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Friday, September 25, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Sep 18 – Sep 25 2015)

Sunday's 'Supermoon' Total Lunar Eclipse: When and Where to See It

On the evening of Sept. 27, the moon will once again become immersed in the Earth's shadow, resulting in a total lunar eclipse — the fourth such event in the last 17 months,
As with all lunar eclipses, the region of visibility for Sunday's blood-moon lunar eclipse will encompass more than half of our planet. Nearly 1 billion people in the Western Hemisphere, nearly 1.5 billion throughout much of Europe and Africa and perhaps another 500 million in western Asia will be able to watch as the Harvest Full Moon becomes a shadow of its former self and morphs into a glowing coppery ball.

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Commercial Space Stations Face Economic and Regulatory Challenges
WASHINGTON — Proposals to develop commercial space stations in low Earth orbit that could serve as successors to the International Space Station face both an uncertain regulatory environment and questions about their economic viability, according to both those planning such stations and those who might regulate them.
At a panel discussion on commercial space stations held here Sept. 22 by the Secure World Foundation, government and industry officials noted that such facilities fall into a regulatory gray area, with no U.S. government agency having clear oversight of them as required by international treaty.
“I’m not a fan of regulation, but I do think this could create problems when you ask for a launch license or payload review,” said Mike Gold, director of Washington operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace, a North Las Vegas, Nevada-based company planning commercial stations.

A full-scale mockup of Bigelow Aerospace's Space Station Alpha inside their Nevada facility. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
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Hubble Snaps Breathtaking Views of Colorful Veil Nebula

The gorgeous, multicolored remnants of a destroyed star shimmer in stunning new images by the Hubble Space Telecope.
The new set of Hubble photos of the Veil Nebula, which researchers combined into several stunning videos, show a colorful cloud of material 110 light-years wide that lies about 2,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus (The Swan).
The Veil Nebula's beauty belies its violent origins: The structure formed about 8,000 years ago, after a star 20 times more massive than the sun died in a supernova explosion, researchers said.

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Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2015 Winning Photos

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Space Takes its Place in Canada’s 3-Way Race
VICTORIA, British Columbia ­— Space is playing a small but key role in Canada’s federal election campaign as parties position themselves with promises to help the domestic space industry if elected.
Both the Liberal and New Democratic parties are vowing to commit to and move ahead with a long-term plan for space. The Conservative Party had promised to release a long-term space strategy in 2014 but never did so. However, it is has committed to funding a number of projects including the Thirty Meter Telescope.
The Liberals, New Democrats and Conservative parties are in a tight three-way race to form the next Canadian government after the Oct. 19 election.

Thirty Meter Telescope
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NASA Tests Lunar Rover Prototype with Eye Toward Flying Real Thing
WASHINGTON — The prototype of a rover designed to search for water ice at the poles of the moon passed a series of tests on Earth in August as project officials seek to line up funding and potential partnerships for the mission.
A NASA team put the prototype version of the Resource Prospector rover, dubbed RP15, through its paces on a test site dubbed the “rock yard” at the Johnson Space Center, testing some of the technologies needed to operate on the lunar surface.
“We wanted to take what we had learned so far and actually attempt to do an entire terrestrial mission, with as high a fidelity we could afford with the budget we’re given,” Dan Andrews, Resource Prospector project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in an Aug. 31 presentation at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, California.

In this concept image, a resource prospector rover searches for water ice on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
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NASA Mars Probe Marks One Year at Red Planet

NASA's newest Mars probe has now been circling the Red Planet for a year.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft arrived in orbit around the Red Planet on Sept. 21, 2014, 10 months after blasting off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
MAVEN endured a two-month checkout phase on orbit and then began studying Mars' atmosphere, in an attempt to determine how fast the planet's air is escaping into space. Such information will help researchers better understand how and when Mars shifted from a relatively warm and wet world in the ancient past to the cold and dry planet it is today, NASA officials have said.

