Boeing Will Make the Military's New Hypersonic Spaceplane ( 34

The Department of Defense has selected Boeing to make a new hypersonic spaceplane that can be reused frequently over a short period of time to deliver multiple satellites into orbit. "DARPA, the agency that tests new advanced technologies for the military, has picked Boeing's design concept, called the Phantom Express, to move forward as part of the agency's Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program," reports The Verge. From the report: The goal of DARPA's XS-1 program is to create a spacecraft that's something of a hybrid between an airplane and a traditional vertical rocket. The spaceplane is meant to take off vertically and fly uncrewed to high altitudes above Earth. From there, the vehicle will release a mini-rocket -- a booster with an engine that can propel a satellite weighing up to 3,000 pounds into orbit. As the booster deploys the satellite, the spaceplane will then land back on Earth horizontally just like a normal airplane -- and then be fueled up for its next mission. DARPA wants the turnaround time between flights to last just a few hours. But perhaps the most audacious goal is the price DARPA wants for each flight. The agency is aiming for the spaceplane to cost $5 million per mission, a significant bargain considering most orbital rockets cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to launch. And Boeing says it's up to the task. "Phantom Express is designed to disrupt and transform the satellite launch process as we know it today, creating a new, on-demand space-launch capability that can be achieved more affordably and with less risk," Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works, said in a statement.

Renewable Energy Powers Jobs For Almost 10 Million People ( 118

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency's (IRENA) annual report, the renewable energy industry employed 9.8 million people last year, which is up 1.1 percent from 2015. The strongest growth was seen in the solar photovoltaic category with 3.09 million jobs. Bloomberg reports: Here are some of the highlights from the report: Global renewables employment has climbed every year since 2012, with solar photovoltaic becoming the largest segment by total jobs in 2016. Solar photovoltaic employed 3.09 million people, followed by liquid biofuels at 1.7 million. The wind industry had 1.2 million employees, a 7 percent increase from 2015. Employment in renewables, excluding large hydro power, increased 2.8 percent last year to 8.3 million people, with China, Brazil, the U.S., India, Japan and Germany the leading job markets. Asian countries accounted for 62 percent of total jobs in 2016 compared with 50 percent in 2013. Renewables jobs could total 24 million in 2030, as more countries take steps to combat climate change, IRENA said.

Sperm Stored In Space Produces Healthy Baby Mice On Earth ( 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Reproduction may be possible in space, Japanese researchers have said, after freeze-dried sperm stored on the International Space Station for nine months produced healthy offspring. The scientists said their findings could have significant ramifications for human settlements in space, which they consider "likely." The average daily radiation dose on the ISS is about 100 times stronger than that on Earth, posing a threat of serious reproductive problems for any space-dwelling organism. But mouse sperm stored on the ISS for 288 days from August 2013 to May 2014, then returned to Earth, fertilized in vitro and transferred into female mice, produced healthy offspring. The space-preserved samples showed evidence of slightly increased DNA damage compared with control samples preserved on Earth, but this was found to be largely repaired in embryos following fertilization. The birth rate and sex ratio of pups derived from the sperm stored in space was comparable to those of pups derived from the control samples. Subsequent whole genome analysis revealed only minor differences, and the pups developed into adults with normal fertility. The study was published in the proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

Remote Pacific Island Is the Most Plastic-Contaminated Spot Yet Surveyed ( 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Plastic is durable -- very, very durable -- which is why we like it. Since it started being mass-produced in the 1950s, annual production has increased 300-fold. Because plastic is so durable, when our kids grow up and we purge our toy chests, or even just when we finish a bottle of laundry detergent or shampoo, it doesn't actually go away. While we're recycling increasing amounts of plastic, a lot of it still ends up in the oceans. Floating garbage patches have brought some attention to the issue of our contamination of the seas. But it's not just the waters themselves that have ended up cluttered with plastic. A recent survey shows that a staggering amount of our stuff is coming ashore on the extremely remote Henderson Island. Henderson Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Pitcairn Group of Islands in the South Pacific, roughly half way between New Zealand and Peru. According to UNESCO, Henderson is one of the best examples we have of an elevated coral atoll ecosystem. It was colonized by Polynesians between the 12th and 15th centuries but has been uninhabited by humans since then. It is of interest to evolutionary biologists because it has 10 plant species and four bird species that are only found there. Despite its uninhabited status and its extremely remote location, a recent survey of beach plastic on Henderson Island revealed that the island has the highest density of debris reported anywhere in the world: an estimated minimum of 37.7 million items weighing 17.6 tons. This represents the total amount of plastic that is produced in the world every 1.98 seconds. Further reading: Here And Now

