Google Cuts Android Ties with Huawei After Trump’s Blacklisting of the Mobile Giant

Google has blocked Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from accessing its Android mobile platform, meaning Huawei devices will no longer be able to receive the latest Android updates or access the company’s applications and services, including Google Play, Maps and the Gmail app.

It was another huge blow to Huawei in a matter of days, the first coming from the Trump administration when it blacklisted the Shenzhen-headquartered company last week – an obvious fallout of the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.

But, not everyone agrees that the US government’s move was a trade war-related decision made in haste.

“Other nations must not make the mistake of thinking President Trump’s recent executive order banning companies like Huawei from US networks is merely an afterthought of the trade war,” Retired Brig. Gen. Robert S. Spalding – Special Assistant to the Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force, the Pentagon, Arlington, Va. – wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

“The severity of President Trump’s declaration underscores just how seriously the US views this issue, and the UK must recognise this strength of feeling,” he said, adding: “To miss the significance of his actions would be a grave misjudgement of how seriously we take our security in an ever-more dangerous world.”

Google said its decision was in compliance with the executive order Trump signed on Wednesday, prohibiting US firms from doing business with companies believed to be involved in “activities that are contrary to US national security or foreign policy interest.”

Although White House officials refrained from identifying China and Huawei as the intended target of the draconian decree, it didn’t take long for the US Commerce Department to add Huawei to the list of companies that the government considers detrimental to American interests.

“We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” a Google spokesperson said on Monday.

Huawei devices will continue to receive Android services that are publicly available via open source licensing.

The spokesperson also said that “Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices.”

Huawei responded by saying that it would continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to its smartphone and tablet users, without clarifying how the ban would affect new Huawei devices.

The company did, however, highlight its “substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world.”

“As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefited both users and the industry,” it said.

Meanwhile, China has slammed the US government’s move to blacklist Huawei, saying that it will do all that is required to protect the “legitimate” interests of the nation’s companies.

“China has always stressed that the concept of national security should not be abused. It should not be used as a tool to push forward trade protectionism,” Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng told reporters in Beijing.

“China will take all the necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese firms,” he said.

Huawei believes that imposing a business embargo on Huawei would “limit the U.S. to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the U.S. lagging behind in 5G deployment and eventually harming the interests of U.S. companies and consumers.”

Refuting the allegation that its products pose a security threat to the US, Huawei said that it was open to talks with the US administration to address their concerns.

“We are ready and willing to engage with the US government and come up with effective measures to ensure product security.”

At the G20 Summit last year, both the superpowers had agreed to halt additional tariffs on each other’s goods for a period of ninety days to give themselves enough time to engage in meaningful negotiations and find a mutually acceptable solution to their escalating trade disputes.

Six months on, the disputes continue and have, in fact, compounded after the Trump administration raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to a whopping 25 percent, threatening to impose 25 percent tariff on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese imports, as well.

Of course, China counterattacked by levying higher tariffs on $60 billion worth of American products.

“The tariff hike by the United States will only bring greater difficulties to the consultations,” Feng said.

“We urge the United States to cancel the wrong practices as early as possible, avoiding greater losses to Chinese and American companies and consumers, and causing a ‘recession-like’ impact on the world economy,” the spokesman added.

According to China, there are three fundamental differences between the two nations that need to be addressed in totality before the issues can be amicably resolved.

“To reach any agreement, China’s three core concerns must be properly resolved,” Feng said.

The three points of contention that Feng was referring to are as follows:
Since tariffs were the root cause for the trade war between the two countries, they must be totally done away with by both sides.

The second issue is concerning the additional volume of US goods that China is supposed to import, according to a statement issued last week by Liu He – China’s Vice Premier and lead trade negotiator – who did not provide any further details

The third is about how the draft agreement is worded in order to secure a non-partisan deal.

From The Editors Politics

Alabama Senate Passes Controversial Near-Total Ban on Abortion

An overwhelming male Republican majority in the Alabama Senate has voted in favor of a near-blanket ban on abortion, making it a felony to terminate a pregnancy at any stage.

While doctors and providers found guilty of carrying out the procedure will face jail time of 10 to 99 years, patients will be exempt from any civil or criminal proceedings against them.

The bill only allows an exception in cases where the health of the unborn child’s mother is at serious risk or if the fetus is found to have a “lethal anomaly.”

However, the fear of criminal prosecution is likely to discourage doctors from performing abortions under any circumstances, regardless of the exemption.

“If the anti-abortion politicians leading our state of Alabama make the grave mistake of passing a bill that would criminalize those who provide abortion care, it would have a disastrous effect on the health and well-being of Alabamians,” Dr. Yashica Robinson, an obstetrician at the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives and a member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement to ThinkProgress.

“Physicians will be unwilling to help patients in need, even when continuing pregnancy is detrimental to a patient’s health, or potentially fatal, out of fear of being scrutinized by the criminal justice system,” she added.

A Democrat-recommended amendment that would have allowed an exemption in rape- and incest-related pregnancies, was also rejected by the lawmakers on an 11-21 vote.

An emotional Bobby Singleton, the Democrat who introduced the bill, said that he would go home and tell his daughter that “the state of Alabama doesn’t care about you, baby.”

“You just said to my daughter, ‘You don’t matter. You don’t matter in the state of Alabama’,” he said.

The controversial ban, passed by a 25-6 majority on Tuesday night (May 14), was signed into law by Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey the following day.

“Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, a bill that was approved by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Legislature,” Ivey said in a statement.

“To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

Since the new law does not become enforceable until six months after the signing, the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama (ACLU) have every intention of contesting it in court.

Worried that law has already taken effect, people have been calling up the Alabama Women’s Center – one of only three clinics in the state offering abortion services – wanting to know if the clinic was open and if they were still providing care, reports Vox.

In fact, the day the bill was passed, “one young lady was telling us about a dream that she had that she was going to wake up and get here to the clinic and we were going to tell her that we couldn’t take care of her,” Dr. Robinson told the news website.

