The World This Week

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The World This Week
The new DART Mission: A new era of planetary defence

  GP Team

TWTW#184, 02 October 2022, Vol. 4, No. 33
 

Ankit Singh


DART Mission: From the age of mapping and navigating the solar system to the era of planetary defence
 
What happened?
On 26 September, as part of the planetary defence testing method, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a spacecraft designed to smash into an asteroid, collided with an asteroid categorized as a Near-Earth Object. The target of the spacecraft was Dimorphos, which is 11 million kilometres away, orbiting a larger asteroid Didymos, in a binary system. DART spacecraft, weighing around 600 kg and travelling at a speed of 22,000 kilometer per hour, collided with Dimorphos to achieve a kinetic impact as part of humanity’s first-ever planetary defence research. DART managed to alter the orbit of Dimorphos by almost a minute.
 
On 29 September, the Hubble Space Telescope and Webb Space telescope confirmed the alteration by observing plumes of material streaming away from the binary system consisting of Dimorphos. In visible light the impact created collision of DART increased the brightness of the binary system by three times, confirming a successful kinetic impact. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said: “DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all.”

What is the background?
First, practising planetary defence. Astronomers estimate that there are about 1,000 near-Earth asteroids close to a half-mile wide and larger and big enough to cause a global disaster if they struck the Earth. About 95 per cent of these large asteroids have been identified. In contrast, it is predicted that there are roughly 25,000 near-Earth asteroids that are 500 feet wide or larger, but only about a third of these asteroids have been found. Dimorphos which poses no threat to Earth was used like a test to achieve a desired deflection in the orbit.
 
Second, feeding the computation of space generated kinetic impact from the back end.  The objective for DART was also to be able to observe the post-impact changes and effects in the binary system, and train the computer-generated simulations of similar possible kinetic impacts. All models of sub-solar systems can be observed and predicted mathematically, DART would be the first ever evidence of real-time data on recording and observing the kinetic impact. Mathematics and computer science will now have a real-time template to compute and learn from raw data in post-impact assessment and effects as well.
 
Third, the space mission was a proof and culmination of the most sophisticated technologies. As part of inter-agency planetary defence, it carried, a DRACO Camera, used for optical navigation to determine and measure the geologic context as DART gained on the Dimorphos, SMART Nav (Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real-Time Navigation) which took control of DART in the last part of the journey, and NEXT–C (NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster–Commercial), an ion thruster and lastly, Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA).

What does it mean?
The success of the mission demonstrates NASA’s ability in low-cost space missions in planetary science. NASA has embarked on planetary science experiments which entail less cost and within scope of time affordability. DART is the first ever humanity’s stray into planetary defence research and looks into the impact of planetary defence in the terrain of gravity of systems. 
 
The history of the mission and coordination showed that the US contributed and led the mission on its part. The efficiency and technology demonstration has placed NASA into domains of research from which space agencies of other nations will pick up. It might seem like a technological (arms) race, but it will likely make the planet more secure.


Also, in the news... 
Regional round-ups

East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Yuan drops by 15 per cent to lowest value in 14 years  
On 28 September, the value of the Chinese Yuan fell to a 14 year low against the dollar to 7.2301. Despite the Central Bank’s efforts to restrain the fall in the value of the yuan, the currency fell by 15 per cent, lowest since January 2008. Although the fall in the value benefits some individuals by making the Chinese goods cheaper abroad, it greatly impacts the Communist Party of China’s efforts of boosting the weaking economy.
 
China: The US Vice President accuses condemns Beijing’s actions in the Pacific
On 28 September, the US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Japan and addressed the soldiers from the largest overseas US Navy installation. In her speech, Harris condemned China’s disturbing actions in the Pacific and pledged to deepen the unofficial ties with Taiwan. She said: “China has flexed its military and economic might to coerce and intimidate its neighbours. And we have witnessed disturbing behaviour in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea, and most recently, provocations across the Taiwan Strait.” The statement by Harris comes days after the US administration promised to defend Taiwan in case of an unprecedented attack.
 
