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California Launches First Statewide Earthquake Early Warning System

Sat, 2019-10-19 01:30
hcs_$reboot writes: Everyone in California will now receive earthquake alerts on their phones seconds before the ground begins to shake, giving residents up to 20 seconds of warning before shaking begins. Developed by seismologists at the University of California, Berkeley, the MyShake application (residents will need to download the app to receive the alerts in areas without cell phone coverage) is designed to alert the public when a magnitude 4.5 earthquake or greater has been detected and has been shown to be faster than other alert delivery methods. The wireless emergency alerts will be sent in the event of a more significant quake, magnitude 5.0 or greater. The system does not predict earthquakes. Rather, it uses numerous seismic stations to detect the start of an earthquake and light-speed communications to send the data to computers that instantly calculate location, magnitude, intensity of shaking and create alerts to be distributed to areas that will be affected. When the MyShake app was released back in 2016 it already detected over 200 earthquakes in more than ten countries. A paper describing the early results gives a general idea of the app's success: "On a typical day about 8,000 phones provide acceleration waveform data to the MyShake archive. The on-phone app can detect and trigger on P waves and is capable of recording magnitude 2.5 and larger events. The largest number of waveforms from a single earthquake to date comes from the M5.2 Borrego Springs earthquake in Southern California, for which MyShake collected 103 useful three-component waveforms. The network continues to grow with new downloads from the Google Play store everyday and expands rapidly when public interest in earthquakes peaks such as during an earthquake sequence."

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Motorola Teases the New Razr Phone In November Event Invitation

Sat, 2019-10-19 00:50
Motorola has sent out invitations to an event on Nov. 13, where the rumored foldable Razr phone could launch. CNET reports: Motorola said the evening event in downtown Los Angeles will feature the "highly anticipated unveiling of a reinvented icon." The save the date is a gif showing a device being folded and unfolded. "An original unlike any other," it reads, also displaying the numeric 11/13/19 date. According to the invitation, the event will feature special guests and musical performers, as well as "a journey through immersive experiences." "You're going to flip," Motorola's invite says. Motorola's Razr phone is rumored to have a foldable screen, but instead of opening out into a tablet, the phone could fold vertically to fit inside pockets. "It's also been reported that the phone will cost $1,500; measure 6.2 inches; run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor; come in white, black and gold; and have a 2,730mAh battery, 4GB or 6GB of RAM and 64GM or 128GB of storage," reports CNET.

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DeepMind AI Beats Humans At Deciphering Damaged Ancient Greek Tablets

Sat, 2019-10-19 00:10
An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: Yannis Assael at DeepMind and his colleagues trained a neural network, a type of AI algorithm, to guess missing words or characters from Greek inscriptions, on surfaces including stone, ceramic and metal, that were between 1500 and 2600 years old. The AI, called Pythia, learned to recognize patterns in 35,000 relics, containing more than 3 million words. The patterns it picks up on include the context in which different words appear, the grammar, and also the shape and layout of the inscriptions. Given an inscription with missing information, Pythia provides 20 different suggestions that could plug the gap, with the idea that someone could then select the best one using their own judgement and subject knowledge. "It's all about how we can help the experts," says Assael. To test the system, the team hid nine letters of a Greek personal name from Pythia. It managed to fill in the blanks. In a head-to-head test, where the AI attempted to fill the gaps in 2949 damaged inscriptions, human experts made 30 per cent more mistakes than the AI. Whereas the experts took 2 hours to get through 50 inscriptions, Pythia gave its guesses for the entire cohort in seconds. The arXiv paper is available here.

