Trump may reject FDA’s stricter regulations for COVID-19 vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland.

Enlarge / The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland. (credit: Getty | Congressional Quarterly)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he may reject the Food and Drug Administration’s plan to issue stricter safety and efficacy standards for COVID-19 vaccines, calling the plan a “political move.”

The new standards are aimed at bolstering public confidence in the FDA and its vaccine review process, which has been severely damaged by many reports of political meddling and interference by the Trump administration. Those reports include claims that the FDA was pressured by the White House into allowing COVID-19 patients to be treated with unproven blood plasma and the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which was personally touted by Trump. (The authorization of hydroxychloroquine was later revoked by the FDA.) Just last week, Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, revoked the FDA’s authority to sign new regulations.

Trump himself has continually undercut federal public health guidance and government scientists, particularly Robert Redfield, his director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump has also repeatedly pushed for a pre-election release of a vaccine, though experts have, in turn, repeatedly pointed out that such a speedy release is nearly impossible based on the timeline of the clinical trials underway and the amount of data needed to make even preliminary evaluations of safety and efficacy.

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#cdc, #clinical-trials, #covid-19, #fda, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #science, #trump, #vaccine


Not-so-hostile takeover: Human Y chromosome displaced the Neanderthals’ version

Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. (credit: hairymuseummatt)

We know that Neanderthals left their mark behind in the DNA of many modern humans, but that exchange worked both ways. The groups of Neanderthals our species met in Eurasia around 45,000 years ago already carried some Homo sapiens genes as souvenirs of much earlier encounters. A recent study suggests that those early encounters allowed the Homo sapiens version of the Y chromosome to completely replace the original Neanderthal one sometime between 370,000 and 100,000 years ago.

Evolutionary geneticists Martin Petr, Janet Kelso, and their colleagues used a new method to sequence Y-chromosome DNA from two Denisovans and three Neanderthals from sites in France, Russia, and Spain (all three lived 38,000 to 53,000 years ago). The oldest Neanderthal genomes in Eurasia have Y chromosomes that look much more like those of Denisovans. Later Neanderthals, however, have Y chromosomes that look more like those of us humans.

Gene flow is a two-way street

Tens of thousands of years ago, our species shared the world with at least two other hominins. The tools, beads, and art they left behind hint that these other humans were probably a lot like us. And we were definitely all alike enough to have, apparently, a bit of sex.

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#ancient-dna, #ancient-hominins, #archaeology, #denisovans, #hominin-evolution, #human-evolution, #neanderthals, #paleoanthropology, #paleogenomics, #science


Russia offers its untested COVID-19 vaccine for free to UN officials

A smirking man in a suit sits in front of a UN flag.

Enlarge / Russian President Vladimir Putin address the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, via teleconference call, in Moscow on September 22, 2020. (credit: Getty | MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV)

Some United Nations staff are likely brushing up on their Russian—specifically how to say “Thanks, but no thanks” in the nicest way possible.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered UN staff free doses of the country’s COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, which has not completed clinical trials for efficacy and has not been thoroughly vetted for safety.

Still, Putin suggested that his offer was prompted by the desire to give the people what they want: “Some colleagues from the UN have asked about this, and we will not remain indifferent to them,” he said during a speech Tuesday at this year’s (virtual) General Assembly.

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#clinical-trials, #covid-19, #efficacy, #putin, #russia, #safety, #sars-cov-2, #science, #sputnik-v, #un, #vaccine


NASA wants a big budget increase for its Moon plans. Is Congress biting?

A man in a suit speaks in front of a mural of the Moon landing.

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says that competition is good for the Artemis Moon program. (credit: NASA)

The odds of NASA sending humans back to the Moon by 2024 are long—not zero, but pretty close.

Probably the biggest near-term impediment the space agency faces is funding. Specifically, NASA requires an additional $3.2 billion in fiscal year 2021 to allow contractors to begin constructing one or more landers to take astronauts down to the Moon’s surface from a high lunar orbit. This is a 12 percent increase to NASA’s budget overall.

The 2021 fiscal year begins in a week, on October 1. The US Congress recently passed a “continuing resolution” that will keep the government funded through December 11. By that time, after the 2020 election, it is hoped that the House and Senate can agree on a budget that would fund priorities for the remainder of the fiscal year.

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Curly the curling robot throws stones like a pro

Robots have shown themselves to excel at any number of sports and activities, though they do best when they have a single task. Fortunately some sports, such as curling, consist mostly of one task, and Korean researchers have made a robot that throws the stone well enough to compete at a national level.

If you’ve never gone curling yourself — first of all, for shame, it’s basically ice bocce and it’s very fun. But you may not know then that the principal action in the game is a simple but subtle one of gauging the power and angle (and spin, if you’re good) with which to slide a heavy kettle-shaped stone in order to get it near the center of a target, knock an opponent’s stone out of the way, or nudge another of your own into position. And that’s exactly what Curly the robot does.

The researchers, from Korea University in Seoul and the Berlin Institute of Technology, devised Curly as a way to test “the interaction between an AI system and a highly nonstationary real-world scenario.” In other words: A robot that can observe the real world and act accordingly in a precise and strategic manner.

Curly is actually a team of two robots, one of which observes the position of the stones at the scoring end while the other does the actual throwing. There’s no robot that sweeps the ice in front of the moving stone or yells “hard, hard!” but no doubt that is forthcoming.

Illustration of the observer Curly bot and thrower Curly bot.

Image Credits: Korea University

The robots’ AI was trained entirely on computerized games, in which the stone and ice are physically simulated. One can see this type of training going well or poorly, depending on how accurate the simulation is. As it turns out, it works extremely well, giving Curly enough confidence that it only needs one throw at the beginning of each game in order to account for differing conditions like ice that’s more or less slick.

GIF image of Curly the curling robot releasing a stone.

Image Credits: Korea University

Its play is similarly impressive: Up against some of the country’s leading women’s teams and the national wheelchair team, Curly won three out of four rounds. One wonders whether permitting sweepers would change the outcome, but sufficient for the day is the achievement thereof.

The researchers point out that this is an important achievement not just because robots have been shown to be competitive in yet another sport, but because that sport involves fairly dynamic observation and decision-making in the real world and in real-time — the team can’t go retrain the network to deal with an unexpected setup. So it’s a win for both AI and robots in general, but also for the prospect of training such robots in simulated environments, which until fairly recently simply weren’t good enough to provide a reasonable facsimile of such complex physics.

You can read more about Curly and the complex AI and engineering that underpin it in the latest issue of the journal Science Robotics.

#artificial-intelligence, #curling, #korea-university, #robotics, #science, #tc


Blue Origin job listing sheds more light on its space-based orbital habitat ambitions

Blue Origin founder and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has made no secret of his ambition to eventually create orbiting space stations that act as places for people to live and work – he outlined a vision based on space settlement designs first conceived by physicist Gerard K. O’Neill at a Blue Origin event, including its lunar lander reveal, last year. Now, however, Blue Origin has issued a job posting seeking a person who will be tasked with leading its efforts around “Orbital Habitat Formulation” (via Space News).

The job posting seeks a person who will be responsible for developing the ultimate vision of “millions of people living and working in space,” with a near-term goal of developing space stations in low Earth orbit that take cues from the existing International Space Station (ISS), but that also go “beyond” that existing shared international research structure, in part by fostering “value-creating economic activity.”

Here’s the core description from the listing:

As Blue Origin’s Formulation Lead for the Orbital Habitat product line, you will lead development of technical concepts, product strategies, business cases, customer relationships, market-shaping outreach, industrial partnerships, implementation approaches, and supply chain. Partnering with business development professionals, you will develop a detailed understanding of NASA, other government, and commercial needs and guide the iterative development of product strategy. You will be accountable for capturing external and internal sponsorship funding to establish viable LEO destination systems in the 2020s. You will directly impact the history of human spaceflight.

Blue Origin also says that what they’re building will be “fundamentally different” from stations like the ISS, which are designed for “small, professional trained crews.” It sounds like they want to make them quite a bit more habitable and practical for non-expert users, who are there primarily for commercial purposes – not to be astronauts first and foremost.

We’re probably still quite a ways away from the idealistic concept vision that Bezos shared at last May’s event, pictured above. But depending on how badly he wants it to happen, we could have Blue Origin commercial space habitats in orbit sooner than some might think.

#aerospace, #amazon, #blue-origin, #ceo, #international-space-station, #jeff-bezos, #nasa, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-station, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #supply-chain, #tc


Chitin could be used to build tools and habitats on Mars, study finds

A figurine of an astronaut stands next to a block.

