SpaceX Commercial Crew Program Begins Space 2.0

SpaceX Crew Dragon 2

As the world watched with bated breaths on live telecast, SpaceX Crew Dragon 2 spacecraft was launched successfully on 31 May, 12.52 AM IST. Being the first private vehicle to carry a human crew to the International Space Station (ISS), will it mark the beginning of a new era in space flights? Can it alter the course of space travel by putting private players in the driver’s seat?

Crux of the Matter

About the Launch

Former military pilots and current NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are going to travel to the ISS in Dragon 2, the successor to the Dragon 1 cargo spacecraft. The reusable spacecraft launches atop a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, powered by Merlin engines burning liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene propellants. In case of an emergency, it is equipped with an integrated launch escape system capable of accelerating the vehicle away from the rocket at 11.8 metre per second square. 

Source: Parabolic Arc

After takeoff, the spacecraft will reach Earth’s orbit in 12 minutes, wherein the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule shall separate. The rocket will return to Earth and land on their drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You’. The capsule will remain in orbit for 19 hours before using its autonomous system to dock with the ISS. The astronauts will stay on the ISS for one to four months, then head back to Earth in the same capsule.

A cute zero-gravity indicator for both the astronauts

Behind The Scenes
Founded in 2002, SpaceX flew the cargo version of the Dragon spacecraft for the first time in 2010. Since then it has flown more than a dozen cargo missions to the ISS for NASA. In March 2019 it performed an unmanned test flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS, a major test for the company. 

However, in April 2019 that spacecraft exploded in a routine test after a valve issue and recently their Starship SN4 Prototype blew up into flames in a static fire test. Despite the setbacks, getting back on track to launch Dragon 2 is commendable on the part of both the space visionary Elon Musk and his dedicated team.

Win-Win
When the Dragon 2 flies, SpaceX will become the first private company ever to fly humans to orbit. SpaceX has already started signing agreements to offer berths to paying passengers for Crew Dragon space tourist trips as early as next year. The mission’s success is a necessary stepping stone for Musk’s ultimate goal of launching humans on space flights to transport them to Mars by 2024, after sending an unmanned cargo rocket to check the feasibility further by 2022.

As for NASA, it has given a fitting head start to it’s planned crewed mission to the moon in 2024. It is also speculated to mark the end of American reliance on Russia’s Soyuz program, with NASA sending astronauts into space for the first time since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011 due to the dearth of resources and funding back then.

Next Step: Privatizing Space Globally Or Unilaterally?

Similar to when the first commercial airline flights began, I think the world will be changed forever.

Mike Massimino, Former NASA astronaut

Not everyone seems happy with the launch as there have been reports of Russian officials criticizing the White House for its attempt to unilaterally privatize space to exploit the earth’s resources and instead demanded international cooperation in space. As Musk’s SpaceX will become NASA’s first Commercial Crew Program partner, the launch would represent a major milestone for the commercial spaceflight industry, in what has traditionally been a field solely dominated by government space agencies like India’s ISRO, Canada’s CSA, Europe’s ESA, and US’s NASA.

Private players like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Boeing can then confidently venture into doing viable collaborations with the government. Boeing is expected to launch its Starliner spacecraft with humans for the first time in spring 2021.

Back at home, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman recently announced that the Private sector will be a co-traveller in India’s Space journey with ISRO, as a part of Policy reforms to fast-track investment effort towards Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India). Currently, the Department of Space has special research labs called ‘Space Cells’ but its scope is limited to ISRO’s needs. Now in order to encourage private sector participation, the government needs to incentivise them by providing risk coverage and legal support. 

Curiopedia
  • Elon Musk has had his sights on colonizing Mars for nearly two decades. Musk has said that reading sci-fi author Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” saga helped inspire him to found SpaceX because it opened his eyes to the idea of prolonging human civilization by “building spaceships to extend the human species’s reach” to planets other than Earth.
  • In February 2018 Elon Musk successfully launched a Cherry Red Tesla Roadster electric car into space on a Falcon Heavy rocket launched by SpaceX. Starman (a mannequin) is in the driver’s seat of the Roadster and is currently driving into space. On August 17th, 2019 it completed its first orbit around the sun.