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Double Black Holes May Warp Spacetime - But Quietly

Pairs of black holes circling around each other, getting closer and closer to crashing together, may create ripples in space and time — but new research suggests that these ripples are milder than previously thought.  
A new paper searching for signs of these space-time ripples — known as gravitational waves — came up empty, suggesting that theorists need to rethink their models of these monster pairs. The new work affects searches for gravitational waves using pulsars — dead stars that appear to create regular pulses of light, not unlike a lighthouse.
Gravitational waves were originally predicted by Albert Einstein, but no one has ever found direct evidence they exist. The new work will help scientists as they move forward in their search; and down the road, these searches could illuminate details about merging galaxies in the universe.

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Buzz Aldrin's 'Welcome to Mars' Charts Path to Red Planet for Kids

Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, and his new book encourages kids to take the first steps onto Mars.
In "Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet" (National Geographic Children's Books, 2015), astronaut Buzz Aldrin invites kids to set a course for Mars as he delves into its history and environment as well as plans for a manned mission. Along with co-author Marianne Dyson, an author, physicist and NASA flight engineer, Aldrin guides the reader through the steps of getting to, exploring and colonizing the planet.
Young readers learn what they will need to get to Mars (and what they won't need on the Red Planet — such as a lawn mower, coat, umbrella, bug spray and a boat) and are introduced to activities that help explain the conditions on the planet, incorporating string, toy cars, microwaves, marshmallows and balloons into various explorations. The book goes through a detailed, fun history of all the missions to Mars so far and the information those missions have brought back before giving details about how humans might set foot there.

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Asteroid-Mining Plan Would Bake Water Out of Bagged-Up Space Rocks

PASADENA, Calif. — A new way to harvest asteroid resources is being eyed as a possible game changer for space exploration.
The patent-pending innovation, called "optical mining," could allow huge amounts of asteroid water to be tapped, advocates say. This water, in turn, could provide relatively cheap and accessible propellant for voyaging spacecraft, lowering the cost of spaceflight significantly.
Development of the optical-mining idea has been funded by a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) fellowship and grant, along with a small business contract. The concept — which is also known as the Asteroid Provided In-Situ Supplies plan, or Apis — was detailed here during a special NIAC session held on Sept. 2 during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' (AIAA) Space 2015 meeting.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Sep 11 – Sep 18 2015)


Halfway Home: One-Year Space Crew Rallies for 6 More Months Off Earth

Two space travelers on the International Space Station are entering rarely tread territory as they pass the six-month mark in a yearlong stay in orbit. The mission will help scientists understand how humans might cope with a journey to Mars.

American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been living on the space station for about six months and won't be going home for another half-year. Their yearlong space mission is about twice as long as a typical extended stay on the station, so compared to typical astronauts, they're spending twice the time away from friends and family, twice the time in weightlessness, and twice the time exposed to space radiation — and experiencing twice the dose of physical and mental stress.

astronaut Scott Kelly seen inside the Cupola

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SpaceX Signs Deals to Launch 2 More Communications Satellites

SpaceX has signed two new contracts to launch communications satellites a few years from now, the company announced Monday (Sept. 14). 

SpaceX will loft one satellite for the Spanish company Hispasat on its Falcon 9 rocket and launch Saudi Arabia's Arabsat 6A spacecraft on a Falcon Heavy. The launches will take place from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in late 2017 or 2018, SpaceX representatives said.

TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat Satellite Launch

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How Jeff Bezos and Other Billionaires Are Transforming Space Travel founder and CEO Jeff Bezos isn't the only billionaire who wants to put his stamp on spaceflight.

Bezos announced Tuesday (Sept. 15) that Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company he established in 2000, will manufacture and launch a fleet of reusable vehicles from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, with the first flights scheduled to begin by the end of the decade.

The news is creating quite a stir. But so are the activities of spaceflight companies headed by Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Paul Allen — all billionaires themselves. Here's a brief rundown of how the megarich are helping shape the exploration and exploitation of space.

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NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds Petrified Sand Dunes on Mars

A sweeping new panorama from NASA's Curiosity rover shows petrified sand dunes stretching across the jagged terrain of Mount Sharp on Mars.

