Last Year Marked The End Of An Era In Spaceflight—Here’s What We’re Watching Next

This past year was a momentous one in spaceflight, bringing to a close many of the most significant storylines that have dominated this industry in the last 10 to 15 years.

Consider the state of play in 2010: A handful of large government space agencies controlled spaceflight activities. NASA was still flying the venerable space shuttle with no clear plan for deep space exploration. The James Webb Space Telescope remained in development hell. Russia was the world’s dominant launch provider, putting as many rockets into space that year as the United States and China combined. At the time, China’s longest human spaceflight was four days. Much has changed in the last decade or so.

Read more: arstechnica

Virgin Orbit’s First Satellite Launch From British Soil Fails

Virgin Orbit said its first attempt to launch satellites from Britain using its LauncherOne system failed to reach orbit as planned. However, the company started by Richard Branson in 2017 said the flight accomplished enough to be considered, “an important step forward.”

The company said that its custom Boeing 747, called Cosmic Girl, took off from Spaceport Cornwall, carried the LauncherOne rocket aloft, and successfully released it. The rocket fired its engines and flew at hypersonic speed into space, separated from its first stage, and began to ignite the second-stage engine.

Read more at: flyingmag

Virgin Orbit Reports ‘Anomaly’ In Satellite Launch From UK

A mission to launch the first satellites into orbit from Western Europe suffered an “anomaly” Tuesday, Virgin Orbit said.

The U.S.-based company attempted its first international launch on Monday, using a modified jumbo jet to carry one of its rockets from Cornwall in southwestern England to the Atlantic Ocean where the rocket was released. The rocket was supposed to take nine small satellites for mixed civil and defense use into orbit.

But about two hours after the plane took off, the company reported that the mission encountered a problem.

Read more at: AP news


Defunct NASA Satellite Reenters

A defunct NASA satellite, launched nearly four decades ago, reentered late Jan. 8 with a very small risk to people on the ground.

NASA said Jan. 6 that the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS) satellite, launched in 1984 and shut down in 2005, will reenter Jan. 8. At the time, NASA estimated a reentry at 6:40 p.m. Eastern, plus or minus 17 hours, based on data from the U.S. Space Force.

Read more at: spacenews

On The Crowded Autobahns Of Near Earth Space, How Can We Prevent Bingles When Satellites Merge?

Would you hesitate if it cost tens of thousands of dollars every time you tapped the brakes on your car to avoid a collision on a freeway? What if switching lanes to avoid traffic cost the same? Now image you have to control a satellite merge?

On Earth, the price of safe driving can be measured in cents and minutes, and getting the tyres and brake pads checked out during an annual service.

In space, it can be in the tens of thousands of dollars and hours – if not days – of inconvenience. And because fuel is finite in space, once a limited number of moves is used up, your multimillion-dollar asset becomes a liability.

Read more at: cosmos magazine

NASA’s SDO Captured A Strong Solar Flare Erupting From Sun

NASA‘s Solar Dynamics Observatory — SDO — has been our unblinking eye on the Sun. It continually studies how solar activity is created and drives space weather.

Recently, the spacecraft has captured an image of the event: Sun emitting a strong solar flare, peaking at 7:57 p.m. EDT on Jan. 5, 2023. This flare is categorized as an X1.2 flare. The X-class designation designates the strongest flares, and the number gives more details regarding its strength.

Read more at: techexplorist

Falling US Satellite Sparks Emergency Phone Alert In This Country

South Koreans, used to getting mobile phone alerts warning of earthquakes or Covid outbreaks, received a more unusual notification Monday morning, cautioning of danger from above.

The country’s Ministry of Science and ICT sent a nationwide alert that “some debris from a falling US satellite may crash near the Korean peninsula” at around lunchtime. “Please be careful when going out during that time.”

The ministry subsequently said in a statement that the retired spacecraft – NASA’s Earth Radiation Budget Satellite – was “believed to have passed over the Korean Peninsula, and no special damage has been reported so far.”