Enlarge / Scientists mixed chitin—an organic polymer found in abundance in arthropods, as well as fish scales—with a mineral that mimics the properties of Martian soil to create a viable new material for building tools and shelters on Mars. (credit: Javier G. Fernandez)

Space aficionados who dream of one day colonizing Mars must grapple with the stark reality of the planet’s limited natural resources, particularly when it comes to building materials. A team of scientists from the Singapore University of Technology and Design discovered that, using simple chemistry, the organic polymer chitin—contained in the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans—can easily be transformed into a viable building material for basic tools and habitats. This would require minimal energy and no need for transporting specialized equipment. The scientists described their experiments in a recent paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban environments,” said co-author Javier Fernandez. “But due to its efficiency, it is also the most efficient and scalable method to produce materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely scarce environment of a lifeless planet or satellite.”

As we previously reported, NASA has announced an ambitious plan to return American astronauts to the Moon and establish a permanent base there, with an eye toward eventually placing astronauts on Mars. Materials science will be crucial to the Artemis Moon Program’s success, particularly when it comes to the materials needed to construct a viable lunar (or Martian) base. Concrete, for instance, requires a substantial amount of added water in order to be usable in situ, and there is a pronounced short supply of water on both the Moon and Mars. And transport costs would be prohibitively high. NASA estimates that it costs around $10,000 to transport just one pound of material into orbit. 

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#artemis-moon-program, #biochemistry, #biology, #biomimicry, #chitin, #mars, #materials-science, #nasa, #science, #space-colonization


US COVID-19 deaths just topped 200,000

A medical technician in protective gear handles a wrapped corpse on a gurney.

Enlarge / Transporter Morgan Dean-McMillan prepares the body of a COVID-19 victim at a morgue in Montgomery county, Maryland, on April 17, 2020. (credit: Getty | ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

The US death toll from COVID-19 topped 200,000 Tuesday as daily reports of new cases still hover around 40,000 and daily deaths are in the 700s.

The grim milestone of 200,000 deaths is equivalent to the death toll from the 9/11 attacks occurring every day for 67 days. It’s also equivalent to losing about the entire population Salt Lake City, Utah, or nearly the population of Rochester, New York. COVID-19 has killed more in the United States than the number of Americans who died in the five most recent wars combined (the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf War).

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the COVID-19 death toll had already reached 200,541 deaths, stemming from more than 6.88 million cases. While these figures are based on data from state health authorities, the actual death toll is expected to be much higher.

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#covid-19, #deaths, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #trump, #us


CMU’s MoonRanger robot rover will be the first to search for water ice on the Moon in 2022

Carnegie Mellon University and spinoff space startup Astrobotic are developing a robotic rover to look for water on the Moon, and the little bot just passed the crucial preliminary design review phase, putting it one step closer to its inaugural mission planned for 2022. MoonRanger is aiming to be the first robotic detective to investigate whether buried ice is present in sufficient quantities to be useful to future lunar explorers.

MoonRanger could well be the first, provided it sticks to its schedule, but it’ll have competition from NASA’s own water ice-hunting rover – a golf-cart-sized robotic explorer called VIPER which is aiming to touchdown on the Moon in December, 2022. The goal of VIPER is to help look for the presence of water ice near the Moon’s surface in order to help prepare the way for the planned human landing in 2024, which kicks off efforts on the part of NASA and its partners in the international space community to establish a permanent human science and research presence on our large natural satellite.

Like VIPER, MoonRanger is destined for the South Pole of the Moon, and will be a kind of advance scout for NASA’s mission. Ideally, MoonRanger, delivered by Masten Space Systems’ XL-1 lunar lander under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, will confirm the presence of water ice in decent amounts, and then VIPER will arrive a bit later with the ability to drill deeper, and to perform more rigorous on-site analysis.

MoonRanger will be much smaller than VIPER, at roughly the size of a suitcase, but it will have the ability to travel at speeds previously unheard-of for extraterrestrial exploratory robots. The CMU bot will be able to cover up to 1,000 meters (almost two-thirds of a mile) over the course of a single day. That small size means it’ll rely on a relay to send any communications back to Earth – a process which will involve transmitting to the Masten lander, which will relay that back to scientists here at home using its much higher-powered communications array.

#aerospace, #astrobotic, #astrobotic-technology, #carnegie-mellon-university, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #lunar-lander, #masten-space-systems, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #robotics, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #viper


Blogger who trashed Fauci online “retires” after being ID’d as NIH staffer

A man in a suit and a face mask stands in a wood-paneled room.

Enlarge / Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wears a Washington Nationals protective mask after a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

A public affairs officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is out of a day job after a report found he was moonlighting pseudonymously as an editor for a conservative website, where he regularly trashed his agency and its director, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The RedState managing editor known as “streiff” is actually William Crews, The Daily Beast reported yesterday. Crews was, until this week, a public affairs specialist at NIAID, which is one of the 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institute of Health.

As streiff, Crews “derided his own colleagues as part of a left-wing anti-Trump conspiracy and vehemently criticized the man who leads his agency,” according to The Daily Beast. Additionally, he described his boss as “attention-grubbing and media-whoring Anthony Fauci” and “a mask nazi.”

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#anthony-fauci, #covid-19, #dr-anthony-fauci, #national-institute-of-allergy-and-infectious-diseases, #niaid, #nih, #policy, #redstate, #sabotage, #science


Arctic sea ice hits 2nd smallest summer extent on record

A view of the Earth from outer space.

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

One sign of the transition from summer to fall in the Northern Hemisphere is the annual minimum point in Arctic sea ice extent. Last year tied 2016 and 2007 for second place behind 2012’s record-low coverage. But after another warm year on a warming planet, 2020 hit a lower mark and claimed the No.2 spot free and clear.

Sea ice is floating, frozen seawater, and so its melting does not materially contribute to sea level rise, unlike glacial ice on land. Sea ice coverage in both polar regions grows over the winter and shrinks over the summer. In the Arctic, losses bottom out and give way to growth in mid-September. Around this time of year, scientists watch satellite data carefully, waiting for several days of stability or slight growth to call the minimum.

That minimum likely occurred on September 15, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. (It’s possible that a weird turn of weather could cause the extent to drop again to a lower minimum in the next few days, but this probably wouldn’t change the numbers much.) The center put the minimum extent at 3.74 million square kilometers (1.44 million square miles).

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#arctic-sea-ice, #science


WellSaid Labs research takes synthetic speech from seconds-long clips to hours

Millions of homes have voice-enabled devices, but when was the last time you heard a piece of synthesized speech longer than a handful of seconds? WellSaid Labs has pushed the field ahead with a voice engine that can easily and quickly generate hours of voice content that sounds just as good or better than the snippets we hear every day from Siri and Alexa.

The company has been working since its public debut last year to advance its tech from impressive demo to commercial product, and in the process found a lucrative niche that it can build from.

CTO Michael Petrochuk explained that early on, the company had essentially based its technology on prior research — Google’s Tacotron project, which established a new standard for realism in artificial speech.

“Despite being released two years ago, Tacotron 2 is still state of the art. But it has a couple issues,” explained Petrochuk. “One, it’s not fast — it takes 3 minutes to produce 1 second of audio. And it’s built to model 15 seconds of audio. Imagine that in a workflow where you’re generating 10 minutes of content — it’s orders of magnitude off where we want to be.”

WellSaid completely rebuilt their model with a focus on speed, quality, and length, which sounds like “focusing” on everything at once, but there are always plenty more parameters to optimize for. The result is a model that can generate extremely high quality speech with any of 15 voices (and several languages) at about half real time — so a minute-long clip would take about 36 seconds to generate instead of a couple hours.

This seemingly basic capability has plenty of benefits. Not only is it faster, but it makes working with the results simpler and easier. As a producer of audio content, you can just drop in a script hundreds of words long, listen to what it puts out, then tweak its pronunciation or cadence with a few keystrokes. Tacotron changed the synthetic speech space, but it has never really been a product. WellSaid builds on its advances with its own to create both a usable piece of software, and arguably a better speech system overall.

As evidence, clips generated by the model — 15-second ones, so they can compete with Tacotron and others — reached a milestone of being equally well rated as human voices in tests organized by WellSaid. There’s no objective measure for this kind of thing, but asking lots of humans to weigh in on how human something sounds is a good place to start.

As part of the team’s work to achieve “human parity” under these conditions, they also released a number of audio clips demonstrating how the model can produce much more demanding content.

It generated plausible-sounding speech in Spanish, French, and German (I’m not a native speaker of any of them, so can’t say more than that), showed off its facility with complex and linguistically difficult words (like stoichiometry and halogenation), words that differ depending on context (buffet, desert), and so on. The crowning achievement must be a continuous 8-hour reading of the entirety of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

But audiobooks aren’t the industry that WellSaid is using as a stepladder to further advances. Instead, they’re making a bundle working in the tremendously boring but necessary field of corporate training. You know, the sorts of videos that explain policies, document the use of internal tools, and explain best practices for sales, management, development tools, and so on.

