Ariane Chief Seems Frustrated With SpaceX For Driving Down Launch Costs

science - Posted On:2018-05-24 03:14:57 Source: slashdot

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica: Like United Launch Alliance, the [France-based] Ariane Group faces pricing pressure from SpaceX, which offers launch prices as low as $62 million for its Falcon 9 rocket. It has specifically developed the Ariane 6 rocket to compete with the Falcon 9 booster. But there are a couple of problems with this. Despite efforts to cut costs, the two variants of the Ariane 6 will still cost at least 25 percent more than SpaceX's present-day prices. Moreover, the Ariane 6 will not fly until 2020 at the earliest, by which time Falcon 9 could offer significantly cheaper prices on used Falcon 9 boosters if it needed to. (The Ariane 6 rocket is entirely expendable). With this background in mind, the chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the U.S. government. When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau's central argument is that this has only been possible because, "SpaceX is charging the U.S. government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper." Essentially, he says, launches for the U.S. military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX's commercial launch business. However, the pay-for-service prices that SpaceX offers to the U.S. Department of Defense for spy satellites and cargo and crew launches for NASA are below those of what other launch companies charge. And while $100 million or more for a military launch is significantly higher than a $62 million commercial launch, government contracts come with extra restrictions, reviews, and requirements that drive up this price. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Newest NOAA weather satellite suffers critical malfunction

Science - Posted On:2018-05-23 15:44:59 Source: arstechnica

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released some bad news today: the GOES-17 weather satellite that launched almost two months ago has a cooling problem that could endanger the majority of the satellite’s value.

GOES-17 is the second of a new generation of weather satellite to join NOAA’s orbital fleet. It’s predecessor is covering the US East Coast, with GOES-17 meant to become “GOES-West.” While providing higher-resolution images of atmospheric conditions, it also tracks fires, lightning strikes, and solar behavior. It’s important that NOAA stays ahead of the loss of dying satellites by launching new satellites that ensure no gap in global coverage ever occurs.

The various instruments onboard the satellite have been put through their courses to make sure everything is working properly before it goes into official operation. Several weeks ago, it became clear that the most important instrument—the Advanced Baseline Imager—had a cooling problem. This instrument images the Earth at a number of different wavelengths, including the visible portion of the spectrum as well as infrared wavelengths that help detect clouds and water vapor content.

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Stellarator’s plasma results show a triumph of engineering and modeling

Science - Posted On:2018-05-23 13:00:01 Source: arstechnica

Many moons ago, Ars was introduced to the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator (W7-X), an experimental fusion concept. At the time, W7-X—the world's largest stellarator—had just completed some warm-up tests and had been shut down to install more bits and pieces. That installation is not yet complete, but the results from some of those early runs are being analyzed, and they look good. The scientists may not be cracking champagne bottles, but they are certainly drinking boutique beer in celebration of the agreement between theory and experiment.

All of the elements heavier than hydrogen are the result of fusion. To create a heavier element through fusion, you first strip all the electrons away from two lighter atoms and then force the two nuclei together. That is difficult, because they are both positively charged and repel each other vigorously. But if you succeed in getting the nuclei to bang together, they may stick, creating a heavier nuclei.

In doing so they release energy. That energy powers the Sun, and we hope that local, slightly smaller versions might someday supply electricity.

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US gov’t employee in China left with brain injury after strange sounds, pressure

Science - Posted On:2018-05-23 11:45:00 Source: arstechnica

The US government issued an alert Wednesday following reports that a government employee stationed in southern China experienced “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure” and sustained a brain injury.

The case draws clear and eerie parallels to mysterious health problems that affected US diplomats in Cuba, who also experienced unexplained episodes of unusual sounds and pressure followed by diagnoses of traumatic brain injury.

Responding to an email from the New York Times, a spokesperson for the United States Embassy in Beijing said that the unnamed employee was working in the US consulate in the city of Guangzhou, just northwest of Hong Kong, and experienced a variety of symptoms from late 2017 until April of this year. In statements to the BBC, she noted that the employee had been sent back to the US. Last Friday, the 18th of May, “the embassy was told that the clinical findings of [an] evaluation matched mild traumatic brain injury,” she wrote.

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Sounds, pressure, brain injury: Case of US gov’t employee in China raises alert

Science - Posted On:2018-05-23 11:30:01 Source: arstechnica

The US government issued an alert Wednesday following reports that a government employee stationed in southern China experienced “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure” and sustained a brain injury.

