Communications

August Solar Eclipse Could Disrupt Roads and Cellular Networks 9

GeoGreg writes: On August 21, 2017, the contiguous United States will experience its first total solar eclipse since 1979. According to GreatAmericanEclipse.com's Michael Zeiler, approximately 200 million people live within one day's drive of the eclipse. Zeiler projects that between 1.85 to 7.4 million people will attempt to visit the path of totality. As the eclipse approaches, articles are appearing predicting the possibility of automobile traffic jamming rural roads. There is also concern about the ability of rural cellular networks to handle such a large influx. AT&T is bringing in Cell On Wheel (COW) systems to rural locations in Kentucky, Idaho, and Oregon, while Verizon is building a temporary tower in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The disruption could be frustrating to those trying to get to the eclipse or share their photos via social networking. If cellular networks can't handle the data, apps like Waze won't be much help in avoiding the traffic. If communication is essential near the eclipse path, Astronomy Magazine recommends renting a satellite phone.
Earth

'Infarm' Startup Wants To Put a Farm In Every Grocery Store (techcrunch.com) 83

Infarm, a 40-plus person startup based in Berlin, imagines a future where every grocery store has its own farm packed with herbs, vegetables and fruit. "The plants themselves are being monitored by multiple sensors and fed by an internet-controlled irrigation and nutrition system," reports TechCrunch. "Growing out from the center, the basil is at ascending stages of its life, with the most outer positioned ready for you, the customer, to harvest." From the report: The concept might not be entirely new -- Japan has been an early pioneer in vertical farming, where the lack of space for farming and very high demand from a large population has encouraged innovation -- but what potentially sets Infarm apart, including from other startups, is the modular approach and go-to-market strategy it is taking. This means that the company can do vertical farming on a small but infinitely expandable scale, and is seeing Infarm place farms not in offsite warehouses but in customer-facing city locations, such as grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls, and schools, enabling the end-customer to actually pick the produce themselves. In contrast, the Infarm system is chemical pesticide-free and can prioritize food grown for taste, color and nutritional value rather than shelf life or its ability to sustain mass production. Its indoor nature means it isn't restricted to seasonality either and by completely eliminating the distance between farmer and consumer, food doesn't get much fresher. When a new type of herb or plant is introduced, Infarm's plant experts and engineers create a recipe or algorithm for the produce type, factoring in nutrition, humidity, temperature, light intensity and spectrum, which is different from system to system depending on what is grown. The resulting combination of IoT, Big Data and cloud analytics is akin to "Farming-as-a-Service," whilst , space permitting, Infarm's modular approach affords the ability to keep adding more farming capacity in a not entirely dissimilar way to how cloud computing can be ramped up at the push of a button.
NASA

Sorry, But Anonymous Has No Evidence That NASA Has Found Alien Life (popsci.com) 151

From a Popular Science article: In a new video, the hacker group known as Anonymous claims that NASA has discovered alien life. But before you freak out, let's talk. Sadly, the group of activists and hacktivists doesn't seem to have found any new evidence to support their extraordinary claim. The video is mainly based on NASA quotes taken out of context, and what appear to be videos and information from conspiracy theory websites. The crux of the argument is based on something Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said during a hearing in April. These sorts of hearings are organized to educate the House Science Committee on the latest research in a particular field of study. During this one, Zurbuchen said: "Taking into account all of the different activities and missions that are specifically searching for evidence of alien life, we are on the verge of making one of the most profound, unprecedented, discoveries in history." That's the quote Anonymous is pegging their video on. But if you watch his opening statement, he actually explains his reasoning just before he gets to that part. He mentions the Mars 2020 rover, which will look for signs of past life on the red planet. The Europa Clipper mission is slated to search for conditions suitable to life on Jupiter's ocean-filled moon. In a statement, Zurbuchen said, "While we're excited about the latest findings from NASA's Kepler space observatory, there's no pending announcement regarding extraterrestrial life. For years NASA has expressed interest in searching for signs of life beyond Earth. We have a number of science missions that are moving forward with the goal of seeking signs of past and present life on Mars and ocean worlds in the outer solar system. While we do not yet have answers, we will continue to work to address the fundamental question, 'are we alone?'"
Space

SpaceX Livestreams Sunday's Rocket Launch (space.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the 10 satellites for Iridium Communications is scheduled to liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 1:25 p.m. PDT (4:25 p.m. EDT/2025 GMT). The live webcast is expected to begin about 1 hour before the opening of the launch window, and you can watch it on SpaceX's website, or at Space.com. This is the second of eight planned Iridium launches with SpaceX. The launches will deliver a total of 75 satellites into space for the $3 billion Iridium NEXT global communications network. "Iridium NEXT will replace the company's existing global constellation in one of the largest technology upgrades ever completed in space," according to a statement from Iridium. "It represents the evolution of critical communications infrastructure that governments and organizations worldwide rely upon to drive business, enable connectivity, empower disaster relief efforts and more."
After the mission the booster rocket will attempt to land on a droneship. The droneships name is "Just Read The Instructions."
Earth

