China spacecraft is returning to Earth with moon samples in a first for the country

  • A Chinese spacecraft carrying lunar samples has blasted off from the moon and is preparing to come back to earth.
  • It’s the first time China has launched a spacecraft from an extraterrestrial body and the first time it has collected moon samples.
  • If the moon samples make it back to earth, China will be only the third country to retrieve lunar samples after the efforts by the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.



a store front at night: The Long March 5 rocket carrying Chang'e 5 is seen on the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Hainan. The 8.2-tonne Change 5 probe, which consists of a lander, an ascender, a service module and a return capsule, is the sixth mission of the Chinese lunar exploration programme Change. The goal of the mission is to collect lunar soil and rock samples from Oceanus Procellarum and bring them back to the Earth. If successful, Change 5 will be the first sample-return mission since the 1976.


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The Long March 5 rocket carrying Chang’e 5 is seen on the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Hainan. The 8.2-tonne Change 5 probe, which consists of a lander, an ascender, a service module and a return capsule, is the sixth mission of the Chinese lunar exploration programme Change. The goal of the mission is to collect lunar soil and rock samples from Oceanus Procellarum and bring them back to the Earth. If successful, Change 5 will be the first sample-return mission since the 1976.

GUANGZHOU, China — A Chinese spacecraft carrying lunar samples has blasted off from the moon and is preparing to come back to Earth.

It’s the first time China has launched a spacecraft from an extraterrestrial body and the first time it has collected moon samples. If the moon samples make it back to Earth, China will be only the third country in the world to retrieve lunar samples after the efforts by the U.S. in the 1960s and the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

At 23:10 p.m. Beijing time on Thursday, the Chang’e-5 spacecraft took off from the moon, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The spacecraft was successfully launched into a pre-determined orbit around the moon.

The probe will meet with a return spacecraft to get back to Earth and is expected to land in China’s Inner Mongolia region around mid-December.

China has ramped up its space efforts in the last few years. President Xi Jinping urged the industry earlier this year to make China a “great space power as soon as possible,” according to state-backed China Daily. 

In June, China launched the final satellite to complete Beidou, its rival to the U.S. government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), which is widely used across the world. 

And in July, China also launched an ambitious mission to Mars called Tianwen -1.

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NASA Buying Moon Dust For $1

The US space agency NASA awarded contracts to four companies on Thursday to collect lunar samples for $1 to $15,000, rock-bottom prices that are intended to set a precedent for future exploitation of space resources by the private sector.

“I think it’s kind of amazing that we can buy lunar regolith from four companies for a total of $25,001,” said Phil McAlister, director of NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Division.

The contracts are with Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado for $1; ispace Japan of Tokyo for $5,000; ispace Europe of Luxembourg for $5,000; and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California for $15,000.

The companies plan to carry out the collection during already scheduled unmanned missions to the Moon in 2022 and 2023.

The firms are to collect a small amount of lunar soil known as regolith from the Moon and to provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material.

Ownership of the lunar soil will then be transferred to NASA and it will become the “sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the Artemis program.”

Under the Artemis program, NASA plans to land a man and a woman on the Moon by 2024 and lay the groundwork for sustainable exploration and an eventual mission to Mars.

NASA has awarded contracts to four companies to collect lunar samples NASA has awarded contracts to four companies to collect lunar samples Photo: AFP / Laurent EMMANUEL

“The precedent is a very important part of what we’re doing today,” said Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations.

“We think it’s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract, can take these resources but NASA can purchase and utilize them to fuel not only NASA’s activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the Moon,” Gold said.

“We must learn to generate our own water, air and even fuel,” he said. “Living off the land will enable ambitious exploration activities that will result in awe inspiring science and unprecedented discoveries.”

Any lessons learned on the Moon would be crucial to an eventual mission to Mars.

“Human mission to Mars will be even more demanding and challenging than our lunar operations, which is why it’s so critical to learn from our experiences on the Moon and apply those lessons to Mars,” Gold said.

“We want to demonstrate explicitly that you can extract, you can utilize resources, and that we will be conducting those activities in full compliance with the Outer Space Treaty,” he said. “That’s the precedent that’s important. It’s important for America to lead, not just in technology, but in policy.”

