SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband ( 82

SpaceX is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite internet service in the U.S. "Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market," reports Ars Technica. "SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite internet services." From the report: Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. SpaceX's application has undergone "careful review" by the FCC's satellite engineering experts, according to Pai. "If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," Pai said.

Separately, CNET reported yesterday that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch on Saturday will include "[t]he first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's 'Starlink' service." The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. One SpaceX filing this month mentions that a secondary payload on Saturday's Falcon 9 launch will include "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b." Those are the two satellites that SpaceX previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing.


Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years ( 150

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk grabbed the world's attention last week after launching his Tesla Roadster into space. But his publicity stunt has a half-life way beyond even what he could imagine -- the Roadster should continue to orbit through the solar system, perhaps slightly battered by micrometeorites, for a few tens of millions of years. Now, a group of researchers specializing in orbital dynamics has analyzed the car's orbit for the next few million years. And although it's impossible to map it out precisely, there is a small chance that one day it could return and crash into Earth. But don't panic: That chance is just 6% over a million years, and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues regularly model the motions of planets and exoplanets. "We have all the software ready, and when we saw the launch last week we thought, 'Let's see what happens.' So we ran the [Tesla's] orbit forward for several million years," he says. The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX propelled the car out toward Mars, but the sun's gravity will bring it swinging in again some months from now in an elliptical orbit, so it will repeatedly cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus until it sustains a fatal accident. The Roadster's first close encounter with Earth will be in 2091 -- the first of many in the millennia to come.


The Next Falcon Heavy Will Carry the Most Powerful Atomic Clock Ever Launched ( 128

schwit1 shares a report from This isn't your average timekeeper. The so-called Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is far smaller than Earth-bound atomic clocks, far more precise than the handful of other space-bound atomic clocks, and more resilient against the stresses of space travel than any clock ever made. According to a NASA statement, it's expected to lose no more than 2 nanoseconds (2 billionths of a second) over the course of a day. That comes to about 7 millionths of a second over the course of a decade. n an email to Live Science, Andrew Good, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory representative, said the first DSAC will hitch a ride on the second Falcon Heavy launch, scheduled for June.

Every deep-space mission that makes course corrections needs to send signals to ground stations on Earth. Those ground stations rely on atomic clocks to measure just how long those signals took to arrive, which allows them to locate the spacecrafts position down to the meter in the vast vacuum. They then send signals back, telling the craft where they are and where to go next. Thats a cumbersome process, and it means any given ground station can support only one spacecraft at a time. The goal of DSAC, according to a NASA fact sheet, is to allow spacecraft to make precise timing measurements onboard a spacecraft, without waiting for information from Earth. A DSAC-equipped spacecraft, according to NASAs statement, could calculate time without waiting for measurements from Earth -- allowing it to make course adjustments or perform precision science experiments without pausing to turn its antennas earthward and waiting for a reply.


New Horizons Probe Captures Images At Record Distance From Earth ( 55

jwhyche writes: The New Horizons probe has captured the farthermost images of Earth. The probe took images of Earth from a distance of over 3.79 billion miles on December 5th, 2017. This beats the image Voyager 1 captured 27 years ago. The Voyager image was taken at a distance of 3.75 billion miles and has become known as the "Pale Blue Dot" photo. Engadget notes that this new record is likely to be broken again within a matter of months. "The [New Horizons spacecraft] is slated to swing by another Kuiper Belt object (2014 MU69) on January 1st, 2019 and record more imagery in the process," reports Engadget. "So long as the mission goes according to plan, New Horizons could hold on to its lead for a long time."
The Internet

Trump's Infrastructure Plan Has No Dedicated Money For Broadband ( 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: President Trump's new 10-year plan for "rebuilding infrastructure in America" doesn't contain any funding specifically earmarked for improving Internet access. Instead, the plan sets aside a pool of funding for numerous types of infrastructure projects, and broadband is one of the eligible categories. The plan's $50 billion Rural Infrastructure Program lists broadband as one of five broad categories of eligible projects.

