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NASA Delays First Flight of New SLS Rocket Until 2019 ( 21

schwit1 writes: Despite spending almost $19 billion and more than thirteen years of development, NASA today admitted that it will have to delay the first test flight of the SLS rocket from late 2018 to sometime in 2019. "We agree with the GAO that maintaining a November 2018 launch readiness date is not in the best interest of the program, and we are in the process of establishing a new target in 2019," wrote William Gerstenmaier, chief of NASA's human spaceflight program. "Caution should be used in referencing the report on the specific technical issues, but the overall conclusions are valid." The competition between the big government SLS/Orion program and private commercial space is downright embarrassing to the government. While SLS continues to be delayed, even after more than a decade of work and billions of wasted dollars, SpaceX is gearing up for the first flight of Falcon Heavy this year. And they will be doing it despite the fact that Congress took money from the commercial private space effort, delaying its progress, in order to throw more money at SLS/Orion.

US Space Firms Tell Washington: China Will Take Over the Moon if You're Not Careful ( 140

The US space industry is prodding the US government into refreshing its outdated laws on commercial activity beyond earth: scare it with talk of Chinese galactic domination. A report adds: At a Senate hearing on the space industry this week, companies that build rockets and space habitats and manufacture electronic goods in space spoke about a standard laundry list of complaints, from regulatory burdens to fears of subsidized competitors. But their message was wrapped in patriotic concerns about China's growing capacity for space action. These companies are eager for the US government to allow and invest in commercial activities in orbit and around the moon. Many think the laws governing action in space, and particularly the UN Space Treaty, need refreshing for an age when private companies are close to matching the space capacity of sovereign nations. The last major change was a law on asteroid mining passed in 2015.

NASA Inspector Says Agency Wasted $80 Million On An Inferior Spacesuit ( 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: When NASA began developing a rocket and spacecraft to return humans to the Moon a decade ago as part of the Constellation Program, the space agency started to think about the kinds of spacesuits astronauts would need in deep space and on the lunar surface. After this consideration, NASA awarded a $148 million contract to Oceaneering International, Inc. in 2009 to develop and produce such a spacesuit. However, President Obama canceled the Constellation program just a year later, in early 2010. Later that year, senior officials at the Johnson Space Center recommended canceling the Constellation spacesuit contract because the agency had its own engineers working on a new spacesuit and, well, NASA no longer had a clear need for deep-space spacesuits. However, the Houston officials were overruled by agency leaders at NASA's headquarters in Washington, DC. A new report released Wednesday by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin sharply criticizes this decision. "The continuation of this contract did not serve the best interests of the agency's spacesuit technology development efforts," the report states. In fact, the report found that NASA essentially squandered $80.6 million on the Oceaneering contract before it was finally ended last year.

Chinese, European Space Agencies In Talks To Build a Moon Base ( 87

ESA's Pal Hvistendahl has confirmed via Bloomberg that Chinese and European space agencies are talking with one another about plans to build a base on the moon. The discussions "involve working together to build a human-occupied 'moon village' from which both agencies can potentially launch Mars missions, conduct research, and possibly explore commercial mining and tourism projects," reports TechCrunch. From the report: China's upcoming projects in space include a mission to collect samples from the moon via an uncrewed craft by the end of this year, and to also launch an exploratory mission to the far side of the moon next year, with the similar aim of returning samples for study. The ESA's collaboration with China thus far include participating in the study of those returned samples, and potentially sending a European astronaut to the Chinese space station (which is currently unoccupied) at some future date.

