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Solar hazards

BARCELONA, (ESA).- Humankind's most distant outpost was recently captured crossing the face of our enormous and gleaming Sun. The fleeting transit of the International Space Station was over in the blink of an eye, but Ian Griffin, Director at the Otago Museum of New Zealand, made sure he was in the right place to capture it.

“A transit was predicted about 130 km from my home in Dunedin on New Zealand's South Island. So, I packed my telescope into my car and drove for approximately 2 hours”, explains Ian.

“On Thursday 31 January, at 11:07 NZDT, the International Space Station crossed the Sun in less time than a human heart beats once, and I was there to witness it”.

The Space Station, slightly larger in size than a football field, orbits Earth every 92 minutes. It is one of the most remarkable endeavours our species has ever embarked upon, yet it pales in comparison to the size and power of our star.

This remarkable spectacle serves as a much needed reminder that the people and technology we send into space can be affected by solar activity, and the changing environment .

One of the largest geomagnetic storms on record, the Carrington event of 1859, was caused as a fast coronal mass ejection associated with an enormous solar flare struck Earth’s magnetosphere. The impact created auroras as far north as Queensland, Australia, and as far south as the Caribbean.

Telegraph systems across Europe and North America failed, with reports of some operators receiving electric shocks and telegraph pylons sending out sparks.

Today, a storm of this magnitude would create far greater disruption, as we become ever-more dependent on infrastructure in space and on Earth that is vulnerable to the outbursts of the Sun.

As part of ESA’s Space Safety & Security activities, the Space Weather Office is working to minimise the potential damage and disruption these events can cause. The future Lagrange mission will keep a constant eye on the Sun, sending timely warnings via the Space Weather Service Network to operators and controllers of vital infrastructure, giving them time to take protective measures.

This early warning system will also be of great importance to astronauts and future explorers to the Moon and Mars, who, vulnerable to the radiation emitted during these extreme events will need time to get to safety.

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Treasury Sanctions Indian Narcotics Trafficker Jasmeet Hakimzada and His Network

ZETA.- Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) identified Indian national Jasmeet Hakimzada as a Significant Foreign Narcotics Trafficker pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act).  OFAC also designated two Indian nationals and four entities registered in India or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that form part of the narcotics trafficking organization run by Jasmeet Hakimzada.  As a result, any assets in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.  OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked persons.

“Jasmeet Hakimzada’s global drug trafficking and money laundering network has been involved in smuggling heroin and synthetic opioids around the world,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.  “This action is a result of years of effort with our U.S. and foreign partners to disrupt the activities of this significant narcotics trafficking organization.  We are leveraging extensive international partnerships to deploy a multilayered, coordinated approach to secure our borders and deny narcotics traffickers access to the United States.”

Indian narcotics trafficker Jasmeet Hakimzada, who resides in the UAE, runs a global drug trafficking network that smuggles heroin, cocaine, ephedrine, ketamine, and synthetic opioids into the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.  Since at least 2008, Jasmeet Hakimzada has laundered hundreds of millions of dollars of illicit proceeds using his UAE-based company Maiwand General Trading Company LLC through financial institutions in the United States, Brazil, India, Panama, the UAE, and the UK.   

OFAC also designated two individuals who also reside  in the UAE, for their roles in Jasmeet Hakimzada’s criminal organization:  Harmohan Hakimzada, Jasmeet’s father, is his primary partner in the drug trafficking and money laundering operation; and Eljeet Kaur, Jasmeet’s mother, who serves as an officer in two front companies in India. 

The four entities designated today include three entities based in India — Maiwand Exim Private Limited, Maiwand Tobacco Limited, and Maiwand Beverages Limited — and UAE-based Maiwand General Trading Company LLC, which operates as a front for an array of illicit activities to include shipping narcotics and illegal pharmaceuticals as well as laundering large sums of narcotics proceeds.

On April 5, 2017, a federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee indicted Jasmeet Hakimzada on 46 counts of drug trafficking and money laundering.  Over the course of three years from 2014 through 2016, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted an extensive investigation into Jasmeet Hakimzada’s global narcotics and money laundering operation uncovering dozens of drug trafficking and money laundering-related transactions transiting the United States involving numerous U.S. banks, as well as drug shipments directly to the United States using commercial international courier services.

OFAC coordinated closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee and HSI in order to execute today’s action.

