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China set for historic Mars rover launch


China is making preparations to send its Tianwen-1 Mars rover to the Red Planet.

The rover, which will be China’s first to reach the Martian surface, will be carried into space on a Long March-5 rocket.

The carrier rocket has been moved into position and is due to blast off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in the southern island province of Hainan, in late July or early August, according to scientists involved in the project.

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Citing unofficial estimates, Space.com reports the launch could occur around July 23.

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, a Mars lander is lifted during a test for its hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities at a facility at Huailai in China's Hebei province.

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, a Mars lander is lifted during a test for its hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities at a facility at Huailai in China’s Hebei province.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Tianwen means “questions to heaven” and is the name of a poem by ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan.

“The Tianwen-1 probe, with a mass (including fuel) of about 5 tonnes, comprises an orbiter and a lander/rover composite,” explains the mission’s chief scientist and his team in a recent paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “The orbiter will provide a relay communication link to the rover, while performing its own scientific observations for one Martian year.”

A Martian year lasts 687 days.

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The probe is expected to reach Mars seven months after its launch. “The lander/rover will perform a soft landing on the Martian surface some 2–3 months after arrival of the spacecraft, with a candidate landing site in Utopia Planitia,” the chief scientist explains in the paper. In 1976, NASA’s Viking 2 Lander also landed in Utopia Planitia.

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, the Mars lander's hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities are tested at a facility at Huailai in China's Hebei province.

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, the Mars lander’s hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities are tested at a facility at Huailai in China’s Hebei province.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

In 2011, China launched its Yinghuo-1 Mars exploration mission, but the orbiter was stranded in near-Earth orbit following a malfunction on the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission carrying it into space. NASA noted that the Chinese and Russian spacecraft reentered Earth’s atmosphere on Jan. 15, 2012.

This is a busy time for Mars launches. The United Arab Emirates recently launched its Amal orbiter to the Red Planet. Amal, which is Arabic for Hope, will not land on Mars, but is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

NASA’S NEXT MISSION TO MARS WILL HONOR THOSE FIGHTING AGAINST COVID-19

NASA is also getting ready to launch its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on an epic mission to the Red Planet. The launch window for the spacecraft that will carry the Perseverance rover to Mars opens on July 30 and closes on Aug. 15 of this year.

Launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rover is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is expected to last at least one Martian year.

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So far, the U.S. has been the only country to successfully put a spacecraft on Mars, doing it eight times. Two NASA landers are operating there, InSight and Curiosity. Six other spacecraft are exploring the planet from orbit: three U.S., two European and one from India.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers





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OPEC-Shale Peace Prospects Crumble Hours After Historic Call


(Bloomberg) — Just hours after one of the most powerful officials in the biggest U.S. oil state was invited to OPEC’s inner sanctum in June, propspects for a rapprochement between two historically antagonistic crude powers began to unravel.

Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said Friday he was invited by OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo to attend the group’s summer meeting in Vienna. But even as the surprise announcement reverberated across U.S. and international petroleum circles, Sitton’s proposal to curb Texas crude output for the first time since the 1970s was criticized by fellow regulators.

“While I am open to any and all ideas to protect the Texas Miracle, as a free-market conservative I have a number of reservations about this approach,” Wayne Christian, chairman of the Texas commission that oversees the oil industry, said in a statement. If Texas cuts supply, “there is no guarantee other nations, or even states will follow suit.”

Sitton, an entrepreneur and Republican Party activist virtually unknown outside the Lone Star state, proposed Texas would curb oil output by 10% in exchange for an equivalent gesture by the cartel that controls more than one-third of global production.

Stability Quest

The third commissioner, Christi Craddick, also expressed doubts about capping production, according to a person with direct of knowledge of the situation

Sitton’s outreach came at the end of a brutal two-week stretch in which international crude lost almost half its value, triggering layoffs, cash crunches and the steepest dive in Permian Basin oil drilling in more than three years. The demand-sapping spread of coronavirus was compounded with the unraveling of the Saudi-Russia supply compact on March 6.

“We all agree an international deal must get done to ensure economic stability as we recover from Covid-19,” Sitton said in a tweet after his conversation with Barkindo.