What Happens When Geoengineers 'Hack The Planet'? (thebulletin.org) 191

Dan Drollette shares an article by an Oxford physics professor who's concerned about the popularity of radical new proposals to fight global warming. The Christian Science Monitor wonders if it's time to re-engineer our climate. MIT's Technology Review basically thinks the answer is "yes," having described it earlier as "cheap and easy." The Atlantic seems quite smitten with Economist writer Oliver Morton's vision of remaking the planet, which geoengineering booster Jane Long breathlessly called "geopoetry." The idea received recent coverage (much of it favorable) by New Scientist, NBC, and in TED talks; I myself have recently participated in an NPR panel discussion on the subject... But what has really catapulted the idea into the public eye is Harvard's reckless plan for a privately-funded field trial testing some of the key elements needed... Proceeding to field experimentation crosses a thin red line beyond which lies the slippery slope down to ever-larger field trials and ultimately deployment.
Harvard's experiment -- which is partially funded by Bill Gates -- is "subject to no governance save what Harvard chooses to impose upon itself," according to the article. The experiment involves "putting something in the atmosphere to reflect more sunlight back out into space," which the article warns will create "enduring" effects -- and require humanity to commit to maintaining the same atmospheric conditions forever.
Space

FCC Grants OneWeb Approval To Launch Over 700 Satellites For 'Space Internet' (theverge.com) 89

OneWeb has been granted approval from the FCC to launch a network of internet-beaming satellites into orbit. FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement: "Humans have long sought inspiration from the stars, from the ancient Egyptians orienting the pyramids toward certain stars to the Greeks using constellations to write their mythology. In modern times, we've done the same, with over 1,000 active satellites currently in orbit. Today, the FCC harnesses that inspiration as we seek to make the promise of high-speed internet access a reality for more Americans, partly through the skies..." The Verge reports: OneWeb plans to launch a constellation of 720 low-Earth orbit satellites using non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) technology in order to provide global, high-speed broadband. The company's goal has far-reaching implications, and would provide internet to rural and hard-to-reach areas that currently have little access to internet connectivity. Additionally, OneWeb has a targets of "connecting every unconnected school" by 2022, and "bridging the digital divide" by 2027. According to OneWeb, the company plans to launch an initial 10 production satellites in early 2018, which, pending tests, will then be followed by a full launch as early as 2019.
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.
Businesses

Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop $120 'Bio-Frequency Healing' Sticker Packs Get Shot Down by NASA (fastcompany.com) 214

From a report: Goop had claimed the costly "Body Vibes" stickers were "made with the same conductive carbon material NASA uses to line space suits so they can monitor an astronaut's vitals during wear" and because of that were able to "target imbalances" of the human body's energy frequencies when they get thrown out of whack, reports Gizmodo. The thing is, NASA confirmed to Gizmodo that they "do not have any conductive carbon material lining the spacesuits" of astronauts. Further reading: The unbearable wrongness of Gwyneth Paltrow - The Outline.
Space

ESA Approves Gravitational-Wave Hunting Spacecraft For 2034 (newscientist.com) 49

The European Space Agency has approved the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna mission designed to study gravitational waves in space. The spacecraft is slated for launch in in 2034. New Scientist reports: LISA will be made up of three identical satellites orbiting the sun in a triangle formation, each 2.5 million kilometers from the next. The sides of the triangle will be powerful lasers bounced to and fro between the spacecraft. As large objects like black holes move through space they cause gravitational waves, ripples which stretch and squeeze space-time. The LISA satellites will detect how these waves warp space via tiny changes in the distance the laser beams travel. In order to detect these minuscule changes, on scales less than a trillionth of a meter, LISA will have to shrug off cosmic rays and the particles and light from the sun. The LISA Pathfinder mission, a solo probe launched in December 2015, proved that this sensitivity was possible and galvanized researchers working to realize the full LISA mission.
Mars

Stephen Hawking Says He Is Convinced That Humans Need To Leave Earth (sciencealert.com) 389

Reader dryriver writes: Back in May, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking made yet another doomsday prediction. He said that humanity has 100 years left on Earth, which knocked 900 years off the prediction he made in November 2016, which had given humanity 1,000 years left. With his new estimate, Hawking suggested the only way to prolong humanity's existence is for us to find a new home, on another planet (alternative source). Speaking at the Starmus Festival in Trondheim, Norway on Tuesday, Hawking reiterated his point: "If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before," he explained, according to the BBC. Specifically, Hawking said that we should aim for another Moon landing by 2020, and work to build a lunar base in the next 30 years -- projects that could help prepare us to send human beings to Mars by 2025. "We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth," Hawking added.
Mars

