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From The Editors Science

NASA Mobilizes Eleven US Companies to Develop Lunar Lander Prototypes

In a bid to expedite its ambitious Artemis moon program, NASA has shortlisted eleven US companies, including the likes of Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada, to research, design and develop lunar lander prototypes capable of landing humans on the lunar surface, the agency announced in a May 17 press release.

As part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP), NASA is awarding a combined amount of more than $45 million to these companies.

However, since NextSTEP is a public/private partnership program, the companies will have to shell out twenty percent of the overall project cost from their own coffers, which would not only reduce the taxpayer’s burden but also attract private investment in the potentially lucrative lunar business.

“To accelerate our return to the Moon, we are challenging our traditional ways of doing business,” Marshall Smith, director for human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters, said in the press release.

“We will streamline everything from procurement to partnerships to hardware development and even operations,” he added.

“Our team is excited to get back to the Moon quickly as possible, and our public/private partnerships to study human landing systems are an important step in that process,” he also said.

Since time is of the essence to NASA, it is putting into effect what it calls “undefinitized contract actions,” which essentially means the awardees will be paid in advance to start part of the work even before a final contract is agreed upon and signed.

“We’re taking major steps to begin development as quickly as possible, including invoking a NextSTEP option that allows our partners to begin work while we’re still negotiating,” Greg Chavers – human landing system formulation manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama – said in the release.

“We’re keen to collect early industry feedback about our human landing system requirements, and the undefinitized contract action will help us do that,” he added.

While NASA has not provided any design specifications to the awardees, it does plan to issue a “formal solicitation” this summer, laying down its requirements for the lunar lander.

It will then be up to the awardees to “propose innovative concepts, hardware development and integration.”

“This new approach doesn’t prescribe a specific design or number of elements for the human landing system,” Chavers said.

“NASA needs the system to get our astronauts on the surface and return them home safely, and we’re leaving a lot of the specifics to our commercial partners.”

Since the lunar lander will be based on three main elements – transfer, descent and refueling – each partner has been assigned specific areas to work on.

Here’s a list of the eleven awardees and their areas of responsibility

  1. Aerojet Rocketdyne – Canoga Park, California: One transfer vehicle study
  2. Blue Origin – Kent, Washington: One descent element study, one transfer vehicle study, and one transfer vehicle prototype
  3. Boeing – Houston: One descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
  4. Dynetics – Huntsville, Alabama: One descent element study and five descent element prototypes
  5. Lockheed Martin – Littleton, Colorado: One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, and one refueling element study
  6. Masten Space Systems – Mojave, California: One descent element prototype
  7. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – Dulles, Virginia: One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
  8. OrbitBeyond – Edison, New Jersey: Two refueling element prototypes
  9. Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin: One descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, and one refueling element study
  10. SpaceX – Hawthorne, California: One descent element study
  11. SSL – Palo Alto, California: One refueling element study and one refueling element prototype

Earlier this week, in a bid to arouse public interest in its ‘Moon2024′ mission, NASA released a video trailer, voiced-over by none other than William Shatner – the man most of us know as Captain Kirk, from Star Trek.

The short clip highlights the agency’s trailblazing Apollo success five decades ago; the challenges faced in cutting through the fictions of science then; and the challenges ahead as it works toward putting humans back on the moon by as early as 2024 – this time, to stay.

“Our charge is to go quickly, and to stay, to press our collective efforts forward with a fervor that will see us return to the moon in a manner that is wholly different than 50 years ago,” Shatner narrates.

“Our greatest adventures remain ahead of us. We are going.”

The video came on the heels of Monday’s christening of the mission, which the agency has decided to name ‘Artemis,’ the Greek mythology goddess of the moon and the twin sister of Apollo, after whom the lunar missions of the sixties and seventies were named.

It was definitely not a random choice, considering the agency’s plan to put the first woman on the lunar surface as part of the Moon2024 mission, or should we say the Artemis mission.

So important is the Moon2024 mission to the Trump administration that it has proposed a revised 2020 budget, seeking a further $1.6 billion to add to NASA’s $21 billion 2020 budget request.

The additional funding would go towards accelerating the program to meet the 2024 deadline for the mission, which was earlier planned for 2028.

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From The Editors Technology

China’s Great Wall Motors Unveils World’s Cheapest Electric Car – the ORA R1

It’s compact; it’s cute, it’s CHEAP!

It’s the ORA R1!

Baoding-based Chinese automaker Great Wall Motors (GMW) has pulled the wraps off the world’s cheapest electric car, the 2019 ORA R1, with a decent warranty and a maximum cruising range of 194 miles (312 kilometers).

What’s more is that it’s going to be pretty easy on the pocket as well, with a government-incentivized price ranging from 59,800 yuan to 77,800 yuan  ($8,860 to $11,526 per the CNY/USD rate as of Jan 11, 2019).

ORA, which stands for ‘open reliable alternative,’ is GMW’s new energy vehicle brand and ORA R1 is the company’s second flagship EV model, which was launched at the RNG e-sports arena in Beijing late last month.

Based on the country’s first proprietary electric car platform, ME, the R1 is being labeled as the “world’s fifth boutique vehicle” by industry insiders, and it’s not hard to guess why.

It’s easy on the eyes; it’s spacious; it has AI-enabled functions; and it offers five color options, including titanium white, cadet blue, sky blue, combination of titanium white and glitter black, and combination of cadet blue and titanium white.

“As a new market entrant, ORA R1 delivers an unprecedented experience to drivers,” said Ning Shuyong, ORA General Manager and GMW Vice President, in a post-launch statement.

