Chinese space engineers are tackling the key technologies needed to explore a near-Earth asteroid and a main-belt comet with one space probe.
The proposed mission is to send a probe around an asteroid named 2016HO3 and then land on it to collect samples, Huang Jiangchuan, a researcher from the China Academy of Space Technology, recently told the first China Space Science Assembly in Xiamen, east China's Fujian Province.
The probe will then fly back to the proximity of Earth, and release a capsule to return the samples. After that, the probe will continue its journey. With the assistance of the gravity of Earth and Mars, it will finally arrive at the main asteroid belt and orbit comet 133P, Huang said.
Asteroid 2016HO3 has a very close relationship with Earth and is known as a "mini moon" or a quasi satellite. It has a diameter of about 40 to 100 meters and a density of about 2.7 grams per cubic centimeter, said Huang.
"Where is it from? What's its relationship with the Earth and Moon? Those are questions we want to know," he said.
The second target, comet 133P, is the first comet found within the main asteroid belt that displays characteristics of both an asteroid and a comet.
Main-belt comets are apparently icy bodies recently discovered within the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and have shown comet-like activity during part of their orbit, scientists say.
The largest diameter of the cometary nucleus of 133P is about 5.4 kilometers, and its density is about 1.4 grams per cubic centimeter, Huang said.
"Probing small celestial bodies is a new frontier of space exploration, but with a high threshold. The main difficulties are the micro-gravity, uncertainties and the unknown environment of the small bodies. It's hard to learn about their shape, composition, structure and other features through observation from Earth," said Huang.
"We face great technological challenges in exploring asteroids and comets because so little is known about their detailed features," he added.
"Through ground observation, we presume that asteroid 2016HO3 rotates very fast, making one rotation in about half an hour. The structure of small celestial bodies is usually loose. It's very hard to land on such fast-rotating small bodies."
Comet 113P is larger than the first target, but is also largely unknown. It's at the outer edge of the main asteroid belt, adjacent to Jupiter. Its distance from Earth would make the orbit measurement very difficult, Huang said.
"Another challenge is how we connect the two tasks of exploring the asteroid and then the comet," he said.
The scientific objective includes studying the formulation and evolution of the solar system, the role of near-Earth asteroid and main-belt comet impacts on the origin of life, and the dynamics of small bodies in the solar system.
The probe will be equipped with advanced scientific detectors, electric propulsion technology, automated navigation and intelligent control functions.
On Dec. 13, 2012, China's second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, after successfully completing its mission, rendezvoused with the asteroid Toutatis at a distance of 770 meters, as the space rock, bigger than a city block, swept by Earth at a distance of around 7 million kilometers.
It was the world's first close fly-by observation of Toutatis. The probe took high-resolution images providing a number of discoveries.
"Compared with Japan, Europe and the United States, China is a latecomer in the exploration of asteroids and comets. We need to go faster, and we hope the mission will have multiple goals and can satisfy scientists' curiosity," said Huang.
"There are so many small bodies like asteroids and comets in space, but only a few have been detected. The exploration could help us prevent threats to the Earth, as well as exploit their resources."
The China National Space Administration is pushing forward the asteroid and comet exploration project, and inviting scientists around the world to participate. China has offered to carry instruments developed by other countries on the mission.
The Brazilian government on Monday announced a plan to build eight artificial intelligence (AI) labs across the country.
The move is aimed at improving the country's AI research and development, Marcos Pontes, minister of science, technology, innovation and communications, said at the opening ceremony of the 5th Innovation Week in the capital city Brasilia.
The labs will be operated as a network so they can bring together the existing AI development initiatives across the country, Pontes said without specifying when the labs will be ready.
One of the labs will work with the Brazilian military to explore the frontier areas in AI and cyber-security, said Pontes, adding that the other seven will focus on applied AI technologies.
A dozen bottles of fine French wine arrived at the space station Monday, not for the astronauts, but for science.
The red Bordeaux wine will age for a year up there before returning to Earth. Researchers will study how weightlessness and space radiation affect the aging process. The goal is to develop new flavors and properties for the food industry.
The bottles flew up aboard a Northrop Grumman capsule that launched from Virginia on Saturday and arrived at the International Space Station on Monday. Each bottle was packed in a metal canister to prevent breakage.
