Category: News Posts

Elon Musk Reveals the Incredible Sci-Fi Design for SpaceX’s Hopper Starship

SpaceX’s Mars-bound rocket is taking shape. Last week, CEO Elon Musk shared an illustration of how the test version of the company’s Starship will look when complete, demonstrating a creative design that bears more than a passing resemblance to The Adventures of Tintin.

The rocket, aimed at completing short tests later this year, is a miniaturized version of one that is expected to send the first humans to Mars.

The image depicts the rocket currently under construction at the firm’s Boca Chica site in Texas. The “hopper” rocket will complete short “hop tests” of a few hundred kilometers to demonstrate the rocket’s effectiveness.

While it doesn’t reach the heights of the full Starship, announced with a size of 348 feet it does reach the same diameter of the final version at 30 feet.

While the stainless steel design is likely to reflect the final version, which Musk has described as looking like “liquid silver,” the “hopper” version also lacks features like windows expected to make the final design.

The steel looks incredible, and represents a stark departure from the carbon fiber composite used in the Falcon 9’s construction.

It’s similar to the approach used by NASA with the Atlas rockets in the 1950s, but those designs suffered as it buckled on the launchpad when depressurized.




SpaceX’s version should avoid the same pitfalls, with a metal that Musk says will “vary considerably according to loads.

SpaceX needs the rocket to succeed if it wishes to carry out its more ambitious missions.

The rocket now known as the “Starship” was unveiled at the International Aeronautical Congress in September 2017 under the name “BFR,” with a reusable design that could enable humans to travel to Mars and refuel its liquid oxygen and methane tanks by harvesting resources from the atmosphere.

SpaceX is aiming to send two unmanned Starships to Mars by 2022, followed by two unmanned and two manned in 2024.

The firm is also planning to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the moon with the Starship sometime in 2023, accompanied by a team of artists as part of a project.

While photos of the test site show the “hopper” still in an unfinished state, Musk stated on Sunday that the team is aiming to fly the rocket in just four weeks’ time, with the possibility of pushing the deadline back to eight weeks.

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China Makes Historic First Landing on Mysterious Far Side of the Moon

Humanity just planted its flag on the far side of the moon.

China’s robotic Chang’e 4 mission touched down on the floor of the 115-mile-wide (186 kilometers) Von Kármán Crater Wednesday night (Jan. 2), pulling off the first-ever soft landing on the mysterious lunar far side.

Chang’e 4 will perform a variety of science work over the coming months, potentially helping scientists better understand the structure, formation and evolution of Earth’s natural satellite.

But the symbolic pull of the mission will resonate more with the masses: The list of unexplored locales in our solar system just got a little shorter.




The epic touchdown—which took place at 9:26 p.m. EST (0226 GMT and 10:26 a.m. Beijing time on Jan. 3), according to Chinese space officials—followed closely on the heels of two big NASA spaceflight milestones.

On Dec. 31, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft entered orbit around the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, and the New Horizons probe zoomed past the distant object Ultima Thule just after midnight on Jan. 1.

Congratulations to China’s Chang’e 4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the moon. This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said via Twitter Wednesday night, after word of the milestone began circulating on social media.

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The Mysterious Radio Bursts From Space Just Got Even Weirder

After a decade of bewilderment, astronomers have pinpointed the source of a mysterious blast of radio waves coming from deep outside the Milky Way: a dwarf galaxy located 3 billion light years from Earth.

It’s a remarkable first in the study of what has been a tremendous astronomical puzzle.

Scientists still don’t know what causes these deep space pulses, but locating the galaxy that spawned one brings us closer to figuring out where they come from.

First discovered in 2007, only 18 of these phenomena have ever been detected.

They’re called fast radio bursts, or FRBs, because they occur for just milliseconds; their fleeting nature makes it tough to catch one in action, and even tougher to figure out the exact spot in the sky they’re coming from.