He said that ORA would work on a network-based business model comprising an ORA app (ORA Home), experience centers and smart outlets in the central business districts of Chinese cities, effectively replacing the traditional dealership-centered 4S (sales, service, spare parts, and surveys) way of doing things.

“In addition, the big data cloud that is created as the result of the information collected from the ORA app, the ORA shopping site and the Tmall e-shop opens the way to the development of multiple scenarios for offline sales and services as well as new transportation services for both drivers and passengers,” Shuyong added.

Admitted, ORA R1 is not in the same league as, say, a Tesla Roadster in terms of speed or premium finish, but it sure is going to give the Teslas of the world some food for thought as it captures the imagination of the “urban youth” with its compact size, affordability, and visual appeal.

However, Tesla and the likes have some time on their hands to come up with an answer to this little delight, as the R1 is intended for the local market and is not going global, yet.

Here are some of the main features and specifications of the new ORA flagship.

The four-door electric hatchback is powered by a 35-kilowatt (47 hp) motor that promises a top speed of around 62 miles per hour (100 km/h).

The onboard 35-kilowatt-hour battery will keep the car going for 194 miles (312 kilometers) on a single charge as determined by the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) test.

The EV is being made available with a three-year or 120,000-kilometer (74,000 miles) warranty on the whole car, plus an eight-year or 150,000-kilometer (93,200 miles) guarantee for the vehicle’s “core components.”

The ORA R1 is 3,495mm long, 1,660mm wide and 1,560mm tall, with a wheelbase length of 2,475 mm.

The neatly-engineered exterior of the car is somewhat squarish in shape with a couple of circular headlights on the front.

The block-like grille is hinged on the left and opens up to reveal the charging port concealed behind it.

Each of the wheel-rims has four openings that resemble a four-bladed windmill, which enhances the car’s cool looks.

The AI-enabled car can be woken up with a simple “Hello Ora”

The ORA R1’s interior is largely black and white with attractive styling, highlighted by a lot of rounded features, including AC vents, twin dashboard, three-spoke steering, and gear shift.

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From The Editors Technology

CES 2019 Kicks Off in Las Vegas and There’s Lots to Talk About Already

It’s all systems go at the CES 2019, which kicked off today (Jan 8) at the Las Vegas Convention Center – the regular venue for the Consumer Electronics Show since 1998 – and will last until Jan 11.

Some four and a half thousand companies, including a number of start-ups, will be displaying their technological wares at the four-day event, ranging from the smartest of televisions, laptops and mobile phones to self-driving cars, smart home products and everything else in between.

Historically, the event has been about consumer gadgets, with manufacturers showcasing their latest and upcoming products at this increasingly popular global stage.

However, over the years the annual event has diversified extensively and now encompasses the artificial intelligence, virtual reality, automobiles, medicine and even marketing and agriculture.

While the big guns of technology always pull something new out of their bags of tricks every year, it has become a kind of a trend to hold back flagship products for standalone events; the Google Pixel 3 event in New York last October is a case in point.

Here are some of the main tech takeaways from day one of this mega event.

HTC unveils two new Vive VR headsets

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Taiwanese tech giant HTC revealed two brand new virtual reality headsets – the Vive Cosmos and the Vive Pro Eye, each targeting a different set of customers.

While the Vive Cosmos has been designed as a consumer-first VR headset with virtual reality enthusiasts in mind, the Vive Pro Eye, as the name suggests, is intended for professionals in the business segment.

The Vive Cosmos will not only play games but will also offer new social experiences; plus it will be compatible with HTC’s new Viveport Infinity game subscription platform.

The Vive Pro Eye’s integrated eye-tracking technology will afford greater accessibility and improved training simulations to the professional user, while its updated CPU and GPU promises a more efficient performance compared to the previous-gen pro headset.

HP OMEN X Emperium 65 Big Format Gaming Display

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While HP has unveiled a whole range of new devices at this year’s CES, what stood out among them was its all-new Big Format Gaming Display (BFGD), the OMEN X Emperium.

The OMEN X Emperium 65 is one of the world’s first BFGDs with a 120W soundbar and much more.

The idea behind big format gaming displays is to provide a TV-sized 4K gaming experience with features like top-of-the-line HDR, a high variable refresh rate, and SHIELD TV functionality.

The HP OMEN X Emperium 65 features a DisplayHDR 1000-certified 64.5-inch 8-bit AMVA display panel with a screen resolution of 3840×2160 pixels.

Some of the other features of the HP big format gaming display include:

  • 120 – 144 Hz refresh rate (normal/overclocked)
  • 750-1,000 nits brightness (typical/HDR)
  • 3200:1 – 4000:1 contrast ratio (minimum/typical)
  • 178° viewing angles
  • 4 ms GtG response time with overdrive enabled
  • 384-zone full direct-array backlight for an enhanced HDR experience

HP OMEN X Emperium 65 is expected to go on sale sometime next month and although the price has not been revealed yet, it’s expected to set you back by quite a bit.

Asus ROG Mothership

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The Asus ROG Mothership is a powerful detachable gaming laptop, which at first glance looks strikingly similar to the Microsoft Surface Pro.

The device boasts high-end specs like a 17.3-inch FHD IPS display with a 144Hz refresh rate,  Intel Core i9 processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, up to 64GB RAM,  and much more.

The 4.7-kilogram Mothership is equipped with a Kickstand that kicks out automatically as soon as the bottom edge touches the surface you’re placing it on, and what’s more is that it allows you to sit the display at three different angles.

The gaming device also features a three NVMe SSD RAID 0 array for top-speed file operations and offers advanced connectivity via an 802.11ax Wi-Fi (aka Wi-Fi 6) and 2.5G Ethernet.

Huawei MateBook

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Two of the biggest Huawei announcements at CES 2019 were the ultraportable 13-inch Huawei MateBook 13 laptop and the Huawei MediaPad M5 Lite, a 10-inch Android-based tablet.

