All posts in “transport”

Watch SpaceX launch NASA’s latest exoplanet-hunting satellite

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket today during a 30 second window at 6:32pm EDT. Onboard is NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) designed to find exoplanets. SpaceX said this morning there’s an 80 percent chance of launching today. Following the launch, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 rocket and nose cone by landing the rocket on a drone ship and using parachutes to slow down fairings before they hit Atlantic. SpaceX’s high-speed net boat Mr. Stevens is still in the Pacific.

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The livestream is set to begin at 6:00pm EDT.

The satellite onboard uses four cameras to hunt for exoplanets around stars. They measure tiny dips in a star’s brightness that could indicate a planetary body passing in front of the camera’s line of sight. This is called a transit. Mission officials have said that this satellite will likely find thousands of worlds during its two-year mission.

The Falcon 9 used in today’s mission has never been launched before though if it lands successfully, it will be reportedly used in a future mission. This rocket is also the final block 4 version before Tesla starts using block 5 versions with upgraded engines and improvements to increase the reusability of the rocket.

Tesla updates user interface, web browser in older Model S and Model X vehicles

A new update is bringing an improved user interface to older Tesla vehicles. According to this report citing forum users, the v8.1 (2018.12) update improves the speed and capability in Model S and Model X vehicles equipped with an Nvidia Tegra 3-powered MCU. This was expected; Musk stated in late December 2017 that Tesla was working to improve the browser for all its vehicles.

Users discovered the browser speed is dramatically faster, able to download at an average of over 5 Mbps. HTML5 capabilities also improved. This is just the latest in Tesla’s on-going mission to improve its vehicles after customers buy them.

Tesla launched the Model S with the Tegra 3 SoC and ran with it until late 2017 when the company switched to new x86_64-powered MCUs. Last month Elon Musk confirmed through Twitter that it was possible to retrofit older vehicles with new MCUs.

Though possible to upgrade older vehicles, it’s better for the consumer, and likely for the company, to upgrade existing hardware than make drivers bring in vehicles for a hardware upgrade.

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Elon Musk’s latest SpaceX idea involves a party balloon and bounce house

Elon Musk took to Twitter Sunday night to announce a new recovery method for an upper stage SpaceX rocket. A balloon — a “giant party balloon” to quote him directly — will ferry part of a rocket to a bounce house. Seriously.

If anyone else proposed this idea they would be ignored, but Elon Musk lately has a way of turning crazy ideas into reality.

It was just in 2012 that SpaceX launched and landed its first rocket and now the company is doing it with rockets significantly larger. And then early this year SpaceX made a surprise announcement that it would attempt to use a high-speed boat and large net to catch part of rocket. And it worked after a failed first attempt.

This isn’t the first time a balloon has tried to be used to return a rocket. Legendary programmer John Carmack’s rocket company attempted to use a ballute in 2012 to return a rocket body and nose cone. It didn’t work as planned and according to officials at the time, the rocket made a “hard landing” around the Spaceport America property in New Mexico.

Just like SpaceX’s self-landing rockets and its giant net boat, the goal is to reduce the cost of launching rockets by reusing parts. It’s unclear when this latest plan will be implemented but chances are SpaceX will at least attempt it in the coming future.

3D printed rocket maker Relativity raises $35M to simplify satellite launches

LA-based space startup Relativity has raised $35 million in Series B funding, in a new round led by Playground Global, and including existing investors Social Capital, Y Combinator Continuity and Mark Cuban. The funding will help the startup expand its automated, 3D-printing process for manufacturing rockets quickly and with greatly reduced complexity, with the ultimate aim of making it easier and cheaper to send satellites into space.

Relativity’s goal is to introduce a highly automated rocket construction process that relies on nearly 100 percent 3D printed rocket parts, to create custom, mission-specific rockets that can launch payloads the size of small cars, or much larger than those of some of its cubesat-targeting competitors. It boasts a process that has reduced rocket part count from around 100,000 to just 1,000, while also dropping labor and build time, using machine learning and even proprietary base materials to achieve these drastic reductions.

Basically, Relativity wants to play in the same ballpark as SpaceX for some prospective missions, and it’s getting closer to be able to do that. It has a 20-year test site partnerships with NASA Stennis, for use of its E4 Test Complex, and this will allow the would-be launcher to develop and quality as many as 36 complete rockets per year on the 25 acre space, with an option to grow its footprint to as many as 250 acres for launches.

Rocket’s 3D metal printer, aptly named ‘Stargate,’ is the largest of its kind in the world, and aims to be ale to go from raw materials to a flight-ready vehicle in just 60 days. The process overall should save between two and four years of time per launch overall, which would mean a drastic improvement in time allotment for mission conception to execution for commercial clients.

Video: The driver of the autonomous Uber was distracted before fatal crash

The Tempe, Arizona police department have released a video showing the moments before the fatal crash that involved Uber’s self-driving car. The video includes the view of the street from the Uber and a view of minder behind the wheel of the autonomous Uber.

Warning: This video is disturbing.

The video shows the victim crossing a dark street when an Uber self-driving Volvo XC90 strikes her at 40 mph. It also shows the person who is supposed to be babysitting the autonomous vehicle looking down moments before the crash. It’s unclear what is distracting the minder. It’s also unclear why Uber’s systems did not detect and react to the victim who was clearly moving across its range of sensors at walking speeds.

Uber provided the following statement regarding the incident to TechCrunch:

Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.

Since the crash on March 19, Uber has pulled all its vehicles from the roads operating in Pittsburgh, Tempe, San Francisco and Toronto. This is the first time an autonomous vehicle operating in self-driving mode has resulted in a human death. In a statement to TechCrunch, the NHTSA said it has sent over its “Special Crash Investigation” team to Tempe. This is “consistent with NHTSA’s vigilant oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies,” a spokesperson for the agency told TechCrunch.

“NHTSA is also in contact with Uber, Volvo, Federal, State and local authorities regarding the incident,” the spokesperson said. “The agency will review the information and proceed as warranted.”

Toyota also paused its self-driving testing in the US following the accident.

This tragic accident is the sort of situation self-driving vehicles are supposed to address. After all, these systems are supposed to be able to see through the dark and cannot get distracted by Twitter.