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Rocket Report: An old Centaur comes home, Super Heavy construction begins

Enlarge / The Delta IV Heavy rocket lit up the night sky on Wednesday night, but not by launching.Tr..

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Enlarge / The Delta IV Heavy rocket lit up the night sky on Wednesday night, but not by launching.Trevor Mahlmann / Ars Technica

Welcome to Edition 3.18 of the Rocket Report! I'm thrilled this week to announce that I've written a book about the origins of SpaceX. It focuses on the Falcon 1 rocket, Elon Musk, and the early employees who carried out his vision. I spent oodles of time with Musk, who was expansive about those early years.

But just as importantly, I talked to dozens of the first SpaceX employees about those desperate days. Liftoff tells their story, and it is one hell of a tale. The book will be published by William Morrow on March 2, 2021. You can preorder now.

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.

German company tests hybrid rocket motor. Two-year-old launch startup HyImpulse successfully tested its 16,800 lbf hybrid rocket motor this month at the German space agency's Lampoldshausen facility, SpaceNews reports. The company said the hot-fire test on September 15, its first, confirmed that the paraffin/LOX hybrid rocket engine performed on par with liquid hydrocarbon-based fuels.

An important engine … HyImpulse is developing its three-stage "SL1" launch vehicle designed to carry payloads of up to 500kg to Sun-synchronous orbit. The rocket will be powered by 12 identical 16,800 lbf hybrid rocket motors—eight on its first stage, and four on its second stage—plus four smaller versions of the engines powering its third stage. (submitted by platykurtic and Ken the Bin)

Another German startup picks a launch site. Rocket Factory Augsburg AG has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Norway-based Andøya Space to implement a launch site for the RFA One rocket and provide end-to-end launch services for small satellites. "This partnership is pivotal, it allows RFA and Andøya to launch the first satellite into orbit from continental Europe with an European launcher" said Dr. Stefan Brieschenk, chief operation officer of RFA, in a news release.

A bigger small rocket … The startup is backed by the German satellite manufacturer OHB as a strategic investor and by Munich-based venture capital firm Apollo Capital Partners. Rocket Factory is currently building the RFA One booster to deliver up to 1.5 metric tons to low-Earth orbit. The first launch is scheduled for 2022. There is an interesting ongoing race in Germany among small-launch startups, including RFA, HyImpulse, and Isar Aerospace. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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Space becomes a bona fide political issue in Australia. We are not on top of Australian politics, but the opposition Liberal National Party of Queensland is apparently running on a platform that includes the accelerated development of a spaceport on islands along the country's northeast coast. Opposition leader Deb Frecklington has pledged $15 million to build an orbital rocket launch site at Abbot Point in north Queensland, the Brisbane Times reports.

Gotta go fast … The Labor government is moving too slowly on the project, opponents say. An LNP government would start building the government-owned site next year, which would create 100 construction jobs, Frecklington said, and another 200 jobs would come from securing Gilmour Space Technologies as the anchor tenant. "This means that we can launch rockets that have satellites into space from right here in Queensland," she said. "Make no mistake, if these rockets with their satellites are not launched from Queensland, they are going to be launched out of Cape Canaveral in the US." Or, presumably, New Zealand. (submitted by Cognac)

Maine company sets launch date for small rocket. Brunswick-based bluShift Aerospace plans to launch its 20-foot rocket in October. The launch location, at the site of a former Naval Air Station, is in far northern Maine. The company is targeting October 21 for the launch of its Stardust rocket to an altitude of 4,500 feet.

Showing, not telling … The company is developing biofuel rockets, and this test will provide data about the performance of this fuel. "We learned early on in our research and development that having an engine that used a green fuel was not enough to inspire investment," bluShift CEO Sascha Deri told the Times Record. "We had to demonstrate that we could match or beat the petroleum alternative." We wish them luck! (submitted by Jenming)

Skyroot unveils 3D-printed engine. The commercial launch startup based in India shared images of its Dhawan-1 cryogenic engine to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Indian rocket pioneer Satish Dhawan. The "100 percent" 3D-printed engine will be powered by liquified natural gas and liquid oxygen, Parabolic Arc reports.

Another honorary name … The company says it is developing three rockets—the Vikram I, Vikram II, and Vikram III—to serve the small-satellite launch market. The smallest rocket will have a capacity of 225kg to a Sun-synchronous orbit, while the largest will carry up to 580kg. The launch vehicles are named for Vikram Sarabhai, who is known as the father of the Indian space program. (submitted by Ken the Bin and platykurtic)

Speaking of Indian launch history. If you're like me, you probably don't know all that much about India's history with regard to space and launch. (I can barely keep my US and Soviet history straight). However, if you're into podcasts, there's a fascinating new one titled Mission to ISRO that dives deep into this past.

