (Report by Agence France Presse)

March 10, 2023

NASA will announce the names next month of the four astronauts -- three Americans and one Canadian -- who will fly around the Moon next year, the head of the US space agency says.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson says the crew members of the mission known as Artemis 2 would be revealed on April 3.

"Astronauts -- three from America and one from Canada -- will fly around the moon and they'll test NASA's Space Launch System, which is our rocket, and the spacecraft called Orion," Nelson says. — AFP

March 8, 2023

NASA is on track to launch a crewed mission around the Moon in November of next year after a successful unmanned test flight, the US space agency says.

NASA officials provided an update on the Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon for the first time since the historic Apollo missions ended in 1972.

The first Artemis mission wrapped up in December with an uncrewed Orion capsule returning safely to Earth after a more than 25-day journey around the Moon. — AFP

March 7, 2023

Japan's second attempt to launch its next-generation H3 rocket failed after liftoff on Tuesday, with the space agency issuing a destruct command after concluding the mission could not succeed.

The failure is a blow for Japan's space agency JAXA, which has billed the rocket as a flexible and cost-effective new flagship.

But the first launch was delayed by several years, and then failed on a first attempt last month when the solid rocket boosters did not ignite. — AFP

March 3, 2023

A NASA livestream shows four astronauts entered the International Space Station on Friday after their SpaceX Dragon Crew-6 mission successfully docked.

The SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft arrived at the orbiting station at 0640 GMT on Friday, the US space agency says in a statement.

NASA's Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, Russia's Andrey Fedyaev and Sultan al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates entered the station about two hours later, the livestream shows. — AFP

March 2, 2023

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off on Thursday to the International Space Station carrying two NASA astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and the second Emirati to voyage to space.

The SpaceX Dragon Crew-6 mission launched at 12:34 am (0534 GMT) Thursday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a livestream of the launch showed.

The launch had been scrubbed on Monday just minutes before liftoff because of a clog in a filter that supplies ignition fluid to start the rocket engines.

The US space agency tweeted that the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour departed on Thursday "lighting up the skies as the crew heads to orbit." -- AFP

March 2, 2023

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is to make a second attempt to blast off for the International Space Station carrying two NASA astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and the second Emirati to voyage to space.

The launch of the SpaceX Dragon Crew-6 mission was scrubbed Monday just minutes before liftoff because of a clog in a filter that supplies ignition fluid to start the rocket engines.

SpaceX engineers replaced the filter and the launch is now scheduled for 12:34 am (0534 GMT) Thursday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the US space agency said.

Weather conditions are "95 percent" favorable for the flight, NASA says Wednesday. — AFP

February 28, 2023

Japan's space agency JAXA names its first new astronaut candidates in over 13 years, with a surgeon and a climate scientist chosen from more than 4,000 applicants.

Ayu Yoneda, a 28-year-old surgeon for Tokyo's Japanese Red Cross Medical Center, will become just the third woman ever to join the space training program. Japan's six current astronauts are all men.

She will be joined by Makoto Suwa, 46, a senior disaster risk management specialist at the World Bank, who made the cut after an unsuccessful first application more than a decade ago. — AFP

February 27, 2023

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to blast off early Monday for the International Space Station carrying two NASA astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and the second Emirati to voyage to space.

The SpaceX Dragon Crew-6 mission is set to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:45 am (0645 GMT). Weather conditions are expected to be near perfect.

The Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Endeavour, is scheduled to dock with the ISS at 2:38 am (0738 GMT) on Tuesday.

As the sun set on Sunday, the US space agency expressed confidence that the launch was a go.

"Countdown to liftoff!" NASA tweeted, as it promoted its livestream of the launch.

NASA's Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, Russia's Andrey Fedyaev and Sultan al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates are to spend six months on the orbiting space station. -- AFP

February 26, 2023

An uncrewed Russian Soyuz capsule docked early Sunday with the International Space Station and will eventually bring home three astronauts whose initial return vehicle was damaged by a tiny meteoroid.

The MS-23 ship autonomously latched to the orbiting research lab, live video from ISS-partner NASA showed, completing the Soyuz's two-day journey after launching off from Kazakhstan.

It is expected to bring home US astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petelin and Sergei Prokopyev in September. -- AFP

February 17, 2023

Japan's next-generation rocket failed to launch after an apparent ignition problem, the national space agency says.

The H3 rocket -- the successor to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)'s H-IIA model, which debuted in 2001 -- was meant to launch mid-morning from Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan.

But "it appears that we failed to ignite the two solid rocket boosters, after successfully igniting the main liquid engines," JAXA spokesman Nobuyoshi Fujimoto tells AFP. — AFP

February 14, 2023

Russia says it had delayed the launch of a rescue ship supposed to bring home three astronauts whose planned return vehicle was damaged by a tiny meteoroid.

The mission's postponement until March came after the Russian space agency reported a new problem at the weekend, saying a supply ship docked at the International Space Station (ISS) had leaked coolant.

"A decision has been taken to postpone the launch of the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft in an unmanned mode until March 2023," the Russian space agency says.

"We stress that nothing threatens the life and health of the crew," it adds. — AFP

February 10, 2023

SpaceX has conducted a successful test-firing of the engines on the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to eventually send astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

The test, called a static fire, of the 33 Raptor engines on the first-stage booster of SpaceX's Starship took place at the private space company's base in Texas.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk says one engine was turned off just before the test began and one stopped itself.

"So 31 engines fired overall," Musk says in a tweet. "But still enough engines to reach orbit!"

SpaceX says the test lasted its "full duration." — AFP

January 27, 2023

Space scientists say a truck-sized asteroid that suddenly loomed out of the darkness a few days ago -- with the Earth in its sights -- sailed harmlessly past us on Thursday.

Despite what we've seen in movies like "Armageddon," no global mission to blow it up or knock it off course with nuclear weapons was required. 

Instead, Asteroid 2023 BU whizzed past without incident and back out into the blackness of space. — AFP

January 26, 2023

Emirati astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi says he will not be required to fast during Ramadan while on his upcoming space mission.

The 41-year-old will become the first Arab astronaut to spend six months in space when he blasts off for the International Space Station (ISS) next month aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Neyadi, NASA's Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg and Russia's Andrey Fedyaev are scheduled to fly to the ISS on February 26 as members of SpaceX Dragon Crew-6.

Asked at a press conference Tuesday how he will observe the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims typically fast from dawn to sunset, Neyadi says his situation falls under an exception. 

"I'm in... the definition of a traveler, and we can actually break fast," Neyadi says. "It's not compulsory."

"Actually fasting is not compulsory if you're... feeling not well," he says. — AFP

January 25, 2023

NASA is partnering with a Pentagon research agency to develop a nuclear-powered rocket engine in preparation for sending astronauts to Mars.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson says that the US space agency will team up with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to "develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear thermal propulsion technology as soon as 2027."

"With the help of this new technology, astronauts could journey to and from deep space faster than ever –- a major capability to prepare for crewed missions to Mars," Nelson says in a statement. 

DARPA is the Pentagon's research and development arm and has played a role in many of the notable innovations of the 20th century including the internet. — AFP

January 12, 2023

The United States and Japan will consider space attacks as triggers for their mutual defense treaty, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says, amid rapid Chinese progress on satellites.

Incidents in space "present a clear challenge" and could trigger Article Five of the US-Japan treaty that considers an attack on either an attack on both, Blinken tells a joint news conference with his Japanese counterparts. — AFP

January 11, 2023

The Russian space agency says Wednesday that its damaged Soyuz spacecraft needs to return to Earth from the International Space Station without a crew, confirming it was hit by a small meteorite strike.

"'Soyuz MS-22' must descend to Earth without a crew," Roscosmos says in a statement after damage to the space capsule resulted in a coolant leak last month. -- AFP

January 10, 2023

Space sector bosses say they were disappointed by the failure of the country's historic first attempt to launch satellites from UK soil but pledged to investigate and try again.