“This investigation highlights the hard work of HSI in Tennessee, working in cooperation with our Treasury partners, and also the global investigative presence HSI brings to the fight against international drug trafficking.  Jasmeet Hakimzada’s criminal organization is profiting by importing these dangerous illegal drugs into the United States.  HSI is committed to using wide ranging investigative authorities to target these criminals and their finances,” said Derek Benner, the Executive Associate Director for HSI.

Since June 2000, more than 2,200 individuals and entities have been named pursuant to the Kingpin Act for their role in international narcotics trafficking.  Penalties for violations of the Kingpin Act range from civil penalties of up to $1,466,485 per violation to more severe criminal penalties.  Criminal penalties for corporate officers may include up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $5 million.  Criminal fines for corporations may reach $10 million.  Other individuals could face up to 10 years in prison and fines pursuant to Title 18 of the United States Code for criminal violations of the Kingpin Act.

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Treasury Sanctions Officials Aligned with Former President Nicolas Maduro and Involved in Repression and Corruption

WASHINGTON.- Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated five officials aligned with illegitimate former President Nicolas Maduro, who continue to repress democracy and democratic actors in Venezuela and engage in significant corruption and fraud against the people of Venezuela.

This action, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13692, targets the head of the Venezuelan National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, and SEBIN’s First Commissioner, Hildemaro Jose Rodriguez Mucura; the Commander of Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counter-Intelligence, Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala; and the Director of the Venezuelan National Police’s Special Actions Force (FAES), Rafael Enrique Bastardo Mendoza. Additionally OFAC designated the illegitimate President of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), Manuel Salvador Quevedo Fernandez.

“Treasury continues to target officials who have helped the illegitimate Maduro regime repress the Venezuelan people. We are sanctioning officials in charge of Maduro’s security and intelligence apparatus, which has systematically violated human rights and suppressed democracy, including through torture and other brutal use of force,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“We are intent on going after those facilitating Maduro’s corruption and predation, including by sanctioning the President of PdVSA and others diverting assets that rightfully belong to the people of Venezuela.”

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these individuals, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50% or more by such individuals, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

U.S. sanctions need not be permanent; sanctions are intended to bring about a positive change of behavior. The United States has made clear that we will consider lifting sanctions for persons designated under E.O. 13692 or E.O. 13850 who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the government, and combat corruption in Venezuela.

The following five individuals designated today have been determined to be current or former officials of the Government of Venezuela:

Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala (Hernandez) is the Commander of illegitimate former-President Maduro’s Presidential Guard, or Guardia de Honor Presidencial, a position he was appointed to in January 2014. Additionally, Hernandez is Commander of Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counter-Intelligence, or Director General de Contrainteligencia Militar, more commonly known as DGCIM.

The DGCIM, in addition to SEBIN, is responsible for serious human rights abuses and the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition. DGCIM has detained and tortured Venezuelan military members suspected of plotting against the government, and has detained and tortured family members of some of those suspects in order to gain information. Abuses reportedly carried out by the DGCIM and SEBIN include brutal beatings, asphyxiation, cutting soles of feet with razor blades, electric shocks, and death threats. Under his command, DGCIM members have often used excessive force against detainees. Hernandez was promoted to the rank of Major General on July 5, 2018.

Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (Cristopher) is the Director General of the Venezuelan National Intelligence Service, or Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, more commonly referenced to as SEBIN. Cristopher replaced Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, who was designated by OFAC pursuant to E.O. 13692 on March 9, 2015, who occupied that position from March 9, 2015 until October 30, 2018.

Prior to his role with SEBIN, Cristopher was President, with the rank of Director General, of the Centro Estratégico de Seguridad y Protección de la Patria, or Strategic Center of Security and Protection of the Homeland, the Venezuelan government organization responsible for the unification of information related to defense, intelligence, internal order, and external relations. According to an official of the Venezuelan opposition party, Justice First, or Primero Justicia, Cristopher oversees mass torture, mass human rights violations, and mass persecution against those who want democratic change in Venezuela.

Hildemaro Jose Rodriguez Mucura (Mucura) is the First Commissioner of SEBIN. On January 11, 2019, Mucura, along with three other SEBIN officers, detained Interim President of Venezuela and President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó. Mucura directed the detainment of Guaidó, and was one of 12 SEBIN officials later arrested for their association with Guaidó’s temporary detainment.

