NASA

SpaceX Launches NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite, Successfully Lands Its Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 34

SpaceX launched NASA's TESS spacecraft Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship following takeoff. This marks 24 successful landings for SpaceX now, notes The Verge. We will update this post once TESS is deployed into orbit. From the report: TESS is NASA's newest exoplanet hunter. The probe is tasked with staring at stars tens to hundreds of light-years from Earth, watching to see if they blink. When a planet passes in front of a distant star, it dims the star's light ever so slightly. TESS will measure these twinkles from a 13.7-day orbit that extends as far out as the distance of the Moon. The satellite won't get to its final orbit on this launch. Instead, the Falcon 9 will put TESS into a highly elliptical path around Earth first. From there, TESS will slowly adjust its orbit over the next couple of months by igniting its onboard engine multiple times. The spacecraft will even do a flyby of the Moon next month, getting a gravitational boost that will help get the vehicle to its final path around Earth. Overall, it will take about 60 days after launch for TESS to get to its intended orbit; science observations are scheduled to begin in June.
Businesses

Amazon Shelves Plan To Sell Prescription Drugs (cnbc.com) 68

Major Blud writes: CNBC is reporting that Amazon Business, which considered selling pharmaceutical products last year, has put its plans to do so on hiatus. "The change in plan comes partly because Amazon has not been able to convince big hospitals to change their traditional purchasing process, which typically involves a number of middlemen and loyal relationships," reports CNBC. Amazon was able to gain licensing in 47 out of the 50 U.S. states, but has struggled to land contracts with large hospital networks. "The setback illustrates the challenges of getting into the medical supply and pharmaceutical space, even for a company as big as Amazon," reports CNBC. "Several health-care and pharmaceutical distribution companies saw their stock take a nosedive following recent reports of Amazon potentially getting into the space, but it will likely take some time before those concerns turn into real threats."
NASA

NASA Planet-Hunter Set For Launch (bbc.com) 31

The US space agency is about to launch a telescope that should find thousands of planets beyond our Solar System. From a report: The Tess mission will go up on a SpaceX's Falcon rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida and survey nearly the entire sky over the course of the next two years. It will stare at stars, hoping to catch the dip in brightness as their faces are traversed by orbiting worlds. Tess will build a catalogue of nearby, bright stars and their planets that other telescopes can then follow up. Key among these will be the successor to Hubble -- the James Webb space observatory, due in orbit from 2020. Its powerful vision will have the capability to analyse the atmospheres of some of Tess's new worlds, to look for gases that might hint at the presence of life.

James Webb will "tease out the chemical compositions of those atmospheres and look for whatever's there," said Paul Hertz, the astrophysics director at Nasa. "People are very interested in looking for, what on Earth, are bio-signatures, such as methane, carbon dioxide, water vapour and oxygen." Tess follows in the footsteps of Kepler, a groundbreaking space telescope launched in 2009. It also used the "transit technique" to confirm more than 2,000 so-called exoplanets. But Kepler, for its primary mission at least, only looked at a very small patch of sky, and many of its discoveries were simply too far away or too dim for other telescopes to pursue with further analysis.
The launch of TESS was scheduled to Monday evening, but it has been postponed until Wednesday. SpaceX tweeted Monday afternoon that it is "standing down today to conduct additional GNC [guidance navigation control] analysis, and teams are now working towards a targeted launch of @NASA_TESS on Wednesday, April 18."
NASA

NASA's Got a Plan For a 'Galactic Positioning System' To Save Astronauts Lost in Space (space.com) 98

From a report: Outer space glows with a bright fog of X-ray light, coming from everywhere at once. But peer carefully into that fog, and faint, regular blips become visible. These are millisecond pulsars, city-sized neutron stars rotating incredibly quickly, and firing X-rays into the universe with more regularity than even the most precise atomic clocks. And NASA wants to use them to navigate probes and crewed ships through deep space. A telescope mounted on the International Space Station (ISS), the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), has been used to develop a brand new technology with near-term, practical applications: a galactic positioning system, NASA scientist Zaven Arzoumanian told physicists Sunday (April 15) at the April meeting of the American Physical Society.

With this technology, "You could thread a needle to get into orbit around the moon of a disant planet instead of doing a flyby," Arzoumian told Live Science. A galactic positioning system could also provide "a fallback, so that if a crewed mission loses contact with the Earth, they'd still have navigation systems on board that are autonomous." Right now, the kind of maneuvers that navigators would need to put a probe in orbit around distant moons are borderline impossible.

