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Environmental disaster satellites
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A rocket has been launched from Kazakhstan carrying two British-built satellites which will help monitor natural disasters. The UK-DMC2 and Deimos-1 spacecraft will join four platforms already in the sky that together form the Disaster Monitoring Constellation.

The network obtains rapid pictures of areas struck by natural calamities - such as floods, earthquakes and fire. The imagery is used by governments and aid agencies to co-ordinate relief. The two satellites headed for orbit aboard a Dnepr rocket which was launched from Baikonur cosmodrome, Russia's Strategic Space Troops said.

The Dnepr, a converted Soviet-era SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile, was also carrying four other foreign satellites, including the United Arab Emirates' first space platform, known as DubaiSat-1.

The British built satellites were launched onboard a Dnepr rocket in Kazakhstan

"After a major disaster, the first thing you need to do is supply the relief workers with an up-to-date map," explained Philip Davies, from manufacturers Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). "If there's been a big flood, there will be landslides, roads will have been washed away and bridges will be down. So you need a new map that shows you how to get around the area; and it's the satellite imagery that helps you do that."

UK-DMC2, as the name suggests, is Britain's second contribution to the constellation. Deimos-1 is owned by a Spanish imaging company. The pair joins orbital assets that belong to Algeria, China and Nigeria (a Turkish satellite is no longer operational after finishing its mission). The spacecraft picture the Earth at resolutions between 4m and 32m, across an ultra-wide 600km-plus swath.

When they fly over their home territories, the satellites acquire a range of data for domestic use - everything from urban planning to monitoring locust swarms. But when the platforms fly across the rest of the globe, they gather imagery which is pooled and sold on to commercial users. Every so often, however, a major disaster will strike some part of the globe and the DMC constellation will be tasked with gathering emergency pictures as fast as possible.

Recent deployments have included the Australian bushfires in February this year, and after the major cyclone that hit Burma in May 2008. "The biggest use of the DMC was after the Asian tsunami is 2004," said Mr Davies. "We used the fact that it's a constellation and can cover very wide swaths to image the entire Indian Ocean coastline. "Other satellites may have been able to deploy high resolutions at particular locations, but we were the only system that could cover the entire coastline at a reasonable resolution."

The UK-DMC2 platform carries some improvements over the previous DMC satellites, including an enhanced camera sensor to deliver better ground resolution, and X-band transmitters that will enable the spacecraft to download data 10 times as fast as its orbital cousins.

The 96kg, 60cm cube is also carrying a student experiment called Poise, which was developed by pupils at Shrewsbury School, in Shropshire. The experiment will measure variations in the ionosphere - the outermost layer of the atmosphere.

These variations can affect the accuracy and safety of satellite navigation (sat-nav) systems. SSTL is famous for producing the very first spacecraft for Europe's forthcoming sat-nav system, Galileo.

 
7 potential flashpoints due to climate change
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Lake Victoria,

AfricaTalk of war between Kenya and Uganda has recently caused the world to take notice. The dispute is over a tiny, fishing-rich island in Lake Victoria. The one-acre island would hardly be worth fighting over were it not for the effects of climate change, which have pitted already discordant ethnic groups and countries against one another. Environmental damage has worsened a continent-wide water-supply problem, leading to droughts and famine.

Central Asia

The already volatile states of central Asia will experience above-average warming due to climate change. As mountain glaciers continue to melt, water-supply problems are likely to combine with existing conflicts over energy resources and social issues to create the possibility of widespread violence. Many of these formerly Soviet states could collapse, especially with the heightened tensions brought about by war in Afghanistan and the increasingly precocious aspirations of Iran

Sahel Region,

AfricaIn Sudan, climate change has already led to increased competition over natural resources, one of the many causes of the crisis in Darfur. These resources are expected to become even scarcer, which would likely cause crises like Darfur to be replicated around the country, with varying degrees of seriousness. The entire Sahel region of Africa is one vast "marginal situation,"

Kashmir

Climate change has already affected both rainfall and snowfall patterns in Kashmir, the volatile state that lies between India and Pakistan, and is fiercely contested by both nuclear-armed nations. According to an Action Aid India report, "the once rich paddy growing fields in Kashmir are transforming into arid stretches resulting in a 40 percent drop in food production" — a deficit that could well reach 60 percent before 2020.