The failure of the mission late on Monday is a blow to the UK's fledgling space sector.

Had it been successful, it would have made the UK one of only nine countries able to launch rockets into Earth's orbit.

A Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 carrying the 70-foot (21-metre) rocket took off from a spaceport in Cornwall, southwest England, at 2202 GMT on Monday.

The rocket then detached from the aircraft and ignited as planned at a height of 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland at around 2315 GMT.

But as the rocket was due to enter orbit and discharge its nine satellites, scientists reported an "anomaly" that prevented it from reaching orbit.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart praised the launch teams but said their task had been complicated by the "first time nature of this mission" which had "added layers of complexity". — AFP

January 10, 2023

A repurposed Boeing 747 carrying the first rocket ever to be launched into space from the UK takes off, catapulting the nation into the "exclusive" club able to send crafts into orbit.

The Virgin Orbit jet carrying the 70-foot (21-metre) rocket containing nine satellites took off from a spaceport in Cornwall, southwest England, at 2202 GMT.

The rocket will detach from the aircraft and ignite at a height of 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland at around 2300 GMT, before later discharging the satellites.

The aircraft will then return to Spaceport Cornwall, a consortium that includes Virgin Orbit and the UK Space Agency, at Cornwall Airport Newquay.

The launch is the first from UK soil. UK-produced satellites have previously had to be sent into orbit via foreign spaceports. — AFP

January 7, 2023

A newly discovered comet could be visible to the naked eye as it shoots past Earth and the Sun in the coming weeks for the first time in 50,000 years, astronomers have said.

The comet is called C/2022 E3 (ZTF) after the Zwicky Transient Facility, which first spotted it passing Jupiter in March last year.

After travelling from the icy reaches of our Solar System it will come closest to the Sun on January 12 and pass nearest to Earth on February 1. 

It will be easy to spot with a good pair of binoculars and likely even with the naked eye, provided the sky is not too illuminated by city lights or the Moon. — AFP

December 22, 2022

NASA said farewell on Wednesday to the InSight lander that spent four years probing the interior of Mars.

The US space agency said mission control had been unable to contact the spacecraft on two consecutive attempts, leading to the conclusion that its solar-powered batteries have run out of energy.

"InSight may be retiring, but its legacy -- and its findings from the deep interior of Mars -- will live on," NASA said.

The space agency said it will continue to listen for a signal from the lander, which last communicated with Earth a week ago, but it is considered unlikely after months of Martian dust accumulated on its two solar panels, sapping its power. — AFP

December 21, 2022

The European light launcher rocket Vega-C was lost shortly after lift-off from French Guiana on Tuesday with two Airbus satellites on board, the company behind the launch said.

The rocket had been trying to bring into orbit two Earth observation satellites built by Airbus, intended to join an existing network that captures high-quality images of any point on the globe several times a day.

"The mission is lost," Stephane Israel, head of commercial launch service provider Arianespace, said from the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana. 

Ten minutes after liftoff, at 10:47 pm (0147 GMT), the launcher's trajectory deviated from its programmed route and communications were lost, it said. 

An "anomaly occurred" in the second stage of the launcher, "ending the Vega-C mission, the company said in a statement. — AFP

December 12, 2022

NASA's Orion space capsule splashed down safely in the Pacific on Sunday, completing the Artemis 1 mission -- a more than 25-day journey around the Moon with an eye to returning humans there in just a few years.

After racing through the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 25,000 miles per hour (40,000 kilometers per hour), the uncrewed capsule floated down to the sea with the help of three large red and orange parachutes, as seen on NASA TV.

"NASA we had a picture perfect splashdown," said Melissa Jones, NASA's landing and recovery director. — AFP

December 9, 2022

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announces eight crew members who will join him for a journey around the Moon planned for 2023 on a SpaceX rocket that is still under development.

The mission, known as dearMoon, was first announced in 2018. Maezawa initially said he would invite a crew of six-to-eight artists, but later changed the entry requirements to a competition which applicants could apply for online.

The eight people chosen were DJ and producer Steve Aoki of the United States; Tim Dodd, an American YouTuber;  Czech artist Yemi AD; Rhiannon Adam, an Irish photographer; British photographer Karim Iliya; American filmmaker Brendan Hall; and Indian actor Dev Joshi, and K-pop musician TOP of South Korea. — AFP

December 8, 2022

As the mercury drops to minus 20 Celsius, a research rocket lifts off from one of the world's northernmost space centres, its burner aglow in the twilight of Sweden's snowy Arctic forests.

Hopes are high that rockets like this could carry satellites as early as next year, in what could be the first satellite launch from a spaceport in continental Europe. 

At the launch pad, about an hour from the mining town of Kiruna, there's not a person in sight, only the occasional reindeer herd. 

The vast deserted forests are the reason the Swedish space centre is located here, at the foot of "Radar Hill", some 200 kilometres (124 miles) above the Arctic Circle.

"In this area we have 5,200 square kilometres (2,007 square miles) where no one lives, so we can easily launch a rocket that flies into this area and falls down without anyone getting harmed," Mattias Abrahamsson, head of business development at the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), tells AFP. — AFP

December 6, 2022

NASA's Orion spaceship made a close pass of the Moon and used a gravity assist to whip itself back towards Earth on Monday, marking the start of the return journey for the Artemis-1 mission.

At its nearest point, the uncrewed capsule flew less than 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the surface, testing maneuvers that will be used during later Artemis missions that return humans to the rocky celestial body.

Communication with the capsule was interrupted for 30 minutes when it was behind the far side of the Moon -- an area more cratered than the near side and first seen by humans during the Apollo era, although they didn't land there.

The European Service Module, which powers the capsule, fired its main engine for over three minutes to put the gumdrop-shaped Orion on course for home.

"We couldn't be more pleased about how the spacecraft is performing," Debbie Korth, Orion Program deputy manager, said later. — AFP

December 5, 2022

Three Chinese astronauts safely returned to Earth on Sunday after six months aboard the Tiangong space station, state media quoted the country's space agency as saying, with their mission deemed a "complete success."

The team, which had been aboard the station since early June, touched down at the Dongfeng landing site in Inner Mongolia at 8:09 pm Beijing time (1209 GMT), Xinhua news agency said, citing the China Manned Space Agency.

Medical personnel said they were in good health, the report said.

The Tiangong space station is the crown jewel of Beijing's ambitious space programme -- which has landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon, and made the country the third to put humans in orbit -- as it looks to catch up with the United States and Russia.

The three Shenzhou-14 astronauts -- mission commander Chen Dong, China's first woman astronaut Liu Yang and teammate Cai Xuzhe -- had been tasked with overseeing the final stages of construction of the space station. — AFP

December 1, 2022

SpaceX on Wednesday postpones the launch of the world's first private lander to the Moon, a mission undertaken by Japanese firm ispace.

A Falcon 9 rocket was scheduled to blast off at 3:37 am (0837 GMT) on Thursday from Cape Canaveral in the US state of Florida, but SpaceX said further checks on the vehicle had led to a delay. 

"After further inspections of the launch vehicle and data review, we're standing down from tomorrow's launch of @ispace_inc's HAKUTO-R Mission 1; a new target launch date will be shared once confirmed," the firm tweets.  AFP

November 30, 2022

SpaceX is set Wednesday to launch the first private -- and Japanese -- lander to the Moon.

A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to blast off at 3:39 am (0839 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with a backup date on Thursday.

Until now, only the United States, Russia and China have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface. — AFP

November 26, 2022

Officials say NASA's Orion spacecraft was placed in lunar orbit Friday, as the much-delayed Moon mission proceeded successfully.

A little over a week after the spacecraft blasted off from Florida bound for the Moon, flight controllers "successfully performed a burn to insert Orion into a distant retrograde orbit," the US space agency says on its web site.