United Kingdom

State-Sponsored Russian Hackers Actively Seeking To Hijack Essential Internet Hardware, US and UK Intelligence Agencies Say (bbc.com) 169

State-sponsored Russian hackers are actively seeking to hijack essential internet hardware, US and UK intelligence agencies say. BBC reports: The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security issued a joint alert warning of a global campaign. The alert details methods used to take over essential network hardware. The attacks could be an attempt by Russia to gain a foothold for use in a future offensive, it said. "Russia is our most capable hostile adversary in cyber-space, so dealing with their attacks is a major priority for the National Cyber Security Centre and our US allies," said Ciaran Martin, head of the NCSC in a statement. The alert said attacks were aimed at routers and switches that directed traffic around the net. Compromised devices were used to look at data passing through them, so Russia could scoop up valuable intellectual property, business information and other intelligence.
Space

ULA Is Livestreaming An Atlas V Rocket Launch (upi.com) 59

United Launch Alliance -- a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing -- is livestreaming tonight's launch of an Atlas V rocket. UPI reports: The rocket is set to blast-off at 7:13 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The primary payload is the Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM, or CBAS, a geostationary communications satellite... Behind the CBAS payload is EAGLE, a platform capable of releasing several secondary payloads into space. According to Gunter's Space Page, EAGLE is carrying five additional payloads, all experimental satellites.
Here's a good overview of the mission: Saturday's mission will begin with ignition of the Atlas Common Core Booster's RD-180 engine, 2.7 seconds before the countdown reaches zero... Five Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-60A solid rocket motors will augment the CCB at liftoff, igniting about T+1.1 seconds as the rocket lifts off. Climbing away from Cape Canaveral, AV-079 will begin a series of pitch and yaw maneuvers 3.9 seconds into its mission, placing the rocket onto an 89.9-degree azimuth -- almost due East -- for the journey into orbit. Atlas will reach Mach 1, the speed of sound, 34.4 seconds after liftoff, passing through the area of maximum dynamic pressure -- Max-Q -- eleven-and-a-half seconds later.
Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro also shares an interesting remark by the CEO of Boeing when asked if Boeing's cancelled Sonic Cruiser might be making a comeback. "'Something better,' teased the Boeing boss, promising point-to-point connectivity anywhere on Earth in a matter of hours."

And when asked whether Boeing might launch a car into space, he replied instead that "We might pick up the one that's out there and bring it back."
The Almighty Buck

NASA May Fly Humans On the Less Powerful Version of Its Deep-Space Rocket (theverge.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: NASA may make some big changes to the first couple flights of its future deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System, after getting a recent funding boost from Congress to build a new launch platform. When humans fly on the rocket for the first time in the 2020s, they might ride on a less powerful version of the vehicle than NASA had expected. If the changes move forward, it could scale down the first crewed mission into deep space in more than 45 years. The SLS has been in development for the last decade, and when complete, it will be NASA's main rocket for taking astronauts to the Moon and Mars. NASA has long planned to debut the SLS with two crucial test missions. The first flight, called EM-1, will be uncrewed, and it will send the smallest planned version of the rocket on a three-week long trip around the Moon. Three years later, NASA plans to launch a bigger, more powerful version of the rocket around the Moon with a two-person crew -- a mission called EM-2.

But now, NASA may delay that rocket upgrade and fly the same small version of the SLS for the crewed flight instead. If that happens, NASA would need to come up with a different type of mission for the crew to do since they won't be riding on the more powerful version of the vehicle. "If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can't do what we could do if we had the [larger SLS]," Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, said during a Congressional hearing yesterday. NASA clarified that astronauts would still fly around the Moon on the second flight. However, the rocket would not be able to carry extra science payloads as NASA had originally planned. "The primary objective for EM-2 is to demonstrate critical functions with crew aboard, including mission planning, system performance, crew interfaces, and navigation and guidance in deep space, which can be accomplished on a Block 1 SLS," a NASA spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge.