Read more at: NDTV


Iridium and Qualcomm Collaborate to Support Satellite Messaging in Smartphones

Iridium Communications Inc. today announced it has entered into an agreement with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. to enable satellite messaging and emergency services in smartphones powered by Snapdragon Mobile Platforms. Qualcomm Technologies’ new Snapdragon Satellite solution is supported by the fully operational Iridium satellite constellation. Emergency messaging using Snapdragon Satellite is expected to debut starting in the second half of 2023 in premium Android smartphones launched in select regions.

Read more at: prnewswire

SpaceX Flexes Might With Simultaneous Starship, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Dragon Operations

On January 9th, SpaceX demonstrated the breadth of its capabilities by simultaneously operating two orbital Dragons, four rockets, and four launch pads. In the afternoon, SpaceX stacked Ship 24 and Super Heavy B7 at Starship’s lone South Texas orbital launch pad. In California, a Falcon 9 rocket was vertical at Vandenberg Space Force Base for SpaceX’s upcoming Starlink 2-4 launch, which will carry the company’s own internet satellites. In Florida, both of SpaceX’s orbital Falcon launch pads were occupied.

Read more at: Teslarati

Rocket Start-Up Fails Attempt To Launch Satellites Off Alaska’s Coast

A rocket operated by a California-based start-up failed near the coast of Alaska Tuesday, marking yet another mishap for companies hoping to offer their services to launch scores of small satellites into orbit.

The privately held ABL Space Systems attempted to launch its RS1 rocket at 1:27 p.m. local time (5:27 p.m. ET) in Alaska. But the company confirmed shortly after that there was an “anomaly,” an aerospace term for an issue or misstep, and the rocket “shut down prematurely.”

Read more at: CNN

Elon Musk Updates Timeline for Starship to Finally Launch to Space

It’s been over a year and a half since we’ve seen a prototype of SpaceX’s next-gen Starship spacecraft fly, with its first flight with a Super Heavy rocket has been perpetually pushed back during that time. 

Musk, who also currently helms Tesla and Twitter, tweeted Saturday that he’s hopeful the first orbital flight of Starship could happen as soon as next month. 

“We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely,” he wrote.

Read more at: CNET

German Space Company Set For Rocket Launch From Shetland

A German space company plans to launch its first rocket from the Shetland Isles later this year.

Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) has signed a multi-year deal with the SaxaVord spaceport, being built in Unst, for the first launch of its satellite-carrying rockets.

After testing at the site in mid-2023, it hopes to launch to a 500km orbit by the end of the year.

A number of rocket-building companies have indicated their desire to use the SaxaVord site, which expects to host its first vertical launch later this year.

Earlier this week, the horizontal launch of a rocket from the wing of a Boeing 747 ended in failure after its second stage suffered an “anomaly”.

Read more at: Insider

Rocket Lab Sets New Launch Window For Electron Rocket Mission

Private spaceflight company Rocket Lab has announced the launch window of its debut Electron rocket mission from US soil. The “Virginia Is For Launch Lovers” mission is set to take off on January 23rd, 2023, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia from 6PM to 8PM ET.

If successful, the mission will deploy three radio frequency monitoring satellites into low orbit for Virginia-based company HawkEye 360, the first of 15 to be deployed by Rocket Lab by 2024. This first mission was initially scheduled to launch in December 2022 but was pushed back due to unfavorable weather conditions.

Read more at: Verge

Even Before Monday’s Launch Failure, Virgin Orbit’s Finances Were Dismal

On Monday night Virgin Orbit’s attempt to launch a rocket from the United Kingdom failed after a problem with the rocket’s second-stage engine.

The US-based launch company did not provide any additional details about the cause of the accident, which led to the loss of nine small satellites on board. In the wake of the failure, officials sought to put a brave face on the mission’s outcome and Virgin Orbit’s future.

