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NanoRacks Plans To Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats ( 110

An anonymous reader writes from a report via IEEE Spectrum: A couple of weeks ago NASA announced it has committed $65 million to six companies over the course of two years for the purpose of developing and testing deep-space habitats that could be used for future missions to Mars. One of the six companies, called NanoRacks, is attempting to take empty fuel tanks from the upper stages of rockets and turn them into space habitats on-orbit. IEEE Spectrum reports: "A rocket like the the Atlas V, which can deliver payloads of nearly 19,000 kg to low Earth orbit, consists of three primary pieces: on the bottom, you've got the first stage booster, which consists of a huge engine and some big tanks holding kerosene fuel and oxidizer. Above that, there's the second stage, which consists of one or two smaller engines, a big tank for storing liquid hydrogen fuel, and a smaller tank for oxidizer. The payload, which is what all of the fuss is about, sits on top. The first stage launches the rocket off of the pad and continues firing for about four minutes. Meanwhile, the second stage fires up its own engine (or engines) to boost the payload the rest of the way into orbit. On the Atlas V, the second stage is called Centaur. Once Centaur gets its payload where it needs to go, it separates, and then suicides down into Earth's atmosphere. Getting a payload into space is so expensive because you have to build up this huge and complicated rocket, with engines and guidance systems and fuel tanks and stuff, and then you basically use it for like 15 minutes and throw it all away. But what about the second stage? You've got a whole bunch of hardware that made it to orbit, and when getting stuff to orbit costs something like $2,500 per kilogram, you then tell it to go it burn itself up in the atmosphere, because otherwise it's just useless space junk." NanoRacks thinks this is wasteful, so they want to turn these tanks into deep space habitats. IEEE notes that the hydrogen fuel tank on a Centaur upper stage has a diameter of over 4 meters, and an interior volume of 54 cubic meters, while the inflatable BEAM module that arrived at the ISS earlier this year has an interior volume of 16 cubic meters. For more details, IEEE Spectrum spoke with Jeff Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, and Mike Johnson, NanoRacks' Chief Designer. You can read their responses here.

Astronauts Successfully Install Parking Spot At ISS ( 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: With more private spaceship traffic expected at the International Space Station in the coming years, two U.S. astronauts embarked on a spacewalk Friday to install a special parking spot for them. Americans Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins switched their spacesuits to internal battery power at 8:04 (1204 GMT) and floated outside the orbiting laboratory to begin the work of attaching the first of two international docking adaptors. The spacewalkers finished the task in just over two hours. "With that, we have a new port of call," said NASA commentator Rob Navias, as the space station flew over Singapore at 10:40 am (1440 GMT). NASA describes the docking adaptor as a "metaphorical gateway to a future" that will allow a new generation of U.S. spacecraft -- the first since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 -- to carry astronauts to the space station. The second docking adaptor is expected to be installed in 2018. Built by Boeing, the circular adaptor measures around 42 inches (one meter) tall and about 63 inches wide. The adaptors will work with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon, two spaceships under construction that are planned to ferry astronauts to the space station. The docking adaptor is more sophisticated than past equipment because it will allow automatic parking instead of the current grapple and berthing process, which is managed by astronauts.

Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology ( 282

Chris Dixon, an American internet entrepreneur and investor in a range of tech and media companies including Kickstarter and Foursquare has written an essay on Medium highlighting some of the reasons why we should be excited about the future of technology. The reasons he has listed are as follows: 1. Self-Driving Cars: Self-driving cars exist today that are safer than human-driven cars in most driving conditions. Over the next 3-5 years they'll get even safer, and will begin to go mainstream.
2. Clean Energy: Attempts to fight climate change by reducing the demand for energy haven't worked. Fortunately, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs have been working hard on the supply side to make clean energy convenient and cost-effective.
3. Virtual and Augmented Reality: Computer processors only recently became fast enough to power comfortable and convincing virtual and augmented reality experiences. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars to make VR and AR more immersive, comfortable, and affordable.
4. Drones and Flying Cars: GPS started out as a military technology but is now used to hail taxis, get mapping directions, and hunt Pokemon. Likewise, drones started out as a military technology, but are increasingly being used for a wide range of consumer and commercial applications.
5. Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence has made rapid advances in the last decade, due to new algorithms and massive increases in data collection and computing power.
6. Pocket Supercomputers for Everyone: By 2020, 80% of adults on earth will have an internet-connected smartphone. An iPhone 6 has about 2 billion transistors, roughly 625 times more transistors than a 1995 Intel Pentium computer. Today's smartphones are what used to be considered supercomputers.
7. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains: Protocols are the plumbing of the internet. Most of the protocols we use today were developed decades ago by academia and government. Since then, protocol development mostly stopped as energy shifted to developing proprietary systems like social networks and messaging apps. Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are changing this by providing a new business model for internet protocols. This year alone, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for a broad range of innovative blockchain-based protocols.
8. High-Quality Online Education: While college tuition skyrockets, anyone with a smartphone can study almost any topic online, accessing educational content that is mostly free and increasingly high-quality.
9. Better Food through Science: Earth is running out of farmable land and fresh water. This is partly because our food production systems are incredibly inefficient. It takes an astounding 1799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. Fortunately, a variety of new technologies are being developed to improve our food system.
10. Computerized Medicine: Until recently, computers have only been at the periphery of medicine, used primarily for research and record keeping. Today, the combination of computer science and medicine is leading to a variety of breakthroughs.
11. A New Space Age: Since the beginning of the space age in the 1950s, the vast majority of space funding has come from governments. But that funding has been in decline: for example, NASA's budget dropped from about 4.5% of the federal budget in the 1960s to about 0.5% of the federal budget today.