NASA

Hubble Telescope Discovers a Light-Bending 'Einstein Ring' In Space (space.com) 71

Space.com reports of the Hubble Space Telescope's discovery of a light-bending "Einstein Ring" in space: The perfect circle surrounding a galaxy cluster in a new Hubble Space Telescope image is a visual indicator of the huge masses that are bending time and space in that region. The galaxy cluster, called SDSS J0146-0929, features hundreds of individual galaxies all bound together by gravity. There's so much mass in this region that the cluster is distorting light from objects behind it. This phenomenon is called an Einstein ring. The ring is created as the light that comes from distant objects, like galaxies, passes by "an extremely large mass, like this galaxy cluster," NASA said in a statement. "In this image, the light from a background galaxy is diverted and distorted around the massive intervening cluster and forced to travel along many different light paths toward Earth, making it seem as though the galaxy is in several places at once." The ring is named after Albert Einstein, who wrote his theory of general relativity in the early 1900s. In it, he suggested that a massive object would warp space and time. This process is known today as a gravitational lens. When the most massive galaxies and galaxy clusters get in line with a more distant object, they produce an Einstein ring -- a type of gravitational lens.
Earth

XPRIZE Projects Aim To Convert CO2 Emissions, But Skepticism Remains (scientificamerican.com) 83

The XPRIZE foundation exists to encourage particular innovations that might be useful but from which conventional financial backers are likely to shy away. Previous X Prizes have been awarded for feats such as flying a reusable spacecraft to the edge of space, and designing cheap sensors to measure oceanic acidity. This week, the foundation announced a new prize. From a report: One pioneering team hopes to use carbon dioxide to make a stronger form of cement. Another wants to use carbon to make bioplastic. Still another is planning to transform CO2 into solid carbonates that can be used as building materials. The XPRIZE Foundation unveiled 10 teams yesterday as finalists in its $20 million contest to find a solution to carbon emissions.

Its carbon competition is meant to find an economic use for planet-warming emissions. The basic idea: If emissions can be turned into a product, power companies will have an incentive to capture and sell carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. A group of 47 teams from across the world initially submitted proposals. The remaining 10 teams will compete in two groups. One will test their technologies at a coal-fired power plant in Gillette, Wyo. The other will compete at a natural gas plant in Calgary, Alberta. Winners will be announced in 2020. They will split the $20 million purse.

[...] Significant skepticism over carbon utilization's effectiveness persists, however. The chief concern is that global carbon emissions outweigh the market for carbon products. "There is no question you can do it. The question is whether it can be a meaningful contribution to climate mitigation," said Edward Rubin, a professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Bitcoin

Japan Could Have More Than 3 Million Cryptocurrency Traders (coindesk.com) 35

According to Japan's Financial Services Agency (FSA), the country has at least 3.5 million individuals that are trading with cryptocurrencies as actual assets. "Among them, crypto investors in their 20s, 30s and 40s make up a major share, accounting for 28, 34, and 22 percent, respectively, of the total crypto trader population in Japan," reports CoinDesk. From the report: Announced at the first meeting of a cryptocurrency exchange study group established by the FSA in early March, the data release marks the latest effort by the financial watchdog in bringing greater transparency to the industry following a recent hack of one of the domestic exchange Coincheck. According to the FSA, the study and disclosure of the domestic trading statistics is a first step towards a more comprehensive examination over institutional issues in the cryptocurrency trading space in Japan. In comparison, the financial regulator also disclosed in the latest report that the number of traders investing in cryptocurrency margins and futures is about 142,842 as of the end of March. What's perhaps notable is the major contrast in the growth of yearly trading volume drawn to these two different types of investments. According to the FSA's data, for example, yearly trading volume of the actual bitcoin cryptocurrency has grown from $22 million as of Mar. 31 in 2014 to $97 billion in 2017. Yet at the same time, trading on margins, credit and futures of bitcoin as an underlying asset has surged from only $2 million in 2014 to a whopping $543 billion just in 2017 alone, the agency said.
Twitter

