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News briefs: February 20
Posted: Thu, Feb 21, 2002, 7:59 AM ET (1259 GMT)
  • Polish and American astronomers have discovered evidence for up to 42 extrasolar planets around stars near the center of the galaxy, reported Wednesday. The astronomers saw decreases in the brightness of those stars that they believe were caused by a gas giant planet transiting between the star and the Earth. Other astronomers cautioned that these transits could be caused by unseen companion stars in a binary star system rather than planets.
  • China's fleet of tracking ships continued rehearsals until earlier this month for the next test flight of the Shenzhou prototype manned spacecraft, according to a SpaceDaily article Wednesday. The four Yuanwang ships wrapped up preparations until just before Chinese New Year earlier this month. There is no still indication when the Shenzhou launch, expected by many sources to take place in January, will finally occur.
  • ESA's Artemis spacecraft started on Wednesday a series of maneuvers to move into geosynchronous orbit. Artemis was launched on an Ariane 5 in July 2001 but was placed into a low orbit because of a failure of the booster's upper stage. Artemis used chemical thrusters to move into an intermediate orbit 31,000 km high, and will now use its ion thrusters to spiral out to GEO. Because of the very low thrust of the ion engines, these maneuvers will take 200 days to complete.
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