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NASA Spacecraft Zooms To New Asteroid After Dropping Capsule On Earth

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As NASA celebrated the successful landing of a capsule filled with gravel and soil from asteroid Bennu, the spacecraft that dropped it off was already long gone.

The robot, which has been flying for seven years on the space agency’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sample return mission, won’t get a break anytime soon. About 20 minutes after releasing the capsule containing bits of Bennu from 63,000 miles above Earth, the craft fired its thrusters to avoid following it into Earth’s atmosphere. That maneuver officially triggered the beginning of a new mission — OSIRIS-Apex — a journey to yet another asteroid that scientists once feared could hit Earth in the future.

If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft that dozens of scientists and engineers have affectionately called O-Rex, will reach Apophis, a stony near-Earth asteroid, in 2029.

That meant as some of the OSIRIS-Rex team, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security Regolith Explorer, were popping champagne, others were laser-focused on getting the scrappy spacecraft to its next destination, said Sandy Freund, Lockheed Martin’s OSIRIS-Rex program manager. She remained with the 20 flight controllers based in Littleton, Colorado, during the intense event.

“No alcoholic beverages allowed at work, plus it’ll be very early in the morning,” she told Mashable two days before the capsule landing. “We actually had a whole conversation about when and if we should eat breakfast in the four hours between the capsule’s release and entry.”

Instead, they had to wolf down Flamin’ Hot Asteroids Cheetos and get back to work to ensure a divert engine burn would send the spacecraft away from Earth. The spacecraft “missed” the planet by just 485 miles.

OSIRIS-Apex, which stands for OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer, is a mission that will send the spacecraft to Apophis soon after the rock’s close approach of Earth in April 2029. Apophis, discovered in 2004, was selected because scientists believed it had a chance of hitting Earth in the future. Learning about the asteroid could be helpful in future efforts to deflect it, should that ever become necessary.

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For what it’s worth, scientists now say Apophis won’t collide with Earth for at least 100 years.

As NASA celebrated the successful landing of a capsule filled with gravel and soil from the asteroid Bennu, the spacecraft that dropped it off was already long gone.

Millions of space rocks orbit the sun. They’re the rocky rubble left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. Most of that ancient detritus is too far away to pose a threat to this planet. The majority are in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but occasionally rocks get nudged into the inner solar system, relatively closer to Earth.

Scientists are, however, keeping a close watch on 30,000 large objects out there and estimate there could be 15,000 or so more waiting to be discovered. Using powerful telescopes to scan the sky, astronomers are finding about 500 new sizable space rocks in Earth’s solar system neighborhood each year.

“When I started working with asteroids after college, Apophis was the poster child for hazardous asteroids,” said Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies in a 2021 statement. “There’s a certain sense of satisfaction to see it removed from the risk list, and we’re looking forward to the science we might uncover during its close approach in 2029.”

Apophis will come within 20,000 miles of Earth — less than one-tenth the distance between Earth and the moon — in 2029. That’s close enough that people in the Eastern Hemisphere should be able to see the 1,000-foot-wide space rock without binoculars or a telescope, according to NASA.

Though the spacecraft’s mechanisms to collect a sample are no longer in place, the robot will snap pictures and collect data on how our planet’s gravity affects Apophis’ orbit, spin, and surface. It’ll remain there for 18 months.

But first it must travel six more years and make several laps around the sun.





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India’s Private Rocket ‘Agnibaan’ Set For Launch By Agnikul Cosmos On May 28

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Another private Indian rocket is launching on May 28. Agnikul Cosmos will attempt to launch the ‘Agnibaan’ for the second time tomorrow at an expected time of between 5:30 to 7:30 am IST, India Today reported.

The Chennai-based space startup has also issued a Notice to Airmen (Notam) information to aware the authorities about the potential launch to avoid hazards.

According to Agnikul, the Notam will be active till June 5 for the launch which will take place from the company’s spaceport ALP-01 at Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota. This spaceport, which is India’s first private one, was inaugurated by ISRO Chairman S Somanath on November 25, 2023.

This would mark the second mission with a commercial launch vehicle. India’s first private rocket Vikram-S flew on November 18, 2022 during Skyroot Aerospace’s Prarambh mission.

ALSO SEE: India Gets Its First Private Launch Pad, And It Will Give Space Sector A Major Boost; Here’s How

What is Agnikul’s mission about?

Agnikul’s mission named SubOrbital Technological Demonstrator or SOrTeD is meant to test the single-stage Agnibaan rocket.

According to Agnikul’s website, the rocket to be used for SOrTeD will be powered by the Agnilet semi-cryogenic engine that uses kerosene and liquid oxygen. This single piece engine is entirely 3D printed and would be the first such power source used in a private rocket launch.

“Unlike traditional sounding rockets that launch from guide rails, Agnibaan SOrTeD will lift off vertically and follow a predetermined trajectory while performing a precisely orchestrated set of manoeuvres during flight,” Agnikul said in its mission profile.