Curiosity's science team says the newly imaged dunes look similar to "crossbedding," structures formed by wind-deposited sand dunes such as those in the U.S. southwest. By looking at the sand dunes' geometry and orientation, scientists can get information about the winds that created the dunes.

"The Stimson unit overlies a layer of mudstone that was deposited in a lake environment," NASA officials said in a statement. "Curiosity has been examining successively higher and younger layers of Mount Sharp, starting with the mudstone at the mountain's base, for evidence about changes in the area's ancient environment."

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Magma Oceans on Jupiter's Moon Io May Solve Volcano Mystery

Something strange is happening on Io: The Jupiter moon's vigorous volcanoes are mysteriously offset from where scientists expected, and its underground magma oceans may be the cause.

A new model suggests that worlds caught in an intense push and pull of gravity, like the volcanic moon Io, are likely to have below-ground oceans of magma or water that stick around for a long time — in the water's case, providing a potential hotspot for the development of life.

"This is the first time the amount and distribution of heat produced by fluid tides in a subterranean magma ocean on Io has been studied in detail," Robert Tyler, the lead author of the new research from the University of Maryland, College Park and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. "We found that the pattern of tidal heating predicted by our fluid-tide model is able to produce the surface heat patterns that are actually observed on Io."

Jupiter's moon Io juxtaposed with Jupiter's moon Europa. Three lava plumes dot Io's surface.

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Partial Solar Eclipse 2015: See Photos from Space, Skywatchers

When the moon blocked the sun in a partial solar eclipse on Sunday (Sept. 13) a European satellite managed to catch the celestial event on camera not once but three different times. Meanwhile, back on Earth, viewers in South Africa saw it just once, but were still able to enjoy the view.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) satellite Proba-2, which focuses on the sun, captured three times as much eclipse as Earth did by dodging in and out of the moon's shadow as it orbited the planet. In each pass through the moon's shadow, the satellite caught the dark sphere of the moon covering part of the sun, acquiring a thick, fiery solar halo in the satellite's extreme ultraviolet SWAP imager. At, we assembled Proba-2's view of the solar eclipse in a gallery alongside other images by skywatchers on Earth. 

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3 Space Station Astronauts Safely Return to Earth

Three astronauts returned to Earth from the International Space Station Friday evening (Sept. 11), taking the orbiting lab's population back down to its normal level of six crewmembers.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov touched down safely on the Kazakh steppes at 8:51 p.m. EDT on Friday (0051 GMT Saturday), 3.5 hours after departing the space station.

The landing marked the end of a quick mission for Mogensen and Aimbetov, who had arrived at the $100 billion orbiting complex just last Friday (Sept. 4). Padalka, on the other hand, had been aboard for the usual 6-month stint.

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Proton Launch of Express AM8 Satellite Gives Russia a Needed Bandwidth Boost

PARIS — The successful Proton launch Sept. 14 of the Express AM8 telecommunications satellite completes the most urgent fleet-replenishment requirements and puts Russia’s satellite bandwidth supply into a favorable balance with expected demand, Russia’s two satellite fleet operators said Sept. 16.

The launch, from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, was the second since Proton’s May failure. The Proton vehicle used a new version of the DM upper stage and not the Breeze-M upper stage that in recent years has replaced DM aboard Proton.

Express AM8 is owned by the Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) of Moscow, which has suffered from Proton’s error-prone record in the past six years more than any other company.

Express AM8 launch

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Friday, September 11, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Sep 4 – Sep 11 2015)

Space Station Astronauts Awed by Dazzling Auroras (Video)

Earth's natural light show — the auroras — flared into high gear Monday (Sep. 7), creating a breathtaking display that astronaut Scott Kelly said was like no other aurora he'd ever seen.
Bright-green rivers of light and a deep-crimson haze decorated Earth's atmosphere during the Labor Day light show. From his vantage point on the International Space Station, Kelly caught several snapshots of the waving green lights, as well as a vivid time-lapse video.
"I would say yesterday was probably the second-most impressive thing I've ever seen," Kelly said in an interview broadcast today (Sep. 8) on NASA TV. "The first thing was when I saw Earth from space the first time."