“We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process,” Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit’s chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.

Read more at: Arstechnica

Virgin Orbit’s Failed Rocket Seen Crashing Back to Earth in Fiery Video

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl, carrying the LauncherOne rocket, taking off from the UK’s Spaceport Cornwall.

After failing to reach orbit and deliver seven payloads on board, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket fell back to Earth towards its fiery doom. The rocket’s hellish descent was captured on video, revealing the unfortunate journey back from space.

Ramón López, an observer at the Spanish Meteor Network, caught the rocket reentering Earth’s atmosphere from Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa.

Read more at: Yahoo


Astronauts Will Share a Painfully Cramped Space Aboard Future Lunar Space Station

Architects designing the living space for the upcoming lunar Gateway did their best to make it comfortable for astronauts, but technical constraints forced them to create a tiny, noisy corridor with no windows and barely enough room to stand upright.

The European-built international habitat, or I-Hab, is meant to provide living quarters for astronauts on board the Lunar Gateway, a future outpost that will orbit the Moon.

Read more at: Gizmodo

Virgin Orbit, UK Space Agency to Investigate Rocket Launch Failure

Virgin Orbit and the United Kingdom Space Agency have announced they will investigate the loss of a Launcher One rocket during the company’s first historic launch attempt from the United Kingdom.

Virgin Orbit attempted the U.K.’s first-ever orbital launch from Spaceport Cornwall, the U.K.’s first commercial space launch facility, on Monday (Jan. 9). The company’s converted Boeing 747-400 airplane Cosmic Girl took off at 5:02 p.m. EST (2202 GMT)  and carried the Launcher One rocket to an altitude of 35,000 feet (10.6 kilometers). Then, the rocket ignited, successfully reaching space with its first stage and separating about 3.5 minutes into its flight — but shortly after, an anomaly occurred. The rocket’s upper stage and its payload of nine satellites were lost.

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NASA Opens Hatch of Artemis 1 Orion Spacecraft

NASA has started unpacking the Orion spacecraft after its epic moon mission. Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida have opened Orion’s hatch and begun removing payloads that flew to the moon and back aboard the capsule on the Artemis 1 mission. This work will take quite a bit of time. “This week, technicians will extract nine avionics boxes from the Orion, which will subsequently be refurbished for Artemis 2, the first mission with astronauts,” NASA officials wrote in an update (opens in new tab) on Tuesday

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China’s Tianwen-1 Mars Orbiter And Rover Appear To Be In Trouble

The two spacecraft making up China’s first interplanetary mission are both suffering issues, with the rover potentially lost on the surface after winter hibernation.

The Zhurong Mars rover has been hibernating on the Martian surface since May 18 last year and was expected to resume activity in December, around the time of the Spring equinox in the northern hemisphere.

However no announcement of establishing contact with the rover has been made. The South China Morning Post reported Jan. 7, citing sources that do not wish to be named, that teams on Earth have yet to receive a signal from Zhurong.

Read more at: spacenews

UK Meteorite That Fell To Earth Contains Building Blocks For Life

The importance of the UK’s first meteorite in 30 years, collected after being seen falling, has been confirmed with the discovery of amino acids – organic compounds essential for life on Earth. The concentration of amino acids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is not as high as in some other asteroid remnants (just 1.1 and 6.2 parts per million respectively), but that may make the discovery even more interesting.

Read more at: IFL science

How This Airport Was Transformed Into A Spaceport

As Virgin Orbit undertook its latest satellite mission this week — the sixth for the space exploration company — the conditions were a little different from its usual US desert setting. Cosmic Girl, a 747 jumbo jet effectively repurposed as a rocket launcher, took off from the runway of Newquay Airport, towards the far southwest point of the United Kingdom. The airplane then headed out into the Atlantic, south of Ireland, before it launched the rocket, named LauncherOne, dropping it from its left wing. As we now know, the mission didn’t succeed. The rocket went hypersonic and reached space, but failed to make it into orbit. Virgin blamed an “anomaly ending the mission prematurely,” but has yet to say what exactly that was.

