SpaceX Starlink wins permit to send internet to customers like you

SpaceX has been busy building its Starlink satellite constellation. To date, the company has launched more than 350 of the internet-beaming satellites into orbit. But now, it’s snagged approval for another piece of crucial hardware: user terminals.

The FCC granted SpaceX permission to roll out up to 1 million of the ground-based terminals needed to operate its internet venture.

The approval comes nearly a year after SpaceX’s request and is suitable for 15 years. Announced in a public notice on March 18, the approval is a blanket license that covers the operation of up to 1,000,000 fixed earth station that will communicate with the satellite system.

Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, has described the terminals as a “UFO on a stick,” citing that they will be easy enough for anyone to install. They will come with just two basic instructions: plugin and point at the sky. (The terminals will have actuators that will ensure they’re pointing in the proper direction at all times.)

The goal of the Starlink project is to provide global internet coverage. Right now, we depend on satellites that are perched high above the Earth to beam down internet coverage or have it routed into our homes and businesses via cell towers and cables. However, these two options are not always a possibility, and often remote and rural areas are left without coverage or are forced to depend on sluggish services.

Musk aims to change that. By operating the fleet in low Earth orbit, SpaceX hopes to provide reliable coverage at an affordable price. Initially, the network of small, broadband satellites, will total 1,584, with the potential for thousands more. As of now, the company has FCC approval for 12,000 satellites and could eventually seek permission to launch 30,000 more.

But it’s not the only one: OneWeb and Amazon have similar constellations planned. OneWeb is the only other company with hardware in space. It has already launched two batches of 34 satellites each, joining an initial set of 6 launched in 2019. Its initial constellation is expected to consist of 650 satellites. However, the company has recently run into some financial issues. According to a recent report, OneWeb is considering filing for bankruptcy.

Musk has said that SpaceX will need at least 400 Starlink satellites in orbit for “minor” broadband coverage and 800 for “moderate” coverage. Service could roll out later this year to parts of the U.S. and Canada first, with international coverage following soon after.

So will SpaceX need more terminals? One million user terminals sound impressive, but it’s not near enough to cover homes in the U.S., let alone that world. But that’s ok because right now, Musk says that the company is targeting the places that are the hardest to reach for traditional telecommunications companies.

The project isn’t expected to have a lot of customers in major cities, as the bandwidth won’t be high enough, but for those currently without service, the chance to be connected will be crucial. According to a 2018 report issued by the United Nations, only around 58% of households worldwide had access to the internet.

Facebook video calls soar 1000% during Italy’s lockdown

Facebook has seen usage across its platforms surge in countries that have brought in virus lockdowns.

Italy – with some of the toughest restrictions – has seen the biggest rise, with group video calls rocketing by more than 1000% in the last month.

The social media giant said total messaging traffic on all its platforms had increased 50% on average across the hardest hit countries.

Facebook owns Instagram along with popular messaging app WhatsApp.

But the company said the higher usage won’t protect it from expected falls in digital advertising across the world.

“We don’t monetize many of the services where we’re seeing increased engagement,” Facebook wrote in a post on Tuesday.

Italy has a death toll now above 6,000 people from the virus.

Along with the huge rise in group video calls, the country has seen a 70% rise in time spent on Facebook-owned apps.

Facebook outlined steps it is taking to increase capacity during the heightened traffic as people are stuck indoors and working from home.

“We’re monitoring usage patterns carefully, making our systems more efficient, and adding capacity as required,” the post from Alex Schultz, vice president of analytics, and Jay Parikh, vice president of engineering wrote.

But it admitted this could become harder. “Maintaining stability throughout these spikes in usage is more challenging than usual now that most of our employees are working from home. We are experiencing new records in usage almost every day.”

Facebook has lowered video quality in Europe to help reduce demand on internet service providers. Amazon, Apple TV+ and Netflix have all announced similar measures.

The changes mean each video will use less data, putting less strain on networks already struggling with increased traffic as people stream more content while self-isolating at home.

WeWork board’s special committee is demanding that SoftBank follow through with investment

Five months after SoftBank agreed to a massive bailout of office-sharing start-up WeWork, a big part of the deal is in jeopardy of falling apart. A special committee to WeWork’s board is now trying to ensure that SoftBank doesn’t walk away.