The spacecraft is to take astronauts to the Moon in the coming years -- the first to set foot on its surface since the last Apollo mission in 1972. — AFP 

November 24, 2022

The European Space Agency announces five new career astronauts as well as history's first astronaut recruit with a disability on Wednesday after adopting a record budget to fund its projects.

The two female and three male career astronauts "will start working immediately," ESA director-general Josef Aschbacher tells a ministerial council meeting in Paris.

From more than 22,500 applicants, the agency chose France's Sophie Adenot, Spain's Pablo Alvarez Fernandez, Britain's Rosemary Coogan, Belgium's Raphael Liegeois and Switzerland's Marco Sieber.

"I'm European but from the UK," Coogan tells the ceremony. Though Britain has left the European Union, it remains in the ESA.

The new recruits start training next year and are not expected to blast off into space on a mission until 2026. — AFP

November 19, 2022

NASA officials say the Orion spacecraft is "exceeding performance expectations" on the third day after lifting off from Florida bound for the Moon.

The spacecraft is to take astronauts to the Moon in the coming years -- the first to set foot on its surface since the last Apollo mission in 1972. 

This first test flight, without a crew on board, aims to ensure that the vehicle is safe. — AFP  

November 16, 2022

NASA launched the most powerful rocket ever built on a journey to the Moon on Wednesday, in a spectacular blaze of light and sound that marked the start of the space agency's new flagship program, Artemis.

The 32-story tall Space Launch System (SLS) blasted off from the storied Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 01:47 am (0647 GMT), producing a record 8.8 million pounds (39 meganewtons) of thrust.

"What you have done today will inspire generations to come, thank you!" Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA's first female launch director, told cheering teammates. 

Fixed to the rocket's top was the uncrewed Orion spaceship that will orbit Earth's nearest neighbor, in a test run for later flights that should see the first woman and first person of color touch down on lunar soil by the mid-2020s.

America last sent astronauts to the Moon during the Apollo era, from 1969-1972. — AFP

November 15, 2022

Third time's the charm?

After two failed attempts, NASA plans to launch its new mega Moon rocket early Wednesday from Florida, less than a week after the massive machine withstood a hurricane.

"Our time is coming. And we hope that that is on Wednesday," said Mike Sarafin, the manager of the much-delayed Artemis 1 mission, at NASA headquarters.

The Artemis 1 mission, a test flight without astronauts, represents the first step in the US space agency's plan to build a lasting presence on the Moon, and taking lessons from there to prepare for a future voyage to Mars. — AFP

November 12, 2022

NASA says it plans to attempt its long-delayed uncrewed mission to the Moon as scheduled next Wednesday, after inspections revealed only minor damage from Hurricane Nicole's passage through Florida.

Jim Free, a senior official at the US space agency, tells journalists there was "nothing preventing" a launch on that date, and says that NASA teams had managed to access the launch pad on Thursday.

The launch of the heavy lift rocket, the most powerful ever built by contractors for NASA, is now due to take place at 01:04am local time (0604 GMT) on Wednesday, with a possible launch window of two hours. — AFP

October 31, 2022

China successfully launched the final module of its Tiangong space station on Monday, state media says, the latest step in Beijing's ambitious space programme.

The space station is one of the crown jewels of Beijing's ambitious space programme, which has landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon and made China only the third nation to put humans in orbit.

The module named Mengtian, or "dreaming of the heavens," was launched on a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang launch centre on China's tropical island Hainan, state broadcaster CCTV reports.

Amateur photographers and space enthusiasts watched the launch -- which took place at 3:27 pm (0727 GMT) -- from a nearby beach.

The launch was declared a "complete success" by Deng Hongqin, commander of the Wenchang launch site. — AFP

October 12, 2022

The launch of a Japanese rocket taking satellites into orbit to demonstrate new technologies failed after blast-off on Wednesday because of a positioning problem, the country's space agency says.

It was Japan's first failed launch in nearly two decades, and the only one for an Epsilon rocket, a solid-fuel model that has flown five successful missions since its 2013 debut.

The unmanned craft took off from Uchinoura Space Center in the southern Kagoshima region, with its lift-off livestreamed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). — AFP

October 12, 2022

NASA on Tuesday celebrated exceeding expectations during a mission to deflect a distant asteroid, in a sci-fi like test of humanity's ability to stop an incoming cosmic object from devastating life on Earth.

The fridge-sized Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor deliberately smashed into the moonlet asteroid Dimorphos on September 26, pushing it into a smaller, faster orbit around its big brother Didymos, NASA chief Bill Nelson announces.

That changed its orbital period by four percent, or 32 minutes -- from 11 hour 55 minutes to 11 hours 23 minutes, bettering an expectation of 10 minutes.

"At some point in the future, if we find an asteroid that is threatening to hit Earth, and would be large enough to really do some damage, thank goodness that we will have had this successful test," Nelson tells AFP. — AFP

October 5, 2022

The United States will on Wednesday carry a Russian to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX ship, in a voyage that carries symbolic significance amid the Ukraine war.

Anna Kikina, the only female cosmonaut in service, is part of the Crew-5 mission, which also includes one Japanese and two American astronauts.

Blast-off is set for noon from the Kennedy Space Center, with the weather forecast so far promising. — AFP

October 4, 2022

Russia's space agency is discussing with Moscow a continuation of its participation in the International Space Station past 2024, a Roscosmos official says.

Sergei Krikalev, head of Russia's human space flight programs, tells reporters that Roscosmos had started "to discuss extending our participation in ISS program with our government and hope to have permission to continue next year."

With ties between Russia and the West rupturing over the war in Ukraine, Roscosmos chief Yuri Borissov had announced over the summer that Russia would leave the ISS "after 2024", and would seek to build its own space station.

He has not set a firm date for that plan. — AFP

October 1, 2022

NASA says it would try to launch its Moon mega-rocket in November, without committing to a precise date for the much-delayed Artemis 1 mission.

The US space agency, which was forced to postpone its latest liftoff attempt due to massive Hurricane Ian which hammered Florida this week, announces it was preparing its next launch window for between November 12 and November 27.

"Over the coming days," NASA says in a blog post, the team will assess conditions and necessary work and "identify a specific date for the next launch attempt." — AFP

September 28, 2022

It will be "difficult" for NASA to make a new attempt to launch its massive Moon rocket in October, an official from the US space agency says, with a lift-off in November looking more likely. 

The SLS rocket, the most powerful ever designed by NASA, had to be returned overnight to its storage hangar in order to shelter it from the approach of Hurricane Ian. 

The next possible launch windows -- determined according to the positions of the Earth and the Moon -- are from October 17 to 31, then from November 12 to 27. — AFP 

September 24, 2022

NASA's historic uncrewed mission to the Moon is facing fresh difficulties.

After technical problems derailed two launch attempts several weeks ago, a new liftoff of the Artemis 1 mission scheduled for Tuesday is now threatened by a storm gathering in the Caribbean.

The storm, which has not yet been assigned a name, is currently located south of the Dominican Republic. — AFP

September 4, 2022

After scrapping a second attempt to get its new 30-story rocket off the ground due to a fuel leak, NASA announced on Saturday it will not try again during its current window of opportunity, which ends early next week.

Determined by the position of the Earth and Moon, the current launch period for NASA's Artemis 1 mission ends Tuesday and is "definitely off the table," said Jim Free, associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, at a press conference Saturday, without confirming a new date.

The next possible launch windows according to NASA are September 19 to October 4 and then October 17 to 31.

Millions around the globe and crowds gathered on beaches in Florida had hoped to witness the historic blastoff of the Space Launch System (SLS), but a leak near the base of the rocket was found as ultra-cold liquid hydrogen was pumped in.