Universities in Bordeaux, France, and Bavaria, Germany, are taking part in the experiment from Space Cargo Unlimited, a Luxembourg startup.
Winemaking uses both yeast and bacteria, and involves chemical processes, making wine ideal for space study, said University of Erlangen-Nuremberg's Michael Lebert, the experiment's scientific director, in a company video.
The space-aged wine will be compared to Bordeaux wine aged on Earth. What's left will go to those who helped pay for the research, according to a company spokeswoman.
This is the first of six space missions planned by the company over the next three years touching on the future of agriculture given our changing world.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure," Nicolas Gaume, chief executive and co-founder of Space Cargo Unlimited, said in a statement.
NASA is opening the space station to more business opportunities like this and, eventually, even private astronaut missions.
The Cygnus capsule that pulled up to the space station on Monday contains multiple commercial ventures. Also on board: an oven for baking chocolate chip cookies, as well as samples of carbon fiber used by Italy's Lamborghini in its sports cars.
Budweiser has already sent barley seeds to the station, with an eye to becoming the beverage of choice on Mars. In 2015, a Japanese company known for its whiskey and other alcoholic drinks sent up samples. Scotch also made a visit to space in another experiment.
As for high-flying wine cellars, this isn't the first. A French astronaut took along a bottle of wine aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985. The bottle remained corked in orbit.
The space station's current crew includes three Americans, two Russians and an Italian, who might have preferred a good Chianti on board.
Engineers in the United States have developed a method to control balance in a two-legged, remotely controlled robot, which may in the future carry out high-impact tasks in challenging environments.
The study published in the latest edition of Science Robotics described the robot resembling a machined torso and two legs and a human operator wearing a vest that transmits information about the human's motion and ground reaction forces to the robot.
The human operator can both direct the robot's locomotion and feel the robot's motions, thanks to the vest. For example, if the robot is starting to tip over, the human feels a corresponding pull on the vest and can adjust in a way to rebalance the robot synchronously.
"Now if you want to open a heavy door, the human can command the robot to throw its body at the door and push it open, without losing balance," said Joao Ramos, who developed the approach as a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Ramos found that balance could be decided by a person's center of mass in relation to their center of pressure, a point on the ground where a force equivalent to all supporting forces is exerted.
The position of these two ingredients could be physically represented as an upside-down pendulum, with the top end representing a human's center of mass (usually in the torso) and the bottom representing their center of pressure on the ground, according to the study.
The researchers then developed a control algorithm based on the pendulum model, linking feedback between human and robot.
In the experiment, when the robot was struck with a hammer from various directions, Ramos wearing the vest could feel the jerk in the direction the robot moved and he instinctively resisted the tug, which the robot translated into a subtle shift in the center of mass in relation to center of pressure and in turn kept from tipping over.
The researchers are planning to develop a full-body humanoid with similar balance control, that one day is able to gallop through a disaster zone and rise up to push away barriers as part of rescue missions.
China's lunar rover Yutu-2 has driven 318.62 meters on the far side of the moon to conduct scientific exploration of the virgin territory.
Both the lander and the rover of the Chang'e-4 probe have ended their work for the 11th lunar day, and switched to dormant mode for the lunar night on Monday (Beijing time), according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration.
The rover is now located 218.11 meters northwest of the lander.
China's Chang'e-4 probe, launched on Dec. 8, 2018, made the first-ever soft landing on the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3.
A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, a lunar night the same length. The Chang'e-4 probe switches to dormant mode during the lunar night due to a lack of solar power.
During the 11th lunar day of the probe on the moon, the scientific instruments on the lander and rover worked well, and a new batch of scientific detection data was sent to the core research team for analysis.
Scientists are planning the future exploration route for the rover.
As a result of the tidal locking effect, the moon's revolution cycle is the same as its rotation cycle, and the same side always faces Earth.
The far side of the moon has unique features, and scientists expect Chang'e-4 could bring breakthrough findings.
The scientific tasks of the Chang'e-4 mission include conducting low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure and measuring neutron radiation and neutral atoms.
The Chang'e-4 mission embodies China's hope to combine wisdom in space exploration with four payloads developed by the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.