China: Emergency Response Agency releases report tracing cyberattacks back to the US
On 27 September, China’s National Computer Virus Emergency Response Centre published an investigation report which supported the country’s claims that the US National Security Agency conducted thousands of attacks on the Northwestern Polytechnical University. The report took technical assistance from European and Southeast Asian countries and traced the features, attack weapons and paths used in the cyberattack. According to the report: “They have found that those attacks originated from the NSA-affiliated Office of Tailored Access Operation (TAO), which had exposed its own technical loopholes and operational missteps during the attack.” Over 41 types of cyber weapons have been used in the recent attack on the University.
 
Japan: Hundreds of overseas dignitaries attend Shinzo Abe’s state funeral
On 27 September, the government conducted a state funeral for Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Nippon Budokan venue in Tokyo. It was attended by 700 foreign representatives, including 50 former and current leaders. The US Vice-President Kamala Harris, Prime Ministers of India, Australia and Canada: Narendra Modi, Anthony Albanese and Justin Trudeau, and the UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly were some of the few dignitaries who attended the funeral. Shinzo Abe was assassinated on 08 July 2022. The funeral occurred amidst controversies surrounding Abe. His involvement with the ultra-conservative group Unification Church, his policies in his administration, the cost of the funeral being JPY 1.7 billion, and the need for a state funeral were some of the controversies behind Abe. Japan’s Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, defended the funeral stating that it was to honour the Prime Minister of Japan, who served the longest since World War II and the one who introduced changed Japan economically and defensively through his policies.

North Korea: Pyongyang launches ballistic missiles for the second time in a week
On 28 September, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Sunan area of Pyongyang into the East Sea, the second in a week. The missile was launched on the eve of US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the missile travelled a distance of 360 kilometres after reaching the maximum altitude of 30 kilometres. The missile launch displayed force against the US-South Korea joint military drill. North Korea launched six ballistic missiles during the time of South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol’s administration till now.
 
North Korea: Trilateral anti-submarine drill to counter Pyongyang held by the US, Japan and South Korea
On 30 September, Japan, South Korea and the US held a military drill for the first time in five years. The anti-submarine training was conducted to help against North Korea’s submarine launch missile systems (SLMS) if the threat arises. The US nuclear-powered aircraft USS Ronald Reagan was involved in the drill along with Japanese and South Korean warships. It taught ways to fight against missiles launched underwater, which are harder to detect in advance. The trilateral training was a one-day event off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.
 
Philippines: Israeli industry supplies first battery of Rafael/IAI Spyder air defense systems
On 27 September, according to a report in ‘armyrecognition’, Philippines received its first ever Spyder air defence system. The deal was disclosed in July 2022 in which Philippines declared that it will buy three batteries from Israeli industrial giant. The Spyder ("Surface-to-air Python and Derby") is a short and medium-range mobile air defense system. The Spyder is a low-level, quick-reaction surface-to-air missile system capable of engaging aircraft, helicopters, unmanned air vehicles, drones, and precision-guided munitions. 

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Saudi Arabia: Crown Prince named Prime Minister
On 27 September, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was named the Kingdom’s Prime Minister, through a royal decree ordered by King Salman. The decree reaffirmed all other senior ministers in their posts- the finance minister, investment minister, and foreign minister. The decree is a confirmation of a steady transfer of power from the hands of King Salman to the Crown Prince, who has been the de facto ruler of the country.
 
Iran: Iran and IAEA restart stalled talks to revive JCPOA
On 27 September, the talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) restarted over an issue of a nuclear material found at nuclear sites in Iran. The issue has been the centre of stalled talks on the restoration of the JCPOA. The talks followed a meeting between the Director General of IAEA Rafael Grossi and Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami at Vienna.
 
Lebanon: Parliament fails to elect President
On 29 September, the Lebanese Parliament failed to elect the President, the head of the state, replacing the current President Michel Aoun whose term ends on 31 October 2022. The Lebanese Hezbollah, Shiite Amal Movement and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement casted blank ballots, amounting to 63 of 122 lawmakers present. The Parliament Speaker said that he would call a new session once there was a consensus on a candidate. The Lebanese political system dictates that the head of the state must be a Maronite Christian. 
 