Curiosity Rover Decides, By Itself, What To Investigate On Mars (sciencemag.org) 73

sciencehabit writes: NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012, in part to analyze rocks to see whether the Red Planet was ever habitable (or inhabited). But now the robot has gone off script, picking out its own targets for analysis -- precisely as planned. Last year, NASA scientists uploaded a piece of software called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) adapted from the older Opportunity rover. Curiosity can now scan each new location and use artificial intelligence to find promising targets for its ChemCam. Compared with the estimated 24% success rate of random aiming at picking out outcrops -- a prime target for investigation -- the current version of AEGIS lets the rover find them 94% of the time, researchers report.
Encryption

Equipment Already In Space Can Be Adapted For Extremely Secure Data Encryption (helpnetsecurity.com) 20

Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: In a new study, researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Erlangen, demonstrate ground-based measurements of quantum states sent by a laser aboard a satellite 38,000 kilometers above Earth. This is the first time that quantum states have been measured so carefully from so far away. A satellite-based quantum-based encryption network would provide an extremely secure way to encrypt data sent over long distances. Developing such a system in just five years is an extremely fast timeline since most satellites require around 10 years of development. For the experiments, the researchers worked closely with satellite telecommunications company Tesat-Spacecom GmbH and the German Space Administration. The German Space Administration previously contracted with Tesat-Spacecom on behalf of the German Ministry of Economics and Energy to develop an optical communications technology for satellites. This technology is now being used commercially in space by laser communication terminals onboard Copernicus -- the European Union's Earth Observation Program -- and by SpaceDataHighway, the European data relay satellite system. It turned out that this satellite optical communications technology works much like the quantum key distribution method developed at the Max Planck Institute. Thus, the researchers decided to see if it was possible to measure quantum states encoded in a laser beam sent from one of the satellites already in space. In 2015 and the beginning of 2016, the team made these measurements from a ground-based station at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, Spain. They created quantum states in a range where the satellite normally does not operate and were able to make quantum-limited measurements from the ground. The findings have been published in the journal Optica.
Space

NASA Finds Evidence Of 10 New Earth-sized Planets (usatoday.com) 63

NASA said Monday it has found new evidence of 219 planets outside our Solar System. Ten of those exoplanets appear to be similar to the size of the Earth and orbit their stars in the habitable zone. From a report: The new planets' existence must still be double-checked. But Kepler's latest haul -- which includes a planet that is only slightly larger than Earth and receives the same amount of energy from its sun as Earth -- is the latest triumph for Kepler, which has spotted roughly 80 percent of the planets orbiting stars other than our sun. Because of their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler. But those 10 were joined by an additional 209 more garden-variety planets that are unlikely to be hospitable to life because they are too gassy, too hot, too cold or otherwise unlike the only known planet to host life: Earth.
The Almighty Buck

Air Force Budget Reveals How Much SpaceX Undercuts Launch Prices (arstechnica.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on cost estimates for the U.S. Air Force's program to launch national security payloads, which at the time consisted of a fleet of rockets maintained and flown entirely by United Launch Alliance (ULA). The report was critical of the non-transparent nature of ULA's launch prices and noted that the government "lacked sufficient knowledge to negotiate fair and reasonable launch prices" with the monopoly. At around the same time, the new space rocket company SpaceX began to aggressively pursue the opportunity to launch national security payloads for the government. SpaceX claimed to offer a substantially lower price for delivering satellites into various orbits around Earth. But because of the lack of transparency, comparing prices was difficult. The Air Force recently released budget estimates for fiscal year 2018, and these include a run out into the early 2020s. For these years, the budget combines the fixed price rocket and ELC contract costs into a single budget line. (See page 109 of this document). They are strikingly high. According to the Air Force estimate, the "unit cost" of a single rocket launch in fiscal year 2020 is $422 million, and $424 million for a year later. SpaceX sells basic commercial launches of its Falcon 9 rocket for about $65 million. But, for military launches, there are additional range costs and service contracts that add tens of millions of dollars to the total price. It therefore seems possible that SpaceX is taking a loss or launching at little or no profit to undercut its rival and gain market share in the high-volume military launch market. Elon Musk retweeted the article, adding "$300M cost diff between SpaceX and Boeing/Lockheed exceeds avg value of satellite, so flying with SpaceX means satellite is basically free."
China

Chinese Satellite Breaks Distance Record For Quantum-Key Exchange (sciencemag.org) 42

slew writes: Science Magazine reports a team of physicists using the Chinese Micius satellite (launched back in August 2016) have sent quantum-entangled photons from a satellite to ground stations separated by 1200 kilometers, smashing the previous world record. Sending entangled photons through space instead of optical fiber networks with repeaters has long been the dream of those promoting quantum-key exchange for modern cryptography. Don't hold your breath yet, as this is only an experiment. They were only able to recover about 1000 photons out of about 6 billion sent and the two receiving stations were on Tibetan mountains to reduce the amount of air that needed to be traversed. Also the experiment was done at night to minimize interference from the sun. Still, baby steps... Next steps for the program: a bigger satellite for more power and moving to quantum teleportation instead of simple key exchange. The results of the experiment were published in the journal Science.

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