Although Sitton’s proposal appears to face an uphill battle, the potential consequences of an OPEC-Texas agreement would be hard to overstate. The cartel’s primacy over world crude markets is unrivaled; Texas pumps more than 40% of U.S. oil and as a standalone entity gushes more than every member of the cartel except mighty Saudi Arabia.

Such a tie-up would also confront Russian President Vladimir Putin with a formidable and heretofore unimaginable foe in using petroleum as a geopolitical weapon.

As it stands, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and U.S. shale producers are caught in the middle of a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which has helped to drive crude prices to an 18-year low.

‘Total Meltdown’

U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Fox Business he’s aware of the Texas proposal, but he said his agency isn’t “not part of that conversation.”

“There are state laws that are available to Governors, state regulators if you will, to manage production within the states,” he said.

Sitton wrote in a Bloomberg Opinion piece on Friday that the federal government could coordinate output cuts with Saudi Arabia and Russia to calm the market.

Riyadh and Moscow have been locked in a bare-knuckle fight for market share for three weeks after they failed to agree on a response to the oil-demand crash, and dissolved a partnership that had coordinated oil supplies for three years.

In addition to his philosophical objections, Christian cited the state agency’s lack of experience in throttling back output by thousands of independent companies. “Our IT capabilities to handle this process are limited at best,” he said.

It wouldn’t be the first time Sitton has split with his fellow commissioners. Last year, Craddick nominated Christian to serve as chairman, even though tradition dictated that Sitton would lead the agency as he ended his six-year term.

In a shocking upset earlier this month, Sitton lost the Republican primary election to Jim Wright, a rancher and chief executive of an oilfield-service company. Two Dallas lawyers, Chrysta Castañeda and Roberto Alonzo, will compete in a May runoff for the Democratic nomination to challenge Wright. No Democrat has won election to the commission in more than 25 years.

‘Uniquely Catastrophic’

OPEC officials have often said that U.S. shale drillers, the biggest contributors to the oil surplus that has emerged this decade, should help shoulder the burden of rebalancing the market. With depressed prices forcing a flurry of job cuts, they may now be willing to join in.

Permian oil explorer Parsley Energy Inc. said the industry needs a coordinated approach, and railroad commission caps on state oil output could be one part of the solution. “This is a uniquely catastrophic time for the industry, and as such we need to think outside of our normal course of action,” Chief Executive Officer Matt Gallagher said Friday in an email.

But American Petroleum Institute Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola blasted the proposal as “shortsighted” and “anti-competitive” efforts that will “harm U.S. consumers and American businesses.”

“It seems totally irrational that the solution to the disruptive behavior of Saudi Arabia and Russia would be to imitate OPEC,” Macchiarola said in a phone interview.

(Updates with Texas regulator’s objections starting in 13th paragraph)

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Kim Jong Un rides white horse through historic battlefields, experts see symbolism


North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was photographed on Wednesday riding a white horse through historic battlefields in the country and an expert on the region called the photo-op an attempt by the leader to send a clear message: the opportunity for diplomacy is nearing an end.

John Delury, an East Asia scholar at Yonsei University in Seoul, told Reuters that Kim’s ride is a “message to buckle up, it’s going to be a big year for us next year.”

He continued, “And not a year of diplomacy and summitry, but rather of national strength.”

This undated photo provided on Wednesday by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his wife Ri Sol Ju, right, riding on white horse during his visit to Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

This undated photo provided on Wednesday by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his wife Ri Sol Ju, right, riding on white horse during his visit to Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Photos of Kim on the horse were released a day after the country’s foreign ministry issued a thinly veiled threat to the U.S. over its “hostile policies” of denuclearization. The ministry criticized President Trump over his calls for more talks and called the overtures nothing more than a “foolish” trick.

This undated photo provided on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

This undated photo provided on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

“What is left to be done now is the U.S. option and it is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get,” the ministry said.

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Kim was joined by top military officials during his ride near Mount Paektu. Reuters reported that the leader often rides there during major developments. Reports said Kim said the country needs to get ready for its “revolution.”

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and the Associated Press contributed to this report



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