ACLU spokesperson Rebecca Seung-Bickley has said that the union is working on drafting litigation that would seek a temporary federal injunction on the ruling to keep it from being implemented.

Citing a 2014 litigation that ACLU had filed against an Alabama law banning a common abortion procedure and won, Seung-Bickley said: “This will never go into effect, as long as ACLU is in litigation.”

Her confidence stems from the fact that even though the state had appealed against U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s ruling, the case is still waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court, five years on.

“It’s so extreme that it is unlikely to be picked by the Supreme Court,” said the ACLU spokesperson.

Speaking to CNN on Wednesday, Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel of state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights said:

“There is nearly 50 years of precedent that says this law is unconstitutional. Regardless of what district judge hears this case, there is no argument that Alabama can make that this law is constitutional.”

Ever since Trump took over the Whitehouse in 2017, six states, including Kentucky, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota, and Mississippi, have passed legislation prohibiting abortion in cases where a fetal heartbeat is detected, which usually happens about six weeks into a pregnancy.

However, CNN reports that its legal analyst Joan Biskupic says that none of the recent bans have seen the light of day, in so far as implementation is concerned.

“Pre-viability bans (bans on abortions prior to 24 weeks) like the Alabama ban … have never been enforced,” Smith told CNN.

“Some of them have been enacted by a state but none of them have been enforced,” she said, adding: “That’s because of the litigation that has stopped them from going into effect.”

Reactions against the ban came thick and fast on Twitter. Here are some of them.
From The Editors Science

NASA‘s New Hype Video “We are Going” is Meant to Pique Public Interest in its Moon2024 Mission

In a bid to arouse public interest in its ‘Moon2024′ mission, NASA on Tuesday (May 15) 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 3 min 49-second 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 comes close behind 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; how can we forget!

The choice of name was certainly not arbitrary, considering the agency’s plan to put the first woman on the lunar surface as part of the Moon2024 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 2018.

“Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars,” Trump bragged in a Monday tweet, adding: “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!”

In Dec 2017, Trump signed a momentous order, the “Space Policy Directive – 1,” authorizing NASA to send American astronauts to the moon again.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” he said, adding: “It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for the long-term exploration and use.”

He also said:

“This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and, perhaps, someday to many worlds beyond.

“This directive will ensure America’s space program once again leads and inspires all of humanity.”

The presidential decree didn’t come as a surprise, as both the President and Pence had been talking about sending American astronauts back on a moon mission since their campaign days in 2016.

At a campaign event near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Trump had spoken about paving the way for NASA to “refocus on space exploration” rather than being restricted to serve “ primarily as a logistical agency for low Earth-orbit activities.”

Then, during the first NSC meeting in October 2017, US Vice President Mike Pence said that the Trump administration was committed to the moon mission and beyond.

It must be said that the directive was well-timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17, the last of NASA’s six manned missions to the moon.

Similar promises were made by three former presidents but political and financial challenges associated with deep space exploration had derailed their plans.

The Trump government’s space plans is not just restricted to sending manned missions to the moon and beyond; it is also serious about launching a space warfare service branch – the United States Space Force (USSF) – which will become the sixth branch of the US Armed Forces, if only the president could get Congress to see through his eyes.

“Separate but equal” is the phrase Trump used to compare Space Force with the Air Force, speaking about it in a June 2018 NSC (National Space Council) meeting.

Pence, on his part, described Space Force as “an idea whose time has come” in a Pentagon address in August last year.

“The next generation of Americans to confront the emerging threats in the boundless expanse of space will be wearing the uniform of the United States of America,” he said, going on to add that the ball was now in the Congress court for establishing and funding the mammoth project.

“Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation,” he also said.

Trump has already set the ball rolling by signing a directive –Space Policy Directive 4 (SPD-4) – in March this year, ordering the Department of Defense (DoD) to draft legislation for Congress to make Space Force a reality.

“America must be fully equipped to defend our vital interests. Our adversaries are training forces and developing technology to undermine our security in space, and they’re working very hard at that,” the president told reporters at the White House.

As for the funding, the government is requesting $14.1billion in its 2020 budget proposal for investing in space operations, a key part of which is the first allocation of $72 million to establish a Space Force headquarters.

As brilliant as the idea of having a dedicated military branch to secure the infinite deeps of space may seem to a lot of people, it is definitely not without its fair share of detractors.

Critics and naysayers, including National security specialists and US Armed Forces officials, have openly voiced their concerns against the creation of such an entity.

Their argument is based on the premise that creating a separate force for space-related activities of the US Armed Forces would encroach on the domain of the US Air Force Space Command, which currently manages that particular area of the nation’s security concerns.

From The Editors Technology

Japan Begins Testing the ALFA-X – Its Next-Gen Bullet Train Capable of Doing 400 KMPH

A collaborative endeavor between Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Hitachi, the ALFA-X went into testing on Friday (May 10), a phase that is expected to last at least three years.

Although capable of reaching a maximum speed of 400 kilometers per hour (about 249 miles per hour), it will carry passengers at around 360 kmph (224 mph) when it becomes operational sometime in 2030.

Even at the reduced speed, the ALFA-X will be one of the fastest bullet trains in the world, if not the fastest.

The test runs of the 10-car train with a 72-foot-long nose will be conducted twice a week after midnight between the cities of Sendai and Aomori, about 280 kilometers (174 miles) apart as the crow flies.

According to DesignBooms, a shorter 52-foot-nose version will also be tested to determine which of the two offers the best aerodynamic experience in terms of wind resistance and noise.

Some of the main features of the ALFA-X include vibration sensors, temperature sensors, and, of course, the dramatically elongated futuristic-looking nose for minimizing wind pressure and noise, especially when passing through tunnels.

For braking, the train has been equipped with roof-mounted air brakes and magnetic plates on its underside.

But, before commuters get to experience the blistering speed of ALFA-X, they will have already been introduced to another bullet train, the Shinkansen N700S.