Corporate learning stuff is generally unique or at least tailored to each company, and can involve hours of audio — an alternative to saying “here, read this packet” or gathering everyone in a room to watch a decades-old DVD on office conduct. Not the most exciting place to put such a powerful technology to work, but the truth is with startups that no matter how transformative you think your tech is, if you don’t make any money, you’re sunk.

A screenshot of WellSaid Labs' synthetic speech interface.

Image Credits: WellSaid Labs

“We found a sweet spot in the corporate training field, but for product development it has helped us build these foundational elements for a bigger and greater space,” explained head of growth Martin Ramirez. “Voice is everywhere, but we have to be pragmatic about who we build for today. Eventually we’ll deliver the infrastructure where any voice can be created and distributed.”

At first that may look like expanding the corporate offerings slowly, in directions like other languages — WellSaid’s system doesn’t have English “baked in,” and given training data in other languages should perform equally well in them. So that’s an easy way forward. But other industries could use improved voice capability as well: podcasting, games, radio shows, advertising, governance.

One significant limitation to the company’s approach is that the system is meant to be operated by a person and used for, essentially, recording a virtual voice actor. This means it’s not useful to the groups for whom an improved synthetic voice is desirable — many people with disabilities that affect their own voice, blind people who use voice-based interfaces all day long, or even people traveling in a foreign country and using real-time translation tools.

“I see WellSaid servicing that use case in the near future,” said Ramirez, though he and the others were careful not to make any promises. “But today, the way it’s built, we truly believe a human producer should be interacting with the engine, to render it at a natural, a human parity level. The dynamic rendering scenario is approaching quite fast, and we want to be prepared for it, but we’re not ready to do it today.”

The company has “plenty of runway and customers” and is growing fast — so no need for funding just now, thank you, venture capital firms.

#artificial-intelligence, #artificial-speech, #science, #synthetic-speech, #tc


156 countries commit to fair COVID-19 vaccine access, but US won’t join

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (credit: Getty | Fabrice Cof)

A total of 156 countries—representing about 64 percent of the world’s population—have committed to pooling resources to help develop, buy, and equitably distribute two billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, which is co-leading the effort along with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

So far, 64 high-income countries have signed on to the effort, as well as 92 low- and middle-income countries, which would be eligible for support in procuring vaccine doses. Gavi CEO Seth Berkley said in a WHO press conference on Monday that he expects 38 more countries to sign up in the coming days.

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#china, #covax, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #policy, #public-health, #russia, #sars-cov-2, #science, #us, #vaccine, #who


Microsoft launches Premonition, its hardware and software platform for detecting biological threats

At its Ignite conference, Microsoft today announced that Premonition, a robotics and sensor platform for monitoring and sampling disease carriers like mosquitos and a cloud-based software stack for analyzing samples, will soon be in private preview.

The idea here, as Microsoft describes it, is to set up a system that can essentially function as a weather monitoring system, but for disease outbreaks. The company first demonstrated the project in 2015, but it has come quite a long way since.

Premonition sounds like a pretty wild project, but Microsoft says it’s based on five years of R&D in this area. The company says it is partnering with the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator Program and academic partners like Johns Hopkins University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to test the tools it’s developing here. In addition, it is also working with pharmaceutical giant Bayer to “develop a deeper understanding of vector-borne diseases and the role of autonomous sensor networks for biothreat detection.”

Currently, it seems, focus is on diseases transmitted by mosquitos and Microsoft actually set up a ‘Premonition Proving Ground’ on its Redmon campus to help researchers test their robots, train their machine learning models and analyze the data they collect. In this Arthropod Containment Level 2 facility, the company can raise and analyze mosquitos. But the idea is to go well beyond this and monitor the entire biome.

So far, Microsoft says, the Premonition system has scanned more than 80 trillion base-pairs of genomic material for biological threats.

“About five years ago, we saw that robotics, AI and cloud computing were reaching a tipping point where we could monitor the biome in entirely new ways, at entirely new scales,” Ethan Jackson, the senior director of Premonition, said in a video the company released today. “It was really the 2014 Ebola outbreak that led to this realization. How did one of the rarest viruses on the planet jump from animal to people to cause this outbreak? What signals are we missing that might have allowed us to predict it?”

Image Credits: Mirosoft

Two years later, in 2016, when Zika emerged, the team had already built a small fleet of smart robotic traps that could autonomously identify and capture mosquito. The system identifies the mosquito and can then make a split-second decision whether to capture it or let it fly. In a single night, Jackson said, the trap has already been able to identify up to 10,000 mosquitos.

In the U.S., the first place where Microsoft deployed these systems was Harris County, Texas.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“Everything we do now in terms of mosquito treatment is reactive – we see a lot of mosquitoes, we go spray a lot of mosquitoes,” said Douglas E. Norris, an entomologist and Johns Hopkins University professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, who was part of this project. “Imagine if you had a forecasting system that shows, in a few days you’re going to have a lot of mosquitoes based on all this data and these models – then you could go out and treat them earlier before they’re biting, spray, hit them early so you don’t get those big mosquito blooms which then might result in disease transmission.”

This is, by all means, a very ambitious project. Why is Microsoft announcing it now, at its Ignite conference? Unsurprisingly, the whole system relies on the Microsoft Azure cloud to provide the storage and compute power to run — and it’s a nice way for Microsoft to show off its AI systems, too.

#artificial-intelligence, #bayer, #cloud-computing, #computing, #internet-of-things, #johns-hopkins-university, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2020, #mosquito, #national-science-foundation, #science, #tc, #texas, #united-states, #vanderbilt-university, #zika


Blue Origin targets this Thursday for New Shepard reusable rocket launch with NASA landing system test

Blue Origin just announced the timing of its next rocket launch – and it’s surprisingly soon, in just two days on Thursday, September 24. The launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle will be its 13th overall for that category of launch craft, and the 7th in a row for this particular rocket. The payload will include an even dozen commercial cargo items, including a Deorbit, Descent and Landing Sensor Demonstration done in partnership with NASA – basically a highly-precise automated landing system that will help NASA land on the Moon and eventually Mars.

That payload is unique not just because of the technology involved in the landing system, but also because it’ll actually be mounted to the exterior of the New Shephard’s booster stage, rather than in the capsule that rides atop it. This is the first time that Blue Origin has carried a payload that way, and the company expects it could pave the way for similar future missions, enabling sensing at high altitudes, and experiments made possible through use of equipment exposed to the external environment.

Other payloads on this flight will include postcards from the Blue Origin-founded nonprofit Club for the Future, which are collected by students at schools across the world. There are also additional experiments from Johsn Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, Space Lab Technologies, mu Space Corp, other NASA experiments,and more.

Blue Origin plans a second test flight for the landing technologies on board, and overall these are emanated to help de-risk use of the sensors for later operational viability.

The company has set the launch for 10 AM CDT (11 AM EDT), and it’ll take off from its launch facility in West Texas. The launch will bore broadcast live, and a stream will start 30 minutes prior to liftoff time, and include a special message from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine about the agency’s collaboration with Blue Origin. The last New Shepard launch took place last December, so it’s been nearly a year since the company has flown one of its spacecraft.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #blue-origin, #jim-bridenstine, #nasa, #new-shepard, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Made In Space is sending the first ceramic manufacturing facility in space to the ISS next week

In-space manufacturing company Made In Space is pushing the envelope on what can, well, be made in space with its next mission – which is set to launch aboard a Northrop Grumman International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission set for next Tuesday. Aboard that launch will be Made In Space’s Turbine Ceramic Manufacturing Module (aka CMM), a commercial ceramic turbine blisk manufacturing device that uses 3D-printing technology to produce detailed parts the require a high degree of production accuracy.

A turbine blisk is a combo rotor disk/blade array that is used primarily in engines used in the aerospace industry. Making them involves using additive manufacturing to craft them as a single component, and the purpose of this mission is to provide a proof-of-concept about the viability of doing that in a microgravity environment. Gravity can actually introduce defects into ceramic blisks manufactured on Earth, because of the way that material can settle, leading to sedimentation, for instance. Producing them in microgravity could mean lower error rates overall, and a higher possible degree of precision for making finely detailed designs.

Made In Space, which was acquired earlier this year by new commercial space supply parent co. Redwire, has been at the forefront of creating and deploying 3D printing technologies in space, particularly through its partnership with the International Space Station. The goal of the company is to demonstrate the commercial benefits of in-space manufacturing, and to commercialize the technology in order to create tangible benefits for a number of industries right here on Earth.

