Mars

SpaceX Pulls the Plug On Its Red Dragon Plans (arstechnica.com) 154

SpaceX has largely confirmed the rumors that the company is no longer planning to send an uncrewed version of its Dragon spacecraft to Mars in 2020, or later. Ars Technica reports: The company had planned to use the propulsive landing capabilities on the Dragon 2 spacecraft -- originally developed for the commercial crew variant to land on Earth -- for Mars landings in 2018 or 2020. Previously, it had signed an agreement with NASA to use some of its expertise for such a mission and access its deep-space communications network. On Tuesday, however, during a House science subcommittee hearing concerning future NASA planetary science missions, Florida Representative Bill Posey asked what the agency was doing to support privately developed planetary science programs. Jim Green, who directs NASA's planetary science division, mentioned several plans about the Moon and asteroids, but he conspicuously did not mention Red Dragon. After this hearing, SpaceX spokesman John Taylor didn't return a response to questions from Ars about the future of Red Dragon. Then, during a speech Wednesday at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference, Musk confirmed that the company is no longer working to land Dragon propulsively for commercial crew.

"Yeah, that was a tough decision," Musk acknowledged Wednesday with a sigh. "The reason we decided not to pursue that heavily is that it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety for crew transport," Musk explained Wednesday. "There was a time when I thought the Dragon approach to landing on Mars, where you've got a base heat shield and side mounted thrusters, would be the right way to land on Mars. But now I'm pretty confident that is not the right way." Musk added that his company has come up with a "far better" approach to landing on Mars that will be incorporated into the next iteration of the company's proposed Mars transportation hardware.

Republicans

Trump Proposes Joint 'Cyber Security Unit' With Russia, Then Quickly Backs Away From It (arstechnica.com) 389

In a series of tweets yesterday, President Trump proposed "an impenetrable Cyber Security unit" with Putin "so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe." The news came as a shock to just about everyone who got word of it, including congressional members of his own GOP party. Less than 24 hours later, Trump decided against it, tweeting: "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a ceasefire can,& did!" Ars Technica reports: "It's not the dumbest idea I have ever heard, but it's pretty close," Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina, said of the plan. Senate Republican Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted that "partnering with Putin on a 'Cyber Security Unit' is akin to partnering with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad on a 'Chemical Weapons Unit."' Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Trump and the Russian president decided at a meeting during a Group of 20 nations summit in Hamburg, Germany, to embark on a joint "cyber unit to make sure that there was absolutely no interference whatsoever, that they would work on cyber security together." But on Sunday, after it was clear that the plan was going nowhere, Trump took to Twitter and said no deal. That didn't stop Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, from introducing on Monday an amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that would bar a US-Russian cyber accord. He said: "Donald Trump's proposal to form a 'cyber security unit' with Putin is a terrible idea that would immediately jeopardize American cybersecurity... Trump must acknowledge that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and take strong, meaningful action to prevent it from happening again in future elections."
The Internet

Cox Expands Home Internet Data Caps, While CenturyLink Abandons Them (arstechnica.com) 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Cox, the third largest U.S. cable company, last week started charging overage fees to customers in four more states. Internet provider CenturyLink, on the other hand, recently ended an experiment with data caps and is giving bill credits to customers in the state of Washington who were charged overage fees during the yearlong trial. Cox, which operates in 18 states with about six million residential and business customers, last week brought overage fees to Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, and Oklahoma. Cox was already enforcing data caps and overage fees in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Ohio. California, Rhode Island, and Virginia technically have monthly caps but no enforcement of overage fees, according to Cox's list of data caps by location. Massachusetts and North Carolina seem to be exempt from the Cox data caps altogether. Similar to Comcast, Cox lets capped customers use 1TB of data a month and charges $10 for each additional block of 50GB. Cox will introduce a pricier "unlimited" plan later this year, Multichannel News reported. If Cox continues to match Comcast's pricing, the unlimited data plan would cost an additional $50 a month above what customers normally pay. A year ago, CenturyLink started a data-cap trial in Yakima, Washington, imposing a 300GB-per-month cap and overage fees of $10 for each additional 50GB. But instead of expanding the overage fees to more cities, CenturyLink ended the "usage-based billing program."
Education

Now Any Florida Resident Can Challenge What Is Taught In Public Florida Schools (orlandosentinel.com) 484