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Space Station Astronauts Talk Crewed Mars Missions (Real and Fictional)

HOUSTON — If Scott Kelly were on a spaceship heading out to Mars — rather than on board the International Space Station, where he has been for the last 6 months — he would be arriving at the Red Planet just about now.
Instead, Kelly and his eight crewmates — astronauts and cosmonauts from five different nations — took time out of their day circling the Earth on Tuesday (Sept. 8) to talk to reporters about life on board the outpost and what a trip to Mars might be like for those in the future.
"I think for the folks who go to Mars — especially the first ones — it is going to be such an incredible destination and event that they are going to be really psyched up getting there," stated Kelly, reflecting on the differences between reaching the midway point of his almost yearlong mission and the 6 months it will take future astronauts to reach the fourth planet from the sun. 

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World View Offers Cost-Sharing Balloon Flights to Stratosphere

The cost of sending a scientific experiment to the stratosphere aboard a balloon just went down.
Arizona-based World View Enterprises announced today (Sept. 8) that it's introducing a cost-sharing system that will let researchers and educators loft payloads to near space, about 130,000 feet (39,600 meters) above Earth, via a balloon for as little as $20,000. (Typical "full flight" contracts, by contrast, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, company representatives said.)
The new system applies to payloads that range in mass from less than 1 pound (0.45 kilograms) to more than a few hundred pounds, World View representatives said.
"Until now, access to the stratosphere has been incredibly rare and very expensive. That’s what makes World View’s fractional payload pricing model a game-changer," World View chief scientist Alan Stern, who also leads NASA's New Horizons Pluto mission, said in a statement. "We plan to take what was rare and make it routine and affordable."
World View Enterprises’ First Commercial Balloon Flight
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Space Station Crosses Sun's Face in Spectacular New Photo

An amazing new photo shows the International Space Station crossing the sun's face.
The picture, a composite of five images taken Sunday (Sept. 6) from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls, captures a "transit" of the International Space Station (ISS) across the solar disk.
Such transits don't last very long, because the space station zooms around Earth at more than 17,000 mph (27,000 km/h) — the $100 billion complex completes one lap around our planet once every 90 minutes or so.
Space Station Crosses Sun's Face
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NASA's Europa Mission May Land on Ocean-Harboring Moon

NASA's upcoming mission to Europa may actually touch down on the potentially life-harboring Jupiter moon.
While the main thrust of the Europa mission, which NASA aims to launch by the mid-2020s, involves characterizing the icy satellite from afar during dozens of flybys, the space agency is considering sending a small probe down to the surface as well.
"We are actively pursuing the possibility of a lander," Robert Pappalardo, Europa project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said last week during a panel discussion at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Space 2015 conference in Pasadena. (JPL manages the Europa mission.) 

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Labor Day in Space Has Full House, No Barbecue

That's a negative on the fire: There will be no barbecuing on the International Space Station this Labor Day. But the orbiting lab's American crew will get a free day to relax and exercise after the excitement of welcoming three new teammates on Friday (Sept. 4).
"The three USOS [U.S. Operating Segment] crewmembers [Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren of NASA, and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency] will have the day off, with only their exercise on the schedule and some sample collection for Kelly for his Twins Study experiments," NASA spokesman Dan Huot told in an email. Kelly's identical twin Mark, also an astronaut, has remained on the ground so scientists can track the duo to investigate the effects of spending a year in space.
Scott Kelly with Fruit on the International Space Station
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Friday, September 4, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Aug 28 – Sep 4 2015)


If Greenland's Ice Melts, Sea Levels Rise 23 Feet | Video

"And it's melting!" according to NASA. The deep ocean beneath Greenland is fueled by currents from the subtropics. This warm and salty water is melting the ice from the bottom up and much faster than the surface water.


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SpaceX's 1st Falcon Heavy Rocket Launch Set for Spring 2016

PASADENA, Calif. — The long-delayed first flight of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy launch vehicle is now scheduled for April or May of 2016, a company official said Sept. 1.