But astronomers got lucky when they found a particular burst known as FRB 121102: it is the only one known to repeat, meaning multiple radio bursts have been detected coming from the same location in the sky.

That makes it easier for scientists to catch again, Shami Chatterjee, an astronomer at Cornell University who discovered the repetition says.

That discovery gave Chatterjee the idea to continually observe FRB 121102 with a huge network of radio telescopes.

And sure enough, he and his team were able to get high-resolution images of multiple bursts after many hours of observation, allowing them to track down the source of FRB 121102.

Their work is detailed today in three studies published in Nature and The Astrophysical Journal Letters.




 

The mystery of fast radio bursts

When FRBs were first discovered, there was debate over whether or not these signals were actually coming from space at all. Astronomers wondered if they were just bizarre interference of some kind.

But after a closer look, researchers realized FRBs are unique. Typically, a burst of radio waves will have different wave frequencies occurring at once, but FRBs have frequencies that are spread out.

The highest frequencies of each FRB arrive slightly earlier at Earth while the lowest frequencies arrive slightly later.

It’s a sign that the these FRBs are weary travelers, having journeyed through a lot of interstellar gas and plasma that’s mucking up their signals.

And FRB signals are so mucked up that astronomers are convinced they’re coming from outside the Milky Way Galaxy. But that creates another problem: these bursts must come from a super bright source.

Like absolutely, incredibly bright,” says Chatterjee. Experts have come up with dozens of theories, such as the cataclysmic collision of neutron stars or a black hole tearing itself apart.

But no one has agreed on a single explanation.

Then the discovery of FRB 121102 changed everything. Because of its repeating nature, astronomers know that its source can’t be anything explosive or an object being destroyed.

Something like that could not repeat again at the same place at the same distance,” says Chatterjee. “So that basically put the end to a huge swath of models.

Maybe more than one thing is capable of creating FRBs — and that’s why there hasn’t been a single explanation. But the only way to know for sure was to find the host galaxy.

Unsolved mysteries

Another possibility is that the FRB is coming from a type of dense neutron star with an incredibly strong magnetic field, called a magnetar.

Astronomers have discovered magnetars in our galaxy that produce bright radio pulses, but nothing as bright as FRB 121101.

So something would have to be amplifying the pulses, like the way a magnifying glass focuses a beam of light on ants.

That may mean blobs of plasma are lining up just right to focus the radio waves on Earth, making them extra bright, says Chatterjee. “This is very plausible,” he says. “We’re not invoking any radical new physics.”

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The Hubble Telescope Camera Needs A Fix

One of the Hubble Space Telescope’s main instruments stopped working on 8 January because of an unspecified hardware problem, NASA says.

Engineers are unlikely to be able to fix the ageing telescope until the ongoing US government shutdown ends — whenever that might be.

Hubble’s mission operations are based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where most employees are on involuntary leave during the shutdown.

A few people who operate spacecraft that are actively flying, including Hubble, have been allowed to keep working.




But fixing the telescope, which is almost 30 years old, will almost certainly require additional government employees who are forbidden to work during the shutdown.

NASA has formed an investigative team, composed primarily of contractors and experts from its industry partners, to examine the technical troubles.

Federal law allows agencies to keep some personnel working during a shutdown if they are deemed necessary for protecting life and property.

It is not clear whether NASA will request an emergency exception to allow repairs to Hubble before the shutdown — now on its nineteenth day — ends.

Camera trouble

The instrument that broke is Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, one of its scientific workhorses.

The telescope has one other camera and two spectrographs that remain operational and will keep collecting data, NASA said in an 8 January announcement.

In October, Hubble stopped working entirely for three weeks after the failure of one of the gyroscopes that it uses to orient itself in space.

Engineers fixed the problem, but the rescue effort required input from experts from across NASA, including many who are currently furloughed.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, which runs Hubble’s science operations, remains open for now, using money it received from NASA before the shutdown started. But many of Hubble’s technical experts are based at Goddard, which is closed.