Eighty percent of the program's $50 billion would be "provided to the governor of each state." Governors would take the lead in deciding how the money would be spent in their states. The other 20 percent would pay for grants that could be used for any of the above project categories. Separately, broadband would be eligible for funding from a proposed $20 billion Transformative Projects Program, along with transportation, clean water, drinking water, energy, and commercial space. Trump's plan would also add rural broadband facilities to the list of eligible categories for Private Activity Bonds, which allow private projects to "benefit from the lower financing costs of tax-exempt municipal bonds." The plan would also let carriers install small cells and Wi-Fi attachments without going through the same environmental and historical preservation reviews required for large towers.


SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Center Booster Lacked Ignition Fluid To Light Engines and Land On Platform ( 171

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Los Angeles Times: The center core booster of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy didn't land on a floating sea platform as intended during last week's first test flight because it ran out of ignition fluid, company Chief Executive Elon Musk said Monday. Musk took to Twitter on Monday morning to give a few more updates on the Falcon Heavy's first flight. After liftoff, the rocket's two side boosters touched down simultaneously on land, eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd of SpaceX employees gathered in the company's Hawthorne headquarters, as seen on the launch livestream. Those two boosters, which were used in previous launches of SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, will not be reused again, Musk said in a post-launch news conference last week. But the center core booster ended up hitting the Atlantic Ocean at 300 mph and about 328 feet from the floating platform where it was supposed to land. Musk said Monday that there wasn't enough ignition fluid to light the outer two engines of the booster "after several three engine relights."

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report ( 236

The Trump administration is planning to privatize the international space station instead of simply decommissioning the orbiting international experiment in 2024, The Washington Post reports. From a report: According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting it as NASA "will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit." The Post also reported that the administration was looking to request $150 million in fiscal year 2019 "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS -- potentially including elements of the ISS -- are operational when they are needed." The U.S. government has already spent roughly $100 billion to build and operate the space station as part of an international coalition that also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.

Google's Next Android Overhaul Will Embrace iPhone's 'Notch' ( 179

Google is working on a "dramatic redesign" of its Android operating system, Bloomberg reported on Monday. The company has stuck with a single look for its mobile operating system (OS) for quite some time now, but it's now reportedly looking at Apple for inspiration. The new version of Android -- which Bloomberg says is called "Pistachio Ice Cream" internally -- will apparently be designed with the space for a cutout at the top, much like the iPhone X and its so-called "notch." From the report: The operating system refresh, Android P, will emphasize Google's Assistant, a digital helper that competes with Apple's Siri and's Alexa. Developers will be able to integrate Google's voice-based technology inside of their apps. The company has also weighed integrating the search bar on the Android home screen with its assistant, although neither of these changes are finalized for introduction this year, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.

A Chemical Bath and a Hot-press Can Transform Wood Into a Material That is Stronger Than Steel, Researchers Find ( 251

The process, and others like it, could make the humble material an eco-friendly alternative to using plastics and metals in the manufacture of cars and buildings, Nature reported this week. From the report: "It's a new class of materials with great potential," says Li Teng, a mechanics specialist at the University of Maryland in College Park and a co-author of the study published on 7 February in Nature. Attempts to strengthen wood go back decades. Some efforts have focused on synthesizing new materials by extracting the nanofibres in cellulose -- the hard natural polymer in the tubular cells that funnel water through plant tissue. Li's team took a different approach: the researchers focused on modifying the porous structure of natural wood. First, they boiled different wood types, including oak, in a solution of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite for seven hours. That treatment left the starchy cellulose mostly intact, but created more hollow space in the wood structure by removing some of the surrounding compounds. These included lignin, a polymer that binds the cellulose. Then the team pressed the block -- like a panini sandwich -- at 100C (212F) for a day. The result: a wooden plank one-fifth the thickness, but three times the density of natural wood -- and 11.5 times stronger. Previous attempts to densify wood have improved the strength by a factor of about three to four.