"The launch director waived off today's Artemis I launch," NASA said in a statement. "Multiple troubleshooting efforts to address the area of the leak... did not fix the issue." — AFP

September 3, 2022

NASA will try again on Saturday to get its new 30-story rocket off the ground and send its unmanned test capsule towards the Moon.

If the massive Space Launch System (SLS) lifts off successfully, it will not only be awe-inspiring but also historic for NASA, marking the first of its Artemis program plotting a return to the Moon, fifty years after the final Apollo mission.

The launch is scheduled for 2:17 p.m. local time (1817 GMT) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with a possible two-hour delay if necessary. — AFP

September 2, 2022

The stars appear to be aligned for NASA's Moon rocket to finally blast off on Saturday, with weather forecasts favorable and technical issues that postponed the launch earlier this week resolved.

Liftoff is scheduled for 2:17 pm local time (1817 GMT) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with the potential for up to a two-hour delay if necessary.

The chance for favorable weather conditions within that window sat at 60% Thursday evening. — AFP 

August 9, 2022

An Iranian satellite launched by Russia blasted off from Kazakhstan Tuesday and reached orbit amid controversy that Moscow might use it to boost its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.

As Russia's international isolation grows following Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is seeking to pivot Russia towards the Middle East, Asia and Africa and find new clients for the country's embattled space programme.

Russian space chief Yury Borisov hailed "an important milestone in Russian-Iranian bilateral cooperation, opening the way to the implementation of new and even larger projects", speaking at the Moscow-controlled Baikonur cosmodrome in the Kazakh steppe. 

Iran's Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour, who also attended the launch, called the launch of the Khayyam satellite "historic" and "a turning point for the start of a new interaction in the field of space between our two countries".

Iran, which has maintained ties with Moscow and refrained from criticism of the Ukraine invasion, has sought to deflect suspicions that Moscow could use Khayyam to spy on Ukraine.

Last week, The Washington Post quoted anonymous Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia "plans to use the satellite for several months or longer" to assist its war efforts before allowing Iran to take control.

But the Iran Space Agency (ISA) said, less than two hours after the satellite was launched on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket, that "ground stations of the Iran Space Agency" had already received "first telemetric data".  -- AFP

July 31, 2022

A Chinese booster rocket made an uncontrolled return to Earth on Saturday, leading US officials to chide Beijing for not sharing information about the potentially hazardous object's descent.

US Space Command "can confirm the People's Republic of China (PRC) Long March 5B (CZ-5B) re-entered over the Indian Ocean at approx 10:45 am MDT on 7/30," the US military unit said on Twitter.

"We refer you to the #PRC for further details on the reentry’s technical aspects such as potential debris dispersal+ impact location," it said.

In a statement posted to its official WeChat profile, the China Manned Space Agency later gave coordinates for an impact area in the Sulu Sea, about 35 miles (57 kilometers) off the east coast of the Philippines' Palawan Island.

"Most of its devices were ablated and destroyed during re-entry," the agency said of the booster rocket, which was used last Sunday to launch the second of three modules China needed to complete its new Tiangong space station.

Malaysia's space agency said it detected rocket debris burning up on re-entry before falling in the Sulu Sea northeast of the island of Borneo.

"The debris of the rocket caught fire while entering the Earth's airspace and the movement of the burning debris also crossed Malaysian airspace and could be detected in several areas including crossing the airspace around the state of Sarawak," it said. — AFP

June 28, 2022

NASA blasted a nanosatellite barely bigger than a microwave oven into outer space Tuesday, part of a landmark mission to return humans to the Moon.

A rocket carrying the tiny CAPSTONE module successfully launched from New Zealand's eastern Mahia Peninsula to a deafening blast and a wash of fiery propulsion.

All being well, in four months CAPSTONE will be in a position to begin an innovative surfboard-shaped "near rectilinear halo orbits" around the Moon.

Weighing about as much as a suitcase, the satellite is trail running an orbit for NASA's "Gateway" space station -- which will travel around the Moon and serve as a jumping off point for lunar exploration.

The orbit passes within 1,600 kilometers of the Moon at its closest point, before catapulting to 70,000 kilometers away at the furthest.

Scientists hope the orbit will be super-efficient, using the pull of both the Moon and the Earth to minimise fuel use. — AFP

June 5, 2022

State broadcaster CCTV says China launched a rocket carrying three astronauts on a mission to complete the construction of its new space station, the latest milestone in Beijing's drive to become a major space power.

The trio blasted off in a Long March-2F rocket at (0244 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch center in northwestern China's Gobi desert, with the team expected to spend six months expanding the Tiangong space station. — AFP

May 13, 2022

That's one small pot of soil, one giant leap for man's knowledge of space agriculture: scientists have for the first time grown plants in lunar soil brought back by astronauts in the Apollo program.

The ground-breaking experiment, detailed in the journal Communications Biology on Thursday, has given researchers hope that it may be possible to one day grow plants directly on the Moon.

That would save future space missions much hassle and expense, facilitating longer and farther trips.

However, according to the study's University of Florida authors, much remains to be studied on the topic, and they intend to leave no stone unturned. -- AFP

May 6, 2022

NASA's Crew-3 mission returns home to Earth on Friday after six months aboard the International Space Station.

The SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft with NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, undocked from the orbital laboratory a day earlier.

Their 23.5 hour journey back saw them splash down off the coast of Florida at 12:43 am (0443 GMT).

"On behalf of the entire SpaceX team, welcome home," a SpaceX official said to the crew moments after the capsule splashed down. — AFP

April 25, 2022

The crew of the first fully private mission to the International Space Station departed the orbiting laboratory on Monday to head back to Earth.

The three businessmen and a former NASA astronaut had spent more than two weeks on the station on a history-making mission organized by startup company Axiom Space.

The SpaceX capsule undocked from the ISS at 0110 GMT for the return trip and was scheduled to land in the ocean off the coast of Florida at around 1:00 pm local time (1700 GMT). — AFP

April 16, 2022

State broadcaster CCTV says three Chinese astronauts landed in northern China on Saturday after 183 days in space, ending the country's longest crewed space mission to date.

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft is the latest mission in Beijing's drive to become a major space power rivalling the US, after landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the Moon.

The two men and one woman -- Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping -- landed in a small capsule shortly before 10 am Beijing time, after six months aboard the Tianhe core module of China's Tiangong space station. — AFP

April 6, 2022

The latest test of NASA's giant Moon rocket SLS has been pushed back to allow for a SpaceX rocket to launch later this week, the US space agency announces.

The dress rehearsal for the giant Space Launch System had been scheduled for Friday at launch pad 39B at Cape Canaveral, Florida, at the same time as SpaceX's lift-off from pad 39A.

The test of the rocket, which is to return humans to the Moon, is now expected to resume shortly after the take-off of the SpaceX flight, which is to carry three businessmen and a former astronaut to the International Space Station. — AFP 

April 2, 2022

NASA begins a critical two-day-long test of its giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket complete with a simulated countdown, as the agency gears up to return humans to the Moon.

Known as the "wet dress rehearsal," it is the final major test before the Artemis-1 mission this summer: an uncrewed lunar flight that will eventually be followed by boots on the ground, likely no sooner than 2026.

"The countdown is now underway," NASA says in its Artemis blog at 5:00 pm Eastern Time (2100 GMT), confirming members of the launch control team had been issued their "call to stations." — AFP

March 18, 2022

A Russian-European mission to land a rover on Mars has been suspended due to sanctions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and its "tragic consequences", the European Space Agency says Thursday.

"We deeply deplore the human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression towards Ukraine," the agency says as it confirmed the suspension of the ExoMars mission.

The mission had been planned to launch in September using a Russian launcher and lander to put the rover on Mars to drill into the soil, searching for signs of life. — AFP

January 28, 2022

NASA says it aims to survey the crater formed when the remains of a SpaceX rocket are expected to crash into the Moon in early March, calling the event "an exciting research opportunity."

