Rocket Report: SpaceX scraps costly tooling, Vandenberg lull, Starliner slip

Science - Posted On:2019-03-22 07:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Welcome to Edition 1.41 of the Rocket Report! This week we definitely have an international flavor, with news about spaceflight efforts from Brazil, Italy, Japan, the UAE, and the United States. There also is a fun story about hypersonic launch completing some initial tests with evidently promising returns.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Brazilian spaceport wins key US agreement. Brazil's decades-long effort to launch satellites from its underused Alcântara Launch Center could finally be bearing fruit, Parabolic Arc reports. On Monday, Brazil and the United States signed a Technology Safeguards Agreement that will allow American companies to launch orbital rockets from Alcântara.

Read More

First Medical Device To Treat Alzheimer's Is Up For Approval By the FDA

science - Posted On:2019-03-21 22:14:59 Source: slashdot

the_newsbeagle writes: An FDA advisory committee met today to consider approving the NeuroAD device, which is supposed to help with the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The device uses a combination of brain stimulation and cognitive training tasks to strengthen the neural circuits involved in language, memory, and other components of cognition. The treatment requires patients to come to the clinic daily for 1-hour sessions. Regulators in Israel and Europe have already approved the device. The CEO of the company behind the device, Neuronix, says that they're not attempting to cure the underlying biological causes of Alzheimer's. "We're attempting to modify the course of the disease," he says. The cognitive improvements last for up to a year, after which they fade away. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Read More

750,000 Medtronic Defibrillators Vulnerable To Hacking

science - Posted On:2019-03-21 21:29:59 Source: slashdot

The Homeland Security Department has issued an alert Thursday describing two types of computer-hacking vulnerabilities in 16 different models of Medtronic implantable defibrillators sold around the world, including some still on the market today. The vulnerability also affects bedside monitors that read data from the devices in patients' homes and in-office programming computers used by doctors. From the report: Medtronic recommends that patients only use bedside monitors obtained from a doctor or from Medtronic directly, and to keep it plugged in so it can receive software updates, and that they maintain "good physical control" over the monitor. Implantable defibrillators are complex, battery-run computers implanted in patients' upper chests to monitor the heart and send electric pulses or high-voltage shocks to prevent sudden cardiac death and treat abnormal heart beats. The vulnerabilities announced Thursday do not affect Medtronic pacemakers. The more serious of the two is a vulnerability that could allow improper access to data sent between a defibrillator and an external device like an at-home monitor. The system doesn't use formal authentication or authorization protections, which means an attacker with short-range access to the device could inject or modify data and change device settings, the advisory says. A second vulnerability allows an attacker to read sensitive data streaming out of the device, which could include the patient's name and past health data stored on their device. The system does not use data encryption, the advisory says. (Deploying encryption in medical devices is tricky because is increases computational complexity and therefore uses the battery faster.) The FDA isn't expected to issue a recall as the vulnerabilities are expected to be patched via a future software update. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Read More

Vice President may tell NASA to accelerate lunar landings

Science - Posted On:2019-03-21 19:59:59 Source: arstechnica

One of the panelists who will appear at a National Space Council meeting next Tuesday said to expect "a few fireworks" during the discussion, which will focus on NASA's efforts to return humans to the Moon. The meeting of this council that oversees US spaceflight policy will be held in Hunstville, Ala., and led by Vice President Mike Pence.

University of Colorado Boulder astrophysicist Jack Burns, one of six speakers scheduled for the meeting, said the current timeline for NASA to send humans to the Moon lacks urgency. NASA has talked about landing its astronauts on the Moon before the end of the 2020s, and the president's budget proposal for the coming fiscal year allows for this to happen as early as 2028.

"The timeline is too slow, and that's one of the things that I'm going to be talking about next Tuesday," Burns said. If pushed, how soon could NASA put humans back on the Moon? The year 2025, Burns replied. "And I know some in the administration would like to do it even faster than that," he added. "We're going to see a few fireworks."

Read More

Why “chickenpox parties” are a terrible idea—in case it’s not obvious

Science - Posted On:2019-03-21 17:44:59 Source: arstechnica

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin made headlines Tuesday after revealing in a radio interview that he had purposefully exposed his nine unvaccinated children to chickenpox, drawing swift condemnation from health experts.

In case anyone needs a refresher on why you shouldn’t deprive children of safe, potentially lifesaving vaccines or purposefully expose them to serious, potentially life-threatening infections, here’s a quick rundown.

Though most children who get the itchy, highly contagious viral disease go on to recover after a week or so of misery, chickenpox can cause severe complications and even death in some. Complications include nasty skin infections, pneumonia, brain inflammation, hemorrhaging, blood stream infections, and dehydration.