The MateBook 13 packs some great specs, including a 2,160×1080-pixel high-res touchscreen display, an Intel 8th generation Core i7 or Core i5 processor with up to of 8GB RAM and up to 256GB of onboard storage.

The laptop also has two USB Type-C ports, a one-megapixel web camera, a fingerprint scanner on the power button, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The Huawei MediaPad Android tablet is powered by a Kirin 659 processor and offers 3GB of RAM, 32GB internal storage, a microSD slot, a 7,500mAh battery, and a stylus.

Hyundai’s “Walking Car”

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Enough of laptops and VR headsets; here’s a potential life-saving creation that will make a huge difference to how rescue teams respond to emergencies, particularly in areas that are inaccessible by wheeled vehicles.

It’s a Hyundai-developed concept vehicle called “Elevate” that actually walks on articulated legs and, hence, makes it easier to reach victims of natural disasters, especially where flood, fire, or earthquake has rendered the terrain inaccessible by regular wheeled transportation.

Not only can this walking car prototype walk, but, terrain permitting, it can also drive like a normal car using the wheels attached to each of its legs.

“When a tsunami or earthquake hits, current rescue vehicles can only deliver first responders to the edge of the debris field,” said John Suh, VP and head of Hyundai’s Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences (CRADLE).

“They have to go the rest of the way by foot,” he said, adding: “Elevate can drive to the scene and climb right over flood debris or crumbled concrete.”

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From The Editors Science

Elon Musk Shares Photo of “Stainless Steel Starship” Designed to Carry Humans to the Moon and Mars

In an impromptu late-night tweet last month, Elon Musk announced that he was changing the names of Space X’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) booster and Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS) to “Super Heavy” and “Starship,” respectively.

Together, the two units make up the two-stage space vehicle that Musk plans to use for manned missions to the Moon and Mars in the not too distant future.

On Monday, in the early hours of Christmas Eve, the Tesla and Space X CEO took to Twitter again for another spontaneous tweet, this time sharing a photo of the top section of the under-construction second stage with the caption “Stainless Steel Starship.”

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He did, however, follow up with some more information on the enormous stainless steel wonder, so massive that the work trucks seen parked around it in the photo look dwarfed and insignificant in comparison.

The “test hopper” – as he calls the prototype Starship being built at the Space X test facility in Texas – will have a stainless steel skin, which Musk says will perform better at re-entry temperatures than lightweight carbon fiber.

Answering a question about the use of stainless steel, Musk said that while the use of the material was in common with NASA’s early Atlas rocket, it would be a different alloy mix.

“Stainless steal [sic] is correct, but different mixture of alloys and new architecture,” said the billionaire entrepreneur.

“Actually, the only significant design element in common with early Atlas is stainless steel and we’re using a different alloy mix,” he clarified further.

The Tesla boss also said that the Raptor rocket engines that would power the two stages were also being “radically redesigned.”

Musk promised to reveal additional details about the Starship, but only after it completes the “hopper” test flight, expected to happen sometime in the first quarter of 2019.

“I will do a full technical presentation of Starship after the test vehicle we’re building in Texas flies, so hopefully March/April,” he tweeted.

“It’s still difficult to determine how long until tests actually take place, but from a historical perspective, it could be a year or more from the November application date,” William Ostrove, aerospace and defense analyst at Forecast International, was quoted as saying.

“That means tests are still possible in late 2019,” he told ‘Inverse.’

Ostrove went on to say that with Space X continually making design changes to the Starship, it’s “difficult to assess significance” in so far as the “meaning of any test” is concerned.

“It’s not clear if they are done fine-tuning the design; however, it’s likely that at least small changes will continue to be made to the design,” he continued.

Ostrove is of the opinion that “hopper” flights will, in fact, lead to more design changes as these tests are likely to identify unforeseen areas of improvement.

“That being said, any time a company can conduct an actual liftoff of a rocket, even if it’s a failure, it is a step toward completion,” he told the digital media company.

“Those tests are invaluable for gathering real-world performance data and fine-tuning engineering models,” he concluded.

Once complete, the Starship – the second-stage spacecraft – will sit atop the gigantic Super Heavy rocket – the first-stage booster – together making up the two-stage rocket that will stand 387 feet tall – almost as tall as a 40-story building.

Musk’s interplanetary space vehicle is going to be taller, heavier, and more powerful than the 360-foot three-stage Saturn V rocket developed by NASA for its Apollo moon program and later used to launch Skylab.

Since, both, Super Heavy and Starship are designed to be fully reusable, they will represent a more cost-effective space transportation system that will ultimately replace the costlier-to-operate Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon.

Designed for interplanetary flights, the rocket will also serve all Earth-orbit needs and, if Musk is to be believed, “later versions” will even visit other star systems, which would do justice to its name “Starship.”

In fact, Musk confirmed that in his rebuttal to a tweet from one Michael Wolman who wrote, “Unless this “starship” is sent on a mission to another star system it can’t be called a starship.”

Musk retorted with, “Later versions will.”

Well, if you are wondering how he’s going to make that happen, you’re not alone.

The nearest known star system other than our own is the Alpha Centauri system, which is more than four light years away, and our technology is way, way too far from achieving the speed of light needed to embark on a star-bound journey.

To put things in perspective, the distance that light travels in a second (186,282 miles) is more than what the Parker Solar Probe – the fastest human-made spacecraft – can do in an hour (155,000 miles).

In the coming years, the solar probe is expected to reach a top speed of 450,000 miles per hour; compare that with 670,000,000 (670 million) miles per hour that light travels at and you’ll get a better idea of the kind of disparity we’re talking about here.