The United States is seeking to establish a precedent because there is currently no international consensus on property rights in space and China and Russia have not reached an understanding with the United States on the subject.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is vague but it deems outer space to be “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation,

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Nasa to pay company $1 to collect moon rocks





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Nasa is paying a company $1 to collect moon rocks after it was accepted as a winning bidder.

On Thursday Colorado-based Lunar Outpost was awarded a contract to collect moon dirt for the US space agency.

It is one of three contracts awarded by Nasa under its low-cost lunar resource collection programme.

The other winning bidders were California-based Masten Space Systems and Tokyo-based ispace.

Nasa will be paying the companies for individual collections of lunar regolith, or moon soil, between 50g and 500g in weight.

“The companies will collect the samples and then provide us with visual evidence and other data that they’ve been collected,” a spokesman for Nasa said.

“The plan is for the mission to take place in 2023, but we are working with several different lander companies, which could result in an earlier launch date,” Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus told the BBC.

Lunar Outpost will be paid $1 for collecting moon rocks from the lunar South Pole.

The reason the fee is so low is because Lunar Outpost was already planning a trip to collect lunar material.

Mr Cyrus called it “a paradigm shift in the way society thinks about space exploration”.

The company is in talks with Blue Origin and several other companies that are working to fly to the moon.

Blue Origin is a space exploration firm set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Among the other winning bids, Japan’s ispace will be paid $5,000 for its proposed collection in 2022 on the Moon’s north-eastern near side.

“The nominal amount of even a dollar is an important precedent that Nasa is setting,” said Sinead O’Sullivan, a space expert.

“The innovation here is not of financial value but of creating business and legal norms of creating a market of buyers and sellers outside of Earth’s constraints,” she added.

The awards for the three companies will be paid in a three-step process. A total of 10% of the funds at the time of the award, 10% when the company launches its collection spacecraft, and 80% when Nasa verifies the company collected the material.

The space agency’s announcement on Thursday comes as China conducts its own lunar sample collection mission.

The Chinese Chang’e-5 lunar spacecraft is currently on its way back to Earth with samples from the moon.

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NASA will pay a company $1 to collect moon rocks

A photo of the moon taken by SpaceIL’s Beresheet spacecraft in orbit.

SpaceIL

NASA will pay an amazingly low price – a dollar – to have a company make a single small collection of moon dirt on the agency’s behalf.

Colorado-based start-up Lunar Outpost bid $1 and won a NASA contract to complete a mission under the agency’s low-cost lunar resource collection program announced earlier this year.

NASA wants to pay companies for individual collections of lunar regolith, or Moon soil, between 50 grams and 500 grams. The agency explicitly outlined it is only paying companies to collect material and say where NASA can find it on the moon’s surface – not to develop the spacecraft or return the regolith to Earth.

Lunar Outpost is one of the three companies that NASA selected on Thursday as winning bidders. The other two winners were California-based Masten Space Systems, which proposed a $15,000 mission in 2023, and Tokyo-based ispace, which proposed a pair of $5,000 missions in 2022 and 2023.

“The companies will collect the samples and then provide us with visual evidence and other data that they’ve been collected, and then ownership will transfer and we will then collect those samples,” NASA acting associate administrator Mike Gold told reporters in a press conference. “The objective [of these collection missions] is twofold: There is important policy and precedent that’s being set, both relative to the utilization of space resources, and the expansion of the public and private partnerships  beyond Earth orbit to the moon.”

The agency asked for bids in the range of $15,000 to $25,000 each, with a maximum limit of $250,000. The awards for the three companies will be paid in a three step process: 10% of the funds at the time of the award, 10% when the company launches their collection spacecraft, and 80% when NASAA verifies the company collected the material.

“Is NASA going to cut a check for 10 cents [to Lunar Outpost]? The answer is yes,” NASA commercial spaceflight director Phil McAlister said.

McAlister explained that Lunar Outpost was able to bid $1 because the company was already planning to collect lunar material, so segregating some regolith for NASA “was in fact trivial.”

While NASA said Lunar Outpost will fly on a mission by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to the moon’s south pole in 2023, Blue Origin told CNBC that was inaccurate. Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus clarified, telling CNBC that his company is in talks with Blue Origin and several other companies that are working to fly to the moon.

“We are compatible with a variety of landers … [but] we have not made a final decision on any of these landers,” Cyrus said. “Blue Origin makes a hell of a space vehicle, there’s no doubt about, but we are not contractually obligated to use any one specific lander.”