Chemists May Be Zeroing In On Chemical Reactions That Sparked the First Life ( 114

sciencehabit quotes a report from Scientific Magazine: DNA is better known, but many researchers today believe that life on Earth got started with its cousin RNA, since that nucleic acid can act as both a repository of genetic information and a catalyst to speed up biochemical reactions. But those favoring this "RNA world" hypothesis have struggled for decades to explain how the molecule's four building blocks could have arisen from the simpler compounds present during our planet's early days. Now chemists have identified simple reactions that, using the raw materials on early Earth, can synthesize close cousins of all four building blocks. The resemblance isn't perfect, but it suggests scientists may be closing in on a plausible scenario for how life on Earth began. The study has been published in the journal Nature.

Rising Seas Set To Double Coastal Flooding By 2050, Says Study ( 202

Coastal flooding is about to get dramatically more frequent around the world as sea levels rise from global warming, researchers said Thursday. Phys.Org reports, "A 10-to-20 centimeter (four-to-eight inch) jump in the global ocean watermark by 2050 -- a conservative forecast -- would double flood risk in high-latitude regions, they reports in the journal Scientific Reports." From the report: Major cities along the North American seaboard such as Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, along with the European Atlantic coast, would be highly exposed, they found. But it would only take half as big a jump in ocean levels to double the number of serious flooding incidents in the tropics, including along highly populated river deltas in Asia and Africa. Even at the low end of this sea rise spectrum, Mumbai, Kochi and Abidjan and many other cities would be significantly affected. To make up for the lack of observational data, Vitousek and his colleagues used computer modeling and a statistical method called extreme value theory. "We asked the question: with waves factored in, how much sea level rise will it take to double the frequency of flooding?" Sea levels are currently rising by three to four millimeters (0.10 to 0.15 inches) a year, but the pace has picked up by about 30 percent over the last decade. It could accelerate even more as continent-sized ice blocs near the poles continue to shed mass, especially in Antarctica, which Vitousek described as the sea level "wild card." If oceans go up 25 centimeters by mid-century, "flood levels that occur every 50 years in the tropics would be happening every year or more," he said.

Climate Change is Turning Antarctica Green, Say Researchers ( 150

Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent's northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet. Amid the warming of the last 50 years, the scientists found two different species of mosses undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than a millimeter per year now growing over 3 millimeters per year on average, (the link could be paywalled; alternative source below) the Washington Post reported on Thursday. From a report: "Antarctica is not going to become entirely green, but it will become more green than it currently is," said Matt Amesbury, co-author of the research from the University of Exeter. "This is linking into other processes that are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula at the moment, particularly things like glacier retreat which are freeing up new areas of ice-free land -- and the mosses particularly are very effective colonisers of those new areas," he added. In the second half of the 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula experienced rapid temperature increases, warming by about half a degree per decade. Plant life on Antarctica is scarce, existing on only 0.3% of the continent, but moss, well preserved in chilly sediments, offers scientists a way of exploring how plants have responded to such changes.

Humans Accidentally Made a Space Cocoon For Ourselves Out of Radio Waves ( 136

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard article: Humans have accidentally created a protective bubble around Earth by using very low frequency (VLF) radio transmissions to contact submarines in the ocean. It sounds nuts, but according to recent research published in Space Science Reviews, underwater communication through VLF channels has an outer space dimension. This video explainer, released by NASA on Wednesday, visualizes how radio waves wafting into space interact with the particles surrounding Earth, and influence their motion. Satellites in certain high-altitude orbits, such as NASA's particle-watching Van Allen Probes, have observed these VLF ripples creating an 'impenetrable boundary,' a phrase coined by study co-author Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. This doesn't mean impenetrable to spacecraft or asteroids, per se, but rather to potentially harmful particle showers created by turbulent space weather.