Now, that’s a colossal gap to bridge, but with Musk, you never know, as the eccentric entrepreneur has an uncanny knack of surprising us with things we least expect and, for all you know, he may do that with yet another random tweet.

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From The Editors Science

Astronomers Discover Rare Fossil Gas-Cloud Deep in the Universe – A Legacy of the Big Bang

A team of astronomers led by Ph.D. student Fred Robert and Professor Michael Murphy from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, have discovered what they describe as a cloud of “metal-free gas” deep in the universe.

The pristine gas cloud, which the researchers call LLS 1723 (Layman Limit System 1723), is apparently a fossil relic from the Big Bang that can, potentially, provide unprecedented data on the origins of the first galaxies in the universe.

It is indeed a rare and significant find, in that the gas cloud has somehow remained untouched by heavy elements – the cosmic waste left behind by exploding stars, or supernovae – even though 1.5 billion years have passed since the cosmic exp[losion.

“Everywhere we look, the gas in the universe is polluted by waste heavy elements from exploding stars,” the Swinburne University website quotes Robert as saying.

“But this particular cloud seems pristine, unpolluted by stars even 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang,” Robert told the website.

“If it has any heavy elements at all, it must be less than 1/10,000th of the proportion we see in our Sun,” he said, adding that “this is extremely low – the most compelling explanation is that it’s a true relic of the Big Bang.”

The researchers, who had access to the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, made full use of the facility’s instruments, including the Echellette Spectrograph and Imager (ESI) and the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES), to study LLS 1723 in the background of the spectrum originating from a quasar behind it.

A quasar is a massive celestial object that is extremely bright, it’s luminosity emanating from gasses getting sucked into a massive blackhole it contains.

A Blackhole can range in mass from millions to billions of times the Sun’s mass in different quasars, and as gas falls into it huge amounts of energy, which can glow thousands of times brighter than the Milky Way, is released.

“We targeted quasars where previous researchers had only seen shadows from hydrogen and not from heavy elements in lower-quality spectra,” Robert said.

“This allowed us to discover such a rare fossil quickly with the precious time on the Keck telescope,” added the Ph.D. student.

The discovery may have been fortuitous, but it does motivate more focused searches in the future, “instead of relying on further serendipitous discoveries or large samples of existing high-resolution quasar spectra,” say the authors of the research paper.

While the paper, entitled “Exploring the origins of a new, apparently metal-free gas cloud at z = 4.4,” is pending publication in the science journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS), a preprint can be viewed here.

https://arxiv.org/pdf/1812.05098.pdf

Prof Murphy believes that the discovery paves the way for more surveys of such Big Bang relics to better understand the birth of the universe.

“That will tell us exactly how rare they are and help us understand how some gas formed stars and galaxies in the early universe, and why some didn’t,” said the Swinburne professor.

Prior to the LLS 1723, only two other fossil gas-clouds were known to astronomers; they discovered in 2011 by co-authors of the Swinburne study, Professor Michele Fumagalli, an astrophysicist at Durham University, and Prof John O’Meara, formerly attached to St. Michael’s College.

“Those were serendipitous discoveries, and we thought they were the tip of the iceberg. But no-one has discovered anything similar – they are clearly very rare and difficult to see,” Professor O’Meara said. “Now it’s fantastic to finally discover one systematically.”

The project was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy, the W.M. Keck Observatory is a non-profit organization with representation from Caltech and the University of California (UC).

“Australian access to the W. M. Keck Observatory has been made available through Astronomy Australia Limited via the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, via the Department of Education and Training, and an Australian Government astronomy research infrastructure grant, via the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science,” acknowledge the authors in the paper.

The array of instruments at the Hawaiian observatory include:

  • MOSFIRE – Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infra-Red Exploration
  • DEIMOS – Deep Extragalactic Imaging Multi-Object Spectrograph
  • HIRES – High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer
  • KCWI – Keck Cosmic Web Imager
  • LRIS – Low-Resolution Imaging Spectrograph
  • LWS – Long Wavelength Spectrometer for the Keck I telescope
  • NIRC – Near Infrared Camera for the Keck I telescope
  • NIRC-2 – second-generation Near Infrared Camera
  • NIRES – Near-Infrared Echellette Spectrometer
  • NIRSPEC – Near-Infrared Spectrometer for the study of very high redshift radio galaxies
  • OSIRIS – OH-Suppressing Infrared Imaging Spectrograph (source: Wikipedia)
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From The Editors Science

NASA’s Voyager 2 Becomes Second Human-Made Spacecraft to Enter Interstellar Space

Launched on August 20, 1977, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft became the second human creation to break through the Sun’s heliopause and enter interstellar space, achieving the feat on Nov 5, 2018 – officially announced by the space agency on Monday (Dec 10).

While the heliopause is the boundary separating the Sun’s heliosphere from interstellar space, the heliosphere itself is a vast region surrounding the Sun that is dominated by its continuously expanding plasma known as the solar wind.

It is because of this solar wind that objects within this vast bubble of heliosphere, including Earth, are relatively better protected from the impact of galactic cosmic rays that are far more dominant beyond the heliopause – in interstellar space.

While most of the material inside the heliosphere originates from the Sun, a majority of those found outside the heliopause come from stars that exploded billions of years ago.

The sudden drop in Voyager 2’s plasma readings of the solar wind and the corresponding increase in hits from galactic cosmic ray particles were strong indicators of the Nov 5 crossover.

Voyager 1 experienced this transition on August 25, 2012, more than six years before Voyager 2, making it the first spacecraft to achieve the feat even though it was launched 16 days after (Sep 5, 1977) its twin – thanks to its superior speed.