New submitter zantafio shares a report from Orlando Sentinel: Any resident in Florida can now challenge what kids learn in public schools, thanks to a new law that science education advocates worry will make it harder to teach evolution and climate change. The legislation, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott (R) last week and went into effect Saturday, requires school boards to hire an "unbiased hearing officer" who will handle complaints about instructional materials, such as movies, textbooks and novels, that are used in local schools. Any parent or county resident can file a complaint, regardless of whether they have a student in the school system. If the hearing officer deems the challenge justified, he or she can require schools to remove the material in question. The statute includes general guidelines about what counts as grounds for removal: belief that the material is "pornographic" or "is not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group."
Education

Why So Many Top Hackers Come From Russia (krebsonsecurity.com) 263

Long-time Slashdot reader tsu doh nimh writes: Brian Krebs has an interesting piece this week on one reason that so many talented hackers (malicious and benign) seem to come from Russia and the former Soviet States: It's the education, stupid. Krebs's report doesn't look at the socioeconomic reasons, but instead compares how the U.S. and Russia educate students from K-12 in subjects which lend themselves to a mastery in coding and computers -- most notably computer science. The story shows that the Russians have for the past 30 years been teaching kids about computer science and then testing them on it starting in elementary school and through high school. The piece also looks at how kids in the U.S. vs. Russia are tested on what they are supposed to have learned.
Fossbytes also reports that Russia claimed the top spot in this year's Computer Programming Olympics -- their fourth win in six years -- adding that "the top 9 positions out of 14 were occupied by Russian or Chinese schools." The only two U.S. schools in the top 20 were the University of Central Florida (#13) and MIT (#20).
Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches and Lands a Used Rocket For the Second Time (theverge.com) 74

SpaceX has successfully launched and landed a recycled Falcon 9 rocket for the second time. "The rocket's first stage -- the 14-story-tall core that houses the fuel and the rocket's main engines -- touched down on one of the company's autonomous drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from a launchpad at nearby Cape Canaveral, Florida," reports The Verge. From the report: This particular rocket previously flew in January, when it was used to put 10 satellites into orbit for communications company Iridium. The rocket then landed on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX retrieved the rocket and spent the next few months refurbishing it in preparation for today's launch. This afternoon, it was used to launch Bulgaria's first communications satellite for TV service provider Bulsatcom. The landing wasn't easy, though. Because the rocket had to push BulgariaSat-1 to such a high orbit, the first stage experienced more force and heat during reentry than any other Falcon 9, according to a tweet from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Musk even warned that there was a "good chance [the] rocket booster doesn't make it back." Shortly after the landing, though, Musk returned to Twitter to add that the rocket booster used "almost all of the emergency crush core," which helps soften the landing.
Government

FCC Proposes $120 Million Fine On Florida Robocall Scammer (reuters.com) 80

The FCC on Thursday proposed a $120 million fine on a Florida resident alleged to have made almost 100 million spoofed robocalls to trick consumers with "exclusive" vacation deals from well-known travel and hospitality companies. Reuters reports: The man, identified as Adrian Abramovich, allegedly made 96 million robocalls during a three-month period by falsifying caller identification information that matched the local area code and the first three digits of recipient's phone number, the FCC said. The calls, which were in violation of the U.S. telecommunications laws, offered vacation deals from companies such as Marriott International Inc, Expedia Inc, Hilton Inc and TripAdvisor Inc. Consumers who answered the calls were transferred to foreign call centers that tried to sell vacation packages, often involving timeshares. These call centers were not related to the companies, the FCC said.
Transportation

Driver Killed In a Tesla Crash Using Autopilot Ignored At Least 7 Safety Warnings (usatoday.com) 516

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: U.S. investigators said a driver who was killed while using Tesla's partially self-driving car ignored repeated warnings to put his hands on the wheel. In a 538-page report providing new details of the May 2016 crash that killed Ohio resident Joshua Brown in a highway crash in Florida, the National Transportation Safety Board described the scene of the grisly incident and the minutes leading up to it. The agency, which opened an investigation to explore the possibility that Tesla's Autopilot system was faulty, said it had drawn "no conclusions about how or why the crash occurred." The NTSB report appears to deliver no conflicting information. The agency said the driver was traveling at 74 miles per hour, above the 65 mph limit on the road, when he collided with the truck. The driver used the vehicle's self-driving system for 37.5 minutes of the 41 minutes of his trip, according to NTSB. During the time the self-driving system was activated, he had his hands on the wheel for a total of only about half a minute, investigators concluded. NTSB said the driver received seven visual warnings on the instrument panel, which blared "Hold Steering Wheel," followed by six audible warnings.
Government