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MediaLab Buys Kik

Fri, 2019-10-18 23:30
The Kik Messenger app has officially been acquired by U.S.-based holding company MediaLab. The news comes just one day before the app was scheduled to shut down. From a report: The blog post noted that MediaLab plans to keep the app alive and also outlines ideas it has to improve the app moving forward. It is noted that the acquiring company plans to partner with Kik CEO Ted Livingston and the remaining 19 team members and is still dedicated to expanding the Kin integration. MediaLab stated that it has a long term commitment to Kik and seeing the app succeed, but also noted the urgent need to cover expenses. The blog post stated that in the coming weeks ads will be introduced to Kik Messenger. The holding company acknowledged that some Kik users may not like this idea, but stated plans to bring in the ads in a "non-intrusive" way that "in no way takes away from what makes Kik great." "No annoying full screen video takeovers or things like that," the blog post stated. Other changes MediaLab plans to make to the app include pulling back features it said were not optimized. Kik's video chat toggle and third party bots platform will be discontinued, with MediaLab noting that it wants to eradicate spam bots and unwanted messages. It also stated it will update the app's software to make it faster, more reliable, and "less buggy." "Ted Livingston and the rest of the team at Kik have spent the last nine years building something truly special," the blog post stated. "At the risk of sounding cheesy, we are still passionate believers in what the internet promised to bring in its early days -- a connected and shared experience amongst people regardless of geography or time zone. Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations."

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Imgur Won't Support Reddit's NSFW Communities Anymore Because They Put Its 'Business At Risk'

Fri, 2019-10-18 22:50
In a blog post published earlier this week, image-sharing site Imgur wrote that it won't display any content from Reddit's NSFW communities on its site. The Verge reports: If you search for, say, r/NSFW on Imgur, you'll hit a landing page that reads: "As of Oct 2019, Imgur will no longer display NSFW Imgur r/subsections associated with Reddit subreddits." They also helpfully link to a couple alternatives that you can use in Imgur's place. No content, however, has been deleted or moved, and any NSFW images previously uploaded to Reddit and hosted on Imgur are staying at their original URLs. You can also still upload NSFW images to Imgur as long as they're marked "hidden." The move came because, as Imgur wrote in its post, "over the years, these pages have put Imgur's user growth, mission, and business at risk." That's oddly strong language to use, and it points to Reddit's own problems with moderation.

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Home Builders Ditch Nest After Google Ties Devices To Digital Assistant

Fri, 2019-10-18 22:10
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Several residential builders have stopped buying and installing Google's Nest devices after the internet giant overhauled how Nest technology works with other gadgets. The Alphabet Inc. unit bought Nest in 2014 for $3.2 billion to enter the so-called smart-home market. Nest has become one of the largest makers of internet-connected thermostats, smoke alarms and locks. The devices were popular with builders who saw a Nest gadget as a way to increase the value of properties. But earlier this year, that began to change as Google exerted more control over Nest and started changing the underlying technology. As a more independent business, Nest developed software that helped its gadgets communicate with a wide range of products from other manufacturers, through accounts set up directly by users. As of the end of August this year, however, consumers need a Google account -- and access to the company's voice-based Google Assistant service -- to integrate new Nest products with other devices in their homes. The move may help the internet giant weave its Google Assistant deeper into people's lives. But for builders it's just a pain because Nest devices no longer work so well with the other gadgets they install in homes, such as audio and entertainment systems, and alarms and other security gear. It's also a less enticing user proposition with all the privacy permissions that Google Assistant requires. That's spurred some builders -- who collectively purchase tens of thousands of Nest devices each year -- to avoid Nest products.

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Indians Are Using TikTok To Learn English

Fri, 2019-10-18 21:30
China's TikTok this week launched an education program in India as the popular short-video app looks to expand its offering and assuage local authority in one of its biggest markets. From a report: This is the first time TikTok has launched a program of this kind in any market, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. TkTok, owned by the world's most valued startup Bytedance, said it's working with a number of content creators and firms in India to populate the platform with educational videos. These bite-sized clips cover a range of topics, from school-level science and math concepts to learning new languages. The social app is also featuring videos that offer tips on health and mental awareness, and motivational talks. The social platform, which is used by more than 200 million users in India every month, said its education program is aimed at "democratizing learning for the Indian digital community on the platform." (TikTok had 120 million monthly active users in April this year.) It has partnered with edtech startups Vedantu, Toppr, Made Easy and Gradeup that will produce educational content for TikTok.