Explaining the difference between the two heliopause crossings at a press conference, Voyager project scientist at Caltech and former JPL director, Ed Stone, said that the team would have been “ amazed” had both the crossings appeared the same.

“We’re in a different place — one is in the northern hemisphere and the other is in the southern hemisphere — and it’s a different time in the solar cycle,” he said.

“Comparing data from different instruments aboard the trailblazing spacecraft, mission scientists determined the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5,” said a NASA press release.

“This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium,” said the release.

“Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed this boundary in 2012, but Voyager 2 carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space,” it added.

Voyager 2 is now more than 11 billion miles from earth, getting farther and farther away as it hurtles through the interstellar void at 34,191 miles per hour (55,025 kph).

However, it is still 300 years short of entering the disc-shaped inner Oort cloud and another 30,000 years away from exiting the spherical outer Oort cloud, completely beyond the influence of the solar system.

“The boundary of the Solar System is considered to be beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the Sun’s gravity,” NASA said.

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), was quoted as saying in the Dec 10 release.

“This is what we’ve all been waiting for,” she said, adding that the team was “now looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”

Also, now that both the Voyagers are in interstellar space – beyond the range of the protective forces of the heliosphere – scientists are looking forward to doing a comparative analysis between readings from their onboard instruments and those from spacecraft and instruments that are currently within the heliosphere.

“I’ve been studying galactic cosmic rays for many years from within our heliosphere,” said Georgia Denolfo, a NASA space scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

“So it’s especially exciting to be able to think that we will be having a mission in the very same space that I have been studying, and many others, from afar,” she said.

Both the Voyagers have been operational for more than 41 years now, with Voyager 1 successfully achieving its primary objective of flybys of Jupiter and Saturn and the latter’s largest moon Titan, studying the planets’ weather, magnetic fields, and rings.

In fact, Voyager 1 was the first spacecraft to capture detailed images of the planets’ natural satellites.

Having completed its mission in November 1980, Voyager 1 made the historic heliopause crossing in 2012, as mentioned earlier.

It will continue traveling through the vastness of interstellar space until its radioisotope thermoelectric generators are no longer capable of keeping the onboard instruments operational, which is expected to happen sometime in 2025.

Traveling 4,000 miles per hour slower than its twin, Voyager 2 did take longer to reach Jupiter and Saturn but it achieved what no other spacecraft had done before; that is, explore the Uranus and Neptune systems, achieving the historic feat in 1986 and 1989, respectively.

And now, as we know, it has successfully made the second heliopause crossing in history and, like its twin, is flying through the galactic cosmic ray particles of interstellar space.

It continues to maintain contact through the NASA Deep Space Network (DSN) and has already started beaming data on interstellar plasma temperature and density.

“Both spacecraft are very healthy, if you consider them senior citizens,” said Dodd, adding that “they are operating just fine.”

As the power-generating capabilities of the two spacecraft continue to decline, mission officials may have to sacrifice some of the relatively less important instruments on them.

“The difficult decisions are going to be made by Dr. Stone and the science team on which instruments to turn off first,” she said, adding that “those decisions will be made with getting the most science value back.”

Dodd is looking forward to squeezing out, at least, ten more years from the two probes.

“My own personal goal would be to get these spacecraft to last 50 years,” she said, adding: “If we get out to 2027, that will be a 50-year mission. I think that would be fantastic.”

“I often get asked, ‘Is this it for Voyager?’” said Nicky Fox, director at NASA’s heliophysics division.

“Absolutely not. This is really for me the beginning of a new era of heliophysics science,” he said.

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From The Editors

Electric Scooter-Related Injuries Are On the Rise in the U.S.

Emergency rooms in the U.S. are witnessing a sharp increase in electric scooter-related injuries as start-ups like Lime, Spin and Bird continue to expand their e-scooter sharing services across the country, with a presence in nearly 100 cities, as of now.

A comprehensive new report from CNET examines the impact this relatively new service is having on public safety.

Although no detailed data on injuries and deaths related to these services are yet available, cities, where these services are more popular, have seen an unprecedented surge in ER visits, with a hospital in Austin, Texas, reporting at least 10 e-scooter injuries a day.

An e-scooter ride typically costs 15 cents per minute of riding time, in addition to the flat one dollar you pay for the rental, and can be easily booked through the service providers’ apps.

With hundreds of these scooters scattered throughout participating cities, accessing one is seldom an issue and the fact that these are “dockless” vehicles means you can pick them up and drop them off pretty much anywhere in the city.

“This is disruptive technology,” Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency room medical director at Austin’s Dell Seton Medical Center in Texas, told CNET, adding “but this time the disruption is disrupting forearms, elbows and heads.”

While most of these injuries were minor cuts and abrasions, there were some “significant” ones too.

“The vast majority end up getting discharged with cuts and scrapes, maybe a broken bone,” Dr. Ziebell told the website. “But some injuries are significant.”

Since April, the Austin hospital has treated as many as 37 cases of severe trauma, including 8 head injuries, 23 orthopedic injuries, 4 facial injuries and two “other” injuries.

“The folks that had severe head injuries, they’re in for a long course of rehab,” CNET quoted Dr. Ziebell as saying. “Some people may need lifelong care, like a nursing home.”

He told CNET that hitting the ground at 20 miles per hour was the same as being hit on the head by a baseball swung at a similar speed.

At least two e-scooter-related deaths have been reported in the country, including that of a 20-year-old man who was brought down by an SUV while riding in Washington DC, and another in Dallas, Texas, where a 24-year-old man suffered fatal head injuries after falling off his rented scooter.

According to the CNET investigation, hospitals in other cities have also reported an upward trend in injuries resulting from e-scooter mishaps, with about 10 injuries a month in San Diego and as frequent as 10 every week in San Francisco.