Read more at: CNN


NASA Awards Safety, Mission Assurance, Services Contract

NASA has selected Banner Quality Management Inc., of Friendswood, Texas, to provide safety and mission assurance, engineering, and technical services to the agency in various locations across the country.

The Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) Engineering and Technical Services (SETS) contract is a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract line item and has an expected potential value of approximately $39.7 million.

The three-year performance period begins March 1 and is followed by two, one-year options, which would end no later than Feb. 28, 2028.

Read more at: NASA

Roskosmos Seeks Retrieval Of Soyuz Rockets

Struggling with the cascading fallout from Russia’s escalation of the war against Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Roskosmos still works on closing aborted joint projects with its former partners almost a year later.

The largest and, therefore, the most problematic items that Roskosmos has to deal with are the components of Soyuz rockets which are stuck at the European launch site near Kourou in French Guiana. All Soyuz missions from this facility in South America have been cancelled, including the launch of two navigation satellites for the European Galileo constellation, which was scheduled for April 5, 2022. Ironically, these satellites were originally intended to fly on the Ariane-6 rocket, but were re-assigned to Soyuz due to delays with the development of the new-generation European vehicle.

Read more at: Russian spaceweb

NSF And SpaceX Reach Agreement To Reduce Starlink Effects On Astronomy

The National Science Foundation has reached an agreement with SpaceX to mitigate the effects of the company’s second-generation Starlink satellites on astronomy, even as another organization goes to court to block the constellation’s deployment. NSF, which funds operations of several major observatories, announced Jan. 10 that is had completed an astronomy coordination agreement with SpaceX regarding its Gen2 Starlink constellation. The Federal Communications Commission granted a license Dec. 2 to allow SpaceX to deploy a quarter of that 30,000-satellite system while deferring consideration of the rest of the constellation.

Read more at: Spacenews

Europe’s Investment Arm Loans SES 300 Million Euros To Bolster Space Industry

The European Investment Bank (EIB) said Jan. 11 it is lending SES 300 million euros ($323 million) as part of efforts to increase the competitiveness of Europe’s space industry.

The size of the seven-year loan, which the satellite operator said was secured “on attractive financial terms,” is the largest the European Union’s lending arm has provided a Luxembourg-based company in its 65-year history.

The scale of the financing “demonstrates how strategically important the space sector is for the EIB and the European Union,” EIB vice president Kris Peeters said.

Read more at: spacenews

Senators Seek Funding Boost For NASA And NSF Astrophysics Programs

Five senators are asking the White House to add at least $300 million in the next budget proposal for NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support priorities from the astrophysics decadal survey.

The Dec. 21 letter, released Jan. 5 by one of the signatories, Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), asked the directors of the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to include “specific, increased funding” for NASA and NSF astrophysics programs in the fiscal year 2024 budget request under development. That budget is will be released as soon as early February.

Read more at: spacenews

Senate Passes Orbit Debris Cleanup Bill

The Senate passed legislation that would direct NASA to establish a program to remove orbital debris, but supporters of the bill will likely have to try again in the next Congress to enact it.

The Senate passed by unanimous consent late Dec. 21 the Orbital Sustainability, or ORBITS, Act. The bill was introduced by Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, in September. The bill was co-sponsored by the ranking member of the subcommittee, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) along with the chair and ranking member of the full committee, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

Read more at: spacenews


How Elon Musk’s Starlink has Changed Warfare

SPACEX’S STARLINK was designed to provide off-grid high-bandwidth internet access to civilians. But the mega-constellation of satellites has become more famous for its role in Ukraine. In 2022, it became vital to the country’s war effort, revealing the military potential of near-ubiquitous communications. Now, with more companies and countries piling in to build their own mega-constellations, a new space race is on.