The case draws clear and eerie parallels to mysterious health problems that affected US diplomats in Cuba, who also experienced unexplained episodes of unusual sounds and pressure followed by diagnoses of of traumatic brain injury.

Responding to an email from the New York Times, a spokesperson for the United States Embassy in Beijing said that the unnamed employee was working in the US consulate in the city of Guangzhou, just northwest of Hong Kong, and experienced a variety of symptoms from late 2017 until April of this year. In statements to the BBC, she noted that the employee had been sent back to the US. Last Friday, the 18th of May, “the embassy was told that the clinical findings of [an] evaluation matched mild traumatic brain injury,” she wrote.

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In absence of fog, the images from a SpaceX launch Tuesday are stunning

Science - Posted On:2018-05-23 10:44:56 Source: arstechnica

Most of us associate Southern California with Hollywood, beaches, and sunny weather. However, with relatively cold waters offshore and typically higher pressures over the Pacific Ocean, there is essentially a competition between air rising from the surface and sinking air further up in the atmosphere. The rising air and sinking air meet in the lower atmosphere to form a marine layer—typically low-altitude stratus clouds.

This marine layer often manifests as a thick, rolling fog at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a two- to three-hour drive northwest along the Pacific coast from Los Angeles. This means rocket launches from Vandenberg often end in disappointment for expectant viewers. This occurred most recently with the Atlas V rocket launch of NASA's Mars InSight lander a few weeks ago, which people could hear, but not see.

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Legend of Loch Ness Monster Will Be Tested With DNA Samples

science - Posted On:2018-05-23 10:44:56 Source: slashdot

The stories seem as tall as the lake is deep. For hundreds of years, visitors to Scotland's Loch Ness have described seeing a monster that some believe lurks in the depths. But now the legend of "Nessie" may have no place left to hide. From a report: A New Zealand scientist is leading an international team to the lake next month, where they will take samples of the murky waters and conduct DNA tests to determine what species live there. University of Otago professor Neil Gemmell says he's no believer in Nessie, but he wants to take people on an adventure and communicate some science along the way. Besides, he says, his kids think it's one of the coolest things he's ever done. One of the more far-fetched theories is that Nessie is a long-necked plesiosaur that somehow survived the period when dinosaurs became extinct. Another theory is that the monster is actually a sturgeon or giant catfish. Many believe the sightings are hoaxes or can be explained by floating logs or strong winds. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A rare, clear day afforded amazing views of a Falcon 9 launch from California

Science - Posted On:2018-05-23 10:29:56 Source: arstechnica

Most of us associate Southern California with Hollywood, beaches, and sunny weather. However, with relatively cold waters offshore and typically higher pressures over the Pacific Ocean, there is essentially a competition between air rising from the surface and sinking air further up in the atmosphere. The rising air and sinking air meet in the lower atmosphere to form a marine layer—typically low-altitude stratus clouds.

This marine layer often manifests as a thick, rolling fog at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a two- to three-hour drive northwest along the Pacific coast from Los Angeles. This means rocket launches from Vandenberg often end in disappointment for expectant viewers. This occurred most recently with the Atlas V rocket launch of NASA's Mars InSight lander a few weeks ago, which people could hear, but not see.

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How you end up sleep-deprived matters

Science - Posted On:2018-05-23 09:59:58 Source: arstechnica

Anyone who has tried to pull a late-night study session and wound up rereading the same pages of their  textbook because  they can't focus has experienced it.  And countless studies confirm it: if you're sleep deprived, your brain starts functioning poorly. Reaction times slip, you're more prone to careless actions, and generally just get bad at things. But how is it your body registers "too little sleep"? It could be after you spend too much time awake. Or it could be the amount of sleep you get in a 24-hour period. Or it could be tracked in relationship to your body's internal 24-hour circadian clock.

A new study out this week suggests it's not just one of these things, and different aspects of our mental capacities are more or less sensitive to precisely how you end up short on sleep.

The challenge with separating out different aspects of sleep deprivation in the real world is that anything you do will involve multiple aspects of sleep. Get too little sleep during a 24-hour cycle, and you'll necessarily be awake more—and awake at times your circadian clock says you shouldn't be. So, the researchers behind the new work messed with people's clocks. They got a small group of people (because it would be hard to recruit a large one) to live at a sleep center for 32 days, cut off from any indication of outside time.