In an emailed statement on Sunday, public relations firm Joele Frank said, “the Special Committee of the WeWork Board of Directors remains committed to taking all necessary actions to ensure that the tender offer which SoftBank has promised to our employees and shareholders is completed.”

Last week, reports surfaced that SoftBank may be backing off a $3 billion tender offer for WeWork shares, as SoftBank’s struggles with its Vision Fund are exacerbated by recent the market downturn. That commitment was part of a larger package, along with a $1.5 billion acceleration of equity it already promised and $5 billion in syndicated debt. WeWork needs the fresh cash after the company’s IPO fell apart last year.

SoftBank still plans to extend $5 billion in debt to WeWork, people familiar with matter told CNBC last week. The special committee wants to ensure that employee shares get purchased as well. The biggest single recipient in the payout would be co-founder and ex-CEO Adam Neumann, who was ousted after the board lost confidence in his ability to mange the company.

“SoftBank has made numerous assurances to employees, and reneging on the agreement would be completely unethical, especially given the current environment,” the statement said. “The Special Committee continues to believe that completing the tender offer is fair and in the best interest of the Company, its stockholders and all WeWork shareholders, including our employees and former employees.”

It’s an awkward situation considering that the agreement gave SoftBank 80% control over WeWork and designated Marcelo Claure, SoftBank’s operating chief, as WeWork’s executive chairman. 

Claure is not on the special committee, which consists of early investor Bruce Dunlevie of Benchmark and Lew Frankfort, former CEO of handbag maker Coach. 

SoftBank responded in a statement, saying that it “continues to honor its obligations” under the agreement and that WeWork hasn’t satisfied all the conditions required for the deal to close. Still, SoftBank says it’s provided over $5 billion in capital to WeWork since October.

“The main beneficiaries of the tender are Adam Neumann, large institutional investors, and some prior officers of the Company,” SoftBank said. “Current WeWork employees have already benefited greatly from the repricing of their options in an earlier phase of the tender offer and would receive less than 10 percent of the proceeds in the tender offer.”

Here is the full memo sent out on Sunday by the special committee:

“The Special Committee of the WeWork Board of Directors remains committed to taking all necessary actions to ensure that the tender offer which SoftBank has promised to our employees and shareholders is completed. Not only is SoftBank obligated to consummate the tender offer as detailed by the Master Transaction Agreement, but its excuses for not trying to close are inappropriate and dishonest. Further, SoftBank has made numerous assurances to employees, and reneging on the agreement would be completely unethical, especially given the current environment. The Special Committee continues to believe that completing the tender offer is fair and in the best interest of the Company, its stockholders and all WeWork shareholders, including our employees and former employees.”

Here is SoftBank’s full response:

“SoftBank continues to honor its obligations under the Master Transaction Agreement.  SoftBank has provided over $5 billion in working capital to WeWork since October.  The tender offer has no impact on SoftBank’s commitment to WeWork or on the financial strength of the business.  In October, all parties agreed to specific closing conditions to protect SoftBank.  SoftBank has informed stockholders that all of the agreed upon closing conditions must be satisfied before the tender offer can be completed.  As of now, they are not.  The main beneficiaries of the tender are Adam Neumann, large institutional investors, and some prior officers of the Company.  Current WeWork employees have already benefited greatly from the repricing of their options in an earlier phase of the tender offer and would receive less than 10 percent of the proceeds in the tender offer.”

NASA news: Curiosity rover snaps a breathtaking selfie on Mars – 360-degree panorama

NASA’s plucky Mars rover has just finished a steep trek up the Greenheugh Pediment, a large sheet of jagged rock on top of a Martian hill. Just before Curiosity climbed the Martian rock, the car-sized rover took a 360-degree selfie.

The selfie was stitched together from a total of 86 images beamed back to Earth from Mars.

Curiosity snapped the pictures on February 26, 2020, or the 2,687th Martian day of its mission.

You can see just behind rover the “crumbling rock layer” of the Greenheugh Pediment.

Further back in the background is the high point the rover reached this month.

NASA said: “In front of the rover is a hole it drilled while sampling a bedrock target called ‘Hutton’.

“The entire selfie is a 360-degree panorama stitched together from 86 images related to Earth.

“The selfie captures the rover about 11 feet (3.4m) below the point where it climbed onto the crumbling pediment.”

Curiosity completed the climb on March 6 or the 2,696th Martian day of its mission.