Great context for modern-day activity … Narrated by Harsha Bhogle, the podcast is targeted at those with a basic knowledge of space history but no knowledge whatsoever of Indian launch history (raises hand). So if you're wondering who Vikram Sarabhai was and why an Indian startup is naming rockets after him, this is a good place to start. I've been loving it. Alas, it's exclusive to Spotify.

Space Force agrees to fly on used Falcon 9s. Last Friday, the US Space Force said it would launch two critical Global Positioning System missions on used Falcon 9 rockets next year, Ars reports. Doing so will save the military $52 million, officials said, as SpaceX agreed to lower compensation for the two missions in return for flying used hardware.

A continuing journey … This represents a significant step by the Space Force toward validating the use of flight-proven first stages of a rocket for the most critical national security missions. "We're looking forward to this journey with SpaceX as we get even more experienced with them and reusable hardware," said Walter Lauderdale, Space and Missile Systems Center Falcon Systems and Operations Division chief, in a call with reporters.

Next Crew Dragon launch moves to Halloween. NASA and SpaceX now are targeting 2:40am ET (06:40 UTC) on Saturday, October 31, for the launch of the agency's SpaceX Crew-1 mission with astronauts to the International Space Station. This is an eight-day slip from the previous date but is not due to a hardware issue, the space agency said.

Closing open work … Rather, NASA sought to deconflict the Crew-1 launch and arrival from upcoming Soyuz launch and landing operations. This additional time is needed to ensure closure of all open work, both on the ground and aboard the station, ahead of the Crew-1 arrival. In the coming weeks, Ars will have more on this exciting mission carrying four astronauts. (submitted by TFargo04, Ken the Bin and platykurtic)

DARPA awards contract for nuclear-thermal rocket. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded a $14 million task order to Gryphon Technologies, a company in Washington, DC, to design a nuclear thermal rocket for cislunar operations, Space.com reports. This was the result of a contracting process that opened in June.

A lot of work ahead … The money will support DARPA's Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations program, whose main goal is to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion system in space. "We are proud to support DRACO and the development and demonstration of NTP, a significant technological advancement in efforts to achieve cislunar space awareness," Gryphon CEO PJ Braden said. (submitted by Rick)

NASA awards IMAP launch to SpaceX. The space agency chose a Falcon 9 rocket to launch its Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe mission, along with four secondary payloads. According to NASA, the total cost to launch IMAP and the secondary payloads is approximately $109.4 million, which includes the launch service and other mission-related costs.

Looking to the outer Solar System … IMAP will help researchers better understand the boundary of the heliosphere, a magnetic barrier surrounding our solar system. The mission is targeted to launch in October 2024 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (submitted by Ken the Bin, DanNeely, and platykurtic)

Old Centaur upper stage re-enters Earth orbit. A new "mini-moon" appears likely to enter Earth's orbit soon, and it seems to be the upper stage of the Atlas-Centaur rocket that launched the Surveyor 2 mission in 1966. This was to have been NASA's second spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon, but it was lost after a failed midcourse correction. The only other time another lost rocket stage was recaptured into Earth orbit came in 2002 when what is believed to be a Saturn V upper stage from Apollo 12 was grabbed by our big blue orb.

Rare, but not impossible … "I suspect this newly discovered object 2020 SO to be an old rocket booster because it is following an orbit about the Sun that is extremely similar to Earth's, nearly circular, in the same plane, and only slightly farther away from the Sun at its farthest point," Paul Chodas, the director of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies, told CNN. "That's precisely the kind of orbit that a rocket stage separated from a lunar mission would foRead More – Source

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Apple Christmas sales surge to $111bn amid pandemic

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Apple sales have hit another record, as families loaded up on the firm’s latest phones, laptops and gadgets during the Christmas period.

Sales in the last three months of 2020 hit more than $111bn (£81bn) – up 21% from the prior year.

The gains come as the pandemic pushes more activity online, fuelling demand for new technology.

Apple now counts more than 1.65 billion active devices globally, including more than 1 billion iPhones.

Apple’s gains follow the release of its new iPhone 12 suite of phones, which executives said had convinced a record number of people to switch to the company or upgrade from older models.

The firm said growth in China – where the pandemic has already loosened its grip on the economy – was particularly strong, helped in part by demand for phones compatible with new 5G networks.

Sales in the firm’s greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, jumped 57%. In Europe, sales roles 17%, and they rose 11% in the Americas.

“The products are doing very well all around the world,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer. “As we look ahead into the March quarter, we’re very optimistic.”

Analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said he thought the firm was just at the beginning of a “super-cycle” as Apple devotees finally trade in old phones, coinciding with upgrades to telecommunications networks.