The train is undergoing tests now and is expected to go operational in 2020 on the Tokaido Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka; the timing intended to coincide with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

However, its maximum speed of 300 kmph (186 mph) will be well short of the speeds the ALFA-X is designed to achieve.

The N700S will comprise 16 cars, two of which will be driving cars – one on each end – while the remaining 14 will be dedicated to a maximum of 1,323 passengers.

Again, the all-important nose has been given due attention, with a ‘dual supreme wing type’ design to improve airflow and reduce noise, particularly the sonic boom-type effect experienced when passing through tunnels.

However fast it goes during the tests, the ALFA-X will never be able to match the speed of Japan Railway’s maglev (magnetic levitation) train which was able to reach 603 kmph (around 375 mph) on a test track in 2015.

Here’s a look at some of the world’s fastest trains currently in service.

The Shanghai Maglev – 431 kmph (267 mph)

Based on magnetic levitation (maglev) technology, the Shanghai Maglev debuted way back in 2004.

The superfast train operates between Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport and the Longyang metro station on the outskirts of Shanghai, completing the 30-km (19-mile) run in just over seven minutes.

Fuxing Hao CR400AF/BF – 400 kmph (249 mph)

China’s Fuxing Hao CR400AF and CR400BF, nicknamed “Dolphin Blue” and “Golden Phoenix,” respectively, are the fastest non-maglev trains currently in operation.

While “Fuxing Hao” means “rejuvenation” in Chinese, the letters CR before the 400AF/BF stands for Chinese Railway.

Operating between Beijing South and Shanghai Hongqiao Station, the two trains carry up to 556 passengers each in just under five hours, which is half the time it takes on the conventional track between the two points.

Shinkansen H5 and E5 Series – 360 kmph (224 mph)

It has been 55 years since Japan launched the Hikari high-speed train service between Tokyo and Osaka, cutting down the travel time between the country’s two largest cities by a good three hours; it brought down the nearly seven-hour trip to just four hours.

Owned by Hokkaido Railway Company (JR Hokkaido), the high-speed H5 series has been operating on the Tohoku and Hokkaido Shinkansen services since its debut in March 2016.

The E5 series is operated by East Japan Railway Company (JR East) on Tohoku Shinkansen services since March 2011 and on Hokkaido Shinkansen services since March 2016. (Wikipedia).

The Italo and Frecciarossa – 354 kmph (220 mph)

The high-speed Italo and Frecciarossa, or “red arrow,” owned by NTV and Trenitalia, respectively, are among the fastest in Europe, capable of transporting passengers between Milan and Rome, or between Milan and Florence, in less than three hours.

Haramain Western Railway – 350 kmph (217 mph)

Saudi Arabia’s high-speed rail service between the cities of Mecca and Medina was officially inaugurated in Sep 2018.

The 453-kilometer (281 mi) distance between the two holiest cities in the country is covered in a mere two and a half hours at 300 km/h (190 mph), although the electric trains operating on the route are capable of higher speeds.

Deutsche Bahn ICE – 330 kmph (205 mph)

The Siemens-designed high-speed train Valero, used by DeutscheBahn ICE (Inter-City Express), makes for a spectacular sight as it speeds through Germany’s scenic countryside.

With DeutscheBahn’s long-term plans to operate these trains between Frankfurt and London, the Velaro has been designed to fit through the Channel Tunnel.

Korail KTX – 330 kmph (205 mph)

Having debuted in 2004, South Korea’s high-speed rail network may not be the newest but surely finds a place among the fastest.

The latest route connecting Incheon International Airport in the west to the eastern coastal town of Gangneung, with a stopover in Seoul, opened in 2018 – just in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Thalys – 300 kmph (186 mph)

One of Europe’s more important train services, the Thalys operates multiple services daily, connecting Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Cologne.

The Brussels-to-Paris service remains the most profitable, accounting for half the entire revenue, despite the extension of the German route to as far as Dortmund in 2015.

From The Editors Science

Cambridge Scientists to Adopt Radical Methods to Avert Imminent Climate Catastrophe

As a climate catastrophe looms larger than ever before, scientists at the Cambridge University are working on setting up a research center to find radical ways of fixing the planet’s rapidly deteriorating environment, before it spells our doom.

Desperate times call for desperate measures!

As clichéd and dramatic as it may sound, it’s probably what the Cambridge scientists had in mind when they took the much-needed initiative, which is being coordinated by Prof Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

“What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years,” Sir David told the BBC News, adding: “There is no major center in the world that would be focused on this one big issue.”

Part of Cambridge university’s Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative, the Center for Climate Repair is being headed by climate scientist and mathematician Emily Shuckburgh, Director of Research at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Fellow at the British Arctic Survey.

“This really is one of the most important challenges of our time, and we know we need to be responding to it with all our efforts,” Shuckburgh told BBC News.

Concerns that the ongoing efforts alone will not make much of a difference in the fight against climate change has led to this new line of thinking, which is expected to stem the rot by drastically reducing CO2 emissions.

Some of the ideas that the researchers are looking forward to exploring include refreezing the polar regions, recycling carbon dioxide, and greening the oceans – collectively known as geoengineering.

Pole Refreezing

Conceptually, the approach is as simple as brightening/whitening the clouds above the polar regions to increase their ability to reflect heat back into space; it’s the implementation that may prove to be tricky.

The idea being proposed is to deploy unmanned ships with tall masts and pump seawater up the masts through special nozzles, thereby producing tiny salt particles that can then be sprayed into the clouds, making them more reflective.

Recycling Carbon Dioxide

If CO2 emissions from various sources could be harnessed and converted into synthetic fuel, a good portion of the world’s emission problems would be solved, but again, it’s the method that needs to be perfected.

Prof Peter Styring of the University of Sheffield – a researcher specializing in novel sorbents and processes for carbon dioxide capture, purification, and utilization – is working with Tata Steel on exactly such a pilot in Port Talbot in South Wales.