Shashank Joshi, The Economist’s defence editor, and Tim Cross, our technology and society editor, examine how the satellites have saved Ukraine and changed warfare.

Read more at: economist

Space Force Official: To Beat China, U.S. Has To Spend Smarter

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall last year rolled out a list of high-priority technologies, including space systems, where the Pentagon intends to pump more funding in order to stay ahead of China. These planned investments offer an unprecedented opportunity to “go after and harness commercial innovation from the space industry,” Col. Eric Felt, director of space architecture and integration, said Jan. 11.

“I have never in my 25 years of service seen the department move so much money so fast toward priorities that the secretary laid out. That’s exciting,” Felt said at the “State of the Space Industrial Base” webinar hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.

Read more at: spacenews

On National Security | Analyzing Intelligence in the Age of ChatGPT

Artificial intelligence had a huge moment in 2022. The chatbot ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI, gained notoriety for its ability to engage in seemingly human-like conversations, sparking curiosity and serious conversations about where this technology is headed.

Applications in national security and space are poised to benefit from this new age of AI, says technologist Patrick Biltgen, principal at the defense and intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

Read more at: spacenews

Space Force Weighing New Approach For Selecting National Security Launch Providers

The U.S. Space Force is likely to change how it selects providers of national security launch services and how it awards contracts, a program official told SpaceNews.

The changes would affect the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 3 procurement. United Launch Alliance and SpaceX won the Phase 2 competition in 2020, and their current contracts will be re-competed in 2024.

NSSL acquires launch services for heavy and medium lift class national security satellites.

Read more at: spacenews

U.S. Space Force Chief: Russia’s Missteps In Ukraine Serve As A Cautionary Tale

Before they attacked Ukraine, Russia’s armed forces were viewed as one of the most powerful in the world. But the conflict exposed that as a myth.

The lesson for the U.S. Space Force is that whenever it has to fight the next conflict, it can’t be caught unprepared, said Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, U.S. chief of space operations. 

The U.S. military has the world’s most advanced satellites and hardware but space forces for decades have operated in a relatively benign environment, Saltzman noted, and have not trained for a potential conflict where satellites could become military targets.

Read more at: spacenews

U.S. Space Force Considers A Second NOAA Weather Satellite

The U.S. Space Force is holding discussions with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about replacing a geostationary weather satellite over the Indian Ocean.

In 2020, the U.S. Air Force began collecting weather imagery with the former GOES-13, a Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite NOAA launched in 2006 and retired in 2018. That satellite, renamed Electro-Optical Infrared Weather System-Geostationary (EWS-G), provides imagery in support of U.S. Central Command.

Read more at: spacenews


China Kicks Off 2023 Campaign With Launch Doubleheader

With two launches now under its belt, China joins the US as the second nation to have launched to orbit in 2023. First, the Shijian 23 payload lifted off at 22:00 UTC on Sunday onboard a Chang Zheng 7A from Wenchang. Just seven hours later, Gushenxing-1 carried the “Give Me Five” rideshare mission to orbit from Jiuquan.

The Shijian mission lifted off and was confirmed as a success after launch — a common occurrence for Chinese missions. Since the launch occurred from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center (WSLC), live streams were available to watch this launch live as the launch area is visible from a public beach.

Read more at: NASA spaceflight

SpaceX And NASA Target Crew-6 Astronaut Launch In Mid-February

NASA’s next crewed mission is approaching launch date.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting mid-February for the launch of the next commercial crew mission to the International Space Station (ISS). A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry a crew of four to orbit aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavor, where the spacecraft will rendezvous and dock with the ISS for approximately six months of research and station maintenance. 

Read more at:

Second Potentially Habitable Earth-Size Planet Found Orbiting Nearby Star

A NASA mission has spotted an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting a small star about 100 light-years away.

The planet, named TOI 700 e, is likely rocky and 95% the size of our world. The celestial body is the fourth planet to be detected orbiting the small, cool M dwarf star TOI 700. All of the exoplanets were found by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS mission.

