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Submission + - Japan launches its first commercial payload

schwit1 writes: Using its H-IIA rocket, upgraded to lower cost, Japan launched its first commercial payload today, putting Canada’s Telestar 12V into geosynchronous orbit.

It is not clear if Japan’s government-run space program can compete. The rocket is built by Mitsubishi, but it appears owned and operated by JAXA, the equivalent of Japan’s NASA. It has also been a very expensive rocket to launch, as for much of its existence it has been like SLS, more dedicated to producing pork jobs than actually competing with other rocket companies. Whether they can upgrade it sufficiently to compete in price with other rockets is highly questionable.

Nonetheless, that Japan is trying to compete is good news. The more competition, the better. The effort alone will produce new ideas, which in turn can only help lower the cost to get into space, thus making it possible for more people to afford it.

Submission + - NASA contracting development of new ion/nuclear engines

schwit1 writes: NASA has awarded three different companies contracts to develop advanced ion and nuclear propulsion systems for future interplanetary missions, both manned and unmanned.

These are development contacts, all below $10 million. However, they all appeared structured like NASA’s cargo and crew contracts for ISS, where the contractor does all of the development and design, with NASA only supplying some support and periodic payments when the contractor achieves agreed-upon milestones. Because of this, the contractors will own the engines their develop, and will be able to sell them to other customers after development, thereby increasing the competition and innovation in the field.

Submission + - Satellite wars (ft.com)

schwit1 writes: Sixty years after the space race began, an orbital arms race is again in development.

Military officials from the US, Europe and Asia confirm in private what the Kettering Group and other amateur stargazers have been watching publicly. Almost every country with strategically important satellite constellations and its own launch facilities is considering how to defend — and weaponize — their extraterrestrial assets. “I don’t think there is a single G7 nation that isn’t now looking at space security as one of its highest military priorities and areas of strategic concern,” says one senior European intelligence official.

The US is spending billions improving its defences — primarily by building more capacity into its constellations and improving its tracking abilities. A $900m contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin in 2014 to develop a radar system capable of tracking objects as small as baseballs in space in real time. But there are also hints that the US may be looking to equip its satellites with active defences and countermeasures of their own, such as jamming devices and the ability to evade interceptions.

A purely offensive anti-satellite programme is in fast development as well. High-energy weapons and manoeuvrable orbiters such as space planes all open the possibility of the US being able to rapidly weaponise the domain beyond the atmosphere, should it feel the need to do so.

Submission + - Obamacare regulations to destroy craft beer industry

schwit1 writes: The cost to meet Obamacare regulations requiring beer companies to include specific calorie information on every beer they make is likely going to destroy many small local beer breweries.

As of December 2016, all brewers must include a detailed calorie count on every type of beer they produce. Failure to comply with the new regulations means craft brewers will not be able to sell their beer in any restaurant chain with over 20 locations. Because this is a major market for selling beer, it hamstrings smaller craft brewers if they do not comply.

The Cato Institute estimates the Obamacare calorie labeling requirements will cost a business as much as $77,000 to implement. For larger beer companies, this is a drop in the bucket, but for small, local craft brewers it represents a significant cost that they must pay. As a result, it creates a significant disadvantage compared to larger beer companies who can better absorb the cost of this new regulation.

But hey, who cares if a major thriving industry should be destroyed by government regulations.

Submission + - File Says NSA Found Way to Replace Email Program (nytimes.com)

schwit1 writes: Newly disclosed documents show that the NSA had found a way to create the functional equivalent of shut down programs. The shift has permitted the agency to continue analyzing social links revealed by Americans’ email patterns, but without collecting the data in bulk from American telecommunications companies — and with less oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The disclosure comes as a sister program that collects Americans’ phone records in bulk is set to end this month. Under a law enacted in June, known as the USA Freedom Act, the program will be replaced with a system in which the NSA. can still gain access to the data to hunt for associates of terrorism suspects, but the bulk logs will stay in the hands of phone companies.

The newly disclosed information about the email records program is contained in a report by the NSA’s inspector general that was obtained through a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. One passage lists four reasons that the NSA. decided to end the email program and purge previously collected data. Three were redacted, but the fourth was uncensored. It said that “other authorities can satisfy certain foreign intelligence requirements” that the bulk email records program “had been designed to meet.”

