January 30, 2013

Some Notes From Space Florida's Board Meeting (Source: SPACErePORT)
Space Florida's board met in Tallahassee on Wednesday. The board was asked to approve a new internal analysis of employee pay rates, and was advised that President Frank DiBello and Vice President Howard Haug are both currently working with expired contracts. Their contract status will be addressed in advance of the next board meeting. Five other contractual items were approved by the board, all related to funding projects with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The project beneficiaries were not named, due to confidentiality agreements...

Space Florida will work with FDOT to provide up to $5 million (to be matched by an unnamed partner) in FY-2013 toward modifying an existing launch facility for future Heavy Lift launch operations. Up to $1 million was approved for continued Spaceport Master Planning. A project requiring up to $20 million (from SF, FDOT and a commercial partner) was approved for the continued modification of KSC's Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) for one of NASA's Commercial Crew corporate partners.

Also for one of NASA's Commercial Crew partners, the board approved funding to assist the company in gaining Range Safety approval for their vehicle/operations, including covering some Range costs for the vehicle's initial launch from the Eastern Range. Editor's Note: Although not named during the meeting, the OPF-3 investment will likely support Boeing's CST-100 program, as the facility has been publicly dedicated to that program. As for the Range Safety approval, I'm guessing this involves Sierra Nevada and their Dream Chaser. (1/30)

Spaceport Informed Consent Bill Sails Through Senate (Source: Albuquerque Business First)
On Wednesday morning, the “informed consent bill” regarding Spaceport America passed the New Mexico Senate unanimously. The vote was 34-0, said Virgin Galactic spokesman Tom Carroll. The bill still has to pass the House, and garner the governor’s signature. The law, which will offer some liability protections for Spaceport suppliers, has been a priority for many businesspeople during this legislative session.

Virgin Galactic, the anchor tenant at Spaceport America, said passing the bill was critical to allowing the spaceport to function. Without it, the company has said, suppliers will not locate at the spaceport, and Virgin will likely not fly its rocket plane. The bill is next scheduled to go before the House Business and Industry Committee and could be heard as soon as Thursday. Gov. Susana Martinez has said she’ll sign the bill if it reaches her desk. (1/30)

Countdown for Space Tourism Ignites at Spaceport America, Las Cruces (Source: Washington Times)
With a cost of $209 billion the politicos of New Mexico are putting out the welcome sign to space travel companies by building this 18,000-acre space park in the desert. And Spaceport America is inviting in the bells and whistles that will make it a must-stop hub on the way somewhere, if not the destination itself. Disney, as well as other cutting edge creativity companies, have been invited to bring in their imagineers to design the visitors center of all visitors centers.

So far, it is to be a 22,000 square foot facility that will be both educational and entertaining and serve as the jump off spot for tours of the grounds. Currently, there is not much there but dirt, asphalt and a scattering of empty buildings. The spot is around 50 miles (and a good 90-minute drive at this time, but a new, direct road is in progress that will shave 40 minutes) from Las Cruces, New Mexico at a remote spot just outside Truth or Consequences, and perhaps 10 miles from White Sands Missile Range on the back side. (1/30)

Industry Calls for Stability in European Public Financing for Space (Source: EuroPolitics)
At the fifth conference on the EU’s space policy, on 29 January, industrial actors of the space sector called for a dedicated industrial policy and stability in public financing. The sector has a €7 billion turnover and employs 35,000 people. (1/30)

Is Asia on Cusp of Space Race? (Source: CNN)
The United States and Russia defined the world's first space race, but following South Korea's successful orbital rocket launch this week, it appears Asia -- particularly North Asia -- is the world's new epicenter for space rivalries in the 21st century. "In some sense we are already there," says Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia Deputy Project Director for International Crisis Group in Seoul, South Korea. "The Chinese have been very active... (also) Japan, North and South Korea. It's quite a competitive atmosphere."