Read More

Intentionally exposing kids to chickenpox is a cruel and stupid thing to do

Science - Posted On:2019-03-21 17:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin made headlines Tuesday after revealing in a radio interview that he had purposefully exposed his nine unvaccinated children to chickenpox, drawing swift condemnation from health experts.

In case anyone needs a refresher on why you shouldn’t deprive children of safe, potentially lifesaving vaccines or purposefully expose them to serious, potentially life-threatening infections, here’s a quick rundown.

Though most children who get the itchy, highly-contagious viral disease go on to recover after a week or so of misery, the disease can cause severe complications and even death in some. Complications include nasty skin infections, pneumonia, brain inflammation, hemorrhaging, blood stream infections, and dehydration.

Read More

Half the species in a new Cambrian fossil site are completely new to us

Science - Posted On:2019-03-21 14:15:00 Source: arstechnica

The first signs of complex animal life begin in the Ediacaran Period, which started more than 600 million years ago. But it's difficult to understand how those organisms relate to the life we see around us today. Part of this issue is that those fossils are rare, as many rocks of that period appear to have been wiped off the Earth by a globe-spanning glaciation. But another problem is that the organisms we do see from this period aren't clearly related to anything that came after them.

With the arrival of the Cambrian Period about 550 million years ago, all of that changed. In fossil beds like the famed Burgess Shale, we can see organisms that clearly have features of the major groups of life that have persisted to this day. As more collections of fossils become available, we can even watch groups diversify as the Cambrian progressed. But there's still considerable debate over whether these changes represent a true, multi-million-year "explosion" and what environmental changes might have driven this diversification.

We may be on the verge of some big help in answering these questions, as scientists are announcing the discovery of a spectacular deposit of Cambrian fossils from South China. The fossils include dozens of species, half of which we've never seen before, and appear to represent a previously upsampled ecological zone. The preservation is such that soft-bodied creatures like jellyfish, and the softer body parts of creatures with shells, can easily be made out in the rocks. Best yet, the researchers who uncovered the samples suggest that rocks from the same formation are widespread in China.

Read More

US nuclear is dying, but it produced more electricity in 2018 than ever before

Science - Posted On:2019-03-21 14:00:00 Source: arstechnica

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the US nuclear fleet produced more electrical energy than ever before in 2018. Last year, it produced 807.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, barely beating its 2010 peak of 807TWh. But the US nuclear industry has been in a well-documented decline. So what gives?

The EIA says the explanation comes from a combination of scheduling serendipity and what's called "uprating," where older nuclear plants are permitted to output more power. In a post this morning, the administration wrote that we shouldn't expect this much nuclear power output from the industry again—at least not in the near future.

Since the last peak in 2010, more than 5 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity has been retired. Some of that was offset by a new reactor addition: another 1.2GW of capacity came online in 2016 at TVA's Watts-Barr nuclear plant when reactor 2 was completed.

Read More

Scientists think they’ve solved one mystery of Easter Island’s statues

Science - Posted On:2019-03-21 13:15:00 Source: arstechnica

Chile's Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is famous for its giant monumental statues, called moai, built by early inhabitants some 800 years ago. The islanders likely chose the statues' locations based on the availability of fresh water sources, according to a recent paper in PLOS One.

Scholars have puzzled over the moai on Easter Island for decades, pondering their cultural significance, as well as how a Stone Age culture managed to carve and transport statues weighing as much as 92 tons. They were typically mounted on platforms called ahu. According to co-author Carl Lipo, an anthropologist at Binghamton University, you can have ahu (platforms) without moai (statues) and moai without ahu, usually along the roads leading to ahu; they were likely being transported and never got to their destination.

Back in 2012, Lipo and his colleague, Terry Hunt of the University of Arizona, showed that you could transport a ten-foot, five-ton moai a few hundred yards with just 18 people and three strong ropes by employing a rocking motion. Last year Lipo proposed an intriguing hypothesis for how the islanders placed red hats on top of some moai; those can weigh up to 13 tons. He suggested the inhabitants used ropes to roll the hats up a ramp.

Read More

Starship tests in South Texas will be broadcast, but temper your expectations

Science - Posted On:2019-03-21 12:15:00 Source: arstechnica

What a world we live in. As SpaceX gears up to begin preliminary testing of its Starship vehicle along the South Texas coast, nearby South Padre Island has set up a camera to broadcast the proceedings. More than 2,700 people were watching as of 11:30am ET Thursday.