Where Have All the Insects Gone? ( 222

Entomologists have been assessing diversity and abundance across western Germany and have found that between 1989 and 2013 the biomass of invertebrates caught had fallen by nearly 80 percent. From an article on Science magazine: Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. "We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species," which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. [...] A new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s. Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group -- which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades -- found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites. Such losses reverberate up the food chain. "If you're an insect-eating bird living in that area, four-fifths of your food is gone in the last quarter-century, which is staggering," says Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, who is working with the Krefeld group to analyze and publish some of the data. "One almost hopes that it's not representative -- that it's some strange artifact."

SpaceX Launches Super-Heavy Satellite Atop Falcon 9 Rocket ( 85

SpaceX has successfully launched a heavy commercial communications satellite atop one of its Falcon 9 rockets today. "Weighing in at nearly 13,500 pounds atop the rocket, the fourth Inmarsat-5 satellite was the heaviest load lofted by a Falcon 9 yet," reports USA Today. From the report: The 230-foot rocket delivered the spacecraft larger than a double-decker bus to an orbit more than 22,000 miles over the equator. As a result, SpaceX did not attempt to land the rocket's first stage either at Cape Canaveral or at sea, and the Falcon 9 booster was not equipped with landing legs. The Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 satellite, built by Boeing, completes Inmarsat's four-satellite Global Xpress constellation focused on delivering high-speed broadband data to mobile customers, including commercial aircraft and ships and the U.S. military.

FCC Suspends Net Neutrality Comments, As Chairman Pai Mocks 'Mean Tweets' ( 184

An anonymous reader writes:Thursday the FCC stopped accepting comments as part of long-standing rules "to provide FCC decision-makers with a period of repose during which they can reflect on the upcoming items" before their May 18th meeting. Techdirt wondered if this time to reflect would mean less lobbying from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, but on Friday Pai recorded a Jimmy Kimmel-style video mocking mean tweets, with responses Gizmodo called "appalling" and implying "that anyone who opposes his cash grab for corporations is a moron."

Meanwhile, Wednesday The Consumerist reported the FCC's sole Democrat "is deploying some scorched-earth Microsoft Word table-making to use FCC Chair Ajit Pai's own words against him." (In 2014 Pai wrote "A dispute this fundamental is not for us five, unelected individuals to decide... We should also engage computer scientists, technologists, and other technical experts to tell us how they see the Internet's infrastructure and consumers' online experience evolving.") But Pai seemed to be mostly sticking to friendlier audiences, appearing with conservative podcasters from the Taxpayer Protection Alliance, the AEI think tank and The Daily Beast.

The Verge reports the flood of fake comments opposing Net Neutrality may have used names and addresses from a breach of 1.4 billion personal information records from marketing company River City Media. Reached on Facebook Messenger, one woman whose named was used "said she hadn't submitted any comments, didn't live at that address anymore and didn't even know what net neutrality is, let alone oppose it."

Techdirt adds "If you do still feel the need to comment, the EFF is doing what the FCC itself should do and has set up its own page at to hold any comments."

French President-Elect Macron Urges Action On Climate Change ( 174

After Sunday's election in France, Macron's victory "is likely to be a boon for the French digital economy and its startup scene," writes a foreign policy think tank blog, "but the country's frosty relationship with U.S. tech companies is likely to remain over the next five years." Yet even before he was elected as France's new president, Emmanuel Macron was already warning the U.S. that withdrawing from the international Paris Climate change agreement could cost America its brightest innovators. Thelasko writes: French President elect Emmanuel Macron has a message to U.S. scientists and engineers working on climate change. "Please, come to France. You are welcome. It's your nation. We like innovation. We want innovative people. We want people working on climate change, energy renewables and new technologies. France is your nation."
Newsweek reports this week that without America's involvement, the Paris Climate agreement "will have no way of meeting its goals of reducing global net carbon emissions" -- but that Macron could persuade the U.S. to honor its agreement. ("It reportedly took just one phone call conversation between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the president for Trump to reconsider withdrawing entirely for NAFTA, another international agreement signed into law prior to his tenure in the Oval Office.") And in the meantime, Macron has also promised not to cut France's energy-research budget, and will even reinforce it "to accelerate our initiative."