The race will only ratchet up later this year. In the second half of 2013, China will shoot for the moon with the aim of landing a rover vehicle on its surface; building on exploration milestones in 2003 and 2012 with the first man, then woman, in space. India plans to send an unmanned probe into Mars orbit this November. Click here. (1/30)

Russia and Kazakhstan: What’s Behind the Baikonur Spat? (Source: Eurasianet)
Russia and Kazakhstan seem headed for a showdown over rocket launches at the Baikonur cosmodrome. Although Moscow and Astana are trying to downplay their differences, both sides seem ready to play hardball in what could be complicated and protracted negotiations.

Environmental concerns are ostensibly the catalyst for the discussions. But an important subtext is sovereignty over the Baikonur launch site, which is situated in northern Kazakhstan, but leased by Russia through 2050. And even though both nations are energy-rich, money too is an issue.

A newly created intergovernmental commission is set to convene on January 30 in Moscow to start probing for an agreement. Together with Igor Shuvalov, Vice-Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Kairat Kelimbetov is serving as a co-chair of the commission. (1/30)

Lockheed Martin Joins with Sierra Nevada in Building Dream Chaser (Source: Denver Post)
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems, based in Louisville, announced this morning that Lockheed Martin is joining its efforts to build the next-generation Dream Chaser spacecraft that could ferry American astronauts into space in the next few years. Lockheed Martin will specifically be in charge of building the composite structure for the Dream Chaser, which looks like a compact version of the space shuttle that was retired by NASA in 2011.

Lockheed will do its work at NASA's Michoud Assemby Facility in New Orleans. Sierra Nevada, which has been awarded hundreds of millions of dollars from NASA over the last few years, will work with the space agency towards gaining government certification of the Dream Chaser. It's not clear yet what the partnership will mean in the burgeoning commercial space race, in which several companies are jockeying to be the first to transport American astronauts to space once again.

Sierra Nevada's competition includes the Dragon space capsule from California-based SpaceX and the CST-100 capsule from Boeing. The seven-person Dream Chaser, which is 40-foot-long and 25-foot-wide, is the only vehicle in the commercial space industry that would be capable of landing on a runway upon its return to Earth. The competing vehicles under development are capsules. Sierra Nevada hopes it can make its first orbital test flight of the Dream Chaser in 2016. (1/30)

Astronauts4Hire and NASTAR Center Announce Partnership (Source: A4H)
Astronauts4Hire and the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center have signed a services agreement for NASTAR Center Space Training and to collaborate on developing new A4H-branded training programs for A4H’s commercial astronaut candidates. They will develop A4H-specific training courses for astronaut candidates interested in aiding researchers, payload developers, and spaceflight providers with mission planning and operations support during spaceflight missions.

The agreement provides access to advanced commercial spaceflight training, including altitude and motion physiology curricula and hands-on simulated spaceflight launch to reentry flight exposures to A4H members at The NASTAR Center facility, which is located just outside Philadelphia. Space training will feature the NASTAR Center's PHOENIX centrifuge to deliver the authentic full-force spaceflight mission simulation needed to support a variety of profiles and task objectives encountered by flyers on suborbital and orbital spaceflight missions. (1/30)

Official: No Crisis in Russia's Space Work (Source: Space Daily)
Despite a recent string of failures, rumors of a crisis in the Russian space industry are "absolutely wrong," the head of Russia's space agency said. "This is absolutely wrong," Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin said at a scientific meeting in Moscow. "We still have the potential, the people who believe in space and ... rocket and space enterprises capable of breakthrough projects."

The country's space program has experienced some very public setbacks in recent years, most notably the failure of the Phobos-Grunt sample mission to the martian moon Phobos, RIA Novosti reported. Russia's most ambitious planetary mission in decades got stuck in Earth's orbit after its engines failed to put it on course for the Red Planet in November 2011, and it crashed to Earth two months later. Roscosmos "burned its fingers seriously" with the failure of the probe, Popovkin admitted.