Windows is Bloated, Thanks to Adobe's Extensible Metadata Platform ( 133

An anonymous reader shares a report: Over the weekend, I put together a little tool that scans executable files for PNG images containing useless Adobe Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) metadata. I ran it against a vanilla Windows 10 image and was surprised that Windows contains a lot of this stuff. Adobe XMP, generally speaking, is an Adobe technology that serializes metadata like titles, internal identifiers, GPS coordinates, and color information into XML and jams it into things, like images. This data can be extremely valuable in some cases but Windows doesn't need or use this stuff. It just eats up disk space and CPU cycles. Thanks to horrible Adobe Photoshop defaults, it's very easy to unknowingly include this metadata in your final image assets. So easy, almost all the images on this site are chock full of it. But you can appreciate my surprise when a bunch of important Windows binaries showed up in my tool.

Sergey Brin Is Reportedly Building 'Massive Airship' In NASA Research Center ( 119

Google co-founder Sergey Brin is secretly building a "massive airship" inside of Hangar 2 at the NASA Ames Research Center, according to a report from Bloomberg. "It's unclear whether the craft, which looks like a zeppelin, is a hobby or something Brin hopes to turn into a business," reports Bloomberg. When asked about further details, Brin wrote in an email: "Sorry, I don't have anything to say about this topic right now." From the report: The people familiar with the project said Brin has long been fascinated by airships. His interest in the crafts started when Brin would visit Ames, which is located next to Google parent Alphabet Inc.'s headquarters in Mountain View, California. In the 1930s, Ames was home to the USS Macon, a huge airship built by the U.S. Navy. About three years ago, Brin decided to build one of his own after ogling old photos of the Macon. In 2015, Google unit Planetary Ventures took over the large hangars at Ames from NASA and turned them into laboratories for the company. Brin's airship, which isn't an Alphabet project, is already taking shape inside one. Engineers have constructed a metal skeleton of the craft, and it fills up much of the enormous hangar. Alan Weston, the former director of programs at NASA Ames, is leading Brin's airship project, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing the secretive plans. Weston didn't respond to requests for comment.

BitTorrent Inventor Bram Cohen Will Start His Own Cryptocurrency ( 102

Bram Cohen, the creator of BitTorrent, has showed deep interest in cryptocurrency in the past, and now it looks like he is going to start his own. From a report: Without going into technical details, Cohen believes that Bitcoin is wasteful. He suggests that a cryptocurrency that pins the mining value on storage space rather than processor time will be superior. In an interview with TorrentFreak's Steal This Show, Cohen revealed that his interest in cryptocurrencies is not merely abstract. It will be his core focus in the near future. "My proposal isn't really to do something to BitCoin. It really has to be a new currency," Cohen says. "I'm going to make a cryptocurrency company. That's my plan." By focusing on a storage based solution, BitTorrent's inventor also hopes to address other Bitcoin flaws, such as the 51% attack. "Sometimes people have this misapprehension that Bitcoin is a democracy. No Bitcoin is not a democracy; it's called a 51% attack for a reason. That's not a majority of the vote, that's not how Bitcoin works."

Aurora Enthusiasts Discover A Strange New Light In The Sky And Named It Steve ( 56

An anonymous reader quotes the BBC: A group of aurora enthusiasts have found a new type of light in the night sky and named it Steve. Eric Donovan from the University of Calgary in Canada spotted the feature in photos shared on a Facebook group. He did not recognise it as a catalogued phenomenon and although the group were calling it a proton arc, he knew proton auroras were not visible. Testing showed it appeared to be a hot stream of fast-flowing gas in the higher reaches of the atmosphere.

The European Space Agency sent electric field instruments to measure it 300km (190 miles) above the surface of the Earth and found the temperature of the air was 3,000C (5,400F) hotter inside the gas stream than outside it. Inside, the 25km-wide ribbon of gas was flowing at 6 km/s (13,000mph), 600 times faster than the air on either side.

One official at the European Space Agency made sure to thank the "army of citizen scientists" who helped with the discovery, saying "It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn't noticed it before." The name apparently came from a scene in the movie "Over the Hedge."