It's a clever tourism marketing ploy for the island but also great for spaceflight fans to get unprecedented views of real-time testing.

With that said, it's worth tempering expectations at least for the next few weeks. For now, SpaceX has attached a single Raptor engine to the test vehicle—which is nicknamed Starhopper because it was designed to make "hop" tests to varying altitudes to test Starship's landing capabilities. Eventually Starhopper will have three engines on the vehicle.

Read More

Is Statistical Significance Significant?

science - Posted On:2019-03-21 09:14:57 Source: slashdot

More than 850 scientists and statisticians told the authors of a Nature commentary that they are endorsing an idea to ban "statistical significance." Critics say that declaring a result to be statistically significant or not essentially forces complicated questions to be answered as true or false. "The world is much more uncertain than that," says Nicoole Lazar, a professor of statistics at the University of Georgia. An entire issue of the journal The American Statistician is devoted to this question, with 43 articles and a 17,500-word editorial that Lazar co-authored. "In the early 20th century, the father of statistics, R.A. Fisher, developed a test of significance," reports NPR. "It involves a variable called the p-value, that he intended to be a guide for judging results. Over the years, scientists have warped that idea beyond all recognition, creating an arbitrary threshold for the p-value, typically 0.05, and they use that to declare whether a scientific result is significant or not. Slashdot reader apoc.famine writes: In a nutshell, what the statisticians are recommending is that we embrace uncertainty, quantify it, and discuss it, rather than set arbitrary measures for when studies are worth publishing. This way research which appears interesting but which doesn't hit that magical p == 0.05 can be published and discussed, and scientists won't feel pressured to p-hack. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Read More

San Francisco Moves To Ban E-Cigarettes Until Health Effects Known

science - Posted On:2019-03-20 23:44:58 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Officials in San Francisco have proposed a new law to ban e-cigarette sales until their health effects are evaluated by the U.S. government. The law appears to be the first of its kind in the U.S. and seeks to curb a rising usage by young people. Critics, however, say it will make it harder for people to kick addiction. A second city law would bar making, selling or distributing tobacco on city property and is aimed at an e-cigarette firm renting on Pier 70. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its proposed guidelines, giving companies until 2021 to apply to have their e-cigarette products evaluated. A deadline had initially been set for August 2018, but the agency later said more preparation time was needed. San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera, one of the co-authors of the bill, which is yet to be approved, said reviews should have been done before they were sold. Juul, one of the most popular U.S. e-cigarette firms, rents space on Pier 70. It said in a statement: "This proposed legislation begs the question -- why would the city be comfortable with combustible cigarettes being on shelves when we know they kill more than 480,000 Americans per year?" Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Read More

The Air Force will soon take bids for mid-2020s launches. It’s controversial

Science - Posted On:2019-03-20 17:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Within the next 10 days, the US Air Force may issue an opportunity for rocket companies to bid on contracts for about 25 launches between 2022 and 2026. Although a “request for proposals” may not sound all that provocative, this particular government solicitation is filled with intrigue—and will have major implications for all of the big US rocket companies.

At present, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX launch rockets for the Air Force, lofting powerful spy cameras, communication satellites and other sensitive payloads into various orbits for the government. In recent years, the military has sought to modernize its contractor base for the coming decade, encouraging new launch competitors and new ideas. This forthcoming solicitation for launch contracts in the mid-2020s, however, may effectively end that effort.

It was only five months ago, in October, that the Air Force announced $2.25 billion in “Launch Services Agreements” to be split among ULA (Vulcan rocket), Northrop Grumman (Omega), and Blue Origin (New Glenn). The funds were provided so that each of those companies could develop large, modern rockets and build the launch facilities needed to support military payloads. Over the first year of those awards, each company will receive the first $181 million of their individual awards. (SpaceX, somewhat controversially, did not receive an award. This is partly because the Air Force believes the company's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets can meet its needs.)

Read More

Looming Air Force decision on mid-2020s launch contracts favors ULA, SpaceX

Science - Posted On:2019-03-20 17:15:00 Source: arstechnica

Within the next 10 days, the US Air Force may issue an opportunity for rocket companies to bid on contracts for about 25 launches between 2022 and 2026. Although a “request for proposals” may not sound all that provocative, this particular government solicitation is filled with intrigue—and will have major implications for all of the big US rocket companies.

At present, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX launch rockets for the Air Force, lofting powerful spy cameras, communication satellites and other sensitive payloads into various orbits for the government. In recent years, the military has sought to modernize its contractor base for the coming decade, encouraging new launch competitors and new ideas. This forthcoming solicitation for launch contracts in the mid-2020s, however, may effectively end that effort.