Speaking at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Space 2015 conference here, Lee Rosen, vice president of mission and launch operations for SpaceX, said the company was also wrapping up work on the renovated launch pad that rocket will use.

"It's going to be a great day when we launch that, some time in the late April-early May timeframe," he said of the Falcon Heavy.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Illustration
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Flower Power: Giant 'Starshades' Prepped for Exoplanet Hunting

In an attempt to better characterize planets beyond the solar system, some scientists are turning to big, flower-shaped disks known as starshades.

Intended to be used in space in combination with a separately flying telescope, a starshade would block the light from a parent star, allowing dim exoplanets to be observed and studied. But before the first starshade can be sent to space, the technology must be tested on Earth — and that's not a trivial task.

Sunflower-Shaped Starshade

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Crowded House! International Crew Arrives at Space Station

Three new crewmembers arrived at the International Space Station early Friday morning, boosting the orbiting lab's population to a level not seen since late 2013.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, the European Space Agency's Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov docked with the space station's Poisk module at 3:39 a.m. EDT (0739 GMT) Friday (Sept. 4), two days after blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The hatches separating the two spacecraft opened at 6:15 a.m. EDT (1015 GMT) Friday, NASA officials said. The Soyuz travelers then floated aboard the $100 billion orbiting complex, joining the six crewmembers already there — cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren; and Japanese spaceflyer Kimiya Yui.

Nine Crewmembers Aboard the Space Station

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U.S. Navy Launches 4th MUOS Telecom Satellite

WASHINGTON – After a two day delay caused by weather, the U.S. Navy launched the fourth satellite in its next-generation mobile communications system Sept. 2.

The multibillion-dollar Mobile User Objective System now consists of four geostationary-orbiting satellites. An on-orbit spare is expected to launch in 2016. Built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, California, the MUOS constellation is designed to provide smartphone-like communications to mobile forces at rates 10 times faster than the legacy system.

The launch completes what the Navy describes as the initial constellation and now provides near global coverage. Industry and government officials have discussed adding more satellites to the constellation as part of future international partnerships .

An Atlas 5 rocket from United Launch Alliance lifts the fourth communication satellite from the U.S. Navy's Mobile User Objective System  from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sept. 2. Credit: U.S. Air Force.

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Thales Alenia Gets Going on Second-generation Cosmo-SkyMed Radar Satellites

PARIS — Satellite builder Thales Alenia Space on Sept. 2 said it had signed a contract with the Italian government to build one of the two planned next-generation radar reconnaissance satellites and to purchase the needed equipment for the second.

The contract is the latest development in the long Cosmo-SkyMed financial roller coaster. Inconsistent Italian government funding threatened to cancel the program until what appeared to be a definitive government commitment early this year.

The contract announced Sept. 2, signed with the Italian Space Agency, is valued at 182 million euros ($200 million). Of that sum, Telespazio of Rome, a provider of satellite services and ground equipment, will receive 28 million euros for its share of the ground segment work.

Artist's concept of one of two second-generation Cosmo-SkyMed radar reconnaissance satellites being built for the Italian government by Thales Alenia Space. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

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Space Station Schedule May Delay Antares Return to Flight

PASADENA, Calif. — While Orbital ATK says it is on schedule to have the new version of its Antares launch vehicle ready for flight in March, the vehicle’s first launch may be delayed by other missions to the International Space Station, including a Cygnus cargo spacecraft launching on an Atlas 5.

“Our initial launch capability for the re-engined Antares is scheduled for March of 2016,” said Mark Pieczynski, vice president of strategy and business development for Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group, in a panel session at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2015 conference here Sept. 1.

Pieczynski said work replacing the AJ-26 engines previously used on the first stage of the Antares with RD-181 engines was on schedule. That effort, he said, includes a static fire test of the vehicle on the pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia planned for January.

Although Orbital ATK expects its re-engineed Antares to be ready by March, it could be some months after that before Wallops Island resumes its role as an International Space Station on-ramp. Credit: NASA

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