If all goes well, it would go a long way in making large-scale CO2 recycling a global reality.

“We have a source of hydrogen, we have a source of carbon dioxide, we have a source of heat and we have a source of renewable electricity from the plant,” Prof Styring told BBC News.

“We’re going to harness all those and we’re going to make synthetic fuels,” he added.

Ocean Greening

Greening the oceans by promoting the growth of vegetation such as algae and plankton on the surface is another approach under consideration.
The idea is to fertilize the oceans with iron salts which are known to stimulate such growth; the more the growth the more the absorption of CO2 from the air by way of photosynthesis.

Earlier attempts at ocean greening have shown that the amount CO2 absorbed is not enough to make the scheme worthy of the resources involved; plus, there’s the likelihood of upsetting the ecological balance.

But, don’t forget these are desperate times, and considering the enormity of the impending threat, all available options need to be revisited.

“Early in my career, people threw their hands up in horror at suggestions of more interventionist solutions to fix coral reefs,” Prof Callum Roberts of York University told BBC News.

“Now they are looking in desperation at an ecosystem that will be gone at the end of the century and now all options are on the table,” he said.

“At the moment, I happen to think that harnessing nature to mitigate climate change is a better way to go. But I do see the legitimacy of exploring [more radical] options as a means of steering us towards a better future,” added the professor.

A recent study, ranking the environmental targets of different countries, holds the climate change policies of dozens of them, including China, Russia, and Canada, responsible for the expected 5C-plus temperature rise by the end of the century.

Published in the journal Nature Communications in November last year, the paper reveals that these countries are not pursuing their climate change pledges to the United Nations sincerely enough to avoid an environmental catastrophe, which as of now is a foregone conclusion.

According to the Paris Agreement of December 2015, adopted within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), hundreds of countries pledged individual NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions, toward a collective environmental goal.

The NDC calls for member countries to ensure that their individual contributions to climate change are ambitious, progressive and Agreement-centric enough to achieve the “aspirational levels” of 1.5 °C – 2 °C by 2100.

However, the authors note that the NDCs are self-serving and not in keeping with the Paris Agreement, as a result of which the aspirational level targets have little chance of being met.

“Current NDCs individually align, at best, with divergent concepts of equity and are collectively inconsistent with the Paris Agreement,” writes study head and lead author Yann Robiou du Pont from the Australian-German Climate & Energy College, University of Melbourne, along with co-author and university colleague Malte Meinshausen.

If the existing state of affairs does not change soon enough, we could well be looking at a 2.3 °C increase in global temperatures by 2100,” say the authors.

“Extending such a self-interested bottom-up aggregation of equity might lead to a median 2100-warming of 2.3 °C,” they write.

Robiou du Pont and Meinshausen do, however, believe that “tightening the warming goal of each country’s effort-sharing approach to aspirational levels of 1.1 °C and 1.3 °C could achieve the 1.5 °C and well-below 2 °C-thresholds, respectively.”

Calling the suggested target revision a “new hybrid allocation,” the authors say that it’s a reconciliation between “the bottom-up nature of the Paris Agreement” and its “top-down warming thresholds and provides a temperature metric to assess NDCs.”

The UNFCCC objective of stabilizing GHG (Greenhouse Gas) concentrations, based on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC) to push global warming targets, is far from being met as portrayed by the NDCs.

“While the quest for a common understanding of what is a fair effort-sharing continues, rapidly falling technology costs of renewables and increasing mitigation co-benefits shift the attention away from effort-sharing considerations,” note the authors.

“However, current bottom-up NDCs do not add up to a global ambition consistent with the joint temperature goals,” they say, suggesting that “a 5-year stocktake requires all countries to pledge enhanced actions and support.”

Per the current NDCs, India is leading the pack with a warming target of 2.6 °C, which is rather impressive considering it only marginally exceeds the upper target threshold of 2C.

“The greenest countries on this assessment are the least developed,” The Independent quotes Robiou du Pont as having said.

“Given that they pollute so much less, have polluted so much less and have low per capita GDP, they could increase their emissions to some extent, and that would be fair,” Robiou du Pont told the online newspaper.

The industrialized nations, on the other hand, are the poor performers, with China and major energy exporters like Saudi Arabia, Canada and Russia among the top offenders with their NDCs leading to a potentially catastrophic 5C-plus warming.

“Many industrialized countries perform poorly. After all, we know that industrialisation brought climate change,” Robiou du Pont told The Independent, adding that it did not mean that these countries could not take corrective measures.

Among the countries pursuing policies that are likely to lead the planet to a 4C temperature jump, are Australia (heavily dependent on coal exports) and the United States, which is looking to balance its industry, energy and agricultural emissions by encouraging more renewables.

Slightly better-off are EU countries, with most of them producing emissions that would raise the planet’s temperatures by 3C.

“It is interesting is to see how far out some countries are, even those that are considered leaders in the climate mitigation narrative,” the Guardian quoted Robiou du Pont as saying.

It is, therefore, heartening to know that initiatives like the Center for Climate Repair are being undertaken and that serious efforts are being made to save the planet from an imminent ecological disaster.

From The Editors Technology

Key Takeaways From Microsoft Build 2019 – the Company’s Annual Developer Conference

The recently concluded Microsoft Build 2019 – the tech giant’s annual conference for developers and IT professionals – was held from May 6 to May 8 at the  Washington State Convention Center in Downtown Seattle, Washington.

More than 6,000 technologists, developers and business leaders, representing thousands of organizations from across the globe, attended the three-day event.

The conference kicked off with an insightful keynote address by CEO Satya Nadella, who touched upon the company’s achievement in its various divisions, including Azure, Cortana, Office 365, Xbox, and Edge, to name a few.

Following the lead of other tech giants like Facebook, Google and Apple, the Redmond-based company appeared to be more focussed on discouraging users, including business people, from over-indulgence in screen time.