These numbers only include riders and not pedestrians who have been hit by these seemingly innocuous devices.

“We are seeing some scary injuries,” the website quoted Dr. Chris Colwell, chief of emergency medicine for Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, as saying. “There’s still a lack of recognition of how serious this can be.”

While it is binding on e-scooter ride companies to ensure public safety, which is something they religiously claim as their top priority, it would be a tad unfair to put the entire blame on them.

There are different causes for these injuries, such as rider errors, riding without a helmet, careless and rash handling of the two-wheelers, as well as device malfunction which, to be honest, are few and far between.

That said, the terms of service that you are required to accept on the app before you can actually book a ride say all responsibility of any eventuality during rides is the sole responsibility of the user and the company is not liable in any way.

Section 7.4.3. of Lime’s User Agreement and TOS explicitly says:

“You agree that riding the Products involves many obvious and not-so-obvious risks, dangers, and hazards, which may result in injury or death to You or others, as well as damage to property, and that such risks, dangers, and hazards cannot always be predicted or avoided.”

Similarly, clause 15 of Bird’s rental agreement under “RELEASES;

DISCLAIMERS; ASSUMPTION OF RISK” reads:

“Rider is solely and fully responsible for the safe operation of Vehicle at all times. Rider agrees that Vehicles are machines that may malfunction, even if the Vehicle is properly maintained and that such malfunction may cause injury. Rider assumes full and complete responsibility for all related risks, dangers, and hazards.”

One case of a device-glitch involved 63-year-old Pat Brogan who told CNET that the brakes on her Lime scooter failed to engage on a steep hill, resulting in a crash that landed her on a hospital bed with multiple fractures.

Her $8,000 claim on the company is still unpaid, which the company spokesman declined to comment on when questioned by CNET, towing the company line that its agreement was “designed to be user friendly, and is written in plain language so that our riders are properly informed.”

“Sometimes accidents do happen, which is why we have insurance policies and processes in place to support our riders and investigate all incidents,” he told the website.

Despite her ordeal, Brogan is still upbeat about the concept of electric-scooters, albeit with some misgivings.

“It’s a great concept,” she told CNET. “But it’s not ready for prime time.”

User agreements notwithstanding, lawyers across the country continue to get numerous calls from people injured in scooter accidents, says CNET.

Catherine Lerer, an attorney at the Santa Monica law firm McGee, Lerer and Associates, told the website that “no one has ever read that user agreement” – she couldn’t have been more right as hardly anyone ever does.

Lerer who had been getting at least three to four calls a day decided it was time to do something about it and filed a class-action lawsuit against Bird, Lime, Xiaomi and Segway as recently as October.

Filed on behalf of nine clients, the lawsuit lists fifteen counts of “aiding and abetting assaults and gross negligence” on the part of the four companies mentioned, reports CNET.

“Over and over, it’s the same malfunctions that I’m hearing — the brakes failing, the throttle sticks and the scooter dies midride,” Lerer told the website. “Something is not right.”

Xiaomi and Segway didn’t respond to CNET’s requests for comment.

Meanwhile, a Bird spokeswoman who agreed to speak to the website about the lawsuit said: “Class-action attorneys with a real interest in improving transportation safety should be focused on reducing the 40,000 deaths caused by cars every year in the US.”

Categories
From The Editors Politics

China-U.S. Discord Leads to APEC Stalemate – ‘The Entire World is Worried’

Worsening trade relations between China and the U.S. is fast becoming a cause for major concern among world leaders.

The two economic powerhouses failed to reach common ground on the language for a joint communique at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea that ended Sunday (Nov 18) in a stalemate.

Claiming to have seen draft versions of the APEC communique, Associated Press (AP) reports that the U.S. demanded a strongly-worded statement that highlighted China’s contentious trade policies.

China, on the other hand, insisted on the need to oppose, if not condemn, the practice of protectionism and unilateralism that it accuses the United States of indulging in.

According to officials, the attending leaders were unable to come to a consensus on the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) – the intergovernmental body that regulates international trade.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said his office would soon release a “chairman’s statement” on behalf of the attending leaders.

He did, however, acknowledge before reporters that “the entire world is worried” about the escalating differences between the two countries.

“The entire world is worried about the debate about trade relations between China and, of course, the United States,” O’Neill said.

“This is a situation that both countries need to sit down and resolve. And I believe that the G20 meeting that is going to be held very shortly will be an opportune time,” he added.

President Trump was conspicuous in his absence as his second-in-command, Vice President Mike Pence, presented the U.S. point of view in his weekend address at the summit – as did the Chinese president.

“The world today is going through major development, transformation and change,” Xi told the gathering of political and trade leaders representing 21 Pacific Rim nations that account for 60 percent of the global economy.

“While economic globalization surges forward, global growth is shadowed by protectionism and unilateralism,” said the Chinese premier.

Criticizing China for its “authoritarianism and aggression,” Pence said that the United States was in favor of “collaboration and not control.”

He accused China of wooing poorer nations in the region with cheap loans and road-building initiatives, in an attempt to burden them with bad debts so that it could demand concessions and advantages in exchange for debt-relief when these countries are unable to keep up with their repayments.

“We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt, we don’t coerce or compromise your independence,” Pence said.

“The United States deals openly and fairly. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road,” he said.

China’s foreign ministry has, meanwhile, categorically refuted the allegations of debt entrapment.

“The assistance provided by China has been warmly welcomed by our partners in this region and beyond,” said Wang Xiaolong, a foreign ministry official.

In a post-summit tweet Pence said:

“Every nation gathered here at APEC has a place in @POTUS’ vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our vision excludes no one. We only ask that nations respect their neighbors’ sovereignty, embrace free, fair, and reciprocal trade, and uphold individual rights.”