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SpaceX Flies Satellites For Iridium, NASA In 10th Launch of 2018

science - Posted On:2018-05-22 17:30:00 Source: slashdot

SpaceX launched a total of seven satellites for Iridium and NASA, reusing part of a previously flown rocket for its 10th mission of 2018. "Five Iridium NEXT satellites were launched as part of the company's campaign to replace the world's largest commercial satellite network," reports Bloomberg. "SpaceX's mission also includes launching twin satellites for the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO)," which will "measure the distribution of the Earth's mass" and "monitor changes in ice sheets, glaciers and sea level." From the report: The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's central coast about 12:47 p.m. local time. The GRACE-FO satellites deployed roughly 11 minutes after launch, while the Iridium satellites are due to be released roughly an hour after the launch. SpaceX won't attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket, which flew in January during the Zuma mission, according to a SpaceX press kit. CBS News has some additional details about the GRACE-FO satellites. They were reportedly "designed to fly in tandem 137 miles apart in a 305-mile orbit around Earth's poles," reports CBS News. "Using a microwave tracking system, the distance between the two 1,300-pound satellites can be measured to within the diameter of a red blood cell. By precisely measuring the distance between the satellites, scientists can determine how much mass is below the flight path and then calculate the contribution of water, creating global maps every 30 days." UPDATE: SpaceX has confirmed that all five Iridium satellites have been successfully deployed. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Waiting for cheaper renewables can cost more in the long run

Science - Posted On:2018-05-22 15:44:59 Source: arstechnica

Waiting for the price to come down before switching to a new technology sounds like a frugal decision. But when it comes to a country’s electrical grid, what saves you money now could actually cost you much more in the long run. That’s the central conclusion of a new study led by Imperial College London’s Clara Heuberger.

Almost every nation in the world (depending on how you categorize the United States’ erratic behavior) has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in pursuit of limiting global warming. A large component of that pledge is the conversion of electrical generation from fossil fuels to renewables. But there is a tension between the cheap and immediate availability of fossil fuels and the varied status of different renewable technologies.

It may make some economic sense to watch the price of solar continue its fall before installing. But there’s also the temptation to wait for what the researchers categorize as “unicorn technologies”—things like next-generation batteries for grid-scale storage, cheaper systems for capturing carbon dioxide from power plants, or even fusion. In other words, there’s a tendency to think that renewables aren’t worth pursuing too hard until some game-changing, cheap technology comes along that revolutionizes the grid.

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The SpaceX rocket used for the ill-fated Zuma mission to fly again today

Science - Posted On:2018-05-22 08:59:57 Source: arstechnica

SpaceX will attempt its 10th launch of the year on Tuesday, a mission serving two different customers. The Falcon 9 rocket will carry five communications satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation, along with two gravity-measuring satellites for NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences.

This first stage booster has flown once before, a little more than four months ago when it launched the Zuma mission for the U.S government—a satellite or spacecraft that was apparently lost in space after it failed to separate from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX appears to have been absolved from blame for this mishap, and certainly the first stage booster performed nominally during that mission.

SpaceX will not attempt to recover this core, as it is a Block 4 variant of the booster. Each Block 4 core will fly just two times as the company seeks to move all of its launches onto the newer Block 5 version of the rocket, which has slightly increased performance and numerous upgrades to optimize the first stage for reusability.

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Asteroid From Another Star System Found Orbiting Wrong Way Near Jupiter

science - Posted On:2018-05-22 06:14:57 Source: slashdot

Astronomers have spotted an asteroid orbiting our sun in the opposite (retrograde) direction to the planets. The 2-mile-wide asteroid, known as 2015 BZ509, is the first "interstellar immigrant" from beyond our solar system to remain, according to the study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The Guardian reports: Further work on the asteroid revealed it takes the same length of time to orbit the sun as the planet Jupiter at a similar average distance, although in the opposite direction and with a different shaped path, suggesting the two have gravitational interactions. But unpicking quite where the asteroid came from was challenging. Asteroids that orbit the sun on paths that take them between the giant planets -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune -- are known as centaurs, and it is thought that many might come from distant bands of material within the solar system such as the scattered disk or the Oort cloud. Several, like BZ509, are known to have retrograde paths, although how they ended up on such orbits is unclear. But there was a clue there was something unusual about BZ509: while previous studies suggested retrograde centaurs stay gravitationally "tied" to planets for 10,000 years at most, recent work had suggested this asteroid's orbit had been linked to Jupiter for far longer, probably as a result of the planet's mass and the way both take the same time to orbit the sun. The discovery provides vital clues as to the asteroid's origins. [Dr Fathi Namouni from the Observatory de la Cote d'Azur said] that the model suggests the most likely explanation is that the asteroid was captured by Jupiter as it hurtled through the solar system from interstellar space. "It means it is an alien to the solar system," he said. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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German Test Reveals That Magnetic Fields Are Pushing the EM Drive