“With 5G now in the cards and roughly 40% of its ‘golden jewel’ iPhone installed base not upgrading their phones in the last 3.5 years, [Apple chief Tim] Cook & Co have the stage set for a renaissance of growth,” he wrote.

Big Tech is having an exceptionally lucrative pandemic.

It’s hard not to be wowed by some of these figures.

That Apple recorded more than $100bn in sales in just three months is simply astonishing.

Facebook figures are also well up on where they were last year.

As other companies have struggled to survive, Big Tech has flourished.

There are other reasons for some of these incredible figures. Certainly it seems iPhone enthusiasts were holding out for the new 5G enabled iPhone12.

But it’s not just Apple and Facebook, all of the massive tech companies are having a bumper year.

Covid-19 means people are spending more time indoors – buying things online, watching things online and chatting online.

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that these companies are posting record breaking figures.

But others point to these figures as yet more evidence that Big Tech has become too big to fail.

These figures are impressive. But they also attract the attention of politicians who are increasingly asking difficult questions – like are these tech mega companies operating in a market that is fair and with enough competition?

Facebook Apple feud

Apple said profits in the quarter reached nearly $28.8bn, up 29% compared with the same quarter last year.

The gains seen by technology firms like Apple contrast with losses hitting many other economic sectors, as the virus restricts activity and keeps shoppers at home.

Other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Facebook, have also enjoyed strong growth.

Facebook on Wednesday said increased online shopping during the pandemic helped lift ad revenue in the quarter by 30%.

The number of people active on its apps – which also include WhatsApp and Instagram – also rose to 2.6 billion daily, up 15% compared to 2019.

It said ad spending could slow as the Covid crisis relaxes and shopper appetite returns for services like travel rather than products.

It also warned that plans by Apple to change how it shares user data could weigh on growth.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55835504

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The Spanish YouTuber who made €1 million in a week

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“YouTube needs people to spend all day watching videos,” says Romuald Fons, an entrepreneur and YouTuber, with 721,000 subscribers to his channel on how to get websites rated in Google’s top search results.

Fons, 43, from Barcelona, knows all about YouTube. He spent two years maneuvering his channel into position and analyzing other channels to see what works best. His most viral video wasn’t even related to digital marketing – it was about how he got a six-pack in six months. “It was an experiment,” he explains to EL PAÍS from his office in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood.

In December, he put all his advice in a course called CreceTube, which he sold for a week for €700 as a special introductory offer. Around 1,500 people bought it, according to the documents Fons showed to EL PAÍS, earning him over €1 million in seven days.

Attention-harvesting algorithms that promote extreme viral and extreme content are the subject of growing controversy. YouTube is one of the main platforms accused of pushing users into ever more radical political positions by promoting increasingly outrageous videos to keep them hooked.

But this is not Fons’ field of concern. “YouTube’s algorithms can be hacked,” he says. “It’s not like Google [YouTube and Google are owned by the same company, Alphabet]. Google has to show the user what they want to find because otherwise, they will stop using it. YouTube promotes clickbait [content designed to drive traffic to a website] in an extreme way.”

His course is for people who are starting out on YouTube and want to grow their audience. It includes tricks with names like SEOshock, Instaclick and SEOcreto to improve video content and rankings – if you type “YouTube course” into Google and YouTube, Fons’ videos are in the top results. “I’ve bought every course there is and I explain things that have never been explained,” he says. “We explain how to use Google so you know what type of content to create.” Among the comments on the course, there are, of course, users who think it’s a scam, and have created their own YouTube videos with their own explanations. But Fons is unfazed: “Clickbait is what you have to do,” he says.

Neither is Fons concerned about the Spanish YouTubers who make off to Andorra for tax reasons. “It’s not my place to give my opinion on what they do,” he says. “I am not strictly a YouTuber. I am an entrepreneur who has a YouTube channel. It is different. In my case, the money coming in is part of the business. I generate wealth in Spain and will continue to be taxed here. I don’t have that option [to go to a tax haven]. If I wanted to do that I would have to take advantage of legal loopholes and I’m not going to.”

Fons’ main global competitor is the Briton Neil Patel, who has 100,000 more subscribers than Fons but fewer total views despite having posted more videos. Forty percent of Fons’ audience is in Latin America – YouTube provides YouTubers with this kind of data in the form of graphs. “It has one that shows the average retention of all YouTube videos of the same length as yours,” he says. “If your video is above average, it promotes you.”

Rags to riches

Fons’ recent success is the latest step forward in a long, and not always successful, career in digital marketing that started in earnest in 2013 when he decided to specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) – the name given to strategies to increase website traffic from search engines. Today SEO is a basic tool for most companies with digital interests: businesses that do not appear on page one of Google’s results, do not exist. Now, as Fons points out, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that even long-established businesses have had to close their doors if they have failed to devise a digital strategy.

