Saturday, 17 September 2016

Tiangong-2 space lab draws global praise, with the world’s first “cold” atomic clock on board

  • NASA closely watches Tiangong-2 launch

  • NASA closely watches Tiangong-2 launch. The space industry has paid close attention as China sent the Tiangong-2 lab into space. NASA is watching the Tiangong-2, as well as China's space program in general. It says the launch marks another step on China's long march to a permanent orbital outpost. Former...

    https://youtu.be/pRgAmhCZ9AM

    China on Thursday hurled its first Tiangong-2 lab into space, marking another step forward in the country's plans to establish a permanent station by the early 2020s.

    China's rapid development in space exploration within the past decade has impressed the world. Martin Barstow, director of Leicester Institute of Space & Earth Observation at the University of Leicester, told Xinhua in a recent interview that China's developing space program is another major milestone towards establishing a permanent presence in space.

    "The earlier success of the first space station (Tiangong-1) shows how the program is developing and the new space laboratory will continue to add to China's status as a major space power," the professor said.

    Former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao, the first Chinese-American to be commander of the International Space Station, hailed Tiangong-2 as "another significant step for China's human spaceflight program."

    "China is moving in a very deliberate and orderly fashion to advance their space capability," Chiao said. "I think the technology is good, and they are moving to get more operational experience through TG-2, before the beginning of space station construction."

    Barstow also spoke highly of China's space capability, saying "China is already a key player in the international space industry," and Tiangong-2 will "enhance" its well-developed space capability.

    Gao Yang, director of Surrey Technology for Autonomous Systems and Robotics (STAR) Lab, said manned spaceflight is of indicative significance in space technology, and China's rapid development in this area is well-known.

    British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said in an article published on Thursday that "Beijing has made space exploration a national priority and is the third country, after the Soviet Union and the U.S., to put astronauts into space."

    INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION NEEDED

    In different interviews Xinhua carried with space experts, all mentioned the need for international cooperation in space exploration. Space station programs have always been a cradle for countries to work together, Gao said.

    Such collaboration has been vividly reflected in the Tiangong-2 mission, which carries, among a number of scientific experiments, an astrophysics detector that is the first space-science experiment built jointly by China with European countries.

    POLAR, dedicated to establishing whether the photons from Gama ray bursts (GRBs) -- thought to be a particularly energetic type of stellar explosion -- are polarized, was built largely with Swiss funding, and with the collaboration of Swiss, China and Polish scientists and support from the European Space Agency (ESA), according to the British journal Nature.

    POLAR project manager Nicolas Produit, who spoke to Nature, said U.S. law bars NASA from doing joint projects with China's space agencies, but the Chinese Academy of Sciences is discussing a number of other collaborative space projects with the ESA.

    Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project manager at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program, said that it is encouraging that China intends to solicit international participation in its space station project.

    "My hope is that the United States and China will, at an appropriate time in the future, find a way to cooperate in the peaceful exploration of space instead of competing to turn it into a battlefield, as they are now," he said.

    Chiao said international coperation is "a common point of interest that helps improve overall relationships. The International Space Station is a great example of that. Many nations came together to build the amazing facility, and we are working together to further science. This helps to improve overall relations between the member countries."

    Barstow believed that more and more countries are seeing the importance of space activity but this will not turn into a race. He said that to benefit smaller economies, a growth of space activity across the world will need to be nurtured by the major agencies like ESA, NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscomos) and China National Space Administration (CNSA).

    CHINA'S AMBITIOUS SPACE PROGRAM

    China has been actively developing a three-step manned space program since the first decade of the 21st century.

    The program's first mission took place in 1999 with the launch of the Shenzhou-1 to examine the performance and reliability of the launcher and verify key technologies relating to capsule connection and separation, heat prevention, control and landing.

    The first step, to send an astronaut into space and return safely, was fulfilled by Yang Liwei in the Shenzhou-5 mission in 2003.

    The second step was developing advanced space flight techniques and technologies including extra-vehicular activity and orbital docking. This phase also includes the launch of two space laboratories -- effectively mini space-stations that can be manned on a temporary basis.

    The next step will be to assemble and operate a permanent manned space station.

    China will begin building a space station that is more economically efficient and uses more data than the current International Space Station (ISS), starting as early as 2017, chief engineer of China's manned space program Zhou Jianping told Xinhua on Thursday.