"Probably, an outcome like this is logical," he said of the mission's failure. "One company should not be allowed to design one scientific spacecraft for such a long period, for 15 years." Roscosmos and the Russian Academy of Sciences have established a working group to coordinate future science and space projects, he said. (1/29)

South Korea Successfully Launches First Rocket (Source: SpaceToday.net)
A South Korean rocket placed a satellite in orbit successfully Wednesday, a first for the nation after two previous attempts failed. The Korea Satellite Launch Vehicle 1 (KSLV-1) lifted off from the Naro Space Center in the southern part of South Korea at 2:00 am EST Wednesday and placed the STSAT-2C spacecraft, weighing less than 100 kilograms, into its planned orbit nine minutes later. The launch was the third for the KSLV-1, which features a Russian-built lower stage, but the two previous launches, in 2009 and 2010, failed to reach orbit. (1/30)

Virgin Galactic ‘Committed to New Mexico’ But is Keeping its Options Open (Source: NM Watchdog)
An executive with Virgin Galactic told New Mexico Watchdog that his company is “committed to New Mexico” and says that while it’s true that Virgin Galactic will pay its first rental payment to Spaceport America under protest, the practice is “fairly common place in construction” and there is “absolutely no cause for alarm.”

We spoke on camera to Mark Butler, senior program manager at Virgin Galactic, on Tuesday (Jan. 27) and asked him a series of straightforward questions about his company’s intentions and responsibilities as the anchor tenant of Spaceport, the facility in southern New Mexico that state taxpayers have already sunk $209 million into. Click here. (1/30)

How Worms Survived NASA's Columbia Shuttle Disaster (Source: Space.com)
When the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board, NASA scientists expected that the 80 science experiments aboard the shuttle were destroyed as well. But in the days after the tragic Columbia shuttle disaster on Feb. 1, 2003, scientists began realizing that wasn't the case. Various salvageable experiments were recovered from the wreckage, including a live group of 1 millimeter-long roundworms, or nematodes, known as Caenorhabditis elegans.

No one expected that the nematodes could survive the intense heat of re-entry, but the C. elegans got lucky, said Nathaniel Szewczyk, a scientist who worked with the nematodes in the aftermath of the crash. "They sustained some heat damage to exteriors, but that's about it," Szewczyk said. The thermos-size metal container holding the nematodes was housed inside the locker of a crew compartment that was reinforced specifically to protect the materials inside. Once that compartment ruptured, however, the nematodes still survived the crash to Earth thanks to the locker's build, Szewczyk said. (1/30)

Atlas V Launch Carries Young Engineer's Dreams (Source: Florida Today)
When the Atlas V rocket launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, it will be part of the realization of a dream for 23-year-old Jennifer Harp, a systems test engineer with United Launch Alliance. Harp, part of the launch team for the satellite-carrying rocket, grew up in an aerospace family, launching rockets for fun on the playground. Participating in a launch from the control room is "definitely an adrenaline rush," said Harp. The rocket is scheduled to launch tonight. (1/29)

Editorial: Sequestration’s Ugly Picture (Source: Defense News)
As the U.S. military draws down, defense and military leaders stress they must keep it from becoming a hollow force — a military that looks good on paper, but incapable of performing as expected. Such hollowing typically unfolds over many years as funding steadily declines, poor personnel and program choices are made and vital training and maintenance are slashed.

But in a message to his uniformed and civilian subordinates, Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, last week indicated that, should automatic funding cuts go into effect under sequestration, and the continuing resolution now funding government operations expire without a budget to replace it, the force will be hollowed in six months. Starting in April, maintenance for 30 of Navy’s 187 surface warships and about 250 front-line aircraft could be deferred. Ships could be stuck pierside as training funds dry up and Pacific and Middle East deployments cut back.