US Air Force Wants To Plasma Bomb The Sky To Improve Radio Communication ( 159

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: [The U.S. Air Force has plans to improve radio communication over long distances by detonating plasma bombs in the upper atmosphere using a fleet of micro satellites. It's not the first time we've tried to improve radio communication by tinkering with the ionosphere. HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Alaska, stimulates the ionosphere with radiation from ground-based antennas to produce radio-reflecting plasma.] Now the USAF wants to do this more efficiently, with tiny satellites -- such as CubeSats -- carrying large volumes of ionized gas directly into the ionosphere. As well as increasing the range of radio signals, the USAF says it wants to smooth out the effects of solar winds, which can knock out GPS, and also investigate the possibility of blocking communication from enemy satellites. [There are at least two major challenges. One is building a plasma generator small enough to fit on a CubeSat -- roughly 10 centimeters cubed. Then there's the problem of controlling exactly how the plasma will disperse once it is released. The USAF has awarded three contracts to teams who are sketching out ways to tackle the approach. The best proposal will be selected for a second phase in which plasma generators will be tested in vacuum chambers and exploratory space flights.]

Satellite Images Can Map Poverty ( 120

A new study using satellite images and machine learning plans to map poverty from space in an effort to "fix the world's problems." Satellite imagery can be less dangerous, slow and expensive than gathering the data on the ground. BBC reports: "A team from Stanford University were able to train a computer system to identify impoverished areas from satellite and survey data in five African countries. The latest study looked at daylight images that capture features such as paved roads and metal roofs -- markers that can help distinguish different levels of economic wellbeing in developing countries. They then used a sophisticated computer model to categorize the various indicators in daytime satellite images of Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Malawi. 'If you give a computer enough data it can figure out what to look for. We trained a computer model to find things in imagery that are predictive of poverty,' said Dr Burke. 'It finds things like roads, like urban areas, like farmland, it finds waterways -- those are things we recognize. It also finds things we don't recognize. It finds patterns in imagery that to you or I don't really look like anything... but it's something the computer has figured out is predictive of where poor people are.' The researchers used imagery from countries for which survey data were available to validate the computer model's findings." The results of the study are published in the journal Science.

Astronauts To Install A Parking Space For SpaceX and Boeing At The ISS ( 75

Since Boeing and SpaceX will begin sending NASA astronauts into orbit next year, the International Space Station is going to need a place for them to park. Astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins will journey outside the ISS on Friday to install a new docking adapter for these two private companies. Popular Mechanics reports: "Installing these adapters is a necessary step in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which seeks to spur development of commercial crew spacecraft. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 8:05 a.m. on Friday, and live coverage will start at 6:30. This will be Williams' fourth spacewalk, and Rubins' first." In the meantime, you can watch this video describing exactly what the spacewalk will entail.

From Now On You'll Be Able To Access NASA Research For Free ( 64

An anonymous reader writes:Fancy some super nerdy bedtime reading? NASA has announced that it will now provide public access to all journal articles on research funded by the agency. Any scientists publishing NASA-funded work will be required to upload their papers to a free, online database called PubSpace within a year of publication. PubSpace is managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) PubMed Central, which archives biomedical research. You can see NASA-funded studies here, with recent examples including a paper on cardiovascular disease in Apollo astronauts and one on Martian tsunamis caused by meteor impacts. NASA explains that the new web portal is a response to a 2013 government request for federally-funded research to be more accessible. There are a few obvious exceptions to what's included, such as and material that's related to national security or affected by export controls. NASA's openness follows a trend to make science results more accessible outside of published, often paywalled journals.