The APEC deadlock could well set the tone for the upcoming meeting between President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, later this month.

The already bitter relations between the two economic giants became even more acrimonious when the U.S. slapped tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods earlier this year and has threatened tariffs on $257 billion more.

Now that the APEC summit has failed to bridge the differences between the two countries, and if the G20 summit ends on a similar note, we could well see Trump go through with his threat of additional tariffs, perhaps as early as December.

China, meanwhile, retaliated by levying tariffs on U.S. products worth $110 billion and has even threatened “quantitative and qualitative” measures if the U.S. doesn’t mend its ways.

Zhu Haibin, the chief China economist at JPMorgan in Hong Kong, said in June that China might have to consider other alternatives to counter the US tariff threat on Chinese goods.

“Any further action might include punitive measures against American companies operating in China, such as removing privileges and excluding them from any future deals,” he said.

However, China does realize that any such move on its part would be detrimental to the business-friendly image it has been trying to build for itself.

Louis Kuijs, Asia Economics head at Oxford Economics, is of the opinion that, sooner or later, Beijing will be forced to explore alternative measures, saying that it is unlikely it would be able to sustain the tariff war with the U.S. for long.

“China will run out of ammunition sooner than the US,” he wrote in a note published in June.

He went on to say that “history shows that there are various other measures [China] could take to inflict pain on US companies, especially those present in China, including scaled up health, safety and tax checks, delaying the imports of goods, and boycotts of US goods.”

Coming back to the APEC summit, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was appreciative of O’Neill’s candor about the outcome of the summit.

“If the major powers here are not going to agree, we shouldn’t be pretending they do and we shouldn’t be trying to smooth that over for the sake of a communique,” he said. “We should call it out.”

While it is normal for two dominant powers to debate on issues, blowing their differences out of proportion could set a dangerous precedence, hinted the Australian prime minister.

“The other economies around the table here, it’s been made very clear to both the US and China that we want to see these issues resolved,” he said.

“That’s what is in our interests, and we’ve presented those positions to both the United States and China with the opportunities we’ve had here.”

Categories
From The Editors Science

U.K. Satellites NovaSAR-1 and S1-4 Launched into Orbit on Indian Rocket

The Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, on Sunday (September 16) successfully launched two British satellites, the NovaSAR-1 and the SSTL S1-4, atop its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from its launch center in Sriharikota – a barrier island off the coast of the Bay of Bengal in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Developed and manufactured by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, or SSTL, in Guilford, Surrey, UK, the NovaSAR-1 is a 445-kilogram Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite capable of taking images day and night, even through dense cloud cover.

The NovaSAR-1 has a number of useful applications, such as monitoring suspicious maritime activities like illegal fishing, smuggling, piracy, as well as detecting oil spills and locating ships in distress, and more.

“We are very interested in this maritime mode, which is a 400km-plus swath mode,” BBC quoted SSTL’s chief technology officer Luis Gomes as saying.

“It is important to be able to monitor large areas of the ocean – something we don’t do at the moment,” Gomes told BBC News.

“We all saw with the Malaysian airline crash in the Indian Ocean the difficulty there was in monitoring that vast area. We can do that kind of thing with radar and NovaSAR is good for that,” he added.

The SSTL S1-4, on the other hand, is a high-resolution Earth Observation satellite weighing 444 kilograms and capable of discerning objects as small as 87 cm across.

The satellite has a range of practical applications and could prove its worth in disaster management, flood monitoring, land classification, natural resource management, urban planning, and agricultural monitoring, says the SSTL website.

“The very high-resolution imager on board the spacecraft has been designed and manufactured by SSTL and will acquire sub one metre resolution images in panchromatic mode and sub four metre resolution images in multispectral mode, with a swath width of about 24km.,” says SSTL.

As far as ISRO is concerned, it was a “fully commercial launch,” as described by Dr S Somnath, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, India, earning the Indian space agency in excess of 2 billion Indian Rupees ($27.5 million) in the process.

“India will earn money by this launch,” he said.

While the Sunday launch was the 44th mission for the PSLV, it was its fifth fully commercial mission in which the whole launch vehicle was hired by the UK company for the sole purpose of launching the two satellites.

“This is the fifth fully commercial launch of PSLV where the whole rocket has been hired by a foreign company,” said Dr Somnath, adding that foreign companies preferred the PSLV because it is “highly reliable” and also because there isn’t too much of a waiting period when it comes to ISRO launches.

“PSLV has a very special slot hence foreign companies prefer it because it is highly reliable and India’s offers timely launches without much of a waiting period,” he said.

Lauding ISRO for the feat, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it was a demonstration of “India’s prowess in the competitive space business.”

The launch was the result of a commercial arrangement between SSTL and Antrix Corp Ltd, the commercial arm of ISRO that promotes the Indian space agency’s products, services, and technologies.

Eighteen minutes after the 230-ton PSLV blasted off into the night sky, both satellites were released into sun-synchronous orbits (SSO).

Also known as a heliosynchronous orbit, SSO is a “geocentric orbit that combines altitude and inclination in such a way that the satellite passes over any given point of the planet’s surface at the same local solar time,” as explained by Wikipedia.

“The PSLV rocket preciously placed two of our customer satellites in 583 km orbit. The success will give added energy for industry to make PSLV,” ISRO Chairman K. Sivan said after the launch.

While the NovaSAR is a pretty capable satellite, its 3m by 1m dimensions make it seem somewhat outdated, which it is, in that it was initiated by SSTL back in 2008 but the program got delayed for various reasons.

Meanwhile, other companies worked on developing more compact versions of the satellite, with Finnish start-up ICEYE even managing to successfully launch a platform as small as a suitcase, earlier this year.