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Boeing Pilot Complained of 'Egregious' Issue With 737 Max in 2016

Fri, 2019-10-18 20:50
A Boeing pilot working on the 737 Max said in messages from 2016 that a new automated system was making the plane difficult to control in flight simulators, more than two years before it was grounded following two deadly crashes. From a report: The pilot, Mark Forkner, complained that the system, known as MCAS, was causing him trouble. "It's running rampant in the sim," he said in a message to a colleague, referring to the simulator. "Granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious," he went on to say, according to a transcript of the exchange reviewed by The New York Times. The 737 Max was grounded earlier this year after crashing twice in five months, killing 346 people. In both cases, MCAS malfunctioned based on erroneous data, sending the planes into unrecoverable nose dives. Mr. Forkner, the chief technical pilot for the plane, went on to say that he had lied to the Federal Aviation Administration. "I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)," Mr. Forkner says in the messages. The messages are from November 2016. Eight months earlier, Mr. Forkner had asked the F.A.A. if it would be O.K. to remove mention of MCAS from the pilot's manual. The F.A.A., which at the time believed the system would only activate in rare cases and wasn't particularly dangerous, approved Mr. Forkner's request.

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Lebanon Withdraws Plan To Charge a Fee on WhatsApp Calls as the Country Faces Its Biggest Protests

Fri, 2019-10-18 20:10
Demonstrators and police clashed in Lebanon this week as thousands of people rallied against the government's handling of an economic crisis, in one of the biggest protests the country has seen in years. From a report: The government-backed down from plans, announced hours earlier, to tax voice calls made through the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging software as people vented their anger at the political elite in the second nationwide protests in less than a month. Protesters blocked roads across Lebanon with burning tyres and security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators in central Beirut early on Friday, Lebanese media said. Dozens of people were wounded, the Red Cross said. Lebanon's internal security forces said 60 police were wounded. "I was sitting at home and I saw the people on the move and so I came out," said Cezar Shaaya, an accountant protesting in Beirut. "I am married, I have mortgage payments due every month and I am not working. It's the state's fault."

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Facebook Portal Sales Are 'Very Low'

Fri, 2019-10-18 19:30
Facebook's Portal video-chat device -- which puts a camera and a sensitive microphone in your living room -- isn't flying off the shelves, Fast Company reported Friday, citing supply-chain sources and store sales reps. From the report: The device, which launched a little over a year ago, has been plagued by the privacy concerns of would-be buyers from the start. And Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin tells Fast Company that his sources at the companies that supply parts for the Portal say that shipments of the devices are "very low." "The orders for the components were not high to begin with, and the build volumes were low," Bajarin says. "They [Facebook] never meant to build up a large inventory." Bajarin says the Portal is selling in the "hundreds of thousands" per year range, not in the millions. Rakuten, which tracks online device sales, says Portal accounts for 0.6% of units sold in the overall smart-speaker category, and 3.9% of smart speakers with screens (such as Amazon's Echo Show and Google Home). Anecdotal accounts seem to echo Bajarin's sources. A sales rep at a Best Buy store in midtown Manhattan said they'd sold "hardly any" of the Portals at all. And a rep at the main San Francisco store said the devices sold reasonably well when they launched last year but have slowed since then.