#3d-printing, #additive-manufacturing, #aerospace, #articles, #international-space-station, #northrop-grumman, #science, #science-and-technology, #space, #tc, #video-games


Satellite radar startup ICEYE raises 87 million to continue to grow its operational constellation

Finnish startup ICEYE, which has been building out and operating a constellation of Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) small satellites, has raised an $87 million Series C round of financing. This round of funding was led by existing investor True Ventures, and includes participation by OTB Ventures, and it brings the total funding for ICEYE to $152 million since its founding in 2014.

ICEYE has already launched a total of five SAR satellites, and will be launching an addition four later this year, with a plan to add eight more throughout 2021. Its SAR satellites were the first ever small satellites with SAR imaging capabilities, and it designed and built the spacecraft in-house. SAR imaging is innovative because it uses relatively small actual physical antennas, combined with fast motion across a targeted imaging area, to create a much larger synthetic aperture than the physical aperture of the radar antenna itself – which in turn means it’s capable of producing very high-resolution, two- and three-dimensional images of areas and objects.

ICEYE has been able to rack up a number of achievements, including record-setting 0.25 meter resolution for a small SAR satellite, and record turnaround time in terms of capture data delivery, reaching only five minutes from when data begins its downlink connection to ground stations, to actually having processed images available for customers to use on their own systems.

The purpose of this funding is to continue and speed up the growth of the ICEYE satellite constellation, as well as providing round-the-clock customer service operations across the world. ICEYE also hopes to set up U.S.-based manufacturing operations for future spacecraft.

SAR, along with other types of Earth imaging, have actually grown in demand during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis – especially when provided by companies focused on delivering them via lower cost, small satellite operations. That’s in part due to their ability to provide services that supplement inspection and monitoring work that would’ve been done previously in person, or handled via expensive operations including aircraft observation or tasked geosynchronous satellites.

#aerospace, #capella-space, #iceye, #imaging, #recent-funding, #satellite-constellation, #satellites, #science, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #true-ventures


A German rocket startup seeks to disrupt the European launch industry

Some space entrepreneurs in Germany believe that the European launch industry—which principally consists of the state-backed Arianespace corporation—is ripe for disruption.

The industry, they say, mirrors that of the United States more than a decade ago, before SpaceX emerged onto the scene and began to disrupt the near-monopoly held by United Launch Alliance. SpaceX successfully launched its first Falcon 1 rocket in 2008, and the company followed that with the Falcon 9 booster less than two years later. Since then, it has forced competitors to innovate and put downward pressure on launch prices.

“Europe is where the US launch industry was 15 years ago,” said Daniel Metzler, co-founder and chief executive of the Munich-based Isar Aerospace rocket company, in an interview.

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Here’s how DOE’s first crop of risky energy tech has done

Two seated men in suits have a discussion on a stage.

Enlarge / Former Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz speaks at an ARPA-E event in 2016. (credit: DOE / Flickr)

In 2009, the US Department of Energy started funding energy research through the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (or ARPA-E) program. The goal was take more risks than traditional federal efforts and help new renewable energy technologies get off the ground. Private investment had been flagging due to slow returns, but the huge societal benefits of clean energy was deemed to justify government support. The hope was that the funding could accelerate the timeline for new technology to mature to the point that private investors would find the technology more attractive.

At least, that was the idea. A team led by University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Anna Goldstein figured that ARPA-E’s first class is now old enough to check in on. She and her colleagues looked at a limited sample of 25 startups and found some interesting ways in which these companies seem to have beaten out the competition—and some in which they haven’t.

Best in class

The 25 startups selected in ARPA-E’s first round were compared to several other groups of companies that were born around the same time. The first group consists of the 39 companies that applied for ARPA-E funding and didn’t get it but still received an “encouraged” runner-up rating. In the next group are the 70 companies that received funding from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) with related government stimulus spending. And finally, there are almost 1,200 other clean energy startups that found their funding elsewhere.

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#arpa-e, #energy, #green, #green-energy, #renewable-energy, #science


When building an embryo, timing is everything

The repeated light and dark pattern you can see down the side of this embryo is caused by the presence of somites.

The repeated light and dark pattern you can see down the side of this embryo is caused by the presence of somites. (credit: Flickr user Lunar Caustic)

There’s a bit of a problem in biology that’s so obvious that most biologists don’t end up thinking of it as a problem. Humans and mice (and most other mammals) all make pretty much the same collection of stuff as they develop from a fertilized egg. And they do that using a near-identical set of genes. But mice do it all in 21 days; it takes humans over 10 times longer to do it.

You might try to ascribe that to the different number of cells, but as you move across the diversity of mammals, none of that really lines up. Things get even more confusing when you try to account for things like birds and reptiles, which also use the same genes to make many of the same things. The math just doesn’t work out. How do developing organisms manage to consistently balance cell number, development time, and a static network of genes?

Biologists are just starting to figure that out, and two papers published this week mark some major progress in the field.

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#biology, #developmental-biology, #embryo, #science, #spinal-cord, #vertebrae


What’s in wildfire smoke, and how dangerous is it?

Juniper Hills, CA, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 - A fire engine drives into air thick with smoke along Juniper Hills Rd. as the Bobcat Fire advances North into the Antelope Valley.

Enlarge / Juniper Hills, CA, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 – A fire engine drives into air thick with smoke along Juniper Hills Rd. as the Bobcat Fire advances North into the Antelope Valley. (credit: Robert Gauthier | Getty Images)

The West Coast’s wildfire crisis is no longer just the West Coast’s wildfire crisis: As massive blazes continue to burn across California, Oregon, and Washington, they’re spewing smoke high into the atmosphere. Winds pick the haze up and transport it clear across the country, tainting the skies above the East Coast.

But what are you breathing, exactly, when these forests combust and waft smoke near and far? Charred trees and shrubs, of course, but also the synthetic materials from homes and other structures lost in the blazes. Along with a variety of gases, these give off tiny particles, known as PM 2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller), that weasel their way deep into human lungs. All told, the mixture of solids and gases actually transforms chemically as it crosses the country, creating different consequences for the health of humans thousands of miles apart. In other words, what you breathe in, and how hazardous it remains, may depend on how far you live from the Pacific coast.

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#anthropogenic-climate-change, #climate-change, #science, #wildfires


MIT engineers develop a totally flat fisheye lens that could make wide-angle cameras easier to produce

Engineers at MIT, in partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, have devised a way to build a camera lens that avoids the typical spherical curve of ultra-wide-angle glass, while still providing true optical fisheye distortion. The fisheye lens is relatively specialist, producing images that can cover as wide an area as 180 degrees or more, but they can be very costly to produce, and are typically heavy, large lenses that aren’t ideal for use on small cameras like those found on smartphones.

This is the first time that a flat lens has been able to product clear, 180-degree images that cover a true panoramic spread. The engineers were able to make it work by patterning a thin wafer of glass on one side with microscopic, three-dimensional structures that are positioned very precisely in order to scatter any inbound light in precisely the same way that a curved piece of glass would.

The version created by the researchers in this case is actually designed to work specifically with the infrared portion of the light spectrum, but they could also adapt the design to work with visible light, they say. Whether IR or visible light, there are a range of potential uses of this technology, since capturing a 180-degree panorama is useful not only in some types of photography, but also for practical applications like medical imaging, and in computer vision applications where range is important to interpreting imaging data.

This design is just one example of what’s called a ‘Metalens’ – lenses that make use of microscopic features to change their optical characteristics in ways that would traditionally have been accomplished through macro design changes – like building a lens with an outward curve, for instance, or stacking multiple pieces of glass with different curvatures to achieve a desired field of view.

What’s unusual here is that the ability to accomplish a clear, detailed and accurate 180-degree panoramic image with a perfectly flat metalens design came as a surprise even to the engineers who worked on the project. It’s definitely an advancement of the science that goes beyond what may assumed was the state of the art.

#fisheye-lens, #gadgets, #glass, #hardware, #imaging, #lenses, #massachusetts, #medical-imaging, #mit, #optics, #science, #science-and-technology, #smartphones, #tc


CDC dramatically restores COVID-19 testing advice marred by political meddling

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As the novel coronavirus has spread in the US, the CDC is under increasing heat to defend a shaky rollout of crucial testing kits. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As the novel coronavirus has spread in the US, the CDC is under increasing heat to defend a shaky rollout of crucial testing kits. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

In a dramatic move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday restored its recommendation to test people who have been exposed to COVID-19 but don’t have symptoms—erasing politically motivated changes made by members of the Trump administration without the support or input from CDC scientists.

The CDC had—until August 24—always recommended testing for all people who have had close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with someone infected with the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, regardless of symptoms. The CDC stated clearly that this is “important” and should be done quickly “because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission,” which is largely thought to drive the pandemic.