Sao Tome and Principe: Oppositions win the legislative elections
On 27 September, the National Electoral Commission’s (CEN) preliminary data showed the Independent Democratic Action (ADI), the opposition party, led by former Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada, won the legislative elections in Sao Tome and Principe. According to the CEN data, ADI won the elections with a total of 36,549 votes. The Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe\Social Democratic Party (MLSTP\PSD) led by the current Prime Minister Jorge Bom Jesus came second with 25,531 votes. Patrice Trovoada, the former Prime Minister of the country and the leader of ADI claimed the victory with majority seats, announcing that he will head the government.
 
Tunisia: Hundreds protest against inflation and food shortage
On 25 September, hundreds of Tunisians took to the streets of capital city Tunis to demonstrate against the rising inflation and food shortages. Images and videos of people scrambling at supermarkets for essential items like sugar, milk and rice were abuzz on social media. In a suburb of Tunis, protests were triggered after a fruit seller died by suicide following the police's seizure of his weighing machine for selling his products without permission. This resembled the self-immolation of a vegetable vendor in December 2010, which triggered the Arab Spring in 2011.
 
Burkina Faso: Army captain overthrows coup leader Damiba
On 30 September, army captain Ibrahim Traore declared the overthrow of Lt Col Paul-Henri Damiba who had led the military coup in January. Traore justified the decision claiming that Damiba was unsuccessful in addressing the Islamist insurgency in Burkina Faso. Traore further announced the closure of borders and suspension of political activities. The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States condemned the development, terming it unconstitutional. The development comes after 11 soldiers were killed in an attack on a convoy in the country's north on 26 September.

Europe and The Americas This Week
Ukraine: President Putin declares the annexation of four Ukrainian regions
On 30 September, Russian President Putin signed off the annexation of the four partially-occupied regions of Ukraine- southern Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, and eastern Donetsk and Luhansk. Calling on Ukraine to lay down their arms and come to the negotiating table, Putin stated in his 40-minute speech, “People living in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson are becoming our citizens forever.” The four proxies joined hands and chanted "Russia! Russia! Russia!,” after signing the annexation accords. The Russian state Duma is expected to ratify the treaties during the coming week after which, the four regions will formally become a part of Russia.

The annexation is a major escalation in the seven months of the war. Ukraine and its allies of the West have announced that they would never recognise the annexation and called it a blatant violation of the sovereignty of Kyiv. On 30 September, the US announced "severe" new sanctions on Russia after Biden stated that it condemns the Russian “fraudulent annexation” of sovereign Ukraine territory. The White House announced that the US along with the support from G7 allies on imposing swift and severe costs on Russia, and imposing costs on any country that supports the Kremlin's attempt to incorporate the Ukrainian regions.
 
Bulgaria: Opinion polls for the upcoming election released
On 29 September, the opinion polls indicated the political flux of Bulgaria with a prediction of a coalition government involving more than six parties. With a 24 per cent chance, the Citizens of European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) leads in the opinion polls, though that this is not enough to establish a majority. GERB is led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and his scandal, and corruption-filled tenure is the reason for Bulgaria’s political crisis. This is the fourth election in 18 months and was called after Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and his government were ousted in June 2022. The people of Bulgaria are now asked to choose a government that will lead the country through the harsh winter and be able to face issues such as inflation, high energy prices and the Ukraine war. 
 
Europe: Commission imposes eight sets of sanctions on Russia
On 28 September, the European Commission proposed the eighth package of sanctions against Russia. The proposal comes as a response to the escalation of Ukraine crisis, partly caused by Russia’s annexation attempts in the occupied regions. As per the proposal, the Commission will publish the ‘legal Basis’ for an oil price cap. As part of the package, additional Russian products such as aviation items, or electronic components and specific chemical substances will be banned which could cause EUR seven billion loss in revenue for Russian economy. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the referendums an “...illegal attempt to grab land and change international borders by force,” and said that the EU was determined that Russia would feel the consequences of its actions. 

