UK announces plans to tackle SPACE JUNK with £5m investment in tech to remove debris

The UK government has announced plans to tackle space junk by slapping the reins on a ‘Wild West’ approach of clogging near-Earth orbit with hundreds of old satellites and millions of shards of debris.

The raft of measures includes regulating commercial satellite launches, rewarding companies that minimise their footprint on the Earth’s orbit, and dishing out an additional £5 million for technologies to clean up space junk.

They are part of a drive to make Britain a world leader in the push for greater sustainability in space.

Science Minister George Freeman compared the need for greater regulation in space to what was required in the shipping industry during the 17th century and with cars in the 20th.

‘London set the standards for shipping, before leading the way in rail regulation and then on the roads,’ he told MailOnline.

‘If we do the same in space, with the UK flag seen as a symbol of the highest quality, then other nations will follow.

‘London can become the capital of space insurance and industry.’

Mr Freeman said he had been in talks with major players in the space industry, including Virgin Orbit, Inmarsat and OneWeb, and all were keen to throw their backing behind ‘an RAC for the space sector’.

‘Virgin are very interested,’ he told MailOnline, before adding that Elon Musk’s SpaceX would also be likely to follow any global sustainability drive ‘rather than be left out in the cold’.

Musk’s Starlink network of satellites, as well as the UK-headquartered OneWeb initiative, are leading the new wave of constellations, and have between them launched over 2,000 satellites.

However, both have plans for many more, along with other nations and companies, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his Project Kuiper network.

Mr Freeman said a new ‘Kitemark’ standard could involve a traffic light-coloured system to show how sustainable a particular satellite was, with green for the most and red the worst.

More sustainable launches, being powered by solar panels, and having a contract with a company such as Harwell-based Astroscale to repair the satellite could all be green ticks toward the Kitemark.

This is opposed to a satellite which has to be brought into the upper atmosphere to be burnt up and destroyed, a type of pollution that Mr Freeman said experts had been unable to tell him the impact of.

He added that a ‘Wild West’ space race without effective regulation would only serve to increase the growing risk of debris in orbit.

There are already concerns about the threat posed by 400 redundant satellites and a million pieces of debris, he added, with the growing volume seen as both environmentally and commercially unsustainable.

Swift action is therefore required to clean up the Earth’s orbit, according to the government, as well as to ensure future projects minimise their footprint through recyclable manufacturing, retrieving satellites and mitigating any debris.

An estimated 13,100 satellites have been launched into orbit since 1957, according to the European Space Agency, with 8,410 remaining in space and 5,800 still functioning.

The total mass of all objects in orbit is said to equate to around 9,900 tonnes, while statistical models suggests there are 130 million pieces of debris from 1mm to 1cm in size.

The minister unveiled the Plan for Space Sustainability in a speech to the 4th Summit for Space Sustainability at the Science Museum in London.

‘To harness space for sustainability, we need an agreed framework of standards for measuring and managing debris, improving satellite repair and retrieval and kite-marking genuinely sustainable supply chains,’ Mr Freeman said.

‘As it was with shipping in the 17th century and cars in the 20th, the key will be regulation which enforces good industry standards and reduces the cost of insurance and finance for a satellite launch which can show it is compliant.’

He added: ‘This plan will ensure a safe and sustainable commercial space sector which rewards responsible satellite programs by lowering the costs of launch licenses and insurance for sustainable satellites and space missions.’

Mr Freeman said the government would work with industry to establish a new Space Sustainability Standard, aimed at incentivising companies to adopt best practice in space sustainability and recognising those that minimise their footprint in orbit.

This new standard will be developed and tested by industry and academia, in partnership with government and the Civil Aviation Authority – the UK spaceflight regulator.

Mr Freeman also confirmed that the UK would undertake a regulatory review to incentivise sustainable practises, investment and growth, allowing today’s latest innovations in technologies such as Active Debris Removal (ADR), In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM) and sustainable development to become tomorrow’s norms in space operation.