But the guidance was abruptly and quietly changed August 24 to say that exposed people who do not have symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.”

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#cdc, #covid-19, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #testing


Humans reached Saudi Arabia at least 120,000 years ago

About 120,000 years ago, two or three people walked along the shore of a shallow lake in what is now northern Saudi Arabia. They left behind at least seven footprints in the mud, and today those tracks are the oldest known evidence of our species’ presence in Arabia.

A Pleistocene walk by the lake

Imagine that you’re a hunter-gatherer about 120,000 years ago, and you’re walking out of eastern Africa into Eurasia. Paleoanthropologists are still debating exactly why you’ve decided to do such a thing, and you almost certainly don’t have a destination in mind, but for now we’ll take it for granted that you just want to take a really, really long walk. Almost inevitably, you’ll come to the Levant, on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. From that important geographical crossroads, you’ve got some options: you could head north through Syria and Turkey then veer east into Asia or west into Europe. You could also strike out east, across the northern end of the Arabian Peninsula.

That was a better option then than it sounds now. Off and on during the Pleistocene, the Arabian Peninsula had a wetter climate than it does today. Evidence from ancient sediments, pollen, and animal fossils all suggest that today’s deserts were once grasslands and woods, crossed by rivers and dotted with lakes like the one at Alathar in the western Nefud Desert.

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#ancient-hominins, #archaeology, #footprints, #hominins, #human-migration, #out-of-africa, #pleistocene, #saudi-arabia, #science


After billion-dollar disasters, here’s what the US’ fall weather has in store

Hey, another warm month...

Enlarge / Hey, another warm month… (credit: NOAA)

We’re reaching the end of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the weather in the US has been about as eventful as one expects for the year 2020. A highly active Atlantic hurricane season has lived up to expectations so far, while record-setting wildfires have blanketed the drought-beset West Coast, creating smoke that has drifted clear across the country.

NOAA’s latest monthly summary shows how all this developed in August and what we have to look forward to in the next three months. Critically, La Niña conditions in the Pacific seem to have settled in, which has implications for winter patterns across North America and beyond.

Looking back

Globally, this was the second warmest August on record (going back to 1880) and the third warmest June-August stretch. Looking at the entire year through August, 2020 is the second warmest on record just behind 2016. With so little of the year left, it’s very unlikely to drop in the rankings, and it still has a chance at the top spot. NOAA currently puts the odds of a new record at about 40 percent, while other estimates continue to be a bit higher. La Niña conditions will hold down the global average, so topping 2016 and its warm El Niño would be remarkable.

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#noaa-monthly, #science


NASA to test precision automated landing system designed for the Moon and Mars on upcoming Blue Origin mission

NASA is going to be testing out a new precision landing system designed for use on the tough terrain of the Moon and Mars for the first time during an upcoming mission of Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable suborbital rocket. The ‘Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution’ (SPLICE) system is made up of a number of lasers, an optical camera, and a computer to take all the data collected by the sensors and process it using advanced algorithms, and it works by spotting potential hazards, and adjusting landing parameters on the fly to ensure a safe touchdown.

SPLICE will get a real-world test of three of its four primary subsystems during a New Shepard mission to be flown relatively soon. The Jeff Bezos -founded company typically returns its first-stage booster to Earth after making its trip to the very edge of space, but on this test of SPLICE, NASA’s automated landing technology will be operating on board the vehicle the same way they would when approaching the surface of the Moon or Mars . The elements tested will include ‘terrain relative navigation,’ Doppler radar, and SPLICE’s descent and landing computer, while a fourth major system – lidar-based hazard detection – will be tested on future planned flights.

Currently, NASA already uses automated landing for its robotic exploration craft on the surface of other planets, including the Perseverance rover headed to Mars. But a lot of work goes into selecting a landing zone with a large area of unobstructed ground that’s free of any potential hazards in order to ensure a safe touchdown. Existing systems can make some adjustments, but they’re relatively limited in that regard.

SPLICE is designed to enable more exact landings, and ones that can deal with more nearby hazards, enabling exploration in areas that were previously considered off-limits for landers. That could greatly expand our ability to gain more knowledge and better understanding of the Moon and Mars, which is particularly important as we continue to work towards more human exploration and even potential colonization.

The lidar system mentioned above is a key new ingredient in these SPLICE tests, since we don’t actually know in great detail how well lidar will perform with the terrain on Mars and the Moon, where reflectivity could be quite different from what it is here on Earth within our own atmosphere. Still, NASA is confident it should provide much better precision than radar-based methods for surface mapping and feature detection.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #jeff-bezos, #lasers, #lidar, #mars, #nasa, #outer-space, #science, #space, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #tc


Rocket Report: Chinese rocket fails, Starship may make a leap in October

A view of Astra's rocket.

Enlarge / The flight of Astra’s rocket looked smooth coming off the pad. (credit: John Kraus for Astra)

Welcome to Edition 3.16 of the Rocket Report! This week, we have a couple of small-launch failures to discuss, as well as schedule slippages for the debut of European and Japanese rockets. Finally, Europe’s next heavy-lift rocket, the Ariane 6, has been showing signs of progress.

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

Astra launches its first orbital rocket. Following months of technical and weather delays, Astra launched its first orbital rocket, Ars reports. The vehicle launched on September 11 from a spaceport in southern Alaska. The small rocket’s five main engines lit several seconds before liftoff, and Rocket 3.1 appeared to climb straight and true for about 15 seconds before it began to sway back and forth a little bit. Later, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Adam London, explained that a problem with the rocket’s computerized guidance system introduced a slight roll oscillation. Local video of the launch and explosion can be seen here.

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Hoverboarding dentist gets 12 years in prison for fraud, unlawful dental acts

Close-up photograph of feet on hoverboard on institutional floor.

Enlarge / A man tests out a Hovertrax hoverboard produced by Razor at the International Toy Fair 2017 in Nuremberg, Germany, on January 1, 2017. (credit: Getty | picture alliance)

The infamous hoverboarding dentist of Alaska has been found guilty of fraud and unlawful dental acts and was sentenced to 12 years in prison this week, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Dentist Seth Lookhart was charged with 42 counts in 2017. Most of the charges related to a scheme to unnecessarily sedate patients or keep them sedated for extended periods of time so that Lookhart could inflate Medicaid billing. Prosecutors found that Lookhart extensively detailed the scheme himself in text messages and raked in nearly $2 million from the unjustified sedation.

But, despite his lucrative sedations, Lookhart is likely best known for being the dentist who, in 2016, pulled a tooth from a sedated patient while wobbling on a wheeled “hoverboard” scooter. The evidence for this transgression again came from Lookhart himself, who had the hoverboard procedure captured on video. Lookhart then shared the video with several people.

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#dentist, #fraud, #guilty, #hoverboard, #lookhart, #malpractice, #medicaid, #science


Here are the winners of the 2020 Ig Nobel Prizes to make you laugh, then think

The 30th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony: introducing 10 new Ig Nobel Prize winners, each of whom has done something that makes people laugh, then think.

Ah, science, tirelessly striving to answer such burning questions as what alligators sound like when they breathe in helium-enriched air and whether knives fashioned out of frozen feces constitute a viable cutting tool. These and other unusual research topics were honored tonight in a virtual ceremony—thanks to the ongoing pandemic—to announce the 2020 recipients of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes. You can watch the livestream of the awards ceremony above.

Established in 1991, the Ig Nobels are a good-natured parody of the Nobel Prizes that honors “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The unapologetically campy award ceremony usually features mini-operas, scientific demos, and the 24/7 lectures whereby experts must explain their work twice: once in 24 seconds, and the second in just seven words. Acceptance speeches are limited to 60 seconds. And as the motto implies, the research being honored might seem ridiculous at first glance, but that doesn’t mean it is devoid of scientific merit. Traditionally, the winners also give public talks in Boston the day after the awards ceremony; this year, the talks will be given as webcasts a few weeks from now.

The winners receive eternal Ig Nobel fame and a 10-trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe. It’s a long-running Ig Nobel gag. Zimbabwe stopped using its native currency in 2009 because of skyrocketing inflation and hyperinflation; at its nadir, the 100-trillion dollar bill was roughly the equivalent of 40 cents US. (Last year, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced the “zollar” as a potential replacement.) The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for Mathematics was awarded to the then-head of the RBZ, Gideon Gono, “for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers—from very small to very big—by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).”

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#ig-nobel-prizes, #science


White House-CDC tensions explode as Trump contradicts its leadership

Image of President Trump speaking from behind a lectern.