Rafael Enrique Bastardo Mendoza (Bastardo) is the Commander of a Venezuelan National Police Unit commonly referred to as the Special Actions Force, or Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales (FAES). Additionally, Bastardo was promoted to the position of Lieutenant Colonel on July 5, 2018, as a member of the Venezuelan National Guard. FAES has been branded as Maduro’s “extermination squad,” known for its brutal methods and masked appearances, carrying out nighttime raids throughout Caracas. Since Guaidó assumed his position as Interim President, FAES has been accused of dozens of extrajudicial killings targeting the opposition. On January 31, 2019, in the middle of Guaidó’s news conference on his economic plans, Guaidó said that FAES were in his home threatening his family.

Manuel Salvador Quevedo Fernandez (Quevedo) is the current President of Venezuelan state-owned oil company, PdVSA, which he has continued to represent even after OFAC designated PdVSA pursuant to E.O. 13850 on January 28, 2019. PdVSA is Venezuela’s primary source of income and foreign currency, and has long been used as a vehicle for significant government corruption.

Government officials and businessmen alike devised schemes to launder billions of dollars stolen and embezzled for their personal gain. Quevedo is also the illegitimate Minister of Petroleum and Mining aligned with former President Maduro, a position he has served in since November 26, 2017. Quevedo previously served in numerous government positions, including as the Minister of Housing and Habitat, and as a Brigadier General and head of Regional Command number 5, located in Greater Caracas.

For information about the methods that Venezuelan senior political figures, their associates, and front persons use to move and hide corrupt proceeds, including how they try to exploit the U.S. financial system and real estate market, please refer to FinCEN’s advisories FIN-2017-A006, “Advisory on Widespread Public Corruption in Venezuela,” and FIN-2017-A003, “Advisory to Financial Institutions and Real Estate Firms and Professionals.”

Identifying information on the individuals designated today.




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The United States

Close encounters: planning for extra Hera flyby

BARCELONA, (ESA).- ESA’s proposed Hera mission will already visit two asteroids: the Didymos binary pair. The Hera team hopes to boost that number by performing a flyby of another asteroid during the mission’s three-year flight.

The opportunity arises because Hera will be flying out to match Didymos’ 770-day orbit, which circles from less than 10 million km from Earth to out beyond Mars, at more than double Earth’s distance from the Sun.

In the process Hera will pass both multiple near-Earth asteroids and the inner edge of the main Asteroid Belt. Initial studies at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre have turned up dozens of candidate asteroids across different mission scenarios.

“Ideally we would like a flyby of another binary asteroid, to enable comparisons with Didymos,” explains ESA’s Hera project scientist, Michael Küppers.

“We would choose something of a different taxonomic type from the S-type asteroids like Didymos. We would also prefer a larger object: its greater size would allow us to resolve it meaningfully from further away.”

Take as an example one body researchers would like to see: the 2121 Sevastopol binary pair in the inner belt has an 8.6 km diameter main body with a 3.5 km diameter moon.

This system is a member of the poorly understood ‘Flora’ family of main belt stony asteroids, produced by a collision event a relatively recent 100 million years ago – theorised to be associated with the Chicxulub impact that killed the dinosaurs.

The next step would be to create a shortlist of targets, which could then be the subject of ground-based observations to determine more about their properties and sharpen knowledge of their orbits before Hera’s launch in late 2023.

ESA’s Rosetta comet-chaser performed two asteroid flybys as it passed through the main belt during its decade-long flight to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, passing the 5-km diameter diamond-shaped 2867 Šteins and the mammoth 120-km diameter 21 Lutetia.

“To make flybys happen, we have to know where our trajectory will pass relatively close to asteroids if we do nothing,” notes Michael Khan, heading Mission Analysis at ESA’s Flight Dynamics division. “Then we tweak the trajectory to make a specific difference to that distance, bringing us much closer.

“With Rosetta we had a lot of capability, because it was a large spacecraft with extra fuel in in the tanks to get the mission back on track in case something went wrong. Plus we were performing lots of gravity-assist flybys around Earth and Mars, and massaging those flybys slightly gave us a lot of freedom to manoeuvre.

“Hera is not Rosetta, however: this will be a smaller mission with a shorter cruise phase and lower performance limits. We will still try, but the constraints are such that we won’t know for certain which asteroids we could target until after Hera’s launch. It will come down to what day within Hera’s launch window that we take off, and also the precision of that take-off – it is possible that any extra fuel earmarked for asteroid flybys might be needed to fine-tune our trajectory to Didymos. But any flyby would be an excellent opportunity to boost Hera's science return even further.””

To compare the two missions, Rosetta was lorry-sized, while Hera will be the scale of a desk. But any asteroid flyby would benefit its end mission as well as offering plentiful bonus science.