He said the government’s existing ADR programme, seen as a key tool in cleaning up space junk in Earth’s orbit, would receive £5 million funding for its latest phase.

It was also announced that the National Space Surveillance and Tracking Programme, which recently received an additional £5 million funding, would include a new ‘monitor your satellites’ collision assessment service.

This has now opened for registration for all UK licensed satellite operators following successful trials with a number of companies.

The government wants to ensure that the UK’s regulatory regime evolves in line with advances in technology, thereby leading the way on protecting the space operating environment.

This is expected to include work alongside industry, academia and insurers to explore ways of lowering insurance premiums for sustainable missions.

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: ‘Space sustainability is a complex challenge requiring a variety of solutions, but it also presents a significant opportunity for the UK to demonstrate global leadership.

‘We’re developing new missions and capabilities to improve how we track objects in orbit and accelerate technologies such as active debris removal, while setting new standards and working closely with international partners to keep space open for future generations.’

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  • 1 час, 22 минуты назад 27.06.2022Science
    Fossils in the ‘Cradle of Humankind’ are one MILLION years older than previously thought

    Fossils of early human ancestors in the so-called ‘Cradle of Humankind’ in South Africa may be more than a million years older than previously thought, according to a new study.

    The Sterkfontein Caves in Johannesburg contain more than a third of the world’s early hominid fossils – crucial links in the evolutionary chain to modern humans.

    Sterkfontein was made famous by the discovery of the first adult Australopithecus, an ancient hominin, by Robert Broom in 1936.

    It had previously been theorised that the Australopithecus-bearing cave sediments were between 2 million and 2.5 million years old.

    However, new analysis has revealed that the sediments date from about 3.4 to 3.7 million years old, placing these fossils toward the beginning of the Australopithecus era, rather than near the end.

    This would make them older than the world’s most famous Australopithecus fossil called Lucy, also known as Dinkinesh, which is 3.2 million years old.

    The ‘Cradle of Humankind’ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising a variety of fossil-bearing cave deposits, including at Sterkfontein Caves.

    Since the first Australopithecus discovery in 1936, hundreds of Australopithecus fossils have been found there, including a famous pre-human skull, known as ‘Mrs Ples’, and a nearly complete skeleton known as Little Foot.

    Paleoanthropologists and other scientists have studied Sterkfontein and other cave sites in the Cradle of Humankind for decades, to try to shed light on human and environmental evolution over the past 4 million years.

    The majority of Sterkfontein’s Australopithecus fossils have been excavated from an ancient cave infill called ‘Member 4’ – the richest deposit of Australopithecus fossils in the world.

    The age of Member 4 has been disputed for more than half a century, with estimates ranging from two million years – younger than our genus Homo – back to about three million years.

    The new study was led by Darryl Granger, a professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences in Purdue University’s College of Science, who specialises in dating geologic deposits.

    As a doctoral student, he devised a method for dating buried cave sediments that is now used by researchers all over the world.

    His previous work at Sterkfontein dated the Little Foot skeleton to about 3.7 million years old, but scientists are still debating the age of other fossils at the site.

    Previous dating of Member 4 has been based on dating calcite flowstone deposited in the cave, but observations show that the flowstone is actually younger than the cave fill and so it underestimates the age of the fossils.

    A more accurate method is to date the actual rocks in which the fossils were found.

    Granger and his team used a method called accelerator mass spectrometry to measure so-called cosmogenic nuclides in the rocks.

    Cosmogenic nuclides are extremely rare isotopes produced by cosmic rays —high-energy particles that constantly bombard the earth.

    These incoming cosmic rays have enough energy to cause nuclear reactions inside rocks at the ground surface, creating new, radioactive isotopes within the mineral crystals.

    An example is aluminum-26 – aluminum that is missing a neutron and slowly decays to turn into magnesium over a period of millions of years.

    Since aluminum-26 is formed when a rock is exposed at the surface, but not after it has been deeply buried in a cave, researchers can date cave sediments (and the fossils within them) by measuring levels of aluminum-26 in tandem with another cosmogenic nuclide, beryllium-10.