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Canonical Releases Ubuntu Linux 19.10 Eoan Ermine with GNOME 3.34, Light Theme, and Raspberry Pi 4 Support

Fri, 2019-10-18 18:50
Following the beta period, one of the best and most popular Linux-based desktop operating systems reaches a major milestone -- you can now download Ubuntu 19.10! Code-named "Eoan Ermine", the distro is better and faster then ever. From a report: By default, Ubuntu 19.10 comes with one of the greatest desktop environments -- GNOME 3.34. In addition, users will be delighted by an all-new optional Yaru light theme. There is even baked-in support for the Raspberry Pi 4. The kernel is based on Linux 5.3 and comes with support for AMD Navi GPUs. There are plenty of excellent pre-installed programs too, such as LibreOffice 6.3, Firefox 69, and Thunderbird 68. While many users will be quick to install Google Chrome, I would suggest giving Firefox a try -- it has improved immensely lately. "With GNOME 3.34, Ubuntu 19.10 is the fastest release yet with significant performance improvements delivering a more responsive and smooth experience, even on older hardware. App organization is easier with the ability to drag and drop icons into categorized folders, while users can select light or dark Yaru theme variants depending on their preference or for improved viewing accessibility. Native support for ZFS on the root partition is introduced as an experimental desktop installer option. Coupled with the new zsys package, benefits include automated snapshots of file system states, allowing users to boot to a previous update and easily roll forwards and backwards in case of failure," says Canonical.

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US Astronauts Embark on the First All-Female Spacewalk

Fri, 2019-10-18 18:13
U.S. astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history on Friday when they stepped outside the International Space Station (ISS) on the first all-female spacewalk. From a report: The much-anticipated milestone for NASA was achieved during a relatively routine mission to swap faulty batteries on the station's exterior. Koch and Meir, clad in white spacesuits and tethered by cords to the station some 254 miles (408 km) above Earth, stepped into outer space at 7:38 a.m. Eastern time (1138 GMT) to replace a faulty power unit designed to help condition energy stored from the station's solar panels, NASA announced online as it showed live video of the action. Today, President Trump took a few moments out of his day to speak with Koch and Meir. From a report: While speaking with the pair, Trump mistakenly suggested this was the first female spacewalk ever -- a point that the astronauts corrected him on. "This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station," Trump said. He later added: "You are amazing people; they're conducting the first ever female spacewalk to replace an exterior part of the space station. They're doing some work, and they're doing it in a very high altitude -- an altitude that very few people will ever see." In her response, Meir made it clear that they were building on the work of many previous women who had spacewalked before them. "We don't want to take too much credit because there have been many other female spacewalkers before," Meir said. "This is the first time that there's been two women outside at the same time." In the history of spaceflight, only 15 women have ever spacewalked, including Meir and Koch.

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Banning Out-of-Hours Email 'Could Harm Employee Wellbeing'

Fri, 2019-10-18 17:30
Banning staff from accessing their work emails outside office hours could do more harm than good to employee wellbeing, a study suggests. From a report: University of Sussex researchers found while a ban could help some staff switch off, it could also stop people achieving work goals, causing stress. Companies are increasingly curbing email use to tackle burnout. France has even legislated on the issue. But human resources body CIPD said it agreed with the university's findings. According to the research, strict policies on email use could be harmful to employees with "high levels of anxiety and neuroticism." That was because such employees needed to feel free to respond to a "growing accumulation of emails", or they could end up feeling even more stressed and overloaded, the researchers said. Dr Emma Russell, a senior lecturer in management at the University of Sussex Business School, said despite the best intentions of policies limiting email use, a one-size-fits-all approach should be avoided. "[Blanket bans] would be unlikely to be welcomed by employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed. People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload."

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Oracle Co-CEO Mark Hurd Passes Away

Fri, 2019-10-18 16:50
Mark Hurd, who was co-chief of Oracle, one of the world's top business-software firms, until he stepped aside last month for health reasons, died Friday. He was 62. From a report: "Oracle has lost a brilliant and beloved leader who personally touched the lives of so many of us during his decade at Oracle," Oracle chairman Larry Ellison wrote. "All of us will miss Mark's keen mind and rare ability to analyze, simplify, and solve problems quickly. Some of us will miss his friendship and mentorship. I will miss his kindness and sense of humor." Hurd announced a leave of absence from Oracle in September due to unspecified health reasons. Oracle stock had gone up about 37% since he and Safra Catz were appointed as CEOs in September 2014.

