Rei writes: After some consternation about the pacing of Falcon 9 upgrades, SpaceX has announced that it plans to launch again from Cape Canaveral with a target date of February 24th. While the primary mission will be to place the SES-9 communications satellite in orbit, this will also mark their fourth attempt to land the first stage on an autonomous drone ship, after their last launch touched down softly but fell over when one leg failed to latch. SpaceX is working to significantly accelerate the rate of production and launches — they are reportedly moving the factory from 6-8 cores produced per year to 18 at present, and expect to reach 30 by the end of the year. After the upcoming launch, they expect to launch one rocket every two to three weeks.
Rei writes: Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister in charge of the national space agency Roscosmos, gave an interview today where he said that SpaceX is "stepping on our toes" by offering launches cheaper than they can provide. He added however that he congratulates Musk and that he believes that Russia can ultimately compete. "We are looking for a solution that will allow making spacecraft launches cheaper. Of course, such solutions will be found."
Rei writes: At 8:40 PM today, SpaceX successfully launched and relanded the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, as well as delivering to orbit the last portion of ORBCOMM's communication satellite constellation. This also marks SpaceX's return to flight and the first launch of the "Full Thrust" Falcon 9 v1.1 with densified (extremely chilled) propellants. The company will now shift its efforts toward catching up on its backlog, investigating and refurbishing its landed first stage, and preparing for the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket this spring. Congratulations to everyone at SpaceX!
Rei writes: After being grounded for six months after a strut failure doomed the launch vehicle, Elon Musk has confirmed rumors that SpaceX plans to try for launch again on December 19th, with a static test firing on December 16th. SpaceX will also attempt a landing of their first stage — not at sea, but on land. Lastly, this will be the first launch of a Falcon 9 "Full Thrust" variant, where the propellants are supercooled (with the oxygen just above its freezing point) to increase their density and thus fuel flow and thrust.
Rei writes: It's that time of year again — the results of the 2014 Underhanded C Contest have been announced. Techniques used for secretly alerting a user to a NSA request include (among others) misleadingly long loop execution, replacing user #defines with system ones, K&R style function declarations to avoid type checking, and using system #includes to covertly change structure packing. The winning entry exploits a system-provided function that is implemented as a poorly protected macro, tricking it into executing a piece of code given as an argument multiple times.
Rei writes: Slashdot recently linked an article in the LA Times complaining about how Elon Musk has built his corporate empires — Solar City, Tesla Motors and SpaceX — on the back of government largess. However, how does it compare in context to its competitors? USC professor Greg Autry breaks it down, noting among other things that SpaceX's competitors have benefited from decades of tremendous government money and a launch monopoly, while the Volt receives — on a percentage basis — 2 1/2 times greater subsidy than a Model S, and was developed on the government's dime.
Rei writes: In 2013, during Edward Snowden's brief and chaotic search for asylum that ultimately landed him in Russia, the US faced criticism for handing information to various European nations that Bolivian president Evo Morales was smuggling him out of Russia, leading to the grounding of his flight. In a new twist, in the documentary Terminal F about this time period, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange admitted that he was the one who deliberately leaked the fake information to the US government. Bolivia is been none too pleased with this news and is now demanding that Assange apologize for putting their president's life at risk.
Rei writes: Julian Assange, from his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, has recently taken to Twitter to try to raise nearly $200000 for a life-size bronze statue of himself. The statue would have him standing front and center between Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (with Manning pictured as male); the art piece would be then shipped around the world on tour. Assange recently appealed again against his arrest warrant for probable cause of unlawful sexual coersion, molestation, and rape against two Swedish Wikileaks supporters, but was once more rebuffed by the courts system.
Rei writes: As was previously reported here, the Russian government has accused the US Secret Service of kidnapping the son of ultranationalist LDPR MP Valery Seleznev in the Maldives. The son, Roman Seleznev, stands accused of running one of the world's largest carding operations, with others charged in the affair having already been convicted; however, Roman had until recently been considered out of reach in Russia. Now the Maldives has struck back against these claims, insisting that they arrested him on an Interpol Red Notice and transferred him to the US, as they are legally required as an Interpol member state to do. “No outsider came here to conduct an operation,” president Abdulla Yameen stated. “No officials from another country can come here to arrest anyone. The government has the necessary documentation to prove it.”
Rei writes: The latest in realism in Flash-based driving simulators, Allen Hartwig introduced the Toyota Simulator on March 9th. If you want to see what it's like to take a new Prius for a spin on the highway from the comfort of your PC, look no further.
Rei writes: Aptera Motors is an manufacturer of safe, hyper-efficient, highway-speed electric three-wheelers. Funded by Idealab, Google, and a variety of other sources, they have been working towards making (take your pick): A) one of the ugliest, or B) one of the most beautiful vehicles ever to be mass produced. When they started accepting pre-orders, over 4,000 people from California alone came running with $500 deposits. However, in recent days, the company seems to be imploding, where in the middle of wave after wave of layoffs, disastrous information keeps leaking out. Among the examples: the company's CFO, Laura Marion, was cited by the SEC in 2006 for running an Enron-style accounting scam at Delphi.
Rei writes: "By now, most people know that senator John McCain has tapped one-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. While the commentary has ranged from the positive, such as its potential to be a game changer for him, to the negative, such as her involvement in Troopergate, little attention has been paid so far to her views on science. According to the Alaska Daily News, in the 2006 governor's race, Palin was the only candidate to suggest that Intelligent Design should be taught in schools. In contrast to her two opponents, one of whom suggested that such "religious based" lessons belong in a philosophy or sociology class, Palin stated, "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both." In response to the backlash, she later backpedalled and insisted that she would not apply a creationism litmus test to her school board appointees.
Evangelical leaders are reportedly thrilled with her nomination."
Rei writes: "Thin film photovoltaic systems have been heralded as a way to make solar cells cheap enough for widespread adoption, but have also been criticized for their low efficiency. A number of companies have been working to fix this equation. Now, one of them — Nanosolar, a privately held company with funding from Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page — has finally shipped their first cells produced in a mass-production environment. Nanosolar's cells boast being the world's first printed thin-film solar cell in a commercial panel product, the world's lowest-cost solar panel (they plan to sell at $0.99/Watt, compared to the current minimum of $4.83/Watt), and the world's highest-current thin-film solar panel (5x the next closest on the market), among other things. Their Panel #2, made available as a collectors item on Ebay with the profits going to charity, has already racked up bids of over $10,000."
Rei writes: "Yesterday, Slashdot posted about what appeared to be puddles of water sitting on Mars. Unfortunately, according to the Planetary Society's blog, the authors of the paper didn't even bother to check the context in which the "water" photos were taken. The article notes that one shouldn't trust papers that haven't yet gone through peer review. "The white square shows you where the image comes from. It's in the middle of Opportunity's Burns Cliff panorama, on some of the steepest slopes that Opportunity saw before arriving at Victoria crater! Those can't be puddles — unless the amazing "liquid" that puddles here on Mars in a freezing near-vacuum also has antigravity properties.""