Enlarge / US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in which he frequently contradicted his own health experts. (credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images)

There was good news and then bad news for public health expertise yesterday. In the wake of increasingly unhinged behavior from a President Trump-appointed communications director at the US Department of Health and Human Services, he and one of his key appointees have left their posts—one for two months, one permanently. But any hopes that science might resume being the main driver of US health policy were short-lived. Earlier in the day, CDC head Robert Redfield and other Health and Human Services officials testified before a Senate panel. By the evening, the president himself was calling his own CDC director mistaken about everything from mask use to the schedule of vaccine availability.

By the end of the day, Redfield was tweeting statements that balanced ambiguity against seeming to support Trump’s view.

A backdrop of turmoil

A constant background of tension has existed between the Trump administration (which wants the country to return to normal operations despite the medical consequences) and public health officials (who actually want to protect the public’s health). But several things have driven those tensions into the open recently, starting with last week’s revelation that political appointees were attempting to interfere with reports from career scientists at the CDC. That issue was seemingly resolved in the CDC’s favor, as a key administration figure in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Michael Caputo, took a two-month medical leave after making a video in which he spoke of armed uprisings and conspiratorial cabals of CDC scientists.

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#cdc, #covid-19, #hhs, #masks, #policy, #redfield, #science, #testing, #trump, #vaccine


Contestants will compete for a SpaceX trip to the International Space Station in new reality TV show

There’s a reality TV competition show in the works that will feature a 2023 trip to the International Space Station as the grand prize, Deadline reports. The production company behind the show, which will be called ‘Space Hero,’ has booked a seat on a SpaceX Dragon crew spacecraft set to make the trip to the ISS in 2023, and will make it the reward for whoever comes out the winner in a competition among “everyday people from any background who share a deep love for space exploration,” according to the report.

The competition will be an ersatz astronaut training program of sorts, including physical challenges, as well as puzzles and problem-solving tasks, as well as emotionally challenging scenarios, according to Deadline. That will lead up to what producers are currently planning will be a live episode featuring a global viewer vote about who ultimately will win. The show will also include documenting the winner’s ISS trip, including their launch and 10-day space station stay, as well as their return journey and landing.

To bring all these pieces together, the reproduction team is working with Axiom Space, a private space travel services provider and mission operator, as well as NASA, with which it’s discussing what might be done in terms of STEM education add-ons for this planned programming.

Apparently, Deadline says that Survivor creator and reality industry giant Mark Burnett has previously tried multiple times to create a reality show with a trip to space as the main component. One such effort, an NBC-based program called ‘Space Race,’ was created in partnership with Richard Branson and focused on Virgin Galactic, but it was ended after that company’s fatal testing accident in 2015.

There’s also a movie production in the works that’s bound for the Space Station as a filming location, and those efforts are being spearheaded by Tom Cruise, who will star in the yet untitled project. NASA has repeatedly said it welcomes increased commercialization of low Earth orbit and the ISS, and it also intentionally sought out private partners like SpaceX for its US-based astronaut launch vehicles, in the hopes that they would be able to book other, private clients for flights to help defray mission costs.

#aerospace, #astronaut, #international-space-station, #media, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #richard-branson, #science, #space, #space-exploration, #space-station, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #survivor, #tc, #tom-cruise, #virgin-galactic


Former Tesla CTO wins Amazon funding for battery recycling project

Empty phone batteries are sorted by the company Accurec Recycling GmbH.

Enlarge / Empty phone batteries are sorted by the company Accurec Recycling GmbH. (credit: Ina Fassbender | Getty Images)

Tesla cofounder JB Straubel has been funded by Amazon for Redwood Materials, a start-up aiming to extract lithium, cobalt and nickel from old smartphones and other electronics for reuse in new electric batteries.

Redwood is one of five companies Amazon is investing in as part of its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund, announced this year.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said in a statement that this first batch of companies were “channelling their entrepreneurial energy into helping Amazon and other companies reach net zero by 2040 and keep the planet safer for future generations.”

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#amazon, #batteries, #cars, #climate-change, #policy, #recycling, #science


It’s now possible to detect counterfeit whisky without opening the bottle

Inside a dunnage warehouse of Highland Park whisky distillery. A new portable spectrometer would help detect counterfeit whiskies.

Enlarge / Inside a dunnage warehouse of Highland Park whisky distillery. A new portable spectrometer would help detect counterfeit whiskies. (credit: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Image)

There’s nothing quite like the pleasure of sipping a fine Scotch whisky, for those whose tastes run to such indulgences. But how can you be sure that you’re paying for the real deal and not some cheap counterfeit? Good news: physicists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have figured out how to test the authenticity of bottles of fine Scotch whisky using laser light, without ever having to open the bottles. They described their work in a recent paper published in the journal Analytical Methods.

As we reported last year, there is an exploding demand for expensive rare whiskies—yes, even in the middle of a global pandemic—so naturally there has been a corresponding increase in the number of counterfeit bottles infiltrating the market. A 2018 study subjected 55 randomly selected bottles from auctions, private collectors, and retailers to radiocarbon dating and found that 21 of them were either outright fakes or not distilled in the year claimed on the label.

Ten of those fakes were supposed to be single-malt scotches from 1900 or earlier, prompting Rare Whisky 101 cofounder David Robertson to publicly declare, “It is our genuine belief that every purported pre-1900 bottle should be assumed fake until proven genuine, certainly if the bottle claims to be a single malt Scotch whisky.” There’s also an influx of counterfeit cheaper whiskies seeping into the markets, which could pose an even greater challenge, albeit less of a headline-grabbing one.

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#chemistry, #counterfeit, #food-chemistry, #gaming-culture, #raman-spectroscopy, #science, #scotch-whisky, #spectroscopy, #whisky


After ranting about armed uprising, top Health Dept. spokesperson takes leave

A man in a suit walks through an out-of-focus office building.

Enlarge / Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Mark Wilson)

Michael Caputo—the controversial spokesperson for the US Department of Health and Human Services, most recently known for watering down federal reports on COVID-19, railing against social distancing measures, and warning of left-wing “hit-squads” planning a post-election insurrection—has taken a 60-day leave of absence from the department.

Caputo “decided to take a leave of absence to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the HHS said Wednesday in a statement sent to Ars.

The statement also noted that Caputo’s scientific advisor, Paul Alexander—known recently for trying to muzzle top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci—is also on his way out.

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#caputo, #fauci, #hhs, #paul-alexander, #science, #trump


Climate science contrarian installed in upper-level NOAA position

A man in a suit speaks at a podium.

Enlarge / David Legates speaks at a Heartland Institute event. (credit: Scott K. Johnson)

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently hired a new person in an upper-level deputy assistant secretary position. Normally, this would not be too surprising or newsworthy, but this is an exception. Joining NOAA as the “Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction” is University of Delaware Professor David Legates—a well-known contrarian who rejects the science of human-caused climate change.

The position apparently reports to acting head of NOAA Neil Jacobs, although the circumstances of the hire are unknown. Ars asked NOAA about the duties of this position, but the agency has not responded. Jacobs was entangled in the fallout from President Trump’s inaccurate tweets about Hurricane Dorian that culminated in a forecast map doctored with a black marker. A pair of investigations found that Jacobs capitulated to directives from the office of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the White House, releasing an unsigned NOAA statement that sought to rescue the president’s inaccurate statements by mildly admonishing the forecasters who corrected him.

The Washington Post reported that Legates’ department at the University of Delaware informed students in an email that he would not be teaching in the fall semester while noting, “David hopes to be back at UD in the spring.”

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#heartland-institute, #noaa, #science


Ancient DNA sheds light on Viking origins, travels

Modern reconstruction of a Viking longboat.

Enlarge / Modern reconstruction of a Viking longboat. (credit: Dun.can / Flickr)

A recent study of ancient DNA sheds light on who the Viking groups were and how they interacted with the people they met. The Viking Age, from around 750 to 1100 CE, left a cultural and economic impact that stretched from the coast of North America to the Central Asian steppe, and archaeology shows several examples of cultural exchange spanning continents. But to see patterns in how people swapped not only ideas, but genes, we need to look at the DNA of ancient people.

“We know very well that the Viking Age changed the cultural and political map of Europe a thousand years ago, but we don’t really know much about the demographic changes that accompanied these changes,” University of Copenhagen genomicist Ashot Margaryan told Ars. “This can be addressed based on population genetics methods.”

Who were the Vikings?

Today, we tend to think of the Vikings as one big mass of bearded raiders, swooping down European coasts, up rivers, and across the North Atlantic. But the Vikings didn’t see themselves that way at all. The people who set sail to raid, trade, fish, and settle during the Viking Age saw themselves as members of distinct groups, with a shared culture but not a shared identity. The genetic evidence, it turns out, is on the Vikings’ side.