The agency received 22 mission proposals from at least 16 companies, as some bid multiple times. While NASA declined to specify which companies submitted proposals that

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Chinese spacecraft carrying lunar rocks lifts off from moon

Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
This image taken by panoramic camera aboard the lander-ascender combination of Chang’e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface after it landed on the moon on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Chinese government say the spacecraft landed on the moon on Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP)

A Chinese spacecraft lifted off from the moon Thursday night with a load of lunar rocks, the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported.


Chang’e 5, the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the moon and the first to take off from it again, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a orbiter and rover headed to Mars.

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side. Its mission: collect about 2 kilograms (4 pounds) of lunar rocks and bring them back to Earth, the first return of samples since Soviet spacecraft did so in the 1970s. Earlier, the U.S. Apollo astronauts brought back hundreds of pounds of moon rocks.

The landing site is near a formation called the Mons Rumker and may contain rocks billions of years younger than those retrieved earlier.

The ascent vehicle lifted off from the moon shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time Thursday (1500 GMT) and was due to rendezvous with a return vehicle in lunar orbit, then transfer the samples to a capsule, according to the China National Space Administration. The moon rocks and debris were sealed inside a special canister to avoid contamination.

Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
This artist’s rendering provided to China’s Xinhua News Agency on Aug. 23, 2016, by the lunar probe and space project center of Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, shows a concept design for the Chinese Mars 2020 rover and lander. China’s landing of its third probe on the moon is part of an increasingly ambitious space program that has a robot rover en route to Mars, is developing a reusable space plane and plans to put humans back on the lunar surface. (Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense via Xinhua via AP, File)

It wasn’t clear when the linkup would occur. After the transfer, the ascent module would be ejected and the capsule would remain in lunar orbit for about a week, awaiting the optimal time to make the trip back to Earth.

Chinese officials have said the sample capsule is due to land on Earth around the middle of the month. Touchdown is planned for the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s astronauts have made their return in Shenzhou spacecraft.

Chang’e 5’s lander, which remained on the moon, was capable of scooping samples from the surface and drilling 2 meters (about 6 feet).

While retrieving samples was its main task, the lander also was equipped to extensively photograph the area, map conditions

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NASA will buy moon dirt from these 4 companies

NASA just bought the rights to four batches of future moon samples for the low, low price of $25,001.



a close up of the moon: An image of the near side of the moon based on data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.


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An image of the near side of the moon based on data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The space agency inked deals with four companies that will collect lunar rock and dirt in the next few years and then sign the material over to NASA. The contracts are designed to get the ball rolling on the extraction, sale and use of off-Earth resources, which agency officials stress are key to extending humanity’s footprint into the final frontier.

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“We think it’s very important to establish the precedent that private-sector entities can extract, can take these resources, and NASA can purchase and utilize them to fuel not only NASA’s activities but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development in exploration on the moon and then, eventually, to Mars,” Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, told reporters during a teleconference today (Dec. 3).

Related: NASA’s full plate of moon missions before astronauts can go

NASA has not yet made plans for the retrieval of the collected samples, and it’s unclear if the material will be brought to Earth, agency officials said. (NASA already has a lot of moon rocks here; the Apollo missions hauled home 842 lbs., or 342 kilograms, of lunar material between 1969 and 1972.)

The four companies, and their contract awards, are Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California ($15,000); ispace Europe of Luxembourg ($5,000); ispace Japan of Tokyo ($5,000); and Colorado-based Lunar Outpost ($1).

The funding is so low because NASA is paying solely for the collected material, without footing the bill for any of the companies’ development costs, agency officials said. 

Masten, ispace Europe and Lunar Outpost all plan to collect their samples from the moon’s south polar region, where the three companies aim to land in 2023. Masten will use its XL-1 lander, ispace Europe will rely on its Hakuto-R lander and Lunar Outpost’s robot will apparently hitch a ride to the lunar surface aboard Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander, NASA officials said today.

Hakuto-R is also the lander of choice for ispace Japan, which will collect samples from Lacus Somniorum, a site on the northeastern near side of the moon, following a planned touchdown there in 2022.

Each set of snagged samples will weigh between 1.8 and 18 ounces (50 to 500 grams), according to a request for proposals that NASA released in September. The four companies will provide imagery of the samples, as well as data that identifies where it was collected.