Can Geoengineering Drones Fight Global Warming? ( 280

MIT Technology Review reports: David Mitchell, a lanky, soft-spoken atmospheric physicist, believes frigid clouds in the upper troposphere may offer one of our best fallback plans for combating climate change... Fleets of large drones would crisscross the upper latitudes of the globe during winter months, sprinkling the skies with tons of extremely fine dust-like materials every year. If Mitchell is right, this would produce larger ice crystals than normal, creating thinner cirrus clouds that dissipate faster. "That would allow more radiation into space, cooling the earth," Mitchell says...

Increasingly grim climate projections have convinced a growing number of scientists it's time to start conducting experiments to find out what might work. In addition, an impressive list of institutions including Harvard University, the Carnegie Council, and the University of California, Los Angeles, have recently established research initiatives... By this time next year, Harvard professors David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to launch a high-altitude balloon from a site in Tucson, Arizona. This will mark the beginning of a research project to explore the feasibility and risks of an approach known as solar radiation management. The basic idea is that spraying materials into the stratosphere could help reflect more heat back into space, mimicking a natural cooling phenomenon that occurs after volcanoes blast tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the sky.

"I don't really know what the answer is," says a former associate director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "But I do believe we need to keep saying what the truth is, and the truth is, we might need it."

Light Sail Propulsion Could Reach Sirius Sooner Than Alpha Centauri ( 171

RockDoctor writes: A recent proposition to launch probes to other star systems driven by lasers which remain in the Solar system has garnered considerable attention. But recently published work suggests that there are unexpected complexities to the system. One would think that the closest star systems would be the easiest to reach. But unless you are content with a fly-by examination of the star system, with much reduced science returns, you will need to decelerate the probe at the far end, without any infrastructure to assist with the braking. By combining both light-pressure braking and gravitational slingshots, a team of German, French and Chilean astronomers discover that the brightness of the destination star can significantly increase deceleration, and thus travel time (because higher flight velocities can be used). Slingshotting around a companion star to lengthen deceleration times can help shed flight velocity to allow capture into a stable orbit. The 4.37 light year distant binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B could be reached in 75 years from Earth. Covering the 0.24 light year distance to Proxima Centauri depends on arriving at the correct relative orientations of Alpha Centauri A and B in their mutual 80 year orbit for the sling shot to work. Without a companion star, Proxima Centauri can only absorb a final leg velocity of about 1280km/s, so that leg of the trip would take an additional 46 years. Using the same performance characteristics for the light sail, the corresponding duration for an approach to the Sirius system, almost twice as far away (8.58 lightyears), is a mere 68.9 years, making it (and it's white dwarf companion) possibly a more attractive target. Of course, none of this addresses the question of how to get any data from there to here. Or, indeed, how to manage a project that will last longer than a working lifetime. There are also issues of aiming -- the motion of the Alpha Centauri system isn't well-enough known at the moment to achieve the precise maneuvering needed without course corrections (and so, data transmission from there to here) en route.

China's First Cargo Spacecraft Launch a 'Crucial Step' To Space Station ( 20

Earlier today, China launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft on a mission to dock with the country's space station, marking further progress in the ambitious Chinese space program. Chinese state media Xinhua described the event as a "crucial step for China's plan to have an operational space station by 2020." From a report: The Tianzhou-1 took off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China's southern Hainan province, on track to dock with the orbiting space lab Tiangong-2. The launch was the latest in a series of major announcements by the Chinese space program, which celebrated its longest-ever space mission in November.

Broadband Expansion Could Trigger Dangerous Surge In Space Junk ( 129

A new study from the University of Southampton warns that expanding broadband networks via launching "mega constellations" of thousands of communications satellites could increase catastrophic crashes of dangerous space junk in Earth's orbit. "Dr Hugh Lewis, a senior lecturer in aerospace engineering at the University of Southampton, ran a 200-year simulation to assess the possible consequences of such a rise in orbital traffic," reports The Guardian. "He found it could create a 50% increase in the number of catastrophic collisions between satellites." From the report: Such crashes would probably lead to a further increase in the amount of space junk in orbit, he said, leading to the possibility of further collisions and potential damage to the services the satellites were intended to provide. The European Space Agency, which funded Lewis's research, is calling for the satellites planned for orbital mega-constellations to be able to move to low altitudes once their missions are over so they burn up in Earth's atmosphere. They must also be able discharge all batteries, fuel tanks and pressure tanks to prevent explosions that would scatter debris. Lewis is presenting his research this week at the European conference on space debris at the ESA's center in Darmsadt, Germany. Krag said he expected some of the companies planning launches to attend.