The rocket was deployed in 2015 to put a NASA satellite into orbit and its second stage, or booster, has been floating in the cosmos ever since, a common fate for such pieces of space technology.

"On its current trajectory, the second stage is expected to impact the far side of the Moon on March 4, 2022," a NASA spokeswoman tells AFP.

January 27, 2022

Australian researchers have discovered a strange spinning object in the Milky Way they say is unlike anything astronomers have ever seen.

The object, first spotted by a university student working on his undergraduate thesis, releases a huge burst of radio energy three times every hour.

The pulse comes "every 18.18 minutes, like clockwork," said astrophysicist Natasha Hurley-Walker, who led the investigation after the student's discovery, using a telescope in the Western Australian outback known as the Murchison Widefield Array. 

While there are other objects in the universe that switch on and off — such as pulsars — Hurley-Walker said 18.18 minutes is a frequency that has never been observed before. 

Finding this object was "kind of spooky for an astronomer," she said, "because there's nothing known in the sky that does that." 

The research team is now working to understand what they have found. — AFP

January 7, 2022

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa said Friday his trip into space had given him a new appreciation for Earth, and he now hopes to plunge into the ocean's forbidding Mariana Trench.

Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano spent 12 days on the International Space Station last month, where they documented life in space for one million YouTube subscribers.

Speaking Friday for the first time since his return to Japan, Maezawa said the voyage had made him appreciate home even more.

"Going to space makes you even more fascinated about the Earth. You learn to appreciate how you feel the wind, smell things and experience the seasons," he told a press conference in Tokyo. 

"I thought: the Earth is amazing." — AFP

December 20, 2021

A Japanese billionaire was to return to Earth Monday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station, where he made videos about performing mundane tasks in space including brushing teeth and going to the bathroom.

Online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano, who will be shepherded home by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, are set to parachute onto Kazakhstan's steppe at 0313 GMT Monday.

Their journey marked Russia's return to space tourism after a decade-long pause that saw the rise of competition from the United States.  

The trio spent 12 days on the orbiting laboratory where the Japanese tourists documented their daily life aboard the ISS for Maezawa's popular YouTube channel. — AFP

December 12, 2021

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin company blasted its third private crew into space on Saturday and brought it back safely, this time including the daughter of the first American astronaut.

The stubby white spacecraft with a round tip blasted off into clear blue skies over West Texas for a roughly 11 minute trip to just beyond the internationally-recognized boundary of space, 62 miles (100 kilometers) high.

The six-member crew hooted with glee as they unbuckled to enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness. — AFP

December 6, 2021

Russia on Wednesday will send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to the International Space Station in a move marking Moscow's return to the now booming space tourism business after a decade-long break.

One of Japan's richest men, Maezawa, 46, will blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan accompanied by his assistant Yozo Hirano. 

On Sunday morning, their Soyuz spacecraft with a Japanese flag and an "MZ" logo for Maezawa's name was moved onto the launch pad in unusually wet weather for Baikonur, an AFP journalist saw.

The mission will end a decade-long pause in Russia's space tourism programme that has not accepted tourists since Canada's Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberte in 2009.

However, in a historic first, the Russian space agency Roscosmos in October sent actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the ISS to film scenes for the first movie in orbit in an effort to beat a rival Hollywood project. — AFP

December 3, 2021

NASA on Thursday awards three companies hundreds of millions of dollars to develop commercial space stations it hopes will eventually replace the International Space Station, which is due to retire around the end of the decade.

"We are partnering with US companies to develop the space destinations where people can visit, live, and work, enabling NASA to continue forging a path in space for the benefit of humanity while fostering commercial activity in space," says NASA chief Bill Nelson in a statement.

"These awards will help ensure the United States has a continuous human presence" in low Earth orbit, says Phil McAlister, NASA's director of commercial spaceflight. "A gap would be bad." — AFP

November 25, 2021

Space tourism company Virgin Galactic on Wednesday announced a mother from the Caribbean won two tickets on a flight into Earth's orbit, worth $450,000 each. 

Keisha Schahaff, a health and energy coach, said she wanted to take the flight into orbit with her 17-year-old daughter, a science student living in Britain who dreams of one day working for NASA. 

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson surprised Schahaff with the news at her home in Antigua in early November. — AFP

November 24, 2021

A NASA mission to deliberately smash a spacecraft into an asteroid to see if its course can be altered blasted off Tuesday from California.

The SpaceX rocket carrying the experiment lifted off at 10:21 pm Pacific Time (0621 GMT Wednesday) from Vandenberg Space Force Base, NASA TV's livestream showed.    — AFP

November 23, 2021

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which astronomers hope will herald a new era of discovery, has been delayed until December 22 after an accident at its launch facility in French Guiana, NASA says Monday.

Technicians were preparing to attach the $10 billion observatory to a launch vehicle adapter, used to fix it to the upper stage of an Ariane 5 rocket.

"A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band – which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter – caused a vibration throughout the observatory," the US space agency says in a blog post, adding that the incident occurred while operations were taking place "under Arianespace overall responsibility." — AFP

November 19, 2021

Japan is recruiting new astronauts for the first time in over a decade and applicants no longer have to hold a science degree.

Women are strongly encouraged to put themselves forward for the job, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) says, as all seven of the nation's current astronauts are men.

Successful applicants, who must be Japanese, will be trained and sent on missions -- potentially to the Moon, the Lunar Gateway or the International Space Station. — AFP

November 16, 2021

The return of humans to the Moon, already postponed last week by NASA from 2024 to 2025, will actually take place in 2026 "at the earliest", according to a government audit. 

The Artemis program to return Americans to the Moon is encountering "technical difficulties and delays heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic and weather events," NASA's auditing body, the Office of Inspector General, says in a report.

"NASA's goal to land astronauts on the Moon's South Pole in late 2024 faces multiple significant challenges including major technical risks, an unrealistic development schedule, and lower-than requested funding levels," the report says. — AFP

November 11, 2021

SpaceX launches four astronauts on the "Crew-3" mission to the International Space Station Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA live video shows.

The launch, met by applause in the SpaceX control room, took place at 9:03 pm local time (0203 GMT Thursday).  — AFP

November 9, 2021

Virgin Galactic has sold around 100 tickets since flying its founder Richard Branson to space over summer, with commercial service expected to begin by the end of 2022, the company says in its financial results Monday.

The current price of the fare is $450,000 per seat, well above the $200,000-$250,000 paid by some 600 customers from 2005 to 2014.  

In total, the company has now sold 700 tickets, a spokesperson tells AFP.

"We are entering our fleet enhancement period with a clear roadmap for increasing the durability, reliability and predictability of our vehicles in preparation for commercial service next year," saysCEO Michael Colglazier in a statement. — AFP

November 8, 2021

Astronaut Wang Yaping becomes the first Chinese woman to walk in space, authorities said Monday, as her team completed a six-hour stint outside the Tiangong space station as part of its ongoing construction.

"This marks the first extravehicular activity of the Shenzhou-13 crew, and it is also the first in China's space history involving the participation of a woman astronaut," says the China Manned Space Agency in a statement early Monday.

"The whole process was smooth and successful," the agency adds, declaring it finished. — AFP

November 8, 2021

Four astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth from the International Space Station early Monday after spending more than six months in space, NASA announced.

The four members of the Crew-2 mission, including a French and a Japanese astronaut, will therefore return to Earth before the arrival of a replacement crew, whose take-off was delayed several times due to unfavorable weather conditions.

NASA said in a statement late Friday that Crew-2 members are due to return to Earth "no earlier than 7:14 am EST (1214 GMT) Monday, Nov. 8, with a splashdown off the coast of Florida." — AFP

November 6, 2021

Four astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth from the International Space Station early Monday after spending more than six months in space, NASA announces.