Investigation Demanded Over Fake FCC Comments Submitted By Dead People (bbc.com) 140

An anonymous reader writes: Fight for the Future has found another issue with the fake comments submitted to the FCC opposing net neutrality. "The campaign group says that some of the comments were posted using the names and details of dead people," according to the BBC. The exact same comment was also submitted more than 7,000 times using addresses in Colorado, where a reporter discovered that contacting the people at those addresses drew reactions which included "I have never seen this before in my life" and "No, I did not post this comment. In fact, I disagree with this comment." Fight for the Future also knocked on doors in Tampa, Florida, where the few people who answered "were shocked to hear that their name and address were publicly listed alongside a political message they did not necessarily understand or agree with." An alleged commenter in Montana told a reporter she didn't even know what net neutrality was.

14 people have already signed Fight for the Future's official complaint to the FCC, which calls for notification of all people affected, an investigation, and the immediate removal of all fake comments from the public docket. "Based on numerous media reports, nearly half a million Americans may have been impacted by whoever impersonated us," states the letter, "in a dishonest and deceitful campaign to manufacture false support for your plan to repeal net neutrality protections."

Fight for the Future says they've already verified "dozens" of instance of real people discovering a fake comment was submitted in their name -- and that in addition, more than 2,400 people have already used their site to contact their state Attorneys General demanding an investigation. They note the FCC has taken no steps to remove the fake comments from its docket, "risking the safety and privacy of potentially hundreds of thousands of people," while a campaign director at Fight for the Future added, "For the FCC's process to have any legitimacy, they simply cannot move forward until an investigation has been conducted."
Republicans

Hackers Have Targeted Both the Trump Organization And Democrat Election Data (arstechnica.com) 232

An anonymous reader writes: Two recent news stories give new prominence to politically-motivated data breaches. Friday the Wall Street Journal reported that last year Guccifer 2.0 sent 2.5 gigabytes of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee election data to a Republican operative in Florida, including their critical voter turnout projections. At the same time ABC News is reporting that the FBI is investigating "an attempted overseas cyberattack against the Trump Organization," adding that such an attack would make his network a high priority for government monitoring.

"In the course of its investigation," they add, "the FBI could get access to the Trump Organization's computer network, meaning FBI agents could possibly find records connected to other investigations." A senior FBI official (now retired) concedes to ABC that "There could be stuff in there that they [the Trump organization] do not want to become part of a separate criminal investigation."

It seems like everyone's talking about the privacy of their communications. Tonight the Washington Post writes that Trump's son-in-law/senior advisor Jared Kushner "discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports." And Friday Hillary Clinton was even quoted as saying, "I would have won had I not been subjected to the unprecedented attacks by Comey and the Russians..."
Displays

UCF Research Could Bring 'Drastically' Higher Resolution To Your Phone and TV (ucf.edu) 108

New submitter cinemetek quotes a report from University of Central Florida: Researchers at the University of Central Florida have developed a new color changing surface tunable through electrical voltage that could lead to three times the resolution for televisions, smartphones and other devices. Current LCD's are made up of hundreds of thousands of pixels that display different colors. With current technology, each of these pixels contain three subpixels -- one red, one green, one blue. UCF's NanoScience Technology Center (Assistant Professor Debashis Chanda and physics doctoral student Daniel Franklin) have come up with a way to tune the color of these subpixels. By applying differing voltages, they are able to change the color of individual subpixels to red, green or blue -- the RGB scale -- or gradations in between. By eliminating the three static subpixels that currently make up every pixel, the size of individual pixels can be reduced by three. Three times as many pixels means three times the resolution. That would have major implications for not only TVs and other general displays, but augmented reality and virtual-reality headsets that need very high resolution because they're so close to the eye.
Space

After Almost Two Years, The Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Lands (space.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com: The record-shattering mission of the U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane is finally over. After circling Earth for an unprecedented 718 days, the X-37B touched down Sunday at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida -- the first landing at the SLF since the final space shuttle mission came back to Earth in July 2011... The just-ended mission, known as OTV-4 (Orbital Test Vehicle-4), was the fourth for the X-37B program... The 29-foot-long (8.8 meters) X-37B looks like NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiter, only much smaller; indeed, two X-37Bs could fit inside a space shuttle's cavernous payload bay...