Buzz Aldrin To NASA: Retire the International Space Station ASAP To Reach Mars ( 349

An anonymous reader quotes a report from If NASA and its partner agencies are serious about putting boots on Mars in the near future, they should pull the plug on the International Space Station (ISS) at the earliest opportunity, Buzz Aldrin said. "We must retire the ISS as soon as possible," the former Apollo 11 moonwalker said Tuesday (May 9) during a presentation at the 2017 Humans to Mars conference in Washington, D.C. "We simply cannot afford $3.5 billion a year of that cost." Instead, Aldrin said, NASA should continue to hand over activities in low Earth orbit (LEO) to private industry partners. Indeed, the space agency has been encouraging that move by awarding contracts to companies such as SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Boeing to ferry cargo and crew to and from the ISS. Bigelow Aerospace, Axiom Space or other companies should build and operate LEO space stations that are independent of the ISS, he added. Ideally, the first of these commercial outposts would share key orbital parameters with the station that China plans to have up and running by the early 2020s, to encourage cooperation with the Chinese, Aldrin said. Establishing private outposts in LEO is just the first step in Aldrin's plan for Mars colonization, which depends heavily on "cyclers" -- spacecraft that move continuously between two cosmic destinations, efficiently delivering people and cargo back and forth.

US Life Expectancy Can Vary By 20 Years Depending On Where You Live ( 292

After analyzing records from every U.S. county between 1980 and 2014, Christopher Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and his team found that life expectancy can vary by more than 20 years from county to county. "In counties with the longest lifespans, people tended to live about 87 years, while people in places with the shortest lifespans typically made it only about 67," reports NPR. From the report: The discrepancy is equivalent to the difference between the low-income parts of the developing world and countries with high incomes, Murray notes. For example, it's about the same gap as the difference between people living in Japan, which is among countries with the longest lifespans, and India, which has one of the shortest, Murray says. The U.S. counties with the longest life expectancy are places like Marin County, Calif., and Summit County, Colo. -- communities that are well-off and more highly educated. Counties with the shortest life expectancy tend to have communities that are poorer and less educated. The lowest is in Oglala Lakota County, S.D., which includes the Pine Ridge Native American reservation. Many of the other counties with the lowest life expectancy are clustered along the lower Mississippi River Valley as well as parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, according to the analysis. There's no sign of the gap closing. In fact, it's appears to be widening. Between 1980 and 2014, the gap between the highest and lowest lifespans increased by about two years. The reasons for the gap are complicated. But it looks like the counties with the lowest lifespans haven't made much progress fighting significant health problems such as smoking and obesity. The study has been published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

After Almost Two Years, The Air Force's Mysterious X-37B Space Plane Lands ( 116

An anonymous reader quotes The record-shattering mission of the U.S. Air Force's robotic X-37B space plane is finally over. After circling Earth for an unprecedented 718 days, the X-37B touched down Sunday at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida -- the first landing at the SLF since the final space shuttle mission came back to Earth in July 2011... The just-ended mission, known as OTV-4 (Orbital Test Vehicle-4), was the fourth for the X-37B program... The 29-foot-long (8.8 meters) X-37B looks like NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiter, only much smaller; indeed, two X-37Bs could fit inside a space shuttle's cavernous payload bay...

Most of the X-37B's payloads and activities are classified, leading to some speculation that the space plane could be a weapon of some sort, perhaps a disabler of enemy satellites... But Air Force officials have always strongly refuted that notion, stressing that the vehicle is simply testing technologies on orbit. "Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal-protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal, reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing," Captain AnnMarie Annicelli, an Air Force spokeswoman, told via email in March.