    With the ISS set to retire in 2024, the Chinese space station will offer a promising alternative, and it will make China the only country to have a permanent space station after the  ISS. -Xinhua

    China launched first 'cold' atomic clock aboard second space station


    Every clock on Earth is flawed. Even science’s most accurate atomic clocks are beholden to our planet’s gravitational pull, and end up slowing down ever so slightly over time. That’s why researchers from Shanghai decided to send one up into space.

    On Sept. 15, Chinese researchers launched a cold atomic clock into orbit around Earth, where it will only slow down by one second every billion years, as opposed to every 300 million years like the current gold-standard of atomic clocks. The Cold Atomic Clock in Space (Cacs), as it is called, will likely become humanity’s most accurate timekeeping device.

    Atomic clocks are largely used for calibrating extremely sensitive electronics, like global positioning systems (GPS), or conducting experiments in hyper accuracy-dependent disciplines like particle physics and geology. According to the South China Morning Post, the Chinese government intends to use Cacs to improve their own national GPS, which currently operates at levels below the system employed by the US.

    Atomic clocks were originally created to run on the exact measure of a second as agreed upon by the entire scientific community. Seconds used to be measured as a tiny fraction of a day. The trouble is, the average day includes a lot of variation, depending on where you are and the earth’s axial wobble, caused by its magnetic poles and, more recently, melting ice sheets.

    Scientists realized that the way that electrons (the tiny negatively charged particles that surround atoms) jump back and forth between different energy states in molecules or atoms, was a much more precise way of calculating a second. These oscillations end up appearing like vibrations that occur at a constant rate—as long as molecules or atoms are at a constant temperature. Since 1967, the official definition of a second has been “9,192,631,770 vibrations of a cesium 133 atom.”

    Laser-cooled “cold” atomic clocks are generally considered to be the most accurate clocks that exist—other clocks and watches, like the kind anyone could buy in a store, tend to slow down over time. Although it’s often just a couple of seconds, that inconsistency won’t do in a research setting.

    But alas, on Earth, even cold atomic clocks are prone to slowing down ever so slightly. Because of the force Earth’s gravity applies to atoms, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s NIST-F2 atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado will slow down by a second every 300 million years.

    Cacs, which will orbit our planet gravity-free, will use rubidium atom vibrations to keep time, and will slow down much more slowly than Earth-bound atomic clocks. It’s also a lot smaller—about the size of the trunk of a car, whereas the NIST-F2 takes up an entire room.

    Cacs was sent into space on the second Chinese space laboratory, called Tiangong-2, launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Inner Mongolia. Although there are currently no humans aboard, the China National Space Administration plans to send two astronauts to the lab in October to conduct various experiments for a month, as the next step towards launching a full-fledged space station in 2020. - Quartz @ qz.com

    China launched its second space station, Tiangong-2, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China's Gobi desert on Thursday with the world’s first “cold” atomic clock on board – representing a pivotal step in China’s plan to become a major player in the modern-day space race.

    Two astronauts are set arrive at the station in October where they will spend one month completing experiments. Running the Cold Atomic Clock in Space, one of 14 different experiments planned for the station’s two-year orbital stint, aims to determine if escaping the effects of gravity increases the accuracy of the timepiece.

    “It is the world’s first cold atomic clock to operate in space ... it will have military and civilian applications,” Professor Xu Zhen, a scientist involved with the atomic clock project, told the South China Morning Post.

    China to launch world's first 'cold' atomic clock in space ... and it'll stay ...

    www.scmp.com › News › China South China Morning Post 

    Atomic clocks, some of which are so accurate that it would take billions of years to drift off by even a second, are used to conduct sensitive experiments across a variety of scientific fields and calibrate electronics used by global positioning systems.

    To keep time, these clocks rely on measuring the natural vibration rates of atoms and the scientific definition of a second: 9,192,631,770 vibrations of a cesium 133 atom. China’s cold clock will use a laser to slow down the atom and thus lessen the likelihood of the timekeeper missing one of the atom’s rotations and introducing an error, according to the South China Morning Post. Additionally China hopes that sending the cold clock into space and freeing the timekeeping atoms from their ties to gravity will make it more accurate than other atomic clocks currently keeping time around the world and make it capable of measuring fluctuations in microgravity.

    The station will serve as a laboratory for a variety of experiments across scientific disciplines that China expects to culminate in launching its own equivalent of the International Space Station (ISS).

    "The launch of Tiangong-2 will lay a solid foundation for the building and operation of a permanent space station in the future," Wu Ping, deputy director of China's manned space engineering office, said during a prelaunch briefing, according to Xinhua.