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#ancient-dna, #ancient-europe, #archaeology, #medieval-europe, #population-genetics, #science, #viking-age, #vikings


Mathematicians may have unlocked the secret of how “stone forests” form

The Stone Forest (Shilin) in China's Yunnan Province may be the result of solids dissolving into liquids in the presence of gravity, producing natural convective flows.

Enlarge / The Stone Forest (Shilin) in China’s Yunnan Province may be the result of solids dissolving into liquids in the presence of gravity, producing natural convective flows.

There are many wondrous geologic formations in nature, from Giant’s Causeway in Ireland to Castleton Tower in Utah, and the various processes by which such structures form is of longstanding interest for scientists. A team of applied mathematicians from New York University has turned its attention to the so-called “stone forests” common in certain regions of China and Madagascar. These pointed rock formations, like the famed Stone Forest in China’s Yunnan Province, are the result of solids dissolving into liquids in the presence of gravity, which produces natural convective flows, according to the NYU team. They described their findings in a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Co-author Leif Ristroph told Ars that his group at NYU’s Applied Math Lab became interested in studying stone forests (technically a type of karst topography) by a somewhat indirect route. They were using simulations and experiments to explore the interesting shapes that evolve in landscapes due to a number of “shaping” processes, most notably erosion and dissolving.

“We first discovered the spikes formed by dissolution when we left candy in a water tank and came back later to find a needle-like spire,” he said. “The grad student, first author Mac Huang, even accidentally cut himself when he was admiring the shape. This drew us into the problem, and we were very excited when we realized the connection to stone pinnacles and stone forests, which have been quite mysterious in their development. We hope our experiments tell a simple ‘origin story’ behind these landforms.”

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#applied-mathematics, #geophysics, #karst-topography, #physics, #science


Bonkers federal podcast downplays COVID-19, blasts health restrictions

Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Mark Wilson)

In a stunning podcast released by the Department of Health and Human Services, two top officials at the department repeatedly downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, railed against mitigation efforts, called closures of in-person schooling “nonsense,” and said US journalists do not “[give] a damn about public health information.”

The podcast, released on the HHS website September 11, is part of a series hosted by Michael Caputo, who currently holds the title of HHS assistant secretary of public affairs. Though Caputo has no background in health care, the White House installed him in the department in April—a move reportedly made to assert more White House control over HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Caputo is a longtime Trump loyalist and former campaign official. He got his start as a protégé of Roger Stone and later worked as a Moscow-based advisor to Boris Yeltsin and did public relations work for Vladimir Putin.

Learning curve

Caputo has most recently made headlines for working to interfere with and alter scientific reports on COVID-19 prepared by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The meddling was intended to make reports more in line with messaging from Trump, who has admitted to downplaying the pandemic. Caputo also raised eyebrows with a Facebook live video, reported by The New York Times Monday, in which, without evidence, he accused government scientists of engaging in “sedition” and claimed that the CDC is harboring a “resistance unit.” He also spoke of long “shadows” in his DC apartment and said left-wing “hit-squads” were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

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#alex-azar, #caputo, #cdc, #coronavirus, #hhs, #mccance-katz, #pandemic, #public-health, #samhsa, #sars-cov-2, #science


A paper we covered has been retracted, and we couldn’t be happier

Image of a basketball player having his shot blocked.

Enlarge / Dikembe Mutombo rejects your flawed publication. (credit: DAVID MAXWELL / Getty Images)

Well, that took a while. Five years after Ars’ Chris Lee pointed out that the authors of a homeopathy paper were doing little more than offering up “magic” as an explanation for their results, the editors of the journal it was published in have retracted it. The retraction comes over the extensive objections of the paper’s authors, who continued to believe their work was solid. But really, the back-and-forth between the editors and authors has gotten bogged down in details that miss the real problem with the original paper.

The work described in the now-retracted paper involved a small clinical trial for depression treatment with three groups of participants. One group received a standard treatment, another a placebo. The third group received a homeopathic remedy—meaning they received water. According to the analysis in the paper, the water was more effective than either the placebo or the standard treatment. But as Chris noted in his original criticism, the authors leap to the conclusion that treating people with water must therefore be effective.

The problem with this is that it ignores some equally viable explanations, such as a statistical fluke in a very small study (only about 45 people per group) or that it was the time spent with the homeopathic practitioner that made the difference, not the water. These are problems with the interpretation of the results rather than with the data. (This probably explains why the paper ended up published by PLOS ONE, where reviewers are asked to simply look at the quality of the data rather than the significance of the results.)

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#homeopathy, #pseudoscience, #retraction, #science


Hurricane Sally will bring devastating floods to the Southern United States

The Atlantic tropics at 11am ET on Tuesday, September 15.

Enlarge / The Atlantic tropics at 11am ET on Tuesday, September 15.

It is September 15th, with more than two months remaining in the Atlantic hurricane season, and there is just one name left in the cupboard for tropical cyclones—Wilfred. And this storm will probably form off the coast of Africa in a day or two.

In some ways, this has been a truly bonkers year for Atlantic hurricane activity, and in other ways it has been fairly pedestrian. But before assessing the climatology, it’s worth focusing on the one storm certain to have a direct impact on the United States, Hurricane Sally.

Sally’s flooding

Hurricane Sally has fortunately not intensified during the last 12 hours. Instead, it’s weakened some, thanks to wind shear affecting the ability of its low-level and mid-level cores to align perfectly. This wind shear from its west, along with the upwelling of cooler water deeper in the Gulf, should prevent further strengthening today. The National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will have maximum sustained winds of 85mph when it comes ashore Wednesday morning along the Alabama coastline.

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European Space Agency awards $153 million contract for its first planetary defense mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) is doing its part to help protect the Earth from any errant asteroids that may threaten terrestrial life, awarding a €129.4 million ($153 million) contract to an industry consortium led by German space company OHB. The contract covers the “detailed design, manufacturing and testing” of a mission codenamed ‘Hera,’ after the Greek goddess of marriage and the hearth, which will support NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test mission and help provide a path towards future planetary defense operations in space.

ESA’s Hera mission will launch a desk-sized satellite, which itself will contain small CubeSats, to perform a post-impact assessment of the effect NASA’s DART spacecraft has on as asteroid that it’s designed to essentially smash into at high velocity. Hera is intended to navigate around the asteroid autonomously while collecting data to help scientists back here on Earth understand whether their ambitious plan has been successful, in terms of using a human-made spacecraft to intentionally impact with an asteroid and change its trajectory through space.

The CubeSats will inspect the asteroid close-up once deployed from Hera – including a potential interior probe with a radar array, the first of its kind for an asteroid body. All told, Hera and its CubeSate companions will be spending six months studying the asteroids following their encounter with DART.

NASA’s mission is set to launch sometime in July, 2021, and will arrive at the pair of asteroids – called the ‘Didymos’ pair – in September the following year. The ESA’s Hera mission is set to launch in October 2024, and then rendezvous with the asteroids in 2026, so there will be a considerable gap between the impact and Hera’s close-up study – time during which its effects should hopefully be apparent.

#aerospace, #aida, #asteroids, #cubesat, #esa, #european-space-agency, #manufacturing, #outer-space, #prevention, #science, #space, #tc


Dynetics has built a full-scale test version of its lunar human lander for NASA

One of the three companies chosen by NASA to create a Human Landing System (HLS) for NASA has completed a key step by building a full-scale test article of its lander for its team and NASA to evaluate and review. The Dynetics HLS is roughly the size of the Apollo Moon lander, but it’s laid out very differently, as you can see in the image above.

Dynetics provided a brief overview of the test article and its purpose in a video introduction on Tuesday. As you can see in the walkthrough below, it’s essentially a true-to-size 3D model that includes modular, re-arrangeable components. These don’t include actual working electronics or anything – they’re more like lego blocks that NASA and the Dynetics engineers working on the product can use together to ensure that the HLS design works well ergonomically and functionally for the astronauts who will eventually be using it to make the trip down to the lunar surface.

The components of this test article include the crew module where astronauts will be living and working during their stay at the Moon, as well as the tanks that will hold the propellant fo r the ascent and descent phases of its flight, a autonomous cargo platform, and the tall solar arrays that will help power the spacecraft. Dynetics and its subcontractor LSINC created the mock vehicle in just three months after being awarded the contract by NASA.

The goal for Dynetics, as well as for Blue Origin and SpaceX, is to compete with one another for the initial contract to take humans to the surface of the Moon for NASA’s initial human landing as part of its Artemis program, currently scheduled for 2024. Earlier this week, Blue Origin announced that it had passed a critical initial design requirements review, and Dynetics says it has accomplished the same. Blue Origin also delivered a full scale test article of its own to NASA back in August.

#aerospace, #science, #space, #tc


N95 masks could soon be rechargeable instead of disposable

The pandemic has led to N95 masks quickly becoming one of the world’s most sought-after resources as essential workers burned through billions of them. New research could lead to an N95 that you can recharge rather than throw away — or even one that continuously tops itself up for maximum effectiveness.