Since 2014, Curiosity has been based around Mount Sharp, a three mile (five kilometres) mountain at the centre of Gale Crater.

Gale Crater is believed to be the site of an ancient Martian lake where life could have once existed.

NASA’s rover is drilling out and analysing rock samples in the region in search of ancient biological material.

Before the Red Planet dried up, scientists believe Mars resembled a young Earth with a hot, dense and humid atmosphere.

NASA said: “On Earth, all forms of life need water to survive. It is likely, though not certain, that if life ever evolved on Mars, it did so in the presence of a long-standing supply of water.”

How does the Curiosity rover take its selfies?

The NASA robot is armed with a robotic arm or ‘selfie stick’ of sorts, which it uses to photograph Mars’ alien features.

Attached to the robotic arm is the Mars Hand Lens Camera or MAHLI, which Curiosity uses to take up-close snapshots of Martian rock and sand.

But the rover can use the camera to photograph Martian landscapes and selfies by swinging it around on its arm.

However, because the camera can only photograph small areas at once, the rover has to take multiple snapshots in a series.

The pictures are then stitched together into a single image such as the one above.

The same process is applied to the Master Camera or MastCam, a twin mounted camera on the rover’s head.

NASA said: “The Mastcam can be used to study the Martian landscape, rocks, and soils; to view weather phenomena; and to support the driving and sampling operations of the rover.”

There is a second camera mounted on the rover, the black-and-white Navigations Camera.

Diamond samples in Canada reveal size of lost continent

Canadian scientists have discovered a fragment of an ancient continent, suggesting that it was 10% larger than previously thought.

They were studying diamond samples from Baffin Island, a glacier-covered land mass near Greenland, when they noticed a remnant of North Atlantic Craton.

Cratons are ancient, stable parts of the Earth’s continental crust.

The North American Craton stretched from present-day Scotland to North America and broke apart 150m years ago.

Scientists chanced on the latest evidence as they examined exploration samples of kimberlite, a rock that often contains diamonds, from Baffin Island.

“For researchers, kimberlites are subterranean rockets that pick up passengers on their way to the surface,” University of British Columbia geologist Maya Kopylova said. “The passengers are solid chunks of wall rocks that carry a wealth of details on conditions far beneath the surface of our planet over time.”

Ms Kopylova and her colleagues says the sample bore a mineral signature that matched other portions of the North Atlantic Craton.

“Finding these ‘lost’ pieces is like finding a missing piece of a puzzle,” Ms Kopylova is quoted as saying in an article published by the University of British Columbia’s website.

The samples were taken from deep below the Chidliak Kimberlite Province in southern Baffin Island. Previous reconstructions of the Earth’s plates had been based on shallow rock samples formed at depths of one to 10km (six miles).

Ms Kopylova said the discovery adds about 10% to the known size of the craton. “Our knowledge is literally and symbolically deeper,” she said.

This Weird Shape Might Actually Be What Our Sun’s Magnetic Bubble Looks Like


Every planet in our Solar System, including our own, is enclosed in a bubble of solar wind, emanating from our Sun at supersonic speeds.

The particles making up this wind create an invisible magnetic field, which protects us from the rest of interstellar space. For decades now, astronomers have been analysing this system of radiation and magnetism known as a heliosphere, mapping its boundaries in an effort to figure out what it looks like.

A collaborative new model from experts at several different universities now suggests it’s a weird amalgamation of pretty much all our theories. 

For many years, scientists thought the heliosphere looked more like a comet or a wind sock, with a round nose at one end and a trailing tail at the other.

This is how it is usually depicted in textbooks and articles, but in recent years, there are two other shapes that seem more likely.

2g.Heliosphere Image main BoundariesLg

In 2015, data from the Voyager 1 spacecraft suggested there were two tails, making the heliosphere look more like a weird croissant. Two years later data from the Cassini mission suggested we should do away with the whole tails thing altogether, making it more like a giant beach ball.

“You don’t accept that kind of change easily,” says Tom Krimigis, who led experiments on both Cassini and Voyager.

“The whole scientific community that works in this area had assumed for over 55 years that the heliosphere had a comet tail.”

Now, we may have to reshuffle our assumptions once again, because if the new model is right, the heliosphere could very well be shaped like both a deflated beach ball and a bulbous croissant, it just depends on where and how you define the boundary. 