In January 2013, Fons did nothing but create websites in order to get them to show up in Google searches, place ads on them and attract hits. The first month, he created 10 websites and made €2.48. He could be forgiven for feeling discouraged.

But, the self-taught Fons plowed on. In order to learn which criteria Google rewarded in its results, he ended up creating 1,430 websites. Each one had something different. “I was seeing which ones worked well and which ones didn’t,” he says. “I started to create my own positioning strategy.”

The choice of sites was not random. He looked for the ones that had the most searches and paid the most for ad clicks: “Paella, Inem courses [courses run by the National Institute of Employment], outlets,” he says. “For recipes, I had the 220 keywords with the most traffic: mojitos, baked chicken….” Fons wrote the content for each page and used Adsense, a Google tool, to fill the pages with ads. When someone clicked, Fons earned money. Within a year, he was earning €1,500 a month. In 2016, three years after starting out, he was making more than €18,000 a month.

Put like that, it sounds easy, but Fons scarcely made €1,300 in the whole of 2013. At the time, he was living in Spain’s Valencia region and was making a living by writing texts at night for €4 each for the website, Fiber.

Fons’ story is typical of a tech entrepreneur – he’s had several failures, has fully committed to getting better at what he does, has made a video that leads to something new and has put in long working hours. His first failure was as a student and musician. After enrolling to study architecture, he left university to go on a six-year tour as a singer of a band called Rembrandt42, which is still on the music-streaming site Spotify. He met his ex-wife during a concert and, subsequently settled down to a job at a family-run water treatment company. “We were cleaning legionella tanks,” he recalls.

But Fons had big dreams. “I wanted to do like [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg and blow things apart,” he says. First, he created a social network for collectors, called Nakoko. “It wasn’t much of a start-up,” he says. “It was just me putting all my work and money into it. I went totally broke.” After that, he tried to set up a Spanish eBay, called lovende. “I got even more broke,” he says. “When I couldn’t even afford to pay for my son’s optional vaccinations, everything changed. They cost €80 and I didn’t have the money. That’s when I stopped blaming others.”

During this period, he had, however, learned something about SEO and digital marketing. Then he saw a video of entrepreneur Pat Flynn, who was earning passive income from Google. “I thought, if this guy can do it, so can I,” he says.

“Companies would call me and ask me why I was being ranked above them,” he says. “That’s when I set up the agency.” After two years of quietly carving his own niche, he began to make a name for himself. Now, his business BIGSEO Agency, has a staff of 41. Each client pays him more than €30,000 a year for his services. In 2020, his company had a turnover of €4 million.

Thanks to his own personal journey, Fons has been able to observe the evolution of SEO. Google has always aimed to be the gateway to the internet. If the search engine didn’t work well, users would not be using the site millions of times a day. According to Fons, typing in the keywords is no longer enough. Google should also know whether someone searching for Nike sneakers wants to buy a pair for running or is an Air Jordan collector. “It’s about understanding the user’s intent even if the keyword isn’t there,” he says. “Whether the search is for boilers or cheap flights, the question is – what’s the problem?” Google will reward whichever website knows how to answer this best. “Getting customers for boilers is no longer about positioning ‘boiler service’ in Google,” he clarifies.

As a YouTuber, Fons has been a public figure with an impact on thousands of people. His community of followers is called Marketing Furious and they have a Facebook page with 75,000 members. That has also led him to address mental health issues that members of his community are increasingly open about. “Our brains are not wired to absorb thousands of opinions about us a day,” he says. “YouTuber El Rubius is under brutal pressure. But over a thousand people have paid me more than €700 to teach them something. The pressure is cranked up. Your subconscious gets the better of you. You think you’re strong and you can do it, but you can’t.” Fons has also encountered angry followers out and about. “When you have millions of views, anything can happen,” he says. “Think of a full Barça [soccer] stadium; 100,000 people. I’m sure there are 10 that are nuts.”

Fons is focused on video survival in an era when the apps TikTok and Instagram Reels are taking off. In his favor, his old videos keep popping up at the top of digital marketing searches. “On the other networks, you make a video and after eight hours no one sees it,” he says. “You can reach an audience, but turning it into a business is another matter. TikTok is all about short attention spans.”

 

Read from source: https://english.elpais.com/science_tech/2021-01-22/the-spanish-youtuber-who-made-1-million-in-a-week.html

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Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler

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Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.

Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.

But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.

Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.

On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”

Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.

While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.

It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.

However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.

Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?

By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring

For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.

As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.

This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.

In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.

Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.

Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.

However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.

This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.

In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.

“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”

Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.

It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.

Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.

But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”

“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”

In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.

The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.

“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.

“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”

The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.

“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55598887

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