science - Posted On:2018-05-21 23:44:58 Source: slashdot

"Researchers in Germany have performed an independent, controlled test of the infamous EM Drive with an unprecedented level of precision," writes PvtVoid. "The result? The thrust is coming from interactions with the Earth's magnetic field." From the report: Instead of getting ahold of someone else's EM drive, or Mach-effect device, the researchers created their own, along with the driving electronics. The researchers used precision machining and polishing to obtain a microwave cavity that was much better than those previously published. If anything was going to work, this would be the one. The researchers built up a very nice driving circuit that was capable of supplying 50W of power to the cavity. However, the amplifier mountings still needed to be worked on. So, to keep thermal management problems under control, they limited themselves to a couple of Watts in the current tests. The researchers also inserted an enormous attenuator. This meant that they could, without physically changing the setup, switch on all the electronics and have the amplifiers working at full noise, and all the power would either go to the EM drive or be absorbed in the attenuator. That gives them much more freedom to determine if the thrust was coming from the drive or not. Even with a power of just a couple of Watts, the EM-drive generates thrust in the expected direction (e.g., the torsion bar twists in the right direction). If you reverse the direction of the thruster, the balance swings back the other way: the thrust is reversed. Unfortunately, the EM drive also generates the thrust when the thruster is directed so that it cannot produce a torque on the balance (e.g., the null test also produces thrust). And likewise, that "thrust" reverses when you reverse the direction of the thruster. The best part is that the results are the same when the attenuator is put into the circuit. In this case, there is basically no radiation in the microwave cavity, yet the WTF-thruster thrusts on. So, where does the force come from? The Earth's magnetic field, most likely. The cables that carry the current to the microwave amplifier run along the arm of the torsion bar. Although the cable is shielded, it is not perfect (because the researchers did not have enough mu metal). The current in the cable experiences a force due to the Earth's magnetic field that is precisely perpendicular to the torsion bar. And, depending on the orientation of the thruster, the direction of the current will reverse and the force will reverse. The researchers' conclude by saying: "At least, SpaceDrive [the name of the test setup] is an excellent educational project by developing highly demanding test setups, evaluating theoretical models and possible experimental errors. It's a great learning experience with the possibility to find something that can drive space exploration into its next generation." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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The Rocket Report newsletter launches on Thursday

Science - Posted On:2018-05-21 17:44:59 Source: arstechnica

Note: This post has been bumped to remind readers that this newsletter launches Thursday. We've had a tremendous response so far, and we really appreciate it.

I have covered the space beat at Ars Technica for 2.5 glorious years, and during that time, I have made a couple of observations about the community of readers here. One, you like rockets. And two, many readers here know as much, if not more, than I do about those rockets—both their history and what is happening today.

The volume and diversity of new launch vehicles under development with private and public money today is both inspiring and daunting. After a lull in innovation during the 1980s and 1990s, the launch industry has undergone a renaissance in new technology and concepts, such as rapid reusability, 3D printing of engines and even entire boosters, micro-rockets, and commercial heavy lift.

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A New World's Extraordinary Orbit Points to Planet Nine

science - Posted On:2018-05-21 16:59:59 Source: slashdot

In early 2016, two planetary scientists declared that a ghost planet is hiding in the depths of the solar system, well beyond the orbit of Pluto. Their claim, which they made based on the curious orbits of distant icy worlds, quickly sparked a race to find this so-called Planet Nine -- a planet that is estimated to be about 10 times the mass of Earth. From a report: Now, astronomers are reporting that they have spotted another distant world -- perhaps as large as a dwarf planet -- whose orbit is so odd that it is likely to have been shepherded by Planet Nine. The object confirms a specific prediction made by Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown, the astronomers at the California Institute of Technology who first argued for Planet Nine's existence. "It's not proof that Planet Nine exists," said David Gerdes, an astronomer at the University of Michigan and a co-author on the new paper. "But I would say the presence of an object like this in our solar system bolsters the case for Planet Nine." Gerdes and his colleagues spotted the new object in data from the Dark Energy Survey, a project that probes the acceleration in the expansion of the universe by surveying a region well above the plane of the solar system. This makes it an unlikely tool for finding objects inside the solar system, since they mostly orbit within the plane. But that is exactly what makes the new object unique: Its orbit is tilted 54 degrees with respect to the plane of the solar system. It's something Gerdes did not expect to see. Batygin and Brown, however, predicted it. The rocky body is being described as 2015 BP519. Quanta magazine has more details. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Vaccination method that wiped out smallpox gets unleashed today on Ebola