The heliosphere is thought to extend more than twice as far as Pluto, with the solar wind constantly pushing up against interstellar matter, protecting us from charged particles which could otherwise tear through our Solar System.

But figuring out where this boundary exists is like trying to figure out which shade of grey should distinguish black from white.

Using data from the New Horizons spacecraft, which is now exploring beyond Pluto, astronomers have figured out a way to tease the two sides apart.

Instead of assuming charged particles are all the same, the new model breaks them down into two groups: charged particles from the solar wind and neutral particles drifting in the Solar System.

Unlike charged particles in interstellar space, these neutral “pickup ions” can slip through the heliosphere easily, before having their electrons knocked off.

By comparing the temperature, density and speed of these pickup ions to solar waves, the team has figured out a way to define the shape of the heliosphere.

“The depletion of [pickup ions], due to charge exchange with the neutral hydrogen atoms of the interstellar medium in the heliosheath, cools the heliosphere, ‘deflating’ it and leading to a narrower heliosheath and a smaller and rounder shape, confirming the shape suggested by Cassini observations,” the authors write.

In other words, depending on which ‘shade of grey’ you pick to define the boundary, the heliosphere can look either like a deflated sphere or a crescent moon.

“If we want to understand our environment we’d better understand all the way through this heliosphere,” says astronomer Avi Loeb from Harvard.

But we still need way more data. While we are slowly starting to reconcile our models, they are still limited by how little we know about the heliosphere itself.

Apart from the two Voyager spacecrafts launched more than four decades ago, no other vehicle has passed beyond its boundary. And even the two craft that have passed that line don’t have the tools to measure pickup ions on the periphery.Paragraph

As such, some astronomers are calling on NASA to send out a probe in the next decade to investigate and start exploring the bubble of Sun that contains us.

“With the Interstellar Probe we hope to solve at least some of the innumerous mysteries that Voyagers started uncovering,” says astronomer Merav Opher from Boston University.

SpaceX reveals timeline for first manned flight to International Space Station

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will soon launch U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test will send two astronauts to the International Space Station in May, the first time American astronauts aboard an American rocket and spacecraft have visited the station since the final space shuttle mission on July 8, 2011.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will make the journey aboard Crew Dragon launched from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “NASA and SpaceX are currently targeting no earlier than mid-to-late May for launch,” a statement released by NASA read.

In March, Musk’s Crew Dragon capsule made a round trip to the ISS, which lies in orbit more than 250 miles above Earth, with a mannequin on board. It returned to the Atlantic after six days in space, according to AFP.

The U.S. shut down space shuttle missions after 30 years in service in 2011, and since that time only the Russians have been going back and forth to the ISS.

SpaceX has made the trip 15 times since 2012 but only to refuel the station. However SpaceX is not the only private company servicing NASA: Boeing has also won a contract and is developing its own Starliner capsule.

Home  Science  News NASA reports asteroid to pass close to Earth tomorrow, might ‘airburst’

An asteroid currently being tracked by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CENOS), known as 2020 EF, will pass close enough to the planet to potentially ’cause an airburst’. However, the agency explains that we’re safe either way — the asteroid is too small to survive contact with Earth’s atmosphere.

The chunk of rock is currently on an Earth-intersecting orbit and is fast approaching the planet at more than 10,000 mph. CNEOS researchers estimate that it is about 98 feet in diameter, according to IBTimes.

Space rocks

2020 EF has been classified as an Aten asteroid, a group of asteroids whose orbits naturally come close to, and even intersect, that of Earth. This particular one follows a very wide orbit around the sun, giving it almost the same overall path of motion as Earth. The diagram also shows multiple near-approaches between 2020 EF and the planet.

After 2020 EF’s approach, Earth will then be visited by the asteroid 2020 DP4, which is traveling at a faster velocity and is much larger than 2020 EF.

Being so small, 2020 EF will most likely not cause an impact event and is much more liable to break apart if it enters Earth’s atmosphere, NASA explains. However, it might cause an airburst — an explosion in the sky. Ideally, you shouldn’t be looking at it when it happens.

The last recorded airburst took place over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, which produced a flash 30 times brighter than the Sun and caused 180 cases of eye pain and 70 cases of temporary flash blindness.

The asteroid is expected to approach Earth on March 18 at 11:15 p.m. EDT., at roughly 3.9 million miles from the planet’s center.