Emergence of 5G With Huawei Leading The Way

Huawei leading the 5G revolution

In the past decade, the 4G network completely changed how we consume information and we saw an emergence of the mobile app industry becoming a new norm. The 5G is going to supercharge user experience with smart homes, autonomous driving, cloud control, and numerous such possibilities becoming the new norm. Companies like Ericsson and Qualcomm led the 4G revolution, yet how did Huawei emerge as the frontrunner in the 5G race?

Crux of the Matter

What is 5G?
5G is the next step in mobile technology, which will expand the mobile ecosystem to new industries bringing in more connectivity between people and things. It is a more important jump from the last generation than 4G was to 3G and 3G was to 2G primarily because it will be a unified connectivity fabric that will connect virtually everything around us.

Currently, the problem with 4G is not its technology, it is the networks and the data that are needed are not ready. For instance, Virtual reality, in order to achieve true immersion, needs several hundred gigabits of data, which 4G cannot do wireless right now. With low latency, 10x times download speed, virtually unlimited capacity, 5G will meet diverse Internet of Things (IoT) requirements and enable next-generation user experiences, empower new deployment models, and deliver new services.

According to recent estimates, by 2035, 5G will drive global growth with $13.2 trillion of global economic output, 22.3mn new jobs, and $2.1 trillion in GDP growth. 5G has superior reliability and thus will impact every industry, making safer transportation, remote healthcare, precision agriculture, and digitized logistics a reality.

In India, the concept of smart cities has been established and the 5G network will transform the lives of people living in them by providing greater efficiencies in traffic management, garbage handling, automotive safety, infrastructure, etc. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report 2019, in India, 5G subscriptions are expected to become available in 2022 and will represent 6% of mobile subscriptions at the end of 2024.

If 4G tech built us a road, then 5G tech will build a city.

Wang Xiaoyun, General Manager of Technology at China Mobile

However, only 10 years after the launch of 4G, the world is preparing for the next generation but it comes with high-cost investments in infrastructure by the mobile operators and thus to maximize the returns they need to understand how network infrastructure and the associated cost base will evolve over the next few years.

Role of Huawei in Leading 5G
Huawei Technologies Co. is a Chinese multinational founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei. It is the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment and the number 2 producer of mobile phones. Huawei began researching on 5G way back in 2009 and due to which it has achieved remarkable feats from standardization to global tests and from commercial trials to commercial applications.

It secured polar coding before competitors, introduced the first network splicing router, and has 3GPP standards for eight key technologies, including soft NR architecture, and uplink, and downlink decoupling. Huawei produced the world’s first ASIC chip based small CPE and IPTV@5G with a speed of 2Gbps.

Enabling next-generation of communications, the Balong 5000 which is the first 7nm multi-mode chipset is a stepping stone into a wider field of cloud control and IoT possibilities. In terms of technology development and overall system performance, there is hardly anyone that can compete Huawei.

We estimate that 29 billion devices will be connected by 2021, and 5G will provide the road on which everyone will travel through digitally.

Qiu Heng, President of Huawei Wireless Marketing Operations

According to a 5G patent report published by IPlytics, Huawei ranks second only to Samsung in terms of the number of 5G SEP patents, while it stands first in technology contribution to 5G standards. Huawei with its extensive cooperation with more than 186 industrial partners and 45 collaboration projects across the world has emerged as the only company in the world that offers 5G end-to-end products and solutions.

As telecommunication giants that provide networking services to more than 170 countries around the world, Huawei was among one of the world leaders in rolling out 3G and 4G but in the case of 5G, it is likely to lead the way.

Curiopedia
  • Ren Zhengfei is a Chinese entrepreneur and engineer. He is the founder and CEO of Shenzhen-based Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment. As of 2019, he had a net worth of $1.3 billion.
  • The China-United States trade war is an ongoing economic conflict between China and the United States. President Donald Trump in 2018 began setting tariffs and other trade barriers on China with the goal of forcing it to make changes to what the U.S. says are “unfair trade practices”. Huawei was also restricted from doing commerce with U.S. companies due to alleged previous willful violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
  • On March 6, 2020, the first-ever all-5G smartphone Samsung Galaxy S20 was released. On March 19, HMD Global, the current maker of Nokia-branded phones, announced the Nokia 8.3, claimed as having a wider range of 5G compatibility than any other phone released to that time.