Science - Posted On:2018-05-21 16:15:00 Source: arstechnica

With more than 7,500 doses of an experimental vaccine against Ebola, health officials today began a vaccination campaign to try to thwart the latest outbreak of the deadly virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the World Health Organization, the campaign will start with healthcare workers operating in areas affected by the outbreak. Then officials will focus on a “ring vaccination” strategy, which targets people who have had contact with someone with a confirmed case of Ebola, as well as people who have had contact with those contacts. (This creates rings of vaccination around each case, hence the name). These defensive social circles ensure that those most vulnerable to contracting the virus are protected while also preventing the spread of the virus from the most likely sources. The same strategy was critical during the campaign in the 1960s and ‘70s to eradicate smallpox—the only human disease that has ever been successfully wiped out.

The Ebola-vaccination campaign will take place in the DRC’s northwestern Equator Province (Province de l’Équateur), where there have been 46 confirmed, probable, or suspected cases, including 26 deaths, as of May 18. Officials have already identified 600 contacts and contacts of contacts of cases. Nearly all cases and contacts have been in the remote town of Bikoro. But officials counted four confirmed cases in Mbandaka, a provincial capital with more than a million residents. This has raised concerns about the potential for the outbreak to explode.

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2,000 years ago in Denmark, a fierce battle left dozens dead

Science - Posted On:2018-05-21 15:14:59 Source: arstechnica

Roman military accounts from the early centuries CE describe the tribes of north-central Europe as fierce fighters who took the field with large forces and treated vanquished foes with ritual brutality. Until recently, however, there hasn’t been much archaeological evidence to back up the Roman accounts. But some time in the first century CE, two of those tribes clashed in what is now the Alken Enge wetlands in the Illerup River Valley in Denmark. Archaeologists excavated the aftermath from 2009 to 2014, finding broken weapons and shields along with the bones of at least 82 men.

Many of the bones bore the marks of grievous wounds dealt just before death, which is no surprise on a battlefield, of course. But all of them were found in places that would have been under water 2,000 years ago—and they’d all been left exposed to weather and scavengers for six months to a year before they ended up in the water.

Archaeologist Mads Kähler Holst of Aarhus University in Denmark and his colleagues say it’s the earliest example so far of a practice common in northern Europe in the first few centuries CE. In lakes and peat bogs all over northern Europe, archaeologists have found sites where people deposited the broken weapons and shields of their defeated enemies in the water. Most of those so-called “weapons graves” date to the second through fifth centuries CE, while the bones at Alken Enge radiocarbon dated to between 2 BCE and 54 CE.

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China Launches Satellite To Explore Dark Side of Moon

science - Posted On:2018-05-21 13:30:00 Source: slashdot

China launched a relay satellite early on Monday designed to establish a communication link between earth and a planned lunar probe that will explore the dark side of the moon, the official Xinhua news agency said. From a report: Citing the China National Space Administration, Xinhua said the satellite was launched at 5:28 a.m. (2128 GMT Sunday) on a Long March-4C rocket from the Xichang launch center in the southwest of the country. "The launch is a key step for China to realize its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land on and rove the far side of the moon," Xinhua quoted Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, as saying. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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NASA’s EM-drive is a magnetic WTF-thruster

Science - Posted On:2018-05-21 12:45:00 Source: arstechnica

It was bound to happen eventually. A group of researchers that may actually be competent and well-funded is investigating alternative thrust concepts. This includes our favorite, the WTF-thruster EM-drive, as well as something called a Mach-Effect thruster. The results, presented at Space Propulsion 2018, are pretty much as expected: a big fat meh.

The key motivation behind all of this is that rocket technology largely sucks for getting people around the Solar System. And it sucks even worse as soon as you consider the problem of interstellar travel. The result is that good people spend a lot of time eliminating even the most far-fetched ideas. The EM-drive is a case in point. It's basically a truncated hollow copper cone that you feed electromagnetic radiation into. The radiation bounces around in the cone. And, by some physics-defying magic, unicorns materialize to push you through space.

Well, that explanation is at least as plausible as any of the others. There is no physics explaining how this could work, but some people at NASA have claimed that it does.

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