    They used this method, together with maps of the cave deposits and knowledge of how cave sediments accumulate to determine the age of the Australopithecus-bearing sediments at Sterkfontein.

    ‘This important new dating work pushes the age of some of the most interesting fossils in human evolution research, and one of South Africa’s most iconic fossils, Mrs Ples, back a million years to a time when, in east Africa, we find other iconic early hominins like Lucy,’ said Professor Dominic Stratford, director of research at the caves and one of the co-authors of the paper.

    The study also overturns the long-held idea that South African Australopithecus is a younger offshoot of East African Australopithecus Afarensis.

    ‘Younger hominins, including Paranthropus and our genus Homo appear between about 2.8 and 2 million years ago,’ Stratford explained.

    ‘Based on previously suggested dates, the South African Australopithecus species were too young to be their ancestors, so it has been considered more likely that Homo and Paranthropus evolved in East Africa.’

    The study, published in the journal PNAS, place Australopithecus ‘front and centre’ in the history of early human evolution, according to the researchers.

    Most species of Australopithecus were diminutive – usually standing 3 ft 11 in to 4 ft 7 in tall. The most famous Australopithecus, ‘Lucy’, who was discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia – was even smaller at 3.5 feet.

    Lucy was an Australopithecus afarensis and lived between 3.85 and 2.95 million years ago.

    ‘The redating of the Australopithecus-bearing infills at the Sterkfontein Caves will undoubtably re-ignite the debate over the diverse characteristics of Australopithecus at Sterkfontein – and whether there could have been South African ancestors to later hominins,’ said Prof Granger.

    ‘Sterkfontein has more Australopithecus fossils than anywhere else in the world. But it’s hard to get a good date on them.

    ‘People have looked at the animal fossils found near them and compared the ages of cave features like flowstones and gotten a range of different dates.

    ‘What our data does is resolve these controversies. It shows that these fossils are old – much older than we originally thought.’

  • 3 часа, 23 минуты назад 27.06.2022Science
    Apple makes $1,700 in profit per SECOND, followed closely by Google and Microsoft

    Silicon Valley giants including Apple, Google and Microsoft are making enormous profits amounting to more than $1,000 per second, new data reveals.

    Apple is one of the most profitable businesses, generating over $152 billion per day, which equates to $1,752 every single second.

    Fintech firm Tipalti created a landing page with a real-time counter showing how profitable these companies, along with several big banks, have been since the time the page loaded.

    The list is sourced from the 2020 Fortune 500 and represent some of the best-known firms on it, but not necessarily the most profitable.

    As Tipalti notes for added context, the average weekly wage stands at $1,237, meaning the typical US worker does not earn the same amount for a week of work that the California-based company earns in one second.

    Apple’s profits for the second quarter break down in the following way: 53.5% iPhones, 10.1% Macs, 8.7% each for iPads and wearables/accessories and 18.8% for services.

    In one day, the iPhone maker earns a staggering $151,386,301 in profit.

    The US median family income is $79,900 – meaning that family would have to work for about 1,895 years in order to earn as much as Apple does in one day.

    Microsoft and Alphabet – the parent company of Google – also rake in more than $1,000 each second – the firm founded by Bill Gates makes about $150 more – working out to the eye-popping figure of $100 million a day.

    For Microsoft, cloud computing, personal computing and business productivity each account for roughly one-third of its profit.

    At Alphabet, the parent company of Google, over 90% of profits come from advertising and things like Android, Chrome, Google Maps and YouTube.

    Taken together, the technology sector accounted for about $10,931 in profits per minutes in 2020.

    The only industry that made more money is food and beverages, taking in $13,914 each minute.

    In that sector, Coco-Cola did well, making $16,969 per minute.

    Other tech mainstays on the list included HP, Nvidia, Netflix, eBay, Tesla and Uber.