The new features being built into most of the company’s services is indicative of this new approach, in terms of delivering more user- and developer-friendly products, rather than giving great technology that may not find practicality with many people.

“I do believe Microsoft is making real changes to focus on what I would call ‘technology that solves real problems’ versus staring at the amazement of technology that some may not want,” Moore Insights & Strategy president Patrick Moorhead was quoted by Engadget as having said.

“This is a pragmatic shift and I know goes all the way up to Satya. Apple for consumer markets has been good at this and Google is getting better at this but still has some tech for tech’s sake,” he told the technology blog.

Today’s Microsoft is not the Microsoft we knew of before Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer as CEO in early 2014.

The incoming CEO’s approach was to focus primarily on bringing the company’s products and services to platforms people preferred, rather than trying to force unnecessary technology on them.

This user-driven push was glaringly obvious, and excitingly so, in practically all the new features announced for the company’s various products and services, including Edge, AI, Office 365 and Azure, among others.

After having worked with Chromium open source – the force behind Google Chrome – to enhance the user experience of its proprietary browser Edge, Microsoft is now bringing Internet Explorer to the browser by way of a new tab.

The company is also adding a new privacy feature to the browser by giving users three security options to choose from – Unrestricted, Balanced and Strict – for a more transparent and personalized experience.

Depending on the option chosen, Edge will control how third parties keep a tab on you across the internet.

‘Collections’ is another upcoming feature on Edge that will allow you to collate, share and export content as neatly formatted documents with Office integration.

At Microsoft Ignite last year, the company announced several new AI features for MS Office – one of the most extensively used office suites in the world – including “Ideas.”

Basically, “Ideas” uses AI to make life easier for users trying to create documents in Office applications by suggesting ideas, design changes, and other useful tips, which not only helps in creating the perfect document but speeds up the work as well, thereby increasing employee productivity.

For example, when you’re trying to create a PowerPoint presentation, “Ideas,” which can be accessed with a single click of the mouse, suggests layouts, images you can insert, and other useful tips that are sure to improve the quality of your presentation.

Excel also got the AI boost, allowing it to recommend charts and identify data outliers, thereby helping users with tasks like a virtual assistant.

The company is now bringing this useful feature to Word, which would take it way beyond spell check.

It will suggest grammar corrections, better phrasing, and even more inclusive language, all of which will contribute toward making you a better writer over a period of time.

“For AI features, there has to be a minimum bar of quality for you to trust it,” Malavika Rewari – Senior Product Marketing Manager, Office Intelligence – told Engadget.

She added: “We don’t release something unless it’s meeting that bar.

“And we release it in phases: First we dogfood [test] internally within Microsoft and do a lot of usability studies

“We then go to early adopters, Insider programs and early release programs, where we go to a more diverse data set.

“And then we go to consumers and then commercial users.”

The company is also working on improving the Cortana experience by making it a smarter, more interactive assistant rather than something you shout out standard commands to – thanks to Semantic Machines, a Berkeley, California-based natural language startup Microsoft acquired last year.

“Combining Semantic Machines’ technology with Microsoft’s own AI advances, we aim to deliver powerful, natural and more productive user experiences that will take conversational computing to a new level,” the company wrote in a May 2018 blog.

If the demo at the conference is anything to go by, the new, more human-like Cortana will allow you to talk to it more conversationally, without having to phrase commands.

“The next generation of intelligent assistant technologies from Microsoft will be able to do this by leveraging breakthroughs in conversational artificial intelligence and machine learning pioneered by Semantic Machines,” says Microsoft.

Another announcement that merits a mention is the Fluid Framework concept that has the potential to revolutionize the way we work with documents.

It will allow you to break down your documents into different components that can be included in other documents.

To give an example, you can take a part of Word document and drop it into another document, and any changes made to it will reflect on the original file in real time.

Developers can have a go at it later this year when Microsoft launches a Fluid Framework software development kit.

While there were many other significant announcements at the show, the point to reiterate is the fact that the company is now working on finding ways to make its products and services more people-centric.

From The Editors Science

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Rocket Carries 38 Experimental Payloads to Space and Back

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos got one step closer to realizing his long-time dream of ferrying paying passengers to space when on Thursday his spaceflight company Blue Origin launched and landed its retrievable New Shephard booster and capsule for the fifth consecutive time.

It also marked the Kent-Washington-headquartered company’s eleventh test launch, overall, since April 2015.

The rocket lifted off from the company’s west-Texas launch facility at 9:32 a.m. EDT (1332 GMT; 8:32 a.m. local time) on May 2, carrying 38 experimental payloads to an altitude of 65.5 miles – beyond the internationally recognized Kármán line at 62.13 miles above sea-level.

On reaching its apogee (the highest point in a rocket’s trajectory), the booster separated from the capsule to return back to Earth for a picture-perfect rocket-powered landing, touching down tail first on its designated concrete pad.

The capsule carrying the experimental payloads followed soon after, making a soft touchdown with the help of three parachutes it deployed on re-entry.

The entire sequence, right from launch to separation to landing and recovery of booster and capsule, took just over ten minutes.

“A beautiful, beautiful launch of the booster and capsule today. Incredible,”  said Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut and orbital sales. “This has been quite the morning.”

According to Blue Origin, the Crew Capsule 2.0 used for the mission boasts “the largest windows in space,” measuring 110 centimeters in height and 73 centimeters in width. The previous version had painted-on windows.

Considering the company’s future plan of carrying paying passengers to space, which could happen as early as next year, the windows bit does make a lot of sense.

As explained on the Blue Origin website, “the New Shepard capsule’s interior is an ample 530 cubic feet – offering over 10 times the room Alan Shepard had on his Mercury flight. It seats six astronauts and is large enough for you to float freely and turn weightless somersaults.”

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 and kept it away from the public eye until 2006 when he purchased a large tract of land in west Texas to build the infrastructure for launch and test purposes.

The company has been exploring and building technologies to enable humans to get access to space travel by lowering costs and increasing the reliability factor.