The four members of the Crew-2 mission, including a French and a Japanese astronaut, will therefore return to Earth before the arrival of a replacement crew, whose take-off was delayed several times due to unfavorable weather conditions.

NASA said in a statement late Friday that Crew-2 members are due to return to Earth "no earlier than 7:14 am EST (1214 GMT) Monday, Nov. 8, with a splashdown off the coast of Florida." — AFP

November 5, 2021

Four astronauts could leave the International Space Station on Sunday without their replacement team having arrived to take over, NASA announces Thursday, but the timing remains uncertain due to weather conditions.

The four members of the Crew-2 mission, including a French and a Japanese astronaut, are due to return to Earth this month after spending about six months on board the ISS. 

"The earliest possible opportunity for undocking" the capsule to bring Crew-2 back to Earth would be at 1:05 pm Sunday Florida time (1705 GMT), NASA says. — AFP

November 2, 2021

NASA and SpaceX delays for the second time a mission to send four astronauts to the International Space Station due to a "minor medical issue" with a crew member.

"The issue is not a medical emergency and not related to COVID-19," NASA says in a statement, without giving further details.

The members of "Crew-3" — US astronauts Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and Tom Marshburn, as well as German astronaut Matthias Maurer — will remain in quarantine at the Kennedy Space Center until their launch, the statement says. — AFP

October 24, 2021

France has successfully launched a state-of-the-art satellite into orbit, designed to allow all of France's armed forces across the globe to communicate swiftly and securely. 

Paris created a space force command in July 2019, amongst concerns that rival countries were heavily investing in space technology, seen as a new military frontier.

The satellite "is designed to resist military aggression from the ground and in space, as well as interference," French air and space force spokesman Colonel Stephane Spet told AFP. 

The Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Syracuse 4A satellite took off from Kourou, in French Guiana late Saturday, with the mission accomplished 38 minutes and 41 seconds after takeoff. — AFP

October 21, 2021

South Korea launched its first domestically-developed space rocket on Thursday, carrying a 1.5-ton payload as it seeks to join the ranks of advanced space-faring nations.

The Korea Space Launch Vehicle II, informally called Nuri, rose upwards from the launch site in Goheung trailing a column of flame, with a television commentator saying: "It looks like it's soaring into the sky without problems."

Within minutes it had reached 600 kilometers in altitude, the beginning of its targeted range.

South Korea has risen to become the world's 12th-largest economy and a technologically advanced nation, home to the planet's biggest smartphone and memory chip maker, Samsung Electronics. — AFP

October 21, 2021

South Korea is aiming to join the ranks of advanced spacefaring nations on Thursday when it attempts to put a one-tonne payload into orbit using its first fully homegrown rocket.

The South will become the seventh if the Korean Satellite Launch Vehicle II, informally called Nuri, succeeds in putting its 1.5-tonne dummy cargo into orbit from the launch site in Goheung, with an altitude of 600 to 800 kilometres being targeted.

The three-stage rocket has been a decade in development at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion). It weighs 200 tonnes and is 47.2 metres (155 feet) long, fitted with a total of six liquid-fuelled engines. — AFP

October 17, 2021

A Russian actress and director were set to return to Earth on Sunday after spending 12 days in the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit.

If the project stays on track, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project announced last year by "Mission Impossible" star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Actress Yulia Peresild, 37, and film director Klim Shipenko, 38, blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month, travelling to the ISS with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to film scenes for "The Challenge". 

The movie's plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, centres around a female surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.

Shkaplerov, 49, and the two Russian cosmonauts who were already aboard the ISS are said to have cameo roles in the film. — AFP

October 16, 2021

NASA is set Saturday to launch a spacecraft called Lucy on a 12-year mission to explore for the first time a group of rocky bodies known as the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, gathering new insights into the solar system's formation.

The Atlas V rocket responsible for propelling the probe was scheduled to take off on Saturday at 5:34 am local time (9:34 am GMT) from Cape Canaveral.

Named after an ancient fossil of a pre-human ancestor, Lucy will become the first solar-powered spacecraft to venture so far from the Sun, and will observe more asteroids than any probe before it -- eight in all. — AFP

October 16, 2021

State media says three astronauts successfully docked with China's new space station on what is set to be the country's longest crewed mission to date. 

The Shenzhou-13 vessel carrying the three had docked with the radial port of the space station, state-run news agency Xinhua quotes the China Manned Space Agency as saying in a brief dispatch. — AFP

September 21, 2021

NASA announces it would land an ice-seeking rover on a region of the Moon's south pole called the Nobile Crater in 2023.

The space agency hopes the robot will confirm the presence of water ice just below the surface, which could one day be converted into rocket fuel for missions to Mars and deeper into the cosmos.

"Nobile Crater is an impact crater near the south pole that was born through a collision with another smaller celestial body," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's planetary science division tells reporters. — AFP

September 19, 2021

Four SpaceX tourists returned to Earth safely on Saturday after spending three days in space, successfully concluding the first orbital mission in history with no professional astronauts on board.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule, whose heat shield allowed it to withstand descent, was slowed down by four large parachutes before splashing into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida at 7:06 pm (2306 GMT), according to a video feed by the company.

"That was a heck of a ride for us, and we're just getting started," billionaire captain Jared Isaacman, who financed the trip with a goal of making space a bit more accessible, said shortly after landing.

A SpaceX boat immediately retrieved the capsule, before its hatch was opened and the space tourists, smiling broadly and waving their arms in the air, exited one by one.  — AFP

September 17, 2021

SpaceX's all-civilian Inspiration4 crew are "healthy, happy and resting comfortably," the company says Thursday in its first update since the pioneering mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral the night before.

The four American space tourists "traveled 5.5 times around Earth, completed their first round of scientific research, and enjoyed a couple of meals" before going to bed, Elon Musk's company says.

Musk tweets that he had personally spoken with the crew and "all is well." — AFP

September 16, 2021

Three Chinese astronauts have completed the country's longest crewed mission and started their journey home on Thursday after 90 days at the Tiangong space station conducting spacewalks and scientific experiments.

"The Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft has successfully separated from the space station's core module," state broadcaster CCTV said Thursday.

The mission was part of China's heavily promoted space programme, which has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the moon.

The craft carrying the three taikonauts is expected to return to earth on Friday, state-run China Aerospace news reported.

The launch of Beijing's first crewed mission in nearly five years coincided with the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party on July 1, and was the highlight of a massive propaganda campaign. — AFP

Tiangong, meaning "heavenly palace", is expected to last at least 10 years.

September 16, 2021

A SpaceX Dragon carrying four tourists separated from the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket 12 minutes after liftoff, with the four tourists on board now in orbit, a video feed showed.

The Inspiration4 mission, the first to send an all-civilian crew to orbit, will venture deeper into space than the International Space Station. — AFP

September 16, 2021

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four space tourists blasted off Wednesday night from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first mission to orbit the globe with an all-civilian crew.

A huge fireball illuminated the sky as the rocket's nine engines began to pull away from Earth. — AFP

September 13, 2021

SpaceX is set to launch four people into space Wednesday on a three-day mission that is the first to orbit the Earth with exclusively private citizens on board, as Elon Musk's company enters the space tourism fray. 

The "Inspiration4" mission caps a summer that saw billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos cross the final frontier, on Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spaceships respectively, a few days apart in July.

The SpaceX flight has been chartered by American billionaire Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and CEO of payment processing company Shift4 Payment. He is also a seasoned pilot. — AFP/Lucie AUBOURG

August 20, 2021

Chinese astronauts edged into space on Friday to add the finishing touches to a robotic arm on the Tiangong space station.

On Friday, astronauts Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming successfully exited the Tianhe core module to install foot stops and a workbench on the station's robotic arm, said the China Manned Space Agency in a statement.