A Decade Of Instability In Libya

Instability in Libya

Even as the world tackles the Coronavirus, resurgence of tension continued in Libya. The recent incidents encompass attacks on migrants as well as drone attacks, inflicting heavy casualties.

Crux of the Matter

Recent Occurring
26 migrants from Bangladesh were killed in a warehouse in a reported act of revenge. The problems compounded for the natives as air-fights and drone attacks increased. The most recent attack came on the capital Tripoli, where the Libyan National Army (LNA) attacked the airport.

80 rockets were fired which killed 6 people and destroyed the planes supposed to bring Libyan citizens stranded in Spain. The move came after the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya, the UN-approved government, rejected LNA’s proposal of ceasefire during Ramadan. The reason for rejection is said to be LNA’s suspicious intentions.

Cold-War In Libya?
Russian fighter aircrafts were spotted in Libya, which were reported to be aiding LNA. The move has drawn criticism from US, which has claimed Russia’s support of LNA by the Wagner group, a Russian military group with unclear operations.


Timeline of Civil War in Libya

  • February 2011: Protests against leader Muammar Gaddafi begin after civil right activists arrested.
  • October 2011: Gaddafi killed after fight with combined forces of US, France and other countries in accord with UN.
  • September 2012: Militants attack US embassy, killing 3 ambassadors.
  • 2014: Civil war starts. Mainly between radically secular LNA and democratic GNA.
  • 2020: LNA’s airstrikes on Tripoli.


Libya Under Gaddafi
In 1969, Gaddafi replaced the monarchy in a coup. Following were defining features of his regime:
– Rejected Marxism but implemented “Islamic Socialism”.
– Made education and health-care free for all.
– Libya then fared better on Human Development Index than other Arab countries.
– Privatized oil to all citizens, providing annually more than $20,000 to each citizen.

However, critics have pointed to the degraded state of education and health care provided in the name of “free education and health-care”. They have pointed to his funding of terrorist groups in foreign lands as crimes against humanity. They also say that there was a lack of freedom under his regime, with most systems being controlled under one dictator i.e Gaddafi.

Curiopedia
  • The Green Book is a short book setting out the political philosophy of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The book was first published in 1975. It is said to have been inspired in part by The Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung).
  • The Third International Theory, also known as the Third Universal Theory, was the style of government proposed by Muammar Gaddafi in the early 1970s. It was proposed by Gaddafi as an alternative to capitalism and communism for Third World countries, based on the stated belief that both of these ideologies had been proven invalid. By 2011 the fall and death of Gaddafi had seen his system disestablished and replaced by the National Transitional Council.
  • The .ly is the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Libya. Many popular URL shortening services are registered in the .ly domain like brief.ly, adf.ly, bit.ly, ow.ly, and 3.ly. These URL shortening services shorten more than 600 million URLs in total every month.

Antibody Testing And Its Scope In Fighting Covid-19

Virologists and medical experts around the world have made themselves busy by researching different mechanisms to combat against Covid-19. Off late media coverage of antibody testing for SARS-CoV-2, has generated high hopes that individuals who are immune to this virus can be identified. So how does antibody testing work? Are immunity passports feasible? Can it be adopted by authorities as an additional tool to diagnostic testing?

Crux of the Matter

What Is Antibody Testing?

Source: ITV

Antibody testing involves screening a sample of blood for tiny protein molecules known as antibodies that have ‘learned’ to respond to a particular pathogen like a virus. T-cells found in antibodies can easily recognize and fight off viruses on being exposed to them and our immune system mounts different responses based on that within seven to 14 days.

In the case of SARS-CoV-2, antiviral antibodies can be found in the blood after infection, but they are also present in the respiratory system, where the virus resides and propagates. So if a doctor finds in a person’s blood antibodies that respond to virus, they can confirm that the person has overcome the infection caused by the novel Coronavirus.

IgM and IgG are antibodies

What Researchers Say?
Researchers and virologists initially stated that deploying antibody tests widely in communities can help monitor the local population and ease the quarantine restrictions accordingly. According to Dr. Jenny Harries, Chief Medical Officer of England, a deeper insight into the number of people that have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection could enable specialists to accurately estimate the dynamic and rate of the virus’ spread. This indicated a possibility of freedom of movement for asymptomatic people having their immunity proof in the form of documents or immunity passports.