The shutdown, which affects roughly 75% of the government, is now in its third week with no end in sight.

If it persists until 12 January, it will break the record for longest shutdown, which was set by a 21-day event that began on 16 December 1995.

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How Can A Drone Cause So Much Chaos In Airports?

In October 2017, a drone collided with a commercial aircraft in Canada, striking one of the plane’s wings. The plane sustained minor damage but was able to land safely.

Research on drone damage to aircraft is still limited but a number of institutions have tested a variety of impact scenarios and each seems to reach a different conclusion.

Other research from the Alliance for System Safety of Unmanned aircraft system through research Excellence (Assure) in conjunction with the US’s Federal Aviation Authority suggested drones could inflict more damage than a bird collision.

The lithium ion batteries that power them may not shatter upon impact, instead becoming lodged in airframes and posing a potential risk of fire.

Ravi Vaidyanathan, a robotics lecturer at Imperial College, London, told the BBC: “The threat posed to larger aircraft by drones is small but not negligible.

“The probability of a collision is small but a drone could be drawn into a turbine. A drone greater than 2kg might break the cockpit windshield as well for certain aircraft.”

Martin Lanni, chief executive of airspace security company Quantum Aviation, said: “A drone looks quite fragile but the battery is hefty and if you compare a drone to a bird, then it could be potentially more dangerous if it goes through the engine or hits the fuselage.




According to the UK Airprox Board, there were 92 instances of aircraft and drones coming close to colliding in 2017.

In the UK, legislation came into force in July, making it illegal to fly a drone within 1km (0.62 miles) of an airport. It is also illegal to fly a drone higher than 400ft (120m).

But experts have pointed out that this could be ineffective, given that a landing aircraft would fly below 400ft. And of course those with malicious intent would have little regard for legislation.

Systems have been tested in some prisons, where drones are often used to smuggle in goods, which aim to block radio signals within a certain area in order to prevent drones from landing.

For airports serious about protecting themselves from drone attacks, there is the option of a more sophisticated, if expensive, system, such as that offered by Quantum Aviation, which employs radar, radio frequency detectors and cameras to detect when drones are nearby and locate where they came from.

In an ideal world, you talk to a person but to do that you need to know where the drones are coming from,” said Mr Lanni.

“What you don’t want is to have them dropping out of the sky.”

The Quantum Aviation system can “jam” a drone – effectively stopping it working – the drone should, in theory, have a default mode that would see it either return to where it came from or land safely.

DJI, the world leader in making civilian drones, introduced geo-fencing systems in its products in 2013.

This technology can prevent drones from flying in some locations and offers warnings to drone operators flying near a restricted zone.

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China Moves Further Towards Cashless Society

If you’re planning on visiting the cashless society of China anytime soon, you better make sure all of your physical currency is left behind.

Wallets in most of the country have gone digital, and the rapid growth of digital payments and currency is exploding at a rapid pace.

The country has harnessed the power of mobile payments and wallets, leading it to become a mobile-first market. In fact, mobile payment transactions in China added up to more than $12.8 trillion in 2017.

When it comes to the ever-evolving FinTech and mobile payments industries, the rest of the world can look to China for adopting strategies that will help move economies of other countries towards a cashless society.

China’s Cashless Society Journey

Much of China’s growth is attributed not just to their rapid urbanization, but ultimately the government’s push to replace cash with electronic payments.

Because of this and other factors, the country is much further ahead than the United States when it comes to mobile wallets and digital currency.

One big example of this? QR codes. Where QR codes have failed to gain popularity in the U.S., they are used all throughout China to purchase goods and send money between persons.




Their speed and ease of use are widely accepted and appreciated by merchants and consumers alike.

Throughout the country, 40 percent of the population carries “almost no cash”, which is just another nod towards the popularization of mobile payments.

In addition to seemingly becoming a cashless society, China also appears to be becoming a cardless society.

Third party payment channels such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are further progressing FinTech and the mobile industry, with more than 70 percent of all e-commerce transactions occurring via mobile payments.