Submission + - Leaked NSA doc reveals 'sheer luck' needed to find useful info in sea of data (rt.com)

schwit1 writes: The NSA didn’t know it was already sitting on a “goldmine” of data on one of its targets until one of its analysts discovered it by “sheer luck,” according to an internal newsletter entry leaked by Edward Snowden.

The article, dated March 23, 2011, was written by a signals development analyst in SIDtoday, an NSA in-house newsletter. He explains how he discovered the contact and personal information for over 10,000 people, as well as some 900 account login details, after “a ton of hard work,” according to reports from The Intercept and teleSUR.

“By sheer luck, (and a ton of hard work) I discovered an important new access to an existing target and am working with TAO to leverage a new mission capability,” the analyst wrote to colleagues. TAO refers to Tailored Access Operations, an NSA hacking team which had collected the 900 usernames and passcodes.

The “existing target” was Petróleos de Venezuela, a Venezuelan state oil company also referred to as PDVSA.

Submission + - House Passes Fed Transparency Bill; Obama Will Veto (usnews.com)

schwit1 writes: In a 241-185 vote, the House passed passed H.R. 3189, aka Fed Oversight Reform and Modernization Act. The bill would make changes to how the Fed conducts monetary policy and regulatory activities and would direct the Fed to take a rules-based approach to interest rate decisions; require audits of more Fed functions such as monetary policy; and place restrictions on its emergency lending powers. In other words, everything that the banks that are direct and indirect stakeholders in the Fed would fight to the death to prevent.

The new House speaker promptly applauded the passage. From Paul Ryan:

Today, the House passed H.R. 3189, the Fed Oversight Reform and Modernization Act. The bill would require the Federal Reserve to explain publicly its monetary policy, specifically how it sets interests rates and the country’s money supply. In response, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) issued the following statement:

"If the Federal Reserve explained to the public how it made its decisions, the American people would have greater confidence in them. Families could better plan for the future, invest their money wisely, and create opportunity for all of us. I thank Chairman Hensarling and the Financial Services Committee for offering this commonsense legislation."

The victory, however, was very hollow: the White House has repeatedly said Obama’s advisers would recommend veto of H.R. 3189, "which seeks to make changes to Fed operations, including how the independent agency conducts monetary policy and regulatory activities.

The Fed is independent? Interesting: read the following excerpt from the left-leaning NYT and decide just how independent the Fed is:

... in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who wanted cheap credit to finance the Vietnam War and his Great Society, summoned Fed chairman William McChesney Martin to his Texas ranch. There, after asking other officials to leave the room, Johnson reportedly shoved Martin against the wall as he demanding that the Fed once again hold down interest rates. Martin caved, the Fed printed money, and inflation kept climbing until the early 1980s.

And then this, from Lady Bird Johnson, spoken to William McChesney Martin, on his arrival at the LBJ ranch": "I hope you have examined your conscience and you’re convinced you’re on the right track."

And that is just how "independent" the Fed has always been.

But back to the White House which knows that with Congress a joke since the crisis, its only branch of government is the money printer in the Marriner Eccles building: "Subjecting Fed’s “exercise of monetary policy authority to audits based on political whims of members of the Congress, of either party, threatens one of the central pillars of the nation’s financial system and economy,” White House budget office says in statement.

Which brings us to a tangent: every time a standing Fed chairman (or woman) is criticized before Congress their traditional response is that it is Congress that gave the emergency powers it now has to bail out anyone and everyone. Especially Fed member banks.

So what happens when Congress tries to change the law? Well... this.

Submission + - Your tax dollars at work: TSA confiscates 5-year-old's Buzz Lightyear toy (aol.com)

schwit1 writes: Levi Zilka, 5, was beyond excited when his uncle bought him a Buzz Lightyear toy during his first trip to Disney World. However, his excitement was soon diminished when the TSA threw his precious toy in the trash at the Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida.

"They said it looks too much like a gun," said Zilka, "and you can't bring guns on the plane."