Most of the X-37B's payloads and activities are classified, leading to some speculation that the space plane could be a weapon of some sort, perhaps a disabler of enemy satellites... But Air Force officials have always strongly refuted that notion, stressing that the vehicle is simply testing technologies on orbit. "Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal-protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal, reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing," Captain AnnMarie Annicelli, an Air Force spokeswoman, told Space.com via email in March.

Government

The FBI Defends Deploying Malware From A Tor Child Porn Site (gizmodo.com) 244

An anonymous reader writes: The FBI issued a press release about the 30-year prison sentence for a 58-year-old Florida man running "the world's largest child pornography website, with more than 150,000 users around the world." But their investigation involved what Gizmodo describes as "a decision controversial to this day" -- taking over the child pornography site and running it "for almost two weeks while distributing malware designed to unmask its visitors." Thursday the FBI described it as "a court-approved network investigative technique" which led to more than 1,000 leads in the U.S. and "thousands more" for law enforcement partners in other countries, leading to arrests in the EU, Israel, Turkey, Peru, Malaysia, Chile, and the Ukraine. Those 1,000 U.S. leads led to "at least 350 U.S-based individuals arrested", as well as actual prosecutions of 25 producers of child pornography and 51 hands-on abusers, while 55 children were "identified or rescued" in America, and another 296 internationally who were sexually abused.

Though Motherboard describes it as hacking "over 8,000 computers in 120 countries based on one warrant," the FBI calls it their "most successful effort to date against users of Tor's hidden service sites," adding that the agency "has numerous investigations involving the dark web." Though they'd soon became aware of the site's existence, "given the nature of how Tor hidden services work, there was not much we could do about it" -- until a foreign law enforcement agency discovered the site had "slipped up" by revealing its actual IP address, and notified the U.S. investigators. The FBI also says the investigation "has opened new avenues for international cooperation in efforts to prosecute child abusers around the world."

The site's two other administrators -- both men in their 40s -- were also given 20-year prison sentences earlier this year.
Government

California Seeks To Tax Rocket Launches, Which Are Already Taxed (arstechnica.com) 417

The state of California is looking into taxing its thriving rocket industry. The Franchise Tax Board has issued a proposed regulation for public comment that would require companies that launch spacecraft to pay a tax based upon "mileage" traveled by that spacecraft from California. Ars Technica reports: The proposal says that California-based companies that launch spacecraft will have to pay a tax based upon "mileage" traveled by that spacecraft from California. (No, we're not exactly sure what this means, either). The proposed regulations were first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, and Thomas Lo Grossman, a tax attorney at the Franchise Tax Board, told the newspaper that the rules are designed to mirror the ways taxes are levied on terrestrial transportation and logistics firms operating in California, like trucking or train companies. The tax board is seeking public input from now until June 16, when it is expected to vote on the proposed tax. The federal government already has its own taxes for commercial space companies, and until now no other state has proposed taxing commercial spaceflight. In fact most other states, including places like Florida, Texas, and Georgia, offer launch providers tax incentives to move business into their areas.
Government

Unmanned US Air Force Space Plane Lands After Secret, Two-Year Mission (reuters.com) 14

Irene Klotz, reporting for Reuters: The U.S. military's experimental X-37B space plane landed on Sunday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing a classified mission that lasted nearly two years, the Air Force said. The unmanned X-37B, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, touched down at 7:47 a.m. EDT (1147 GMT) on a runway formerly used for landings of the now-mothballed space shuttles, the Air Force said in an email. The Boeing-built space plane blasted off in May 2015 from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The X-37B, one of two in the Air Force fleet, conducted unspecified experiments for more than 700 days while in orbit. It was the fourth and lengthiest mission so far for the secretive program, managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
NASA

SpaceX Successfully Launches Its First Spy Satellite (arstechnica.com) 65

SpaceX successfully launched NROL-76, a classified U.S. intelligence mission, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center Monday. Sunday's launch attempt was scrubbed due to a sensor issue. From a report: Not much is known about the National Reconnaissance Office's NROL-76 satellite, a classified payload, which will liftoff into low Earth orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Transportation

Hyperloop One Announces 11 Possible US Routes, Completes Vegas Test Track (theverge.com) 270

An anonymous reader writes: Thursday Hyperloop One executives announced that they've finished constructing their 1,640-foot-long "DevLoop" test track in the desert outside Las Vegas. But they also revealed possible U.S. routes for their high-speed transportation solution "to initiate a nationwide conversation about the future of American transportation" -- five of them suggested by state transportation department officials from Texas, Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Missouri.