Malaysia Air Is First Airline to Track Fleet With Satellites ( 70

From a report: Malaysia Air, which lost a wide-body jet with 239 people aboard three years ago in one of history's most enduring aviation mysteries, has become the first airline to sign an agreement for space-based flight tracking of its aircraft. The subsidiary of Malaysian Airline System Bhd reached a deal with Aireon LLC, SITAONAIR and FlightAware LLC to enable it to monitor the flight paths of its aircraft anywhere in the world including over the polar regions and the most remote oceans, according to an emailed press release from Aireon. Aireon is launching a new satellite network with Iridium Communications Inc. that will allow it to monitor air traffic around the globe. It's projected to be completed in 2018. Most international flights are already transmitting their position with technology known as ADS-B and the signals can be tracked from the ground or space. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has already installed a ground-based tracking system for ADS-B. "Real-time global aircraft tracking has long been a goal of the aviation community," Malaysia Chief Operating Officer Izham Ismail said in the release. "We are proud to be the first airline to adopt this solution."

AMD Launches Higher Performance Radeon RX 580 and RX 570 Polaris Graphics Cards ( 93

Reader MojoKid writes: In preparation for the impending launch of AMD's next-generation Vega GPU architecture, which will eventually reside at the top of the company's graphics product stack, the company unveiled a refresh of its mainstream graphics card line-up with more-powerful Polaris-based GPUs. The new AMD Radeon RX 580 and RX 570 are built around AMD's Polaris 20 GPU, which is an updated revision of Polaris 10. The Radeon RX 580 features 36 Compute Units, with a total of 2,304 shader processors and boost / base GPU clocks of 1340MHz and 1257MHz, respectively, along with 8GB of GDDR5 over a 256-bit interface. The Radeon RX 580 offers up a total of 6.17 TFLOPs of compute performance with up to 256GB/s of peak memory bandwidth. Though based on the same chip, the Radeon RX 570 has only 32 active CUs and 2048 shader processors. Boost and base reference clocks are 1244MHz and 1168MHz, respectively with 4GB of GDDR5 memory also connected over a 256-bit interface. At reference clocks, the peak compute performance of the Radeon RX 570 is 5.1TFLOPs with 224GB/s of memory bandwidth. In the benchmarks, the AMD Radeon RX 580 clearly outpaced AMD's previous gen Radeon RX 480, and was faster than an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 Founder's Edition card more often than not. It was more evenly matched with factory-overclocked OEM GeForce GTX 1060 cards, however. Expected retail price points are around $245 and $175 for 8GB Radeon RX 580 and 4GB RX 570s cards, though more affordable options will also be available.

Microsoft's Rumored CloudBook Could Be Your Next Cheap Computer ( 206

An anonymous reader shares a report: In a few weeks, at its education-oriented software and hardware event in New York, Microsoft could unveil a sub-premium laptop -- something more robust than a Surface but not as fancy as a Surface Book. And rather than run good old Windows 10, the new product could run something called Windows 10 Cloud, which reportedly will only be able to run apps that you can find in the Windows Store, unless you change a certain preference in Settings. The idea is that this will keep your device more secure. However, that does mean you won't be able to use certain apps that aren't in the Store -- like Steam -- on a Windows 10 Cloud device, such as the rumored CloudBook. Microsoft is going after Google's Chromebooks that are very popular in the education space -- so much so that they are playing an instrumental role in keeping the entire PC shipments up.

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