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Crash site of ill-fated Schiaparelli probe found on the surface of Mars, says European Space Agency

The probe impacted the surface very close to its planned landing site, which allowed NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to take a picture of the crash site

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Crash Site
What is believed to be the crash site of the Schiaparelli probe in this picture taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. VOA
  • The European Space Agency says it has found the crash site of its ill-fated Schiaparelli probe on the surface of Mars
  • ExoMars Flight Operations Director Michel Denis said that the probe impacted the surface very close to its planned landing site, which allowed NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to take a picture of the crash site
  • ESA engineers continue to study the data to try to find the reason things went awry

October 23, 2016: The European Space Agency says it has found the crash site of its ill-fated Schiaparelli probe on the surface of Mars.

“I believe we have found where Schiaparelli landed,” said ExoMars Flight Operations Director Michel Denis. “This didn’t land softly as we would have liked to, because the final phase of descent and landing did not function nominally.”

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He added that many aspects of the descent went as planned, but that the parachutes were “released a bit too early” and the engines designed to help slow down the craft only fired for a few seconds, which, in his words was “also too little.”

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and its entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, approaching Mars. The separation is scheduled to occur on 16 October 2016, about seven months after launch. VOA
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and its entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, approaching Mars. The separation is scheduled to occur on 16 October 2016, about seven months after launch. VOA

“So basically Schiaparelli has reached the ground with a velocity which was much higher than it should, so several hundreds of kilometers per hour and is unfortunately then of course being, well, destroyed by the impact,” he said.

Denis said the probe impacted the surface very close to its planned landing site, which allowed NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to take a picture of the crash site.

A roughly 15 meter by 40 meter dark patch is visible in the MRO photo. The impact site is about eight kilometers west of the planned touchdown spot near the equator at the Meridiani Plain.

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This NASA map shows the locations of landings on Mars. VOA
This NASA map shows the locations of landings on Mars. VOA

“One can see clearly the parachute, which landed after it was released at the right place and the place where Schiaparelli should have landed softly but unfortunately did not land softly,” he said. “But one can see this clearly in the pictures.”

ESA engineers continue to study the data to try to find the reason things went awry.

The probe was released from its mother ship, the Trace Gas Orbiter, Sunday, and over the ensuing days, it positioned itself for a landing. ESA lost radio contact with it about 50 seconds before it was scheduled to land.

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As with any landing on such a distant body, it’s tricky, with some calling the descent “six minutes of hell,” as the craft plunges toward the red planet at 21,000 kilometres per hour.

The ExoMars program is a joint effort with Russia and seeks to determine if there is or was life on the Red Planet. (VOA)

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NASA’s 2020 Mars rover to have 23 ‘eyes’

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NASA's 2020 Mars rover to have 23 'eyes'. Pixabay

Washington, Nov 1,2017: NASA said its Mars 2020 mission will have more “eyes” than any rover before it – a grand total of 23, to create sweeping panoramas, reveal obstacles, study the atmosphere and assist science instruments.

They will provide dramatic views during the rover’s descent to Mars and be the first to capture images of a parachute as it opens on another planet.

 There will even be a camera inside the rover’s body, which will study samples as they are stored and left on the surface for collection by a future mission, NASA said on Tuesday.

When NASA’s Mars Pathfinder touched down in 1997, it had five cameras. The subsequent Spirit and Opportunity rovers were designed with 10 cameras each, including on their landers. The Curiosity rover has 17 cameras.

“Camera technology keeps improving,” said Justin Maki of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Each successive mission is able to utilise these improvements, with better performance and lower cost,” Maki said.

The cameras on 2020 will include more colour and 3-D imaging than on Curiosity, said Jim Bell of Arizona State University.

“Routinely using 3-D images at high resolution could pay off in a big way,” Bell said. “They’re useful for both long-range and near-field science targets.”(IANS)

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American Record-Breaking NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Set to Return Back to Earth After 288-Days Space Mission

At the time of their landing, Whitson will have gathered a total of 665 days in space over the course of her career which is more than any American astronaut.

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Peggy Whitson
American record-holder NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. Wikimedia
  • Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson set to return back to Earth from International Space Station
  • The astronauts return after completing 288 days in space in Expedition 52
  • Peggy Whitson holds the record for the maximum time spend in space by an American astronaut

Washington, September 2, 2017 : NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds the record for maximum time spent in space by any American astronaut, is set to return to Earth on Saturday, completing a 288-day mission at the International Space Station.

Whitson and her Expedition 52 crewmates Jack Fischer of NASA and Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos are scheduled to land in Kazakhstan at 9.22 p.m. EDT on Saturday (6.52 a.m. Sunday, India time).

At the time of their landing, she will have accrued a total of 665 days in space over the course of her career, more than any American astronaut, placing her eighth on the all-time space endurance list, NASA said.

Whitson’s return will mark the end of her third long-duration stay onboard the space station.

She launched on November 17 with 377 days in space already under her belt, and on April 24 broke Jeff Williams’ standing US record of 534 cumulative days in space.

Whitson also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female.

Yurchikhin and Fischer, who launched in April, will complete 136 days in space on their return. Yurchikhin will return to Earth with a total of 673 days in space on his five flights, putting him in seventh place on the all-time endurance list.

At the time of undocking, Expedition 53 will begin aboard the station under the command of Randy Bresnik.

Along with his crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), the three-person crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members.

Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos, are scheduled to launch on September 12 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, NASA said. (IANS)

 

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)