Is There a Future for Non-Cashless Societies?

Compared to most traditional payment methods, digital and mobile payment options like Apple Pay, Venmo, Zelle or Paypal are generally faster and more secure.

 

And with more consumers moving towards digital wallets, it’s clear the way they choose to pay has changed drastically in the last decade.

Each step the FinTech and payments industry takes forward, the further away societies around the world get from cash as a main currency.

Cash and its role in global economies is shrinking, largely thanks to advancements and evolution in the financial industry and in payment and currency technologies.

However, as discussed earlier, cash still plays an important role in several countries — even in the U.S. It is still valued, especially for its convenience in P2P transfers and small-value transactions.

While cash still has a place in economies around the world, it is ultimately declining, especially given the rapid rise and growth of digital currency and payment technology and its accessibility.

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First Photo Show China’s Lunar Rover Set Out Across The Far Side of The Moon

China’s far-side moon rover is already busy exploring its exotic new home.

On Wednesday night (Jan. 2), the Chang’e 4 rover and its stationary-lander companion pulled off the first-ever soft touchdown on the lunar far side, coming to a rest inside the 115-mile-wide (186 kilometers) Von Kármán Crater.

The six-wheeled rover, known as Yutu 2, isn’t pausing to catch its breath, as a newly released photo shows.

Yutu 2 has already put a fair bit of space between itself and the lander, trundling over near the rim of a small crater on the floor of Von Kármán, which itself lies within an even larger impact feature — the 1,550-mile-wide (2,500 km) South Pole-Aitken Basin.

Both Yutu 2 and the lander sport four science instruments, which they’ll use to study the surrounding dirt and rocks and probe the far side’s subsurface.




Such observations could help scientists better understand the moon’s composition, structure and evolution, Chinese space officials have said.

Chang’e 4’s images and data come home via a relay satellite called Queqiao, which is parked at a gravitationally stable spot beyond the moon.

Queqiao, which launched in May 2018, is collecting some data of its own. The spacecraft totes an astronomy instrument, and it has sent home striking images of the moon and Earth from its unique vantage point in space.

The solar-powered Yutu 2 is designed to operate for at least three months on the lunar surface. The original Yutu was also a moon rover, which landed on the near side in December 2013 as part of China’s Chang’e 3 mission.

Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 were moon orbiters that launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively. Chang’e 5, which could launch as early as this year, will aim to bring moon rocks and dirt down to Earth.

The most recent such lunar sample-return flight was achieved in 1976, by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission.

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IBM Just Unveiled Its First Commercial Quantum Computer

IBM today announced its first commercial quantum computer for use outside of the lab.

The 20-qubit system combines into a single package the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications.

That package, the IBM Q system, is still huge, of course, but it includes everything a company would need to get started with its quantum computing experiments, including all the machinery necessary to cool the quantum computing hardware.

While IBM describes it as the first fully integrated universal quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use, it’s worth stressing that a 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most of the commercial applications that people envision for a quantum computer with more qubits — and qubits that are useful for more than 100 microseconds.

It’s no surprise then, that IBM stresses that this is a first attempt and that the systems are “designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle.




Right now, we’re not quite there yet, but the company also notes that these systems are upgradable (and easy to maintain).

The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research.

“This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”

More than anything, though, IBM seems to be proud of the design of the Q systems.

In a move that harkens back to Cray’s supercomputers with its expensive couches, IBM worked with design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio, as well Goppion, the company that has built, among other things, the display cases that house the U.K.’s crown jewels and the Mona Lisa.

IBM clearly thinks of the Q system as a piece of art and, indeed, the final result is quite stunning.

It’s a nine-foot-tall and nine-foot-wide airtight box, with the quantum computing chandelier hanging in the middle, with all of the parts neatly hidden away.

If you want to buy yourself a quantum computer, you’ll have to work with IBM, though. It won’t be available with free two-day shipping on Amazon anytime soon.