It was only five months ago, in October, that the Air Force announced $2.25 billion in “Launch Services Agreements” to be split among ULA (Vulcan rocket), Northrop Grumman (Omega), and Blue Origin (New Glenn). The funds were provided so that each of those companies could develop large, modern rockets and build the launch facilities needed to support military payloads. Over the first year of those awards, each company will receive the first $181 million of their individual awards. (SpaceX, somewhat controversially, did not receive an award. This is partly because the Air Force believes the company's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets can meet its needs).

Read More

Jury Finds Bayer's Roundup Weedkiller Caused Man's Cancer

science - Posted On:2019-03-20 15:44:59 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Shares in Germany's Bayer's fell more than 12 percent on Wednesday after a second U.S. jury ruled its Roundup weed killer caused cancer. Tuesday's unanimous jury decision in San Francisco federal court was not a finding of Bayer's liability for the cancer of plaintiff Edwin Hardeman. Liability and damages will be decided by the same jury in a second trial phase beginning on Wednesday. Bayer, which denies allegations that glyphosate or Roundup cause cancer, said it was disappointed with the jury's initial decision. Bayer acquired Monsanto, the longtime maker of Roundup, for $63 billion last year. The case was only the second of some 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States. Another California man was awarded $289 million in August after a state court jury found Roundup caused his cancer. That award was later reduced to $78 million and is on appeal. Bayer had claimed that jury was overly influenced by plaintiffs' lawyers allegations of corporate misconduct and did not focus on the science. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria called such evidence "a distraction" from the scientific question of whether glyphosate causes cancer. He split the Hardeman case into two phases: one to decide causation, the other to determine Bayer's potential liability and damages. Under Chhabria's order, the second phase would only take place if the jury found Roundup to be a substantial factor in causing Hardeman's non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The jury found that it was on Tuesday. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Read More

About a third of medical vaccine exemptions in San Diego came from one doctor

Science - Posted On:2019-03-20 15:00:00 Source: arstechnica

A single San Diego doctor wrote nearly a third of the area’s medical vaccination exemptions since 2015, according to an investigation by the local nonprofit news organization Voice of San Diego.

The revelation follows growing concern that anti-vaccine parents are flocking to doctors willing to write dubious medical exemptions to circumvent the state’s vaccination requirements. Since California banned exemptions based on personal beliefs in 2015, medical exemptions have tripled in the state. The rise has led some areas to have vaccination rates below the levels necessary to curb the spread of vaccine-preventable illnesses. Moreover, it signals a worrying trend for other states working to crack down on exemptions and thwart outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. There are currently six outbreaks of measles across the country.

Medical vaccination exemptions are intended for the relatively few people who have medical conditions that prevent them from receiving vaccines safely. That includes people who are on long-term immunosuppressive therapy or those who are immunocompromised, such as those with HIV or those who have had severe, life-threatening allergic reactions (e.g. anaphylaxis) to previous immunizations. Such patients typically receive medical exemptions incidentally during their medical care. But some doctors are providing evaluations specifically to determine if a patient qualifies for an exemption and granting exemptions using criteria not based on medical evidence. Some doctors are even charging fees for these questionable exemption evaluations—including the doctor in San Diego, Tara Zandvliet.

Read More

Anti-vax-friendly doctor wrote 141 medical vaccine exemptions—at $180 each

Science - Posted On:2019-03-20 14:45:00 Source: arstechnica

A single San Diego doctor wrote nearly a third of the area’s medical vaccination exemptions since 2015, according to an investigation by the local nonprofit news organization Voice of San Diego.

The revelation follows growing concern that anti-vaccine parents are flocking to doctors willing to write dubious medical exemptions to circumvent the state’s vaccination requirements. Since California banned exemptions based on personal beliefs in 2015, medical exemptions have tripled in the state. The rise has led some areas to have vaccination rates below the levels necessary to curb the spread of vaccine-preventable illnesses. Moreover, it signals a worrying trend for other states working to crack down on exemptions and thwart outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. There are currently six outbreaks of measles across the country.

Medical vaccination exemptions are intended for the relatively few people who have medical conditions that prevent them from receiving vaccines safely. That includes people who are on long-term immunosuppressive therapy or those who are immunocompromised, such as those with HIV or those who have had severe, life-threatening allergic reactions (e.g. anaphylaxis) to previous immunizations. Such patients typically receive medical exemptions incidentally during their medical care. But some doctors are providing evaluations specifically to determine if a patient qualifies for an exemption and granting exemptions using criteria not based on medical evidence. Some doctors are even charging fees for these questionable exemption evaluations—including the doctor in San Diego, Tara Zandvliet.