Searching For Lithium Deposits With Satellites ( 49

A group led by Cristian Rossi, an expert on remote sensing, is using satellites already in orbit to detect and map geological and botanical features that might betray the presence of subterranean lithium. Though satellite prospecting of this sort has been employed before, reads a new report in The Economist, to look for metals such as gold and copper, using it to search for lithium is new. From the report, which may be paywalled: The searchers are not searching blind. They know, from mining records dating from the mid-1800s, that there is lithium in Cornwall's rocks. Those records tell of underground springs containing salts of lithium -- at that time quite a recently discovered element. Back then these springs were seen, at best, as curiosities, and at worst as flooding risks, because there was then no market for the metal. Today, there is. In particular, lithium is the eponymous component of lithium-ion batteries. These power products ranging from smartphones to electric cars, and are being tested as a means of grid-scale electricity storage which could make the spread of renewable energy much easier. No surprise, then, that prices have been rising. In 2008 a tonne of lithium carbonate cost around $6,000. Now it would set you back more than $12,000.
Open Source

How the First Open Source Software and Hardware Satellite UPSat Was Built ( 25

UPSat is the first open source -- both hardware and software -- satellite to have ever been launched in orbit. Pierros Papadeas, the Director of Operations for Libre Space Foundation, which helped build the UPSat, talked about the project at FOSDEM, a non-commercial, volunteer-organized European event focused on free and open-source software development. You can watch the talk here; and read an interview of him with folks at FOSDEM ahead of the talk here. Two excerpts from the interview: Q: What challenges did you encounter while designing, building, testing and eventually launching UPSat in orbit?
PP: The challenges where numerous, starting with the financial ones. Lack of appropriate funding led us to invest heavily in the project (through Libre Space Foundation funds) to ensure its successful completion. Countless volunteer participation was also key to the success. On the technical side, with minimal documentation and knowledge sharing around space projects we had to re-invent the wheel and discover many procedures and practices in a really short time-frame (6 months - unheard for a space mission). Lack of tools and equipment made our building process a creative exploration as we had to figure out ways to achieve specific tasks resorting to purpose-built projects in our local lab ( Testing and verification facilities where also a challenge mainly as we had to undergo much more extensive tests than other missions, having none of our components already "flight proven". Again creativity and countless hours of negotiations and documentation got us to the final delivery point. Launching UPSat in orbit was secured once the delivery happened, but as any typical space mission it came with long delays and timeline push-backs.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?
Through this talk we would like to raise awareness for open source initiatives in space, and inspire open source technologists (engineers, programmers, analysts, makers) to engage in an open source project. We would also love to gather feedback and ideas on next steps and provide contribution opportunities for interested parties.


Firefly Canon To Expand With Series of Original Books ( 106

More Firefly stories are on the way. Entertainment Weekly: EW can exclusively report that Titan Books and Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products have teamed up to publish an original range of new fiction tying in to Joss Whedon's beloved but short-lived TV series Firefly. The books will be official titles within the Firefly canon, with Whedon serving as consulting editor. The first book is due in the fall. Starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, and Alan Tudyk, the western-tinged space opera ran from 2002 to 2003 on Fox. Exploring weighty moral and ethical questions, Firefly centered on a collection of characters living on the fringes of society, joined together in the pioneer culture of their star system in the wake of a civil war. It lasted just 14 episodes, but in the decade and a half since it went off the air has amassed a significant cult following.

Elon Musk Explains Why SpaceX Prefers Clusters of Small Engines ( 240

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The company's development of the Falcon 9 rocket, with nine engines, had given Musk confidence that SpaceX could scale up to 27 engines in flight, and he believed this was a better overall solution for the thrust needed to escape Earth's gravity. To explain why, the former computer scientist used a computer metaphor. "It's sort of like the way modern computer systems are set up," Musk said. "With Google or Amazon they have large numbers of small computers, such that if one of the computers goes down it doesn't really affect your use of Google or Amazon. That's different from the old model of the mainframe approach, when you have one big mainframe and if it goes down, the whole system goes down."