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How to Mine Water on Mars to Survive on The Red Planet

The bone-dry desert of present-day Mars may seem like the last place you would look for water, but the Red Planet actually contains a wealth of water locked up in ice.

Evidence that Mars once supported liquid water has been mounting for years, and exploratory missions have found that water ice still exists on the planet’s poles and just beneath its dusty surface.

Accessing that water could require digging it up and baking it in an oven, or beaming microwaves at the soil and extracting the water vapor.

Yet no mission has attempted to extract water on Mars or any celestial body beyond Earth in appreciable quantities.

Now, the Netherlands-based organization Mars One, which wants to establish a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet, is planning to send an unmanned lander to Mars in 2018 that would carry an experiment to demonstrate that water extraction is possible.




Mined water could be used for drinking, growing plants or creating fuel.

Here on Earth, we’ve experimented with different technologies to extract moisture out of the atmosphere or soil,” said Ed Sedivy, civil space chief engineer at the security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin and program manager for NASA’s Phoenix lander flight system.

The question is, Sedivy said, “At the concentration of water we’re likely to encounter and the temperatures we’re likely to encounter [on Mars], how do we validate those technologies are appropriate?”

H2O on the Red Planet

Numerous studies have suggested that water exists on Mars, based on evidence from Mars orbiters and rovers such as outflow channels, ancient lakebeds, and surface rocks and minerals that could only have formed in the presence of liquid water.

Today, Mars is too frigid, and its atmospheric pressure is too low, to support liquid water on its surface — except for very short spans of time at low altitudes — but frozen water can be found in the planet’s ice caps and beneath the soil surface.

NASA’s Phoenix lander detected water ice at its landing site in 2008. The spacecraft dug up chunks of soil, and its onboard mass spectrometer found traces of water vapor when the sample was heated above freezing.

More recently, NASA’s Curiosity rover detected water molecules in soil samples analyzed by its SAM instruments, suggesting Martian soil contains about two pints of water per cubic foot of soil.

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New AI Can Spot Tell-Tale Signs Of A Genetic Disorder By Scanning People’s Faces

An artificially intelligent computer program has been used to identify rare genetic diseases by studying photos of faces.

In the experiment, the AI system out-performed human experts attempting the same task.

The face analysis program, known as DeepGestalt, could in future assist the diagnosis of rare genetic syndromes, say researchers.

At the same time they warn that safeguards are needed to prevent abuse of the technology.

Easily accessible portrait photos could, for instance, enable potential employers to discriminate against individuals with ‘at risk’ facial features.

Study co-author Dr Karen Gripp, from the US company FDNA which developed the program, said: “This is a long-awaited breakthrough in medical genetics that has finally come to fruition.

With this study, we’ve shown that adding an automated facial analysis framework, such as DeepGestalt, to the clinical workflow can help achieve earlier diagnosis and treatment, and promise an improved quality of life.




The team trained the “deep learning” software using more than 17,000 facial images of patients with more than 200 different genetic disorders.

In subsequent tests DeepGestalt successfully included the correct syndrome in its top 10 list of suggestions 91 percent of the time.

The system also out-performed clinical experts in three separate trials. Many genetic disorders are associated with distinct facial features.

Some are easily recognizable while others are harder to spot.

People with Williams syndrome, for instance, have short, upturned noses and mouths, a small jaw and a large forehead.

Well-known features associated with Down’s syndrome include almond-shaped eyes, a round, flat face, and a small nose and mouth.

Yaron Gurovich, chief technology office at FDNA and first author of the research published in the journal Nature Medicine, said: “The increased ability to describe phenotype in a standardized way opens the door to future research and applications, and the identification of new genetic syndromes.

Writing in the journal, the researchers drew attention to the potential risk of abuse of the technology.

They warned: “Unlike genomic data, facial images are easily accessible.

“Payers or employers could potentially analyse facial images and discriminate based on the probability of individuals having pre-existing conditions or developing medical complications.”

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