Last May the company invited pitches for routes to various cities, and Thursday's 11 pitches were chosen from 2,600 participants. These 11 pitches will compete with 24 other pitches from around the globe to be one of the three chosen to "work closely with Hyperloop One engineering and business development teams to explore project development and financing." And Thursday they also announced that "by year's end the company will have a team of 500 engineers, fabricators, scientists and other employees dedicated to bringing the technology to life."

Click through for more information, and the list of the 11 U.S. cities being suggested for hyperloop destinations.
Transportation

JetBlue and Boeing Are Betting Big On Electric Jet Startup 'Zunem Aero' (theverge.com) 163

A new startup called Zunum Aero is aiming to reinvent how users travel short distances, such as from San Francisco to Los Angeles. "The Kirkland, Washington-based company [...] plans to build a fleet of hybrid electric jets to sell to major carriers for service on densely traveled regional routes like San Francisco to Los Angeles or Boston to Washington, DC, "reports The Verge. Two aviation giants, Boeing and JetBlue, are reportedly backing the startup. From the report: Lower operating costs (i.e., no fueling) will allow carriers to reduce fares by 40 to 80 percent, they predict. And by flying a smaller aircraft that would be subject to fewer TSA regulations, Zunum claims it will take less time to go through security before boarding one of its planes. Zunum aims to build several models of hybrid-electric propulsion jets. At launch, its first class of aircraft will be tiny, in the 10-15 foot range, with a 10-passenger capacity and a range of up to 700 miles on a single charge. (Think San Francisco to Portland or Atlanta to DC.) Those planes can be expected to roll off the assembly line by the early 2020s, the company's CEO Ashish Kumar told The Verge. By the 2030s, as electric battery technology improves, Zunum hopes to build larger aircraft that can carry up to 50 passengers and travel up to 1,000 miles on a single charge. (Think Seattle to LA or Boston to Jacksonville, Florida.) Zunum's aircraft will feature hybrid electric motors with the capacity to accept recharging power from a variety of sources. Because airplanes are typically kept in service for up to 30 years, Kumar says its important for Zunum's aircraft to be future proof. That means designing them to be compatible with future battery designs and range-extending generators, with an eye toward ultimately switching from hybrid propulsion to fully electric motors once the technology catches up.
Earth

Manatee No Longer An Endangered Species (miamiherald.com) 89

An anonymous reader quotes the Miami Herald: The manatee -- for decades the poster mammal for environmental decline in Florida -- is officially no longer an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday that the manatee will instead be designated "threatened" -- a status change that reflects a boom in population over the last decade. In February, Florida wildlife managers released preliminary results of an annual count that recorded 6,620 manatees lumbering in the warm waters of Florida's lagoons, springs and canals... "We believe this is a devastating blow to manatees," Patrick Rose, Executive Director for Save the Manatee Club, said in a statement. "A federal reclassification at this time will seriously undermine the chances of securing the manatee's long- term survival."
It was the third consecutive year to see an increase in the estimated population of manatees.
Space

SpaceX Makes Aerospace History With Successful Launch, Landing of a Used Rocket (theverge.com) 260

Eloking quotes a report from The Verge: After more than two years of landing its rockets after launch, SpaceX finally sent one of its used Falcon 9s back into space. The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, this evening, sending a communications satellite into orbit, and then landed on one of SpaceX's drone ships floating in the Atlantic Ocean. It was round two for this particular rocket, which already launched and landed during a mission in April of last year. But the Falcon 9's relaunch marks the first time an orbital rocket has launched to space for a second time. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk appeared on the company's live stream shortly after the landing and spoke about the accomplishment. "It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, ultimately, a huge revolution in spaceflight," he said. "It's been 15 years to get to this point, it's taken us a long time," Musk said. "A lot of difficult steps along the way, but I'm just incredibly proud of the SpaceX for being able to achieve this incredible milestone in the history of space."

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