Video footage showed the astronauts working outside the spacecraft while tethered to it with a long rope. — AFP

August 17, 2021

Blue Origin, the space company owned by Jeff Bezos, is suing the US government over its decision to award a massive Moon exploration contract to its competitor SpaceX, it says in a statement Monday.

The company has filed a suit with the US Court of Federal Claims "in an attempt to remedy the flaws" in how the contract was awarded, according to the statement. 

The human landing system (HLS) contract, worth $2.9 billion, was given to SpaceX, owned by Bezos's billionaire rival Elon Musk, in April. — AFP

August 6, 2021

After flying its founder Richard Branson to space, Virgin Galactic is restarting ticket sales beginning at $450,000, the company announced Thursday.

The new price is about double the $200,000 to $250,000 paid by around 600 people who previously booked seats on Virgin's spaceship between 2005 and 2014, as the company looks to cash in on the success of last month's fully-crewed test flight.

"We are excited to announce the reopening of sales effective today," said CEO Michael Colglazier in a statement, with first dibs going to people on a waiting list.

"As we endeavor to bring the wonder of space to a broad global population, we are delighted to open the door to an entirely new industry and consumer experience."

On July 11, Branson beat Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos to space in a battle between the billionaires. Bezos achieved the feat nine days later. — AFP

July 20, 2021

The wealthiest man on the planet Jeff Bezos will ride his own rocket to outer space on Tuesday, a key moment for a fledgling industry seeking to make the final frontier accessible to elite tourists.

Blue Origin has planned its first crewed mission, an 11-minute hop from west Texas to beyond the Karman line and back again, to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the first Moon landing.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the voyage on July 11, narrowly beating the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.

But Bezos, like Branson, insists it wasn't a contest.

"There's one person who was the first person in space — his name was Yuri Gagarin — and that happened a long time ago," he told the TODAY show on NBC on Monday, referencing the Soviet cosmonaut's 1961 milestone. — AFP

July 12, 2021

Champagne flowed, guests cheers and Grammy-nominated singer Khalid debuted a new single: British billionaire Richard Branson threw himself a party in the desert to mark his successful first flight into space.

The eccentric septuagenarian founder of Virgin Galactic arrived before dawn at Spaceport America, built in large part at his initiative, in the US state of New Mexico.

The sun rose on the building's futuristic glass facade, located in a region that boasts 340 days of good weather per year.

A small crowd of invited guests, baking under the hot sun, cheered as the space crew climbed into a black SUV and headed for the rocket, which sat at the end of a 3.6 kilometer (2.2 miles) track. On board were Branson, two pilots and three other Virgin Galactic employees.

Also on hand, though unseen by the cameras, was SpaceX founder Elon Musk, another billionaire with galactic aspirations.

A TikTok star, a celebrity television presenter and a Canadian astronaut were among those poised, ready to commentate on the momentous event.

After the launch, the huge carrier plane climbed through the air for about 50 minutes. The guests took refuge under a white tent, eating passed hors d'oeuvres while children ran about.

But they soon rushed back out again to witness the main event: the spaceship released from the plane, igniting its engine for a supersonic ascent to shouts of joy from the Earth-bound watchers.

"Welcome to space!" the commentator announced a few minutes later, just before the ship began its descent.

Branson's face filled the big screen, streamed in from the rocket: "I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars. Now I'm an adult in a spaceship!" he said to the crowd. — AFP

July 4, 2021

Astronauts at China's new space station conducted their first spacewalk Sunday, state media reported, as Beijing presses on with its extraterrestrial ambitions.

It was only the second time the country's astronauts have stepped out of their craft while in space.

Three Chinese spacemen blasted off in June, docking at the Tiangong station where they are to remain for three months in China's longest crewed mission to date. — AFP

June 15, 2021

The first crew for China's new space station prepared to blast off this week for the latest step in Beijing's ambitious programme to establish itself as a space power.

The mission is China's first crewed spaceflight in nearly five years, and a matter of prestige for the government as it prepares to mark the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a propaganda blitz.

A Long March-2F rocket carrying three astronauts in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft is slated to lift off from a base in northwest China's Gobi desert on Thursday, according to experts with knowledge of the matter.

They plan to spend three months on the Tiangong station, China's longest crewed space mission to date, with spacewalks among their tasks.

The astronauts will aim to "get their new home in space kitted out and ready to use," said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. — AFP

June 13, 2021

An unnamed bidder pays $28 million at auction Saturday for a seat on board the first crewed spaceflight of Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin on July 20, as one of four passengers including the Amazon founder himself.

The winner, whose identity will be disclosed in coming weeks, beat out some 20 participants in an auction launched in late May, and wrapped up with a 10-minute online bidding frenzy, livecast by Blue Origin. —  AFP

May 11, 2021

The US space probe Osiris-Rex on Monday left the orbit of the asteroid Bennu, from which it collected dust samples last year, to begin its long journey back to Earth.

The probe still has a vast distance to cover before it lands in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023. 

Osiris-Rex is "now moving away over 600 miles an hour from Bennu, on its way home," Dante Lauretta, head of the mission, said on NASA's video broadcast of the event. 

The spacecraft's thrusters were engaged without incident for seven minutes to put the probe on the correct trajectory home, a journey of 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kiometers).

It is carrying more than 60 grams of dust and fragments from the asteroid, the largest sample collected by NASA since the Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions. — AFP

May 10, 2021

SpaceX will launch a satellite to the Moon next year funded entirely with the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, Canadian company Geometric Energy Corporation, which will lead the lunar mission, announced Sunday.

The satellite, dubbed DOGE-1, will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the first quarter of 2022, the Calgary-based company said in a statement.

The cubic satellite, weighing 88 pounds (40 kilograms), will aim to obtain "lunar-spatial intelligence from sensors and cameras on-board," according to the statement.

The "DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon" will be "the first-ever commercial lunar payload in history paid entirely with" Dogecoin, Geometric Energy Corporation said, without specifying how much the project cost.

"We're excited to launch DOGE-1 to the Moon!" Tom Ochinero, SpaceX vice president of commercial sales, said in the statement. — AFP

May 9, 2021

A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-tonne object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China's new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

"After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has reentered the atmosphere," the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. —  AFP

May 6, 2021

The Pentagon says it is following the trajectory of a Chinese rocket expected to make an uncontrolled entry into the atmosphere this weekend, with the risk of crashing down in an inhabited area. 

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is "aware and he knows the space command is tracking, literally tracking this rocket debris," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says. 

China on Thursday launched the first of three elements for its space station, the CSS, which was powered by the Long March 5B rocket that is now being tracked. —  AFP

May 6, 2021

SpaceX successfully landed its prototype Starship rocket on its fifth attempt, a livestream Wednesday shows.

There was however a small fire at the base of the rocket, dubbed SN15, which announcers said was not unusual. —  AFP

April 27, 2021

Blue Origin, the US space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, files a protest against NASA's choice of rival SpaceX to build the module that will land the next US astronauts on the Moon.

"NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute," Blue Origin says in a statement sent to AFP.

The decision "eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America's return to the Moon" by 2024 as the US space agency plans, the private space company says. —  AFP

April 23, 2021

SpaceX is set to launch its third crew to the International Space Station early Friday, reusing a rocket and crew capsule in a human mission for the first time. 

The Crew-2 mission blasts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:49 am Eastern Time (0949 GMT), after being delayed a day by adverse weather along the flight path. 

"It seems the weather is cooperating, so looks like we will try to launch tomorrow!!!" tweeted French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who will become the first European to fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon. —  AFP

April 12, 2021

Russians on Monday celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first manned flight to space carried out by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as the Soviet hero remains one of the most admired figures in the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to travel to Engels, a city in the south of the country on the banks of the Volga river, to the site of the cosmonaut's landing where a memorial stands to honour the historic flight.

