In a corner of the campus at Riga Technical University, a team of scientists is working on technology that could one day stop asteroids from smashing into Earth.
The high-precision timers being built by hand in the laboratory of Latvian start-up Eventech are currently being used to track satellites.
The company earlier this year won a European Space Agency (ESA) contract to develop timers that would study the possibility of redirecting an asteroid before it comes too close to our planet for comfort.
NASA plans to launch the first part of the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission — known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — on July 22 next year on a Space X Falcon 9 rocket.
The 500kg camera-equipped probe is to fly to an asteroid named Didymos and smash into it, trying to blow it off its current course that will see it pass near Earth sometime in 2123.
Eventech’s deep space event timers are being developed for the follow-up HERA mission, which is planned to launch five years later, to determine if the first mission succeeded.
“Our new technology that will follow on the second ESA spacecraft named HERA will measure if the first impact steered the kilometer-sized Didymos off its previous course, avoiding harm to humanity,” Eventech engineer Imants Pulkstenis said.
“It’s much more interesting to boldly go where no man has gone before than to manufacture some mundane consumer electronics for huge profit,” he added, borrowing the famous slogan from Star Trek, the 1960s science fiction TV series.
Eventech’s timers are part of a space technology tradition in the Baltic state stretching back to Soviet times when Sputnik — the first manufactured satellite to orbit the Earth — was launched in 1957.
They measure the time needed for an impulse of light to travel to an object in orbit and back.
Eventech devices can record the measurement to within a picosecond — or one-trillionth of a second — which allows astronomers to convert a time measure into a distance measurement with up to 2mm of precision.
About 10 of the timers are produced every year and they are used in observatories around the world.
They track Earth’s increasingly crowded atmosphere, filled with a new crop of private satellites alongside traditional scientific and military ones.
“Tracking them all requires tools,” Eventech chief operations officer Pavels Razmajevs said.
Eventech’s engineers said that they use analogue parts as much as possible, mainly because microchips take nanoseconds to compute the signal, which is too long for incoming measurements ranging in picoseconds.
While these timers are used for calculations on Earth, a different appliance for space missions is being developed in another corner of the same laboratory to track planetary objects from a moving space probe.
“There is no GPS data coverage available on other planets, so you have to take your own precision ranging with you,” Pulkstenis said.
Developing devices for space would be a complex task, but one Eventech’s engineers are relishing.
“Our updated technology has to withstand extreme temperatures in space and extreme cosmic radiation,” Pulkstenis said. “It’s a fun challenge.”
A senior UN official has said he is “alarmed” that a peaceful Australian climate protester has been jailed for 15 months — and refused bail before her appeal — amid global outrage at her “disproportionate” punishment. On Friday, Deanna “Violet” Coco was sentenced to 15 months in prison for blocking a single lane of traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April in a protest staged to draw attention to the global climate emergency. “I am alarmed at a NSW court’s prison term against climate protestor Deanna Coco and refusal to grant bail until a March 2023 appeal hearing, ” UN Special
SECOND ATTEMPT: An overhaul of the criminal code is expected this month, after a similar move was in 2019 stymied by large-scale protests in the Muslim-majority country The Indonesian parliament is this month expected to pass a new criminal code that would penalize sex outside marriage with a punishment of up to one year in jail, officials have said. The legislative overhaul would also ban insulting the Indonesian president or state institutions, and expressing any views counter to the country’s state ideology. Cohabitation before marriage is also banned. Decades in the making, the new criminal code is expected to be passed on Dec. 15, Indonesian Deputy Minister of Justice Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej said. “We’re proud to have a criminal code that’s in line with Indonesian values,” he told Reuters
CARROT-AND-STICK: Authorities tightened control over virtual private networks, which protesters used to access banned non-Chinese news and social media apps Chinese authorities have initiated the highest “emergency response” level of censorship, according to leaked directives, including a crackdown on virtual private networks (VPNs) and other methods of bypassing online censorship after unprecedented protests demonstrated widespread public frustration with the “zero COVID” policy. The crackdown, including the tracking and questioning of protesters, comes alongside the easing of pandemic restrictions in an apparent carrot-and-stick approach to an outpouring of public grievances. During an extraordinary week in China, protests against “zero COVID” restrictions included criticism of the authoritarian rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) — which was further highlighted by the death of
EASING RESTRICTIONS: China has not approved any foreign COVID-19 vaccines and is opting for those produced domestically, the US Director of National Intelligence said Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is unwilling to accept Western vaccines despite the challenges China is facing with COVID-19, and recent protests could affect his personal standing in the Chinese Communist Party, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Saturday. Although China’s daily COVID-19 cases are near all-time highs, some cities are taking steps to loosen testing and quarantine rules after Xi’s “zero COVID” policy triggered a sharp economic slowdown and public unrest. Despite the social and economic impact of the virus, Xi “is unwilling to take a better vaccine from the West, and is instead relying on a vaccine