“Subsequent to receiving such imagery and data, an ‘in-place’ transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith to NASA will take place,” agency officials wrote in a statement today. “After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the Artemis program.”

Artemis is NASA’s ambitious program of crewed lunar exploration, which aims to land

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NASA agrees to purchase moon rocks for $1

Blue Moon cargo lander
An artist’s conception shows the uncrewed cargo version of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander. (Blue Origin Illustration)

NASA has selected four companies to collect material on the moon and store it up as the space agency’s property, for a total price of $25,001. And one deal stands out: a $1 purchase that may rely on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

Although this sounds like the sort of deal Amazon might have offered on Cyber Monday, neither Seattle-based Amazon nor Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin is directly involved in the purchase.

Instead, NASA accepted a $1 offer from Colorado-based Lunar Outpost, based on the expectation that the venture can set aside a sample for NASA when Blue Origin sends a robotic Blue Moon lander to the moon’s south polar region in 2023.

Previously: Blue Origin scientist fleshes out plan for 2023 cargo delivery to the moon

Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus told GeekWire that his company’s collection system could fly on any lander heading to the moon, and not necessarily on the Blue Moon lander. But in order to have the $1 deal accepted, Lunar Outpost had to give NASA adequate assurances that it could fly with Blue Origin.

In response to an email from GeekWire, Blue Origin sent a statement casting some doubt on those assurances. “We don’t have a contract with Lunar Resources,” Blue Origin said. “We would recommend that you check with NASA, as this is inaccurate.”

During a teleconference with reporters, Phil McAllister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said the risk to NASA will be minimal even if Lunar Outpost can’t follow through.

Only 10% of the purchase price has to be paid out initially. Another 10% would be paid when the sample collection system is launched, and the remaining 80% wouldn’t be due until the lunar samples are collected, set aside on the moon and officially transferred to NASA ownership.

That means NASA will be sending Lunar Outpost an initial payment of 10 cents. “Yes, the postage is going to be more than the check,” McAllister told reporters.

The other companies involved in NASA’s advance purchase of lunar material quoted higher prices. NASA accepted a $15,000 offer from California-based Masten Space Systems, which is already scheduled to send a lander to the moon’s south pole in 2022 under the terms of a $75.9 million NASA contract.

Offers from two of iSpace’s business units were also accepted. NASA agreed to a $5,000 purchase from Tokyo-based iSpace Japan, with collection and in-place ownership transfer scheduled for 2022. A similar deal for the same amount was struck with Luxembourg-based iSpace Europe for 2023.

Both of those deals depend on iSpace getting lunar landers to the moon in collaboration with industry partners.

McAllister said 22 proposals were submitted in response to NASA’s solicitation, by roughly 16 different companies. He said 14 of the proposals were rejected because they weren’t judged technically or financially doable. NASA chose the four lowest-priced proposals to hit a target purchase range

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NASA names companies that will mine moon

“You’d be surprised at what a dollar can buy you in space,” Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, said in a call with reporters.

But the modest financial incentives are not the driver of the program. Nor to a large extent is the actual lunar soil. NASA is only asking for small amounts—between 50 to 500 grams (or 1.7 ounces to about 17 ounces). While there would be scientific benefits to the mission, it’s really a technology development program, allowing companies to practice extracting resources from the lunar surface and then selling them.

It would also establish a legal precedent that would pave the way for companies to mine celestial bodies in an effort blessed by the United States government to help build a sustainable presence on the moon and elsewhere.

To do that, NASA says it needs its astronauts, like the western pioneers, to “live off the land,” using the resources in space instead of hauling them from Earth. The moon, for example, has plenty of water in the form of ice. That’s not only key to sustaining human life, but the hydrogen and oxygen in water could also be used as rocket fuel, making the moon a potential gas station in space that could help explorers reach further into the solar system.

Asteroids also have significant resources, particularly precious metals that could be used for in-space manufacturing. While the prospect of large mining and manufacturing facilities in orbit is still many years away, NASA wants to use the mining program as a small step toward that goal.

NASA is now trying to return astronauts to the moon under its Artemis program for the first time since 1972. Unlike its predecessor, Apollo, where the astronauts visited the lunar surface for a short while before coming home, the Artemis program would create a permanent presence on and around the moon.