A medical study yet to be peer-reviewed in France even posted on the medRXiv server about a finding that suggests, even mild cases of coronavirus that don’t require hospital treatment, produce antibodies in 99.4% patients, with the body’s defenses against the virus increasing during the weeks of recovery.

CDC and WHO Cannot Make Up Their Minds?

People who assume that they are immune to a second infection may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may, therefore, increase the risks of continued transmission.

World Health Organization

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) came under the scanner recently after there was an alleged mix up of numbers from the two completely different kinds of coronavirus test: RT-PCR and antibody tests, which confused medical experts around the globe who are invested in drawing conclusions from the released data and calculating how deadly the disease is.

About Short & Long Term Decisions
Even though antibody testing garnered media popularity with early stage research, many medical officials weren’t supportive of the immunity passports making public health policy decisions. They believe that there is no solid evidence that people have acquired long-term immunity after recovering from SARS-COV-2. Thus even if people’s bodies have produced antibodies in response to past infection, they can get re-infected. The silver lining being that till date, recurrence of the virus has been rare, so short term immunity.

About Prevalence, Sensitivity & Specificity 
In coronavirus diagnosis, test sensitivity is the ability of the test to correctly identify those with the SARS-COV-2 virus (true positive rate), whereas test specificity is the ability of the test to correctly identify those without the virus (true negative rate).

Thus the antibody test has to be sensitive enough not to miss the antibodies if they’re actually present, but specific enough not to accidentally show a positive result. Now the results of testing can go wrong if in the end, it all depends on the prevalence of the virus i.e how common the virus is in the population being tested. Take the two cases below:

Case 1: In a population where the prevalence is 5%, a test with 90% sensitivity and 95% specificity will yield a positive predictive value of 49%. So only less than half of those testing positive in the antibody test will have antibodies.

Case 2: In a population with prevalence exceeding 52%, a positive predictive value greater than 95% will be yielded, then only less than 1 in 20 people testing positive will have a false positive test i.e positive results for individuals that do not have the antibody in reality.

As per Bayes Theorem, lower the prevalence rate of the virus, larger the number of false positives. Therefore, it’s best to use tests with high specificity that are unlikely to throw up high false positives, like RT-PCR diagnosis, the current gold standard in the Covid-19 battle.

Where All Has It Been Approved ?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization for 12 tests, including a combination of lab-based and point-of-care tests, whereas 200 other devices are awaiting approval.

The EU recently validated an antibody test developed by the healthcare and medical device company Abbott Laboratories.Abbott claims that their test has “99.6% specificity and 100% sensitivity for patients tested 14 days after symptoms began,” which would indicate a high level of accuracy.

What’s Happening in India?
Meanwhile, the Indian government in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research is planning to do antibody tests in 69 districts of 21 major states in the country. A survey would be conducted to collect blood samples from 400 randomly selected individuals (one per household) from 10 clusters in each district. Samples from each of these individuals would be tested for the presence of IgG antibodies using ELISA test developed by the National Institute of Virology, Pune, and manufactured by Zydus Cadila.

So to use, or not to use ?
Complete reliance on antibody tests would give the people a false sense of security and make them lenient towards following social distancing and optimum quarantining mechanisms. These tests can instead be used as an additional tool to diagnostic testing to identify true positive coronavirus cases and lower the overall positivity rate by understanding the natural course of the virus.

Medical researchers globally plan to test new groups of participants every few weeks in the coming months to gauge the pandemic’s trajectory in various regions. Once we know more about the tests, evidence based guidelines can be further generated to indicate how to use the findings. 

Curiopedia
  • The first use of the term “antibody” occurred in a text by Paul Ehrlich. The term Antikörper (the German word for antibody) appears in the conclusion of his article “Experimental Studies on Immunity”, published in October 1891. In 1908, Paul received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to immunology.
  • Angel of the West is an outdoor sculpture in Jupiter, Florida, United States. The sculpture was made in 2008 by German sculptor Julian Voss-Andreae. It is based on the antibody structure published by E. Padlan. The antibody is placed into a ring referencing Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man thus highlighting the similarity of the antibody and the human body.
  • Oswald Theodore Avery Jr. was a Canadian-American physician and medical researcher. Avery was one of the first molecular biologists and a pioneer in immunochemistry. The Nobel laureate Arne Tiselius said that Avery was the most deserving scientist not to receive the Nobel Prize for his work, though he was nominated for the award throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

US To Pull Out Of Afghanistan Earlier Than Planned

US would be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan before the planned date. The move comes in light of Coronavirus pandemic, which has made placing of troops in foreign nations harmful on economy as well as unsafe for the troops.