  • 3 часа, 23 минуты назад 27.06.2022Science
    Wimbledon scientists reveal the luckiest and unluckiest courts for British tennis players

    British stars Emma Raducanu and Andy Murray are among the British players kicking off their Wimbledon campaigns on Centre Court today, marking the first day of this year’s hotly-anticipated tennis Championships.

    For any tennis player, a match on Centre Court is a highlight of the annual calendar – not only is it the biggest stage at the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, but a chance to perform in front of distinguished guests, including the Royal family.

    However, whether or not it’s the best place to secure a win for homegrown tennis stars is another matter.

    Researchers at IBM, the official technology partner of The Championships, have trawled through 21 years of data to find the Wimbledon court with the best British win percentage so far this century.

    The data covers all Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ singles matches on all Wimbledon courts going back to 2000, when IBM’s records start, captured using its IBM Watson AI software.

    Court 8 and the now retired Court 19 were revealed as the ‘luckiest’ courts, because they have the highest win percentages from multiple British matches (60 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively).

    However, Centre Court is not far behind, with a win percentage of 57.6 per cent.

    For a British tennis player, it’s possible that the pressure that comes from playing at Wimbledon’s Centre Court can adversely affect their performance.

    On a smaller court meanwhile, such as Court 8, a player may be less distracted by the audience, and can better concentrate on their gameplay.

    Conversely, British players in the past are thought to have benefited from a vociferously supportive home crowd, such as Andy Murray when he won The Championships in 2013 and 2016.

    Jo Durie, former British No. 5 and a two-time semi-finalist at Wimbledon, told MailOnline that the court a British player plays on usually depends on if they’re seeded or a wildcard – someone invited to play even if their rank is not adequate.

    ‘Usually about six Brits get a wildcard and their ranking wouldn’t get them in, so whoever they play is meant to beat them,’ Durie said.

    ‘If they’re playing quite a high seed and they’ve never really experienced much at Wimbledon they’re usually put on Court 2 or 3.

    ‘That’s probably why those percentages are a little bit lower.’

    Durie also said she was surprised that the British win percentage on Centre Court is as high as it is (57.6 per cent) because British players don’t often get to the very sharp end of the tournament.

    Because Centre Court is usually prioritised for matches with British players, it has a far greater proportion of British results compared with the other courts, many of which are mostly used for practice although they do host competitive matches.

    The results show Court 9 has a 100 per cent British win record; however, it’s only hosted one British match since the IBM records began, so it cannot be considered truly lucky quite yet.

    This match on Court 9 was Aljaž Bedene (who played with a British nationality from 2015 to 2017) against Frenchman Corentin Moutet in the first round of 2021.

    Meanwhile, the unluckiest courts were found to be Court 5 and Court 15, both of which have a win percentage of zero.

    Court 5 is the unluckiest overall – it has hosted nine matches involving British players since 2000, but all of them were British losses.

    One of the high profile losses on Court 5 was Daniel Evans losing to German Florian Mayer in four sets back in 2011.

    Interestingly, there’s only been one match between two British players since 2000 – Naomi Broady versus Anne Keothavong on Court 12 in the first round in 2011.

    Both were included in the data but essentially cancelled each other out and so did not affect Court 12’s win percentage.

    Win percentages of the various courts also change when looking at data from British Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Wimbledon singles matches separately.

    For example, Centre Court only has a win percentage of 23.1 for female players.

    Meanwhile, Court 19 has an 100 per cent win rate for the British Ladies, although it has only hosted two matches.

    For the British Gentlemen, Centre Court has a decent win rate of 65.8 per cent, while Court 5, Court 7, Court 11 and Court 19 all have win rates of zero.

    Researchers at IBM Match Insights team said that some of the courts have moved or changed names since the records began in 2000, while others no longer exist.

    For example, the old number 2 Court, also known as the Graveyard of Champions as many former champions fell to defeats there, used to be where Court 3 now is.

    IBM’s AI system, Watson, is used every year at Wimbledon to give visitors match insights – including who is most likely to win upcoming matches, based on factors like past performance.