Intel Unveils Project Alloy 'Merged Reality' Wireless Headset ( 43

MojoKid writes: Intel CEO Bryan Krzanich took to the stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco today to kick off this year's Intel Developers Forum. Kyrzanich unveiled a number of new projects and products including a product code-named "Project Alloy." The device is an un-tethered, merged reality Head Mounted Device (HMD) that combines compute, graphics, multiple RealSense modules, various sensors, and batteries into a self-contained headset that offers a full six degrees of freedom. Unlike the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, Project Alloy does not need to be wired to a PC or other device and it does not require externally mounted sensors to define a virtual space. Instead, it uses RealSense cameras to map the actual physical world you're in while wearing the HMD. The RealSense cameras also allow the device to bring real-world objects into the virtual world, or vice versa. The cameras and sensors used in Project Alloy offer full depth sensing, so obstacles can be mapped, and people and objects within camera range -- like your hand, for example -- can be brought into the virtual world and accurately tracked. During a live, on-stage demo performed by Intel's Craig Raymond, Craig's hand was tracked and all five digits, complete with accurate bones and joint locations, were brought into the the VR/AR experience. Project Alloy will be supported by Microsoft's Windows Holographics Shell framework.

Cable Expands Broadband Domination as AT&T and Verizon Lose Customers ( 104

The cable industry's grip on the U.S. broadband space increased last quarter, with Comcast and Charter gaining nearly 500,000 subscribers, combined. Phone companies AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, and Frontier, however, all lost Internet customers. ArsTechnica reports:The 14 largest ISPs, accounting for 95 percent of the US market, gained 192,510 Internet customers in Q2 2016, bringing the total to 91.9 million, Leichtman Research Group reported today. Cable companies accounted for all of the gains, adding 553,293 subscribers for a new total of 57 million. The phone companies lost 360,783 subscribers, bringing them down to 34.9 million. Phone companies' losses more than doubled since Q2 2015, when they lost about 150,000 subscribers. [...] Comcast and Charter, the two biggest ISPs, led the way in subscriber gains. Comcast added 220,000 broadband subscribers to boost its total to 24 million, while Charter (the new owner of Time Warner Cable) added 277,000 subscribers for a new total of 21.8 million. AT&T lost 123,000 subscribers, lowering its total to 15.6 million. Verizon lost 83,000, leaving it with 7 million Internet customers. CenturyLink and Frontier lost 66,000 and 77,000, respectively.

China Launches World's First Quantum Communications Satellite ( 102

hackingbear quotes a report from The Verge: China's quantum network could soon span two continents, thanks to a satellite launched earlier today. Launched at 1:40pm ET, the Quantum Science Satellite is designed to distribute quantum-encrypted keys between relay stations in China and Europe. When working as planned, the result could enable unprecedented levels of security between parties on different continents. China's new satellite would put that same fiber-based quantum communication system to work over the air, utilizing high-speed coherent lasers to connect with base stations on two different continents. The experimental satellite's payload also includes controllers and emitters related to quantum entanglement. The satellite will be the first device of its kind if the quantum equipment works as planned. According to the Wall Street Journal, the project was first proposed to the European Space Agency in 2001 but was unable to gain funding.

There May Be A Fifth Force of Nature, Study Suggests ( 240

According to a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, physicists at the University of California, Irvine, may have discovered a previously unknown subatomic particle that's evidence of a fifth fundamental force of nature. reports: "[Professor of physics and astronomy Jonathan Feng] and his colleagues analyzed data gathered recently by experimental nuclear physicists at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who were trying to find 'dark photons' -- hypothetical indicators of mysterious dark matter. Dark matter is thought to make up about 85 percent of all matter in the universe, but it neither absorbs nor emits light, so it's impossible to detect directly. 'The experimentalists weren't able to claim that it was a new force,' Feng said. 'They simply saw an excess of events that indicated a new particle, but it was not clear to them whether it was a matter particle or a force-carrying particle.' The new work by Feng and his team suggests that the Hungarians found not a 'dark photon' but rather a 'protophobic X boson' -- a strange particle whose existence could indicate a fifth force of nature. The known electromagnetic force acts on protons and electrons, but this newfound particle apparently interacts only with protons and neutrons, and then only at very short distances, researchers said. The potential fifth force may be linked to the electromagnetic and strong and weak nuclear forces, as 'manifestations of one grander, more fundamental force,' Feng said. It's also possible that the universe of 'normal' matter and forces has a parallel 'dark' sector, with its own matter and forces, Feng added. 'It's possible that these two sectors talk to each other and interact with one another through somewhat veiled but fundamental interactions,' Feng said. 'This dark-sector force may manifest itself as this protophobic force we're seeing as a result of the Hungarian experiment. In a broader sense, it fits in with our original research to understand the nature of dark matter.'"