SpaceX launch aborted in final second before liftoff

The countdown for a planned launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida automatically aborted in the last second before liftoff Sunday after an on-board computer detected unexpected data during an engine power check.

The dramatic last-second abort occurred at 9:22 a.m. EDT (1322 GMT) Sunday, moments after the Falcon 9’s main engines ignited on launch pad 39A.

A member of launch team announced engine start and liftoff. A second later, she said: “Disregard. We have an abort.”

There was an instantaneous launch opportunity Sunday, so the abort meant SpaceX had to scrub the day’s launch attempt.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket was set to loft 60 more Starlink satellites for SpaceX’s planned Internet service, joining 300 Starlink stations launched by five previous rockets since last May. SpaceX is launching the satellites 60 at a time, aiming to deploy more than 1,500 of the quarter-ton spacecraft to provide near-global service by late 2021 or 2022.

SpaceX tweeted later Sunday morning that a “standard auto-abort triggered due to out of family data during engine power check.”

Last-second aborts after engine ignition during SpaceX countdowns are rare, but they have happened before on several occasions. On the Falcon 9’s inaugural launch in June 2010, SpaceX aborted the countdown just before engine start and tried again the same afternoon, resulting in a successful mission that reached orbit.

The company said it will announce a new target launch date once the schedule is confirmed with the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Space Wing, which runs the Eastern Range that oversees all launch activity at Cape Canaveral.

An updated launch weather forecast released by the 45th Space Wing on Sunday suggested the next launch opportunity for the Falcon 9 rocket might be Wednesday at 8:21 a.m. EDT (1221 GMT).

The weather forecast shows an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions for launch Wednesday morning with scattered clouds, light easterly winds, and a temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The primary weather concern is with cumulus clouds.

The upcoming launch will mark the 83rd flight of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010, and the sixth SpaceX launch of 2020.

The Falcon 9 is programmed to deploy its 60 Starlink payloads into an elliptical, or egg-shaped orbit ranging between 130 miles (210 kilometers) and 227 miles (366 kilometers) above Earth. The target orbit is inclined 53 degrees to the equator.

The two-stage launcher will head northeast from Cape Canaveral to reach the intended orbit. The Falcon 9’s reused first stage booster — flying for the fifth time on this mission — will attempt to land on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Astronomers discover scorching hot planet where it rains liquid iron

On one particularly hot planet, hundreds of light-years away from Earth, the forecast is cloudy with a chance of liquid iron rain. Scientists recently discovered the bizarre exoplanet, which they referred to as one of the most “extreme” they’ve ever observed.

Using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), researchers observed an “ultra-hot” giant exoplanet, where temperatures can exceed 2,400 degrees Celsius during the day — hot enough to vaporize metals.

One face of the planet, its “day side,” is always facing its parent star and permanently roasting, while the cooler “night side” remains in constant darkness. Because of this, when strong winds push vaporized iron to the night side, it condenses into droplets, creating an iron rainstorm.

On the day side, the planet receives thousands of times more radiation from its parent star than the Earth does from the sun. The extreme heat causes intense winds that bring iron vapor from one side to the other, where the temperature cools to around 1,500 degrees Celsius.

“One could say that this planet gets rainy in the evening, except it rains iron,” David Ehrenreich, a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said in a press release. Ehrenreich led a study on the exotic planet, known as WASP-76b, which published this week in the journal Nature.

WASP-76b is located some 640 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Pisces. It’s a gas giant, like Jupiter and Saturn in our solar system.

Using the new Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet- and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO instrument on ESO’s VLT in the Chilean Atacama Desert, astronomers found day-night chemical differences for the first time on a “hot Jupiter” planet. A strong amount of iron vapor at the border separates the planet’s two sides.

The astronomers were able to detect the chemical differences using the very first scientific observations done with ESPRESSO by a team from Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and ESO in September 2018.

“The observations show that iron vapor is abundant in the atmosphere of the hot day side of WASP-76b,” said María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, and the chair of the ESPRESSO science team. “A fraction of this iron is injected into the night side owing to the planet’s rotation and atmospheric winds. There, the iron encounters much cooler environments, condenses and rains down.”

The team plans to use the tool to continue hunting for Earth-like planets and studying exoplanet atmospheres. “What we have now is a whole new way to trace the climate of the most extreme exoplanets,” said Ehrenreich.