Read more at: CNN

Crew Rescue Missions Scheduled Following MS-22 Leak

NASA and Roscosmos have officially declared Soyuz MS-22 not safe to fly for crew and a rescue strategy has been developed with an Official Statement from NASA and Roscosmos Expected on January 11th.

Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopiev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA Astronaut Francisco Rubio launched on Soyuz MS-22 on September 21, 2022 at 13:54 UTC from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

On December 15th, 2022 at 12:45 UTC a “visible stream of flakes” was observed emanating from the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft at the same time as a loss of pressure was alerted in the external radiator cooling loop. After multiple days of inspection using the stations robotic arms, preliminary information is something left a 0.8mm (0.031in) diameter hole in the external cooler radiator located on the service module of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft. Roscosmos believes the leak in the radiator occurred due to external mechanical damage.

Read more at: tlpnetwork

Contrails Are A Problem For Aviation — But There Could Be An Easy Solution

On a clear day, with the right weather conditions, a portion of the sky busy with commercial flights can become riddled with contrails, the wispy ice clouds that form as jet aircraft fly by. They might look innocuous, but they’re not — contrails are surprisingly bad for the environment. A study that looked at aviation’s contribution to climate change between 2000 and 2018 concluded that contrails create 57% of the sector’s warming impact, significantly more than the CO2 emissions from burning fuel. They do so by trapping heat that would otherwise be released into space.

Read more at: CNN

Here’s The Story Of A Lunar Image That Doesn’t Look Remarkable, But Really Is

After launching on a Falcon 9 rocket in August 2022, the Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter slid into orbit around the Moon last month. This was South Korea’s first lunar probe, and among its chief objectives was surveying the polar regions of the Moon for resources such as water ice.

One of the six instruments carried by the half-ton satellite was a hyper-sensitive camera built by NASA called ShadowCam. The camera was designed with maximum sensitivity to light, such that it could provide images of permanently shadowed regions of the poles—which is to say, capture images of things that are inherently very dark.

Read more at: arstechnica

NASA Moon Camera Illuminates Secret Details of Shadowy Crater

The moon doesn’t have a Pink Floyd dark side, but it does have some permanently shadowed regions that are difficult to photograph in detail. These enigmatic areas will soon be giving up their secrets. On Monday, Arizona State University shared a first look from ShadowCam, a camera capable of peering through the lunar darkness.

ShadowCam’s evocative new view shows part of Shackleton crater near the moon’s South Pole. ASU geologist Mark Robinson, ShadowCam principal investigator, described what we’re seeing in a statement on Monday. The upper part of the image shows the base of a steep wall while the rest illuminates the crater floor. A thin line extending down from the top is a track left behind by a rolling boulder.

Read more at: CNET

Missing The Moment History Happens: The Media And ‘NewSpace’

More often than not, at the moment when history happens, it’s hard to see. 

While barely showing up in the montages of 2022 run by every media organization on the planet, I believe that last year, this year, and the next few to follow will be seen as the beginning of what the Washington Post calls “The New Space Age.” (Of course, as the guy who coined the term, I prefer “NewSpace Age,” but I’ll take the win.) Ironically, the feature story in those montages was the launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, which, when historians review this period, may well be seen as the last icon of the “Old Space Age.”

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World’s Largest Plane, Stratolaunch’s Roc, Aces 2nd Captive-Carry Test Flight

The world’s largest airplane took to the skies again on Friday (Jan. 13), acing a record-breaking test flight.

Stratolaunch’s Roc carrier plane, which has a wingspan longer than a football field, stayed aloft for six hours above California’s Mojave Desert on Friday — longer than it ever has before. 

It was the ninth test flight for Roc overall and the second on which it hauled Stratolaunch’s Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle aloft. Such “captive carry” tests are laying the groundwork for drop tests with the Talon-A, which the company aims to begin later this year.

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