Western China

Increasing droughts and heat waves will worsen desertification and water scarcity in many parts of China. Western China, much of which is already desert, also happens to be home to the country's most volatile ethnic minorities, many of them Muslim Uighurs. The Xinjiang border province has 8.5 million Uighurs and, according to Der Spiegel, "is second only to Tibet as a source of trouble for Beijing."

Bangladesh

With glacial retreat in the Himalayas endangering the clean water supply of one of the world's most densely populated areas, climate change is expected to hit the Indian subcontinent with particular severity. In Bangladesh especially, changes in the annual monsoon season, along with devastating sea-level rises and an increase in cyclones, could raise social tensions to a level that undermines an already unstable government

Southern Africa

Much of southern Africa is desperately poor and climate change conditions could push struggling states to collapse. This could create an untenable refugee situation, resulting in armed conflict as relocating peoples are oppressed, either by existing militaries or by xenophobic local populations. Food security in southern Africa is already an issue due to unprecedented droughts, which have forced countries to import massive amounts of food. 

 

 
Lunar solution to Earths energy ?
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As the Earth's natural resources gradually dwindle, some scientists believe the moon could prove a gold mine for future generations. Forty years after American Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, and as the United States prepares to return astronauts to Earth's nearest neighbor by 2020, it remains an object of fascination and curiosity. 

Part of the goal of once again returning to our only satellite, and establishing bases there, is to learn more about its hidden natural resources. "The moon still has a great deal of scientific information left to be discovered that relates directly to ... our understanding of the history of the Earth and early history of other planets," according to geologist Harrison Schmitt . 

Schmitt landed on the moon in 1972 aboard the Apollo 17, the last manned mission to ever touch down on the lunar surface. He is among an elite group of 12 Americans who are the only people to have walked on the moon. Among the 382 kilos (842 pounds) of rocks and lunar soil brought back by astronauts from the moon during six Apollo missions is a rock that scientists call "genesis," which dates back to around 4.5 million years ago, about the time when the solar system began. 

The moon, which has virtually no atmosphere, is effectively a geological blank slate for scientists because it has not had the contact with water and air that has changed the Earth's surface. "One reason to go back to the moon is to find out whether there is anything of value to be done there ... If the answer is yes, you can do economically valuable things and use local resources," said John Logsdon, a curator at Washington's National Air and Space Museum. 

America's new lunar program, dubbed Constellation, was launched in 2004 with the intention of establishing a forward operating station for astronauts as well as to seek evidence of water beneath the moon's ground ice. President Barack Obama has appointed a commission to review the program's cost and goals, but the launch last month of two preparatory lunar modules suggests it is likely to proceed in some form. 

Several other countries, including China and Russia, have announced their ambitions to send missions to the moon, which is 384,400 kilometers (238,855 miles) from Earth -- about a four-day trip by space shuttle. "I think you will see at least Antarctic-like scientific outposts and maybe even larger facilities on the moon, with people spending long durations of time there," Logsdon said. Schmitt, a former astronaut, noted that the moon's soil is rich in helium-3, which comes from the outer layer of the sun and is blown around the solar system by solar winds. 

The element is rarely found on Earth, unlike on the moon, where it is heavily accumulated because it is pushed away by the Earth's magnetic poles. 

Helium-3 is highly sought for nuclear fusion, and though the technology is still in its infancy, the element "will ultimately be quite valuable on Earth," Schmitt said. "It's not the only solution to the accelerating demand for energy that we are going to see on Earth, but it's certainly one of the major potential solutions to that demand." Reserves of helium-3 on the moon are in the order of a million tons, according to some estimates, and just 25 tons could serve to power the European Union and United States for a year. 

The moon is also an ideal location for astronauts to prepare and train for long missions into space, including to Mars, according to NASA. "Lunar exploration will allow us to test technologies, systems, flight operation and exploration techniques that will reduce the risk and cost of potential future human missions to asteroids, Mars and beyond," the U.S. space agency said. 

 
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