While last week’s launch involved the third iteration of the New Shephard launch vehicle (NS3), a fourth version is being built for the intended space tourism flights.

Here’s a quick look at all the eleven launches since April 2015, including the last five involving the third-gen New Shephard booster, the NS3, and the Crew Capsule 2.0.

New Shepard Test Flight 1 (April 19, 2015)

The first New Shepard (NS1) test flight, which saw the unmanned space vehicle reach its intended test apogee of 93.5 km at a top speed of Mach 3 (3675 km/h), was a partial success.

While the company was able to achieve a parachute-aided landing of the capsule, it failed to land the booster, which crashed due to hydraulic failure in the vehicle control system.

New Shepard Test Flight 2 (Nov 23, 2015)

After losing NS1, Blue Horizon built a second New Shephard, the NS2, launching it on Nov 23, 2015.

It went beyond the 100-kilometer mark and, both, booster and capsule returned safely back to Earth, marking Blue Horizon’s first ever successful retrieval of the reusable booster.

New Shepard Test Flight 3 (Jan 22, 2016)

NS2 was used again for the January 22, 2016 mission, effectively demonstrating the re-usability of the booster.

The rocket reached its apogee of 101.7 km, and again, booth booster and capsule returned back to base and were recovered for future use.

New Shepard Test Flight 4 (April 2, 2016)

In its third test flight, the NS2 went beyond the 62.5-mile mark and returned back to Earth without incident, with booster and capsule making their usual powered and parachuted landings, respectively.

New Shepard Test Flight 5 (June 19, 2016)

The fifth New Shepard launch – fourth for NS2 – took place on June 19, 2016, with the same success in terms of altitude reached and booster-capsule retrieval.

New Shepard Test Flight 6 (Oct 5, 2016)

NS2 was retired after its fifth and final test flight on October 5, 2016 – again a success as far as achieving test mission and returning safely back to the planet was concerned.

New Shepard Test Flight 7 (Dec 12, 2017)

In addition to the capsule, there were twelve commercial, research and education payloads on board, along with an “instrumented dummy” inside the capsule, appropriately dubbed Mannequin Skywalker.

After reaching an altitude of 61.75 miles – just shy of the Kármán line – the booster and capsule separated and returned to earth, executing their well-choreographed landing sequences to perfection, with Mannequin Skywalker apparently unharmed inside the ample space of Crew Capsule 2.0.

The seventh New Shepard mission, using a brand new booster and capsule – the NS3 and Crew Capsule 2.0 – was successfully accomplished on December 12, 2017, with both booster and capsule returning without incident.

New Shepard Test Flight 8 (April 29, 2018)

The NS3 booster and Crew Capsule 2.0 were deployed for a second time for the Apr 2018 mission, reaching an apogee of about 67 miles before separating for the return journey.

New Shepard Test Flight 9 (July 18, 2018)

This was the third mission involving the NS3 and Crew Capsule 2.0, which saw the booster and capsule separate at a 73.8-mile apogee.

New Shepard Test Flight 10 (Jan 23, 2019)

Earlier scheduled for Dec 18, 2018, the fourth test flight mission of the new booster-capsule combo carried eight experimental payloads provided by NASA to an altitude of about 67 miles.

New Shepard Test Flight 11 (May 2, 2019)

Last week’s mission, discussed earlier, was the 11th overall and the fifth for NS3 and Crew Capsule 2.0

From The Editors Science

Threat From Asteroid Strikes is Not Only about Movies; It’s for Real, Says NASA Chief

In his keynote address at the 2019 IAA Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland, USA, on Monday (April 29), NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine warned that the threat to Earth from asteroid strikes was as real as it gets.

He urged the international space community to create awareness among people that devastation from asteroid strikes was not only about what Hollywood shows us but about defending Earth – the only habitat we know of.

“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about movies,” Bridenstine was quoted by as having said at the conference.

“This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth,” said the NASA head.

As part of the  “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan” announced in June last year, this gathering of NASA, FEMA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the International Asteroid Warning Network representatives, among others, will conclude on May 3.

The five-day event will see the participants conduct an “asteroid impact exercise,” playing out mock impact scenarios to enhance preparedness for the real thing if, or should we say when, it does happen.

Asteroid expert Andrew Rivkin – a planetary astronomer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, told NBC News MACH in an email that “exercises like this have been run at several conferences over the years, and government agencies have also ​had them.”

“It’s definitely worth doing, if only so people are aware of the issues and how complex some of them are,” he wrote.

Comparing the exercise to a fire drill, Rivkin said that the aftermath of a major asteroid hit would be catastrophic if what happened to the dinosaurs is anything to go by.

He was, obviously, referring to the six-mile-wide asteroid that hit our planet some 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs from the face of the Earth – or, so it is believed.

But. we need not end up like the dinosaurs, or the other species that went with them, because we have the necessary resources at our disposal; we just have to make the most of them.

“We know for a fact that the dinosaurs did not have a space program. But we do, and we need to use it,” Bridenstine said.

But, why go so far back in time to emphasize the threat we’re exposed to, when the recent Chelyabinsk Event is scary enough to justify all the good things, including the ongoing conference, being done to minimize the probabilities of a repeat.

The 66-foot-wide supersonic meteor smashed into the atmosphere above the city of Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, sending shockwaves so powerful that at least 1,500 people were injured and more than 7,000 buildings in six cities were damaged.

“I wish I could tell you that these events are exceptionally unique, but they are not,” Bridenstine said about the Chelyabinsk Event.

“These events are not rare — they happen. It’s up to us to make sure that we are characterizing, detecting, tracking all of the near-Earth objects that could be a threat to the world,” he added.

The aforementioned Federal ‘preparedness strategy and action plan’ notwithstanding, there’s a lot that still needs to be done in terms of increased monitoring systems across the globe, for which international cooperation is the need of the hour, says Bridenstine.

“We’re only about a third of the way there,” he said, adding: “We want more international partners that can join us in this effort.