Called ICEYE-X1, the 100-kilogram Finnish microsatellite was also launched into orbit atop ISRO’s PSLV rocket.

If San Francisco-based American company Capella Space’s claim is anything to go by, we should soon see the launch of a shoebox-sized radar satellite.

However, Martin Cohen – a radar expert at Airbus Defence and Space, is not too worried about it.

“NovaSAR is still a step change, certainly for Airbus in terms of what you can do for a particular amount of money,” he said.

“But while we’ve been waiting for a launch, we haven’t stood still. We’ve done lots of work on the next generation,” he said.

He added: “NovaSAR is just the first in a family of instruments that will offer different capabilities, such as finer resolutions and other parameters; and we will be putting those capabilities on smaller spacecraft than NovaSAR.”

Categories
From The Editors Technology

Samsung Galaxy Watch: First Impressions

Launched alongside the much written and talked about Galaxy Note 9, the Samsung Galaxy Watch comes in two different sizes, offering three different color options.

The 42mm version of the new Galaxy Watch is being made available in two colors – Midnight Black and Rose Gold – and will cost $330 for the non-cellular variant, while the LTE models will cost $50 more when it’s shipped later this year.

This version uses 20mm straps that offer a variety of color options such as Onyx Black, Terracotta Red, Lime Yellow, Lunar Grey, Cosmo Purple, Pink Beige, Natural Brown, and Cloud Grey.

The watch weighs 42 grams and packs a 1.2-inch (30mm) circular Super AMOLED display, with dimensions measuring 41.9 x 45.7 x 12.7mm, most suited for medium and smaller wrists.

Designed for larger wrists, the 46mm edition, however, is available only in silver and costs $350.

The 22mm strap on this one offers fewer color options, which are Onyx Black, Deep Ocean Blue, and Basalt Grey.

It has a slightly larger 1.3-inch (33mm) screen – also Super AMOLED; measures 46 x 49 x 13mm in dimensions and weighs 63g without the strap.

Even before you unbox the Galaxy Watch, you know you can expect a long battery life, automatic fitness and wellness tracking, support for 35-plus workout activities, as well as a good waterproof rating, as these are the features that Samsung proudly flaunts on the box itself.

Included in the box is a charging dock, a USB A to micro USB cable, a wall adapter, an extra strap, a quick start guide, and, of course, the watch itself, which immediately impresses with its Gear Sport-like awesome build-quality.

While it’s definitely a bit on the heavier side, it does look and feel very premium, with a smart-looking silicone strap – sweat-resistant, flexible, and removable – to complement the main unit.

On the back of the Galaxy Watch, you have your heart-rate sensor, with a two-button interface on the side and a rotating bezel on the front – perfectly aligning with the numbers around the circumference of the dial as it rotates around it with the precision and smoothness you associate with a Samsung device.

To set the watch up, you will have to first download the Galaxy Wearable App on your iPhone or Android device and then pair it with the watch via Bluetooth, which shouldn’t take more than a minute, honestly.

If you think you can accommodate the larger of two Galaxy Watch versions on your wrist, then that’s the one we recommend you go for – despite its heavier weight and single color option – purely because of the significantly superior battery-life the 472mAh cell on this one promises, as opposed to the 270mAh cell on the smaller model.

Health being the main component in the Galaxy Watch concept, it builds on Samsung Health app with new breathing and stress management features, in addition to 21 new indoor exercises and 39 tracked workout activities, overall.

Samsung’s AI voice assistant Bixby will now feature on the Galaxy Watch, instead of the S Voice we saw on the Gear Sport, the company revealed at the Note 9 event, without providing too much insight on how it was supposed to work.

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However, it should be able to work in conjunction with your smartphone, as well as the all-new Galaxy Home smart speakers, to mirror the voice commands given to them.

Although it’s a bit too early to give a final verdict on the Galaxy Watch, the first impressions the device invokes are encouraging, when you consider the innovative rotating bezel for navigating the UI, the 60,000 or so watch faces you can choose from, additional quick reply options, and last, and most importantly, a smarter and more robust fitness tracker.

Android compatibility is Android 5.0 and later versions and works as well with iPhone 5 and higher versions running iOS 9.

Powering the Galaxy Watch is Samsung’s very own Tizen operating system, known for its power efficiency and quick response time.

A number of fitness and wellbeing features incorporated in the Galaxy Watch were highlighted in the course of its presentation earlier this month, one of which was its ability to detect variations in the user’s stress levels and respond with a suitable suggestion like, for example, a breathing exercise.

It is also capable of tracking sleep and letting you know the hours of quality sleep you’re getting each night.

By virtue of a Samsung-Spotify tie-up, Galaxy Watch users will also be able to stream music directly from the Swedish streaming service, with the device’s 4GB of onboard storage even making it possible to save them for offline consumption.

Some important points to know about the Samsung Galaxy Watch

  • Multi-colored straps sold separately
  • Using Always-On function may increase battery consumption.
  • Music streaming may increase battery consumption and result in additional data charge depending on your data plan
  • Intended for general wellness and fitness purposes only
  • Availability of apps for Galaxy Watch may differ by carrier or country
  • Using GPS may increase battery consumption
  • Galaxy Watch has a water resistance rating of 50 meters under the ISO standard 22810:2010
  • It is not suitable for diving or high-pressure water activities
  • If the device or your hands are wet, they must be dried thoroughly prior to handling.
  • Wireless charger requires separate power connection
  • A fully charged Galaxy Watch lasts up to 168 hours for 46mm models and 120 hours for 42mm models
  • Actual battery life varies by features and apps used, number of times charged, and many other factors – (source: Samsung.com)