What NASA Found Beyond The Rings Of Saturn ( 48

NASA's Cassini spacecraft explored the inner edge of the rings of Saturn for the first time, and reports that it made a surprising discovery: nothing. "Scientists have been surprised to find that not all that much -- not even space dust -- lies between Saturn's iconic rings." After the first pass, the NASA official managing the project described the the region between the rings and Saturn as "the big empty." An anonymous reader quotes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Cassini also beamed back pictures and other essential data as it maneuvered the 1,500-mile-wide space between the solar system's second largest planet and its icy rings. The images, which take 78 minutes to make the billion-mile trip back to Earth, reveal a blazing, mysterious process of alternating light and darkness in the rings that scientists will be working for years to understand. That seems only fair since it has already taken 20 years for Cassini to be in a position to do what it is doing so far.

Between now and September, Cassini will make 22 dives between Saturn's rings and the planet, clocking at an impressive 76,800 mph each time. The end result should be a treasure trove of stunning images of the planet and its diverse and mysterious rings, along with detailed maps of the gas giant's gravity, magnetic fields and atmospheric conditions. On Sept. 15, it will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, streaming data back to Earth as it makes its descent of no return.


UAE To Drag Iceberg From Antarctica To Solve Water Shortage Set To Last 25 Years ( 350

schwit1 quotes a report from Daily Express: The UAE, which is among the top 10 water-scarce countries in the world, hopes to help ease the stress of a drinking water shortage by towing an iceberg from the freezing Antarctica in order to create more drinking water. The National Advisor Bureau Limited's (NABL) managing Director Abdullah Mohammad Sulaiman Al Shehi says an average iceberg contains "more than 20 billion gallons of water" which would be enough for one million people over five years. Up to four-fifths of an iceberg's mass is underwater, and due to their vast density, they would theoretically not melt in the boiling climate of the Middle Eastern coastal line. Mr Al Shehi says it could take up to a year to drag the huge body of ice up to the UAE, and the project is set to begin in 2018.

Dormant Diseases Frozen In the Ice Are Waking Up ( 173

boley1 writes: Like a plot from a Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) movie, evil is waking up as permafrost melts due to weather or natural, man-made, local, and/or global climate change. (Take your pick of any or all -- doesn't matter -- the plot and result is roughly the same.) According the the BBC, a 12-year-old boy died and at least twenty people were hospitalized after being infected by a disease (anthrax) that lay buried in the ice for 75 years. "The theory is that, over 75 years ago, a reindeer infected with anthrax died and its frozen carcass became trapped under a layer of frozen soil, known as permafrost," reports BBC. "There it stayed until a heatwave in the summer of 2016, when the permafrost thawed." In this case, bringing back the disease was accidental, but the story goes on to give examples of scientists (no indication of whether they are mad or not) purposefully seeing what ancient bacteria and virus they can resurrect from the ice. How many more diseases are lurking in the ice? Will The Andromeda Strain be released by meddling scientists or global warming?
The Internet

SpaceX Plans To Send the First of Its 4,425 Super-Fast Internet Satellites Into Space in 2019 ( 160

Elon Musk's SpaceX has laid out a plan to create a network of internet-providing satellites around Earth. The company hopes to start launching satellites into space in 2019, and will continue to send them in phases until 2024, when the network is expected to reach capacity. From a report:On Wednesday, Patricia Cooper, SpaceX's vice president of satellite government affairs, said later this year, the company will start testing the satellites themselves, launch one prototype before the end of the year and another during the "early months" of 2018. Following that, SpaceX will begin its satellite launch campaign in 2019. "The remaining satellites in the constellation will be launched in phases through 2024," Cooper said before the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology. [...] SpaceX argues that the U.S. lags behind other developed nations in broadband speed and price competitiveness, while many rural areas are not serviced by traditional internet providers. The company's satellites will provide a "mesh network" in space that will be able to deliver high broadband speeds without the need for cables.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Its First Spy Satellite ( 65

SpaceX successfully launched NROL-76, a classified U.S. intelligence mission, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center Monday. Sunday's launch attempt was scrubbed due to a sensor issue. From a report: Not much is known about the National Reconnaissance Office's NROL-76 satellite, a classified payload, which will liftoff into low Earth orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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