For computers, Musk said, using large numbers of small computers ends up being a more efficient, smarter, and faster approach than using a few larger, more powerful computers. So it was with rocket engines. "It's better to use a large number of small engines," Musk said. With the Falcon Heavy rocket, he added, up to half a dozen engines could fail and the rocket would still make it to orbit. The flight of the Falcon Heavy likely bodes well for SpaceX's next rocket, the much larger Big Falcon Rocket (or BFR), now being designed at the company's Hawthorne, California-based headquarters. This booster will use 31 engines, four more than the Falcon Heavy. But it will also use larger, more powerful engines. The proposed Raptor engine has 380,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, compared to 190,000 pounds of thrust for the Merlin 1-D engine.


AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear ( 227

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Quartz: As we've turned our gaze away from the stars and toward our screens, our anxiety about humanity's ultimate fate has shifted along with it. No longer are we afraid of aliens taking our freedom: It's the technology we're building on our own turf we should be worried about. The advent of artificial intelligence is increasingly bringing about the kinds of disturbing scenarios the old alien blockbusters warned us about. In 2016, Microsoft's first attempt at a functioning AI bot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving mess an hour after it launched. Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged the United Nations to ban the use of AI in weapons before it becomes "the third revolution in warfare." And in China, AI surveillance cameras are being rolled out by the government to track 1.3 billion people at a level Big Brother could only dream of. As AI's presence in film and TV has evolved, space creatures blowing us up now seems almost quaint compared to the frightening uncertainties of an computer-centric world. Will Smith went from saving Earth from alien destruction to saving it from robot servants run amok. More recently, Ex Machina, Chappie, and Transcendence have all explored the complexities that arise when the lines between human and robot blur.

However, sentient machines aren't a new anxiety. It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It's a stunning depiction of a sprawling, smog-choked future, filled with bounty hunters muttering "enhance" at grainy pictures on computer screens. ("Alexa, enlarge image.") The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin. Even alien sci-fi now acknowledges that we've got worse things to worry about than extra-terrestrials: ourselves.


Google's Parent Company Alphabet Is Buying Chelsea Market For $2 Billion ( 29

Alphabet is close to acquiring the iconic Chelsea Market in Midtown Manhattan for over $2 billion. The market totals 1.2 million square feet and sits across the street from the company's New York headquarters, a 2.9 million-square-foot building that it bought for $1.8 billion in 2010. Quartz reports: Google is already the Market's largest tenant, having steadily expanded its footprint to about 400,000 square feet. The tech giant hasn't revealed plans for the property, but according to The Real Deal, the company is expected to maintain the status quo. Alphabet's aggressive expansion in New York follows a growing trend of tech giants taking over cities. With their outsized share of the economy, tech companies are exerting increasing influence over urban infrastructure and development.

Scientists Create a New Form of Matter: Superionic Water Ice ( 62

According to The New York Times, scientists created a new form of water that simultaneously acts like a solid and liquid. "The substance, which consists of a fluid of hydrogen ions running through a lattice of oxygen, was formed by compressing water between two diamonds and then zapping it with a laser," reports Science Magazine. "That caused pressures to spike to more than a million times those of Earth's atmosphere and temperatures to rise to thousands of degrees, conditions scientists had predicted may lead to the formation of superionic ice. This kind of water doesn't exist naturally on Earth, the scientists report in Nature Physics, but it may be present in the mantles of icy planets like Neptune and Uranus."

SpaceX Successfully Lands Two Falcon Heavy Boosters Simultaneously After Rocket Launch [Update] ( 446

After nearly a decade of development, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully launched from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today. After reaching orbit, the two side boosters simultaneously landed at Landing Zone One. We do not know the status of the central core of the rocket, which was destined to land on the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship roughly 8:19 minutes into the flight.