    Watson is also being used to sift through audio and video of Wimbledon matches to decide which points were worthy of inclusion in a highlights package, based on factors like crowd noise and player expressions.

  • 3 часа, 23 минуты назад 27.06.2022Science
    Climate change could be reducing the likelihood of tropical cyclones

    Climate change appears to be reducing the likelihood of tropical cyclones across the world, researchers suggest.

    They found that the annual number of such storms decreased by about 13 per cent during the 20th century, compared with the period between 1850 and 1900.

    For most tropical cyclone basins, this decline has accelerated since the 1950s, which the authors of the new study suggest is mainly because of a weakening of tropical atmospheric circulation.

    It supports the theory that climate change leads to a decrease in the number of tropical cyclones, they said.

    However, the University of Melbourne-led experts warned that frequency is just one factor in the dangers tropical cyclones pose.

    They did not study changes in intensity or location.

    The researchers said it was also not clear how cyclones change under human emissions because a warming ocean is expected to intensify storms, while some changes in atmospheric circulation are thought to prevent storm formation.

    As their name suggests, tropical cyclones have long been characterised by the fact that they form almost exclusively over seas located at low-latitudes.

    Key to these storms are warm sea surface temperatures of at least 81°F (27°C) and converging low-level winds that force air to rise and form storm clouds.

    As long as the burgeoning system has enough distance from the equator, planetary spin will interact with the flow of moist rising air, causing it to rotate cyclonically.

    And just as cyclones do not form too close to the equator, their range is bounded at higher latitudes by the jet streams, which have long confined them to the tropics.

    Providing historical context to the frequency of cyclones is challenging because the observational record is not complete, especially before 1950, so the experts used a combination of past records and modelling.

    Savin Chand and colleagues at the Federation University Australia discovered declining trends in the annual number of tropical cyclones since 1850 at both global and regional scales.

    The only exception to this trend is the North Atlantic basin, where the number of tropical cyclones has increased over recent decades.

    The authors suggest that this may be because the basin is recovering from a decline in the number of tropical cyclones due to human-related aerosol emissions in the late 20th century.

    The number of annual storms is still, however, lower than in pre-industrial times, they added.

    The study has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

  • 3 часа, 23 минуты назад 27.06.2022Science
    ‘Super earths’ may be even more habitable than our own planet, study says

    ‘Super earths’ outside our solar system that are rich in hydrogen or helium may be even more habitable than our own planet, a new study suggests.

    Researchers say rocky exoplanets with atmospheres dominated by hydrogen and helium have surfaces warm enough to host liquid water.

    The presence of liquid water is ‘favourable for life’, so these planets could provide habitable conditions and exotic habitats for maybe even 8 billion years.

    The new study has been led by researchers at the University of Zurich, Switzerland and published today in the journal Nature Astronomy.

    They say these planets likely ‘bare very little resemblance to our home planet’ and may host organisms at very high pressures.

    ‘Life on the type of planet described in this work would live under considerably different conditions than most life on Earth,’ the authors say.

    ‘The surface pressures in our results are on the order of 100–1,000bar, the pressure range of oceanic floors and trenches.

    ‘There is no theoretical pressure limit on life, and some of the most extreme examples in Earth’s biosphere thrive at around 500bar.’

    Billions of years ago, the early universe contained only hydrogen and helium, gases, which were readily available in the planet-forming materials around young stars, such as our sun.

    Therefore, all planets built up atmospheres that were dominated by these two elements, including Earth.

    ‘When the planet first formed from out of cosmic of gas and dust, it collected an atmosphere consisting mostly of hydrogen and helium – a so-called primordial atmosphere,’ said study author Ravit Helled at the University of Zurich.

    Over the course of their development, however, rocky planets including Earth lost this primordial atmosphere in favour of heavier elements, such as oxygen and nitrogen.

    However, other, more massive planets can collect much larger primordial atmospheres, which they can keep indefinitely in some cases.