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Multifactor Authentication Issue Hitting North American Azure, Office 365 Users

Fri, 2019-10-18 16:10
A widespread multifactor authentication (MFA) issue is hitting a number of Microsoft customers in North America this morning. From a report: The exact cause of the problem is not clear at the moment, but Microsoft's engineering team says it is working on it. "Customers in North America are experiencing issues with Sign-in when Multi-Factor Authentication is enabled. Engineering team is currently investigating the issue and will send out an update as soon as possible." The Microsoft 365 Status twitter account, as of 10:45 a.m. ET, said: "We're investigating issues where users may be unable to access the admin center when using MFA. We'll provide an update shortly." I've asked Microsoft for an update. No word back so far. Users are reporting they cannot sign into Office 365 or access any of their Office 365 apps and services. Office 365 uses Azure Active Directory for authentication.

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Google Hardware Chief Says He Does Not Know Why Pixel 4 Smartphone With Snapdragon 855 Processor Can't Support 4K Video Recording at 60FPS

Fri, 2019-10-18 15:30
Google's latest flagship smartphones -- the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL -- do not support video recording in 4K at 60 frames per second. This has disappointed -- and puzzled -- many fans especially since other smartphones that are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 do offer this video recording functionality. (Recent generation of iPhone models also offer this functionality.) Folks over at The Verge asked Rick Osterloh, the hardware chief at Google, where the bottleneck lied. "I don't know," responded the chief.

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Facing Unbearable Heat, Qatar Has Begun To Air-Condition the Outdoors

Fri, 2019-10-18 14:50
It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade outside the new Al Janoub soccer stadium, and the air felt to air-conditioning expert Saud Ghani as if God had pointed "a giant hair dryer" at Qatar. From a report: Yet inside the open-air stadium, a cool breeze was blowing. Beneath each of the 40,000 seats, small grates adorned with Arabic-style patterns were pushing out cool air at ankle level. And since cool air sinks, waves of it rolled gently down to the grassy playing field. Vents the size of soccer balls fed more cold air onto the field. Ghani, an engineering professor at Qatar University, designed the system at Al Janoub, one of eight stadiums that the tiny but fabulously rich Qatar must get in shape for the 2022 World Cup. His breakthrough realization was that he had to cool only people, not the upper reaches of the stadium -- a graceful structure designed by the famed Zaha Hadid Architects and inspired by traditional boats known as dhows. "I don't need to cool the birds," Ghani said. Qatar, the world's leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, may be able to cool its stadiums, but it cannot cool the entire country. Fears that the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans might wilt or even die while shuttling between stadiums and metros and hotels in the unforgiving summer heat prompted the decision to delay the World Cup by five months. It is now scheduled for November, during Qatar's milder winter. The change in the World Cup date is a symptom of a larger problem -- climate change. Already one of the hottest places on Earth, Qatar has seen average temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above preindustrial times, the current international goal for limiting the damage of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate summit said it would be better to keep temperatures "well below" that, ideally to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F). [...] To survive the summer heat, Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors -- in markets, along sidewalks, even at outdoor malls so people can window shop with a cool breeze. "If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively," says Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development. Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. In Qatar, total cooling capacity is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030, according to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference. And it's going to get hotter.