Read More

Physicists “flip the D” in tokamak, get unexpectedly good result

Science - Posted On:2019-03-20 14:30:00 Source: arstechnica

In the world of fusion physics, two letters say it all: ‘L’ and ‘H’. All the cool kids play with the H-mode, which is hot and fiery and is our best prospect for achieving useable fusion energy. The L-mode, which is neither hot nor fiery, has been largely abandoned. But by changing the shape of the L-mode, researchers have been able to get unexpectedly high pressures. High enough for fusion? Maybe.

To understand what all that means, we need a quick refresher on what a tokamak is.

We’ve covered fusion physics before, but in short, a tokamak reactor uses a series of twisted magnetic fields to confine a fluid of charged particles (called a plasma) in a donut shape. The temperature and pressure of the plasma is the key to fusion; once it's hot enough, the positively charged nuclei will collide to fuse, releasing gloriously large amounts of energy. 

Read More

People brought food from all over Britain to feast near Stonehenge

Science - Posted On:2019-03-20 07:44:57 Source: arstechnica

The remnants of prehistoric monuments still dot the modern British landscape. Around 4,500 years ago, people gathered at these sites or in nearby communities for annual winter feasts where the main delicacy on the menu was pork. Chemical analysis of the pig bones left behind after feasts at four major henge sites in southern Britain reveals a surprisingly far-flung network of Neolithic travel.

Mount Pleasant Henge is a stone circle about 70km (44 miles) southwest of Stonehenge, near the coast of the English Channel. West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures is a set of circular ditches and palisades near the famous stone circle at Avebury, about 39km (24 miles) north of Stonehenge, while Marden Henge, between Avebury and Stonehenge, is a 14-hectare site surrounded by ditches and embankments which once held its own circle of standing stones. Durrington Walls, a large settlement (which eventually built its own stone circle) just 3km (1.86 miles) northeast of Stonehenge, was closely linked with the iconic monument itself.

"Stonehenge is for the dead, Durrington Walls for the living: the place of the builders of Stonehenge and the places of Stonehenge's feasts," archaeologist Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University told Ars Technica. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of ancient feasting at all four sites: broken ceramics, discarded stone tools, and the bones of butchered pigs. Those 4,500-year-old leftovers suggest that these sites were hubs linking a Neolithic social network that connected far-flung communities from Scotland to Wales.

Read More

How Diet May Have Changed the Way Humans Speak

science - Posted On:2019-03-20 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

"Ancient hunter-gathererers often had front teeth that met together, unlike today's more common alignment where the upper front teeth 'overbite' the lower front teeth," writes Slashdot reader omfglearntoplay. "This malocclusion is a result of changes to the ancestral human diet and introduction of soft foods, according to a new study published in the journal Science." ABC News reports: More than 2,000 different sounds exist across the roughly 7,000 to 8,000 languages that humans speak today, from ubiquitous cardinal vowels such as "a" and "i" to the rare click consonants found in southern Africa. Scientists had long thought this range of sounds was fixed in human biology since at least the emergence of our species about 300,000 years ago. However, in 1985, linguist Charles Hockett noted that labiodentals -- sounds produced by positioning the lower lip against the upper teeth, including "f" and "v" -- are overwhelmingly absent in languages whose speakers are hunter-gatherers. He suggested tough foods associated with such diets favored bites where teeth met edge on edge, and that people with such teeth would find it difficult to pronounce labiodentals, which are nowadays found in nearly half the world's languages. To explore Hockett's idea further, researchers developed computer models of the human skull, teeth and jaw in overbite, overjet and edge-on-edge bite configurations. They next analyzed the amount of effort these configurations needed to pronounce certain labiodental sounds. The scientists found that overbites and overjets required 29 percent less muscular effort to produce labiodental sounds than edge-on-edge bites. In addition, overbites and overjets made it easier to accidentally mispronounce bilabial sounds such as "m," "w" or "p," which are made by placing the lips together, as labiodental ones. The researchers also discovered that hunter-gatherer societies only have about 27 percent the number of labiodentals found in agricultural societies. "Moreover, when they focused on the Indo-European language family -- which stretches from Iceland to the eastern Indian state of Assam and has records stretching back more than 2,500 years on how sounds in some of its languages were pronounced -- they found the use of labiodentals increased steadily following the development of agriculture," the report says. "All in all, they estimated that labiodentals only had a 3 percent chance of existing in the Indo-European proto-language that emerged about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago but are now found in 76 percent of the family's languages." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Read More