    ‘Such massive primordial atmospheres can also induce a greenhouse effect – much like Earth’s atmosphere today,’ said Helled.

    ‘We therefore wanted to find out if these atmospheres can help to create the necessary conditions for liquid water.’

    For the study, the team modelled nearly 5,000 exoplanets, some bounded to their star and some free floating, and simulated their development over billions of years.

    Researchers accounted not only for properties of the planets’ atmospheres but also the intensity of the radiation of their respective stars as well as the planets’ internal heat radiating outwards.

    While on Earth, this geothermal heat plays only a minor role for the conditions on the surface, it can contribute more significantly on planets with massive primordial atmospheres.

    Findings suggest that depending on the mass of the planet and how far away it is from its star, these planets could keep a temperate surface environment for as long as 8 billion years, provided the atmosphere is thick enough – between 100 to 1,000 times thicker than the Earth’s.

    ‘What we found is that in many cases, primordial atmospheres were lost due to intense radiation from stars, especially on planets that are close to their star,’ said Marit Mol Lous, PhD student and lead author.

    ‘But in the cases where the atmospheres remain, the right conditions for liquid water can occur.’

    ‘In cases where sufficient geothermal heat reaches the surface, radiation from a star like the Sun is not even necessary so that conditions prevail at the surface that allow the existence of liquid water.’

    ‘Perhaps most importantly, our results show that these conditions can persist for very long periods of time – up to tens of billions of years.’

    The researchers say instruments such as the James Webb Space Telescope, currently in space, and the Extremely Large Telescope, cuyrrently in development, should reveal more about biomarkers in exoplanets’ atmospheres.

  • 3 часа, 23 минуты назад 27.06.2022Science
    Octopus and human brains share the same ‘jumping genes,’ new study reveals

    Evolutionary biology tells us that humans share a range of different traits with many other species on Earth.

    New research reveals that the human and octopus brain both share the same ‘jumping genes.’

    Over 45% of the human genome is composed of sequences called transposons, which are these ‘jumping genes’ that can ‘move’ from one point in a genome to another by shuffling or duplicating.

    The research shows that the same ‘jumping genes’ are active both in the human brain and in the brain of two species, Octopus vulgaris, the common octopus, and Octopus bimaculoides, the Californian octopus.

    The most relevant of these are associated with the LINE (Long Interspersed Nuclear Elements) family, found in a hundred copies of the human genome.

    Many scientists believe that the LINE transposons are associated with learning, memory and other cognitive abilities.

    ‘The brain of the octopus is functionally analogous in many of its characteristics to that of mammals,’ says Graziano Fiorito, director of the Department of Biology and Evolution of Marine Organisms of the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn. ‘For this reason, also, the identified LINE element represents a very interesting candidate to study to improve our knowledge on the evolution of intelligence.’

    One of the scientists said that they ‘literally jumped on the chair’ when they saw a signal of activity in the octopus’ vertical lobe, a structure of the brain that is the seat of learning and cognitive abilities – like the hippocampus is for humans.

    ‘The discovery of an element of the LINE family, active in the brain of the two octopuses species, is very significant because it adds support to the idea that these elements have a specific function,’ explains Remo Sanges, director of the Computational Genomics laboratory at SISSA, who started working at this project when he was a researcher at Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn of Naples.

    ‘This similarity between man and octopus that shows the activity of a LINE element in the seat of cognitive abilities could be explained as a fascinating example of convergent evolution, a phenomenon for which, in two genetically distant species, the same molecular process develops independently, in response to similar needs,’ explained Giuseppe Petrosino from Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohm and Stefanol Gustincich from Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.

    The discovery, which was part of an international collaboration among more than twenty researchers, was made possible thanks to new sequencing techniques, which were used to analyze the molecular composition of the genes active in the nervous system of the octopus.

    The study, published in BMC Biology, was carried out by an international team with more than twenty researchers from all over the world.

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Science UK announces plans to tackle SPACE JUNK with £5m investment in tech to remove debris