The proposed system, from researchers at Technion-IIT in Israel and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in India, is not one of decontamination, as you might expect. Instead, it focuses on another aspect of N95 masks that renders them less effective over time.

N95s use both mechanical filtering, in which particles are caught in a matrix of microscopic fibers, and electrostatic filtering, in which particles are attracted to surfaces that carry a static charge. It’s like the old trick where you rub a balloon on your head and it sticks — but at the scale of microns.

The combination of these two methods makes N95 masks very effective, but the electrostatic charge, like any charge, dissipates after a time as air and moisture pass over it. While decontamination via UV or high temperature may help keep the mechanical filter from becoming a tiny petri dish, they do nothing to restore the electrostatic charge that acted as a second barrier to entry.

In a paper published in the journal Phsyics of Fluids, Dov Levine and Shankar Ghosh (from Technion and Tata respectively) show that it’s possible to recharge an N95’s filter to the point where it was close to off-the-shelf levels of efficacy. All that’s needed is to place the filter between two plate electrodes and apply a strong electric field.

“We find that the total charge deposited on the masks depends strongly on the charging time… with the pristine value almost reattained after a 60 min charge at 1000 V,” write the researchers in their paper.

A self-charging N95 mask prototype

It’s unlikely that health care workers are going to be disassembling their masks after every shift, though. While a service and special mask type could (and if it’s effective, should) be established to do this, the team also explored the possibility of a mask with a built-in battery that recharges itself constantly:

A solution that can help replenish the lost charge on the masks in real time would be desirable. In this section, we provide a proof-of-concept method of keeping the masks charged, which comes as a logical extension of our recharging method.

We tested a technique by which the filter material maintains its charge and thus its filtration efficiency… Since the currents required are extremely small, a large battery is not required, and it is possible that a small compact and practical solution may be feasible.

The image above shows a prototype, which the team found to work quite well.

Of course it’s not quite ready for deployment; IEEE Spectrum asked Peter Tsai, the creator of the N95 mask, for his opinion on it. He suggested that the team’s method for testing filtration efficacy is “likely questionable” but didn’t take issue with the rest of the study.

Though it won’t be in hospitals tomorrow or next week, the team notes that “crucially, our method can be performed using readily available equipment and materials and so can be employed both in urban and rural settings.” So once it’s thoroughly tested it’s possible these rechargeable masks could start showing up everywhere. Let’s hope so.

#covid-19, #gadgets, #health, #masks, #n95, #pandemic, #science


Chemical that shouldn’t be there spotted in Venus’ atmosphere

Image of a pale circle with irregular lines in front of it.

Enlarge / The spectral signature of phosphine superimposed on an image of Venus. (credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Greaves et al. & JCMT)

Today, researchers are announcing they’ve observed a chemical in the atmosphere of Venus that has no right to be there. The chemical, phosphine (a phosphorus atom hooked up to three hydrogens), would be unstable in the conditions found in Venus’ atmosphere, and there’s no obvious way for the planet’s chemistry to create much of it.

That’s leading to a lot of speculation about the equally unlikely prospect of life somehow surviving in Venus’ upper atmosphere. But a lot about this work requires outside input, which today’s publication is likely to prompt. While there are definitely reasons to think phosphine is present on Venus, its detection required some pretty involved computer analysis. And there are definitely some creative chemists who are going to want to rethink the possible chemistry of our closest neighbor.

What is phosphine?

Phosphorus is one row below nitrogen on the periodic table. And, just as nitrogen can combine with three hydrogen atoms to form the familiar ammonia, phosphorus can bind with three hydrogens to form phosphine. Under Earth-like conditions, phosphine is a gas, but not a pleasant one: it’s extremely toxic and has a tendency to spontaneously combust in the presence of oxygen. And that later feature is why we don’t see much of it today; it’s simply unstable in the presence of any oxygen.

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#biology, #exobiology, #life, #planetary-science, #science, #venus


Satellite Vu aims to scope out the whole globe with thermal vision

Earth observation has grown from government-run missions to a crucial everyday business tool, but it still has room to grow. Specifically, into the thermal infrared spectrum, if startup Satellite Vu gets itself into orbit. The company plans to be able to monitor the heat signatures of most of the planet’s buildings with a satellite constellation built for the purpose.

Presenting today at TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield, Satellite Vu co-founder and CEO Anthony Baker explained the huge market for anyone who can tell with precision how much heat is being emitted by buildings, fields and other features.

Heat could indicate poor insulation, for one thing, and a waste of energy on HVAC. It could show the true (not reported) hours of operation at a factory or mine. It could track burning natural gas or waste emissions from refineries. With a resolution of 3 to 4 meters — an order of magnitude or more better than what’s out there — it might even be able to estimate the attendance of outdoor events or, for that matter, troop concentration in warfare. And of course it can do all this in the dark of night.

Baker told TechCrunch that he felt the Earth observation business, despite producing successful endeavors like Planet, still had lots of room to grow.

“Planet and Google Maps, they can show you what’s going on on the outside of a building. We can show you what’s going on inside,” he explained.

The tech behind it is both new and old. Infrared detection goes back decades, but doing so from orbit to within a fraction of a degree, and at this level of detail, is a very different proposition. The tech Satellite Vu is based on began as an Oxford-developed sensor for the Lunar Trailblazer orbiter that would look for water on the Moon’s surface; the company has an exclusive license to it.

“We took the sensor and space-hardened it, and did all the ‘new space’ stuff,” i.e. things like miniaturization and power optimization, Baker said. The problem with making the device smaller and more efficient, though, is “it affects the image — distorts it and blurs it. So we found a way to deal with that.”


Satellite Vu follows in the footsteps of Apple, Google and others, which in attempts to improve their smartphone cameras have found that there’s precious little improvement to be gotten out of the hardware, and instead focused on the software.

Satellite Vu

Like those of tech companies, Satellite Vu’s system collects information from dozens of sequential images and interprets that into an improved single one.

“We stack the images, and we can get a higher resolution, get rid of aberrations in it, do lots of other things. And it’s all patentable,” Baker added.

The result is a remarkably cheap satellite: maybe $15 million, and the company only needs 7 to get the worldwide coverage it plans to offer. For comparison, Baker said, the European Space Agency just greenlit a €500M project that would collect thermal imagery at a 30-meter resolution (smaller is better).

Competition in Earth observation is strong, but in this particular niche it’s practically non-existent in the commercial space. Planet’s satellites can see near-infrared spectra, but that’s not enough to get detailed heat data. There are military satellites and some from NASA or ESA, but they tend to be old, special-purpose, classified, or all three. Getting regular thermal imagery from orbit from a commercial provider isn’t really a possibility. Drones and high altitude flights are an option but not quite the same thing. And while there are a couple startups looking to get into the same domain, there’s probably room for everyone.

“It appeals to a lot of people, and government agencies around the world want a commercial source for this data,” Baker said. “The easiest market is probably ESG [environmental, social and governance] and green financing. Everyone is investing in green materials and stocks, but how do you know they’re green? No one’s counting. But we can measure it.”

Compliance with environmental law is difficult to monitor, and as new rules are established, new methods for making sure people abide by them are much in demand. It’s also helpful for companies that, for instance, are making voluntary efforts to go green and need an objective record that shows, for example, that their buildings are heated or cooled at certain efficiencies or that their datacenters operate at certain capacities and hours.

The clear demand for this service makes the daunting “We’re building a satellite” business model a little less daunting for investors. “They want to know where you’re going to make your first dollar. So if customers are willing to put money on the table, VCs will too,” Baker said. Right now the company is operating on grant money, but will soon need the kind of cash those programs don’t tend to part with all at once.

The immediate plan is to demonstrate the sensor in a series of flights using traditional aircraft, after which customers will, Baker hopes at least, start throwing money at them. Letters of intent (of which Satellite Vu has eight figures worth) are all well and good, but nothing beats a good old fashioned contract.

The best news is that launch costs, which might have grounded a company like this a few years ago, are now down to record lows.

“Elon’s deal for small satellites is just amazing. 200 kilos for a million dollars? That’s $5,000 a kilo — I’ve bought rockets in my career for $50,000 a kilo,” Baker said.

By going to a standard orbit on a ride share with SpaceX’s own Starlink launches, Satellite Vu keeps costs low and can break even with just one or two of its birds in the air. As with visible-spectrum orbital imagery, applications tend to emerge once the data starts coming out, so the company hopes diversify its offerings once it shows the capabilities of its constellation.

#aerospace, #battlefield, #disrupt, #disrupt-sf-2020, #satellite-vu, #science, #space, #startups, #tc