Twitter Says It Will Comply With Honest Ads Act To Combat Russia Social Media Meddling (theverge.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Twitter today pledged to support a proposed Senate bill that would require technology platforms that sell advertising space to disclose the source of and amount of money paid for political ads. Called the Honest Ads Act, the bipartisan bill was first introduced back in October by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). As part of its transparency efforts, Twitter says it's launched a new platform called the Ads Transparency Center, or ATC, that will "go beyond the requirements of the Honest Ads Act and eventually provide increased transparency to all advertisements on Twitter." Twitter says the platform will increase transparency for political and so-called issue ads, which target specific topics like immigration and gun control, by providing even more information on the origin of an ad that is required by the Honest Ads Act. "We have a dedicated team that is fully resourced to implementing the ATC and are committed to launching it this summer," the company states. "Twitter is moving forward on our commitment to providing transparency for online ads. We believe the Honest Ads Act provides an appropriate framework for such ads and look forward to working with bill sponsors and others to continue to refine and advance this important proposal."
Space

Northrop Grumman, Not SpaceX, Reported To Be at Fault For Loss of Top-Secret Zuma Satellite (cnbc.com) 70

Northrop Grumman built and operated the components that failed during the controversial January launch of the U.S. spy satellite known as Zuma, WSJ reported over the weekend. From a report: Two independent investigations, made up of federal and industry officials, pointed to Northrop's payload adapter as the cause of the satellite's loss, the report said, citing people familiar with the probes. The payload adapter is a key part of deploying a satellite in orbit, connecting the satellite to the upper stage of a rocket. Zuma is believed to have cost around $3.5 billion to develop, according to the report. The satellite was funded through a process that received a lesser degree of oversight from Congress compared with similar national security-related satellites, industry officials said.
Math

Did Harvard Scientists Predict The End of the Universe? (gizmodo.com) 155

The universe will end with a bang -- and not a whimper -- reports The New York Post, citing a new study by Harvard Researchers predicting exactly when (and how) the universe will end. But Gizmodo's science writer takes issue with the media coverage: That paper predicts that the universe's lifetime would be between 10**88 and 10**241 years, but probably probably around 10**139 years. "I think people don't have a sense as to how big these numbers are," study author and physicist Matthew Schwartz from Harvard told Gizmodo. "It's such an enormous out of time. But they think 10**139 years is 139."

The universe is around 10 billion, or 10**10 years old. 10**139 is a completely unfathomable number of years... It's more than the amount of time it would take to count every atom in the universe, if you had to wait from the Big Bang until now in between counting each atom. That number of years eludes any rational attempt to understand it (Which is probably why it sounds so close -- our heads just short circuit and say, threat!!!). It is forever.

Open Source

Torvalds Opposes Tying UEFI Secure Boot to Kernel Lockdown Mode (phoronix.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes Phoronix: The kernel lockdown feature further restricts access to the kernel by user-space with what can be accessed or modified... Pairing that with UEFI SecureBoot unconditionally is meeting some resistance by Linus Torvalds. The goal of kernel lockdown, which Linus Torvalds doesn't have a problem with at all, comes down to "prevent both direct and indirect access to a running kernel image, attempting to protect against unauthorised modification of the kernel image and to prevent access to security and cryptographic data located in kernel memory, whilst still permitting driver modules to be loaded." But what has the Linux kernel creator upset with are developers trying to pair this unconditionally with UEFI SecureBoot. Linus describes Secure Boot as being "pushed in your face by people with an agenda." But his real problem is that Secure Boot would then imply Kernel Lockdown mode... "Tying these things magically together IS A BAD IDEA."
Space

Anticipating the Dangers of Space Radiation (utexas.edu) 23

aarondubrow writes: Astronauts and future space tourists face risks from radiation, which can cause illness and injure organs. Researchers from Texas A&M, NASA, and the University of Texas Medical Branch used supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to investigate the radiation exposure related to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory mission, planned for the 1960s and 1970s [but never actually flown], during which a dangerous solar storm occurred. They also explored the historical limitations of radiation research and how such limitations could be addressed in future endeavors.
Supercomputers could be "a game-changer" when it comes to predicting the risks of space radiation, allowing NASA to make life-saving decisions in real-time, argues one of the researchers. During that 1972 solar storm, skin and organs would've risked being exposed to radiation in excess of NASA limits, though one of the study's co-authors believes that rather than risking harm to the astronauts, NASA would've promptly terminated that mission.