    China is not a member of the international consortium that operates the ISS (and isn't allowed to send its astronauts to the station), so it is planning to build its own permanent space station, which at an estimated 60 tons will be 380 tons lighter than the ISS.

    China's president, Xi Jinpin called on engineers and scientists to help advance the Chinese space program at a Space Day celebration earlier this year.

    "In establishing Space Day, we are commemorating history, passing on the spirit, and galvanising popular enthusiasm for science, exploration of the unknown and innovation, particularly among young people," Xi said at the celebration, according to The Economic Times. "Becoming an aerospace power has always been a dream we've been striving for.”

    China’s ambitious goals for space exploration in the coming years include plans to study the yet-unexplored dark side of the moon, and a mission to Mars that will not only orbit the Red Planet, but land and deploy a rover. Both missions are scheduled to launch in 2020.

    Dean Cheng, a Chinese space policy expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C., told New Scientist that Thursday's launch is about national pride – "a reminder that China has a manned space program, including the ability to put its own astronauts into space, something the Americans cannot do [without assistance from Russia]." - Source: Christian Science Monitor

    Astronauts given comfort upgrade on China's new space lab



    New space lab will be equipped with Bluetooth, better lighting, sound dampening, exercise equipment and other features

    China's newest space laboratory, Tiangong II, will provide more comfortable digs to astronauts living aboard than its predecessor, Tiangong I, the spacecraft's designers said.

    Zhu Zongpeng, chief designer of Tiangong II at China Academy of Space Technology, said designers aimed to create an astronaut-friendly environment in every regard when they refitted the space lab that was developed based on Tiangong I.

    "We considered many factors including the sound, lighting, inner decorations as well as support facilities. For instance, we installed a foldable, multifunctional table that can be used for dining and experiments. We also equipped the astronauts with Bluetooth headsets and Bluetooth speakers," he said.

    "A number of particulars were taken into account-the carpet in Tiangong I was replaced with floorboards. The light is softer and its brightness can be adjusted. Each astronaut has a bed lamp," Zhu added.

  • Astronauts given comfort upgrade on China's new space lab
    China's space lab Tiangong II roars into the air on the back of a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China, Sept 15, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua]

    The Tiangong II consists of two cabins with separate functions-the experiment cabin will be hermetically sealed and will act as the astronauts' living quarters, while the resource cabin will contain solar panels, storage batteries, propellant and engines.

    Liao Jianlin, a senior engineer at the academy who took part in Tiangong II's development, said the lab has about 15 square meters for astronauts to live and work, including a separate sleep section and waste storage area.

    He said engineers installed muffler devices in the spacecraft to ensure its inner sound is kept under 50 decibels. Environmental controls will keep the temperature within the experiment cabin between 22 C and 24 C and the humidity between 45 and 55 percent.

    In addition, Tiangong II has an air detector capable of checking for and dealing with more than 20 hazardous gases and microbes.

    Furthermore, designers placed exercise equipment in the space lab such as a treadmill, exercise bike and acupuncture point massager to help astronauts keep healthy, according to Liao.

    He said its communications systems also allow astronauts to receive and reply to emails and make calls to family and friends.

  • Astronauts given comfort upgrade on China's new space lab 
     

    Space lab to cross five-year mark.


    China’s space lab Tiangong-2 may serve for more than five years and co-exist with its first space station, scheduled for completion around 2020, an expert at the space programme said.

    China successfully launched Tiangong-2 on a Long March-2F T2 rocket, blasting off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the northwest Gobi Desert on Thursday.

    With a designed life of two years, Tiangong-2 was originally built as a backup to Tiangong-1, which completed its mission in March, said Zhu Congpeng, chief designer of Tiangong-2.

    “But we expect Tiangong-2 to serve for more than five years given the introduction of an in-orbit propellant technique for the first time,” Zhu said.

    In April 2017, China’s first cargo spaceship Tianzhou-1 will be sent into orbit to dock with the space lab, providing fuel and other supplies.

    “If the fuel-supply experiment goes well, we will become the second after Russia to master the in-orbit propellant technique,” Zhu said.

    While in space, the 8.6-tonne space lab will manoeuvre itself into orbit about 393km above Earth surface.

    “As it is higher than past space missions, the Tiangong-2 will be more cost-effective and have a longer lifespan,” said Zhu. — Xinhua

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