Crux of the Matter

US-Taliban Deal
On 29 February 2020, the US and Taliban signed an agreement that would see US withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The first phase would see the number of troops decreasing from 12,000 to 8,600 by July. Complete withdrawal would be done by May 2021 under specified conditions. For the Taliban, the deal compels the group to act in the interest of peace while maintaining separation from Al-Qaeda.

However, the US is seeking earlier withdrawal of troops due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Besides affecting the economy with the burden of placing troops in distant nations, there is a threat of the soldiers contacting the virus as Pentagon has reported Covid-19 in around 50% of Afghan forces. Consequently, President Trump has planned to have the soldiers back by presidential elections. Instead of reducing numbers to 8,600 by July, the number has decreased to 8,500 already by May.


Local Situation
The agreement also compelled the exchange of around 6,000 prisoners between Afghanistan and Taliban. More importantly, a cease-fire was observed between the 2 forces on occasion of Eid. The step marked a severe reduction in civilian deaths, which has garnered worldwide appraisal.

India welcomes the understanding reached for a ceasefire in Afghanistan for three days during the Eid. We hope that this ceasefire would extend further and become permanent to address the dire humanitarian situation resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and pave the way for durable peace and stability to Afghans.

Ministry of External Affairs, India


Peace With India?
After recent social media posts claiming the Taliban’s imminent attack on Delhi for its stance on Kashmir, a Taliban spokesperson has refuted the claims, declaring Kashmir as “India’s internal affair”.

The statement published in the media about Taliban joining Jihad in Kashmir is wrong. The policy of the Islamic Emirate is clear that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

Suhail Shaheen, Spokesperson, Taliban

Nevertheless, experts have warned India to keep an eye on the Taliban as one of its supporters is Pakistan’s ISI, which claims Kashmir its own.

Afghanistan Before 2001

  • 1978: People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDA) replaces Govt in a coup allegedly backed by Soviet Union.
  • December 1978: Deal with Soviet Union to provide military assistance. Revolt ensued against Soviet interference and negation of Islamic faith by radical secularization.
  • 1979: Soviet invades Afghanistan. US retaliates by arming Mujahideen against Soviets as part of its “Cold-War”.
  • 1992: Civil war in Afghanistan.
  • 1996: Taliban, risen from Mujahideen funded by US-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia, attacks Afghanistan and gains control. Imposes orthodox Islamic rule.


US Enters Afghanistan

  • 2001: US launches an attack on Taliban after the 9/11 attacks. Temporary government set up in Afghanistan.
  • 2001-2009: Attacks on Afghanistan by resurgent Taliban.
  • 2009: President Obama shifts forces to Afghanistan.
  • 2014: Coalition of international forces withdraws, leaving a few troops to train Afghani forces.
  • 2017: Mutual aggression between US-Taliban continues
  • 2020: US-Taliban sign peace-agreement


US- A Timeline of Pull Outs

  • 2011: Obama announces withdrawal of 33,000 troops by 2012.
  • 2014: Obama announces complete withdrawal by 2016. Posits only 9,800 troops to remain beyond 2014.
  • 2019: Trump calls off peace talks amidst renewed Taliban attacks.
  • 2020: Trump orders phased removal of troops.

Curiopedia
  • In 2012, President of the United States, Barack Obama declared Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally. According to a 2012 BBC poll, the U.S. was the most favored country in Afghanistan.
  • The first recorded contact between Afghanistan and the United States occurred in the 1830s when Josiah Harlan, an American adventurer and political activist from the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania, traveled to the Indian subcontinent with intentions of becoming the King of Afghanistan.
  • Zero Dark Thirty is a 2012 American thriller film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal. The film dramatizes the nearly decade-long international manhunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks. The film briefly showcases the American troops in Afghanistan who flew two stealth helicopters from Afghanistan into Pakistan to execute the most wanted terrorist at the time.