"Though the study explored the historical missions, the researchers had in mind future commercial space flights, like those proposed by SpaceX or Virgin Galactic, that will likely travel a similar orbit to best show off the beauty of Earth from space."
Space

Center of the Milky Way Has Thousands of Black Holes, Study Shows (npr.org) 64

New submitter xonen shares a report from NPR: For decades, scientists have thought that black holes should sink to the center of galaxies and accumulate there. But scientists had no proof that these exotic objects had actually gathered together in the center of the Milky Way. Isolated black holes are almost impossible to detect, but black holes that have a companion -- an orbiting star -- interact with that star in ways that allow the pair to be spotted by telltale X-ray emissions. The team searched for those signals in a region stretching about three light-years out from our galaxy's central supermassive black hole. What they found there: a dozen black holes paired up with stars. Finding so many in such a small region is significant, because until now scientists have found evidence of only about five dozen black holes throughout the entire galaxy. What they've found should help theorists make better predictions about how many cosmic smashups might occur and generate detectable gravitational waves. The study has been published in the journal Nature.
Businesses

SpaceX Can't Broadcast Earth Images Because of a Murky License (cnet.com) 177

Last Friday, SpaceX wasn't able to give its fans a view of the 10 new Iridium satellites it released into orbit from its Falcon 9 upper stage. Here's why. From a report: Weirdly, company engineers staffing the launch webcast blamed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restrictions for the blackout from the stage, a staple of most SpaceX launches. Well, at least those that don't involve deploying spy satellites or top-secret space planes. The story behind the missing live feed is a muddy bureaucratic affair. It appears that NOAA has recently decided to start interpreting or enforcing a decades-old law in a new way. The agency says SpaceX and other commercial space companies must apply for a license to broadcast video from orbit.

"The National and Commercial Space Program Act requires a commercial remote sensing license for companies having the capacity to take an image of Earth while on orbit," NOAA said in a statement last week. "Now that launch companies are putting video cameras on stage 2 rockets that reach an on-orbit status, all such launches will be held to the requirements of the law and its conditions."

Bitcoin

Coinbase Launches Early-Stage Venture Fund (cnbc.com) 5

Coinbase announced today that it is launching a new incubator fund for early-stage startups. "We're going to invest off our balance sheet into crypto companies," Coinbase President and COO Asiff Hirji told CNBC's "Fast Money" Thursday. "We will invest in companies that are in the space and are aligned with our values." From the report: Profits from the fund will be "de minimis" in the scope of the entire company but the fund is already off to a $15 million start and set to grow, Hirji said. The fund's seed-stage investments, which will begin this week, will help companies and founders in the crypto and blockchain space get off the ground. It's also meant to focus on building relationships within that ecosystem, he said. In order to do that, Coinbase could be investing in its competitors.

"You may also see us invest in companies that ostensibly look competitive with Coinbase," the San Francisco-based company said in a blog post. "We're taking a long term view of the space, and we believe that multiple approaches are healthy and good." Hirji emphasized that Coinbase Ventures is searching for founders, not the next money-making cryptocurrency. "By giving them access to capital we hope that they will grow great businesses," he said. "It's not about investing in the token, it's not about trying to line up tokens that we would put on our exchange."

AI

Computer Searches Telescope Data For Evidence of Distant Planets (mit.edu) 12

As part of an effort to identify distant planets hospitable to life, NASA has established a crowdsourcing project in which volunteers search telescopic images for evidence of debris disks around stars, which are good indicators of exoplanets. From a report: Using the results of that project, researchers at MIT have now trained a machine-learning system to search for debris disks itself. The scale of the search demands automation: There are nearly 750 million possible light sources in the data accumulated through NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission alone. In tests, the machine-learning system agreed with human identifications of debris disks 97 percent of the time. The researchers also trained their system to rate debris disks according to their likelihood of containing detectable exoplanets. In a paper describing the new work in the journal Astronomy and Computing, the MIT researchers report that their system identified 367 previously unexamined celestial objects as particularly promising candidates for further study.
China

US' Proposed China Tariffs Would Target Robotics, Satellites (engadget.com) 208

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The U.S. Trade Representative has published the list of Chinese products that would be subject to its proposed tech tariffs, and there are a few clear themes. The move would hike the costs of about 1,300 products, including industrial robots, communication satellites, spacecraft and a slew of semiconductors.The aim, as before, is to punish China for allegedly goading American companies into transferring their patents and technology to Chinese firms for the sake of claiming economic superiority. The USTR claimed the proposed tariffs would stymie Chinese plans while "minimizing the impact" on the American economy. The tariffs are still subject to a 60-day notice process that would include public comments until May 11th and a public hearing on May 15th.

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