There is reason for optimism. House Republicans have agreed to raise the nation’s debt ceiling enough to give the Senate three months to approve a budget, something the Senate hasn’t managed to do in four years. But sequestration will kick in well before those budget talks conclude, and lawmakers must find a way to avoid that disaster, too. America needs a deal that averts sequestration and gives the Pentagon budget guidance for 2014 and beyond. (1/30)

How Lawmakers Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sequestration (Source: The Hill)
The automatic "sequestration" spending cuts scheduled for March 1 are looking increasingly likely to take effect, despite the fact that they were only ever proposed as a solution so bad that they would force lawmakers to find better options. Democrats see the sequester as a blunt instrument, but a better option than entitlement cuts, while Republicans are reportedly concerned that any alternative would lead to a much smaller overall deficit reduction. (1/29)

Lawmakers Say Sequestration Fix is Unlikely (Source: Washington Post)
With the March 1 deadline for across-the-board federal spending cuts approaching, lawmakers are now expressing pessimism that a deal will be reached to avoid them. "I think it's more likely to happen. And I'm ashamed of the Congress, I'm ashamed of the president, and I'm ashamed of being in this body, quite frankly," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI, said he thought there was a 50-50 chance that sequestration would occur. AIA CEO Marion Blakey says the battle is not over. "A lot of people on the Hill see the oncoming train. We're going to keep fighting this," she said. (1/29)

More Defense Industry Goodwill Write-Downs Likely, Analysts Say (Source: Defense News)
More defense companies are likely to follow General Dynamics' example and report lower goodwill values, as their industry struggles with a declining market, experts say. Goodwill, the intangible market value a company gains after a purchase, makes up a substantial part of many defense firms' assets. (1/29)

After Rest, Kepler Returns to Science Mode (Source: NASA)
After a "wheel rest" safe mode that began on January 17, 2013, NASA's Kepler spacecraft returned to science data collection at 5 p.m. PST on January 28, 2013. During the 10-day resting safe mode, daily health and status checks with the spacecraft using NASA's Deep Space Network were normal. The recovery from wheel rest began at 11:30 a.m. PST on January 27, 2013, and proceeded without issue. The spacecraft responded well to commands and transitioned from thruster control to reaction wheel control as planned. (1/29)

With Tesla and SpaceX Experience, Musk Offers Battery Observations to Boeing (Source: Flight Global)
The lithium ion batteries installed on the Boeing 787 are inherently unsafe, says Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and owner of electric car maker Tesla. "Unfortunately, the pack architecture supplied to Boeing is inherently unsafe," wrote Musk in an email. "Large cells without enough space between them to isolate against the cell-to-cell thermal domino effect means it is simply a matter of time before there are more incidents of this nature," he adds.

Both Boeing and Tesla use batteries fueled by lithium cobalt oxide, which is among the most energy-dense and flammable chemistries of lithium-ion batteries on the market. While Boeing elected to use a battery with a grouping of eight large cells, Tesla's batteries contain thousands of smaller cells that are independently separated to prevent fire in a single cell from harming the surrounding ones.

An aerospace-capable version of Tesla's battery has been developed for use in SpaceX's Falcon 9 space launch vehicle. SpaceX, also owned by Musk, competes with Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance for customers. Boeing has thus far declined offers of assistance from Tesla and SpaceX, says Musk. (1/29)

Hubble Finds Appearances can be Deceptive (Source: Space Daily)
Globular clusters are roughly spherical collections of extremely old stars, and around 150 of them are scattered around our galaxy. Hubble is one of the best telescopes for studying these, as its extremely high resolution lets astronomers see individual stars, even in the crowded core.

The clusters all look very similar, and in Hubble's images it can be quite hard to tell them apart - and they all look much like NGC 411, pictured here. And yet appearances can be deceptive: NGC 411 is in fact not a globular cluster, and its stars are not old. It isn't even in the Milky Way. NGC 411 is classified as an open cluster located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a small sister galaxy near our own. (1/30)

When a Planet Behaves Like a Comet (Source: ESA)
ESA’s Venus Express has made unique observations of Venus during a period of reduced solar wind pressure, discovering that the planet’s ionosphere balloons out like a comet’s tail on its nightside. The ionosphere is a region of weakly electrically charged gas high above the main body of a planet’s atmosphere. Its shape and density are partly controlled by the internal magnetic field of the planet.