Sweden and Denmark: Gas leak to continue for a week in the Nord Stream pipeline
On 27 September, new leaks were identified in the Nord Stream pipeline 1 and 2. According to the Danish and Swedish authorities, underwater attacks in the Baltic Sea had resulted in damaging the pipelines leading to leakage of gas. They have predicted the leak to continue for “at least a week.” Maritime agencies of Sweden and Denmark have issued fresh instructions for ships in this area and have also included warnings to aircraft flying over the Danish and Swedish economic zones in the Baltic Sea. Speculations have risen that Russia caused this leak by initiating underground explosions as a form of aggression towards the EU and intended as sabotage for the upcoming winter. While it is too early to say what caused these leaks, these speculations are not being dismissed by European leaders as they are of the view that multiple leaks could not be a coincidence.

Italy: Far-right coalition wins the snap elections
On 25 September, Italy’s general elections were conducted and amongst the four competing parties, the Right alliance emerged as the clear winner with a majority in the Chamber of Duties and Deputies of the Senate. The Right alliance was headed by Giorgia Meloni from the Brothers of Italy, joined by League, Forza-Italia, and Nio Moderati parties winning 237 seats in the lower house and 115 seats in the upper house. Whereas the left alliance led by Enrico Letta from the Democratic Party along with the Green/left alliance, Più Europa, and Impegno Civico were able to gain only 85 and 44 seats respectively, in both houses.
 
Russia: Finland joins Baltic States in restricting Russian tourists
On 29 September, Finland announced it would be closing its borders to Russian tourists. Other than Belarus, Finland was the only state amongst those sharing major borders with Russia still allowing Russian tourists. However, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that Russia’s recent announcement of conscription which resulted in a surge of Russians at border crossings impacted the decision to ban tourists greatly. To visit Finland, Russians will now have to apply in advance and provide an invitation from personal or business contacts.
 
Moldova: Anti-government protests reported in Chisinau
On 24 September, several thousand people gathered in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau to protest against President Maia Sandu’s pro-western government. The protestors set up tents in front of Sandu’s official residence and demanded her resignation. Increasing gas prices and rising inflation in the country has been the main trigger for the protest. The protestors say that instead of lobbying for EU membership, the government should have negotiated a better gas deal with Russia, who is Moldova’s main supplier. Moldova is not the only country where protests have broken out because of a cost-of-living crisis. Earlier, similar protests were reported in the Czech Republic. Around 70,000 protestors took to the streets to protest against the energy crisis and demanded the government's resignation.
 
Cuba: Referendum paves way for same sex family laws
On 27 September, about two third of the country’s residents votes in favor of approving reforms in a new Family Code, which will also allow surrogate pregnancies and give gay couples the right to adopt children. Mariela Castro, the daughter of former Cuban president Raul Castro, has openly advocated through a government-funded center for improved rights for gays, lesbians and transgender people. But the push for greater equality faced stiff opposition from both outside and from within the Cuban government.
 
Haiti: UN envoy warns of an impending humanitarian crisis
On 26 September, speaking to UNGA, Haiti’s envoy, Helen La Lime warned that “an economic crisis, a gang crisis and a political crisis have converged into a humanitarian catastrophe”. The situation has worsened amid widespread looting and protests that followed Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s announcement of fuel price hikes on 11 September. Meanwhile, World Food Program (WFP) Deputy Executive Director Valerie Guarnieri said food insecurity was expected to increase in Haiti this year, “surpassing the record high of 4.5 million people estimated to face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, including 1.3 million people in emergency.
 
Venezuela: Seven jailed Americans released in return for nephews of the President
On 1 October, President Nicholas Maduro initiated a goodwill measure of prisoner swap. The swap of the Americans on Saturday, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, is the largest trade of detained citizens ever carried out by the Biden administration. The deal follows months of back-channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other US officials. Separately, Simon-Bolivar Bridge, connecting Venezuela and Columbia was reopened on the basis of a popular support from people along both side of the border. A defence official at the US Embassy told Al Jazeera: “There is a high level of concern within the US government regarding the current president’s embrace of the new left in Latin America and the tacit rejection of defence cooperation with the United States.”
 


About the authors
Ankit Singh, Harini Madhusudan and Rashmi Ramesh are PhD Scholars in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Avishka Ashok, Apoorva Sudhakar, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishma Banerjee, Sai Pranav, and Anu Maria are Research Associates at NIAS.

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