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Most U.S. Dairy Cows Are Descended From Just 2 Bulls. That's Not Good

Fri, 2019-10-18 14:13
Chad Dechow, a geneticist at Pennsylvania State University who studies dairy cows, is explaining how all of America's cows ended up so similar to each other. From a report: He brings up a website on his computer. "This is the company Select Sires," he says. It's one of just a few companies in the United States that sells semen from bulls for the purpose of artificially inseminating dairy cows. Dechow chooses the lineup of Holstein bulls. This is the breed that dominates the dairy business. They're the black-and-white animals that give a lot of milk. Dairy farmers can go to this online catalog and pick a bull, and the company will ship doses of semen to impregnate their cows. "There's one bull -- we figure he has well over a quarter-million daughters," Dechow says. The companies rank their bulls based on how much milk their daughters have produced. Dechow picks one from the top of the list, a bull named Frazzled. "His daughters are predicted to produce 2,150 pounds more milk than daughters of the average bull," he says, reading from the website. Farmers like to buy semen from top-ranked bulls, and the companies keep breeding even better bulls, mating their top performers with the most productive cows. "They keep selecting the same families over and over again," Dechow says. A few years ago, Dechow and some of his colleagues at Penn State made a discovery that shocked a lot of people. All the Holstein bulls that farmers were using could trace their lineage back to one of just two male ancestors. "Everything goes back to two bulls born in the 1950s and 1960s," he says. "Their names were Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation and Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief." This doesn't mean that the bulls in the catalog are genetically identical. They still had lots of different mothers, as well as grandmothers. But it does show that this system of large-scale artificial insemination, with farmers repeatedly picking top-rated bulls, has made cows more genetically similar. Meanwhile, genetic traits that existed in Holstein cows a generation ago have disappeared.

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Physicists Propose Listening For Dark Matter With Plasma-Based 'Axion Radio'

Fri, 2019-10-18 13:00
Physicists at Stockholm University and the Max Planck Institute of Physics have proposed a novel design for an "axion radio" that employs cold plasmas (gases or liquids of charged particles) to "listen" for dark matter. Their paper has been published in the journal Physical Review Letters. Ars Technica reports: "Finding the axion is a bit like tuning a radio: you have to tune your antenna until you pick up the right frequency," said co-author Alexander Millar, a postdoc at Stockholm University. "Rather than music, experimentalists would be rewarded with 'hearing' the dark matter that the Earth is traveling through." [...] According to quantum mechanics, particles can exhibit wavelike behavior as well as particle characteristics. So an axion would behave more like a wave (or wave packet) than a particle, and the size of the wave packets is inversely proportional to their mass. That means these very light particles don't necessarily need to be tiny. The downside is that they interact even more weakly with regular matter than [weakly interacting massive particles], or WIMPS, so they cannot be produced in large colliders -- one current method for detecting WIMPs. Physicists don't know what the axion's mass might be, so there's a broad parameter space in which to search, and no single instrument can cover all of it, according to co-author Matthew Lawson, also a postdoc at Stockholm University. That's why physicists have been developing all kinds of smaller experiments for detecting axions, from atomic clocks and resonating bars, to shining lasers at walls on the off-chance a bit of dark matter seeps through the other side. Yet most instruments to date are capable of detecting axions only within a very limited mass range. [...] Lawson et al. have come up with an innovative design for a tunable plasma-based haloscope. Their proposed instrument exploits the fact that axions inside a strong magnetic field will generate their own small electric field. This in turn drives oscillations in the plasma, amplifying the signal. [...] At the moment, Lawson et al.'s design is theoretical, but several experimental groups are actively working on building prototypes. "The fact that the experimental community has latched onto this idea so quickly is very exciting and promising for building a full-scale experiment," said Millar.

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Rocket Lab Launches Highest Mission Yet To Put Astro Digital Satellite In Orbit

Fri, 2019-10-18 10:00
XXongo writes: Sometimes it seems that all the space news focuses on SpaceX, but another private rocket company, Rocket Lab, is also making history with their bargain-basement space launcher, the Electron. The Electron booster just completed its seventh launch, this time carrying a satellite to the highest orbit yet, 1000 km. The launch carried the Astro Digital "Corvus" satellite. At $5.7 million per launch, the company is the first of many space start-ups competing for the small-satellite launch business, a market too small to be of interest to the major launch companies like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. To lower costs further, Rocket Lab has announced its intention to make their booster reusable -- with plans to capture Electron's first stage in mid-air by helicopter.

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