The anniversary of the spaceflight is a "day of national pride" for Russia, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday. — AFP

April 9, 2021

A three-man crew blasted off to the International Space Station Friday in a capsule honouring the 60th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in space.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei lifted off from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at the expected time of 0742 GMT, footage broadcast by NASA TV showed, with docking expected at 1107 GMT. —  AFP

April 6, 2021

NASA's Ingenuity mini-helicopter has survived its first night alone on the frigid surface of Mars, the US space agency said, hailing it as "a major milestone" for the tiny craft as it prepares for its first flight.

The ultra-light aircraft was dropped on the surface on Saturday after detaching from the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.

Detached from the Perseverance, Ingenuity had to rely on its own solar-powered battery to run a vital heater to protect its unshielded electrical components from freezing and cracking during the bitter Martian night, where temperatures can plunge as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). —  AFP

April 5, 2021

NASA's Ingenuity mini-helicopter has been dropped on the surface of Mars in preparation for its first flight, the US space agency said.

The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.

"MarsHelicopter touchdown confirmed!" NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted Saturday. —  AFP

March 4, 2021

An unmanned SpaceX rocket exploded on the ground Wednesday after carrying out what had seemed to be a successful flight and landing.

It was the third straight flub involving the prototype of the Starship rocket, which SpaceX hopes one day to send to Mars. The last two test flights ended in crashes.

As seen on SpaceX video, this time the rocket appeared to have landed properly after its flight, although flames were coming out at the bottom and crews were trying to put them out. 

The rocket exploded a few minutes later. It was thrown into the air and crashed back to the ground.  —  AFP

February 19, 2021

US President Joe Biden hails the "historic" landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars as proof of the power of science and "American ingenuity." 

"Congratulations to NASA and everyone whose hard work made Perseverance's historic landing possible. Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility," he tweets.

February 19, 2021

NASA says the Perseverance rover has touched down on the surface of Mars after successfully overcoming a risky landing phase known as the "seven minutes of terror."

"Touchdown confirmed," says operations lead Swati Mohan at around 3:55 pm Eastern Time (2055 GMT) as mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory headquarters erupted in cheers.

The autonomously-guided procedure was completed more than 11 minutes earlier, which is how long it takes for radio signals to return to Earth. —  AFP

December 6, 2020

A Chinese probe carrying samples from the lunar surface successfully docks Sunday with a spacecraft orbiting the moon, in another space first for the nation, state media reports.

The manoeuvre was part of the ambitious Chang'e-5 mission — named after a mythical Chinese Moon goddess — to bring back the first lunar samples in four decades.

The cargo capsule carrying lunar rocks and soil lifted off from the surface on Thursday, and docked with the orbiter on Sunday morning, the official Xinhua news agency says, citing the China National Space Administration. —  AFP

December 3, 2020

A Chinese space probe sent to gather material from a previously unexplored part of the moon has completed its mission and is preparing to send back the world's first lunar samples in four decades, Beijing says Thursday.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The Chang'e-5 spacecraft, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess, landed on the moon Tuesday and has now completed its gathering of lunar rocks and soil, the China National Space Administration says. —  AFP

November 16, 2020

A SpaceX rocket successfully lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday with four astronauts on board, bound for the International Space Station.

It is the second manned flight by SpaceX, a private company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk that will now carry NASA astronauts into space after nine years of American dependence on Russian Soyuz rockets. — AFP


September 22, 2020

NASA reveals its latest plan to return astronauts to the Moon in 2024, and estimated the cost of meeting that deadline at $28 billion, $16 billion of which would be spent on the lunar landing module.

US Congress, which faces elections on November 3, will have to sign off on the financing for a project that has been set by President Donald Trump as a top priority. The $28 billion would cover the budgetary years of 2021-25. 

In a phone briefing with journalists Monday on the Artemis mission to return human beings to the Moon, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine notes that "political risks" were often the biggest threat to NASA's work, especially before such a crucial election. — AFP

August 3, 2020

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday afternoon on time after re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and deploying its parachutes without any glitches.

Pilot Doug Hurley, one of the two astronauts on board, said: "It's truly our honor and privilege" as radio communications became choppy and cut out.

It was the first water landing for a US spacecraft since the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. — AFP

July 31, 2020

NASA's latest rover Perseverance launched for Mars on Thursday, blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on schedule.

The first stage of rocket separation took place a few minutes later for the second stage Centaur rocket to take over, boosting it into orbit.

Perseverance is now preparing for a second burn that will put it on a trajectory toward Mars, a trip that will take around seven months and cover 300 million miles (480 million kilometers). — AFP

July 20, 2020

The first Arab space mission to Mars blasts off Monday aboard a rocket from Japan, after weather delays set back the launch of the probe dubbed "Hope."

A live feed of the launch showed the rocket carrying the unmanned probe, known as "Al-Amal" in Arabic, lifting off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan.

"We have launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 42 (H-IIA F42) carrying aboard the Emirates Mars Mission's (EMM) HOPE spacecraft... at 6:58:14 (JST) (2158GMT)," rocket manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement shortly after the launch. — AFP

June 1, 2020

NASA astronauts enter the International Space Station on Sunday after a landmark 19-hour journey on the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade, a triumph for SpaceX and private enterprise.

The hatch opened at 1:02 pm Eastern Time (1702 GMT) as Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley carried out final close out procedures, crossing the threshold about twenty minutes later.

Wearing black polo shirts and khaki pants, Behnken entered first, followed by Hurley. 

They were greeted by fellow US astronaut Chris Cassidy, as well as cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, all in the blue jumpsuits of the space station, which was launched in 1998 and first inhabited in 2000. — AFP

May 28, 2020

SpaceX's landmark launch to the International Space Station was postponed Wednesday due to poor weather with around 20 minutes to go until takeoff.

"Unfortunately, we are not going to launch today," SpaceX launch director Mike Taylor told NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. 

The next launch window is on Saturday. — AFP


December 28, 2019

NASA's Mars 2020 rover will head off for the Red Planet next year. But like Voyager, Galileo and Cassini before it, the mission's epic journey began in a "clean room" in California.

One of two ultra-sterile labs used for spacecraft assembly at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the eggshell-white room was briefly and exceptionally opened to journalists Friday.

"We need to keep the hardware as pristine and as safe as possible until we get to Mars," says David Gruel, operations manager for Mars 2020. --- AFP

August 14, 2019

To prepare for the next mission to Mars in 2020, NASA has taken to the lava fields of Iceland to get its new robotic space explorer ready for the job.

With its black basalt sand, wind-swept dunes and craggy peaks, the Lambahraun lava field at the foot of Iceland's second biggest glacier, Langjokull, was chosen as a stand-in for the Red Planet's surface.

July 21, 2019

Houston's Space Center counts down to the exact moment 50 years ago that Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon, marking one of humanity's greatest achievements.

Thousands celebrate the "Moonversary" with fireworks and music as a giant screen showed footage of the era-defining moment.

After spending a few moments at the foot of the ladder of lunar module Eagle, where he and Buzz Aldrin had landed six hours earlier, Armstrong stepped onto the surface of our natural satellite at 10:56 pm on July 20, 1969.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

July 12, 2019

India will step up the international space race when it launches a low-cost mission to become only the fourth country to land a probe on the Moon.

Just five days before the 50th anniversary of man's first lunar landing, Chandrayaan-2 -- or Moon Chariot 2 -- will blast off from a tropical island off Andhra Pradesh state after a decade-long build-up.

The mission will also highlight how far space travel has advanced since Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind during the Apollo 11 mission. — AFP

June 25, 2019

The first crew to blast off to the International Space Station following a launch accident that deepened doubts over Russia's space program returned to earth on Tuesday.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain, veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos and Canadian Space Agency record-holder David Saint-Jacques touched down on the Kazakh steppe at 2:47 a.m. GMT (10:47 a.m. Tuesday, Philippine time).

Monitor major developments on space explorations and the status of missions.

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