Locke2005 writes: I've always speculated that there might be forces of nature that we never observed because they were on a much larger or smaller scale than we could detect easily. But now Jonathan Feng, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, is suggesting there may actually be a fifth force. Of course, this might vanish just like the Higgs Boson evidence did. Can anybody explain better what it was they detected, and why it is being interpreted as evidence of a previously unknown force?

Astronomers To Announce Discovery of a Nearby 'Earth-Like' Planet ( 344

astroengine quotes a report from Seeker: Scientists are preparing to unveil a new planet in our galactic neighborhood which is "believed to be Earth-like" and orbits its star at a distance that could favor life, German weekly Der Spiegel reported Friday. The exoplanet orbits a well-investigated star called Proxima Centauri, part of the Alpha Centauri star system, the magazine said, quoting anonymous sources.

"The still nameless planet is believed to be Earth-like and orbits at a distance to Proxima Centauri that could allow it to have liquid water on its surface -- an important requirement for the emergence of life," said the magazine.

It's orbiting our sun's nearest neighboring star -- just 4.25 light years away -- meaning it could someday be considered for the world's first interstellar mission.

Fourth SpaceX Rocket Successfully Landed on A Drone Ship ( 71

Saturday a SpaceX rocket completed the company's fourth successful landing at sea (watched by over 100,000 viewers on YouTube and Flickr). Saturday's landing means Elon Musk's company has now recovered more than half the rockets they've launched. An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes Saturday's report from The Verge: Tonight's landing was particularly challenging for SpaceX... The Falcon 9 had to carry its onboard satellite -- called JCSAT-16 -- into...a highly elliptical orbit that takes the satellite 20,000 miles out beyond Earth's surface. Getting to GTO requires a lot of speed and uses up a lot of fuel during take off, more so than getting to lower Earth orbit. That makes things difficult for the rocket landing afterward...there's less fuel leftover for the vehicle to reignite its engines and perform the necessary landing maneuvers.

CEO Elon Musk said the company is aiming to launch its first landed rocket sometime this fall...SpaceX's president, Gwynne Shotwell, estimates that reusing these landed Falcon 9 vehicles will lead to a 30 percent reduction in launch costs.

SpaceX named their drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You."

Maybe There's No Life in Space Because We're Too Early 250

Long-time Slashdot reader sehlat shares "a highly accessible summary" of a new theory about why we haven't yet find life on other planets -- that "we're not latecomers, but very, very early." From Lab News: The universe is 13.8 billion years old, with Earth forming less than five billion years ago. One school of thought among scientists is that there is life billions of years older than us in space. But this recent study in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics argues otherwise... "We find that the chance of life grows much higher in the distant future..."

Stars larger than approximately three times the Sun's mass will perish before life has a chance to evolve... The smallest stars weigh less than a tenth as much as the sun and will glow for 10 trillion years, meaning life has lot of time to begin on those planets orbiting them in the 'habitable zone'. The probability of life increases over time so the chance of life is many times higher in the distant future than now.

The paper ultimately concludes that life "is most likely to exist near 0.1 solar-mass stars ten trillion years from now."

How a 1967 Solar Storm Nearly Led To Nuclear War ( 66

schwit1 quotes a report from A powerful solar storm nearly heated the Cold War up catastrophically a half century ago, a new study suggests. The U.S. Air Force began preparing for war on May 23, 1967, thinking that the Soviet Union had jammed a set of American surveillance radars. But military space-weather forecasters intervened in time, telling top officials that a powerful sun eruption was to blame, according to the study. "Had it not been for the fact that we had invested very early on in solar and geomagnetic storm observations and forecasting, the impact [of the storm] likely would have been much greater," Delores Knipp, a space physicist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the study's lead author, said in a statement. "This was a lesson learned in how important it is to be prepared." Initially, it was assumed that the Soviet Union was to blame. Since radar jamming is considered an act of war, "commanders quickly began preparing nuclear-weapon-equipped aircraft for launch." Spoiler: Solar forecasters at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) figured out it was a flare that caused the outages, not the Soviets. You can read the abstract of the paper for free here.