"We understand that things are scary out there right now but taking a toy from a five year old doesn't enhance national security," said Zilka's father, David. Even though Zilka began "bawling ... tears streaming down his face, crying," the TSA adhered to their requirement for "realistic replicas of firearms to be checked."

Submission + - Police Find Paris Attackers Coordinate Via Unencrypted SMS (techdirt.com)

schwit1 writes: In the wake of the tragic events in Paris last week encryption has continued to be a useful bogeyman for those with a voracious appetite for surveillance expansion. Like clockwork, numerous reports were quickly circulated suggesting that the terrorists used incredibly sophisticated encryption techniques, despite no evidence by investigators that this was the case. These reports varied in the amount of hallucination involved, the New York Times even having to pull one such report offline. Other claims the attackers had used encrypted Playstation 4 communications also wound up being bunk.

Submission + - Soviet Union's Secret Space Cannon (popularmechanics.com) 2

schwit1 writes: In 1975, the USSR actually fired a cannon from an orbiting space station. Forty years later, we finally got a good look at this gun.

Installed on the Almaz space station in 1970s, the R-23M Kartech was derived from a powerful aircraft weapon. The original 23-millimeter cannon was designed by Aron Rikhter for the Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder supersonic bomber. That gun is relatively well known. However, its space-based cousin had largely remained in obscurity.

Submission + - ULA concedes GPS competition to SpaceX

schwit1 writes: ULA has decided against bidding on a military GPS launch contract, leaving the field clear for SpaceX.

ULA, which for the past decade has launched nearly every U.S. national security satellite, said Nov. 16 it did not submit a bid to launch a GPS 3 satellite for the Air Force in 2018 in part because it does not expect to have an Atlas 5 rocket available for the mission. ULA has been pushing for relief from legislation Congress passed roughly a year ago requiring the Air Force to phase out its use of the Russian-made RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s workhorse Atlas 5 rocket.

This decision might be a lobbying effort by ULA to force Congress to give them additional waivers on using the Atlas 5 engine. Or it could be that they realize that they wouldn’t be able to match SpaceX’s price, and decided it was pointless wasting time and money putting together a bid. Either way, the decision suggests that ULA is definitely challenged in its competition with SpaceX, and until it gets a new lower cost rocket that is not dependent on Russian engines, its ability to compete in the launch market will be seriously hampered.

Submission + - DOJ going after dietary supplement makers

schwit1 writes: Several federal agencies including the U.S. Departmentof Justice will announce criminal and civil actions on Tuesday related to unlawful advertising and sale of dietary supplements.

It's about time. Hopefully Tommie Copper is next.

Submission + - Experimental drug targeting Alzheimer's disease shows anti-aging effects (nextbigfuture.com)

schwit1 writes: Salk Institute researchers have found that an experimental drug candidate aimed at combating Alzheimer’s disease has a host of unexpected anti-aging effects in animals.

The Salk team expanded upon their previous development of a drug candidate, called J147, which takes a different tack by targeting Alzheimer’s major risk factor–old age. In the new work, the team showed that the drug candidate worked well in a mouse model of aging not typically used in Alzheimer’s research. When these mice were treated with J147, they had better memory and cognition, healthier blood vessels in the brain and other improved physiological features.

“Initially, the impetus was to test this drug in a novel animal model that was more similar to 99 percent of Alzheimer's cases,” says Antonio Currais, the lead author and a member of Professor David Schubert’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at Salk. “We did not predict we’d see this sort of anti-aging effect, but J147 made old mice look like they were young, based upon a number of physiological parameters.”

Submission + - Astronomers Find 13 Billion Year Old Stars at Milky Way's Center (sci-news.com)

schwit1 writes: An international team of astronomers has discovered the oldest stars ever seen, dating from before the Milky Way Galaxy formed, when the Universe was just 300 million years old.

“These stars formed before the Milky Way, and the galaxy formed around them. These pristine stars are among the oldest surviving stars in the Universe, and certainly the oldest stars we have ever seen,” said team member Louise Howes of the Australian National University.

So, a little older than Hillary. At least they don’t look tired.

"I've seen the forgeries I've sent out." -- John F. Haugh II (jfh@rpp386.Dallas.TX.US), about forging net news articles