ALSO SEE: Indian Tech Startup To Create World’s First 3D-Printed Rocket Engine; All You Need To Know

Agnikul is developing Agnibaan as a two-stage rocket which can be customised according to the customer’s needs. This two-stage rocket which measures 18 meters tall has a maximum payload capacity of 100 kg to a 700 km orbit and can be customised to add a ‘baby’ stage.

The mission was initially planned for launch on April 7 but was called off about two minutes before the lift off due to a communication issue between onboard hardware.

(Image: Agnikul Cosmos)





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Five Asteroids In 3 Days! A Barrage Of Space Rocks Are Heading Toward Earth This Week

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Five asteroids of varying sizes are set for a close encounter with Earth in the next two days. NASA’s Center For Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) has revealed that the smallest of them measures between roughly 4.5 to 10 meters in diameter whereas the biggest of them is about 32 to 73 meters.

The data has revealed that the smallest – 2008 LD – will be approximately 29.5 lakh km from Earth at the time of the fly by. It is travelling at a speed more than 16,000 km per hour.

Orbit of asteroid 2024 JV17. Image: NASA

The biggest of the five – the 2024 JV17 – will be approximately 66 lakh km away at the time of the closest approach while travelling at over 30,000 km per hour. Both these space rocks will fly past Earth on May 28.

ALSO SEE: Like Dinosaurs, Humans Will Become Extinct If A Single Asteroid Collides; ‘Asteroid Rush’ Trailer Proves Just That

The other asteroids – the 2021 LV (between 7-15 meters wide) and 2024 JG (between 22-50 meters) will get close to our planet on May 29.

Orbit of asteroid JO16. Image: NASA

There will be a close encounter today as well when the asteroid 2024 JO16 flies past Earth. According to the CNEOS data, it will be about 30 lakh km from our planet and will be travelling at more than 30,000 km per hour.

As the data suggests, there is no need to worry since the asteroids will fly from a safe distance from our planet. Besides, their size except for a few relatively big ones is also not a cause for concern.

ALSO SEE: Lack Of Earth’s Resources Can Be Fulfilled By Asteroids – And A US Firm Wants To Mine Them

(Image: Unsplash)



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Paytm warns of job cuts as losses swell after RBI clampdown

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Indian digital payments platform Paytm warned of job cuts on Wednesday after reporting that its net loss widened in the fourth quarter as it grapples with a recent regulatory clampdown.

One97 Communications, Paytm’s parent, said it expects to cut employee expenses and pare down its annual staff costs by $48 million to $60 million.

The company, once the most valuable Indian startup, reported a net loss of $66.1 million in the fourth quarter ended March 2024, compared to a loss of $20.11 million a year earlier. Revenue declined about 3% to $272.4 million from $280.4 million in the same period.

India’s central bank in February banned the company’s banking partner and sister company, Paytm Payments Bank, from conducting banking activity from March. That brought a sudden halt to Paytm’s slew of banking services, and the company was forced to ink new partnerships with other banks to keep many of those services running.

Paytm said it also took an impairment charge of $27.2 million related to its investment in Paytm Payments Bank in the quarter. In the quarter ending June this year, Paytm projected its revenue to be in the range of $180 million to $192 million.

In the full year ended March, Paytm’s revenue increased 25% to $1.19 billion from a year earlier, though higher payment processing charges, marketing costs, employee benefits charges and software cloud expenses weighed on its bottom line. As a result, net loss widened to $170 million from a loss of $213 million a year earlier.

Paytm’s results include “enough data points to suggest that the business is past the bottom in terms of payment volumes and user/merchant traction,” Bernstein analysts said in a note to clients. “Though from a financial metrics perspective, 1QFY25 is likely to be the bottom, as it would reflect the full impact of the lower steady state (vs. 2 months impact in 4QFY24).”

The analysts, however, cautioned that Paytm’s payment GMV has dropped by about 20% and the company’s expectations for its payment processing margin has also declined, which together “translates to a near 50% blow to the payment margins.” They estimated, however, that Paytm’s merchant lending volumes picked up in March and April — a clear sign of revival.

Paytm had about $1.03 billion in the bank as of March 31. The company’s shares were down about 1% on Wednesday afternoon to ₹349.20, giving it a market cap of $2.64 billion. Paytm went public in 2021 at a valuation of $20 billion.

“I am happy to share that we have successfully transitioned our core payment business from PPBL to other partner banks. This move de-risks our business model and also opens up new opportunities for long-term monetization, given our platform’s strength around customer and merchant engagement,” said Paytm’s founder and CEO, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, in the company’s annual shareholder letter.

“It has been possible in such a short period of time with extensive support from the Regulator, NPCI, Bank partners and our committed team mates. The unwavering commitment of our government and regulator to support innovation and financial inclusion, keeps us true to our mission and committed to our long-term sustainable growth opportunity,” he added.



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