According to, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket to launch since NASA's Saturn V -- the iconic vessel that, with 7.5 million pounds of thrust, accomplished the definitive Apollo-era feat of putting astronauts on the moon. Elon Musk says that Falcon Heavy is "twice as powerful as any other booster operating today." As for the payload, it includes a Tesla Roadster electric car. "The Falcon Heavy will send the vehicle around the sun in an elliptical orbit that will extend farther than Mars' orbit," reports

UPDATE: SpaceX has confirmed The Verge's reporting that the middle core of SpaceX's Heavy Rocket missed the drone ship where it was supposed to land. "The center core was only able to relight one of the three engines necessary to land, and so it hit the water at 300 miles per hour," reports The Verge. "Two engines on the drone ship were taken out when it crashed, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a press call after the rocket launch. It's a small hiccup in an otherwise successful first flight."

Female Uber Drivers Get Paid Less Than Men, Says Study ( 338

According to a new study by Uber and Stanford economists, male Uber drivers get paid 7 percent more than their female counterparts in the U.S. "That's surprising, because Uber's driver assignments and pay are gender-blind, meaning a driver's gender isn't considered when matching riders or assigning fares," reports Recode. "Rather, pay has to do with trip length, distance and whether it's happening during surge-price hours or not." From the report: There are more male drivers -- women make up 27 percent of Uber drivers in the U.S. -- and male drivers tend to work longer hours. However, on an hourly rate, women still make less, according to the data, which measured trips by 1.8 million drivers from 2015 to 2017. According to the study, discrimination on the customer side isn't the reason for the pay gap, either. So why are female Uber drivers paid less than men? The study points to three reasons that make the gap disappear:

When and where: The times and places female Uber drivers work seem to be less profitable. That could be fewer overnight shifts, shifts with shorter wait times or surge-price shifts than men.
Driver experience: Drivers who've been with Uber longer get paid more, on account of knowing which routes and times tend to pay more. In general, men work for Uber longer than women so they are more experienced. The attrition rate after six months is 77 percent for women and 65 percent for men.
Speed: Male Uber drivers conduct more trips per hour than women, meaning they're actually driving faster, according to the data. More trips mean more money. About 50 percent of the earnings gap is explained away by differences in driving speed.


Scientists May Have Discovered the First Planets Outside the Milky Way ( 74

Using data from a NASA X-ray laboratory in space, Xinyu Dai, an astrophysicist and professor at the University of Oklahoma, detected a population of planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The planets range in size from Earth's moon to the massive Jupiter. From the report: There are few methods to determine the existence of distant planets. They are so far away that no telescope can observe them, Dai told The Washington Post. So Dai and postdoctoral researcher Eduardo Guerras relied on a scientific principle to make the discovery: Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's theory suggests light bends when tugged by the force of gravity. In this case, the light is coming from a quasar -- the nucleus of a galaxy with a swirling black hole -- that emits powerful radiation in the distance. Between that quasar and the space-based laboratory is the galaxy of newly discovered planets. The gravitational force of the galaxy bends the light heading toward the Milky Way, illuminating the galaxy in an effect called microlensing. In that way, the galaxy acts as a magnifying glass of sorts, bringing a previously unseen celestial body into X-ray view. In a university news release, Guerras had a less formal way to describe the complicated process: "This is very cool science."

SpaceX Has Received Permission From the US Government To Launch Elon Musk's Car Toward Mars ( 225

SpaceX this week is preparing to launch Falcon Heavy, the biggest rocket in the company's history, for the first time. From a report: The 230-foot-tall three-booster launcher is scheduled to blast off Tuesday between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. ET. SpaceX says Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in the world. SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk, wanted this test launch to happen as early as 2013, though he recently said it could end in an explosion. Instead of putting a standard "mass simulator" or dummy payload atop Falcon Heavy, Musk -- who once launched a wheel of cheese into orbit -- will put his personal 2008 midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster on top of the monster rocket. In an Instagram post over the weekend, Musk also revealed that the car would carry a dummy driver, which Musk is calling "Starman," wearing a SpaceX space suit. "Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring," Musk said in an Instagram post in December, adding that the company "decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel." However, all rocket payloads need a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch, and Musk's sleek electric car is no exception. The FAA granted SpaceX that permission on Friday in a staunchly formal notice, which Keith Cowing posted on NASA Watch.

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