“The ability to extract and utilize space resources is the key to achieving this objective of sustainability,” Gold said. “We must learn to generate our own water, air and even fuel. Living off the land will enable ambitious exploration activities that will result in awe-inspiring science and unprecedented discoveries.”

In 2015, then-President Obama signed a law that allowed private companies the right to own the resources they mined in space. Under the program announced Thursday, NASA said the materials would be transferred from the private companies to NASA.

The effort would not violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, NASA officials have said, which prohibits nations cannot claim sovereignty over a celestial body. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine previously likened the policy to the rules governing the seas.

“We do believe we can extract and utilize the resources of the moon, just as we can extract and utilize tuna from the ocean,” he said earlier this year.

As part of its lunar exploration mission, NASA has been working to get countries around the world to adopt what it calls the Artemis Accords, a legal framework that would

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Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese lunar probe lifted off from the moon Thursday night with a cargo of lunar samples on the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported, on what is expected to be a breakthrough mission for the rising Asian space power.

Chang’e 5, the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the moon and the first to take off from it again, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a spacecraft en route to Mars carrying a robot rover.

READ MORE: 3 questions after the discovery of water molecules on the sunlit moon

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side, on a mission to return lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since 1976.

Its ascender module lifted off from the lunar surface shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time Thursday (1500 GMT) and was to connect with its return vehicle in lunar orbit and transfer the samples to the capsule, according to the China National Space Administration. The moon rocks and debris were sealed inside a special canister to avoid contamination.

Chang’e 5’s lander module, which remained on the moon, is equipped to both scoop samples from the surface and drill 2 meters (more than 6 feet) to retrieve materials that could provide clues to the history of the moon, Earth other planets and space features.

Upon takeoff, the lander unfurled what the space administration called the first free-standing Chinese flag on the lunar surface.

While retrieving samples was its main task, the lander is also equipped to extensively photograph the area surrounding its landing site, map conditions below the surface with ground penetrating radar and analyze the lunar soil for minerals and water content.

Chang’e 5′s return module is supposed to touch down on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s crewed Shenzhou spacecraft have made their returns since China first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third country do so after Russia and the United States.

Chang’e 5 has revived talk of China one day sending a crewed mission to the moon and possibly building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects.

READ MORE: Asteroid samples tucked into capsule for return to Earth

China also launched Its first temporary orbiting laboratory in 2011 and a second in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022, possibly to be serviced by a reusable space plane.

While China is boosting cooperation with the European Space Agency and others, interactions with NASA are severely limited by U.S. concerns over the secretive nature and close military links of the Chinese program.

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China Moon Mission: Chang’e-5 Launches, Starting Trip Back to Earth

Two days after it landed on the moon, China’s Chang’e-5 mission is on its way again, blasting off back to space, the beginning of its journey back to Earth ferrying a bounty of soil and rocks for scientists to study.

The top half of the lander launched at 10:10 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, according to the China National Space Administration. Footage posted by Chinese state media showed the flash of the spacecraft’s engine as it headed to orbit, an ascent that took about six minutes.

It was the first time any spacecraft had launched from the lunar surface since the end of the Cold War moon race in 1976, and the first Chinese spacecraft to ever blast off from another world in the solar system.

The lander set down on Tuesday in a region of the moon known as Mons Rümker. The spacecraft was in the middle of a basalt lava plain that is about two billion years younger than the parts of the moon explored more than four decades ago by NASA’s Apollo astronauts and the Soviet Union’s robotic Luna landers. Images from the spacecraft show a desolate landscape with gentle rolling hills, a sign of its youth.

Within hours of arriving on the moon, Chang’e-5 set about drilling and scooping its lunar samples — perhaps more than four pounds.

Scientists are curious how this region remained molten far longer than the rest of the moon. Examination of these rocks in laboratories on Earth will also pin down their exact age, and that will calibrate a method that planetary scientists use to determine the ages of the surfaces of planets, moons and other bodies throughout the solar system.

The spacecraft’s departure is the first step in a complex sequence to return the rocks to Earth.

After it arrived in lunar orbit over the weekend, Chang’e-5 split into two. While the lander headed for the surface, the other half remained in orbit.

The ascent portion of the lander is to rendezvous and dock with the piece that remained in orbit. The rocks and soil will be transferred to a return capsule for a trip back to Earth, parachuting to a landing in Inner Mongolia later this month.

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