For Earth, which has a strong magnetic field, the ionosphere is relatively stable under a range of solar wind conditions. By comparison, Venus does not have its own internal magnetic field and relies instead on interactions with the solar wind to shape its ionosphere. Click here. (1/29)

Amateurs Help Discover Multi-Planet System (Source: Sky & Telescope)
Earlier this month the Kepler mission announced yet another bevy of new exoplanet candidates, their list now stretching 2,740 candidates long. But Kepler’s not the only planet-hunter on the scene. A less splashy study reported in January 10th’s Astrophysical Journal heralded the second multiple-planet system discovered by microlensing, a technique that makes good use of amateur astronomers’ skills and dedicated telescope time.

To find a planet by microlensing, planet-hunters closely monitor millions of stars in the Milky Way’s busy bulge. When a foreground object, usually a star, passes between, it acts as a lens, momentarily magnifying the light from the background star. If the lens is a simple foreground star, the background star brightens and fades in a characteristic pattern, but a planet orbiting the foreground star will add a secondary spike. Only amateurs can dedicate near-continuous coverage to capture the light curve’s details. (1/29)

Russia’s Troubled Rocket Cleared for Launch (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russia’s Proton-M carrier rocket will orbit a Mexican communication satellite, SatMex-8, in the first launch since the Yamal-402 satellite trouble, a spokesman for the Proton manufacturer, the Khrunichev Center, said on Tuesday. The launch is tentatively scheduled to take place in late February, he added. SatMex-8 could not be launched in December 2012 due to “a temporary embargo” on Proton launches following the Yamal-402 problem, the spokesman said. (1/29)

Editorial: America Should Renew Its Spaceflight Goals (Source: Aviation Week)
a recent study sponsored by NASA and conducted by the National Research Council (NRC) found that, in spite of enormous successes, such as the Mars Opportunity rover, the U.S. space program is in danger of losing its international leadership position. Current NASA goals, such as launching astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, are not capturing the support or the imagination of the nation, the NRC panel concluded.

This is a precarious moment for the U.S.'s future. But it is not too late to change course and redirect our space agency to even greater excellence and accomplishments in the 21st century. At this crucial juncture, we should remember Kennedy's words. The path to any success is filled with hard work, burdens and challenges. We chose to go to the Moon to realize the potentials and possibilities that are within us.

America should once again reach a consensus on and make a national commitment to U.S. human space exploration—a future that will embody the can-do spirit of the American people. I believe this nation must commit itself to achieving the goals of returning humans to the Moon and to sending them on to Mars. It is time for America not to withdraw within itself, but to dream big dreams again. It is time for Americans to unite in accomplishing big goals again and reap the benefits in our educational systems, technical advancement and the economy that were realized when we first journeyed to the Moon. (1/29)

State Scrambles to Get NASA's OK for Land to Build Launchpad (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
NASA is balking at plans by Space Florida to build a new commercial launchpad near Kennedy Space Center, and now state officials — in both Tallahassee and Washington -- are racing to persuade the space agency to change its mind. Why the hurry? SpaceX of California is expected — possibly this year — to choose where it wants to locate its next launchpad — a potential cash cow for whatever state lands the facility.

Texas already has an early edge, and if Florida doesn't show progress soon in securing the necessary land, then the state could lose out. "The future of space in Florida will be decided in the next few months," said Dale Ketcham, director of the University of Central Florida's Spaceport Research and Technology Institute. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and members of Space Florida, the state's aerospace-booster group, are scheduled to meet today in Tallahassee to plan their next step, and those close to the group said Space Florida has got only about four months to make a breakthough.

The proposed Florida site is the abandoned citrus town of Shiloh, which straddles the county border of Volusia and Brevard and sits at the northern boundary of Kennedy Space Center. NASA recently released a statement that noted it has not "rejected" the state's proposal and was looking to find another path. The situation has attracted enough notice that a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said the Florida Democrat, a one-time space-shuttle flier, has asked for a briefing on the topic — a bit of subtle pressure that could nudge the process along. Click here. (1/29)

NASA Launches Suborbital Mission From Wallops Island Spaceport (Source: Virginian-Pilot)
NASA successfully launched a rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility on Tuesday night. The rocket launched shortly before 6 p.m. The rocket will test technology for future projects. During the flight, two red-colored lithium vapor trails were able to be seen through parts of the mid-Atlantic region. (1/29)

Shelby Will "Fight Hard" to Keep Space Launch System Funding (Source: Huntsville Times)
Despite new attacks on the program, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said today he will "fight hard" to keep funding for NASA's Space Launch System being developed in Huntsville. Shelby also said the commercial space companies touted by critics of the NASA rocket are "funded in large measure by taxpayers through NASA," anyway.