Michael Küppers was also part of the Rosetta team: “These hours-long asteroid flybys were quite dramatic events, and our opportunity to try out our scientific instruments and obtain scientific results from these unknown objects, preparing for our main goal of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.”

Hera’s lead scientist Patrick Michel, CNRS Director of Research of France’s Côte d'Azur Observatory, hopes Hera would indeed achieve a flyby: “Any object would be valuable. Each time we’ve encountered a new asteroid we’ve discovered something unexpected.”

Hera, Europe’s contribution to an international planetary defence experiment, is currently under study to be presented for approval by ESA’s Space19+ Council meeting of European space ministers.

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ESA probing into post-silicon, wide bandgap landscape

BARCELONA, (ESA).- What comes next after silicon? Some seven decades from the invention of the silicon chip this question is often asked, especially in the space sector: demands for extreme high performance have highlighted silicon’s inherent limitations, raising interest in a new range of ‘wide bandgap’ semiconductor materials. 

A material’s ‘bandgap’ is the space between atomic shell layers that dictates the amount of energy needed to get electrons moving and make that material conductive. But electrons can also be shifted into the conduction band by heat; so, for instance, silicon-based semiconductors become unusable for temperatures from around 180°C and up.

Wide bandgap materials such as gallium nitride, silicon carbide and diamond can attain much higher operating temperatures, potentially enabling much higher current density designs running at higher voltages. Electrons also move faster through them, delivering faster device speeds. And as an added benefit they are robust against the effects of radiation – a particular issue in space.

ESA recognised the potential of the wide bandgap realm for space at an early stage, founding the ‘GaN Reliability Enhancement and Technology Transfer Initiative’ (GREAT2) in 2008 for gallium nitride (GaN) microwave devices, at a time when it was used mainly for high-performance LEDs and the lasers of Blu-ray players.

Leading research institutes  were brought together with manufacturers to set up an independent European supply chain to manufacture high-quality GaN radio frequency devices for space applications.

“The promise of these materials makes them highly strategic,” explains Andrew Barnes, heading GREAT2. “We need independent European supply chains because if we were totally dependent on a foreign source that became subject to export restrictions then the whole industrial sector would be compromised, along with our competitiveness.”

The initial focus of GREAT2 was on GaN-based microwave power transistors and integrated circuits, as building blocks for high-performance solid-state power amplifiers, to bolster the competitiveness of the European telecommunications industry – the single largest and most commercial space sector.

“These same power transistors shall in the near future be offered on the open market after completion of a project funded by ESA’s European Component Initiative, which is the first time we’ve achieved that,” adds Andrew. “Such power transistors are also being investigated for use in the next-decade Galileo Second Generation.

“At the same time we’re in the process of qualifying some of the foundry processes used on a more systematic basis, following European Cooperation for Space Standardization rules. We’re also seeking to develop additional standards in terms of screening and testing and insertion into space systems – this is essential for wider industrial take-up of the technology, and we’re making steady progress.”

GREAT2’s focus has now moved to high voltage power converters and amplifiers for higher frequencies, operating at millimetre wavelength. The Ninth Wide Bandgap Workshop hosted at ESA’s Harwell centre in the UK took stock of the general progress made and looked ahead to the next steps towards the wide bandgap future.

“This includes improving production quality of GaN ‘epitaxy’ – meaning crystal growth – and moving to higher frequency foundry processes for space ready parts, utilizing 100 nanometre gate lengths or lower for GaN,” explains Andrew. Work is also ongoing to test the space radiation robustness of GaN power transistors for DC-DC convertor applications.

“We’ve also worked to boost their general robustness. We found, for instance, that some of the passive components used on GaN monolithic microwave integrated circuit parts weren’t performing so well in radiation testing as expected, and this came down to the legacy of their design, originally these capacitor designs were based on legacy parts built in gallium arsenide. By tuning design parameters, i.e. adjusting the dielectric layer stack, we have now achieved a big improvement.”

Other wide bandgap materials such as diamond are also under investigation, in their own right and also as a ‘substrate’ backing material for GaN devices to give improved thermal performance.

Andrew comments: “Diamond has a similar crystalline structure to GaN, and excellent thermal conductivity properties. The University of Bristol presented work done in integrating GaN with diamond. The result is a fivefold increase in heat dissipation, allowing even higher power densities – diamond is a GaN’s best friend.”

The workshop also peered further into the future, with discussions looking forward to GaN-based optoelectronic devices, diamond-based integrated circuits and electric thrusters and the 3D printing of wide bandgap materials, as a means of revolutionising device manufacturing.

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