“We want more systems on the face of the Earth that can detect and track these objects, and we want to be able to feed all of that data into one single operating system so that ultimately, we have the best, most accurate data that we can possibly get.”

NASA knows that merely chasing these potential threats is not going to save Earth from another mass extinction and, probably, thousands of years of ice-age, should one of them slam into us.

The good news is that the agency has been working on a planetary-defense mission called DART, an acronym for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, to save us from exactly such an eventuality.

DART is essentially an impactor spacecraft that NASA plans to crash into an asteroid satellite at 13,500 miles per hour in an effort to change its course.

The idea is to find out how much the car-sized impactor can change the trajectory of the target space rock and whether it’s enough to redirect an Earth-bound asteroid safely away from us.

The space rock that NASA has in its crosshairs for the planned Oct 2022 hit is, in fact, a satellite moonlet nicknamed Didymoon, about seven million miles away from Earth.

Measuring 150 meters across, the moonlet orbits an 800-meter-wide asteroid called Didymos, from where it derives its nickname.

While Didymoon is not on a collision course with Earth and poses no threat to us whatsoever, a detailed study of the space object, and then slamming into it to bump it off its bearings, should provide the DART team with useful data that can come in handy in averting a real asteroid threat, if ever it came to that.

Not only will ground telescopes track the new course of the twin objects post-impact, but an Italian Space Agency CubeSat called ‘Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids’ will accompany the mission to keep an eye on proceedings.

Additionally, as part of an international Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch two CubeSats, APEX (Asteroid Prospection Explorer) and Juventas, onboard the agency’s Hera spacecraft, in time to reach the binary asteroid system sometime in 2026 to record the effects of the DART collision, according to NASA.

To test potential techniques in “deflecting” an asteroid – one of the preferred methods for mitigating a threat – DART will travel to the Didymos binary asteroid system via its a xenon-based electric propulsion system, steering with an onboard camera and sophisticated autonomous navigation software,” says NASA.

DART is expected to send back a close-up shot of the Didymoon surface – its last transmission to Earth – just before it is pulverized into space dust.

For any Solar System body to qualify as a near-Earth object, its closest approach to the Sun has to be less than 1.3 astronomical units (AU), the equivalent of nearly 121 million miles.

Among the 20,000 near-Earth asteroids and comets orbiting the Sun is a 500-meter-wide asteroid called Bennu, which has a 1-in-2,700 chance of smashing into Earth sometime between 2175 and 2196, say scientists.

The potentially hazardous object (PHO), “listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale,” is currently 54 million miles from Earth.

For all we know, Bennu might just turn out be the asteroid that NASA has to knock off-course to save the planet in the future; that’s when the knowledge gained from the DART mission will come in handy – unless the 500-meter rock, or some other NEO, hits us sooner.

Honestly, that’s unlikely, but time will tell.

From The Editors Science

New Study Says Our Universe is Expanding Much Faster Than Expected

A new study, published on April 25 in the Astrophysical Journal, has revealed that our universe is expanding alarmingly faster than expected, effectively raising more questions about one of the biggest mysteries in astronomy than answering them

Although astronomers have known all along that the universe has been expanding ever since the big bang more than 13 billion years ago, the fact that it is growing about nine percent faster than earlier predictions, as the new Hubble measurements suggest, calls for new theories to better understand the forces that have shaped the cosmos.

The difference in the expansion rate of the modern universe and the measurements of the early universe (based on estimates from the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite), has been the subject of many a scientific paper over the last several years.

However, the disparity reflected this time around is far too significant to pass it off as a fluke or blame it on different measurement techniques.
Hubble constant, or the rate at which the universe is expanding, is prone to discrepancies, depending on the method used by scientists to measure it, but the latest findings have reduced the probability of the disparity being a fluke from 1 in 3,000 to 1 in 100,000.

“The Hubble tension between the early and late universe may be the most exciting development in cosmology in decades,” said Nobel laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland.

This mismatch has been growing and has now reached a point that is really impossible to dismiss as a fluke. This disparity could not plausibly occur just by chance,” Reiss, who is also the lead researcher of the study, added.

The Planck technique measures the expansion at around 67 kilometers (41.6 miles) per second per megaparsec, which means for every 3.26 million light-years farther away a galaxy is from us, the expansion of the universe is causing it to move 67 kilometers per second faster.

The technique involves mapping of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), or the condition of the universe as it was 380, 000 years after the big bang – “a relic afterglow” as NASA describes it.

The Hubble method calculated the Hubble constant at 74 kilometers (46 miles) per second per megaparsec – the difference between the two measurements being the nine percent disparity in question.

The Hubble Space Telescope method of calculating the Hubble constant involves three basic steps, all of which require building a “cosmic distance ladder.”

To start with, accurate distances to neighboring galaxies are measured, moving farther and farther away to distant galaxies, building the so-called “cosmic distance ladder” in the process.

“This “ladder” is a series of measurements of different kinds of astronomical objects with an intrinsic brightness that researchers can use to calculate distances,” explains NASA.

“Among the most reliable for shorter distances are Cepheid variables, stars that pulsate at predictable rates that indicate their intrinsic brightness,” says the space agency.

New observations of 70 Cepheid variables in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby satellite galaxy, allowed the astronomers to compare the measurements of these Cepheid variables to those in more distant galaxies, including exploding stars called Type Ia supernovas.

Since supernovas are much brighter than Cepheids, astronomers use them as “milepost markers” to calculate the distance to galaxies that are farther away in the outer reaches of the universe.

Each marker represents a rung in the “cosmic distance ladder,” which can be extended by adding more reliable markers, thereby enabling astronomers to reach farther and farther away to far-flung galaxies.

The distances to these markers are then compared to measurements of the reddish glow emanating from an entire galaxy, the redness increasing with distance – a result of the uniform expansion of the universe.

Astronomers can then work out the rate at which the universe is expanding.