Shelby was responding to questions about an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that has restarted discussion in the space community about the value of the rocket program known as the Space Launch System. Authors of the piece, including a former congressman, say President Obama should kill the rocket now and let private companies develop America's next generation of space ships. (1/29)

Russia to Use Ballistic Missiles to Fight Off Asteroid Threat (Source: Voice of Russia)
Russia is planning to use intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver destroyer spacecraft to celestial bodies that pose a threat to Earth, Deputy Chief Designer of the Makeyev State Rocket Center Sergei Molchanov said. Russian scientists suggest using a device called Kapkan to solve the problem of destroying an asteroid or swaying it off to a safe distance from Earth, he said. A special reconnaissance spacecraft may be used to study the structure and chemical composition of an asteroid. (1/29)

Space Station Crew Uses Laser Channel to Beam Data (Source: RIA Novosti)
Russian astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) have transferred scientific data using a laser communication channel for the first time in international practice, the Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said on Tuesday. The information was transferred through the earth’s atmosphere at a rate of 125 megabytes per second from an onboard laser terminal, the agency said. The total of 400 megabytes of data included earth imagery and telemetric information. (1/29)

Craig Technologies Wins Contract for Air Force Instructional Tech (Source: Craig)
Craig Technologies announced today that the company was awarded a prime contract for the Air Force Institute of Technology School of Systems and Logistics (AFIT/LS) Course Development Program. Under the multi-award Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract, Craig Technologies will provide technical support to develop courses for adult learners to cover a host of current topics needed for professionals in the acquisition and sustainment career fields.

The period of performance is through January 2018 and work will be performed in Cape Canaveral, FL and Oklahoma City, OK.  Each course will be developed to include a series of experiences and challenges, combined with education and training opportunities to help equip the Air Force's acquisition and logistics workforce to more effectively manage air, space, and cyberspace systems.

Editor's Note: Craig Technologies has taken stewardship of NASA's Shuttle Logistics Depot at Cape Canaveral (formerly home to United Space Alliance). Craig is putting the impressive array of manufacturing and testing equipment there to use for other aerospace and defense customers. (1/29)

Here Is the Robot That Will Extract Water From the Moon (Source: The Atlantic)
One of the biggest challenges of space travel has very little to do with the traveling itself, and more to do with everything that happens afterward. How will humans sustain themselves if we send them back to the moon (and, as planned, to Mars)? Food, even freeze-dried, is heavy. Water, too. Maintenance is expensive, in every sense of the word. So if manned space travel is to become a long-term reality, we'll need to find ways to cultivate the places and planets we visit: to mine their soil for nutrients, to find the water hidden in their depths, to generate the air that will make everything else possible.

NASA has an idea for doing all that, and it takes the form -- as so many innovative ideas seem to these days -- of a robot. Meet ... the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot -- RASSOR, for short. The robot (pronounced as "razor") is an excavator device, designed to extract (yes) water, (yes) ice, and (yes) fuel from the soil of the moon. Click here. (1/29)

Record Setting Asteroid Flyby (Source: SpaceRef)
Talk about a close shave. On Feb. 15th an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth only 17,200 miles above our planet's surface. There's no danger of a collision, but the space rock, designated 2012 DA14, has NASA's attention. "This is a record-setting close approach," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at JPL. "Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, we've never seen an object this big get so close to Earth."

Earth's neighborhood is littered with asteroids of all shapes and sizes, ranging from fragments smaller than beach balls to mountainous rocks many kilometers wide. Many of these objects hail from the asteroid belt, while others may be corpses of long-dead, burnt out comets. NASA's Near-Earth Object Program helps find and keep track of them, especially the ones that come close to our planet. (1/29)

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