China Starts Developing Hybrid Hypersonic Spaceplane ( 90

hackingbear quotes a report from Popular Science: While SpaceX is making news with its recoverable rockets, China announced that it is working on the next big thing in spaceflight: a hypersonic spaceplane. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is beginning advanced research on a high tech, more efficient successor to the retired Space Shuttle, with hybrid combined cycle engines combining turbofan, ramjet, scramjet and rocket engines, that can takeoff from an airport's landing strip and fly straight into orbit. CASTC's rapid research timeline also suggests that the reports in 2015 of a Mach 4 test flight for a recoverable drone testbed for a combined cycle ramjet/turbofan engine were accurate. And China also has the world's largest hypersonic wind tunnel, the Mach 9 JF-12, which could be used to easily test hypersonic scramjets without costly and potentially dangerous flight testing at altitude. Its nearest competitor, the British Skylon in contrast uses pre-cooled jet engines built by Reaction Engines Limited to achieve hypersonic atmospheric flight, as opposed to scramjets. Both spacecraft will probably first fly around the mid 2020s.

First US Offshore Wind Farm To Usher In New Era For Industry ( 188

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Associated Press: The nation's first offshore wind farm is set to open off the coast of Rhode Island this fall, ushering in a new era in the U.S. for the industry. Developers, federal regulators and industry experts say the opening will move the U.S. industry from a theory to reality, paving the way for the construction of many more wind farms that will eventually provide power for many Americans. Deepwater Wind is building a five-turbine wind farm off Block Island, Rhode Island to power about 17,000 homes. The project costs about $300 million, according to the company. CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said the Block Island wind farm enables larger projects because it proves that wind farms can be built along the nation's coast. Offshore wind farms, which benefit from strong winds because of their location, are being proposed near population epicenters that lack the space to build on land. Indeed, several states are pushing ambitious clean energy goals, which include offshore wind. Among them is California, which has a target of generating 50 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030. Vermont hopes to hit 55 percent by next year and Hawaii has called for 100 percent renewable power by 2045.

Barry Jenner, Who Played Admiral Ross On 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,' Dies At 75 ( 59

New submitter bufo333 quotes a report from Deadline: Character actor Barry Jenner, best known for his pivotal role as Admiral William Ross on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and with credits including recurring roles on "Dallas," "Knott's Landing," "Family Matters" and many others, died on August 9, his family has announced. He was 75.

Venus May Have Been Habitable, Says NASA ( 211

EzInKy writes: Science Daily has an article speculating that Venus may have been habitable which is suggested by NASA climate modeling, which proposes that Venus may have had a shallow liquid-water ocean and habitable surface temperatures for up to two billion years of its early history. Talk about global climate change run amok. Venus may represent a near Earth example of what is in store for the future of our world if we don't make it a number one priority to address. Science Daily reports: "Venus today is a hellish world. It has a crushing carbon dioxide atmosphere 90 times as thick as Earth's. There is almost no water vapor. Temperatures reach 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius) at its surface. Scientists have long theorized that Venus formed out of ingredients similar to Earth's, but followed a different evolutionary path. Measurements by NASA's Pioneer mission to Venus in the 1980s first suggested Venus originally may have had an ocean. However, Venus is closer to the sun than Earth and receives far more sunlight. As a result, the planet's early ocean evaporated, water-vapor molecules were broken apart by ultraviolet radiation, and hydrogen escaped to space. With no water left on the surface, carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere, leading to a so-called runaway greenhouse effect that created present conditions."

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight With Up To 200 Meteors Per Hour ( 62

The Perseid meteor shower happens ever year in August, but this year it will be especially spectacular with twice as many shooting stars streaking across the night sky. Los Angeles Times reports: "In past years, stargazers would have seen up to one meteor each minute, on average, in a very dark sky. But this year, there's even more reason to stay up late or crawl out of bed in the middle of the night. 'We're expecting 160 to 200 meteors per hour,' said Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. This year's 'outburst' of shooting stars was set into motion more than a year ago, when Jupiter passed closer than usual to the stream of dusty debris left in the wake of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Jupiter's gravity field tugged a large clump of the tiny particles closer to Earth's eventual path. These intense displays happen once a decade or so, Cooke said. The next one won't be until 2027 or 2028." The best viewing experience will be away from the city. Since it takes roughly 30-45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, it's recommended you don't pull out your smartphone or excessively shine your flashlight around. The Los Angeles Times has a neat infographic of the Perseid meteor shower.

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