“When Hubble uses precise pointing by locking onto guide stars, it can only observe one Cepheid per each 90-minute Hubble orbit around Earth. So, it would be very costly for the telescope to observe each Cepheid,” said Stefano Casertano, one of the co-authors of the study – also from STScI and Johns Hopkins.

“Instead, we searched for groups of Cepheids close enough to each other that we could move between them without recalibrating the telescope pointing,” he explained.

“These Cepheids are so bright, we only need to observe them for two seconds,” Casertano said, adding that the technique was allowing the team “to observe a dozen Cepheids for the duration of one orbit.”

As to why the universe is expanding at such a rapid pace is still a burning question for the astronomers which requires further research.

There are, however, a few “dark” theories, including the “early dark energy”, the “dark radiation” and the “dark matter” theories, that attempt to explain the disparity.

NASA’s April 25 article states:

“Astronomers have already hypothesized that dark energy existed during the first seconds after the big bang and pushed matter throughout space, starting the initial expansion.

“Dark energy may also be the reason for the universe’s accelerated expansion today. The new theory suggests that there was a third dark-energy episode not long after the big bang, which expanded the universe faster than astronomers had predicted.

“The existence of this “early dark energy” could account for the tension between the two Hubble constant values, Riess said.”

The other explanation for the mismatch is the presence of a new subatomic particle in space which travels close to the speed of light; collectively, these fast-moving particles are known as “dark radiation.”

Previously known particles, including neutrinos, (created in nuclear reactions and radioactive decays) are also part of this dark radiation.

As for “dark matter,” although it exists only in theory, scientists strongly believe that it is an all-pervasive reality in galaxy clusters, accounting for 85 percent of all matter in the known and unknown universe.

Their conviction is based on astrophysical observations such as unexplained gravitational forces, which, obviously, can’t come from anything.

Meaning, while they can see the powerful gravitational effects of the so-called dark matter, they can’t really see the matter itself; hence, the name.

A recent study, however, claims to have found a way to track the dark matter.

Using deep-space imagery captured by the Hubble Telescope, astronomers Mireia Montes (School of Physics, University of New South Wales, Australia) and Ignacio Trujillo (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain) were able to see the invisible matter in an unprecedented light, literally.

From The Editors Science

FCC Allows SpaceX to Launch its Starlink Internet Satellites in a Lower Earth Orbit

A major regulatory hurdle in the way of Elon Musk’s Starlink project – his ambitious plan to launch broadband services from space – has finally been overcome.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved his spaceflight company SpaceX’s application to modify its original approval, which allowed the company to operate 4,425 satellites at an orbital of altitude 1,150 km.

The revised application requested the Commission to let SpaceX reduce the number of its Starlink constellation of satellites to 4,409 and re-position 1,584 of them to a lower orbital altitude of 550 km.

Now that the modification request has got the FCC nod, SpaceX is expected to start launching its internet-beaming, non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellites from Florida, sometime next month.

Welcoming the FCC decision, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said: “This approval underscores the FCC’s confidence in SpaceX’s plans to deploy its next-generation satellite constellation and connect people around the world with reliable and affordable broadband service.”

The approval came despite apprehensions raised by companies like OneWeb and Kepler Communications – SpaceX’s competition in space broadband services – arguing that the Starlink satellites would interfere with their own satellites if allowed to fly at a reduced altitude.

However, the Commission overruled their petitions, noting in its approval that the proposed changes did not pose any interference threat to other satellites and that it was in the public interest.

In response to objections raised about collision risks, FCC said that SpaceX had provided the commission a detailed statement, explaining that the Starlink satellites were equipped with propulsion systems and had the maneuverability to avoid collisions.

“We find no reason to defer action on SpaceX’s modification request as requested by certain commenters,” the Commission wrote in clause 22 of the approval.

“Our rules do not prohibit SpaceX’s selection of an orbital regime that is also used by other satellite operators, but SpaceX must provide a detailed discussion of how it will avoid potential collisions,” the approval read.

“SpaceX has done so in this instance. SpaceX has stated that its satellites have propulsion and SpaceX will maintain the ability to maneuver the satellites to avoid collisions.”

Elon Musk’s foray into yet another business frontier got a major boost back in February last year when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave his nod of approval to SpaceX’s plan of providing broadband services using space technologies.

Pai urged his fellow commissioners to give their consent to the company’s application, highlighting the space internet technology’s potential to provide broadband services to rural America and remote parts of the country.

He said that innovative technologies were needed to “bridge America’s digital divide,” and that satellite technology could “help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.”

“Following careful review of this application by our International Bureau’s excellent satellite engineering experts, I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans,” Pai had said in a statement at the time.

“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,” he said.

Pai’s words of encouragement came at the most opportune time for the Hawthorne, California-based company, as it was preparing to launch its first set of prototype satellites, Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, in about a week’s time.

The prototypes were launched on Feb 22, 2018, atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Nicknamed Tintin A and Tintin B for the mission, the satellites ultimately reached an altitude of 1,125 kilometers where they were supposed to the groundwork, or should we say spacework, for the Starlink constellation.

As a matter of fact, the decision to reduce the orbital altitude of 1,584 satellites was based on input provided by the two test satellites.

At the time, Telesat Canada and Kepler Communications, also a Canadian company, were slightly ahead in the race in so far as demo satellites were concerned, both having launched prototypes in January 2018.

While Telesat deployed its 168-kilogram smallsat with the help of an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Kepler launched its smaller Cubesat atop a Chinese Long March 11 carrier rocket.

OneWeb, on the other hand, was supposed to launch its first ten operational satellites in May 2018, bypassing demo launches altogether.

The launch, however, happened on February 27 this year, and instead of ten, the Arlington, Virginia-based company put six satellites into orbit aboard a  Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

According to OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, the company should have its next-gen constellation in place by 2021, ready to provide five times as much speed to consumers at 2.5 Gbps

As for the Starlink constellation, SpaceX is hopeful of making the space broadband service operational by 2025.